27 September 2012

The value of experience

There are plenty who will advocate for this politician or against another. Journalists, however experienced, look silly when they try to do such advocacy.

Voters have to make decisions in favour of one set of politicians over others at election time (and it is an impertinence that they are asked to do so well before actual elections, or that rope statistical models enable your opinions to be imputed based on the responses of random strangers - but don't get me started). To do that, we need information; journalists like to think that they are in the business of providing that information, indeed the only ones who can be trusted to do so.

Michelle Grattan offers advocacy instead with this:
Now [Barnaby Joyce's] push for the seat of Maranoa, where he lives, has been thwarted - a major setback for his ambition to one day lead the Nationals and be deputy PM.

Sitting member Bruce Scott would have done the right thing if he had stepped aside for Joyce. Assuming there is a Coalition government next year, Scott will not be a minister in it. In contrast, Joyce has a bright future.
As with Abbott, the people who know Joyce best seem those most determined to block his ambitions. t is interesting that two men who strut around Parliament House like they own it can barely win a trick once they cross Lake Burley Griffin. That's the story here and Grattan has no excuse for not writing it.

Joyce is on the opposition frontbench and would clearly be forgiven much in an Abbott ministry, but this does not mean his future is "bright". Can we discount the possibility that Minister Joyce might be prone to outbursts that disrupt the smooth functioning of government and investor confidence in Australia?

If Joyce were thrust into government, is it possible that he might prove to be a floundering blowhard out of his depth? Is Australia really just a life-support system for Cubbie Station? In the past, people who were expected to have a bright future in politics proved not to; Grattan has experience of this and should bring it to bear here.

Like everyone, Barnaby Joyce has strengths and weaknesses, and there will always be those who focus on the former while others on the latter. While Grattan has her own views she should nonetheless help us form ours with a clear view of both. It is not clear why (even if you believe there will be a Coalition government after the next election) Joyce couldn't serve as a minister from the Senate, and prove his case to an extent that obviously hasn't been enough so far.

Bruce Scott may be an old man hanging on past his prime (is Grattan, more a contemporary of Scott than Joyce, in a position to judge that?). Scott may also know that no good can come from having Joyce in the House at this stage, posing less of a help than a hindrance to to Truss. Maybe one needs skills and qualities that Joyce does not have, and perhaps will never have; what might they be, Michelle? Can you bear to face them?

Barnaby Joyce is clearly thought highly of by many people, including Michelle Grattan. Why, then, does this not extend to a majority of NSW Nationals preselectors in New England, or a majority of LNP preselectors in Maranoa? Can a man who devoted his life to "the round eternal of the cashbook and the journal" understand the bush as well as Grattan might assume (nor does he understand economic and budgetary matters particularly well)? It is not only Scott who has thwarted Joyce; Grattan must know that and is wrong to present her story as though Joyce has been stymied by a lesser man in Scott.
Joyce's aim has been to move at this election, so he would be in a good position to go for the leadership when Warren Truss had had [sic] enough. Truss, a steady and popular hand, is impregnable and Joyce knew he might have to wait quite a long time.
If Warren Truss is as secure in his position as Grattan claims, and a man of sound judgment, then does he not share the belief that Scott and Joyce should remain where they are? Is he not going to the next election hoping to become Deputy Prime Minister with his conception of the best team behind him?

What makes Grattan think that Joyce would wait happily and patiently for Truss to give over? Remember him as a Senator-elect, telling the Howard government what to do; has he really mellowed since then?

Grattan was one of the main perpetrators who insisted over many years that the dead sheep that was Peter Costello was actually a wolf at the door (if not the throat) of John Howard. She either doesn't know or she is trying to whip up a story which isn't there, and either way this is not helpful to our understanding of this development and what is going on more generally.

By ramping up the hype Grattan isn't succeeding at being a journalist; she's failing at it.

Again, it's significant that Truss didn't exactly demand the LNP find Joyce a lower house seat. Grattan should have noted that; you can bet that Joyce has, an that his attitude towards Truss and other LNP heavyweights has been adjusted accordingly.
But he would have a chance to learn in the big House and display his skills.
Let's leave aside the fact that "the big House" is a film-noir euphemism for prison. There is a record of leading Senators who faded in the House of Representatives: John Gorton, Fred Chaney, Gareth Evans and Cheryl Kernot come to mind. Robert Hill could have posed the threat to Howard that Costello didn't had he won Liberal preselection for the seat of Boothby in his native South Australia; Hill was thwarted by Andrew Southcott (if Bruce Scott was a generation younger and based in Adelaide, he'd be Andrew Southcott) and Nick Minchin. Michelle Grattan should be aware of this phenomenon and reported accordingly as part of setting the context for this political development.

Instead, she laments for what could have been and fears for might might happen:
If he doesn't find some other seat, he has to look to the following election, and who knows what leadership competitors would have emerged by then?
We'd need an experienced political correspondent to tell us that. Where would we find one?

Joyce could have chanced his arm against Bob Katter, or Labor MPs in rural Queensland like Kirsten Livermore or Shayne Neumann, and the fact that he hasn't is worthy of reporting and analysis. He doesn't live in those electorates but he wouldn't be the first ambitious politician to move house. "Some other seat" indeed!
While some Nationals are disappointed, there will be a few Liberals quietly clapping Scott's decision.
In Queensland, where Joyce and the Maranoa preselectors come from, there is no difference between Liberals and Nationals. They seem to be handling both disappointment and applause well; maybe they're just stoic, or maybe it's hard to tell from this distance.
Tony Abbott, though, might feel for him - the two are quite close.
Closer than Abbott is to the Nationals leader he actually has to work with? And yet Truss is anchored firmly into place. How interesting.

Grattan vouched for Tony Abbott when evidence emerged that he was a bully. She has repeatedly written off Julia Gillard, not least because Grattan, like others, missed the story that she was becoming Prime Minister in the first place: these predictions were without value when first released and have since proven worthless. It is not her job to engage in advocacy or prognostications, but to tell us what is going on and what these developments might mean.

It used to be the case that Canberra was "the national stage" in terms of politics, and that if it didn't happen in Canberra then it probably wasn't political (and if it was, a reaction in Canberra would bestow upon an issue its political element). It isn't Michelle Grattan's job to react with puzzlement at developments beyond Canberra, or to insist that any developments at variance with Canberra conventional wisdom must be resolved in favour of the latter (and no, actually, I don't really care about Alan Reid). What happens in the country beyond Canberra is not non-politics, or anti-politics. If a political story lies beyond Canberra, then go beyond Canberra to get it - even if there isn't an organised photo-op with accompanying bus and/or plane.

Grattan isn't helping us understand what is going on in Canberra. What is the value in continuing to run her offerings to the wider public? Why has she been retained when so many other journalists have been let go (let us avoid unkind speculation about Grattan's accumulated entitlements and Fairfax's solvency)? What are all those years of experience worth in helping us understand issues that affect us all? Is Fairfax retaining Grattan to offer continuity in an age of discontinuity - in Canberra, in their own ranks, and beyond - or do they just not understand what their value proposition should be?


  1. I have long suspected Grattan has got demented as she gets older?

    Barnaby is a national joke,

  2. I think she just doesn't care about her work anymore, it's that simple. Surely she must be embarrassed by the meaningless fluff she churns out, just a random collection of thoughts that state the bloody obvious and are of worth to anyone.

    It is interesting, though, how Grattan and her peers have turned to advocacy for That's Just Tone. A hint of panic seems to have entered their writing. I wonder why?

  3. Thanks for another one, Andrew.

    I could make neither head nor tail of that article yesterday, until you gave me the context of "advocacy"

  4. Good article, I believe that Grattan belongs to a tribe of journalists who thrived on "inside" information. Gillard didn't tell her about the coup and Grattan has had her nose out of joint ever since.

    I haven't bothered to read anything about Rudd's demise so I have no facts to go on but my overriding impression is that it was slick and quick.

    Macbeth Act 1 Scene7

    "If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well
    It were done quickly"

    in contrast to Costello who moped and hoped.

  5. The insistence that really Barnaby is quite talented and a pivotal part of the Coalition is a bit like the line that Abbott is the most successful opposition leader in history. Beyond the lies and misrepresentations, beyond treating the average voter like a complete mug what do either of these men add to a political party? Are they respected for their policy proposals? Their grasp of internal party dynamics? Their soaring oratory? (I'll stop before anyone dies laughing)

    A cynic might suggest that their ongoing love affair with 'The Gallery' stems from the fact their public offerings are so simple that even australian journalists can understand them

    1. Journos love a cliche and the passionate but inarticulate bushie is up there with the best of them.

  6. " ... Joyce has a bright future."

    I don't understand how anyone who knows Senator Joist (or for that matter anyone who's observed his antics from the comparative safety of South Australia, as I have) could say that without bursting out laughing.

    1. I think he's being set up for failure myself, not only being squeezed between LNP and Katter but also there is no proof the Nats actually want him.

  7. The Canberra press gallery 'jumped the shark ' finally when they gathered to back the ever so pompous Laurie Oakes against Gillard's recent claims as though he was actually a story readers care about.

    Fairfax like News Ltd are floundering and the Canberra lot really demonstrate how so many journalists are losing their way. They simply refuse to accept the general public do not want opinions but news. There may be a certain amount who want their beliefs endorsed but leave that to opinion writers like Bolt etc.

    They risk losing their audience and that does not bode well for the limited future of their employment. Hacks who can bring us unbiased news and what may result from political decisions will thrive in the digital age. But ever since the combined Canbera lot and their capital city counterparts became a party to reporting the advertising campaign by a handful of mining giants against Rudd's tax, instead of investigating what it all meant, they simply do not realise how many readers have switched off.

  8. Advocacy? Look no further than this craven piece.


    1. The idea that you gotta believe in something/anything died with Fightback 20 years ago.

  9. Andrew

    Its simplie really

    Grattan is well established and must have so many secrets that it would be crazy to let her go

    Unless she chooses to retire if i was editor i would be nice to her

    1. Hard to know what secrets she'd have. The experience may be the final straw or it may be like removing on old tooth that makes you feel better than ever.

  10. I see the KAP are offering Joyce the opportunity to come on board. That should prove the pudding is more interested in high office via ranting than the content of the rants themselves.

    1. Joyce's natural sympathies are with the protectionists. He will be ground between the rock of free-market impulses within the LNP and the hard place of Katter offering the kind of solutions he has pushed for the past ten years.

    2. Quite. But KAP can't offer him the Deputy PM (or even Acting PM!) position. Delicious, innit?

  11. Grattan would be the wisdom tooth that had to be removed

    really bad pun but just had to write it



  12. Apart from the laughable Joyce being thought of as a leading light of the LNP by commentators like Grattan, I don't fully comprehend how he becomes leader of the Nationals anyway. Isn't the QLD LNP affiliated federally to the Liberal Party? How do they manage to have "Liberal" LNP members and "National" LNP members of the lower house (or the Senate for that matter)?

  13. Allan Jones

    So thats what the young liberals like in their speakers??

    Classy verbal abuse!!


  14. I think Tone will be ok as long as Alan Jones can keep his big mouth sh ... doh!

  15. Bruce Scott is widely understood to be an ineffectual dill. He's also commonly held to be a good and well-intentioned bloke. Personal loyalty counts for a lot in those parts.

    Barnyard Joyce, au contraire, is an ill-omened nutjob. It is unmistakably significant that the NP's high sherrifs chose not to visit him upon the Maranoa electorate: a region where the scandal of Cubbie Station's water rights is well understood (much better than in the Canberra press gallery, even).

    Anyways! Thanks for your blog. Always illuminating, and a pleasure to read.

  16. Can someone explain why Joyce needs a lower house seat? Deputy PM isn't an office in the Westminster tradition. The convention is (fixed) that the PM must have the numbers in the lower house to form a ministry. By extension, given its priority over budget/tax, the lower house usually but not always is home to the Treasurer - the real number two.

    The Nats are a junior party; they will never provide a Treasurer again, let alone a PM. Their leader can be a Senator, and even Acting PM if PM Abbott/Insert Liklier Liberal travels overseas for weeks or carks it. Senator Joyce (don't smirk) could be acting PM in the interim.