03 October 2011

Tattered washing on the line

It reminds me of a string of wet sponges; it reminds me of tattered washing on the line; it reminds me of stale bean soup, of college yells, of dogs barking idiotically through endless nights. It is so bad that a sort of grandeur creeps into it. It drags itself out of the dark abysm of pish, and crawls insanely up to the topmost pinnacle of posh. It is rumble and bumble. It is flap and doodle. It is balder and dash.

- H L Mencken

Now that the Coalition are riding so high in the polls, they and their media shills are calling for Rudd to replace Gillard, or claiming some special insight into the Labor mind that means Rudd will replace Gillard any day now ... any day now ... any day ...

I could go on about journalists, how stupid they are to run a story that so obviously has no substance and how easily they can be stampeded. Many of them are the self-same people who believed that Peter Costello would challenge John Howard any day now ... any day ... and who chewed up hours and hectares of media space with non-stories to that effect. How's this for a vacuous piece, by the same journalist who insisted throughout 2007 that bad polls were good news for John Howard: any day now, any day ... Shame on you if you fool me once, etc.

I'm more concerned about the Liberal Party, and why they are jonesing (pardon the pun) for a change of leadership. Why not adopt an attitude of quiet confidence that they can beat whomever Labor puts up? This is what winners do:
  • When it became clear in 2009 that NSW Labor Premier Nathan Rees started to reek of stale piss and Joe Tripodi's cigars, Barry O'Farrell was pretty sanguine about whether Rees should stay or be replaced; the NSW Coalition was rightly confident they could beat any figurehead atop NSW Labor;
  • In 2007, Kevin Rudd teased Costello about not having the ticker to run and expressed confidence (well-founded as it turned out) at being able to beat Howard, Costello or whomever else the Liberals put up;
  • In 1995, John Howard was not calling on Labor to roll Keating or predicting that Kim Beazley would challenge him any day now ... any day ...
Given that Gillard is so on the nose, why bother invoking Rudd? Rudd put Abbott squarely in his place in the National Press Club debate on health and would probably have done so again in the context of an election campaign. On what basis would Rudd be even more of a patsy for the Libs than Gillard? On what basis would Labor vote so as to maximise the Coalition's chances? There are two facets to the answer, neither flattering to the Libs.

First, their central (and seemingly only) criticism of the government is that it is a do-nothing government. On the table between now and Christmas is what Tim Fischer would call "bucketloads of extinguishment" of that notion: carbon price, the disability scheme, broadband, and other issues besides. If Labor change leaders and Rudd reinstates his old way of doing things, the prospect of actual achievements disappear. Instead of a mass bloodletting within Rudd Labor II there would be the slow spread of fear and loathing, like that of East Germany in the 1950s when the populace realised they were trapped and could only sullenly welcome their totalitarian overlords.

Second, there is this notion that Abbott can't handle being beaten by a woman. However overblown it may or may not be in Mitchell's book, there is a kernel of truth to it. Gillard vaulted to being a leadership contender by being Shadow Minister for Health to Abbott as Minister, taking him apart forensically until her good work was undone by having to sell Latham's Medicare Gold.

If Abbott were confident in himself and his masculinity in taking on a woman - as O'Farrell was in taking on Keneally, as Kennett was with Kirner - he'd not bother yearning to have Rudd back. Those men would have been more gracious about their opposite number's birthdays, knowing there was no mileage in being otherwise. He, and proxies like Shanahan and Savva or even dills like Katharine Murphy, protest too much about Gillard. Why?
INCREASINGLY, Julia Gillard's days feel numbered. That's an objective call.
It's subjective because it isn't manifested in any testable reality. Murphy's colleagues have undergone mass hypnosis to this effect and are trying to project a reality so hat they can justify the time they've spent on chasing a story that simply isn't there.
... Gillard has floated past the point of no return, and has washed up in the worst possible leadership zone - the "destabilisation" phase, where every half-baked piece of garbage takes on a resonance it doesn't actually deserve.
And half-baked garbage is a specialty of Murphy and at least 90% of her colleagues, which is why I repeat my call for them to be boiled in their own piss. The Finkelstein Royal Commission should be thus empowered.
Fundamentally, Abbott believes he has Rudd's measure, and the quicker the Labor Party can tear down Gillard and replace her with Rudd, the quicker Abbott can see him off for a second time. Such is Abbott's self-belief (which, in fairness to him, does reflect an objective fact - he did help see Rudd off once before).
It is an objective fact that Rudd was rolled as PM. It is an objective fact that Abbott was Opposition Leader at the time. It is not an objective fact that Abbott inflicted the wound on Labor, or that he has some mesmeric power to force them to switch leaders to suit him.

Julia Gillard is getting on with it, in her own stumbly way, and nothing Abbott does is working. The Coalition pulled out the big guns on Craig Thomson, and all that happened was that they looked mean for threatening to prevent him attending the birth of his child - and their shadow Attorney-General was cruelly exposed, a man at the topmost pinnacle of posh if ever there was one. They are running out of expedient options, which will mean that they will have to re-examine the way they do things - and that won't be pretty, as we saw in the 1980s and '90s.

The Liberals want to beat Rudd because he beat them in 2007, and had he beaten them again they may have learned some lessons about why they lost and adjusted their position accordingly. Instead, the Howard restoration fantasy is left undisturbed within the Libs, and they remain stuck in their abysm of pish. The need to carefully rethink their position can be fended off with the creation of an atmosphere of crisis, buttressed by the fantasy that they are this close to winning back power, that the supposedly flaky independents will succumb to the inevitability of the Howard restoration any day now ... any day now ...
This rhetorical flourish was described by one Labor person ...
Media coverage doesn't get much weaker than that": "one Labor person" indeed. Murphy should have had this flung back in her face and threatened with the sack if she ever turned in crap like this again. Imagine being a journalism graduate who can't get work, reading that and wondering why Murphy and Shanahan can't be cleaned out (or made to report on actual substantial stories). Imagine having a Parliament chock-full of the issues of the day and being able to see nothing more than the monkey-house of Question Time. The real problem with journalism is the editors who not only allow this stuff to get through, but who commission it.

Old-school media management says that once you've convinced journalists to run the story you want them to run, you've got it made because everyone just consumes media unthinkingly. The sheer apathy with which people greet the careful misguided framing of issues requires a rethink of this approach.

I promised that I wouldn't go after the journalistic equivalents of stale bean soup that you get from people like Murphy and Shanahan, but I can't help it. We need better media than they can provide. Bloggers are trying to fill the gap but there's only so much you can do; it's first aid for a deeper problem that the professionals can't and won't address. Tony Abbott presents the sort of brash, utterly baseless confidence that you get from media executives like John Hartigan or David Leckie, and journos are drawn to that like flies to shit. They can't see that Abbott is a fraud because they can't afford to, which weakens their ability to tell us what is going on in Federal politics.

Abbott's stunt-based politics as a means for deflecting attention from real and big issues works for journalists, not for the public at large. Policy-nerd Rudd had sky-high ratings and lost them when he dropped important policies for the sake of expediency. Policy-nerd Gillard was also well regarded and lost them when she too became just another expedient pol. Abbott fans like Paul Kelly can only maintain their position by confusing the Coalition's high poll ratings (which are anti-Labor rather than pro-Coalition) and glossing over the rusted-on dislike of Abbott, who is a prophylactic on the chances of a Coalition government.

Abbott has thrown everything his reptilian, short-term brain can think of at the Gillard government, nothing has worked. The government is still standing and the independents have gone from being disinclined to actively hating the guy. The idea that he's all bark and no bite is cemented in place pretty much everywhere outside State Circle, ACT; his response is to bark louder, which is annoying but impresses the hell out of nongs in the press gallery, they will keep on doing his laundry for him. Even so, Abbott is getting increasingly frantic; if he can't knock over Gillard soon he's going to be left exposed.

The press gallery will then be faced with a choice: report that he's exposed, or continue covering up for his utter absence of policy substance and wilful refusal to address the big issues facing our country. They could turn their backs on his pathetically limited display and report some of the bigger and more immediate issues, but that would require courage and reflective ability on the part of the journosphere which they - like the Coalition - lack. The wider public doesn't lack these qualities, which is why we are so badly served by both the Coalition and the press gallery.


  1. "Abbott, who is a prophylactic on the chances of a Coalition government".

    Brilliant - just brilliant and so true.

  2. "Murphy's colleagues have undergone mass hypnosis to this effect and are trying to project a reality so hat they can justify the time they've spent on chasing a story that simply isn't there."

    The gallery have been chasing the leadership tension/change story since 2003. It just evolves between parties. It is lazy and sloppy journalism that goes for the easy story based on anonymous sources. Much harder to get people to actually speak on the record. That takes finesse from a journo that gives the source confidence that they won't be quoted out of context or used for a particular angle. It's been a long time since we've had journos chase stories rather than have them land in their laps via anonymous govt/opposition sources.

    Besides, Vexnews has used anonymous sources today that basically laughs at the fantasy of the caucus moving towards Rudd again. Why should Landeryou's anonymous sources be credited less than Coorey's, Murphy's or Shanahan's anonymous sources?

  3. Hillbilly Skeleton3/10/11 11:11 am

    The Coalition and their displaced goons, such as Chris Kenny most recently, are absolutely salivating at the prospect of a Rudd return. They obviously haven't disposed of the Kevin O'Lemon props yet and would love to re-use them in the next election campaign.
    They, like the Fijian bully-boys in power via force of arms, once taken outside their comfort zone, collapse into a pile of 'weightless' CO2 and hot air, just like these guys(and doesn't Julia and the sensible heads still left in the Coalition know it):

  4. Thanks Roger.

    Fuzzball, the proof of how vacuous that all was came last year, where the press gallery had no idea but the US Embassy knew about it for months. What's the point of all those snippets when big stories like that stay out of journalists' reach?

    HS, spot on - I would have thought that journos would be able to spot hubris better than they can. Old-school reporters like Peter Bowers or Mike Steketee could.

  5. Alphabajangodelta3/10/11 2:39 pm

    Australia can't remain immune from the catastrophes that are Europe's and the US' economies forever, and probably not before 2013. NZ is already looking shaky and the 'she'll be right' Tory govt there is now exposed for its lack of policy. Swan and Gillard appear to recognise this threat. Abbott and Shrek are willfully ignorant as the Euromoney debacle revealed. Voters looking at the prospect of a global recession will have their minds sharpened especially as some of the 'getting things done' stuff will be happening by 2013 - disability insurance, plain pack smokes, ETS, mining tax, pokes reform etc etc. One thing the media confuses in all its blather is the distinction between the weak parliamentary position OF government and effectiveness IN government, however hesitant the latter may be. Minority government is difficult because it requires the government to (re)build credibility. The Bracks govt is the best example of this. With the global economic environment deteriorating into 2013 a Bracksian "Gillard Thinks Then Acts" campaign" could look pretty good to voters faced with job losses, low profits, stagnant super etc. Certainly if "Abbott Rants Impotently" is the alternative.

  6. Good article! In addition to the usual stupidity/groupthink, I think another big reason for the pro-Rudd push is that he'd have serious problems handling the situation Gillard is. Given the various stories about his relations even with people within his own party, I'm not sure how he'd manage the harder task of balancing that and keeping the independents/Greens happy. But then, one element that really isn't getting mentioned much is basic governing. I've always been struck by the passing reference in Shitstorm to how some in the government would wait until Rudd was out of the country to get basic things done, just because it was much more efficient in those moments.

  7. Lord, even Mungo has bought into the current media groupthink.


  8. Space Kidette3/10/11 11:23 pm

    Andrew excellent blog post.

    Can anyone tell me why, Abbott, defender of the faith, who boldly goes where no one dares and wins, hasn't been called out by journo's for not doing the only thing that can actually make him PM - Getting the indies on side?

  9. Another interesting piece. Here are a few thoughts. "Julia Gillard is getting on with it, in her own stumbly way, and nothing Abbott does is working."

    Gillard is trying to get on with it but she is hampered by the public perception of Labor's bumbling incompetence on big issues. Not all of these stuff ups can be attributed to KRudd. The balls - up on asylum seekers is all hers. Whatever one thinks of Katherine Murphy's work, this may indeed now be terminal as she and others suggest.

    Abbott and his bunch of gibbering orcs have done nothing but stand on the sidelines shouting that everything the Gillard gang does is wrong. But the steady decline in the polls suggests to me that contrary to your assertion this is working so far just fine.

    On the question of polls. Essential shows a slight rise in Labor's fortunes both primary and 2pp perhaps a corner has been turned? On the other hand over at Crikey, Possum Comitatus has some scary predictions based on the polls http://www.crikey.com.au/author/possum/ that will do nothing for the sleep patterns of Labor backbenchers.

    It strikes me that in developing your notion that dopey journalists are contributing to the current high poll standing of the opposition you should probably be looking elsewhere than The Australian and Fairfax Press. The 5% or so that have apparently shifted from Labor to the coalition in the last 12 months don't read the Australian, The Age or the SMH or consume the ABC. Perhaps you should be looking at whoever covers the political beat for The Herald Sun or the Telegraph. Shudder … rather you than me. To the extent that newspapers still impact on most people's political opinions (not sure it's that much actually) I reckon the critical demographic probably gets its hit from the tabloids.

    Perhaps these folk actually are most influenced by the 6 o'clock news on the commercial TV networks. Abbott's nightly appearances and three word slogans are probably cutting through just fine here.

  10. @Space Kidette
    Abbott believes he doesn't need to court the independents. He doesn't really expect a vote before 2013 and is banking on more than half of them disappearing at the next election as a disillusioned electorate swings right with Nationals replacing Oakeshott and Windsor and Labor replacing Bandt and Wilkie.

  11. @ Fuzzball
    Perhaps because Landeryou has repeatedly shown himself to be unreliable and unethical?

  12. Andrew

    I really like your pieces. Excellent stuff.

    One tiny gripe, there's no such word as "whomever", its "whoever" whether subject or object.

  13. Alpha, thanks for that. I think Bracks is a great example and I used to wonder at his repeating phrases, repeating phrases style, but he got there in the end. I agree with you about Abbott's options being more limited than the media seem to assume.

    Shane, I think that very few ournos could tell the difference between basic governing and, oh look is that George Brandis doing handstands?

    SK: too much like hard work. He thinks he can bring it home at the last minute, because until then everyone else has to shut it and get into line behind him.

    calyptorhynchus: Yes there is.

  14. Doug: You're right about TV, but they feed off Fairfax, News and the ABC who do the digging.

    My comment about the polls is that the Libs have a large but soft lead - it won't be enough to carry them through the shallow rocky rapids of an election campaign. Their position is a bit like the News Ltd tabloids, all very well for light entertainment but when the real news is on their support evaporates.

    Re your comment to Fuzzball: Landeryou, Bolt ...?

  15. "INCREASINGLY, Julia Gillard's days feel numbered. That's an objective call."

    Great Shatner's Ghost, those have to be the worst two sentences in Australian political journalism. You could have done a whole post just on the depths of fatuity reached in those ten words.

  16. I read the Vexnews piece also, and I think it is spot on about the reasons for dumping Rudd. I also don't think Labor will dump Gillard for the same reasons that were given in the Vexnews piece, i.e., caucus gets on well with Gillard - Gillard is democratic while Rudd was dictatorial.

    I don't understand what people here are saying about Landeryou. When the Craig Thomson business got raised a few weeks ago, I went through a lot of Vexnews articles to get a background on what was going on, and I came to the conclusion that Kathy Jackson's actions against Thomson and Williamson were out of spite, and may not be as well grounded as many in the media are making out. Two years ago Jackson made similar allegations against Williamson and they got thrown out of court, but Jackson just doesn't give up. When the HSU disaffiliated itself from the ALP a few weeks ago, Jackson appeared on Lateline to say that she was fine with that decision, but Vexnews told a different story. They said that when she got news of the disaffiliation, she went "feral" and let out a "primal scream." Jackson was described as a proxy for David Feeney, and with the disaffiliation, Jackson's power within the ALP may have been effectively destroyed, along with Feeney's political future.

  17. Not sure that it's worth extending this – but briefly: My comment about Andrew Landeryou was motivated by personal knowledge of blatant misinformation he published about activists known to me. This experience led me to google his 'colorful past' a bit. All this led me to believe that posts on VexNews should be treated with extreme caution. Especially wrt the inner workings of the ALP he is hardly a disinterested observer and can never be objective.

  18. I'm in no position to doubt what you say Doug, but I do note that Graham Richardson has his own TV show. Wankers like Grattan can dismiss the Tax Forum as a gabfest but ooh, let's drop everything and listen carefully to what Richo says about ...

  19. I was only trying to explain my previous comment on Andrew Landeryou but your point about Richardson is well made. I'm sure his anonymous sources are no more reliable than Landeryou's and his unstated agendas shape his commentary as much as Landeryou's. Did Michelle Grattan dismiss the tax forum as a gab fest? She's usually fairly careful with her comments and pretty objective I think.