22 December 2007

Bad wine in broken bottles

Again, these pieces show how poorly served Australians are when we turn to the media for reporting and analysis on government and politics.

Paul Sheehan went looking for a justification for his profession and couldn't find it. Ray Cassin can't accept that Mungo MacCallum, like his contemporary John Howard, has run out of useful ideas. Michelle Grattan flogged another hobby-horse.

In today's SMH Spectrum (review not online - why? Engage in Sheehan-style paranoia in your own time), Paul Sheehan asserted that the Australian media was diverse and that it covered the 2007 election - better than the writers of the four books he reviewed, anyway. The fact that the Howard government continued to be taken seriously, and the Rudd government wasn't, for far too long puts the lie to this. Sheehan is right to skewer Margot Saville over ALP ethnic politics, but wrong to ignore the failure of a key idea underpinning modern journalism: that access is important. Sheehan was wrong to assess an academic study by journalistic standards. Cassin was right when he said:
... right up to election night, [Howard] still seemed unable to fathom why so many Australians believed that their country needed to change.

And he shared this incomprehension, for much of the year at least, with a depressingly large number of those whose daily task it is to report and interpret the nation's politics. The media's muddles, as much as the government's, form the thread connecting each of these books rushed into print to mark Howard's end.

Paul Sheehan, recognise that the people you think of as a diverse lot have a crippling case of groupthink. That said, Cassin has the same problem with a hoary old cliche:
Australia ... changes governments at the national level comparatively rarely: Since World War II, opposition parties have been elected to office only six times.

The same number of times as Britain, one fewer than the US (counting Presidents succeeding those of the other party as "change of government"), two fewer than New Zealand - when you say "comparatively rarely, compared to what? Where? Whom?

Apart from that, Cassin is spot on in identifying the theme of economic dislocation and lack of a sense of purpose in government policy as key drivers for Howard losing government. Where he has failed is:
MacCallum is a political writer of rare brilliance, as those who have followed his long career will know, and neither his wit nor his depth of knowledge has been diminished by fleeing Canberra to reside on the north coast of NSW.

The opposite of this is true. As Sheehan observes, MacCallum is about the same age as John Howard. MacCallum adds no new insight to the Howard government and its demise, and the excerpts posted in Crikey and elsewhere reveal it to be a flatulent waste. The very title of MacCallum's book is silly: the polls didn't dance, they were as unyielding as Kevin Andrews in getting rid of Dr Haneef.

Grattan deserves credit for persistence, if not much else, in declaring that the Liberals and Nationals should merge. There is probably greater cause for merging The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age and putting this old dinosaur out to pasture. She runs similar columns whether the Coalition win or lose.

She ignores the most telling objection: that such a merger would lead not to one party, but three (the compromise entity, the rural rump who'd leave to form Katter/Windsor style cults of personality, and an urban rump that would form another minor party).

She disgraces herself with silly suggestions like this:
The Liberals should lean very hard on former federal president Shane Stone to come back for the short term. He is tough enough to knock heads together, and sufficiently well connected with business to raise hard-to-get dollars.

His term as party president was colourful but not constructive, he couldn't raise two bob and is closely associated with the past from which the Coalition is trying to extricate itself.
The party needs to become the "broad church" that Howard always talked about but never truly promoted. The small-l liberals should be putting their views about future directions. Many voters won't return to supporting the party until it has reclaimed the values it sold out.

The test of the merger thesis is: will such a scenario be more likely - or much, much less - under a Lib-Nat merger? Much less, I'd suggest.
There is no doubt that seriously considering merger is fraught and possibly beyond the capacity of those running either party.

Well, yes. Time to ditch the idea then?

The Nationals are in decline and, despite Barnaby, will almost certainly halve in numbers before the Liberals regain government. A Labor landslide in 2010 should see them win Wide Bay, Lyne, Gippsland and Cowper. Why merge when the Liberals can just pick apart the Nationals' carcass?
Even if a win for the conservatives is likely to be a bridge too far in 2010, they at least need to avoid going further backwards. That could mean exile for a very long time indeed.

You say this like its a bad thing, or that a merger would minimise damage to what is now the Coalition. Neither are true.


  1. God this makes for dull reading. Why do such Australian blogs drone on and on.
    So you don't care for Howard and his people. So!
    Be succinct , witty or informative - it can't be too hard/.

  2. It's too hard for you, clearly.

    If you've ever wondered what sort of sorry loser posts to blogs on Christmas Day - blogs he reads avidly, then claims are dull - look no further than cramerj. Missed the point, and missed out on a life too.