30 October 2007

And a time for every purpose under Heaven

The Families First party was created in a specific political environment in the early part of this decade. That time has passed and so too, FF will not have the effect on this election that its supporters might hope or its opponents fear.

Five years ago, the Howard government was shovelling money at Christian schools, and committed Christians such as Peter Costello, John Anderson and Howard himself talked volubly about their faith. Then-opposition leader Kim Beazley was also a man of faith. Yet ... somehow it wasn't enough.

Family First was born out of the Assemblies of God churches: protestations that the AoG and FF are intrinsically separate has yet to be tested by any serious divergence of opinion between the two organisations. In 2004 it experienced a surge in support after Mark Latham became leader of the ALP. Latham followed Whitlam in acknowledging no deity higher than himself, and attacked government grants to private schools.

Fred Nile was caught napping when the wave of support for Christian politics surged and ebbed without him. To his disgrace, he had to resort to neo-Hansonism to get up at the NSW election.

FF were strongest in Victoria, but not particularly strong there. Victorians were non-plussed about Howard but decidedly hostile to Latham. The preference trail that catapulted Stephen Fielding into the Senate were the result of FF being underestimated. Fielding replaced the committed Catholic Jacinta Collins, a zero-sum gain for people who vote on Christian/life issues. Collins is at the top of the Senate ticket for the Victorian ALP in this election, and Fielding isn't up for election. The major parties are well and truly awake to FF.

More than that, they've neutered FF entirely. Fielding hasn't lost that deer-in-the-headlights look, hedging his bets with the best of them but not doing anything apart from standard political stuntwork. His supporters might claim that he's got both innocence and passion like the Jimmy Stewart character in Mr Smith goes to Washington, but (by golly) that character achieved more in is first seventy-two hours than Fielding has or will.

On no issue has Fielding took a firm stand like Brian Harradine did over abortion, euthanasia or porn. On no issue has Fielding brokered a serious deal. He is no Don Chipp, no Bob Brown, no Barnaby Joyce; to drag his party into contention he'd need to be all that and something else again. Nobody believes that crap about fuel taxes. Fielding is a time server like any major-party backbencher, and it is doubtful that he'll be re-elected in 2010.

To come back from the wilderness, Labor had to claw back support from somewhere. The articles Kevin Rudd wrote for The Monthly about his faith, which mentioned Dietrich Bonhoeffer and other matters, was a start. Those Australians who want a Christian presence in politics such as we see in the US have been sorely disappointed in the do-nothing Fielding First, and it's now clear that Christians can vote for Rudd Labor without the affront to their faith that Latham represented. Perhaps it took a Queenslander to see that the Christian vote was not the preserve of wackos, but one that can be balanced with other parts of society.

Why was the Christian lobby unconvinced by Howard? Why are they not rusted-on supporters, handing out Liberal Party material in church and denouncing old-style Labor from the pulpits? Why is Pell, the vainest windbag in public life since Gough Whitlam, so ineffective in getting his policies through the political process? Someone other than Marion Maddox should examine this.

FF has two members of the Legislative Council in South Australia, but so what? Nick Xenophon has eaten both their lunch and that of the Democrats. FF has no discernible future, it won't win any more seats in the Senate and is a non-starter at any other state election coming up. FF may hope to feed on the carrion of the post-Howard coalition parties but there are others better placed to do that, others who can see them coming.

There is a space for religion in Australian politics but FF can't park in that space.

29 October 2007

Prefer ability

I've already posted on minor parties in the Senate, but articles like this emphasise how wilfully the mainstream media are at missing the point.

In the next term of Parliament, there will come a point where vital legislation is held up by inter-party squabbling. If you've been around as long as Michelle Grattan has, you (should) know this. It ought be no surprise that minor parties are positioning themselves to best effect: indeed, as I said in August, now is the perfect time to put them under the microscope and find out how they plan to vote on particular issues. That's what's at stake here: elections are about the future, not nostalgia for Democrats of Olde or whatever.
THE big boys' contest is so riveting that inevitably the small fry, whose stamping ground is the Senate, don't get much of a look in. But this is a seminal election for them too.

Girlish glee, followed by condescention: you'd expect that from Annabel Crabb rather than Michelle Grattan.
"This is the first time in Australian history that a radical left-wing party like the Greens have been poised to gain such an unprecedented level of power in the Senate," Minchin said.

So much for all those red-scare ad campaigns in the 1950s and '60s, which you're old enough to remember Michelle. Minchin is not entitled to be taken at face value, and it's your job to provide a bit of context.
Steve Fielding looked uncomfortable yesterday when asked, "Have you spoken to Pauline Hanson (running for the Senate in Queensland) about preferences?" "We're talking to all the parties," he replied, in a comment that can be interpreted as frankness or evasiveness.

Fielding is easive because journalists like Michelle Grattan let him get away with it. Doyen(ne)s have no excuse for letting something like this go through to the reader unchallenged.

Needing a clue

We are in the middle of an election campaign where this country's government may well change. We turn to the media to tell us what's going on, and they can't get over themselves long enough to think about what's in front of them, and write about it.

Badly thought-out columns like this are doing Jase no good at all.

It's a long-standing beef of mine that negative ads only work where you have voluntary voting: they discourage your targets from turning up and get your voters riled up enough to vote against said targets. It is uncomfortable having Jase on board, but it's a relief that he's not here for any good or sensible reason:
The first was a restoration of basic standards. "Before anything else, we need to produce children out of schools who can read and write and spell and add up," Howard said. Where does he think we are? Botswana?

He's been in office for eleven years, Jase, and you've never asked him a single question about education: not preschool, not uni, not anything in between. He doesn't deserve to be taken on face value and neither do you.
Nothing wrong with that, but is having a country full of top plumbers what we really need?

10-15% of Sydney's water disappears through faulty plumbing: we have too few plumbers, but too many clowns in the press gallery making idle statements like that. Roll up your sleeves Jase and get stuck into some useful work.

The same can be said for pre-glasnost era propagandists Milney & Michelle, who might sound like a breakfast radio show but without the heavy analysis you get in that format:
THE Coalition's shaky election campaign was in danger of running off the rails last night with revelations of a serious split in Cabinet on the critical issue of climate change.

In a gift to Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd, Prime Minister John Howard and Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull refused to deny reports that Mr Turnbull had made a desperate attempt only six weeks ago to change Mr Howard's mind on climate change.

Mr Howard and Mr Turnbull stonewalled over reports that Mr Turnbull had taken a submission to Cabinet arguing that the government should sign the Kyoto Protocol. Ratifying the protocol is Labor policy.

There it is, in the third paragraph: the Environment Minister thought it'd be a good idea to sign the Kyoto protocol on carbon emission controls: he took it to Cabinet and it got turfed. That's the story here, guys. But oh no, M&M are determined to miss the point, and they miss it together:
The political embarrassment in the small shopfront in North Parramatta was palpable. It was one of the bad moments of the Coalition's campaign, of which there are now a few.

Yeah, but what would happen if Australia had signed up to Kyoto, M&M? What costs, what benefits? That's what your job is, not trying to second-guess the kind of knobs who feed you the tidbits you turn into droppings on the page.
Angry Liberal colleagues immediately accused Mr Turnbull of jettisoning the Government's position in order to save his marginal - and green - Sydney seat of Wentworth.

One minister said Mr Turnbull was not a team player and described him as being "desperate" about his prospects in Wentworth.

Mr Turnbull has been under pressure in his seat not only on climate change but also over his recent approval of a large paper pulp mill in Tasmania.

Wentworth is a seat that Labor has not held in 106 years on Australian nationhood. He should have done this ages ago, so that he might have some credibility: vote for me and I'll stand up to the powers that be. The "minister" quoted by M&M has done nobody in the government any favours by suggesting that the way to getting back into government is to introduce positive and forward-looking policy. The "minister" should have shared Turnbull's concern about Wentworth: hopefully this minister isn't one of the ones who was so blithe about Hanson.
The PM soon made for his car ... Then he sped off. We are left to speculate about who leaked the Kyoto story

Yeah right, as if John Howard was going to announce at a press conference who leaked. Good one! Until press gallery "Doyen(ne)s" like M&M regard Kyoto as something other than a twitch in the body politic, they'll never fulfil their only legitimate role of helping us understand what our government is doing.
Repeatedly, Howard simply parrotted that what we need is a new agreement.

The fact that Howard can't identify what that agreement should be and hasn't taking a leadership role internationally after hanging Robert Hill out to dry means Howard has no credibility on this issue, and M&M should be exploring that. M&M should wonder what value there is, hanging around North Parramatta or Canberra or anywhere else, listening to politicians 'parrot' the same old uninformative garbage, giving them free pass after free pass, ensuring that smart and tough questions are never asked, and that government doesn't have to bring any discipline to informing people how they are governed (let alone in analysing information and making decisions) - no, the only discipline comes in parroting, M&M love a good parrot. If he'd departed from the script, nobody would be more down on him than M&M.
Other signs are also emerging in the Liberal camp suggesting MPs have lost confidence in the Prime Minister.

And what does your "minister" have to say about that, M&M? How does it gel with the rest of your article? Do you think Liberal candidates should have to sneak back in, making themselves out as quasi-independents? Either John Howard provides election-winning leadership or he doesn't.
Now there's this:
Campaigns are all about momentum and John Howard lost his last week, courtesy of a debate performance that failed to knock Kevin Rudd off his perch and the trip wire of an underlying inflation rate that points almost inevitably to a Melbourne Cup Day-plus-one interest rate rise.

Campaigns aren't all about momentum, though one without it is in more trouble than one with. I'd suggest that ten months of dire polls would have meant that Labor went into the campaign with more momentum than the government.

Besides, which is the greater departure from the official li(n)e: the sudden recognition of Aborigines or the signing of a treaty whose targets we're going to meet anyway?
And then along came Malcolm, once again in the middle of a dreadful muddle.

Why a muddle, why dreadful? That's your job, to tell us. On the issue of environmentalism Turnbull shows greater clarity of thought than doyen(ne)s.
Howard expended a lot of campaign ammunition when he loaded the starter's gun with $34 billion worth of tax cut bullets.

Starters' guns are not loaded with ammunition. They make noise but otherwise have no substance, a bit like you really. That's the peril of the mixed metaphor: it shows you're not thinking properly.
Turnbull says he didn't leak the story and I, for one, believe him. My understanding is that two other cabinet ministers were responsible. The motive is unclear, but there are only two alternatives here: malevolence, directed at Turnbull in the context of the future leadership of the Liberal Party; or gross incompetence. The trouble is both suggest the Government at the most senior levels is unqualified to continue in office.

There are plenty of other issues that demonstrate this government's unfitness for office, too bad you've missed them. Too bad you think that the future leadership of the Liberal Party is the only prism through which to view policy.
Turnbull hasn't got a phone box worth of votes in the Liberal caucus and is therefore not even a remote danger to Costello.

Yeah, that's what they said about Kevin Rudd this time last year.
Viewed that way, the drop, if it was aimed surgically at Turnbull, was a grotesque failure in that it has hurt the Government as a whole, including Costello.

What a grotesque train-smash of a sentence that is, more evidence that the writer isn't thinking about what he's saying.

The reason why this story was leaked was to protect Howard. Their intended message is that Howard stands firm against flip-flopping and wobbly thinking. That is all. When you've been observing politics for as long as I have, Milney, you pick that sort of thing up. It's interesting that nobody bothered leaking directly to you!
But if the election finishes up where it's clearly headed now, it's the third of these failures for which Howard might most resent Turnbull.

Howard may well blame someone other than himself for his own failings, but it's poor analysis to imply that such a silly opinion may somehow be justified.
The media convention in political campaigns is to judge them on a week-by-week basis. On this measure, the Government had a good first week and a bad second week.

Stuff the media convention, Shaun. We're little better off in terms of understanding how we would be governed, and therefore you and your profession have failed. You do realise those jaunts - now Bunbury, now Launceston, now Glenelg, now West Ryde, now Innisfail - are designed to create a sense of movement and broad-mindedness that political parties generally lack. Your job is to unpick them, not get caught up in them.

This laziness isn't just confined to political journalism, though that's where it's most toxic and urgent. The 'firestorm' over Elka Graham's drug comments is caused by lazy journalists who could've followed up if they wanted to, chose not to, and have been shown up for not doing their jobs. It isn't Elka Graham who's cheated us.

Sometimes you just have to call it as it is, and your analysis just isn't good enough because you're analysing the wrong things. The days when media consumers/ citizens/ voters/ taxpayers just had to put up with this sort of self-indulgence is long past.

25 October 2007

Into the darkness

Greg Sheridan has posted the first in what's likely to be an avalanche of materials - articles, books, interviews etc. - with a theme of "W(h)ither the Liberals?". He identifies for the first time why the Howard government is not worth your vote on 24 November, and why conservatives were wrong to regard its flaws as small and its virtues as over-arching and generally wotrthwhile.

The appointment of Keith Windschuttle to the editorship of Quadrant is not so much a line in the sand as a bovine pawing the ground. It had to go to a man who'd accept (next to) no money, as Frank Devine points out:
Coleman, the longest serving Quadrant editor, says what's needed is a civilised and educated person, versed in political and literary matters, with "a sense of the crisis of our times and an ability to identify the issues to live and die for"

There'll be nothing collegial about Quadrant. Under Windschuttle it will be less quad, more rant.

He will have to define what he means about "culture wars": to regard culture as a battlefield, it means you require nothing of it but desolation and silence, where once the combatants move on the only beneficiaries are scavengers:
Consider Wagner's Tannhauser, that myth of the sacred and profane now on show at the Sydney Opera House. "There's a guy painted in gold (who) stands there with a giant erection - symbolises lust or something," Windschuttle said yesterday.

This is an attempt to conscript people who don't like opera and don't go out of their way to experience art in an attempt to cut the power of art to confront and question. If you see a fair bit of art, things like that aren't shocking and you can develop a response to it. If you heed the rabble-rouser's call, this sort of thing gives you apoplexy and will probably do so again. Like a vaccine containing that which it fights against, art can not only help you deal with other art, it can help you deal with life. Speaking of life, how does Windschuttle help you deal with Iraq, Muslim fundamentalist-nihilism, or infrastructure?

I'm not confident of Keith's ability to arm you with much: Fabrications was based on a feeble premise. I'm still not proud of violence against Aborigines. Windschuttle has been singularly ineffective at the ABC, despite a decade of the most conservative government since Lyons. I stand by what I said on Andrew Norton's blog about this: Windschuttle will need to be big enough to allow himself to be outshone by his contributors (which will be fine as long as he limits himself to refugees from News Ltd papers, such as Tony Abbott).

There are two broad areas that conservatives need to think about. It's too early to take positions: those who take positions now will be exhausted when the victory is won. Sometimes you just have to sit and think, once the pace and the burdens of office are taken away. Maybe art will help. Any position you'll take will be more defensible once you've done some thinking. The power of keeping your eyes and ears open and your mouth shut is greatly underestimated, particularly in building support.

First of all, the ridiculous numbers of old communists in their ranks. The "long march through the institutions" has taken them into the vacated ranks of the God-Queen-and-country mob, who have welcomed them with open arms and killed fatted calves etc., to the point where the old reds have the numbers and they've run out of fatted calves. What they haven't left behind is a) their Hegelian certainty that history moves like a train and they're in the van, baby; and b) that the left is a real and potent force, as they thought they'd been in their day: wrong on both counts.

Second, the division between free-market libertarians and ban-thrash-and-imprison conservatives is real. Foreign clowns like Grover Norquist and David Cameron think they can paper over this, and they're wrong. You can celebrate an environment where you work hard and reap the rewards, but if you get home and your daughter is behaving like Britney Spears then you've fucked up so badly that a tax cut just won't do.

Then there's the liberals. They have to bring together the remnants of the Democrats, the GetUp! and NotHappyJohn joiners and persuade them that their best hope is to join with George Brandis and Chris Pyne. The less said the better about that, the better.

At least Greg hasn't gone the full Albrechtsen:
THIS election campaign is far from over and John Howard could yet win.

Every other sentiment in that article rails against this figleaf. It calls to mind the mournful Bonnie Prince Billy:
Did you know how much I love you
There's a hope that somehow you
You'll save me from this darkness

Liberals should be made of sterner stuff and not simply yearning to be saved by Big Daddy.

Sheridan offers no contribution to the debate, other than shoulda/ woulda/ coulda. So while he sees the darkness approaching, he won't be able to sit by the fire and describe to any as might sit with him what the landscape might look like once glad confident morning comes again.

23 October 2007

Granny Smith and Grandpa Howard

Half an hour before the Granny Smith Festival at Eastwood, the Epping North Public School band played Who let the dogs out and the Liberals seemed to own the Rowe Street Mall. Their blue-on-yellow balloons were everywhere, and handers-out were busy. People politely took balloons, some let them into the air.

Ten minutes before the parade started, Maxine McKew led a force majeure of about fifty volunteers armed with purple helium balloons with her message on it, right up the mall and stood in front of the podium. On the podium was the mayor, John and Jeanette Howard, State MPs and other dignitaries.

McKew's positioning meant that she was juxtaposed with the dignitaries, but not so remote. She and her volunteers handed out balloons to participants in the parade, so that a representative sample of dance-school students, Korean Christian women, rugby players, Girl Guides and other community groups all carried McKew's purple balloons.

A forest of purple balloons was positioned to block the podium. The Liberals' idea of countering this was to block the podium with their own balloons. This rush of political activists blocked the road and delayed the parade - as you read this, you can bet that the AFP is bagging the local police for their absence. Had McKew brought along a few angry ants from the CFMEU or the MUA, Howard could have been in real trouble. It also meant that the announcer could not announce the names of the floats as they came through, which didn't matter as they came out of order and some (such as the local Parents and Friends of Lesbians And Gays, P-FLAG) clearly made the announcer uncomfortable. Nonetheless, the announcer pleaded with the balloon blockade two or three times to move: both sets of balloons were equally placed to block the podium so neither moved.

The Liberals, who had dominated the morning before the parade, were neutralised. McKew waved to people like she was already representing the place. Her slogan, "A Strong Voice For Bennelong", is what you'd expect of a long-serving local councillor rather than a blow-in from Mosman and the ABC. When the trade union band came along in the parade, they stopped in front of her and she danced: not something you'd get from John and Jeanette, and not out of step with the light-hearted atmosphere of the parade. This held the parade up, which would have caused apoplexy had the announcer been able to see it.

The colour orange was prevalent too, on balloons and on clothing. The union band was festooned in orange as part of the "Your rights at work" campaign. In keeping with the spirit of the festival they had posters with Granny Smith apples, featuring the slogan "Your rights at work: the core issue in Bennelong". Also wearing orange were a surprising number of GetUp volunteers, mostly in their forties and fifties: they seemed to silently answer the question as to where all the moderate liberal and Democrat voters, the "not happy John" crowd, had gone.

The parade ended, and the mayor began a long-winded speech. The place cleared and spectators muttered that the event had been hijacked by politics. Indeed it had: this was the biggest event in Bennelong on the first weekend in the campaign, hacks and flacks had come from all over town and cared nothing of stealing the pale limelight from the Brush Farm Scouts or the local Christian outreach centre. Each major party would be horrified that their activists had turned off local voters, but at the time they were only concerned at neutralising their fellow out-of-towners from the other party.

When the incumbent local Federal MP rose to speak, he was met with chants of "How-ward! How-ward! How-ward! How-ward!", but obscured by balloons. When he's rattled Howard's voice goes up in pitch and volume, flapping his arms like an agitated cockatoo, as none but the activists would stay to hear him in his distress. This may explain why he stayed cheesed-off and rattled in the following night's debate.

Howard is the last of several generations of politicians who learned their craft addressing Saturday morning shoppers from the back of a flatbed truck, dealing with hecklers and attracting passers-by to give them a hearing. Rudd, Costello and others yet to come have only experienced politics through the media. This isn't to say that there was some golden age of speechcraft in Australian politics, or that Howard is some mighty orator - but it's clear that eleven years at the top, of cushy media management and framed settings, have dulled his ability to deal with a bit of chanting and a lot of indifference. He should've been out here six, twelve months ago; it's all too late now. McKew followed the crowds and mingled amongst the stalls: the St John's first aid volunteers, the jam-sellers, the soccer-players, etc.

The local Macquarie Shopping Centre had its balloons around as well, in purple and orange rather than yellow and blue. They knew their market.

21 October 2007

Making a meal of it

Once again we have a JaseAttack to show us who the boy has been having lunch with, and whom he wants to have lunch with going forward. What we also have is a clear example of how the mainstream media can't help us understand how we are (and are going to be) governed.

This piece sees Jase all upset that a Labor MP won't stay in the box into which factional heavies have nailed him. The entire history of the Labor Party - and of the Liberals too, for that matter - is of MPs deciding they're sick of toeing a line that's not going anywhere.

Gavan O'Connor has decided that he's going down with middle digit raised, unlike the bought objects content to slump into the bin of history, pocket their pensions and keep stumm. He's not a socially-divisive extremist like Pauline Hanson, so if he finds his old party so intolerable why shouldn't he take a stand? If Jase was still in his Peter-Costello-bumsniffer mode he'd be cheering O'Connor, but now that he perceives the need to build bridges with Labor then he'll sing whatever tune his luncheon companions want to hear.

From a media perspective, there is a story to be told here about what sort of government Rudd is offering. O'Connor is the only member of caucus who has been a farmer, a constituency that must be heard in the future debate over water and land sustainability, and which Labor governments have always treated as adversaries largely through mutual ignorance. Speaking of ignorance:
THE vote was unanimous. The inaugural winner of the Mal Colston Medal for Treachery

Who voted, Jase? How does O'Connor compare to Colston, who was induced by the Coalition to turn his back on the ALP? Do you have any proof that O'Connor has accepted an inducement, and if so what is it? Why would O'Connor, or anyone else, believe that John Howard had any capacity to follow through on any inducement anyway? C'mon Jase, do your job, not some Labor staffer's (unless that is the job you're keening for).
Liberals everywhere have been falling over themselves in the stampede to congratulate O'Connor

Such as? Howard made a few comments about O'Connor but Hanson showed him that his party's not immune to this sort of thing. Abbott has been particularly quiet, as has Jase's old mate Costello - but isn't it typical of Jase to signal at the outset of his pieces just how badly he's floundering? Notice how Jase undoes his insipid introduction with a quote from Howard that clearly procludes the Coalition from making political capital over O'Connor.
O'Connor accused his former party of branch stacking, money laundering and of making grubby political deals.

O'Connor's transformation from a man of principle and integrity to one deluded by self-interest and greed is a salutary lesson in how politics can corrupt. Make no mistake, O'Connor destroyed himself last Thursday, and everything he once stood for.

He has chosen a road at the end of which he will find only bitterness and misery.

Jase just assumes that it is O'Connor, and not the ALP, who has become corrupted. When he was a Peter Costello bumsniffer Jase was more than happy to point out these and other faults, but in this piece he assumes that any such accusation against the ALP must always be false, and rebound on the accuser. Whether O'Connor wins or loses, the structural integrity of the Australian Labor Party is of major concern, especially as it will bear the eight of governing the entire country and its sub-national political divisions.

That last line in particular is the kind of bullying you might get in schoolyards or Williams-Moran-style crime syndicates, but if you were a real journalist, Jason Koutsoukis, you'd question whether this has any place in the governance of state.
Way back in 1990, O'Connor was a nobody. A local councillor from Colac, he was given a job in the electorate office of then Labor senator John Button, who had an electorate office in Geelong.

Have you looked at John Button's critiques of the modern ALP at all, Jase? If so, you'd find the position of O'Connor vindicated - but that wouldn't please your lunch buddies at all.
With a taxpayer-funded salary in his pocket (a largesse bestowed on him by the Labor Party)

Well, which is it? Do employees in public service owe their loyalty to taxpayers, or the Labor Party? C'mon Jase, a real journalist would have a field day with that, a couple of Walkleys if not a career. You just do a garbage-in-garbage-out regurgitation onto the page.
O'Connor would still be a nobody were it not for his party and its members, who sent him to Canberra in 1993 and kept him there at the four subsequent elections.

Yeah, forget the voters - or "punters" as Jase calls them.
One can understand the basis of O'Connor's grievance, and why he was so upset at being dumped.

A hard-working, likeable, generous person, O'Connor was a popular local member. But in the end, whatever the flaws of Labor's factional system, O'Connor lost control of his branches ... O'Connor may have been a perfectly able MP and a decent person, but his political skills and acumen have hardly set Canberra on fire.

First O'Connor is all these things, then when it comes time to sink the slipper he qualifies it with the weaselly may have been. Jase can't admit that a good man has been traduced because that would make him, and his lunchmates, look bad - and Jase can't get where he wants to go unless he does a few tricks for his would-be sources in the next government.

It is Jase who is "the venal hypocrite who waited ... [to] do the most damage possible to those friends and colleagues he has worked alongside for the past decade" (his erstwhile lunch buddies in the Peter Costello Fan Club). Examining the way the country is governed is more important than Jase trying to establish himself as a playa.
In 14 years, he has scored not one major political victory over the Coalition, and has made not a single policy contribution of any significance.

Yes he has, everyone in the ALP and quite a few outside it have praised O'Connor in educating his party about rural issues without getting sucked into the largesse mentality of the Nationals.
Nor is Marles without claim to represent the people of Geelong. A talented solicitor and assistant secretary of the ACTU, Marles grew up in Geelong and has lived in the city for the past 10 years.

All the while, enjoying the hard work of Gavan O'Connor. Marles could have had his pick of any Labor seat in Victoria. He seemed quite content to take on David Kemp back in the day, in far-off Melbourne, why not keep him there?
Former leader Kim Beazley was one of those whom O'Connor worked tirelessly to remove almost from the day Beazley took over as Labor leader.

Yeah, well that would explain why Beazley isn't taking Labor to victory - O'Connor was hardly on his lonesome there. Witness your own jihad against John Howard, Jase.
Former federal Liberal MP David Connolly lost preselection for the Sydney seat of Bradfield to Brendan Nelson before the 1996 election.

The loss hurt Connolly, who was a friend of John Howard. But he kept his mouth shut, and Howard looked after him once he became Prime Minister, justly rewarding him with a plum overseas posting.

OK, so no lame mock-outrage stories about "jobs for the boys" when the Labor MPs on this list "justly" line up for "a taxpayer-funded salary in his pocket (a largesse bestowed on him by the Labor Party)"? Why would any journalist praise someone who "kept his mouth shut"? Why would any member of the ALP have to live up to the standards of former Liberal MP (and fellow nobody) David Connolly?

The McManus piece quoted above ends with the line: "Mr Marles could not be contacted last night". If this is Marles' response to O'Connor, using Jase as his hand-puppet, then it is despicable. It will reflect poorly on Marles (Labor's Frydenberg?) going forward. If Jase wants to play favourites and suck up to Marles and his game-players, who can't tell the difference between taxpayer funds and Labor Party largesse, then he is just another leech in Canberra seeking to advance himself at everyone else's expense.

Gavan O'Connor has been enhanced by being slimed by someone like Jase, regardless of whether or not he loses to the lesser man on 24 November. Piffle like this is sadly typical of Koutsoukis' articles: those to whom you have sold your soul, Jase, have got a much worse deal than the man from Colac and Geelong (no, I'm not talking about Richard Marles).

Update: I wouldn't go so far as Milney:
If the Liberals do preference O'Connor, the former Labor member who has quit the party in disgust at factional heavying and union influence to run as an independent, he may be in with a chance of winning back the seat he's already held for 14 years.

Hype. Bullshit. Shows you why you don't read Glenn Milne to find out what's going on in Canberra, merely who Milney has been having lunch with.
The biggest trick to getting O'Connor up for the Liberals would be to ensure their candidate ran third. There are two intersecting currents here and they are both media driven. The Liberals' "problem" (defined as pushing O'Connor into second place) is that Corio, based on Geelong, has a very strong local media, particularly the Geelong Advertiser.

The Liberals are fighting off a strong Rudd-driven Labor challenge to Stewart McArthur, their sitting candidate in the neighbouring seat of Corangamite. Facing this adjoining challenge, there has to be strong Liberal branding across regional media, making it hard to run dead in Corio.

This is crap. All the Liberal Party has to do is deny oxygen to the Corio candidate (like Milney, I can't be bothered finding out his/her name) and focus all their energy on McArthur: McArthur this, McArthur that, and pretty soon it won't even occur to Corio voters that if they can't vote McArthur they won't vote Liberal at all. This raises questions for the Liberal Party as to whether they have the right to put someone up as a candidate and then jerk them around like that.
Said Marles: "The only winner out of this is John Howard and the Liberal Party."

He got that bit right.

No he didn't Milney and neither did you. If O'Connor wins Corio he'll support Rudd over Howard, and in the process will get more concessions for his local area than Marles could, as just another clamouring newbie owned by caucus.

19 October 2007

Never mind the early jitters, Howard can't win

Kevin Rudd has followed the Labor Party's How to Win Elections playbook to the letter. Just as Bob Carr did in NSW, Bracks in Victoria, Beattie in Queensland, etc., Kevin Rudd is earnestly and conservatively putting his case for change without snarling at the incumbents or being overly radical, and waiting for the incumbents to grow tired of governing or get so rattled they basically drop their bundle.

The key question in this election is: can you vote Labor without sending the economy down the toilet? Labor has made the positive case on pretty much every field of policy except the economy and national security. This means that people are uncomfortable about returning the incumbent government on the day-to-day business of government, but they will vote Liberal-National if they must.

Labor will win because they have to make the positive case about their stewardship in these two areas and the Coalition have to make a radical case. Rudd only has to declare that he's competent, and the benefit of the doubt (reflected in solidly positive polling all year) will go with him. People know what Howard stands for (and doesn't); so in order for voters to give him another go, Howard has to up the ante, ad shake up perceptions of his abilities to shape the agenda going forward.

It's easier to be conservative and competent than it is to be radical. Incumbent governments know this: usually it is the government that is conservative and competent and the opposition are radical: this is what Mark Latham was driving at (hey, my guess is as good as anyone's). However, the incumbent government has been in too long and people are comfortable to the point of being bored. Scare campaigns are all very well when you're feeling under the gun, but if you're comfortable they're a little bit unseemly.

Howard is trying to be conservative and competent - but he's had a long record of being neither on occasion. Anyway, that doesn't get you noticed - it gets you taken for granted, which means that you lack the boldness and the sudden burst of energy necessary to pull out of the dive. With his polling, Rudd doesn't have to be radical to be noticed. Finally, the small target strategy is working: but only when the government has been goaded to a point where it is trying to be all things to everybody, and ends up only encouraging people to look for an alternative, which they seem to have found.

The tax policies released this week reveal half-hearted (and possibly "non-core") radicalism from the Coalition, and studied stolidness from Labor. Labor can't lose I tell ya, and all the rest is hype.

On 24 November we'll see Labor with 90 seats (currently 60), Liberals 50 (75), Nationals 7 (11), CLP 0 (1), Independents 3 (3). I'll be more specific about which seats later.


  • 3-3 in NSW, WA and Victoria and one each in the NT.

  • Labor 3, Liberals 2 in SA and Tasmania, with Xenophon and Brown respectively getting up.

  • Queensland: Labor 3, Liberals 1, Nationals 1, and Andrew Bartlett of what used to be the Democrats.

  • Will the Greens beat the Libs in the ACT? Probably not.

17 October 2007

Wider than the generation gap

We've come a long, long way together
Through the hard times and the good
I have to celebrate you baby
I have to praise you like I should

I have to praise you
I have to praise you
I have to praise you
I have to praise you like I should

- Fatboy Slim Praise You

Wider than the generation gap is the credibility gap of the Howard government, and those of its boosters who have not turned dingo like Albrechtsen.

There is no connection between what they're saying now and what will actually happen. I realise that Costello timed the $28 tax cut for what he hoped would be maximum effect, but it is possible that - and media should examine this - time had run out and he strategic decision was flawed wrong. The fact that so few people believe that the Coalition will get back in is reflected in the poll results, and in that reflection the credibility of the Coalition in seeking re-election is further dimmed.

Into this credibility gap wades Josh Frydenberg, not to bury Costello but to praise him:
One of the central planks of Latham's campaign was the claim that a vote for John Howard was a vote for Peter Costello to be prime minister.

Latham certainly failed to make the case why he should become Prime Minister. In typical Frydenberg style, you know that a solid, unimpeachable fact is merely a battering ram for one of his more airy confections, which could not possibly stand on its own:
Far from having a negative impact on voters, it became a timely reminder of Costello's successful stewardship of the economy and is thought to have contributed in no small part to the Government's victory with an enhanced majority.

And "is thought" by whom, Josh? By Victorians who have ended up as Liberal staffers and who realise that Peter Costello is the last best hope of their generation to work for a Prime Minister, for them to experience being at the heart of government. Previous generations of Victorian Liberals from Deakin to Fraser had simply assumed this as a birthright. This quote could only come from people determined to portray Costello in the best, shiniest light possible, so that any refraction on them may be all the brighter.

What Josh is doing here is going the suck, trying to draw his political career upward by some form of capillary action. Costello blocked him in Kooyong and Josh clearly can't just wait until Costello expires. Having been a staffer for Howard and Downer, Josh would not only have heard his fair share of anti-Costello invective - ever eager to please, he would have engaged in it - and Costello cannot have failed to be aware of this. Josh has a lot of grovelling to do if he isn't going to miss out on such benefits as may come from a Costello-led government. This article is a first shuffle in a thousand-mile journey of crawling and kissing Costello arse.
Rudd's pronouncement that "Mr Costello has never been in touch with working families" invites a comparison of the economic conditions enjoyed today by working families compared with those that existed when Costello became Treasurer in March 1996.

Over any 11 year period in the history of this country, jobs will have been created and real wages will have increased. This is why nostalgia is not that potent as a political weapon, a lesson that should have been learned for all time when in Britain, Churchill's Conservatives lost the 1945 elections.
Costello is the undisputed architect of Australia's $1 trillion economy

No, he is not. Andrew Charlton points out in last month's Monthly how little Costello had to do with the economic prosperity we now enjoy (and consequently, how little blame he'll deserve when the steam comes off it). Anyone who works in finance knows this is bullshit. It is extremely illiberal to build this image of The Great White Father who holds our very living standards in his own two hands. In economic policy terms, government's role largely involves getting out of its own way as well as that of hard-working Australians: Costello knew that in his H R Nicholls days, and however high he might rise he is poorer for not keeping to this.

This isn't to denigrate Costello's performance as Treasurer, but it doesn't do to overstate it either. Mind you, I'm not looking for Costello to get his foot off my throat so that I can slide into Parliament.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has praised Australia's commitment to structural reform as "a model for other OECD countries"; leading economist Paul Krugman labelled Australia the "miracle economy"

Indeed they did. They also took pains to mention that much of this reform took place under the Hawke-Keating governments. This kind of sleight-of-hand that makes you look like a hack, Josh.
Indeed, should Labor continue to focus on Costello's ascension to the leadership, it will offer the Government an important opportunity to showcase the Treasurer's breadth of experience and expertise beyond economic matters.

Oh, yes! Let's!
From the time of his maiden speech to Parliament in 1990, he has emphasised the subservience of government to the citizen, warned against the danger of ideology and made it clear that his allegiance is to the individual over monopoly control.

If you're going to emphasise a man's experience and achievements, it does not to do hark back 17 years and demand that his words be taken at face value. The onus of red tape and paperwork has shifted very squarely to the individual, unthinkable for a "Burkean-type liberal" in a technological age. Monopoly control? Perhaps not, but there's scarcely been a cosy duopoly over the past eleven years that Costello didn't like, in typical Melbourne style.
These fundamental precepts dovetail neatly with Howard's view of the world

No they do not. Government bloat persists well into this government's second decade and the overall size of the public sector has grown, not decreased, with size not necessarily boosting effectiveness (and let's not engage in any lame claim that the states are entirely reponsible for public sector bloat). Any "dovetailing" seems only to have made the Costello-Howard personal rivalry more bitter.
Costello's ... understanding such critical policy areas as demographic change, competitive federalism and the welfare of our indigenous communities make him well able to implement the Government's reform agenda.

This understanding has not manifested itself in significant policy responses. Such responses as there have been came from the PM's office, gazumping and often bypassing Treasury entirely. Nowhere has Costello demonstrated a policy agenda in a non-economic area and imposed it, as Keating did.
it involved the Treasurer saying "no" to the spending "wish lists" of his colleagues.

Yeah, they all do that Josh. Trying to make a virtue out of a necessity again.
a re-elected Coalition government will find itself again swimming in a sea of state Labor governments.

Wrong imagery, wrong thinking. The idea that the Commonwealth is at the mercy of the states is absurd. Not since Gorton was monstered by Bolte, Askin and Bjelke-Petersen have we seen such a weak response from Canberra. I'm still amazed that a seven-time-loser hack like Steve Bracks has become a political colossus, and frankly it's the fault of people like Josh who want to perpetuate this bi-polar bullshit about Big Daddy in Canberra/small swimmer in a raging sea (a bit like Fatboy Slim, really). No-one wants to be governed by people who don't know who they are.
Costello should have few problems translating his experience dealing with state treasurers, who have included new premiers John Brumby and Anna Bligh, into productive relationships at the head of government level.

And Wayne Swan won't?

This is a reprise of the only claim Costello has to the leadership: it's my turn. John got a handover, Anna got a handover, why can't I?
As a proponent of Australia's engagement with Asia and a longstanding advocate of our alliance with the US, he has been a regular visitor abroad.

Yeah, just like Kevin Rudd.
last November's G20 meeting ... was the scene of some substantive discussions on the pressing issues of energy security, aid and debt relief, and demographic change.

No substantive outcomes, just discussions.
With the combination and qualities of Howard followed by Costello firmly in place, leadership may be a subject the Labor strategists would be well advised to avoid.

It is just not possible to be well advised by Josh. The question-begging, the sliding around of difficult issues, the weak arguments and sleights of hand about sources in his articles indicate that Howard and Downer were poorly served by his advice. Somewhere there is a seat in Melbourne that will foist Josh into Federal Parliament and into the Parliamentary Liberal Party for two or three decades, squandering further opportunities available to this lucky country now and into the future. Let me curse you in advance and hope that climate change forces the Yarra to rise and swallow you all.

Yes, the "lucky country" reference was deliberate: "Australia is a lucky country, run by second-rate people who share its luck", wrote Donald Horne in 1964. For all the boosterism in the Mann article linked above, it looks like this will continue into the coming century thanks to the resistable rise of Joshua Frydenberg.

12 October 2007

Benefits and doubts

Christian Kerr reckons that John Howard deserves the benefit of the doubt when it comes to his turnaround on Aboriginal issues. I couldn't agree less.

Toward the end of his victory speech to the assembled Liberals on the night of the 1998 election, Howard told people what he planned to do in the term ahead. We're gonna do this (yay!), we're gonna do that (yay!), oh, and we're going to do something to bridge the gap between Aborigines and other Australians.

What the ... ? Never had a victory speech ended on such a flat note. Journalists and Liberals looked at each other, wondering if they'd misheard him. John Howard? Aborigines? Has Howard even met an Aborigine? It was a surreal moment, but it soon passed. The big issue in the following parliamentary term was getting the GST up, then there was the Olympics (a bit of didge work there I think), some refugees ended up on and in the Arafura Sea, some planes crashed into some American buildings, and there was another election - and no more was spoken about this Aboriginal unpleasantness.

Howard has said himself that he's been part of the problem in dealing with Aborigines - if there's one matter where the nation is united behind the Prime Minister, that has to be it. Yes, there's an election coming up, and to point the finger at Howard and call him cynical is a largely pot-kettle exercise that helps nobody.

Howard does not deserve the benefit of the doubt because he can't and won't make this 'change of heart' manifest itself in the lives of Aborigines. I still haven't heard a cogent answer as to why Aborigines in remote communities have to be stripped of their land rights in order to get healthcare. I have no idea why CDEP was scrapped without any alternative arrangements.

He's lost the ability to make large-scale, long-term policy. Need I remind you?

  • Water.

  • Broadband.

  • Media ownership.

  • Tax reform (and not just less of it).

  • Infrastructure.

  • Education generally, history and the trades in particular.

  • Healthcare.

  • Immigration generally, from Sudan in particular.

  • AWB.

All that's just in the past term.

The mixture of mendacity and gutlessness can be found in all governments, and not just elected ones. Sometimes this noxious mixture can yield effective, even good outcomes - but in Howard's case his government has reached a point where it just doesn't do effective outcomes any more. That's why Howard doesn't deserve the benefit of the doubt. You might believe his pledge to do no more harm but you can't believe him when he promises to do better, to lay solid foundations that people can build their lives on.

Christian rails against bleeding hearts who've never actually rolled their sleeves up to give practical help to Aboriginal people, but this is just the empty clatter of blackened pots and kettles.

Wednesday was, believe it or not, World Sight Day. One of the preventable causes of blindness they describe is trachoma, which arises from unhygenic living environments. It only appears in the very poorest communities and is almost extinct throughout the world. Australia is a major donor to the WHO - and one of the few countries where the disease exists. The last white Australian to contract the disease was in the 1930s, and the last program to tackle the disease in remote communities was in the 1970s. The estimate given yesterday by Gabi Hollows on the ABC to revive that program and see off that disease once and for all from this continent is $20m over five years.

That amount is about what the Federal Government will spend on ads this evening. Such a program would require extensive consultation, and careful policy planning by the very people who've been shunned, sidelined and burned by this government. A small-scale program like that would be too hard for the Howard government. They wouldn't keep to budget, nor to outcome targets, but they would big-note themselves something awful.

And what of the commentariat? After their lachrymal praise of the invasion of Aboriginal Australia earlier this year, they'd have to fall into line behind Howard on this (especially Albrechtsen, who has a lotta lotta making up to do). We'll have to coin the phrase "bleeding heart righties", and then the planet just spins off its axis.

We'd all agree that one speech won't cut it, and that even a host of small programs like trachoma is tinkering around the edges. What we need is lots of people working together. We've tried doing programs on the cheap, and pulling them as soon as people to come to rely on them. It's tme for proper, joined-up government: no dark satanic mills of bureaucracy, but something more than two land rovers and a press release. Where would we get that from?

It's press-gallery groupthink at its worst to assume that if there was any new thinking on Aboriginal issues from within the ALP, Kevin Rudd would have announced it by now. Labor provides a natural bolthole for people with passion and skills in policy development, but who lack clout with Howard's government. There is a significant left looking to assert itself in a party that has cleaved relentlessly to the centre. These are the people who gave us Medicare (stop laughing!), and it is fair to assume that they might have a few ideas that aren't stale caricatures from the 1970s.

What's also interesting about Howard is that he could go too far in trying to win back all those "doctors' wives". Look at how Malcolm Fraser's reputation has been trashed within the Liberal Party: by Christmas, I can see David Flint or Alan Jones come out and say that Howard coulda won if only he hadn't gone all mushy over Aborigines. Too much of this and Howard could start losing the ability to shape his own legacy.

In other words: it is fair to give Labor, and not the Coalition, the benefit of the doubt on Aboriginal issues. Christian ends his article by saying Howard deserves applause: only after he's done something, not before; and if he never gets the chance then too bad, he's done all right for himself.

11 October 2007

Holding out for a better offer

(Published in today's Crikey newsletter)

I live in Bennelong and received a survey form from my local MP. It contains no Liberal Party livery and shows the local member in an open-necked blue shirt and cargo pants with pamphlets in his hands, as though he were a local running for council.

Why is he asking for my opinions now? Isn’t it too late to tailor his messages? Why no Liberal logos, and why hasn't the election been called yet? None of the explanations offered so far are convincing.

I suspect the reason the election hasn't been called yet is because donations to the Liberal Party have dried up.

The 1998 election was early. The elections of 2001 and 2004 were called when they were due or slightly before. Howard has not done Rudd slowly, as Keating did Hewson in '93.

In the lead-up to the 1996 election the Liberals crowed about how donations were flooding in. Pamela Williams' book The Victory describes how Ron Walker raised millions of dollars for the Liberal Party by traipsing up and down Melbourne's Collins Street. In the lead up-to elections since then, "senior figures" in the Liberal Party have bragged about their massive war chests.

In 2004, Liberals backgrounded journalists that donations to the ALP had stopped. The implication was that people lacked confidence in Labor, and though they denied it, the ALP failed to counter the Coalition advertising campaign.

There has been no gloaty backgrounding about donations this time. Remember how the PM chided business for not running ads in favour of WorkChoices? It would have been crass for him to ask for Liberal donations as well. It isn’t cheap to run campaigns capable of reversing an 8+% polling deficit. To go into an election behind in the polls would be difficult, but to do so with no capacity to turn them around – suicidal.

Those annoying government ads represent all the Coalition has. It’s too late for big initiatives, like infrastructure or a new new industrial relations system. Calling Parliament next week is political busking, hoping this activity will inspire someone to toss in some gold coins.

The Liberal Party’s biggest single donor has been Richard Pratt: now might not be a good time to ask him for money. The Liberal Party’s biggest fundraisers have been Ron Walker and Malcolm Turnbull, who are both also busy with other projects.

It’s one thing to keep your powder dry – but what if there is no powder?

10 October 2007

Death, penalties

Robert McClelland made a principled stand against the death penalty, in Australia and abroad.

Part of democracy involves a skepticism of government, and whatever other powers you give a government, power over life and death shouldn't be one of them (except in war, which should be used sparingly and where death is incidental to the survival of the state). By extending this belief to those outside Australia we shed our parochialism and make a stand for our fellow human beings.

It is a beat-up to link this to the sentences of the Bali bombers, a situation caused by Australia having a government that can't last and won't go. It is a reflection of media priorities that Rudd's statement on insensitive timing was the last word on the matter, while Downer's witterings about Rudd's hypocrisy cut no ice at all (if McClelland is such a nice bloke, you won't mind us voting for him then).

Rudd will shrug off Downer as he always has, and he will get away with his oddly short and schematic commennt on the trooper killed in Afghanistan - but after the proposed dawn service in Long Tan earlier this year, it's entirely possible that this man is deaf to the cultural theme of Honouring Those Who Died At The Hands Of Australia's Enemies. You could never accuse Howard or Beazley of this, and even Costello can go through the motions, but if Rudd doesn't wake up to this he'll give the conservatives the meat they need to cut short his term in government.

09 October 2007

Power in Australia

The Australian Financial Review released its lists of who's powerful in Australia on the Friday before last. It was a timid exercise, gutlessness in the face of far-reaching change. The AFR congratulated itself on how diverse the panel was, yet what struck me was the opposite: the cabin fever, the attempts to mask deep insecurity on the brink of change, a real reluctance to let go of people who've hung around for too long.

The Panel

Of the panel, 11 came from Sydney (yes, including Brett Sheehy - he's only camping out in Adelaide) and two from Melbourne. None lacked university qualifications or extensive experience with AFR, and so what you got was an echo-chamber, an exercise in groupthink. This fits Gideon Haigh's recent article for The Monthly on the desperate mutual reinforcement of boards irrespective of performance.

  • Shouldn't have been there: Carla Zampatti

  • Should have someone like them there, but not them particularly: Mark Burrows, Roger Wilkins

  • Should've thought about: Someone with a strong scientific and commercial career, someone under 40 who isn't a hack, someone who'd migrated here recently enough to feel the immigrant experience (but not so recently they don't know what's going on), someone with a career in NGOs (other than trade unions), a Queenslander and a Western Australian (or two)


  • The omission from Julia Gillard showed that having her on the list last year was an exercise in tokenism. She's the most interesting Labor figure since Bob Hawke, and even though she's done all the media training she's not a papier-mache politician-from-head-office like Morris Iemma, or Jenny Macklin. Wayne Swan should have been further up the list.

  • Peter Costello has been left out of every single debate this year - water, terrorism, APEC - you name it, he hasn't been there. John Kerin wasn't this much of a farce as Treasurer. He's no closer to the Prime Ministership than he was eleven years ago. Belongs toward the bottom if at all.

  • The shrill joke that is The Australian, the focus of tabloids on state issues and the fact he has his mind on other things also ought to push Murdoch down this list. When the game of musical chairs began in the Australian media, Murdoch was missing in action and still is.

  • Peter Beattie - yeah, great timing AFR. John Brumby should have been there as Bracks' spine, but again toward the bottom of the list if at all.

  • Shoulda been there: Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull, both for their portfolios and for their almost-but-not-quite tap on Howard's shoulder after APEC. Both will spend the Christmas period picking up the pieces within the Liberal Party.

  • Sinodinos' take on Howard as the nation's opposition leader was telling because a) it shows how petty Howard's field of vision is, and b) it hasn't worked.


  • Ken Henry shouldn't have been there, or nothing like #2 anyway. See Costello above: left out of the biggest spending plan in decades, on water; nowhere on the handouts to unproductive farmers and horsey people. The leaked speech was a cry for help. What is the link between skills shortages, the tight labour market and WorkChoices? There isn't one, and it's his fault.

  • Jeanette Howard should have been #2.

  • Loughnane and Gartrell are second-rate: both should be further down the list.

  • Textor and Crosby should have been further up the list, ahead of Loughnane and Gartrell. Labor are shit-scared of them.

  • Hartigan? Probably. Pemberthy? No, a hack.

  • John Gay owns an entire state, for goodness' sake. Same with Burke & Grill.


  • "Creative diaspora", what a wank! Is Cate Blanchett part of that or not?

  • Coonan hasn't set out a vision and has been repeatedly rolled and shirt-fronted. A transactional hack.

  • Stand up Australia and cheer that Alan Jones is no longer on this list.

  • Russell Crowe should be on this list if only he'd made a decent film recently. His work with the Rabbitohs should count for something. The only actor other than David Wenham who can consistently (That's you out, Sam Worthington) and convincingly play average Aussie males.

  • No musicians? Not even The Wiggles?

  • No chefs, no foodies? Really?

  • No fashion or other designers? Good old Carla has smoothed the pillow over the fresh young faces of a generation which passed her long ago and is starting to make a genuine global presence in this industry.

  • "E-interaction"? What an absolute cop-out. The lack of specifics (as with "creative diaspora" is patronising and testament to a lack of understanding. Get people on this panel who understand this stuff.

  • Frank Lowy's role as head of Westfield is underestimated. Sure, Westfield funds the Lowy Institute and soccer and all that, but those malls are the place where suburban Aussies go to watch movies, buy clothes and food and other units of cultural consumption. Westfield is as Aussie as Vegemite and the Hills Hoist.

Next year the AFR will almot certainly go through this exercise again - no new blood, no boat-rockers, no preparation at all for an environment where the challenge is not who has power but what they do with however much they have. It doesn't help readers understand where we're at and where we're going: it was a circle-jerk of the intellectually tired and the socially insecure. The AFR has no excuse for failing to do this exercise better.

08 October 2007


The great thing about Jase is that you'll always know who he's had lunch with. Last time we heard from Jase he was attending a Parker Partners knees-up, where it's entirely possible that a Telstra flack was helping him with his next column. In PR, you've succeeded when people start absorbing your talking points as their own opinions: in this case, the Telstra job on Jase has worked a beauty.

The latest has it all: lame pun headline (Coonan the barbarian, geddit?), the self-reference ("my list of the Howard Government's All-Star Bunglers"), and the absolute absence of any judgment about policy and people ("I don't think that trying to wreck this country's greatest corporate asset is a good idea", as though that's all that telco regulation is all about).
Bashing Telstra might long have been a national sport, but isn't it time we all grew up?

Sure, Telstra has its share of problems — what company with 21 million customers wouldn't?

If customers are your problem, it's time to get out of business. A business with too few customers has more problems, not less. Not all criticism of Telstra is immature Jase.
Try picking up a phone in the United States, or in Europe.

Yep, done it Jase. Now what? Did you actually have a point there? Are you really judging our phone system by fixed-line standards? What about wireless networks in Asia, with more than 21 million customers carrying more than just voice and revolutionising the way we communicate? Still think it's a miracle, or have you been sucked in by people who want you to be amazed at occasional flashes of competence?

Who do you call when your system isn't working?
That meant competitors like Dodo or Optus who wanted to use that network to deliver their own products would have to pay a price that subsidised the cost of delivering the network to the bush.

Sounds reasonable, doesn't it?

Only if that is what they're actually subsidising, Jase. If they (and their customers) are actually subsidising Phil Burgess in the style to which he's become accustomed, then: no, it isn't.
the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, which under the leadership of Graeme Samuel has decreed that anything Telstra wants, it can't have.

Jase, if you were a journalist, would you accept that the reverse was a better strategy? Have you actually asked the ACCC if that's what their strategy is? Do you think it might be something other than gimme gimme gimme?
Too weak to stand up to Samuel, and eager to shift the blame onto someone else, Coonan has demonised Telstra chief executive Sol Trujillo and its board.

Why should Coonan go into bat for whatever Telstra wants, and with what legal power would she do so? Did you even ring the minister's office, Jase? Doesn't really stand up to the whole all-conquering imagery in the headline, does it? I always find it fascinating when you scupper one of your own articles, but this time you're going for broke.
who is on the Telstra board and ask why a group of such exceptionally high achievers would be a party to what amounts to a giant conspiracy to rip off its customers.

This is not some left-wing NGO we're talking about.

Since when do left-wing NGOs (with the possible exception of some unions) rip off their customers?
The Telstra board includes ... a current director of Macquarie Bank ... a former chief executive of BHP Petroleum and a former chairman of AMP ... former advertising guru ... a close friend of John Howard ... one time New Right hero

Yeah, no price-gougers there.
Instinct tells me that if a group of people of this calibre can remain so united behind their chief executive for so long, then they are probably onto something.

Considering how long it took to find a management team, and how much face they'd lose if they dumped a leadership team that is focused on playing political silly-buggers rather than running a telco, they are onto saving their own reputations and to hell with customers.
But this new network is not to fill existing gaps in services in rural Australia: it's to duplicate what is already being provided by Telstra, but with unproven technology.

Then there is the Government's licence condition that Telstra maintain — at massive expense — its old CDMA mobile network beyond January 28 next year, when it already had its perfectly good Next G mobile network in place to take over.

NextG is unproven technology, Jase, just like OpEl. When you have a monopoly service it's hard to work out what the right price is and should be - and the last people you should ask are the monopolists themselves.

Here's a hint about PR, Jase: if they have enough money to duchess you, don't listen when they whinge about not having enough money to do their job.
"Structural separation" is code for splitting up the company and that would destroy what's left of the share price.

Really? For most companies, splitting the company actually releases value tied up in monolithic structures. Did you actually check with anyone who knows the stockmarket Jase, other than the Telstra PR dolly who fed you? Why would Babcock & Brown knowingly engage in value-destroying activity after all this time, Jase?
The only joke in this debate is the Government's ... refusal to lift a finger to make happen the one thing that everyone wants: a world-class broadband network.

Actually, I'm quite happy with more than one world-class broadband network to choose from. I'm not convinced that FTTN is that, Jase, but maybe you'll miss out on future junkets if you start asking questions about network quality by a company that just isn't interested in quality service - except for the most gullible journalists.
In no area of public policy has Coonan performed so poorly as in her management of Telstra.

And here's me thinking that Sol Trujillo's job was to manage Telstra. What's your idea of good management - other than lavishing taxpayer money on Telstra, Jase? The fact that you have no idea puts you at the top of my list of All-Star Press Gallery Bunglers.

Fixed terms

Fixed terms for politicians is not a good idea.

Yes, incumbent politicians use them for their own ends - but this only applies if the incumbent is re-elected. Billy McMahon thought he was being clever by putting off the 1972 election as long as possible, and he was wrong. Malcolm Fraser thought he was clever by going early in 1983, and he was wrong too. Who knows what Howard is up to?

Fixed terms provide no way of resolving political deadlock. If the US was a parliamentary democracy, Dick Cheney would have been rolled by now and the expensive parade of candidates would be more relevant than it is.

Phillip Coorey in the SMH tried investigating this issue as a hook for his weekly politics column. "If four years is good enough for the parish pump outfits that run the states, it should be good enough for the federal government" is as weak an attempt at a piece of reasoning as I've ever seen. Which of those entities are you holding up as a model of good governance, Phillip?
As Mark Vaile said yesterday: "If you bite both ends off a three-year term it shortens the ability of a government to really implement its strategy."

If you bite both ends off a three year term, and you're the Deputy Prime Minister, you've got nobody to blame but yourself. If you've been stuffing about for three years assuming that Beazley is going to gift you another term by default, it's doubtful you'll achieve much in three more weeks.
But the Prime Minister was pressed for time. He announced the [proposal for the Federal Government to regulate water flows in the Murray-Darling basin] without consulting the states or Treasury. A good idea but poorly executed. The proposal has floundered and we and the river system remain worse off because of it.

Exactly what aspect of the Murray-Darling takeover was a good idea, apart from the most dreamy generalised and wishful aspect? Would you like to work in an environment that has been this poorly thought through? Policy-making like this is reason enough to get rid of Howard, and to invalidate any credibility he might have on economic and experience grounds. If you were a journalist, you'd look into that.

Not that this has anything to do with fixed terms, of whatever duration.
Four-year terms will not end election-year panic but will allow a solid three years of proper government beforehand.

Right, "proper government" like we have in NSW that gives us decrepid health and transport systems, where the issuing of a press release and a wooden performance from Sorry Morry makes it all OK. Until tomorrow's news cycle.
Should it have eight-year terms with half-Senate elections each four years, or full-Senate elections every four years?

Either would be suitable, and if the people want checks and balances, they can still vote differently in the Senate.

Gosh, thanks Phillip. Thanks for deciding it's suitable. Thanks for telling us how we can vote, rather than what's going on so that we might be better informed about how to vote.

An election result is a snapshot of the time in which it was held. Phillip believes it would be "suitable" to have 2007 governed like it was in 1999. This isn't a matter of "checks and balances", it's a matter of relevance. A lot can happen in eight years: a Senator elected to support the Vietnam war in 1966 would have still been in office 1973, when the war was pretty much over and not in the way envisaged in 1966. A week is a long time in politics - a one-term Senator would be eligible for a pension.

This sort of thing plays merry hell with good government but it beats the hell out of gridlock.
But the red room should be a secondary concern. It long ago stopped being the house of states' rights and is as every bit party political as the House of Representatives.

So long as it remains possible to amend legislation there, and for something like 1975 to happen again, the voting patterns surrounding the Senate remain important. If you're bored in covering the Senate Phillip, get another job.

03 October 2007

An opportunity for Josh

In his latest missive to his would-be constituents, Josh Frydenberg gets all topical and talks about Burma.
HAVING been detained by the Burmese military regime for more than 11 of the past 18 years, Nobel peace prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi is a modern hero. While history has recorded the triumphs of resistance leaders such as Nelson Mandela and Xanana Gusmao, Suu Kyi's day has yet to come. Her achievements will depend, in part, on how Burma's neighbours respond to the present crisis.

Just because Aung San Suu Kyi has not assumed the office to which she was legitimately elected in 1990 doesn't make her a failure, Josh. She already has an awesome record of achievement and it's patronising to imply otherwise.

He offers the usual crap about "co-ordinated regional response" and "international community", and some Google work on Burma's gas resources worthy of a Year 8 Geography assignment. However, there are two main problems with this piece and both reveal quite a lot about Josh, the quality of advice he rendered to Downer and Howard, and our prospects of having him help govern us going forward.

First, he mentions Burma's "stability" in passing - but clearly a country cannot be stable under such repression as this country has suffered for so long. The generals yearn for stability but the tighter their grip, the more security eludes them. A slaughteryard might be quiet, but it isn't happy or prosperous. There is room for a heartfelt (or even ironic) exploration of this, and with that a re-examination of the principles underpinning Australian foreign policy in the twentyfirst century. Then, perhaps, you might stop talking about the achievements of Aung San Suu Kyi in the future tense.

Second, there is the proposal for a parasitic, glory-hogging relationship with ASEAN:
It is ASEAN's new robust position that offers an opportunity for Australia.

Diplomats in ASEAN nations have been working away quietly for decades on the whole issue of Burma. It was they who made the 1990 election possible, who watched their hard work crumble when the junta refused to accept the result, and who have been working patiently to restore some of the promise that election seemed to offer. It is not at all "new". It should be amazing that someone with Josh's foreign policy experience has missed all this hard work - and that he should belittle Australia's neighbours by ignoring this.

Josh is seriously proposing that ASEAN do all the hard work in getting Burma's tyrants to wake up to themselves, and then step in and take credit. He offers no solution, no unique contribution that Australia can make in supplementing covert and overt ASEAN efforts. Canberra has no clout with either the generals or democracy activists, and can add nothing to "work with ASEAN to draw Burma into multiparty talks". ASEAN have their own presence in Beijing, Tokyo and New Dehli, and any involvement by Australia would reinforce a perception of us as carpetbaggers in the region.

I won't mention the pissant effort at APEC Sydney if you'll stop calling it "leadership". The US are bogged down in Iraq, and even before that US policy on Burma was not much better than that on Cuba. The only Europeans who give a damn about Burma are the silliest Clare Short-style leftists, who are absolutely useless in working out solutions or anything else but screechy speeches and flouncy walkouts that do nothing for survivors in Burma.

There is no reason why Yudhuyono would complicate an already fraught situation with multiple stakeholders by involving Canberra. The Indonesians invaded East Timor at a moment of political weakness in 1975, and their shenanigans over the sentences of the Bali bombers is their way of scorning our political weakness. Again, it is stunning that someone claiming extensive foreign policy experience can't see this.

The generals have all the power they want and seem to have survived the latest challenge. They have all the trading opportunities they want from China, who are hardly going to criticise the Burmese for doing what they've done in Tibet for half a century. They have nothing to gain from multiparty talks - and therein lies the foreign policy challenge. More power to President Yudhuyono if he can work something out, but spare him - and the long-suffering people of Burma, spare us all - from Josh.

02 October 2007

All we need is ...

This article pissed me off. I had to fight the urge to dismiss it both on account of its provenance (the "Government Gazette"), and its old-timey historical determinism (the trouble with having the right stuffed full of ex-Marxists is their rancid Hegelian baggage).

It is true that Howard has won elections despite outrages against human and civil rights. It is not true, however, that these issues will always be politically irrelevant. Who dares to declare that the landscape will never change such that these issues become very important to an electorally significant group of voters?

I strongly doubt that "Subaru-drivers" are the only source of "Howard haters" who are all too eager to help Maxine McKew. She and her team would have to take out court orders to prevent hordes of MUA goons from marauding around Ryde and helping reinforce those themes behind the anti-anti-WorkChoices ads.
the "Not happy, John" movement. You know, that phalanx ... the "Not happy, John" folks ... annoyed ex-Liberals such as the "Not happy, John" crew ... the chief players in the "Not happy, John" movement ...

Damn it, I thought we'd qualify as a brigade by now. Piers Akerman and Gerard Henderson have dispatched so many "brigades" that they make those VC winners look like pikers. How can you be a right-wing intellectual without a battery of cliches?
After all, most Australians don't hate Howard.

Nice bit of straw-man knockdown there, Dave.
But sticking pins in a voodoo doll of the PM ... Nor do they identify easily with voodoo doll politics and personal vilification.

If they don't identify with straw-man tactics, you're done for Dave. I was a Liberal for 14 years and an ex-Liberal for seven, and in all that time I've never seen - or made - any voodoo dolls.

It is true that disaffected ex-Liberals have had solid grounds to be disaffected with the Howard government. It is also true that they we have been extraordinarily lazy intellectually in response. Relying on Phillip Ruddock, Amanda Vanstone or Robert Hill to inject some sense has failed, and was never a sound strategy anyway. Bleating on about Our Ancient Systeme of Lawes (with all its attendant blind spots) like Greg Barns does is no good either. The decrepitude of the Democrats is our fault as much as theirs.

I ignore pamphlets in the letterbox, you ignore pamphlets in the letterbox, so what makes you think you're making any sort of positive difference by stuffing things in letterboxes? We need to be out of politics to get the best perspective and the freshest ideas, not thrusting ourselves into the fray proudly advertising our lack of answers - because by doing that, moderate liberals are no better than Howard himself.

Update 3/10: Larvatus Prodeo on this