Murdoch, The Miners, and the Monopoly of Manipulation

In a country where two out of every three newspapers in major cities are owned by Rupert Murdoch, and which possesses the unenviable mantle of the most highly concentrated media ownership in the Western world, it is no surprise that public discourse on all things related to big business and the shadow it casts over society tends toward the lowest common denominator. According to the minions of Murdoch, the sole threat to human existence—re-affirmed on a daily basis—are “boat people” destined for the shores of Australia. So important are these “alien invaders,” who have averaged approximately three a day since 2009, that discussion of their asylum attempts assumes the categorization of “border defense.” The Murdoch media empire in Australia regularly leads with headlines regarding their imminent arrival and, presumably, the subsequent downfall of western “civilization.”


Since the election of the Labor Government in 2007, proposed reforms have generated hysteria from the business elite. Rupert Murdoch’s Newscorp has maintained its position as media
attack-dog par excellence. Foremost has been opposition to the Resource Super Profits Tax (RSPT) and the proposed responses to climate change—the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS), “shelved” by the Kevin Rudd-led Government, and its successor, the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). Murdoch’s Newscorp, in true fashion, supported the election of the Rudd Government after 11 years of John Howard’s conservative rule. This is not the first time the media mogul has mounted an aggressive agenda against an incumbent after initially leaping on the bandwagon of change.


In 1972, Gough Whitlam, Labor Party poster child of progress, after 23 years of post-war conservative rigidity, was swept to power on the slogan of “It’s Time.” The campaign summed up the general mood of an Australian public tired of the Vietnam War, of conscripting its teenagers in death-lotteries, and of the paternalism of our presumably loving overseer, Uncle Sam. It was also an Australian public convinced it was time for many other reforms, aside from ending conscription and freeing draft-evaders, offering free universal higher education, a raft of progressive legislation for women, and recognizing Australia’s indigenous communities, among many others. In all, 507 new pieces of legislation were introduced.


Most disconcerting for our benevolent masters in Washington—whom members of the Whitlam Government had labeled “maniacs” and “corrupt” due to their bloody campaigns in Southeast Asia—was the government’s pre-election promise to “buy back the farm.” By this they meant an end to subservience to (mainly U.S.) multinationals and a campaign to reclaim minerals, refineries, and industries for the benefit of the Australian public. Buying back the farm, as the Arbenz or Mosaddegh Government’s could have attested, is a risky strategy. In fact, Whitlam should have known better. He condemned Australia’s own foreign “security service,” ASIO—a regional lapdog for the CIA—for its complicity in the events of September 11, 1973. Whitlam would have his own Allende moment on November 11, 1975, when the Queen’s representative in Australia, the Governor-General, dismissed him in another CIA-backed coup.

Subversion of Democracy

Earlier that year, 75 Murdoch journalists went on strike over one of Murdoch’s papers, the Australian, becoming “a propagandist sheet” and “a laughing stock,” presumably before laughing-stockery became his mainstay. On the 20th anniversary of what has become known as the “constitutional crisis,” Murdoch suggested that historic accounts and speculation of his involvement in the events of 1975 do not do him justice and that his behind-the-stage puppetry and consequent subversion of Australian democracy was actually far more extensive.


This time, unfortunately for the forces of real democracy in Australia, buying back the farm isn’t even on the agenda. The Labor Party of today has learned the lessons of the coup and instead prefers small, increasingly unidentifiable shifts of policy. These used to be referred to as reforms, however, such tendencies today shy away from bearing the name (unless, of course, the reforms are pro-business: then they are indeed reforms and long-overdue reforms at that). Nonetheless, the policy shifts of today have managed to ruffle the Champagne-swilling, Porsche-driving feathers of the new Australian elite.


The Australian Mining Industry, tied parasitically to the growth of China and India, reaps profits only dreamed of in the Australia of 1975. According to IBISWORLD Market Research, the Australian Mining Industry is set to reap profits of $209 billion in the financial year 2011-2012. It was, in fact, the reforms of the Hawke Labor Government of the 1980s that introduced the neo-liberalism that has allowed Australia’s relatively rich to become uber-rich. As he has demonstrated regularly, both here and in his overseas mouthpieces, Murdoch protects his own class and their interests with all he has.


The debate about the RSPT in Australia has been more comedy than tragedy at times. The picture of mining magnate and Australia’s richest individual, Gina Rinehart, and co-ally multi-billionaire miner, Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest, personally protesting the prime minister with placards and fists erected brought a tear to the eyes of many—some laughing, others decrying the lack of rational discourse within the Australian media infrastructure, who reported the event much like they would a gathering of pro-refugee activists, albeit with much greater support for the “protesters.” The use of Edmund Burke’s dictum that, “All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men [sic] to do nothing” on the Association of Mining and Exploration Companies’ website only added to the absurdity that prevails within the culture of Australia’s top one percent. Murdoch’s the Australian, the sole national newspaper, and his two top-selling tabloid dailies in Melbourne and Sydney, have used the proposed tax, along with the other proposed “solutions” to climate change to attack and vilify the Labor Government, although its own incompetence surely needs no aid.


According to Andrew Hughes, an Australian National University academic who researches marketing and political branding: “The Murdoch press has its feet on the throat of a government that’s already on the ropes.” The government, well aware of this, has declared that Murdoch is “running a campaign of regime change,” a well-trodden path for the veteran propagandist.

Media Machinations


The Murdoch-led attacks have led to an alliance of big business interests between media and mining that has flexed its political muscle over the last year. The Sydney Morning Herald, a broadsheet produced by Fairfax Media—the other approximately 30 percent of the Australian print media not owned by Murdoch—reported that $22 million was spent by the mining industry to “bring down” Prime Minister (former) Kevin Rudd: “The industry’s national body, the Minerals Council of Australia, spent $17.2 million, mainly on TV advertisements; BHP Billiton spent $4.2 million; Rio Tinto just over $537,000, and a smaller lobby group, the Association of Mining and Exploration Companies, just under $274,000.”


Moreover, significant financial contributions from various mining corporations were made during the same period to the parliamentary opposition, led at this time by archconservative Tony Abbott. Abbott was fundamental in the overthrow of the former leader of the opposition, Malcolm Turnbull, who supported the Rudd Government’s CPRS. Speculation has been rife that Abbott’s push for leadership was the result of significant lobbying from the energy sectors. The money spent on the campaign to oust Rudd brought significant returns: the tax remains, although it has adopted a new name, but it now will seek only three-quarters of the original intended amount, leading many within the mining community to suggest their investment has provided returns above and beyond expectations. The mining community has also begun a TV advertising campaign entitled “Australian Mining: This Is Our Story” whereby they portray the various life stories of their employees. 


The daily attacks from the Murdoch media and other conservative sources, particularly on radio, have created an atmosphere that was largely unknown in Australian society, similar to that created by Fox News’ inflammatory rhetoric and the Tea Party “movement” in the United States. There has been a clear attempt by big business to establish right-wing populism in Australia: reactionary, emotive, and highly volatile. In fact, an Australian Tea Party has recently been established, its website plastered with horror stories of Marxist baby clothes and other imminent threats to human existence. The website has identified what it refers to as “The Aussie Big 3”—taxation, Australian sovereignty, and the debt threat. Unsurprisingly, these three concerns are the same ones that have dominated the Murdoch media and the Abbott opposition’s agenda of late.


Although hastening to depict itself as a grassroots organization, the U.S. Tea Party has been exposed as being backed financially by various right-wing think-tanks, lobbies, and billionaires. An article in The Sydney Morning Herald revealed Australia’s own version of the Koch Brothers, Senator Corey Bernardi—climate change denier and anti-Islamer extraordinaire—was heavily involved in the establishment of six different anti-Carbon Tax “grassroots” organizations, also pioneering “pro-market” and “traditionalist” values. Bernardi was the subject of recent controversy for his offer to aid Geert Wilders’s visit to Australia. He has attested to a large picture of Margaret Thatcher being proudly displayed on his desk, happily conceding that he is an “ideological warrior,” much like his heroine. Bernardi and shock-jock, talk radio host Alan Jones were heavily involved with another anti-Labor Party “movement,” the Convoy of No Confidence, led by the online Just Ground Community Forums, which have since been outed as “Astroturfed” by a minority of individuals. The Murdoch Press were triumphal in their depiction of this “revolt of working people,” claiming the group was made up of “butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers who are mad as hell and not going to take it anymore: “Australia’s uprising is from workers. Workers, who every day drive trucks and travel in aeroplanes all over Australia to work in mines and on cattle stations and in hundreds of industries that service them…. They do not like being treated as fools. The federal Labor government has indeed treated them and millions of others as fools.”


Never has the Murdoch press been so supportive of the rights of working people. One could even suggest the Australian Tea Party keep their eye out for advertisements for Marxist baby clothes appearing on the back pages of Murdoch’s tabloids. The Convoy, initially claiming to include thousands of trucks, cars, and buses destined for Canberra, managed to produce barely a couple of hundred, many of whom struggled to articulate a rational argument as to why they were converging on the capital.


Discussions of Murdoch’s capacity to influence his editors and his paper’s perspectives usually adopt what could be described as the anti-conspiratorial theory—that Murdoch, with his extensive media operations all over the world, clearly could not have the capacity to supervise and influence the content and character of his various papers, particularly here in the “arse-end of the world,” as former Prime Minister Paul Keating lovingly referred to Australia. Mungo MacCallum, writing in the Monthly, sums up this perspective: “…these days Murdoch regards his Australian operations as pretty much on the fringe and allows his editors the kind of independence that their predecessors only dreamed of. An obvious example of this is Murdoch’s support of the use of short-term stimulus packages to combat the global financial crisis, while his Australian economics writers (Michael Stutchbury in the Australian, in particular) have been highly critical. Also, Murdoch declares himself a true believer in climate change, but the Australian has become a haven for skeptics and deniers…”


What MacCallum doesn’t recognize is that the stimulus package the Rudd Government initiated came from the public coffers to support the private sector and is thereby an upwards transition of wealth, particularly in a country with a regressive taxation system. What he also doesn’t comprehend is that Murdoch’s supposed belief in climate change certainly does not correspond to his support for responses to climate change—given that they are directed at the interests of his class allies in big business and also himself. Furthermore, having Murdoch’s editors attacking from a class perspective on these issues—with Murdoch himself claiming he believes otherwise—leads people like MacCallum to assume that Murdoch stays at arms length of his papers’ ideological persuasions.


Like most powerful men in charge of large corporations, Murdoch presumably chooses or oversees the employment of his staff, particularly at the higher echelons. Those people are chosen because they already support Murdoch’s class prerogatives. Given the hierarchical nature of corporations where decisions come from the top—or are overseen or overturned from above—leads one to the conclusion that Murdoch’s staff are Murdoch’s staff because they largely agree with Murdoch’s ideology, with few exceptions. However, one must avoid such logic, given such assumptions presume acts of a conspiratorial nature. Assuming that rich people look after rich people’s interests patently borders on delusion, doesn’t it? 


Brendan Libertad is an activist, aspiring labor historian, and a musician with the anarcho-folk band, A Commoner’s Revolt.