30 April 2011

Sing 'em muck

All I can say is, sing 'em muck! It's all [Australians] can understand.

- Nellie Melba to her contemporary Clara Butt, as advice for Butt's tour of Australia

Senior journalists don't think they have to lift the public debate, but their "profession" is vanishing beneath them because lazy journalism doesn't cut it any more.

I haven't read Lindsay Tanner's Sideshow. I want to, and it's on order; but this piece is not a review of that book because I haven't read it yet (call me old-fashioned). When I do, I'll let you know if you call by again.

Barrie Cassidy starts by admitting that a 'sideshow' was placed at centre stage by a media that has no idea what its job is. The fact that all "major" media outlets, from editorial leadership down to on-the-ground hack journalist, had the same collective disinterest in major issues with a vice-like grip on nutcase triviality.

He then introduces a story from the Second World War, a time when real news was actively censored where it was available. There was no network of correspondents throughout Asia like there is now; the Japanese advances through the region over the course of a decade before Pearl Harbour were reported in a piecemeal, almost anecdotal fashion. News mostly came via London and was viewed through the prism of British interests.
The account demonstrates that even with the distraction of a world war, the easily understood personal issue which goes to values, judgments and principles will often cut through when substance and policy will not.

At a time when hard news was hard to come by, at a time when great sacrifice was called for and given, a blatant piece of favouritism undermined popular commitment to matters of substance. Journalists were censored when they reported on hard news - an excuse not open to contemporary journalists.
It's just that the media is so much bigger now, and far more internally competitive.

It's not bigger - it's smaller, less diverse in ownership and more prone to groupthink about "the" story. Cassidy's show Insiders is designed to demonstrate the process by which journalist decide what "the" story of the past week has been and what "the" story of next week will be, with the token right-winger clears his throat and declares what the parallel line will be in rightwing groupthink. Hundreds of press gallery journalists writing the same story, with much the same interpretation, is not a measure of size or competitiveness.
These days consumer interest can be accurately measured through online news services. Site managers can see precisely how many hits each story receives. The sites then reflect that level of interest. That's why online pages are dominated by entertainment and the latest freak shows.

No, it can't. A click on a link is a declaration of faith: 'this article sounds good'. You can only know how good, or how interesting, informative, titillating or whatever an article is after you've read it, not before. Website hits don't measure what viewers think of the article, never mind the ads embedded in it.

There's also the question of what the Australian media is for. If you really want to know what Lindsay Lohan or Katie Price are up to, why would you visit an Australian website or watch an Australian TV show anyway?
It's that sort of stock-taking ability that will encourage commercially driven media outlets to drift further away from the substance.

Commercial media outlets have to show that they get new media, when they clearly don't. That focus on clicks, and other features where a seventeenth century construct (journalism) is shoehorned into a twentyfirst century one (the internet) such as shortened timeframes and multiple reports, is a feature of MSM management in a flat panic.

The internet and social media such as Twitter decouple the link between ads and content that has sustained media organisations for three centuries. It does not do for consultants to tell middle-to-senior management of media organisations that hire them that they are all fools. Instead, they tell them to work the journalists harder; the journalists accept that they are required to do more with less raw information. A press release, or a half-baked consensus, will be all that is needed to base a story on; that, apparently, is good enough for the sorts of people who are stuck with traditional media.
The danger too, is that the politicians, to get any exposure at all, will continue to play along.

You can vote out politicians, Barrie; you can't vote journalists out nearly so easily.

Where you have a class of politicians with no roots in the community at all, where they have been raised to believe that the end (of media exposure) justifies the means (of politics), there is a danger of this. It can only be replaced by politicians - not just MPs and Senators, but a whole party apparatus that preselects such people - who are prepared to take their chances with good policy, and bugger the MSM and their declining audience.
If the internet had been around in the 40s, then maybe Lady Blamey's refusal to return home would have received more hits than daily updates on the looming threat from the north.

If the internet was around in the '40s, wartime censorship would have collapsed and so would the MSM organisations of today that date from that time. There would have been more substantial news from Asia such that the patronising nonsense fed to us from London would have been unsustainable.

Speaking of unsustainable, David Speers has always had the air of a man who has gone a very long way on not much work. In this interview he starts by asking a question that assumes lazy journalism is the norm - so ya gotta love lazy journalism, right?

Speers has gone a long way by playing along with the stuffed-shirt journalism of a time that is passing, and he is miffed that someone who was happy to play the game no longer is. Speers can't do what he does indefinitely and he can't just retire like Barrie Cassidy once he becomes redundant. His mid-life crisis should be a doozy.

God bless him, our old friend PvO thinks Tanner has written the wrong book.
Instead, the media gets the blame for the system's failings far more so than the politicians, even though political leadership should start in parliament. Tanner thinks he has solved the age-old question of "which comes first: the chicken or the egg?", by determining that the media, not politicians' spin, is to blame for the sideshow. A better analysis would have concluded that apportioning blame is an exercise in futility only worthy of sideshow status.

There is a great deal of policy discussion in parliament, Peter, but it doesn't get reported. Journalists will skip a debate on banking reform or mental health funding which they regard as dull in order to cover a "presser" with an "announceable" that doesn't make a damn bit of difference to anyone or anything. If that isn't in Tanner's book it should be.

There is, however, hope in this. It shows that people are seeking out information online that is simply not available in the media (so much for the MSM getting snarky at amateurs online) and overcoming the confusion over politics that journalism does nothing to alleviate. That, Peter van Onselen, is the answer to what you regard as a "chicken and egg" debate - first one to explain to people what they are getting for their taxes wins.

The smart money is on journalism disappearing before politics does. There is an incentive in politics to drop ways of operating that don't work, while in journalism laziness, clich├ęs and dumb ways of operating become "traditions" and "codes of practice" that work to prevent journalism getting over itself.

Update 1 May: Michelle Grattan has spent a lifetime transcribing politicians' output with the aim of explaining how government works. Here she helps prove her own inadequacy:
When you hear, for example, on budget night what the government is doing on mental health, remember Tanner's salutary warning: "It sounds impressive when the responsible minister announces that health spending is to increase by $1 billion dollars over the next four years, and it sounds even better when we're told that it will be at record levels. But there's a fair chance that we're being misled by such claims.

"For example, if the nominated percentage increase is lower than anticipated inflation levels, spending would fall in real terms, and even if it were to increase ahead of inflation, it might still shrink as a proportion of the total economy because of the overall impact of increasing productivity.

"The lesson is simple: whenever a politician cites spending figures to show what a fine job he or she is doing, examine the fine print very carefully." Indeed.

And there you have it: forty budgets that woman has seen come and go, and the extent of her analysis is a single word, "Indeed". There's your indictment of modern journalism right there, a doyenne at work with all the up-and-comers with no choice but to follow in her footsteps. Heaven help us all.

28 April 2011


Here at Politically Homeless, we have our spies, we know what's going on.

The following are* a series of leaked minutes taken of Liberal Party meetings taken over the last four years.




1. The chairman of the meeting, [redacted], noted that the Liberal Party had lost its fourth consecutive state election in defiance of Mr Clarke's assurance that all good Christian people would rise up and deliver government to the Liberals.

2. Mr Clarke responded with apoplexy, as he does when on a hiding to nothing, and demanded that all homosexuals and freemasons leave the room at once.

3. [redacted] pointed out that Mr Debnam was not even the brightest spark in his own home, that sluggos are never a winning gambit and that substantial policies on transport, health, education and other issues would have been nice.

4. [redacted] called for party unity as the Howard government was under threat. What was needed was a high-level operative in the Labor Party to scupper Labor from within.

5. Mr Clarke insisted that any high-level operative acting for the Liberal Party within Labor be male, and preferably named after one of Christ's apostles.

6-10. [redacted]





1. The chairman of the meeting, [redacted], noted that the Coalition had lost Federal Government, and that Prime Minister Howard had lost his seat.

2. Mr Clarke said that John Howard had never supported him anyway and was concerned that ministers' offices were slow in returning his calls.

3. The Party's high-level operative in the Labor Party, [redacted], assured the meeting that both Rudd and McKew would be nobbled.

4. Mr Clarke said that the Labor leader had said that the greatest moral challenge of our time was climate change, when in fact it was and is abortion. The Party's high-level operative in the Labor Party, [redacted], replied that it would be no further progressed in the next term or the one after.

5-13. [redacted]





1. The chairman of the meeting, [redacted], noted that the Premier, Mr Yemmer, relies heavily upon the Liberal Party to keep him in his job even though he was not a member of the Party.

2. Mr Clarke responded that families did not need electrical power and that it was a passing fad, like Aboriginals, and demanded that all homosexuals and freemasons leave the room at once.

3. The Party's high-level operative in the Labor Party, [redacted], said that all the Liberals needed to do was to vote against whatever the Premier proposed, and force Labor MPs to choose between the Premier or their party platform.

4. Mr O'Farrell agreed with the high-level operative.

5. Mr Clarke responded that Liberal policy supported privatising electricity assets at any price, and that it would be indecent to destabilise a Labor government because Mr Yemmer was a good and decent Christian man with a family.

6. [redacted]

7. Mr Clarke pointed out that the Liberal Party would not win office if Mr Yemmer fell from office, and that it would be a sin for the Party to facilitate the rise of Mr Sartor, who was living in sin.

8. [redacted]





1. The chairman of the meeting, [redacted], asked the high level operative whether the Liberal Party should retain Mr Turnbull as leader or whether it should switch to Mr Abbott or Mr Hockey.

2. The high-level operative replied that Mr Abbott would be the ideal leader any party could have.




1. The chairman of the meeting, [redacted], thanked the high level operative for getting Mr Rudd to shirk "the greatest moral challenge of our time", but pointed out that he had promised to get rid of Mr Rudd and asked for progress on that.

2. The Party's high-level operative in the Labor Party, [redacted], told the chairman that Rudd would be gone by month's end.

3-7. [redacted]

8. [redacted] asked about Maxine McKew. The high-level operative said that she would do no campaigning, so the Liberal candidate only had to turn up to win.

9. Mr Clarke sought to clarify an earlier statement, saying that some of his best friends were Aboriginals but only if they were Christian family men.

10. [redacted]

*the word "not" should have been placed here for the sake of truth, but was removed and placed here instead.

23 April 2011

Abbott's stale mate

In 2004 Michael Duffy wrote a joint biography of Mark Latham and Tony Abbott, and called it something like Hot for Boofheads. Latham has gone and Abbott will soon follow, for reasons already explained in this blog. Yet, Katharine Murphy still holds a candle for Abbott as Prime Minister - not because he has a clue or would be good for the country - but because, like an adolescent, Murphy thinks it would be colourful and interesting.
JOHN Howard once mused about the times suiting him. Lately they have suited Tony Abbott.

He hasn't made much of them, Katharine. Abbott's poll ratings are worse than Gillard's. There would be a Liberal government tomorrow if Abbott weren't leading it.
Since Gillard's formation of a government, we've seen Abbott on his natural turf: relentless, negative, rhetorically razor sharp.

The whole idea of political victory would see Abbott as Prime Minister - which, from the above, would be a bit like a car-chasing dog finding itself in the drivers' seat. How does a competent speaker whose sentences are punctuated with "ums" and "ahs", who almost always goes too far in going opponents in debate and who often resorts to untruths become "rhetorically razor sharp"? Luckily for Murphy she offers no examples.
His opening strategy wasn't sophisticated: finish what you started, blast her out, rattle the foundations of a weak government ...

His opening strategy wasn't effective: Gillard is still PM, the "blasts" have made no impact, the independents all hate him ... there's nothing left but to try on some flailing boxing clich├ęs.
... keep on punching, left, right, upper cut, right hook, until she falls down.

Australia Says No to violence against women, remember?
Use whatever means necessary to amplify the combat - the Parliament, the television, the pulsating ultra-competitive demagoguery that these days passes for talkback radio. A cumulative sense of chaos is what's required.

For conservatives, a cumulative sense of chaos is to be avoided at all costs. Trashing Parliament, pulling all manner of disgraceful stunts, none of these things are conservative - and none have proven at all effective in propelling Abbott into government. However thrilled the press gallery might be by his stunts, everyone else in the country is holding back until Abbott wears himself out.
Abbott has been intent on both cultivating and surfing a psychology of disaffection in the community. If you keep viciously disputing the terms of the political discourse, then nothing is allowed to settle

Rubbish! More than seventy pieces of legislation have sailed through Parliament, despite - or because of - Abbott's opposition. All Opposition Leaders foster dissatisfaction - but the contemporary reality is that however upset people are with Gillard, they don't want Abbott and don't believe he has the answers. The last sentence quoted above sounds fine in theory but it hasn't panned out that way. What have you been doing in that eight months since the election, Katharine, apart from taking Tony Abbott at face value and ignoring reality? She's been reading polls.
The results are there for all to see ... The two-party preferred number is now 56-44 the Coalition's way.

See, polling is built on bullshit and goes downhill from there. Firstly, there won't be an election this weekend anyway, so keep your shirt on. Secondly, all governments worth their salt go backwards at this point in the electoral cycle. Howard did this, Keating did it, Hawke did it and all of them came back to win. Murphy has been around long enough to know this, and to point it out to her readers: to fail to do so is to play readers for mugs.
Labor has recorded its lowest primary vote since May 1996, hemorrhaging everywhere, its fate in the hands of the mercurial Andrew Wilkie ... The dumping of Kristina Keneally and her motley crew of vagabonds in New South Wales has delivered no meaningful fillip for Labor federally.

Politics is actually easier when you focus on the issues. Wilkie is insisting on the ability for gamblers to limit the amount they lose on pokies. The government that did more for pokies than any other was the NSW Labor government of 1996-2011. Just as the wages of sin are death, so too the political outcome for giving over to the pokies moguls is annihilation at the ballot box. The remnants of NSW Labor are urging Gillard and Swan to hold out against Wilkie, but when it comes down to it are they going to choose Sussex Street over the Lodge? I don't think so. You can bet Gillard and Swan are giving Wilkie all kinds of winks and nods while gently prying NSW Labor away from decision-making positions.

A real political journalist would be covering that story. Katharine Murphy is reduced to spinning us all the pro-Abbott lines that may have sounded good when he first became leader, but which have clearly fallen flat over the last year or so.
If the country had to go to the polls tomorrow, Julia Gillard and her government would be smashed.

No, over the course of the election campaign Abbott would bumble and stumble and Gillard would stay the course, producing the kind of result we have now:

  • Queensland would probably swing back to Labor;

  • Victoria would cough up Dunkley and probably one or two other Lib marginals;

  • NSW is anyone's guess (but you'd have to give the benefit of the doubt to the Liberals)

  • Have Pyne and Southcott done enough to justify their re-election? Can SA Labor be prevented from imploding? Call it a draw, along with WA, Tassie and the territories.

Election campaigns rarely return the result at the end that was predicted at the start. They almost never return the results predicted two whole years beforehand. When you've been reporting on politics as closely as Katharine Murphy is supposed to have, you should know this.
The one piece of good news for Labor is that the party's fortunes are aligned closely with the personal transformation Gillard needs to make if she's to move past the negative perceptions that plague her and her government. Both the government and the leader have to fight.

Well, no shit.

More to the point, the government needs some runs on the board. The passage of the carbon price - and the demonstration that it won't be as scary as Abbott makes out - will lift Gillard and the government while deflating Abbott. It will not only make him predictable in his opposition but will also make him look like a crank and a worrywart rather than an alternative Prime Minister. This country wasn't built by cranks and worrywarts.
Being populist and pitiless is obviously effective, as it was for a very similar brand of federal opposition leader, Labor's Simon Crean.

Howard is said to have feared Crean the most.

It obviously isn't effective, Katharine, using your own measure of polls.

The "secret fear" is a standard dollop of bullshit whenever the NSW Libs seek to prop up a dud candidate. I can still remember NSW Liberals intoning gravely that Bob Carr was scared of facing Kerry Chikarovski at the 1999 election.
For all the strength of the Coalition's primary vote, Abbott's personal approval ratings are trending in the wrong direction. Are people thinking he's become predictable? Is the aggro too much?

It was always "trending in the wrong direction". Rather than being buried way down in this story, this is the story itself: Abbott is the dead weight holding the Liberals back from government. People think he's become predictable, Katharine, because people like you run the same story about him all the time. None of the reservations about Abbott have been allayed. Fangirl fluff like this don't even address those reservations in any serious way.
Is the aggro too much?

We know Abbott can punch his opponent's lights out.

You'd think she'd pause to consider the juxtaposition of these two sentences, wouldn't you?
What swinging voters don't know is whether or not he is broad enough to be the prime minister of Australia, whether he can pitch confidently to the centre as well as dog-whistle deftly to the disaffected right.

Swinging voters are the centre, Katharine. The fact that the Liberals haven't formally junked AGW means they are trying to court the centrist vote, and they are failing. However confident Abbott might appear in appealing to the centre, he isn't fooling convincing anyone.
Abbott almost got there last year, partly by deploying his gift for negativity, and partly by rising above it - by being interesting, by being not quite what we thought he was.

Some of the story of Tony Abbott, prime ministerial aspirant, was pure spin. Some of it was deft window dressing. But having watched it at close quarters, I can say it was also genuine. There was a distinct and palpable personal renovation in play. You don't see that often in politics, but in his case you could.

The voters got a glimpse of this intriguing Abbott, as well as the obedient party robot who droned his focus-group driven script of stopping taxes, boats and debt.

Thanks for the character reference, but what I saw was a guy nailed down so tightly his face was fixed in a rictus and he couldn't be free to be his natural, boofheaded self.
Abbott is now beginning to shade his rampant negativity with positive policy. In the last little while, we've had infrastructure and mental health.

Murphy rattles off policy like it's beside the point. We've had what on infrastructure exactly? A second Sydney airport? Freight rail and high-speed passenger solutions from Geelong to Noosa? Why isn't telecommunications part of the infrastructure of our country? We've had what on mental health - what do those working in the field think of the policy, and do they trust Tony Abbott to enact it?
He also has a lot of talent behind him - a lot of ideas.

He sure does - and he's almost always on the wrong side of them. Whether it's Hockey on business law reform or refugees, or Greg Hunt on a carbon price, you can find Abbott sitting around the fire in Camp Stupid singing songs and dropping his marshmallows into the embers: another reason why people don't want him as PM.

Howard had Abbott on his team but he always had him in check, as did Costello - there's just not enough adult supervision for Abbott to become Prime Minister, so he won't. Battlelines showed how poor his ideas were, and the lack of any real link between that and Coalition policy today (such as it is) highlights it even further.
Certainly, some of Abbott's foot soldiers feel the Coalition needs to mix it up, to be bold as well as bumping the instant gratification of naysaying.

What? Shouldn't the headline be LIBERAL DISSENT SHOCK!?!?!?!
The brutality of modern politics suggests Abbott has to continue his personal journey towards being a prime ministerial alternative, or be run over by history.

Didn't you say he was already there? Didn't you start by saying that Abbott well and truly had it all over Gillard? Now you're saying he has work to do (and after admitting that it's Gillard, not Abbott, who has the capacity to change the game).
The budget period ahead is a significant opportunity for the Opposition Leader. He has a chance in his budget-in-reply speech to grab us by the collar and be interesting again.

Yes. If he does not win, he runs the risk of losing. Michelle Grattan or Paul Kelly couldn't have put it better, or in a more banal way. You started off being utterly certain about what top talent Abbott is, despite all the evidence, and now you're equivocal. That's a start, I suppose.
For the sake of the quality of the political discussion, let's hope he strikes a blow for boldness and optimism.

I thought he was just going to thrash around until something happened? Now you think this sow's ear of a political bruiser is going to turn into a silk purse potential PM?

Abbott's been in politics for 17 years. He's not entitled to be taken at face value. Journalists keep writing articles that hold out the hope that Tony Abbott is going to become fundamentally different to what he is, which he needs to do in order to become PM. He can't, he won't, and I just wish that the press gallery would stop belting out lazy, stupid non-stories like this. This is Abbott's stalemate, and Murphy unwittingly shows that by demonstrating that his mates are stale.

22 April 2011

The journalist who punked himself

Jim Schembri was a film reviewer with a Melbourne paper who gave away the ending to a film in one of his reviews. Now he says he did it deliberately. I hope your copy of Chomsky keeps you warm at night Jim, because you're like a bird that has fouled its own nest.

The idea of being a film reviewer for a mainstream media outlet is that you know more about movies than most people, that your opinion is worth listening to, and all the better if you can convey this in an entertaining way. Jim Schembri did that, and many people in Melbourne took his advice on what films to (not) see.

Now he's just another online voice: your guess is as good as his as to what's worth seeing, and thanks to The Age for paying him to see those movies that others have to shell out for.
The response was vehement. Everybody wanted answers. "Why'd you do it? Are you nuts?" They demanded replies. "You changed the copy! Admit your mistake!" I remained silent. That fuelled the online anger - including the niche news-gossip site Crikey, which highlighted my apparent error.

The stream of responses perfectly illustrated what media analyst Noam Chomsky calls the constraint of concision - that limited time and space vitiates reason or debate and, instead, promotes amplification of and conformity to an orthodox line of thinking. This was starkly demonstrated by the huge degree of retweeting about what a louse I was.

Schembri could've busted the constraint of concision around this event, but he chose not to - and that those bound by that constraint have somehow fallen into a trap of his devising. Now he expects to be believed when he clambers onto his employer's platform and claims that while he deliberately misled some people for whom he cares little (Twitter users), normal service is resumed for those upon whom his livelihood depends (readers of The Age).

Wait till Jim Schembri discovers that those who use Twitter are also those who read The Age. Oh Em Eff Gee.
Tellingly, the intellectual scope of the Twitter chatter - which became so intense it began "trending" in Melbourne for a short time - narrowed to such a degree the powerful impression was that the only person on earth who had run a spoiler online was me.

No Jim, but you were the only mainstream media "professional" who did this. Now your opinion is worth no more than anyone else's. People gave you the benefit of the doubt enough to ask you why and what, in order to avoid the punking you had apparently planned for them, and by refusing to answer you have devalued your own opinion and made those open to you look foolish. You have diminished a base you've taken so long to build. If you give a glowing review to a movie, are readers to assume it's crap and that you're punking them again?
Yet once Scream 4 opened in the US, a veritable cascade of spoilers poured onto Twitter. It was amazing. Thousands of tweets and retweets revealed the identity of the killer.

It's only "amazing" if you have no real experience of social media and don't understand it. Find one of those spoilers by someone employed by mainstream media - which also takes money for ads for that film. The key differentiator of the mainstream media from social media is that paid writers are supposed to have experience and responsibility that random tweeters don't. All you've punked is your own reputation and that of The Age.

I'm not going to see Scream 4 either, so why don't you just ignore crap movies?
Spoiler-anxious directors need to think laterally and embrace the media they are in such fear of.

Same with mainstream media employees engaging in Twitter wars while waiting to be made redundant (so that the stock market will get all thrilled about Fairfax management shedding redundant payroll-fat like a film reviewer whose contributions detract from his employer's authority). It's interesting that in his last two paragraphs, Schembri thinks he's clever offering suggestions that have long since been superseded.

For everyone who's determined never to read Schembri ever again, there are many well, plenty uh, just as many of course, some, surely nobody at all willing to join the ranks of Schembri-readers in order to justify his presence in that snazzy new '90s building The Age has built for itself. Here is a mainstream media employee who has committed professional suicide, and the only people who noticed are those who used to be his readers. It's one thing to lose Alan Kohler or the real estate ad guy who set up their own publications; The Age is starting to look like a once mighty and venerable institution that is actively alienating readers, willing itself to fail.

Next time journalists complain about the "24 hour news cycle" for the decline of their "profession" and its employers, point them to Schembri blowing off his own readers (and his employer's future base). Here lies Jim Schembri, he was unable to recognise his market because they occasionally used a different platform, and because he did the whole journalist thing of never admitting an error: never complain, never explain, and leave a youthful-looking corpse (or something like that, look up the MEAA code yourself).

19 April 2011

Barnaby's calculations

I feel the change comin'
I feel the wind blow
I feel brave and daring!
I feel my blood flow

- Barry Manilow Weekend in New England

Barnaby Joyce will not run against Tony Windsor in New England. It's too risky for him, the very prospect is just bluff. He wants to run in Maranoa, the electorate where his home base is, and he's letting local Nationals know that he won't just wait for the good old sitting member to step down.

Joyce was born and raised in New England, but so what? Gillard was born overseas and raised in Adelaide but represents a safe seat in Melbourne, Kevin Rudd and Wayne Swan wouldn't have been elected if either had run for election from Nambour, and John Howard came from a multicultural Labor-voting part of Sydney that would not have sustained his political ambitions. Tony Windsor won more than 70% of the vote in 2010, a rock of certainty for his community in a shifting political landscape, and if an election were held today it is no certainty that Joyce would win. A National will only beat Windsor if a Coalition government is a near certainty, and today the situation is so fluid only partisans would claim that. Windsor is in a much stronger position than Tamworth independent Peter Draper; talk that he might retire would evaporate if Joyce were the Nationals candidate.

Even if Joyce ran and won, he would have to work and work that electorate to stay ahead of strong, community-based local politicians: to defeat Windsor is not to defeat the whole idea of local representatives who can work effectively with anyone, or the reality of such people at the local level in northwestern NSW. Barnaby Joyce could be an effective local member in New England - but he didn't go into politics just to be a local member. He would be able to build a base among local Nationals (he'd need it to fend off rivals), but support for him would always be shallow and fraught with locals who'd fancy their own chances. There are plenty of families in Walcha with more clout than the Joyces.

Barnaby Joyce built his accounting business, his political base and his family life in St George, Queensland. The farming around St George is irrigation-based; in New England it's pastoral, which in Nationals terms is chalk and cheese. St George is in the electorate of Maranoa, a safe Country Party/Nationals seat since 1943 and held since 1990 by Bruce Scott. Scott was a junior minister in the Howard government and is unlikely to be a heavy-hitter in a future Coalition government. Joyce might reasonably expect to not only be a senior figure in the next Coalition government, but also that he would be the next Nationals MP for Maranoa. Even Scott might expect that, but Scott may feel that he has more to offer and not be ready to hand over to Joyce in just two years.

Joyce could do what they do in the ALP - front Scott and tell him he's finished, then barnstorm Maranoa and the LNP to knock Scott off his perch. For the Nationals that would be unutterably vulgar. The Nationals are not the ALP, however, and as a former Queensland Nationals President Scott can play the intra-party game. If Joyce got ahead of himself the party organisation would freeze him out, knowing that he wouldn't have what it takes to build an independent platform like Windsor or Pauline Hanson.

From the Queensland Nationals perspective, Joyce should wait: going into the House at 49 or even 52 would not be unusual for a Nat, but Joyce won't and can't wait. This is his moment and he might expect he has a way to go yet - but not if he cools his heels in the Senate, fobbed off by a second-rater like Bruce Scott.

To have power is to have options. Joyce claims that he has the option to switch to New England, leaving any post-Scott succession plan for Maranoa in tatters. Maranoa lacks both the lush pastures of the Darling Downs and the mineral riches of further north; economically and demographically (the two factors that matter in politics), it's a backwater. Joyce can pitch himself as a politician with real presence and clout on the national political stage, with power that can be brought to bear for Maranoa were he the local member. Scott can't offer that. His options are essentially negative - diminishing Joyce without offering much himself.

If Scott hangs on too long and drives Barnaby off to far Tamworth, the region's future is bleak in terms of making themselves heard in Canberra and other centres of national power. No one who could replace Scott could build the sort of political profile for Maranoa that Joyce has today. Scott has the option to hang around, but that option can be taken from him if that was believed to go against the interests of the region and the party. If he plays it right, Joyce will have the options and Scott will have none - Joyce will have the seat of Maranoa and an enhancement to his power, an enhancement all the greater if he can defeat Scott without having to fight him.

Barnaby Joyce is 44. Tony Windsor is 60. Bruce Scott is 67. When the next election is due two years from now, those men (like all of us) will be two years older.

Joyce is participating in intra-party maneuverings, but he's not projecting the full force of his attack onto his fellow Nationals. He could go the ALP, but he does that all the time anyway. He could go the Liberals, but he has to work with Tony Abbott. He did the maverick thing as Shadow Minister for Finance last year, but the big-city smarties in the Libs and Labor isolated him and made him look like a buffoon. At a time when Wilkie, Crook, Katter and Oakeshott might be persuaded to put the Coalition in power, he'd be mad to play up Coalition divisions for his own benefit. Joyce is more effective as a team player.

His most obvious target is Windsor. Attacking Windsor unites Nationals and Liberals. Windsor is right to disdain him as a rival, and not to make Joyce appear like some conqueror free to roam the landscape as he pleases looking for plunder. The real targets, however, are the LNP executive who are fond of good old Bruce, and the Nationals in Maranoa. Joyce would be an effective MP for Maranoa while Scott is just an old man who's already had a good go. If Joyce plays his cards right, Joyce has prospects and Scott doesn't; if he doesn't play his cards right, both men are finished. Windsor will look after himself and is a separate issue.

New England is a gambit for Joyce, not the main game. People who fancy themselves as knowing a bit about politics, who sit around Canberra and presume to report on it, have no right to take Joyce at face value. They have no grounds to assume that political conflict is inherently interesting: it's a turn-off to both politics and media. Standard journalistic practice doesn't help here, either. They should know enough to recognise that posturing and verbiage is not enough, however much it might suffice their lazy and dull-witted editors. A journalist worth their salt would go after the real story rather than just splice a few press releases and concoct a story that is obviously too fragile to survive a volatile political environment all the way to 2013.

17 April 2011

Concerns of the Fourth Estate

Mike: Some chick from Canberra reckons that people just accept what they see and hear in the media as gospel truth, and don't really think about it at all.

Bruce: That's unAustralian.

Katharine Murphy has become very concerned about the poor public but, unfortunately not concerned enough to practice better journalism.
Influence peddling used to be a subtle art. In Canberra, lobbyists walked softly, their footsteps muffled by the plush carpet of the ministerial wing of Parliament House. The object of the exercise was massaging the news cycle. If you could (discreetly of course) generate news stories in the interests of the client, you could influence the politicians, and that was the ultimate aim of the exercise.

It's not always necessary to "massage the news cycle", whatever the hell that means (if anything). Thousands of decisions are made by government every day that affect commercial interests for good or ill, and almost all of them are ignored unless someone puts out a press release (or performs some other action that might fall within the broad and slightly salacious term "massage").

It isn't always necessary to tell journalists what a lobbyist does; in some cases it's desirable not to. The better journalists get a whiff that something is up, ask questions of different sources, and run a post-facto story which at the very least plays catch-up and at worst comes too late to be reversed. The typical journalist ignores the lobbyist register, notes some ex-MP/staffer strolling by and fails to make the connection between the lobbyist, the client, and some piece of policy that is deemed totally too boring by the entire parliamentary press gallery.

Rather than play "gotcha" with well-drilled politicians, it would be better if journalists started drilling lobbyists on what they were up to: "why this story, why now, in whose interests is this?".
The practice is not quite extinct. The fingerprints of expert influence-peddlers can still be seen on the pages of newspapers whenever far-reaching and contentious reforms hit.

We are at precisely that point in the carbon price debate. Interest groups for and against action are fighting through the newspapers, sometimes by owning their views explicitly, sometimes by providing helpful "background" to frame the daily coverage.

Katharine Murphy is not some remote, academic observer of the press gallery who can talk in generalities and remain credible. She's an active participant; she may even have written some stories based on such "background". I can understand a reluctance to pint fingers at other journalists but what about naming some lobbyists and clients, give some examples of journalistic pieces that were basically unpaid ads. A mea culpa and a pledge not to get sucked into that vortex too much to ask? Come on, give us something to work with.
But the game overall is changing in ways that have profound implications for the polity. In Australia we are drifting into an influence-peddling arms race, and we are doing it with limited public consciousness.

Another bland generality, but this time she's revealed some of the sloppy thinking that has rendered her profession pretty much useless as a watchdog of poor public-policy practice or even as an explainer of complex issues.

People are well aware that there is influence-peddling going on. Journalists could give us examples if they wanted to, but instead they present stories as though they thought of them all by themselves, when all they're doing is following a crib sheet thrust under their noses by someone else, for whatever reason. Any limits on public consciousness is put there by lazy journalists - like, it must be said, Katharine Murphy.
Consider recent history. The ACTU started the trend with the Your Rights at Work campaign against John Howard's WorkChoices. With a big budget, effective advertising and a crisp marginal seats strategy, the trade union movement helped finish Howard.

Consider the big budget that the Howard Government itself was lavishing on promoting WorkChoices, and you've got to conclude that a big budget doesn't always guarantee success.
Then the miners all but finished Kevin Rudd with a $20 million blitz to pulverise the super profits tax. Those companies got a brilliant return on their investment - a few million bought them a backdown that saved them $60 billion in tax over the next decade, according to Treasury.

Nobody reported this at the time. At the time, the commentary was totally focused on some sort of equivalence between the Rudd inner-circle (which then included Gillard and Swan) and everybody else. One report balancing the PR strategy against the tax-concession gains, one story might have tipped the balance. Why didn't you write it, Katharine?

Consider also that industry regards a carbon price as inevitable: just because there's not one in America doesn't mean that other parts of the world can and do apply such a mechanism without some sort of collapse in capitalism.
Now we have the pubs and clubs. In some respects, this is the most interesting case study of all.

Fearing the impact of pokies reform, the clubs have produced an advertisement designed to belt Labor in its heartland. It's not on our television screens yet, and the ad is not so much a means of public persuasion as a calculated threat to the Parliament: produce policy we don't like and we will unleash this in response. Apparently, you can now just produce the threat - you saw what the ACTU did to Howard, you saw what the miners did to Rudd, you know what we can do to you.

Oh, please. You can only believe this if you've had your head stuck in the Canberra politico-journalism complex. Step outside the ACT in any direction and you'll find yourself in NSW. In NSW the pubs and clubs have staged this mock war with the State Government where each got access to more access to more pokies, and the government that bent over for them and let this happen has been annihilated.

Conclusion for Federal Labor: stand up for good policy (the capacity to set limits on gambling, not some 1984-style mandate to impose limits) and you'll be OK. Those people are taking money off addicts to run ads against you so that they can take more money from addicts. People will respect you if you help people break that cycle, and nobody votes for people they don't respect.

Conclusion for clubs and pubs: sack all those geniuses you picked up from the last Labor State Government in NSW, lest your own members go the way of that outfit.

Conclusion for journos: don't just cut-n-paste press releases handed to you by lobbyists. There is plenty of info out there on this issue so go find some and report back to us what you find.
Why have the influence peddlers progressively switched course, from the subtle suasion of the back room to full-scale frontal stabbing?

I'll offer a couple of hypotheses.

The first one is that life has gotten harder for the Canberra lobbyist. It's difficult to ply an invisible trade.

Lobbyists are now regulated. They can't get access to Parliament without first registering and disclosing all their clients.

Yeah, but journalists never refer to that register, they don't do stories saying that Lobbyist X met with Minister Y representing Client Z (and when Minister Y's press sec begs them not to ask about "alleged" meetings with Lobbyist X, they always comply).

To use another case study: Paul Howes was all over the media recently calling for a re-examination of nuclear power in Australia. It is total bullshit that Howes is acting purely on the behest of the 130,000 manual workers who ostensibly make up the AWU. In the same way, very few of them were agitating to get rid of Kevin Rudd. When Paul Howes speaks, ask yourself on whose behalf does he actually speak? Stop taking him at face value, it's non-journalism just to transcribe what tumbles out of his face. Go behind and above Howes, find out what's going on and let us know.
Industry associations - facing less strictures than the lobbyists - are more powerful these days in terms of professional communication. They can co-ordinate their members, pool funds, determine joint strategy and, if warranted, enter the public discourse in a very big way.

Gerry Harvey and the retailers were not so successful in getting GST taken off online sales. A co-ordinated strategy is not always an effective one. The miners overplayed their hand; the "winners" are at one another's throats with Don Argus and Andrew Forrest not exactly sipping Bolly together at the Weld Club, and Gina Rinehart seriously thinks she's Dagny bloddy Taggart. If you were going to snatch back the phantom $60b, now's the time to do it.
The second significant shift is the media cycle.

Whenever I hear "the media cycle" or "the 24 hour news cycle", I reach for my gun - but I don't have a gun and am wary of Nazi quotations, so I just go blog instead.
In a very short period, the news cycle has become both surround sound, and passe. Point-of-view is now king.

Point-of-view can be passe, too. Opinions are like arseholes, everyone's got one. A point of view backed up by facts cuts through in a way that verba-not-facta can't; it's why Lenore Taylor and Grog's Gamut cut through with topical, well-researched pieces and why neither Katharine Murphy nor I do.
Influence peddlers are moving with the times. They want to capture and generate strong opinion.

But it, too, is a crowded market, so if you want to be heard in a ceaseless clamour of blogs, tweets and talking heads, you need a huge billboard. If emoting is the imperative, then advertising is the obvious recourse.

Billboards. Advertising. Really?

It's all very well for the characters of Mad Men (a fictional TV series set in the early 1960s) to talk like ad campaigns are "moving with the times" but fifty years later it's absurd. Interest groups have always run ad campaigns and attempted to out-populist the politicians. Sometimes they've been successful, often not. End of.
It's potent, and the best thing is that if the ad is political, it isn't actually required to tell the truth.

Lobbyists aren't required to tell the truth when talking to politicians, or to journalists - but when the journalists report what is said in an uncritical way, it lends those statements the sort of credibility that journalists like to think they have. It lends those statements what Stephen Colbert called "truthiness", a quality that journalists will happily trade away for "access" and invites to cocktail parties.
Freedom of speech is not only a right but a responsibility. Say what you like, sure, but for the good of the polity make sure the terms are equal. In a battle between vested interests and the potential losers, the corporate dollar will always win out. Can problem gamblers match a $20 million ad blitz by the clubs? I don't think so.

They don't have to. Plenty of products have died in the marketplace with ad budgets of far more than $20m: I'll bet you a Crystal Cola on that. Clubs don't vote, gamblers do: and even non-addicted gamblers aren't going to side with the crowd that takes all their money. That leaves you with overpaid club managers and gullible old clowns who rally to any "attack" on their club - the same gullible old clowns who are neutered politically anyway. So much for your twenty mil.
The US is currently debating the relentless rise of so-called political action committees. Two conservative PACs have a reported goal of raising $120 million to defeat Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential race. As The Wall Street Journal reported recently, if they meet their goal, they will be the biggest players in the 2012 race apart from the candidates themselves.

The Democratic Party is considering ways to counter this power. A Washington Post report this week suggests several liberal groups will band together to try to neutralise the spending from the conservative PACs.

The first sentences in each of the above two paragraphs is false. There is no debate. When you are considering ways of beating the other guys at their own game, you cannot claim to be debating or reconsidering the very game itself. What sounds like decisive action is the very sort of hand-wringing ineffectiveness that saw non-entities like Harry Reid fritter away the enormous goodwill Barack Obama had built up in less than three years. If Murphy can't tell the difference between action and posturing from a distance, you can't rely on her to do so up close in Canberra.
Government can always advertise in support of its agenda - although that practice has been a casualty of overuse in the Howard years, then a symbol of desperation from the last months of Rudd, when Labor panicked and made a joke of its accountability agenda in an inept effort to try to match the miners.

The Gillard Government doesn't "own" limits on pokies in the same way that it does other aspects of public policy. It realises, as Katharine Murphy doesn't, that a big ad campaign does not equal political success. The real story here is that a government that used to cut and run from big issues no longer does. It is the very sort of story that you'd wish someone in Katharine Murphy's position would actually write.
PAC-style frontal stabbing certainly has this to recommend it: at least it's an overt practice. Most people would know it's the miners behind the mining ads, or the clubs behind the pokies campaign, whereas the practice of ''backgrounding'' is much more covert.

You don't need journalists to tell you that mining companies sponsor pro-mining ads - but journalists do it anyway. This causes citizens/voters/taxpayers to limit or cease their take-up of mainstream media: and that, Katharine, is how people limit their exposure to the big bad ad campaigns: they switch off the media that carries such bullshit, whether as paid ads or as badly written stories produced by lobbyist-addled journos.

It's the journos themselves that need help discerning between spin and fact, not those who would be - but increasingly aren't - readers, viewers and listeners. What's bad news for journalists isn't necessarily bad news for the rest of us. Talk about special pleading by self-interested jobsworths trying to rope the public into an action that's against their wider interests.

I admit, however, the romantic in me held out some hope when I read this:
We have a choice. We can either bump along and slide into a combative political environment where vested interests set the agenda, or we can stop, think and consider the alternatives.

Yes! Yes! She's going to talk about journalism! She's going to bust out of the press gallery like Chief Bromden from the asylum in One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest and cultivate a wider set of sources! She's going to start with her own motivations and outcomes just like Mr Denmore said!

I should be grateful, I suppose, for being disabused of my reckless optimism so quickly:
Should there be full public funding for elections, ensuring that politics is left to the politicians?

You can't be serious.

Politics isn't left to the politicians: politicians are accountable to voters. If we had better journalism we'd have better-informed voters, and hence better government: instead, we have silly pieces by people like Katharine Murphy who review parliamentary proceedings at though they were theatre.

You saw the drivel that constitutes political advertising: like journalism, but worse. There is no cause to make taxpayers pay for that, and to pay for it at the expense of other more pressing social issues.
Should we require truth in political advertising?

Who do you mean by "we"? If a minister junks an election promise and doesn't put out a press release, you guys in the press gallery never find out or follow up. One day a government is going to impose draconian restrictions on the media and a campaign against it - well funded or no - will fail because the media are such rubbish at working out and reporting what is going on in government.
Or should we do nothing, and wake up in a decade to find that politics can't do anything; that politics is now solely about carving up the spoils, that reform has become impossible?

Keep on doing what you're doing and we'll end up in the same place. All that is required for evil to triumph is not only for good people to do nothing, but for journalists to give good and evil equal coverage and/or focus on trivia. But you can't tell journalists how to do their jobs, oh no: it would be an infringement on free speech, and besides you don't understand how politics and media really work.

Katharine Murphy is ill-equipped to do think pieces. She would be better off if she stuck to the giggly politico-media space-fillers that are her stock in trade. If she's determined to go against that, however, she can get to work examining issues that can't be covered quickly with a couple of press releases garnished with some quotes. There's nothing wrong with backgrounding, or being backgrounded - but there's everything wrong with not asking questions of the information you're given. Readers, viewers and listeners do it - why don't journalists? Just because journos are easily duped it does not mean the rest of us are.

12 April 2011

Pauline Hanson: the truth

I am so relieved that Pauline Hanson did not win a seat in the NSW Legislative Council. I always knew that NSW voters were too good to elect Pauline Hanson! This success on our part, and failure on hers, can be put down to the fact that she is a carpetbagger from out-of-state and that her enablers on the ground here in NSW don't understand how the game is played.

In terms of the broader picture, what makes Hanson an electoral threat is the social dislocation that comes from a diverse Australia: non-Caucasians admitted as migrants, gays/lesbians not prosecuted or even persecuted but accepted into family and social life, fluid job roles, etc. The reforms in the Hawke-Keating era were far-reaching, various and rapid, and some sort of backlash was inevitable. Hanson draws votes from conservatives (people keen to maintain the social fabric of an Anglo-Celtic Australia) as well as Labor voters (unskilled workers displaced or redundant through changes to tariffs, technology and other factors).

The relatively slow pace of reform in the Howard years, and the non-reform in NSW government services, has meant that the sorts of social pressures that gave rise to Hanson weren't as great in NSW 2011. Hanson's main beef is immigration, which isn't a state issue anyway and aside from Muslims, the generally prosperous and unreformed economy makes for greater social cohesion and embrace of differences than was the case 10-15 years ago.

Conservatives proved more adept at funnelling Hanson's preferences back to themselves and ultimately displacing her in terms of first-preference votes. Labor could not repudiate social and economic reform, which is why they got all shrieky and righteous in opposing her. NSW Labor has tried to repudiate this to some extent by dying in a ditch over electricity privatisation, but that only made them look confused and divided and brought on Ezekiel 25:17 routines from Keating and Costa.

There are 21 seats up for election in the NSW Legislative Council. To win one of them you need about 5% of the vote across NSW. Pauline Hanson has the name recognition to be able to pull that off, and of course lazy journalists who like to write the same stories all the time will give her the sort of coverage of which other independents could only dream. She got 2.4% of the vote because of the reasons in the third paragraph above. What she should have done was knit together a series of preferences that would have lifted her above 5%.

In 1999 so many people nominated for the Legislative Council that the ballot paper was enormous, known as "the tablecloth", a real bastard to wrestle around the booth of a polling place and subdue it with a pencil stub. People won by adopting superficially appealling names like "A Better Future For Our Children" and knitting together preference deals. People like Glenn Druery and Tony Recsei have been trying for years to develop the right combinatiion of preferences that will propel them into Parliament, but the reforms to the parliamentary superannuation schemes in NSW and Federally may have dampened their ardour somewhat. Not so Hanson (first entered Federal Parliament in 1996, eight years before the cutoff and would've been eligible for the full pension after less than five years in the Legislative Council. Ah well).

In 2011 there were splits between the Christian Democrats and Family First over the same voter pool. Hanson should have approached either or both and parlayed a preference deal. So too, the Outdoor Recreation/Shooters & Fishers split is also one of big egos and little policies, and Hanson should have been onto them. If Oldfield, Eldridge, Pasquarelli or Chris Spence had been on her staff - or, if she'd had the brains to learn any damn thing at all from them or anyone else over the past dozen or so years - she'd have put in the hard yards and negotiated some deals. Good help must be hard to find, particularly when you're impossible to work with and better off out of it. She coulda picked up two and a half percent - two and a half percent - from here and there (well, not here at the Politically Homeless Institute but you know what I mean) and got herself a quota. She coulda been more than a contender.

Does she have opinions on pokies? For or against? Too late now.

She could have rejoined the Liberal Party. There are more than a few members who would have welcomed her into the fold, particularly if she did a weepy prodigal daughter thing. Creatures like David Clarke would have fallen over himself to get her a place above, say, tenth on the Legislative Council ticket. Barry O'Farrell would have had conniptions and may well have succeeded in forcing her out - which would have meant more publicity and victim status for Hanson, a win-win situation if ever there was one.

Hanson's calls to reform electoral law in NSW are a bit like those silly AFL commentators who talk about "rugby" without differentiating league and union. Queensland doesn't have a Legislative Council (if it did, she'd be in it) so it's understandable on one level that she'd be keen on a cushy job without really understanding what it involves. You'd think she would take the time to study it though, especially as 2011 is not her first run at the job and all these failures might be embarrassing to someone who took more pride in her politics.

But she didn't do any of that, because she's dumb - but not as dumb as those who voted for her. New! South! Wales! New! South! Wales! New! South! Wales! New! South! Wales! New! South! Wales! New! South! Wales! New! South! Wales! (fade)

08 April 2011

Dickhead removal strategy

The Australian Defence Force is one of this country's most admired organisations. It lies at the heart of our national self-image, it is one of our largest employers, and unlike a lot of organisations it provides a real method for young people from relatively poor backgrounds to secure ongoing employment and skill development, to find meaning in and through their work, and to attain a degree of social mobility that is not as available in Australia today as we might hope.

There is a positive pattern at work in the ADF. Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith VC MG is every bit cut from the same cloth as, say, Ted Sheean or Sir Neville Howes VC. Actions like those of Roberts-Smith, and recognition of those actions, reinforces the high esteem in which the ADF is held. The positive bias toward the ADF is such that we seem immune from sinking to the low place where we found ourselves during the 1970s, where Vietnam veterans were social outcasts and were excluded from the recognition and adulation given to other veterans.

There is also a negative pattern. If you accept that Corporal Roberts-Smith is a product of training and tradition then the same is also true of the grubs who perpetrate and cover up for sleazy and criminal incidents.

The odd negative incident won't damage the high esteem in which the Australian Defence Force is held: but a pattern of incidents over many, many years will.

The Australian Defence Force defends Australia, and in Australia women aren't tokens, they aren't barely tolerated; women are centrally important members of the community. The ADF isn't some sort of sheltered workshop for Guys Who Want To Only Want To Be With Guys But Not In A Queer Way. If you can't handle women, you're going to be crap on the battlefield. That's why you punt these guys; not because it's PC, but because military necessity demands it. During times of war you bring your best people to the fore and weed out time-servers and game-players, so start with the sorry little wankers who pick on females.

If someone behaves like a dickhead behind the lines, chances are they'll be a dickhead when it really counts. As that commenter in the Oz said, if you're going to videotape a woman who's been fooled into having sex with you, why would I want you watching my back? You're probably setting up a videocam to film my head getting blown off rather than looking out for your mates. Punt these dickheads now.

If you're going to cut the Defence budget, don't skimp on supporting those dodging bullets in Afghanistan. Don't cut that submarine/tank/plane. Undergo dickhead removal and you'll save a motza and boost this country's defences at the same time. I thought Peter Reith was going to do this, but in Children Overboard he showed that he's more problem than solution. The DRS worked best with his departure.

Smith and Clare have really stuck their necks out by getting involved in disciplinary issues - they'll either succeed greatly or fail greatly, and though the odds are on the latter (not only in terms of this government, but all governments) it will be fascinating to watch.

By contrast, hasn't Minchin made a right clown of himself? The commandant of ADFA bent over backwards to help his son so he thinks they're Christmas. In environmental debates Minchin shows himself to be someone who surrounds himself with people who only tells him what he wants to hear - much like the worst military officers. It is best that this man should be departing, better yet if it were sooner.

It's one thing to fulminate about leaving military justice to the military, but that works only if you can trust them - which you can't. The crowd who advises you that rustbuckets are ready to go, that a small bunch of wankers deserves the benefit of the doubt, can't expect a politician to stand between them and the public who pays for them. The military brass have always taken their chances in taking on politicians - military officers are highly regarded, politicians aren't, who are you going to believe? - but there is such a pattern where military justice is a contradiction in terms that a canny politician just might land a few blows.

Note that the Governor-General hasn't spoken yet. Consider her background, then consider that she's the Commander-in-Chief, she ranks above Air Marshal Houston - and note that she hasn't spoken yet. I doubt that she's too busy arranging flowers or whatever to take careful notice of these developments.

We deserve a better military than this. Given that we look up to our military and at the same time recognise them as us at our best, then we'd be a better country if we had better people to look up to. Let us have more of the courageous Angus Houston, of truth-to-power in 2001 and the no less dexterous chopper pilot of 1979, rather than the weary figure today who must announce another death, another disgrace, another disappointment. What comes next? Dare we hope for better, and what would it look like?