Not ready for a ministryFor years, Little Jimmy Briggs was touted as a rising star in the Liberal Party - particularly by journalists who've been around the press gallery long enough to know better. Just because the Liberal Party holds someone in high regard it doesn't mean they're much good: Ross Cameron, Tony Abbott, and Peter Shack, among others, got the Rising Star treatment. They, and we, are all poorer for it.
The press gallery must have known what he was like on the grog - the fractured leg and now the sexual harassment allegations couldn't be hushed up or buried on some inside page.
Firstly, there are no inside pages to hide in any more: it's all surface with mastheads these days.
Secondly, the strict demarcation between "official duties" and "personal activities" maintained by the press gallery was always bullshit. The personal always, for good or ill, intrudes into the official. To go back into history (but within the direct personal experience of some members of the press gallery), John Gorton's performance as Prime Minister is inseparable from from his personal predilections toward women and alcohol.
The onus is on the gallery to defend this pointless and destructive demarcation. We're all flawed in various ways, but where is the philanderer, the pisshead, the fraud, the broken person who is nonetheless particularly good in the execution of public duties (I don't mean someone who can hold it together so long as the media goes easy on them; I mean someone who can beat all comers from all other parties in a public contest where voters are aware of the facts).
More than a month elapsed between the incident in Hong Kong and Briggs' resignation. Canberra must have been abuzz with rumours, yet the press gallery either a) missed them, or b) knew all about it and hid it from us. How many media cycles are there in a month? There are more than two hundred "journalists" in the press gallery' every one of them has been derelict in their duties, and now that Christmas is behind us all now should show cause why they should not be dismissed.
When a scandal erupts it isn't good enough for the press gallery to say: we knew he was like that. Whenever there is any discrepancy between insider knowledge and the general awareness of the public, journalism has failed. You have to tell us, show us what they're like - and none of this Annabel Crabb confected shit either. We can handle the truth, the press gallery's job is to tell it.
This means journalists can't reasonably spend fifty years steadfast hung aloft in the press gallery, but that's OK because longevity there is drastically overrated. They still fall over surprised at things that should be foreseeable. The press gallery is not some politico-media protection racket, and it is not the media's job to protect politicians against the populace they serve.
It is not, as Terry Barnes seems to imply, the role of the public service to cover up for inadequate representatives like Briggs:
... the public servant should not have been placed in that situation, not only by Briggs and his chief of staff, but by her own managers and supervisors. From Briggs's explanation, it appears that she was a locally-based officer: her bosses should have ensured that she was not put into a position that risked compromising her. They failed her.Note the passive voice ("she was not put into a position"), and the way Barnes relies on Briggs' word. Jennifer Wilson's piece on Briggs is particularly good at calling out excuse-makers and smoothing-over incidents like this.
Turnbull could have stood up for ol' mate Briggsy, and for the next one, and the one after that, as Abbott would have done. To squander his political capital in this way would not enable Turnbull to solve the Liberal Party's short-term problems with women voters, let alone its long-term problems in being able not only to represent women, but to be comprised of and embodied by them. Turnbull seems genuine about seeking to address structural disadvantages faced by women within the Liberal Party, and he is certainly better placed to do so than any other leader in its history.
When boofheads like Cormann, and Ewen Jones, and this blog's favourite Josh Frydenberg, start insisting that Briggs will be back, they do him no favours. They did this for (to?) Sophie Mirabella in 2013; all that insistence, plus numerous petty snubs to Cathy McGowan since, have only strengthened McGowan and weakened Mirabella's case for re-election in Indi. Rebekha Sharkie has a strong story to tell about why she can do a better job than Briggs. If voters in Mayo are as receptive to change as those in Indi were before the last election, Briggs is finished.
Why should Briggs not be finished? The last politician caught doing something similar, Andrew Bartlett, certainly was.
Are we obliged, as Crabb insists, to maintain the political class in the manner to which it has become accustomed? Could the people of Mayo not do better if they tried, and were better informed than they have been? Will Briggs spend his future on The Drum or lolling about Adelaide in some consultant/ lobbyist/ slashie role - opening and closing his mouth without saying anything, like a fish out of water?
Is the press gallery entitled to be believed when it insists that only chaos can ensue when people elect politicians from beyond the major parties? Will the SA Liberals sandbag Mayo at the expense of marginal seats in Adelaide (including that of Chris Pyne), as the Victorian Libs did for Mirabella?
Not ready for the futureThe reason why we are unlikely to have an early election is not because of Briggs - nor even because of the press gallery, which brays for an early election when it cannot handle policy. The reason is because the Nationals are broken.
Tony Windsor points out what the press gallery never could - that two old men (Warren Truss and Bruce Scott) are prolonging their political careers to block Barnaby Joyce, who will inevitably be elected Nationals leader - and hence Deputy Prime Minister - if Truss retires over coming weeks.
Joyce does not get along as well with Turnbull as he did with Abbott, and he is not a capable minister. His agriculture white paper failed to address national quality branding strategies, failed to link meaningfully with recent big free trade deals, and failed to address anything but drought handouts for family farms. It is a welfare policy, not a strategic, big-thinking, ambitious long-term strategy at all.
Where is the regional electorate not held by the Coalition that the Nats might win if Joyce were leading them? Where is the Nationals-held electorate on a knife-edge margin that they will retain if Joyce were leader? The NSW election last March showed the Nationals are the only Coalition partner at risk of losing seats to the Greens. Joyce has a profile all right, and the press gallery love him - but so what?
Barnaby Joyce is already a dead loss to the parliament and government of our country, but the press gallery can't imagine their "jobs" without him.
The decline of all media organs in regional Australia bar the ABC means that every National MP could well be on the skids, and nobody in the press gallery would even know. Look at how bad the reporting out of Indi was over 2010-13; it hasn't gotten any better. Imagine if an ABC reporter detected a shift against a sitting Nationals MP, and reported on it: Senator Canavan would bellyache as only a Nat can, but neither he nor anyone in his party would have the wit to shore up the vote or get a better candidate. Maybe they have no better candidates.
Joyce is the architect of his party's funding strategy, whereby mining companies fund the Nationals. This was fine so long as farming and mining were separate - but the Shenhua mine on the Liverpool Plains within Joyce's electorate shows how the boomerang can smack you in the back of the head. Small miners (the ones with ex-MPs on their boards) have less cash to splash about these days, while drought-stricken farmers have less still.
It's understandable that Joyce faces so much resistance within the Nationals, but that resistance is so feeble - Truss and Scott are too old to credibly present much of an alternate future, and if they could have crushed Joyce they would have done so by now. The next generation of Nationals, like Darren Chester or Bridget McKenzie, are not ready for the Deputy Prime Ministership or even the future of agriculture.
The Nationals are not ready for the future of their own party. The idea that, in a few weeks, they might be ready to present a vision of the future to voters at an early election is not merely inaccurate, but crazy. Add to that:
- the disarray within the Victorian Liberals;
- the outright chaos within the CLP in the Northern Territory (one HoR seat and one Senate seat, but still);
- the existential crisis within Queensland's LNP;
- the factional wars exacerbating decay in Tasmania and WA; and
- the fact that Tony Nutt, while a formidable campaigner, has only just gotten his feet under the desk as National Director of the Liberal Party.
- Is the government doing well in the polls? There must be an early election.
- Is the government not doing well in the polls? Early election.
- How should we respond in Syria? Early election.
- How do we balance the budget? Early election.
- Will an early election make Australia more innovative? Whatever, early election.
- What's your prediction for 2016? Early election.
- Was that your prediction for 2015? Yes.
- Is there any problem that can't be solved with an early election? No, or make one up.
Not ready for prognosticationThere is something about a new year that leads one to forecast what is foreseeable but unknown, and to set aside a record of failure in doing this very thing.
This blog has often detected the decline of the Nationals, and prefers to be regarded as premature rather than flatly wrong after successive rebuttals at the hands of political reality. However, intelligence from the obviously self-interested Windsor, and the usual obtuse reporting from the press gallery, seem to indicate that this time (for sure!) the politics of the bush are in for their biggest upheaval since the Country Party was founded in 1919.
Can Labor take advantage of this chaos in Coalition ranks? Not really. Shorten has done an impressive job in stabilising his party and even tentatively generating some centrist ideas. The fact that he has gone from parity with Abbott to roadkill under Turnbull shows Shorten is not yet the master of his own fate and has not used the media to convey a strong sense of what he is about, as one expects of prospective Prime Ministers. Shorten will not be Prime Minister after the election later this year.
Maybe he was always set on a two-term strategy. Maybe it was unreasonable to expect him to win after one term - but even factoring out partisan bias, Abbott was always going to stuff up the Prime Ministership and the Libs were always going to be reluctant to blast him out.
Second-term governments often lose seats. The press gallery must know this, yet later this year it will engage in pantomime surprise that the public are rejecting Turnbull (with a disbelief that such a result endorses Shorten). It will be helpless before right-whinge Liberal claims that Abbott might have done better. Voters' rejection of the Nationals would not necessarily be a rebuttal to Turnbull, but the Liberal Party is not equipped to do anything but wring their hands at the Nationals' foreseeable shortcomings.
The press gallery will cover this year's election closely, and badly. This year's election coverage will, yet again, make a mockery of the press gallery's belief that it is better at the sizzle of elections than at the sausages of governing.