Scott Morrison’s staff pressured the Australian Border Force to draft and issue a statement about an asylum-seeker boat from Sri Lanka, intercepted on election day and before the interception operation had finished, a damning departmental report has found. This formed the basis for a last-minute text message scare campaign, on the day of the election, from the NSW Liberal party urging voters to “keep our borders secure by voting Liberal today”1.
At a press conference on election day, Morrison ‘teed up’ Jennifer Bechwati to ask a question, when he pointed to her and called her name ‘Jen’ (18 seconds in on Media watch2). She asked “[unintelligible] … now that a vessel had been intercepted in an attempt to illegally enter Australia from Sri Lanka… what’s your response to that?” Morrison pathetically replied with a word salad [46 seconds]: “Well, I can confirm that, that there has been an interception of a vessel en route to Australia. That vessel has been intercepted in accordance with the policies of the government and they’re following those normal protocols and I can simply say this: I’ve been here to stop this boat, but in order for me to be there to stop those that may come from here, you need to vote Liberals and Nationals today. And in the interests of full transparency in the middle of an election campaign, the Labor Party was advised of this and a statement has been issued by the border protection authorities”2. Morrison has in the past repeatedly refused to answer questions regarding ‘on water matters’, but given his desperation to avoid a massive loss in the election was very happy to oblige this time.
Bechwati works for the Kerry Stokes owned Channel 7 and after this, was hammered on social media to the extent that she apparently closed her Twitter account. Paul Barry, on Media Watch [5:10] maintains that this ‘savage fire’ on social media was not deserved. He continued “Most reporters in her position would surely have done just the same”2. I suspect this is not always the case. Some of he more astute among the media would have realised this leak was a ‘put-up job’ from a government desperate to hold onto power, or at least save some of the furniture. Bechwati apparently was not astute enough to realise this. She should have been if she had been watching the Morrison government for any length of time. This is because, under the Morrison government such leaking of information for political advantage has been taken to levels unseen before. They have been turned into a potent political weapon with a single goal: to damage, deflect or mislead. The Morrison government has turned the journalists’ game back on itself3. Leaks used to be about getting a scoop, about winkling out a story that the government doesn’t want to see the light of day. Now however, journalists are being played for suckers by the very people they are writing about, and many of them are falling for it hook, line and sinker. Bechwati is just the latest.
No doubt many in the mainstream media will rail against social media, especially Twitter, for the appalling treatment meted out to Bechwati. Having been on Twitter for five and a half years, and ‘knowing’ many of the politically engaged people on the platform, I suspect it was frustration at a journalist being so naive that they were so easily suckered into playing Morrison’s game.