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Media concentrated on the wrong targets

By David Leyonhjelm - posted Tuesday, 12 July 2016


A strange thing happened during the election campaign. My phone stopped ringing.

For some reason, many of the political journalists who havebeen in regular contact with me over the last two years decided my opinion wouldnot be required during the election campaign.

Some of thesepeoplethen wrote about the likely outcome inthe Senate. Typically, their views werearticlesbased on someone's opinionand repeatedmyths they had heard somewhereelse: the government was clearing out the crossbench, I just scraped in last timeand wouldn'tbe lucky again, and some populist was likely to be elected because everybody says so.

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The fact that I would be re-elected even if my vote halved, orthat more crossbenchers were likely to be elected in adouble-dissolutionelection,went against the narrative. It was just too difficult for most of themto get their heads around.

Certainly, none would listen to the suggestion that the Liberal Democratshad a great chance of having senators elected in other states.

You might arguethat we should not expecttoo much because minor parties are not part of the main gameof who would formthe next government. You would have a point, but then that would not explain why Richard di Natale seemed to be all over the mainstream media for eight weeks.

It seems particularly odd to me, because the Greens ran fourth to the Liberal Democrats in the Senate voting for NSW in 2013.The Greens get great media coverage, are wellbranded, and have an army of volunteers.And yet their vote does not change a great dealfrom election to election. This suggeststhat a large number of people have heard the Greens' message and rejectedit.

But this did not preventthe media fromdutifully reporting on theirentirely predictable announcements, alwaysinvolving giving away ever increasing sums of imaginary taxpayers' money.

Meanwhile, one of the great untold stories of the election campaign was the fight for survival by minor parties – representing about one thirdof voters in the Senate-in the face of changes to voting that were designed to lock them outof parliament forever.

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Allpoliticaljournalists were invited to our strategy meetings to find out what we were planning.Nobody turned up. And yet they werestill happytoquotepoliticians from the major parties talking about the minor parties'"secret backroom deals".

It seems that while the vote for minor parties has increased significantly in recent years, traditional media coverage has failed to keep up – even when the recalcitrantcrossbench was supposedly the reason for calling the election in the first place.

Thislack of coverage would explain why minor partieshad to resort to various stunts to attract anyone's attention, such as Pauline Hanson driving monster trucks, and Bob Katter playing cowboys and Indians with his opponents. For me it involved bypassing mainstream media altogether by producing a range of quirky littlefilms and reaching out to special interest groups via social media.

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This article was first published in the Australian Financial Review.



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About the Author

David Leyonhjelm is the Liberal Democrat Senator for NSW.

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