It's good news weekYou fools! You ingrates, you Fairfax readers! After all Mark Kenny and Michael Gordon have done for you, you go and claim that the science of Tony Abbott somehow isn't settled.
Someone's found a way to give
The rotting dead a will to live
Go on and never die
- Hedgehoppers Anonymous Good news week
Mark Kenny has long been on a mission to make you think well of Tony Abbott. Long after it was clear that there was no story with Julia Gillard, her former partner and his AWU slush funds, Mark Kenny was flog-flog-flogging it. He got his official title, chief political correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald, only because of his inexplicable failure to land a Walkley. Kenny helped pioneer the syllogism that eventually spread around the press gallery like a dose of the squirts:
- Julia Gillard makes announcements;
- We in the press gallery want to establish that Julia Gillard's announcements have no credibility;
- Tony Abbott basically gainsays what Julia Gillard says;
- If Julia Gillard says anything, it is only as a foil for Tony Abbott; therefore
- When Tony Abbott says something, he isn't just another politician - boy, you can take it to the bank.
When you are dealing with people who have trust issues, the very last thing you should do is overreach like that with a statement that you know - and that everybody but the press gallery knows - can only ever be bullshit.
This also explains why Mark Textor's gobbet (no I won't link to it) about trust and slowing down the media cycle is such utter crap. Tony Abbott is not the dependable sort of guy to restore trust, either in word or deed, and in pretending otherwise Textor et al were setting him and the nation up to fail. Governments always react to developments whether they like it or not, an obvious truth that cannot be accommodated in Textor's silly Fueherprinzip. For example, whoever is responsible for the media strategy surrounding MH370, and its effect in losing all trace of the actual aircraft, can be fairly regarded as a) having followed the Textor playbook unswervingly, and b) an idiot who has gotten in the way of big and important issues of global significance.
Once Abbott, and those around him, started believing their own press to that extent, there was no way they would or could ever go about the necessary business of getting over themselves. There was no way that the press gallery, having invested so much in their success, could simply engage the political clutch and revert to voice-from-nowhere political neutrality. The press gallery and Abbott were, and are, in it together.
This is why Kenny got all giddy with this - I mean, I ask you. If a journalist in North Korea or Egypt came out with something so cloying, so treacly, you could assume they'd been tortured or their family had been threatened. Kenny just does what he does because he's a suck. He does it in the hope that he'll get little drops in the lead-up to the Budget, looking less like some fearless source of truth than some yapping lap-dog.
In that position, you stake everything on the object of your obsequiousness going from triumph to triumph. This is what Peter Hartcher got right for a couple of years after 2006 with Rudd. Not so Kenny, firmly in the basket of a hot-air balloon which has already begun its descent. Look at the path of Kenny's columns immediately after he had laid what was left of his soul so bare:
- ... could be just months away ...
- ... Tony Abbott has praised communist China's economic achievement ...
- Prime Minister Tony Abbott has pleaded ...
- Tony Abbott slumps in polls despite best week yet
Politically Homeless pioneered the disdain for Australian polling data that has since been emulated elsewhere, and this remains regardless of which ways the polls pitch and yaw. Opinion rendered as 'hard data' by pollsters really is an example of what Orwell called "an appearance of solidity to pure wind". US polling data enables a level of granular examination that can be relied upon by people like Nate Silver, but Australian polling does not. Kenny does his best befuddled Shanahan at the poll data before him:
The degree of voter disenchantment suggests the government has again squandered the goodwill which had ebbed in the lead-up to Christmas, but was thought, now, to have been recovered.There is no such thing as a double or repeat squander. The very idea suggests either fraud, or mistaken counting in the first place (note the passive voice - who, exactly, thought it had been recovered?).
... the government has paid for a month in which its central economic policies such as repealing the carbon and mining taxes and crafting a fiscally responsible budget were allowed to be swamped by self-inflicted political controversies.No, this government has shown that it really has no agenda other than repealing two taxes that only really affect a few very big and wealthy companies. Once they lose that focus, they are lost pretty easily: Brandis' shout-out to bigots, Six-buck Dutton, the safe pair of hands that had been too grasping, etc. The repeal of those taxes is this government's sine qua non, its Godot, without which there isn't much going on at all. And again, the passive - "were allowed to be swamped" - to describe such an active, swaggering government.
In Western Australia, where the Greens succeeded less than a fortnight ago in having their sitting senator re-elected following a well-fought campaign ...Having failed to sneer the Greens out of existence, he tries to worm his way in with a party that will clearly be a political force for as long as Mark Kenny will have a job in the press gallery.
Labor's dominance on the two-party-preferred basis is being driven by the Greens' support and by a noticeable shift in voting intention between the cities and the non-capital city votes.That really is the key sentence in this sorry drizzle of a column.
First, there are realignments going on between Labor and the Greens, conflicts and allegiances far more profound than anything seen on the left in the 1950s. Second, the idea that this government stands or falls in regional Australia - not in western Sydney - could enable a sharper focus on why this government reacts as it does, thus improving the way politics is reported.
"It has been an important week for our country," [Abbott] said in his weekly Facebook message.Given that we can read Abbott's Facebook messages as and when we choose, what is the point of Kenny and his supporting edifices of Fairfax and the press gallery in merely relaying social media content?
"My hope is that in the years ahead Australians will see first-hand the benefits of closer, freer trade with Asia – through more jobs, more affordable goods and services and even closer bonds with our north Asian friends and neighbours."That's what they all say. Really. There is no news value in such banality.
Keating and Howard relied more and more on staged foreign-policy events when they were on the way out. Rudd, a former diplomat, staked everything on the Copenhagen conference and was shirtfronted by the Chinese: the people we thought he understood better than anyone. When Gillard negotiated tradeability between the currencies of China and Australia, it was too late. Now Abbott, having failed in his first foreign policy forays, has gone straight to vacuous posturing with no intervening period of achievement.
Note that Abbott mentions not a word about immigration, even though South Korea and China are important sources of migrants to Australia. Not a word about cultural exchange, or that "new Colombo Plan" stuff. Note also that the press gallery don't follow it up, not wishing to embarrass Abbott.
Why embarrass the Prime Minister when you can embarrass yourself? This is the approach taken by Michael Gordon, who has never recovered from his unrequited man-love for Keating, and who should simply shut up until he can work out what's going on:
Call it counter-intuitive. Tony Abbott enjoys the finest week of his prime ministership and goes backwards, Bill Shorten goes on leave and goes forward, and disenchanted Coalition voters park their votes with the Greens.So regional Australia is outside the cities now?
And that's just for starters. For all the talk of primary producers benefiting from freer trade, the big drop in Coalition support has occurred outside the cities, in regional Australia ...
Then there's the fact that Labor, after recording a record low vote in the West Australian Senate re-election and being under pressure on multiple fronts, finds itself in an election-winning position in two-party terms if an election was imminent, which it is not.What, exactly, is the "fact" that Gordon promised? Is it the truism that Senate votes can be different to "election-winning" (House of Representatives) votes? That negation at the end is Lewis Carroll stuff, except it is Gordon who can't both hold onto his prejudices and work out what's going on.
For all the seeming contradictions in the latest Fairfax/Nielsen Poll, two points are clear.No double-squander here. Like Kenny, Gordon was one of the few people who believed Abbott when he made the claims in that picture above. Gordon, Kenny and the press gallery then presented the 2013 election as though both major parties were offering the samey-same outcomes, but that Abbott had more credibility. They were wrong on both counts - and these are the guys who see Abbott up close on a regular basis. If they're wrong about that, about what might they be right?
The first is that the Abbott government remains deeply unpopular, having surrendered much of the support that delivered the emphatic victory at the last election.
The second is that there are plenty vying for the attention of voters whose inclination more than two years out from an election is to disengage, with no consistent pattern in thinking emerging other than the fact that neither side has a clear ascendancy.Voters aren't disengaged from education, or jobs, or health. Voters are disengaged with the fatuous way that these issues are (mis)reported. Michael Gordon and Mark Kenny are, in part, responsible for that disengagement; it represents professional failure on their part.
There is "no consistent pattern in thinking emerging" from the press gallery; this is unlikely to change so long as moribund outfits like Fairfax resist turnover in both personnel and in the way they report politics and government.
Photo opportunities with world leaders rarely translate to higher approval ratings for national leaders ...This is another one of those predictions that would have been more powerful before or during the event rather than afterwards.
... it is likely to take time for the electorate to process the value of Abbott's whirlwind Asian tour and the free trade agreements, either signed or in prospect.Because the facile media coverage was so manifestly inadequate.
It is also possible that voters have delivered an adverse judgment on the bigotry debate, a debate we did not have to have, and on the decision to bring back the titles of a bygone era.What 'debate'? To call it that, you have to assume that Andrew Bolt's readership constitutes a political constituency, which it doesn't. This was the mistake Howard made in 1998 and it almost cost him government. Abbott is much less deft than Howard; for a start, Howard could see that Brandis was a liability, whereas Abbott indulges him again and again (travel rorts, the bookcase, Tim Wilson, and now the soon-to-be-iconic s18 of the Racial Discrimination Act. What next?).
Nervousness about tightening eligibility for the pension ... help explain the drop-off in Coalition support among older voters.It isn't just that, it's cutting off other options that is doing for Abbott. It's one thing to shut down the car industry if there is some efflorescence elsewhere, but there isn't. Abbott is all about slashing, not pruning. Older people want education for younger generations, and healthcare; I cut out the reference to PPL because it made Gordon look silly.
By this point Gordon is not in a position to make any declamatory statements at all, not even inane ones like these:
Not that there is comfort for Labor ... For both sides the budget looms as a crucial test.Consistent with the rest of the piece, I was half expecting Gordon to flatly contradict those statements and then resign, but sadly it was not so. Instead, he puts the boot into Bill Shorten - but in doing that Gordon just reinforces his own confusion:
... almost one in five voters are not sure whether to approve or disapprove of the performance of Labor leader Bill Shorten, who is on bereavement leave after the death of his mother.Do you think the press gallery has given voters the information they need to make such a judgment, Michael? Having explained why Shorten isn't making speeches or twisting arms in Labor backrooms, Gordon then says:
Shorten is right to say the party must change, but is yet to articulate how and when.Why isn't he articulating that, Michael? Oh.
Mark Kenny and Michael Gordon are not a couple of blow-ins. They are senior members of the federal parliamentary press gallery. It is equally undeniable that they have no idea what is going on with our political system. Business journalists who didn't understand the stock market, sports journalists who don't understand individual matches or the wider competitions in which they are played, have no future. Yet, Fairfax have kept these numpties for too long in a press gallery construct that doesn't work for anyone. The reason why Karen Middleton can't find anyone to celebrate or support the press gallery is because, even at its best, it is bullshit.
When we become disengaged with their addled and fatuous commentary, apparently it is we and not they who have the problem. Yep, the political predicament we're in shows that we just don't appreciate all the hard work that Michael Gordon, Mark Kenny and the gang have put in.