10 October 2012

Slipper and the damage done

The mainstream media did themselves no favours in covering Peter Slipper's resignation. Tim Dunlop's article on media coverage of these issues is more important than the entire output of press gallery on this subject, but Slipper's resignation is still important in itself. They all ran the same story, and the wrong one: a close reading of what was in the MSM and a determination to seek out information that they did not provide showed their inadequacy once again.

The Coalition ostensibly moved against Slipper in the name of being seen to stand up for against misogyny. Never mind that they said they wanted legal processes to run their course first. The Coalition doesn't stand up for due process, and won't look like a responsible government until it does. They have a "leader" who was desperate to counter a reputation for misogyny and thought it was clever to send him over the top. And over the top he went, as Anthony Sharwood pointed out in that unfortunately-named Murdoch website.

In the video, Abbott does not face the PM during that fateful phrase "died of shame" but reads it from prepared notes: this wasn't one of his heat-of-the-moment gaffes, it was planned. It's not the execution but the strategy. The leader must wear the responsibility but Pyne, Deputy Leader Credlin and Deputy Deputy Leader Julie Bishop must own this too.

As many have pointed out, Gillard tore Abbott a new one. If this isn't "the real Julia" it will do; people who despise her will write that off as an aberration while there are plenty who see in that an authenticity, and yes a decency, that is more appealling than polls appear capable of conveying. Any journalist who failed to report that has failed their readers/ listeners/ viewers rather than cemented any reputation for "balance". Even trenchantly anti-Gillard journos should be able to write a "mouse bites cat" story.

The government replaced Slipper with an experienced parliamentarian, which puts Abbott is a position where he is taking orders from a woman (and where Opposition defiance of the Speaker makes him look even worse). Anna Burke needs to take the harder line against Opposition disruption, like Slipper did - it worked, which is the main reason why they hate him.

Abbott's perception of misogyny is not diminished. The central strategic objective of the Coalition over the past two weeks has been reversed. The kudos he got for his kind words to the PM on her father's death has evaporated. His wife needn't have bothered. He has no-one to blame but himself.

It is understandable that Sophie Mirabella was hurt by the now-public texts of Slipper and Ashby, and even that she played it up for maximum political impact - until you remember the picture of her under those banners before that mob. Thanks to Independent Australia, the Federal Court and Peter Slipper, I will happily and non-misogynistically refer to her as a "botch". If she's going to act all hurt, she needs the self-awareness to rise above her record: her leader, and her mentor Bronwyn Bishop, both lack this capacity. She is meant to be someone with a future, but again like them her past seems more significant and substantial.

As an independent MP, Slipper hasn't been a rusted-on Coalition man for some time but now he's not even-handedly disposed to the Coalition. He may vote with the Coalition against the government on particular issues, but all independents do that.

Peter Slipper's appointment as Speaker is not some incurable cancer on the Gillard government, but a boil that has now been lanced. Any Coalition MPs who are still going on about Slipper six months from now will get all the respect that is due to those who propose nothing but criticise regardless.

Drag0nista insists that our federal politics can only be understood properly and reported properly if they are reported on insider terms:
... the Prime Minister became wedged by Abbott’s motion.

The sheer force of that speech and its resonance in the community busted that wedge. If she had made it in the context of a debate on monetary policy, or the price of eggs, or the shooting of Malala Yusafzai, it would still have been more important than whatever pissant motion Abbott was putting up.

Abbott has no credibility on measures against misogyny and was picking on the isolated Slipper because he can't be sure of trouncing Gillard. He could have won if she had simpered before him like she did before Alan Jones last year. He could have won if she had read out a lawyerly prepared statement in her drawling, passionless monotone. She did none of those things.

Sometimes when you take on an opponent in a battle or a game they can beat you by playing a slightly different way, playing it better, and exposing a weakness that you are trying to hide. Sometimes they can even be lucky, and you can be unlucky. That is what happened to Abbott here. Nowhere does she defend Slipper's texts nor even his position - if you would take Abbott literally at his word you must take Gillard literally at hers too.
Sometimes we need to take a step back to see the whole picture.
Or, you could do what Drag0nista did and put your nose so close to the text of yet another forgotten, irrelevant, failed Abbott motion that the "big picture" - which was picked up by the rest of the world - eludes you as it eluded Drag0nista. Abbott lost the wider battle/game.

It didn't matter whether or not he won some minor skirmish. When you understand that, you understand why this is funny: the pet shop owner has won the same tactical victory that Abbott won yesterday by pointing out the "beautiful plumage" of the dead parrot (yes, it is indeed beautiful, but it isn't the point).

It does Drag0nista no credit that she started her article with this weak equivocation:
I like Julia Gillard. She is a gutsy, intelligent and compassionate woman who I consider to be a formidable role model for all Australian girls and women.
Not enough for Get Shortened, it would seem:
There have been a litany of moments in Julia Gillard’s Prime Ministership when she has effectively chosen to ignore Abbott’s overt displays of, and complicity with, sexism towards herself and Australian women in general. By expressing her unquestionably genuine offense now, only when her reputation and minority government is at stake, gives off hints of opportunism and sends the wrong message.
Her reputation and minority government is always at stake. She is not obliged to jump whenever Abbott pushes the sexism button; imagine if she had a reputation for doing just that. Instead of shrinking into himself like a frightened animal, Abbott would have rolled his eyes and said "there she goes again!" to a chorus of laughter from his backbench and the press gallery. She showed the tactical successes

Let's hope she shows her passionate side more often, and uses the Prime Ministership as more of a "bully pulpit" to get issues aired rather than just another transactional office as she has tended to treat it. The decision on cutting single parent benefits is at odds with the spirit of the payrise for community service workers; but sometimes a small step on the right track can just look like a big step foregone.

Steve Lewis has been left without a story, a dangerous place to be for a relatively highly-paid but otherwise undistinguished journalist at this point. He will almost certainly get a Best Supporting Walkley for his gig with James Ashby. Few journalists will now follow the Slipper story through to its end. Because the story has lost currency, Lewis is unlikely to keep pursuing Slipper - it was all rather sordid really, and even though his book has copped all the flogging it can possibly bear he will find excuses not to take calls from Ashby. Hopefully Centrelink will accept his Walkley as a form of ID.

James Ashby's enemies are many and his friends are few. He has increasing debts to persistent lawyers and diminishing means to pay them (would you hire him to do your publicity, or in any capacity at all? There are many, many ex-press secs and unemployed journos already out there chasing too little work). Ashby has flagged that he has been suicidal, which at the very least is a request for the media he once courted to back off.

Peter Hartcher revealed more about himself than the political situation before us when he expressed his yearning for Gillard to be Pearl Pureheart. If she had been, it might have been easier for Hartcher and other Rudd-backers to have undermined her. When Hartcher says "we" expected more of Gillard perhaps this is who he means, rather than abrogating a royal pronoun or that old-school MSM arrogance that he speaks for his readers and has some insight into what we think. So she did a deal and it didn't come off, even though she held up her end of the bargain. I ask again: what's the point of being an "experienced political journalist"?

The idea that the government invested a lot of political capital in Peter Slipper, and that it has blown the lot, sounds fair - but what is "political capital"? Isn't it just risk? This government has taken a lot of risks, and some have paid off while others have not - but is this not true of all governments?

Six months from now, what would stop Gillard from simply agreeing with critics who contend that Slipper was a gamble that didn't pay off? Where does that leave those who need to believe that Slipper is some sort of disfiguring wound to the Gillard government?

Nobody comes out of this smelling of roses. Those supporting Gillard are bouyed by her performance while her various opponents seem bogged down. Those with experience in covering politics have no excuse for not reporting what's in front of them, and should be strong enough to rise above The Narrative when it has so demonstrably failed.


  1. Agree wholeheartedly, the MSM is again found to be asleep at the wheel.

  2. Keep it up. I love your work.

  3. Andrew, you've done probably the most 'balanced' take of all today.

  4. Everyone in Parliament must have known that Slipper's resignation was imminent, there was no way he could be esteemed in the position of Speaker after the contents of the text messages were revealed.

    Abbott tried to play his hand in wedging the PM on the issue. To his dismay he found his wedge being turned into woodchips, the awed silence of the Opposition as the PM methodically responds to him, speaking volumes.

    I still cannot comprehend that a political no-nothing like me can clearly see this, however no journalist has seen fit to provide any sort of in-depth analysis of this sort.

  5. I had recorded QT yesterday and watched it before reading your comments about TA not looking at JG and delivering those fateful words from a written document. I noticed it, and it was a cold deliberate act, and a very low standard. There is no way it can be dressed any differently.

    David Perth

  6. One positive out of this, we now have a better speaker than we did 12 months ago (sorry Harry).

  7. Buy buy Miss American pie, forget the music, it was "the day the narrative died".


  8. I am almost 60 and fought a revolution so the girls don't have to whinge about so-called sexism at the drop of the hat.

    It is revolting that Gillard not only abused and persecutes refugee women and kids in refugee prisons here she is also happy as Larry to exile them to rat and rabies infested malarial hell holes for the crime of fleeing the taliban.

    Then it beggars belief that she would take so much from the poorest parents and children in the country to save so little while wasting billions on jailing other women and children for nothing.

    Didn't watch or listen to the speech, cannot see a trace of evidence that Slipper did anything remotely wrong or said anything so terrible, i have heard worse watching Boardwalk Empire.

    We have the worst media in the western world, too busy trying to be story makers than telling the facts.

  9. Coorey has some ultimate-insider view of the matter this morning that now suddenly reveals the Government were already urging Slipper to resign, that Albo was already in Slipper's office when Windsor showed up. The Government simply weren't about to let Abbott get a victory in the house (well ... derr).

    So Gillard's opening lines -- "I say to the Leader of the Opposition I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man. I will not. And the Government will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man. Not now, not ever" -- sum the whole thing up. Of course they wanted Slipper gone to get the heat out of the moment. But in no way were they going to have that happen as a result of a shitty motion about sexism from the Situation and his gang.

    I could see that as plain as day at the time. But the oh-so-perceptive press gallery had to wait until "a senior member of the government" told them so.

  10. A few weeks ago I noted that I thought there had been a shift in the MSM's narrative. That maybe they'd gotten over the whole 'Gillard Doomed' zeitgeist and began to realise the wind was shifting.

    But yesterdays coverage completely disavowed me of that notion. As video of Gillard dishing out the smack-down sent ripples around the globe on Tuesday night, I woke in disbelief on Wednesday to see Hartcher, Grattan and other so-called experts harping on about Gillard's lowest moment, and that she had somehow failed some test of character for refusing to fire a guy over tasteless personal SMSs.

    Meanwhile, in the real world; men and women alike responded to Gillard's rousing tirade against Abbott's ongoing campaign of bullshit. Against the slurs and hyperbole and angry white man tantrums that Abbott thinks counts as accountability. People are well and truly fed up with the whole farcical production, and it's about time someone called him on it.

  11. Nice review of the state of play. Now if Julia and the Government keep strategically 'going for the throat' of the NO Coalition, they may just reverse the polls to be in their favour.
    Abbott is the NO Coalitions greatest threat to their election success in 2013. Labor should be 'shooting him down' at every opportunity.
    The Abbotto condesentions Julia used where pure poison -- there must be heaps of them. And Labor should use them!

  12. I actually think Sophie is a "botch", everything she touches she botches.

    1. When I read comments like this, I wish there were a thumbs up button!!!

  13. It was the most riveting 15 minutes of politics I have ever seen. I, like so many others, was transfixed. Which is why once again, I found myself shaking my head in wonderment at the Press Gallery's reporting of it.

    1. The Press Gallery's lack of understanding of what is happening in parliament has long left me shaking my head.

      The most obvious example is the Coalition's tactics of endlessly debasing Question Time and causing chaos in order to create the impression of a parliament that is out of control, followed by the 'election now' rubbish.

      It's obvious what they have been doing for the past two years - refusing to engage in any way in the forming of legislation, refusing to contribute anything constructive, simply destroying anything and anyone in front of them, dragging everyone into the mud with them and then attacking anyone with a spot of dirt on them. It's a pathetic tactic that even the most casual of observers understands.

      In fact, Craig Emerson today said that he has been in his position for more than two years and has yet to be asked a question about his portfolio from the opposition. I believe there are seven or eight ministers in the same position.

      So why are the Press Gallery incapable of pointing this out to their readers / listeners / viewers?

  14. Over the past two days brief but comprehensive coverage of Gillard's speech, and succinct analysis explaining the reasons for it, have appeared in publications as diverse as the New York Times, New Yorker magazine, the Guardian and Telegraph, Le Monde, and the Times of India.

    Meanwhile, senior members of the Democrats have made 'to Gillard' a verb and have encouraged Obama to take inspiration from the speech.

    People reading newspapers and websites from the US, the UK and Europe, and throughout Asia have gained a better understanding of Tony Abbott's vile behaviour and inherent flaws than many Australians.

    Should there not be at least one journalist in this country ashamed of this fact?

  15. This is a great piece of political commentary which is a pleasure to read. Keep up the good work, you have become my favourite political commentator.

  16. good on you for the prediction that the goldfish like attention span of our political journalists will mean that we'll never hear any more about Ashby. Brough and Pyne can relax now.

  17. Thank you for the information that Tony Abbott read a prepared speech. I wonder who wrote it for him?

    Considering that the Prime Minister's speech was (seemingly) delivered without notes (I couldn't see her using any) and at short notice, as the Opposition didn't give advance notice of the motion, I thought it was outstanding. Seems a lot of the rest of the world agrees.

    Tony Abbott's excuse for using "died of shame":

    "I'd completely forgotten about [it], of course, but nevertheless," he said.

    From The Age: www.theage.com.au/.../...hrase-20121010-27cgd.html

    Do we really need a leader with such a terrible memory? No wonder he couldn't recall punching a wall 30 years ago. He can't even remember the major news story from LAST WEEK.

    1. I think that's what is commonly referred to as a 'lie'. Journalists in this country used to notice such things.

    2. The PM didn't read from notes, but I bet she's been practising in front of the mirror for a while.

      Many women practice this type of speech in front of the mirror, but rarely have the courage/desire to commit career suicide to deliver such a speech. This is why her speech particularly resonates amongst women.

      I'm not at all surprised at the number of (mostly male) commentators who have claimed this will cost her. Couple that with the recent news that female journalists are more likely to be s_xually harassed than women in any other profession, and it all starts to make sense.

  18. Did you watch the analysis on the speech given by Homocon et al on Australian agenda today??

    Dont know weather to laugh or cry with Sky News

  19. This morning we see Grattan attacking Gillard' speech and exonerating Abbott with yet another get out of jail card:

    "Gillard was ready to unload her misogyny tirade whatever Abbott said in Tuesday's debate, but she wouldn't have expected his echo of Jones, when he referred (he swears without thinking) to ''another day of shame for a government which should already have died of shame''".

    How many times doe he have to repeat his disgraceful (and graceless) performances before the journos admit that they are not "out of character"

    As you have said many times: what right does Abbott have to be taken at his word?