The split in the Liberals comes as Australian broadcast television has taken a sharp right turn, and the timing couldn’t have been better for the 24-hour news network, Sky News.
Working both for and against the Liberal Party is the rise of Sky News (post 7pm) as Australia’s version of Fox News. Where they once would be confined to talkback radio or little-read newspaper columns, now those with an agenda within the party have access to the perfect audience.
Those who want to inflict the most damage on their internal political opponents know that Sky is the place to do it. While Sky’s low ratings are often a point of derision, it’s not about how many people are watching it, but who is watching it. It’s viewed in every press gallery office and MP office in parliament. Each MP’s electorate office has a Foxtel subscription, and the Sky News social media accounts are quick to upload the most juicy bits of any interview. The best bits will end up far beyond Sky News, re-reported online, in the papers, and on rival TV networks.
Let’s run through some of the times Sky News has been at the centre of some of the biggest disputes in the Liberal and National Parties in recent months:
- Former prime minister Tony Abbott drops his five-point plan to “save” the government from One Nation at a book launch, but then helpfully cosies up to his cheerleader-in-chief Andrew Bolt for a lengthy follow up on Bolt’s show.
- The subsequent smackdown to Abbott came from the normally quite precise Finance Minister Mathias Cormann who used the network the next morning to label Abbott’s contribution as “sad”.
- Immigration Minister Peter Dutton (on Bolt’s goading) first made his comments about Lebanese immigrants on Bolt’s show, and also said the US-Australia refugee deal was indeed a people swap.
- Now independent Senator Cory Bernardi held one of his first post-defection interviews on The Bolt Report.
- Former chief of staff to Abbott Peta Credlin coined the term “Mr Harbourside Mansion” on Sky News.
Sky News has a full roster of backbenchers, ex-politicians, staffers and others on constant rotation on the network, meaning the battles from the local branches up to the top levels of the party can bubble to the surface on Sky News all the time.
Sky News’ cavalcade of cheerleaders for the conservative cause also presents somewhat of an issue for the prime minister. Ross Cameron, Paul Murray, Andrew Bolt, Chris Kenny, Caroline Marcus, Rowan Dean, hell, even Mark Latham are on hand to cheer the conservative cause. But in the post-Abbott era, there are splinters. Those unhappy with the change of leadership and who want the return of Abbott are now in full war against the Turnbull government and other conservatives, like Miranda Devine, who back the cause rather than particular leaders. This was seen in the now infamous on-air fight between Bolt and Devine on 2GB.
Murray, a supporter of Abbott, has thrown his support behind Pauline Hanson, and indeed many of those commentators on the conservative side are now using the rise of Hanson to encourage the Liberal Party to go even further to the right before that support will return.