28 September 2009

The very model of a modern major Liberal

Since the 2007 Federal election it has become clear that there is a whole new set of criteria for those wishing to become Liberal MPs - certainly in terms of Federal (as I nostalgically call it) Parliament.

Time was that you needed a law degree - presentation skills and familiarity with legal complexities being largely sufficient for a political career, with a common touch and an understanding of wider public policy in a few pet areas as nice-to-have.
When I was a lad I served a term
As office boy to an attorney's firm ...

You also needed a wife, who could lead community activities without taking them over and excluding others (playing political games that could cut across your own), as well as to demonstrate that you weren't female or effeminate.

During the 1980s legal qualifications were only important if you were bound for the frontbench. If you weren't red-hot ministerial talent you'd have speeches written for you and be told how to vote; incisive thinking, appreciation of subtleties and independence of spirit was, if anything, a handicap under such circumstances. From then into the '90s, what you needed was sufficient clout within your community to be able to raise funds (Bill Heffernan used to say that if you couldn't hit the phones and raise ten grand within a day or so, you had no business being in politics) as well as some familiarity in dealing with the dreaded meeja. All sorts of drones would pop up as State Director of the Australian Association of Whatever, plugging talking points during Whatever Week and outlining factors impacting on Blah Blah De Blah, and after eighteen months or so of that you'd see them running for preselection touting their Extensive Meeja Experience.

That's all changed now. What you need now to become a Liberal MP is to have been a staffer in the Howard Government. This is part of a refusal to let go and an inability to conceive of a post-Howard Liberal politics, but part of a new realisation within the Liberal Party that politics is different to the business of law or business or whatever else. Jamie Briggs, Kellie O'Dwyer and now Paul Fletcher have shown that the entry points to a career as a Liberal politician is open only to a group of people whose ranks are finite and closed to new entrants. To get into politics you had to have been in politics. Even Josh Frydenberg, a person of less substance than his resume, has gotten an opportunity that could more productively have gone to others.
Handsome and charismatic, Switzer carried endorsements from leading conservative figures such as John Howard, Tony Abbott and Peter Costello.

Switzer had given everything to the contest, but his opponents had managed to brand him as the candidate of the Right: a disadvantage on the north shore ...

It isn't just his opponents who brand him as a creature of the right, Imre: Switzer has done a bang-up job of it himself. In Imre's own commentary on the vote, he admits that the right were firmly behind Switzer: successful branding that.
Following Switzer was barrister Greg Burton. In the reams of copy churned out about Bradfield in recent weeks, few had mentioned Burton. But he gave a strong performance that played on the local Bradfield background that he and Switzer share and that many of the leading contenders lacked.

Burton sounds like the very sort of chap that would normally have held the seat for twenty years and done bugger-all with it (like B W Graham or Silent Billy Jack after World War II, or like Brad Hazzard and Michael Richardson in the NSW Parliament today); the sort of person who has no chance today, and who the Liberal Party will not be smart enough to steer towards another seat somewhere else. The same can be said for David Coleman. Worth noting that Imre didn't rate Burton before the event either; I'd include myself in that, except blogpost "copy" can't be measured in "reams".
Fletcher, around the middle of the order, surprised the preselectors with the vehemence of his speech. "He was loud, almost banging the podium," said one of them later. Possibly, he was overcompensating for a reputation for being almost soporifically cautious.

Possibly? Definitely. He took his weak point and nailed it, like Tony Abbott taking the microphone from the stand and working the room in '94. He made sure that his speech was memorable, unlike the clearly unremarkable smarm and bluster you'd expect from Switzer.
One of Nelson's loyal staff, Simon Berger, had made a decision to speak openly of his status as a gay man during the campaign to succeed his boss. Berger was considered among the second rank of serious contenders. His speech did not return to the issue of sexuality, but he told the preselectors that he was proud in so many different registers that they got the message.

And the message is: it's all about me, me, me. If I win it'll all be about me, and not us and certainly not you darling, just me. The man was a staffer and he blew it. He talked himself out of a job. He could have been a Senator, and could yet be if he can bear to talk about something else, if only to realise that the best light to shine upon oneself is refracted - especially so since Howard.

Is being a gay man a "status"? For implications and accusations, however, it is hard to go past this:
Leeser, who bears the manner of a rabbinical scholar ...

This is Imre's sneaky way of saying that Leeser is a Jew, dear reader - yes, with a nod and a wink to Imre's sources in the far right, and to his old comrades on the far left - a Jew.
Leeser's supporters began to speculate on how soon Turnbull would be elevating their man to the shadow ministry: with Switzer eliminated, they assumed the Right would lock in behind Leeser. They were wrong. Switzer's vote split straight down the middle.

It is great that Julian Leeser has cross-factional support. Without wishing to jinx him, he is genuinec political talent, bright and personable and diligent, with all the makings of a very good minister. People are right to assume that he's solid frontbench material. He will not take long to eclipse Ruddock, a man of whom fairly little was expected but not even that was delivered. If Leeser had beaten Fletcher it would have been no loss. Having seen the RMs-clad far right and they would never have voted for a Jew in eine tausende Jahre.

It is a pity that Paul Ritchie did not do better, a bigger shame if he doesn't going forward. No women either, apparently: in my day Words Would Have Been Said about that.
So what, apart from factional support, carried [Fletcher] across the line? One of the preselectors tells The Australian it was his demonstration of policy smarts.

"He talked a little bit about his background in terms of telecommunications policy and demonstrated, through questions, a knowledge that gave people some comfort," the preselector says.

"He was also the only one who made the point that there were some real issues that should matter to the people of Bradfield and that he would be able to articulate a case about, in language that the people of Bradfield would understand.

"The two examples he gave were the reduction in tax deductibility around superannuation and private health insurance. Instead of just talking about platitudes like Liberal values, or the economic stimulus package, he gave a new ground upon which the Coalition would have a case to take some real issues to the Rudd government."

Every carpetbagger under the sun can bang on about Liberal values, and many preselectors would have watched in despair as the party tore itself apart in the 1980s and '90s over definitions. The Liberal Party is still suspicious of those who love government a little too much, like Kevin Rudd, or who love the hootin' and hollerin' of "parliamentary theatre" - it is up to staffers who have to keep their heads while all the members are losing theirs in Question Time. They don't get swayed by celebrity, unlike the seven plonkers who voted for John Alexander. They go off to that funny town near the snowfields and balance competing interests in a way that keeps everything ticking over, and what happens in The Holy Grail stays there, and [for Liberals] hopefully chip away at that Labor government that focuses a little too much about foreign goings-on.

There will be Liberal MPs who weren't staffers, but they'll want a significant local presence in their marginal seat, and they are unlikely to become Cabinet ministers (they may get junior portfolios if the next Liberal PM feels so disposed, like the ones Jim Lloyd and Fran Bailey got). At the same time be perfectly willing to go to Canberra and park their not insignificant egos in order to be told, and do, exactly what the legion of current and former Howard government staffers tell them to do. That's the real reason why it's so hard to get talented people into Parliament - it isn't pay or the fishbowl lifestyle. The cliche about politics as a "greasy pole" is partly because the learning curve is pretty much vertical and what one learns may not be that useful. Besides, it's so much easier if you've had the rough edges knocked off you already, and you know that blame and credit come your way rarely and at random. The Liberals want to get back into office as soon as possible and can't afford lead-in time for newbies.

Part of representative democracy is the idea - the dream, perhaps - that the representatives are just like us. If you're a truck driver, if you're a surgeon, if you're gay or Muslim or a Tigers supporter, you should be able to go to Canberra and look into the pit and see someone just like you. The Liberal Party is doing what it can to distance itself from that dream, just as Labor has spent a generation taking into Parliament those middle-ranking union officials not good enough to make it to senior office.

Paul Fletcher is not just the man of the hour, he is a man for his time - a policy wonk and a bit of a cold fish, with a temper that shows itself when he thinks nobody much is looking. If that reminds you of anyone - remember that Rudd himself proved that it can take one to know one, and to catch one, which only reinforces John Howard as the defining politician of modern Australia.

23 September 2009

Blow that whistle, ref

68 years have elapsed since 1941. In that time, Labor has governed NSW for 50 of those years and the Coalition for 18. Major infrastructure problems can largely be sheeted home to NSW Labor, with its penny-ante perspective known as "laborism" guaranteeing that public sector wages will increase inversely to clear expectations of those jobs, while regarding infrastructure and education as the sort of thing only "the bosses" worry about.

Labor talks about "born-to-rule" a lot. It accuses the Liberals of having this attitude, but frankly those supposedly born to rule have little example of actually governing. Victorian Labor used to grouse about the Liberals in similar fashion, but when you consider how much of a lock the Victorian Liberals had on that state's government until the last quarter century.

Reba Meagher and Morris Iemma were prime examples of the "born-to-rule" attitude of NSW Labor, and now we see it plainly in Kristina Keneally.
With a display of arrogance far belying her two and a half years of ministerial experience, Planning Minister Kristina Keneally surely put paid last week to any dreams or perceptions some have of her being a future leader of the NSW parliamentary Labor party.

Hardly. Neville Wran did not take kindly to interrogation, and nor did Iemma or Roozendaal behave well when questioned over the various tunnel scams they perpetrated on Sydney.
Indeed, she behaved as if the opposition was breaching some sort of moral standard for even asking questions.

She's always behaved like that, though. If you were a NSW press gallery journalist, you'd know that, and if you were a real journalist then you'd have shared this with us long before now (and made other arrangements to get your informaton). This sense of entitlement and blockage of information whose supply is in the public interest is the essence of "born to rule" attitude. You can see why people were reluctant to get rid of Deirdre Grusovin to make way for her, and not just because the old duck wanted one last turn around the ballroom.
Keneally showed a lack of political maturity and showed her lack of experience with the estimates process, and ... shows, at best, a complete abrogation of her responsibility as a minister.

What possible control can the minister have over the planning department if she does not know who her number one public servant is being lobbied by? A real case of "see no evil, hear no evil".

Hopefully this casts light on any future announcements about things which she has supposedly initiated. It probably won't, though, as "the news cycle" will consign this issue to the bin and future announcements will be treated as though they matter.
Beside Keneally's accusations against the Sydney Morning Herald at the committee which have now been well reported that it is pursuing the McGurk story solely because it wants to stop declining sales, she twice accused a Liberal MP of being a slow learner by saying she had to speak slowly for him.

Kristina Keneally's judgment abut people and situations is crap, which means her political judgment is no good, which casts rather a poor light on those who've been talking her up (including Rees, who has put her in over her head). She is also a former disability services minister; everyone who dealt with her in that capacity and thought she was serious about those issues must now realise that she learned nothing from the experience and was never serious about issues that deeply affect many people.
Witness the following [exchange at the hearing of] the committee:

Liberal MP Don Harwin: You have not met with Mr McGurk or either Mr Roy or Ron Medich, have you ever met or had a discussion by telephone with Graham Richardson?

Keneally: No.

Harwin: No, never?

Keneally: No, never, ever, ever. Do you want me to pinkie-swear on it too, Mr Harwin?

Harwin probably knows Richardson better than Keneally does. After he fell out with Keating in 1994, Richardson began offering advice to the then moderates who ran the NSW Young Liberals at the time, including Harwin. They paid to pump him full of food and booze and he'd tell salacious but ultimately insubstantial tales. It was soon after this that the moderates lost control of the NSW Young Liberals, but don't let that get in the way of Keneally and the once-mighty NSW Labor Right who are to blame for her.
The talk is that it was Ms Keneally's husband, Ben Keneally, who was earmarked to take over from Deirdre Grusovin in the seat of Heffron by Labor's head office in 2003 but because of Labor's affirmative action policy we got Kristina Keneally instead.

Leaving aside the grass-is-greener perception of Benny boy, can you imagine KK as a political wife? She'd make Jeanette Howard or Belinda Neal look like the Governor-General for tact and decorum.
But last month Keneally got the sort of boost which could articially inflate any young minister's ego - an erroneous call from Channel Nine reporter Kevin Wilde that she was to be made premier "on Monday".

The challenge for Ms Keneally now is to get over her big head, get over her attitude that she should not be open to scrutiny and ... she should resist behaving like a pork chop.

She's already out of her depth and is being covere up for over this matter. She spoke to the Liberals to their faces in the way Labor hacks speak about them behind their backs. At a time when the constant narrative on the NSW State Government is one of arrogance, being out-of-touch an failing utterly on service delivery and longterm planning, Keneally reinforced all of those perceptions so much that it almost looks like some practical joke in cahoots with Harwin, O'Farrell's staff, and everyone else who's keen to see the back of these turkeys. If she had any sense the prospect of becoming Premier - on Monday or any other time - would appal her, as it apparently does Carmel Tebutt.

This does not, apparently, include Imre Salusinszky, a former communist who's used to churning out fawning propaganda about doomed regimes, and a News Limited employee used to eating shit while telling the few and dwindling numbers of those who care that it tastes like chocolate. News bag Fairfax all the time and Fairfax rarely respond, but when they do (as Andrew Clenell did at the end of his piece) it is telling.
THINK "NSW Right" and the image that comes to mind is of a pasty-faced, overweight male who is rarely seen in daylight, except when scurrying between one of his tribe's preferred Chinatown nosheries and Labor's nearby Sussex Street, Sydney, headquarters.

Actually, that's the picture that comes to mind about Imre.

He doesn't quite say about Keneally that "I did but see her passing by ...", because he interviewed her and if you look at the exchange you can see more than either intended to reveal about themselves.
And yet, despite the anomalies, the NSW Planning Minister has emerged as a rare, bright future prospect for the Right -- and for Labor -- in NSW.

Anomalies. Yairs. Ace reporting there Imre.
... few doubt she is a potential leader, perhaps as early as 2011, when Labor seems fated to begin a stint of rebuilding in opposition.

What about a stint of floundering, yelling at staff and colleagues and generally not getting it? That's what you'd have to expect from KK, Imre, providing the Greens don't get their at together. Have you learned nothing from your sucky portrait of Michael Costa?
No matter how scrupulous the incumbent, there is no portfolio that raises more powerfully the spectre of insider deals and special favours for Labor mates.

I didn't quote that stuff about a "shining aura" because I just couldn't bear it.

As for a scrupulous NSW Labor Planning Minister, I couldn't think of one - Imre is not so much setting up a straw man as a nothing against which to compare Keneally, in order that he might claim that nothing compares to her.
"I don't believe there is any credible basis on which to say there is some kind of underworld culture in Sydney property development".

And let that be her epitaph. She's Planning Minister of New South Wales, and she doesn't believe there is any kind of underworld culture in Sydney property development.

Imre, the woman's a liar or a fool; and so are you for not rolling around the floor laughing at the very notion.
... for the multimillion-dollar projects, [Keneally's predecessor Frank Sartor] introduced independent expert panels. The aim was to take the politics, state and local, out of planning and end the stench of a donations-for-decisions culture that had become pervasive after the Wollongong council bribery scandal last year.

In Sartor's original plan, this independent assessment would have included the bulk of the decisions at present taken by the state planning minister under the so-called Part 3A provisions, which were introduced by Knowles to allow state-significant projects to proceed apace. But Keneally has tweaked the intended function of the Planning Assessment Commission, limiting it to cases where the developer has made a political donation or there is a demonstrable conflict of interest for the minister.

The effect of this was the Augean effect of diverting rivers of cash that once flowed into Wollongong Council and other non-entities straight into Labor head office, and to make planning decisions arbitrary and opaque. Imre is so dazzled by Keneally that he has forgotten to be a journalist. No wonder Kate McClymont gets all the stories Imre, she doesn't dump on sources.
Some have claimed these changes reflect Keneally's closer links to the development industry via her factional ally and friend, Ports Minister Joe Tripodi (a sworn enemy of Sartor). She says it has been more a matter of moving from a long phase of reform, which looks towards the past, to a phase of vision, which looks to the future.

"The government has had a continuous program of improvement and modernisation of the planning system," she says, describing the reforms of Knowles and Sartor as being about certainty, efficiency and transparency.

In other words, Knowles and Sartor set the environment for Labor and all Keneally had to do was run it. She couldn't even manage that. This idea of "continuous improvement" contradicts the claim of breaking with the past and looking toward the future, doesn't it Imre.
Any rugby league analogy, it must be said, rings oddly in Keneally's accent, which sounds as if it set off from California and, at some indeterminate point over the Pacific Ocean, met Greg Norman's accent coming the other way. It is difficult to describe Keneally's pronunciation to those who haven't heard it: suffice it to say that, in parliament, "Mr Speaker" emerges as "Mr Spayka", and that she has never seen a terminal "g" that she did not make a valiant attempt to drop.

It is Keneally's American upbringing, and fears of how that accent will play in western Sydney, that have left some Sussex Street heavies unconvinced she is the great white hope for Labor in NSW.

NSW is used to people from other countries. Greiner from Hungary and Iemma from Calabria were elected no worries. Keneally lacks the confidence to project herself as she is. Nobody from Ohio need apologise for that and Keneally should be comfortable enough to speak with her own voice, as she claims unconvincingly at the end. She's trying too hard to be someone she's not, and that's what grates with everyone from the western suburbs, from Menindee to Maroubra and Tumut to Tweed Heads. Droppin' terminals and pronouncing "Spayka" like some bogan from Bankstown (or a would-be from Woollahra) is patronising and ingratiating at the same time. "Picking up the ball and running with it" is a cliché the English-speaking world over, Keneally had no right to be taken at face value on that.
"She is able to silence whole rooms of CEOs with one flick of her hair," says one industry source.

See, now we know that's bullshit. Keneally has a helmet of hair like the equally insecure (and alliterative) Bronwyn Bishop, but with an odd twist as though she suddenly jumped up from one of those old-fashioned hair-drying machines in 1960s hairdressing salons. When a horse flicks its head it shows it is being nervous and dismissive of people, and so it is with Keneally. Imre's source is as charmed as he is, but one can only conclude that neither of them have much experience with women or can get over the fact that one of them holds a position of responsiblity.
One area where relations have definitely improved for the government, under Keneally, is with the Urban Taskforce, a lobby group for large property developers that engaged in some legendary stoushes with Sartor.

That would be the lobby group run by a former Obeid staffer, and the brother of a Tripodi loyalist. Was McGurk a member of the UTF, Imre, or the Medich brothers? Find out before Kate McClymont does. Casts a whole lot of light on why Tripodi's been pushing her, or it least it would if you were a journalist. How important is the UTF to the State generally, Imre, or wouldn't you know?
"She has a very different style (to Sartor)," says Gadiel. "She makes a lot of effort to sit down with everyone and explain her decisions. You don't wake up and read her decisions for the first time in a newspaper.

Everyone has a different style to Sartor, Aaron, that's why NSW hasn't invaded Poland. Some lobbyist you are - your job is to influence the minister, not gain sneak previews to decisions that she would have made had you never been born.
"What impresses people is that she's extremely articulate and her thoughts are very organised."

Her thoughts are organised for her, by the sort of people who organise Aaron Gadiel's for him; impressive isn't the word I'd use unless I agreed with it, and could point out something other than a rendition of policy and personal disasters to demonstrate why.

20 September 2009

Hard to get good help in NSW politics

Finally, the NSW Liberals have woken up to the ALP. It took fourteen years and four defeats for them to realise that Labor runs against itself.

Bob Carr did it in 1999, acting as ombudsman for any dissatisfaction with the government of which he was nominally leader. He did it again in 2003, but nothing really changed then either. Morris Iemma, being a blank slate, promised to be a sort of action man on stuff that popped up in focus groups, but nothing changed and that was the whole idea.
That's the view of Liberal Party masterminds who have prepared a bloody campaign battle plan based on international strategies.

Liberal Party state director Mark Neeham has warned his troops Labor is shaping up for a no-holds-barred war in which its MPs will appear to turn on the Rees Government.

Mr Neeham drew on the advice of international political strategists to prepare a four-point bulletin for Liberal MPs, warning them of the Labor campaign techniques they would have to counteract.

See, they couldn't just learn lessons from NSW, which were perfectly sufficient to have drawn these conclusions. As for "international strategists", who would the NSW Liberals call upon to help?

  • British and Canadian conservatives would be kept busy in their home markets.

  • New Zealanders would only be able to regurgitate the same Crosby-Textor patter of which the Liberals are too well aware.

  • Other international sources of political advice - Zimbabwe? the Philippines? Afghanistan? Israel? Honduras? - would offer, ah, inexact parallels.

  • The only ones available for this sort of work would have been US Republicans who - how to put this kindly? - helped put the GOP where it is today.

When you donate money to the NSW Liberals as the most potent lever to force NSW Labor from office, this is what you're paying for. Those jerks wouldn't have the humility to charge a reasonable rate, either. As a blow-in himself, Neeham would have had to pull off something impressive-sounding to impress the local-yokels running William Street.
"They will try to portray themselves as 'different from' or not associated with the Rees Labor Government, and indeed Nathan Rees himself - [as] quasi-independents/community activists," Mr Neeham's message said.

"As part of this, the between-the-lines message to the electorate from NSW Labor MPs will acknowledge the community's anger and then seek to deflect it: 'I know NSW Labor is a failed organisation that's making NSW fail, but don't blame me because I am a good local MP fighting for you'. If, however, there is any good news to be had from the Rudd Labor Government, NSW Labor MPs in marginal seats will be organised to take credit for it.

There aren't that many Labor MPs who can make that claim. About a dozen or so of them are genuine community activists, and they are mostly old-school pollies in safe seats. Mostly they're union officials bumped off the path to union leadership and shunted into state politics as a consolation prize.
"There is already strong evidence of this 'identity-theft' tactic in electorate newsletters, direct mail and suburban media being done by NSW Labor MPs in marginal seats in relation to the Commonwealth Government's stimulus package."

There are two issues here:

  1. Nobody believes the State Government any more. They put out press releases on all sorts of stuff all the time, and a few days later they backtrack on it claiming it is "old news", and the press gallery report this because what else do they have to do?

  2. Federal Labor goes to the polls before NSW Labor does, and when it comes to March 2011 Labor MPs will find their credit and credibility pretty much empty, the sort of howling void that no branding strategy than adequately bridge.

It is a conceit of the marketing strategists' art that any sort of branding strategy might be capable of such a feat.
"On given key issues in an electorate, it is likely that NSW Labor MPs in marginal seats will be given the OK to openly campaign against their own Government's public positions.

"This will be done in the knowledge that at some stage the Government will 'cave in' to the local NSW Labor MP's demands.

"The purpose of this tactic is not only to a create a myth about local Labor MPs' 'independence' ...

"Their own government's public positions" are so rubbery nobody knows what they are. The hope is, Mark, that the Liberals also take a position against the policies of the Labor government, within a longterm narrative about substantial community needs like health and transport to which Labor no longer has any right to be regarded credibly. You need credibility and guts to allow people to run against you, qualities that Rees and his ministry lack.

An example of this is Verity Firth, a shot duck if ever there was one. Firth should resign from the ministry in a huff around mid-2010, bagging Rees and Sussex Street and vowing to fight for Balmain, to the roar of cheering that used to come from Leichhardt Oval when the Tigers did the same. Trouble is, Rees can't spare her from the front bench, and losing a key minister at an unfortunate time will be less the dropping of the other shoe than the excision of a gangrenous foot.
The Government would also try to look busy, Mr Neeham said, to give the impression it was getting on with the job. The already busy daily media advisory of ministerial activities would show more superficial action to make it seem the Government was addressing community concerns.

They're doing that already, except only Mark Neeham and Nathan Rees think this means "getting on with the job" - it's busywork for facile people. Creating "fixed fights" with such people is yet more pointless busywork.

The key ingredient of Labor's successes in NSW has been internal dissent within the Liberals, caused by David Clarke and egged on by cretins in his orbit. The removal of that ingredient is Barry O'Farrell's great achievement, succeeding where others failed. Now it is Labor that looks like the rabble - Neeham may be right in not wanting the Liberals to be complacent, but he was not obliged to do so in a way that makes him look so bleedin' obvious or that makes his intended audience (Liberal State MPs) look so stupid that they need to be lectured in this fashion.

The idea of that article is perhaps to show that Graham Wedderburn is overrated and that Nathan Rees' whole game plan - hoping nobody had noticed the state is going backwards under Labor - is pretty much shot, with no time or chances left. The idea that a muppet like Mark Neeham can see through you is a real disgrace for NSW Labor, the political equivalent of getting dacked in the middle of Sussex Street.

None of this will stop Neeham being fêted by the NSW parliamentary press gallery as some sort of genius - but the thinking shown in that article shows that he'll deserve no credit for the inevitable victory of March 2011. It's all O'Farrell's work, and the only thing required of Neeham is that he not screw it up and help light a fire under the State Parliamentary Liberal Party. If foreigners, however questionable, impress this moribund lot and get them moving - perhaps it isn't such a waste.

16 September 2009

Telstra and the journosphere

Hooray for the kind-of historic telecommunication reforms - kind-of because they were long overdue, but if they'd been truly historic you know that Rudd would have announced them rather than allow Conroy to bob up from the murky depths of Victorian Labor and frighten people.
Federal Communications Minister Stephen Conroy was yesterday accused by a prominent Victorian Labor MP of damaging the party's state election chances by interfering in the ALP's state branch.

Controversial MP and factional numbers man George Seitz launched the broadside after Senator Conroy embarrassed Premier John Brumby by baulking at Mr Brumby's choice for the key post of Labor state secretary.

"Conroy's behaviour is just appalling", Mr Seitz said. "He's gone against the Premier, publicly interfering, and people in marginal seats are in a panic because this material can be used in Liberal, National and Green election material."

Yeah, and doesn't election material count for a lot, George. Conroy hates state governments for the same reason that Tony Abbott and John Howard hated the idea of State Liberal governments: a dollar spent to re-elect the state government is unavailable to re-elect the federal government.

Conroy has shown that he can take on colossi like George Seitz and reform the nation's telecommunications structure at the same time. That's why Rudd was nowhere near this announcement today: there are no clear winners, just blood all over the place and Conroy with bits of still-warm gristle flecked all over his clothes, just how he (Conroy, not Rudd) likes it.

What was truly appalling were the reactions of the journosphere to this announcement, which has been almost inevitable ever since Rudd Labor took office. They jump like maggots in hot grease over a non-story like individual contracts, but when it comes to measured commentary on long-developing, far-reaching policy, they're useless:
Conroy's form as a Labor factional bovver boy is on display in today's rambunctious "my way or the highway" ultimatum to Telstra shareholders. In some ways it's a shame Trujillo isn't still around - his response would have been memorable.

What's missing from Conroy's swingeing attack on private property rights in his attempt to promote greater competition is the necessary admission of culpability: the perceived problem of Telstra competing with those who would like to have access to the network Telstra owns is all the Labor government's fault - not the fault of Telstra's shareholders who are now being ordered by Comrade Conroy to suck it up for the greater good.

No, not the fault of this Labor Government, but the previous one that stuffed up Telstra's privatisation in the first place. It's a bit rich that Conroy now wants to fix his predecessors' mistake by lumbering the cost and loss of rights onto the people Canberra encouraged to buy Telstra shares.

What's missing from Michael Pascoe's effort is any sense of what this might mean going forward. Yes, the regulatory regime was stuffed under Hawke, it stayed stuffed under Keating and got worse under Howard. If you bought Telstra shares, you're a sucker: nobody put a gun to your head. You should be grateful that all taxpayers aren't also shareholders, which was the case a dozen years or so ago.
And making Telstra a forced seller with Murdoch and Packer having first dibs is a dubious proposition. Is this why Kerry Stokes has been so keen at get a slice of Packer's Foxtel pie?

You've forgotten three important things:

  1. Kerry Packer is dead. When you talk about "Packer" these days Michael, you talk about the doofus who helped put One.Tel where it is today.

  2. Rupert Murdoch has taken his eye off the ball. Labor governments always do him favours, they're sick like that. If you love Labor or if you hate them, they know how to handle you, but if you're kind of indifferent to them they just can't cope.

  3. Would you like to bet that the regulatory environment would stay stable for said personages to keep milking Foxtel? Would you?

Pascoe, you're a goose. At least you're not journalistic pabulum like Betty Knight and Michelle Grattan. Between them they take a thousand words and thousands more in real estate that could be sold for ads just to say absolutely nothing: the laws change and you have to follow the law.

Why this insistence that replacing Telstra's old PMG lines with the fastest and best optic cable available is "duplication"? If the upheval in global telecommunications over the past twenty years has passed you by, you simply have no business being in journalism. It's not duplication, in the same way that motor vehicles and aeroplanes cannot be said to "duplicate" stagecoaches.
By late afternoon [yesterday], Telstra shares were down 14 cents, or 4.3 per cent, at $3.11, and the fall was capping gains in the broader market.

Yeah, well it's bounced back hasn't it, because everyone who fell about all shocked has been duly and deservedly fleeced. It's hard to complain about market rapacity when people thought they could hitch a ride on it with bloated Telstra. In the picture attached to that story, Thodey looks like someone who's been caught out by the police, you can imagine them to the right of that picture with tasers drawn.

Then, inevitably, because I just can't help it, we here at the Politically Homeless Institute were drawn to the Murdoch press:
Conroy’s tactics are unusual in that he has opened negotiations by swinging a big stick and, in effect, starting with his best punches, which doesn’t leave either side much room to move.

You don't punch someone with a stick, John.
The end game is open access infrastructure with Telstra competing on equal terms with everyone else, albeit from a huge competitive advantage in terms of its scale.

And the fact that it knows where the bodies are buried in the infrastructure, and the fact that it knows its competitors' business as well as its own.
The choice for Telstra is clear: if it doesn’t agree to voluntary separation, it will face a legislated version of so-called functional separation and denial of new spectrum and possible forced divestiture of Foxtel and its HFC cable.

Does anyone believe that crap abourt denial of spectrum? If Trujillo was here he'd have a brace of lawyers dragging Conroy to the High Court, saying that it was discriminatory and anti-competitive to deny it the right to participate in its market. Conroy might be able to monster George Seitz, but a cashed-up and arrogant corporation is a different proposition. Jennifer Hewett, though, is on the side of plucky little Telstra:
This is less “constructive” commercial negotiation than the Minister portrays and more about battering Telstra with a very big stick until it cries uncle.

Until it cries what? I think Otis the barman has been pouring you some of your husband's hooch, Jen. Here's where the sympathy dries up and the comic potential of Hewett's piece comes out shining:
It basically wants Telstra to subsume its wholesale business into the government's new NBN CO -- under terms and conditions still to be negotiated.

Poor little Telstra is getting some free infrastructure. Imagine how Frank Lowy would feel if the government built him some new shopping centres, or how Asciano's Mark Rowsthorn would feel if the feds built him some new rail lines and port facilities. Ow, ow, stop hitting me.

If you must go into the past, why wouldn't you go after this clown, especially as he's committed the prime error of sticking his silly head up? This was the guy who said that Telstra would never, ever split. This was the guy who sold shareholders the dog that has since bit them. He's squealing like a stuck pig because he's been found out, he can't argue against the anti-competitive nature of the status quo and has nothing to offer but scaremongering. The journosphere should round on Minchin, and with that the Liberal Party should realise that he, like Abbott, has nothing to offer their future.
In April the Government announced it would build its own fibre-to-the-Home network through a private/public partnership funding, after it scrapped the tender process.

But it will want Telstra's involvement in the rollout to take advantage of its assets, expertise and to avoid costly duplication of infrastructure.

What expertise? They outsource all that stuff anyway, there's nothing stopping the government doing the same.

The journosphere are focussed on stuff which doesn't matter, stuff which doesn't help us understand what's about to happen to our telecommunications industry (other than "ooh, it's radical") or even their own place within that. This policy has been in train for two fucking years, the share market is cool with that - what do analysts know that the journosphere doesn't? There was once a time that this wouldn't have been possible, but now that it is it's the journosphere that has suffered.

When the history of 21st century telecommunications is written communicated somehow, this garbage won't be the first draft. It won't be anything at all, just like it is today (other than expensive for their employers).

15 September 2009

Just relations

The non-story on Liberal policy on - to use an old-fashioned term - industrial relations was badly handled and badly reported.

It was badly handled for two reasons:

  1. Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott should have shut up about individual contracts. Oppositions don't get where they are by talking about what they're going to do in office: Kevin Rudd didn't in 2007, John Howard didn't in 1996, Bob Hawke didn't in 1983. Turnbull should have imposed some discipline on himself and on Abbott, who was wandering away from his portfolio area like some Parkinson's-riddled pensioner reeking of his own piss.

  2. The Labor policy on industrial relations is pretty similar to that of the Fraser Government in about 1978, but without Ian Macphee or Bob Hawke. This is what they call "modernisation".

Just because this was the government's Line Of The Day doesn't mean that it was worth reporting. How did Dennis Ferguson jump the public housing queue? Why does that Pommy bloke who won "best job in the world" look like an Aardman claymation figure? Why aren't Indian investors piling into the Australian stock market? Do I have to ask these questions myself, or can we get a journalist onto this sort of thing?

13 September 2009

No news, bad news

Why is this news? Della Bosca has quit and this woman is entitled to go to ground. You can't complain about the cost of journalism while you'rechurning out crap like this. The hypertext headline here is "Kate Ellis and John Della Bosca" - is he doing it with the Federal Sport Minister (the one who didn't know the difference between rugby league and union) or is this just lazy journalism? Everyone looks like Belinda Neal when they're pissed off and facing the journosphere justifying its existence like this.

Why is this news? It was on page 5 of the SMH and about the same for the Oz, under he same heading (the press release was issued free and the commentary is so worthless it may as well be free. Please, another lesson about quality journalism and how costly it is. None of those ministers have the sense or the resources to do anything different to what they're doing now.

Saluszinsky forgot to mention Jodie McKay's new duties in charge of government procurement, the doubling of responsibilities on the hapless David Campbell, the mystery as to why Michael Daley is regarded as anything but a plodder (future leader? Careful, they said that about Reba Meagher) and the lack of relief for out-of-depth Verity Firth - any of which should be a smorgasbord of stories on cronyism and ineptitude for journalists if there were any, and they weren't so expensive.

11 September 2009

Tony Abbott should eat ... his words

Tony Abbott's remarks about Julia Gillard's shit-eating grin are politically stupid for two major reasons.

First, the people who will be most upset about this sort of language are the very sort of God-save-the-Queen conservatives who comprise Abbott's base, and who see him as - if not a saviour, then certainly a paragon of decency and principle, clear proof that old-fashioned values are not ageing and fading as they themselves are.

Second, he's admitted that he's being beaten by someone who used to be his shadow. That's right, the Liberal Party's roughest, baddest, meanest junkyard dog has been monstered by a girl. The Federal Parliamentary Press Gallery takes it for granted that Abbott is somehow Liberal leadership material, and never question his guts or brains when there is insufficient evidence of either: this outburst has to prompt a reconsideration of this assumption.

If you're a Tony Abbott fan, you like him because he's conservative and tough. Yesterday, he showed that he's neither. Battlelines shows that he has nothing to offer the future of his party or his country but a few moth-eaten plans from before Vatican II. Stick a fork in him, he's done.

05 September 2009

In the long run

These criticisms of Australia's foreign investments policy, particularly in mining, by WA Premier Barnett are well made. They reflect a change in approach to governing Australia, particularly from Melbourne. It's important to examine the changes to Victorian Liberals as this goes to the heart of their current and recent problems - and those of the Liberal Party more broadly.

Japan and Australia set the foundation for their current relationship with an agreement in 1957. Memories of World War II were still fresh, in particular the appalling treatment suffered by Australian POWs. When then Japanese Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi arrived in Canberra to sign the agreement he promised to lay a wreath at the War Memorial - the RSL lobbied to have the route from [Old] Parliament House to the War Memorial lined with widows, fatherless children and returned servicemen (including ex-POWs) so that Kishi could apologise to each of them directly. This ordeal was headed off by William Keys, who went on to manage the integration of the RSL within government's decision-making structures. Within a dozen years Japan was Australia's biggest trading partner.

That agreement was set in place when Melbourne was Australia's business capital. The then Prime Minister (Menzies), the Trade Minister (McEwen) and much of the Cabinet were squarely integrated with the decision-making processes and the very mindset of the Melbourne business community. Yeah, it was patronising and old-school-tie and all that, but the flipside of paternalism was that management was for the long term. The Japanese had a similar business-politics-bureaucracy axis. The article referenced above might gloss over how smooth this was, and how it might have been easier to ignore public disquiet within Australia back then, but within a dozen years Japan was Australia's biggest trading partner - and that doesn't happen without careful, long term management.

Contrast this with Australia's relationship with China. A bit of stunt work initiated by Whitlam, at a time when both countries were run by economic neanderthals. The opening up of trade and economic matters initiated by Deng Xiaoping, one of the great political and economic shifts of history, was completely missed by the Fraser Government. Hawke took baby steps, as did Keating; and just as only Richard Nixon could go to "Red China" without being red-baited by Richard Nixon, so too only John Howard could address the Chinese Communist Party's trainee cadres. Howard clearly had to change the very fibre of his being to "focus on the positives" in the relationship with China; but however much his misgivings in dealing with Asiatic Communists, he would not have been swayed by leftist human-rights nonsense when there was a quid to be made.

It's often said that Sydney's business community is focused on the short term and a bit better plugged into the world than Melbourne's, and that the last two Prime Ministers have been Sydneysiders. Australia's mining industry is still largely run from Melbourne - but not run by old-school Melburnians, fusty and paternalistic. The Melbourne business community was blown apart in the 1980s by spivs like John Elliott and Robert Holmes á Court and that guy from New Zealand (not Terry Clark, the other one). This is where Peter Costello comes in - this is his idea of the Melbourne business community, guys on the make to get a bit of short-term action and then settle down in a big house in far Kew. He didn't get where he was by listening to the sort of stuff the Garnaut family have been saying for years. This is why he's kyboshed Chinese attempts to take longterm and top-shelf stakes in Australia's mining industry - that visceral distaste for smash-and-grab raids combined with a sneer for those old Collins Street fuddy-duddies who go on about the long term, and what school did you go to?

Barnett might like the idea of a longterm China-Australia strategy but the reality is that the mining industry makes its decisions in Melbourne and Canberra, not Perth, and that the 1980s cannot be shrugged off like a bad dream. There are Liberals who sneer at Menzies and think the Liberal Party begins and ends with Howard, and while they are happy to use Barnett's stick to beat Rudd they cannot escape the failure of the Howard government to set in place a constructive, longterm strategy for China - and also India. This failure is another reason why all those Victorian Liberals who'd hoped to cruise into positions of national leadership on Costello's coat-tails were fundamentally deluded - if Costello really was all that we'd all be much better off than we are, better integrated with Asia and all that visionary, benefit-of-the-nation rhetoric would have longer staying power than a fart or a press release.

I wish there was a journalist who was across this too, rather than just bunches of press-release jockeys with no longterm perspective on our relationships with Asian powers.

01 September 2009

Too excited to think straight

Now you can see why Gerard Henderson is usually such a sad sack - when he tries to be optimistic he gets all giddy. He also trots out some of his hoary old themes which haven't survived the passage of time.
A reasonable result in Bradfield would give Turnbull the chance to re-establish some authority in the lead-up to the next federal election.

Not really. A reasonable result would be a reprieve rather than a bonus. The following paragraph, apart from the pointless piling-on to Latham (once hailed by Henderson as one of Labor's great thinkers), puts paid to the whole pay-peanuts-get-monkeys thing: there was a time, before the culture wars, when Henderson would have given some thought to that.
The indications are that the candidates will include the lawyer Sophie York, the businessman Paul Fletcher, the Menzies Research Centre director Julian Leeser and the former journalist Tom Switzer, who worked briefly on Nelson's staff when he was Opposition Leader.

All four would add much-needed youthful talent to the Opposition frontbench.

Fletcher is good on telco policy, that's about it. He's a cold, aloof man with not much to show beyond his area of interest. I can picture him raving on and on about optic fibre and digital content to a disbelieving and bewildered bunch of oldies who regard computers both as trivial children's toys and at the same time all-powerful evil machines that will eat you. A lightweight like John Alexander will run rings around Fletcher, and that will piss him off no end.

Julian Leeser is both very bright and very personable, and while he should be in parliament one day - but not now, not here. Selecting him would be a clear demonstration of fealty to Turnbull, and the leader's grip over his party is still too tenuous for that. If he loses in the first round it will be a clear rebuke to the current leader, and a good man will be collateral damage (but hey, that's politics!). Henderson undermined his own point by failing to praise Leeser's considerable intellect and hard work, especially when compared to Frydenberg or Switzer.

Tom Switzer is a shrieking goon who has only two operating modes: thunder and bluster, or whiny victim. It is a symptom of the intellectual poverty of the US Republican Party that it only offers such people, and for Switzer to enter Parliament would demonstrate that the Liberal Party is similarly bereft. Switzer and Wilson Tuckey would compete for getting chucked out of the House most often. His public appearances give no sensible person grounds for basic respect for his views, as both his ego and intellect are so brittle he could not face down a challenge. The far left are either defunct, or have become conservatives (but I repeat myself). In a meeting of minds you'd send Tom out for the biscuits, but he'd probably scoff them all Cookie Monster-style just to show his rugged disdain for namby-pambyness.
The recent preselection of Joshua Frydenberg for the relatively safe Liberal seat of Kooyong in Melbourne is a plus for the Coalition. His work experience in Howard's office and in business entitles him to a frontbench position after the next election.

Joshua is intellectually and morally lazy, as we at the Politically Homeless Institute have pointed out repeatedly, and any minister shadowed by him would get an easy ride. Someone with his resume should be the goods, but Gerard you have a responsibility to look beyond what's on the label.
Unlike Labor, too few Liberals read widely on policy before they enter politics.

This was probably true in the 1980s: it simply isn't true any more. It is absurd to claim that, for instance, Kate Ellis would be better read/more experienced than Greg Hunt, or that Craig Thomson would be better read/more experienced than Michael Keenan. Once, perhaps: no more.
The Howard government had only a few ministers who were subsumed in politics since their schooldays and who had the conviction and the intellectual courage to take on all comers in the political debate. This group included Howard, Peter Costello, Alexander Downer and Tony Abbott. Howard and Downer have left politics and Costello says he is about to depart. This leaves Abbott who, on his own admission, had a poor 2007 election campaign and is regarded by some colleagues as a risk.

Abbott is the bollard over which Julia Gillard, Nicola Roxon and Jenny Macklin have cruised into office. If Abbott merited the intellectual reputation that unthinking people give him, these promising Labor up-and-comers should have been political road-kill by now, skulking back to dingy Melbourne moaning about how tough politics is. Battlelines has sunk without trace - for intellectual content, not to mention lasting political influence and resonance in contemporary debate, it makes the works of Don Chipp look like Kant or Gramsci.
Nelson was a competent performer in the Howard government and a fine education minister. Yet he was never leadership material.

The first sentence is tosh and Henderson can only ruin what remains of his reputation with crap like that. The second sentence is a reversal of what he said during Nelson's leadership at the time - again, as with that other failed Opposition Leader, Latham - Henderson is being smart after the event.
It's almost two years since the Coalition lost the election and its prime minister lost his seat. The years have not been kind to Howard's refusal to hand over to Costello in his final term. The opportunity of a Costello leadership is now lost. The task is to rebuild the party with young, articulate political conservatives who believe in their cause. Traditionally, the conservative intellectual political tradition has been weak in Australia. There is no reason why this should remain the case.

Bradfield offers the Liberals a chance to demonstrate that they are willing to engage in the battle of ideas with a view to returning to government.

Yes it does, and they will squib it. Self-belief gets you a long way in politics but it is not the same as, nor a replacement for, the willingness of others to believe that you understand the challenges facing Australia today. Switzer doesn't, Fletcher does only in very small part, and Peter Costello's fine words were not matched by the necessary bravery on his part whilst in office.

Gerard Henderson used to be intellectually nimble enough to adjust his beliefs in line with objective reality. No more: he's a broken record in an iPod age. He didn't say anything different to what Miranda Devine said on the same topic on Saturday (except she didn't deign to mention Leeser or Fletcher), and people wonder why we don't want to pay for online content from Fairfax.