Image for Attack Ads: Labor unrepentant

In election night speech in the tally room, Tasmanian Premier David Bartlett put in a special word of thanks for Labor’s election campaign team and those “unfairly” dubbed his spin-doctors. However, one of Labor’s campaign workers who wasn’t mentioned by name was Eamonn Fitzpatrick, the Communications Director with the PR and lobbying firm Hawker Britton.

Hawker Britton staff have worked with the Tasmanian branch of Labor Party on every election campaign since 1998 and in September last year provided “media training” services for Tasmanian Labor Leader, David Bartlett. The firm is also registered in Tasmania as lobbyists for half a dozen clients including Lion Nathan National Foods, Bunnings and the Gaming Technologies Association. Elsewhere in Australia, Hawker Britton have worked on a total of 25 campaigns for state or federal Labor Party campaigns. While Fitzpatrick was busy in Tasmania, his boss at Hawker Britton and the firm’s Managing Director, Bruce Hawker, had his hands full helping the South Australian Labor government stave off electoral defeat.

Fitzpatrick is a former Sydney Morning Herald reporter turned spin-doctor. For four years Fitzpatrick worked for the then New South Wales (NSW) Treasurer, Michael Costa, and later the then NSW Premier Morris Iemma. Following Iemma’s unlikely win in the March 2007 election campaign, Simon Benson from the The Daily Telegraph reported that Iemma described NSW Labor’s Mark Arbib, Ieamma’s chief of staff Mike Kaiser, and Fitzpatrick as “the best in the business”.

So what was Fitzpatrick’s role with Tasmanian Labor?

The usual role of high-paid political campaign consultants is to be a key player with the inner sanctum of campaign strategists and advise on potentially effective tactics and strategies that have been trialled elsewhere. Otherwise, the client is paying big bucks for a highly experienced political campaigner to sit on the sidelines.

Did Fitzpatrick have any role in Labor’s anti-Greens attack ads – such as the infamous heroin ‘robocall’ ad – which generated such a public and internal party backlash? Fitzpatrick is reluctant to discuss what exactly his role was the unsuccessful re-election campaign for Tasmanian branch of the Labor Party. In response to an email inquiry late last Friday afternoon asking if he had any role in the ads, Fitzpatrick promised that he would reply “when I have a moment.” Even though the campaign was all but over, Fitzgerald explained that he was too busy to answer my questions as for Labor “the work is never done when it comes to delivering better health services, schools and securing jobs and a strong Tasmanian economy.”

By Monday Fitzpatrick was back in Sydney and just as non-committal about his role with Tasmanian Labor’s campaign. Asked what his role on the campaign committee and with their advertising was, all Fitzpatrick would say was that “I can’t talk to you about it; you’ll have to talk to John Dowling about it”.  (Dowling is Labor State Secretary, who authorised the party’s ads.) How long had be been working on the Tasmanian Labor campaign? “You’ll have to talk to John Dowling about it”. 

As to what Fitzpatrick’s role was on Labor’s campaign committee which oversaw the attack ads, Dowling declined to elaborate. Nor would he comment on whether Hawker Britton were on permanent retainer or on contract for the election campaign only. As to whether Fitzpatrick had a role in the development, implementation or oversight of any or all of the attack ads, Dowling was unwilling to comment.  Nor would he comment on whether the ads were considered successful or not. “The structure and organisation of the Tasmanian Labor campaign is a matter for the Party and I make no comment in respect to the questions you raise. However if you can equally provide me with detail of the structure, organisation and tactics of the state Liberals, Tasmanian Greens and Socialist Alliance in the interests of a level playing field I may consider providing further comment,” he wrote in an email.

But only Labor’s advertising attracted widespread condemnation, spanning from editorials in major daily newspapers to present and former Labor MPs and Ministers, until even Premier David Bartlett decided it should be withdrawn.

In both the ‘robocall’ and a similarly themed brochure, Labor had claimed that “the Greens support a plan to legalise heroin” even though their policy explicitly said the opposite. To support the claim, the Labor ad cited a statement made in parliament by Greens MP, Cassy O’Connor. However, the Hansard record revealed that it was a quote so taken out of context by Labor’s campaign crew that it too implied the opposite of what O’Connor stated.

Labor’s television attack ad claimed in part that one of the Greens policies was to support the draining of the hydro scheme which flooded Lake Pedder “which provides up to 1/3 of the state’s electricity”. While Greens leader Nick McKim has supported the campaign to drain Pedder, Hydro Tasmania’s data indicates that the lake contributes only 5.74% to the state’s electricity supply, an overestimation of the energy output of the lake by 480%.

In an interview a week before the election, Dowling stated that he would provide both a copy of the ad and the detailed evidence supporting the claims which had been supplied to CAD, the arm of FreeTv which approves television advertisements for broadcast. A copy of the ad was provided but, despite repeated requests, not the supporting documentation. This was due, Dowling wrote, because he had “other pressing matters to deal with.” However, he was still “not in a position to do this at the moment as the person who performed that role is presently unavailable” but that he would “endeavour to provide this information”.

Despite all the controversy over its election advertising, Dowling is unrepentant. He wrote in an email he wrote that “the ALP stands by it advertising conducted during the 2010 state election.”

Bartlett sticking to pledge on power handover

Matthew Denholm
The Australian
24 March 24 2010

LABOR Premier David Bartlett is standing by his pledge to hand government to the Liberals if both parties are “tied” on 10 seats after final counting from Saturday’s Tasmanian election.

There have been rumblings within the ALP over Mr Bartlett’s promise to voluntarily limp into opposition should the major parties tie on 10 seats each.

However, the discontent appears isolated and key players were yesterday rock solid behind Mr Bartlett’s leadership and stance that the party with the most seats or votes should govern.

Mr Bartlett claims to have spoken to all his current and incoming MPs and to have received their unanimous backing to continue as leader and concede defeat if the 10-10 split eventuates.

The Premier on Monday advised that in this case he would advise Governor Peter Underwood to have the Liberals form a government, given that they had won more of the statewide vote—39 per cent to Labor’s
37 per cent.

But the final shape of the House of Assembly will not be known until April 1 at the earliest, when the preference carve-up will be concluded in the two undecided seats in the electorates of Braddon and Denison.

Read the full article HERE

The Stump, Crikey:

Tasmanian Greens – take power by staying out of government
March 23, 2010 – 11:49 pm, by Guy Rundle

‘You can trust us – we will never be in government’-  that was the rather unusual boast of the KKE in Greece in the recent and ongoing general strike. It’s been a cardinal point of the party (it’s the Commies) that any attenpt to form a coalition under capitalism would lead to a role of managing capitalism – and thus advancing the very people they sought to defeat, quite aside from attendant splits etc.

It’s not a boast one would suggest for the Tasmanian Greens, but as they decide what the frik to do, it’s worth thinking about.  Faced with the enormous pressure to support a party in government or even enter coalition, they should refuse.

Instead they should invite a general budget proposal from each major party, guarantee their support for that vote (and the initial confidence vote) only,  and only if they conform to that proposal in its essence – and then announce that they will take every other issue on its merits.

This is the place and the moment for the Greens….

….to stand up for their historic role and take the long view. A decade ago, to wipe them out, that old Maoist Jim Bacon reduced the size of parliament, thus raising the quota, and chainsawed out the cross-benches in the old parliament.  The Greens went down to a single seat and everyone wrote them off. Now they’re back with the same number of seats they had in the larger parliament.

That triumph should determine a clear strategy – to assume they have a real chance of electing a Green premier within two or three elections, and being the lead party of government.

For that to even be possible,  they need to utterly resist being stampeded by the suggestion that the only role of a party is to be in government as soon as possible. They need to utterly avoid being drawn into the process of managing a state without being able to assert or enforce a programme.  If they become the junior partner of a government selling inadequate reforms on health, education, forests, agriculture etc , they will kill themselves stone dead, and eventually split down the middle.

They need to understand what many in the Greens – lacking a left political background – don’t understand. That oppositionality is absolutely necessary during some historical passages. The party is constituted on the premise that our whole way of life is killing the planet – it would be futile for it to become the goup of schmucks responsible for saving an unreformed system from its own chaos and the mendacity of its supporters.

Have the courage to say no. Work on the assumption Tasmanian people of all political stripe are intelligent enough to see that reserving the right to oppose while supporting the less worse programme for the purposes of governance is not contradictory – it’s the beginning of addressing the fact that the majority of people,  from farmers to the urban poor, are unrepresented in this system.

There is no upside to being in government as minor partners – if you genuinely believe that the scale of change we need is massive. And all that it offers is the temptations of power – vanity, acceptance, doing the admin shit work, and foregoing the role of being a campaigning party . That’s been the sad fate of the Greens in the Victorian upper house, and it’s not an exercise to be repeated.  If the Greek KKE isn’t wholly to be emulated, they know a thing or two about bang for the drachma.

So think clearly,  because once again, the whole world is watching.

Read the full article, HERE