25 September 2010

Bella Counihan is an idiot

Controversial? Not when you read columns like this. Counihan writes Tony Wright's column when he's too tired-and-emotional to regale us with anecdotes from 1985. She needn't bother. Given the question cast over Fairfax circulation figures, it's inevitable that sacrifices will have to be made and Counihan is a prime candidate for the next clearout.
The new parliament is to start next week and as we venture into unfamiliar territory, one can't help but feel we might be going against the natural order of things.
Sorry? The people elected a series of politicians, and the journosphere decides it's unnatural for people to go against the clichés? An article that starts from a stupid premise is bound to spiral out of control, and this one goes right off.
Have we created a great new invention by chucking adversarial politics and embracing consensus?
Chucking adversarial politics? Really? Next time Tony Wright wakes up, ask him about Bob Hawke's first term in office. Look outside Australia and see a number of countries governed by ramshackle coalitions. Those political systems can be as adversarial as you like, up to and including fisticuffs.

Or are we inevitably going to be chased out of the village by the angry pitch fork-wielding mob (read Australian public) for a monster that no one really understands or can really control?
Here we stand at the dark heart of Bella Counihan's stupidity: she thinks the Australian people are stupid, because they have not elected a majority government comprising exclusively Labor or Liberal-National MPs. The NSW Labor Right fits the description of "a monster that no one really understands or can really control", and so does David Clarke.

Besides: who do you mean by "we"? In a single paragraph, "we" the voters have created a Parliament where horse-trading is necessary (Bella, dear, all Parliaments involve horse-trading and compromise) or "we" the politico-media complex (being chased out of Canberra by a 14-million strong mob called the voting public)? Is all criticism of the politico-media complex irrational? Should people in a democracy really be frightened of a political scenario which is not controlled by some party machine?
But the experiment undoubtedly remains a strange one, forced by unnatural circumstances.
A paragraph ago, Bella had a felling things were unnatural; now it's beyond doubt? What sort of journalist writes this crap?
The Westminster system has always had a natural inclination towards adversarial politics - every turn the government makes the opposition shadows and criticises, political point-scoring 101. But the people have spoken, they don't want this any more, sick to the teeth. So the game tries to rearrange itself.
The Westminster system is a system of parliamentary representation, Bella, in which members of executive government must be both members of the legislature and answerable to it. Sometimes this involves conflict, much of the time it involves negotiation and outcomes that are set before the set-piece of debate even begins. This is how parliamentary politics has always been done and I'm sorry you missed it.

Nobody voted for a hung parliament, but we've ended up with one and politicians have to make it work. The leader of the Liberal Party is very keen to play your old-school adversarial politics, and look how far it's got him - outwitted by Alex Somlyay, for goodness sake!

It's clear that your journosphere clichés do not help in understanding what's going on, so here's another cliché to help fill the void: vox populi, vox Dei. No point grumbling about the voters, especially when they're also your readers. The "game" does not change itself - there was no referendum to abolish the Westminster system of government - various players can change the game by adapting to prevailing conditions well, and previously top-class players can be rendered irrelevant by misreading the game. That's what you've done, Bella; misread the game.
Of course, there has always been the Senate, the house of review that is sometimes seen as the great saviour of Australian politics and then alternately as the greatest obstacle. But here's the worry for the government — when the Senate blocks bills, the Senate doesn't get blamed by the public. The ETS was seen as a failure on the government's part, not those that voted against the bill during it's [sic] travel down the log river of parliamentary process.
Not really - the government was returned but Senators who voted against the ETS (e.g. Guy Barnett, Stephen Fielding, Julian McGauran, Russell Trood) were voted out of office. Many voters thought it was a good thing the ETS didn't get up, others regarded it as a tragedy, and voted accordingly. How do we vote you out, Bella?
And even then, the Senate was never as problematic as this new parliament is likely to be, with so many extra players and actors to consider.
Problematic for whom, Bella? The Senate of 2004-07 that passed WorkChoices and other voter-repellent legislation seemed to work well for people like Nick Minchin and Eric Abetz, but ultimately it produced outcomes that saw their party tipped out of office. D'oh! Sometimes in politics, Bella, what seems to work well for someone can actually rebound on them.
Ideas of election promises, therefore, are not as they were. It would require a new engagement with the public for people to really follow the process of parliament and understand how legislation came about, which parties and actors own which part of the legislation.
What would be necessary for that to happen is for a press gallery to explain the substance of policy issues and its connection to this Question Time tantrum, that press release, or some other piece of ephemera that is the sole focus of clowns like Annabel Crabb, Dennis Shanahan, Michelle GrattanCounihan. Too lazy to do that? Too easy to run with the pack? You take what you get, Bella.
But if the Australian public has to actually pay attention to politics things might get tricky.
With all due respect, fuck you.

The Australian public does not need to engage with politics. We're busy, Bella. Politics has to engage with us. And if we are to engage with politics, we need journalists who understand politics and public policy, and can explain them in engaging ways. Even the best journalists are hit-and-miss; the worst, like your own silly self Bella, don't even try.
Especially after this election, where there has been one of the largest turn-offs from politics ever seen, expressed in an unprecedented level of informal and non-voting. Mark Latham may have actually been relevant to that campaign after all, as much as we all wanted him to go get a different day job.
Mark Latham exploited the political instincts he developed in the NSW Labor Right: take a bad situation and make it worse. It was your colleagues in the media who did a live cross of him drinking coffee. It was your colleagues in the media who spent the campaign asking Julia Gillard  if she was frustrated at not getting her message out. It was entirely fitting that Latham become a journalist. Suck it up, princess: you're getting what you deserve.
So the government is going to cop it for breaking promises, backflips and the like. Even if it actually improves the outcome and quality of the legislation, it probably won't be seen as such.
You're clearly being backgrounded by someone from Labor pulling the woe-is-me line, and you don't have the knowledge or the wit to see through it.

In the late '90s, the Democrats improved the Howard Government's GST legislation. That government did not "cop it" for failing to get its legislation through as drafted. The GST did not arise from any deep-seated clamour from Liberal Party branches. By contrast, Meg Lees' deal on the GST destroyed the Democrats.

If you're concerned about the way public policy is portrayed in the media, here's an idea: why don't you become a journalist?
The opposition will easily frame Labor's government as untrustworthy, particularly because of Labor's perceived history of broken promises.
The Opposition can say what they like, but what needs to happen is for some journalists to call bullshit on them - particularly given their own untrustworthiness.
Julia's Frankenstein parliament could be a great advance for democracy, where legislation is improved by consensus and reviewed by different parties in the process on its merits. But this strange new beast may well scare the villagers, media and public alike, who might not understand the new creature and its ways.
So we're agreed: lazy, clichéd journalism just won't cut it any more. Bye bye, Bella.

23 September 2010

Grow a pair

Bastardry is one thing, but self-defeating bastardry is something else. All of this stuff about pairing the Speaker is so much politico-journalistic wank, but this whole episode shows how determined Tony Abbott is to pike it.

Going back on the Speaker deal means that Tony Abbott loses the core of the image he's spent his career creating. Almost half the country's voters see Tony Abbott as a straight shooter, a man who calls it as it is, a man who is as good as his word - which is why they voted for him over Labor. It's one thing to hip-and-shoulder Rob Oakeshott, but to repudiate a done deal unilaterally makes you look like just another dodgy politician, someone who says one thing and does another.

You can bet that any pairing arrangement would evaporate at 3am on a cold Thursday morning in Canberra - Abbott would force a division over some minor bill, half Labor's people wouldn't turn up but all the Coalition would, there'd be an ambush and all of a sudden we're off to the polls again. It is best that this deal falls apart sooner rather than later (well, better for everyone but Abbott - he just looks like a man who's blown it early rather than his self-image of a menacing and wily strategist with an ace up his sleeve. He reminds me of Brave Sir Robin:

When Kevin Rudd went back on climate change he gave away the core of his image in much the same way. True, plenty of politicians have achieved bugger-all about climate change, and for all his activity Rudd was just another one. For Rudd however, going back on climate change was the end of him.

The Speaker deal is not the issue that will define Abbott as a piker - it's just Canberra insider stuff. It is, however, the precursor to another issue in which Abbott will box clever and send the Liberal vote into freefall. I don't know what it is either, but there'll be no saving Abbott when it comes.

Harry Jenkins has been a pissant mediocrity as Speaker, another fool deaf in his left ear. He's only there because his father was Speaker, and he was a non-entity too - Bob Halvorsen without the substance. For Abbott to praise Jenkins Jr and have him continue in office is yet another example that he doesn't get the new political environment of the 43rd Parliament and can't make it work to his advantage. He'll never be Prime Minister.

21 September 2010

Keneally wants fresh blood

All zombie flicks get to that stage, where people are done screaming or being appalled and just want the dead to lie down, but the zombies insist on staggering around demanding fresh meat. This is where the NSW government is at today with this.

It was written by the last journalist who thinks it will be a bad thing when Labor loses state government in NSW, Brian Robins, who has been a Labor booster since Ben Chifley mussed his hair and gave him a threepence. Nobody else will go near the state parliamentary press gallery because there really is bugger-all to do there. This will not change after March because the whole move to issues-based reporting is pretty much complete. If you want to see roads and rail lines backed up in western Sydney, get in a helicopter and don't waste your time sitting in the mushroom club on level 6 in NSW's Parliament House.
The NSW Labor Party will begin selecting candidates for the state election in coming weeks, and pressure is building on some MPs to quit or be forced out.

The Sussex Street ALP head office will first choose candidates in non-controversial seats, moving on to those where it wants to manoeuvre MPs out later in the year, giving them time to decide whether to go.
If you're going to take bold, decisive action against dead wood and time-wasters, why go on about "non-controversial seats" or wringing your hands about whether it's OK by the turkeys if we have Christmas this year. There was a time when the State secretary would simply inform an MP that their time was up. It doesn't even have the hopeful rhythm of kumbaya consensus: it's just weak. Brian does nobody any favours for refusing to point this out, nor for giving anonymity to an announcement that has already been refracted off the surface of Kristina Keneally.
"The aim is to bring people with fresh energy and ideas into the Parliament for the inevitable rebuild after the election," a senior party figure said yesterday. "Each member will need to decide whether they're going before their preselection, with head office likely to begin to move against some of the stayers like Paul Gibson (Blacktown). Others, like Richard Amery (Mount Druitt) are likely to stay."
Labor wouldn't dare knock off Gibson, Labor's answer to Alby Schultz. He'll go when he's ready and not before. If you can't knock off poor old Richard Amery, what hope have you got?
Others, such as key powerbroker Joe Tripodi are holding their cards close to their chest. Associates say Sussex Street's public push to squeeze him out has backfired.
Backfiring in a card game? Once again, dead metaphors show that no brain is engaged in writing this story. In this case, Tripodi has seen off his detractors but he knows that celebrating his success would diminish Keneally and NSW Labor still further, without adding to Tripodi's power. As if Brian Robins would point that out.
The Premier, Kristina Keneally, wrote recently to MPs and the ALP's state secretary, Sam Dastyari, calling for an injection of fresh talent into the party's ranks as it seeks to stave off electoral disaster.
Robins at least has the decency to report an announcement by the Premier of NSW as though it were by-the-by, pertinent but not central to politics in this state.

On a wider scale, however, Labor has no fresh blood to offer. Ian Macdonald's replacement with Luke Foley, and what's-his-name with the Ferguson scion, some staffers seeking the only promotion available to them (no lobbying firm wants them) and a whole lot of Legislative Council shuffles show that Labor has different faces but no new ideas. Nobody with new, fresh ideas survived the Carr era.
The likely swing has complicated plans for the Transport Minister, John Robertson, to move to the lower house, since it is proving difficult to find a safe enough seat.
See? After talking about fresh ideas, they talk about John Robertson stepping in to do Brendan Nelson duty (but much, much worse - I would talk about a cricket team here, but with NSW Labor the only comparable team is that of Pakistan).
"People are looking but there aren't very many seats considered safe in the present environment," a senior government figure said yesterday.
Which people, Brian, and who dares hold them off? Those are the questions you should be asking, and because you're not you are simply not earning your pay.
A key federal ALP powerbroker, Mark Arbib, said that by the time of the election, the Labor Party would have been in power 16 years, making it very difficult for a tired government to be returned to office.
More to the point, Arbib was a NSW state secretary who helped put NSW Labor where it is today, and then buzzed off to Canberra to spread the magic there. He could have been part of the reinvigoration, Brian. Shoulda asked him about that.
Party figures and MPs yesterday sought to play down the need to force MPs out, insisting many will bow to the inevitable.

"Look, if 15 MPs leave, of that number, 12 will choose to go and three will be pushed," one backbencher said. "People like Dr Andrew McDonald (Macquarie Fields) and Frank Sartor (Rockdale) would probably go.

"Others like Ninos Khoshaba (Smithfield) and Nick Lalich (Cabramatta) haven't really made much of a contribution and should move on, along with the likes of Noreen Hay (Wollongong), Cherie Burton (Kogarah), Kevin Greene (Oatley) and Verity Firth (Balmain). Others like Phil Koperberg (Blue Mountains) will go, with question marks over people like Jodi McKay (Newcastle), who are disillusioned."
The voters of NSW will be forcing half that lot out, and that's the point. If you have no idea who will replace half-hearted duffers, and you lack the clout to punt them, how can you encourage good people to your cause? McDonald used to be highly regarded, and now he's storming the exits because he's seen Sussex Street's idea of "fresh blood" - those not good enough to go to Canberra but too restless to actually serve some workers.

This really was a non-story, written four days after the main announcement with nothing, nothing to add, except some ALP butt-covering. Surely Brian Robins can follow that whole sorry lot into oblivion.

20 September 2010

Not that songsheet again

The conventions of political journalism have become so ossified, and press secretaries so keen to snuggle down within those limitations, that you can't tell how the country is governed by reading political journalism. This means that political journalism is consumed less, which is a crisis both for companies that produce political journalism, and for old-school journalists who can't get over themselves.

Phillip Coorey believes that because politicians were inadequate in facing up to one of the great policy challenges of our time, there must be something wrong with the policy. Poor Brendan Nelson, a man ahead of his time in calling decisively for inaction on carbon! You'd need the sense of humour of a sulky teen goth combined with the been-in-Canberra-too-long lack of perspective not to read this and laugh:
Unbowed by the complaints, Turnbull again used Twitter on Saturday, while ostensibly having a quick holiday in Queensland, to promote an article warning how the acidification of our oceans, a consequence of more carbon dioxide, posed "a serious threat to biodiversity and marine life".

"This is going to end in tears," mused one Liberal monitoring the Twitter traffic.
Of course it's going to end in tears, that's the whole idea. Here we have one guy measuring actual real-world impacts, and another guy measuring Twitter feeds, yet Phillip Coorey regards Twitter man as the savant while the one giving serious investigation and thought to real issues is some sort of political renegade.

As part of ABC employees' obligation to The Drum, Madonna King trotted out this. King was a News Ltd journalist and now she works for the ABC, and like Coorey she won the obligatory journosphere laurels that she can rest on for a lifetime of lazy journalism.

The musical analogies don't work and show that this person isn't thinking about what they're writing about. Orchestras aren't the same as choirs. Both perform works written by people who are often long dead, whereas a Parliament has to address pressing issues of the day (like climate change). The business of working out what people will sing and the role each plays in the overall harmony is the really fascinating issue that you'd hope would survive the metaphor, but alas Madonna seems to think that the metaphor is the main game.
Gillard knows she must keep her own team happy, stick to the promises she's made ...

She's also promised to care and share more with Tony Abbott, and to listen more closely to voters - both those who voted for and against her.
Every Prime Minister does that at the start of each term - asserts the power of office but not to rub the loser's nose in it. It's not news and it isn't insightful. King leaves out this particular loser's own vote-repelling qualities, particularly among conservative regional MPs who should be his natural allies.

Basically, all King is saying is:
  • It will be a challenge holding together a minority government and keeping the independents on side;
  • Kevin Rudd might still be a little cheesed off at some people (but, Madonna, he's shown every sign of swallowing his wounded pride for the sake of the team, an issue few commentators have really examined); and
  • If you're into this sort of thing, it will sure be interesting.
In other words, Madonna King's piece is exactly the same as everything else that's been written for the past month, or said in every episode of Insiders or PM or the Sky News program If You Can Fake Gravitas, You've Got It Made (with David Speers and Peter van Onselen). Yes, we had a federal election where neither side won, but Labor cut some deals and stays in office: it was in all the papers, Madonna, thanks anyway. It wasn't worth Madonna King's time to write it, nor was it worth reading let alone commissioning.

Old-school journalists like Mr Denmore simply believe that you can fix journalism by recalibrating it to the way it was, say, in about 1960. Coorey and King show that political journalism would be more valuable if it were more scarce than it is, if weighty issues such as climate change and, well, arts policy were better understood from a policy perspective. As it stands, there is no point for Fairfax to employ Phillip Coorey, Michelle Grattan, Katharine Murphy and a bunch of others to basically write the same story. Get them out of Canberra, have them report on traffic snarls in Brisbane like Madonna King does (if you can't all sing from the same songsheet on the Clem7 ...), but spare us all this glassy-eyed focus on parliamentary theatre as a substitute for real news about what's going on and how we are governed.

This is what unstable coalitions with wreckers and faceless men looks like, people.

19 September 2010

More power to Hodgman

This is fantastic! For the first time in ten years I feel anything like getting involved in Liberal Party activities. Go hard, Will Hodgman, and drive Abetzoids from Tasmania like St Patrick apparently did to Irish snakes. You have nothing to lose and the Tasmania (and a yet-to-be-grateful nation!) has everything to gain.

Berg's bitter brew

A liberal is apparently someone too reasonable to prefer his opinion over that of others. Chris Berg would have you believe that a conservative is someone who doesn't know what they believe, who believes contradictory things, and yet believes very passionately - and that their passion justifies their argument, whatever it may be.

Berg ends his piece with a mistake, which is kind of fitting really:
But the Tea Party isn't wrong. America has serious problems. Those problems have energised the conservative base.
On the fact that America is not without blemish - the Tea Party movement may be wrong there, but it's entitled to be judged on the policies it identifies as remedies, or at the very least salves, for said problems.

The slander against President Obama's nationality and religion demonstrate that at the base of the Tea Party movement is a core of radicalism and unreasonableness, a lack of goodwill and good faith that renders nonsensical any description of "conservative".
New technology is giving conservative activists the power to form the sort of genuine grassroots movements the left has been for decades.
For many "conservatives", any development that puts conservatives on level pegging with the left might seem like a good thing. Ayn Rand always wanted to be the right-wing John Steinbeck, and while I doubt she succeeded she did make more money than Steinbeck, which would have been the point for her (and, probably, Berg). This is a category error, a bit like evolutionists declaring victory over Darwin 150 years after the publication of On the Origin of Species - to declare such a victory is to fail to understand your own argument.

Most conservatives would take pride in having secured the moral, intellectual, economic, political and social high ground over the festering swamp of the left as being the greatest triumph and vindication of their creed in whatever form you like - capitalism, the right to practice religious faith, parliamentary democracy, take your pick. For Berg to crow about drawing level with, say, the Socialist Workers' Party in about 1977 is genuinely pathetic.
Castle is the embodiment of an establishment Republican. He's enjoyed a nine-term run in the House of Representatives. He was Delaware's governor for seven years. He's a great-great-great-great-great grandson of Ben Franklin. He's very, very moderate.
Being moderate is not the embodiment of any sort of Republican since, say, John Lindsay or Nelson Rockefeller. Was Castle as "moderate" as Newt Gingrich, or Donald Rumsfeld, or Henry Paulson? If you're going to mount any sort of intellectual argument (or even write a blurb for The Age) it is important to define your terms.

Mike Castle has actually cut more tax than Christine O'Donnell has or will. It is no accident that News Corporation and many other American corporations have their headquarters in Delaware, Mike Castle deserves a great deal of credit for that. The tax and regulatory environment of Delaware is the very sort of environment that people like Chris Berg have keened for over many years. If any Australian politician had done half of what Castle had, he would be hero-worshipped by the CIS, IPA and other outfits of their ilk.

With his snide dismissal, Chris Berg shows why you should pay libertarians no heed: nothing you ever do for them will ever be enough.

True, Berg describes Tea Party perspectives as "eccentric and jumbled". He wrongly paints them as purely economic: antisemitism, paranoia about migration and a determination to wind back equality for African-Americans is an inescapable part of this movement. The idea that they are just as harmless as the IPA but with the kind of appeal that escapes Chris Berg or Terje Petersen is to willfully misrepresent the Tea Party. Berg deserves scorn for turning a blind eye to the hateful elements of this movement in the name of asserting the simple truth that America's economic and geopolitical position isn't what it could be. To claim the Tea Party as purely an economic movement is like claiming that Stalin in the 1930s was simply focused on boosting tractor output in the Ukraine.
The revolt against the Republican establishment is as much a revolt against big spending, big taxing George Bush as it is against the Obama administration.
The Tea Party drew great strength from Bush. Conservative activists ended up on the payrolls of PACs and other organisations because the Bush Administration shovelled taxpayer dollars and public borrowings at them. Sarah Palin was a big-taxing, porkbarrelling public servant, and the fact that she's seeking to do the same on a grander level shows the sheer hollowness of the Tea Party.

Look at how many Obama supporters feel let down by his pragmatism in office. Many conservatives rightly foresaw that the outpouring of hope that Obama engendered could not last. Is it not true to say the same of the Tea Party? What about all those Republicans who signed the "Contract on with America"in 1994, promising to stay for six years tops but who still hold public office today? It is another major weakness of Berg's piece for him to warm his hands by the conflagration of the Republican Party while taking it on trust.
A Bloomberg poll found overwhelmingly the thread which ties the Tea Party together is a belief the US has lost its way in the past few years.
The same could be said of the Communist Party, Chris, or the Branch Davidians, or social workers, or the people who blew up the US government building in Oklahoma City in 1994 - or, indeed, of "establishment Republicans" or even people who could genuinely be regarded as "very, very moderate".
A CBS/New York Times poll found Tea Party supporters tend to be more educated than the general public.
And when left-of-centre voters are described the same way, Chris, this is put down to a bad case of trahison des clercs (it is a little known fact that no edition of Quadrant magazine may go to press without the phrase trahison des clercs appearing in it).
The political class isn't sure what to make of the Tea Party. It comes from outside the polished environs of Washington.
The same could be said of the Obama Administration from Chicago, the Bush Administrations from Texas, the Reagan Administration from California, the Clintonians from Arkansas, or the all-seeing Eye Pee Yay from Melbourne.
In Australia, we just saw how potent a conservative grassroots can be. The implosion of the parliamentary Liberal Party late last year over climate change was driven by a membership which saw Malcolm Turnbull's support of the emissions trading scheme as unacceptable.

Thousands of emails were sent by party members and others calling for the position to change. In the end, they had to change leaders. Hopes for bipartisan climate action disappeared, and Kevin Rudd's prime ministership died in the Liberal party room. A conservative grassroots destroyed a Labor prime minister.
In other words, there was a bit of a kerfuffle within Canberra but the Labor government remained in office, and in a stronger position to take "climate action". So much for your analogies, Chris.

The Tea Party is another populist movement harvesting dissatisfaction and letting it molder into ever more toxic forms. It probably isn't fascism per se but it sure won't "Restore Honor" or any of the claims made for it. These are the successors to the Know-Nothings and those who sneered at the 33rd US President as "Jewsevelt": they are not honest toilers who want to pay less tax, because Americans who want that voted for Mike Castle or the John McCain of 2000. Those of us who admire the United States see this rabble-rousing as an illness to be borne and overcome, not admired and misrepresented like Chris Berg has done.

17 September 2010

Timid and inept opposition

So, Tony Abbott says earlier pre-selections in NSW could [have] secured three more seats: really?

“We lost because we didn't win enough seats,” the Opposition Leader told 3AW this morning.

“I think that if we pre-selected candidates a bit earlier in NSW we might have got an extra three seats.
Which ones?
  • Greenway: the Liberals had a perfectly good candidate in the local mayor but David Clarke vetoed him for being too normal.
  • Robertson: no problem with the candidate or timing there. When Darren Jameson was preselected, Labor were in the process of tearing down not only an elected PM, but an elected MP who had married into NSW Labor's main power structure.
  • Banks: no problem with the candidate or the timing. Liberals have known for twenty years that the seat would swing Liberal (just as demographics in Bennelong were heading against John Howard). The problem was a slow-moving Liberal machine and a "leader" not able to move faster than his machine.
  • New England and Lyne: imagine what good Liberal candidates might have done there, rather than standing up to the Nats. Serves you right.
  • Lindsay: yes, fair cop there. I'll give you that, even though it underestimates David Bradbury as the kind of quality local marginal-seat candidate Jackie Kelly was often wrongly accused of being.
  • No, I can't think of any others either.
There's six eminently winnable seats for the Liberals, but only one fits the Abbott thesis. It also protects Brian Loughnane from his own ineptitude: shift the blame, keep your job. It would be just like Abbott to set off some civil conflict within the NSW Liberals just when the State Labor Government is on life support, just when they can show him what a genuinely broad-based and policy-smart opposition looks like. Keep your trap shut and wait for the internal report, you stupid man. Getting rid of David Clarke would be good for at least five seats, and is much more urgent and positive for Australia than doing the same to Pauline Hanson.

Mr Abbott said he would try to be a more effective critic of bad policies and a stronger and more credible alternative to Labor, which has formed minority government with the help of a Greens MP and key independents.

He said he held concerns the next three years would be characterised by “timid” and “inept” government.

Mr Abbott acknowledged the opposition's policies would be reviewed over the next three years and “refined” following the electoral defeat, but warned the Coalition would not walk away from its core values or “radically change anything”.
And here's me thinking Abbott was like a coiled spring, ready and waiting to get into government. Now, it seems, he's going to take his sweet time, three long years of reviewing policies and not radically changing anything when he's not too busy doing whatever else. Maybe he might develop some appreciation of economics over that time, but I doubt it. Sounds like timid and inept opposition to me.

That said, Abbott equates toughness with being able to monster those to whom he doesn't have to suck up. This may explain why he's pissed off one of the guys whose vote he needs to become Prime Minister. It's one thing to have Chris Pyne fill the air with yapping and sink his needle-like teeth into your trouser-cuffs, but it's poor policy to shirtfront someone you'll later have to rely upon. What's timid and inept is to lecture people you should be consulting.

He outlined his in-principle opposition to a “go-it-alone” carbon tax, and argued it would be an act of “economic self-harm” because it would push up the cost of power and petrol.
The cost of power will go up because Australia's ageing coal-fired plants will become less efficient as demand for power grows. We need new solutions, fast: pollution is itself a cost, which has flow-on costs into health and other issues, and if you were a real leader you'd point this out. As for the cost of petrol, the high dollar and the low cost of the same commodity among our near neighbours shows this to be the least of our worries. You should be pushing Labor to offset other taxes against the inevitable (claiming that other countries - our trade competitors - are doing nothing about taxing carbon is a lie).

Abbott has slipped back into attack-dog mode at the very time when people are starting to appreciate broader and more subtle ways of working in politics. He will probably succeed in fooling the similarly calibrated journosphere that he's a real threat, but he still hasn't addressed his economic and communications policy deficiencies, nor has he given serious thought to his party's future (I mean, Scott Ryan: I ask you). Timid and inept: Tony Abbott confirms his credentials for Opposition. The question is open on whether the Liberals want to stay there, and if not how committed they really are to Abbott as leader.

14 September 2010

The match-ups

First of all, there's this, the funniest story out of Canberra in a long long time. Macfarlane is a laughing stock, Robb less so; at least he offered, and took one for the team.

Second funniest was Gary Gray as Minister for Integrity.

Let's look at how the Government matches up against the Opposition:
  • Macfarlane in Energy and Resources, up against Ferguson: at least Ferguson can count.
  • Stephen Smith will have his work cut out in Defence against David Johnston, except Johnston will go after him in a pettifogging, lawyerly way rather than put any serious consideration into what Defence means for Australia into the future: what gear do we need, what people do we need, who do we work with (and against). Michael Ronaldson will be worse than useless in Veterans' Affairs except as a fountain of cant.
  • Tony Smith has had his head handed to him and he's slunk back to being work experience boy at Treasury. There is no hope at all that the Liberals will participate in tax reform to the extent they did in the 1980s. I hope Billy Shorten winkles him out and kicks him around for sport, and Matthias Cormann too.
  • Penny Wong was the wrong choice in Finance and I suspect that Andrew Robb will give Wong a real run for her money. Both can drone on about the detail but Robb has the sharper political brain.
  • Scott Morrison has the potentially interesting policy mix of Immigration and Population, but he'll do bugger-all with it (boat people! boat people! boat people!). Chris Bowen will run rings around him long after (boat people! boat people! boat people!) has gotten really tired, where Tony Burke will finish him off.
  • Burke is an odd choice to front what used to be the Environment Department. I doubt he's ever camped out overnight and people who really care about this river, that frog or some other creature of creation will spot that a mile off. Diligence will get you a long way though - the same applies to Greg Hunt, but his leader is much more likely to nobble him.
  • Burke is Minister for Communities while Macklin is Minister for Community Services. The Opposition have been too stupid to demarcate that too, while going after waste & duplication.
  • Speaking of Macklin, she'd be in real trouble if she weren't up against proven dud Kevin Andrews. Similarly, there is an argument to be made against Anthony Albanese in Transport & Infrastructure, but not by Warren Truss.
  • The very idea of making the Senate spokesperson on environment and immigration, and Shadow Minister for Workplace Relations, Eric Abetz - all Chris Evans need do is appear reasonably even-handed and he can make Abetz look like a nutter. This suits Abetz fine, as being a leading nutter creates a following for him among mouth-breathers but doesn't help the Liberal Party shake off the reasons why people just couldn't vote for them in the last two elections.
  • Simon Crean will run rings around Barnaby in RARDALGA. He'll do the slow and patient work on the rustics, coming through with infrastructure while Barnaby just jabbers. The all-talk thing will turn bushies off Barnaby, especially as he's starting to believe his own publicity and go for verbal stunts like his great work on Katter and Oakeshott.
  • Carr-Mirabella: both idiots. In Industry and Innovation, of all places, two of the dullest minds in Melbourne, Canberra or anywhere else.
  • Robert McClelland is a complacent and second-rate Attorney General, but with George Brandis on his tail he's safe.
  • Chris Pyne has the most solid team in the Opposition around him, while Education is fragmented in government ranks. It's a pity that Pyne will not be able to devote any thought whatsoever to this area and its contribution to the country's future, being fully occupied having to throw his weight around and load some gravitas onto his naturally honking voice.
  • Rather than simply demolish Conroy in Communications, Malcolm Turnbull will probably outflank him and one-up Conroy, and take off some of the gloss he built up against the non-competition of Tony Smith.
  • If you must promote a Victorian after their role in costing Abbott government, why not Kelly O'Dwyer? Why a non-entity like Scott Ryan? Why has that bright young prospect Teresa Gambaro landed the sort of role that should have gone to O'Dwyer or someone with substance and promise (if any)?
  • Most telling was the appointment of Igor to Abbott's Dr Frankenstein. Rather than have someone to compensate for Abbott's shortcomings, he's chosen Cory Bernardi.
  • Swan-Hockey: two second-rate politicians in a role that should be reserved for first-raters only. Not since Leslie Bury squared up against Frank Crean have we seen such a lacklustre competition.
  • Same with Roxon-Dutton: here I was thinking that the pressures on this policy area would force up the quality of debate and hence these two jokers would drop out: sadly, no.
  • Abbott's "holding the government ferociously to account" sounds a lot like Rudd's commitment to work harder at the same old same-old rather than change tack at all. Gillard was impressive in negotiations but the allocation of portfolios have been a dog's breakfast. Game on indeed.

09 September 2010

No second prize

I heard about a person who had a broken heart
With nothing to drive him on, no hope no spark no flame
He couldn't see at all, tears they were blinding him
He kept it all inside, the guilt and all the pain

You know I say I tried to warn him
They had him backed up against the wall
I hope I'm not too late

No one can tell you exactly what you have gotta be
You've got to stand your ground and fight to save your life
It may be hard but ooh hoo it's the only way
Always remembering there ain't no second prize
There ain't no second prize

- Jimmy Barnes No Second Prize

Acknowledging the risk of sounding like Irfan Yusuf in interspersing political commentary with songs from the '80s, that is what occurred to me while reading this.

The Greens must surely know that Tony Abbott doesn't want a consolation prize - he wants to be Prime Minister. He doesn't particularly care about bloody parental leave anyway (Abbott is proud of his utter lack of understanding why all pregnant women aren't kept housewives).

Of his other policies, none are superior or more attractive to the Greens. The possible exception is the "Green Army", which would largely comprise and benefit the Greens' base - and as a supplement to environment policies rather than the substitute that Abbott intended. By the time Brown came to offer such an olive branch, so many policies would have been passed that would so offend the conservatives (gay relationships, carbon pricing, anything Ken Henry) that they'd vote against it out of spite.

Tony Abbott gave it his best shot, sticking to those lines you've got to say to get elected, keeping a straight face. He curbed most of his rightwing tendencies - his big chance to become Prime Minister and barely a scintilla of Battlelines in it. He cut out the ad-libs, which he felt comfortable using when backgrounding the press gallery over the years (gave his utterances a whiff of authenticity), but for some reason they turned on him when he started saying the same stuff publicly. Where did it get him? He's in the worst position you can put a Manichean mind in: neither here nor there.

A five-seat deficit would be an honourable loss. 74-76 with rural ex-Nats shunning the conservatives reflects on him personally: Windsor and Oakeshott were not the only voters reluctant to give him carte blanche. All this jowl-wobbling outrage from Pyne and Bolt must be seen in this light, except if there's subsequently a possibility that the balance might change.

Keeping Julie Bishop as deputy is a pathetically weak move on Abbott's part. There was nothing to praise her for. She hasn't mastered the foreign policy brief at all: she seriously believes that foreign policy begins and ends with boat people. When Rudd first became PM he was criticised for snubbing Japan: I would expect that the shadow foreign minister has been to Tokyo half a dozen times by now and has good relations across the political spectrum of that country. Greg Sheridan would be praising her to the skies if she was halfway capable as shadow minister for foreign affairs. Kevin Rudd leapt to the Prime Ministership from that role, after a similar tenure it it to Bishop's. Maybe Bishop isn't stupid, but the fact that she's not across the issues shows her priorities are skewiff.

Andrew Robb or Joe Hockey as deputy would have kicked Abbott up the backside when he started sulking or letting his true feelings show ad-libbing. In her role as YesWoman, Bishop has seen two leaders fatally underestimate their backbench, and while both Nelson and Turnbull are both damn-the-torpedoes guys it is still the deputy's role to warn and advise. Robb would have helped Abbott navigate the rocky shoals ahead, and even Hockey has better political nous than Bishop. She can't even go back to Perth and take over the WA Opposition, because even Labor in that state isn't that desperate. Her continued tenure as deputy is another indication that the Liberals just aren't ready for power.

Positioning Julie Bishop as deputy is like positioning the guns of Singapore before World War II: the wrong thing in the wrong position, and everyone who thinks otherwise has already been proven wrong.
Mr Abbott attacked Ms Gillard, saying she was as illegitimate as her government because she had been installed by factions and then by independents. "It is a government that's utterly without a mandate," he said.
Whereas Tony Abbott was installed by the Minchin-Abetz right after Turnbull got too moderate for them, and seemed perfectly happy to have the same independents hand government to him.
Coalition MPs, furious that Mr Windsor and Mr Oakeshott sided with Labor, lined up to demand the end of the arrangement and predicted its early demise.

"This is an illegitimate government that is inherently unstable," Mr Hockey said.

The Liberal senator George Brandis implied corruption by saying the government had "as much legitimacy as the Pakistani cricket team".
The idea that the independents are conservative, the Libs and Nats are conservative, so let's have a nasty do-nothing conservative government is an idea that has run its course. Why keep banging on about it? You just look desperate, like you only had one idea and can't accept that it's gone, gone.

Brandis is like Alexander Downer: he thinks he's funny but he's just highlighting his own inadequacy. His team lost the game and can only redeem this by implying that they were duped out of a legitimate victory. This is where Brandis' sneer falls flat: Windsor and Oakeshott haven't lost, Labor hasn't lost, and the idea that this was all done to benefit hidden corporate interests is unworthy of Brandis (or it's one in the eye for those who regard Brandis highly). Brandis isn't just another Liberal Senator, he's deputy leader to Eric Abetz. It is Brandis, Abbott, Hockey and co who have dropped a number of easy catches and otherwise blown a tight Test.

07 September 2010

The Stephen Bradbury of Australian politics

This morning, Tony Abbott was tomorrow's man. Tomorrow morning, he'll be yesterday's man. Find his concession speech and have a bit of compassion for the guy, but not too much because he was always a piker.
Where there is discord, may we bring harmony.

Where there is error, may we bring truth.

Where there is doubt, may we bring faith.

And where there is despair, may we bring hope.

- St Francis of Assisi, quoted by Margaret Thatcher, 1979
Julia Gillard has done the slow and patient coalition-building work that the Prime Minister must do.

Tony Abbott did the kind of table-thumping hectoring mixed with credibility-sapping porkbarrelling that did for Howard and Rudd, the kind of traditional backroom politics practiced by the sort of people most responsible for undermining their own one-mighty parties: Karl Bitar and David Clarke, for example.

The winning difference is that once the hurly-burly was done, the victorious team allowed their professional politicians - the ones who've had their own names on ballot papers and their own faces on YouTube mash-ups - take over. They cut a political deal, the independents cut a political deal, and politics really is all about cutting deals. Some people got what they wanted and others missed out.

The only ones who really got their throats cut and died in the gutter were those who never really wanted to cut a deal anyway, who lacked the close-order skills and subtle minds necessary for what seems to have been an audition for the next three years.

The losers did not have the sense, the final saving grace, to slink away like whipped dogs. They got up on their hind legs and insisted Abbott engage in the same self-defeating coalition-shunning behaviour, and dispatch himself to the same role, that Minchin and Abetz have flung Isobel Redmond and Will Hodgman into: Opposition Leader. Those two have seen exhausted Labor governments gain a new lease of life and must surely realise that their missed-by-that-much counts for nothing at all. Both stare into the abyss in realising that there is no next time for them, not even a silver medal. Maybe they realise that they've been had. Tony Abbott always believed that introspection is the first sign of madness.

This isn't to get all kum-by-yah about the government: Gillard will have to combine the qualities of St Francis and Thatcher, as well as the guile and luck of Bradbury, in order to make it. The journosphere will focus on how she deals with Oakeshott and Windsor and Wilkie, but they're the least of her troubles. A whole rising generation of Labor activists now look like naughty boys: if they have any disagreement with Gillard over anything, Gillard will beat them and beat them, and the more she beats them the better off she'll be. This is the time that will break many of Labor's wide boys and forge a few others. Only Conroy, champion of the NBN, can face those who hate the Labor right with standing intact while Burke and Bowen (whose seats are named after short-term PMs) will keep vewwy, vewwy quiet and shouldn't open their mouths for fear of showing their shit-stained teeth.

Those who foretell doom for sound policy are wrong: outcomes will just be more ponderous, with the same proportion of well-intentioned and well-crafted government combined with mediocre and expensive dreck that we got (and are yet to get) from more opaque polities.

06 September 2010


Whenever you see conservative Liberals roaring like lions, ask yourself: why are they doing this? It is not to intimidate their enemies on the left, it is not to attract those who are uncommitted but open to their cause. The reason why conservatives make defiant assertions and demand submission to them is to keep in line their fearful, clueless, sheep-like minions in their own ranks.

Most of this is the same stuff Abbott was saying for the past six weeks. The three people this was aimed at could be forgiven for rolling their eyes.

[The Federal Government] lost its majority and its legitimacy but it still has not lost office and might actually cling to power through ruthless exploitation of incumbency.
Just like Howard in 1998.
Still, if they decide to back Labor - or decide not to decide (which amounts to the same thing) - they will be endorsing factional warlordism, the political execution of an elected prime minister, and the kind of incompetence that produced the roof batts tragedy, the school hall rip-offs and a $43 billion commitment to turning back the clock on telecommunications without even a business plan to justify it.
This is designed to keep pissed-off Liberals angry at the other side. The only alternative is to have them ask questions of the geniuses who made willing voters in NSW flinch at the very idea of returning a Coalition government which:
  • Can only manage when things are going well;
  • Makes no long-term provisions for the country other than the Future Fund;
  • Would be run by Tony Abbott, who doesn't want to be there and knows he's not good enough;
  • Can't do high-school maths and doesn't think economics is important, while asserting its competence over this area of policy; and
  • Still does not know why it lost in 2007.

Then there's this drivel:
Then there's the Greens' commitment to reducing irrigation and turning at least 30 per cent of Australia's coastal waters into marine parks.

A Labor/Green alliance spells doom for regional Australia's economic base. The slightest move towards Green defence and foreign policies would put the American alliance at risk.
This is the sort of thing Liberal leaders say at State Council meetings: when they say this sort of thing publicly they just look stupid. The estimable Grog has skewered this already. This is so stupid that Julie Bishop and Greg Sheridan would be prevented from saying it out of Mutually Assured Stupid, a fear of detonating a fissionable quantity of stupid that would melt down the entire politico-journalist complex.

The Coalition is best placed to provide effective government for the next three years and to protect voters from a premature return to the polls.
In NSW and Queensland, voters chafe against the "protection" provided by the state government. It's politicians who need protecting from voters, not the other way around. If transactional Gillard holds it together against bombastic Abbott, it will be Libs and Nats in marginal seats who'll need protecting.

Then, there's the Michelle Grattan Prize for missing the point, and what more worthy winner than the doyenne herself. The reason why Wilkie turned down $1b is because Abbott was already $11b in the hole. A new hospital and whatever else for Hobart is about as non-core as it gets.

Writing an article like that without mentioning economic irresponsibility simply isn't helpful in helping readers understand what is going on: it places undue weight on Canberra tittle-tattle and particularly on the Coalition's non-existent coalition-building skills. That kind of stuff can't even be justified in terms of "selling papers" in an age of plummeting readership: it's tiresome and repellent.

Then, there's this:
Mr Oakeshott declined to bite back following criticisms from Liberal MP Warren Entsch that the independents were dragging their feet and seeking to extend their "five seconds" of fame.
So Entsch makes 'criticisms', like a reasonable person, while Oakeshott 'bites' like an animal?

The independents don't work on "fame", they work on getting things done. Once again, it's the oldies in Liberal ranks who are impatient: Wyatt Roy and Greg Hunt aren't champing at the bit for the KOWs to come 'home'.

In other election news, a new poll has revealed most Australians would prefer another election over a hung parliament, regardless of which party the independents decide to back.
Oh, really?

The telephone poll of 1000 people, commissioned by the Sydney-based public relations and lobby firm Parker and Partners and published by News Ltd, showed 56 per cent of people now want another election.

It suggests that even if Ms Gillard or Mr Abbott manage to form a minority government, with the support of the independents, it would be a government not supported by the majority of voters.

Voters were asked whether they now supported a hung parliament or would prefer another election.

A total of 56 per cent said they would prefer another poll, with Western Australia recording the highest number of people - 66 per cent.

NSW had the least number of people wanting a new election, with 53 per cent.

A poll of 1000 people across a nation of 22,300,000 (did they go through the P&P rolodex?) is pretty scant, particularly when there's nothing to give confidence in spread of respondents an representative samples. If you're going to pull a pissant stunt like this, at least give it some credibility.

Parker and Partners rode high as the only Liberal lobbying firm during the Howard years but has struggled since. When founder Andrew Parker sold out and left the country at the peak of the last boom the P&P gig was pretty much up, with nobody but Sarah Cruickshank left to mind an increasingly quiet store.

These results suggest the second week of negotiations with the independents have really tested the patience of Australians," chief executive of Parker and Partners Sarah Cruikshank [sic] reportedly said.

Only lobbyists: no harm done. The public, who created this pox-on-both-your-houses, seems fascinated as to how this is playing out: nobody is whingeing about Tweedledum-n-Tweedledee and from Canberra there is absolutely no triumphalism. The media's insistence that this is anyone's game while Abbott is passive-aggressively dealing himself - and with a Liberal government go P&P's chances of an upturn - out of the game, just shows how little use "insider" journalism can be.

"The community appears frustrated that the government is being so publicly held hostage by a handful of vested interests, and the risk for the independents is that they are now perceived to have overplayed their hands."
Without vested interests, Sarah Cruickshank has no job. What she calls "vested interests" aren't paying her, aren't consulting her, aren't treating her as important. Cruickshank is about the same age as Peter Dutton but unlike them, she has revenue targets to meet and the clock's ticking down on this quarter. She and her drinking buddies do not constitute a "community", certainly less of one than the Cloncurry CWA or the Wauchope Chamber of Commerce or Uralla Probus, or whomever else may have more clout in Canberra these days than people like Sarah Cruickshank. Tony Windsor and Bob Katter have been playing high-stakes games since Sarah Cruickshank was giggling her way through Young Liberals; her risk assessment about overplaying a game she can barely comprehend did not come from her poll, and her experience isn't worth a damn, so why is this even news?

The journosphere reported on the wrong issues, and now the political game has changed in ways that nobody in the press gallery or lobbying could have imagined. What we're seeing here is an attempt by people to control a situation they can't understand, let alone report on or help "vested interests" navigate.

In some ways, it's great: all your doyen(ne)s floundering and shedding facades like Christchurch shops. Laurie Oakes reduced to jowl-wobbling outrage, Paul Kelly from interviewing global statesmen to sub-Ellis windbaggery, Grattan and Milne keeping it lite-n-trite because ephemera is the only thing they can be sure of. In other ways, though, the Fourth Estate has gone and you have to piece it together using scraps and snippets and a residual sense that any situation that upsets Alby Schultz and Sarah Cruickshank can't be all bad.