17 October 2013

Clearing the air

I've heard it all before
So many words
Then you just close the door
If you notice
The changes that you fear
But now it's too late to see

I say, you say
Weren't you listening
Now it's too late
You're not listening

- Pseudo Echo Listening
Nobody is listening to the party formerly in government now that they've been defeated - unless, of course, when somebody within that former government wants to have a crack at someone else within it, which makes it compelling in a way that the decisions of the new government apparently aren't. .

This is the very time for Labor people to get things off their chests. Before now, it would have damaged election chances; beyond now, you interfere with framing the government. Even if you're the sort of person who finds actual policy boring, regarding parliamentary terms as longueurs between elections (relieved only by polls, sweet polls, like so many oases across the wasteland that is actual government), you'd have to agree that an election is less likely now than it had ever been at any point during the last parliament. The idea that such outbursts will cause longterm damage is only expressed and shared by those who can't tell the difference between the short and long term.

Any outburst by anyone will be forgotten by Christmas - except by people who follow politics closely, and you know how irrelevant we are. I can even remember how Tony Abbott complained that going from Minister for Health to Opposition backbencher saw him suffer a paycut that could only be assuaged by parliamentary perks.

Anna Burke is as miffed now as Abbott was then:
Does one go from speaker of the House to nothing and think they have been recognised and rewarded by their colleagues for the hard yards and effort, or does one just feel the same old winds of inevitability in a system which, after 15 years, I still cannot fathom?
It's a fairly specific job, hard to generalise about what one does in such a situation.
The problem with women is that they think effort will be rewarded and recognised. They work like girly swots and naively believe that they will get meritorious selection. But there is no meritocracy ...

Yes, I am bitter and disappointed – I declare that upfront – but it does not deflect from the process. Of course, it is wonderful to see both Tanya Plibersek and Penny Wong being awarded such elevated positions within the party, but our process remains one where the most senior women in the Labor party were accorded no positions going forward, and no ability to actually argue their case and demonstrate why they would make the best candidate based on immediate past performance.
It's hard to tell from this angle, but Burke may be describing a generational flaw rather than one of gender as such. She's of similar age to Kim Carr, Doug "mind mah tea" Cameron, and Joel Fitzgibbon - all of whom ended up on Labor's front bench, all of whom are less outspoken than Burke, and all of whom might fairly be regarded as dead wood (the minister shadowed by Fitzgibbon might fairly be regarded as having a free pass). Any correction to the problems noted by Burke would benefit women younger than herself.

It's unfair to deny or even overlook the possibility that, whatever qualities are needed for an opposition whip, Chris Hayes has and demonstrates more of them than Anna Burke does.

As for Plibersek and Wong, they are senior Labor women, and were before the caucus ballot about which Burke complains so bitterly. Does anyone think they go in for this 'meritocracy' stuff?

Journalists and their editors who regarded Nicola Roxon's comments as "scathing critique" or "extraordinary attack" were silly. There is nothing extraordinary about those comments or the post-election timing. Because hype is inexhaustible it's easy to overuse it, but when you have a genuinely extraordinary/scathing event it's hard to get people interested. Reporters told us both that Roxon's comments about Rudd were "scathing", then they said that Rudd was unscathed by those comments.

Journalists have traditionally not used hype sparingly, but they and their editors have to decide whether consumer turn-off is one of those traditions they wish to preserve and accelerate. Over-egging the pudding is the failure of journalistic credibility from which all others follow.

Journalists complained that they got too little information from the ALP on why they replaced Kevin Rudd with Julia Gillard in 2010. As that government continued in office, members were reluctant to talk about an issue that gave them no upside, and only worsened their treatment by the media and prospects of re-election. Now that government has been consigned to history, and those who were once members of it are now private citizens, but even so apparently Roxon and unnamed others are providing too much information, and at the wrong time.

Always be suspicious of a journalist who complains about too much information. It's their way of saying they are out of their depth.

Let us have no sniffy nonsense about airing dirty washing - garments need washing in the normal course of their use, and the whole idea of laundry is to remove the dirt with minimal damage to the garments. Much of what Roxon and Burke have said involve matters internal to the ALP, and members will do what they will.

Will there ever be a proper, authorised time for a former government to debrief, and if so when might that be? Can anyone come, or do you need a licence? Do you have to be a member of the Labor Party, or of the press gallery? Basically, if you've ever seen a change of government, you have no excuse for carrying on about members of a defeated government venting.

Everything Chris Bowen has and is in politics, he owes to Rudd. Very, very few Australians are similarly indebted. His defence of Rudd was craven and ignorant. Rudd is being given the respect he deserves, good and hard. People tiptoed around Rudd in 2010, and during his pointless term as foreign minister, and again when his return was a symptom not of his indomitable will, but of his party suffering reflux (if not coprophilia). If Rudd had lashed out at people because he had some sort of infirmity, Roxon's comments would have been unfair - but they weren't. Rudd isn't dead, physically or even politically, so Roxon's comments aren't insensitive to the bereaved nor even kicking a man when he's down.

There is an idea that Labor is a fragile thing, like a china shop, and that a single out-of-place comment like those made by Roxon means that the shop has to be swept and re-stocked and tentatively opened yet again for business, while staff and owners and customers (whether regulars or tentative prospects) dread the next random bull to come careening through it. Three groups of people are responsible for creating and maintaining this perception:
  • People in media relations, whose jobs depend upon the fantasy that the vast torrents of information that flow from government activities really can be channelled, dammed and otherwise controlled so that journalists might provide favourable coverage, and that this will cause people to think well of the party in power and re-elect it (and who can't be convinced otherwise);
  • Silly journalists who report on politics but don't think about it too much; and
  • People in the ALP who have no real base in the community other than their membership of a Party that is only ever great in retrospect. These people rely utterly upon perceptions by the other two to maintain and advance their position.
These people believe Labor has no option other than to be on its best behaviour, all the time. Labor can't change leaders quickly and without involving the press gallery, as happened from Rudd to Gillard in 2010. Labor can't change leaders in a drawn-out way, involving the press gallery blow by blow, like they did in reverse up to 26 June. It can't change leaders in an orderly, polite way, like it did earlier this month. The current leader is a loser, and any alternative is worse. Labor is on a hiding to nothing no matter what.

Behind this paywall is a press gallery hack upset because, in the John Button Oration, Roxon referred to Button in passing but dwelt on a former leader. Button was the guy who broke it to the last Queenslander to lead the Federal ALP that he wasn't going to get two goes, or even one, at becoming Prime Minister. Button wrote this. Read some of James Button's commentary about Rudd and wonder whether that apple has fallen far from the tree. Now re-read Roxon's speech: John Button Oration indeed. The speaker at this almost certainly never met the man after whom the lecture is named.

With the possible exception of the final days of Turnbull in 2009, there was none of this china-shop nonsense for the Coalition. From 2007-09 it embarked upon a caravan of courage toward what a post-Howard Liberal might do and be, only to give up two years and as many leaders later and decide that someone with more flaws than Howard and fewer of his qualities would more than suffice.

Is there anything more fatuous than a 'listening tour'? Did any such tour ever have the desired effect, for leaders and led, and make for better leadership? Shorten and Albanese went on a talking tour rather than a listening tour, among Labor members whose input had contributed little to the decisions of the recent government. One criticism that may be made of Burke and Roxon is that they are talking when nobody seems to be listening (except, of course, those keen to see the merely defeated become a rabble, keen to ensure they can never rebound). Alas, the time for 'listening tours' lies ahead of us, but for now let's enjoy listening to others get what's on their chests off.

My favourite part of election night coverage is that lull between the result being clear, and the cross to the leaders' speeches - in that period the winners express their reservations about taking office and the losers their genuine thoughts on leaving it. Apparently you can't have clear air if you're clearing the air. Clear air in politics is not sought by those who prefer clear air per se, but who want to spread their own scent.

This is the time for the defeated to level with us, to tell honestly what happened and what should have. You can't take the stick to Roxon and Burke and then insist that politicians not spin and hedge. A politician who claims entitlements to indulge his hobbies (the 'pattern' has been under your nose for years, scoop!) or investments is self-indulgent. A lifelong activist who currently holds the last high office she will ever hold and who will lose it within days, who faces a future without another high office to aim at, is mere bathos.

The idea that Roxon and Burke are stomping out the tiny green shoots of Labor revival is a joke, one that reveals the po-faced teller of which to have no idea about politics and scarcely any business commenting on it.


  1. Yep...

    Lachlan Harris' comment on A.B.C 's John Faine programme today..

    We are all bastards John at some time

    John: Speak for yourself!!


    Nice one Andrew.

  2. When Burke talks about merit what is she referring to exactly? Chris Hayes was chief government whip in a minority government that sat the full term and passed a lot of legislation against an extremely feral opposition. Furthermore, at the election just past, he had by far the biggest swing by to an ALP candidate in the country.

  3. Andrew, what I want to know is how much further you can stretch youself in this. You and a few other dedicated bloggers seem to be the only sane voices in the media. If you stop, or even cut back your output, we are in danger of being uninformed. I can still spot the crap written by the MSM, but you put it in such elegant context that I'm afraid that the benefits will be lost unless you find a way to make it viable (I assume you're not being paid, but I don't know).

    Congratulations on your lucid analysis. I look forward to each and every post. Your blog and loon pond (you're Melpomene to Dorothy's Thalia) provide the complete set as far as I'm concerned. Supplemented by healthful doses of Independent Australia, and my view is complete. I think that's stopped me going insane these past few years.

    Thank you thank you.

  4. I listened with interest to Nicola Roxon's address...and had a few laughs along the way. Then I had a bit of a deja vu moment.
    When she mentioned that Rudd had asked her to re-write health policy on the night before Christmas eve, I thought I'd heard that before.
    There it was on The West Wing.
    Season 4 around episode 2 or 3 or somewhere there. I'm betting Rudd was a big fan too and thought it would be a great way to test a colleagues loyalty and dedication to have them work through a holiday

    1. I think you are right, newsgirl45. That Q & A biblical response Rudd gave to the god-botherer on SSM was apparently a pinch from West Wing.

    2. No it wasn't, GD, but I think the loyalty test is right

  5. Spoke on rrr by Michelle Bennett

    A great show that kept me informed.


  6. Thanks for the links Andrew. I appreciate your work greatly. I am astonished by your generosity. 'Dorothy Parker' at Loon Pond is another generous soul who informs, illuminates and amuses.

    That said, i am tired of ALP MPs, past and present, all talking critically about the party and Kevin Rudd in particular. They all say the same thing over and over again. The story was interesting once but I know the ending. There is a limit.

  7. They have to stop blaming Rudd for their own worthless hides, he was not the problem, they were.

    1. They do have to stop blaming Rudd, but they also have to tell us what he was like and think through how they might prevent being buffeted by Fuehrerprinzip again.

    2. Great analogy, Andrew.

  8. I think Rudd reacted the way he did as he was frustrated at very lazy politicians

    You must understand the background he came from and his journey.

    Go and watch Australian Story again on his career.

    The puzzle is clearer after that!!

    ;) Thanks Andrew as always.

  9. You have nailed it correctly. Far from the claims of the Press Gallery shills that now is not the time for opening old wounds, it is the perfect time. There is still three years before an election, unless the Abbott government implodes, always a possibility given their level of competence. But still a little time off.

    And Labor does need to address them both from the perspective of why the revolt against Rudd had to occur, the mistakes they made in addressing that (or failing to), and the subsequent Rudd behaviour, which proved their case but at the expense of losing government.

    The gallery wants to move on because of their complicity in the whole Rudd destabilising saga. They should never have become players. And they shamed our country and their profession in their failure to report what the government actually did.

    I once read that Rudd's faction was, in fact, the media. He used them as a basis of his support when he had barely a cricket team within Caucus itself.

    I feel a bit like Steve Gibbons about it all. Labor has always had fights, grudges and grievances leading to first class bastardry and payback against rivals. Whitlam and Dunstan went through all sorts of jealous meanness on the way up and while trying to reform a dormant culture.

    But through all of those years and the warfare first with the Groupers and then with the Victorian Left, I cannot remember a single case of leaking sabotage during the heat of an election campaign. All knew the biggest common enemy and none would give them a leg up such as occurred in the 2010 campaign. That treachery was bad enough, even without the subsequent leaks and destabilising.

    They have to be viewed as against the best interests of the Labor Party and those voting for it. It is not a matter of whether Rudd was wronged in the way he was dumped. You can't take your revenge against the party or your successor.

    It's why it has to be aired.