West Australian Liberal MP Judi Moylan gave a clarion call to moderate types on her exit from Parliament this week.That's the sort of stale, cliche-ridden prose Baird was taught to use at The Sydney Morning Herald. You could be excused for switching off right there, but she does have things to say so long as you don't look too closely at her assumptions.
What even is a "clarion call"? A clarion was a trumpet used in the Middle Ages with a shrill, piercing sound. Moylan's voice is hardly shrill and piercing.
What/Whom does she mean by "moderate types"? Does she mean someone like me, an active Liberal for 14 years until 2000 until it just became too embarrassing for all concerned? Does she mean someone like Scott Morrison, who fended off a preselection candidate further to the right of him but who stands against everything Moylan stood for? Does she mean a hollow shell like George Brandis?
To be a moderate in the Liberal Party, you have to believe that it is about more than the legacy of John Howard. The Liberal Party is not about anything more than the legacy of John Howard. Judi Moylan joined the Liberal Party before it became the vessel of Howard's legacy, and so did many of the "moderate types" of Baird's imagining. Seventeen years of membership dues (since 1996) make you wonder what you are achieving as "moderate types" in a party that was barely tolerant of them/us by the time I left, and increasingly hostile since. Baird assumes a group of people who are no longer active in Liberal Party politics, or who are but no longer moderate in any meaningful sense, might be lazily lasso'd with this phrase "moderate types".
In her valedictory speech, [Moylan] spoke of her intense, abiding concern about the 600,000 children living in poverty in Australia: "Why have we not been able to do better?" ... [She] also talked about her "strident opposition" to indefinite mandatory detention of asylum seekers - and especially of children. ... We don't hear much of this kind of talk from the Coalition these days, do we?No, and people who work against poverty and mandatory detention have nobody to talk to in the Liberal Party. Branches don't want to hear from you and engage with your ideas, there are no policy mechanisms to speak of, Federal backbenchers will only get yelled at by Peta Credlin or Joe Hockey for proffering ideas. People who work against poverty and mandatory detention, and people who work for the election of an Abbott government, are not the same people. They talk past one another and operate at cross-purposes. And yet, Julia Baird assumes "moderate types" should be in there facilitating interaction.
Moylan told ABC Radio's Alexandra Kirk that there has been somewhat of an exodus of moderate members from Parliament, "and a few more will be departing this Parliament. So it is a bit of a concern. John Howard always said the Liberal Party's a broad church, and I think we need to have those differing voices within the party to give it balance. And, indeed, to reflect the community that we are elected to serve."Twenty years ago it might have been "a bit of a concern". Now it's just idle and obtuse to be staring at the cold bones of people you always thought of as full of life. Howard only used the broad-church thing after he gained an unshakable grip on that bully pulpit.
The drift of the Liberal Party to the right has been often discussed over the past decade. The lack of civility in Federal Parliament has been often discussed over the past month.Those timeframes are way, way too short, the mark of a dilettante. The treatment of Liberal moderates in the 1990s has been every bit as vicious as the treatment of senior figures in the Gillard government today. A commitment to civility in debate is a commitment to breadth of participation and inclusiveness; a departure from civility creates the conditions whereby good and sensible people will depart the field, and that only oafs and opportunists like Abbott and whoever will replace Moylan will scoop such prizes as there are in an increasingly dirty pool.
The current rash of vitriol, negativity and slogans crowds out decent debate. The sheer hatred of political leaders - both Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard - trumpeted on social media is palpable and distracting.I am sick to death of bloody journalists who can't and won't address the failure of their own 'profession'.
The very organs that publish Julia Baird articles, and those that compete with them, are the very media outlets that have failed to use what comes from Canberra as the raw materials for public debate. They have focused exclusively on personalities: where that happens the emotion cannot be channelled into productive or educative ends. You need a commitment to facts and context, which broadcast media outlets kind of had in the past and certainly don't now.
The better social media outlets are picking up that slack. It is idle for Julia Baird to assume that social media can represent only chaos, and that broadcast media outlets such as those that have marooned her mid-career are even capable of bringing order and form to productive debate.
A new study published in the journal Psychological Science found some crucial, fascinating insights into how extremists can shift their positions to more moderate stances ... A shift in views would happen only if extremists were asked to explain the details and mechanics of policy.With all due respect, no shit.
People who have made their way up through the ranks of a party recognise the structures of power and authority within that party. They do not recognise alternative power/authority structures. Liberals believe they can accord power and authority to, say, vaudeville act Lord Monckton, who reflects it back at them, while whatever structures of power/authority that enable a respected climate scientist to put their position is to be ignored, and if not shut down then negated. Journalists who produce he-said-she-said, teach-the-controversy output help obscure our understandings more than they help show us what is reliable and what is false. Journalists in broadcast media outlets do not help understand issues because simply presenting the controversy is all they can do.
I have seen extremist anti-abortionists confront pro-choicers and eventually agree to disagree on the issue, with mutual respect between the protagonists. Is that a "moderate" outcome, or a non-outcome?
The implications of this are huge.Yep, and in the absence of same all you have to go on are Julia's glasses and Tony's lycra. Let's be clear: the tone of public debate is in large part set by the broadcast media outlets, and they have let slip a lot of nasty comments about the government being nasty, illegitimate, criminal, which have been returned in full measure complete with gutless complaints by those who dish it but can't cop it.
First, when we do not force people - politicians, parties, pundits - to explain the mechanics and details upholding policies, poorly thought out views go unchecked.
You'll notice that the reasons why journalists focus on, oh, anything other than the mechanics and details surrounding policy are not examined. Nor is the assumption that they are well-placed and capable of doing such a service. All we get is this one line.
Second, the role of the journalist is vital.Vital, but absent. A lot of what Baird airily dismisses as 'vitriol' online is in fact keening for some proper journalism. There is no proof that broadcast media journalism has the analytical skill, or even the temerity, to pin down politicians and ask policy-related questions (and understand the answers).
Third, so is party cohesion.Oh, fuck off.
Kevin Rudd is nowhere near getting the numbers to knock off Julia Gillard. This has been true every day for the last three years. Just because Rudd's supporters lack the sense and wit to stop crying wolf, it does not mean that broadcast media outlets privileged to take up space in the press gallery have a right to squeeze out other issues. Advocates trying to get stories up on defence procurement, climate change or any number of really important issues are fobbed off by the sort of people who commission Julia Baird articles - but those same people can't get enough Ruddmentum, running warmed-over stories from eighteen months ago.
I realise "fuck off" isn't a very civil response. What Baird was trying to do was defend the indefensible (clogging the arteries of public debate with crap, then complaining that public debate is crap, and then blaming ... social media?), and maintain her blindness toward the failings of her 'profession'. I'm entitled to be bored and frustrated and impatient with dilettantes who wade into a debate without having thought out what's really going on here. A debate over the politico-media complex involves the media as a matter of course, which includes people Baird considers colleagues.
Abbott said this week if there was a change of government in September, Parliament would be a "better place: There has been too much venom and too many baseless accusations of bad faith." While some argue his time - and team - in opposition has strongly contributed to this problem, most would agree.In 2010 Abbott actually used George H W Bush's form of words about "a kinder, gentler polity", and he delivered anything but. Simply by passing on phrases like "this criminal government" the broadcast media has helped Abbott discourage the kind of civility against which he strains, and which he finds challenging. This is what Paul Keating meant when he described Abbott's modus operandi as "give me the job or I'll wreck the joint". He simply cannot be taken at his word; yet, Baird was trained to believe that a direct quote was a solid basis for a story.
Abbott would seek to insist upon niceness and respect for the simple reason that, while he can dish out spite and disrespect to others, he cannot cop it himself. He lacks the self-reflective qualities necessary to understand why what he has done unto others would be visited upon him. He would seek to recreate the kind of intellectually lazy defence shield that surrounded John Howard, where anyone who quibbled with anything he said or did however mildly - like Judi Moylan, for example - would have their concerns shouted down by being branded a "Howard Hater" by someone like Janet Albrechtsen, or Tony Abbott.
If you actually look at Abbott's record he has never flourished in an environment of niceness, tolerance and mutual respect. Like taking performance-enhancing drugs away from Lance Armstrong, the guy starts to slip back into the pack really fast, and that is not the tragedy that Abbott boosters might imagine.
Leaders of all parties must tolerate climates in which party members can question them.Why? Tony Abbott faces the prospect of becoming Prime Minister by doing the exact opposite of that. Judi Moylan questioned and questioned, and as she said herself much of what she cared about was left undone.
And by moderation, I mean a respect for the centre, for civility, for reason, for robust and free debate, and for opponents - and, in Australia today, a commitment to human rights.Part of having an open debate involves the possibility that your opponent might beat you. However large it is, Tony Abbott's ego - and the collective ego of the Liberal right who put him there - cannot admit to any defeat, large or petty. Hence, the avoidance of debate - not asking questions of ministers who'd cream them in Question Time, refusing interviews from challenging interviewers - they concede nothing, yet expect their opponents to roll over at every opportunity.
As for "the centre", we now have a bipartisan commitment to conservatism that will mean it, and not centrism, will dominate national debates. Debates will be closed down rather than challenge the way things are done. Human rights concerns are fringe issues in Australian politics, not mainstream. This will be supported by the acquiescent media that applauds politicians who don't answer questions, and they in turn will be supported by Julia Baird.
Julia Baird should be supporting someone like Frances Jones, whose commitment to seeking out stories and presenting them well puts Baird and almost all of her broadcast-media colleagues to shame. Kevin Lee's description of his attempts to offer his services to the nation is well worth reading. His gentle, civil tone (even to Ray King) is lovely, in a way that few political screeds are.
On Twitter journo-school heads were calling for broadcast-media journalists to display Jones' level of initiative (with no ambition above seeking to replicate today's newsrooms, journo-schools are their own punchlines). God bless Phillip Ruddock; just when you write off the old bastard his warnings about Clarke and Opus Dei remind you of his civility-veneer, and that seams of it can run quite deep. Lee makes telling and true-ringing remarks about Abbott and Heffernan, among others.
Do I owe civility? Yes, I do.
I moderate this blog with a fair degree of civility, and as a well-weeded garden requires relatively light ongoing maintenance so too I have not been beset by industrial quantities of spambots or boofheads. In the past fortnight or so I have been cranky on Twitter, and offline I've been struggling with full-blown influenza now into its third (and hopefully last) week. I could and should be more civil than I have been, and the ability to work through issues like this rather than rail against a toxic political environment will help that.
That said, however, there are limits. It is important for any moderate to realise that the enemies of civility and moderation will only succumb when confronted with their opposites, of which they claim to be master but which masters them all too often. It is a hard lesson to learn, one that took me years, but has become well entrenched in a naturally sceptical and schismatic intellectual background.
I knew Tony Abbott slightly and have never thought highly of him, as a person or as the holder of high office. I am appalled at the prospect that he might become Prime Minister and am doing all I can to head off that prospect (and it is a prospect, if not an apparition; people who speak of it as "a reality" should give themselves an uppercut). If he gets that job I will treat him no better than the incumbent Prime Minister is treated. For seven years I have given Anthony John Abbott nothing but what he deserves, and this will not let up until his neglected gravestone reeks of stale urine and dead weeds.