29 October 2010

Why the Liberals should preference the Greens

Australia's two biggest states will go to the polls over the next six months. Labor will want the Liberals to preference them ahead of the Greens, while the Liberals will be tempted to mess with Labor for short-term gain. In both states, the Liberal position is strong: somewhat stronger in NSW but over the next term, even if Brumby scrapes back in you have to fancy the Liberals' chances over Labor's.

There is no reason why the Liberals should engage in a pas-de-deux with the ALP. Labor only do this in moments of weakness, and the Liberals never benefit. It becomes hard for a Liberal opposition to become a Liberal government when they've cut so many deals for quick, little wins; some Lib staffer gets a public sector job while Liberal frontbenchers never become ministers. If the Liberals preference Labor and Labor preferences the Liberals, how do they create a competitive advantage? Brumby's bellowing at the Victorian Liberals, demanding that they preference his government, reminds me of Morris Iemma demanding that Barry O'Farrell back him on electricity privatisation. For Baillieu to accede would be the end of him.

Andrew Norton wrung his hands over his local electorate before eventually deciding to preference Labor on particular Federal issues. What of the longer term, the bigger picture?

The reason why the Liberals should preference the Greens is because it is in its interests to shape the left in such a way that makes left governments structurally weak. A strong Liberal leader, one determined to be in power for a long time, would intone gravely that the Labor Party is in such a dire state that it cannot be supported. The Greens have the kind of political vigour that the ALP lacks, and to recognise this and build bridges over the long term is in the best interests of the Liberal Party. The future of the left in Australia belongs to both Greens and Labor, and it is a pragmatic recognition of this for the Liberals to preference the Greens.

Of course, this would drive Labor crazy. The foundation of the ALP is that it is the only political force on Australia's left capable of holding government. It has guarded this jealously, inventing the notion of the "rat" which has latterly been taken up by post-Howard Liberals. It has seen off international communism, sharply limited the application of Leo XIII Catholicism, and ran rings around the Democrats who threatened to deny Labor centrist votes. The Greens represent a force so substantial and so sharp that it can act as a pincer for Labor, if the wit is there for the Liberals to use it thus. The idea of putting the future of the left in the hands of the non-left is a political advantage for the ages. It threatens to break a generational cycle where Liberals have been equal or inferior to Labor in winning state elections.

In both NSW and Victoria, Labor MPs vulnerable to the Greens in inner-city seats are highly-regarded ministers. If they are beaten by Greens, local Labor branches will not be capable of finding quality candidates to run against them next time; they will be the usual random duffers Labor fields in other marginals. Labor won't be able to replace those people quickly from anywhere else in the short term. The Greens, meanwhile, will have political momentum and will therefore attract quality people not focused on money, continuing to put the lie to the idea that political competence is necessarily expensive. If Labor lose Melbourne or Balmain to the Greens, they will suffer a blow from which they will not recover easily or quickly.

Worse, the future for a proud party thus defeated would be to form a coalition with its tormentors. True, the Libs and Nats have their tensions but they also have a culture of symbiosis that is lacking in both jealous Labor and we-shall-overcome Greens. A future Green-Labor government would be fraught to the point where it will take ten, twenty years for each to learn to live with the other. For the Liberals, ten or twenty years is a long time in government.

Having forsaken the inner-cities, the future of Labor is taking on the Liberals in the suburbs and regions, engaging in law-and-order auctions and urban planning issues: issues that favour the Liberals, especially if they are the incumbent government or challengers to a tired, dispirited and exhausted government.

Five years from now, the baby-boomers will be gone from Labor, and with them the party's electability:

  • The NSW Coalition government will be headed for re-election against a gutted ALP;
  • If Victoria's Liberals don't win next month, they can't but win next time;
  • Anna Bligh, Andrew Fraser and the brothers Dick will have slid into history - regardless of how bad a Langbroek government might be, Labor won't be able to regroup to take advantage of it;
  • Colin Barnett is the supreme politician in WA state politics; fawning from his own side, and such opposition as there is can only be described as feeble; John Howard syndrome; and
  • The wheels will fall off Rann, again with little prospect of regrowth, to the point where not even the Libs can botch it.
Tassie is anyone's game, though something tells me Hodgman could yet outwit Labor there - and of course the Feds speak for themselves. Gillard can keep Labor together long enough to fob off Abbott, but beyond that a sensible Liberal leader should be able to build a genuine understanding with the Greens that cuts Labor out of the game, leaving them with the sort of union-official zombies they have warned themselves of for a generation. 

I think it is one of the great tragedies that Deakinite liberals were replaced by dull-witted tinsmiths, autodidactic cabinet-makers, Billy Hughes and other randoms under the Labour League banner, many of whom would later desert the ALP anyway (there is nothing so traditional as trouncing Labor traditions). The Greens look set to give Labor the same medicine. All of your Freudenberg flatulence can't help Labor deal with the next few years; fundamental restructuring and accommodation with what now seems impossible is their only hope. The Liberals' only hope is to force these changes on their opponents before they're ready.

28 October 2010

Joe Hockey and the banks

Joe Hockey was Minister for Financial Services and Regulation from 1998 to 2001. He put in place much of the ongoing CLERP reform process and did much of the preparation for what became the Financial Sector Reform Act 2002, key legislation that managed corporate Australia through a boom and maintained it through the rocky times recently. He took on an untidy boardroom brawl within AMP, fingering then-chairman Ian Burgess for his inept approach at managing both people and money. Burgess, a prominent and long-serving company director, went straight to then-Prime Minister Howard and whinged about the young whipper-snapper but Hockey was right and to his credit, Howard stood by Hockey.

Cut forward to now, and Hockey is a senior member of the Coalition in Federal Parliament. Howard, Costello and others with greater experience in corporate and prudential regulation have moved on. In fact, with the possible exception of Turnbull I can't see anyone in the Federal Parliamentary Coalition parties who has half as much experience in this area as Hockey. Looking at the Press Gallery, I can see plenty there who would have been all over the story MINISTER CRITICISES AMP SHOCK.

For all that, the journosphere consensus is that Hockey is just bagging the banks because that's what pollies in opposition do, in response to this week's polls and last week's focus groups. This is unfair to Hockey, but he's big enough to cop that. What's worse is that it's unfair to the debate on whether our financial system is well regulated. Hockey's proposals clearly don't work from the perspective of making disengaged voters sit up and take notice; but maybe they weren't intended that way, and (based on his record) we have no reason to assume they constitute idle kite-flying on his part. It's possible that they embody ideas he's been thinking about for a long time, and they deserve consideration by others who have done the hard yards without being self-interested.

Speaking of self-interest, these three did themselves no favours in light of Hockey's proposals:
  • Abbott was weak not to stand by Hockey yesterday. I wish more TV outlets had showed Abbott opening and closing his mouth like a landed fish in response to media questions on a matter that is clearly too hard for him to understand. I'm so glad he's not Prime Minister;
  • Swan too looks weak in clinging to the status quo, while 'calling for restraint'. He's the third Labor Treasurer from Queensland: the conservatives brought down Theodore (and in doing so intimidated Lyons into abandoning Labor) and they later brought down Hayden, whom Swan advised; reformers both. Swan, with his reforms behind him having stayed in the saddle during the wild ride of the GFC, has no stomach for reform and is hoping just to create FUD and muddy the waters. He is a lot like John Howard as Malcolm Fraser's Treasurer; and
  • Michael Smith, CEO of ANZ, reminded me a lot of Burgess with his pompous and flatulent response to Hockey. He wouldn't know populism if it shot him in the leg. Rather than 'report the controversy', Smith's comments belong in the realm of 'he would say that, wouldn't he'. The journosphere should have asked Smith about the public that money that pumped up his results announcements, his share price (Disclosure: I'm an ANZ shareholder) and his reputation as a manager during tough times. If Swan quotes Smith in support of an attack of his own against Hockey, Swan will look be craven.
We media consumers, we taxpayers, we voters are not helped by a lack of focus on the issues under discussion - because unlike a lot of Canberra argy-bargy, there are real issues under discussion here. Tony Jones has got too much populism on board from Q and A to the point where his performance on Lateline is starting to suffer, as you can see from this. Maybe Hockey's nine points would do the country a power of good, or maybe they're a crock from a lazy mind desperate to be taken seriously; it's hard to tell and the media aren't doing their job of helping us decide either way.

27 October 2010

Dedication to non-stories

The next time you hear professional journalists describe themselves as a "fourth estate" and get all huffy about their so-called profession, have a look at today's papers and spot the non-stories on politics. The very day after the federal press gallery admits that it missed a ballot within what is now a major party, it comes out with:
  • In this piece, John Howard exchanges pleasantries with Tony Abbott. It is still not clear as to whether Abbott has any clue about the economy, though. Samantha Maiden's record for writing much with nothing worth reading to say remains intact.
  •  In this piece, noted philosopher Bella Counihan considers that while Peter Costello never challenged a sitting PM for leadership of his party, Julia Gillard did for hers, oh and John Howard had a shoe thrown at him (just as George W Bush did). No story there either. When do we get to ask whether Bella Counihan is a real journalist, and what proof we'd accept other than her employer's initial letter of offer?
  • In this piece, the Opposition is said to want 'reform' but actually only wants a couple of enquiries that will slow down policies they don't like without creating much to work with.
  • In this piece, a Member of Parliament asked the Prime Minister a question during Question Time, and she responded.
I'm not looking for "bias", like Gerard Henderson; I'm looking for a substantial story about the way we are governed.

You won't have to wait long for an even bigger dose of masturjournalism as Andrew Olle time is almost upon us. This year, a Pom is being paid to come out here and patronise us, without deviating from the Olle formula:
  • A few dire warnings about infringements on press freedom, whether from "spin doctors" (experienced journalists who didn't want to waste their lives or earning capacities as editors), third world dictatorships (thousands die in a massacre, but a journo cuts his finger or spends a night in the jug and that's the real story?), or Murdoch;
  • Laments for newspapers that can't make a profit churning out dross like the above three examples;
  • Some journostalgia about the days when you could spend your whole journalistic career half cut, and still be invited to give the Andrew Olle; and
  • A few meagre, backhanded compliments, received with grovelling.
After all that, Rusbridger can go back to his lonely hotel room and drink himself silly while the journosphere hums with self-congratulation.

26 October 2010

Run over by a solid mandala

I'm not even a Liberal any more, and I still despise Nick Minchin. The only thing that will cure that is a kind of pitiful humanity for a man whose grin reminded me of the metal fittings on a coffin. It's happening, damn his eyes; Nick Minchin's whole public persona had been all Waldo Brown until recently but now his Arthur is coming out.

He put the hash pipe away to get a job with the Liberal Party in the late 1970s, helping to spike the state's Liberal government after a single term soon after. As State Director of the Liberal Party he euthanased another Liberal State government in the '90s and handpicked Federal and State candidates distinguished by nothing more than loyalty to him. As Communications Minister he confused the commercial interests of Telstra with the telecommunications needs of the nation, and believed in a political constituency of Telstra shareholders that does not exist. As shadow minister for communications, defence and mining, the journosphere thought he'd keep Labor on their toes: he did bugger-all to challenge, or even discomfit, Labor in government. On top of all that, he is more responsible than anyone - except, perhaps, Mr & Mrs Bernardi - for this.

The appalling injuries suffered by his son (who knew that such a cold fish could reproduce, let alone not do what all the other cold fish do and let their offspring struggle by without them?) saw this supremely political animal place something other than politics uppermost in his life. I was stunned at the humanity of a man who disdained any semblance of it in others. I thought he would slink back to Adelaide and pull some strings to get better outcomes for his son than were available to other South Australians, all the while bemoaning the public health system and the sort of do-gooders who go into the hardscrabble caring professions in the first place. He may yet do that, but recent events show he might be undergoing the sort of rethink that leads some to madness, others to Damascene conversions; and still others to confuse one with the other.

First this - Costello won't thank him for that and nor will anyone else - and now that. Minchin's son Oliver was training to become an army officer, and being injured in training is neither worse nor better than being injured on the battlefield. If he keeps this sort of thing up he'll go the way of Malcolm Fraser. It may be hard to imagine Nick Minchin clinging to the wire fence around a detention centre singing We Shall Overcome, but at this rate the day is not far off.

For such a powerful man, Minchin seemed unable to do anything but have a heartsink at times like Iraq, or when he realised that Howard couldn't win in 2007. All political careers end in failure but Minchin's is one that might just yield something unexpectedly beautiful and nutritious from all that shit.

24 October 2010

Afghanistan vs East Timor

To illustrate which sort of military involvements Australia should do more of, and which less of, let's compare East Timor and Afghanistan.

In East Timor, Australian troops went in and established a provisional government, which has since been elected and retains popular legitimacy. Australian troops have been there for more than a decade, but Australia's engagement is far broader now than just military.

If Australian troops pull out of Oruzgan province, there will be no contact between Australians and Afghans: any civil aid effort will be thwarted by corrupt local warlords who can't make money from do-gooders, and Taliban who know that Western aid offers Afghans the kinds of services other people recognise as essential for popular legitimacy. Because the government there are clowns, there is nothing to support for locals or Australians, and training a local police force would be busywork to prop up PR efforts in Australia rather than to stabilise society in Afghanistan.

East Timor's neighbour, Indonesia, has a strong government that has learned its lesson and is attending to other issues than East Timor. Afghanistan's neighbour, Pakistan, has a weak government that is partly working with the Taliban, partly not, and generally achieving bugger-all for themselves and others.

In both places, Australians are recognised as foreigners, but East Timorese welcome Australians while Afghans merely tolerate the presence of our (yes, our) troops - and some don't even go that far.

In East Timor, the bankruptcy of Indonesian rule was clear; the incoming government needed to find its feet so the people embraced the Australians and worked closely with them until the incoming government could step up. In Afghanistan, the bankruptcy of Taliban rule was clear and the incoming government was clearly just as bad, so no embrace of the foreigner was possible until force majeur compelled people to make a choice - and the choice they've made is to keep Australians isolated as invaders.

Even in postwar Japan, Australian soldiers were not so disengaged from people they were trying to help as they are in Afghanistan. In both World Wars, the Australian government made it clear that our quarrel was not with the German people but their governments. In Korea and Vietnam the Australian engagement with local people was half-hearted, and overruled by ham-fisted shows of "strength". In UN peacekeeping efforts, Australians have shown that a broader engagement backed up by military force - and not consisting wholly of it - gets positive results for locals and Australians alike.

We can't be sure if we're doing a good job or not because there is no local voice to tell us one way or another, and the locals don't really engage with Australians anyway because they're more concerned about IEDs than building sound ties.

One thing is clear: the assertions by the Department of Immigration that Afghanistan is fine and all the asylum-seekers can go home, are the most vicious types of lie. They also put the lie to the notion of a 'queue' which Afghans are said to jump. The fact that they can't get into that queue without bobbing up on Ashmore Reef shows the Phillip Ruddock Fib shows a wasteful disconnect in Australian public policy, a commitment to waste that should appal anyone who realises that disconnect kills people.

East Timorese refugees helped shape Australian policy toward that country; for many years Jose Ramos Horta lived above a TAB in western Sydney. Afghan refugees aren't considered valuable sources of information; they're a burden, an embarrassment, a menace apparently.

In neither location are Abrams tanks or Tiger helicopters any damn good at all.

Australia's interests are clear in East Timor. In Afghanistan we're there to support the Americans, and they are there because they're there.

23 October 2010

Taking journalism seriously

I think Mark Colvin is one of Australia's best journalists. I read a piece that he wrote and thought it was poor, and told him so via twitter. He attempted to brush me off, then called me a troll: a bit sad, but not of great consequence in itself. Mind you, many portentous and pretentious articles have been based on small and feeble instances such as this.

The piece itself

Colvin's piece is here. He said himself that the key to this article is the fifth paragraph:
The Games are these days the most visible expression of the Commonwealth itself - an organisation which aims to promote democracy, human rights, good governance, the rule of law, individual liberty, egalitarianism, free trade, multilateralism and world peace.
See, I just think that's tendentious. The Commonwealth as an organisation, and the Commonwealth Games Association within it, doesn't really big-note itself on all those counts. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) does, the UN does, even the United States does; but no such claims can be or are made, by or for the Commonwealth Games.

The Commonwealth has had its major successes in southern Africa. It was the Commonwealth that applied pressure over a generation to the apartheid regime in South Africa and its fellow travellers in what used to be known as Rhodesia. The Commonwealth Games had little to do with that, though. The 1962 Empire Games (as it was known then) was the first to be held without South Africa, who would not be readmitted until Kuala Lumpur 1994. The 1982 Commonwealth Games in Brisbane was the first to feature athletes from independent Zimbabwe. These games followed, rather than led, broader political developments.

Colvin draws attention to his own groundbreaking work in Uganda during the early 1980s. Wisely, he draws no link from eastern Africa to the 1982 Commonwealth Games in Brisbane because there really is no link to draw. By contrast, that period (between the 1980 Olympics in Moscow and the 1984 Games in Los Angeles) saw the then President of the International Olympic Committee, Juan Antonio Samaranch, confuse himself with a significant international statesman in seeking to broker a settlement between what were then global superpowers.

The IOC takes itself terribly seriously, as observed by Andrew Jennings and other journalists, and IOC officials such as Kevan Gosper are on the record in propounding that organisation's achievements on democracy, human rights and a host of other global ills. Much of that is nonsense, and undermined by the IOC's own backroom compromises. It isn't fair to tar the Commonwealth Games with the same brush.

It isn't eve fair to tar the Commonwealth Games with the same brush as that you'd use on the Commonwealth. There's also the question about whether nations like Britain, Canada or Australia, who go on about human rights, are necessarily in a position to lecture others about it. If you're throwing a javelin at the Commonwealth Games, then you should be judged on your performance in that sport rather than your progress on, say, detention without trial.

Colvin claims that the Commonwealth generally, and the Commonwealth Games in particular, has failed a set of standards it never really claimed for itself. If you want to write an article about the Commonwealth, or the Games, fine - just don't hang it on a tendentious claim and then thrash it for the unsustainability of that claim.

It ain't the crime, it's the cover-up

Not to labour the point here, but Mark Colvin would be revered as a journalist were he in Britain or the US for the work he and a few other Australian journalists (including the late Tony Joyce) did in southern and eastern Africa during that time; he would even be forgiven the odd poorly written article.

When I said on Twitter that his article wasn't up to scratch, he told me to read it (like I'd crit an article I hadn't read. Who do you think you are, Piers Akerman?). Then he pointed out the fifth paragraph, which was the very problem. Then, he called me a troll.

I recognise that Twitter isn't the place for in-depth discussions about the role of sport in geopolitics. I recognise that I called him out before he had to go on air for PM, where Colvin's role is as a DJ for audio clips interspersed with one or two conversations with journalists. That said, I'd hoped for better than a brush-off or abuse.

The journosphere against the blogosphere

Journalists, broadly speaking, are employed to research stories and write them. Bloggers, equally broadly, analyse how well or badly they have done this: these people used to be known as 'discerning readers'. The difference now is that journalists cannot operate in isolation from discerning readers.

A journalist is selected for their role by the HR department of a media organisation. A blogger chooses to work their opinions out in public, rather than fulminating in private. Journalists claim they like, even need discerning readers - soon after calling me a troll Colvin said he enjoyed dealing with the public, which made me laugh!

Media organisations' news and current affairs services have declined in readers and listeners over recent years because discerning readers (including, but not limited to, bloggers) feel that they are talking past them. Articles that are poorly written or full of crap are no different to other commercial products and public policy outcomes of similar quality, and feedback is offered in the hope of improving quality over time.

When journalists talk about a story, they talk about whatever the hell they feel like writing about. When journalists talk about the story, what they mean is a consensus about what they and their peers want to write about. There is occasionally a mystical communion with the soul of what readers (known as "the punters") want or need to read, but this is usually self-serving crap.
There's a line in a Neil Young song, something about trying not to read what the papers say, and this seems a worthy goal at moments like this; time perhaps to uncouple from a global media machine that just serves out this pap with no discrimination or deep thought as to consequence.

- Jonathan Green, Colvin's editor, quoted here.
Mark Colvin, usually an excellent journalist, wrote a poor story and would neither defend nor concede. He behaved poorly toward discerning readers and so you can never really tell whether or not a Colvin piece will be gold or dross.

An analogy

Last year I went to one of Sydney's finest restaurants. I was served a meal, and a few mouthfuls in I found a tube of red plastic, less than a centimetre long, which looked like the sort of coating you find around electrical wire. Discreetly, I called a waiter and explained the situation.

What happened next is what should have happened: the waiter apologised and supplied me with a replacement meal. It was a great meal and handled so well that I didn't mind.

Had it been run by someone like Mark Colvin, I would have been berated that the chef was the cheffiest chef that ever there was, and why didn't I piss off to McDonalds?

Journalism and the Fourth Estate

The media, particularly those of its more self-important members, have a view of their profession known as the Fourth Estate. A useful explanation of this is here - except I assumed it always referred to the three chambers of the French Estates-Generale rather than the British system. Certainly, the crusading French journalist Georges Clemenceau translated press power into political power as his country's Prime Minister before and during World War I on the basis of this self-proclaimed notion of a Fourth Estate.

The basis of power in modern society is that it is answerable to those over whom the power is exercised. Politicians know this; journalists proclaim it but don't practice it themselves. Someone like Glenn Beck might get away with disavowing responsibility from his positions when challenged, but you'd hope Mark Colvin is apparently made from sterner stuff.

Half-baked, tendentious articles: good enough for the likes of you.

Journalists are way too busy to respond to every half-baked tweet and blog that gets flung at them

Journalists have invented a notion called "the 24 hour news cycle" to explain how busy-busy they are, and to explain away any errors of fact or perspective. This is bullshit, of course: so long as you can "hide" a news story on a busy day, or by "releasing" it after about 3pm (especially on a Friday before a long weekend), and so long as all non-sport stories are imported straight from foreign news sources for at least half of the "24 hours" concerned, you can't invent a phantom concept and then hang all of your shortcomings on "the 24 hour news cycle".

Mark Colvin wrote a poor article: his intellect couldn't defend it, his ego couldn't let it go, and his journalistic hubris meant that he couldn't engage with discerning readers. Sad really.

Haven't you just written a long-winded, whiny and tendentious piece?

Sure, if it's good enough for Mark Colvin. I still think he's one of Australia's best journalists.

21 October 2010

Is there a story here?

It's been a while since Jason Koutsoukis was dispatched to the Middle East to get over his infatuation with Peter Costello and discover what real news is. After this piece, and a few others, it could well be that Katharine Murphy is the next candidate for a news hound with no nose for a story, no understanding that a story isn't just whatever some journalist feels like writing.

Read the Murphy piece linked above and tell me what the story is. Yes, it would appear that the former owner of one television network has bought a share of a different network. It would appear that some politicians who might have been expected to comment on this event declined to do so. That's it, really. No real insight about what Packer may or may not do with Network Ten were he to control it, no real insight about broadcasting policy or the media generally.

No news at all. No story worth writing, let alone reading. If I ran ads with the SMH I'd want a discount so I could claim honestly that "none of our revenue supports Katharine Murphy", and not just because the Audit Bureau of Circulation is a joke. So long as pap like this gets written and published, so long as you can find a blog with consistently more substance and better writing, never believe the self-serving bullshit from the journosphere about the "24 hour news cycle".

17 October 2010

Better educated than Christopher Pearson

Christopher Pearson is a conservative, he's friends with Tony Abbott and he's none too fond of Julia Gillard. All well and good/Whatever: the content of his latest piece underlines his argument by revealing the inadequacy of his own education and his wish to spare a new generation of Australians any anguish that being wilfully ignorant might exclude them from positions of comfort and influence.

The most telling element is the use of insistence where explanation is impossible. Stalin prefaced his most tendentious ideas with "It is well known that ...", forcing his underlings to establish that premise retroactively by any means necessary. Pearson does it twice, both times when making what he seriously believes to be his most telling points:
... common sense must tell her that no country can afford a great education - as opposed to an adequate one - for all of its children and that it would be wasted on many of them anyway.
Most sensible people understand that until relatively recently, degrees were designed for a small percentage of the population who were particularly gifted. The currency of higher education is already debased and the strategies proposed by the Bradley report, which Gillard commissioned, will only make matters worse.
Nowhere does he define "great education", and if he'd had one himself (or even an "adequate" one) he must have known this is essential to engage in the sort of debate to which he fancies his ability to contribute.

Degrees have always been conferred on those with little talent and denied to those who could have made much of them; the idea that people might make good use of a degree without necessarily having come from a background where education was valued or applied well is a novel one historically, but one that has reaped great rewards for Australia in material as well as non-material ways. Getting yourself a degree in still the most substantial investment an Australian can make. His sweeping dismissal of the work of Professor Bradley is so insubstantial as to be absurd. Each of these is worth an article at least: to make such assertions and to expect that they be taken on face value is ignorant to the point of impertinence.

Those assertions, couched in bluster in the hope of not being challenged (does pointing out the truth about degrees mean you're not "sensible"? Does any sort of waste in education represent a failure of "common sense"?) go to the heart of Pearson's contention that educating as many as we can as well as we can is more trouble than it's worth. To be fair, though, his article starts badly with a clarion call of idiocy that signals its sloppiness:
FOR the past three years Julia Gillard has told us that education is her great passion. The other day, on her first overseas trip ...
Her first overseas trip? She's been out of the country well before the last few weeks. If she hadn't been overseas before a few weeks ago she'd still be Welsh.
It's arguable that someone in authority needs to check on primary schools' methods of teaching children to read, for fear that instructors still wedded to the discredited "whole word" approach are condemning thousands more youngsters to functional illiteracy.
I come from a family of teachers, and most of them adopt the "whatever works" approach: whole word, syl-lab-les, whatever it takes to get the class on the same page (so to speak). This is culture war at its most flatulent. Where are the right-wing males stepping up to teach primary school, rather than write press releases?
[Quoting Gillard] "The 40 working-class secondary schools north and west of the Yarra, including the schools in my electorate, managed only 84 between them. The students from my electorate are not any less intelligent than those from Higgins and Kooyong but their educational opportunities are not the same. Certainly this massive discrepancy would be lessened if we as a nation were prepared to seriously tackle the inequality of opportunity that exists in our education system and create a high class state school system."

Admittedly the speech was made in 1998, when she was still a Fabian and Jeff Kennett was in power. Some axe-grinding would have been expected of the new member for Lalor.

But I don't think it's anachronistic to note that, for someone interested in education, she was strangely silent on how the state system might have been improved. She had nothing to say about the urgent need for some selective schools in Melbourne's western suburbs, nor about raising the standard of teachers' professional attainments. She said nothing about rewarding the best teachers and encouraging them to stay in the classroom, let alone the contentious issue of giving principals more authority to determine which teachers taught what in their schools.

When did Gillard change her tune on the educational reforms that now enjoy a fair degree of bipartisan support?
It is hard to accuse her of changing her tune when her previous tune was silence.
I can't think of any other prime minister or Labor leader who has written so little and so pointedly declined to participate in the battle of ideas. (Paul Keating may not have been especially literate but he had considered views on policy and had the sense to employ Don Watson as his speechwriter.)
Not on education, he didn't. Simon Crean was not much chop on this front either. Labor leaders who offer anything other than platitudes on education are the rule, not the exception.

Having failed to get his facts straight, Pearson lurches straight into snobbery:
For an educated person, it has been a decidedly one-dimensional transformation. She's a self-confessed bogan: a philistine who doesn't participate in any aspect of high culture and whose reading tastes are, at best, middlebrow.

In March she told The Australian Literary Review her most recently read nonfiction work was Drew Westen's The Political Brain and her favourite was Thomas Friedman's The Lexus and the Olive Tree. I guess the bookshelves in her Altona home were almost as bare as the fruit bowl.
Leave out the bitchy final sentence and that could be the sort of thing John Howard would have read, which of course would have made him an ordinary fellow in touch with ordinary people.

Following that is the odious begging of questions discussed earlier, interspersed with this:
To pretend otherwise is to pander to people's fantasies about their children's futures and to class envy about how their own lives might have been had they had more equal opportunity in their younger days.
Firstly, parents drive education policy in any democracy. Second, Pearson's political upbringing on the left is showing in his assumption that politics drives social mobility, when it's the other way around.

In pre-democratic Europe, the church and the military had monopolies on education: ploughboys became cardinals, tradesmen's sons became admirals. The coming of the industrial age required everyone to have the sort of education once reserved for church and military. Once people could read their Bibles, newspapers and other tracts they demanded, and got, political rights. All well-functioning organisations need people from a mix of backgrounds and educational experiences.

It isn't class envy that makes people value education, or resent it being wasted on oafs (oaves?) like Christopher Pearson. From such a position, what could one make of Chifley's comment that "I'd rather have had Mr Menzies' education than a million pounds"?

Pearson's final paragraph is a sorry drizzle of piss and a relieving end to this nonsense. It's all too hard, my girl, don't even try. However pleasing it might be for those who can't stand Gillard and Labor, the fact is that such verbal flatulence cannot help the country nor individuals within it address their own future with any real hope for success. This reactionary approach, airy complacency hiding a steely reverse-envy, has nothing to offer in terms of protecting those who share his view, and encourages opponents through its sheer vacuity.

15 October 2010

Not getting any better

The government isn't getting any better at thinking through policy, carefully using the public stage (including the media) to build an initial case, and then consulting extensively to come up with a policy solution. The latest debacle over Murray-Darling water is another example of this depressing pattern, where the great issues of our time go begging or are deferred with some half-arsed nonsense.

Unsustainable agriculture depends on government subsidies. Farmers went into rice and cotton and all those other thirsty, low-value products because subsidies made them attractive. Bleat all you will about building your families' lives on the basis of subsidies, but farmers thus affected are no different to anyone else who's been taken in by political promises, or by dodgy investments. Governments cancel projects all the time: infrastructure builders, renewable energy providers and professional domestic insulation installers know this. Get over it, country people. I'm with thinkers from Heinrich Heine to Grog's Gamut in believing that burning printed matter is not on, and that anyone who does so must be deeply wrong and deserves none of the sympathy you might otherwise have felt for their predicament.

Mind you, given recent political history they are right to assume that a sharp blast of anger will cause the pollies to drop high-minded, long-term policy in favour of backflips and handouts.
And the Minister for Water, Tony Burke, promised regional towns the government would use its $9 billion water program - and more if necessary - to maintain a healthy river and healthy regional economies.

The opposition spokesman on the Murray-Darling Basin, Simon Birmingham, said Mr Burke should have attended the regional meetings to deliver his assurance in person.

As the Murray-Darling Basin Authority faces growing fury at meetings to discuss the cuts proposed in the guide released last week, conservationists criticised the body for announcing the cuts without highlighting the finding that two-thirds of the minimum 3000-gigalitre reduction will be achieved by 2014 through programs already in train.
When Birmingham calls out the minister like that, it would be just the Liberals' luck for him to rise to the task and scratch out hard-won respect by going town to town, farm to farm, bringing people not very different to Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area water hogs from the Coorong, as well as various boffins, and building respect and understanding through sheer hard graft. Instead, this is Tony Burke we're talking here, who will try and bore them to death and hope they simply drop away from public debate out of sheer boredom, or are excluded from it by dint of appearing on television in an unattractive way.

It's interesting that Abbott is spending his time trying to dig himself out of his own foxhole over defence issues. The Murray-Darling Basin Authority is a construct of the Howard Government, and therefore Abbott won't and can't criticise it. Going by his record he should be in there boots and all behind the farmers, putting the whole Afghanistan thing behind him, and it is suspicious that he isn't.

Yes, suspicious: blatant anti-environmentalism ("absolute crap") had been a key feature of his push to the election but has declined in importance since. Had Abbott gone in hard, shoring up already safe Coalition seats and disdaining potential votes in marginals in a reflexive lunge against the incumbent government, he would have repeated the Minchin-Abetz pattern of the past five years. For a voluble man, his silence is deafening. Maybe has learnt a thing or two, and is letting Labor bear the slings and arrows.
The NSW Irrigators Council said the authority's environmental findings were wrong
Yes well they would say that, wouldn't they. Not news, especially when presented without data.

Maybe he's flagging, and realises he's out of his depth. This issue is bigger than Tony Abbott, though, which is why he isn't handling it. I just wish that there was someone in public life who could, though, or who would die trying.

12 October 2010

Low-level bastardry

Tony Abbott's excuse for not going to Afghanistan with Julia Gillard last week is weak. Abbott said that he declined to go to Afghanistan with Gillard because he did not want to project any idea of unanimity of purpose with her - while protesting that unanimity of purpose is exactly what he was trying to project:
"... I just won't cop any suggestion that I am indifferent to the fate of our troops or uninterested in the success of their mission," [Abbott] told a news conference.
A joint appearance by the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader would be more than the sum of its parts. It would be a visual demonstration that the commitment of Australian troops is bipartisan. It's never been done, but it would still be worth doing and both leaders would be enhanced by the process. If both of them deign to appear in the House of Representatives, if both attend military funerals, there is no reason why they cannot save time and resources and go together to Afghanistan. Indeed, given this, it would have been desirable.

I take back what I said about David Johnston, the man's a fool. Putting Australian troops in Abrams tanks would invite attack and do nothing for building rapport with the people whose interests we are trying to defend. Abbott has done nothing to distance himself and a future Coalition government from such stupidity.

Abbott deepened his lack of understanding of the military by requesting to go out on patrol. He's not trained, and he devalues the hard work and skill of those who are by just assuming he can tag along and not get in anyone's way. He's a greater danger to our troops than he is to the enemy.
"... I just won't cop any suggestion that I am indifferent to the fate of our troops or uninterested in the success of their mission," [Abbott] told a news conference.
Cop it sweet, fool. Speaking of which, what can be said for this? Yes, Gerard, we've all moved on since the 1950s. If "Gillard and Abbott essentially agree on foreign policy", then a joint appearance would have given more assurances to this effect than all the press conferences in Canberra.

Then there's this:
When it was reported that he had declined her invitation to accompany her to Afghanistan, Mr Abbott explained he had not wanted to arrive in Britain jetlagged. Later he admitted his wording had been bad. The reporter who broke the invitation story has said it didn't come from Ms Gillard or her office.

Regardless of its origin, Ms Gillard did use it to make Mr Abbott look bad - but he'd helped her.

Then, when he reached Afghanistan, he provided her with more ammunition by his "bastardry" lines. He accused her office of briefing journalists ''that I'd somehow dudded the troops by not visiting'' when he had personally told her of his plans - well ahead of her invitation.

With Australian troops fighting and dying there, this scrapping seems incredibly petty.
Petty, yes, but hardly incredible given Abbott's record. It was also stupid of Abbott not to expect Labor to "play politics" in this way: I would have loved to hear Gerard Henderson or Chris Pyne claim that John Howard would never, ever have played politics in this way, not even with an Opposition Leader who hands them the opportunity.

Michelle Grattan should have queried why Abbott could not bring himself to drop his plans and join Gillard, for the sake of unanimity and minimising resource wastage. That would require the sort of analysis that comes with experience, though to be fair she is spot on here:
For Mr Abbott this is a particularly dangerous time. He does not take defeat well, as we saw when he went into a prolonged funk after the 2007 election. His failure to win this election, after coming so close, is especially galling for him.

Yet as Opposition Leader he can't just sulk and get some therapy from writing a book. Nor can he simply kick and scream and expect parliamentary numbers will change by the independents swapping sides.

While it is possible something unforseen, such as byelections, could happen, the independents are likely to hang in where they are. The Parliament has a good chance of lasting all or nearly all its full term.

Mr Abbott at some point has to switch to tactics to deal with that. Very quickly, he needs to get himself into the mind space to cope with such an uncongenial outcome. Otherwise his colleagues will lose faith in him.
The low bastardry, the total unfitness to be Prime Minister, comes with Abbott himself. Even the photo of him frowning at the uniformed soldier is not Prime Ministerial, it's not paternal concern, it's not even worry for Our Boys In The Front Line. It's incomprehension: he doesn't understand what's going on, he's not taking in what's being said to him. The idea that the Liberals should interpret this in any way other than their own leader's petulance reflects poorly on them. Given that the Liberals' key strengths are in security and economic policy, and given their economic record has suffered, why would they throw away their other pillar for the sake of a leader (pro tem.)?

The major challenge for Australian and allied forces in Afghanistan is to win over the populace against the enemy. It requires hard and soft power. Drawing a feeble parallel between war and politics (oh go on, everyone else does), Abbott has no soft power and doesn't respect it; he has less hard power than he imagines. Gillard understands soft power and has hard power, and both are growing by the day against a pitiful opponent.

11 October 2010

Who watches the watchers of those who watch watching the watchers ...

Samson that great city, his anatomy on fire
Grasping with gnarled hands at the mad wasps
Yet while his bearded rage survives contriving
An entelechy of clouds and trumpets.

— Ern Malley, Documentary Film

My name's Andrew Elder. Just because you've never heard of me, it doesn't mean I'm anonymous. If you regard so-called "James Massola" as a reporter, then you'll have to regard me as one too. James and I, we're real, and we don't work for the government. Like, really really real, just like the editor of The Townsville Bulletin except much more real. My blog has about as many readers as that paper, if you don't count all the copies dumped unread at educational institutions and cafés, or which homeless people use as toilet paper (truly, the Audit Bureau of Circulation is for people too dumb to get into Standard & Poor's).
We are the media of choice that our business and political leaders turn to when they want to deliver their message to the masses.
Yes, and blogging is a media of choice for people sick of being patronised as "masses".
In just three weeks from now, News Limited will commission the North Queensland Newspaper company's new $52 million press, a massive investment and vote of confidence in the region.
Some factories produce pollution as a by-product of whatever it is they're trying to produce. News Ltd is building a factory producing nothing but pollution. No wonder they're so leery at the prospect of emissions taxes.

10 October 2010

Colonel Lightweight

No wonder Adelaide is "crumbling", with advocacy like this. The article reads like a post-prandial rant: it's not a dispassionate dissection of decline, nor a considered and thoughtful piece needed to rouse people to action.

Smith mentions "the most modern and well-equipped [hospital] in the southern hemisphere" and SA's excellent education system in passing, while lamenting a succession of bread-and-circuses projects in suspicious length. He decries political neglect, while lionising politicians (including his own business partners) who contributed to - or did all too little to reverse - that neglect.
ADELAIDE is stagnant. While the cliches are true - including its relaxed lifestyle, being a great place for kids, quality schools, beautiful and accessible surrounds including the hills, vineyards and beaches - the status quo is no longer good enough; certainly not if we want national relevance to be a goal.
If they're true, Ian, they're not clichés. Clichés are words/phrases that have lost their descriptive power, and those descriptors haven't. Adelaide is indeed a fine city to live in, that much is clear. What isn't clear is what Smith means by "national relevance".
Having once competed with Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane, South Australia's capital is more of a match for Geelong or Townsville.
Adelaide competing with Melbourne? For what? Brisbane and Perth overtook Adelaide in size, economic and demographic importance - and yes, in political terms, but I'll get to that later - because they became internationally important export hubs attracting people who could use lifestyle as an excuse. Geelong and Townsville, ironically, have lifted their game by emulating Adelaide, with a combination of lifestyle and higher education and research. Smith, however, pooh-poohs economic activity:
There are a number of successful niche companies led by many people who love Adelaide, too. They are in areas as diverse as renewable energy, biotechnology, health, new media and food, but the chances are their businesses will remain boutique or be picked up by interstate or international players.
Why even bother? That's the attitude, Ian. Small business doesn't deign to hire outfits like Bespoke Approach, even though it too is a small business and getting smaller by the day. No, in the second par Smith begs the question he seeks to answer:
Without action at all levels of politics, the city of churches' torpidity will remain in stark contrast to interstate vibrancy.
Yes, the cry of rent-seekers everywhere: never mind free enterprise, give us regulation and a suck on the public teat!
The "university city" tag was true more than a decade ago but we are now a long way behind others; indeed the University of Adelaide was 73rd in the world in this year's Times Higher Education World University Rankings. It was behind the University of Melbourne (36th), the Australian National University (43rd) and the University of Sydney (71st).
Not bad: no university in Queensland or WA is ahead of it. Such esteemed institutions as the University of Texas and the Hong Kong University of Science & Technology didn't make it at all. Education is the nation's third biggest export, and Adelaide should be making out like a bandit in that market - but universities too are among the many institutions that are not opposed to Bespoke Approach necessarily, but indifferent to it.
A string of councils has been unable to embrace metropolitan development and successive state governments' reluctance to reform local government has seen Adelaide languish as other cities thrive. It is here we should start.

The coming city council elections offer little hope for change; what should be a group one event would be lucky to qualify for maiden status with five candidates of little apparent consequence.
I don't even know what that means, if anything. The SA state government always runs the risk of being basically an Adelaide municipal council, and a Greater Adelaide Council would be a rival for the state rather than a co-operative partner: particularly as the state's economy requires opening the interior to an extent far greater than that of the pastoral days, a vote for a Greater Adelaide would strangle the state's growth.

Olympic Dam doesn't need Bespoke Approach either.
Better candidates [for municipal elections] were not forthcoming because there is little appeal in the job. The paucity of experience offers the chance for the Rann government to take control. It would be in the state's interests.
Better candidates for municipal elections is a common complaint in Melbourne, Townsville, Geelong and elsewhere. Why the Rann government should add to a workload it clearly cannot handle, given swingeing budget cuts recently, is unclear.
Brisbane did this many years ago and administers a budget of more than $3 billion,
Yes, but how well does it administer those funds, Ian? Brisbane City Council was set up by a state government that disdained its capital, in a way that no South Australian can afford. Smith then overdoes it with a self-serving reference to the place where he wishes he still was, Melbourne:
Melbourne brought together local councils across the city to form effective local government conglomerates that work more efficiently with the state government.

My old boss, Victorian premier Jeff Kennett, dissolved 210 councils, dismissed 1600 elected councillors and created 78 new councils through amalgamations. That is reform.

From once being a drawcard to the state, leading nationally in areas such as the arts, Adelaide risks becoming a negative to SA.

The state economy [in South Australia] is booming.
That's the bottom line: the SA economy is booming because of, or despite, local government. No case is made for local government reform apart from a few pathetic anecdotes (more on those later), but the booming economy busts poor Ian's case somewhat. If the state is booming, you'd have to be a loser to miss out, wouldn't you Ian?

The reference to Kennett is only to remind readers who Smith is, or was. A closer look at Victorian local government reveals a dearth of Periclean figures overseeing rubbish collection and civic planning in Warracknabeal, Warrnambool and Werribee.

It's also fair to point out that, during the '90s, Kennett had Liberal counterparts in SA. Nick Minchin nobbled the quietly effective Dean Brown and replaced him with a muppet named John Olsen. Smith should have mentioned that Kennett stole from Adelaide an event bigger than the Clipsal 500, the Australian Grand Prix. That is reform.

If Adelaide was such a negative to SA, why are all those niche businesses doing so well? What sustains the excellent health and education systems? Not Bespoke Approach, that's for sure.
While other capitals boast many global companies, Adelaide is starved of international business relevance.

Little has been achieved to woo new players to establish themselves in the city, to provide real corporate activity and, most critically, to provide employment alternatives for the state's young graduates.

They continue to flock west and east. Retaining smart people in their 20s and 30s is perhaps Adelaide's most desperate challenge.
"Little has been achieved" and less has been suggested, Ian. Any thoughts? You might get some clients out of it.
Federally, we have lost the depth of powerful SA politicians who served in the cabinets of prime ministers Bob Hawke, Paul Keating and John Howard.
The politicians Smith refers to here did bugger-all for SA during its period of decline, with the possible exception of Hill as Defence Minister redeploying defence assets to and near Adelaide.
Senator Penny Wong alone has real clout, but she is in a catch-22 situation as the toe-cutting Finance Minister. She must be wary of conflict in looking too much after her own state from such an exalted position.
Nick Minchin held the same portfolio, and he did bugger-all for SA too.
... Don Farrell, Parliamentary Secretary for Sustainability and Urban Water, is of obvious influence in the party, but ... a long way from muscling in on big decisions.
Farrell was one of the major movers in dumping a Prime Minister, Ian. That's a pretty big decision. Sustainability and Urban Water is no small issue, in Adelaide and beyond.
With Nick Minchin retiring, Christopher Pyne is our only voice at the federal opposition's top table.
Only in print can one say that with a straight face.
Contributing further to the slowly sinking feeling is the demise of local media. First, Adelaide is a one-newspaper town. A strong and bold press should be one fundamental ingredient of a city's development. The Advertiser carries the burden alone.
There was a newspaper other than the 'Tiser, but the company that publishes Ian Smith pieces and said paper itself shut it down. A bit rich using a News Ltd paper to cry for media diversity. Bet News Ltd don't need Bespoke Approach, either.
Time has been wasted in an extraordinary way on two urgently needed pieces of infrastructure.
What might they be? Oh ... some sporting facilities. Bread & circuses as infrastructure:
Despite the fact existing sports facilities consist of the god-forsaken, windswept AAMI Stadium and a quaintly out-of-date Adelaide Oval, the debate about a new stadium has been embarrassing.
Can't make the case for change, particularly when you only want to upgrade the corporate boxes and to hell with everything else, where the economic benefits are (ahem!) niche and the costs do not justify such outlays in straitened times. The Crows and Power could chip in to build a new Football Park as part of renewing their roots in the SANFL - but they don't use Bespoke Approach either.
A couple of years ago, the sandals and socks brigade prevented the upgrading of Victoria Park.
They would be the same people who put your wife into Parliament, Ian, thereby indirectly responsible for luring a high-flyer like you to said city, with its prosperous niche businesses.
However, in line with the demands of the protesters who took NIMBY politics to a new level, Clipsal buildings are temporary; put up and taken down each year during a nine-month period. Amazing, but a fact.
And great for the economy, too, Ian. You'd think the Clipsal 500, the Holden plants at Gawler and Elizabeth, and the universities would lead to a centre of innovation in stock car development - but no. If that were to happen, what need would they have of Bespoke Approach?

I've done what I can for the company with repeated mentions here, and here's a link to their website, but let's look to the principals. Downer is back in some public sector, global-elite role in some place plentiful in wine and olives. Bolkus is clearly exploring other opportunities. Mrs Smith is raising children on a public pension. This leaves Mr Ian Smith becalmed, stagnant, starving to death in a boomtown, keening for unnecessary 'reforms' and, like cousin Tony, facing the prospect of going from youthful promise to middle-aged decline without any intervening achievement.

05 October 2010

Came so far for beauty

Tony Abbott skeptics couldn't have made this up if they/we/I tried. Here are the things Tony Abbott did not do on the way to London:
  • Cheer on the Saints (maybe a tazering would cure him of jetlag);
  • Spot boats in the Arafura Sea, no doubt bound straight for a Centrelink in a marginal seat in suburban Perth;
  • Dialogue and liaise with our neighbours/ trading partners/ partners in the war against terror and drugs and boat people and stuff;
  • Cheer on Our Sporting Champions in Dehli, and Mohali (two short! Here's someone who knows how that feels);
  • Be photographed with Prince Charles;
  • Call for greater ties between India and Australia;
  • Visit students staying away from Australian universities and commiserate with them about namby-pamby policing in Labor-governed states;
  • Visit nuclear power companies and commiserate with them about Labor uranium policy, being also both namby and at the same time pamby;
  • Apologise to Dr Haneef;
  • Visit Our True Aussie Heroes in Afghanistan (yes, he might go to see them on the way home, but by then it will be me-tooism);
  • Visit Iraq and receive the appropriate gratitude for Australia's contribution to making that country what it is today (here's up ya, Andrew Wilkie);
  • Visit Israel-Palestine and encourage cheaper housing on the fringes of Australian cities;
  • Drop in on the Pope - anyone the lefties are bagging can't be all bad, eh? and/or
  • Visit Gallipoli and/or Villiers-Brettonneux and lay a wreath.
John Howard would have done all of those things (except for apologising to Dr Haneef). Abbott, however, has to get his beauty sleep, so that he can see with his own eyes a Conservative government that can work with liberals to get things done, like climate change.

Skipping Afghanistan to go to a confab in England, and rub shoulders with people who knew him at Oxford and have gone further than him, undoes all of that Action Man image he built up before the election. All that red-sluggos and riding bikes was designed to create an image of I can run rings around you, pussy. I do a dozen things before you've had your first Rainforest Alliance coffee from your sucky plastic-and-cardboard container. Resistance is futile, I shall prevail.

Instead, the PM has the full range of action shots (now in Afghanistan, now with the soccer, now eliciting praise from NATO and drawing a thread between diggers in Afghanistan and those from other theatres who've made the world safe for, etc.). Abbott is pictured waddling to a party like he's just dismounted a bony horse to get there. So much for beauty sleep - like Menzies in 1940, Abbott will be feted by third-raters in Tory ranks and dispatched home to a frontbench that is starting to wake up to his inadequacies. Unlike Menzies, when Abbott's gone he is gone forever. Plenty of time for sleepy bye-byes then.

02 October 2010

What happened in Canberra this week

If the only thing you knew about Federal politics this week was gained by reading the output of the press gallery, you'd have no idea what went on. Feel free to skip most of this post down to the last four paragraphs in this post.

First there was Marieke Hardy's lame effort on Chris Pyne. Pyne is not particularly rightwing and there is no evidence that he was ever a moderate. He's not anything but annoying: won't go away, can't say anything interesting, a bit like Michelle Grattan or even Hardy herself. The standard anti-Pyne meme is that he's effeminate, which is where you get expressions like "poodle" and "mincing" and "flouncing" etc. in describing him.

Hardy, of course, can't go there; her whole world lies within five kilometres of Lygon Street and even Collingwood supporters would be leery of her if she started the sort of poofter-bashing her grandfather would not have hesitated to use. Hardy doesn't have any political analysis skills to speak of, so she's deployed the kind of overblown, devoid-of-wit ranting prose that is often deployed in football commentary. It really does not matter what she thinks of a politician who is almost unknown and has certainly had no impact beyond Capital Circle ACT and a few chi-chi suburbs in Adelaide (i.e. so far from Lygon Street that it just doesn't matter).

Frank Hardy campaigned his whole life for a regime where a denunciation from someone like his granddaughter would have propelled the victim into oblivion. The fact that Pyne receives an apology while Hardy gets punted, doubtless to pop up somewhere else at the ABC - and Green has his "old-fashioned news sense" vindicated - shows that the failure of the sorts of ideals Frank Hardy held was no bad thing for anyone, really.

The editor who commissioned Marieke Hardy to write that piece, Jonathan Green, moaned on twitter that his news values were "old fashioned". More like non-existent: Crikey was better before he became editor and it's become better since he left. All that focus on being an old-fashioned "scoop-hound" was laughable in the context where there was more to be gained by going through the mullock-heap of news and picking out the nuggets that had been missed by the clowns in big traditional media. His latest effort, The Dump, is a less earnest New Matilda and the fact that he has hired both Annabel Crabb and Glenn Milne shows that he is simply not, wait fort it, a sensible person. But more on that later. It is significant that Green advertises his site with a picture of a writer he has declined to publish (and not because she appears to have foliage growing out of her very head).

If Green was an old-fashioned journalist he would have realised that Pyne was not a minister, and hence did not warrant the attention lavished on him by the journosphere this week. He would not have encouraged the idea that the best way for attention-starved politicians in Opposition to get coverage was to misbehave. The only possible case for commissioning a story on Chris Pyne was a standard profile of the guy: Who is this person that so fascinates the journosphere, and why does he fascinate them?

For the most part, however, the commentary consisted of excrescence like this. Some part of Maley's reptilian brain knew she was out of her depth in reporting on a political situation that she simply does not understand, and her editors should have the sense to remove her. In however long she's been in the press gallery, a few phrases from flat-track bullies are all she has to show for what should have been a job telling we readers and voters how we are governed.

Here's what should have happened. This and that contain the issues that politicians are actually in the process of addressing. Each of those bills has a cluster of interest groups that has been pushing those issues for years, so there is no excuse for not having followed those debates to the point where here they are before Parliament. The idea that they are too lofty or complex for the journosphere is a nonsense, a failure in understanding both the political process and what it means to be a journalist.

One of the few tangible reforms of the Rudd Government was the lobbyists' register. I have not seen one journalist make use of it, in identifying Lobbyist X in representing corporate interest Y in pursuit of public policy issue Z.

With reporting on what actually happens - whether this is old-fashioned or impossibly new-media, you decide and get back to me - you'd get more of an insight into the processes of how government actually works. This market does not yet exist, but it is far more substantial than the market for, say, camp euphemisms about Christopher Pyne.

Reorienting the entire way that public policy journalism in this country is practised would be far-reaching and a crucial reform, but not without cost for old-fashioned luggards like Maley and Green. If you regard journalism as the last craft practised for the delight of those employed in it rather than the utility of those consuming it, this is a terrifying prospect and see you at the Holy Grail!