We have a media that, for all its close observation of politics generally and the Coalition in particular, can't make head nor tail of what they see in front of them. People they've known for years have become strangers once in office. It isn't only the rookies who are making these errors - the most senior members of the press gallery have no real clue about what's going on in our national politics.
Michael Gordon strikes a pose between Abbott and Shorten. He seems to believe Shorten is under an obligation to spell out detailed policies, a stricture Gordon never imposed upon Abbott in that role (keeping in mind there was a much more realistic prospect of an early election in the last parliament than there is now). Gordon is pessimistic about this parliament:
The result is a war that will be waged on the floor of the existing Senate until the new senators take their seats on July 1, and then become mired in negotiation and brinkmanship with an eclectic crossbench – a war likely to continue the brutality and divisiveness that has defined Australian politics in the past six years.Negotiation and brinkmanship sounds like standard politics to me. Why not to Gordon, who's been reporting on federal politics for decades? Why this crap about war - at a time when actual armed conflict is literally tearing apart real people and countries, isn't it more than a bit silly to portray a bit of banter between, say, Christine Milne and Eric Abetz as 'war'? Was Australian politics before 2008 really some sort of sylvan glade in which it seemed always afternoon? Gordon is attempting the very sort of empty hype and bullshit which was once thought to 'sell newspapers', but which we now realise (too late!) does the opposite.
While some have given credibility to veiled threats of a double dissolution election ...Well Michael, Abbott and other Coalition figures seemed pretty definite about it before the election. You're old enough to remember Hawke bringing on the 1984 election. You might have the credibility you seem to assume if you had called Abbott out at the time. This is what I mean about the press gallery losing credibility, and it has nothing to do with partisanship (yours or mine).
Does the national political editor of The Age have anything to say about the vacuous way politics is practiced these days? Reader, he's as bad as the worst of them:
Those [Coalition] strategists flirting with the idea [of a double dissolution election] could do worse than review the calls to talkback radio on Friday.Talkback radio sentiment is a 1970s metric, skewed toward the very same individuals who were ringing, say, John Laws in the 1970s, but who have now moved into a different demographic. It isn't particularly representative and iSentia - and by extension, Michael Gordon and The Age - does a lousy job of pretending to turn talkback crap into demographic gold.
The early budget battles will be over plans to introduce, without specific mandate, the $7 Medicare co-payment, the return of petrol excise indexation, other measures that will increase the cost of living and a new regime for the young out of work that will save $1.2 billion over four years.This isn't "without specific mandate", it's directly contrary to any interpretation of 'mandate'. Abbott specifically promised not to increase costs of living, and here he is increasing the cost of living. There is a considerable body of evidence that the "new regime for the young out of work" will cost the economy a hell of a lot more than $1.2 billion, and Gordon should have tapped into that (or at least acknowledged it).
If the Coalition’s central narrative is to address what Abbott calls Labor’s "debt and deficit disaster", the subtext ...Oh, bugger the subtext. This government will not be judged on its subtext. It is making life harder for people who are already doing it tough.
Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews says exemptions will cover the vulnerable, but does not shy from the punitive aspect:Andrews is not entitled to be taken at his word, as Gordon does. He's stuffed up bigger challenges than this. What exemptions, how to define 'vulnerable' and 'punitive'? If Michael Gordon was a real journalist these weasel words (from a confirmed weasel) would be ringing alarm bells.
The broader debate, and the one that will frame the 2016 election, concerns the Coalition’s plans for pensioners and the intention to, in Shorten’s words, outsource the burden of its savings task to the states by refusing to continue Labor’s spending on schools and hospitals beyond the forward estimates of Labor’s last budget.What an awful sentence that is. Never mind outsourcing sub arrangements, that is the sort of sentence I write for free late into the evening of a long day. Seriously, someone of Gordon's experience has no excuse for that. Let's see if it means anything.
It isn't clear why pensions is a 'broader debate' than youth unemployment, or why it's strangely decoupled from debates about education and even health. It isn't clear why the 'savings task' takes precedence over education tasks and health tasks, or why Gordon has failed to unpack that assumption on the part of the government.
It’s hardly a broken promise because nothing will happen before the next election.It is. Nobody currently relying on the pension was told that the pension indexing arrangements would be reduced in this manner; financial plans have to be adjusted in light of that announcement on top of the normal caprices of the market. Abbott assured pensioners of stability and no journalist called him on it.
On hospital and school funding, the charge is that the Coalition has ripped $80 billion out of funding to the states and given them only one option to recoup the money: support a broader and heavier GST.How high does the GST have to be raised before it recoups $80 billion? Has that funding really only been withdrawn from "the states", or from all of us who live beyond the ACT? Again, Gordon pays no mind to that.
With reviews of taxation and federal-state relations in train, the Coalition’s plans for future funding in these areas will be clear to voters before they next go to the polls ...We're talking this year's budget, not 2016. $80 billion has been ripped out of this year's budget for education and health. Victoria (where most readers of The Age live) will go to the polls by the end of this calendar year, and who do you expect them to vote for: the party which takes it up to Abbott or . Even if you did have some arrangement in place two years from now that restored (or even increased) that amount, the disruptions will be far greater than Canberra shinybums (Gordon included) can possibly imagine.
The fact that he hasn't really thought about it is bad enough. If you discount the idea that Gordon is biased in favour of this government, then quite why he feels obliged to assure us that the government has it all in hand (despite evidence so far) is a mystery.
If Shorten opposes broadening or increasing the GST (or both), his challenge will be to spell out another way to fund better schools, hospitals and the National Disability Insurance Scheme he helped bring into being.If Gordon held Shorten to the same standards that he held the previous opposition leader, then Shorten would simply frustrate the government and offer nothing positive and Gordon would hail him as a political genius. Just like Paula Matthewson has.
No organisation anywhere in the world would accept a sudden $80b shortfall with equanimity. Education and health are matters that affect real people everywhere around the country. It is not merely a matter for federal-state intergovernmental relations, still less some Canberra insider game.
The Budget revealed cuts to health and education funding for the states and territories commencing in four years' time (which is conveniently after the next federal election).Not everybody plans their lives around federal elections: both my children will be in primary school in 2017, and you can't just turn education systems on and off at the click of some fingers in far-off Canberra. This isn't "amateur theatrics", it's as real as it gets.
You want to know what are the real unbreakable laws of modern politics? Here's one:
Everybody who talks about how something is not what it is but it's actually a pie, see, and then goes on about carving up that pie while also growing it, and then invokes some mad Lewis Carroll imagery of slicing an expanding pie, implying that pies exist for their own sake rather than to be eaten - everyone who does this looks like an idiot. Most people who do it are, in fact, idiots.Truly, nobody who gives a moment's thought to the words they use tosses their credibility into that particular bin.
There are no exceptions to this rule. It certainly is not invalidated by federal-state memoranda of understanding nor any other legal instrument, and indeed many of those reinforce it.
Matthewson is wrong to claim that the real political game (insofar as it somehow supersedes that of education and health) is one of reorienting the states' tax bases. Chris Pyne says the states have plenty of tax options - as usual, he's wrong and doesn't even care what the truth of the matter is.
The real political game, as it was under Howard, is to force the Coalition out of office at the state level so that the Coalition is not conflicted or diverted politically between federal and state governments. For the Manichean Abbott, the federal-state blame game can be clarified by abandoning state government (and its pernicious moderating influences) to Labor.
- If the Liberals had wanted Steven Marshall to become Premier of SA late last year, they would have kept Tony Abbott well away from there. Marshall isn't where Abbott was in 2010 - he is the punchline in a vast joke he cannot yet understand, but which might crush him once he does;
- Over the next six-and-a-bit months you can expect a number of "harsh but necessary" decisions from Canberra targeted at Victoria that will embarrass, if not devastate, Denis Napthine's re-election campaign. Neither he, nor the national political editor of The Age, will have any idea until after they are announced. True, Napthine has his own problems - but the feds will be quick with "state issues" and press gallery potplants will not challenge them on that either;
- Next up is NSW. O'Farrell was the only politician in Australia who consistently put the wind up Abbott, and it will the the making of Baird if he does so with Abbott. A great deal of money that could be used to shore up nervous federal backbenchers is staying in donors' pockets thanks to ICAC, or being spent on the NSW campaign. Now do you see why Abbott wants state Coalition govts gone?
- Half the seats that are needed to tip this government out are in Queensland, and do you think Abbott wants to be hostage to that stumblebum Newman?
- Look, Matthias runs the show in WA, and who even cares about NT or Tasmania; and last but not least
- Mark Textor will reprise his role of a decade ago with the state parties, where he took their money and gave dud advice to ensure Howard's supremacy went unchallenged. Paula Matthewson and the rest of the press gallery will continue to regard him as a genius.
As Joe Hockey set about deciding how to cut welfare payments, he asked for a comprehensive list of all entitlement programs. He couldn’t find one.The guy had been shadow treasurer for four years. What the hell had he been doing? Had Hockey and his plucky staff not reverse-engineered such a list, and if not why not?
The federal government today collects revenues equivalent to 23 per cent of Australia’s GDP. It spends the equivalent of 26 per cent. The simple reality is that the annual shortfall is 3 per cent of GDP.The previous government was well aware of that and was not, as Hartcher implies, blithely ignoring it. The previous government delivered six deficit budgets and was widely held to have failed. The incumbents project that this budget and the next five will be in deficit, but that's OK.
If that is allowed to persist, there is only one possible outcome. Corrective action was needed.
Over the coming term of government there will be a return of the El Nino weather patterns to eastern Australia. Receipts from agricultural exports will go down and it is eminently foreseeable that taxpayer cash will be shovelled at improvident yokels, to an extent that makes a mockery of those budget forecasts. Yet, just as the press gallery rose as one to assert that Chris Pyne didn't call someone *else* a cunt, so too will they make excuses and accept government assumptions of ongoing deficits and 'unforeseen events'.
The lesson of history is that the only time that a government will impose real discipline is in its first budget.Is there 'real discipline' in this budget - not particularly - a bit of trimming, cost-shifting to the states, and class warfare, but that's about it.
These were the declared values, but there were also the grudges and frustrations. The deputy prime minister and leader of the National Party, Warren Truss, said this about age pensioners in a post-budget speech to Brisbane’s Conservative Club: “Increasingly the lifestyle - and the savings for superannuation - are being seen as the opportunity to enjoy a few cruises and the luxuries of life for a few years until it runs out and then people wish to fall back on the aged pension.”Grudges and frustrations my arse - these are people who scorn those they govern. These are the sorts of statements that slip out in the final term of a long-serving government, not the first (unless they are the same?).
The minister for social services, Kevin Andrews, told a press conference on Monday: “The days of easy welfare for young people is over. We want a fair system, but we don’t think it’s fair that young people can just sit on the couch at home and pick up a welfare cheque.”
And some of the frustration in the Coalition was frustration with their former leader and Liberal hero John Howard. A government strategist told me: “It’s horseshit that a family earning $170,000 with three kids still gets government support.”Really? Remember when The Daily Telegraph thought anyone earning over $150,000 was doing it tough? Hartcher must have missed that, too. I bet his "government strategist" didn't.
We have now learned, very starkly, that even some of the Liberals who know Abbott closely were quite wrong about his values.Rather than relying on Costello's columns from three years ago, it is fair to assume that the political and international editor of The Sydney Morning Herald would be in a position to observe and interrogate the Coalition about their approach to government.
His former cabinet colleague, Peter Costello, wrote a column in this newspaper in 2011 to issue a warning to the Liberals: Abbott didn’t share the core beliefs of the party mainstream, the party of Howard and Costello.
He pointed out that Abbott had “worked closely with the DLP in his student days”, a reference to the old Democratic Labor Party of BA Santamaria.
“The DLP was good on defence and the Cold War but it was not up to much on economic issues,” Costello wrote. He said that the senator recently elected under the resurrected banner of the DLP, John Madigan, should be left to “run the case for protection and regulation”.
“That is not the future for the Coalition. Its leaders are there to promote and implement Liberal policies like freedom in the workplace, open trade, lower tax, and careful spending of taxpayers' money.”
The evidence now before us is exactly the opposite. The Abbott-Hockey government is revealed to be a more ideologically conservative outfit than Howard-Costello.
The budget conducts a frontal attack on three Howard legacies. One is the family payment system. It will remain as a support, but the government proposes to strip out elements that it considers to be “middle-class welfare.”Peter, it doesn't; I say this as a recipient of Family Tax Benefit B.
Second is the Howard urge to centralise power in the federal government at the expense of the States. Abbott and Hockey are proposing the exact opposite, to devolve power to the States.With the pretty important exceptions of health and education, I reckon this holds - and the political skills of both the federal ministers for health and education aren't much chop. Never mind the blithe statements Peter, look into this.
Third is the Howard boondoggle known as the ethanol production subsidy. It’s gone.Not for long. Do you know how many seats Katter and/or Palmer stand to gain in Queensland if this is mishandled?
The Abbott-Hockey government is also more pro-market and pro-deregulation ... [Howard] never proposed a co-payment to visit a doctor.This is a non-sequitur. Small businesses are being levied with additional paperwork and compliance.
Abbott’s plan would begin to repair the budget; it would also make Australia a more unequal society. The cuts to welfare are permanent. The 2 per cent tax levy on the rich is temporary.The first sentence is true, the rest assumes some sort of link between what this government says and what it does. Honestly, there's no helping some people.
Bill Shorten’s budget response is also revealing. He is modelling himself as opposition leader not on Labor leaders Bob Hawke or Kevin Rudd but on Tony Abbott. His budget reply was all snarls, no solutions.Bob Hawke was opposition leader only for the duration of the 1983 election campaign; he never delivered a reply to any budget John Howard delivered nor even fronted Question Time in that role. Kevin Rudd also offered few concrete solutions, frustrating the then Coalition government no end. Peter Hartcher has no excuse for not knowing this, especially as he's got the ouija board out with Don Chipp.
And Clive Palmer party [sic]? He’s talking mumbo jumbo and shaping as a classic populist opportunist. He’s committed to blocking the Medicare copayment, but he remains a wildcard. Some of Abbott’s most dramatic proposals for Medicare, universities, welfare and health and education depend on him. We have not yet seen how he will conduct his party in Senate negotiations.Here's an idea: why not make like a journalist and ask Palmer questions. Stop treating him like he doesn't matter and acknowledge that he's part of the landscape now. Find out how he's reacted to similar situations in the past. How different would political history have been if Abbott's performance as opposition leader had been similarly written off by supposedly serious political analysts:
And [Tony Abbott] party? He’s talking mumbo jumbo and shaping as a classic populist opportunist ... he remains a wildcard. Some of [Gillard]’s most dramatic proposals for Medicare, universities, welfare and health and education depend on him. We have not yet seen how he will conduct his party in Senate negotiations.Anyway, back to it:
And, like Shorten and the Greens, Palmer remains in blithe denial that there is any need to start addressing Australia’s deficit.Start? When did it ever stop? Will we ever break out of the fetish that the budget deficit is the most important facet of the economy?
After all that it almost seems redundant to give Lyndal Curtis' facile and ignorant piece a going-over. It is of a piece with Katharine Murphy's out-of-office message.
If nothing else is clear from the past few years in federal politics, this is: election promises are often not worth the paper they are printed on.If I had read that on a mobile device I would have thrown it across the room. Neither the quality of major party candidate offerings, nor the limitations of journalists, should cause citizens to ask less of their government. Yes, government is hard and I'm sure that attending press conferences and coffee at Aussie's can be a bit arduous at times, but this is an article by someone with no perspective of what her job is really about.
Maybe it is time to ask for less.
So many governments have broken promises over the years that we take them with a grain of salt when they are made.Neither credulity nor cynicism are appropriate for people seeking to send representatives to govern them. What people need is information. The idea that the press gallery should observe parliament and parliamentarians so closely, and yet be unable to report on what's going on, means that the press gallery has failed.
But factoring in a lack of trust as a given does not serve the democracy well. It leads to distrust of politicians and disengagement from the electorate.
So is it just the politicians' problem, or are we all - the media and public alike - to blame for what we ask of politicians particularly during election campaigns?The assumption that the media is the public, the public the media - is both total nonsense, and totally necessary for press gallery journalists to persist in doing what they do.
Let's be clear about what Lyndal Curtis does - first, politicians make a statement, then give a bit of background. Curtis crafts some questions that will elicit the key lines in the statement, and a bit of background. If there is a response from another party, she will forewarn the interview subject so that they can develop some lines. Then, the interview takes place in which the lines are trotted out in her presence, for a press gallery journalist has succeeded when this occurs.
Challenging questions are batted away and allowed to stay batted. Then, the day's work is pretty much over, but you can pretend that "the 24 hour news cycle" is really a thing if there's a meal allowance in it for you.
Elections have become a game of "rule in, rule out" proposals or changes across the budget.Why? Who says? Having recognised this, how do you snap out of it?
They are asked for certainty in a world which is fundamentally uncertain. Even governments campaigning for re-election - who are in a better position to know what they will face after the poll - cannot predict every twist and turn of an economy open to global forces.Who is better placed to change the way interviews are conducted than Lyndal Curtis? Nobody.
The urge for specific promises and the fear of a scare campaign moves politicians ever more into the realm of tight messaging and denies the opportunities for a real debate about what is needed or what may be needed.
The media (and I include myself in that) has to bear a large part of the blame.
So what is she going to do about it? Nothing.
Journalists have sent links to Curtis' piece around Twitter, describing it as "thoughtful" (this is code for 'nothing will change as a result of this'. If it was going to change anything, it would have been described as 'controversial'). It will fade away and be reprised in some other form by somebody else, on and on as the traditional media declines, as mulch for the inevitable pieces 'if only we had listened and acted'.
Years of describing any internal party debates as "dissent" or "splits" mean politicians are more reluctant to have a debate, especially in the open.Journalists describe debates in that way when they can't and won't understand the issues that need to be debated. Malcolm Turnbull's positions on climate change and the republic are well elucidated and nuanced: but if you're a moron, and the editor who hired you is one as well, LIB SPLIT will do. More recently, the decision to purchase the F-35 fighter is written off as a split, here and elsewhere, because journalists can't be bothered getting across the issues and editor's won't engage those who can. If you won't engage with the public you can pretend it doesn't exist, and doesn't matter I suppose. You can even rope the public into the media's stupidity and laziness:
We should encourage and champion debate. Instead, what the media and to some extent the public does - and what politicians' offices have done for some time - stifles debate.
... debate is discouraged for fear of what the reaction might be.Measured, considered and detailed responses are a potential outcome from a debate. It is not the debate itself but the outcome that is key as far as government is concerned. John Howard was always "happy to have the debate" after he had made his mind up, not before, and Abbott is the same in that regard. It is the mark of a muppet journalist who seeks to pretend a debate is underway when the fix is already in.
We should ask politicians to tell us what the problems are, to spell out their values in how they would approach them - such as whether they believe in the primacy of public services or whether they believe the private sector should play a greater role.Particularly if the "we" includes those of you whose job it is to question politicians, Lyndal, rather than just rattle through a list of questions designed to elicit lines from the press release/conference. You should, but you won't.
We should ask if there are specific commitments, tell the public the conditions under which they would be delivered.
We should encourage politicians to engage in some old-fashion policy reform.This is one of the more lucid moments in Curtis' piece. But then she scrambles to strike that Michael Gordon pose, the view from nowhere:
It is what Labor did with the National Disability Insurance Scheme - pointing out the problems, getting a report on the options for solutions, then discussing it with the sector and through them the public.
It took an electorate, fearful of increases in cost of living, to the point where it happily accepted an extra tax through an increase in the Medicare levy.
Treasurer Joe Hockey too has engaged, singlehandedly, in some old-fashioned policy reform.Yes, but he didn't engage with anyone about this, except the IPA. He just throws ideas out there: it's who he is, it's what he does, and no his thought bubbles are in no way equivalent to the NDIS. Hockey did this as President of the NSW Young Liberals in the early '90s, putting ideas out there and retreating once it got too detailed. He did it in opposition, and journalists thought he was a deeper thinker than he is. He still has Lyndal Curtis bluffed, which invalidates her piece somewhat and shows those moments of lucidity as accidental, sporadic and unreliable - as they are for Katharine Murphy.
He began by describing the problem with what he called the "age of entitlement".
He spoke in broad terms about people doing things for themselves that they could afford without the need of government support.
But maybe we should also ask them to make fewer promises and judge them on results.How is that going to get us the information we need to make an informed decision? At least she didn't recommend combing through talkback radio.
Before the last election journalists like Curtis had the whole cynicism/credulity problem something dreadful. Anything the Gillard/Rudd government did was assumed to be bogus, but anything Tony Abbott said - you could take it to the bank. I include Lyndal Curtis in that. And Peter Hartcher. And Paula Matthewson. And Michael Gordon. All of them, directly or indirectly, have admitted that they haven't the faintest clue about Australian politics, despite seeing it up close for many years. God forbid that we should start judging journalists on results.
It isn't like I have gone after some junior woodchucks for spelling mistakes. These people, with the possible exception of Matthewson, are senior journalists. Every journalism school in the country wants its graduates to turn out like these characters, and more's the pity.
If we are to understand how we are governed, and to make informed decisions, we must have better information than press gallery and other political journalists provide us with. This is more important than any other consideration - job tenure or brand positioning or even simple pity at their self-delusion.
You were probably wasting your time reading any articles on the budget other than those by: