In van Onselen's case, he trots out a shopping list of his backgrounders and posits them as ministers over incumbents who wouldn't give him the time of day. In Murphy's case, she runs a piece assuring us that she's able to see through spin while also confessing that she's more than a bit of a sucker for it, and hopes you are too.
She did it here and at Fairfax, and now she does it there. It's sad schtick and an indictment on editors and others who fall for it. Murphy practically begs to be sacked and nobody ever does it.
The government wants you, the voters, to blame Labor for the new taxes and the nasties it intends to impose on you in next week’s budget. Not them – the people who told you solemnly, hand on heart, before the last election that there would be N-O new taxes – then proceeded to impose them anyway.No it isn't. It's entirely consistent with what Abbott was like before the election.
This is to be Labor’s fault. Trust me, says the finance minister, I’m breaking my promises not because I’m awful, but because those guys are awful.
Now, before you roll your eyes, let me assure you I’m rolling mine too. As spin and pantomime and rank political cynicism goes, this one is off the charts.
Murphy didn't roll her eyes when Abbott said that the Gillard government was "a bad government". She didn't roll her eyes when Abbott promised to take responsibility. She faithfully reported it and didn't question the assumption that any government could do better than Gillard and/or Rudd simply because Abbott said so. She went to press conferences where "people [told her] solemnly, hand on heart, before the last election that there would be N-O new taxes", and didn't have any basis to challenge such statements. She didn't go digging into policy or into Abbott's record and consider what they meant, whether the Coalition really could be trusted when they said (for example) that funding for pensions and schools and public broadcasting wouldn't be cut.
But the past few years in federal politics have taught me a rather grim lesson: maximum audacity often wins. I’ve seen the Coalition over the past three years carry off more outrageous transactions than the current one, and largely get away with them.What she's confessing here is the failure of her judgment, and that of her colleagues. Experienced journalists should have been awake to this and called it out. The Coalition gets away with this because the press gallery - Murphy especially - is lazy and stupid.
Whether they get away with it this time depends on the following factors.Journalists are meant to have that capacity and draw together facts to tell a story of how we are governed. If politicians have such storytelling capacity, and you leave the storytelling to them, journalists are redundant. It's sad that Murphy's first consideration of Abbott's words were whether or not she liked them. Abbott's message was only "consistent and clear" because nobody called him on it.
It depends on their storytelling capacity. Tony Abbott’s ability to tell a political story with aggressive simplicity was one of the hallmarks of his success as opposition leader. Whether you liked what he was selling or not, the message was consistent and clear.
The idea that the budget isn't in crisis was bullshit two years ago, it was bullshit last year, it's bullshit now and it will be bullshit next year, and every time Katharine Murphy professes to roll her eyes about another professional failure on her part. That message was "consistent and clear" because Katharine Murphy had no basis for assessing the budget other than what the then opposition said about it.
He seems to have comprehensively lost this art in the transition to government.The Coalition's message hasn't changed. There is, however, plenty of objective evidence about the budget and the economic assumptions behind it, as there is every year. Murphy and other press gallery journalists have decided to take heed of that to a greater extent than was the case with, say, evidence relating to last year's budget or the budget before.
And he cannot deliver the simple world that existed in opposition, because the simple world does not exist.It didn't exist for the previous government either, but they were not accorded this level of understanding. Note that Murphy makes no reference to the current opposition or its leader; it seemed to have been impossible to write about the previous government on its own terms without slipping in a reference to Abbott, holding the government's coat and snickering.
There was always going to be a reckoning, and we are seeing it now.There is no good reason why that reckoning had to come after the election, rather than before; this is entirely due to the failure of judgment - and the laziness and stupidity - referred to earlier. All of it was foreseeable. All of it was preventable.
As a consequence of the Abbott storytelling black hole, there is no coherence in the Coalition’s messaging, no hope horizon to point to.It's every bit as coherent as it ever was; it has failed to hold up under the pressures of government, and this was foreseeable. Press gallery journalists should have called Abbott on that while he was in opposition, as they did with Latham, to avoid making his problems the country's.
To borrow from Tim Dunlop, this coherence thing is just Murphy's way of saying she can't handle complexity. Given that her job involves getting to grips with complexity and explaining it simply, she is clearly and consistently in the wrong job.
Let me put this more directly. We can’t know whether this budget is a turkey until we see it. Right now, it looks like a turkey, but I’m reserving final judgment until I see the sum of the parts.You saw the Coalition's policies and non-policies. You saw Matthias Cormann and Joe Hockey defend the indefensible and assert the absurd. You didn't call them on it, and now here you are assuming that the sum might be more than the parts? To do otherwise would be to admit that this government was always going to do a worse job than its predecessor, and should therefore never have been accorded the credibility necessary to get it elected.
To turn the corner the Coalition has to have a reason to govern, and to articulate its reason for governing.It needed that before the election. The Coalition said it wouldn't cut cut cut, and if you believed them (as Murphy and others did) the rationale for electing them disappeared. If you didn't believe them, as people like Tony Shepherd and I didn't, then their rationale for government was clear enough. The question here is the quality of perception and the strength to call it.
Thus far, the reason for governing has been manufactured culture war, manufactured border emergencies, flirtations with the notion of itself as small government, appointing mates and fellow travellers to boards, and various revenge fantasies against Labor.And you expected, what? This time last year, it was obvious the Coalition would be like that. This time last year, nobody in the press gallery investigated or even considered the eminently foreseeable current predicament as a possibility, and sneered at those of us who did.
That combination has landed the new government waist deep in quicksand. I gather if you find yourself in quicksand, the best prospects of survival stem from not moving. Stop thrashing around. Develop some first principles. Start thinking. Start visualising the way back.You do that before you get into government, not afterward. Standing still (or "slowing down", Textor style, in the way that telcos shape internet access for those who've exceeded their download allowance) is not an option. "Thrashing about" might be indistinguishable from purposeful activity if you have learned nothing from Kevin Rudd, despite years of observing him up close.
The nature of this government was foreseeable before it took office. Yes it was. Asking them pointed questions was and is not the act of a partisan, but failing to do so was gutless on the part of the press gallery and injurious to the public good.
That quicksand metaphor applies to Murphy, the press gallery and perhaps to journalism more broadly. Stop thrashing about, get some principles and act on them. If the exhibited behaviour of the press gallery really does reflect its principles, then not only is it done for but this is no bad thing.
The budget presents risk, certainly, but also an opportunity for the Coalition to finally grow up, settle down, focus, desist from the student politics – and develop the courage of their own convictions.The "student politics" is the essence of this government and the sum total of its convictions. To argue otherwise is to be deceived, to be unable to understand a government that has been closely followed but little scrutinised. It is a journalist's way of admitting they have been played for mugs and dupes, and that intelligent readers are right to shun them. Too much rolling of eyes, not enough focusing and reporting what they see.
We are all watching. I wonder whether they will take it.We are watching the press gallery to a much lesser extent. I do not wonder whether or not they will take more crap from this government; they've done it before, they'll do it again. To add insult to injury they will try this I'm-with-you pretence in the hope their audience won't continue deserting them in disgust at their inability to challenge power-seekers as to whether they are up to the demands of office.