25 February 2011

Kia kaha

Kia kaha, Christchurch!
People proud of their dullness, hardiness and sense
Of place find it hard to be told that
You can't go home again.

Kia kaha, Libya!
How have you put up with this shit for so long? He'll break
Many of you, and break the hearts of those who survive,
But your spirit shows already that a free Libya will be worth it.

Kia kaha, Zimbabwe!
Mugabe has sent his bullies to do unto Libya what he has done unto you for
So long. Take heart from distant neighbours by the Nile and Mediterranean;
The old man can't deliver what little he offers, stop cringing behind him in embarrassment.

Kia kaha, Oruzgan!
Do you really believe that your lives will get better if the Aussies leave?
If so, let us know.
If not, let us know.

Kia kaha, Cuba!
The Yanks know already that you can't be pushed around,
But your government doesn't. They expect you to be grateful but look
At northern Africa and the Middle East. Once you have
A firm place to stand, push them over.

Kia kaha, government of Pakistan!
If India offers you cash for Kashmir, take it;
If KarzaiLtd offers you cash for the North West Provinces, take it;
More money, less hassle; what's not to like?

Kia kaha, Ireland!
Fucked by Church and Mammon, you've dealt
With worse, and are better for having dealt with that,
But how much better do you have to get?

Kia kaha, Taiwanese factory workers!
This phone you made me isn't that great really.
I can't talk to Telstra about it, so what
Could I possibly say to you about this thing you made?

24 February 2011

Under pressure

Tony Abbott has never been popular among women or other swinging voters, and according to recent polls he is less so than he has been. The swaggering, the insensitive brain-farts followed by quasi-apologies, the Mark Riley encounter all lead to an impression that Abbott's a bully. People who know him say he's a softie, but people who know bullies always say stuff like that and they are always going to be a minority. Besides, there's a difference between being a softie and having a glass jaw; Abbott's got where he is by cutting a swathe through small-s softies. It's hard to claim both credit for his record and sympathy for his current predicament.

This image was exacerbated by Morrison, bagging mourners at a funeral as well as those who ferried them to and from the gravesite. In an attempt to clear his name he put out a speech from a few years ago - but anyone can make a speech, and the trouble with platitudes is that they get overwhelmed by stronger fare. Morrison can go with Muslim youth to Kokoda (thanks to @GhostWhoVotes for the link), but he did not dare go with them a few suburbs away to where they live, and where casual racism makes hard lives harder for no good reason. He did not take them to Gallipoli, where the toughness, skill and respectability of the Mussulman was first imprinted upon our country's consciousness.

Even if you've never been a Coalition voter you can understand why Abbott and others in the Coalition are down on Oakeshott and Windsor, two former National Party members who have denied government to the Coalition. In that context, this and that are understandable - but still not helpful.

Ganging up on Oakeshott won't help because it reinforces the bully image. If you vote for a Coalition government they will probably bully you - does any Liberal really want to project an image like that? More to the point, does anyone want to hand Labor a stick like that with which to beat the Coalition? Bullying negates policies like paid parental leave, because nobody will believe a bully will come through with such a policy (or if they do, the price they'll pay for such a concession will be far too high).

Oakeshott has survived tribulations that would have crushed a stuffed-shirt like Chester or a time-server like Williams, and can rise above catty remarks from Nash: but that isn't the point. Like schoolkids, the Coalition has decided to sneer Oakeshott out of existence. Maybe they'll prevail and maybe they won't, but in the process they'll look petty and mean and otherwise not the sort of people you'd want governing you.

Oakeshott is voting against the flood levy, an astonishing development for anyone who's seen the Hastings swollen and roaring after days of heavy rain. Any political capital the Coalition might hope to gain from that is overshadowed by the spectre of bullying (and anyway, what political capital? Do you think Queenslanders like being bullied from the southern states? Does anyone?).

Remember how Abbott mumbled "That's bullshit" to Nicola Roxon before the 2007 election (and they made that guy their leader?)? I'll bet that there will be video of Coalition MPs jostling Oakeshott, or worse, which will cause Liberal polling to plunge and make the positions of Gillard and Oakeshott stronger, not weaker. Whatever Oakeshott's failings or successes as a local member he'll get a sympathy vote along with a reputation for standing up to vested interests (remember when the Nats had a reputation like that, fighting for the little guy rather than against?). If the Nationals really regard Port Macquarie, the Hastings and Manning Valleys and surrounding districts as some wayward fief of which they are rightful rulers, they'll never get rid of him.

They've tried bullying Muslims (and with that, making the clear implication that Immigration people suck at their jobs because even though migrants have passed all the checks, they're apparently still suspect). They've tried sniping at one another, and think that the answer is to focus on a common enemy - not the big bad ALP but one independent MP, who could help put them into government if he wanted to. Who's next?

I know Opposition is tough, and many current MPs and Senators won't be members of the next Coalition government; but members of the Coalition have to learn to keep their frustrations under control and play a smarter, longer game. The Coalition and its leader have to work against a reputation for bullying, not reinforce it.

23 February 2011

One poor correspondent

Well I keep on thinkin' 'bout you, Sister Golden Hair surprise
And I just can't live without you, can't you see it in my eyes?
I've been one poor correspondent, I've been too too hard to find
But it doesn't mean you ain't been on my mind

Will you meet me in the middle, will you meet me in the air
will you love me just a little - just enough to show you care?

- America Sister Golden Hair

The NSW state politics reporter from a supposedly major newspaper has had the wool well and truly pulled over his eyes for many, many years. In this article our poor correspondent tries to blame Labor for this, but they're just doing their job: Imre is probably the last person in NSW who couldn't believe that NSW Labor's death-plunge is not some sort of acrobatic maneuver, it really is over.

All the way along, Imre Salusinszky has been poor at reporting NSW state politics. He has compounded that by being a willing tool of Labor plotters in the Sussex-Macquarie Street axis, to the point where he can't tell whether an education policy or a health policy or a planning policy is any good - only how it "plays" among his fellow wankers in said Sussex-Macquarie St axis. He starts his piece by telling you how you should interpret your own opinions, then declares that the foreseeable and practical phenomenon of not voting Labor is somehow "staggering".
This poll captures the government's chaotic power sell-off in December, which proceeded over the protest resignations of eight directors of state-owned electricity companies, along with the beginning of Labor's campaign advertising blitz.

It is likely the two have cancelled each other out, leaving Labor stranded on record low support.

If people will not listen to Princess Wonkyhair on free-to-air media, why would they listen to her in an ad? Jobs for the boys is one thing, but when the boys no longer want the jobs it's time to get out.
The only thing that might have caused a tightening of the numbers, and made Labor a viable prospect at the election -- not this one, but in 2019 -- is Kristina Keneally's appealing personality, obvious integrity and appetite for a fight.

This assumes that the Liberals are an inert force, and that only Labor can take the initiative. One can understand such a mindset in, say, 2002, but not today. None of the qualities you project upon her are present in polls or anywhere else outside your own skull.

Kristina Keneally has always been a hack who only impresses political insiders (very much like Kerry Chikarovski), just your standard pollie who talks a lot on the basis of poor advice from the sort of clowns who wedged her into what should have been a position of power, and who demonstrates their poor judgment by having to be the face of the backdown on their stupid proposals. She never offered anything but novelty value, and everyone could see that except Imre. As she cancelled and botched infrastructure projects, subjected little children to unflued gas heaters, and generally did whatever Sussex Street Sam told her to do, Salusinszky convinced himself that Labor had plenty of options with Keneally. There have been none, for over a year now. Everything that woman has ever said has been bullshit.

Like many conservatives, and most who consider themselves conservative thinkers, Imre Salusinszky started out on the far left. I pass up the opportunity to sneer at him for this: certainly, Maoism or Trotskyism or whatever flavour of coercive socialism was always unsustainable. If you're going to be a conservative, and report for a conservative paper from a conservative paper, you have to go looking for conservative aspects of policy that can be celebrated and breaches of same that are to be deplored. Instead, Salusinszky ebbed and wafted with each new development (now electricity production is to be sold off, now it isn't; now Tripodi is up, now down) like Michelle Grattan, operating outside of history while occasionally laying claim to its perspective.

The failure of press gallery journalism came when former Transport Minister Carl Scully announced over sixty times that a rail line would be built between Parramatta and Epping: no such line has been built. Every picfac, every question, every chunk and snippet of reportage at every such event has been an utter, utter waste. Having laughably revived this last year, this should never have happened: there should have been a turning of soil or a repainting of Carlingford station or something, anything other than silly Princess Wonkyhair going blah blah blah again.

Policy decisions aren't always feints in some smaller parlour game; there are times with big issues when the policy is the game. Press gallery journalists can't see this: so, abolish press gallery journalists and press gallery journalism.

Salusinszky should go once the O'Farrell government is sworn in. He took it as given that NSW Labor Right was politically invincible, and in operating from that basis he has misled readers for some time. Over the past year or so, infatuated with Keneally, he just assumed that what was obvious to him was shared by a wider readership, and never really made the case that readers should care about Sussex-Macquarie St shenanigans to the extent that he did. The whole she's so darn purty theme about Keneally lasted about a fortnight, a month tops; for Imre it continued until he had to file his story yesterday. He's been both sad and funny, like Dennis Shanahan in 2007 insisting that Howard was really going to reverse those bad polls.

Salusinszky is the Greg Sheridan of Macquarie Street: both are name-droppers who take care to veil their sources when it suits, but who otherwise add little to the political debate while insisting on some sort of standing to browbeat those who disagree with them. It's no less pathetic for Imre to mention that he lunches with Joe Tripodi than it is for Sheridan to do so with Donald Rumsfeld, and it doesn't help the credibility of the organ that employs them both to insist that their offerings are the kind of "high-quality content" which ought be priced above zero.

Conservative readers, subject to insider bumf about how the wily NSW Labor Right are going to pull one out of the fire thanks to spunky Kristina, have been had well and truly by Imre. It wasn't sly or knowing, he was geniunely sucked in. Sure, they might like it that way - the same imperative leads people in comfortable homes to enjoy murder mysteries. Smart readers would read through Imre and identify who had sat on him most recently to shape him in that manner. It is, however, a failure of journalism that a reader must see through a journalist in order to get the story. Salusinszky failed because he was having himself on.

This is why the coming O'Farrell government is relatively opaque: press gallery journalists have to ramp up to a party they had ignored. The NSW Coalition should be a known quantity and challenged by the media which had long ignored it: but it's gone into election lockdown now, too late. Salusinszky can't come to terms with the next government. He can't come to terms with the reason why this one failed. He did, however, everything a press gallery journalist should do: he cultivated sources, he got access to and made a fuss of irrelevant bullshit like "insider polling", and reported on the comings and goings of people who are neither here nor there. He failed because he did his job as well as it can be done, but the job itself is bullshit.

20 February 2011

Accentuate the positive

This blog takes good journalism for granted and bags poor journalism hard. The former can't continue but the latter must.

Peter Hartcher's piece on Morrison and Abbott was superb. Well-written without being hifaultin, Hartcher called bullshit on Morrison and Abbott with interest rates and now with race-baiting. It was elegantly written, it was widely sourced, and drew on Hartcher's deep knowledge of international economics as well as a revulsion for cheap populism of this sort.

Then there was Laurie Oakes' piece, quite good as straight reporting. Morrison seems to believe he can tack to port or starboard like a boat, but unlike a boat the water doesn't just close up behind you.

At the very moment when the Liberals were making themselves the story, up steps Paul Howes for a bit of limelight-hogging. At a time when miners are being paid better than footballers, Howes is painting them as underprivileged. Robert Mugabe and Hugo Chavez are the last politicians in the western world to go on about the class war, why was I the only one laughing at Howes for flogging this dead horse? If you're going to get stuck into Rio Tinto, if you read the papers and know that Fortescue is at the crossroads with its management structure, now is not the time to suck oxygen away from the government.

Bob Hawke was no fan of Whitlam but he would never have carried on in the look-at-moiye manner that Howes is now. Rather than have the journosphere lap up everything he says, ignore him until he has something sensible to say. Fuck off back to the Blue Mountains on your skateboard until Bill Shorten can tell you how to not only get public attention, but use it to benefit someone other than yourself.

There's nowhere to go to the right of Abbott. That's what the normally excellent Shaun Carney missed with this:
Here's the truth: there is a substantial body of opinion in Australian society that is anti-Muslim, anti-asylum seeker, anti-immigration and anti-foreign aid. Millions of people hold these views, quite sincerely and quite vehemently ...

These views could be heard any day of the week on commercial talkback radio last year: cut all aid to Indonesia and probably the rest of the world, too; anybody on a people smuggler's boat deserves whatever they get if the boat starts to sink. There are more extreme but still widespread versions of this view, such as that people whose boats wash up on Australian territory should either be turned back to sea without exception or those on the boats should be taught some sort of harsh physical lesson to deter future unauthorised arrivals.

The voters who think this way are not obsessed with the detail; they are simply heartened and encouraged when they hear sympathetic noises from politicians, which is what they heard from Abbott and Morrison.

Pretty much all those people voted for the Liberal Party last time. The challenge for Abbott, Morrison and people like them is to encourage others and dissuade any doubts they may have. Truckling to people like that with no regard for facts (or, in the case of the funerals, basic human decency) is poor politics and it is going to make for sloppy government. Stop taking people promising sloppy government at face value!

It isn't "detail" to talk about those who died at Christmas Island and their families. Any gutless, anonymous fool can ring a radio station and be tougher-than-thou on "illegals" - but really, are you going to strafe people who are fighting for their lives in rough surf, or impede people trying to help those being dashed against rocks? Just because talkback radio or some poll says "there's a lot of anger out there", doesn't mean that any attempt to go into the complexities is doomed or that you have to take that "anger" as the true voice of the people.

It is interesting to note that there was no event from outside the Liberal Party that prompted this latest outburst of Islamophobia: no arse-witted imam, no risible blogger, no other Muslim fool did or said anything that might have prompted a response from the alternative government. This was an unforced error on the Liberals' part. Never mind that it's mean to pick on Muslims and people mourning the loss of loved ones, let's hit people like Morrison where they live: this is poor political judgment, self-indulgence at its worst.

There is a real possibility that Muslim Australians may be subject to violence emboldened by clowns like Morrison and Bernardi, proving what is currently a bogus thesis that Muslims and other Australians can't get along. To that end, they do nothing to make life safer and easier for Australians: and there's only one thing to do with politicians who do that, get rid of them. You have nothing to gain from indulging drongoes in the public sphere who excrete things like this:
I, for one, don't want to eat meat butchered in the name of an ideology that is mired in sixth century brutality and is an anathema to my own values.

People who eat halal meat do so in full compliance with modern health and food safety practices. In Australia, you can choose to eat halal meat or not eat it at all: liberals know this, and it's one reason why why liberals are better than conservatives.

Halal meat is a major export for Australia, and the last thing our exporters need is halfwit politicians making ignorant comments that imperil our export markets. Press gallery veterans and Liberal MPs may see some mileage in "letting Cory be Cory", but SA Liberals should get rid of this fatuous prick before he causes some real trouble (and in your heart, you know he'll never do any good).

No: let us acknowledge good journalism where it can be found. Let us not, however, give a leave pass to the whole profession under the Crabb Doctrine ("never ever criticise a journalist"), because the issues are too big and too important - and where journalism can't handle the issues, it's always the journalism that's inadequate.

17 February 2011

A pity

The view out to sea from time to time can be wonderful. Standing on the beach at Cronulla and looking out to Burraneer Bay on even an ordinary day is breathtakingly beautiful. The image stays with you through long boring meetings, rainy days in Melbourne, funerals of those who came so far for such beauty and freedom across the sea, and other dreary times. But beauty and heartbreak are never far away, and to demonstrate this you need only turn your back to the lovely bay and look at the suburbs that stretch before you: these are the people who vote for Scott Morrison.

Morrison came up through the Liberal Party without any strong philosophical convictions, only personal ones that Scott Morrison should hold high office and that the Liberal Party was the appropriate vehicle to make that happen. The idea that a philiosophical conviction might be strongly held enough to forfeit his political career is a contradiction in terms. This enabled him to be all things to everyone - well, almost everyone. The rightwing cranks in the Liberal Party in that district regard everyone who isn't in thrall to them as a "leftie", which is why ordinary Australians have trouble understanding why Morrison might be considered a "moderate" or "from the party's left". All that means is that he's not some Holocaust-denying lunatic.

The Liberal Party membership in the electorate of Cook is so small and so intolerant of diversity that it is not a representative sample of the electorate. Morrison was imposed on Cook by Liberal head office in the hope that he might appeal to people in that area who are sympathetic to the Liberal Party but who lack the commitment to join it and put up with the crap that the far right dish out. It's an invidious position to be in, but Morrison has to move right if his political career is to survive. Being undermined by his branches limits whatever glistering political career the Liberal Party has in mind for him.

Morrison has lit upon the idea of bagging Muslims, apparently, justified by some arse-witted polling. It isn't actually impossible for Muslims to integrate with the Australian community, a fact demonstrated by hundreds of thousands of people every day. Yet, Morrison wants to make it impossible in the hope that it might shore up his own position, so that he might continue doing, ah, whatever it is that he does.
[Some Liberal MPs] said they had picked up on strong anti-Muslim sentiment in their electorates but thought running a campaign against Muslim immigration could be "misconstrued".

That's right: real Muslim people wanting to live normal lives in Australia, whereas imaginary people who want to subvert the country would not be at all disadvantaged, and would have solid grounds for their grievances. It's dumb policy and nobody wants to live in a country like that. Scott Morrison has no way of knowing that, though; all he can know is what pops up in polls.

The idea that he might provide a level of leadership that would encourage people to rise above base instincts goes against everything Scott Morrison knows about politics, everything he is. There are some that suggest Morrison should apologise for begrudging the cost of flying detainees to funerals in Sydney while those funerals were underway; he apologised for the timing of those begruding remarks, never the remarks themselves. This is his idea of a compromise, because everything in politics can be compromised; any idea that he was completely and utterly wrong in principle, and that all human decency cries out against it, would see a collapse in his ego so profound that he could not go on.

Hockey was right to stand up for common decency over the funerals, wrong to compromise with Morrison in some faults-on-both-sides exercise. If Hockey is to be the Liberals' leader he must show us what the Liberal Party led by him might look like: at the moment, it looks like a muddle, an unattractive proposition for Liberals let alone anyone else. Had Hockey stood strong it would have been bracing medicine for the Liberals, no bad place to start in the slow march back.

I pity Scott Morrison, I pity everyone who made him and maintain him like that and I pity the sentiment that drives him on to more and worse of this kind of thing. I hope he has a nice house in a lovely part of the Shire, and a family prepared to wait out his thing for public life, because all they'll get back will be a kind of hollow shell of a man.

I pity Gary Humphries, who has staked his career on a three-person petition. He has no defence now against the Greens or Labor at the next election. He is an indecent little man, a healthy community would shun him.

I pity the idea that the Liberal Party was led around by One Nation. No good has come of Tony Abbott flirting with One Nation, but the poor fool can't leave them alone. The whole idea of Australia's Indonesian school program is to limit the effectiveness of Abu Bakar Bashir, not to encourage it. Poor Tony seriously believed he was on a winner, with no seats to be lost north of Solomon and Leichhardt. He's four seats from becoming Prime Minister, yet there is not a single seat held by parties outside the Coalition that would switch to them over such a policy - not one, and that's why current Liberal policy is dumb, anti-Australia policy.

Anti-Australia and anti-Liberal too. Four seats, people. No seat not currently held by the Liberals would be won over by this. Abbott can't sack Morrison because he agrees with the whole approach of smear Muslims if you can get away with it, so he couldn't distance himself if he wanted to. Abbott would incur resentment without enjoying the clear fresh air of deep-sixing the dog-whistle once and for all.

Nobody in shadow cabinet stood up for the national interest in seeking to foster an Indonesia so resistant to fake militant Islam that we have nothing to fear from it. Nobody had the guts to quit this toxic shadow cabinet. What a pitiful bunch they are.

Even more pitiful is "Menzies House", a website run by and for gutless morons. The head office of the Liberal Party in the Canberra suburb of Barton is called Menzies House. To call a website by that name and to have Liberal Party office bearers running it is to give that site some authority within the Liberal Party. I read its poorly written and anonymous article on Hockey, an odd mix of jowl-wobbling complacency and shrieky panic; but the cover-up is invariably worse than the crime itself:
Several of our readers and contributors have expressed concern that this article was not attributed to any particular author.

Here at Menzies House we try to post articles without fear or favour to encourage vigorous debate, however it has been common practice in the past for authors to use their real names or for those in sensitive positions to use pseudonyms and ambiguous professional titles.

I have no idea why a pseudonym is more acceptable than an anonymous article: either you stand up for your principles or you don't. What's the point of getting all bellicose in print and then backing down? I put my name to these articles, and if I disagreed with a poster I'd say so publicly. I wouldn't engage in weaselly equivocations like these invertebrates.
Unfortunately in this case the editorial team has decided to remove this post ...

Look at the hand-wringing equivocation here: it isn't a matter of "fortune" for a website to be taken out; it was a matter of deliberate policy. The phrase "in this case" is also a verbal whimper, followed by an expression in the passive voice ... at this point I gave up. You'd expect these rugged individualists to stand up for their decisions, but no. The initials of one such member of that team appears at the end, but otherwise they've replaced one anonymous piece with another. Time to go over their heads:
... Senator Bernardi has given his long-serving staffer Chris Browne, who is also editor-in-chief of the Menzies House website, his full support as senior party figures called for the anonymous author to be outed.

The article, attributed only to a "senior Liberal staffer", described Mr Hockey as incompetent, unfit for the Coalition's leadership team and a stain on the party's reputation as a good economic managers.

In the piece, pulled from website yesterday morning, the Coalition staffer warned "panic is spreading through the ranks as members view the destruction Hockey is causing".

If Hockey was indeed causing panic, if he is truly incompetent, it would be of overwhelming importance to stand up against him, and risk going down for the sake of the greater good. Neither of these events has occurred. The strident denouncer has shuffled meekly back into the ranks and will be about as effective at anything else as they were at polemic.

Which "senior party figures" are calling for this person to be outed, and why did the fearless investigative team at The Australian render them anonymous?
[Quoting Cory Bernardi] "I didn't order anyone to do anything, but I thought it was inappropriate to have anonymous posts like the one that was published, but Chris Browne had nothing to do with it," he said.

The editor in chief is responsible and takes responsibility. To disavow the role of an editor-in-chief in this manner is gutless and dishonest, but typical.

Where are the Christian Kerr Five in of all this? How will Scotty Morrison and his snide efforts play in Hanson-phobic Melbourne, Kelly O'Dwyer and Josh Frydenberg? Would you prefer those funerals were held in Inverbrackie, Jamie Briggs?

All of these pitiful Liberals still insist that there are votes to be won from the far right while the great centre looks for capable government. They have shirked Australia's number one security threat, the prospect of radical Islam taking over Indonesia. Quietly and surely Labor seems to be getting lots of little things done, little things that add up but which seem to be too boring for detailed examination either by Liberals or journalists. At a time when a Liberal government is so close, those occupying the big offices turn their backs on the broad, calm waters of middle Australia and entrusted their futures to One Nation and gutless, stupid turds like Morrison, Bernardi and Andrews. Such a pity, not only for the party but the nation that would subsidise such behaviour.

To subsidise and endorse such behaviour renders you unable to complain about the mourning of those who could have contributed far more to our country than these pitiful creatures infesting our body politic.

Update: Mr Denmore and Grog's Gamut.

13 February 2011

Waiting for the great leap forward

After all that's happened to the Liberal Party in recent days, Christian Kerr writes a piece like this.

Kerr's first paragraph uses that gutless media trope of "some say" (prove it!), which reminded me of the first verse from The Joker by the Steve Miller Band.

It's true that Frydenberg holds the seat that Menzies once held, but that's a coincidence not an inheritance (if Menzies wouldn't even vote for Gorton, what would he have made of Abbott or the jokers identified in Kerr's piece?). Julia Gillard holds the seat once held by Barry Jones and Jim Cairns; good luck with the inheritance thing there.
Jamie Briggs, Steven Ciobo, Paul Fletcher, Josh Frydenberg and Kelly O'Dwyer represent a new breed of Liberal MP. They are the closest the party has seen to an equivalent of Labor's machine. Politics has been their career.

Not that new really: the backgrounds of Howard-era politicians Tony Abbott, Joe Hockey, Tony Smith, Marise Payne and Mitch Fifield (to name five) are very similar.

Now let us consider how well the political class thing has worked:

  • Kim Beazley's father was a minister in a Labor government. He was in Opposition for three years before becoming a minister for thirteen years, and on becoming leader of his party was the first with more experience in government than out. He was the minister responsible for Telstra becoming a monopoly provider of telco infrastructure as well as a retailer, a decision that has taken two decades and billions of taxpayer dollars to undo (not including similar amounts in opportunity costs). He was Defence Minister, but instead of drawing on that experience as leader in the geopolitical turmoil of late 2001, deferred to Howard. Labor kept him on for years after this;

  • John Brumby was a Federal MP and lost his seat, even though the ALP were re-elected. Labor then put him into the Victorian state parliament, where they made him their leader and he lost an election. Ten years later they made him leader again and he lost another election, again.

  • Kristina Keneally (stop that laughter at once) was campaign manager in Gladesville in 1995; local Liberals at the time believed Labor had brought over a gun operative from the US Democrats (I said, stop laughing). She won a safe Labor seat, has never been in Opposition but is an experienced minister and Premier.

  • Jenny Macklin was a staffer to Brian Howe and it is unclear what, if anything, she learned from him. She was every bit as hopeless as Deputy Leader of the Opposition as Julie Bishop is. Her administration of the Northern Territory Intervention may be described fairly as appalling, provided you can view that policy from any perspective other than hers.

  • Kevin Rudd was a staffer to Wayne Goss. I could go on.

Now let's consider what the individuals cited by Kerr have in common. None of them have any idea what it means to be a Liberal in the twenty-first century. Christian Kerr and I joined a Liberal Party where this was at the centre of the political debate. You don't have to agree with people like John Stone, Chris Puplick, Peter Costello or Ian Macphee to know that they engaged in those debates and put their careers on the line. Shirking those debates helped put Peter Shack, David Connolly and Mike Pratt where they are today (Robert Hill also gave up and became a hollow shell). John Howard would have been political roadkill just like them had he not been honed and hardened by these debates.

Yes, the Liberal Party tore itself apart during that period. The alternative to that appears to be this blind insistence that the Liberals must focus on Labor and simply restore the status quo ante 2007. It's stupid and wrong: nobody in 1984 believed that the Fraser government had been robbed. It had its go and the country moved on. Liberals had the choice of packing it in or reconsidering what the party was about, and this is the same choice facing the Liberals today. George Brandis played a role in those debates back then, but today he offers nothing but his own self-importance.

The Liberal government following Fraser was, it's fair to say, different to its Liberal predecessor; and so must the next Liberal government be different to Howard's. The challenge for people like the Kerr Five is to define that.

It is not necessary for the Liberals to disown Howard to the extent that Fraser was disowned. Yet, the whole "ferocious opposition" thing isn't working. The slapdash approach to Liberal policy at the last election must have appalled people used to orderly policy development: no sign of that, no examples of how Liberal policy might be better, nothing from these people.

The failure of the Liberal Party in its current iteration is clear:
Mr Pyne said he wanted Anthony Albanese's job as leader of the house as well as to be education minister.

Look at how Pyne relishes getting thrown out of Parliament, like a bored teenager using antisocial behaviour to attract attention from police; genteel Adelaide must be thrilled, which is why he's turned a safe Liberal seat into a marginal. Look at Pyne's weak and confused efforts in education policy (not BER project management, but the full scope of actual K-postdoctoral education policy) under two leaders. Ask whether his ambition is legitimate. Show me any of the Kerr Five willing to take on Chris Pyne, and I'll show you the future of the Liberal Party.

God knows we are all flawed human beings, but ask yourself (as Kerr does not) what right we have to expect these people might get over their sense of entitlement:

  • Jamie Briggs only makes the media when simply relaying the views of his former boss, Alexander Downer: kind of sad at his age. Wyatt Roy has thought longer and harder about public life than this guy.

  • Kelly O'Dwyer is unconvincing as a forensic examiner in committees. Her former boss, Peter Costello, was a master of detail. In catching out those less across the issues than he, Costello believed he could afford a smirk; O'Dwyer is more humble but has reason to be, following poor examples like Bronwyn Bishop and Abetz in being tendentious and waspish. I think she can lift her game though.

  • The nearest thing Steve Ciobo has to an idea is one fed to him by Queensland property developers: urban sprawl into areas prone to fire and floods and lacking services and infrastructure. He's learned nothing from recent disasters, because he can't imagine a disaster greater than Howard losing office.

  • Frydenberg is a disaster waiting to happen. Search "Frydenberg" on this blog, go on.

  • Fletcher is a cold fish unless you have clout; he'll spend the rest of his career in politics doubling back and attempting to charm people he's snubbed ("I hadn't realised ..."). This kind of snobbery is a tolerable flaw in a lobbyist or even a staffer, but it's career-limiting to an elected official in Australia. Never mind the health deal, what would it take for Paul Fletcher to get over himself?

None of these people show any sign whatsoever of tapping into the wider issues of our age. They don't have to be pointyheads, but that's not the only alternative to the intellectual and political laziness exhibited by the Kerr Five (and, these days, by George Brandis).

By contrast: Andrew Peacock (another of Josh Frydenberg's predecessors in Kooyong) was elected to Parliament in 1966. Two years later demonstrations erupted throughout Europe involving middle-class people not dissimilar to himself and Peacock took himself to Paris to experience these generation-defining movements for himself. It's late on Sunday night as I write this, so why don't you call their offices and ask whether Jamie/ Kelly/ Steve/ Josh/ Paul have any plans to visit Cairo/ Algiers/ San'a/ Tunis/ Banda Aceh in the near future? Go on. I can tell you from experience that the staff in their office have absolutely nothing better to do than answer your enquiries.

Yeah, I doubt that many Labor MPs are that intellectually curious either. I joined the Liberal Party in the '80s because the debates within Labor were pretty much settled: Labor policy was whatever the executive decided, end of. Leftist thought in the '80s was limited to stuff like this. Only careerists and scions joined the ALP at that time and it shows.

Only the journosphere regard the Kerr Five as being red hot prospects ("Some are believed to have been briefing behind the scenes" - oh, please). There is no evidence that these people can imagine a post-Howard future for our country, let alone a post-Gillard one, and as to whether they can bring it about ... c'mon MSM, smoke them out. Tell them that you already have the press release from their leader's office and don't need to hear them parrot talking points.

If the Kerr Five are the future of the Liberal Party, put some responsibility on them and show us who rises, who falls. O'Dwyer has the strongest future of the lot; Ciobo and Briggs may well come into their own, but I'd need more evidence than is available from Kerr or elsewhere in the journosphere.

10 February 2011

Test of character

Over the past few days we have seen Tony Abbott's character tested, and found wanting. He has cemented his reputation as one insensitive to the suffering of others, and of being unable to build any longterm policy agenda (one extending beyond the next episode of Insiders). It really is time to give up on the guy. Those who defend him look shrill and silly and miss the point.

First, Katharine Murphy once again instructs us on the attitude we are to take in order to maintain the increasingly unsustainable Canberra fantasy that Abbott is a credible PM.
Tony Abbott is serially scatological. It's a problem.

To have such a firm grasp of the wrong end of the stick does no favours in understanding this situation or presenting yourself as a credible reporter on Australian federal politics.

Firstly, the 2007 election campaign was a tough one for the Coalition, and you'd expect a highly-regarded senior minister to make things easier rather than harder. By swearing at Roxon and bungling health policy, it is a truly amazing feature of our political system that defeated Liberal MPs did not line up to wring his neck (and run for preselection for the subsequent byelection), let alone for Abbott lead the party to the following election. That's not just bad manners Katharine, it's bad judgment on his part, the Liberal Party's, and yours for talking him up.

Secondly, "shit happens" is an appropriate expression for anything other than the death of a human being (let alone a dangerous situation into which Abbott voted to commit people). As I said on Drag0nista's blog (of which more later), I'd thump anyone who said that. It wasn't a faux pas, it was a window into the guy's soul: of a piece with his cry-me-a-river response to the Brisbane floods or refusing to see the late Bernie Banton for being insufficiently pure.

Kevin Rudd could turn on the bad language and he was Prime Minister for almost three years: almost three year longer than Abbott will ever hold that office. But Rudd and Abbott aren't the issue here:
But it's not time for Abbott to become bland, to lose his texture, to speak only focus group and its associated dialects - otherwise we are looking at a rerun of 2010, when political discussion elected to give itself a lobotomy, the voters all switched off in disgust, and I nearly went mad and contemplated a second career as a sandwich artist to escape the shallow febrile horror of the landscape before me.

If political journalists keep playing "gotcha" - crucifying our elected representatives every time they appear before us in three dimensions - we will lead ourselves inexorably back to the vacuum of the past 12 months, and I for one do not want to go there.

Of course you do. It's The Narrative, and without it you'd be doing a different job. If everyone in the press gallery is writing the same story, Katharine Murphy will write it too. If you want someone to dissect some tendentious bullshit with Aesculapian skill, particularly where neither major party is better than the other, there is no reason to seek out the latest piece by Katharine Murphy ...

... well, that was my opinion until I read the last four paragraphs of her piece, starting with:
If we are intent on running a substantive ruler over Abbott, then here we can make a productive critique.

This is what the article should have been, it's the only bit of any value.

This piece by PvO can be dismissed out of hand. Abbott has been his own press secretary before and during his whole time in public life. The idea that he should be ambushed by the media - and of all people, Mark bloody Riley, a prize pissant if ever there was one - is a joke. The idea that he should be ambushed with several hours' warning is nonsense.

Abbott did nothing to dispel the doubts of people who might vote Liberal, and embarrassed those who do. If there had been footage of Mark Latham breaking the taxi driver's arm, it would've been of a piece with Abbott's bobblehead routine. He's done this sort of thing once too often. Philip Coorey, however, is ignoring this and trying to present it as a one-off:
To accuse Abbott of deliberately making light of a trooper's death is absurd and no one has levelled this accusation.

If you can accuse Julia Gillard of faking tears over Queensland flood victims, why not?
However, a key factor that has so far been overlooked is that the Coalition did politicise MacKinney's death at the time.

Indeed he did. He has sowed the wind of Canberra's media storms for two decades, and now he has reaped the shitstorm.
Several weeks ago, Abbott's senior minder, Claire Kimball left the office. It's a safe bet that, had she been around, she would not have let that happen.

As stated earlier, if Claire Kimball is all that stood between this clown and the Prime Ministership, then good riddance to Claire Kimball. It's an untenable position for a media advisor to save someone with Abbott's experience from themselves.

Former Liberal staffer Drag0nista had a go at constructive criticism of Abbott. My first reaction should have been: good on you for trying. That said, I stand by my comment on that blog, and regard her piece as showing the limits of media advice. If you found a cold, decaying and beheaded corpse it would not do to plot strategies for chest compressions, crepe bandages or mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

One journalist who couldn't help himself is Greg Sheridan. Sheridan is right to disdain Bishop, but wrong to do so on an issue where she is clearly right.
The Coalition front bench could do a lot worse than read The White Man's Burden - Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good by William Easterly, a former senior economist at the World Bank.

Later, he says:
It is right that our aid emphasises the Asia-Pacific while European aid emphasises Africa.

But Greg, Easterley's book slams European aid in Africa: isn't Australia's practical, community based aid far better than that dished out by the EU? Did you not share the Wikileaked US criticism of Australia as ineffective against Mugabe?
A hundred million dollars will generally buy you a smile and a warm handshake in most parts of the world, especially when so much of the money will inevitably be skimmed off in corruption.

If we want to help Africa, we'd be much better off opening embassies there and promoting trade, which might actually help.

... or get skimmed off in corruption, Greg. Damned if we do, etc.
Everything [Bishop] touches she gets wrong, in both the politics and the substance.

Here she knocks Abbott into a cocked hat. Never mind Gillard, it's Julie Bishop playing Judith to Abbott's Holofernes.

Sheridan is dead right here, if clumsily expressed:
Building schools in Indonesia is about the best possible use Australian aid money could be put to.

But not here:
Also, if Abbott looks as though he can't handle Indonesia, it will threaten his credentials to be prime minister.

We've never had a Prime Minister elected to the office on the basis of appearing to "handle Indonesia". None of them have spoken Bahasa Indonesia - is there anyone who can speak that language in Federal Parliament? Howard came closest: even he took some convincing that we could do it without the Americans, and for all his experience his analysis of the place and its politics is pretty rudimentary.
Finally, Abbott's other mistake was to recommit to the Millennium aid goal for 2015. This clunky, dumb formula allows for no proper evaluation of aid levels, as every other part of government spending is subject to. It is just part of the nonsense consensus of the international relations class.

Clunky and dumb goes for much of Bush-Blair policy, but because Greg wets himself over that he refers to that consensus as "the Anglosphere" rather than "the international relations class".

It's also true that the Millennium goals represent something of a last gasp by the US and Western Europe in exerting themselves in world affairs. China and India are increasing their use of aid as part of their 'soft power', which has real implications for Australia. Stick the Easterley book Greg, and investigate that.
A cosmopolitan, sophisticated, liberal opposition with any intellectual firepower on foreign affairs might challenge this consensus. Alas, there is no sign of that in this opposition. Abbott can't do everything himself, and he is poorly served by his front bench in this area.

Abbott's whole career has seen him work against a Liberal Party (much less its parliamentary party) consisting of "cosmopolitan, sophisticated, liberal" people. Given his experience and job title, Sheridan is wrong to lament what Abbott would consider success.

Abbott's front bench can only work within the parameters their leader sets. While Abbott may not be able to be his own foreign affairs spokesman as Rudd, Beazley or Peacock were, he has to be able to set some sort of direction. Bishop's floundering is not her responsibility alone.

Tony Abbott is showing us that he can't be Prime Minister. That's the story, press gallery people. Don't wait for "anonymous rumblings", because Abetz et al are following you and not the other way around. Show us what the job of Prime Minister should involve, and then assess Abbott - and Gillard, and whomever else - against that.

The reason why the press gallery is so protective of Abbott is not that he was once a journalist back in the day. It's because he plays the politico-media game that Gillard can't and won't play. He butters up journos, he picks his favourites and treats them like they are important. They can't believe that the last true believer in old-school media relations won't restore the Whitlam-to-Rudd situation where the press gallery hold the keys to the Lodge. If Tony Abbott goes down, the press gallery would be as irrelevant as it is to voters/media consumers. Never mind Riley's riles: the efforts to prop Abbott up are starting to look silly.

08 February 2011

Cut and come again

"The more you eats, the more you gets. Cut and come again is his name, and cut and come again is his nature".

- Norman Lindsay The Magic Pudding

The Government has used the disasters in Queensland as an excuse to cut a whole lot of expensive, poorly conceived policy; they've received some praise for that from the journosphere. The Opposition had the chance to demonstrate their superior economic management skills, as well as some sense of perspective; they've demonstrated neither, and ought not be praised by anyone as they have come out looking incompetent.

The Government is to be congratulated for cutting "assistance" to the car industry in order to fund infrastructure redevelopment in Queensland (and yes, it is infrastructure we're talking here. Mates help mates with food and clothing, a bit of cash, but it is stretching the favour too far to whack up an electricity substation or a rail bridge for your mate).

The Opposition is to be condemned for only cutting half that amount - but why?
The opposition would cut $500 million to the automotive industry, bringing the assistance back to the levels of the Howard government in 2007.

"It removes the additional assistance to the motor industry that the government has provided largely through the stimulus package," Mr Abbott told reporters in Canberra today.

So the Howard government represented some state of perfection when it came to automotive subsidies, did it? Why is that? I still reckon a $900m cut beats one half that size.

This, however, is fair enough:
Mr Abbott said the opposition would not support a spending cut proposed by the government: $150 million in upgrades to the Bruce Highway in Queensland.

The highway was damaged in many places by both cyclone Yasi and the summer floods.

The local members of Queensland have clearly prevailed here. Gillard was crazy to cut this, a robbing-Peter-to-pay-Paul exercise. The government should drop this, it should be the first thing to go in the inevitable horsetrading.

As for the rest of it, both sides are being dismally petty with Abbott doing the limbo under the low bar set by the Government. Of all places, The Australian have gone after him over his foreign aid cuts:
MORE than $440 million in education funding to counter Islamic radicalism in Indonesia would be shelved under an Abbott government under budget cuts to fund floods and cyclone reconstruction ...

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott today announced $2 billion in proposed budget cuts which a Coalition government would make in place of Labor's $1.8 billion flood levy.

The Indonesian schools funding cut was a late substitution for a proposed cut to foreign aid, which deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop vigorously opposed.

Mr Abbott said the commitment to cut the funding would be subject to a review of the program in Indonesia, which was introduced under the Howard government after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami to offer alternatives to radical Islamic schools.

And on what basis exactly would this 'review' be done? An evaporation of Islamic radicalism across Indonesia? An improvement in Indonesian literacy standards to or above those of Australia? Abbott looks pathetic in hunting for a soft target, and lighting on foreign aid.

The provision of schools for Indonesia that open opportunities for people in that country without having to go through self-negating fake militant Islam presents a massive opportunity for this country, the biggest since the Colombo Plan. The very idea that graduates from Australia and Indonesia might teach in one another's countries, and build a cohort of culturally savvy people to the mutual benefit of the region ... is to display more vision, guts and heart than all the politicians in Canberra, frankly.

Yes, yes, we could go all soft about or moral obligations to those less fortunate, but that won't wash with the Liberals. Let's be pragmatic to the point of brutality in saying there are two main motivations for foreign aid:

  1. It provides Australia with a 'soft power' that is cheaper and more influential than the 'hard power' assets we have at our disposal (especially with the looming lack of amphibious landing craft and our commitments in Afghanistan); and

  2. We are able to deny the barbarity of detaining boat-borne asylum-seekers as we do by propounding our marvellous foreign aid. If it's less than marvellous then we look less than marvellous, see above on soft power etc.

Congratulations to the Hon. Julie Bishop in standing up for foreign aid as more than just an inducement to get Kevin Rudd on the UN Security Council, as having intrinsic value in itself.

Yet Bishop, as a former Education Minister, and the supine little clown currently denying that portfolio to other Libs, have earned condemnation for failing to step up against these:
The national solar schools program would also be axed, saving $51 million, as would reward payments to improved schools saving $160 million over the forward estimates ... while another $8 million would be cut from a financial literacy programs in schools.

It's Liberal Education policy to incentivise positive outcomes: so, of course, why not cut a penny-ante policy just to show your true bloody colours? And while you're at it, just as electricity prices are rising sharply, why not tie yourself to a policy that won't get schools off the grid and where they require additional subsidies to fund their power bills? Since when is financial literacy is some sort of optional extra, and for such a minimal outlay (about the cost of the droogs who make up Abbott's own office).
“I want to make it very clear that the test of a political movement is its ability to take tough decisions.

“The test of a government or an alternative government is its ability to take tough decisions. And by announcing tough decisions today the Coalition is demonstrating that we are a credible alternative.”

The test of a government or an alternative government is its ability to make smart decisions, and see them through. The test of insecure little worms is their overweening need to appear tough, while beating up on little poor children and their families. It gets worse:
He defended the deferred water buybacks, saying: “There is obviously an abundance of water right now. That abundance is not going to go away quickly.”

If you're going to weed out unproductive farmers, it is probably too much to go after them in the middle of a drought. The time to pry them away from their hobby farms is now, when either a) they have broken even, paying off their debts from the bad years but before getting too cocky and asking for more subsidies; or b) when they've been crushed by both too little water and now too much, and are ready to give it away rather than make a strong case for more subsidies.

Abbott's smart-alec approach is something he should leave in the office, the party room and the off-record briefing. When he lets rip with an outburst like that, people see what he's really like and shudder. This man must not govern us.
Opposition treasury spokesman Joe Hockey also dismissed criticism that it was difficult to find further savings to fund the costs of reconstruction.

“There is a point you reach where you can't keep going back to the well. Because the well might not have any water,” he said.

Mr Abbott said the proposed savings were in addition to savings found by the Coalition during the election campaign.

So much for the abundance of water, Joe.

Having failed to win lost the last election, the Coalition are standing by all of their dumb and dodgy, half-baked policies. This is the worst case of intellectual and moral bankruptcy I have seen from the Liberal Party in some time. It ought to be rewarded with jeers and the sort of drop in polling which shows Abbott to be the liability that he is. Any leader who is less popular than his party is in trouble, but Abbott is close to the point where he's taking the micky. Beating up on little brown children through a lack of fiscal perspective won't help anybody, inside the Liberal Party or out.

04 February 2011

Naming names

Armed with The Mackerras Pendulum, let's name the seats that Labor will actually win at the NSW State election. Starting at the top left:

  • Lakemba? Yeah, probably.

  • Marrickville? No. The Deputy Premier running as an independent is stupid, Greens will win that.

  • Cabramatta? Like Lakemba the incumbent is a nothing person, but Dai Le has been on the ground for some time and has to be regarded as a real chance. Will probably end up as Labor's most marginal seat.

  • Auburn? Canterbury? Liverpool? Go on, probably.

  • Shellharbour? Labor people in the Illawarra are seriously weird. Anyone's game.

  • Bankstown? Anyone's. Time for Jason Clare to step up and grow some coat-tails. I can still remember a Liberal MP for Bass Hill and you'd be a fool to bet against it.

  • Mount Druitt? Yeah.

  • Wollongong? People feel sorry for Noreen Hay, Labor should be scared to choose anyone else from that region because they're doubtful.

  • Heffron? Princess Wonkyhair has a profile that can't be beaten but the Liberal should run her close, very close.

  • Blacktown? Anyone's. Labor should win but the candidate is John Robertson. A Liberal Member for Blacktown, imagine that.

  • Keira? No. Locals will vote for mighty John Dorahy ahead of weird Labor machine-thing.

  • Fairfield? Campbelltown? Oh, all right.

  • Balmain? Are you serious? Last week, Firth and Chesher were a well-to-do yuppie couple; at Easter they'll both be unemployed (Firth isn't eligible for a pension). Oh dear.

  • Newcastle? Kogarah? No and no.

  • Maroubra? Maybe.

  • Wallsend and Smithfield? Just.

  • Strathfield? No hope. Lake Macquarie? Uh-uh. Charlestown? No.

  • Toongabbie? People will vote for Rees out of sheer pity, unless he headbutts some old lady.

Let's leave it there, it's not worth going on. 13 definites for Labor and they'll be lucky to get that far. It's too much to hope that the buggers would eventually be grateful.

02 February 2011

Bring us the specifics

Janet Albrechtsen is a little bit lost in disagreeing with Noel Pearson. No less insecure than her shrieky denunciation of Julian Burnside for being less intellectual than she (!), in this piece Albrechtsen reminds me of someone stumbling through the dark, bumping into the furniture and muttering to herself, ending up somewhere peculiar but glad to be anywhere at all.

MAINSTREAM Australia has probably never had greater levels of sympathy for constitutional recognition of Aborigines than today.

Sadly, overreaching claims and inflammatory proposals by indigenous leaders run the real risk that Aboriginal Australia will snatch a massive defeat from the very jaws of victory.

90% support in 1967 was pretty sympathetic. Those Aborigines! We try our best, but they do it to themselves you know.

Noel Pearson's proposal that any recommendation for constitutional acknowledgement of indigenous Australians be first voted on by Aborigines was expressed in Pearson's usual articulate, passionate and elegant fashion ... it is the sort of radical proposition that may lead those well disposed to a moderate, mid-course proposal to despair about the possibility of a balanced outcome on matters indigenous. And when sensible discussions are at risk of being hijacked by extremes, then sensible minds will be tempted to forget the idea for constitutional change entirely.

Have you ever seen a worse case of crocodile tears? If Aborigines want to vote, then it's best that nobody vote at all. I've known bored, pampered housewives from the eastern suburbs who are far more convincing at cleaving to moderation and the middle road than this sorry effort.

The best illustration of constitutional overreach ... split the republican movement between those radicals and those advocating more electorally palatable minimalist models.

So, are people like Pearson - insofar as he might be regarded as radical - in league with champions of the status quo, and if so why? What does the status quo have to gain from the defeat of Constitutional recognition of Aboriginal people?

Let us have no nonsense that it will be a triumph for conservatives if Gillard's proposal is defeated. Labor won two elections after the 1988 referendums* were defeated. Menzies only ever put one referendum question (on banning the communist party, 1951) - Labor lost the election that year, Evatt led Labor to defeat in the next three elections, and they lost four more after that.

It was inevitable that the idea of constitutional recognition of indigenous Australians would fuel an aggressive minority rights agenda among some within the indigenous industry, but can we please stop?

Who's "we"? Pearson has spent his life campaigning against "an aggressive minority rights agenda among some within the indigenous industry", and Albrechtsen is wrong to the point of mendacity to raise that straw man, particularly against someone she had once cited so warmly.

Preferential voting rights, no matter how articulately defended, ought to be seen right up there with proposals for a treaty with Aborigines when it comes to scaring middle Australia into thinking this is not a path we should even start on. The notion that one group of Australian has such special rights it deserves a special treaty with the rest of Australians is so insulting that its proponents set back the Aboriginal cause immeasurably.

I disagree with Pearson too, but it's just dishonest to wheel in claims Pearson hasn't made.

While Pearson's dramatic assault on our constitutional arrangements provided a splash on Australia Day ...

A free man expressing his opinion is not any sort of assault on anything. Mendacity piles on mendacity on Planet Janet.

... most Australians may have found more wisdom in the words of former High Court judge Ian Callinan. In his Australia Day message as president of the Samuel Griffith Society, Callinan spoke powerfully about the need for care when altering the Constitution.

What specious, delusionary outlook leads anyone to think that tens of millions are hanging off the every word of some flatulent, reactionary old judge?

Callinan warned that there is little use debating constitutional change in the abstract. "The actual words, clauses, and terms, must be laid out in full before any evaluation can be made." In other words, don't bother us with generalities, no matter how beautifully worded. Bring us the specifics so that we can decide whether changing our Constitution is wise or not.

You always have to start a debate in the abstract and the general, particularly when - like most Australians - you're not a lawyer. Those drafting the legal phrasing need a context to work within. If lawyers and judges really are "bothered" by non-lawyers adjusting the Constitution, then they do not understand the Constitution, their profession, or anything else.

It is possible that there is a more cunning method to Pearson's plebiscite madness. By putting any constitutional amendment to a vote of Aborigines first, the issue is effectively taken out of the hands of a much smaller and more vocal group of indigenous activists intent on drowning out those who disagree with a more radical rights agenda. Plenty of Aborigines beyond academic ivory towers and the indigenous industry reject the failed separatism of yesteryear.

We might let Aborigines vote, but only if they vote the right way. I wish I could explain how wrong that is, toying with people like that. I could talk about pearls and swine, but when the swine regard the pearls as adornment and tribute then words fail me.

Unfortunately it is not clear that Julia Gillard wants to do more than win some easy votes from Green supporters and feature in a few historical footnotes as the Prime Minister who tried to change the Constitution. Delivering an apology was much easier symbolism for her predecessor than securing even the most formal recognition of Aborigines in the Constitution.

Gillard disagrees with Pearson too. I doubt that Albrechtsen fully understands why she's snarling at someone who, in this case, actually agrees with her. As I said, I agree with Gillard and Albrechtsen against the idea of a separate voting roll, but while I'm going Albrechtsen for being crazy and dishonest she's just going after Gillard because she can't help it.

The Coalition is not exempt from preferring political advantage to principle in this field either. Ken Wyatt's recent musings that the Coalition may support substantive recognition of Aborigines in the Constitution, rather than simply formal recognition in the preamble, may merely be a lack of discipline from the new Liberal MP.

It may just be a statement of principle from a man who does more than dabble with Aboriginal issues, Janet. What an appalling person she is for not conceding the barest scrap of integrity to someone like Wyatt.

A less charitable explanation is that Wyatt, the first Aboriginal member of the House of Representatives, has been deputed to go hunting for political points by hinting at a reversal of Coalition policy.

Oh, fuck off. Given the history of the Liberal Party over the past twenty years, that's a real slur. It does prove two things, though:

  1. Albrechtsen obviously regards Wyatt's leader, Tony Abbott, as gutless and craven as we at the Politically Homeless Institute always said he was; and

  2. Moderation is a vote-winner for Liberals in the way that rock-ribbed just-say-no conservatism isn't.

Albrechten's whole article is almost a self-libel.

Recognition of the past without wrecking the future: now that would a real victory.

No Janet: recognising that Aboriginal Australia is part of our past, our present and our future - that's the victory. To build on something, rather than fearfully avoiding "wrecking" it; that will be a future worth having, worth working and debating and fighting and voting for. Pearson made a mistake, but you're just wrong all the way through.

* Yes, grammar pedants, it's one thing to import a word from another language into English but once here it becomes subject to English grammar.

01 February 2011

Better than Chris Pyne

This is stupid. It's everything a politician could want, an article all about him with his name spelled correctly - but even so, it shows how inadequate Chris Pyne is for a big, important job like Federal Minister for Education.

What are we trying to teach children about our history? What skills are we trying to impart along the way? Are we trying to impart the sort of anecdotes that might fly at an Adelaide dinner party, or is there more to it?

Mr Pyne will today accuse curriculum writers of neglecting the contributions of Britain, Ancient Greece and Rome to Western civilisation because of an undue emphasis on indigenous culture, Asia and sustainability.

The future tense sits oddly with the direct quotes, as though Harrison & Patty can predict words that were yet to form in Pyne's mind at the time of writing.

He is most critical of the proposed history course, which he says he will review should the Coalition be elected to government. He says the draft history curriculum ignores the Magna Carta, the English Bill of Rights and the English Civil War between Parliament and the king "rather like an embarrassing relative at Christmas Day lunch".

What's embarrassing is that he doesn't make the case for these facets of history, and why they must be quarantined from indigenous culture, Asia and sustainability.

The whole idea of Opposition policy development is not, as the MSM would have it, to hand a stick to the media with which they beat you in government. The idea of Opposition policy development is to demonstrate the quality of thinking going on in the alternative government. Truckling to old people that the curriculum they were subjected to is Best is poor thinking indeed.

Convincing people that the curriculum of the 1950s will be adequate to students who will be in the workforce a century later is unjustifiable. Harrison & Patty had no excuse not to call Pyne on this: no politician is entitled to have their words taken at face value. They should have called in some experts to ponder the ideas animating history teaching today, and refract those ideas against those (insofar as there are any) in Pyne's offering.

"It's time [Peter Garrett] stopped hiding behind anodyne briefs from his department that appear not to address the key issue - does this curriculum reflect a true history of our society and our country?"

Depends: do you regard the Magna Carta as a historical artefact? Watch a bunch of teenagers grapple with the idea of habeas corpus in the context of asylum seekers, and watch Chris Pyne's head explode.

Pyne has suffered for many years within the Liberal Party, like Phillip Ruddock before him, accusations of being soft when it comes to issues like human rights. Like Ruddock, he dropped all that small-l shit and is overcompensating with a stridency that sounds like braying. Part of him knows that Asian and Aboriginal cultures are as rich, as deep and as dinky-di as Anglo culture as an input to modern Australia - but if he gets to keep his job at the top table of Australian politics by traducing culture, then by God he'll do it. Beware of a politician overcompensating for perceptions of weakness.

All states and territories have agreed to have substantially implemented the national curriculum in maths, science, English and history for the first year of school to year 10 by the end of 2013. In December, education ministers stopped short of giving their final approval to the courses, ordering further development work that they plan to sign off on by October.

By October 2011 there will be three Coalition Education Ministers, and hopefully they won't be so afraid of teaching Aboriginal history (a sub-discipline in its infancy when Chris Pyne and I were in school). Part of the problem we have as a nation in dealing with Aborigines is that we don't understand them. Here is a means of building understanding, Chris. If not this, what? Any ideas?

In response, Mr Garrett said Mr Pyne's speech showed the coalition "had no appetite for education reform to help students" and was "purely driven by outdated ideology".

"This week provides a good opportunity for Mr Pyne to go back to school and get a history lesson of his own, because history shows the Liberal Coalition failed to make any advances in delivering a national curriculum over 11½ years of inaction," Mr Garrett said.

Garrett doesn't make the case that the national curriculum addresses the needs of people in twentyfirst century Australia. Pyne, however, creates the impression that such a perspective is not important to him, to the Coalition, to the country or anyone else.

A spokesman for the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, which is responsible for developing the curriculum, said Mr Pyne's accusations that curriculum writers had neglected the history of Western civilisation were "patently false".

Harrison & Patty, you pair of clowns; that should have been the start of the article, with proof for or against that assertion. Let's have some analysis that isn't just about "lashed out" and "hit back" - this is serious business. Only a fool very experienced journalist would complain that all policy analysis must necessarily be dull, and that "lashed out" and "hit back" horserace journalism is somehow not dull.