With the election months, if not weeks away, there is one thing that the decision-makers in political parties will be focusing on other than fundraising.
Preferences. Who gets preferences from whom. Who needs preferences from whom. The results of several seats in both the House of Representatives and the Senate depend on how preferences are to be exchanged.
Current polls suggest that there will be a clear majority of Labor MPs in the House of Representatives. This has been the case all year, and both the MSM and many bloggers can't get past labouring the idea that Rudd may replace Howard as Prime Minister. The polls contain other data that is important to those who report on political life in this country, but the press gallery ignore it.
The whole idea of a press gallery is to ignore the stunts and to uncover what's happening behind the distractions and the hype. There's nothing more useless than a journalist who thinks the distractions are the story. Old hands have a role in providing a bit of foresight, not pumping out the hype as though to say: ooh, what an unexpected development!
The minor parties - those other than the ALP or the Liberal-National-CLP Coalition - play an important role in deciding not only the composition of the Parliament but they also shape the legislation that goes through it. Polls show how much support they can expect. Combined with a bit of investigative journalism, we voters may yet see what consequences our voting has, and may bear this in mind when we go to vote next time.
After almost ten years, the time has come to ask: what did Meg Lees get for her vote in favour of the GST legislation - and for those of us who aren't Meg Lees, has it been worth it? There are other such questions to ask of the minor parties' records: it is astonishing that Bob Brown is still taken at face value after all this time.
As I said about Costello, the press gallery will round on those it considers beneath its dignity, or it will ignore them. This article bemoans the lack of attention paid to minor parties, but it also highlights their lack of follow-through. Bartlett wasn't alone nor was he the first in raising issues like refugees and population growth in southeastern Queensland, but it's fair to say he's let events overtake him. Even more so with Lyn Allison: her work on RU486 helped to scupper Tony Abbott's personal ambitions and the kind of rightwing Christianity that has eaten the US Republican Party. "Will Senator Stott Despoja will be known simply as an attractive young woman who wore Doc Martins in parliament?". Only because that's the kind of publicity she courted in differentiating herself from Meg Lees.
Shouldn't the Federal Greens Party say where the preferences will be allocated? Sure, there's merit in localism but it can also be interpreted that the Greens are simply a collective of state-based factions.
They get wobbly when the hydra of clashing internal ideologies and parochialism raises its head(s).
All the more reason to give them a probe, to expose them to the kind of light that would might kill delicate flora/fauna on the floor of a rainforest. If attention they want, give it to them good and hard. When Christine Milne appears on TV she always looks as though she's got a migraine: make her think about what she says and does, call her to account, confront her with the consequences.
The worst thing about the reporting of minor-party interventions in the wider political system is that it's presented as a series of surprises, rather than analysed as eminently foreseeable developments. Government announcements are followed by a grab from the opposition and that's it, as though they were the only players. No experienced member of the press gallery has any excuse for keeping up this pantomime of the lazy. Giving candidate X second preference rather than third not only determines whether or not Candidate X goes on to one of those offices in the same building in the Parliamentary Press gallery, it determines the shape of legislation that will bind us all.