Stephanie Peatling's press gallery stories that are worth reading: they can be traced back to actual public issues and rarely involve the same dreary flights of fancy that apparently keeps her colleagues employed. In any industry full of mouthy bludgers the quiet achievers are the most interesting; this article is in that vein.
Peatling refers to Peta Credlin opening up about about a topic that could hardly be more personal. Given that Credlin approached the journalists concerned to do so, and given the fact that she is more powerful than almost any elected Liberal MP, is she now deserving of greater scrutiny by the media than she has so far received? If we are to really understand what the Coalition wants - in the short term, within some passing parliamentary standing-order feint, or in the long term from "an Abbott government" - surely it is fair and relevant to scrutinise someone Credlin more closely than has been the case to date.
The odd profile that declares someone to be a "power behind the throne" and leaves it at that might suit the person concerned perfectly well, but in a democracy it is not on.
When you elect a government, you elect a whole package. Senior staffers and advisers are part of that package. Many of those people who came out of Paul Keating's office with a book publishing deal might have served their employer, party and country better building linkages between vague big-picture pronouncements and practical outcomes of same. The early Howard government would have been better understood had journos not just used Grahame Morris as a source for colourful quotes, but really examined what made him tick and how he made his presence felt. The transition of Julia Gillard from a wooden repeater of catchphrases to a genuine and direct communicator has to, in large part (but not wholly) the result of a turnover of staff. Staff deserve scrutiny.
The problem with that is twofold, as Peatling alludes to in her quotes from Paula Matthewson. Firstly, nobody elects staffers. Secondly, thanks to The West Wing many think that their roles deserve more attention than they get, and would only be too happy to hog what little limelight falls upon Australian federal politics.
The response to that is also twofold: first, whether or not people elect them, they are there; they are influencing policy outcomes, they way our taxes are spent and our laws made. Second, professional journalists should be able to filter out self-aggrandisement chaff from the kernels of real stories.
This applies to staffers who become lobbyists. The Rudd Government set up a lobbyists' register where lobbyists are identified individually, along with who they are working for. No press gallery journalist has made effective use of this resource. In the corridors of Parliament House, lobbyists sail past journalists on their way to ministers' offices to conduct business that will change the way government policy works; journalists wave them by without a second thought that these people might have a story worth telling.
Peatling's quote from Damian Ogden fails to examine what happens when there are jarring differences between a politician's personal story and their subsequent actions in office, as happened with Obama. It seems (and you have to do a fair bit of inference to Peatling's article, and drag in a lot of other stuff to reach this conclusion) that you have to rely on the other side to run a bunch of turkeys, but are rewarded with mandates that vindicate both image and reality.
There are journalists who cover substantive issues, and who do so seemingly in isolation from the federal parliament whose deliberations are so crucial to those issues. It is silly to demarcate journalists who, for example, have been patiently describing what the NDIS is and how it might affect particular individuals, from those who are supposedly following the passage of the relevant legislation through the parliament (there is so often a surprise deal in the Senate in the early hours of the morning of a sitting day that changes a bill so profoundly, which is almost never covered in any detail, that it is worth having dedicated Senate correspondents).
It is often said that covering politics is like an iceberg, where elected representatives are the above-surface visible portion while the far larger part (staffers, lobbyists, permanent public servants) are below the surface and out of sight. This may be so, but isn't that what journalists are for: to uncover what is hidden and to make sense of it?
Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations.Press gallery journalists should be more often guided by their colleagues who cover those areas that federal politics regulates - between them, they would make for better coverage of how we are governed than we receive today. It would mean less jowl-wobbling outrage about "context" and the forced redundancy for many who are now, falsely, regarded as paragons of a profession that can only survive with such disruptive innovation. Someone like Stephanie Peatling would almost certainly handle such a transition much better than the stale, cliched offerings of almost all of her colleagues, particularly those encrusted with self-referential journosphere accolades.
- George Orwell