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 ...