The Abbott government has created a hub of 37 communication and social media specialists to monitor social media and offer strategic communications advice costing taxpayers almost $4.3 million a year.
Details released in Senate documents show the ‘‘Strategic Communications Branch’’ was implemented late last year, where the 37 staff are expected to oversee media within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, including Indigenous Affairs and the Office for Women. According to the documents, staff are expected to monitor social media, offer strategic communications advice and create internal newsletters graphic design support, among other duties.
A spokesman for Opposition Leader Bill Shorten slammed the number of communications staff engaged to spin Tony Abbott’s messages.
Soon after assuming office, Prime Minister Tony Abbott is reported to have created a strategic communications unit comprising 37 staffers. Their exact role is unclear. So, too are many other details, a responsible government would normally be expected to divulge. What is clear, however, is that most of us have been mystified to learn of the unit’s existence. Or evidence that it has been anything but a dead loss. Perhaps its clearest function is what it communicates to the Australian people about Tony’s tin ear and the remoteness of his government. Not only have previous governments done well without such a unit but by definition if you need a tin ear symphony to be in touch with your electorate, you lack the essential communication skills and sense to govern.
Mr Abbott has been less than, well, communicative about his communication unit as befits his chosen style. But no doubt he believes it was a prudent investment made as it was in the midst of his chicken little alarm calls about the economy. Not that he believed he had any real alternative. After all, even Abbott knows it’s an imperative: now that he’s won the election by pretending to have alternative policies and pretending that Labor was incompetent, raddled with leadership challengers and too inclusive of women, he has to pretend that he’s now capable of being Prime Minister. And he had to do something about
his recurring nightmare that one day, after years of fun and games with Alan Jones, Rupert and his other mates who flocked to him in rubbishing the country’s Prime Minister and everything she stood for, he woke up and he was expected to perform as a Prime Minister.
Typically, our little Aussie Bolter, Abbott has thrown caution to the winds. No consultation. He’s been quick with another captain’s call. You can’t waste time listening to others if you want to set up a communications unit. Besides, since when has Abbott given a rat’s bum for anyone else’s views?
Some would see Rat’s Arse Abbott’s Strategic Communications Unit as a bold initiative. It’s certainly one with ample historical precedent. Joseph Goebbels exploited a similarly strategic approach to government to some effect. Goebbel’s Proganda Principle 16 is being followed as we write:
Propaganda to the home front must create an optimum anxiety level.
The rest of Australia may well see it as foolhardy, self-defeating or premature. Apposite, timely communication, it must be acknowledged, is almost impossible in the absence of any coherent plan, let alone any vision.
Granted its creation was poorly timed. The announcement of the unit was made amidst shock revelations that there was nothing in the budget but a wad of well-thumbed IOUs, Peter Slipper’s Cabcharge dockets and few unused meal vouchers bearing the name M Coulson. Worse than nothing. Those Labor bastards were profligate. Spent money like water. But they didn’t have a strategic communications unit.
Fecklessly staring down those who might accuse him of hypocrisy or inconsistency, Mr Abbott spent up big. He appears gifted at finding funds a plenty when it comes to making him sound good. He found buckets of money to splurge on fabricating an ersatz authenticity, gravity, competence and legitimacy. The unit gives him a chance of looking as if he’s across the detail of issues and events. The unit gives him a faux empathy, a diminished level of ignorance and a coherence he would be hard pressed to muster on his own.
Some would argue the Unit faces a big job. It could take any number of hacks to make Abbott sound half-way credible. Others would say that it’s an impossible task. You can’t polish a turd. Even the attempt will cost you dearly. The PM’s unit is expensive turd polish.
Let’s say, conservatively, each staffer in the TPU (Turd Polishing Unit) is on subsistence wages of $100,000 per annum or more. There would have to be dirt money and danger money in the staffer’s EBA. Factor in legal insurance against malpractice, fraudulence, defamation, perjury and other litigation costs insurance fees. A cheer squad is never cheap to feed.
We can only speculate. In the absence of any clear communication, it may be assumed that conservatively, his ghost-writers cost the nation $4.3 million. That’s the official figure. Do your own add ins. That’s a heck of an investment especially when you add in Joe Hockey’s spin unit. Then, of course, we need to add Scott Morrison’s departments which employ more than 95 communications staff and spin doctors, costing at least $8million a year.
Now we are up to a very conservative $12 million per year. Let’s say the government invested that amount each year for 15 years. Put it by for some frippery such as health or education. Assume an interest rate of 5%. Total funds available would be $283,889,901. Imagine if these funds were directed to help the needy and the underprivileged.
Then of course there is the incredible Credlin, Abbott’s minder, body servant and groom of the King’s close stool who must draw a performance bonus for the extra quota of turd-words as may be necessitated to meet daily contingencies such as our suddenly being at war in Iraq as stipulated in her EBA. Say what you like about Peta. She won’t come cheap.
The spending does not stop there. Other experts include a vocal coach to get Abbott to speak more slowly. Repeat key phrases. Key phrases. Even a spectacle coach, it would seem, has been engaged to get him to wear his glasses on camera to add gravitas. Or do a pale imitation of a policy wonk. On the other hand, perhaps it’s to tone down the anticipated hostility, Abbott’s public appearance unfailingly generates. You don’t punch the kid wearing glasses.
Whatever the motive, Abbott’s unit are guaranteed to be a pack of very busy minders. And there efforts to date have been entirely unsuccessful. We point to the “slow down, Tony” strategy as one that is clearly working. It’s painful to witness but we must console ourselves that its logical extension must surely be that Tony speaks so slowly he says nothing at all. That is no bridge too far. Doubtless, the revised performance plan for the Chief Turd Polisher would be a bonus for getting Abbott to shut up completely. Government by wooden faced narcoleptic stupor has, after all worked well for such elder statesmen as Ronald Reagan, Vladimir Putin and Warren Truss.
Communication is a two way process. It requires a capacity for listening, a gift for tuning in, for sharing another’s point of view, an ability to feel for others, a non-judgemental approach which enables you try to see the others’ points of view. Above all it requires respect for and acceptance of others regardless of their age, station, beliefs or abilities. By definition, genuine communication does not include government by opinion poll, focus groups or the many other expensive artificial ways of measuring the bath water before you turn on the tap. The opinion poll led government tends to move in ever decreasing circles until it disappears up its own rat’s rectum.
We have been saddled with an incompetent, remote and completely out of touch government which came to power by destroying the credibility of its opponents. The Prime Minister’s Strategic Communication Unit exists at our expense to remind us of the cost of a party that wins government by default. In due course it will be telling us that we have never had it so good. Or anything else really that its diligent researchers tell it is required to keep it in power. What we should know. And what we should think.
Joseph Goebbels – Propaganda Principles
Based upon Goebbels’ Principles of Propaganda by Leonard W. Doob, published in Public Opinion and Propaganda; A Book of Readings edited for The Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues.
- 1. Propagandist must have access to intelligence concerning events and public opinion.
2. Propaganda must be planned and executed by only one authority.
a. It must issue all the propaganda directives.
b. It must explain propaganda directives to important officials and maintain their morale.
c. It must oversee other agencies’ activities which have propaganda consequences
3. The propaganda consequences of an action must be considered in planning that action.
4. Propaganda must affect the enemy’s policy and action.
a. By suppressing propagandistically desirable material which can provide the enemy with useful intelligence
b. By openly disseminating propaganda whose content or tone causes the enemy to draw the desired conclusions
c. By goading the enemy into revealing vital information about himself
d. By making no reference to a desired enemy activity when any reference would discredit that activity
5. Declassified, operational information must be available to implement a propaganda campaign
6. To be perceived, propaganda must evoke the interest of an audience and must be transmitted through an attention-getting communications medium.
7. Credibility alone must determine whether propaganda output should be true or false.
8. The purpose, content and effectiveness of enemy propaganda; the strength and effects of an expose; and the nature of current propaganda campaigns determine whether enemy propaganda should be ignored or refuted.
9. Credibility, intelligence, and the possible effects of communicating determine whether propaganda materials should be censored.
10. Material from enemy propaganda may be utilized in operations when it helps diminish that enemy’s prestige or lends support to the propagandist’s own objective.
11. Black rather than white propaganda may be employed when the latter is less credible or produces undesirable effects.
12. Propaganda may be facilitated by leaders with prestige.
13. Propaganda must be carefully timed.
a. The communication must reach the audience ahead of competing propaganda.
b. A propaganda campaign must begin at the optimum moment
c. A propaganda theme must be repeated, but not beyond some point of diminishing effectiveness
14. Propaganda must label events and people with distinctive phrases or slogans.
a. They must evoke desired responses which the audience previously possesses
b. They must be capable of being easily learned
c. They must be utilized again and again, but only in appropriate situations
d. They must be boomerang-proof
15. Propaganda to the home front must prevent the raising of false hopes which can be blasted by future events.
16. Propaganda to the home front must create an optimum anxiety level.
a. Propaganda must reinforce anxiety concerning the consequences of defeat
b. Propaganda must diminish anxiety (other than concerning the consequences of defeat) which is too high and which cannot be reduced by people themselves
17. Propaganda to the home front must diminish the impact of frustration.
a. Inevitable frustrations must be anticipated
b. Inevitable frustrations must be placed in perspective
18. Propaganda must facilitate the displacement of aggression by specifying the targets for hatred.
- 19. Propaganda cannot immediately affect strong counter-tendencies; instead it must offer some form of action or diversion, or both.