Barnaby Joyce and George Brandis have been in Canberra a long time. Earlier in their careers it may have occurred to them that seeking taxpayer-funded entitlements to attend a wedding would have been absurd; that regardless of what the rules around entitlements may or may not say, it is a Bad Look to be claiming them to attend a wedding of a friend. Before entering Parliament, Joyce was an accountant and Brandis a lawyer. Neither has any excuse, other than the gradual dulling of common sense that comes from spending far too long in an environment where entitlements are freely available but rarely commented upon.
Joyce's problem from day one in politics has been that he talks in generalities but rarely gets across the detail of whatever he's talking about. Journalists have found this charming, because they don't care about detail either, and rural people who support Joyce share his disdain for details. Now that he has access to a large ministerial staff, he should hire at least one person who is both very much detail-focused when it comes to his personal arrangements, and ferocious in protecting his interests to the point where they can upbraid him to his face and get him to change his ways where necessary. Such people are rare, but vital for an easy-going man to keep up appearances.
If Joyce becomes another grey, defensive politician, it will be because he is at the mercy of pernickety forces he fears but doesn't understand. He is not a reformer, so he will not end up overreaching and caught on the horns of untold dilemmas as happened to the last government, or to Keating, or Whitlam. He seems like an honest man, and will probably not be caught doing something flagrantly wrong. Joyce's career will probably end being shown to have not known something he should have, or not paying attention at a crucial time.
George Brandis is not a lackadaisical bloke, he is tightly wound and puffed up. His weakness is an overestimation of his own cleverness, both in the interpretation of rules and in defusing the scandal by dashing off a cheque once he was caught out. In the execution of his duties he will have to mix it with people who are much cleverer than he, while having the last word because he is the Attorney-General of the Commonwealth of Australia while they (and you) are not, so there.
Again, Brandis does not appear avaricious for anything but prestige, and he will almost certainly overreach in terms of his abilities. Again, his career might not end in disgrace necessarily, but you can see how such a man might get ahead of himself.
All political careers end in failure, said a former British Cabinet Minister not very different from Brandis in many ways. That minister, Enoch Powell, showed that a political career can be over long before the resignation is submitted or the sack is delivered, whether by a leader or by the voters.
It is an old trick to play on journalists: to cut off the supply of official information except through official channels, and then to restrict those official channels to the point where nothing that comes from them is useful to the public at large. For journalists who have no investigative skills beyond the reading of press releases or the cultivation of drops, this is a cruel trick, like hiding the stash of an addict. They might grumble, they might even crack a tantrum, but if they don't expire it could be the best thing that ever happened to them.
It is astonishing that members of the press gallery, seeing Tony Abbott up close for years now, could not have foreseen that an old press secretary would act in this way. The poacher of media attention from the Gillard and Rudd governments has become the gamekeeper of government-press relations. It is ridiculous to see and hear the mewling of journos missing their daily dose of Abbott's blather and antics to fill their gaps. No sympathy is due to them and to their attempt to rope in the rest of us by muttering darkly about democracy is pathetic. They've made their bed, by waving through Abbott into office without the necessary scrutiny. They can lie in it, knowing that they can't just turn on the journalistic scrutiny as they always assumed they could.
Attorney-General George Brandis is one of Parliament's "biggest hypocrites" ... says acting opposition leader Chris Bowen.Well, he would say that, wouldn't he.
Here it becomes necessary, yet again, to tell qualified and experienced journalists how to do their jobs: it is not a story that there is argy-bargy over the issue. The story is about the claiming of 'entitlements' themselves.
The reason why the story is phrased in this way is to allow the journalist to maintain their self-adopted pose of impartiality: one side says this, another says that. I'm not responsible for helping journalists maintain their deluded pose, and neither are you; I'm interested in finding out what's going on with this matter and what it means more generally. These two journalists aren't helping us do that by concentrating so hard on their appearance of equipoise.
(Note also to the headline writer: a reliance on cliches will cause 'lashes' to lose their sting, which is a bad thing for news providers, for keeping politicians accountable in a democracy, and perhaps even for headline-writers).
Senior Labor figures Chris Bowen and Mark Dreyfus had called for Senator Brandis to be stood down from writing the new ministerial code of conduct, but a spokeswoman for the Attorney-General said he would not be involved in writing the new code.Fine, but Brandis is still to be bound by the code, and as a member of Cabinet he will have to endorse it. Here the journalists are being smart-alecks:
"It had nothing to do with the story," she told Fairfax Media on Monday.
Fairfax Media understands the new ministerial code of conduct is being drafted within the Prime Minister's office.
- it doesn't matter what Brandis' spokeswoman says, his behaviour and attitude toward public entitlements is directly relevant to the question of a ministerial code of conduct;
- the fact that a spokeswoman would presume to tell journalists what the story is shows how highly their professionalism is regarded (and bugger it, if a spokeswoman can tell journalists what the story is and isn't, this long-suffering consumer of news stories can certainly do so); and
- It doesn't even matter where the Code is being drafted. Maybe Col Allan is drafting it with his other hand while taking a piss; I wouldn't put it past this lot.
At the weekend, Fairfax Media revealed that Senator Brandis had claimed $1683 in taxpayer-funded entitlements for the wedding of his close friend, radio presenter Michael Smith.Firstly, Brandis wasn't Attorney-General when that event took place, and neither is Smith a radio announcer.
Despite reports the Attorney-General was "tearing up the dance floor", Senator Brandis insisted the wedding was mostly a work-related function.
Secondly, the Midwinter Ball at Parliament House is a work-related function for politicians and journalists alike; having attended a few of those in his time, Brandis' confusion is understandable.
I know I'm meant to credit Fairfax Media for running this story at all, but - no. The access and privileges accorded to press gallery journalists should see them come out with stories like that every day. No gratitude is owed for an exception that only proves the rule about how sloppy the press gallery are. Like politicians, journalists expect reward and appreciation just for doing their jobs; this is why they are the lowest-regarded professions in Australia.
What I am grateful for is that the superjournos at Fairfax Media's press gallery weren't covering US politics in the early 1970s:
The White House today denied any involvement in the Watergate break-in. "It has nothing to do with the story", said a spokeswoman.I read this, and frankly I thought it was ungenerous. I wouldn't mind a shelf of books like that (you can keep your CLR though). Then I thought: if I really knuckled down I could buy all those books. Then I'd pay tax on that, and George could buy some more: government as Ponzi scheme. Luckily George isn't a single mother on
Senator Brandis publicly made the case for prosecuting Mr Thomson as well as former speaker Peter Slipper, who was later charged with misusing his taxpayer entitlements.The journalists are brave enough to point out Brandis' role as Javert to Thomson's Valjean, but in making the link between that and Brandis' behaviour in office going forward, then they scurry around to hide behind the man who built his credibility on Grocery Watch. The journalists present principles about the execution of public office as just another bit of argy-bargy.
Given his role as the Coalition's watchdog, Senator Brandis was "clearly one of the Parliament's now biggest hypocrites," Mr Bowen said.
The Attorney-General had "tried to hold other people to a very high standard, a standard he has failed to meet himself", he added.
This is why people roll their eyes at political conflict and give up on media altogether. When big issues sneak through under cover of the argy-bargy, they get all surprised and disappointed while disdaining politics and media as means to redress those big issues.
For those of you who insist on cheering on random acts of competence in Australian political reporting: this is gutless journalism. By calling it as such I am giving it, and those who practise such journalism for the time being, the respect they deserve.
This story is pretty much dissipated; Brandis and Joyce will continue in office, while the careers of Peter Slipper and others have ended over far lesser breaches of 'entitlements'. Only the cranks who hate this government will even remember this incident, whereas "experienced press gallery veterans" won't remember or learn a thing. Any claims these ministers may have against the misdeeds of others might ring more hollow now than they have, and would hope. But here at least we have the measure of these men, Joyce's carelessness and Brandis' overweening pride. While we haven't seen the chickens come home to roost for each of these men we have seen the chickens, and the roosts, and know it's just a matter of time.
Here too, we see that if there is any investigative journalism to be done into this government, the opposition will have to do it themselves. The journalists need to maintain their fruitless pose more than they need the respect that comes from getting hands dirty and working through complexity and nuance. We see that any government spokesperson can negate a well-grounded, documented attack by simply turning it into he-said-she-said argy-bargy, which repels media consumers and nullifies journalists into the bargain.
* Note the more modest phrasing following this site's TAWNBPM debacle.