22 July 2014

The human interlude

In 2007, Labor MP Kelly Hoare propositioned a Comcar driver. Apart from this sleazy effort to smear the then rising ALP with that episode, it was largely reported in the sympathetic context of what a lonely place Canberra can be. Contrast the treatment of Hoare with that of Peter Slipper.

Then and since, lazy and disingenuous press gallery journalists have resorted to moaning about 'the political class', how they're all the same soundbite-talking drones, and gosh wouldn't it be great if we had some real people in politics who spoke their minds. In September 2013 two such made their way through the electoral system: a sawmiller, and a corporal. The major parties elected other newbies, but they went for the minor party naifs.

Since becoming a Senator at the start of the month, Jacqui Lambie has taken important positions on pricing carbon and regulating financial planning. The press gallery ignored her, treating her as a vassal of the men who cut the deals: Abetz, Palmer, Cormann. Earlier today, she was asked about what she found attractive in a man, a question not put to her peers in major parties. She answered (how refreshing!), and when a male caller leered at her she dismissed him using a device that many women use: that only an exceptional man will do, and therefore any old Joe who fancies his chances with her should stop wasting her time.

Lambie would have experienced her share of sexual harassment in the army and flicked away her interlocutor with the sort of lip that would have worked with leering soldiers. Sexism is important in coverage of female politicians, but while Ricky Muir got slimed by Mike Willessee, Liberal Senator Linda Reynolds, for example, was not questioned in this disrespectful manner.

Rather than understand Lambie and her background, the press gallery have taken to treating her like a freak. She will come out with serious policy positions, and only the freakiest angle of these will be reported. If she fails - breaking a heel off a shoe, say - this will become headline news and drain press gallery attention away from actual actions of government. This is The Narrative for how Lambie is reported, and will be reported for the rest of her life (or as long as the press gallery persists, whichever is the longer): being an unimaginative bunch the press gallery are powerless to escape the Narrative they have built for themselves. Anything Lambie does outside the Narrative will be ignored by the press gallery.

The issue here is the press gallery's different treatment of the established major parties (with which the press gallery is familiar) versus other parties (which the press gallery has not bothered to understand over the past ten months, and will not do so over the next ten months, nor at all, really). The press gallery is doing to the minor parties what it did to the Gillard government. Parties other than the Coalition and the ALP will have their achievements ignored and their drawbacks magnified until we all vote as the press gallery would have us vote: two-party-preferred.

After years of stumblebum politics, the basic competence of the Abbott government in addressing the recovery of Australian bodies and the 'black box' flight recorder from MH017 was refreshing, surprising even.

Don't hate me for being right.

It couldn't last, and it didn't. This afternoon Abbott overreached his statesmanlike pose by reducing a complex situation to a silly slogan (Operation Bring Them Home), brought on from reading too much Murdoch press (We Warn Mr Putin). Abbott will invite himself to family funerals and attempt to milk the tragedy for more than it could possibly bear. His overreach is all too human, and typical of both the man himself and the echo chamber surrounding him.

Dispatching Julie Bishop to New York was a masterstroke: by the time she arrived the professional diplomats had pretty much done all the hard work, cut all the deals and crafted the wording, as this piece hints at but diplomatically evades. Bishop turned up and put the issue squarely within the context of this government's foreign policy, which is: we're here for what we consider to be rightfully ours, and bugger the rest of youse.

John Brumby was not re-elected Premier of Victoria for his calm in the 2009 Victorian bushfires, and Anna Bligh's warm and capable handling of the 2011 Queensland floods did not save her, either. Neither Brumby nor Bligh were held in the low esteem that Abbott is now. Basic competence at crucial moments is an entitlement that will never pass.

John Howard was opportunistic in seizing upon Tampa and September 11 in 2001, but had Kim Beazley proposed ways of dealing with these phenomena that didn't trash basic rights he would have become Prime Minister: his failure rewarded dreadful people like Howard and Textor by default, a key moment lost for the nation and luck confused with skill by the victors.

MH017 is not an issue over the rights of living people - even the libertarians don't quibble that Australian bodies will be repatriated at public rather than private expense - and even people who dislike Howard agree that he had a humanity that Abbott lacks. Abbott has years, not weeks, until the next election, and only mugs find hope for the Coalition in that.

Abbott could only profit from this were the opposition to try being as shameless as he has been, and for all their flaws they aren't doing that. Even Clive Palmer isn't doing that. The budget hasn't even passed through parliament, so the idea that the as-yet-unenforced cutbacks have somehow passed from public consciousness is nothing more than wishful thinking from Coalition partisans, and from the press gallery in unguarded moments.

The press gallery is insecure and seize upon decisiveness, or the appearance of it, wherever they can find it - and nobody would accuse them of looking hard. This mentality leads them to all agree on a Story Of The Day as well as ongoing Narratives for individual MPs and parties. They succeeded in framing the Gillard government out of existence and they are having a good go at the motley Senate in the hope of a similar outcome. A Senate is not a government and nor is it a press gallery; historically, third parties do well when there is a press gallery consensus in favour of a government.

I had almost finished this when I stumbled upon this piece by Simon Copland. I broadly agree with it and commend it to you, with exceptions:
It’s odd: we want our politicians to be "real people". Yet, when they act like it, we hate it. When they talk about sex, or swear on TV, we get outraged. When they stuff something up – "make a gaffe" – we’re quick to jump on their backs, and say they’re not taking their job seriously enough ...
Who does Copland mean by "we"? Has Copland made the press gallery error of confusing his preoccupations with those of the populace as a whole? It's unfair to lump a press gallery trope onto the rest of us.
... I don’t think she deserves to be criticised or attacked for being "unpolished", or even at times quite crass.
Look, ah, Tony Abbott, ah, it has to be said, ah, can be quite crass, and, ah, well, the press gallery cover, ah, cover up for that quite well, I think.

In covering 'human' moments like these, it can be easy to be patronising. Robotic statements from the major parties are quoted unchallenged; there is no mulling over what it means to be human, not with asylum seekers or health or education or any other government policy that affects actual humans. There is only "tough" or "soft", "singing from the same songsheet" or "chaotic disunity", apparently. The human moments will soon pass, with oligopoly media covering oligopoly politics (i.e. 'normal service') soon to return ...


  1. How utterly disgusting Andrew.

    If he came to my funeral, I would tell him in my grieved state to go to hell.

    Maybe that would get headlines around the globe on what an opportunist creepy man he is.

    My heart goes out to all those deceased and their families that are being used for political propaganda

    You deserve much better than this weak response.

  2. Thanks for this Andrew. I was infuriated at reading the inane reporting of Lambie's radio interview, along the lines of, "if a male politician had made those comments he'd be blasted", conveniently ignoring that a male politician would NOT be asked those questions.
    Context is all, but is conveniently ignored by so-called journalists, who have followed up by condemning the people who applaud Lambie's chutzpah.
    They are totally out of touch with reality.

  3. It's shite how much coverage ANY of the new parliamentarians get, whether there in the house of reps or the Senate.

    Take Cathy McGowan, my local member. Myself and others I know voted for her due to her intense local focus and engagement with the electorate, two things Sophie always showed complete disdain for. During the campaign she was cagey on her views on federal policies.

    Thanks to her constant Facebook updates, and no other source, I keep track of her still strong community focus. It also keeps me updated on how she constantly votes with the government despite none of its output being in anyone's best interest.

    Maybe she's playing the long game, sucking up to Tony and waiting for a pay off later in her effort for better infrastructure in indi? Maybe she actually believes in the budget and removing the carbon tax? I wouldn't know. No one bothers to ask her and her fb updates lately are looking more like spin then substance.

    Surely there's a journalist out there some where that covers all aspects of federal politics and not just the latest buzz?

    Could anyone suggest one?

    1. How about you? Is it not the case that the electorate wanted a conservative but not Sophie, and that the Liberal Party wouldn't allow a mass membership influx to punt her from preselection?

    2. Me? Maybe, the way manufacturing is going I'll need something. I can't say about the liberal party membership as I don't know any or heard of any. But I wouldn't be surprised. The libs bussed in a load of young libs to help with her campaign... the same night all of McGowans posters and billboards where defaced. Even ones on top of houses! The local lib members I think are during all dying out, literally. At the public Q& A all the candidates attended l there was only two types of lib membership, who both thought they had the right to read long-winded statements barely concealed as questions. One was the bussed in young lib, the type you see on ABC q&a. The other was early 70's and looked very well off.

      Be be fair to McGowan I think she is reflecting indi 's opinion, but you look at who turns up to her public meetings and there all grey power. What a cashed up ' boomer wants and a gen Y want are generally two different things. But that tussles playing out all over and is hardly the only reason she votes how she is.

    3. I see there's intergenerational conflict amongst the liberals.

      Older and wealthier type with too much time on their hands

      Younger and more wordly ambitious yuppies trying to make sure that they're not a bunch of rowdy pigs and brats...

      The little darlings are disgusting to observe at times...reminiscent of the characters in Lord of The Flies.

      Self entitled individuals who eant to trash the joint.

  4. The whole thing was a beat up, Lambie shouldn't have apologised imo.
    Ask a silly question, get a silly answer.

    1. I agree. Rundle was good on this in Crikey today.

  5. There is next to no attempt to nut out what these pollies advocate and where their pivot points for compromise lie, but there are endless attempts, mostly with focus on the inane and irrelevant, to catch them with "gotcha" traps.

    Each pollie, whether part of their party or independent, holds our futures in their hands. Whilst an unfair prejudice against men with small "packages", along with broader appearance based prejudice across all sexes are issues that deserve consideration, the lack of priority given by the media to what our pollies stand for, how well they understand crucial issues etc is far more indicative of the crassness of the media the crassness of those they seek to belittle.

  6. The words that the believers and circle-jerkers cling to after the narrative has passed through the press gallery are like coffee snobs drinking coffee from beans filtered through a civet cat.

  7. I think TA over-reached from the start when he pointed the figure of blame directly at Russia and Putin in particular. A more nuanced reaction would have been more appropriate which left a bit of political wriggle room if Putin attends the G20 meeting in Brisbane. I would be surprised if he doesn't. Abbott is going to look odd in photos shaking Putin's hand.

    I am intrigued too that Hockey is talking up Putin's attendance at the G20 and Peta Credlin is talking up Joe Hockey as TA's successor. Isn't it unusual for a power broker closely linked with a leader to be talking about his replacement so early on?

    1. To answer your last question: it's very strange. Once Rudd started talking up Gillard in 2010 he was finished. Another attempt to bury Turnbull.

      As far as Abbott-Putin, the fact is that any boycott of Russia would benefit Australia. Russia has strong links to the Arab world and Australia's links are much less strong. In an interconnected world, let's see how this relationship plays out.

  8. If women were more honest with themselves instead of tittering like school girls they would stop whining and get to the facts, no women I know want a man who is poor and with a small one, that is the fact of the matter.

    The other fact of the matter is that Jacquie has a pretty good back story of abuse and torment in the army that is ignored and she helped to save not only the mining tax for us but the school kids bonus for the poorest kids, low income super and tax breaks for the poor that were included in the mining tax.

    The MSM are pissed off because they have so many large mining interests supporting them.

    Some people need to get out more - those who are tittering about Lambie are great fans of the near pornographic Offspring and the absolutely pornographic Rake, Puberty Blues and other such shows.

  9. Anon....

    I'm a fan of Offspring and love Asher Kedding as an actress...don't understand the point there.

    She's not polished and educated

    Class exists in Australia and I appreciate the work she has done thus far however she's paid a handsome amount of money and should start refining her media skills and etiquette

    She has friends in the media...some have warmed to her already and find her refreshing...

    They CONSTANLY contradict themselves with their own arguments.

    May I remind them what young lib/labs do on their facebook pages in objectifying mainstream players?

    It's just as sleazy and disgusting dear fourth estate.

    I love it that the right like to eat their own bogans in politics

    It's hilarious when conservatives get elected and eat their own!

  10. A bloke I served with occasionally emails me political stuff - most usually about how the muslims are swamping our way of life - and recently I got something about Sen. Lambie. I'm not sure where it came from, but it was pretty uncomplimentary (so I can make a few guesses), particularly about her military service. She was apparently in Timor, so her service would certainly overlap mine.

    You're right about the sexism still ingained in military culture, but from the outside, at least, things look a bit better than they did when I was in the system (12 or so years ago), and _much_ better than when I enlisted in 1977. Of course, she would've experienced it much more directly than I did.

    I disagree with most of what she says, but I reckon she struck exactly the right note in her radio appearance. The idiots who interviewed her got exactly what they deserved for asking such stupid, offensive questions.

  11. Great article, Andrew - I appreciate that you've been quite prolific lately.

    Your pieces tend to be well reasoned and lively and I think this is no exception.

    Never give a mug an even break.

    -Melena Santorum

  12. Apparently we do not have a budget emergency. The Australian economy is in no trouble. Doing very well in fact.
    Who says so?
    Joe Hockey.
    He relayed the good news to Kiwis on their leading news program.
    Doesn't it make your head spin?

  13. Andrew, I would be interested on your opinion on the ABC news websites new Abbott government "Promise Tracker". It seems like a sop to the government and a distraction from the real story. People are angry about Abbott's misrepresentation of what he stood for and the media's collaboration by not questioning what else he intended to do.

    1. Yeah, I was a bit grumpy about that as well, Terry. It would've been more useful if they'd actually got down into the details of the many, many promises they've broken rather than talk about the two or three they've kept.