Asked at the same press conference about the “loud view by some of the community that the ABC is a nest of left-wing vipers in terms of its journalism”, the new ABC chairman said “80 per cent of Australians say they trust our news more than they trust any other kind of information. So we must be doing something right.”
Was working for Kerry Packer or the Australian public the more terrifying prospect, she was asked.
“I don’t have a problem with the Australian public,” she said. “I believe the main shareholders of the ABC are the Australian public. I have always had a very good communication with them and I think through the ABC we’ll be able to continue that conversation. The ABC does it very well. It does it much better than the commercial networks.”
An obvious point to make here might be that, based on Ms Buttrose’s figures, the ABC is doing a lot better than the government, or even politicians generally, when it comes to being trusted, with opinion polls telling us they continue to struggle to get up to half of the population of Australian voters to trust them enough to vote for them.
But the Prime Minister’s observations point to the broader problem facing politicians: not enough voters think that their politicians, their government, actually put them first.
In the Coalition’s case, as in Labor’s case when it was in government, the overwhelming messages coming from Canberra are about politicians obsessing about themselves – whether by their savage internal wars, or through feathering their nests.
The past two weeks have seen headlines dominated by allegations of special travel deals for government ministers, and buses being “gifted” to the Liberal Party by donors who have been appointed to six-figure jobs. While there are denials and explanations for how all these things have happened, the perceptions linger.
The week finishes with the prospects of even more cabinet ministers voting with their feet and leaving politics, apparently reading the writing on the wall.
The Coalition’s blind culture war
What we haven’t seen so much in the past week are the public displays of internecine warfare within the Coalition about policy and personality that led the government to be in the parlous circumstances in which it found itself.
As Phil Coorey noted in The Australian Financial Review on Friday, some of the most vocal internal critics of government energy policy, Tony Abbott and Craig Kelly, “were like Trappist monks this week”.
Abbott said he would leave all comment to the relevant ministers, “a courtesy never extended to Turnbull”.
With the election looming, the Coalition ranks are allowing the Prime Minister to suddenly talk about climate change, announce renewable energy projects and even endorse Malcolm Turnbull’s beloved Snowy Hydro 2.0 project.
Why? Well, because a government that has been mesmerised for too long with the possibility of the loss of seats in Queensland is confronting the likelihood of the loss of seats elsewhere in the country, particularly in its Victorian heartland.
And these voters in the south have demonstrated a disdain for the agenda of the conservatives.
Beyond personal spite, so much of the internal warfare within the Coalition seems driven by a blind culture war.
It is a war which seems to have little do with the views of the broader public, and a lot to do with yelling to one small group in the community and about the people in it rather than the rest of the community.
This is not true just of professional politicians but those who fancy themselves having sway on political opinion. And, even as Scott Morrison was this week trying to escape the grasp of the energy culture wars, the phenomenon only seemed to spiral more wildly out of politics proper in the response to the conviction of Cardinal George Pell on child sex offences.
It is one thing to stand by a friend, another to not acknowledge that a friend’s actions – as found by a court – have caused terrible damage to others, another again to dismiss a court verdict out of hand, and another altogether to make the whole controversy about yourself.
“I knew defending Cardinal George Pell could get me lynched,” columnist Andrew Bolt wrote this week. “I want to explain to the people now wanting my blood why I did it. But first, something about this hatred for Pell.
“It is intense, lavish, unbridled, and at times shamefully self-indulgent. Some haters love hating.”
Compare this with the measured comments from the Prime Minister.
Saying he was “deeply shocked” by the verdict, Mr Morrison added: “I respect the fact that this case is under appeal, but it is the victims and their families I am thinking of today, and all those who have suffered from sexual abuse by those they should have been able to trust, but couldn’t.
“Their prolonged pain and suffering will not have ended today. While due process continues, our justice system has affirmed no Australian is above the law.”
Putting voters first
The Prime Minister made a statement which was about the important people in this story and avoided the traps of the culture wars that so often engulf his side of politics.
Whether he can avoid them so easily on an issue like climate change is not so clear.
It remains the case that there is no overarching energy strategy being pursued by the government.
Voters, if they are paying attention, would have every reason to be cynical about the sudden embrace of renewable energy from a government that topped a prime minister for the crime of advocating many of the same policies.
The question of whether voters are actually paying attention is a live one.
The Conversation website this week published findings of qualitative research in Tony Abbott’s seat of Warringah which suggested that Zali Steggall, the high-profile centre-right candidate running against him, is confronting a reality where “federal politics isn’t top of mind for these Warringah residents, many of whom display conservative views on economics while being socially progressive (for example disdaining the use of border security as a political weapon).
“Their concerns focus more around infrastructure, particularly roads and traffic congestion, population growth, environmental concerns on the northern beaches and housing affordability for their children.”
The message for the government, it seems, is that like Ita and the ABC, it should be putting the voters first.
Laura Tingle is ABC 7.30’s chief political correspondent