Fear campaigns are pretty unedifying at the best of times, but political strategists keep on using them because negative campaigning is so effective.
Voters are more likely to believe a politician if they say something negative about their opponent than if they say something positive about themselves.
With that in mind, Prime Minister continued to beat the terrorism drum, making an appearance alongside the Liberal candidate for the Canning by-election, Andrew Hastie, who also happens to be a former Special Armed Forces officer. He fought against the baddies in Afghanistan.
During a radio interview Mr Abbott denied he was trying to turn the Canning ballot into a khaki election, and claimed terrorist group Islamic State was worse than the Nazis.
In this instance Mr Abbott tried to amplify community anxiety about terrorism to make Mr Hastie’s military background appear more reassuring and attractive to voters. Clearly the PM doesn’t know that if you have to resort to using Nazis to justify your point, you’ve probably already lost the argument.
Foreigners stealing your jobs
Not to be outdone in the fear campaign stakes, Labor leader Bill Shorten whipped up anxiety about an issue that voters may fear even more than terrorists – foreigners stealing their jobs.
Mr Shorten has been under pressure from unions, who as readers may remember did him a few favours at the ALP National Conference back in July, to oppose Australia’s free trade agreement with China. The CHAFTA provides exemptions in some instances for Chinese companies to bring their own workers when operating in Australia.
Despite being accused of dog-whistling to xenophobes and conflicting with other Labor leaders, Mr Shorten will no doubt keep to this line until the Canning by-election is over. He wants voters to think that a vote for Labor is a vote to protect Australian jobs.
A conga-line of boogeymen
But wait, there were even more scare campaigns attempted during the past week.
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton accused certain media organisations of being politically biased, bemoaning that “they aren’t supposed to be political players, they’re supposed to be objective reporters of the news and I think many of them have morphed into frustrated politicians”.
Astonishingly, Mr Dutton was not referring to News Corp, which is an unabashed supporter of the Abbott government. He was in fact accusing Fairfax of being in cahoots with that supposed bastion of bias – the ABC – in running a “jihad” against the government.
Meantime, the owner of News Corp, Rupert Murdoch, unleashed a flurry of tweets after visiting Australia this week, nominating the Senate and “extreme greenies” as his bogeymen of choice and calling for a snap election.
In spite of some blind spots, Abbott far the best alternative. Principled and a fighter.
— Rupert Murdoch (@rupertmurdoch) September 3, 2015
When a Cabinet minister calls
The scariest story of the week was for the Prime Minister himself. Mr Abbott stumbled through a political re-run of the horror movie, When a Stranger Calls, with the looming dread that those phone calls to the media were not only coming from inside the (parliament) house, but the Cabinet itself.
Mr Abbbott’s competitors for the Liberal leadership are presently biding their time, lurking in the shadows and waiting for the right time to strike.
That may well be just after the Canning by-election, which incidentally is the same time Malcolm Turnbull is due to appear at the National Press Club. Tony Abbott may well be the master of the fear campaign, but he’s not immune to one being used against him.
The PM should probably stay alert for the sound of shrieking violins.
Ooops, did I really say that?
While Mr Murdoch’s tweet was a little inconvenient for the PM, so was the unearthing of a comment made by Mr Abbott back in 2013 when former PM Kevin Rudd complained about negative media coverage from the Murdoch press.
Mr Abbott said at the time: “The reason why this government gets poor coverage, at least in some areas of the media, is because it has been the worst government in our history.”
He also went on to give some excellent advice that was spookily prescient after Peter Dutton’s allegations of an ABC, Fairfax ‘jihad’ against the government. Mr Abbott suggested to Mr Rudd: “If you want better coverage, be a better government.