30 December 2007

The mysteries of the Nile

Any Muslim Australians who feel themselves and their co-religionists to be persecuted minority: rejoice and know that you are soon to be welcomed within the very bosom of Aussie life, if you aren't already. Know that celebrating Eid at Lakemba mosque is about to become the hot-ticket event to beat them all, inundated with TV soap stars, footy players, politicians and other hangers-on.

How can I tell? Simple faith in Aussie moderation? No, a far more potent force. Fred Nile has trained his guns on Muslims, so hitch up your hijabs and wade right in to the great Main Stream of Australian life.

Fred Nile began his political career in an organisation called Right to Life in 1981. Laws against abortion were relaxed in Australia during the 1970s, Nile rallied enough votes from people who thought the old laws - which led to both criminal and bacteriological corruption - were fair enough, and landed himself in the NSW State Parliament.

Result: polls consistently show that three in four Australians support a woman's right to choose. In the US abortion is a fraught political issue because pro and anti forces are well organised, but in Australia it's not even close.

We have a situation where someone like Tony Abbott could spout off at election time about "the epidemic of abortions", yet as Health Minister for many years he has funded thousands of them - and would have kept doing so had Howard been re-elected and kept him in that portfolio. Any attempt Abbott could make to make abortions more difficult to procure would have ended his career. The Liberal Party would not have indulged Abbott on a jag like that and the electorate of Warringah would have turfed him.

To his credit, Abbott did little to draw attention to this issue. Complaints about the publicly-funded phoneline offering alternatives to abortion have come to nothing because nobody uses it. It was Fred Nile who banged on about abortion, forced people to think about the issue and to ultimately decide against whatever Nile was proposing.

When it came time for Fred to get re-elected, he had a new target: homosexuals. Did Darlinghurst and Surry Hills go the way of Sodom and Gomorrah? Did they, um, bollocks. The more Fred Nile drew attention to this issue, the more crowds flocked to the Mardi Gras where it has now become Sydney's answer to the Melbourne Cup (insert your own gags about frocks, or being in the saddle). There is widespread community support for an end to discrimination against gays, and Fred Nile ought to share some of the credit for that.

Now, Fred Nile is targeting the Muslims. Inshallah! Having worked so well for both Pauline Hanson and Karen Chijoff, Nile is pandering to Camdenites who have proven themselves less intelligent, less community-minded and less well educated than the more productive occupants of that area, Mrs Macarthur's ewes.

You can see why, when the Assemblies of God churches wanted a vehicle to get like-minded candidates elected to Parliament, they gave Fred Nile a wide berth.

I hope that Fred Nile find that picking on people is actually inconsistent with the wider message of the man that the Qu'ran calls Isa al-Massih. Still, nobody expects soundly practical political advice from me. There's money and votes to be had, and what constituency is easier to lead by the nose than Christians? Who else places such total faith in high-sounding words and good intentions and can be steered away from inconvenient facts?

It was a shame that Nile produced a report on the Royal North Shore Hospital that produced nothing more than a call for more reports. His credibility in railing against abortion and euthanasia while accepting the failures of systems ostensibly designed to preserve life - and preventing any real oversight or checking implementation of reforms - is zero.

If you want a health system that preserves human life and a legal system that treats your fellow man as you would be treated, then why would you vote for Fred Nile? If you were a blogger concerned about the plight of Muslims, why would you not welcome Fred Nile's brain-farts about al-Camden? Muslims in Egypt have turned the Nile to their advantage for millenia, and there's no reason why their Aussie counterparts can't do the same.

Update 5 Jan: I sent a modified version of this post to the SMH on Wednesday 2 January. It wasn't published - but let's just say that great minds think alike.

29 December 2007

The limits of insider access

One of the oldest debates in journalism is how far a journalist should go in order to get access to information that wouldn't otherwise be available in the public domain. The weakness of the access-for-information model is that insiders lose perspective, over-emphasising trivia and underestimating the importance of wider issues to those who are governed until it causes some reaction that not even insiders can ignore (e.g. an election loss, a terrorism attack).

So it is with this piece by Greg Sheridan. The reason why Western policy toward Pakistan is such a shambles is because it's always been a shambles, ill-informed and poorly judged. It was a shambles before Benazir Bhutto died, and it would have been a shambles had she survived and become Prime Minister of Pakistan once again. Sheridan can't/won't face this, which has warped this article along with his whole outlook on foreign policy, which makes him (as I've pointed out previously) useless at his job.

It was silly to put all Western eggs in Bhutto's basket. Her achievements are either outweighed or balanced by negative aspects of her time in office. The compromises she needed to make induced inertia at a time where action might have avoided the current predicament of that country, and its unfortunate impact on the wider world. This legacy shows why she shouldn't be treated like Princess Di, why the over-the-top fawning is so misplaced.
THE assassination of Benazir Bhutto is a catastrophe for Pakistani democracy and society.

Bush said that the assassination was a setback for democracy - but given that Pakistan is a military dictatorship, it was puzzling. Bush might need to pretend hat Pakistan is a democracy to make his policy palatable for his country and its domestic politics - but why would Greg Sheridan wish to mislead his readers by passing on such nonsense?
When historians look back on this period, they may well identify the inability of the West to keep its friends in the Muslim world alive as one of the key factors strengthening the extremists at every turn.

If Bhutto had been surrounded by US Secret Service agents, would this have enhanced her appeal among the voters of Pakistan? Pieces like this are called "think pieces", so think, Greg. Do you think that placing too much reliance on one person in a nation of hundreds of millions was the real scandal here?
Washington wanted the forces of secularism in Pakistan to reunite. In that equation President Pervez Musharraf represented the broadly secular military and Bhutto represented the civil society: the judges and lawyers and academics, and also the ordinary poor people of Pakistan who throughout their history have been mostly religiously tolerant and politically moderate.

This is a poor piece of modelling and highlights what Sheridan is trying so hard to disguise: that US/UK policy was manifestly inadequate.

Musharraf has lost the support of the military and unnecessarily alienated the judiciary.

How nice that you remembered the actual voters right there at the end, Greg. That deft piece of modelling explains why the partition was such a picnic and those who struggle for an Islamic monoculture are the only ones who seem at all organised.
... adding a sheen of legitimacy to the Pakistani power structure.

Just a sheen, mind you. Have these people learned nothing from their stuff-ups during the Cold War?
The other opposition leader, Nawaz Sharif, also a former prime minister, had previously decided to boycott these elections. Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party is in at least temporary disarray.

This makes Sharif's boycott a little self-indulgent, no? Given that Sharif is the guy Musharraf replaced, maybe he's doing the country a favour. What about the other parties, and their regional/ ethnic/ religious/ caste interests? Any examination of other players in Pakistani politics that hasn't been refracted through Washington?
Musharraf has now produced a society in which the nation’s most popular politician is assassinated.

By this measure, John F Kennedy was a failure as President. The middle of Sheridan's article was about Musharraf's failure, which is fair enough: rather embarrassing for those who supported this turkey for far too long, and now Greg is talking about propping him up for the time being.
But in Pakistan, more than in any other society in the world, everything is black mystery.

More complex that China or Russia, or the Vatican? Really?
It was when Musharraf was army chief, and responsible for Pakistan’s arsenal of several dozen nuclear weapons, that A.Q.Khan, the father of the Pakistani bomb, was engaged in selling nuclear know-how and material throughout the world, in the greatest enterprise of nuclear proliferation in the history of the human race.

Musharraf was a key figure when the army created the Taliban to seize power in Afghanistan. Musharraf overthrew the democratic government of Sharif to install himself as dictator.

Compare and contrast with this.

Sheridan acknowledges Bhutto's deficiencies but fails to condemn those who thought she'd be a useful ally in the war against fake militant Islam, and who disregarded other alternatives. From an Australian point of view (as opposed to an Australian point of view), this county should have its own intelligence operating throughout Pakistan rather than relying on the frankly inadequate trickle from US intelligence and its discredited relationship with Pakistan's ISI.

Apart from Rudd's call for calm, what is Australia's interest and response? Analyse that, Greg. Let's have no more acting as a relay-station for your after-hours off-the-record drinking pals, or squirming at having to evaluate them and find them wanting. Let Australians know what's going on; do your job, Greg.

27 December 2007

Libs must reject Connie's con

This article is the voice of the far-right of the NSW Liberals, known as the Taliban. I have no idea why David Clarke didn't put his own besmirched name to this.
Indeed, this election saw mainstream conservatism take centre stage.

2007 must be the first election in Australian history where the rightwing of the Liberal Party can't blame "trendy" issues and moderates in their own party for the loss.
The challenge for us Liberals now is how to keep the party of Robert Menzies holding its mainstream centre-right base, rather than forfeiting its traditional conservative values to Labor.

One of the great pantomimes of Australian politics is that moderates can and do quote liberally from Menzies in support of their own arguments. If the conservatives have forfeited conservative values to Labor, this is a huge indictment of conservatives - it is like running a pub and letting it run out of beer, or being the captain of the Pasha Bulker. It's an admission of failure, time for someone else to have a go.
It appears OK for Rudd to be socially conservative and go to church on Sunday, but Liberals who do so are painted as "right-wing extremists".

No, they aren't. It is a lie to claim that religious faith ipso facto is the mark of an "extremist". This is a straw man. Christians are not a persecuted minority in Australia.
Indeed, the very fact that Rudd adopted so many of our policies meant that they were good policies which resonated with mainstream Australia.

The very fact that Rudd could repudiate so many of the worst policies (immigration, Iraq, industrial relations) encouraged people to vote for him. The fact that one could do so without sending the economy to the wall explains Labor's consistently high polling. The election result shows that people lost confidence in the Liberals' ability to continue delivering on these policies, and your intransigence offers no way back to government for the Liberals.
Since its introduction in 1997, almost 600,000 unemployed Australians were afforded valuable work experience by participating in almost 35,000 activities nationally to help them re-enter the workforce.

Similar stats were available for the make-work schemes of the Keating government.
Howard often talked about the party as a broad church with its conservative and liberal philosophies.

While this may be the case, it is clear that the party's strength in numbers was by far greater on the conservative side.

This was intended as a "ner ner!" to the moderates in the Liberal Party. What it does, however, is emphasise the conservatives' responsibility for the awful predicament of the Liberal Party today, and their lack of any ability or answers to get the party back into office.
The increase in membership, especially in Howard's home state of NSW

... is due to branch-stacking. It's not any sort of endorsement of conservatism, it's political bulimia. The fact that so few members of the Liberal Party campaigned for "their" party when they were most needed testifies to this.
More voters supported Howard because they felt comfortable with his brand of conservatism.

This worked less and less well as Liberal governments fell from office, and after the 2007 election it is flatly wrong. Pushing nonsense like this might be seen as intellectual staleness or denialism at best, at worst evidence of mental illness.
It is now up to the Coalition in opposition to hold the union-dominated Rudd Government accountable.

So the Liberal Party needs to reflect on the loss, re-engage its voter base, digest where it went wrong and rebuild itself.

Th Liberal Party needs to consider how it might offer a vision for government that is both different from and better than that offered by both Rudd and Howard three years hence. The Rudd government might fall short of expectations but the case is not made that Brendan Nelson (nor anyone else) could do better. Wishin' and hopin' just won't do it.
Let's not forget that millions of Australians voted for the conservative side of politics. They voted for us because they too shared our view of mainstream conservatism.

Let's not forget that if the Liberal Party wins a minority of votes and a minority of seats in the House of Representatives, it will not win the next election nor any future election unless it acknowledges and distances itself from the failure of the conservatives.


The whole tone of the good Senator's article shows the problem in dealing with the Taliban. They do not accommodate, adjust or compromise: they win or they lose. They are happy for the Liberal Party to lose election after election so long as they yield nothing, and shrilly insist in the face of all evidence that the thin stream of piss in which they marinate themselves really is The Main Stream. Howard won in 1996 by promising to be more moderate than he'd ever been (and more moderate than he actually ended up being in government).

The only way to deal with such people is to beat them and beat them again until people like the good Senator realise than associating with them is the way of failure rather than success.

I knew Concetta Fierravanti when I was in the Liberal Party. She was a vivacious, passionate and interesting person. She actually used to proffer herself as evidence of the success of Aussie multiculturalism! Then she became ambitious: she ran for Liberal preselection in 1994 for Warringah, losing to Tony Abbott. She tried to pick off Bronwyn Bishop in Mackellar, and was shunted into the Senate lest she succeed.

In the era of Pauline Hanson, the Taliban demanded she "de-wog" herself: she started wearing heavy make-up to disguise her olive complexion and called herself "Connie Wells". Perhaps the reason that she lost to Bishop is that - like her or loathe her - Bishop was actually more authentic than the "Connie Wells" of that time.

How ironic that a person who struggled with her own identity should preach to her party in its quest for its own identity. How awful that someone would allow themselves to be a catspaw for the Taliban. A party desperate for new answers is told that no new answers are needed (ner ner!). By promulgating a future without a vision she only ensures that she has made herself an obstacle, rather than a contributor, to the future of the Liberal Party.

26 December 2007

Ask a silly question

Unless Christopher Hitchens has not recently written a book about North Korea, it is unclear why he bothered with this. Given that his handwringing leftist days are behind him and his faith in Kick Ass America remains, it was an odd piece of writing. The sentiment is there but the absence of thought and refusal to allow for any sort of geopolitical context is disappointing for being unlike Hitchens' usual fare.

The answer to the question in the subtitle is: because there's no incentive for Bush to do anything, and if he realises anything then he surely must know there's nothing he can do but wait for the Kim regime to collapse. The ill-founded and directionless adventure in Iraq has prompted dictators the world over to taunt the Americans, from Tehran to Caracas to wherever else, and Kim Jong-il is just getting in for his chop.
There were a good number of sneers and jeers when President George W. Bush first employed the term "axis of evil," but I don't remember reading very many criticisms of the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004, by which Congress, among other things, established the post of special envoy for human rights in North Korea and directed him or her to submit an annual report.

Oh no, not an annual report! In the absence of any Australian press gallery journalists, it must have been hard to criticise something that seemed so pointless and which turned out to be so. How many of the horror stories you cite came from the annual report(s) of Mr Lefkowitz?
On June 13, Bush had received in the White House North Korean defector Kang Chol-Hwan, author of the chillingly brilliant memoir The Aquariums of Pyongyang, which describes the gulag system that operates in that unprecedentedly wretched country.


The Kim Jong-il slaveholder regime also made the same connection, denouncing Kang Chol-Hwan as "human scum" and announcing that, by agreeing to meet with him, President Bush had thrown "a wet blanket" on the negotiations about nuclear weapons. Since that time, the regime has tested a small nuclear weapon and (less successfully but no less suggestively) test-fired the sort of long-range missile that one day might be able to deliver it.

And where was Bush's response that he meets with whomever he damn well pleases? Instead, he writes a polite letter, a turn-the-other-cheek response to which even Jimmy Carter would have the guts not to stoop.
When runaway slaves are caught, fleeing across frozen rivers to the grim and inhospitable border provinces of China, they have been known to be led back in coffles, with wire threaded through their noses or collarbones, before being handed over to the punishment system.

Just as the Swiss are morally culpable for returning escaping Jews and escaped Allied POWs to Nazi-occupied Europe, so too the Chinese are culpable for returning these poor wretches to the North Koreans.
Indeed, it seems as though we are back to the same horse-trading style that marked the Clinton years, where North Korea pretends to comply on plutonium and reactor inspections and we pretend that the subsequent food aid and diplomatic contact does not have the effect of prolonging the life and credit of the Kim Jong-il regime.

And the alternative is ...? Since the early 1950s it has been clear that the People's Republic of China is the real power in that region, and that for the US to do anything but the above only puts Beijing on the defensive, which leads them to reinforce the Kim regime.

The best way to make the Kim regime suffer is to alienate it from Beijing. Rather than have Mr Lefkowitz hobnobbing in Washington and writing reports nobody will read, he (or someone doing his role properly) should be working with the Chinese to minimise - or even cauterise - the poisonous Kim regime. Even for a fully cashed-up and focused USA, this would be the best they could do. For the Bush Administration, bogged down in Iraq (the protestation that it could withdraw at any time and declare victory is like an addict's claim of being able to kick their drug of choice but to freely choosing not to) and otherwise a laughing stock, they're lucky to have achieved parity with the Clinton administration. Assuming, of course, that's what has happened.

This is not to diminish the grave plight of the North Korean people. To have faith in humanity and its future is to hope that this suffering will not long continue and will be roundly condemned. The Clinton administration will be able to claim that it did what it could to alleviate this suffering, and so too Bush can honestly claim that he and his could not have done more than what little they have, given the choices they made.

Yet, one can still hope that Bush had made - and that the next US President and other leaders will make - different and better decisions that might help the North Korean people at the expense of their current "government". To do this it is necessary to face honestly the decisions that have been made that allow the silly and inadequate Kim Jong Il to continue the rapine of his country. That was Hitches' job and he failed it, falling back on jerking anecdotes: tear-jerkers about slavery and circle-jerks at Washington parties. It isn't good enough Hitchens, and you don't even have the excuse of spending too much time in an Australian press gallery.

22 December 2007

Bad wine in broken bottles

Again, these pieces show how poorly served Australians are when we turn to the media for reporting and analysis on government and politics.

Paul Sheehan went looking for a justification for his profession and couldn't find it. Ray Cassin can't accept that Mungo MacCallum, like his contemporary John Howard, has run out of useful ideas. Michelle Grattan flogged another hobby-horse.

In today's SMH Spectrum (review not online - why? Engage in Sheehan-style paranoia in your own time), Paul Sheehan asserted that the Australian media was diverse and that it covered the 2007 election - better than the writers of the four books he reviewed, anyway. The fact that the Howard government continued to be taken seriously, and the Rudd government wasn't, for far too long puts the lie to this. Sheehan is right to skewer Margot Saville over ALP ethnic politics, but wrong to ignore the failure of a key idea underpinning modern journalism: that access is important. Sheehan was wrong to assess an academic study by journalistic standards. Cassin was right when he said:
... right up to election night, [Howard] still seemed unable to fathom why so many Australians believed that their country needed to change.

And he shared this incomprehension, for much of the year at least, with a depressingly large number of those whose daily task it is to report and interpret the nation's politics. The media's muddles, as much as the government's, form the thread connecting each of these books rushed into print to mark Howard's end.

Paul Sheehan, recognise that the people you think of as a diverse lot have a crippling case of groupthink. That said, Cassin has the same problem with a hoary old cliche:
Australia ... changes governments at the national level comparatively rarely: Since World War II, opposition parties have been elected to office only six times.

The same number of times as Britain, one fewer than the US (counting Presidents succeeding those of the other party as "change of government"), two fewer than New Zealand - when you say "comparatively rarely, compared to what? Where? Whom?

Apart from that, Cassin is spot on in identifying the theme of economic dislocation and lack of a sense of purpose in government policy as key drivers for Howard losing government. Where he has failed is:
MacCallum is a political writer of rare brilliance, as those who have followed his long career will know, and neither his wit nor his depth of knowledge has been diminished by fleeing Canberra to reside on the north coast of NSW.

The opposite of this is true. As Sheehan observes, MacCallum is about the same age as John Howard. MacCallum adds no new insight to the Howard government and its demise, and the excerpts posted in Crikey and elsewhere reveal it to be a flatulent waste. The very title of MacCallum's book is silly: the polls didn't dance, they were as unyielding as Kevin Andrews in getting rid of Dr Haneef.

Grattan deserves credit for persistence, if not much else, in declaring that the Liberals and Nationals should merge. There is probably greater cause for merging The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age and putting this old dinosaur out to pasture. She runs similar columns whether the Coalition win or lose.

She ignores the most telling objection: that such a merger would lead not to one party, but three (the compromise entity, the rural rump who'd leave to form Katter/Windsor style cults of personality, and an urban rump that would form another minor party).

She disgraces herself with silly suggestions like this:
The Liberals should lean very hard on former federal president Shane Stone to come back for the short term. He is tough enough to knock heads together, and sufficiently well connected with business to raise hard-to-get dollars.

His term as party president was colourful but not constructive, he couldn't raise two bob and is closely associated with the past from which the Coalition is trying to extricate itself.
The party needs to become the "broad church" that Howard always talked about but never truly promoted. The small-l liberals should be putting their views about future directions. Many voters won't return to supporting the party until it has reclaimed the values it sold out.

The test of the merger thesis is: will such a scenario be more likely - or much, much less - under a Lib-Nat merger? Much less, I'd suggest.
There is no doubt that seriously considering merger is fraught and possibly beyond the capacity of those running either party.

Well, yes. Time to ditch the idea then?

The Nationals are in decline and, despite Barnaby, will almost certainly halve in numbers before the Liberals regain government. A Labor landslide in 2010 should see them win Wide Bay, Lyne, Gippsland and Cowper. Why merge when the Liberals can just pick apart the Nationals' carcass?
Even if a win for the conservatives is likely to be a bridge too far in 2010, they at least need to avoid going further backwards. That could mean exile for a very long time indeed.

You say this like its a bad thing, or that a merger would minimise damage to what is now the Coalition. Neither are true.

20 December 2007

Bri-Lo: stunned by the inevitable

Every time the Coalition has lost an election, some peanut has stood up and basically said it was due to marketing issues - the fundamentals are right, all we need to do is give them a buff and we're back in government before you know it - so don't do anything rash like turf out the State/Federal Director or any sitting members, ok?

Here Liberal Party Federal Director Brian Loughnane, the man who helped lose office for the Liberal Party in Victoria and since stepped up to do so federally, admitted that he was never up to the job of leading the Liberal Party's campaign into the 2007 election. Of course, there's a lot of passive-voice constructions, describing events he should have shaped, which of itself betokens the kind of failure that the stock market would never accept from a CEO.
There has been much commentary on the result since 24 November and much of it in my view is misguided and speculative.

Not here, at PoHo you only get rolled-gold quality.
... the result on 24 November was driven more by longer term strategic issues than a series of short term tactical events in the last few months, although these did unquestionably contribute to the magnitude of our defeat.

So, as Director it was your job to do the longterm planning. Right?
Since the election, we have conducted research among voters who switched from the Liberal Party in the seats we lost ...

The least I could do was cover my arse.
The redistribution effectively removed the increased margin won by the Coalition at the last election and reduced the swing required for a change of Government from 4.4% to 2.8%.

All that did was remove the anti-Latham factor, and given that Latham removed himself from Parliament beforehand this ought not have been surprising.
It had been evident ever since its defeat in 2004 that Labor had been getting its act together and was building on its experience in State campaigns to refine and develop its federal campaign.

It isn't like they snuck up on you, is it Bri?
Labor used its incumbency in every State as an integrated part of its federal campaign.

Yairs, all those hugely popular state governments, how could we voters resist? You and your silly mate Tronson have spent the last decade snuffing out Liberal state governments, and this is what you get. At least Macbeth didn't complain about Birnam Wood.
This had both political and on-the-ground effects, especially for resourcing local Labor campaigns for the federal election and for local media reporting.

Your job was to forestall that, Bri. Oh well.
Further, eleven long-serving Coalition members retired at the 2007 election. We were defeated in five of those seats.

Not counting the member for Bennelong, who announced his intention to retire at some stage into the future, and whose seat was also lost.
The Government came to be seen as internally focused and not directly concerned or responsive to their priorities ... Despite our increasing prosperity as a nation, many family budgets are tight. They have little readily disposable income and they expected the Government to share their concern about unanticipated rises in food and petrol prices and the ongoing increases in interest rates.

It is genuinely stunning that the Howard government took its eye off the ball to that extent, and it was your job Brian to bring it to their attention. Why else would you pay for polling and market research if not to pick up key messages like that?
The ongoing discussion on the future leadership of the Party contributed to this. It appeared to the electorate to be distracting the Government from what should be its real priorities (namely, the issues that concerned Australians) and helped create and then drive the impression the Government was losing touch and had no real forward agenda.

Importantly, it created confusion in people’s minds about the future and undercut our strength as the Party representing stability and certainty.

A 68-year-old with no real vision for the future was itself uncertain. So was further denying the leadership to someone deemed eminently suitable, just not yet. Again Bri, in a party of gutless wonders your job outside the parliamentary party could've enabled you to say something.
As the Government appeared to be distracted, Labor gained a foothold which Mr Rudd exploited though language and messages rather than by offering any real policy substance.

Your job was to shut down the distractions, Bri.
A range of other issues, including climate change, were used by our opponents to drive the impression of the Government losing touch ... The real political significance of these issues in my view was not that they changed seats but rather that they allowed our opponents to grow the sentiment that it was time for change.

... especially in the absence of any countervailing advice from you, identifying the need for policy and closing the scope for Labor.
The campaign against WorkChoices created anxiety in the minds of particularly public sector, clerical and blue collar workers, about what these changes could mean for them. Rightly or wrongly, people came to believe their negotiating position would not be as strong as it once was. Older people were concerned for their children and their grand children. The unions fed this anxiety with unsubstantiated claims and generalisations that the Government would go even further if it won the election.

So: think about the politics first, then introduce legislation. How hard is it? The sheer clumsiness of policies like this invalidated all that stuff about experience.
For the first time in our history, a third external force has intervened in our political process with resources greater than either of the major political parties.

Typical Liberal, no idea about history. Think about all that private sector money lining up against Chifley in '49. Think about the NCC. What about that mining company money that targeted Robert Tickner in Hughes in 1996? Don't try that bullshit on a well-informed populace.
The Coalition’s share of preferences deteriorated in each of the three elections between 1998 and 2004. Although the figures for this year are not yet final, it would appear as though our share of preferences has deteriorated for the fourth election in a row.

This is a significant strategic problem for the Coalition, and will make it difficult for us to win office in the future unless addressed.

The problem here is a dull and lazy Federal Director whose job it is to maintain relationships that enable favourable negotiation of preferences. Shoulda done something about that, too.
... events such as the unacceptable behaviour which occurred in Lindsay ...

So it wasn't just a one-off?
Our research shows the Australian people are watching carefully to see whether Labor’s promises are just more spin or whether they can deliver. The Coalition intends to hold Labor to the standards it set itself.

Labor will almost certainly fall short of the impressions it created. Nobody, however, will believe that the Coalition would have or could do better. That's why the Nelson strategy is such bollocks.
it has been Labor’s track record to go early if they can.

Every newly-elected federal government can't wait to be re-elected Bri. Menzies 1951, Whitlam 1974, Fraser 1977, Hawke 1984, Howard 1998: all went early.
I thank the tens of thousands of Liberals around Australia who volunteered during the campaign and on election day. Your Party needs you now more than ever and I encourage you to remain active in the Party.

You failed them all Bri-Lo, and owe them nothing but to bow out quietly. Give DodgyCrapster something to do.

18 December 2007

The first to get trigger-happy

Japan has no 'tradition' of hunting whales in the Southern Ocean. It does have a tradition of exceeding fishing quotas allocated to it.

It is entirely appropriate for the Australian government to enforce international treaties, particularly those which safeguard its rights within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Australia takes a hard line against Indonesian fishermen and people-smugglers in the waters to our north, and so should it against Japanese whalers in the waters to our south. Let's hope those 'further internal deliberations' lead to some positive action and that the whalers go home empty-handed.

What can be said for a party wary of any such action on the government's part on the grounds that it might offend people?
But opposition justice and border protection spokesman Chris Pyne said more caution was needed over an issue that could threaten Australia's relationship with Japan.

"So this smacks to me of Labor trying to get cheap headlines and being seen to be doing something about whaling rather than anything of any substance," he said.

Once you understand that Chris Pyne's whole life has been about the pursuit of cheap headlines and the triumph of being seen to do something rather than actually doing anything, you can see how rich this criticism is.

Once you've stopped laughing, consider how the politics of this situation plays out and how it taps into history. You can see a ridiculous old trope having fresh life breathed into it by the Coalition of the Unwitting.

We have a Labor government, seemingly unafraid to piss off the Japanese, just as in 1941-45. By contrast, we have Liberals snuggling up to the same bull-headed reactionaries in Japan who promote whaling (research: 'how tasty are they?') and who also defend the appalling Yasukuni shrine, where war criminals are venerated. Pyne should have more sense than to fall into this but there is a cheap headline in it, so he's after it with his ears pinned back.

Never mind that it was the Coalition that signed the historic 1957 trade deal - what we have here is the resuscitation (emphasis on the "suss") of the old trope that it's Labor who takes on the wily Japs and their exploitative tendencies, while the Libs who panders to them. Pyne and the Coalition are not the only ones who can play an old song:

... you sing bravo bravo - save me from myself ...

14 December 2007

Don't blame me

I wasn't going to focus on the Liberal Party because they're not the government any more. There are two reasons why I haven't stuck to that: one, because the country's new government is largely in Bali, and two, because it's always amusing to see people who have to move on but won't.

These three silly articles show only that things will have to get worse before they get better for the Liberal Party. There is no "business as usual" with such profound change. Editors that commission such pieces should not accept flaccid, self-contradictory pieces, and force writers to think through what they're saying - and by extension, think through what the Liberal Party has to offer going forward.

In this article, Minchin both makes the case for change and undermines it.

The 1983 Valder report doesn't need to be improved upon, apparently, and isn't the Liberal Party lucky to have people like Nick Minchin who've seen it all before? The 1996 election victory learned nothing from the Valder report and neither did the three victories following it. The Liberal Party has followed Kipling's poem If: it has met with Triumph and Disaster and treated those two impostors just the same.

Minchin is trying to position himself as Australia's Cheney, an absurd position without the protection of office. He and his are so many dogs in the manger of the Liberal Party, preventing any departure from Howard such that their feelings are protected though the Liberal Party go to the dogs. Any move against the Dave Clarke Taliban in NSW would be strenuously, if furtively, resisted by Minchin.

As to the pathetic bleatings of the Victorian Liberals in this article: that's what happens when you turn a once-great party into a cult of personality. Your golden boy failed; blame yourselves for your monoculture of mediocrity. Stop feeling sorry for yourselves: start winning some seats and preselecting people other than Kevin Andrews or the sorry bunch cringing in the dark corners of state politics.
... former senator and Australia's current high commissioner in London, Richard Alston, a Melburnian, has emerged as a favourite to become the Liberal president when he returns to Australia early next year.

Tony, it's up to you to do some research on Alston and tell us what that would mean for his governance of the Liberal Party. Can you imagine the collected wisdom of Richard Alston and Brendan Nelson identifying and recruiting talented candidates for public office, raising money, seeking policy input? Only if you really like the idea of a longterm Rudd government. The Vics could learn a lot about politics by sitting this one out and watching the action from Sydney, Brisbane and Perth.

Find out why all those big companies "based" in Melbourne are no longer run by Scotch boys and you'll realise that not having a Victorian PM is the least of your worries. The last two PMs from NSW came from Canterbury Boys' High School and De La Salle College Bankstown, two schools bereft of snob value. The last 'Victorian' PM came from Perth Modern School.

The only reason Frydenberg would have a piece like this appear under his name is because he wants the advantages of seeming like a man with the answers for the future of the Liberal Party, without the drawbacks of actually having to come up with ideas that, like, have to be tested and put to the test and stuff.
Significantly, the Liberals' success in 1996 was not the product of a wholesale change of its policies and personnel as promoted by Puplick.

Rather, it was due to a well-crafted strategy that appealed to mainstream voters, under the campaign slogan "For All of Us"

Yairs, that and thirteen years of Labor government Josh. Prepared to wait? You've promised Liberals that the wait need not be that long.

Personally, I thought that Puplick's point that more people in NSW buy tickets to the Sleaze Ball than join the Liberal Party was quite telling. No mention of party members in your screed, Josh. It will be hard convince people when you think they're irrelevant, and you should have learned that by now.
Victory can be achieved again by adhering to the philosophical foundations that dominated the Howard era — free markets, individual choice ... and an outward-looking, ambitious foreign policy.

In actual policies since 1996, rather than rhetoric beforehand, we can see that John Howard wasn't particularly committed to free markets. As for foreign policy: now you're just being a wanker. Foreign policy hasn't been a vote-changer since Vietnam. Best not to draw attention to foreign policy failures of the era that occurred on your watch, Josh.
But with Labor expected to govern with a buffer of only about eight seats, the Coalition may need a 2% swing to regain Government. Recent history shows that first-term Australian governments invariably suffer swings against them — 1% for Whitlam in 1974, 1.1% for Fraser in 1977, 1.45% for Hawke in 1984 and a sizeable 4.6% for Howard in 1998.

Again with the centralist arrogance that "Australian governments" are only those formed in Canberra.

The pattern for all state and territory elections in Australia since 1995 is that Labor squeaks into office, perform in a disciplined and responsible way while the Coalition becomes a rabble, and are then rewarded with landslide after landslide. It is that pattern Josh, not long-lost days of 1998 or 1974, that is most instructive here.
Brendan Nelson and Julie Bishop cannot afford to let the Liberals be framed by Rudd as opposing his commitment to saying sorry, signing Kyoto and rolling back certain aspects of WorkChoices.

Couldn't agree more - but this will happen over the dead bodies of Alexander Downer, Nick Minchin and Eric Abetz. This is a sacrifice I'd be prepared to make but the Federal Parliamentary Liberal Party - and the individuals themselves - aren't quite there yet.
It is a political reality that Rudd will be able to discharge these commitments and it would be counterproductive for the Liberals to oppose them. That said, the Liberals can give some ground on these issues but still own the field.

This is the Beazley conundrum - they gave away too much, tried to look responsible and owned no field worth having. Insofar as you propose anything at all Josh, there's nothing there.
On indigenous affairs, the Coalition's Northern Territory intervention and its commitment to holding a referendum for a new constitutional preamble were bold, popular and long overdue initiatives that pave the way for practical and symbolic reconciliation.

It was empty guff and backed by a career of indifference to any Aboriginal policy other than ye olde style paternalism.
On the environment, the combination of the Coalition's policies on deforestation, emissions trading and clean coal technology, combined with the international agreements it brokered at APEC, provides a platform from which to argue.

What policy on deforestation? APEC produced a press release that was undercut by the Chinese, George W Bush, and Alexander Downer's late night drinks. There is no platform to sustain anything, forget it.
Margaret Thatcher once said: "We must remember our duty to nature before it's too late." As a passionate campaigner on climate change she recognised that the public looked to the Government to safeguard the environment for future generations.

Now this is bullshit. I'd sooner believe that Margaret Thatcher shagged Robbie Williams than she said that, or backed it up.
The Liberals can ill afford to be left behind on either the practicality or the symbolism of this issue.

Too late, and congratulations for providing no suggestions on how they might develop environmental credentials without pissing off their base and repudiating Howard (and Minchin, and Abetz, and Downer).
Nineteenth-century European statesman Otto von Bismarck once famously remarked "politics is not an exact science". There is no single formula for victory.

Even a sound economy and proven leadership may not be enough.

The 2007 election showed that while the public wanted continuity on the broad issues, they also sought an articulated focus on the future. This leaves plenty of hope for the Liberals and scope for the modern Liberal philosophy.

May not be enough? Surely the last election is enough for anyone to learn this.

The quote from Bismarck doesn't give you a licence to be wishy-washy, Josh. If the Liberals have to repudiate the people to whom you were a "former senior advisor" in order to build that future, and to leave you behind, then so be it.

Turn away, turn away - this is a patient only beginning to realise the extent of its injuries and register pain and other loss. At least they're not the Democrats, but they never knew what it was to be "the party of all Australians". A dark night of the soul begins only once the light of the sun has faded beyond the twilight besetting us today.


Now that Walt Secord has been shunted off to a junior minister's office: isn't it great to have a government without press secretaries? So quiet, and the nation functions admirably.

09 December 2007

Nothing ventured

In this piece, Tony Wright leaves out the possibility that the Coalition might regenerate themselves by getting rid of dead wood. Peter McGauran and Philip Ruddock both entered Parliament in byelections following Coalition election losses. There are two reasons for this: first, there is no plan for regeneration and second, Tony Wright didn't get where he is today by imagining what might be.
The Brendan Nelson-Warren Truss Coalition is diving into a toxic stew

If you've written a boring and unimaginative article, it doesn't help anyone to waste dramatic imagery like that.
A lot of those voters are likely to be in a savage mood at being forced back to the ballot box so soon after the federal election.

Now you understand why Bennelong voters tossed out Howard. Mind you, there's the flipside that there's no point in having someone hanging around when they don't want to be there.
At 50, Peter Costello has a bit more time than the others to build an inheritance for the kids, probably in merchant banking or other parts of the corporate world that would be keen to have a former national treasurer on board. But that world is ruthless, with a short memory for achievements of the past. Costello can't afford to wait and watch his opportunities sail by.

Tony, Peter Costello did precisely that to the Prime Ministership of Australia. Merchant banks and corporate boards do not need someone who's going to wait until something falls into his lap, and neither do they want to cruel their chances with Labor governments by providing a bolthole for someone who kicked their arses for eleven years. Think, Tony, think.
Peter McGauran is 52, and his great love outside politics has long been the racing and thoroughbred industries. Once a jockey, a racecourse steward and a horse owner, the massive money lavished on horse racing in Dubai — or maybe Newmarket, in England — awaits his attention.

Yairs, after his stellar dithering over equine influenza I bet they can't wait.
In the back rooms, a rapid-transit view is crystallising ... That train of thought, according to Liberal sources, has led to a loose plan to hold all four byelections on a single weekend in February. The cost to the taxpayer and the pain to the Coalition would be over relatively quickly

It's called groupthink, it's called panic, it comes from the same bunch of clowns who blithely ignored Rudd until it was too late. A train does not crystallise, Tony. You're no more thinking clearly than they are, so what's the point of you?
Costello managed to keep the swing to the ALP in his Melbourne electorate of Higgins to a relatively small 1.3% last month, leaving him enjoying a margin of a bit more than 7%. Much of that, however, is attributable to his personal standing and the chance that Higgins voters could have produced a prime minister. It is not out of the question that the voters — even in a blue-ribbon area such as Higgins — could turn viciously anti-Liberal in a byelection with Costello gone, stripping the seat from Nelson's Coalition.

This doesn't explain why this mattered not at all to the voters of Bennelong. It would take a heroic effort for the Victorian Liberals to lose Higgins, such as if they preselect Josh Frydenberg.
The question bedevilling Costello, Downer, McGauran and Ruddock would be whether or not they should take the leap in the weeks before the budget — thus giving Rudd and Swan a blessed period where the media would concentrate on the Coalition's byelection horrors rather than the economy. Alternatively, to quit soon after the budget would likely grant Labor a greater budget honeymoon.

It's an indictment of the media that they can't snap out of the midset that Costello, Downer and Ruddock are still the master players while the Prime Minister and Treasurer can be excused for not focusing on the economy. A genuinely pathetic mindset. However, could be worse:
Victoria's Kevin Andrews, 52, dumped from Nelson's shadow ministry, is said to be utterly furious. He is, after all, Victoria's second-most senior Liberal after Costello. "Don't be too surprised if Kevin chooses to walk," one Liberal said. However, another senior Coalition figure dismissed such an idea, declaring that Andrews had come to politics in middle age (he was 39) and therefore had chosen it as his final career. In politics, everything, it seems, is in the timing.

Bungled WorkChoices, bungled immigration. No gratitude, some people! At least Andrews hasn't built a faction to wade into the Costello-Kennett miasma, but even so what he hadn't done defines the man and puts the lie to all that Teddy Roosevelt crap about the man in the arena.

Speaking of bungling, here's today's Jase:
I feel very confident that not a shred of evidence will be produced to prove me wrong.

Yes, he's finally found a bunch of Canberra people who don't rise to his silly goading, and he can't handle it.
Spend long enough in Canberra and you eventually get to observe these misfits at play. A more conspicuous bunch of odd-bods you couldn't imagine.

This is rich from someone who works in the Canberra press gallery.
Like the CIA, Australia's spy agencies are incompetent money-guzzlers and should be abolished.

Australia's intelligence agencies have far greater records of success on developments in our region than does the CIA, and it takes more than a bit of idle piling-on to realise that.
"Writing about spies and intelligence agencies occupied a large part of my career," wrote Knightley in his memoir, A Hack's Progress. "I do not regret it … but espionage itself is a dirty business riddled with deceit, manipulation and betrayal."

Which makes you wonder what sort of person would want to get into the business in the first place. Anyone who finds the idea of spending their entire working life not being able to tell a soul — not even their own families — what they do for a living is bound to be a fairly warped individual.

Politics and journalism are also dirty businesses riddled with deceit, manipulation and betrayal. What sort of person gets into those businesses, Jase?
As for foreign intelligence, there is no need to go beyond the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

It has hundreds of normal, well-educated people stationed all over the world who spend their days learning all sorts of interesting facts and gossip about the countries they are living in. And they send all that information back home in neatly packaged cables that inform policy-makers throughout the government.

Their performance on East Timor and AWB left a lot to be desired. Personally, I blame inadequate scrutiny from politicians and media, Jase.

It's time we put an end to this racket known as the parliamentary press gallery. To sustain a belief in the efficacy of press gallery journalism is to ignore at least 70 years worth of ineptitude, inadequacy and dereliction.

07 December 2007


The Opposition frontbench has something for everyone, so long as you ignore what should be its most important goal: to get the Coalition back into government. It probably shores up Brendan Nelson's position while leaving those left out feeling as though they're still in with a chance.

  • Julie Bishop: employment, business and workplace relations. Good choice, should put Gillard's feet to the fire. I suspect Bishop will be better in opposition than in government.

  • Malcolm Turnbull: shadow treasurer. Who else? Should reinforce Sydney as the nation's business capital. Weak on organising personal office and in empathising for non-business people.

  • Andrew Robb: foreign affairs. No! This is a party-room fixer who should be in a role like infrastructure, shoring up funding and support and staring down Labor and the Nats.

  • Nick Minchin: defence. Will nitpick Fitzgibbon and let him get away with murder on wider strategy, where both are as stunningly ignorant as one another. The fact that he can't put Fitzgibbon away should end forever the delusion that he's a heavy-hitter. Best not to expose him to voters.

  • Tony Smith: education, apprenticeships and training. Needs purpose in life now that Costello is gone, hopefully the good reports of him will be borne out.

  • Tony Abbott: Indigenous affairs, families, community services and volunteer sector. This has to be a pisstake. Mr People Skills telling Aborigines to suck it up, or pedophile victims to go see a priest, or headbutting Jenny Macklin. He'll go to Turnbull's camp out of sheer boredom after a few weeks of this.

  • Ian Macfarlane: trade. Excellent, provided he can lose the agriculture-centric perspective, and is prepared to stick around.

  • Joe Hockey: leader of opposition business; health and ageing. Potentially very good, if he can master the brief he should be able to more than checkmate Roxon.

  • Greg Hunt: climate change, environment and urban water. Deserves benefit of doubt.

  • Bruce Billson: broadband, communication and the digital economy. Also deserves benefit of doubt. If he can withstand early blows from Conroy the latter should collapse in the face of steady, consistent pressure, which Billson seems well placed to provide.

  • Christopher Pyne: justice, border protection and citizenship. Lotsa press releases.

  • Bronwyn Bishop: veterans affairs. Silliest decision yet. The NSW Division needs regeneration and it needs Mackellar. You could almost convince Liberal preselectors there that the old girl has had her go - now she gets a second wind the Liberals will never get rid of her. So much for reform and renewal - thanks, Brendan!

  • Stephen Ciobo: small business, the service economy and tourism. Nobody. Craig Emerson will eat him alive.

  • Michael Keenan: shadow assistant treasurer. Let's see if he can live up to the rumour that he's barely competent.

  • Warren Truss: infrastructure, transport and local government. Fuck the Nationals, give them nothing. Give 'em veterans' affairs and say they're lucky to get that. Warren Truss wouldn't know what day it is. Albanese will eat him alive.

  • Nigel Scullion: fisheries, agriculture and forestry. As above, but substitute Tony Burke.

  • Helen Coonan: human services. Sure, why not? If only there was a Liberal government somewhere, she could be offered a judiciary.

  • Peter Dutton: finance, competition policy and deregulation. Out of his depth. Shoulda had the role given to Pyne, who might have curbed his showpony tendencies in that role.

  • Chris Ellison: immigration and citizenship; manager of Opposition business in the Senate. Should've had this role in government about five years ago.

  • George Brandis: shadow attorney-general. Interesting to see his stance on issues of substance on civil liberties, federal-state constitutional matters, and the judiciary. He could run rings around McClelland, or he could become such a prancing twit that he blows the Liberals reputation as liberal reformers in the law for another generation. Do your best. Please.

  • Michael Ronaldson: special minister of state. Who? What? Unless this becomes a general wastewatch role, he's out of his depth and Faulkner will brush him aside.

  • Sharman Stone: environment, heritage, arts and indigenous affairs. Good, shoulda been in Cabinet five years ago.

  • Bob Baldwin: defence science, personnel and assisting shadow defence minister. Excellent choice.

  • Sussan Ley: housing, status of women. At the very least.

  • Pat Farmer: youth and sport. Whatever, dude.

Some good choices, some duds - the very choice of Nelson means the Liberals aren't serious about victory 2010, but this is a team that could more than hold the line until then - provided Nelson doesn't crumple into his own vacuousness.

04 December 2007

Bury the survivors

If you can't stop an inquiry, put your own people in charge and then nobble it. This is what's happened to the Liberal Party's hasty inquiry into itself - which nobody will read and from which no change will flow. This is one of the few news articles which tells you everything you need to know about the issue, as long as you know where to look.
... by appointing the former ministers Philip Ruddock and Andrew Robb to overhaul the party's rules and structures.

They will be joined by Scott Morrison, the former NSW Liberal state director and now the member for Cook.

Ruddock, the professional wet blanket; Robb, the high-level machine operator who doesn't understand why people join party branches; and Morrison, who ignored the last of the cries that if he didn't act the NSW Liberals would end up where they are now.

These clowns will get around and tell Liberals with sense and perspective to shut up, and if they don't they'll be ignored.
Party sources said Dr Nelson had commissioned the review over the weekend and that he was keen for root-and-branch renewal of the party at state and federal level. The review, expected to take several months, would examine problems ranging from raising funds to diminishing the roles of factions by giving the parliamentary leader more power in choosing candidates.

This would bring the Liberal Party in line with Labor, which has rules allowing the parliamentary leader and the federal executive to parachute candidates into specific seats, which Kevin Rudd did this year to good effect.

Several months. When they're not busy botching Senate tactics, that is. The most significant "finding" of this report will be this reform, the selection and parachuting. I doubt Nelson's ability to pick talent, let alone convince and then announce their candidacy. This will be a disaster for Nelson and the Liberal Party. At a time when the Liberals don't know what they believe, bringing them into line with Labor will go less well than a press gallery journalist might imagine.
"We are now in opposition at every level, state and federal," Liberal source said. "It's an opportunity to seize the moment and make some significant changes."

In other words:
1. We must do something.
2. This is something.
3. Let's do this.

Scared little bunnies win nothing.
The former foreign minister Alexander Downer, who is sympathetic with the need for reform, is being encouraged by colleagues to become the Liberal Party's next federal president and oversee the structural changes. The party is planning a federal council meeting early next year to elevate Mr Downer should he accept the role.

The next Liberal government will not feature Alexander Downer, and recognising this opens possibilities for structural change that make the Liberal Party electable without regard for the sensitivities of this easily offended relic of the Howard-Peacock era.
"Labor has a history of railroading people; we don't," he said. "It's going to be really touchy. But the party members need to know Brendan's not mucking about."

To be fair, the pinhead who gave this quote obviously wasn't aware of the Bradfield preselection in 1995 and what happened to that nice Mr Connolly. Also, he or she might like to speak to some moderates.
Part of the review will also look at having only one branch in each electorate, rather than a number of sub-branches that are more easily stacked.

Each federal electorate, one assumes; because what the Liberal Party needs right now is less of a focus on the tier of government it is best able to win. Nice one!
Mr Ruddock has decided to move to the back bench and will probably leave Parliament before the next election, but after the review is completed.

A man with no stake in the future and a thick crust of sentimentality. Brilliant! Well, what passes for brilliance in the Liberal Party.
Dr Nelson is finalising his team, but the announcement is being held up because some candidates, including the former assistant treasurer Peter Dutton, do not know whether they have kept their seats.

If this is the quality of Dutton's thinking, it would be best if he were kept as far away as possible from policy development and sent instead to audition for Spamalot to lead the singing of this.