457 visas—A horse for your communications wagon

By Emily Edmunds and John Preston

A horse for your wagon – Artwork by Susannah Bishop—Ethos CRS

The Easter long weekend was a busy one for the Prime Minister’s communications team.

The Prime Minister’s polls were problematic: his party’s conservatives were restive, former prime ministers were offering unsolicited advice and Coalition voters seemed to be drifting away—many of them to Pauline Hanson’s One Nation. The government had a load of problems weighing them down.

A new communications strategy was in order: one that would address this perfect storm of political misfortune. Voters’ minds needed to be refocused from the bad news and onto solid policy.

So, the busy folks in the Prime Minister’s Office burned the midnight oil to devise a strategy that would address all these threats and ‘control the narrative’—at least for the few weeks leading up to the Budget.

A precise program of, targeted leaks, backgrounding of journalists, media appearances and media releases was prepared—a program that would hold the media’s attention for longer than the usual 12 hours was devised, one that would generate column inches and get polls, internal unrest and former leaders off the front pages. All they needed was a horse to hitch this wagon to.

Enter 457 visas.

With 457 visa changes in the harness, what the Prime Minister’s Office achieved is a communications strategy retro-fitted with policy—it’s a device that uses a policy issue as a pair of Groucho glasses to launch a strategic or communications plan.

The strategy played out like this: on Easter Monday afternoon, favoured members of the press gallery got the talking points to use for their Tuesday morning opinion pieces; on Tuesday morning, the PM gave a press conference to announce the abolition of 457 visas using rather nationalistic language. From then, tidbits of information were fed to the various news outlets revealing more details of the policy.

Every outlet covered the story for days.

Abolishing 457 visas was an effective policy device to launch the new strategy. It engaged voters, it addressed the disaffected in the party and the meddling of the former prime minister was off the front pages. The Prime Minister looked good: all he had to do was let the strategy run and turn up and speak about Australia.

Whether you think the 457 policy is a good one or not is actually incidental to the strategy. The strategy was designed to give the Prime Minister the opportunity to talk about Aussie jobs in a tone that his communications team saw as favourable.


At Ethos CRS, we know a thing or two about communications and communication strategies—what’s subtle, what’s transparent, what’s effective and what isn’t. Maybe we can help you with yours.

Contact us at service@ethoscrs.com.au for a customised program for your organisation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

error: Content is protected