01 October 2012

2011 all over again

Every year I make a point of buying the Power Issue of The Australian Financial Review, and it's always interesting and usually informative. This year, however, they have basically tried to redo their 2011 edition, having largely ignored what has happened over the intervening year.

First, there was the sonorous article by Andrew Cornell about how Gillard's up against it, isn't she?
Twelve months ago the panel had entertained the prospect she might parlay that triumph [of securing minority government] more broadly, to have grown in standing due to her reputation for having toughed out a hung parliament and a vitriolic opposition. It was not to be. Gillard's year has been disastrous.
Really? She got a lot done, both in terms of the Rudd agenda (carbon pricing, balanced budget) and the next steps (de-glamourising tobacco, helping the disabled, starting to shift the debate on education).
Leadership challenges repeat like waves of nausea on a listing ship. The government seems congenitally incapable of selling neither an economy that is the envy of the developed world nor economic data that provides monthly testimony to sound economic management.
Oh, please. The obsessions of the journosphere are not those of the community, which is why there is an inverse relationship between journos using leadership "stories" as space-filler and public interest in those stories, or even in the idea that if that's politics you can keep it.

Cornell isn't guilty of being partisan. He's guilty of the worst thing a journalist can be - being obtuse. It was a poor introduction to a sloppy list.

The Overt Power list, the main event of the Power Issue, put Abbott at number two: at the very point where he is visibly deflating through failing to offer an alternative, it was a poor choice. Swan, Stevens, French and Barnett all deserve a place on that list ahead of Abbott, who has talked about stopping the government doing things but hasn't actually stopped it doing much at all.

Newman has done a bit of culture-war trimming but hasn't really exerted the sort of transformative power that Jeff Kennett had wielded by this point. Similarly, Jac Nasser has stopped some things from happening but hasn't made much happen, and Gina Rinehart hasn't even done that.

Missing from the Overt Power list:
  • Stephen Conroy has been on that list since 2008. Sure, he's on the media/telco sector list, but the MSM still matters, doesn't it? Aren't the regulatory repercussions of the Convergence Review and Finkelstein still hanging over their heads?
  • Nicola Roxon's victory over tobacco companies has shown up a political hoodoo of five decades. Tobacco companies had money and access and any move against them was assumed to be too hard, and while you probably can't now screw them with impunity they are shadows of their former selves (and raise questions about the power of the well-resourced in modern society). Her proposals on data retention puts her at the centre of debates over our rights and freedoms to an extent not experienced by government since Menzies tried to ban the Communist Party. She has changed the perception of what is possible in what had been a secretive, fusty and arcane office.
  • Barry O'Farrell has a bigger governmental responsibility than Barnett and Newman put together. His role in normalising state government in NSW has been underestimated by people who should know better.
Then there was the Covert Power list:
  • Watt and Shorten deserve their positions at the top of the list, but are probably the wrong way around. Had it not been for his role in the Qantas dispute, and the CFMEU-Grollo imbroglio in Melbourne, he would have been toward the bottom of the list as a Labor factional heavy.
  • David Gonski belongs on that list for his key role within the Sydney business community, but this has not stopped him being rubbished up and down the country as a political stooge for his report into education funding - an act of altruism unparalleled by a wealthy, well-connected Australian.
  • Paul Howes should have been replaced on that list by Bill Ludwig. The former holds office at the pleasure of the latter, and both know it; that's what covert power is.
  • Joe de Bruyn has more covert power than the AWU. The fact that the Prime Minister, a lefty lawyer from Melbourne, won't come out for gay marriage is probably down to de Bruyn. Changes to the Fair Work Act - from any side of politics - will live or die dependent upon whether it suits de Bruyn. Any deal on school funding will see a good result for Catholic schools, and it won't be Pell or Abbott who secure that - it will be de Bruyn.
  • Mike Fitzpatrick is chairman of the AFL, and on the boards of both the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research and of Rio Tinto. The PM sat next to him a the AFL Grand Final and he is a sounding-board for her on business issues.
  • Bruce McIver is the President of Queensland's LNP. He was a prime architect behind the various deals that made possible the merger of the state's conservative parties, as well as its extraordinary results at both the 2010 Federal election and 2012 state election.
  • Ken Henry doesn't belong on that list so long as people keep ignoring his recommendations, and Martin Parkinson can't be kept off it so long as Gillard and Swan adhere to his.
  • Pyne? Someone is taking the piss, to the detriment of the AFR's credibility.
Then there's the Cultural list:
  • ABC Managing Director Mark Scott should be the head of that list for his commissionings and his insistence on "news balance" (that reporting of the government can only be done through the prism of opposition criticism). The fact that he isn't even on it is crazy.
  • Pearson should go further down that list. Freedman is at least equal to Bolt, a diminished figure since his right to define who's Aboriginal and who isn't exposed the cesspit of his blog comments.
  • Demetriou should be on that list but ARLC Chairman John Grant should be ahead of him, in terms of his role in reframing the game and shunting aside rivals like Colin Love and David Gallop, not to mention making the media put their money where their mouths were.
  • Tony Jones should not be on that list; if you are going to argue the terms that justified Jones' position you would put Tracy Grimshaw ahead of him. Neither should Tim Fairfax - Frank Lowy donates more and has a more far-reaching effect culturally than Fairfax.
Captains of Industry? C'mon, AFR - this is where, to quote Ralph Wiggum, you're a Viking:
  • If Jac Nasser got onto the Overt Power list, why is he only no. 2 on this list?
  • James Packer is not anything like the seventh-most powerful captain of industry in this country. To contend otherwise is to allow him to coast on his father's reputation.
  • Greg Combet is the Minister for Industry. Given the grants at his disposal he could sink any one of those turkeys.
On Capital Hill:
  • Anthony Albanese, Anna Burke and Chris Evans all play a bigger role than Barnett or Rudd. This is where Pyne should have gone, if anywhere.
Global Aussies and Defence Strategies:
Workplace players:
  • No criticism here, except Mark Skulley has put his finger squarely on one of the Coalition's key vulnerabilities: Eric Abetz, a man who cannot balance the competing impulses for workplace reform (see also de Bruyn above).
Good sports:
  • Noeleen Dix is president of Netball Australia, one of Australia's largest participan sports, which is starting to become monetised through the ANZ Championships.
  • John Coates is surely a diminished figure after Silver! Silver! Silver! London.
Vox Populi Shock Jocks. Why is this even a category?
  • Neil Mitchell is far more dominant in his market than Hadley is in his.
  • Jason Morrison is more important than Howard Sattler.
  • Even before this week, Alan Jones is a much diminished figure.
  • Gotye puts the lie to the supposed power of The Voice or X Factor.
  • The late Adam Cullen has proved to be an influential painter for a generation of Australian painters.
Where are the influential cooks, farmers, local government people? Robert Doyle and Clover Moore are both ex-state politicians shaping their cities more than those they left behind on Spring and Macquarie Streets. Who are journalists Linking In to? Where are the bloggers eating their lunch? Some important articles by Laura Tingle and Loretta Napoleoni don't save it. The whole Power Issue format needs to be junked and started all over again.

This segment from the ABC talks about how Fairfax turned their back on digital media. There is a story to be told about John Alexander, who seemingly denied Fairfax the resources it needed to make it in the digital world, and then did the same for the Nine Network - another business reporter who went too far out of his depth, while being applauded all the way by business journalists of the time in awe of his career and confusing that with his achievements. Mark Scott's initiatives in digital should be understood in the light of those failures (Scott is a former Fairfax executive).

Journalists have no idea who does and doesn't have power in this country. The conventional wisdom won't hold and they won't dig for covert or out-of-the-box answers. The failure of this Power Issue shows why journos pursue non-stories so ardently while leaving others begging.


  1. Swing Required1/10/12 11:23 am

    We'd be a lot better off without 'Power Lists"

    1. Maybe, but I understand why they do it - journos are meant to be about holding the powerful to account. But if they can't even identify who's powerful and who isn't ...

  2. Swing Required1/10/12 8:21 pm

    That's fine, but it seems to be more of a game about who's the most powerful, as if power is everything.

    Perhaps lists could be done as to who are the best at their jobs, much more interesting, but perhaps more dangerous for the journalists!

    As for knowing who's powerful, journo's would know that without publishing lists. It's hard to read a daily edition of Crikey now without another 'power list'.

  3. Power for powers sake

    Is that real power?

    Roxan took on the bullies of the insidious tobacco and the brat of the ipa

    Kudos to her for taking the monsters on!!


  4. This is what Revolutionising the Agenda is all about comrades! http://www.campaignbrief.com/2012/03/financial-review-launche-secon.html