25 June 2010


One of the most far-reaching changes to Australian society (and those of other industrial and post-industrial societies) is the expansion of temporary, short-term employment arrangements, and with that increased accountability and review mechanisms, and the weakening of long-term locked-in employment conditions that encourage people to think they have a job for life.

The execution of Kevin Rudd has been brutal - so brutal that it made you feel sorry for a man who didn't previously engender much sympathy, a bit like what happened when Malcolm Fraser wept after losing the 1983 election. It's true that Rudd performed better the Howard did in his first term, and that while at a disadvantage in the polls it was far from terminal - Howard and other recent PMs and Premiers came back to win elections from worse positions. I agree with Andrew Norton's contention that Labor have been panicky in dumping Rudd. It's true that Rudd's heart was in the right place, in terms of the apology and the homelessness focus, and the reorientation of economic policy toward limiting unemployment. The idea that "people had stopped listening" to Rudd was an inference read into polling that was nowhere supported with evidence.

The fact is that Rudd was hired to do a job: win an election. It is on that basis that he beat Kim Beazley, a man held in great affection by a party that tends toward the soppy and sentimental. Labor people justify turning against Rudd by saying that he felt and displayed no loyalty or affection toward them, and that they were therefore right not to stick by him when the going got tough.

Mark Latham's observation is a mix of the self-serving and the incisive, which is what you'd expect:

"There is all these backbenchers [sic] elected on the backtails of Kevin Rudd who have deserted him and it proves in the Labor Party now there is no loyalty," he said.

Labor had plenty of loyalty to duffers like Evatt, Calwell and Whitlam, and look where that got them. When they took off the rose-coloured glasses and got pragmatic (e.g. in developing Neville Wran as a media performer, and replacing Hayden with Hawke federally in 1983), Labor got the electoral success that it craved and even started delivering for its constituency in government.

Every potential Labor leader since Hawke has been judged on one basis above all others: can this person win an election against the Liberals? If yes, they stayed; if not, they were dumped.

The loyalties which centre upon [a leader] are enormous. If he trips, he must be sustained. If he makes mistakes, they must be covered. If he sleeps, he must not be wantonly disturbed - but if he is no good he must be pole-axed. - Winston Churchill

Conservatives have long known this, treating company managers the same as any other hireling. To hear Liberals go on about loyalty is sheer gibberish. The strength of the Liberal Party had been its refusal to embrace "caucus solidarity". One of the weaknesses of the modern Liberal Party is the way that its members, mostly conservatives (and often ex-leftists) shriek that "disunity is death" and yearn for "one clear message", usually consisting of drivel.

(When I was a Liberal, I once had two NSW state MPs from what was then my party tell me that their pay, pension and perks were justified by the insecurity of their employment arrangements - secure employment contracts of between four and eight years, renewable.)

Liberal leaders have usually been elected on the basis of election-winning potential. The reason why the Howard-Peacock conflict of the 1980s was so divisive is that polling was used as a pretext for ideological division. This applied last year when '80s veterans like Wilson Tuckey and Bronwyn Bishop put Tony Abbott over the line - even they were surprised when Abbott not only won but did so well. Of course they had no answer when his slow decline matched that of Rudd, and like other Liberals they are bereft that their man gets played like a trout by the new Prime Minister.

Yes, Gillard will go once she is no longer able to solve problems and people stop listening to her. That's life, that's part of the increased accountability-and-transparency meme of government and corporate life that has seeped into the wider consciousness. Paul Kelly has no right to his jowl-wobbling outrage, his faux-surprise, his journosphere cant at this development.

Yet Gillard has no easy answers to the issues that ruined Rudd: climate change, the resources tax and boatpeople.

Who does? Show me someone with easy answers for these big, complex issues and I'll show you someone who's unfit to participate in the process of developing public policy.

When Les Murray ended his pledge of allegiance for new migrants with the line "... and I expect Australia to be loyal to me", it was in line with the Howard government's stated notions of "mutual obligation", and the decision to drop that line was also consistent with the reality behind such statements.

Loyalty, thy name is Tony Burke. Burke was first offered to election by the people of NSW to their Legislative Council in 2003. He stuck it out for a bit over a year until he got a better offer, in the House of Representatives, and was loyal to his then-leader (and fellow member of the NSW Labor Right) Mark Latham. As soon as he got there Burke transferred his loyalty seamlessly to the NSW Labor Right's honorary member in WA, Kim Beazley, and before his first term was up he switched to Rudd, and on Thursday they switched again. Totally loyal to four leaders in less than six years. Think of all that transparent-and-accountable work he's done in agriculture and population, and wonder what he might have contributed to state politics in NSW.

The idea of loyalty to a colleague, a leader or a caucus resolution means that no other issue is as important as that, and that makes for an inauthentic life that invites derision, not loyalty. Plenty of things are important in a person's life, and different things can become more or less important over time. Where is the swivel-eyed fanatic who would claim that Lindsay Tanner's loyalty to his family means he has become disloyal to Gillard, his party or his country? Who would begrudge anything Rudd spoke of in his final press conference as PM, when he began with: "I'm proud of ...". All you can expect for being "loyal" to an idea, an institution regardless of what it does is something like this.

All that bellyaching about loyalty is a function of a punitive system that punishes deviation from a 'line', regardless of how counterproductive, silly or plain wrong it might be. Labor people might find it difficult to run their party in the absence of loyalty: too bad, they should have thought about that. It's understandable that people want you to support them no matter what, but you don't necessarily owe that degree of loyalty to anyone you're not personally involved with, when being wrong means you're insulated from the consequences of it. In politics, plenty of people can be loyal to you and you can ignore many of them, much of the time; sometimes you can't. Suck it up and spare me your bullshit about your self-serving, sheep-witted "loyalty", particularly when you're not offering pastures green and still waters (or equivalent), to use a freudenbergism.

23 June 2010

The longest night

Last night was the Winter Solstice in Australia, and many Australians will now be a-bed in order to get up and (hopefully) see Australia beat Serbia in the soccer. Tonight, however, will be a long one for Federal Labor MPs and their staff. It will also be a long one for the press gallery (and if the press gallery couldn't pick a story like this before it was announced, they should all be sacked).

The fuck-up squad that is the NSW Labor Right have struck again. Rudd is in trouble precisely because he followed their advice on emissions trading. The pollwatchers all assumed that dumping the ETS was like dumping promises on disability funding in NSW: all very nice if you can manage it but not core business. Now, they have the gall to throw to someone who's never courted them, who owes them nothing and who - when they come asking for protection from angry voters - will shriek 'betrayal!' should Prime Minister Gillard send them away with a flea in their ear.

Rudd is mainly in trouble because the micromanagement and policy constipation of his own office has reached a point where policies are being strangled and stunted. The RSPT should have been linked to the failure of the ETS. The mining companies whingeing about the RSPT should realise that they've blown $billions in "compensation by spiking the ETS, and now that they face the prospect of losing still more with an RSPT you have to wonder which clowns are doing their government relations these days - particularly now that Labor are removing the last doubts over their re-election.

Rudd is still ahead of Abbott, and the story of the coming election would be the story of Abbott being slowly exposed and ground down. He's not PM material, he'd embarrass a half-decent ticket of student politicians with garbage like "Kevin O'Lemon", he has no policies and no vision and will inevitably let his true self slip - the misogynist, fear-mongering, economically retarded narcissist who insists that he be taken at whatever face he presents at any random time. Gillard is his worst nightmare: she has it all over him and he knows it.

The comparison with the Libs in '07 could not be starker. They knew the incumbent was stuffed but wouldn't, couldn't take a chance on Costello. Labor would be mad to pass on Gillard. When she and Faulkner, the old undertaker, went to see Rudd it was already over.

Rudd is the first Queenslander to lead his party since Bill Hayden, but at least he got to the Lodge. Thank you for your leadership over the apology, Mr Rudd, and for lifting the nation above the financial storm - but all political careers end in failure and now here's yours. Rudd will be looked after because nobody would give him a serious job now that his management style has seen off one Labor government (Q'ld 1989-96) and has rattled this one so much that it's going to elect a leftie woman from Melbourne, via Adelaide and Wales. Wonder no more about those young-to-middle-aged women voters who were abandoning Rudd but not going to Abbott, and flirting with the Greens - Gillard will be given the benefit of the doubt, and for Labor Abbott is the gift that keeps on giving. Labor will win seats off the Coalition now, and it's too late for the Coalition to switch a fourth time.

Not since Billy Hughes shafted a Queenslander and put it all over Liberal Sir Joseph Cook during and after World War I - including stealing his party from him - have we seen two UK-born leaders of our national political parties. We've seen a corporate leader sacked for sexual harassment with a staffer (when in my day it would have been the young woman forced out for "causing a fuss") as a portend. Things are changing fast, and thankfully so because I was starting to get bored.

10 June 2010

My New Matilda articles

Get 'em while they last: this one on Barry O'Farrell's attempt to become the first NSW Premier since Askin to win without courting the media. This one, despite the headline, actually shows what a waste of time Niki Savva is and how the media have missed the point.

06 June 2010

Entitled to your opinion III

This is the first time I've agreed with a Peter van Onselen article, and it feels as though I should go back and re-examine everything I've ever believed.

Yes, it's true that a bad day for Rudd does not mean a good day for Abbott - but that's one of the central themes of the journosphere, particularly the Canberra press gallery and particularly News Ltd. Van Onselen is breaking rule number one of the journosphere: don't buck the narrative. Good on him. He's also right about the Liberal Party's moribund moderates, and its even more moribund machine.

When the Coalition lost office in 2007 more than a thousand ministerial staffers who lost their jobs. Three of them have ended up winning safe seats, and if you took the top ten percent of those you'd still have one excellent staffer for every Liberal MP with a few left over to staff the secretariat. Loughnane, Credlin and O'Reilly are clowns and must be punted this side of Christmas: the fact that they are unemployable need not be the Liberal Party's fault.

The only thing I can fault van Onselen on is his assumption that a respect for policy development is exclusively the preserve of those who have been ministers. Those who aspire to be ministers might make mistakes that seasoned ministers might avoid, but it's still possible to make valiant, respectable attempts at dealing with stakeholders and coming up with serious policy worthy of governing the nation. This is what Greg Hunt is clearly doing, and it's equally clear that Peter "Future Leader" Dutton isn't.

Van Onselen recognises that the Liberal Party has to move on from Howard, but he hasn't reckoned on the idea that the next Liberal government will have to be different from the last, and that lack of ministerial experience need not be a crippling disability. Put it this way: in 1996, Peter Costello did not have ministerial experience, but John Moore did. Bruce Baird had ministerial experience and Bronwyn Bishop didn't, yet guess which one made it into the Howard ministry?

Van Onselen is so Canberra-centric that he doesn't recognise that the advent of Liberal governments in WA and NSW, and possibly Victoria and Queensland, will change the federal Libs (note to Will Hodgman: your path to government lies over the dead body of Eric Abetz). His puzzlement over state service delivery may dissipate once there are some Liberals doing the delivery (or not delivering).

Thankfully, though, the issues are clear when it comes to freedom of speech. First it was Malcolm Fraser, now Clive Palmer has also been granted an Entitlement To Hold An Opinion & Speak Freely by Chris Pyne. All is not lost!

05 June 2010

Israel and Palestine

I believe that Israel has a right to exist, and I'm an admirer of the plucky little Israel that beat off the meddling Poms in 1947, which beat the Arabs in 1967 and '73, which held to the Camp David Accord and which bent over backwards to find peace in Oslo.

I wish Palestine had that greatness of spirit. First, it took a generation to articulate any sort of political response to its stateless predicament, and when it did it came in the all-rhetoric-no-responsibility mendacity of Yasser Arafat and Fatah. Now, Palestinian politics is imported from Iran and operates like an organised crime outfit, where squalor is leavened by small mercies on condition of absolute fealty to Hamas and its hierarchy. Where is its Mandela, someone who can stand up for Palestinians without swaggering - or caving in?

The game-breaker can only come from the Palestinians. The Israelis are showing all the fractious brittleness that conservatives call strength, but which the historian knows precedes the end of regimes. Netanyahu is a fool and nobody in that country's elite has the standing to call him out (except the extremists who bray that he hasn't gone far enough).

I've long believed that the flotilla idea, and not an embargo, is what the US should use against Castro in Cuba. Even if the Israelis found weapons or other contraband on that flotilla now, nobody would believe them; the return of Private Shalit is further away than ever.

The two-state solution is now a given; Israel-only is a position that can no longer be sustained, but the Palestine-only push is only made easier if Israel discredits itself. This is the piece that best sums up my attitude toward the recent flotilla - I find it hard to disagree with a single sentence, especially this one:

The threat of delegitimation is not a military problem and it does not have a military solution.

... and this:

It is hard not to conclude from this Israeli action, and also from other Israeli actions in recent years, that the Israeli leadership simply does not care any longer about what anybody thinks ... This is not defiance, it is despair ... This is the very opposite of the measured and empirical attitude, the search for strategic opportunity, the enlistment of imagination in the service of ideals and interests, that is required for statecraft.

That despair has traditionally been the preserve of the Palestinians: Entebbe and Munich, the contemptible murder of Klinghoffer, walking away from Oslo. It is the death-wish of an insurgent opposition, of wreckers and vandals.

Those who support the Palestinians must believe that real leadership exists among the Palestinians, capable of realising a state which serves those people well and would have them live in peace among their neighbours and enjoy prosperity. It doesn't, and so supporting Palestinians is just another expensive and pointless folly, like the various strands of socialism last century, or anarchism before that.

in our time Jewish pride has a disturbingly parasitic relationship with Jewish lachrymosity

No comfort can be taken from the fact that the Palestinians too wallow in victimhood and try to turn that base metal into the gold of righteousness. So too the Serbs and Croats, the Fenians and Ulstermen, Mugabe and Ahmedinejad and North Korea and the Basques. No cause can be right that resorts to this. Only those who can build more than they destroy can have their destruction forgiven and accepted, and allow that which is built in its place to remain standing.

A real “Freedom Flotilla” would have sailed for Gaza to liberate it from its rulers.

Perhaps they thought they were, or that Palestinians would be grateful. The problem is that a reasonable Palestinian leadership has no-one with whom to deal: a Hamas racketeering organisation; an Israeli government that is disingenuous at its best (fleeting) moments; a United States that is not sufficiently engaged to even hear such voices, let alone support them; and Arab neighbours who are afraid of their own moderates, let alone anyone else's.

If there's no latter-day Begin or Palestinian-Sadat to produce a moderate, two-state solution, then to hell with them all: and stop using our passports to prosecute and perpetuate all your bullshit.

Update 10 June: Why have two former News Ltd copy girls gone after some old lady who's been sacked? The media aim to render complex situations simple, but if it is tre that acid tongue sinks veteran scribe, then what's her-name and Caroline Overington are doing us all a disservice by writing the same beef-witted article framing this as a culture war thing. When people write like that about them, they think it's mean; when they dish it out, they are just, um, doing what they do (which is, get ahead of themselves).