28 February 2014

How to report on politics

News organisations used to advertise their services on media other than their own in the following basic way: you need to know what's going on, but you're too busy to do the spadework yourself. We here at [insert news outlet name] employ hundreds of journalists to find out and report back to you. Cut to pics of journalists standing outside Parliament House, celebrities being photographed on a red carpet, sportspeople running around, shots of foreign locations and celebrities. Reiterate that [insert news outlet name] is the only news outlet that you need. Close and fade by reinforcing the brand.

Today, no news outlet provides the full scope of what's going on. Yeah yeah, I'm sure they have their reasons and thought they were clever in trimming costs, and you could spend all day making excuses for them I suppose. Those who continue to shill for those organisations insist they're turning the corner to a bright new future, but when you're in a downward spiral you're always turning the corner, and increasingly doing so in a way that appeals to adrenaline junkies with no sense of perspective. For the majority of us who aren't journalists, the fact remains that if you need to know what's going on you have to hunt for it far beyond [insert news outlet name].

Journalists from still-large and once-proud media organisations insist that only they can provide that combination conducive to consumer trust that comes from both the busywork of journalist activity and the stolidity of reputation, fact-checking, and a well-staffed pool of lawyers. Self-deception is always sad and an appreciation of this must temper the brittle assertiveness with which this self-evident truth simple fact hollow bullshit plea is made.

When someone like Gay Alcorn writes something like this, I accept that she has a genuine and general concern for the state of the polity in this country. Pretty much everything Jonathan Green writes is in a similar vein, and there are others, but here I'll quote Alcorn and probably make her feel that she's carrying the can for others, when that isn't the intention here. When you reach such a state of despair, the question you have to ask is: what can you do? To answer that question in the negative is to invite further despair.

The aspect of our political system which is most deserving of disappointment/ anger/ calm but firm corrective measures is the media, and the way it reports politics. Fix that, and other aspects of our political malaise (parties' poor selection of candidates and leaders, and the statements they make, and the things they do) will either fix themselves or be much diminished. The media, and the way it reports politics, is the very area over which Alcorn has the greatest influence, because it is also that area where Alcorn has the most experience.

Because it is also that area where Alcorn has the most experience it is the area she is most reluctant to criticise, after decades of friendships and career mentors and more than a little (I suggest) of the adrenaline-junkie aspect of having been in an old-style newsroom. Lacking that experience myself I scorn it for its sheer lack of helpfulness in the current debate and how it gets in the way of decisions that have to be made about the way we relate to information and our system of politics.

What I won't do is pretend that such a sentimental approach is even a useful way of thinking about popular disengagement from the political system - and from the traditional media - and that it must be respected and left in place while the search for answers dances around it. That sentiment is not the spur for the solution, it is the problem.
A few days ago, columnist Andrew Bolt was furious about the abuse of Tony Abbott ... Julia Gillard was subjected to demeaning, sexist, brutal abuse for much of her prime ministership ... Bolt wasn't calling for civility in politics generally, or warning about the dangers of abuse.
No he wasn't, and nobody expected any better from such a man - unless you overestimate the importance of his professional background. Bolt was, as was Alcorn, a journalist from The Age who was not taught to write about how outraged they were but to collect facts about what the event was - and that "facts" went beyond mere statements. If Bolt sells articles praising Tony Abbott, and Clementine Ford sells T-shirts saying "Fuck Tony Abbott", these are equally valid statements/ selling points, with a receptive public for each. If no fact-check is possible, two conclusions may be drawn: there is no story, or access to the facts is being covered up and the story should focus on that.
That's where we are in Australian politics. Vilification and scorn. Little common ground, even about the basic facts of difficult issues.
Of course, because of the nature of he-said-she-said quote-alone political journalism. The fact that a politician has said something assumes more significance than it has. Political journalism should check what is said against what is done. If a politician denies the science behind climate change should be a basis for government policy decisions on, say, farm assistance, journalists should not merely transcribe and transmit but ask why. The story is in the conflict between the politician's words and the facts of the matter, not in one set of words against another.

Vilification and scorn is where we're at in Australian politics because vilification and scorn are what's in the quotes, and in the background briefings received but not transmitted by the press gallery.
Zero allowance for error or human frailty.
With Reza Berati dead, and Scott Morrison and Angus Campbell ready to subject others to the same fate by omission or commission, how much "frailty" or latitude do you want? Did Senator Nash commit an error by letting Furnival run her agenda, and does/can criticism of her constitute only "vilification and scorn"?
A race to the bottom? We have reached the bottom and it's hard to see where we go from here.
No it isn't. News from Ukraine, Egypt and Syria show what systematic political failure looks like. The media in each of those countries just takes ministers at their word, too; they at least have the excuse of dreading a fate worse than not being able to meet a mortgage in Manuka. The question is how far you want to go down that road, and whether fact-free he-said-she-said empty journalism gets you closer to those abysses.
Most Australians, understandably, have turned off. A quarter of young people failed to enrol to vote before the September election. A major Scanlon Foundation study released last year found a collapse in public trust in government - in 2009, 48 per cent of those polled thought Canberra could be trusted "almost always" or "most of the time". By last year, it was 27 per cent. An Essential Media report in 2012 also noted trust in government declining, and found something else. Faith in institutions such as the High Court and the Reserve Bank, as well as businesses and trade unions, is sliding.
Do Fairfax mastheads count as "public institutions", even though they are assets of a private company? I think they can and should have been included in Alcorn's list of declining institutions, and the degree to which newspaper-reading is as unusual an activity among young people as, say, crocheting. Journalists shrug and say that they are merely passing on what is said; but even if that was true, it clearly isn't working for them or arresting the slide in civic engagement. Journalists apply their hype and cliches, assuming This Is What Sells or This Is What Gets The Punters In; but they're wrong about that too, they obviously have no clue about a central assumption of their very occupation.
And so we turn inwards. The minority of Australians who are interested in politics for the most part seem to be talking among their own kind ...
When was the golden age of civic engagement, from which we have declined (nay, fallen)? World War I conscription, where the protagonists are now as silent as the soldiers they fought over? How jolly, or even gentlemanly, was the Labor split in the 1950s?

My earliest memories of politics was in 1975; I was in primary school, but I remember heated arguments and sly digs among the adults in my life. 1975 was when Fairfax mastheads were in their pomp and well before social media. Was Australian politics really less heated then than it is now? For years after he left office, on a street in central Sydney, there was graffiti referring to former PM Malcolm Fraser that replaced the 's' in his surname with a swastika: vilification and scorn to be sure, and my Twitter app doesn't even have a swastika key.

See if you can find a swastika on this blog, go on; bet you I could find one in The Sunday Age. Alcorn has made the sort of generalisation with which everyone agrees until they think about it.
Tony Abbott said his mission after the last election was to "restore trust" in government after three years of Labor leadership treachery and policy missteps. But it's too late, Tony.
Tony Abbott has said a great many things that are bullshit, and journalists should have called him on it more often that they did and do. This business about "too late" implies that we are going to have a bit of accountability and that nobody is better placed to do that than the press gallery; but that's bullshit too. The press gallery only call events "predictable" after they have happened, rather than before. Alcorn should call it and work to fix it, but too many toes to tread on.
Trust has gone and you [Abbott] played a fair part in its destruction.
Indeed he did. But simply transcribing and broadcasting Abbott's claim that "this is a bad government" did that. It would have been fair to question whether or not Abbott might provide a genuinely superior alternative to the previous government, for all its flaws. Mark Latham criticised the Howard government too, but with two important differences:

  • In 2004 the press gallery challenged Latham to say how Australia would not just be different, but better, with him as PM. In 2013 they took Abbott at his word and waved him through.
  • Latham shares most of Abbott's weaknesses but offered more of his strengths.

It should have been possible for people like Alcorn to show the way rather than merely lament its loss - shit, any old blogger can do that.
Trust is essential in a democracy. Politicians will spin, put the best gloss on things, and even deceive at times. But it's gone beyond that in the past few years - the very basis of our system seems to depend on deliberately misleading the public.
The very basis of whose system? We pay journalists to de-spin and un-gloss, and if they don't then we stop paying them in both money and attention.
When Abbott declined to spend $25 million as part of a co-investment in fruit processor SPC Ardmona last month, the main reason given was that conditions and allowances for its workers were "way in excess of the award". That wasn't true, meaning the only conclusion to be drawn was that it was a false claim designed to bolster the government's desire for industrial relations changes.

It was a fellow Liberal MP, Sharman Stone, who said the Prime Minister had lied. "What they said was, 'We're not going to help because it is the amazing wages and conditions that have knocked this company for six', and that is just wrong," she said.
Interesting how Stone apparently referred to Abbott with the royal plural, eh?

What happened was that some people - whether or not employed as journalists - actually checked the provisions of the agreement (not an award - yes there's a difference), and compared them against the PM's words. That happened a day or so before Stone's observations. Those journalists who reported Stone as 'off message' or 'disgruntled' missed the story, and the point, whatever their fealty to journalistic tradition.

Those reports made it hard to determine whether or not we have a Prime Minister who can be trusted on important matters, as nuance and complexity can all simply be written off as undifferentiated argy-bargy.
If politicians mislead, not occasionally but routinely, people harden. They assume the worst. Even when someone is trying to level with them about why a tough decision is made, they won't believe it.
My assumptions are my business. Good reporting provides the basis against which assumptions can be tested. Sloppy reporting panders or confuses, and isn't a good basis for anything - including the job security of the journalist.
Similarly, what was most offensive about Immigration Minister Scott Morrison's news conference last week announcing that asylum seeker Reza Berati had been killed during a riot on Manus Island was that before any details were clear, his first instinct was to all but blame the dead man for his fate. "People decided to protest in a very violent way and place themselves at great risk," he said. Several days later, the minister corrected key errors, but to use a man's death to twist the knife into asylum seekers at such a time was cruel politics.
And the fact that nobody in that press conference called him on it was dumb, worthless journalism.
Labor has played its part in this, too. Its support for former MP Craig Thomson in the last Parliament ...
And had Labor treated Craig Thomson any differently, would Reza Berati be alive today? Would Morrison? No, the very suggestion, the very linkage here, is monstrous. What Alcorn is striving for here is the pose of balance, the idea that she sees all but is above it, the voice from nowhere.

Firstly, it's disgusting in itself.

Secondly this is what's called a tactical feint. This is what politicians do: when they get caught in a position that's embarrassing and can't be resolved quickly, they change the subject. Alcorn has no excuse not to be awake to this, no excuse not to stay away from a matter that is still before the courts, and about which little new or insightful might be said. Let Murdoch papers pile on Thomson; whenever Fairfax follow one of those Holt St pogroms they always look stupid and ninth-rate.
... the now convicted fraudster ...
Thomson has been committed for trial by a magistrate. The distinction is a technical one, but it matters and it is stunning that an experienced journalist didn't know and couldn't be arsed.
But blaming all job losses on the government is as misleading as blaming the unions.
Do go on - no, really, that's where the stories are, not in the back-and-forth between the PM and the Opposition Leader.
It has been said that we're in the era of post-truth politics, when facts don't matter, when evidence doesn't matter.
Fuck everyone who says that. Facts are never futile; the more a journalist has, the more attention they should be paid. Journalists have chosen to quote what was said and leave it at that, floundering or bloviating or otherwise embarrassing themselves while we have to dig and scrounge for facts against which to measure this slippery government.
But without these things, there can be no trust at all, no fragile but essential compact between citizens and their government that respect is mutual.
Without these things there is no role for a journalist. They are simply redundant, and increasingly their employers recognise them as such. Journalists who bring the evidence create their own place, a highly valued one. Facts are never futile: fragile and essential, like a newspaper used to be.
If trust goes, where does it lead us? To exactly where we are.
I know that I'm doing what I can, but much of what I'm doing you can see here. If you have more experience in media than I do you could do more to fix it. A repaired media would stop reporting gibbering stooges, who would lose currency with their parties for their media-relations skills. Trust, elevated debate and good things generally in politics start with up-ending the media. Alcorn couldn't go there, but she's happy to go where we are - which might be why she's so disdainful of facts.

Update 4 March: Thomson was convicted, in a Magistrate's Court.

17 February 2014

Not Tony Abbott

Tony Abbott is not widely trusted, except by Liberals and press gallery journalists. Given the extent and frequency of promises broken it's a mistake for him to frame all his messages around trust and keeping promises. People are looking for an alternative to Tony Abbott but, as wasn't the case with Rudd or Gillard, there isn't one.

Joe Hockey isn't an alternative to Abbott. He is the lynchpin of this government. He needs to get across both the ideas that a) the economy really is in crisis and b) he's the Treasurer to address said crisis with such tools as are available to the Treasurer. Any credit for consistency and good government that will become due to this government will accrue to Hockey, not Abbott. If he fails at either or both, both men and their government will go down. Even if he succeeds it may put him in a position where he takes on Abbott and shunts him out, but that won't happen soon if at all.

Malcolm Turnbull isn't an alternative to Abbott. The Liberals know how to play him and he hasn't learnt any new tricks.

In the republic debate in the late '90s, Howard and Abbott backed Turnbull into a republican model that was unpopular, limited in scope, and focused on changing as little as possible about the way our political architecture works. Turnbull could have worked with those who supported a republic but not the model that was excreted from the convention - many in number but relatively powerless - but he chose to pooh-pooh them all. With a broader base he might have won one or two states in the 1999 referendum and maintained momentum for an eventual republic which would now be realised.

As Opposition Leader in 2008 Turnbull was unpopular, limited in scope, and focused on changing as little as possible about the way the Liberal Party worked. He was played for a fool by Eric Abetz over Godwin Grech, and Howard legatees like Nick Minchin nibbled away from the sidelines at any attempt to move the Liberal Party on from the reasons why it lost in 2007, even given the gift of Howard being removed from Parliament. Turnbull could have worked with those who supported anyone but Abbott (especially the Victorians; Turnbull would have won more seats in that state than Abbott has or can) - they were many in number but relatively powerless - but he pooh-poohed the idea that Abbott would beat him. He could have been the beneficiary of the Rudd meltdown and Gillard's fumbles. Even though he lost by a single vote in 2009, he may as well have lost by fifty.

As Communications Minister today, Murdoch and Abbott have backed Turnbull into a telecommunications model that is unpopular, limited in scope (both in terms of Labor's NBN and those operating in other countries), and focused on changing as little as possible about the way our media and ICT architectures work. Turnbull could reach out to those who are interested in ICT as a facilitator of growth - many in number but relatively powerless - but again, he chose to pooh-pooh them all.

There's a pattern here. Malcolm Turnbull is not about greatness and the leadership to get us to a bright new future. Those of us who thought he might have been were wrong about that, too. He can't build and maintain fractious coalitions, more a marquee man than a big tent guy. He tosses babies out with bathwater. His one tangible political legacy, the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, should be coming into its own now with the drought but it is as one with Nineveh and Tyre. Turnbull will puddle along in Communications and may well take on another portfolio, but like Kevin Andrews or David Johnston his past is more substantial than his future.

A government is not obliged to be fractious and divided.

Paul Fletcher is Turnbull's parliamentary secretary. When Fletcher talks about the private sector, not the federal government, determining the future economic benefits Australia can draw from digital technologies, he isn't interested in hearing from some apps developer who lives with his parents. By 'the private sector', Fletcher means Telstra, Optus, and Foxtel. They will determine what we shall have and what we shall not have in line with their pre-existing plans.
Several countries around the world have determined specific goals for their digital sector.

In 2011, Brazil set its sights on raising its ranking from seventh to fifth world's largest economy by 2022 largely on the back of its exploitation of digital technologies enabled by fibre broadband ... South Korea and Sweden are constantly hailed for their digital vision
That's nice.

Countries that don't want to change their global position leave it to the private sector. The US is the biggest economy in the world, it leaves its ICT infrastructure to the private sector (it does have a significant military capacity, whose innovations - including the internet itself - occasionally spill over into the private sector). Countries that want to improve their economic position require government intervention: Brazil, South Korea, and Sweden are examples of this, as are China and India. Australia's economic position relative to other countries is one of stagnation or decline in most metrics, so by default the Abbott government has committed us to a low-growth future that it does not fully understand. The government is deaf to rallying cries like this; companies that don't exist yet have no clout.
Google Australia managing director Mailie Carnegie told Fairfax Media in October, the company wanted the change the tune of the public discussion ... "I look at the energy around the NBN. At the moment it's focused around cost. I'd love to talk about the benefits and how we can change the rhetoric, from cost to disruption," she said at the time.
Neither Fletcher, nor Turnbull, nor anyone in this government will have any truck with this communist notion of 'disruption', thank you very much. Australia being 'open for business' means that unions and asylum seekers are up for disruption, not large and somnolent businesses. There was never any indication that any other outcome would apply.

This brings us to the man who should be more not-Abbott than anyone else: Bill Shorten.
Do not underestimate the determination of a quiet man.

- Iain Duncan Smith, UK Conservative Opposition Leader 2001-03
Nobody wants to hear from a party that has just been defeated. Even though Rudd and Gillard have since departed Parliament, there were good reasons why the previous government was re-elected. Shorten was right not to come out too hard too early.

A successful opposition needs a few points of difference and With education funding (including childcare) and environmental issues (fracturing the water table for the sake of gas, dumping the Barrier Reef), are plenty in themselves. Simple statements of principle - that education is important, in itself and economically, and likewise for the environment - could sharply limit this government and help voters work out what post-Rudd/Gillard Labor stand for.

This government wants to act on behalf of stratified education and of those who casually pollute as a by-product of other gains, but it wants to be seen to act on behalf of all Australians. An opposition that is about maximising educational opportunity, and which points out there are more jobs with a burgeoning reef (e.g. in tourism) than there are in a depleted one (e.g. in mining), leaves the government exposed as facilitators of those who would constrict the country for their own purposes.

Communications is another potential issue: the government's "reviews" and "consultations" will leave it too long to develop a strong and coherent policy; Labor will be able to offer more and better than whatever we might get from Abbott | Turnbull | Fletcher | Partners (limited liability). This is a good start.

Shorten has given Abbott enough rope. He is in a strong position to say: I've had enough of this government, and make some declarative statements that ring true with people, and which help define him and what a potential Labor government might offer.

As to unions: targeting dodgy unions and unionists should help them, and Shorten by extention, more than it hurts them/him. It's just what Coalition governments do. What they tend not to realise is that it relies upon unemployment going lower than it is and staying that way. You can't get stuck into unions when unemployment is high or rising, unless you have carefully made the case that they (rather than global economic conditions) are directly responsible for it. If the economy turns down and unemployment rises, there will almost certainly be high-profile corporate failures that will make union malfeasance look small-scale. That's why I disagree with this paywalled article by Laura Tingle: the idea that Abbott looks purposeful while talking workplace relations is not that significant, a matter of parliamentary theatre rather than wider analysis.

Workchoices failed because it had plenty of detractors and few die-in-a-ditch supporters. The Heydon Royal Commission will come under pressure to be wrapped up early if it turns on employers as the Costigan Royal Commission did. Labor has 120 years of dealing with unions. Shorten should be able to draw on that.

As it stands, Shorten has made few such declarative statements. He's surrounded by sand, and the few lines drawn in it have genrally been put there by others. This might have been designed to bipartisanly protect both Burke and Hunt, but it looks like the government has bent Labor to its will and blunts its criticism of Hunt. If he won't come out swinging in favour of the national disability scheme or education or the Great Barrier Reef, and if he won't be goaded over having been a union official, will he stand up for anything?

Greg Jericho pointed out that this government was elected despite popular support for Labor policies. If Shorten can establish that Labor is able to fulfill those policies it is a long way toward returning to government - especially as it becomes clear that Coalition promises of bipartisan support for school funding, disability care, and telecommunications were never real, and that those who were taken in by the 'Seinfeld politics' idea were mugs. As Hawke and Keating did with Whitlam, it is possible to retrieve legacy issues from a government that has been emphatically dispatched.

Shorten is only the third federal leader in ALP history to have spent more of his parliamentary career in government rather than opposition: the other two were H V Evatt and Kim Beazley. Evatt was a champion of human rights but couldn't carry that through to a coherent narrative of government. Faced with multifaceted challenges to national security and human rights in 2001, Beazley couldn't establish a coherent narrative for government. Shorten might be able to establish a coherent narrative for government, or he might not. His union background is much benefit to him as it was for Frank Tudor or Simon Crean, if not more so.

Now is the time for Shorten to start drawing lines in the sand, to start defining himself that he might govern others. Rudd and Gillard have gone. This government has stuffed up and isn't great at explaining itself, or explaining away its shortcomings. Soon it will go to ground to put together the Budget. Shorten should fill that vacuum so that his criticisms of the Budget have a framework, or he will end up like Iain Duncan Smith - in office but not in power.

Tony Abbott is in power, and without meaningful opposition he is cementing himself there. Last September I thought it was better to perpetuate the fiasco rather than submit to this darkening ecliptic, but others voted differently and, well, here it is.

16 February 2014

Catch-up journalism

The Federal Department of Health and Ageing put up a website that ranked processed food products for their nutritional, sugar, and other health-related properties, and took it down soon afterwards. The journalist who noticed this was Amy Corderoy, Health Editor at The Sydney Morning Herald. It was she who investigated the chain or events up to the office of Assistant Health Minister Fiona Nash; and to the person of her then Chief of Staff, Alistair Furnival, bawling out the mid-level public servant responsible for the site. As recently as Thursday she was doing the heavy lifting required to get the story out and explain why it mattered.

Health journalism has become a specialty that started with the repackaging of press releases (e.g. wine industry findings that modest consumption of their product was good for you, or silly quests for 'balance' between drug companies and anti-vaxxers). As it developed a base of industry sources it developed a culture of celebrating research successes (new pharmaceuticals or treatment practices that improved health, e.g. Gardasil), or finger-wagging (get some exercise! Stop smoking!).

In their downsizing programs, old media companies have let go of specialists and kept generalists, rather than the other way around. Corderoy's predecessor Melissa Sweet was the victim of such a round of cuts and set up her own health journalism site, Croakey, within Private Media. It is a good example of the many strengths, and few of the weaknesses, of Australian health journalism today.

Health journalism has tended to avoid in-depth examinations of government health policies. Health policy can be mind-bogglingly complex and it can be hard to get your own head around it, let alone communicate it to others. Going in hard against one aspect of health policy can make life hard for government-funded researchers, which in turn makes them reluctant to talk to journalists. Occasionally health journalists will lend some nuance to politically-sensitive and complex issues such as disparities in health care/outcomes for Aborigines, or the social impacts of alcohol/drug consumption. Gotcha stories, like women in labour sent away from public hospitals to give birth in cars or toilets, tend not to be written by health journalists. The current government came to office with no health policies to speak of, which must have made it hard to analyse them. Generally, it's fair to say that health journalists regard political reporting as separate to their field, a complicating factor to be avoided.

Corderoy is not a press gallery journalist, yet she has uncovered a story that is one of the central political stories right now. There are precedents for this: the journalists who uncovered heedlessness to environmental issues on the part of successive environment ministers when approving massive development applications tended to be environment journalists, not in the press gallery. Emma Macdonald was a junior journalist with The Canberra Times when she reported that Peter Reith's son had misused a ministerial phone card for his own juvenile purposes. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein worked for the Washington Post but they weren't assigned to the White House or Capitol Hill; they initially reported on the Watergate break-in as a local crime story.

This article is catch-up journalism on the part of the press gallery. Mark Kenny isn't just the bunny of this blog, but the "chief political correspondent" of The Sydney Morning Herald, and he has sought to insert himself into this story long after the brief life of the food website passed without him noticing. There are several inside-Canberra additions to this story, and as readers of this blog might expect, they are pretty worthless:
But Fairfax has found documents lodged with the corporate regulator show more than simply having a "shareholding", Alastair Furnival in fact owns the company in a 50-50 share with his wife, Tracey Cain.
Yep, and it's important to note that such information came not from well-cultivated parliamentary contacts, nor from a ministerial press release, but from publicly available ASIC records that can be accessed from anywhere.
Fairfax Media understands that the Prime Minister's office was aware of Mr Furnival's connection with Australian Public Affairs but had expected him to divest himself of the shareholding.

It is also understood that Mr Furnival's proposed appointment was held up by the Prime Minister's chief of staff, Peta Credlin, due to concerns over his background and commercial interests. A source revealed there was a level of frustration within the Prime Minister's inner circle over Mr Furnival, which had led to his initial appointment being temporary and subject to adequate performance. However, his appointment was eventually confirmed without any attempt to ensure he had cut his ties to the lobbying firm.
This is horseshit.

Peta Credlin and Alistair Furnival were both staffers in the Howard government. I make no comment on how close they may or may not have been at various points, but it is flatly untrue that Furnival's was just another CV to her. The fact that Furnival was a loyalist and a known quantity is why the normal checks and balances weren't done.

Furnival is a long-term lobbyist with occasional bouts of staffer work, to keep his gamekeeper skills sharp when he returns to poaching. He's a headkicker first and foremost. I first met him when he was working for Senator Michael Baume in Wollongong, one of the few pockets of Australia with a critical mass of actual socialists for a university conservative to hate. Even Baume found him a bit rebarbative. Labor people like Gareth Evans might 'love humanity but hate people', but Furnival hated everyone equally except for those who paid him. He is the guy you want to bulldoze others out of your way, if that's what you need to have done. Furnival wouldn't have much business nous and prolonged exposure to the man would irritate even loyal staff and clients.

The fact that there was no follow-up check is what's significant here. It's all very well to be an all-powerful control freak, but the converse is you have to be right about absolutely everything all the time. Credlin could be forgiven for taking her pal Al on trust if she was a trusting, hands-off manager, but she isn't.

Kenny has no excuse not to be awake up to this - other than the fact that getting Credlin offside might make his 'job' a bit harder. Are there any other Coalition staffers still on a kind of temporary arrangement (and if there are, put them on death-watch)? Who are they? Given the Howard government's difficulties with shareholdings in 1996-97, and given Furnival's direct experience with Santo Santoro's conflicts of interest in 2006 - not to mention the Abbott government's lapses over entitlements - why have these lessons not been learned? Kenny has let not only Nash and Furnival, but Credlin and Abbott, off the hook.

Lobbyists walk past journos every day in Parliament House. By the time a policy has been announced via a press release, it has often been the subject of months or years of lobbying. Journalists report on stories without any mention of the lobbying, which impoverishes their coverage and diminishes the job they are there to do. Nobody votes for lobbyists, but former Coalition staffers Andrew Parker and Olivia Wirth at Qantas are having more of an impact on public policy than most backbenchers - or even Bill Shorten.

Mind you, if Credlin starts pole-axing Furnival-style loyalists, nobody will want to work for the Liberal Party at all.
Labor health spokeswoman Catherine King ... said Senator Nash had still not adequately explained why she had decided to intervene and pull down the health star website.

"She had no reason to do that, nor in fact any authority to do that, and she has failed the entire week to actually explain that," [King] said.
In a opposition that bet everything on Fuehrerprinzip, Nash was relatively high-profile. Her failures of explanation are the fault of an insufficiently attentive press gallery. Labor Senate leader Penny Wong followed the document trail and did the job on Nash; only Corderoy, far away in Sydney, seemed to have noticed. The Opposition did its job of scrutinising the goings-on in Nash's office; the press gallery did not.
Senator Nash has repeatedly claimed that Mr Furnival has no conflict of interest, as he distanced himself from the company he owns, receives no income from it, and his wife had committed not to undertake further lobbying in the health area after his appointment.
What does it mean for Furnival to have "distanced himself"? Nobody gets to be a career staffer these days, and like all the smarties in the Coalition Furnival has no interest in becoming an actual elected official. This means the guy is a career lobbyist, a member of an elite that can never be removed from office by voting or other means, a cat who always falls on his feet.

The National Party (back in the day) used to have all these staffers who were balding, obese guys who looked like they'd just come off the farm and squeezed into bad suits with dreadful ties. They just appeared in National staff jobs in new Coalition governments like mushrooms and croaking frogs after a rainstorm. They were affable rather than cold and dismissive like Liberal staffers, and would accordingly be patronised and underestimated by the big-city smart-alecs; but they were sharp and knew their stuff. They could get what they wanted before anyone else worked out what was going on. Nash needs one of those guys. It's a pity she's 20 years too late and all those guys are dead. Furnival was all she had. No wonder she believed his entreaties, and says that his decisions were hers, resignation received with regret, etc.

Nash was his only option, too. Peter Dutton is overwhelmed in the senior health portfolio but he was smart enough not to touch anyone contaminated with Santoro. None of the senior Libs would have wanted Furnival: he and Hockey would have been at uni around the same time, but anything less than the clear green light from Credlin would have seen them pursue options other than Furnival.
Senator Nash did not respond to Fairfax's questions.
There is no reason why she would have. There was nothing in it for her if she had. She will make decisions and announce them, and press gallery journalists from Fairfax and elsewhere will simply pass on those decisions without further comment, thinking they are just doing their jobs.

Some think that Nash should have resigned. If Scott Morrison can send warships into another nation's territory and then mug and girn his way through a non-press-conference, why should any minister resign for any reason at all? If a minister actually punched Bill Shorten in the face, on camera and in a marginal seat, Abbott might have a quiet word with them but that would be it. This government is so bad that it cannot be embarrassed.

Furnival is not finished in the way that a vehicle manufacturing employee might become unemployable. The idea that he would cut off his entire career for the sake of an 18-month sojourn is ludicrous. Laws about lobbying and conflicts of interest are designed to be petty and facile while leaving deeper and enduring issues untouched. When this government starts to die and staffers storm the exits, watch for Furnival to return as "a safe pair of hands", with nary a reference to this past week.

There are basically two types of journalism: access journalism and investigative journalism.

Press gallery journalism is access journalism. You have to get on well with politicians and staffers in order to do the job, and make compromises to maintain those contacts year after year, whoever is in government. If you go in too hard, your sources simply stop talking to you and you can end up stuffed. The narrative that comes from access journalism is based upon conversations and speeches; even the stories that come from access journalism are called 'yarns', a word that makes no claim for truth.

Investigative journalism need not require any relationship with the person or thing being investigated. When journalists talk about the glories of their profession, they talk about Four Corners, or foreign correspondents dispatching from war zones. Investigative journalism relies on documents and structures and narratives to be drawn from them. The nearest the press gallery comes to investigative journalism is the budget lockup; rather than read all those documents, and track them through the Parliament and onto to execution, they mostly just eat biscuits and interview one another.

It is access journalism that is coming under the greatest pressure today, partly but not entirely due to technology. In an era where the Prime Minister's office has its own camera operator to take flattering action shots of the PM, who even needs a press gallery? When the PM's office will supply that footage at no charge to all networks, those beleaguered outfits must wonder why they are spending millions maintaining a presence there. When the most visible event of federal politics is the monkey-house antics of Question Time, who wants to hear or read some commentator drone on about it? I keep saying: the press gallery has no future.

Investigative journalism has a future: it rings true and the journalists who practice it seem more highly respected. Press releases and video clips are available online. In some cases you can do an investigation and the target won't know about it until Kerry O'Brien mentions them it in his intro on Monday night.

Press gallery journalism is catch-up journalism. It reports what was decided and does not question what was decided, let alone hold out for more and better. Press gallery journalists think they're being investigative when they're piling on a beleaguered minister. Listen to the tone they used in addressing Julia Gillard, then listen to the wording of their questions and how inane they were, how easily Gillard brushed them off: that's why they hated her, she treated them like they were stupid while Abbott said "I'm stupid too, gutting fish and eating pies, so let's all be stupid together". And they were, Abbott and his pet journalists, confusing their output with the will and wants of the people.

Mark Kenny 'investigated' Gillard's AWU connections from a file that Abbott's office dropped in his lap, day after day for months; had he been an investigative journalist he would have realised the documents did not support a story. A good investigative journalist knows when they're being had; Kenny doesn't and neither does his boss. Kevin Rudd strung Peter Hartcher along for a decade. Hartcher thinks he's building credibility with the new government with soft bullshit like this; it's too late. Hartcher is finished. And if Hartcher is finished, what chance do any of them have (even those who are better journalists than he is)? Why hasn't Emma Macdonald replaced either/both of them?

Fairfax have compounded their lack of talent by hiring Matthew Knott. The media reporter at Crikey could have been in a privileged position to report on an evolving industry, but he showed no depth, no nuance, and reported media comings and goings in such a vapid way he made Richard Wilkins' disquisitions on Hollywood look like Chekhov. Fairfax has decided that such a person without context or knowledge or perspective is what they need in reporting on politics, and be it on their own heads.

Big media organisations protect investigative journalists with lawyers and other resources. They used to do this more than they do, or can. Big media organisations can and did, however, produce journalists with a quality that should be inimical to journalism: they were obtuse. When Tony Abbott promises 1 million jobs in five years, but Ian Macfarlane admits there will only be 630,000 if we're lucky, journalists playing the access game just lets the story go begging. There are other examples. Many, many examples.

The best health journalism does both access and investigative journalism, but access journalism is just PR until you start asking the hard questions, matching statements with proof. The standard of health journalism, in terms of interesting stories backed up by fact, is far better than press gallery journalism. I defer to nobody in terms of being a political junkie but if I had to read a profile, I'd rather read about someone who's devoted their life to researching childhood leukaemia rather than, say, Annabel Crabb's account of lunch with Mark Textor (imagine: "The way he eats with his hands is so charming!", "His rudeness to waiters shows he means business", etc.).

Tony Abbott has access journalism down pat. As Opposition Leader all he had to offer was access, and he gave it good and hard: the last Opposition Leader to do that was Whitlam, to similar effect. Now in government, Abbott controls the access and a press gallery that was never strong on investigation to begin with has nowhere to go. When his government doesn't feel like speaking for itself, why not wheel out a muppet like Maurice Newman or David Miles to excrete some content and stop the gallery asking questions?

The investigative bombshells that will wound this government will come from investigative journalists like Corderoy rather than the fixtures in the press gallery. This will make life hard for the press gallery: during Watergate, press gallery from the Washington Post at the White House and Capitol Hill were snarled at by their Republican contacts, who in turn snarled at Woodward and Bernstein for making life hard for them. Nobody remembers those guys anyway ("it's been a good week for McGovern"), so stuff press gallery journalists and their bogus attempts to bludge off the really important work of investigative journalists.

Update 17 Feb: When the Alcohol and other Drugs Council of Australia was defunded, the press gallery reported it. What they didn't report was Furnival's links to the alcohol industry. It took a real journalist to do that. The press gallery has hundreds of goobers just standing around while a real journalist actually does some investigation work from hundreds of miles away.

One of said goobers, Matthew Knott, got confused about Mark Baker and Mark Kenny and tried to hang it on this blog. It must be so confusing for him.

12 February 2014

Grand or compact

Australians who believe in the union movement believe that if you're worried about losing your job, or working harder for lesser pay and conditions, then you should join your union. If you have to join the union which Paul Howes is operating under the Ludwig franchise, then all he wants is a bit of shoosh from the likes of you and to enjoy the kind of all-care-no-responsibility status union leaders had a generation ago.

This speech makes little sense unless you see it as a precursor for the royal commission into trade union governance and corruption. It signifies little thought on the part of the individual from whose mouth it comes, little sense that he understands the nation into whose politics he thrusts himself, and little sense that he has sought to bring others with him - odd for an avowed unionist.
After a week-and-a-half of front page allegations of corruption in some unions there are things that need to be said - and said in the strongest possible terms.

Any union official proven to be engaged in corrupt or criminal behaviour is a traitor.
The fact that he started his speech with this is puzzling. He opened by talking about vision, and rather than making such a vision rooted in his movement's long history he instead switched to headlines from the preceding two weeks. Union corruption has been going on for more than a week-and-a-half, and the fact that it has hit the media is the least of it. The CFMEU, target of recent allegations, are factional opponents of Howes'. How he expected to rise above the muck with a few factional jabs is unclear.

Howes could have referred to the Health Services Union, whose complicated affairs are playing out in an interesting way. Howes himself referred later to corruption and clean-ups in the AWU, matters which were dealt with by others before he became involved. Making Howes out to be Abbott's patsy doesn't make you a conspiracy theorist: it means you understand how politics works, and how people like Howes operate.

Factional goading, then invoking his own irrelevance: a peculiar model of leadership.
In doing this we should be under no illusion – those who act dishonestly from within the union movement are worse than any crook boss.
I would have been impressed with Paul Howes had he gone to Maules Creek and said to John Maitland, Ian Macdonald and/or Eddie Obeid that, even though their proposals would have employed plenty of AWU members, it was all done dishonestly and he and his union weren't going to be part of it. That didn't happen.

I would have been impressed with Paul Howes had he leant across the luncheon table to Michael Williamson and said: this bullshit has to stop. It has to stop today, and if you dare cry "what do you mean?", I'm going to smack you. That didn't happen, so the idea of Howes as white knight, the guy with the answers has to be seen in that light.
There is no place for you in any corner of our movement.
Clearly though, there has been and there is. Howes, a senior official in both the ALP and ACTU, did very little - too little - to set and enforce standards within the union movement. Why such a person might be considered a great leader in such a movement is unclear. Why he would cheer on a wide-ranging inquiry from a hostile government, and do so a matter of days before a crucial by-election, is unclear - especially if you regard Howes highly as a savvy political operative.
The truth is, today we are facing a real jobs crisis.

This country has shed 130,000 jobs in manufacturing alone since the GFC. Tens of thousands more lie just around the corner.

Indeed, 3000 more lie down the road in Shepparton.

Over my seven years as National Secretary I've travelled to many good factories in deep strife.
People trying to work out a solution at SPC Ardmona would have to look at those words and say: thanks for nothing, Howes. Tooling around the country, casting an eye over closing factories, Howes looks at their labour and laughter as a tired man looks at flies.
Some will tell you that our industrial relations system is dragging us down.

And I won't be popular amongst my friends in the labour movement for saying this - but I agree.
When so few employees are members of unions, this is absurd.

Productivity decisions are matters for management. Holden, Ford and Toyota built cars that too few wanted to buy at the price. Healthy little human beans got their sustenance from sources other than SPC. Department stores don't engage their staff, staff don't engage customers, customers shun the stores, while Paul Howes hovers above, understanding little of what he sees. Labour market decisions, and big old-school negotiations of the type Howes identifies as his desired model, are irrelevant to the dopey decisions that have seen productivity stagnate and decline.
Labour market policy is a core pillar of the national economy. It's as critical as monetary policy and trade policy ...

Yet can you imagine what would happen if other key pillars of economic policy were being knocked down and rebuilt so often?

Imagine re-regulating the interest rates regime on a three-year election cycle. Can you picture what that would do to business and household confidence?

It would create disastrous instability. We'd all be crying for it to end.
Wait until Howes finds out that the Reserve Bank board actually reviews interest rates every month. Wait until he finds out that the exchange rate for the Australian dollar against other countries goes up and down several times a second. The idea that he should be puzzled at workplace relations being subject to political debate is the sign of someone who doesn't understand politics, or is trying to misrepresent it.
Business senses an opportunity whenever the Coalition takes office to shift all the rules in its favour.

Unions do the same when Labor gets in. And ultimately no one gets anywhere.
No one? Anywhere? This country has enjoyed almost 23 years of continuous economic growth, during which the federal government has changed four times. Unemployment is less than six percent. Most tellingly for Howes and his warmed-over Resolution of Conflict, industrial disputes are fewer and shorter than they have been since the Accord.
It's become very fashionable of late to praise the Accord of thirty years ago.

Even those who railed against it at the time, now acknowledge it as the critical turning point in the nation's economic history.
What was right for a previous time is not necessarily right for today. Crucially, Howes never makes the case, invoking nothing beyond the kind of hippie-style can't-we-all-get-along sentiment that he decries in the Greens.

Given that he wants a system that transcends what's "fashionable", does he think that description commends the Accord to serious consideration?
A Grand Compact in which business, unions and government all work out a deal that we all agree to live with for the long haul.
Which businesses? Why unions, given their failure to appeal to workers (not to mention their governance issues)? Which government?

On top of this, the government's criticisms of workplace relations practices at the car manufacturers and SPC Ardmona - which Howes is reinforcing - fails for two reasons:
  • No matter what arrangement employers and workers (union-represented or not) hammer out, some smart-alec from Canberra is going to pick out some detail and make all concerned look like they don't know what they're doing. No agreement, no compact, can survive wise-after-the-event posturings from those who weren't involved and who have no real stake in the success or failure of that workplace.
  • This government has a trust issue over the question of jobs. It says it wants high-paying, secure jobs for Australian workers. In practice it seems unconcerned and disinterested when such jobs are abolished. Its members complain that existing jobs pay "too much" when they often fail to sustain their occupants at a level commensurate with this country's social norms and expectations. Howes is stupid to buy into that dilemma while talking about solutions.
Howes is part of the problem.
A Grand Compact that generates certainty and thus confidence.
This would breed the very kind of anti-competitive environment that the Accord existed to resolve, the mutual complacency that mired Australia in the 1970s at the end of another long boom.
That establishes investing in a workforce as a virtue and not a cost.

Where productivity is a shared responsibility not someone else's job.

Where on the job training and development and career planning are the norm.
Now this is a fine sentiment, well articulated but not at all well considered. This is where Howes needed to engage with ideas about the future of work, the very value of human labour in the twenty-first century. Instead, someone like Kate Carruthers can genuinely be said to have thought more carefully and intelligently about such issues than someone who is supposedly a national leader for Australia's working people. It's no surprise that Howes got more publicity than Carruthers, but journalists - people who have faced the very questions of human work and its value that Carruthers raises - have no excuse for giving Howes a free pass for his banalities.

Howes is right to say that these are big and important issues; he is wrong to advance non-ideas that mention but fail to address them. He is wrong to be lauded by journalists as though he had succeeded in grappling with big and important issues, when he has so clearly failed.
We naively believed that everyone being a little bit unhappy with the outcome, delivered the compromise that was sought.

It turns out we were wrong.

So how could things be different with a Grand Compact? Well, obviously, we have a different climate now.
Yes, and the political 'climate' changes all the time, which means that any kind of compact is going to be a product of 'climate' and will inevitably change when the climate changes again. The government has the desire to keep itself in office but does not have what it takes to maintain policy stability. Business does not have what it takes to maintain its market position in a globally competitive market, let alone grow it. Unions represent few workers, and fewer still well or convincingly. All we have is the climate, and the ability to deal with it as best we can.

The idea of a "Grand Compact" is now revealed as a hollow fraud, a gobbet of windbaggery, an admission that it does not and cannot work in any reality beyond the walls of the National Press Club. Did the wait staff and cleaners share a laugh at these contradictory and vapid ideas? Did the journalists not ask them, or fail to consider what such a Grand Compact might mean to what remains of their own industry?
The absence of social capital in our industrial relations system is something of an Australian anomaly – because strong social capital is actually what drives our success in most other areas.
Precisely because unrepresentative swill like Howes seek to abrogate the rights of the system to themselves, I would suggest. A clubby, behind-closed-doors approach of the type Howes would like would diminish social capital rather than raise it.
We need to talk more about 'why Labor', rather than 'how Labor'
This implies that Labor needs to justify its own existence rather than assume a place at the table as of right. It goes against and undermines the rest of the guff about the Grand Compact.
Labor's sole purpose is not to claw back the Lodge in the most expedient way and then jealously guard it for as long as possible.

It wasn't right for the last six years – and it is not right now for an Opposition to death ride the Government of Australia.
Wait, but you said it was. What changed? Are you a weathervane too, like Tony Abbott?
They should understand a lurch back to WorkChoices-style conditions – is nothing but a get-rich-quick scheme.

But a Grand Compact is a golden long-term investment.
Workchoices failed because nobody was making any money from it. As to Howes' proposal for "a golden long-term investment", it is far from clear who (beyond the few participants) would reap the dividends.
But the point is we can't force people into this - we need to take them with us. A Grand Compact can only be driven through the art of persuasion.
Given the inability of Howes and other members of the political class to take people with them, and build political capital, this key phrase is why this proposal is dead in the water. It's why Jonathan Green is wrong to insist on hope that such pie-in-the-sky might afford any kind of sustenance to anyone other than Howes; he may as well ask Tony Abbott to wait at Cheviot Beach until Harold Holt finally emerges from the surf. Green might criticise the form of the criticism against Howes, but the idea that Howes is pulling a stunt in his own interests with indifference to those of others is sound - more soundly based than Green's insistence on good manners to foster what is at best an ill-considered and impracticable proposal, at worst a feeble and much-hyped con.

Howes' political base does not consist of the AWU's membership. It consists of Bill Ludwig and the journalists who report on politics. For instance, Howes well and truly pulled the wool over the eyes of these monkeys:
Union boss Paul Howes has dramatically undermined Bill Shorten's depiction of the Abbott government as anti-worker, proposing unions enter into a new partnership with the Coalition and business to rein in high wages and lift productivity.
Has there ever been an instance where Shorten and Howes disagreed, and Howes prevailed? No. Therefore this lightweight cannot be said to have undermined anyone or anything. When Shorten says:
Mr Shorten on Thursday again declined to directly criticise Mr Howes, but suggested that it was entertaining a "fantasy" if he thought a Bob Hawke-style Accord could be struct between unions and the Abbott government.

"I am not going to engage in some fantasy that Tony Abbott is going to change his spots," Mr Shorten told ABC radio.

Mr Shorten said that he supported consensus on workplace relations.

"It's what I've done for 25 years," the former union leader said. "Do you seriously believe that Tony Abbott is interested in working with trade unions?"
No, but Howes does:
I don't believe for a second that the Abbott Government is un-turnable on industrial relations.

Despite the more cartoonish portrayals, the Prime Minister is far more a politician than he is an ideologue.
I don't believe that the All Blacks are unbeatable in rugby, but I concede that I'm not the guy to beat them. Howes' stated beliefs are one thing, but his confidence in his ability to turn this government is absolutely misplaced. Shorten knows Abbott better than Howes does. Shorten knows workplace relations better than Howes does. Hell, Shorten knows Howes' job and his union better than Howes does. Memo to Kenny and Massola: whenever Shorten disagrees with Howes, Howes is wrong.

It's a standard trick from the US Republicans to attack your opponent on their strongest suit. The Liberals in Australia tend to attack Labor where they feel most insecure. When Pyne accuses Shorten of dancing to the unions' tune, we see that Shorten is a more substantial figure in the union movement than Pyne or Abbott are with business.

Those who keep faith with Howes will be further dismayed once they realise that his statements are not positions of principle, but contrarian look-at-me poses. Howes' speech is Labor's version of Cory Bernardi's book. If Howes is so powerful, why can't he bring other leading unionists with him? Where is the Labor politician who agrees with Howes' promise to the extent that Howes does, who can cultivate the loyalty that Michael O'Brien showed to Don Farrell? At least Bernardi knows how to win a Senate seat.

To talk Howes up is to fail to understand politics, and if you don't understand politics then what are you doing in the press gallery?

To his credit, Mark Skulley isn't a press gallery journalist but here he demonstrates some of the weaknesses of that debased form of journalism. First, the straw man of McTernan was a weak hook for that article. Second, if you're going to talk about "conspiracy theorists", let's look at this:
Howes wrote an inside account of the 2010 election, Confessions of a Faceless Man, which gives an insight into his preparedness to shake things up, even on his own side. As prime minister, Rudd was asked by the Liberal, Christopher Pyne, to comment on criticism of Labor’s asylum seeker policies by Howes.

The book recounts how Howes was affronted that Rudd told parliament that he had not read the comments: “It was a humiliating blow. I hadn’t been expecting him to agree with me, but to dismiss my views out of hand because they didn’t suit his own thinking was typical of Rudd’s attitude to those around him in the wider labour movement.”
Pyne was shadow minister for education. It's entirely possible that Howes put Pyne up to that question - and before you start, see Kerry-Anne Walsh's The Stalking of Julia Gillard for an example of the Opposition asking Rudd, as Foreign Minister, to bag Prime Minister Gillard under the guise of a cross-party Dorothy Dixer. Howes' profession at being shocked, shocked at Rudd's disloyalty ought not be taken at face value.

Saying Howes is the sort of person who'd set up a Liberal to make a Labor PM look bad, and that said PM could see through it and give Howes a taste of his own treatment, doesn't make you a conspiracy theorist; it shows you understand how politics works. If you understand how politics works you are better able to comment on it than someone who gets starry-eyed about a set-piece confection at the National Press Club.
But the boss of Australia’s biggest union, Joe de Bruyn, has rejected Howes’s idea of a grand compact as “fanciful and na├»ve”.
Such an assessment must surely colour Howes' speech, Howes' judgment, and Howes himself.
But Hawke built consensus, while Howes strikes out on his own in often dramatic ways.
It's a basic political skill to bring others along with you. Any fool can strike out on his own in often dramatic ways. Building consensus and bringing people with you is essential to the realisation of a 'Grand Compact'; striking out on your own less so.
But some of the points Howes made in the speech this week were praised by commentators as varied as Alan Kohler, Jonathan Green and former Liberal strongman Peter Reith, who reckoned he was setting himself up as a potential Labor leader “with backbone”.
None of those people will help Howes win a seat or raise a cent to help any campaign he might run. When he was as old as Howes is now, Bob Hawke was an endorsed Labor candidate for Parliament. Howes is no closer to realising any dreams he might have in that direction, no closer to learning the lessons that Hawke learned at that unsuccessful tilt, and it is unlikely that the Liberals would fear Howes anything like as much as their forebears did Hawke.
[Howes] still evidently enjoys the occasional speech – and has really stirred the possum this time.
He has done nothing of any lasting value. Howes' speech can be dismissed in three words: wanker's gonna wank. A really significant speech would have seen union, business and government leaders consulted beforehand and offer real support, evidence of real heft on Howes' part that is clearly lacking. Plenty of big news (e.g. the Toyota shutdown, the failure of the dire budget predictions last year, this government's palpable fear of regional electorates) went begging because journos got sucked into this bullshit by someone with a big mouth but little actual clout.

Is Australia's future grand or compact? It can't be both because Howes, like his brother-from-another-mother Tony Abbott, hasn't thought through the issues. He can't help us with the policies and the social capital necessary to realise a bright and prosperous future. He can't have a bright and prosperous future at our expense, like Tony Abbott has. When journalist foist a media tart upon the rest of us they foster resentment of not only the tart, but the media. Get your hand off it Howes, wake up to yourselves journalists, tell us what politics is really about and enough with the half-baked sideshows.