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Preview: Politically homeless

Press gallery reform



Rudd and Abbott were never good enough to become Prime Minister. Australians are badly informed by broadcast media. This blog searches for ways to get information on how we are governed, and how we might be governed.



Updated: 2018-02-20T11:47:09.869+11:00

 



What conservative triumph looks like

2018-02-17T10:28:21.842+11:00

Conservatives within the Coalition should be enjoying their moment of triumph. They have negated a supposedly progressive Prime Minister and tethered him to the unpopular and disastrous policies of his conservative predecessor. They have cast off all but two of those pesky state governments, with their namby-pamby health and education and human services, and have command of the high ground of the federal government. They stand poised to deliver tax cuts, to hold forth against Aboriginal claims through the Uluru Statement, and for welfare crackdowns. This is the moment Australia's conservatives worked so hard for so long to achieve. Why, then, is everything crumbling around them? Could it be that what Donald Horne called "second-rate people" are part of our defences against tyranny?The press gallery started the year by trumpeting a 1% rise in polls as "a strong start to the year" for the government, and we now see why that was not merely wrong but fundamentally stupid. It simply had no basis in fact. It was wishful thinking masquerading as analysis.There Can Be Only OneTurnbull and Joyce have been at one another's throats for a week now, and today it came out into the open.Malcolm Turnbull is the first Prime Minister since Gorton and McMahon whose parents were not married before and throughout his childhood. Keepers of the sacred flame of Leather Jacket Malcolm, closet liberal, overlook and cannot reconcile his absolutely fustilarian attitudes toward marriage and adultery. It may explain why his approach to the same-sex marriage debate convinced both sides he wasn't with either. The amendments to the ministerial code are in line with that aspect of the man: if you ever wanted an authentic response from Turnbull's heart to a public policy issue, that will have to do.Barnaby Joyce has rallied his party around him (see below) and acts like he's invincible. In 2009, Joyce's lower-key predecessor Warren Truss helped sink Turnbull's first term as Liberal leader when he all but declared he wouldn't work with him. Joyce is trying to reprise that when he called Turnbull "inept", but the stakes in government are higher than they were back then. He has reached the stage where Nobody Tells Him What To Do, what the Greeks called hubris - and you don't need a classical education to know what comes next. From time to time the Nationals have to stand up to the Liberals to protect their distinct identity, and to assert the interests of rural constituents. This is not one of those times. Any National who dies in a ditch defending Joyce - come to think of it, they seem awfully quiet at time of writing - gets nothing from this government. Even Christensen has retreated into the arms of his white supremacist buddies than defend the man who stuck his neck out for him. Joyce is the minister in charge of national infrastructure. To do that job you need to operate effectively across government, and with the now-Opposition in order to give jittery financiers the bipartisan support they crave. If Joyce can't do that, they will ramp up their relationship with former minister and current shadow, Anthony Albanese, and wait out the fall of this government. A Coalition government will do absolutely anything to avoid this. Even if Turnbull backs down, the Nationals will need some way of pulling Joyce's head in now that they have forfeited the ability to do so themselves.How am I supposed to live without you?Barnaby Joyce first rose to prominence as a Senate candidate for the Nationals in the 2004 election, by publicly taking positions contrary to his then-leader John Anderson. Joyce's term in the Senate began the following year. For over a decade, he has been a dominant personality in the Nationals. He has shaped the public image of that party. The fact is that if you want to be a Nationals MP, you are going to have to deal with Joyce.There are 16 Nationals in the House of Representatives and five in the Senate. Only Luke Hartsuyker and Senator Nigel Scullion entered parliament before Joyce (both in 2001): all the rest of them have entered a parliamentar[...]



Out with the bathwater 2: a change of focus

2018-02-12T00:29:40.747+11:00

After writing the post below I had a good laugh at Katharine Murphy's effort and was reinforced in my respect for Asher Wolf when she posted this Twitter thread, with a fraction of the resources available to Murphy and the press gallery. I watched James Massola, of all people, condemn the idea of journalists running unverified rumours - and then moments later, another story under his byline consisting entirely of unverified rumours, which has pretty much been his entire "career" so far.I may be getting soft in my old age, but after all that I re-read the Murphy piece. I felt some sympathy for this position:So I don’t want to be the Canberra sex correspondent. Non-press-gallery journalists Woodward and Bernstein probably didn't want to cover each and every burglary in early 1970s Washington - and if we look at their career, they didn't. Non-press-gallery journalist Andrew McGarry covered a court case in Adelaide and ended up writing the definitive book on the Snowtown murders. Sometimes in journalism, the story chooses you. Murphy took a strategic decision not to pursue a story that is having far-reaching implications that go to policy decisions, and the very political structure of the government - a story worthy of any self-respecting political journalist, let alone a Political Editor. Regardless of how she feels, she will have to play catch-up on this story. But because the story started in a place that was (to use Jacqueline Maley's technical term) icky, Murphy chose not to lead the story while rising above the ick. A nurse who faints at the sight of blood or shit, or people who rail against the wickedness of John Barleycorn while somehow working in a licensed establishment, are not just fools or hypocrites. They are people with no future in those jobs. So it is with a journalist who stumbles upon a real story and, when it blows up in their face, disdains it:I’d rather think about energy policy, or whether any of us will ever get a wage rise, or whether our hospitals will be properly funded, not because I’m a buttoned up puritan, but because that’s why I think I’m here: to keep close eyes on those things for readers.Those stories are better covered by journalists who really understand those areas and can convey ideas being given visitors' passes to the parliamentary press gallery. If journalism is to survive, those journalists (often freelancers, or writing for niche outlets with little hope of employment in the sort of media outlet represented in the press gallery) must be given more assignments. Those assignments must come at the expense of perpetuating the palpably disappointing fantasy that a press gallery journalist can turn their hand to any subject. All of the worst stories written about these and other important issues are written by press gallery journalists whose hearts are not really in this subject matter, whose minds are simply not on the job, and who still cannot shake the herd instinct of the One Big Story that might be happening wherever they're not, and to which they contribute little if anything and thereby diminish the very idea of news.All of the worst takes about Joyce-Campion start and end with the label sex scandal. Like most journo cliches, it's alliterative and the very name almost tells you how to write the story - slap and tickle, the distant missus keeping the home fires burning, the nu-media temptress, long lonely nights and the aphrodisiac of power - but the story has moved way beyond sex scandal, and as a result catch-up journos are going to have to dig for the story rather than have it ladled out in press releases. See for example Asher Wolf's Twitter thread above for prima facie questions arising from Joyce's post-marital accommodation, his landlord's other business interests, and how these appear to overlap with Joyce's portfolio responsibilities. Journalists who sniff about Twitter will be out of a job if they keep being shown up like this.On 9 October 2012 Prime Minister Julia Gillard delivered her speech against misogyny. In the days that follo[...]



Out with the bathwater

2018-02-08T10:55:17.292+11:00

The fact that Barnaby Joyce had impregnated a former staffer and NewsCorp journalist was widely known before the New England byelection on 2 December last year. It has been ridiculous, and a bit sad, watching traditional media justify itself in relation to this story.Fucking inconvenientLet's remind ourselves of the political situation in late 2017.The government needs a stable majority in the 150-member House of Representatives. It had 76 members, meaning that with the Speaker above the fray the Coalition fielded 75 members against 74 Labor and others outside the Coalition.Barnaby Joyce, as Member for New England, was a NZ citizen by descent. John Alexander, Member for Bennelong, was a UK citizen by descent. Both renounced their non-Australian citizenships and were endorsed for the byelections. Each man, we now know, had left their wives and were living with another woman beyond the family home. Both men represented, and had sought to represent again, conservative electorates with above-average rates of married couples raising children.Had either or both lost the byelections held last December, the Turnbull government would have been forced into minority status, propped up on a contingent basis by some of the MHRs outside both the Coalition and Labor. Almost every media outlet represented in the press gallery had editorialised before the 2016 election to return the Turnbull government. They still believe in Peter FitzSimons' Fantasy Malcolm. The press gallery hated having to cover a multivariate parliament in 2010-13; they tailored their reporting to minimise the possibility that the Turnbull government would lose its majority (oh yes they did). Labor candidates in Bennelong and New England did not make their opponents' marital woes an issue, and journalists didn't either.J'accuse: political journalists deliberately held off reporting, or even confirming, stories about Joyce's infidelity in order to maximise his chances of winning, and by extension ensure the continuation of the Turnbull government. Delayed gratificationYesterday's sheepish effort from Sharri Markson (no I won't link to it) was too little, too late, but the press gallery has finally given itself permission to start talking about the issue. Almost immediately, traditional media was forced by reader outrage to defend its decision to avoid the Joyce story. This is not a proud moment in Australian journalism. It is not a harbinger of a bright future, nor even one that might keep things much as they are for that beleaguered industry. Before we go through the traditional media's sorry-not-sorry piece, there are three precedents (in terms of pollies' actions and how the media responded to them) that are relevant here. Senior members of the press gallery, and the ninnies who now occupy the ranks of editors/news directors of traditional media organs, were directly involved in these incidents:Gareth Evans and Cheryl KernotEvans was Attorney General and Foreign Minister in the Hawke-Keating Labor governments, and a senior Labor frontbencher once his party went into opposition. Cheryl Kernot was a Senator and leader of the Australian Democrats. Both were married to other people when they began a sexual relationship, which (as with Joyce-Campion today) was widely known but not reported.Laurie Oakes decided that the hypocrisy of Evans championing family values and Kernot failing to mention the affair was enough to put the story into the public domain. Then as now, the press gallery talked about the convention of private lives being private while slavering over the story. There was no social media back then.Ross CameronIn 2004 Ross Cameron was an up-and-coming junior minister in the Howard government, a vocal proponent of heterosexual marriage and other traditional values. While his wife was pregnant in Sydney, Cameron began a sexual relationship with a woman in Canberra. The woman shared a flat with a press gallery journalist. Traditional media covered Cameron's infidelity in the lead-up to the 2004 election. Cam[...]



Constant Constance Face

2018-02-02T14:07:57.123+11:00

NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance should be a politician at the top of his game. He is the steward of several large transformative infrastructure projects, and a former state Treasurer: all that, and not yet 45. In his current predicament he is more like someone at the top of that slow initial climb of a roller-coaster, just before plunging and being jerked this way and that before eventually being returned to where he started.Transport is one portfolio that resists nimble, blithe solutions. Decisions made 50 years ago limit the options available to decision-makers today, and those made today limit those going forward. This article gives a good summary of why the problems with Sydney's passenger rail system are so intractable and multi-dimensional; they also show why Constance, a politician largely focused on the current news cycle, is so badly placed to deal with them.History is a nightmare from which Andrew Constance is trying to awaken. No minister ever gets a blank slate and unlimited resources, yet Constance has no sense of historical continuum and his place within it: you can't appeal to him on that basis in the same way you can't argue with your cat about rugby league. For him, there is no history, and no future beyond the next news cycle or election, there is only now. Whether it's the tram tracks to Sydney's inner-west being of a different gauge to the proposed tram line through the inner-east, or arguments over proposed routes of tram and train lines that haven't been well managed, or now train timetabling that stretches human and physical resources beyond safe and sustainable usage - Constance isn't good at addressing issues with complex long-term causes and where the few options available are all controversial. The decision to hold a public contest to name a ferry and claim 'Ferry McFerryface' was the popular choice (even though it wasn't) shows some important political lessons, and not just the ones about lying:The UK contest in 2016 that would have named a government research vessel 'Boaty McBoatface' was a clear expression of contempt by those who voted against their government and political class. Constance's "captain's pick" in favour of 'Ferry McFerryface' shows that contempt returned in full measure, with interest.The contest overseen by Constance returned 'Ian Kiernan' as the popular choice for the ferry. Kiernan was a property developer and a recreational yachtsman who is best known for having founded Clean Up Australia. Unlike most property developers/yachtsmen, Kiernan was never beholden to the Liberals. He organised a broad, well-regarded social movement that is the envy of any political party. In the past, a Liberal Transport Minister might have gritted teeth and done a grip-and-grin with Kiernan in front of the new ferry bearing his name, but Constance has used the more basic tools of PR to deflect onto May Gibbs (there are those who admire this sort of thing, many of them journalists covering politics).Constance's attempts to raise the bogeyman of unionism are absurd. Previous leaders of the union covering train drivers, like Bernie Willingale or Michael Costa, were bloody-minded negotiators who happily inconvenienced the public at the slightest provocation. Constance can and does stick to a script, lacking the wit to realise that underlying assumptions have changed and confusing persistence with commitment. He is going to have more trouble going forward in that portfolio rather than less.Constance has no experience of having to negotiate with workers to keep an enterprise running, and nor does he come from the IPA/CIS wing that militates against union privileges. The fact that the union was quickly shut down by the Fair Work Commission in its attempt to strike undercuts the scare campaign. De-fanging the union movement makes them look like benign workers' self-help societies. For a government focused on the future, with infrastructure projects and Gonski-level education funding, carrying on about unions is [...]



Join the queue

2018-01-20T14:48:32.468+11:00

Recent comments by Peter Dutton on Sudanese crime in Melbourne, in support of the Victorian Liberals' attempts to court that old political tart Laura Norder, underline two failures of strategy: in his portfolio, and within the Victoria Liberals in their quest for state government this November.The end of the lineImmigration policy in Australia was set at the turn of the century by then-Immigration Minister Phillip Ruddock, backed by John Howard and his government and only ever tweaked by successive governments since then. The first thing to say about immigration to Australia overall is that it has increased significantly this century. Where the crackdown has come, and the headlines, is in the refugee and asylum-seeker intakes.Ruddock developed the idea of a 'queue' for refugees - yes, the world was full of desperate people fleeing war and persecution, but all that was required for such people to enter Australia was to "join the queue", fill out some forms and applications would be processed in due course. People who paid people-smugglers and arrived in Australia by boat without visas were "queue jumpers", denying places on the small (and successively reduced) quota for refugee intake to those who did all the right things and waited patiently.Here's where Dutton has torpedoed that policy, and made himself look silly: successive Immigration ministers from Ruddock to Morrison told us there were people waiting patiently in refugee camps in Africa unable to enter Australia because bad people from the Middle East tried to jump the queue by coming here on boats. None of the people on Nauru or Manus are from South Sudan. They are people who have come here through the very vetting systems that Dutton now oversees. If you agree with Dutton that Sudanese gangs are terrifying Melbourne, then it follows that he has failed to vet these people properly. You can't believe that Dutton, with his inflated powers as Home Affairs Minister, is keeping Australia safe if you also accept that he has waved through the very people apparently causing this mayhem. Say what you will about Daniel Andrews, his government simply has no role in immigration vetting. Why detain people at Nauru, Manus, Woodville or anywhere else when you are clearly so careless? Dutton is undermining his own narrative:"But the short answer is that, if people haven't integrated, if they are not abiding by our laws, if they don't adhere to our culture, then they are not welcome here."Bit late for that champ. No journalist has called him on it. Credulous dickheads like this one simply hung a whole story on a radio transcript. He even took to social media to insist - without evidence, like the gun journalist that he is - that somewhere in Yarraside there is so a homebody who uses fear of Sudanese gangs as an excuse to hide quivering within their dank little abode. In 2018, we know that a quote - even a direct, exclusive one - is no basis for a story. Politicians say things, in the same way that the sun rises in the east or bears shit in the woods; it is not news in itself. The fact that a press gallery exists as a make-work scheme for journalists gathering and disseminating quotes is actually a reason against supporting the Australian media, at least until they realise what a low-value proposition it is. Hearts and mindsVictoria isn't the place for a Laura Norder campaign, despite the self-defeating willingness of Matthew Guy to give it his very best shot. The last three Liberal Premiers to win office by beating Labor - Ted Baillieu, Jeff Kennett, and Henry Bolte - all did so without a heavy focus on Laura Norder (the latter two won because Labor had collapsed internally). The last Coalition government of 2010-14 (in which Matthew Guy was a minister, and many of his frontbenchers were also ministers) reduced police numbers and experienced a decrease in crime overall. Guy might call out Sudanese gang activity, but it isn't clear what he proposes to do about it, or whethe[...]



The end of Peter Dutton

2017-11-26T15:21:02.395+11:00

For much of the past 12 months, the press gallery has agreed that the power of Peter Dutton has grown within the government, possibly to the point where he could challenge Turnbull for the Liberal leadership and hence become Prime Minister. It's time to call bullshit on that, and to point out that the more enthusiastic advocates for Dutton (or those most hungry for stink) aren't helping us understand how the government works. Dutton solves none of the problems facing the country. Think about the big issues (go on, dare to do so despite our appalling national leadership and inadequate media):Maintaining stable electrical power supplies (and gas for that matter) in the face of changing technologies - that is, to take on the political risk that all state governments but WA and Queensland have shirked;An economy that creates jobs within a sustainable environment;A relationship with Indigenous people that goes beyond the tokenistic, but which does not negate non-Indigenous Australia to the extent we tried to negate them;The ability to encourage people to come to our country, as visitors and migrants, but not to the point where we fear the loss of who we are (see above); and[insert your big issue here].Dutton offers answers to none of these questions.Dutton offers no answers to questions of good government, he has fucked up every portfolio he's held (including the current one, see below). He offers no political answers either: he's not more popular than Turnbull, and any regional variations in relative popularity for one is offset elsewhere. The proof of this is in the Queensland election. Had Dutton been a political go-getter, if he had half the ambition of Howard or Abbott or Turnbull or even Sam Dastyari, Dutton would have been at the side of every LNP candidate in every winnable seat up and down the state. Were he a potent political threat Palaszczuk should be cursing him by name, piling on to the outrage about Manus, but she rightly regards him as irrelevant. Maybe he's raised heaps of money for the LNP behind the scenes, but I doubt it. Turnbull's main political weakness is his lack of judgment: when to push open a door ajar, and when to walk by it. Dutton has the same weakness. He was right not to throw himself into the 2015 Queensland election, when Campbell Newman threw away one of the biggest majorities ever, and at the next Queensland election it will be too late. Dutton is too stupid to know Manus has reached its endgame. As a junior policeman he was removed from situations requiring subtlety and deftness, but as a senior politician he has been let loose by a weak leadership and goaded by right-wingers thirsty for some impact (yes, the government of Australia is less well run than the Queensland Police). All cruelty requires prizing toughness over all other considerations, and Dutton has shielded himself from those considerations for too long.UN and non-government agencies have long criticised Australia's mandatory detention system, and so have journalists from outside the press gallery (recent converts to the idea that the system is appallingly inhumane, like Paul Bongiorno and Michael Gordon, do not count). Dutton assumes that recent criticism, accompanied by video, is more of the same and can either be ignored or fed into culture wars. When a boatload of asylum-seekers foundered on the rocks at Christmas Island in 2012, with accompanying video, Australians were appalled. The out-of-sight-out-of-mind approach to offshore detention was exposed. So too was the nation's entire political class, which were heavily invested in "strong on border security" and could not easily or deftly change course. Michael Keenan and Joe Hockey shed tears of self-pity and the sheer impossibility of changing course: and so too did the press gallery, which from then until now took the Coalition at its word on these matters. The solution then largely consisted of media management: restricting access to [...]



So close, and yet so far

2017-11-15T00:32:51.858+11:00

There was a time when to be the best male Australian tennis player was to be the best at that sport, to be able to beat any man in the world anywhere in the world. Rod Laver, Lew Hoad, Ken Rosewall, and John Newcombe, along with supporting players like Ken Emmerson or Tony Roche, dominated the sport as it transitioned from an amateur era to a professional one. This dominance lasted over a decade, which hadn't happened in Australian sport before or since: in swimming or cricket there were seasons of Australian dominance in fits and starts, even with uniquely talented individuals like Bradman or Dawn Fraser. Even in women's tennis, Margaret Smith Court was a freak sui generis; Evonne Goolagong Cawley did not breeze past her contemporaries as Smith did. Both those women left tennis to raise families, while Newcombe and Roche in particular tried to keep alight the mystic flame of Australian men's tennis. John Alexander was fated to be the leading Australian male tennis player behind Newcombe. Later in their careers, Newcombe and Rosewall held off the brash and aggressive American Jimmy Connors, but Alexander in his prime could not. The 1970s saw the Europeans adopt Australian coaching techniques: Ilie Nastase from Romania, Bjorn Borg from Sweden, Guillermo Vilas from Argentina, Connors, and others all showed that there was nothing in our water, nor in Vegemite or Milo, nor in any other way essentially Australian about the skill and focus necessary to win big-time singles tennis tournaments. Alexander was a very good singles tennis player, but not a great one. He wasn't lucky, like Gosford's Mark Edmonson winning the 1976 Australian Open. He didn't have a heart-rending back-story and an oafish foil, like Jelena Dokic. The recent parallel would be Andy Roddick, the US male succeeding Sampras and Agassi and Courier, but fated to be creamed regularly by Nadal and Federer and Djokovic. John Alexander showed us the important lesson that sometimes guts and determination just aren't enough.Alexander won the Australian Open twice as half of separate doubles pairings. He didn't bond with one other player to form a memorable killer team like like MacNamara/McNamee or Woodforde/Woodbridge, and he had a reputation for being short-tempered. Other tennis players had this reputation too - but in the 1950s and '60s the optics were all of Gentlemanly Behaviour and Good Sportsmanship. Winners are grinners, and the image of Laver or Newcombe grinning so often holding up trophies smoothed any jagged edges in their reputations. In their later years, Connors and Nastase freely admitted to having been pricks, assessments not contradicted by observers at the time. Not so Alexander: when Connors or Nastase threw their racquets around, intimidated ball boys, talked back to umpires, or snarled at interviewers, this Bad Sportsmanship somehow underlined their foreignness. When Alexander did the same, it confirmed him as a sore loser and UnAustralian and Surely There's Another Talented Young Australian We Can All Get Behind? I was a kid in the 1970s. My Dad's family were all big on tennis, playing and watching. They made it clear to me, my brother, and my cousins, that we were not to carry on like John Alexander. Better to do your best and lose gracefully than to end up like that guy. I've said before in this blog that I used to live in Bennelong, and that I observed a number of times how awkward he is with actual humans whom he has represented in parliament. He seems to be attentive only to people he knows well, or who are important, or both; seven years representing the community has not defrosted him. One thing the left always underestimated about Howard was his preparedness to engage with locals, to talk sincerely about vandalism in West Ryde or schools in Gladesville at the same time as he was dealing with Iraq or the economy. Alexander still can't fake genuine interest in the small stuff[...]



The choice of Joyce

2017-11-05T08:26:00.258+11:00

But look, oh look, the Gothic tree’s on firewith blown galahs, and fuming with wild wings.The hard inquiring wind strikes to the bone and whines division.- Judith Wright For New EnglandThe press gallery seems to be of one mind that Barnaby Joyce will win the New England byelection handily on December 2. Tony Windsor isn't running, PHON and ShooFiFa aren't running, therefore Joyce will win it in a canter, won't he? Joyce has an excellent ground operation, the envy of any party. At the last election we saw money was no object; Joyce started his political career as the champion of Cubbie Station, and ever since he's had more sympathy for those who breach their water allocations than you might expect from the leader of the farmers' party. He's cultivated a beautiful friendship with Gina Rinehart. Those who say Joyce will win easily have a point: surely on the night of December 2 they'll simply weigh Nationals votes rather than count them, and that he's good for at least 70 percent of first preferences, surely? I'm not so sure. Joyce is no longer a fresh face in a promising government. He is not a powerful member of a stable government that is racking up substantial achievements. Election campaigns often end differently to the way they start, and experienced press gallery journalists should know this.This isn't simple contrariness against the gallery. To be fair to them, I'm not exactly the go-to guy for political predictions - but then again, when I said Tony Abbott would never be Prime Minister, I was closer to the mark than those who assumed he was good enough to become Prime Minister. On the same basis, I reckon any victory Joyce wins in New England will be pyrrhic.Strong and stableJoyce's central offering to the people of New England is that he is Deputy Prime Minister in a stable Coalition government. He spent the first couple of days of the byelection campaign sledging unnamed detractors from within that same government; strong people do not do this, they dismiss their detractors. Since then we've seen the President of the Senate and the Minister for Energy experience similar doubts over their nationality as that which put Joyce into the position he is in now. Electricity infrastructure in New England has not been gold-plated. Coal-fired power still comes from the Hunter and from Queensland, and its cost to New England customers is rising as it is for the rest of us. It isn't only hippies who are installing solar in the hope of boosting reliability and cutting costs over time. If you don't blame Joyce for making the price and reliability of power worse, then you can't claim that he is doing much to make things better. The position in Manus now, under this government, is similar to that point in the Gillard government where boatloads of asylum seekers were crashing against the rocks of Christmas Island. Remember Michael Keenan and Joe Hockey coming over all teary at that? They are the same people pooh-poohing the men on Manus Island digging for water while coming down off anti-depressants. It goes way beyond a bad look. A policy has failed when it ends up at this point, and so have the ministers responsible for it - and Barnaby Joyce has been one of those ministers. This isn't to say Manus is a hot-button issue in New England right now, but it does go to the competence of the government and Joyce's place within it. It does mean that other political actors have scope to exploit the gap between what good government should look like, and what Barnaby's offering. The status quo, steady-as-she-goes approach isn't the elixir that the lazy press gallery thinks it is.Old-fashioned journalismHe's the last of the backslappin', have-a-beer politicians - well, the last you'll find above municipal level. Some journalists have to hunt for their stories, but the press gallery love nothing better than dusting off a cliche, painting by numbers an[...]



Marriage Equality 1: Accepting our way of life

2017-08-13T19:57:15.192+10:00

We search for leaders on our hands and knees- Richard Clapton Best years of our livesMarriage equality will happen, sooner or later, by any one of what seem now like a variety of political means. There were only seven members of this government prepared to stick their necks out and bring on marriage equality. I leave them aside here, and also the jihadists like Abbott or Abetz or The Jack Man, and say: most of the others must realise it is inevitable. One day, a vote on marriage equality will come before the parliament. Coalition MPs may vote for it, or they may not. People who weren't able to get married will do so. As in other countries, the institution of marriage will be strengthened rather than diminished. The Prime Minister of New Zealand, Bill English, had voted against it but came to change his mind, and so too will they.When that day comes, most current Coalition MPs will simply anticipate that they can shrug, concede they were wrong and expect to simply move on. Malcolm Turnbull will, I suspect, be in this number.LGBTIQ people have done everything right in lobbying to change the Marriage Act: they have patiently petitioned MPs, joined political parties and engaged in polite public events. The fact that they have not yet achieved their aim is an indictment of our democratic processes, especially when you consider the 2004 change that made this change necessary came about within hours after underhanded lobbying from the Exclusive Brethren. Those responsible for seeing this campaign through should be recognised as among the most capable organisers and representatives our society has. It will be interesting to see if they continue in politics by other means. The 1999 republic referendum not only gave us Turnbull and Abbott, but also Sophie Mirabella and David Elliott on the monarchist side, as well as Greg Barns and Jason Yat-Sen Li on the republicans. The monarchists made more of their people than the republicans did; you can blame Howard for wrong-footing the republicans if you will, but the fact is no promising politician arose from that movement to revive and sustain it. Lyle Shelton was a failed LNP candidate for Queensland state parliament, and people like Sally Rugg may yet switch to broader political engagement.As Paul Karp notes, Turnbull has sought to justify the rights of LGBTIQ people in terms of whether or not a majority might accept them. This government has diminished rather than expanded our rights as citizens; they are awkward when reversing themselves. What's genuinely appalling is that LGBTIQ Australians are being treated like non-citizens. Majoritarianism is the same basis on which our immigration policy is conducted: new immigrant groups cop hazing and are accorded few if any rights, until some ill-defined process occurs after many years whereby they are granted the status of True Blue Aussies, and another group of migrants cops the hazing. It should surprise nobody that the Immigration Minister was one of the main proponents of the mail poll, with its exorbitant cost, its lack of rigour, and its disdain for the people most affected. Never mind Liberal Party rhetoric about the freedom and dignity of the individual: Australian citizens must now petition the government for rights, rather than demand them and vote accordingly for representatives who share them.Even if you agree with the Prime Minister and don't regard LGBTIQ rights as one of the most pressing issues of our time, consider those that are. Consider climate change, or economic stagnation (including, but not limited to, employee shares of corporate incomes), telecommunications and data security, education or healthcare, or changing geopolitical balances of power. In each case, this government has no real answers, and demonstrates no real ability to engage with complex, multi-faceted issues. In each case, for 15 of the p[...]



Submission to the Senate Select Committee on the Future of Public Interest Journalism

2017-07-12T19:54:01.026+10:00

The Senate established a select committee to investigate the future of public interest journalism. Its terms of reference are here. I was concerned that it would cleave too closely to the Federal Government's proposed regulatory changes to help prop up traditional media, and the recurring bludge identified most recently on Media Watch that Google and Facebook have some sort of responsibility to maintain journalists and their managers in the style to which they've become accustomed. Here's my submission to the committee (the subheadings refer to the committee's terms of reference):(a) the current state of public interest journalism in AustraliaWhat is public interest journalism?A pithy and useful definition is supplied here (http://www.mediahelpingmedia.org/training-resources/journalism-basics/360-applying-the-public-interest-test-to-journalism):The public interest is in having a safe, healthy and fully-functioning society. In a democracy, journalism plays a central role in that. It gives people the information they need to take part in the democratic process.I’ll use this definition when I refer to ‘public interest journalism’ in this submission.Why public interest journalism goes beyond the products offered by media companies represented in the press galleryThe media organisations represented in the federal parliamentary press gallery have employed journalists to report on the activities of politicians in federal parliament – mostly the activities of the government of the day in executing policy, but also the activities of the opposition (as a potential alternative government), and politicians outside both the government and official opposition (in shaping policy and legislative outcomes and contributing to longer-term debates). There is more to the public interest than what traditional media organisations deign to cover. The public interest transcends the reach, the abilities, and the wit of particular management teams of traditional media organisations. Press gallery journalists cannot offer the breadth of coverage required for public interest journalism. There are a number of reasons for this.The weaknesses of the fourth estateRomantic notions of “the fourth estate” aside, the press gallery is not accountable to the public as are members of parliament. The public has no role in appointing or removing members of the press gallery. Remonstrations with them have no discernible or consistent impact. The geographic and demographic composition of the press gallery is unrepresentative of the broader Australian public. Any idea that “public interest journalism” begins and ends with the press gallery is nonsense.Most news output from the press gallery concerns government announcements – activities of government and interpretations thereof that responsible ministers are more than happy to announce, and which the press gallery transcribes and broadcasts in terms broadly similar to those announced. There is a public interest in activities of government that are not announced, which go to questions of maladministration, incompetence, or even corruption. It can be tempting to see these non-announcements as a game one plays with journalists, rather than misinformation to the public at large; this is a mistake, one that public interest journalism should work to redress. Media organisations represented in the press gallery rarely do the investigation necessary to bring these activities to light for the public, and almost never from within the press gallery. They sometimes did when they were better resourced than they are today. There is no real link between any increase in funding those organisations may experience and any increase in the frequency, breadth, or complexity of investigative journalism they may deign to undertake. Investigative journalism resources required for[...]



Distressed assets, part 2

2017-07-10T08:02:14.384+10:00

Following on from yesterday on Bernardi's political bottom-feeding:What becomes of the broken-heartedBernardi has some capacity to make inroads into the Coalition, particularly the Liberal Party, but only after the Turnbull government has gone. Nobody, not even George Christensen, wants to do to the extant government what Jack Beasley or Vince Gair did to Labor back in the day. Bernardi may be able to lord it over the churchmice who run Family First, but there are limits to his political reach and skill. In South Australia, losses at state and federal level will see out the Liberals. Pyne and Marshall are not strong enough to hold out for long against a concerted movement by both Bernardi and Xenophon, not even if Pyne shakes down defence contractors for campaign funds. Say what you will about Xenophon, but he's tougher, smarter, and more deft at both policy and tactics than Pyne. Every step Pyne took to the right to maintain his place under Abbott and survive all that sniping from Minchin is erased by Bernardi.The Liberals in WA (the most right-wing division of the party) are in disarray, discredited after so long in state government and little to show for the boom but debt. WA's normally strident business community is weakened and cannot afford to antagonise the new state Labor government, nor discount the prospect of a federal one. Once Cormann is gone, and Dame Rachel Cleland dies, who will block Liberal ears to the siren call of AusCons? Michael Kroger has almost succeeded in his life's work of ridding the Victorian Liberals of Hamerite moderates. Liberal preselections are beset by such dire candidates they make Sophie's Choice look straighforward. Whatever doubts Daniel Andrews may have are surely allayed by the unshakeable commitment by Kroger, Matthew Guy and Inga Peulich to douse their party in voter repellent. Once they lose three or four federal seats and get belted on Spring Street, they will embrace Bernardi like the old VFL used to snaffle Magarey Medallists - especially if Bernardi gets Bolt on board.The ACT Liberals are pretty much Bernardi people anyway. Zed is one good lunch away from throwing in his lot with Bernardi, or he'll lose to the Greens and the party structure will switch to AusCons bag and baggage. The NT's CLP might take a detour via Hanson but they will end up in his camp sooner or later. All of the above scenarios, and the ones in the preceding post, show the one thing required for Bernardi to succeed politically: a vacuum.In Tasmania, Abetz and Lambie will see off Bernardi. As the Hodgman government fades, a conservative may appear who doesn't like Abetz and won't play second-fiddle to Lambie, and may turn to Bernardi: there are too many variables for that to even postulate now. The Queensland LNP was formed to secure state government, keeping control in gnarled rustic hands while presenting a civil face to the urban south-east. They only succeeded once. Once. What happens if they get smashed, not just by a Labor government but one led by women! Two of them! Re-establishing the Liberal Party's Qld division and the non-national Nationals won't be an option. Queensland is a long way from South Australia, but Bernardi can speak slowly and it isn't like he's from Sydney or Melbourne. Some LNPers may drift to AusCons if the scenarios with Katter and Hanson come off, but again there are too many variables. This leaves NSW. There are two factors operating in NSW. First, the Coalition is running a functioning, popular government, that is getting stuff done and solving problems. There are some right-wingers, but not enough to destroy the government with dogmatic focus on issues that don't matter and neglect of those that do. Right-wingers like Dominic Perrottet and Anthony Roberts are on a sweet wicket, and nothing Bernardi says[...]



Distressed assets, Part 1

2017-07-13T16:46:57.495+10:00

Despite its both-sidesism, John Warhurst's piece on Senators Rhiannon and Bernardi is worth reading. I wish political commentary from the press gallery was half this good.Warhurst makes some good points on Bernardi (and on Rhiannon too - balance!), and on Bernardi's wish for conservatism to become a movement that extends beyond parliament. I won't speculate on Rhiannon's wider game, but Bernardi's is interesting because it indicates a new development in Australian politics. The pattern (from which Bernardi is departing)The Liberal Party and the Nationals (including the Northern Territory's CLP and the LNP in Queensland) represent the enduring political institutions on the right of Australian politics. Right-wing parties operating beyond the Coalition tend to rise and fall with individuals and/or with short-term political predicaments that, when resolved, push the smaller party into oblivion. Far-right white-supremacist parties tend to congeal around a leader: now Blair Cotrell, formerly Jim Saleam or Eric Butler or Francis de Groot. While this remains a virulent strain in Australian politics, it goes into remission without a disciplined leader, and relies heavily on the personal quirks of whomever has managed to herd those turkeys at any given time.Slightly to the left of those guys, but mainly to the right of the Coalition, we have seen right-wing insurgencies from Pauline Hanson, Bob Katter, Brian Harradine, Fred Nile, David Leyonhjelm, Bob Day, Rob Brokenshire, Clive Palmer, and others who slip my mind at this hour. They have all built political vehicles that got them elected and re-elected, and achieved not much else (I'm not counting pissed-off Coalition MPs who lose preselection, flounce to the cross-benches, and get flushed out of the political system at the next election). Most were flashes in the pan. Harradine served in the Senate for a generation. Fred Nile is NSW's longest-serving MP; when he was elected in 1981, the state's current Premier and Opposition Leader were in primary school. Hanson, briefly an MP in the late 1990s, has returned after a career on life support from dying commercial media - but for how much longer?The exception that proves the ruleThe one right-wing movement that endured outside the Coalition and had a real effect on the Labor-Liberal "main game" was the Democratic Labor Party. It was formed out of the Catholic Social Studies Movement, orchestrated but not led by Bartholomew Augustine (Bob) Santamaria. It sought to represent conservative working people in line with Catholic teaching on labour representation and other social policies, including anti-communism; this placed them outside the ALP, which was not communist but also not as anti-communist as the Coalition. The DLP held the balance of power in the Senate between 1955 and 1974, mostly passing government bills put to them with few or no modifications. They won a NSW state seat from 1973-76 because a Liberal minister forgot to lodge his nomination forms. It was considered a spent force after then, except in campus elections at Victorian universities. The party was resurrected around the turn of the century by Archbishop George Pell, who wanted a distinctively Catholic voice within Australian conservatism. Pell ramped up the DLP, with representatives elected to the Senate and the Victorian Legislative Council. He involved the Church in the Institute of Public Affairs, which was integrated with the Liberal Party in Victoria (and which promptly dropped libertarian positions on issues like abortion or euthanasia). Chris Berg was paid to write a book extolling the virtues of Western Civilisation, and put the Church at the heart of it; but in his hands a compelling, vibrant and eventful story became a damp grey mist. Pell wrote articles for [...]



That old junkyard dog

2017-07-04T22:02:40.471+10:00

I am not going anywhere.- Tony AbbottThe traditional media are making the same mistakes with Abbott that they made when he was Opposition Leader. Almost all members of the press gallery were there when he was Prime Minister. None of them learned the lesson that Abbott talks a lot but achieves very little. All of them just did what they did in 2011, and ran his slogans verbatim. Abbott became Prime Minister in 2013 on a promise to end the interpersonal turmoil between Rudd and Gillard, and promising to change relatively little policy-wise. When he began reneging on promises to maintain education funding, and other matters scarcely covered by the press gallery for their beyond-Canberra impact, his polling sank and stayed low. The press gallery put Abbott's decline down to the 2014 budget, but only because they continued to give him the benefit of the doubt long after wiser observers had turned away. We had seen Abbott for what he was and is. Even those who believed in this shower of platitudes must know that Abbott can't make good on it. He can sow confusion about carbon abatement measures, but he can't pretend it is a non-issue, and the idea that he might come up with a workable solution is long proven false. And that's the most credible of his pronouncements! All the rest of it - reintroducing the 20-shilling pound, reducing costs on WestConnex by importing English convicts under a new deal with the equally desperate and incompetent May government - if press gallery experience really was worth more than I prize it at, then they would have dismissed both messenger and message long before now.Tony Abbott is not newsworthy simply as a former PM. When tax-and-spend social democracy faded in the late 1970s - after Whitlam, and with the uninspiring examples of Callaghan and Carter and Schmidt - Billy McMahon did not start monstering the Fraser government. He was treated as a irrelevance whenever he proffered the mildest suggestion. While Whitlam himself refrained from commenting on many of the Hawke-Keating reforms, Whitlam-era relics like Tom Uren or Stewart West spoke out and were received with bemusement. Abbott's contributions should be viewed in a similar light. His slogans are slightly reworded from half-a-dozen years ago, and were stale a century before that: he has learned nothing and forgotten everything, just like the press gallery. Some believe Abbott returning to the Prime Ministership would further ensure a Labor win at the next election, a weak-tea version of the marxist notion of 'accelerationism'. All this would mean is that the next government would be so traumatised by the ratbaggery that preceded it, that the imperative for far-reaching reform would be weakened. Areas where the current government has clearly failed, such as school funding or reducing carbon emissions, would yield half-baked compromises to "get it off the table" rather than well-considered solutions. Weak-tea accelerationism is idle. Either go all out with buckets of blood, like the Bolsheviks did, with the risk that the blood spilt might be your own; or start planning for both the victory and what might lie beyond it. Abbott might be disrupting the Turnbull government from its stumbling, whatever-happens agenda, but he is weak on three levels that the press gallery don't really appreciate. First, he's weak in the administration of government. There was no link between what he promised the public and what transpired in his government. He could not get legislation through parliament: bleating about fractious politics ignores the Gillard government's successes in getting legislation through both houses in which no party had a clear majority. Second, he's weak politically. A leader in the ascendant has his people in key pos[...]



Shootout at Manus

2017-04-28T08:26:05.081+10:00

About once a month in her column at The Conversation, Michelle Grattan comes to the conclusion that Peter Dutton is not a team player and not fully honest when it comes to the complicated facts and issues of asylum-seekers. This doesn't deter her from quoting his (what by now must surely be) worthless assertions: thanks to the wonders of goldfish journalism, every Dutton stuff-up is a fresh surprise to someone who sets the standard for the press gallery.When it came to ministerial responsibility, public accountability, and other key principles underpinning democracy, Peter Dutton never had a chance. He entered parliament in 2001, at the election following hysteria about September 11 and the refugees aboard the MV Tampa. He defeated Labor's Cheryl Kernot, learning the lesson that even high-profile opponents can be brought down with enough dirt. Being a politician in a marginal seat requires a warm personality and a genuine concern for the local community; Dutton learned that fundraising can get around such shortcomings, particularly where Labor largely seemed to direct its energies elsewhere.By the time Dutton became Assistant Treasurer under Peter Costello, the Howard government had lost its policy reform momentum; Costello had become bitter and twisted at not becoming Prime Minister. Soon afterward the Howard government lost office: any opportunity to teach young Dutton the finer points of vision, negotiation, or any other aspect of policy development and implementation simply went by the board. He could have learned these lessons from the two Health Ministers he shadowed, Nicola Roxon and Tanya Plibersek. Both ran rings around him, policy-wise and in terms of having things to announce, but Dutton just sat quietly for six years; eventually their job simply fell into his lap. Healthcare professionals rated Dutton the worst Health Minister in a generation, but onward he went. Like a child raised in poverty and dysfunction who ends up addicted and/or imprisoned, there was never any possibility Peter Dutton would or could have become an effective minister. Grattan and others in the gallery who chide him for falling short of standards impossible for him look like they don't understand the people and environment they've been covering for years.From Trump and Abbott, Dutton learned that doubling down when wrong appeals to those who confuse obstinacy with fixity of purpose. The events of this week, where Dutton implied that asylum-seekers were pedophiles and shirked responsibility for yet another riot on Manus Island, should not have been as shocking as they apparently were. Four things arising from this were surprising, however, and none received much coverage from the supposedly alert and diverse press gallery. The first is that the Papua New Guinea police flatly contradicted an Australian government minister. Papua New Guinea had been an Australian colony from the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 to independence in 1975, and since then the country depended heavily on Australia for aid. Previous PNG governments danced around open confrontation with Australia; any exceptions tended to be reported in the Australian media as personality defects of the PNG politician concerned, rather than the issue itself. Recently, however, PNG Prime Minister Peter O'Neill has boosted relations with China, which has reciprocated in spades. PNG's trade and economic position relies less on Australia than it has for a century. Note the contrast with always-compliant Nauru, or too-quiet Christmas Island. We can expect more of this. While Dutton has brushed off the accounts of local police about the Manus incident, it is clear the PNG government will not spare Australia from embarrassment, and that more i[...]



Laws of gravity

2017-03-21T20:14:35.457+11:00

The press gallery seems agreed that there were no implications for the Federal Government in the recent WA election, at which Labor won an overwhelming majority. I disagree. In Warner Bros’ much-loved Road Runner cartoons, there is a trope where Wile E. Coyote runs off a cliff and, for a little while, continues moving forward. He stops. He looks down, and suddenly realises that he’s no longer supported. Only then does he begin plunging toward the floor of the canyon. Senator Cormann is similarly paused, seemingly in defiance of known laws of political gravity.At the grassroots level, the WA Liberals used to be a constellation of local fiefdoms, loosely aligned. Matthias Cormann blew into town and began uniting conservatives with no talent beyond loyalty to him. Part of this loyalty involved preselecting second-rate candidates to state parliament – the sorts of people who looked up to Troy Buswell. Colin Barnett was a hard-working, clever man who might have made it to the top of any organisation; the organisation he joined was the WA State Parliamentary Liberal Party. Barnett watched in horror as capable local-hero MPs were replaced by mouth-breathing Cormann loyalists. Barnett could only drag such dead weights so far, and Cormann didn’t want to go into state parliament. From far Canberra, as the tide began turning against Barnett, Cormann had watched his conservative followers ebb away from the Liberal Party and toward One Nation (the same thing is happening to the LNP in Queensland, for much the same reasons). Despite being beyond the pettiness of state politics, and pragmatically recognising Barnett was past it, no politician will sit by and suffer the loss of his power base. Cormann had an incentive to help Barnett, and Barnett had no choice but to accept it.As Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate, Cormann deals with Hanson regularly. He is used to organising right-wing dummies. By contrast, Queensland’s George Brandis disdains them, after a lifetime fighting and outmanoeuvering them within the LNP (you'd give the job of reforming s18C of the Racial Discrimination Act to Brandis only if you wanted it to fail). Cormann doesn’t patronise Hanson like Brandis does. Hanson’s newfound supporter base in WA were people Cormann knew; despite wanting to extend her influence nationally, Hanson didn’t know or trust them. Cormann cut a deal with Hanson as though it was all upside: keeping conservatives in the Liberal fold through preferences, and currying favour with Hanson’s team (including a new WA Senator to replace Rod Culleton).You show me a press gallery journalist who insists that WA is a conservative state, and I’ll show you one way too close to WA Liberal MPs. The Liberal Party in WA is more conservative than in other states: moderates usually stay outside the Liberal Party, contesting state elections as independents. Moderate independents help the Liberals win tight elections. When Barnett won government he reached out to long-serving Independent MP Liz Constable as his Education Minister, which surprised no long-time observers of WA politics but which appalled Cormannites working their way through the party. There is a long history of independents like Constable (and protest groups like Liberals for Forests) aligning with Liberals in WA. The state tends to vote Labor during economic downturns, and who believes Liberal policies will soon pull WA back into the boomtimes? As the McGowan government begins to fade, history suggests moderate independents will come back into WA politics in ways that work against the Labor government. The WA Liberals-One Nation deal assumed those people didn’t exist, or would doggedly sta[...]



King of the castle

2017-02-11T12:14:28.754+11:00

Smiling as the shit comes downYou can tell a man from what he has to sayEverything gets turned aroundAnd I will risk my neck again, again- Crowded House Four seasons in one dayIn theory, Parliament is the forum for the great debates on where the nation is headed. In practice, debates on where the nation is headed are had behind closed doors; what is put on show is bad drama badly acted, in Australia's best-subsidised and best-equipped theatre, where it is reviewed by the Australian media's last contingent of professional paid drama critics. Legislation and policy lags public debate by its very nature, where deliberations about good ideas, measurements of political forces alive in the community beyond Canberra, and how new initiatives fit with wider strategies like the budget or the PR imperatives of the incumbent government. It's complex and best described by people far from Canberra who focus on one aspect of it. I am so being fair and broadly accurate when I say those who cover politics up close, day after year after parliamentary term, do an important job very, very badly. Press gallery journalists know nothing about policy and governance - some of the more conscientious ones will do a quick Google search on the topic at hand, as though they don't realise we all have Google. What value is there in consuming traditional media once you've had to do your own googling? What time is there? Does anyone wonder why traditional media is going out of business? Have they really chosen the best journalists available to cover federal politics?But let's not have your standard rant about the press gallery, and what buffoons they mostly are. Instead, let's go to source materials and work outward from there.This brings us to Wednesday's wide-ranging debate in parliament, ostensibly a motion on Centrelink payments. The motion itself is on pages 59-60 of this transcript; Shorten's much-vaunted speech is at pp. 60-61, with Turnbull's response at 61-63. Shorten's speech was not the wonkish affair some on social media have pretended, as though Turnbull had mugged him on the way home from the library. It begins with the epithet "Mr Harbourside Mansion"; Shorten is trying to make the case Turnbull is out of touch, but he hasn't made the case adequately or directly and starting the speech with that phrase was arse-about - you build up to a notion like that, so the killer phrase becomes embedded and unshakeable rather than just another cliche. Just a personal attack, the sort of political news that washes off most people. It practically invited Turnbull to turn it around on Shorten which he (kind of - see below) did. Other gobbets like "this slippery fellow", the mock sympathy for Abbott, being baited by an unworthy interjector in Christian Porter, ensure that no journalist would claim this speech gives Shorten that most elusive quality of politics: Looking Prime Ministerial.That speech, taken with his earlier one at the National Press Club, has this value: Shorten is clearly calibrating, testing, and recalibrating his message. What we learned on Wednesday is that he is getting under Turnbull's skin. When Turnbull became Prime Minister in September 2015 he was miles ahead of Shorten in popularity, trustworthiness, and that vague but potent gallery-appointed quality of Looking Prime Ministerial. Turnbull assumed he could crush Shorten in an early election in July 2016, but didn't. It's 2017, and Shorten is still there, plugging away. He hasn't been consumed by some personal failing nor by the roiling tumult of the Labor Party. Abbott and Dutton might be irritants to Turnbull, but Shorten is a mockery.Turnbull too started off on the wrong foot[...]



Credit where it's due

2017-01-12T09:56:02.365+11:00

Annika Smethurst from the Herald-Sun did the investigative journalism that led to Sussan Ley standing aside as Health Minister. I was wrong to declare on Twitter that there was no press gallery involvement in this, when Ms Smethurst is based there. I had read/heard plenty of different stories on this matter by non-gallery journalists, and though I read/hear/see more political news than pretty much anyone who doesn't get paid to do so, I was wrong to extrapolate my experience across the gamut of Australian media coverage.I'd link to her articles, but I don't have access.At a moment like this, there is nothing else to do but don the ashes and sackcloth and defer to a press gallery journalist who - literally and figuratively - wrote the book on what it is to be stupid:I'm not kidding you, Bernard, you're kidding yourself. You blocked me, remember, to spare yourself the obloquy of my ill-informed tweets. It's like you've gone out of your way to be offended.I do like his signoff, even if it's somewhat above his station. When Julia Gillard was Prime Minister, most of her tweets were prepared by her staff. Tweets composed by Gillard herself were suffixed with her initials, JG. Keane almost certainly has no staff and writes his tweets himself; it appears he has signed off the tweet above with the description his (unnamed) press gallery colleagues (probably) give him. It emphasises just how much this issue really is all about Bernard Keane. Now is not the time to be so uncharitable as to ask how Smethurst decided to target Ley, who appears to be a Nellie No-Mates if we are to believe the sub-Massola and his secret sources. Hardly surprising she spends so much time on the Gold Coast. No wonder the Prime Minister, neither fish nor fowl in the modern Liberal Party himself, moved less than decisively against her.Before entering Cabinet, Ley was widely regarded as one of the smarter members of the Coalition. She seemed to lead a full, non-political-class life before joining the Liberal Party and losing preselection for the Victorian seat of Indi, to Sophie Mirabella. When Tim Fischer retired after representing the region for a generation in state and federal parliament, the Nationals could not find a more compelling candidate than the Liberals' Ley, who won Fischer's seat of Farrer (across the river from Indi).As Health Minister she has not developed, and nor has the government developed for her, an overarching strategy: her record is pretty much all cut this, cut that, and cut again. Ley's breadth of life experience, independence of outlook, diligence and brains do not to have been brought to bear on the nation's health system or other functions of executive government - but as you know from the above dear reader, and not being a press gallery journalist I can admit this - I may be wrong about this, too.It's like there's a difference between how Sussan Ley is - was - perceived inside Canberra, and how she's perceived outside. The difference is starker still with Ley's replacement, Arthur Sinodinos. Inside Canberra, Sinodinos trades on his reputation as Howard's chief of staff. He fobbed off ideas he deemed unworthy of Howard's consideration, and translated those that were into outcomes through his understanding of the public service. He was critical of Abbott's inability to engage the public sector in failing to realise his agenda, and failing to consult Sinodinos. When Turnbull brought Sinodinos back from oblivion and talked up his Canberra skills, the press gallery agreed as one that the return of Sinodinos was a Very Good Thing. Outside Canberra, Sinodinos has no political experience at all. Unlike How[...]



Cory & George's excellent adventure

2017-07-06T22:52:17.963+10:00

Mmmmm, standin' at the crossroadI tried to flag a rideStandin' at the crossroadI tried to flag a rideDidn't nobody seem to know meEverybody pass me by- Robert Johnson Cross roads bluesI am growing tired of professional paid political commentators who don't actually understand how politics works.Conservatism is largely about cultivating a fug of complacency and wallowing in it. Complacency becomes impossible for conservatives when a growing groundswell of opinion leads to non-conservative outcomes. When that happens, they have to rouse people to action, conservatives often use the crossroads metaphor: we have come, ineluctably, to a point where a decision must be taken on our future direction. The trouble with Cory Bernardi is that he does this so regularly, the call to action loses the immediacy it needs to take action. If you're going to rouse the silent majority to speak, to motivate a peaceful and industrious people to take to the streets, you do not do so lightly. Yet, Bernardi does so every time he misses the kiss of the limelight upon his face. Why would it do so? He's not a minister, with decision-making power. He is not a novelty; he has been a Senator for a decade now. He lacks both the freshness and youth of, say, Senator Patterson, as well as the gravitas of, um, pick any Senator old enough to be his parent. Bernardi is about the same age as Joe Hockey or Nicola Roxon, who entered parliament about a decade before him and - whatever you think about Hockey or Roxon - achieved more than Bernardi has. South Australia's Liberals keep sending Bernardi to the Senate on the basis that he's a man of promise; but apart from threatening to leave the very party that put so much faith in him, it's hard to see what that promise is. Some ministers in the government, and the current Leader of the Opposition, weren't members of parliament when Bernardi started crying from the wilderness Senate backbenches.The same applies to George Christensen. A Young Nat who worked for the previous National MP for the seat he now holds, George Christensen has no prospects beyond remaining in the position he is now. He regularly threatens to cross the floor, yet as a Whip (with a pay increment) his job is to prevent other Coalition MPs doing so. He lacks Bernardi's comfortable middle-class background. All around him in post-mining-boom mid-north Queensland lies economic uncertainty, with declining farm and mining jobs and low-paid service jobs in tourism the only alternatives to not having a job at all (fears that will not be alleviated by the spectre of the Adani mine). He has the best job in town, and every couple of years Labor and a bunch of other bastards try to take it from him. Christensen should have lost all credibility when he threatened to vote with Labor over a royal commission into banking, failed to do so, and the motion was lost by a single vote. Right there is your proof that Christensen's principles do not extend beyond his own advancement or preservation. Yet, press gallery continue to cover his every utterance as though they were important than they are.There is no such thing as a slow news day. There are dumb editors, and there are lazy journalists, but no day can really be said to have little or no news. Maybe some of that news that fell outside space constraints on busy days, or timed deliberately to avoid scrutiny, could get a go on 'slow news days'. Yet, the press gallery always jumps like maggots in hot grease at the idea that Cory Bernardi will leave the Liberal Party, or Christensen the LNP. They never twig to the idea that they might not be able to cope outsi[...]



Trumped part I: America's gimp

2016-11-20T13:33:24.098+11:00

Australian foreign policy has changed profoundly in the past few weeks, more so than at any time since 1942 - but with the important difference that the current Commonwealth government seems at a loss for how to deal with it. Our information about what was important to US voters, and how they might use that information to choose their President and Congress, was poor. The government has sources of information that go beyond the traditional media, such as an Ambassador who was a recent member of the Cabinet, and a golf course designer who has done business with the President-Elect. The rest of us, however, are left with this sinking feeling that we've all been had in assuming US voters would head off Trump, and this will get worse as media both deny any culpability and assert an exclusive and indefinite right to misinform us under the guise of reliable, factual, and relevant information. First, let's go around the media and work out how Australia's relationship with the US and other countries is likely to be changed. Then, let's aim squarely at those Australian media dipsticks trying to crawl from the wreckage of their credibility, and remind them of the conditions under which they are to go forward, if at all. Finally, I want to explore the media's obsession with this idea of the "alt-right", while at the same time failing to examine the idea in any depth.---Since US troops were first committed to the battlefields of World War I in 1918, Australians have fought beside them. In World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and other operations besides, Australia has joined US combat aims and suffered losses of blood and treasure. This relationship has shaped the foreign policy behaviour of both countries.In Australia, it has bred a political monoculture across the governing parties that the US is the guarantor of Australia's political and economic success (and that of other countries, such as Japan or the Philippines) in the Asia-Pacific region. This is supported by a range of institutions, such as the Australia-America Leadership Dialogue or Fulbright Scholarships, which reinforce this relationship. Australians seeking a career in foreign policy, whether partisan (by becoming a member of a political party) or not (by eschewing party politics and following a career in academia or diplomacy), looked to US foreign policy as the star by which all vessels steered.There is no way of regarding Australia's relationship with the US as anything other than closely intertwined with the broader aims of US foreign policy: outlooks and proposals that might have seen Australia break with the US altogether, or diminished the relationship (e.g. by closing Pine Gap or banning nuclear warship visits) were cast to the fringes of Australian politics and not entertained by serious careerist pragmatic people.In the US, we have seen a bifurcation between official rhetoric warmly praising our alliance and a sub rosa commentary taking Australian support for granted, verging on contempt. "We think you're an easy lay", recalled Jack Waterford in outlining occasional Australian disagreements within a generally close relationship. Yesterday we saw the Prime Minister admit that he tried and failed to secure a meeting with Trump, along the lines of Trump's meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Abe. One missed meeting need not have much long-term significance - but it hints at something more foreboding for the relationship, certainly as far as Australia's political monoculture is concerned.Donald Trump's method of campaigning collapsed the difference between officia[...]



The dogs' breakfast

2016-11-14T22:23:13.717+11:00

Look, I have a long and winding draft on the US election that I'm still trying to work through, ok? What follows here is a diversion into the politics (and coverage thereof) of my native state of New South Wales, which is ready to go out now. I beg the indulgence of regular readers.The NSW government committed itself to a significant building program of both public infrastructure and private housing. The departure of Troy Grant as Deputy Premier puts all that in doubt, and the coverage of this misses the point entirely.In order to pull off an agenda like that, a government needs a nice-guy leader, personable but firm, with an offsider who is a bastard and an enforcer of the steely will the leader never fully shows the public. Everywhere that has successfully pulled off a vast rebuilding program - Haussmann's Paris, Robert Moses' New York, Max Brauer's Hamburg, Lee Kuan Yew's Singapore, Zhu Rongji's Shanghai - saw a charismatic leader with one or more arm-twisting bastard enforcers to get things done. Grant was Mike Baird's bastard. A police officer for 22 years, he joined the Nationals and won the seat of Dubbo in 2011 from independent Dawn Fardell. He was a backbencher until Barry O'Farrell resigned in April 2014. Nationals leader Andrew Stoner had bought into the development ethos that had consumed the Liberals, insisting that some of the largesse from electricity sales also go to regional NSW; when Stoner stood down six months after O'Farrell, there was no succession plan. Grant had the numbers to become Nationals leader and Deputy Premier. Being new to politics did not stop Grant taking advantage. He became Minister for Police, leapfrogging his old colleagues who had avoided being posted to Dubbo. He became Minister for Justice as well, breaching the old protocols where the minister for one could not be minister for the other; he outranked the Attorney General, Gabrielle Upton, whose namby-pamby concerns about due process were swept aside by a copper's pragmatism. He combined this with the ministry of Gaming and Racing, putting him in charge of real power with liquor and pokie licencing - as well as Arts, because hey why not and who else in the government wants to do that? Grant aggregated all this power at a time when the Coalition had a vast backbench, full of apparently talented and hard-working potential ministers.When Baird wanted to curtail liquor trading hours in the inner city, Grant backed him. Police and health workers cheered the move, but the denizens of the city's bars and clubs hated it - and seemed to have no recourse, not to nice-guy Baird, not to the bastard enforcer Grant.When Baird resolved to ban greyhound racing in 2015, it was to please the same skittish urban base that had embraced Julia Gillard's ban of live cattle exports to Indonesia in 2011. A once working-class past-time had been forced from the inner city to the urban fringes and to rural areas that aren't desert, or pricey prime land, or subject to fracking, or too far from traditional greyhound racing centres in Gosford, Dapto, and Wentworth Park. It was never a big industry and had no champions who were big donors with access to the political class. No migrant group embraced it, it attracted few young people, and with a cut to its subsidies and a bit of compensation it might well have been dispatched into history with its ageing adherents. Grant backed him, and developed the legal and policy mechanisms to make it happen. As with urban planning or electricity sales, the consultation was broad, but firm; the government isn't bac[...]



When zombies attack, again

2016-11-03T15:02:48.558+11:00

You hear the door slam and realise there's nowhere left to runYou feel the cold hand and wonder if you'll ever see the sunYou close your eyes and hope that this is just imaginationBut all the while you hear the creature creepin' up behindYou're out of time ...- Michael Jackson ThrillerIt was appropriate that Tony Abbott should lunge for public attention at Halloween, when the dead make their presence felt without offering the wisdom of their experience, when children extort for lollies.By contrast, Sean Kelly wrote a rather good piece on why putting Abbott back into Cabinet might not be a good idea from a political point of view. It's hard to disagree with any of that, but let's look at how the media covers this sort of thing, and how useful they are at showing us how we are governed.Abbott and Indigenous AffairsAbbott thought that he'd like to be Indigenous Affairs Minister. He didn't say why; he didn't say what he could do that the incumbent Minister, Senator Scullion, couldn't do or hasn't yet done. We live in a time when a large and diverse number of Aboriginal Australians can and do mix it with political and other leaders in articulating the wishes and needs of their people. Previous generations of Indigenous leaders, from Bennelong to Geoff Clark, could articulate the problems Indigenous people faces but could not deal with the complexities of Anglo-Australian government sufficiently to secure the lasting outcomes that they wanted. When Abbott was Prime Minister he seemed to acknowledge only Warren Mundine and/or Noel Pearson as Indigenous leaders. He had only platitudes to offer on violence, incarceration, lack of economic opportunities, early death rates, and other issues articulated by Indigenous people themselves. Consider Tom Calma's denigration of both Scullion and Abbott on Indigenous policy, and how such a knowledgeable and nuanced examination will have no impact whatsoever on the reporting of Indigenous issues by the non-Indigenous press gallery. Yet, the press gallery as one remains convinced that Abbott has a passion for Indigenous issues - and being stupid people, no actual evidence from beyond the press gallery poses any danger of changing their minds. They are stuck on the idea that Abbott has a genuine passion for Indigenous issues.(c) The AustralianConsider what is going on in this cartoon. What sort of people don't acknowledge their own children? How can such people exercise sovereignty over land, or deny others access to economic resources in it? How can such people even act in their own interests, let alone those of others or the land itself? When ill Leak and his supporters insist this cartoon is 'true', they are arguing for defeatism in good-faith dealings with Indigenous people, and a continuation of a situation where it is best for non-Indigenous people to act in the best interests of such broken people.Tony Abbott has been more critical of his own sister than of any output of the Murdoch press. Abbott's support base in the Liberal Party are those who want to repeal section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, of which the above cartoon is probably in breach for its sheer absence of good faith. Abbott cannot claim to have any sort of commitment toward Indigenous people so long as he has no opinion on the bad faith of Leak and his supporters. This isn't a matter of culture war garbage that places Leak and his supporters at the centre of their own melodrama. This goes to the issue of Abbott's good faith in dealing with issues raised by Indigenous people, wh[...]



Proof of life

2016-11-01T22:40:59.174+11:00

I got legs I can walkAll the way down the dirt trackI fell down, I got upI turned around then I walked backI walked to the seaI stood there and looked for a signIt took time but it cameI added up and took what was mine- The Cruel Sea Better get a lawyerThe fantasy that Malcolm Turnbull is a moderate liberal and a wise and effective leader is held dear by many in the press gallery, despite an absence of evidence. While absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, the fact is that skill in business is not the same as the political skill of being able to move large numbers of people with you. Recent events have put the government in a position where Turnbull must demonstrate his reaching-out skills to a group of people who have good reason to be ticked off with him and his government, but who are not implacably opposed like, say, building workers.Now is the time for Turnbull to demonstrate the common touch his supporters insists he has in spades.The Attorney-General, George Brandis, has clearly failed. Every announcement by the government must be questioned for its legality and its vulnerability to judicial challenge, which makes confidence in government impossible and hampers the ability to work with/around it. Respected lawyers such as Gillian Triggs or Justin Gleeson can't work with him, the sniggering from the nation's lawyers that greeted his appointment has hardened into contempt, and the nation is both less secure and less free due to his tweaks to the law. It's too early even for a blogger to comment on Senator Day, who knew what when and did or did not act, etc. Insidery insider journalism intimates that Turnbull is displeased with Brandis, but so what? The difference between that and him not being displeased is not readily apparent, or even explicable by those who draw salaries on the assumption that they understand politics and government well enough to explain it to the rest of us. Paddy Manning described those of us who couldn't see how his skillset translated to politics as 'haters'. If you have some idea about politics, and have seen a number of occupants of the Prime Minister's office come and go, it doesn't mean that you hate Turnbull to say that he isn't up to the job and probably never was. It means that you have some respect for the office and its role in the country's governance, and that you measure occupants and aspirants against that - and that you are right to insist that coverage of politics apply similar measures.If you believe in Moderate Malcolm, an effective operator who contrasts sharply with the ditherer and bumbler before us, it's time for proof. Let us see in objective reality how moderate and effective Turnbull can be. It might be too much to ask to expect Turnbull to tackle vast wicked problems that have beset Australia for decades, if not fundamental flaws: the place of Indigenous people in modern Australia, say, or the tax system, or housing. If it's bare competence we're testing here, something intrinsic to Turnbull, then let's see how he reaches out to people he should know and be comfortable with.Malcolm Turnbull was a barrister in the 1980s. As a businessman he engaged the nation's leading commercial lawyers. As leader of the Australian Republican Movement he sought far-reaching change to the Constitution. He should be able to relate to lawyers. Many of them are his constituents. They are, if you pardon the lapse into sociological theory, members of his socio-economic class. If he can't reach out to the legal communi[...]



Politics beyond Canberra

2016-10-25T09:16:02.766+11:00

The reason why the press gallery sucks so hard at reporting on politics isn't just because they largely shirk the detail of legislative and policy changes that affect us all (and that their editors can't be bothered hiring articulate specialists). It's because they think they can just sit in Canberra and all the politics comes to them; and that if it doesn't come to them, it isn't really politics. They look at things like young people being unable to afford houses or legally questionable detention, or anything beyond Canberra really, and wait for it to be raised in a committee or on the floor of one of the houses, whereupon it becomes a Political Issue and can thus be Framed and Reported On by the press gallery using one of its few allowable tropes, and quickly dropped once they all agree on what the next story is, and how to Frame and Report On that.Let's look at two political issues that emanated far beyond Parliament House, which bounced around inside that building and were frankly misreported - not by rookies, but by two Political Editors, no less. Their insistence that political issues are only political when they happen inside Parliament, and that they own them once they do, actually inhibits their understanding and their ability to report on those issues - including to people with more direct experience than they.Mark Kenny and same-sex marriageIn this piece, Mark Kenny decided that he owned same-sex marriage as a political issue. Kenny didn't put the issue of delaying same-sex marriage to the skilled lobbyists and other tacticians who forestalled the proposed plebiscite on the issue. A quote from someone leading the campaign, a quote from a disgruntled person who might have to wait years to marry their partner in Australia, and it could have demonstrated both basic courtesy and journalistic skill on Kenny's part toward those whose stake in this issue is much more direct than his.It is a journalistic imperative to want this issue "off the table" so that journalists can apply their ignorant and facile takes to other issues. Conservatives in the government who do not wish to change the status quo are playing to this imperative when they insist that throwing out the bathwater of the plebiscite inevitably means discarding the baby of same-sex marriage. What's more, this correspondent was advancing the arguments for marriage equality back when it was routinely brushed off by the major parties as a boutique concern of the inner-city latte set – something even Abbott stopped arguing last year.And this advocacy came, by the way, well before the Labor party, unlikely hero of the latest pyrrhic victory, finally showed the gumption to campaign against an unconscionable legal discrimination.The campaign for same-sex marriage has been a slow and patient one, an exercise in how to bring about substantive change in a democracy. The campaign has focused on the grass roots: letter-writing campaigns, peaceful demonstrations, meetings with MPs in their electorates, things Mark Kenny would not know about because they took place far from Parliament. It appears to have been modelled on the 1951 campaign against banning the Communist Party, where a tiny minority had their basic rights vindicated in the face of a massive scare campaign. It also draws from the LGBTIQ community's slow and patient campaigns to decriminalise male-to-male sex, to recognise HIV-AIDS as a real and important public health issue.To find out what's going on, listen to and [...]



Under the gun

2016-10-21T10:40:41.262+11:00

Tony Abbott is niggling at Malcolm Turnbull again, and much of the press gallery have reported this in terms of its impact on the Turnbull government's agenda. There are three things to consider here, and all of them go to the question of the very point of political reporting and a press gallery.Firstly, the press gallery seems to value process over product. It likes calm, orderly passage of legislation through both houses, with banal and brief set-piece debates and preferably bipartisanship among the majors; if not, a minimum of mystifying horse-trading in the Senate might be tolerable. It would rather describe how legislation passes rather than what might be in it - even when legislation limits journalists in doing their jobs, it will be actual journalists far beyond the gallery who raise the alarums. When you discuss policy, and potential changes to the law that affect real people's lives and work, you run the risk of engaging readers/ listeners/ viewers and having them engage in political debate, and maybe work with others to make changes to deals that have already been done in Canberra. Far better to just sit by and describe the passage of legislation in purely functional terms, the way you might sit beside the Molonglo and observe the trickling water, the bird calls, the wriggling and wafting of nature taking its inexorable course.Note how the press gallery covered the Gillard government. There were more journalists in the press gallery than members of parliament, and yet every one of them agreed that the prevalence of horse-trading in both houses and relative absence of Bipartisanship was Chaotic and the very sort of thing that must not happen again. By contrast, the Abbott government passed very little legislation, but so orderly - when that government's budgets were stymied in the Senate, and passed in the barest terms only to avoid a repeat of 1975, the press gallery couldn't cope with the idea that concerns from outside parliament had somehow made their way in to affect votes in parliament. Instead, they cried chaos, disaster and hoped it would all go away. Government is only either calm or argy-bargy, according to the press gallery, and in the latter state they overestimate their ability to both describe the situation accurately and engage their public. To give one example - when Katharine Murphy gets excited she loses herself in mixed metaphors, as you can see here (a game of chicken in Gethsemane?). Secondly, no government has ever been good at managing internecine conflict. The chaos narrative of the Gillard government was fed by Rudd scowling at the backs of ministers speaking to legislation and answering Question Time questions, not how well or badly those ministers performed. There was no real equivalent to that in the Howard government, but there was in the latter half of 1991 when Paul Keating was a backbencher in the Hawke government, and apparently the last twelve months of Fraser, Whitlam, and McMahon were less than stellar. Press gallery journalists should be able to draw on that history: is the government paralysed? Only Laura Tingle (no link, paywalled) appears to be making the case that it isn't, that in administrative terms (see above) it is starting to hit its straps. Can the government build an administrative exoskeleton to compensate for its obvious weaknesses with personnel and interpersonal issues (if Chris Pyne and Marise Payne are treading on each other's toes, this gov[...]



The Game nobody wins

2016-10-16T13:09:04.703+11:00

Politicians and political journalists in capital cities across the world have different versions of The Game. The Game involves the politicians feeding gobbets of content to the journalists, and the journalists excrete content that flatters the politicians who fed them, and thus two groups of lonely people prop up one another.Hillary Clinton will almost certainly be elected President of the United States within weeks*. Many of the profiles of her, like this one, return to a common theme:[Clinton] has been a presence in American public life for more than a third of a century, and yet for all her ubiquity she remains a curiously unknown quantity to many voters.That, in its purest form, is journalistic failure. Journalists have been observing a person up close for years, hearing their words, challenging them on their positons and motivations, watching them smile and flinch and empathise and snarl, and yet after hectares of print and hours of blather, they concede the person has been hiding in plain sight all this time. The same publication conceded the same about Mitt Romney and Ronald Reagan, and yet it is regarded as the pre-eminent news source in the United States. Other organisations make the same admission: after all this time, we don't know who Hillary Clinton is, so what hope do voters/readers have to form an opinion about her suitability for the Presidency?In the UK too, at a time of great upheaval (the kind of upheaval that will be felt for years, and whose full effects can't be known by deadline), Theresa May has ascended to the top of British politics while being - you guessed it - unknown. Her Chancellor of the Exchequer, who would be the architect of Britain's post-EU economy, is also regularly described as unknown. In Australia, the current Prime Minister and his predecessor/stalker are both former working journalists. Both understand the need of journalists to have content several times each day to justify their existences and gum up their employers' output schedules. Both were better at The Game before they became Prime Minister, and each was hopeless afterward. The Australian media was unable to explain how each of these well-known men would perform the duties of Prime Minister, an office established and occupied for more than a century and covered extensively by political journalists. The morsels that do come to them via The Game are so petty they actually discourage people from taking an interest in how we are governed, and this imperils the very media organisations that employ journalists. Merely by doing their jobs they way they've always done them, journalists are not shoring up their own positions or reaching out to the community they serve; they are committing professional suicide.The doyen of the press gallery, Laurie Oakes, has known the current Prime Minister since he was an undergraduate. It is not at all difficult to dig up glowing profiles of Malcolm Turnbull as a potential Prime Minister. It ought not be a surprise, then, to find him in the office of Prime Minister but without a clear agenda as to what (or even how) he might put the powers of that office to best use. In the past week we saw Kelly O'Dwyer accuse her Labor detractors of point-scoring, and then fail to accrue any sort of credit for doing so - other than column-inches and airtime minutes by press gallery journalists shunning the readers/ listeners/ viewers whose patronage keeps thei[...]