Opinion

The silence is deafening, and money even louder: which ministers are hiding from the media this election?

Who are the ministers mentioned most in the media this election campaign? How about those quoted most frequently? The results say a lot about the issues we're prioritising, and who's spending the most money, according to Streem's Conal Hanna.

The exchange came 52 minutes into the third of three debates, and both leaders appeared tetchy.

Morrison: Who is your home affairs minister to be?
Shorten: We will pick after the election.
Morrison: I was wondering.
Shorten: Will you keep the same environment minister?
Morrison: Yes.
Shorten: Well where is she?

In case it wasn’t abundantly clear, the subtext to this exchange was that the Coalition thinks shadow minister for immigration Shayne Neumann isn’t much chop.

Labor thinks the same of environment minister Melissa Price, and Shorten was referring to a widespread belief that she has been hidden from reporters as the debate about climate change rages.

It’s not just Ms Price. A prevailing narrative during this campaign has been that Scott Morrison has dominated the spotlight for the Coalition, while keeping his ministers behind closed doors. An article by the ABC’s Annabel Crabb on Friday described Mr Morrison as “the Justin Timberlake to (the Liberal Party’s) NSYNC”.

Yet the data suggests both parties are strongly favouring a presidential style of campaign, with the two leaders commanding 2.5 times the media coverage of the rest of their front benches combined. On metropolitan TV, it’s more than four times as much.

Made with Flourish

This is a shame. Our Westminster system is meant to be a team sport. If we’ve learnt one thing in Australian politics over the past decade, surely it’s the corrosive nature of focusing too narrowly on party leaders at the expense of policy or substance.

Apparently not.

There are two ways to look at the data: the number of media items mentioning each cabinet and shadow-cabinet member, and how many articles quote them.

On the first measure, the 20-strong shadow front bench has appeared in just 29% as many media items as Shorten himself, while Coalition colleagues have 49% of Morrison’s tally.

Made with Flourish

Of course, it’s one thing to be written or spoken about, as opposed to being quoted in the press.

To measure quotes, we relied on articles from newspapers and online only (radio and TV are included in the mentions tally but quotes are a bit harder to delineate at scale).

Again, Labor shadow ministers trailed their Coalition counterparts, being quoted in only 72% as many articles as their opponents, or 84% in metro markets (regional publications favour the Coalition).

Made with Flourish

So who are the ministers who have been missing in action this campaign?

The quietest frontbencher for both mentions and quotes has been Labor’s Don Farrell, although it should be noted his Senate spot is not up for re-election this year.

Labor’s Jason Clare, Amanda Rishworth and Michelle Rowland join Mr Farrell as having been quoted fewer times than the lowest-ranked Coalition cabinet member: defence industry minister Linda Reynolds.

Our environment minister Ms Price ranks 14th for the Coalition, which does seem unusually low when climate change has ranked alongside the economy and health among the campaign’s top three issues.

Mr Neuman ranks 15th for Labor, which might also be seen as low, although border protection hasn’t featured nearly as heavily as in prior campaigns.

One can only assume, given her high profile on the campaign, that former NSW premier Kristina Keneally will be primed for a frontbench position if Labor is to win; she has more media mentions than 13 of the current 21 shadow cabinet members.

Whether the same can be said for Tony Abbott is uncertain, but the former prime minister has appeared in more media items than any other Coalition MP, with the exception of Mr Morrison.

Both Mr Abbott (6th) and Ms Keneally (14th) don’t feature quite as heavily when it comes to quotes.

Meanwhile, who is the third most quoted politician of the campaign? Clive Palmer. Money talks.

Conal Hanna has been a journalist and editor for 18 years. He is now media and partnerships lead for Streem realtime media monitoring.

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