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Steve Bannon thinks the Aussie election is dull - but is that so bad?

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03.05.2019

Steve Bannon took control of Donald Trump's failing 2016 campaign and turned it around, making a celebrity demagogue the president of the US. Wondering how an Australian federal election might look to a canny unconventional campaigner like Bannon, I thought I'd ask him.

He took the question seriously. Australia is one of the countries he follows routinely but he took a few days to do his homework nonetheless before calling back this week. "The most interesting thing" about the Australian election, says Bannon, "is the lack of interest". He points to the Essential poll published this week showing that half the country is paying little or no attention to the campaign. Only one in five respondents said they were paying "a lot" of attention. "Put that together with the fact that 20 days out from the election they showed the leaders' debate on the second channel" of the Seven Network on Monday, not the main channel, "and that tells you everything you need to know." With 415,000 viewers, the first debate rated as the 19th most watched TV show of the evening. Behind such gripping drama as Lego Masters.

Steve Bannon routinely watches the Australian political scene.Credit:Bloomberg

Not that Bannon blames Australia's people. He thinks the campaign is astonishingly dull. He blames the leaders and their parties: "The problem is that the political consultants have taken over - everything is a talking point, everything is test-marketted, everything is focus-grouped. It may be viewed as winning, but it's not leadership." Try giving talking points to Trump, says Bannon, and what does he do? "You can't give Trump talking points - he pushes them away," says the former chief executive of the Trump campaign and then chief strategist of the Trump White House for first seven months of the administration, until some undiplomatic remarks about the President's familty saw him pushed out.

Although he is a creature of the populist Right, Bannon is equally unimpressed with both major Australian parties: "It doesn't seem either party is having people embrace their narrative. The intensity level just doesn't seem to be there. It's not just the Coalition - it seems neither party has set out a whole vision." The parties stay in what he describes as their "comfort zones". The Liberals talk about a "strong economy", low taxes, immigration, and resisting action on climate change. Labor talks about fairness, health care, childcare, education and taking action on climate change.

Bannon is correct, but is he right? He's correct that the parties in Australia are moderate, cautious and converging towards a political centre. The overwhelming impulse is risk........

© Brisbane Times