30 April 2013

Playing the clown

Now if there's a smile on my face
It's only there trying to fool the public
But when it comes down to fooling you
Now honey that's quite a different subject ...

- Stevie Wonder, Hank Cosby and Smokey Robinson, 'Tears of a Clown'
In this, Jacqueline Maley tells us two big falsehoods about federal politics. Disseminating political falsehoods is the opposite of what her job should be about. The first is that Tony Abbott is even capable of not being a clown, let alone that he has taken that decision; and second, that the press gallery have snapped out of it too and are seriously evaluating actual and proposed offerings of government for the next three years. Not only are they not to be believed but the only reason you can't condemn such mendacity out of hand is because it comes from such a deep well of self-delusion.
... Abbott isn't likely to give us any more of what he would quaintly call his "brain snaps".
Yes he is. They're his life, they are who and what he is. They're an insight into how he works. The instances cited by Maley are not uncharacteristic departures from the well-ordered mind of an otherwise level-headed and compassionate man. They are integral to understanding what Abbott is like with the responsibilities with which he has been entrusted so far, and are rightly cited as reasons why he ought not be entrusted with any more.
Many within Labor have held a comfortable assumption it is only a matter of time before Abbott loses discipline and does something bonkers that will reveal his "true" self and ... silent rage?
That's the heart of Maley's article, and it's a straw man. Liberals say nasty things about Prime Minister Gillard too, so her litany of Labor people bagging Abbott is less indicative of whatever point Maley is making than she might hope. There is no one thing that will knock out Tony Abbott from contention as Prime Minister, and nobody said there would be. This is a man whose inadequacies have to be drawn out to be seen in their full light. It never ceases to amaze that an experienced member of the press gallery can't see that.
Reviewing those old 7.30 interviews, he seems nervous and easily bamboozled by detail, just as most people would be in a similar position. Big deal.
"Big deal"?

Part of being ready for the Prime Ministership of Australia is that command over the scope of government. All successful candidates for Prime Minister have done this. Very few have it; the number of candidates for Prime Minister is small, not large, and not open to the average Jo(e) who is flat out remembering the date of their Mum's birthday. Abbott isn't going for a job driving a truck or gutting fish, and the broadcast media have been wrong to present him as though he has. We are entitled to be treated with the respect that is due to us, that we will only elect a leader who understands what it means to govern us. That is a big deal, Jacqueline Maley. It is genuinely pitiful that you and your enfeebled employer fail to see that.
He's improved since then - he is more polished and calm, less stuttery and fighty.
Perhaps, but he's no more across the actual job of being in government, and nor is he offering any substantial alternative. Journalists should point that out, and are failing in their duty to readers/listeners/viewers in their refusal/incapacity to do so. Journalists should ask him questions, and make a Big Deal of the fact that he literally walks away from hard questions. Say what you like about Brendan Nelson, he took the job more seriously than this clown.
And if his recent approval ratings are anything to go by, people are accepting the new (dare we say the real?) Tony.
And if they're not? If you look at those ratings, and believe them, you'll see that they're showing is that Abbott is no more accepted than he has ever been.
As he told Sales during his interview this week: "Australians are pretty fair-minded and they accept that people can grow if they move into a new position."

So Abbott has grown, his critics must grow with him.
Let's see what Maley is saying here. A politician has said something that reflects well on himself. A journalist is not only quoting that politician verbatim but is taking him at his word, and demanding that readers do so too. This is both an appalling dereliction of duty, and fairly typical of Maley's lazy approach to journalism. Gillard does not and would not get the benefit of the doubt like that.

Tony Abbott entered Parliament at a byelection in 1994. His leader then was Alexander Downer, a policy lightweight who had learned from Hewson '93 the same lesson Abbott learned: namely to keep it light, bright and trite. At a Liberal Party dinner later that year Downer made a number of gaffes, the very sort of one-off stumble Maley insists can't possibly happen with Abbott. I doubt that Abbott will be replaced before the election, but Maley has no right to demand anything from those of us who are more critical of Abbott than she is.
The days of his headline-grabbing stuff-ups are over.
Bullshit. You wish.
Now it is up to good journalists such as Sales to quiz him on detail and attempt to pin him down on some of the impossibly vague language he uses when he discusses policy.
Leigh Sales was in an impossible position when she interviewed Abbott last Wednesday. Nobody made her Gatekeeper To The Lodge. There are more than two hundred members of the Federal Parliamentary Press Gallery, including Maley - note how their questions of Abbott count for bugger-all.

There is almost no journalism worth a damn going on in the press gallery. Only one Walkley has been awarded to a member of the Federal Parliamentary Press Gallery in this term of Parliament, despite the wealth of material theatre there since the last election. The only exception, Steve Pennells, had to get out of Canberra and go to Christmas Island, an assignment that may have been easier from his native Perth. Non-press-gallery journos like Sales and Kate McClymont won Walkleys for stories on federal politics, eating the lunch of those bums in Canberra. The idea that the press gallery contains Australia's journalistic elite is a joke.

When News and Fairfax shed staff late last year, their press gallery representation was untouched; a management failure compounding a journalistic one.
Abbott talks about hopes and aspirations, and when asked about concrete policy plans, refers to his policy tome (booklet, actually - it's 50 pages), the one he brandishes at his breast in media conferences like a medieval shield.

Our Plan: Real Solutions for All Australians contains almost nothing that qualifies as an objectively measurable promise in a year's time, should the Coalition win government.
That demonstrates a failure of the journalistic method. Journalist asks politician question, politician refuses to answer, journalist can do nothing but quote politician verbatim and leave it at that. Journalist unaware that if reader wants verbatim quote, reader can get it direct from press release on party website.
The firm headline promises Abbott has made are to repeal the carbon tax, repeal the mining tax, begin immediate negotiations with Indonesia on asylum-seeker boat tow-backs ...
For all of those, there are people with experience in those respective fields who believe those things can't actually be done, not by Gillard or by Abbott, not even with a parliamentary majority and a cheering press gallery. Those people aren't party-poopers or providers of verbal ballast so that journos can look 'balanced' by quoting them. There is serious work to be done into whether Abbott's "firm headline promises" are achievable. That work should be done before the election, not afterwards.
... and institute a business-funded paid parental leave scheme in his first term (a policy which feminists have failed to laud as they should).
If it's bullshit, and people can see through it, and it does nothing to expand opportunities for women, then why should feminists (or anyone else) support it?
The Coalition now also has a detailed broadband policy, announced this month.
Yes, and it is an inferior offering to the incumbents. It isn't even clear why the Coalition even wants an NBN, especially given their cost-cutting imperatives, and therefore it will probably be axed if he gets the chance to do so. You can't maintain your poll lead if all your policies are like that.
One of Abbott's new lines of attack is to criticise the government for "milking incumbency", "mortgaging the future" and "booby-trapping the future".
Yes, Jacqueline, it's an attack line. The journalistic challenge is not simply to transmit what the lines are, but to give us the information we need to ascertain what's bullshit and what isn't.

For a start, every opposition that wins office inherits the conditions before it from its opponents and predecessors. The Rudd Government succeeded the Howard government, and Howard succeeded Keating; neither handover was particularly amicable, and all new governments have teething problems. Abbott is seeking to make excuses for not following through on his promises. An old hand like Laurie Oakes would have pointed that out, while disingenuous clowns like Michelle Grattan or Maley simply take Abbott at his word. If Abbott thinks it's going to be too hard to govern Australia, let him give the game away altogether. Don't give us this crap.
This language is incredibly telling - it reveals how inevitable he considers a future Abbott government to be ...
No, Jacqueline, he's not. He's bluffing. It's what Abbott does, and when you've been covering politics for as long as I have you should be able to spot that and convey it to your readers. He's hoping you stay stuck in to the Abbott-inevitable-Gillard-doomed Narrative; a good journalist would question that, but we and he all know what sort of journalist you are. All those gaffes that you cited above are instances where he appeared very confident, but they were demonstrated to be at odds with actual facts.
... (he's not alone - most of the electorate believes that too).
No, you've confused the electorate with the press gallery. Almost all of the press gallery believe that. The electorate is deeply ambivalent about retaining Tony Abbott in his current job, let alone elevating him even further above his competence.
He is so confident he is putting the government (who, being the government, still has the right to, like, govern 'n stuff) on notice it shouldn't make any decisions that lock the next, ie his, government into a particular course of action.

We saw that this week with the confected debate about the appointment of the next governor-general.
Here is further proof of inherent journalistic failure. For a start, almost all political debate is 'confected', particularly that arising from the media management strategy.

Maley has spent the last three years ignoring the process of governing; note the adolescent language used to describe it, the truculent refusal to do the grown-up work of reporting and analysis. Recommending a Governor-General is a prerogative of government, and it's in Abbott's interests to make the incumbents look timid in the face of controversy; when he failed to do that, it was fair to wonder why he was so upset. Surely the Gillard government would appoint a distinguished Australian to the post, someone even Abbott could not impugn? They could have wedged him by invoking the Queen, using Abbott's words about a position above party politics, etc.

Abbott wanted to appoint Howard as Governor-General, and if the Gillard government recommends the next one to the Queen then Howard will be stymied once again. All that confidence stuff Maley talked about is undone by Abbott's hear-hysterical reaction. Maley has actually used an example which rebuts her thesis in order to advance it. Is she bluffing, or is she a moron?
There are also several small and subtle truth-bendings and inconsistencies the Opposition Leader is getting away with, too many to deal with here.
That's your job, Jacqueline, that's your job to follow those through. We need to know which is the best party to govern us, and doing the very work that you so idly dismiss is crucial to that. But no, you go and bite off more than you can chew:
But the most important one is his position on school funding reform. Abbott was wrong-footed this week when NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell signed a deal with the Prime Minister over her Gonski reform proposal.

The Opposition Leader's position was incoherent. On Sunday he told Sky News the Gonski report was "quite an impressive document" and there was "much that was good in the Gonski report".

But in the same interview he insisted "the existing [school funding system] is not broken. It's not broken". The foundation premise of the Gonski report is that the existing system is not just broken, it's unjust, idiotic and mind-bogglingly over-complex.

The report found that there was "an unacceptable link" between low academic achievement and social disadvantage. It found funding arrangements were based on an "outdated and opaque" system. These arrangements are "unnecessarily complex, lack coherence and transparency, and involve a duplication of funding effort".

So which bits does Abbott think are the good bits of the report when he rejects its key premise and its central findings? Does he know better than David Gonski and his expert panel, who worked on their report for over a year?
There is no reason why Jacqueline Maley could not have written her whole article around that. Substantive journalism, now there's an idea. Hell, she could have written several articles:
  • Barry O'Farrell and Tony Abbott were candidates for the job of NSW State Director of the Liberal Party in 1994: O'Farrell won, Abbott lost. O'Farrell is running the next-biggest government in the country, Abbott is flat out keeping the costs of his own office under control. Note their respective positions on gay marriage. Note how Howard sold Liberal Premiers down the river, and how O'Farrell is letting Abbott know he won't be going the same way. See if you can do that without resorting to the simplistic bullshit of LIB SPLIT SHOCK, I bet you can't.
  • O'Farrell knows the education funding model is broken. What the hell has the Shadow Minister for Education even been doing for the past three years? Carrying on like a deadshit in Parliament, and socialising with Jacqueline Maley ...
  • ... and James Ashby for that matter.
  • David Gonski is not some education wonk or Labor hack who can be brushed aside lightly. He is a very significant figure in the Sydney business community, in a way that Tony Abbott isn't and will never be. Why is the leader of the Liberal Party shirtfronting him like this?
All the above points represent potential articles that would be worthy of Maley's readership. They are all too hard for Maley herself, because of her adolescent truculence when confronted with "like, govern[ing] 'n' stuff".
Time to stop expecting Abbott to slip on a banana peel. He is not a clown, he is probably our next prime minister. Let's treat him like one and scrutinise his every policy step.
That worthy final paragraph does not redeem Maley, it sets a standard to which she cannot possibly rise. In this piece, Laura Tingle explains why, and how much, her press gallery colleague Maley is kidding herself. There is no reason why this could not have been done at any point over the past three years, rather than the press gallery rolling their myopic eyes and 'letting Tony be Tony'. It's been A Long Time In Politics, and goodness knows how many media cycles, since Maley excreted that article: noticed much change in her reporting?

It's over. We were shocked by the inadequacy of political reporting in 2010, and broadcast media have only got worse since then.

The ultimate in 'letting Tony be Tony' comes from this clown:
Tony Abbott is ... feeling pretty chuffed about putting in a decent performance on the ABC's 7.30 program last Wednesday. He was on message, disciplined and, as usual, pretty light with details.
Wow, you know you've cultivated a source when you can tap into his innermost feelings.

Fancy a journalist actually praising a politician for being "on message" and "light with details".

This is a shit article and Preston Towers dispatches it admirably.

Abbott and his handlers have played the press gallery for clowns, and their fantasy that they can snap out of it any time is cruelly exposed. Maley and others in the press gallery actually applaud them for having applied mushroom-farming techniques to media management. 'Media management' gives the press gallery a sense of importance that helps them mitigate their audience-repelling output. It is so easy for Abbott to fool them because they want to be fooled. He is their best chance of being delivered from having to report on that woman, who doesn't prioritise them at all; the first PM since McMahon to get the job without duchessing them.

Barrie Cassidy was press secretary to Prime Minister Hawke. In his day, the opposition got no press at all unless they were tearing themselves apart. What do you put the current politico-media malaise down to, Barrie?
The rhythm of federal politics, the underlying beat, has been ugly for too long. But gradually over the past few weeks, that has started to change.
Don't blame it on the sunshine, don't blame it on the moonlight, don't blame it on the good times, blame it on the ugly. Only the opposition and the press gallery had any sort of interest in making a hard situation worse: fuck them both.
Labor's Rolls Royce version with all the funding implications ...
Why even talk about policy when you use silly language like that? The NBN is not funded on-budget, a dilettante's error unworthy of a serious political journalist. The speeds and coverage of the NBN are going to be barely adequate, and the Coalition's offering even less: 'Rolls-Royce', like hell.
Bob Hawke, John Howard and Kevin Rudd led a community debate on ideas from opposition. Now, with the agenda free of most of the nasty political distractions that characterised politics virtually from the time of the last election, Abbott is starting to do likewise.
Abbott's monkey-house spoiler antics were designed to make the government look like it was failing to govern. Cassidy has forgiven him that failure, yet the government still wears the opprobrium. Having failed to bring down the government with those antics, Abbott shines him dim light with an inadequate telecommunications policy and talks up hysteria over the government's budget position. Hockey's spittle-flecked alarmism over death duties puts the lie to this:
Then the economic ministers and their shadows engaged in an increasingly sophisticated debate about economic management and the fiscal challenges facing both sides of politics.

Both are now more realistic about short-term objectives. They both appreciate that given collapsing revenue, a fixation on an immediate surplus would cost thousands of jobs.
Barely worth even writing that in the face of reality.
On the evidence so far - after recent appearances at a community forum and on SKY and 7.30 - he is now better equipped to engage at that level. He is showing a grasp of detail, a self-confidence and a sense of smarts that hasn't always been there.
This isn't true. The interview with Leigh Sales on 7.30 shows no grasp of detail at all, and Sky wouldn't have put him through his paces. Cassidy, entering his fourth decade in Canberra, disagrees with blow-in Chris Johnson on Abbott's grasp of detail, and here you have to give it to the blow-in. Abbott talked in generalities and refused to engage in detail. He was every bit as nebulous as, well, wishful-thinking descriptions like "self-confidence" and "sense of smarts" that should be given in someone aspiring to the position he now holds, not a new development in someone who's been there more than three years.

It's stupid to pretend that a deeply inadequate candidate for Prime Minister is suddenly ready for prime time - why was he indulged in his inadequacy by the press gallery, so much for so long? This 'let Tony be Tony' stuff is a Liberal Party conceit and it has to stop.

Abbott is not, despite Cassidy's best wishes, being judged against his own feckless past. He is being judged against Julia Gillard, who has "a grasp of detail, a self-confidence and a sense of smarts" to a far greater extent than Tony Abbott. Abbott is not "better equipped" to be Prime Minister than Gillard, there is no proof that he is. All Cassidy's semi-assertions to the contrary are just bullshit.

All of the policy areas nominated by Cassidy - managing the budget, telecommunications, healthcare and education - seem to be the main battlegrounds on which the election campaign is being fought. They are all areas where people turn to experts to help form opinions: he-said-she-said false-balance journalism simply will not do. It will exclude them from the decision-making process and will drive down their lack of audience numbers and credibility. In the latter three, the experts seem to be lining up behind the government - not tentatively, but wholeheartedly, even desperately. I don't like the Coalition's chances of building credibility on the budget either, just quietly, and it doesn't matter whether or not those three clowns agree.

When the polls adjust to reflect that reality, you can bet Maley, Johnson, and Cassidy will be amazed. It isn't their job to be amazed at eminently foreseeable developments - that would be, and is, an indication of professional failure. Is there anything more self-defeating, more redundant in every respect, and yes more clownishly absurd, than an obtuse journalist (or three)?

28 April 2013

Futures of journalism

What follows here is my impression of the PIJF Future of Public Interest Journalism forum at the Old Fitzroy Hotel, Woolloomooloo, on 24 April 2013. I didn't take notes and this is not pretending to be any sort of formal, minuted, or objective account of proceedings.

Having been a critic of the way journalism is practiced in this country, it was incumbent upon me to take an interest in how journalists saw their future and what they were doing to secure it. When the Public Interest Journalism Foundation set up a meet-up and discussion on that future, in a pub of which I had fond memories from my dating days, I was keen to go.

As with many such events, near the entrance were sheets of sticky labels with attendees' names on them. Many were the names of journalists whose pieces I had read over the years. They looked like the place where bylines go to die. Like everyone else I found my name and pressed it onto my chest. Before the panel forum started I met people like Jim Parker (publisher of The Failed Estate), Amanda Wilson (former editor of The Sydney Morning Herald) and Melissa Sweet (who organised the event, runs PIJF and edits Croakey, and is another SMH veteran), Lesley Parker (of whom more later) and others who took an interest in the media and its future.

There were a lot of ex-Fairfax people, small numbers of ex-News, and quite a few academics. It was generally agreed at an early stage that institutional backing was indispensable to public interest journalism; stories need long gestations and journalists need lawyers to protect them from those who don't want stories told about them.

Universities seem to be taking responsibility over elements of journalism that corporate journalism has abandoned (if it ever did cover them), in much the same way that university law faculties stand up for principles in jurisprudence overlooked by commercial law firms. One of the academics, Simon Chapman from the University of Sydney, warned that universities are turning up the heat on academics who publish too little and who aren't great at public engagement. Those hoping that universities will provide the institutional protection that commercial media no longer does (again, if it ever did) were warned to keep that in mind.

With that, attention turned to individual members of the panel in the hope that they might have found a way out of the morass. First was Adele Horin, who wrote about social issues for, yes, The Sydney Morning Herald, and now has her own blog where she writes about general issues affecting people of her age. She couldn't bear to deal with statistics or with comments, and refused to consider such matters until June.

In a corporate media environment there would have been other people to deal with the public and with IT issues. As a blogger she has to deal with them herself. Horin spoke about learning about IT firstly as though it were difficult, but then as though it were a chore, and expressed gratitude to Lesley Parker for her help but still confessed to be reluctant about IT issues, with a real sense of dread.

I work in ICT and thought about this on the way home: Horin seems to be a prisoner of the silly contradictory basis from which most journalists report on it:
  • ICT is overwhelming. It will read your brain! It will cyber-bully you! It will hack into your bank account and steal your money, or send you honeyed emails which trick you into giving it away! In the case of journalism, it will steal your job!
  • On the other hand, IT is trivial. IT is kids' games, and for boys who refuse to grow up.
Thus, ICT is not a serious endeavour, unless it is overwhelming. Horin has a potentially large audience for her blog, and a substantial reputation which is not denied to her by the termination of her employment. The potential for that blog as both a communications outlet and a money-making business is enormous. My guess is that she will take small but sure steps that are strongly backed by moral (and increasingly financial) support, whereupon others will try to imitate her. She does, however, need to get over her timidity toward engaging with both ICT issues and with people for whom she writes. Adele Horin could have one of the strongest supporter-to-troll ratios on the internet today if only she gave her audience a chance.

Anne Summers has both a bigger reputation than Horin and less trepidation. Having run magazines in Sydney and New York, Summers was confident of her ability to set up an serious current-affairs magazine online. She has a blog, and a magazine where she is hedging her bets format-wise; because she likes the look and feel of glossy paper she is keeping that option open, but glossy-paper mags are expensive so she is putting it online too. It deserves credit for actually covering topical issues with well-written articles. She declared that the PDF works perfectly well on computers, and it works as well as any PDF really; but when I tried to read it from my phone whilst on the train later in the week, it was a pain in the arse. Summers told how she had people working for free to set up her magazine, admitting that it was unsustainable. She said that she was working on people who could come up with the sort of money necessary to support the magazine for a year.

The issue of payment for journalism was pretty big. It is not necessarily true that the market will reward good articles and punish the dreck, and nor is the reverse true either. Trust for the market in general, and for building an audience who would then form a specific market for a specific type of journalism, was low. They seemed to regard the online world in the same way Hunter S. Thompson regarded US television in the 1980s:
... [it] is uglier than most things. It is normally perceived as some kind of cruel and shallow money trench through the heart of the journalism industry, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs, for no good reason.
Without the money, perhaps, but you get the idea.

There was a great deal of focus on the journalism aspect of 'public interest journalism', as though it were so special that it could not possibly be compared to other types of work. One journalist present, who had been turfed by a major media outlet, declared that online journalism was insufficient to pay her mortgage. This journalist self-described as both a science journalist and a technophobe, propounding the latter as though it were a Valid Lifestyle Choice like veganism or Shinto. A technophobic science journalist is not just a bit disadvantaged, like a champion swimmer allergic to chlorine, or harmlessly hypocritical like a teetotalling barman, or even absurd like Dave Graney's invisible rock star; such behaviour is self-defeating and only see their credibility suffer (especially in the absence of professional development from a generous employer), like an anorexic chef or a corrupt police officer. I'd suggest that journalist needs to make a choice or one will be made for them - and that with the right choice the mortgage will take care of itself.

It seems that public interest journalism might be usefully compared with public interest education, public interest environmental work, or public interest healthcare. There might be a bit of government money, but not much (and you'll have to hunt for it); a bit of money from private philanthropists and corporate donors, but not much (and again, you'll have to hunt for it); and after all that, anyone still keen on the activity will have to work for little money or none.

The case against working for free is strong, a case well made here and less so there. Around the corner from that pub was the Matthew Talbot Hostel, Sydney's largest homeless shelter. Never mind MEAA pay scales for the moment, and imagine how much you'd want to clean a homeless person who was so far gone they weren't aware they'd soiled themselves. I wish the journalists present would have gone to see what public interest work really looks like, particularly the ones seeking a return to the Circumstances To Which They Had Become Accustomed. Plenty there would have worked for Anne Summers for free - if only they had the IT skills she needed.

Next was Jim "Mr Denmore" Parker. When I met him I was expecting a crusty chain-smoking-and-drinking journo of the old school, but the man wearing that byline nametag more closely resembled a particularly personable financial planner. He made the most impassioned speech, imploring journalists to regard themselves and not their (erstwhile) employers as custodians of journalism; particularly in the case of the Murdoch domination of print and propagandising to get people to vote against their own interests. He made many of the points he makes in his blog, including one that many of us have been making, namely that you can't tell what's going on in Australian politics by consuming only broadcast media, and that this is an inherent failure of journalism which can only lead to the commercial failure of organisations that practice it.

The overtly political aspect of what Jim said, combined with his cheerful admission that he didn't make a cent from blogging, saw many reluctant to engage with what he'd said; [d]isdain, outright anger or more likely an unwillingness to engage indeed: a real pity. There was a real quietism about the broadcast media, as though turfing hundreds of journalists had been done from a position of strength rather than weakness. Older journalists were still looking to get back on the gravy train from which they'd been evicted; younger journalists working on the fringes still looked on a job with those organisations as professional endorsement. They couldn't believe it was really over. They were convinced of the inherent rightness and power of the skills and conceits they had picked up in journalism, but as for applying them in places not at all like the places where they picked them up - well, [sucks air through clenched teeth, rolls eyes, smiles sadly; insert other non-verbal expression indicating lack of both confidence and choice here].

Lesley Parker works for the MEAA providing transition counselling and online skills to shellshocked outplaced journalists looking for a way to practice their beloved craft after being spurned by their employers, including Adele Horin. She's also Jim's wife. She encouraged people to see a future for journalism beyond the majors, and for journalists to use accessible online tools to secure that future - and to trust that an audience will be there if you put yourself out there for them. She gently suggested that it was necessary to take risks to secure that future - even though many participants believed they had taken quite enough risk upon themselves, thanks very much.

There was absolutely no discussion of the sorts of issues that arise from breaking events in the contemporary media environment, like this, where the author underestimates:
  • how much eyewitness activism is part of gathering and promulgating information in the public interest; and
  • the extent to which the noxious toad Col Allan is actually a journalist.
Then there's this, where the writer maintains an employed journo's contempt for social media, one shared by many at that event (including by self-limiting practitioners). She makes a case for that ringing final sentence while assuming that only employed journalists are capable of living up to that standard, and only they are capable of calling out those who fall short (this is a particularly acute calling-out of sloppy journalism by a non-journalist, the sort of thing journo-boosters would do well to examine in making peace with social media).

Summing up, Melissa Sweet said that journalism was in the midst of a revolution, and she was right - however, revolutions require not just the displacement of workers but their arousal, and also:

  • the execution of those who rule now;
  • protagonists to take the initiative (and run the risk that they will not be left standing once the Glorious Day Of Liberation arrives);
  • the understanding (if not dread) that meritocracy does not necessarily prevail, a bit like the fate of Thompson's "good men" above. 
There was a lot of goodwill toward the ventures of Horin and Summers, and if they succeed online they will form a model for what Australian public interest journalism might look like online; if they fail, the despondency and lack of direction among public interest journalists will only increase, and if that happens many big and important issues will escape scrutiny.

I work on the rollouts of ICT projects and am used to seeing change management done badly; I have learned to do what I can to mitigate that, but the sheer degree to which journalists had been misled and continue to kid themselves about the nature and future of their work is genuinely astonishing. Normally I would have thrown my two cents into a forum like that, but where to start?

The pub itself is more a quiet local than a magnet for unemployed theatrical types for miles about. They no longer do their excellent laksas but standard pub food, and some interesting beers. I looked into the space where out-of-work actors put on their own shows and saw rows of pokies: my heart sank, but apparently they still do theatre there. I guess we all react in different ways to changing markets.

The next forum will be organised by Luke Pearson, who cheerfully admitted that he and his friends had all but written off the traditional broadcast media as a means for sharing ideas and getting them across to people who could use them. As he said this I looked at the panel members and others who had been outspoken; they looked like they wanted to call him out on that, and maybe they would have five or ten years ago. I thought about my own experience, where I began participating in social media because broadcast media coverage of politics and ICT was so inadequate: just what is broadcast media for, then? Who even is their audience?

What aspects of journo culture should those steeped in it carry forward once freed from corporate employment, and what should they cling to while buffeted by the storms of post-industrial journalism (thanks to Melissa Sweet for distributing that link)? That should be a corker. You'd be a mug to miss it, and the future(s) of journalism more broadly.

23 April 2013

Not cruising, drifting

The Coalition's policy-lazy, always-attack strategy has always been designed to cover up their lack of answers to what this country needs, and their lack of any ability to develop those answers. After three years and five months the poverty of the strategy has become apparent on a number of fronts:


Abbott has abandoned any pretense that increased school funding is desirable and insisted that the status quo is adequate, in terms of both the amount and the formulas to determine funding.

If he were ever interviewed by a journalist who does actual research, he should be asked to explain the current school funding formula. For example, because Liberal governments of four states and the NT have cut their education budgets, the amount they get from the Commonwealth for education is also reduced. The Premiers concerned would be expected to complain loud and long about how Canberra had dudded them - until the incumbents promised to change the basis on which funding is offered (per capita and transcending touchy private/public distinctions), meeting them more than half way ($2 of Commonwealth money for every $1 from the states), and giving them a net increase ($14b over five years; not $5-6.5b/year that Gonski's report promised, but ahead of where they are now). They're holding out to make Gillard look bad, especially to old-school deadline-driven journalists; but there is only so long anyone can resist a bucket of cash that big.

I think I agree with Bronwyn Hinz that both the hard work is ahead of them, and is being done - assuming I have taken the right path through her thicket of metaphors (e.g. a landmark is no magic bullet, is federalism baby or bathwater?). I want to agree with Andrew Whalan, but am not quite there yet.

As a history graduate, I definitely don't agree with Chris Pyne when he says "History is what it is". What he is proposing is the NSW curriculum that was taught to me at various state schools in the 1970s and '80s - Our Cultural Inheritance From Greece And Rome And Britain, and skating quickly past all those Aborigines who helped the explorers and got dispossessed along the way.

The idea that the curriculum doesn't contain enough about Anzac Day is rubbish. Every April of my schooldays, we had the lessons of Lone Pine and Goodbye Cobber God Bless You drummed into us, how the Poms sent us to the wrong beach and how Turkish veterans weeded the graves of Australians after the shooting was done. Even the mouthbreathers who couldn't spell their own names knew what 25 April was about. I've never been to Gallipoli but I reckon I'd know it better than the backyards of houses I've lived in. Pyne's trotting out nonsense that was patiently disproven and comprehensively rebutted when he and I were Young Liberals.
We should know the truth about it and we shouldn't allow it to colour our present and our future.
Indeed we should. Pyne went to a private school in South Australia roughly coinciding with my schooldays, and it would have been a real con on his educators' part to simply import the NSW curriculum and present it as a superior pedagogical offering to SA state/systemic schools. In the latter stages of my membership of the Liberal Party I had disagreements with a number of Liberals, including Howard and Abbott, when I said that pride in our country makes no sense without the "black armband" aspects. Blainey's whole "balance sheet" ("what balance sheet?"cry those who don't know where the phrase 'black armband' comes from) is stupid - did Bradman score enough runs to make up for Myall Creek? This was the point where my membership of the party became untenable.

The point about education is not just that it's warm and fuzzy, and even those without children acknowledge it is socially important on some level. The point about education reform (not only Gonski but also BER and the increased focus on Asia) is that it's something tangible for us all to take, and to pass onto our children, from the China boom. If we piss away this bounty on public school boards made up of people not good enough to win Liberal preselection, or giving free railway lines and dams to Twiggy Forrest, then we will hate ourselves as a nation forever.

The insistence of Abbott and Pyne that the status quo is just fine not only goes against reality, but against the culture warriors on their own side who take it as given that Australia's education system is appallingly inadequate - like, for example, Kevin Donnelly:
Dr Kevin Donnelly from the Education Standards Institute says the current curriculum downplays the impact Anzac Day and the Gallipoli legend have had on forming an Australian identity.

"Australia and our character is ignored in the history document, because it's all about diversity and difference and multiculturalism and different perspectives," he said.

"It's a very one sided, politically correct view of Australian history and I would argue we need to get back to a stronger sense of what has made Australia a unique nation."

Mr Donnelly said it was ironic Anzac Day was underplayed in classrooms at a time when increasing numbers of young people were travelling to historic battlefields in Turkey and France to commemorate the event and more children than ever were taking part in dawn services.

"Young people are wanting to affirm that sense of us being uniquely Australian and celebrating the heroic ethos, yet it is being all but ignored in schools," he said.
Which is it? If Gallipoli is being ignored in schools, why are any Australians going there at all? Is the curriculum diverse or one-sided? What a scatterbrain this man is. No wonder the Liberals are down on pointy-heads, or used to be. What dills Pyne and Abbott are to have him in the trenches with them. For all Donnelly's faults I'll give him this: he knows more about education than the putative Education Minister, who has been shadowing the role for an apprenticeship-worthy four years.

Aboriginal Affairs

Mark Roberts threatened to "cut the throat" of someone who does practical work with and for Aborigines. The article above quoting Pyne shows him doing the same to Abbott, however inadvertently, deep-sixing all of that careful positioning of Abbott as a born-again believer in helping Aborigines:
Critics say a trend towards political correctness sees history classes place undue emphasis on indigenous culture ...
All those photo ops of Abbott hammering in nails gives the impression of practical action for Aborigines - but this too is practical action, teaching Australians that Aborigines were skilled and careful custodians of this land and that much is lost with the destruction of their traditional societies. It's one thing for Pyne to be lazy about his own portfolio, but to actively undermine his leader in this fashion is astonishing. Three years of careful reframing and optics, gone.

To describe this overreach as mere departure from the songbook shows a genuine lack of understanding of Australian politics right now, a pathetic lack in someone whose job it is to convey that understanding.

Come to think of it, I can't remember of Abbott with any Aborigines other than Noel Pearson - no frolicking with little black kids, no listening to wise elders, no interactions with Aborigines his own age and pondering how different their lives must be. Do you know what sort of (non-Aboriginal) person gets photographed with Aborigines? Do-gooders. Whitlam pouring dirt into the hand of that striking stockman. Legal-aid lawyers and teachers and nurses and social workers. It's one thing for Abbott's press people to do a bit of reframing, but Liberal conservatives won't have one of their own gallivanting about with the blacks, thank you very much! They left that behind when Fred Chaney and Bob Katter bailed out of the Coalition parties.

You can bet that Abbott's support for the recognition of Aborigines in the Constitution will vanish, too. That cry from the void - no, no, no - will prove too strong. The conservatives' petty need for differentiation through reaction as a form of self-definition will overwhelm the need to reach out to others. The only Australians with a vested interest in maintaining Aboriginal dispossession are the Coalition's regional base.

The Budget, The Economy

The Coalition used to promise that they'd get the Budget back into surplus on their first go (if you believe the doomsayers, we're talking next year's budget as the first of the next term of Parliament). They used to promise that because Costello and Howard convinced everyone who doesn't pay much attention that the bigger the surplus, the better the economic manager you were, and that a deficit was a sign of economic failure. Howard had to concede that Costello was a better Treasurer than he'd been, but even that self-effacement was self-serving to reinforce surplus-is-good and to keep Costello in his place.

If you are backing away from your commitment to a surplus, and if you accept the Grattan Institute's report of wider and deeper budget issues, then you have to undergo a complete re-education process about what sound economic management is and how your offering tracks to that. For the Coalition, it's too late. They promised a surplus and now they can't deliver.

They won't even deliver a teeny, tiny tax break to small business. Small business was the Liberal base under Howard, and Abbott promised a repeat of Howard, but ... maybe all that Labor rhetoric about the very wealthy getting tax breaks and everyone else getting tax hikes has some truth to it.

People looked to the Coalition for economic management, now they'll look away. All that puddling along by Wayne Swan doesn't look so bad if it's kept us all in jobs and AAA ratings, so what are Abbott and Hockey offering to top it? Nothing.


Given that the incumbents have reopened Nauru and Manus Island, the only room for differentiation is the mean stuff - where we send desperate people to their deaths and damage our relations with Indonesia. He thinks it makes him look like a tough guy when it really makes him look like an arsehole, of which the evidence is already too much and beyond reasonable doubt. This reinforces Abbott's meanness on other fronts. A hint from the Indonesian government that Aussie tourist access to Bali might be restricted, and Abbott becomes A Big Risk just like Latham, or Hewson, or every other loser Opposition Leader really.

There is no reason why this couldn't have happened sooner. It shows why Abbott's statements about the UN Refugee Convention are invalid; that agreement masks rather than forms the basis for his decision-making, and shows why reporters who are flat out quoting him accurately are simply surplus to requirements. Governments that don't care about the law are dangerously incompetent; prospective governments that don't care about the law should be headed off, rather than praised for their marketing skill.

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(c) @GeordieGuy

My favourite aspect of this much-parodied image is the computery-style numbers on the banner. I hope there is a FTTN box installed behind that banner especially to update it as each boat comes through, and that 361 more boats come between now and September just to mess with this silly construct. It's designed to resemble a petrol bowser, a daily point of cost resentment for many, with the implication that each time the numbers click over it will burn a hole in your pocket. Perhaps Chris Bowen could set up BoatWatch to enhance his public policy accomplishments.

Howard as Governor-General

To translate from journotalk, "plays down" means an attempt to defer a true story that is inconvenient to deal with right now. Sillier journalists confuse playing-down with refutation, if not rebuttal, and even so you know how Abbott lies when he's painted into a corner. Abbott so wants to appoint Howard as Governor-General, which is the actual story in this article that was completely missed by the dopey journalist who wrote it.

Howard is popular with Liberals. Liberals seem popular at the polls. Therefore, if you're a dill you would extrapolate from that the nation wants (or wouldn't mind) John Howard OM AC as Governor-General. Abbott was wrong to focus on Howard himself, even though he loves the ceremonial stuff: Jeanette pines for Kirribilli Point, and clearly Admiralty House will suffice.

This seems like a small issue now, but smaller issues than that have borne the full weight of political arrogance and overreach, and served as pivots to public opinion.


Part of being a competent Opposition is going into election day as the underdog. The underdog doesn't get bogged down in governmental minutiae. The underdog is given he benefit of the doubt. The government is the underdog in Australian politics today; it's 1993 all over again, the very predicament Abbott has supposedly spent twenty years learning lessons from and working to avoid.

Abbott isn't the underdog who was cruelly denied office by a few flaky independents, and whose potential shines against the quotidian drudgery of the incumbents . Everything he (and his front bench) says is - finally - starting to be weighed against what might actually happen. It's one thing to say no, no, no in the face of Julia Gillard, or to adopt the mock-sympathy routine for interest groups who will be screwed by Abbott's proposals, but you can't just say no, no, no to real-life situations affecting our country and refuse to adapt. Conservatives can't pick the difference between passing fads and structural shifts, which is why they tend to get overwhelmed by 'events'.

This is more important than polls - not only does it separate the journalists from the press-release splicing drones and the insider fart-sniffers, but this is the stuff that actually changes people's voting intentions. There is no good reason why more journalists could not have done this sooner. Just at the time when the Gillard-doomed-Abbott-inevitable Narrative has become entrenched it will start to change. Most journalists will not take to this well and, frankly, should be sacked. Those who do, however, will produce the enduring journalism of the 2013 election and will point the way forward for that profession undertaking.

What now?

First, the Budget. I actually wanted to use a metaphor of Napoleon retreating from Moscow here, the man with the unstoppable momentum retreating and getting picked off by enemies and circumstances that he had once overcome easily.

This is the calm before the storm, and right now the Coalition is going nowhere. This will change; this government will stumble, and the empty vessel that is this opposition will rattle along. Even so, the fact is that the Coalition underestimates how inadequate the Howard legacy is to help them rise to the challenges of governing the nation into the future. They're winging it, they know it, but what they don't know (but do dread) is that it just won't carry them into government.

10 April 2013

A lesser future

I’m on the record as saying that Tony Abbott will never become Prime Minister, which is not a widely-held opinion. In recent weeks, however, we’ve seen a number of developments that cast doubt on Abbott’s ability to lead the Coalition to victory over the government. The Coalition really is offering a lesser future in terms of rail, roads, and telecommunications infrastructure, and these are the sorts of developments that affect polls.

Recent articles on Abbott's refusal to fund urban rail projects have been telling:
  • In Perth, Premier Barnett had been clever in branding Federal-State infrastructure initiatives as his alone, only to find that Abbott won't fund them and Gillard is unimpressed with his grandstanding. The possibility that they might not go ahead has brought him and his back to earth with a wet crunching sound;
  • In south-eastern Queensland, the disappointment in this is palpable;
  • In Sydney, we deep-sixed a government that used PR to paper over serious deficiencies in the rail network. The current government retains its credibility on the basis that it is doing something constructive about it. Much will be forgiven - dodgy casino work, national parks teeming with armed randoms - until some silly accountant decides to trim the rail upgrade budget;
  • In Melbourne there is a proposal to build a tunnel under the city, or not build it, and oh aren't Richmond doing well this year?

Playing silly-buggers over rail projects means that road projects won't have the desired effect in improving traffic flow. It means that the disruption that happens with big construction projects will be resented even more than usual, and that the grandstanding involved with ribbon-cutting will also be resented.

Politically, it's pointless for the Coalition to promise this. It might have been true in the 1970s that Labor voters used public transport and Liberals private, but the uptake of public transport in recent years of expensive petrol and traffic snarls simply does not correlate to rusted-on federal voting intentions. It looks like they are natives to Planet Canberra and have no idea what life is like in the suburbs.

When the Japanese bombed northern Australia during World War II, it was often difficult for those co-ordinating the war effort to contact affected sites to work out what happened, what the damage was, what assistance was required. Visiting US officials were appalled and impressed upon Australian politicians the need for a national telephone network. In both Labor and the Coalition, some understood the importance of a national telephone network delivered through copper wires, and others didn't. It was started under the Chifley government and completed under Menzies, it is a bipartisan achievement. When Telstra was sold the national telephone network was sold with it, and the Gillard government bought it for NBN at a cost of $11b.

The first major failing of the Coalition's broadband plan is that it assumes copper will provide a sustainable solution, and overestimates the degree to which it can provide current services, never mind upgrading to 25 megabits per second. It's part of the Coalition's theme of insisting The Old Ways Are Best, but this tactic simply doesn't work when dealing with technology.

Turnbull's rapid blinking at the launch could have been a function of bright studio lights, but he is accustomed to the media glare and more comfortable in it than his leader. Some say rapid blinking can be an indication of mendacity, but I'm not going there. At one point Turnbull frowned and turned to look at Abbott as though he thought his leader had said something quite mad. With his stern face and Abbott's sticky-out ears, they reminded me of the Sesame Street characters Ernie and Bert.

I get that Turnbull has to demonstrate being a team player, and that people who rail at him for not seeing the technical inadequacies of his plan don't understand why he can't break from the team-imposed ashes-and-sackcloth routine at this point. By the end of September he will almost certainly be leader once again, and I should be more pleased at that prospect than I am: Turnbull cavils before Murdoch as much as Abbott does, and that is a real worry.

The key measurements of a broadband network are how much data can be downloaded - and uploaded, thanks BigBob - and how quickly. The NBN promises much in changing the way health and education is delivered, changing the way that people work in those sectors - and changing the way people work outside those sectors, too (including transport policy, but here we run the risk of blowing the tiny minds of Coalition policy-makers). None of that was present in that announcement.

The vision of the Coalition's policy was limited to delivery of high-speed, high-definition video - but compression technologies make that less important. The sorts of high-definition images required in medicine, and the need to have those delivered in real time, would have been a better example. This would have provided a tangible vision for rural Australians, as access to health (and education) is one of the key reasons for the depletion of country towns, about which the Nationals in particular profess to care.

This leads us to the second major failing of that plan, which is that a speed on 25 megabits per second - a faster download speed than most people have in 2013 - is Good Enough For The Likes Of You. Given that their policy in 2010 cost $6b and that this one costs $29.5b (yeah right), they have no right to complain about cost blowouts under Labor.

Cost blowouts on a project is largely a function of competent project management within clearly defined scope. Despite the yearnings of some of the nuttier Libs competent project managers are not on strike until Tony Abbott moves into the Lodge, and the Opposition frontbench contains no more program management or scope-setting skill than is present in the Gillard government.

It was unutterably stupid of the Libs to schedule their policy launch at Fox Studios, to speak of the possibilities of broadband in line with News Ltd product offerings - and to hand out Daily Telegraph articles in lieu of press releases. This will make it difficult for the Libs to refute accusations that their policy is designed to avert the threat that the NBN poses to Foxtel and other Murdoch outlets, and that their interests and those of the nation are subsumed to those of News Ltd. Journalists from broadcast media other than News Ltd were meant to be, and probably were, slack-jawed with wonder at the Foxtel broadband - but no government will ever build the sort of connectivity that the world's largest media organisation has built for itself.

The Liberals' fawning to News Ltd reinforces the message in this phoneshot of Abbott, Murdoch and Rinehart, taken at the recent IPA dinner:

When I was a Young Liberal, I paid fealty to senior members of the organisation and parliamentary party in a similar manner to that. At a function full of essentially conservative people, someone should have given up their seat so that Abbott could take his seat at a table with Murdoch and Rinehart like an equal. Whatever office this man might hold, he will never exercise real power. It's every bit as bad a look as Calwell and Whitlam in 1963. Another Liberal weapon from 2010 is blunted: that image trumps any Liberal who rabbits on about Gillard and 'faceless' union leaders.

People who work in ICT regard it as maximising human potential; all that's good and bad about what humans do can potentially be made faster, cheaper, better by ICT. People who go into journalism and stay there tend not to see that. Almost all broadcast media journalists report on ICT issues from two contradictory perspectives:
  • ICT is overwhelming, e.g. BIG BROTHER READS YOUR BRAINWAVES! A FACEBOOK POST ON A DRUNKEN NIGHT OUT MIGHT STOP YOU GETTING A JOB YEARS FROM NOW! HI-TECH CHILD PORN RINGS! The square-eyed inactivity that was once sheeted home to television, etc.
  • ICT is irrelevant: boys' toys, phone apps built by teenagers that solve insignificant problems, gadgets that cause great excitement among certain people but who can't clearly explain why they feel that way, etc.
That disinterest about ICT should not be confused with journalistic distance and balance, however. The internet has diminished once-mighty organisations that employed thousands more journalists than they do today. The internet took their jerbs! To propose faster internet is to ask journalists to look upon the tides and rips that have drowned the careers of their colleagues and see a tsunami that will finish them off. Journalists who can cover a closed factory with a colder eye than a dead fish will wail and keen at a rumour of cutbacks at a media outlet where they've never worked.

Most of the Coalition's criticism of the NBN, with cost-benefit analyses and what have you, mainly involves failure to understand the possibilities of high-speed broadband, and what might flow from these. To give one example, policy-lightweight journalist Mark Simkin was ill-informed, and passed on that ill-information to ABC TV viewers, by claiming the NBN is a "rolled gold solution" (i.e., more than is required). Simkin usually dismisses policy detail with "the devil is in the detail", but by using the Coalition's frames to describe its own policy against that of the government Simkin shows that he lacks the ability to explain what is going on in politics, especially in actual what-it-means-to-you policy, and that his years of experience isn't helping him or us to that end.

Simkin is at his best when politics is at its most puerile. If you want a comparison of broadband policies go here, but if you want to know who farted during Question Time then Simkin is the go-to man. Whatever he puts out is no more than you deserve, ABC viewer. His employer, and organisations like it, employs journalists like him because, well, they have always employed people like him. This is not a sustainable business model, regardless of what broadband model we end up with.

Most of those whose job it is to provide information in a highly controlled way can't see a future for themselves in an age of uncontrolled information. Journalists who don't understand ICT issues but who are rattled by the disruption caused by broadband to their industry do, and can only, produce lousy reporting. The best analysis of the Coalition's broadband plan and the launch is not in the broadcast media; it is here, on a website that didn't exist a couple of months ago, or at Delimiter. On this issue, yet again, press-gallery "context" counts for fuck-all.

The cuts to urban rail projects and the cut-down broadband projects cast doubt over whether even the amounts cited in the policy will be spent. It shows people that no matter how hard you work, no matter whether you pay for private health insurance and private education for your kids, the Liberals really are offering less to the country's future than the incumbents, that will give us less to show for the prosperity coming from Asia at this point in history. Its role in creating that impression is why the Coalition broadband policy will cost it votes, not because Australia's notoriously hard-to-organise geeks have become some huge and strategic voting bloc.

Why not cut all government services? Why not restrict the age pension to those who make it past 100? Why not cut back the ADF until it would be flat out going nine rounds against Fiji? Imagine the tax cuts. Any fool can balance a limited budget, but governing Australia is another question altogether.

For three years now, Abbott and Joe Hockey and other Liberals have raised alarms about government spending and the state of the economy generally, and within that context have advocated cuts to spending. Kevin Rudd showed in 2007 that an opposition can win if it merely matches the government in areas that aren't central to their main message, as did Howard in 1996. Offering less is a real risk for oppositions, as Howard learnt in 1987.

The essential failure of John Howard is that his political instincts overrode his abstemious, low-risk rhetoric of the 1980s, warning against government bloat and centralisation, and welfare dependence. Strangely, he retained that reputation even after he led Australia's biggest-taxing, biggest-spending, highly centralised government which shovelled welfare at anyone who could whine at the right pitch. That failure must be resolved, not replicated, before by the Liberals get back into office.

Abbott is trying to get people to vote Liberal in the name of economic responsibility, while also retaining the belief that any spending cuts won't really affect them. This is a bit like selling lots of low-fat snack food rather than convincing people to buy fewer/no snack foods. It's a tricky balancing act, and others might think that Abbott can pull it off. The cuts to infrastructure (and the therefore suspect commitments on roads and to broadband that isn't broad enough) compounds all that no, no, no to create the negative impressions that stay with people and will only attract further evidence going forward: the Coalition is offering a lesser, scattershot version of the future compared to the incumbents.

Politically-savvy people study polling very carefully, and act on the basis of what they find in that data. For them, polling is a leading indicator. Yet for those who provide the data, polls are a lagging indicator of impressions formed up to the time they were asked. The idea that the Coalition are offering less and worse, not more and better, for Australia's future is taking root and polling will react accordingly. The most highly-respected poll, Newspoll, fluctuates erratically. The first paragraph of this story is, and will come to be seen, as risible as these statements. I struggle to take seriously those who are convinced that polls taken in April or earlier will reflect the result of the election to be held in September.

Even so, I've had my doubts. As a Young Liberal I was shattered when the Coalition lost the elections of 1987, 1990 and 1993. Am I kidding myself again when I say the Gillard government will be re-elected? Do I have some form of mental illness?

At the right time my Pandora feed threw out its version of this song: "Rudie can't fail", the commentator singer insists repeatedly, but if you listen to the song more closely, the Jamaican rude boys have failed already: drinking beer at breakfast and harassing morning commuters, those guys might think they're on their way but they are going nowhere. In the same way, the Coalition's policies and actions are leading them away from government office, at the very time when the broadcast media and other poll-jockeys agree they are inevitable. Look at the Coalition in Question Time and wonder whether their monkey-house antics are any more appropriate than harassment by rude-boys on a London bus. Joe Strummer (a man long and lamentedly dead, who never saw a Newspoll) is a more perceptive commentator on contemporary Australian politics than Mark Simkin, but who isn't?