How Offended Can The Indonesians Get?
By Mike SeccombeNovember 21, 2013
Pollster Mark Textor thinks Australians won’t give a rat’s arse how offended Indonesians become. And he’s probably right.
Former Labor leader Kim Beazley never spoke so impressively as in defeat. And that was never more apparent than on election night in 2001.
Six months out from the November 10 election, Beazley and the Labor Party had looked nearly certain to take government from Prime Minister John Howard’s Coalition. Labor was way ahead in the public opinion polls – Nielsen showed them in front, in two-party preferred terms, by 60 to 40 through April, and 57 to 43 at the end of May.
Then Howard began to peg the lead back, thanks in considerable measure to the work of one Mark Textor, the party’s main pollster, who helped to identify the issue of asylum seekers as a winner for the Coalition.
In late August, after the MV Tampa, with its cargo of rescued asylum seekers, sailed over the horizon, Howard was saved. By September the Coalition was ahead in the polls, 57 to 43.
Textor claims responsibility for refining Howard’s pitch to voters in the 2001 election campaign down to the strong, declarative sentence: “We will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come.”
So, to Beazley’s concession speech. He announced he was stepping down as leader, and continued:
“[T]onight I … bow out by thanking the Australian people. We are a great nation. We have a nation with a capacity to be better. We have a nation with a capacity for a generosity of heart. Like any nation, there are dark angels in our nation but there are also good angels as well.”
He went on to note that the better angels of human nature were more easily evoked in people who felt secure in their lives.
He was right, of course. As we have noted here before, biological science now is confirming what political science has long believed – that anxiety begets political conservatism. In the face of worrying or hard-to-comprehend events, electors are apt to seek simple solutions and “strong” leaders.
Which brings us back to Mark Textor.
Textor is an outrageous figure, but he’s no fool. As the pollster to the Liberal Party he has done as much as anyone on that side of politics to realise the potential of negativity.
The Libs have been very clever in recent years at identifying points of voter dissatisfaction, magnifying them, and promising simple solutions. Think, for example, of the bogus issue of cost-of-living pressures.
The objective data shows it to be a non-issue. But it has proved so easy for the Coalition to seize on one small component – electricity prices – and turn that into a major issue. Then, a simple solution: blame it all on one small component of the electricity price rise – the carbon tax.
And hey, presto, they have an electoral winner. Even better, one which pleases the conservatives’ big financial backers in the carbon industry.
Our purpose today, though, is not to get bogged down in Textor’s role in that issue. It is to talk about Textor’s recent foray into the public sphere, via Twitter.
As you may already be aware, he took it upon himself to fire off a series of racially tinged, quite incendiary tweets relating to the current difficulties in the Australian relationship with Indonesia, which has been caused by the revelation that Australia has tapped the private phones of the Indonesian President, his wife and others.
In one tweet, apparently referring to Indonesian Foreign Affairs Minister Marty Natalegawa, Textor said:
In another, referring to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono: ''What sort of head of state communicates with a head of a neighbouring government by twitter FFS? SBY''.
(The letters FFS are understood to stand for “For fuck’s sake”.)
And there were more, similarly offensive jibes directed at the Indonesians.
The tweets got front-page coverage in the Indonesian press. They no doubt further inflamed public opinion there, where, reportedly, instances of public protest and Australian flag-burning have already occurred.
Back here in Australia, the response from more reasonable people was quick and direct. Former Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser opined via Twitter that Textor should be sacked by the government.
In parliamentary Question Time, Opposition leader Bill Shorten asked Tony Abbott whether he had pulled Textor into line, and whether he was reviewing the party’s contracts with Textor’s firm.
"They were tacky comments. And they have been withdrawn and apologised for," said Abbott.
But there is little reason to believe Textor is at all sorry, as you’ll see if you watch this brief, belligerent interview he did with the ABC.
As one of his other tweets, not so widely reported, read: “No one gives a rat’s arse in the real world. The bubble at work.”
In a way, that was the most disturbing tweet of them all. In Textor’s view — and we emphasise again, he is no fool, and a master at manipulating public opinion; it doesn’t really matter in domestic political terms how offended the Indonesians get.
Among members of the demographic that the Liberals, with Textor’s help, have so successfully appealed to in recent years — the ones whose dark angels are more easily aroused — a bit of intransigence is interpreted as strength.
It looks like the headline in Wednesday’s edition of the Liberal Party house journal, The Australian: “Abbott stands firm in spying row”.
So, while Abbott might tell Parliament Textor’s comment was “tacky”, we may be reasonably sure he’s not terribly angry at his pollster. And is certainly not about to sack him. Textor’s dark arts are way too useful.