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The two-word pitch Peter Dutton is banking on to win back Australian voters

After former Treasurer and heir apparent to the Liberal leadership Josh Frydenberg lost his seat of Kooyong, former defence minister Peter Dutton walked into the Liberal leadership unopposed.

Now in the wake of one of the worst federal election defeats for the Liberals, Mr Dutton is appealing to the "forgotten Australians" to win back the trust and support they lost under former Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

New Liberal leader Peter Dutton
New Liberal leader Peter Dutton has appealed to the 'forgotten Australians' during his media conference. Source: Getty. (ANDREW HARNIK via Getty Images)

Post-defeat marketing

Political historian at the Australian National University, Professor Frank Bongiorno, thinks Dutton isn't even sure who he's referring to, labelling his first press conference as an example of how politics has become similar to big business.

"It looks like an early effort at post-defeat marketing — and not a very good one," Professor Bongiorno said.

"Politics has been in an intimate relationship with advertising, public relations and marketing for a very long time and the use of such phrases is part of that world, and sometimes a direct product of these industries.

"Dutton wants people to feel forgotten – by others – so that he can convince them that they have been remembered – by him.

"It’s in the lineage of Menzies’ ‘Forgotten People’, Howard’s ‘Battlers’ and Morrison’s ‘Quiet Australians’. But ‘Forgotten Australians’ is the term in wide use for people who experienced institutional abuse as children or youths."

The 'Forgotten Australians' mentioned by Prof Bongiorno refers to the 500,000 people who were placed into institutionalised care as children in Australia during the 20th century. Of this number, 450,000 were indigenous children, often referred to as the 'stolen generation'.

The Australian Senate held an inquiry into the abuse many of the children suffered in 2003-04. In 2008, then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd issued a formal apology in parliament to the people affected, something that his political predecessors had refused to do.

Former Prime Minister Scott Morrison listens (R) as Minister for Defence Peter Dutton speaks during Question Time.
New Liberal leader Peter Dutton (left) succeeds former Prime Minister Scott Morrison (right). Source: Getty. (Sam Mooy via Getty Images)

More political slogans

Scott Morrison credited the “quiet Australians” for his surprise election win in 2019, perhaps referencing those that didn’t participate in the many polls that then predicted a landslide election win by Labor.

It was also a clear reference to the “forgotten people” Australia’s longest-serving Prime Minister Robert Menzies mentioned in a famous radio speech during the 1949 election campaign, where he similarly appealed to regular working families. Menzies won the election that year.

"The politicians concerned are sincere in wanting to win voter support and this is part of their strategy for doing that," Prof Bongiorno said.

"The process has possibly become more intense in recent years – the slogans have come thick and fast: ‘battlers’, ‘aspirationals’, ‘working Australians’, ‘quiet Australians’, ‘tradies’. That possibly reflects the weakening hold of older identities centred on class and religion."

So who are Dutton's forgotten Australians?

During his media conference after being announced as Liberal leader, Dutton referred to 'forgotten Australians' as “those in the suburbs… those people in small business and micro business feel like the system is against them."

Election banner
Election banner

Dutton is also rumoured to be have a net worth of around $300 million, which many may also see as putting him out of touch with regular battlers.

Slogans "fall by the wayside"

Prof Bongiorno believes Dutton's use of the 'post-defeat marketing' demonstrates that he is out of touch with regular Australians, especially considering the length of time he has served in a government.

"Frankly, it’s a bizarre phrase to raise in this context, even more so given that his side has been in office for nine years," Pro Bongiorno said.

"Politicians come in and invent new slogans that they hope will speak to people’s sense of themselves. Most, as political slogans, eventually fall by the wayside, some sooner rather than later, as ‘quiet Australians’ now will."

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