There were rumours of Gladys Berejiklian being asked to run for a federal seat for many months before her canoodling with Daryl Maguire became public knowledge, but it only really hit the headlines when Scott Morrison mentioned it as a possibility. This was some time after Berejiklian had not only resigned from the premiership of New South Wales, but from state politics1.
This was presumably because she had seen what evidence the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) had, and realised that stepping aside from the premiership alone was not a viable option, as the evidence was too damning.
Surveys of Berejiklian’s likeability before, during, and after her appearance at ICAC were reported by journalist Alexandra Smith in the Sydney Morning Herald, which showed that her popularity had not slumped much2. The lack of serious dent in Berejiklian’s popularity was enough to have some Liberals suggesting more seriously that she might like to have a crack at a federal seat in next year’s election. The electorate of Warringah was mentioned as a possibility, as that was currently held by independent Zali Steggall, and was previously a safe Liberal seat. Ever since Berejiklian resigned, Morrison has been critical of ICAC, calling it a “kangaroo court” that had ‘done over’ Berejiklian who he said was a person of “great integrity”3. You have to laugh, as this was said after much of the evidence had been seen in the public hearings of ICAC.
Morrison also then suggested Berejiklian might like to run for a federal seat, saying: “I think this is a great opportunity, if Gladys wishes to run, but that’s up to her”. Then, as if ignoring the fact that Berejiklian was under investigation by ICAC for breaching public trust, he stated he would “let the people decide”3.
One of the many ironies of this suggestion that Berejiklian should run for federal parliament was that Andrew Clennell, political editor of Murdoch’s appalling Sky News Australia, had a go at the media that fell for this story. He tweeted:
“Seven days of journalists running with utmost seriousness a yarn that was never going to happen. Bizarre stuff, particularly by 9 [Nine Media] newspapers.”4
The unfortunate Alexandra Smith, state political reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald (a Nine Media newpaper) replied, seemingly without putting her brain in gear: “It was the PM pushing it, not us. We reported what he was saying.”5
I replied rather ham-fistedly with: “Therein lies the problem. Just remind yourself what story was in the news just before the dead cat arrived. Wasn’t it Labor’s climate policy? There you go.”6
The ever perspicacious Ronni Salt also replied with: “And thus the world got Trump, Boris and every other populist leader who learned how to manipulate the media as their own personal football.”7
Michael was a little more forceful in his derision: “A PM who is a persistent & blatant liar & who specialises in dead cat diversions but you ‘journalists’ simply take his & the PMO’s dictation, unquestioningly. Naive? Lazy? Incompetent? Complicit? Pathetic.”8
Arno Schaaf also replied to Smith, with: “Oh is that the role of a journalist these days, just report what the PM says? No room for a bit of critical thinking, investigation or analysis? Bit like Pravda.”9
The poor benighted Alexandra Smith replied to Arno: “Of course it isn’t. But equally, Berejiklian did not rule it out despite journalists putting it to her and asking for comment”.10
One could almost imagine the phonecall from Morrison to Berejiklian.
Morrison: Hello Gladys. Do you want to run in Warringah in the next election?
Berejiklian: No. I’m finished with politics.
Morrison: Are you sure?
Berejiklian: Yes. I miss Daryl; we were so good together.
Morrison: Alright. But we want to get the Labor Party’s 43% emissions reduction target off the front pages, so I thought we’d spread it about that you just might run in Warringah in the next election. So….
Berejiklian: No I….
Morrison: Listen. We will just put it out as a possibility, and all we want is that for a few days you tell any journalist who asks, that you haven’t decided yet. Then, when the media has moved on, you can tell them you are not running. That way we get the Labor Party off the front page, you get to leave politics and the media do what we want them to do.
The epithet ‘dead cat’, which Michael and I mentioned, refers to the introduction of a dramatic, shocking, or sensationalist topic to divert media attention away from a topic more damaging for a political party. Morrison is a past master at deadcatting. So, from what topic was Morrison’s Berejiklian dead cat designed to deflect media attention? Could it have been Labor’s 2030 emissions reduction target of 43% which makes the coalition’s target of 26-28% look dangerously inadequate? If that was it, then the dead cat was very successful. The Nine Media newspapers fell for it hook, line and sinker.
Why do so many journalists fall for dead cats such as this? I suspect it is because so many of them do not take their job seriously enough, and do not think too deeply about what they are reporting or writing. Some of them may simply be incapable; stenography may be their forté. It is so much easier to regurgitate what Morrison says or what his office sends out (much as I have done in the Tweets above), than it is to be a journalist of the quality of Laura Tingle, Katharine Murphy, or Niki Savva, for example. Morrison has been shown to lie constantly. He even lies about his lying11. It is long past time that more journalists treated him like the liar he is, rather than just regurgitating the lies he spouts. Maybe if more journalists reported what something means, not what Morrison just said about it, our democracy would be better off.