Now if there's a smile on my faceIn this, Jacqueline Maley tells us two big falsehoods about federal politics. Disseminating political falsehoods is the opposite of what her job should be about. The first is that Tony Abbott is even capable of not being a clown, let alone that he has taken that decision; and second, that the press gallery have snapped out of it too and are seriously evaluating actual and proposed offerings of government for the next three years. Not only are they not to be believed but the only reason you can't condemn such mendacity out of hand is because it comes from such a deep well of self-delusion.
It's only there trying to fool the public
But when it comes down to fooling you
Now honey that's quite a different subject ...
- Stevie Wonder, Hank Cosby and Smokey Robinson, 'Tears of a Clown'
... Abbott isn't likely to give us any more of what he would quaintly call his "brain snaps".Yes he is. They're his life, they are who and what he is. They're an insight into how he works. The instances cited by Maley are not uncharacteristic departures from the well-ordered mind of an otherwise level-headed and compassionate man. They are integral to understanding what Abbott is like with the responsibilities with which he has been entrusted so far, and are rightly cited as reasons why he ought not be entrusted with any more.
Many within Labor have held a comfortable assumption it is only a matter of time before Abbott loses discipline and does something bonkers that will reveal his "true" self and ... silent rage?That's the heart of Maley's article, and it's a straw man. Liberals say nasty things about Prime Minister Gillard too, so her litany of Labor people bagging Abbott is less indicative of whatever point Maley is making than she might hope. There is no one thing that will knock out Tony Abbott from contention as Prime Minister, and nobody said there would be. This is a man whose inadequacies have to be drawn out to be seen in their full light. It never ceases to amaze that an experienced member of the press gallery can't see that.
Reviewing those old 7.30 interviews, he seems nervous and easily bamboozled by detail, just as most people would be in a similar position. Big deal."Big deal"?
Part of being ready for the Prime Ministership of Australia is that command over the scope of government. All successful candidates for Prime Minister have done this. Very few have it; the number of candidates for Prime Minister is small, not large, and not open to the average Jo(e) who is flat out remembering the date of their Mum's birthday. Abbott isn't going for a job driving a truck or gutting fish, and the broadcast media have been wrong to present him as though he has. We are entitled to be treated with the respect that is due to us, that we will only elect a leader who understands what it means to govern us. That is a big deal, Jacqueline Maley. It is genuinely pitiful that you and your enfeebled employer fail to see that.
He's improved since then - he is more polished and calm, less stuttery and fighty.Perhaps, but he's no more across the actual job of being in government, and nor is he offering any substantial alternative. Journalists should point that out, and are failing in their duty to readers/listeners/viewers in their refusal/incapacity to do so. Journalists should ask him questions, and make a Big Deal of the fact that he literally walks away from hard questions. Say what you like about Brendan Nelson, he took the job more seriously than this clown.
And if his recent approval ratings are anything to go by, people are accepting the new (dare we say the real?) Tony.And if they're not? If you look at those ratings, and believe them, you'll see that they're showing is that Abbott is no more accepted than he has ever been.
As he told Sales during his interview this week: "Australians are pretty fair-minded and they accept that people can grow if they move into a new position."Let's see what Maley is saying here. A politician has said something that reflects well on himself. A journalist is not only quoting that politician verbatim but is taking him at his word, and demanding that readers do so too. This is both an appalling dereliction of duty, and fairly typical of Maley's lazy approach to journalism. Gillard does not and would not get the benefit of the doubt like that.
So Abbott has grown, his critics must grow with him.
Tony Abbott entered Parliament at a byelection in 1994. His leader then was Alexander Downer, a policy lightweight who had learned from Hewson '93 the same lesson Abbott learned: namely to keep it light, bright and trite. At a Liberal Party dinner later that year Downer made a number of gaffes, the very sort of one-off stumble Maley insists can't possibly happen with Abbott. I doubt that Abbott will be replaced before the election, but Maley has no right to demand anything from those of us who are more critical of Abbott than she is.
The days of his headline-grabbing stuff-ups are over.Bullshit. You wish.
Now it is up to good journalists such as Sales to quiz him on detail and attempt to pin him down on some of the impossibly vague language he uses when he discusses policy.Leigh Sales was in an impossible position when she interviewed Abbott last Wednesday. Nobody made her Gatekeeper To The Lodge. There are more than two hundred members of the Federal Parliamentary Press Gallery, including Maley - note how their questions of Abbott count for bugger-all.
There is almost no journalism worth a damn going on in the press gallery. Only one Walkley has been awarded to a member of the Federal Parliamentary Press Gallery in this term of Parliament, despite the wealth of material theatre there since the last election. The only exception, Steve Pennells, had to get out of Canberra and go to Christmas Island, an assignment that may have been easier from his native Perth. Non-press-gallery journos like Sales and Kate McClymont won Walkleys for stories on federal politics, eating the lunch of those bums in Canberra. The idea that the press gallery contains Australia's journalistic elite is a joke.
When News and Fairfax shed staff late last year, their press gallery representation was untouched; a management failure compounding a journalistic one.
Abbott talks about hopes and aspirations, and when asked about concrete policy plans, refers to his policy tome (booklet, actually - it's 50 pages), the one he brandishes at his breast in media conferences like a medieval shield.That demonstrates a failure of the journalistic method. Journalist asks politician question, politician refuses to answer, journalist can do nothing but quote politician verbatim and leave it at that. Journalist unaware that if reader wants verbatim quote, reader can get it direct from press release on party website.
Our Plan: Real Solutions for All Australians contains almost nothing that qualifies as an objectively measurable promise in a year's time, should the Coalition win government.
The firm headline promises Abbott has made are to repeal the carbon tax, repeal the mining tax, begin immediate negotiations with Indonesia on asylum-seeker boat tow-backs ...For all of those, there are people with experience in those respective fields who believe those things can't actually be done, not by Gillard or by Abbott, not even with a parliamentary majority and a cheering press gallery. Those people aren't party-poopers or providers of verbal ballast so that journos can look 'balanced' by quoting them. There is serious work to be done into whether Abbott's "firm headline promises" are achievable. That work should be done before the election, not afterwards.
... and institute a business-funded paid parental leave scheme in his first term (a policy which feminists have failed to laud as they should).If it's bullshit, and people can see through it, and it does nothing to expand opportunities for women, then why should feminists (or anyone else) support it?
The Coalition now also has a detailed broadband policy, announced this month.Yes, and it is an inferior offering to the incumbents. It isn't even clear why the Coalition even wants an NBN, especially given their cost-cutting imperatives, and therefore it will probably be axed if he gets the chance to do so. You can't maintain your poll lead if all your policies are like that.
One of Abbott's new lines of attack is to criticise the government for "milking incumbency", "mortgaging the future" and "booby-trapping the future".Yes, Jacqueline, it's an attack line. The journalistic challenge is not simply to transmit what the lines are, but to give us the information we need to ascertain what's bullshit and what isn't.
For a start, every opposition that wins office inherits the conditions before it from its opponents and predecessors. The Rudd Government succeeded the Howard government, and Howard succeeded Keating; neither handover was particularly amicable, and all new governments have teething problems. Abbott is seeking to make excuses for not following through on his promises. An old hand like Laurie Oakes would have pointed that out, while disingenuous clowns like Michelle Grattan or Maley simply take Abbott at his word. If Abbott thinks it's going to be too hard to govern Australia, let him give the game away altogether. Don't give us this crap.
This language is incredibly telling - it reveals how inevitable he considers a future Abbott government to be ...No, Jacqueline, he's not. He's bluffing. It's what Abbott does, and when you've been covering politics for as long as I have you should be able to spot that and convey it to your readers. He's hoping you stay stuck in to the Abbott-inevitable-Gillard-doomed Narrative; a good journalist would question that, but we and he all know what sort of journalist you are. All those gaffes that you cited above are instances where he appeared very confident, but they were demonstrated to be at odds with actual facts.
... (he's not alone - most of the electorate believes that too).No, you've confused the electorate with the press gallery. Almost all of the press gallery believe that. The electorate is deeply ambivalent about retaining Tony Abbott in his current job, let alone elevating him even further above his competence.
He is so confident he is putting the government (who, being the government, still has the right to, like, govern 'n stuff) on notice it shouldn't make any decisions that lock the next, ie his, government into a particular course of action.Here is further proof of inherent journalistic failure. For a start, almost all political debate is 'confected', particularly that arising from the media management strategy.
We saw that this week with the confected debate about the appointment of the next governor-general.
Maley has spent the last three years ignoring the process of governing; note the adolescent language used to describe it, the truculent refusal to do the grown-up work of reporting and analysis. Recommending a Governor-General is a prerogative of government, and it's in Abbott's interests to make the incumbents look timid in the face of controversy; when he failed to do that, it was fair to wonder why he was so upset. Surely the Gillard government would appoint a distinguished Australian to the post, someone even Abbott could not impugn? They could have wedged him by invoking the Queen, using Abbott's words about a position above party politics, etc.
Abbott wanted to appoint Howard as Governor-General, and if the Gillard government recommends the next one to the Queen then Howard will be stymied once again. All that confidence stuff Maley talked about is undone by Abbott's hear-hysterical reaction. Maley has actually used an example which rebuts her thesis in order to advance it. Is she bluffing, or is she a moron?
There are also several small and subtle truth-bendings and inconsistencies the Opposition Leader is getting away with, too many to deal with here.That's your job, Jacqueline, that's your job to follow those through. We need to know which is the best party to govern us, and doing the very work that you so idly dismiss is crucial to that. But no, you go and bite off more than you can chew:
But the most important one is his position on school funding reform. Abbott was wrong-footed this week when NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell signed a deal with the Prime Minister over her Gonski reform proposal.There is no reason why Jacqueline Maley could not have written her whole article around that. Substantive journalism, now there's an idea. Hell, she could have written several articles:
The Opposition Leader's position was incoherent. On Sunday he told Sky News the Gonski report was "quite an impressive document" and there was "much that was good in the Gonski report".
But in the same interview he insisted "the existing [school funding system] is not broken. It's not broken". The foundation premise of the Gonski report is that the existing system is not just broken, it's unjust, idiotic and mind-bogglingly over-complex.
The report found that there was "an unacceptable link" between low academic achievement and social disadvantage. It found funding arrangements were based on an "outdated and opaque" system. These arrangements are "unnecessarily complex, lack coherence and transparency, and involve a duplication of funding effort".
So which bits does Abbott think are the good bits of the report when he rejects its key premise and its central findings? Does he know better than David Gonski and his expert panel, who worked on their report for over a year?
- Barry O'Farrell and Tony Abbott were candidates for the job of NSW State Director of the Liberal Party in 1994: O'Farrell won, Abbott lost. O'Farrell is running the next-biggest government in the country, Abbott is flat out keeping the costs of his own office under control. Note their respective positions on gay marriage. Note how Howard sold Liberal Premiers down the river, and how O'Farrell is letting Abbott know he won't be going the same way. See if you can do that without resorting to the simplistic bullshit of LIB SPLIT SHOCK, I bet you can't.
- O'Farrell knows the education funding model is broken. What the hell has the Shadow Minister for Education even been doing for the past three years? Carrying on like a deadshit in Parliament, and socialising with Jacqueline Maley ...
- ... and James Ashby for that matter.
- David Gonski is not some education wonk or Labor hack who can be brushed aside lightly. He is a very significant figure in the Sydney business community, in a way that Tony Abbott isn't and will never be. Why is the leader of the Liberal Party shirtfronting him like this?
Time to stop expecting Abbott to slip on a banana peel. He is not a clown, he is probably our next prime minister. Let's treat him like one and scrutinise his every policy step.That worthy final paragraph does not redeem Maley, it sets a standard to which she cannot possibly rise. In this piece, Laura Tingle explains why, and how much, her press gallery colleague Maley is kidding herself. There is no reason why this could not have been done at any point over the past three years, rather than the press gallery rolling their myopic eyes and 'letting Tony be Tony'. It's been A Long Time In Politics, and goodness knows how many media cycles, since Maley excreted that article: noticed much change in her reporting?
It's over. We were shocked by the inadequacy of political reporting in 2010, and broadcast media have only got worse since then.
The ultimate in 'letting Tony be Tony' comes from this clown:
Tony Abbott is ... feeling pretty chuffed about putting in a decent performance on the ABC's 7.30 program last Wednesday. He was on message, disciplined and, as usual, pretty light with details.Wow, you know you've cultivated a source when you can tap into his innermost feelings.
Fancy a journalist actually praising a politician for being "on message" and "light with details".
This is a shit article and Preston Towers dispatches it admirably.
Abbott and his handlers have played the press gallery for clowns, and their fantasy that they can snap out of it any time is cruelly exposed. Maley and others in the press gallery actually applaud them for having applied mushroom-farming techniques to media management. 'Media management' gives the press gallery a sense of importance that helps them mitigate their audience-repelling output. It is so easy for Abbott to fool them because they want to be fooled. He is their best chance of being delivered from having to report on that woman, who doesn't prioritise them at all; the first PM since McMahon to get the job without duchessing them.
Barrie Cassidy was press secretary to Prime Minister Hawke. In his day, the opposition got no press at all unless they were tearing themselves apart. What do you put the current politico-media malaise down to, Barrie?
The rhythm of federal politics, the underlying beat, has been ugly for too long. But gradually over the past few weeks, that has started to change.Don't blame it on the sunshine, don't blame it on the moonlight, don't blame it on the good times, blame it on the ugly. Only the opposition and the press gallery had any sort of interest in making a hard situation worse: fuck them both.
Labor's Rolls Royce version with all the funding implications ...Why even talk about policy when you use silly language like that? The NBN is not funded on-budget, a dilettante's error unworthy of a serious political journalist. The speeds and coverage of the NBN are going to be barely adequate, and the Coalition's offering even less: 'Rolls-Royce', like hell.
Bob Hawke, John Howard and Kevin Rudd led a community debate on ideas from opposition. Now, with the agenda free of most of the nasty political distractions that characterised politics virtually from the time of the last election, Abbott is starting to do likewise.Abbott's monkey-house spoiler antics were designed to make the government look like it was failing to govern. Cassidy has forgiven him that failure, yet the government still wears the opprobrium. Having failed to bring down the government with those antics, Abbott shines him dim light with an inadequate telecommunications policy and talks up hysteria over the government's budget position. Hockey's spittle-flecked alarmism over death duties puts the lie to this:
Then the economic ministers and their shadows engaged in an increasingly sophisticated debate about economic management and the fiscal challenges facing both sides of politics.Barely worth even writing that in the face of reality.
Both are now more realistic about short-term objectives. They both appreciate that given collapsing revenue, a fixation on an immediate surplus would cost thousands of jobs.
On the evidence so far - after recent appearances at a community forum and on SKY and 7.30 - he is now better equipped to engage at that level. He is showing a grasp of detail, a self-confidence and a sense of smarts that hasn't always been there.This isn't true. The interview with Leigh Sales on 7.30 shows no grasp of detail at all, and Sky wouldn't have put him through his paces. Cassidy, entering his fourth decade in Canberra, disagrees with blow-in Chris Johnson on Abbott's grasp of detail, and here you have to give it to the blow-in. Abbott talked in generalities and refused to engage in detail. He was every bit as nebulous as, well, wishful-thinking descriptions like "self-confidence" and "sense of smarts" that should be given in someone aspiring to the position he now holds, not a new development in someone who's been there more than three years.
It's stupid to pretend that a deeply inadequate candidate for Prime Minister is suddenly ready for prime time - why was he indulged in his inadequacy by the press gallery, so much for so long? This 'let Tony be Tony' stuff is a Liberal Party conceit and it has to stop.
Abbott is not, despite Cassidy's best wishes, being judged against his own feckless past. He is being judged against Julia Gillard, who has "a grasp of detail, a self-confidence and a sense of smarts" to a far greater extent than Tony Abbott. Abbott is not "better equipped" to be Prime Minister than Gillard, there is no proof that he is. All Cassidy's semi-assertions to the contrary are just bullshit.
All of the policy areas nominated by Cassidy - managing the budget, telecommunications, healthcare and education - seem to be the main battlegrounds on which the election campaign is being fought. They are all areas where people turn to experts to help form opinions: he-said-she-said false-balance journalism simply will not do. It will exclude them from the decision-making process and will drive down their lack of audience numbers and credibility. In the latter three, the experts seem to be lining up behind the government - not tentatively, but wholeheartedly, even desperately. I don't like the Coalition's chances of building credibility on the budget either, just quietly, and it doesn't matter whether or not those three clowns agree.
When the polls adjust to reflect that reality, you can bet Maley, Johnson, and Cassidy will be amazed. It isn't their job to be amazed at eminently foreseeable developments - that would be, and is, an indication of professional failure. Is there anything more self-defeating, more redundant in every respect, and yes more clownishly absurd, than an obtuse journalist (or three)?