25 September 2010

Bella Counihan is an idiot

Controversial? Not when you read columns like this. Counihan writes Tony Wright's column when he's too tired-and-emotional to regale us with anecdotes from 1985. She needn't bother. Given the question cast over Fairfax circulation figures, it's inevitable that sacrifices will have to be made and Counihan is a prime candidate for the next clearout.
The new parliament is to start next week and as we venture into unfamiliar territory, one can't help but feel we might be going against the natural order of things.
Sorry? The people elected a series of politicians, and the journosphere decides it's unnatural for people to go against the clichés? An article that starts from a stupid premise is bound to spiral out of control, and this one goes right off.
Have we created a great new invention by chucking adversarial politics and embracing consensus?
Chucking adversarial politics? Really? Next time Tony Wright wakes up, ask him about Bob Hawke's first term in office. Look outside Australia and see a number of countries governed by ramshackle coalitions. Those political systems can be as adversarial as you like, up to and including fisticuffs.

Or are we inevitably going to be chased out of the village by the angry pitch fork-wielding mob (read Australian public) for a monster that no one really understands or can really control?
Here we stand at the dark heart of Bella Counihan's stupidity: she thinks the Australian people are stupid, because they have not elected a majority government comprising exclusively Labor or Liberal-National MPs. The NSW Labor Right fits the description of "a monster that no one really understands or can really control", and so does David Clarke.

Besides: who do you mean by "we"? In a single paragraph, "we" the voters have created a Parliament where horse-trading is necessary (Bella, dear, all Parliaments involve horse-trading and compromise) or "we" the politico-media complex (being chased out of Canberra by a 14-million strong mob called the voting public)? Is all criticism of the politico-media complex irrational? Should people in a democracy really be frightened of a political scenario which is not controlled by some party machine?
But the experiment undoubtedly remains a strange one, forced by unnatural circumstances.
A paragraph ago, Bella had a felling things were unnatural; now it's beyond doubt? What sort of journalist writes this crap?
The Westminster system has always had a natural inclination towards adversarial politics - every turn the government makes the opposition shadows and criticises, political point-scoring 101. But the people have spoken, they don't want this any more, sick to the teeth. So the game tries to rearrange itself.
The Westminster system is a system of parliamentary representation, Bella, in which members of executive government must be both members of the legislature and answerable to it. Sometimes this involves conflict, much of the time it involves negotiation and outcomes that are set before the set-piece of debate even begins. This is how parliamentary politics has always been done and I'm sorry you missed it.

Nobody voted for a hung parliament, but we've ended up with one and politicians have to make it work. The leader of the Liberal Party is very keen to play your old-school adversarial politics, and look how far it's got him - outwitted by Alex Somlyay, for goodness sake!

It's clear that your journosphere clichés do not help in understanding what's going on, so here's another cliché to help fill the void: vox populi, vox Dei. No point grumbling about the voters, especially when they're also your readers. The "game" does not change itself - there was no referendum to abolish the Westminster system of government - various players can change the game by adapting to prevailing conditions well, and previously top-class players can be rendered irrelevant by misreading the game. That's what you've done, Bella; misread the game.
Of course, there has always been the Senate, the house of review that is sometimes seen as the great saviour of Australian politics and then alternately as the greatest obstacle. But here's the worry for the government — when the Senate blocks bills, the Senate doesn't get blamed by the public. The ETS was seen as a failure on the government's part, not those that voted against the bill during it's [sic] travel down the log river of parliamentary process.
Not really - the government was returned but Senators who voted against the ETS (e.g. Guy Barnett, Stephen Fielding, Julian McGauran, Russell Trood) were voted out of office. Many voters thought it was a good thing the ETS didn't get up, others regarded it as a tragedy, and voted accordingly. How do we vote you out, Bella?
And even then, the Senate was never as problematic as this new parliament is likely to be, with so many extra players and actors to consider.
Problematic for whom, Bella? The Senate of 2004-07 that passed WorkChoices and other voter-repellent legislation seemed to work well for people like Nick Minchin and Eric Abetz, but ultimately it produced outcomes that saw their party tipped out of office. D'oh! Sometimes in politics, Bella, what seems to work well for someone can actually rebound on them.
Ideas of election promises, therefore, are not as they were. It would require a new engagement with the public for people to really follow the process of parliament and understand how legislation came about, which parties and actors own which part of the legislation.
What would be necessary for that to happen is for a press gallery to explain the substance of policy issues and its connection to this Question Time tantrum, that press release, or some other piece of ephemera that is the sole focus of clowns like Annabel Crabb, Dennis Shanahan, Michelle GrattanCounihan. Too lazy to do that? Too easy to run with the pack? You take what you get, Bella.
But if the Australian public has to actually pay attention to politics things might get tricky.
With all due respect, fuck you.

The Australian public does not need to engage with politics. We're busy, Bella. Politics has to engage with us. And if we are to engage with politics, we need journalists who understand politics and public policy, and can explain them in engaging ways. Even the best journalists are hit-and-miss; the worst, like your own silly self Bella, don't even try.
Especially after this election, where there has been one of the largest turn-offs from politics ever seen, expressed in an unprecedented level of informal and non-voting. Mark Latham may have actually been relevant to that campaign after all, as much as we all wanted him to go get a different day job.
Mark Latham exploited the political instincts he developed in the NSW Labor Right: take a bad situation and make it worse. It was your colleagues in the media who did a live cross of him drinking coffee. It was your colleagues in the media who spent the campaign asking Julia Gillard  if she was frustrated at not getting her message out. It was entirely fitting that Latham become a journalist. Suck it up, princess: you're getting what you deserve.
So the government is going to cop it for breaking promises, backflips and the like. Even if it actually improves the outcome and quality of the legislation, it probably won't be seen as such.
You're clearly being backgrounded by someone from Labor pulling the woe-is-me line, and you don't have the knowledge or the wit to see through it.

In the late '90s, the Democrats improved the Howard Government's GST legislation. That government did not "cop it" for failing to get its legislation through as drafted. The GST did not arise from any deep-seated clamour from Liberal Party branches. By contrast, Meg Lees' deal on the GST destroyed the Democrats.

If you're concerned about the way public policy is portrayed in the media, here's an idea: why don't you become a journalist?
The opposition will easily frame Labor's government as untrustworthy, particularly because of Labor's perceived history of broken promises.
The Opposition can say what they like, but what needs to happen is for some journalists to call bullshit on them - particularly given their own untrustworthiness.
Julia's Frankenstein parliament could be a great advance for democracy, where legislation is improved by consensus and reviewed by different parties in the process on its merits. But this strange new beast may well scare the villagers, media and public alike, who might not understand the new creature and its ways.
So we're agreed: lazy, clichéd journalism just won't cut it any more. Bye bye, Bella.


  1. With all due respect ,Fuck you ,pretty much sums it up. The pretend journos really think we the public are basically thickheads who would not understand detailed reporting . To them it is just reality TV to be reported. Thanks for interesting blog. Its a pity the MSM is not as enjoyable to read.

  2. Thanks tredlgt. It's also true that you just can't report on government from the parliamentary press gallery. Ye olde journalisme says that the way to report politics is to report the biff, and that (along with catty remarks from Annabel Crabb and her understudy Katharine Murphy) is reflected in the hiring decisions they make, and the insistence that Canberra press gallery is where it's at in terms of politics.

  3. Yet another reason to ignore mainstream journalism. I'm sorry you had to read that, I'm glad I didn't have to.

  4. Another well-deserved dissection of vapid journalism. I doubt reporters such as Counihan are actually capable of understanding politics and public policy, let alone explain them – all that they understand are the soap opera aspects and the conventions of gossip writing. I’d be very interested to know what you make of Grattan’s latest opus, Mr Elder http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/politics/a-grand-residence-for-pm-and-partner--and-plenty-of-room-for-a-shed-20100925-15rg7.html.

  5. ewe2, we need a differently calibrated journalism. If the journosphere is serious about preferring to be criticised than ignored, then here's some criticism.

    AC, I'd love to be able to say that I have never read such a drizzle of shit in all my life. Seriously, if I was writing for some tabloid mag attempting to wedge some local content in between stories on Lindsay Lohan and Angelina Jolie, I wouldn't produce such a "deliberately barren" piece.

  6. "lazy" as she recycles the Yesterday, we had the government defeated on the floor of the House of Representatives for the first time in 70-odd years meme. Ignoring the '75 HOR vote that Malcolm Fraser's minority Govt lost. And corrections are moderated.

  7. She's about 12 so I wouldn't get too worked up about it