Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.
- Matthew 7:6 (KJV)
It seems another age if not another country now, but we had a government that held together a seemingly fragile majority and had to argue every point it made, all the time. It released mountains of information under the assumption that everybody was as policy-wonky as they were, or if not that they would be impressed with all that forethought and detail and careful planning. In every policy there was something you could hate, something to love or at least grudgingly appreciate; something to talk about anyway.
The bloke who'd gone before (and who came again after) demanded heaps of information and turned them into press releases - and often less than that.
The bloke who'd come after him sneered at all that hard work and promised to sack thousands of public servants who had made that possible. The press gallery joined with that bloke and ignored all the detail, asking about polls or clothing or sex or anything, really, other than the policy at hand. If journalists were forced to address policy at all, in the short interludes between polls, all they'd ask is how it would play rather than how it might work.
On 30 January this year - this year - then-PM Julia Gillard gave a speech at the National Press Club. True, it won't ring down the ages but it was chock-full of policy and political goodness. At the time, Laurie Oakes and his pals at the SMH reported on only two aspects of it: the fact that Gillard announced an election date, and that she wore glasses. Later that, year, at the Sydney Writers' Festival, Annabel Crabb called this process "bringing the intelligence" (i.e. there is no intelligence in a laboriously crafted speech across the gamut of government policy, but top-of-the-head blather about polls is apparently where the intelligence is).
The press gallery now have the gall to complain that the government isn't what they hoped. Far from providing the infinite jest of pie-eating and bicycle-riding, this government has cut off the supply of information. For weeks they told us how shrewd this was, revelling in being treated like absolute mugs and patsies; now they're getting bored.
Why is The Sydney Morning Herald quoting Laurie Oakes? It has a Political and International Editor and a Chief Political Correspondent, both of whom are hopelessly compromised by years of inability to report on how we are governed. Both advocated for a lightweight opposition to relieve them of an imperfect government that dealt with them in a cursory manner. Both talked up Tony Abbott's humiliating traipse around our neighbourhood as though it were a triumph, on the assumption that their feeble opinions counted for anything. Oakes is as guilty as they are of letting scrutiny of the Coalition slip by, and now that they have nothing to do but scrutinise them they have nothing to go on.
They can't compare the brochure-ware of the Coalition's "plan" to actual outcomes, because there are no outcomes - and if they were, neither Oakes nor Hartcher nor Kenny would be able to tell in the absence of a press release. Their investigative journalism skills have withered to the point where no information on this government is available unless it comes from a minister's mouth, and even then ...
The Oakes comments was meant to be a shot across the bows, but the man once dubbed The Sphere of Influence has no firepower behind him at all. His main employer is broke and relies utterly on this government's good favour to save being wound up by the creditors who own it.
"You can’t thumb your nose at the voters’ right to know and you can’t arrogantly say ‘we’ll let the voters be misinformed and we won’t help journalists get it right'. That’s just a disgusting attitude."You'd have to be a mug not to see it coming, whether you've been in Canberra 50 years or 50 minutes. They faked it to the media until they made it.
He highlighted Assistant Infrastructure Minister Jamie Briggs and NSW Labor MP Ed Husic as potential leaders of their respective parties.Husic spent three years lying to journalists about Kevin Rudd's strength of support, who in turn spent three years lying about his effectiveness at leading a government. Little Jimmy Briggs lies to journalists about social cohesion in Inverbrackie and university research; and given he is up against Max Moore-Wilton he is either lying about this, or he is writing cheques that his political clout can't cash. Both men are watching Abbott stonewalling the media and learning this lesson: they actually think it's clever when you start blocking information flow. After a while they start to wake up but there's nothing they can or will do about it.
The Coalition went through two years of distress and disorientation at the prospect of charting a post-Howard course through the uncertainties of the twenty-first century. For the past four years they decided to have a Howard Restoration anyway, and have not been seriously challenged on the inadequacy of their policy offerings since Abbott became leader. This is why Bianca Hall is wrong to state this:
But two months since the election, it's increasingly becoming apparent that a "no-surprises" government is coming at the cost of open government.Two months be damned. This was obvious for four years at least. Abbott lulled gullible journalists into thinking that "no surprises" meant "plenty of warts-and-all information", and that a government led by a former press secretary was all about open government. When he needed journos to be on-side he gave them little information, and now that he doesn't what do they expect? Hall and Oakes have nothing to declare but their own gullibility. Why are we listening to these people? What fools are employing them?
Since winning office, Abbott has fronted the nation's media just eight times. Calls to his office, and to his ministers, frequently go unanswered or unreturned.Given the inane questions that come from "the nation's media", Abbott could have fronted them eighty-eight times and we'd scarcely be better informed. Hall's assumption that scrutiny can only come from journalists asking questions is not just naive, it is nowhere supported by actual behaviour and practice.
... Morrison has also moved the weekly asylum seeker briefings to Sydney, his home city, making it harder for the Canberra press gallery, which is responsible for covering federal politics, to attend. As a consequence, the number of journalists attending has dwindled - as has the information provided.There are plenty of people in Sydney who understand asylum-seeker issues very well, and who would go to these sessions if only the media organisations were smart enough to engage them. Truculent press gallery journalists who insist that they dare not leave Canberra incase some politics breaks out clearly do not know what their jobs are. Those who manage them lack the wit and force to make them go where the political news actually is. If you can send journalists all over the country to do picfacs a school here or a building site there, all to be brushed off with answers more inane than their questions, then it beggars belief that a trip to Sydney to watch a media poppet come over all stern is beyond their job description.
Reading Hall is like listening to someone insisting that babies are brought by storks long after the facts of human reproduction have been patiently explained to them, and becoming increasingly hysterical that only the storks can relieve our fertility crisis. It's stupid and pathetic, but it's a systemic problem that Hall is too well trained to see or get past: the entire credibility of those media organisations represented in the press gallery depends upon the Abbott government being nothing less than a shining exemplar of good and wise and fair government, not just slightly better than Gillard-Rudd but one for the ages. Anything less - petty rorts, banal scandals and simple fuck-ups will mean the end of the press gallery as a credible source of information on how this country is governed.
If Laurie Oakes' only story is how he can't get a story, and to complain about his own ineptitude to his employer's rival, then where does that leave any member of the press gallery, or any journalist for that matter?
This was a particularly good article from an uneven writer enjoying a recent purple patch. Ignore her attempt to seek support in Hall's article when the reverse is more the case, and pretend that silly third-last paragraph isn't there - the wider point that "we" need political news more than ever is dead right.
People who are employed to do a job can't claim that it's clever that they can't do their jobs. Everyone enjoys a bit of a respite from work now and then, but if you spend too long with too little to do you can start to get antsy - particularly if your employer is not faring well financially. There's a word for people who can't seem to be able to do their jobs: redundant.
The other thing about the control over information is that you never know what people will like. John Howard's supreme achievement as Prime Minister was being able to mobilise the population toward a gun control more strict than the US, but which didn't strangle sporting shooters or farmers - a policy that was never part of pre-election policy, one that had no business plan, but which showed infinitely more political leadership than the bombast of "we will decide who comes to this country" and all that expensive Textor claptrap. Rudd, like all Canberra smarties (including Abbott) thought he could dump climate change without realising that reversing lukewarm support doesn't mean lukewarm opposition, but oblivion. Gillard's payrise for aged care workers was negated by withdrawing welfare from single parents. Hundreds of Coalition politicians, and thousands of staffers, lobbyists and party members, are placing their hopes and futures in the hands of a small number of people focused on matters other than their own best interests: any gloating from such people belies their sheer terror at their vulnerability.
The flipside of absolute power is that you have to be absolutely right about everything all the time. If you're the "Queen of No" you might be farting through silk these days, but when it turns nobody will cut you any slack or forgive you your trespasses. If you accept that there are things you can't control then you start to realise how silly the insistence on absolute control is - but then if you're in this PM's office you don't realise that at all, and that's where the fun begins. That's where you stop the sad-sack act of Oakes and the reverse-Credlin of Bianca Hall, railing at those who don't return your calls for showing you up.
There are those who realise there are ways and means around this government; there's no sign of it now but it is technically possible such people might have stumbled into the press gallery by mistake. And once you realise that, the presence or absence of pearls in your press gallery sty won't be an issue - and the bacon that you save may well be your own.