30 November 2010

Jackson Blues

To set the scene:

  • Julie Posetti is a journalist/academic who used Twitter to quote a former News Ltd journalist about what it was like to work for that company, particularly under Chris Mitchell;

  • Mitchell claimed Posetti defamed him but hasn't actually issued any writs, or done what you need to do to launch legal action in Australia other than (apparently) have discussions with lawyers; and

  • Sally Jackson is employed by News Ltd to write about Twitter and other online media. She appears to be the nearest that company has to a social media expert.

Jackson wrote about the Mitchell-Posetti thing here. It's a strange article, talking in generalities about a case which has not been made let alone tested in court; and stranger still is her responses to criticism.

It's strange to write an article about something that's "unremarkable". All sorts of unremarkable things happen and they don't make it into the mainstream media. There are eleven paragraphs about defamation generally; the sort of bland generalities you get from lawyers when they're not being paid, like when you talk to them at parties. You have to scroll down to the twelfth and thirteenth paragraphs of her article before you get to the nub of it: Asa Wahlquists's former boss, and Sally Jackson's current boss, is using Jackson to write an article that he should have (but couldn't or wouldn't) write himself.

Jackson left out the fact that the ABC broadcast a recording of what Wahlquist actually said, which makes a nonsense not only of the crucial thirteenth paragraph, but the whole article. It reflects poorly on Mitchell, hiding behind his underlings to soften up his would-be defendant. Naturally, Mitchell gets the final word.

After Watergate, we know that any attempt to cover up can be worse than the crime itself, and so it is here. Jackson's responses to tweets challenging her to respond to the Wahlquist audio are astonishingly inept for a social media expert. She won't participate in a debate that she can't frame. Criticism that addresses the issue is lumped in with ad-hominem attacks, so that any criticism of her article is a personal attack upon her. That's why reasonable challenges are met with shrieks like "nasty", "troll" etc. Jackson's responses remind me of people who flap their arms wildly when set upon by flying insects: this doesn't actually repel the insects or even discourage them much, it only gets the person upset, diminishes their dignity and makes further attacks more likely rather than less.

To be fair to Jackson, she would be reluctant to make a comment that might interfere with any Mitchell-Posetti action, particularly if it counted against the would-be plaintiff. She's done in this article what most journalists do: get a coupla quotes, slap them together, let the subbies sort it all out and move on, to the next story or the pub or whatever.

The idea of being held to account for a story one has written goes against the whole idea of journalism, apparently. The fast pace of journalism these days makes careful consideration of what one writes almost impossible. In any organisation you can explain that you're only doing what the boss told you to do, but journalists jeer at people who use that defence (known as the "Nuremberg defence" if you want to take it to extremes), so Jackson can't explain that she's put her own name atop an article that Mitchell should've had the courage to write himself. Jackson obviously resents having to answer for an article over which she had so little understanding and less control. Her shrieky all-about-me responses, the idea that all criticism can be reduced to the lowest common denominator and easily dispatched, shows that patriotism isn't necessarily the last refuge of people like Jackson and Mitchell.

Jackson's failure to engage in Twitter about her article (well, the article under her byline) have the smell of fin-de-siecle, let-them-eat-cake about it. It shows that the "fourth estate" is no more accountable than the other three, despite accountability being its purported reason for existence. It shows that a social media expert can fail to understand their round, making the kind of category error like a court reporter failing to understand that someone doesn't go to prison just because they've been charged by police.

Speaking of legal issues, I'm prepared to bet that Mitchell won't actually issue a writ against Posetti. You need a writ to commence legal action in Australia (a bland generality in keeping with Jackson's article), an announcement that you've been chatting with lawyers isn't good enough. Imagine Mitchell talking with News Ltd lawyers, each using the conversation to justify their own existence, like something too sad or pointless for Pinter or Beckett. Only journalists are impressed by announcements. That kind of announcement only serves to intimidate someone like Posetti and limit her criticisms of your organisation, or to give your unremarkable paper the shot of publicity that supposedly leads to those elusive goals of increased sales and market clout.

If they did, then News Ltd lawyers are the kind you'd want to come after you. They, not the players or the fans, put SuperLeague Australia where it is today. They took on Bruce Guthrie and were evaluated by the judge who found in Guthrie's favour. I notice that there hasn't been a lot of action against the execs responsible for Melbourne Storm breaching the salary cap: that bunch have caused News Ltd far more grief than Posetti, Wahlquist and Grog's Gamut put together, and if there was anything there you'd expect the mighty News Ltd legal team to perp-walk them to maximum advantage. For all News Ltd's size and reputation, I can't think of a single occasion where they've really nailed someone on any aspect of law. Civil libertarians laugh at heavy-handed secrecy provisions of government, and in the same way those on the receiving end from News Ltd's lawyers might fancy their chances more than they probably do - assuming there is anything of substance to be received.

And this is how empires end: News Ltd has seen off challenge after challenge, sweeping before them corporate titans, big unions and leading politicians. Empires don't end by being smashed: if John Malone or Tiny Rowland had beaten Murdoch in some corporate power-play, News Ltd and its operations like The Australian wouldn't be fundamentally different to what they are today (except that a proprietor not born here would probably have shut down The Australian and offloaded Mitchell, Jackson et al). Empires end up nibbled to death, like the once-mighty Roman army chasing various bands of Goths in ever-decreasing circles. For News Ltd, hiring Tim Dunlop and mucking his blog about so that it became a dithering parody of itself, and lately going after Grog's Gamut and now Posetti, is less fearful than it might have been. It's almost pathetic: the kind of pathos reserved for the anorexic or drunk who can't even face up to their problems, let alone act on them.

Sally Jackson has been blasted on Twitter by some. In the same forum the journosphere has closed ranks with their all-critics-are-trolls thing (if politics is showbiz for ugly people, what does that make journalism?), bullshit as comfort food for the ego. Jackson must stand on her own dignity because it's all she can rely upon: her employer and her 'profession' have let her, and others like her, down. People are right to expect more and better from the mainstream media, and are right to use whatever media they can and whatever targets are within range to express that.

It's true to say that Jackson did her best, she may even get a Walkley for it (accurately quoting your boss may well constitute "excellence in journalism"); yet, those of us who decry her article as piss-poor have a point. Someone in Sally Jackson's position could play a crucial role in helping her employer deal with changing circumstances but it's clear that, like almost all journalists, Jackson lacks both the heft and the wit to do this. Keep this in mind if you would hold Sally Jackson accountable for what appears under her byline.

28 November 2010

Wake-up call

There are 88 seats in the Victorian Legislative Assembly. Here on the morning after a general election, the Coalition have won 44, Labor have won 38, there are 6 in doubt - and in at least one of those, the Liberals are ahead.

It is bullshit to talk of "hung parliament" or "too close to call". The Coalition have won this election and Ted Baillieu is Premier, end of. It isn't like the Federal election, it isn't like the first AFL grand final this year (credit to St Kilda for not bellyaching how they scored more goals or some such, they got on with it and took their lumps). We are only talking about the size of the Coalition majority, and nebbishy considerations like what the Nationals will demand in return, what sort of minister that a certain Liberal frontbencher will make, etc.

There was a high number of pre-poll votes. Pre-polls tend to favour the conservatives, or favour Labor less than the general vote on polling day. Snarl all you like but don't shoot the messenger.

Even if Labor win absolutely all those seats that are now undecided, it will be 44-44 (which it won't be). Eleven years in government and all you can show for it is public indifference as to whether you live or die. For a hung parliament result, Julia Gillard deserved and got the benefit of the doubt; John Brumby, having lost the 1996 election, having been consistently unpopular before and since his ascent to the Premiership three years (not three weeks or three months) ago, has already got what he deserves.

Labor has been eviscerated here. John Brumby said that Labor had received "a wake-up call", but the whole idea of a wake-up call is to enable you to get ready and get into action. The whole idea of polling is that you can foresee the possibility of such a result and take action on your campaign. It's genuinely pathetic that Labor's polling showed they were up against it for so long (and by "so long", I mean well before the election), and they did bugger-all about it. Here are two coulda/ woulda/ shoulda examples:

  • Maxine Morand (Mount Waverley): was Minister for Children and Early Childhood Development and Minister for Women's Affairs. Brumby singled her out for praise, but you'd think she would have done something, anything, to appeal to the women and parents of Mount Waverley - something that might countermand the inherent unpopularity of their Premier and of a government that was obviously complacent in so many areas.

  • Tony Robinson (Mitcham): another minister left to run himself ragged for no gain whatsoever.

  • Tammy Lobato (Gembrook): I've had no access to private polling there or anywhere else, but Vic Labor must have known that she was a dud in terms of popular appeal. In marginal seats you need members/candidates with their own personal appeal to counteract a longterm government with a not-terribly-popular Premier; smart political machines seek out and promote such people, attractive political causes have such people on hand. They must have been able to find someone, anyone to take over from her. They must have been able to tap Lobato on the shoulder and find her another job. Don't give me any crap about loyalty because whenever loyalty conflicts with Labor winning government, you know what modern Labor will ditch first.

Baillieu was right in saying that Brumby's authority is gone. He's had more than enough rope, and look where he's led them. The Victorian ALP is a fractious beast and it won't stand for Brumby lording it over them in his high-handed way: only winners get away with that, as Kevin Rudd found. There is no clear successor:

  • Rob Hulls has many of the same qualities and shortcomings as Brumby, at worst he could be an almost-but-not-quite leader like Costello;

  • Daniel Andrews is a hack, Brendan Nelson without the personality or record of achievement;

  • Tim Holding is a promising youngster who won't be able to shake off either the dead weight of the former government, nor maintain statesmanlike distance from factional skullduggery - the Libs would pick him off like they did Kim Beazley, or like Labor did Andrew Peacock, except Holding isn't as nice or as disciplined and dogged as either man.

In other words, Vic Labor are pretty much where they were in 1992: likely to go through a number of leaders in a short time, and the next Victorian Labor Premier is probably not in Parliament now (nor in a few weeks either).

An election result is not a wake-up call. An election result sets the parameters of the political environment. It is patronising for politicians to represent an election result as just another piece of advice.

Another difference is that the Greens were a fringe force in 1992, and in at least four seats they aren't any more. The Greens stuffed up in taking the Liberals for granted; but I would expect the Greens to learn the lessons of that long before the ALP stops crowing and, yes, taking the Liberals for granted. Labor are going to bumble on in the inner city as they always have, endorsed by their "Labor values" campaign in inner-Melbourne seats, which is ultimately unsustainable (particularly when their ability to dole out government largesse dries up in a few days). The Greens didn't make any Maoist Great Leaps Forward but neither did they hurtle backwards like the Democrats.

The third key difference here is that the Liberals are different, too. Baillieu is not Kennett, and the attempt to convince people otherwise has failed. The Liberals have stopped denying that there was anything wrong ("we just need to get our message out"), which is why they weren't thrashed like they were in 2002 and '06. Tony Nutt is a sharper and tougher operator than Brian Loughnane.

Why this idea that the election is "too close to call" by people other than hopeful Labor supporters?

Partly it's a kind of Stockholm syndrome by the Victorian parliamentary press gallery. Every article or soundbite indicating that Brumby was a bit stiff or dismissive of legitimate public policy concerns over many years was met with fury by Brumby government staffers, hissy denunciations and freezings-out of media briefings. Rather than telling those people to get stuffed and doing some proper investigative journalism, the press gallery began to adopt the mindset of the Brumby government: there is no leader but The Leader, if a man can handle a press conference he can manage the State Government, etc. They just can't believe it's over, that the dolts and losers who apparently constituted the Liberal Party until fairly recently are actually going to be slipping into the big white cars and hiring staffers of their own.

Partly it's because the conventional wisdom has failed, on a number of levels:

  • In terms of the election, conventional wisdom held that the Libs would win a few seats, but not enough to win government. What ended up happening bears no relationship to the predictions. These reports were not useful in helping form sensible judgements about Victorian politics;

  • Polling needs to change. If 25% of voters have voted before polling day, the question is not how are you going to vote but how have you voted, a question that must be put over a longer timeframe and in a better targeted way; and

  • In terms of what it means to be a successful journalist: you've entered the journosphere well and proper if you can convince a senior party official, on the basis of anonymity, to let you see selective aspects of private polling. You can't lash out at the polls or the party officials who tailored their campaign to an inaccurate representation of the public's wishes and requirements from their state government.

What we have is a lazy journosphere that is using the same themes from the Federal election, but changing the names. The fact that the Greens have held the balance of power in Victoria since 2006, and look set to do so again, has been ignored despite their considerable impact on public policy outcomes. In some cases, like the ABC's Lyndal Curtis, journalists actually blame voters for being "indecisive". Bloody voters!

Wouldn't it be a cosy world where the journalists filed stories on political tactics, the politicians read those stories into Hansard or called press conferences on the basis of those stories, which led to another round of stories? Isn't that what journalism and politics is all about? Sadly, no. The voters set the parameters within which politics operates; and when media consumers and voters turn away from the media then it is the media that has failed, not the consumers and voters in hoping for more from the politico-media complex and not finding it.

Update: Libs have won Bentleigh. Told ya. Here's Shaun Carney recognising that voters make elections, not pollies or ads or journalists.

15 November 2010

Real power must be taken

Yes, isn't it great about Aung San Suu Kyi. Anyway. Fancy reporting on politics for as long as Paul Sheahan has only to come up with something like this. That first paragraph, in its staccato style - well, it could be staccato, I thought it was, it could be anything, why am I writing like this? - is like the jabbering of the White Rabbit before Alice decides to follow him down the hole.

It's stupid to call for people to stand aside. Nobody's going to stand aside. Real power must be taken. If you want to see real power at work, cast your mind back to 1995 and I'll tell you about real power.

In 1995, the State Director of the Liberal Party was Barry O'Farrell. He was a former staffer to John Howard, who was on his last chance to become Prime Minister. O'Farrell was uncommonly attentive to the branches, small and large, unlike the arrogant dickheads before and since who'd snarl through clenched teeth about loyalty but not show any to the party that paid them. When O'Farrell went into State Parliament O'Farrell was replaced by Tony Nutt, who was also trusted by Howard and who also succeeded in hosing down factional squabbling. O'Farrell and Nutt turned the NSW Libs into the powerhouse of the Liberal Party nationwide: focused on winning federal government.

Cut forward to 2010. Tony Abbott hasn't exactly taken the NSW Libs by the scruff of the neck. He hasn't imposed his people in the organisation, because it takes real leadership to have followers who are both capable people and absolutely loyal. The only people who are absolutely loyal to Tony Abbott are people he's hired: as with David Clarke and Bronwyn Bishop, those who are most loyal to him aren't much chop, and can't convince Liberals that they should be trusted to run a bath. Liberals who are capable tend to be on good terms with Abbott, but they don't owe him anything and wouldn't die in a ditch for him the way that Howard's people did.

A year ago the mail on O'Farrell was that he was a nobody, wouldn't and couldn't become Premier. Now, conventional wisdom is that he might just have a chance, but ... but what? He's never been Premier before? Give me a break.

The NSW Liberals is focused on getting Barry O'Farrell elected. Clarkites can get up in the Hills and it doesn't matter, the big fights in Hornsby and Baulkham Hills have been won and O'Farrell has what he needs to become Premier. If only Abbott could do something similar.
... Labor is frantically jettisoning the lead in its saddlebags ...

No, Labor is proving that it is weak. The central critique of NSW Labor is that it shirks the big challenges. What are Tripodi and all those departing MPs doing? Proving that NSW Labor shirks the big challenges.
The NSW party has already cost the federal party the 2010 election. Tony Abbott would be prime minister were it not for bungling in several NSW marginal seats. Somebody had to pay for this, but nobody did.

Yes Paul, nobody did. Howard would've had their guts for garters by now. That's what real power is, and Tony Abbott doesn't have any. If Tony Abbott really thinks that Nick Campbell cost him fireworks at Kirribilli House, he'd have Campbell's head on a pikestaff - but Tony Abbott doesn't have what it takes to match it with Nick Campbell, let alone Julia Gillard. Once you realise that, your whole critique will make more sense than it does.
And what about all the dummy spits? They are endless. The latest came last week when Nick Berman, the mayor of Hornsby Shire, announced he was quitting the party and would stand as an independent at the March election. "It is clear that the interests of factional warlords drive the preselection processes of the Liberal Party now and not the best interests of the constituents of Hornsby," said Berman

Nick Berman was a Young Liberal with considerable promise until he hitched his star to David Clarke. Now that Clarke is fading, Berman has not worked out how to avoid going down with him while still remaining in the Liberal Party. A shame, and I hope Berman doesn't become another Mick Gallagher but I dare say the NSW Liberals will get over the loss of Berman.
Also last week, Michael Yabsley, a former NSW MP and veteran fund-raiser, resigned from the post of honorary federal treasurer while directing an attack on the Liberals' federal director, Brian Loughnane, and president, Alan Stockdale, saying their leadership was opaque and the party was in danger of insolvency.

Tony Abbott can't even knock over two clowns from Melbourne, and he wants to be Prime Minister? Things are worse than I thought.
But there is also an antidote to the malaise of self-absorption. It starts at the top. Both the federal leader, Abbott, and state leader, O'Farrell, want Arthur Sinodinos to become president of the NSW Liberal Party. Sinodinos, 53, is almost unique in the gravitas he has within the Liberal Party. For more than nine years he was John Howard's chief of staff. He kept the federal machine ticking over. He also knew when to leave ... He could have had a Senate seat but believes his most effective role would be inside the party. There have been several moves to install him as president but the existing president, Natasha Maclaren-Jones, a woman of almost no public profile and comparatively modest resume, has not been inclined to step aside.

Yeah, he's such a behemoth but he can't even knock off Natasha bloody Maclaren. But it isn't really about Sinodinos at all.

Paul Sheahan used to be one journalist Liberals listened to. Sheahan thought it would be a good idea if Kerry Chikarovski became leader (no, seriously). He liked the cut of Peter Debnam's jib, too (stop that laughter at once). He was keen to publish any scuttlebutt going, until one day O'Farrell started fronting the press gallery in person saying "ask me anything you want", and all of a sudden nobody's leaking to Paul Sheahan any more. This is the key to this piece right here, the bellow of the bull-elephant who's no longer alpha male:
... the antiseptic of media scrutiny. Sydney is the capital of the Australian media.

We're important, damn it! Feed me leaks! Hello! Why have people stopped returning my calls? The tone here is not the hand-wringing of par one, here the NSW Libs are facing the full fury of the journo scorned. Anti-septic? Hardly. Fancy Paul Sheahan being done over by some guy from Johnson & Johnson!

Barry O'Farrell has all the control he needs to become Premier. The Sydney media did him no favours at all - they patronised him about his weight. The Sydney media said he had no policies when he has more than the incumbent government does. The Sydney media lionised fools like Michael Costa while O'Farrell outflanked him politically time after time. The Sydney media lavished attention on Miss Ohio Wonkyhair who had nothing to contribute to anything whatsoever, and now that the foreseeable has come to pass the Sydney media still can't realise the extent of the long game O'Farrell has played. The Sydney media fell in love with Bob Carr for ten years, and the rest of us are still wondering what we got out of it. Bugger the Sydney media.

Tony Abbott isn't in control of his own tongue, let alone the party machine, and nobody wants to go near the guy let alone make him Prime Minister. For all Abbott's disdain of the states, the brutal fact is that if he wanted to seize the NSW Libs between now and March, he'd get no support at all: people like Natasha Maclaren and Michael Photios would laugh at him. Abbott will look funny trying to claim credit for the coming O'Farrellanche, and truly pitiful trying to make something of it federally. Barry O'Farrell will be OK, and Nick Campbell is one cat who always lands on his feet.

We are watching Tony Abbott morph from Tomorrow's Man to Yesterday's Man before our very eyes. If there is to be blood, it will be some attention-seeking self-harm thing by Sheahan himself.

14 November 2010

Deriding Paul Howes

Paul Howes has shown in this piece that he can call for a debate, but he can't add a lot of value once it's on.

There are three parts to this. First, there's the Tripodi boo-hoo-life's-so-unfair bit, and secondly there's the question of "anonymous bloggers". In both cases, Howes' basic premise is that no criticism of him or any of his friends at any time is ever legitimate, even when their actions involve questions of public policy and democracy. Third, there's Howes' disdain for the public beyond the politico-media complex, and wider considerations of democracy from someone who clearly aspires to political office.

The slings and arrows

SO, it’s vale Joe Tripodi from NSW politics. And it seems that not many people are going to miss him. Joe is a friend of mine, and he’s a good man.

He really is. This will be almost impossible for some to believe, since he has been painted almost as the Antichrist by some sections of the media.

But Joe Tripodi is a nice and fiercely intelligent man, in real life. He loves his family and he loves public policy. He’s been described by another paper as ‘the smartest man’ in NSW politics.

But he had to go. And, to do the right thing by the party, as he’s always tried to do, Joe went.

What do you like about him, Paul? Did you advise him not to stack his mates onto the public payroll, or are you okay with that? If he's such a great guy, why does he have to go?

It isn't enough to shriek that he's your friend. You have to look at his record and understand if there are any legitimate grounds to criticise Tripodi's performance in public life. Indeed, look no further than your own union: Andy Gillespie was uncannily prescient when he said:
Mr Gillespie said Mr Tripodi and other Labor Party right-faction figures like former Wollongong City [Councillor] ... Joe Scimone had damaged the party's standing in the region.

"Labor politicians aren't held in the same regard by people in the region as they used to be," Mr Gillespie said.

"Comments like that from Tripodi show how ignorant he is. I'm surprised he knows where the Illawarra is.

"He should pull his head in and look after his own job and a government which could be on the line at the next election."

Strangely, Gillespie's future as a defender of AWU member's rights were curtailed. No doubt, he had to go. The AWU very kindly hired Richard Tripodi, Joe's brother, as an 'organiser' and Howes is unclear about what quid-pro-quo was forthcoming for that. That sort of thing is why there's no much cynicism toward Tripodi, Paul, and if you could bear to face up to it you'd explain that incidents like that - and so, so many others - was why Tripodi should have gone from public life long, long ago.

If you start to challenge Paul Howes on stuff like that, he'll start to realise that public life in Australia involves being accountable. He may or may not decide to push his political career further than it has gone already. Hopefully he'll be traumatised by watching his dear friend Tripodi go down, and will be so permanently scarred by being roused at by Kevin Rudd (grr!) that he'll realise that politics is far too difficult for someone with his modest powers of observation, and abilities to link concepts or assess competing ideas.

Anonymous bloggers

I'm not an anonymous blogger. My real name is Andrew Elder, I use that name on Twitter and elsewhere.

I make a point of following blogs and tweets put up by real people - like, for example, ABC journalist Leigh Sales:
Good column by @howespaul about gutless, nasty trolls on sites like twitter who don't use their real names. http://bit.ly/cFKPZE

Howes was referring to News Ltd sites where people made hurtful comments about his dear friend Joe, and it isn't clear why Sales couldn't go after News Ltd's slack comment-vetting policy as former News Ltd blogger Tim Dunlop did. Dunlop, Drag0nista and others point out that News Ltd publish anonymous trolls for the same reason that talkback radio broadcasts anonymous callers ("Bob from Greystaines" is just as anonymous as, say, beNzo3568). Howes should use his insider status to go after slack moderation at News Ltd: he could even parachute one of Joe Tripodi's soon-to-be-unemployed relatives in there. Howes didn't get where he is by challenging the status quo at big organisations, though, and no journalist will call him on it either. When Howes was going after Rudd on Lateline in his final night as Prime Minister (Rudd's, that is), I wanted Tony Jones to say: who the fuck are you anyway, and why does someone like you get to weigh in on significant issues like this? Isn't the presence of Paul Howes proof positive that Labor is run by, and for, pissants?

Sales was clearly motivated by some level of emotion beyond concern for the easily-wounded little petal that we call Paul Howes when she lashed out at "gutless, nasty trolls ... who don't use their real names". The journosphere interpretation of 'anonymous' here is: "I'm sorry, have we met? I haven't seen you standing outside in the cold hoping for a statement from a junior minister, or even a colourful backbencher. If you haven't been to an Andrew Olle dinner you can't possibly know anything about journalism, so bugger off and read my essay reprinted from something in The Guardian last week, or maybe a bit of speculation that everyone is running but which has no basis in fact or importance whatsoever!!!".

If that's what it means to be anonymous - someone who will never appear on Q and A as a panellist or audience member, nor even as a viewer of an entire episode - well then, I'm anonymous and glad to be so.
In my recent book ... I dish out plenty of criticisms against lots of people. But I put my name to it.

But you don't make any sense when you do. Since when was sweetness and light a prerequisite for leadership of the ALP? If you wanted that, why didn't you stick with Kim Beazley?

The big issues: jobs, jobs and jobs

It isn't just Howes and Gillespie, though. The AWU has taken on one of the major debates of our time, the Murray-Darling, and come off second-best:
“Do we want to see Mildura turned from an oasis to a desert? Do we want to import more and more food every year? The answer to both those questions is ‘no’.

Nice bit of straw-man work there, boys: pity that such a historically significant organisation is making such a pissant contribution. The poor suffering members of the AWU are supporting two hundred (!) staff, including Howes and the Tripodi boy and the clown who wrote that. You'd hope that a journalist would ask Howes who's minding the AWU while he's off flogging his booky-wook, but not so far.

Elect a new people

Howes: you wanted a robust debate, and when you get one you shriek that people are so mean. Get over yourself, get some new and better friends, and start engaging in debates that carry people with you on the issues that matter. As Tim Dunlop says:
... don't use the existence of trolls as evidence of some particular failure with "new media" or, as Paul Howes goes dangerously close to suggesting, with the general public.

Howes is demonstrating his disdain for those of us outside the politico-media complex: those who can't be smarmed or heavied by Bill Ludwig and others responsible for putting Howes into his sinecure.
It’s clear we don’t have much respect for politicians whatsoever - or for public service, come to that.

The highest-rated professions in Australia are public servants: teachers, nurses, ambulance paramedics. There is a very high respect for altruism in public service, including NGOs. There is no respect for union officials who want to sell books or knock off Prime Ministers whom we have elected, however hard they might want to insinuate their activities with "public service".
Simply put, we don’t much like people who think they’re better than us, and we don’t much like politicians, because we think they think they’re better than us.

They think they can tell us what to do. They think they can swan around with big pensions and big salaries, and we think most of them wouldn’t know hard work if they fell over it.

They're not better than us. The ones who earn popular contempt are those who use taxes and other resources given for the common weal to do things that are irrelevant our counter to our best interests. Does that sound like you, Pauly boy?
It’s not true, of course. Most parliamentarians, on both sides, work hard, gruelling hours. They do things that normal people wouldn’t dream of doing like flying to Perth, landing at 6am, going to a full day of meetings, then flying straight home again.

Yeah, they work hard, but at what? What 'meetings', with whom, for what purpose? How much of this is busywork? Why is it that so much activity can take place to set something in motion (a piece of legislation, a grant, whatever action by government may be involved) only to have someone like Paul Howes waddle in at 3am and spike it, or trade it off for something else? That's contemptible, that's antidemocratic - and Paul Howes wouldn't have it any other way.
Since I became National Secretary of the AWU, the most seemingly vicious insult that anyone can fling at me is that I’m simply out trying to win myself preselection for a seat in the federal parliament. As though my current job, which I love, is a mere stepping-stone to a political career.

For your predecessor, the Hon. Bill Shorten MP, it was exactly that - and you aren't exactly playing Cliffie Dolan to his Hawke, are you? So too was your brother-from-another-mother, Senator the Hon. Joe Ludwig. It's not unreasonable, which may explain why you're seeking to inject some emotion to deflect the logic.

Speculation may or may not be accurate, but what makes it "vicious"? Why an "insult"? Why the emotive language in what should be a matter-of-fact discussion?
Ask yourself this: would you want your wife to read in the paper that you are “trash”, “an absolute disgrace”, and “utterly incompetent”? Would you want your children to read that? Would you want your elderly mother to read 200+ comments highlighting what a worthless waste of space you really are?

I'd hate it, but I would recognise that it was part of public life. Jeanette Howard faced that almost every day of her adult life, from people like Tripodi and yourself. So did Hazel Hawke and Annita Keating, whose marriages each broke under that strain. Margie Abbott and Tim Mathieson are also copping it, but they've clearly decided it's part of the deal.

Suck it up, and stop playing us for mugs.

I'd want to have some way of completing this sentence - "I'm not a worthless waste of space because ...". As Andrew Elder, I'm able to do that; were I Paul Howes, I would find it a struggle. As Paul Howes, I'd find it hard to tie the book tour back to Australian Workers and their interests (including cogent contributions to major national debates like who should be Prime Minister and the fate of the Murray-Darling river system).
... we’ll eventually end up with pollie-bots who have no real personality of their own, or absolute dimwits who never rock the boat.

We're already there. Start with these losers who let Kevin Rudd choreograph ALP conferences. Did you miss that whole debate about "zombies"? If Bill Ludwig or Joe Tripodi are faced with a choice between a candidate they already own, and someone who's a bit of a livewire, what makes you think they're going to pick the livewire? The ALP Caucus are such dummies that they need someone like you to go on Lateline to tell them how to vote, and now that there's fewer of them you're going to tell them again.
And that, more than anything, will guarantee us a parliament full of “gutless muppets”. And because of that, we’ll be the muppets, in the end.

Another alternative is that muppeteers like yourself and your mates Tripodi and Bitar are pushed aside in favour of candidates - from outside the ALP, as appears necessary - who have better choice of friends and don't make logical leaps that serves their own interests or those of their silly friends.

There's no issue with the idea that we need good people to represent us, Paul Howes. The question is whether you, your friends in the Labor movement, and your defenders in the media, are capable of recognising (let alone providing) effective representation. I've read what you've written and heard what you've said; you're unpersuasive in public debates yet mysteriously persuasive when it comes to key debates within the ALP. Let us either have your absence from those internal debates - be they in Perth or anywhere else hidden from scrutiny - or else, let us be governed by people better than you, your mates, and the current ALP.

10 November 2010

The people have spoken

After the federal elections, the federal directors go to the National Press Club and give a self-serving speech about how clever they were, with token acknowledgment of faults compensated for by a degree of blame transference that borders on mental instability.

There was a time when people wouldn't know what powerful people said unless a journalist was there to transcribe it. This piece on Labor and that piece on the Liberals come from that time. It has no value here. If I wanted the words of Karl Bitar or Brian Loughnane I'm sure there's streaming video of it out there somewhere: someone doing shorthand in a notepad has much less value than the journosphere might imagine.

Straight reportage of an event like this gives these jokers the last word in a federal election, when the last word belongs with the voters. As a former party member myself, those speeches basically set the talking points which act as a prophylactic to debate and reform over the coming parliament, ensuring that all but the most searing lessons are completely forgotten in three years.

The real challenge when reporting on some staged, staid and stale announcement is to consider how much of it is valuable information people can use, and how much self-serving bullshit. Two articles doing the straight reporting thing sell us all short, and is merely filler until some real analysis can come later on (probably in this weekend's papers). We here at the Politically Homeless Institute remember the 2010 Federal election clearly and appraise these speeches as reported thus:

Karl Bitar, Labor
Labor went into this year's federal election with lead in its saddlebags - voters with high expectations of a new government.
Who created those expectations? Who fell short of those expectations? Who failed to make the case that having a go and falling short beats not trying and demanding a return to the torpid way it was?
"People were dissatisfied … because we didn't meet the expectations they had of us when we won in 2007," he said. "Unfortunately, people's expectations were well beyond what any government could possibly meet."

He said all of this boiled down to the perfect recipe for a high protest vote - a high level of government dissatisfaction and a high percentage of people thinking we would definitely win."
... along with a low number who actually thought the government had solid achievements worth defending and perpetuating. Sneaky little backroom operators who advise Prime Ministers to flee at the first sign of discontent must bear some responsibility for undermining their own campaign, much more than "the press club" clearly put on Bitar.
Mr Bitar said the leaks and the Latham intrusion created perceptions of disunity and diverted attention from Labor's campaign.
Latham wasn't much of a force for Labor's good, and there are two questions arising from this:
  • Latham was a known quantity. Who expected that he would keep quiet? I can still remember when Channel 9 targeted Hewson in 1993 over the GST. Show me someone who never, ever expected that the boot would be on the other foot, and I'll show you someone with no political nous.
  • Whose idea was it to complain to Channel 9 about Latham? This is not something Gillard did herself, and which backfired on Gillard and Labor by making them look like sooks. Again, why was the journosphere too gutless polite to put this to Bitar? You wouldn't miss out on any stories worth reporting by doing so.
On top of all that is a virtual admission of, if not failure, then personal inadequacy:
The problem was not with the substance of the policies, but how they were communicated and reported ... strategically the right call, but "tactically, it didn't come off as well as we would have expected"
This is the cry of political losers everywhere. It was what the Libs did in NSW after they lost in 1995, and they only stopped doing it once Barry O'Farrell took over. There are three points here:
  • You know what, Karl (and you too Mark Davis, for just passing it on like some virus)? It was the policies, such as there were any after you numpties ran away fro them.
  • A political pro doesn't have anyone to blame their stumblebum delivery but themselves. If you can't communicate effectively, or you don't know crap from chocolate, consider whether your party is not better served by your absence than your presence.
  • When it comes to the nasty journos, focus groups should tell you they're not that significant. People tend to catch glimpses and snippets of news reports, and if they're inherently silly then no amount of po-faced reportage will add any value whatsoever, to the experience of the viewer/ reader/ citizen/ taxpayer/ voter, nor to the agenda of the transmitters of that message - and nor, ultimately, to the value and esteem in which the journosphere itself is held.
There are none so blind, etc.:
The rail link was good policy but it ended up "sucking oxygen" out of the campaign because the media reported it in an extremely cynical way.
How would Karl Bitar know what's good policy or not?

Why didn't Labor address the issue that the State Government had announced and re-announced that rail line over sixty times, and only a third of it was actually built. To turn such a sow's-ear of policy into a political silk purse, it was necessary to address that and make the case: no, this time we're serious, stop laughing. The Premier should have been nowhere near the announcement: the sight of Krissy & Jules palling it up was a negative for Federal Labor, not a positive.

The people of NSW are running down the clock, waiting to get rid of the State Labor government. No amount of whingeing about the media will change this. No amount of insistence that Keneally is political gold when she's actually political shit, will or can change this. Labor strategists should have known that Keneally would be a liability for Gillard. To contend otherwise is denialism, proof positive that the Labor campaign is run by someone with no clue about Australian politics today.

Given the essential vapidity of Labor's campaign, from what was the oxygen sucked?

Brian Loughnane, Liberal
THE strong swing to the Coalition in NSW at the election should have converted to more seats won, the federal director of the Liberal Party has said ... “It is very important that we understand precisely what happened,” he said.

“And the fact that we received such a strong swing and did not convert that to more seats obviously is something that is of concern to the party.”

Tony Abbott has previously conceded that the Opposition lost the election because of a failure to pick up at least three extra seats in NSW.

But Mr Loughnane today refused to admit errors had made been, defending the campaign in the state as “properly resourced”.
If NSW had been properly resourced, these seats would have been won:
  • Robertson would have been won as Labor split over Neal-O'Neill;
  • Banks was ridiculously under-resourced and a man from Manly was sent to contest it. The Liberals have had their eyes on that seat for twenty years, and Daryl Melham looks like going the way of John Howard - representing a safe seat that is slowly ebbing away - but without Howard's achievements (Melham has been in parliament for twenty years, Labor has been in government half that time and he's not been put into the front line. By contrast, when Melham was first elected, Kate Ellis was 13);
  • The Liberals would have won Greenway had they run an adult to contest it, like the Mayor of Blacktown whom David Clarke vetoed, rather than a Clarkoid named Jaymz. Only yokels in Queensland elect adolescents;
  • In Eden-Monaro the Liberals put up one of their sharpest politcal operatives, and he went backwards at a rate of knots, casting doubt over every jumped-up staffer and CrosbyTextorite who dared to offer political advice to any Liberal candidate;
  • Dobell, Hughes, Lyne: coulda, woulda, shoulda.
Loughnane is out of line when he claims the state was properly resourced. Moving campaign headquarters to Melbourne is stupid when there are no seats in play there. The Federal President can get off his arse and shift to Sydney or Brisbane for the duration, or more properly go somewhere from which no harm can be done. Melbourne arrogance was stamped out of the Liberal Party in the 1970s and was too gutless to return a generaion later. If you want to hold and inquiry, hold an inquiry; if you want to impose your views, stand up and do that - but spare us the charade of an inquiry with pre-defined solutions and backsides covered all round.

Mind you, it's worth noting that Tony Abbott has not grabbed the NSW Libs by the scruff of the neck and shaken it until people like Clarke fell away. Howard would have done that before the election. It's a sign that Abbott is a boy doing a man's job when it comes to practical politics. A year from now Abbott will be going cap-in-hand to Barry O'Farrell, if he's still leader (Abbott, not O'Farrell).
“Firstly, in relation to the campaign headquarters, we always move from Canberra to Melbourne a couple of days into the campaign. We did exactly at this election what we normally do.” “It’s widely agreed that it was one of the strongest campaign headquarters that we’ve ever run in the history of the party.”
No need for an inquiry then, carry on, as you were. Complacency in defeat is not going to pave the way for victory, but then again what would Brian Loughnane know about increasing the Liberal vote?
Addressing the ousting of Kevin Rudd, which fundamentally changed the political contest, Mr Loughnane said the party was not caught off guard. “We considered the possibility of Labor changing leaders before the election. Indeed, we prepared for it,” he said. “Our campaign was able to quickly adapt to Julie [sic] Gillard,” he boasted.
Leaving aside the possibility that Loughnane knows the Prime Minister's given name and that the transcriber can't be trusted to get that right - this is bullshit. Abbott was freaked out at coming up against a woman. The Liberal Paty benefitted from Labor's mistakes (the fact that it had no policies to run on, the Oakes-Rudd leaks) to the point where deep unease among female voters toward Abbott did not result in any rush to embrace Gillard.

Loughnane is right to point out Labor's muddle, and wrong not to point out the Liberals' own shortcomings that thankfully saw them fall short of government. Had the campaign gone on for another week the Liberals would have been cruelly exposed over their economic (non-)policy. Loughnane ran his party into the ground due to insouciance and arrogance, which brought it up short of victory. Mind you, nobody in the Liberal Party wants to be Prime Minister enough to kick him from one end of Collins Street to the other; and no journalist wants to lose the prospect of "We reveal Liberal internal polling showing that ..." space-filla stories, valuable as they are.

07 November 2010

Eyes without a face

I always thought it was funny that a guy who's never worked a day in his life got to be head of the Australian Workers' Union, but not only is this so but he got to be a published author too.

Just like Chopper Read.

But at least Chopper Read can string together a grammatical sentence. And apply a metaphor so that it makes sense. Because if you can't write a blurb, and if the blurb you do write casts a pall over your book, what the hell are you doing to AWU members and how can we work together so that your political career goes no further than it has.
THE implosion of the Rudd government has been something of an elephant in the room
An implosion is not an elephant. It is nothing of an elephant whatsoever.

The rivalry between John Howard and Peter Costello for the leadership of the Liberal Party was much talked about but little came of it in terms of policy outcomes. The rivalry between Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard is much the same really.
But as the Gillard government settles into power, and gets on with the business of governing - passing legislation, working with the independents and providing stable leadership ...
Is that all there is to governing? Really? No policy issues to for Labor people to die in a ditch over, no pressing issues crying out for a response greater than the transactional politics described above?
... it's time to start looking at what went wrong during the period of the last government.
Why? Many in the journosphere are still hunting out their elusive Walkleys by looking for signs of awkwardness in the Rudd-Gillard relationship. What on earth can be gained, in policy terms, from Howes piling on? So he's got a book to sell, who hasn't? John Howard has a book to sell and he has some opinions on the Rudd government too.
And no one's going to forget 2010 in a hurry.
Great: no need to rake over it, is there? We were and are all there, not much left to say really.
If the saying, "A week is a long time in politics" is true, you can safely say this year seemed like an eternity.
If it's just a cliche for adrenaline junkies who can't handle big, enduring and substantive issues, then there's not much left to say and no reason to buy your book.
It's a year in politics that will be dissected, studied and written about for decades to come.

It will probably become a seminal turning point in the history of Australian Labor and domestic politics, alongside 1975 and 1955.
More like 1991, the last time the Labor Party rolled a PM who looked set to lead them to defeat. There were big issues in play in 1975 and 1955, the problems of 2010 were that the big issues kept getting shunted off the table by clowns like Arbib and your own self, Paul Howes.
And for those of us who identify with Labor ideas and values, the result of the 2010 election has been a gigantic wake-up call.
So the entire labour movement had governed the nation, and you had scribbled your diary, while being asleep?
Tomorrow, my first book will be launched ... it's my personal diary of the recent election campaign.
As opposed to someone else's personal diary, or a dollop of self-serving bullshit on par with John Hyde Page?
I wrote it because I wanted to document what I thought had gone right and gone wrong with Labor's campaign during the election ...
But you were asleep, Paul. Everyone was asleep, apparently. Someone who's awake enough to keep a diary does not need a wake-up call. Someone who's keeping a diary hasn't got time for quotidian representation of the interests of Australian Workers.
... I believe it's important for the Labor Party and the wider labour movement to be more open to different ideas and opinions.
You didn't get where you are by being Mr Different Ideas And Opinions. If Bill Ludwig found out you had Ideas, you'd be sweeping out shearing sheds out the back of Bob Katter's electorate faster than you could say boo, not lounging on a divan dictating your memoirs. Unvarnished and honest? Yeah, right. Brutal? Possibly, but not for the reasons you'd think.

The essential dilemma of Australian Labor was exposed by Doug Cameron a few weeks ago, for free. Cameron rejoiced that the Labor caucus was full of union officials, similar to himself and Paul Howes. Cameron then went on to say that the Labor caucus was full of zombies who wouldn't challenge Rudd, and Paul Howes says much the same thing (another reason not to buy his book). These two descriptions are linked. Union officials these days are as careerist as the most soulless corporate drone. They are not the tough, independently-minded and self-educated tinsmiths, French polishers and train drivers who built the ALP. They - you - are punished if they deviate from the Set Line, however stupid, and rewarded to the extent that the line is toed. Labor is not for the toey.
Ministers were not encouraged to debate ideas and Cabinet became a rubber-stamping committee. Those who did try to talk to the prime minister about the problems facing the government were so brutalised by their experiences that many never tried it again.
Awww, diddums. These people were happy to toe the line all the way up through the labour movement: Bill Ludwig, Kim Carr, Graham Richardson, Joe de Bruyn, all demanded loyalty and got it. Somehow, these battle-hardened professionals went up against Kevin from Nambour, Beijing and Brissy, and they collapsed in a heap. I sure wouldn't trust these delicate flowers with, say, the interests of Australian Workers.
I want real loyalty. I want someone who will kiss my ass in Macy's window, and say it smells like roses.

- Lyndon B. Johnson
If you think that a week is a long time in politics and that 2010 is some sort of epoch, then I should point out that Johnson was President of the United States during the 1960s and that Macy's refers to a department store in New York.

Rudd demanded power and got it. What he did with it is another question, and because your book is all about you then I doubt you'll be big enough to go into those issues. Never mind being smart after he event, did you agree with Rudd's decision to drop/defer the ETS? Did you, at the time, Paul Howes? No, I won't buy the book and chances are someone will serialise it anyway; hopefully you'll be big enough to outline your own position and what you did to make yourself heard, or confirm when someone else does it for you.
Some Cabinet ministers couldn't get a meeting with Rudd at all.
And this affected Australian Workers how?
As readers of this column know, I have something of a bee in my bonnet on the issue of refugees' rights.

It's not a popular stance, and I know this.

But back in 2009, when I spoke out, yet again, on the refugee issue, Rudd slapped me down in a very public way.

During Question Time, no less.

His message was very clear - he would not tolerate dissent in any way.

I was embarrassed.

Actually, I was mortified.
If it's nothing more than a bee in your bonnet, or more correctly a pose, no wonder Rudd slapped you down. If you're going to go public on an issue of public policy, isn't it going to be a public issue? Would you prefer to be plied with port and cigars in a quiet room, and then ignored? Would it be better if the nominal head of the Australian Workers' Union could waft in and waft out unseen, and leave no trace other than having his bonnet-bees enacted to the letter? If so, say so. You're no better than Rudd then, but at least it will be true.
And it became clear to me why others were not similarly taking Rudd on: nobody would dare.

That is not how democracy works.

The party became increasingly closed, and those within the wider labour movement who spoke out or disagreed on policy issues were marginalised and shut up.
Do you think the wider labour movement wanted deregulations, privatisations, tariff reductions etc.? No, it bloody didn't, and there wasn't time to consult them and win them all over. There was, however, time to cut the number of unions, restrict the staff thereon to clowns like yourself, and have them do what it took to put the policies in train. That culture has reinforced itself to the point where, regardless of the issue at hand (and it is regardless) no serious observer gives a monkey's what the wider labour movement thinks. Therefore, we are now at a point where there is no labour movement wider than Paul Howes and people not significantly or sufficiently different to him. And that, for all his protestations, is how Paul Howes likes it, and needs it to be.
That culture needed to end.
That's not a paragraph. Neither is this, really. The writing is. Appalling. Like a man who thinks that writing a book is like an extended press release. With ungrammatical sentences. That fail to add drama or gravitas where none were present. Brutal on the language. Annoying to the reader.

Besides, the culture you describe got rid of John Howard and got job upgrades for many labour movement zombies, including yourself Paul Howes.
I believe that, as Prime Minister, Gillard is keen to ensure that Labor returns to being a party of ideas and debate.

And I'm pleased to see that already many Labor ministers, MPs and supporters outside Parliament are working to ensure that debate is had and ideas are generated.
Give me one example, Paul. One example where Gillard is leading a public debate, and allowing the sorts of random inputs that drive press secs (people more similar to Paul Howes than your standard AWU member) crazy.

I'll give you two:
  • the Minister for Sport supports gay marriage, the Prime Minister doesn't. For the government, it's end-of-story unless the Minister for Sport wants to make something of it, which he probably doesn't. To regard this as an issue at all, you have to widen the debate to consider those affected by such a decision; people like Paul Howes get where they are by narrowing debates, not widening them.
  • Since Gillard became PM Howes has not uttered a word on refugees. Presumably the bee in his bonnet has been pacified in some other way, because the issues affecting the people themselves is pretty much the same, and while they won't forget 2010 either they could be forgiven for not knowing who you are. What could be more mortifying than that?
Do Australian Workers have opinions on gay marriage, refugees, or the rights of unions to prosecute employers - if so, what are they? Don't tell me that they don't care: the SDA reckon that their members are all up-in-arms about abortion and euthanasia, one would assume the AWU is similarly engaged on the issues with Mr Democracy at the helm.
But it does mean that supporters of the party should be able to make their voices heard without the fear of appearing disloyal.

After all, that's democracy.
Another example: recently, the Premier of New South Wales attempted to change an agreement so that people like Paul Howes would benefit. The Prime Minister insisted that the original agreement was good enough for people like Paul Howes. The Prime Minister criticised the Premier in public, during Question Time and elsewhere, the full Paul Howes nightmare. The silence of people like Paul Howes was deafening: they didn't support the Premier or the Prime Minister.

When it comes to loyal criticism of a federal Labor government, if a Labor Premier of New South Wales can't etc., etc., and oh what's the use.
And many people felt very angry that the Labor Party had treated a prime minister (seemingly) so badly.
They are the very sorts of people who used to feel part of the Labor Party until people like Paul Howes took over. Paul Howes got to where he is by ignoring such people.
It seems to me that because the election had to be held so soon after the change of leadership, there was no opportunity to properly explain to the Australian people what exactly had gone wrong with the Rudd government.
At the previous election, you were quite happy to say what was wrong with the Howard government, so why not? Election campaigns are all about communication, and as the campaign was run by people like Paul Howes they didn't want to explain ("never complain, never explain, never resign" - right Paul?). We're all moving forward.
Kevin Rudd is an able man, and will be a competent Foreign Minister.
How would you know? You couldn't get a meeting with him. On what basis to you judge a Foreign Minister anyway? How collegiate do you think H V Evatt or Gareth Evans were? How collegiate was the last Queenslander to be Foreign Minister, Bill Hayden?

The challenge for the government is not to go over old ground or even sell some books. The challenge is to get some debates happening and decisions made. In 1992, Paul Keating was not going on about how Bob Hawke was so totally crushing his dreams - he was introducing the sorts of policy ideas that Hawke wasn't introducing, vindicating by default those who'd backed him and forcing those who didn't to either change their minds or leave. This is precisely what Gillard isn't doing, or not doing enough, and what she should be doing.

The challenge facing Gillard is not the challenge facing Paul Howes, and long may this continue to be so.

06 November 2010

The limits of partisan reporting

Greg Sheridan is the foreign editor of The Australian. In writing this article he clearly hoped to do two things: first, explain the results of the US midterm elections to Australian readers, and secondly express his satisfaction that conservative candidates beat liberals. He failed at both.

Firstly, the headline is wrong: Americans did not flock to the Tea Party. More than fifty of the 89 candidates endorsed by the Tea Party lost, and none of them have made it to the upper reaches of the Republicans. In an earlier post I pointed out how stupid it was for the Republicans to run the wrong candidate in Delaware, and so it has proven: Republicans might have won even more had they were strong enough to hold off clowns like the Tea Party candidates.
It is intellectual cowardice to pretend that the American people were not passing judgment on the policies of the last congress. They don't like the deficit, the size of government or the unemployment rate. You can blame all that on George W. Bush if you like, but at the very least the Democrats did not convince voters that their solutions were effective or sensible.
It's amazing that after eight years of Bush stuff-ups, people are turning back to the party of Bush. Someone in Sheridan's position should be able to explain that without getting all giddy.
Many bad things have been written about the Tea Party. But it had a huge win yesterday. It injected energy and enthusiasm into the Republicans. As a result they won many more House of Representatives seats than they expected. On the other hand, the selection of two frankly weird Tea Party candidates, Christine O'Donnell in Delaware and Sharron Angle in Nevada, probably cost them two Senate seats. But that in itself is a good thing. The Tea Party got rewards for its efforts, but was shown that it must select mainstream, credible people.

The Tea Party has been a huge strategic success for the Republicans at another level. It would have been very easy for the Tea Party to end up as a third party. Doing this, Ralph Nader's Greens fatally split the Democratic vote in 2000. That would have devastated the Republicans. That the Republicans were able to accommodate the Tea Party is a huge strategic gain for them.
The Tea Party can't tell the difference between weird candidates (Christine O'Donnell) and non-weird ones (Mike Castle). Rand Paul and David Vitter, who won, are no less weird than Sharron Angle, who lost.
The election was also a big win for former Alaska governor Sarah Palin. Almost every candidate she endorsed won their Republican primary. Several of them, such as senator-elect Marco Rubio from Florida and governor-elect Nikki Haley from South Carolina, won their general elections and are future stars for the Republicans.
Nikki Haley ran for the Republicans in one of the most Republican states in the US - she should have won overwhelmingly, in a state and a year favourable to her party, but she squeaked home with 51%. Someone like Greg Sheridan should have looked into that. Rubio won against a split centre-left vote.

The Nader example from ten years ago is silly. A better example is Obama in 2008: he got people's hopes up, he let them down, they voted against his party in 2010. Now it's the Republicans who've got Americans hoping, and if they can't deliver the Democrats look set to reap in 2012 what was sowed this week.
In virtually no other country is it conceivable that at a time of widespread unemployment a huge grassroots movement could be demanding lower government spending, fewer and smaller government programs, an end to the deficit, and lower taxes. The Tea Party is quintessentially concerned with mainstream economic issues and it gives both Obama and the new congress a real chance to rein in government spending.
As if the Republicans are going to rein in spending across the board. As if.

The most senior Republican politician is not some three-cornered-hat-wearing yokel: he bears a physical resemblance to Bob Dole, and like Dole is basically a career politician. He didn't get where he is by cutting government programs. Taxes, particularly for the well-off? You betcha. Bush had eight years to cut government spending, and he increased it. The Republicans, like the Gingrich revolutionaries of the 1990s, are no more going to deliver smaller government than they are going to deliver victory in Afghanistan. Sheridan should be honest enough to admit that (and to realise that no classics contain the phrase 'Oy vay!', unless you want to rush some Philip Roth or Fiddler On The Roof into the Canon.
The Republicans this time also did well in the critical battleground of the midwest, winning key contests in Ohio and Illinois. I see it all as a magnificent sign of America's determination to come to grips with the key economic challenges.
The Republicans will block and block and block, they'll start up nonsense like Obama's birth certificate and gays and denying healthcare for poor people; they will no more come to grips with key economic challenges than Sheridan will define them. There shall be sex scandals, oh yes and ugly too. Republicans don't do economic reform, haven't done since the Berlin Wall came down, and Sheridan should know that.

His second-last paragraph, on demography as political destiny, is too stupid to be reprinted here. Sheridan's whole article is what you'd expect from a first-year undergraduate Liberal Student jotted out the night before it was due, rather than the Foreign Editor of a major newspaper (whose owner in headquartered in Delaware, largely because of the policies of Mike Castle).

Greg Sheridan basically wants to look both sagely responsible and giddily partisan at the same time when it comes to American politics, the only element of foreign policy with which he has any real familiarity. In a time of turmoil he lacks confidence in his predictions, mainly because he has no confidence in his assessment of what's going on now. No reader should have any confidence in his assessments either. The radicalism of the Tea Party provides no evidence of political success, let alone conservatism or even coherence in that country's government.

03 November 2010

Someone else's problem

Updated 4, 5 & 6 Nov with Lenore Taylor's responses

Lenore Taylor reckons that regulating the financial system is someone else's problem, bless her.
Joe Hockey has clinched his interest rates attack.
Is this the same as saying that Hockey, and by extension, the Liberal-National-LNP-CLP-OMG-WTF Coalition, have a superior policy offering to the government in this key area of economic and social policy? If you read on, it doesn't say this at all: this sentence gives false hope of presenting you with useful information. It's just about day-to-day bullshit in Canberra, feints and media tactics that chew up a lot of effort and media space but actually amount to bugger-all when it comes to effects on people, businesses and other features of life beyond the concentric roads of Capital Hill.
The grand finale came yesterday when he declared the Gillard government and its "insipidly weak Treasurer" owned the interest rate rises.
The "grand finale"? Really? Looks like just another dollop of bullshit to me. What's grand, what's final about such an announcement? Will interest rates and their impact on the economy cease to be an issue now that Hockey has spoken? I doubt it, and Taylor was stupid to frame such a humdrum announcement in that way.
Of course, the government doesn't "own" the rises at all. The Reserve Bank is independent and the commercial banks even more so. (Industry sources say at least part of the Commonwealth Bank's motivation in immediately announcing a rise well above that announced by the RBA was to send a very clear message to politicians of all persuasions that political bullying was not going to become a de facto form of price control.)
The commercial banks are not independent of government. They are companies which hold government banking licences, and which are subject to a range of regulations, including on fair trading. Nobody who has any idea of the amount of lobbying they do would describe them as "independent" of government.

Banking puts the lie to libertarianism as a viable economic system. Show me a country with a weak system of government (e.g. a brittle dictatorship or post-dictatorship kleptocracy) and I'll show you a country with a rubbish banking system. Show me a country with a strong system of government (e.g. the UK, Switzerland, Australia) and I'll show you a country with a strong banking system. Strong regulation makes for strong banks (and no, pummeling banks and bankers at every turn does not constitute 'strong' regulation).

Taylor is wrong to regard all proposals for changing the regulatory system under which banks operate as "bullying", as she did there. Australia's major banks have power of their own, and the power they exert is not just over politicians but over their customers. When customers have restricted ability to find less onerous interest rates by switching banks, because they're all doing it, they are disempowered; and when their politicians don't exert regulatory power over banks that keep them solvent while preventing abuses of power, this sense of disempowerment at the hands of the banks is magnified.
Hockey's sheeting home of "ownership" ignores the fact the Reserve Bank statement is clear that government spending had little to do with its rates decision.
A valid point, well made (finally). Then she overdid it:
And actually "acting" on banking competition is a lot more difficult than making a considered speech with a "nine-point plan".
Hockey is a politician, in opposition. "Acting", however you want to define it in a non-thespian sense, is beyond him because he's not the Treasurer but the shadow. Hockey's nine points may or may not be what's needed right now in bank regulation, but they're nine points more than Swan put forward when he held the job Hockey's in now. Costello treated Swan with contempt; a little unfairly perhaps, given Swan's political success in Queensland in 2007 and in keeping the state government from defeat at the last election (a record undone by the debacle of August 21). Swan cannot afford to brush off Hockey and his nine points as casually as Taylor would hope to do. It's one thing to regard Labor and Liberal as equivalent, but it's a basic error to extend this insouciance to government and opposition.
Wayne Swan told the Herald last month he was looking at tougher powers for the competition watchdog and more help for smaller lenders to try to increase banking competition.
Did he really? What a shame the Herald just sat on it. Its readers could have used that information. Maybe there could have been a public debate on what forms those high-level measures might take. Taylor has admitted to an anti-scoop, the antithesis of what her profession claims to be about.
He now says he'll unveil a banking competition package in December - just in time to have an answer when people realise they have way less to spend at Christmas. It is likely to include more powers for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. It may coincide with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission finalising how it will penalise banks for charging excessive exit fees for mortgage-payers who want to vote with their feet.

As policy goes, that's all fine.
"As policy goes, that's all fine"? What a piss-poor effort, an appalling indictment of journalism that is! These are hugely complex areas of policy, and a senior parliamentary press gallery journalist waves it away with "As policy goes, that's all fine"! Keep that in mind for any future developments in public policy reported by this person (if there can be any, following the "grand finale"):
Asylum seekers coming by boat will be machine-gunned and left to die in the ocean.

Lenore Taylor: As policy goes, that's all fine.

The means of production, distribution and exchange shall be taken over by the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Lenore Taylor: As policy goes, that's all fine.

[insert any policy you like that's stupid and wrong, yet not unlikely in the current environment]

Lenore Taylor: As policy goes, that's all fine.
That attitude shows that journalists aren't equipped to tell us what public policy developments mean, and how we might evaluate them. Merely reporting what was said isn't enough - especially not if you're going to sit on it for a month or so.
But politically he's been too slow. While he's been thinking, Hockey has got the jump on him - taking on the big banks and outlining his own ideas that are in many cases quite similar to those being investigated by Swan.
How similar, Lenore? Isn't it politically smart to get journalists to sit on important information? Now that the cat's out of the bag, are you going to explore the similarities and differences, and foreseeable consequences of each? Why not? Surely this blithe crap of "that's all fine" won't do any more?
Being shadow treasurer does not have many advantages over being Treasurer, but it is a better place from which to feel people's pain on cost-of-living pressures, because you don't actually have to do anything about it.
Assuming you want to be shadow treasurer all you life, maybe it could be regarded as a cushy job. When you're in a job like that, all you can do is make a speech and hopefully come up with some ideas that stand scrutiny - if there's any scrutiny to be had, from any professional journalists that aren't too busy having cosy chats with the incumbents. Maybe Swan could get it done in less time if he didn't have to butter up journalists, just as Hockey hasn't apparently been sitting around hoping Lenore Taylor might drop by.
Just ask Wayne Swan. As shadow treasurer he ran a cost-of-living campaign advocating Fuelwatch and Grocerywatch. It worked a treat. Until he got into government.
Do you think that if we'd had some analysis of Fuelwatch and Grocerywatch, we might not have been taken in to the extent that we (apparently) were? Where would we turn for some of that, Lenore? Let us have no more of this 24-hour-media-cycle nonsense when you can sit on a story for a month and observe idly while it blows up around you. That's someone else's problem too, I suppose.

Update 4 Nov: @lenoretaylor tweeted the following:
@Crabbometer not sure where to start with this bizarre rant by @awelder- but I did not "sit" on swan story I wrote it on p1.
You wrote it a month after being briefed, and a week after Hockey made his nine points. If Hockey was really operating along 'similar lines' to Swan you should have said so at the time, and said why you thought that. Never mind this 'unveiling in December' rubbish - if you have inside information on changes to the country's fiscal regulatory regime, tell us.

Oh - and it is possible for people to disagree with you without this 'bizarre rant' nonsense. Keep it civil, Lenore.

Update 5 Nov: @lenoretaylor tweeted the following:
@awelder no i wrote it on october 5 page 1 "Treasurer's rates edict to banks"
The article is here (thanks to the estimable Crabbometer for digging that up not letting this issue go).

The only bits of Taylor's earlier article which deal with Swan's position are paragraphs 1 & 3. It's fair to say they're vague about what Swan actually intends to do about regulating banks, and that analysis on Taylor's part is non-existent. There is no basis in this article to sneer at Hockey's nine points, unless you're privy to information not yet disclosed publicly.

The whole weakness of the Rudd government, and increasingly that of Gillard, is that they promise too much and deliver too little. When they do make a decision they tend to spring it on people, rather than leading a community debate and coming to a position that works for a wide range of stakeholders. Swan must bear some responsibility for that.

What should be happening with bank regulation is that Swan should be leading a community debate. Hockey started doing that with his nine points but he seems to have stopped. If Lenore Taylor knows more about proposals for regulatory change to the financial sector than she has so far let on, she should stand up and tell us: find out what proper regulation looks like, and judge Swan, Hockey, the Greens and whomever else wants to stick their oar in against that.

What shouldn't happen is this assumption that the incumbents have got it covered. The public service throw ideas around all the time, and some of them pass over ministers' desks. From now on, any idea the Opposition come out with could be rebutted by someone like Lenore Taylor responding 'yeah, government already thought of that', because as policy goes, that's all fine.

Update 6 Nov: This is the article I wish someone like Lenore Taylor would have written earlier, and I'm glad has been. While there is some analysis to be done about the merits of these proposals, finally we have a sound article to work with. Congratulations Ms Taylor, congratulations SMH and congratulations to you too, Crabbometer.

01 November 2010

Words used only by journalists

  • Amanuensis
  • Associated with/linked to (could mean anything really, A associated/linked with B however tenuously)
  • Bandwagon
  • Blogosphere
  • Blogotariat
  • Brushed off (you can brush off a journalist, but that doesn't necessarily mean you've addressed the issue. Usually refers to the point at which a journalist gave up on getting information)
  • Bumper (meaning 'large')
  • Crashed through the barrier/Crashed out of (initially an attempt at creating excitement on normal movements of events, now a cliché you have to fight in order to make sense of the story)
  • Dearth (opp. of 'Windfall', see below)
  • Doyen(ne), n. journalist who's been in Canberra so long that they no longer understand what's going on, can't relate to anyone outside Canberra or who doesn't think parliamentary politics matters much
  • Estranged
  • Languishing (meaning being at a disadvantage, rather than relaxing)
  • Mantle (a disguise)
  • Offing, in the
  • Pooch (dog, usually preceded by 'lovable' or 'pampered')
  • Punters (not referring to people placing bets, but letting slip that you have no idea what people think other than cod extrapolation of polling stats)
  • Scourge (used to refer to torture, now any kind of annoyance)
  • Slugged (ref. to levying taxes, not to actual assault)
  • Tightlipped
  • Tome (book)
  • Windfall

  • To cruel (to limit one's chances)
  • To debunk
  • To don (wear; when used with 'mantle', means adopting a position, or moving to - see below)
  • To hold talks
  • To jet (maybe this would have some allure when few, wealthy people travelled by a jet-powered aeroplane, but since the 1980s it's just silly)
  • To laud (seriously, have you ever heard anyone say I laud that)
  • To move to (to act but not necessarily succeed, e.g. 'IMMIGRATION Minister Chris Bowen has moved to appease Woodside residents')
  • To pen (to use the pen to write with, or even to produce written material without a pen)
  • To re-sign (opp. of 'resign')
  • To sport (see 'to don')
  • To upbraid

More ...