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How Bolt is setting the Liberal agenda

Andrew Bolt’s policy objectives line up neatly with the Liberal Party’s.

After a disastrous budget disastrously sold, Malcolm Turnbull is ascendant in the polls as Abbott plunges, according to today’s Essential poll. But if the former opposition leader wants to make a go for the leadership, he’ll have to get past conservative columnist Andrew Bolt, who’s made his feelings about the millionaire parliamentarian clear. After Turnbull dined with crossbench MP Clive Palmer last week, Bolt blasted the Communications Minister in his Monday column:

This is Turnbull, on the far Left of the Liberal Party, charming a constituency that hates Abbott and which would back Turnbull to replace him — even if it still wouldn’t vote Liberal. If only Turnbull had spent half this charm fighting for Abbott’s Budget. Instead, some of Abbott’s troops complain he’s almost gone missing in action.”

By noon, Turnbull had fired back, telling journalists Bolt’s argument “borders on the demented”:

And I just have to say to Mr Bolt, he proclaims loudly that he’s a friend of the government — well with friends like Bolt, we don’t need any enemies.”

That gave Coalition senator Cory Bernardi a chance to slap down his factional opposite on last night’s Q&A, where he described Turnbull’s response to Bolt as “unwise”, “inappropriate” and “too strident”.

Quizzed by Tony Jones on his “unwise” characterisation, Bernardi walked it back, saying media commentators would always have opinions and it was unwise to engage with them stridently on those opinions. But it’s undeniable that Andrew Bolt, “Australia’s most-read columnist”, has the ear of many within the Liberal Party. He’s particularly close to Prime Minister Tony Abbott. The PM is a regular on Bolt’s Sunday morning show, The Bolt Report, and for many years the two have been friends. When Bolt lost his racial discrimination case, Abbott was there to offer moral support, dining with Bolt and his wife that night. While there, Bolt revealed in a lengthy Good Weekend profile, Abbott implored Bolt to keep writing and filming The Bolt Report to help keep the conservative cause alive.

Has this friendship brought influence? Bolt is nothing if not prolific, and Crikey combed his archives to find how much his own political preferences are matched by Liberal Party policies. On one issue — proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act  — his influence is widely acknowledged. But his influence is much broader. Bolt, the moral compass of the government, would often prefer far more radical changes than those even Abbott can support. But he’s setting the direction of change. n.

Racial Discrimination Act

After two of Bolt’s columns on Aboriginal entitlements were found to have breached the Racial Discrimination Act in 2011, he has frequently called for changes to the laws, which he says silence legitimate discussions of issues of societal importance. His blog contains dozens of examples of people who could be silenced by the laws as they currently stand, and it collates support for his views on the issue. In March, Attorney-General George Brandis announced changes to the law that would amend, though not entirely remove, a certain passage of the act. Broadly speaking, speech that offends, insults, humiliates or intimidates someone based on their race is a breach of the act. The proposed changes leave “intimidate” in there, but excises the other breaches.

Bolt’s response:

The proposed changes, while welcome and brave, simply do not go far enough. I know how keen some judges are use what powers they may be persuaded to find in such legislation.”

Since then, reports in the Fairfax press suggest the proposals will be watered down further, having failed to find crossbench support in the Senate.

Verdict: On the backburner — for now

Climate Change

Climate change’s key tenets are myths and its believers are members of the “global warming religion”. Andrew Bolt is one of the country’s leading sceptics, and his views square with off-the-cuff comments from Tony Abbott in 2009, when he told Coalition supporters in the Victorian town of Beaufort that climate change was “absolute crap”.

The Abbott government has vowed to dismantle the carbon tax, which Bolt has long advocated. But the government is taking some action on climate change through its Direct Action policy. This will, Bolt believes, cost the economy less than the carbon tax all up, though both will make “no difference to the climate”. But in 2011 he said he hoped the Liberals would eventually give up “paying lip service to a false god”.

Turnbull lost his leadership on this issue, beaten by one vote by the far more Bolt-aligned Abbott.

Verdict: Partway there

Asylum seekers

In 2012, as asylum seeker numbers swelled, Bolt wrote a column on two boatloads that had recently arrived …

What we call ‘asylum seekers’ are more often than not seeking something other than the asylum we’d gladly offer people in genuine fear of their lives. They could be after an economic opportunity, for instance. A welfare state. An immigration spot that they would not get if they asked for it by the normal, legal means, using identity papers we could check. In other words, we are seeing more people that … well, that we’re still obliged as journalists to call ‘asylum seekers’ — because the Press Council insists we should, and the Gillard government is only too anxious for an excuse to muzzle us with even tougher laws if we don’t submit.”

It’s hard to argue the Liberal Party alone began to argue that asylum seekers were opportunists - the criticism was most famously made by then Labor Foreign Minister Bob Carr in 2013. But the Abbott Government has continued its punitive policy on boat arrivals - made more politically palpable by a lack of public sympathy for asylum seekers.

Verdict: Accomplished

Welfare policy

Australia’s high levels of welfare are a problem, Bolt believes, particularly when it becomes entrenched among young people and the disadvantaged. One problem is “offering welfare in towns where there’s no real work and never will be,” to quote Bolt in 2011. Another post, from earlier this year, lamented how one in five people rely on a government handout for their livelihoods. “This $70 billion a year of welfarism cannot be healthy,” Bolt wrote.

The Abbott government, broadly, agrees. Its changes to welfare contained in the budget, as well as comments by senior ministers, clearly point to dismantling welfare for all but the most needy. Bolt would approve.

But there is one type of welfare Bolt would like to see cut where the government hasn’t been so obliging. “End corporate welfare now,” Bolt’s blog in May 2013 urged. While Australia’s car industry is no longer supported, plenty of corporates still get plenty of welfare, as Crikey business editor Paddy Manning noted in his analysis of the budget.

Verdict: Accomplished

Industrial Relations

It’s here, perhaps, that we see the greatest divergence between Bolt’s preferences and Liberal Party policy. In 2012, citing a statistic from the Australian Mines and Metals Association, Bolt wrote that “the government’s absurd workplace restrictions are killing our productivity and strangling our future”.

But the Liberals haven’t campaigned on this — in fact, they’ve vowed to leave industrial relations alone until the next election. It’s earned them rebuke from Bolt at times.

Verdict: Unaccomplished

30
  • 1
    chpowell
    Posted Tuesday, 3 June 2014 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    God help us

  • 2
    danger_monkey
    Posted Tuesday, 3 June 2014 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    I’d be happy to watch Bolt provoke Malcolm Turnbull, Cory Benardi and Tony Abbott into conflict. In pretty much any scenario, we end up with a weakend Coalition, and that works for me.

  • 3
    Electric Lardyland
    Posted Tuesday, 3 June 2014 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    Of course, one of the main reasons why Abbott is relentlessly showing himself to be an appallingly underqualified PM, is the support he received in Opposition from people like Bolt. That is, no matter how ludicrous the Abbott thought bubbles or how free from reality his policy proposals, they were always spruiked as words of great wisdom by Bolt and his media confederates. This seemed to give Abbott a greatly inflated sense of his own brilliance.
    Now the nation will have to suffer through a period of government, by someone with the unfortunate mix of arrogance, power and stupidity.

  • 4
    Yclept
    Posted Tuesday, 3 June 2014 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    No I doubt Rupert will help us…

  • 5
    Sharkie
    Posted Tuesday, 3 June 2014 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    Two Points.
    1. The Liberal Party has no far left except in Blot fantasy land. Turnbull is a economic conservative and social moderate. i.e. he doesn’t spend his time looking for gays in the closet like half the lunatics in the Liberals. This apparently = far left.
    2. Blot does have influence with the Liberal Party. He’s been on the bandwagon of virtually every lunar right campaign going around. The good thing is, the majority of people don’t believe his climate change denialist dribble, they don’t want to see racial vilification laws weakened, and they have pretty much come to the conclusion that Blot is nothing more than a tin foil hat-wearing ideologue with a very tenuous grip on reality. Blot’s toxic influence is closely correlated with the rapid slide in the polls for Abbott.
    If you think the ALP can eat their own, just wait for the conservative main course. As the polls slide it’s going to get very vicious indeed.

  • 6
    SusieQ
    Posted Tuesday, 3 June 2014 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    Its a shame we just can’t ignore the Blot and leave him to his fans.

  • 7
    MJPC
    Posted Tuesday, 3 June 2014 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

    Climate change…so the Libs are taking ‘intellectual’ counsel/advice from Bolt whose sole intellectual riguer is a partly completed arts degree before he became a cadet journo with “The Age”, yet discounting a majority of the scientific community involved with climateology, meteorology and the environment.
    I think this says something about rhe redneck party running this country now as much as some, wanna be, journo.

  • 8
    MJPC
    Posted Tuesday, 3 June 2014 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    Industrial relations: Greatest divergance of policy, not likely. Work Choices Mk? is in the Liberal lexicon of items to impose as soon as the smoke clears over this budget (there needs to be stronger winds though).
    In the meantime every two bit employers “union”/association is beying for the abolition of penalty rates. It will be workchoices by increment.

  • 9
    klewso
    Posted Tuesday, 3 June 2014 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

    One of Labor’s greatest assets?
    He can’t provoke Bernardi or Toady - they’re all caste from the same slag.

  • 10
    James Dean
    Posted Tuesday, 3 June 2014 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

    One point - Bolt is a climate change DENIALIST, not a skeptic.

    Most people are skeptics. Skeptics listen to the whole argument, try and figure out which side seems to be most likely to be correct, and hunt for more data if they can’t make up their mind. If they’re really trying to be skeptical, they then lake a look at the position they’ve developed and try and pick holes in it, and then see if those holes are able to be filled. If they can, it’s a good position. If they can’t it’s time to develop another position.

    Denialists divide all evidence into “That which supports my view” and “That which does not” and label all of the former class as unassailable and the latter class as untrue.

    I heard this one recently, which is worth sharing:-
    “Arguing with an idiot is like playing chess with a pigeon. No matter how good you are, all they’re going to do is crap on the board and then strut around like they wan - and you can’t stop them”.

  • 11
    Karen
    Posted Tuesday, 3 June 2014 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

    Gee, even Rupert can’t do anything at the moment to reverse the 53:47 2pp split that has now turned in favour of Labour. And all thanks to the transfer of wealth the Budget has brought the uber wealthy at the expense of the middle classes. To think that the middle classes are now looking down the barrel of 100s of thousands of dollars of HECS debts to fund their kids’ tertiary education - their worst nightmare. Well, well, well.

  • 12
    Karen
    Posted Tuesday, 3 June 2014 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    How hypocritical of Bernardi to slap down Turnbull and not Bolt who actually started this fight. Disgusting.

  • 13
    botswana bob
    Posted Tuesday, 3 June 2014 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

    First the Boltler is a hack working for citizen [Amerikan] Murdoch and so what he espouses — or to be more accurate rants about — would certainly be approved by Lord Rupert.
    Second I do wish the Boltler would dress properly for TV. Isn’t jackboots brown shirt and armband suitable attire?

  • 14
    Alphonse
    Posted Tuesday, 3 June 2014 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

    Informative post, but can I quibble with “Australia’s high levels of welfare are a problem, Bolt believes, …”? We have moderate levels of welfare - at or below OECD average - but some may read this as confirming the Bolt/Lib myth that the levels are high. I personally know many people not opposed to our levels of welfare who believed those levels to be high.

  • 15
    Alphonse
    Posted Tuesday, 3 June 2014 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

    Conservatives have an id and an ego. Bolt is the former, his party the latter. They used to have a super-ego, but Howard amputated it.

  • 16
    CML
    Posted Tuesday, 3 June 2014 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

    Myriam - what planet have you been living on?
    “Welfare policy…ACCOMPLISHED”!!!

    There is a small gathering called the Senate, which is the other half of the government in this country. Just about every welfare brainf+rt proffered by this putrid government in the HOR, is NOT GOING TO MAKE IT THROUGH THE SENATE. Got that?

    So that doesn’t equate with ‘accomplished’ in my book.

  • 17
    Kevin Herbert
    Posted Tuesday, 3 June 2014 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

    The Bolt remedy:

    Don’t mention him…and in about 4 to 6 months, he’ll be fired.

    But of course the Aussie media including Crikey feeds on its own self importance…..and Bolt will be around as long as the punters & the media allow him to be…eos.

  • 18
    zut alors
    Posted Tuesday, 3 June 2014 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

    When The Parrot drops off the perch will Blotto be the obvious replacement?

  • 19
    mark leo
    Posted Tuesday, 3 June 2014 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

    zut…different market…Bolt rules Melbourne…and he’s too gutless for radio..

  • 20
    David Hand
    Posted Tuesday, 3 June 2014 at 8:29 pm | Permalink

    This is a classic example of a headline being contradicted by the article that follows. Just a straight scorecard is enough.
    Question - Are Bolt’s opinions and government policy aligned?
    Answer-
    RDA - No
    Climate change - No
    Asylum seekers - Yes
    Welfare policy - yes
    Industrial relations - no.

    Good grief, my own views are closer to Coalition policy than Bolt’s. Hey maybe I’m the guy who’s “setting the Liberal agenda”.

    Here’s a simple idea that even Crikey aficionados might get their heads around. Maybe Tony Abbott is setting the Liberal agenda.

  • 21
    Ron E. Joggles
    Posted Tuesday, 3 June 2014 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

    Bolt, the moral compass of the government” - Myriam, are you serious? Coalition MPs really listen to this idiot? And why refer to Bolt as “conservative”? Radical right-wing fundamentalists are not conservative, but acquiescing to Bolt’s claim to that title allows him to benefit from the benign connotations attaching to “conservative”.

  • 22
    fractious
    Posted Tuesday, 3 June 2014 at 9:35 pm | Permalink

    Andrew Bolt is one of the country’s leading sceptics

    If Crikey wants to give Bolt even more space (and internet ranking) than he deserves, then at least get the terminology to describe his rantings right - when it comes to climate, Bolt is not a “sceptic”, he’s anti-science (his hypocrisy is easily demonstrated when he partakes of those forms of science, like medicine, which he perforce approves of). He, The Parrot, Laws and all the shoutback radio jocks use their platforms the same way as a religious fundamentalist preacher does - as a pulpit.

  • 23
    AR
    Posted Wednesday, 4 June 2014 at 7:01 am | Permalink

    Zut - Blot is already on 2GB in the evenings (with the Poision Dwarf I think)but the Caterwauling Catamite has, reportedly signed a new contract with Singo to stay for “22 years” which, as someone MariejkeH?) pointed out in reference to average life expectancy “patience my pretties”.

  • 24
    jason davis
    Posted Wednesday, 4 June 2014 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    Channel 10 drops morning news programs but keeps the Bolt report. Between Bolt & other Shock Jock (liberal fan boy`s)
    The Liberal message is flooding the media. Free speech?

  • 25
    pritu
    Posted Wednesday, 4 June 2014 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    James Dean @ 10 above. Thank you for restating that. Out there in cloud-cuckoo medialand these terms are one and the same. Clarity of thinking is dangerous to those whose aim is to confuse and conquer.

  • 26
    Bob's Uncle
    Posted Wednesday, 4 June 2014 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    David Hand - there is a difference between asking whether opinions are aligned and whether the Government has (within less than 1 year of being in power) been able to fully implement policies based on these opinions.

    So just to clarify: Question - Are Bolt’s opinions and government policy aligned?

    Answer-
    RDA - Yes, but the Government has run into cross-bench (and public) opposition.
    Climate change - Yes, but the Government still feels compelled to offer as a fig-leaf ineffective, underfunded alternative which isn’t fooling anyone even as they unwind every substantive policy in this area.
    Asylum seekers - Yes
    Welfare policy - yes
    Industrial relations - Yes, but they don’t feel brave enough to attend to this until their second term.

  • 27
    Posted Wednesday, 4 June 2014 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

    Of course the fact that Andrew Bolt is a minion of Rupert Murdoch has had nothing at all to do with such an offensive creature wielding the power he has been given. Not bloody much it hasn’t.

  • 28
    David Hand
    Posted Wednesday, 4 June 2014 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

    Go for it Uncle.
    You can all tell each other that Murdoch and Bolt are calling the shots.

    Then when the opinion polls begin to recover after the budget rage has subsided you can all tell each other it’s because the evil Murdoch and Bolt hegemony is brainwashing the minds of simple people.

    Then when the Abbott government gets re-elected, you can all agree that the average voter is too stupid to vote the correct way and maybe democracy isn’t all it’s cut out to be.

    On the other hand, you might be a bit visionary and entertain the way out notion that the government is setting policy in line with their mandate on behalf of the people who elected them and that Bolt has nothing to do with it.

    Catchy concept, that.

  • 29
    tim gamage
    Posted Thursday, 5 June 2014 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

    From what I see around me, in my own community, 457 is the ‘new’ work choices. Bolt along with Gina is having his way with Industrial Relations.

  • 30
    klewso
    Posted Wednesday, 11 June 2014 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    I don’t think it’s the job of Murdoch’s Con-troll freaks to call the shots.
    I reckon they reinforce the preconceptions of “40+(?)%” that think “the Right” way.
    I don’t think they’ll ever influence the thinking of “40+(?)%” of the electorate that don’t think Right.
    They won’t influence the donkey voter or the deliberate protest Informal voter - “10+/-(?)%” combined?
    It seems it’s their job to influence the perceptions of that (“5(?)%”) majority of swinging voters re “fitness to govern” - that influences electoral outcomes and delivers government for everyone?
    Using your market dominating resources for burying one side under an avalanche of carping, one-eyed, unbalanced, partisan negative PR (in spite of PCP’s and mission statements about commitment to accurate and fair publication of news and commentary) seems the Right Murdoch way to go?

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