16 November 2014

Found out 2: When the Beijing smog clears

The press gallery went to the last election conveying the impression that Coalition policy, even though it existed in scant detail, was immeasurably better than Labor policy on all fronts.

Then, when the Coalition started going back on pre-election commitments, the press gallery just got confused. There was no howl of betrayal, as there was over Julia Gillard's casuistry on carbon pricing, just a kind of befuddlement or cheerily insisting that disappointment must somehow be exciting - or in any case, something we just have to put up with that its words and actions should be so divergent.

As time has gone on the press gallery have engaged in a kind of Dance of the Seven Veils as this government has shed layers of credibility. So its environmental policy is pretty ordinary, and there really is so vision for carbon abatement or even the Reef. All right, so its commitment to civil liberties is non-existent. Yeah, so there is no economic policy to speak of, and the government can't even get its budget through the Senate. It has no ability to negotiate with those outside its command-and-control.

It's interesting to note that former Coalition members Clive Palmer, Nick Xenophon, David Leyonhjelm, and Bob Day are not subject to the same 'traitor' rhetoric that beset former Nationals Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor (Peter Slipper had been elected to Parliament as a Coalition MP, while the others hadn't). Nobody in the press gallery seems to have picked that, practising the goldfish journalism of an eternal present.

Was it only a matter of days ago that the press gallery consensus had congealed around the idea that while the Coalition wasn't great at any sort of policy really but it had some sort of natural gift for foreign policy. Some conceded that Abbott had a few early glitches with the Indonesians and the Chinese (Mark Kenny and the Murdoch outlets refused to acknowledge even that, insisting that such a graceful swan could never be considered an ugly duckling), but they all agreed Abbott was some sort of natural diplomat.

(Note that the more concerted the opposition to an Abbott government policy, the worse Abbott looks. Even with the prospect of opposition, as with paid parental leave, does this tough guy look shaky. Labor gave him unstinting support on foreign policy, and only with that absence of opposition could he even appear capable.)

With all his experience in domestic and foreign politics, Peter Hartcher never picked that the US and China would do a deal on carbon emissions at the APEC meeting in Beijing. [$] Hamish Macdonald in The Saturday Paper didn't pick it. Nobody did. The English-language papers in China and the venerable US news outlets all missed it, too.

It isn't only hippies who think it isn't good enough for this country not to have a carbon abatement policy. It never was. The Canberra consenus that proponents had to wait until Abbott was good and ready to come around to the idea in his own time was wrong, too, but it was consensus and all the press gallery had to do was put quotation marks around it. Our entire political class has been wrongfooted, and the journosphere can't properly report on that because it too has been caught out.

They don't even have the good grace to admit they missed the biggest foreign policy story of the past 20 years. How a mixed metaphor became a dumb story is the sort of thing you get when you fail to clear out dead wood from 20th century journalism.
Only now are the political negatives from Tony Abbott's threat to Vladimir Putin blindingly obvious
It was always stupid. Always.

(This is what shirtfronting looks like)

As soon as it was uttered, all of the images that Abbott sought to shake off - the thoughtless thug - were reinforced. Even if he had literally shirtfronted Putin, it would have made our foreign relations worse rather than better. What use is the press gallery if they cannot anticipate?
The opportunity to rub shoulders with global leaders usually gives the prime minister of the day a boost.
No it doesn't:
  • When it was announced that the APEC meeting in 2007 would be held in Sydney, people like Cassidy hailed it as a triumph for Prime Minister Howard. By the time it was held Howard was on his way out.
  • In the lead-up to the 2009 climate talks in Copenhagen, the press gallery agreed that it would be a triumph for Prime Minister Rudd. It wasn't, and he too was gone within a few months.
  • When Barack Obama addressed federal parliament in 2011 the impact on Prime Minister Gillard was nil. She attended a royal wedding in London and secured a UN Security Council seat and did a CHOGM in Perth; zero political benefit.
It is time for that press gallery cliche to die. I know journos love it, but it has no basis in reality and hence is useless as a prop for reporting.

The opportunity to rub shoulders with global leaders does nothing for the prime minister of the day. Nothing at all.
The reporting, the photographs and especially the cartoons, have reduced serious diplomacy to high farce. For that Abbott has to take a large slice of the blame.
Abbott should take responsibility for his actions, the Murdoch press should take responsibility for theirs.
How Abbott would now like to erase history and start again, allowing himself to present as a mature leader nudging and cajoling the world's most powerful towards important global solutions.
Here Cassidy claims to have some sort of insight into Abbott's mind. He makes a number of assumptions that no member of the press gallery is entitlement to make about Abbott, namely that he has:
  • done the work in formulating solutions within a convincing wider vision, and
  • anticipated potential challenges to those solutions, and
  • that he has the political skill to negotiate with people who owe him nothing. Look at parliament - he can get Peta to bawl out his own backbenchers, but he can't get yokels like Lambie or Madigan even to pass his budget. Other G20 leaders deal with people like them much more convincingly than Abbott.
Cassidy has no right to hold to those assumptions, or to hide journo inadequacy behind them.
There is evidence that the shift from domestic to foreign policy, from the budget to national security, will not be the permanent game changer the government had hoped for.
Well, no shit - what made anyone think people could be deflected from Narwee and Nunawading to focus on Naypidaw? Was there any basis at all to assume that this was even possible, and that those betting the government on it were crazy?
If that won't do it, what will?
30 years in Canberra and you really don't know? So much for being an insider. Give it away.

There would be no greater signal to our political class about the impact of cuts to the public broadcaster if Insiders were to be axed.
The global challenges - and particularly the conflict in Iraq - should be a plus, especially with the opposition offering bipartisan support.
The reason why Labor offered bipartisan support was to maintain their poll lead over the government. Cassidy should realise that politics is a zero-sum game; that the government cannot be said to be doing well if it is polling behind the opposition.
At home, there is a growing realisation that the country does indeed have both a spending and a revenue problem, no matter what Coalition frontbenchers said in opposition.
If only we had experienced journalists at the time to point this out, anticipate what a Hockey budget might look like, and whether it would even pass a fractious Senate.
There are excuses. Commodity prices are falling ...
This was foreseeable before last September.
... and the Senate is preventing the government from reversing some of Labor's spending initiatives.
So was that.
But when a party speaks with such bravado and conviction in opposition, excuses don't offer much shelter in government. Reality is starting to bite.
Reality is not something that was invented this year. Politicians talking with bravado should be called out by journalists, rather than merely quoted.
Before mid next year the Abbott government has to commit to targets out to 2025. According to the Climate Institute, to match what the United States has done, Australia will have to reduce emissions not by 5 per cent, but 30 per cent. Even if that was their inclination, how would they do it? And at what cost? Abbott has already said that even if it becomes clear the 5 per cent target cannot be reached by 2020, he won't be allocating any more money.
Cassidy really can't cope with the idea that a) changing circumstances call for different measures, and b) sometimes often there's a difference between what Abbott says and what comes to pass.
On top of that, because of where China says it's heading, there is now a question mark over coal exports.
That and the fact India has banned them outright, and nowhere else is picking up the slack. This has been coming for a while, Barrie.
The one breakthrough over coming days will be the trade deal with China. But again trade deals are not created equal. There is give and take.
It will definitely be a breakthrough, unless it isn't a breakthrough at all. What a classic piece of insider wank. Sometimes you sit on the fence, sometimes the fence sits on you.

The Chinese have the advantage in this deal. Abbott has said that he's desperate to do a deal of any sort - arse-selling, remember? - and you know how negotiations go when the weaker party is under pressure. Surely that press gallery experience has to be worth something.
Until the details are released and digested, it's impossible to predict how the public will respond.
Oh come on, no it isn't.

In Australia, there is unlikely to be full-scale rioting. Nor is it likely that Coalition MPs will be greeted in their electorates as conquering heroes, with garlands of flowers and kisses from a grateful public just like western forces received in Iraq in 2003. Studied indifference will most likely be the reaction. The media will focus on beef cattle exports, as they always do with trade agreements under this government, and skate over who gets stiffed. A few companies that donate to the Liberals anyway will express delight but will be unable to make good on the promises of the agreement. Long-term impact, economically and politically, can be be anticipated as bugger-all.
Against that challenging background, Tony Abbott could have done with a hassle-free APEC and G20 to build on his status and credibility.
That was never an option. This is a stupid assessment. Hassle-free means no achievements, another empty and expensive talkfest.

The US-China climate deal is a massive achievement, one for which Abbott deserves absolutely no credit.

The journalists who have not scrutinised Abbott and who disparage those who have questioned him cannot protect their boy now. He put all his chips on foreign policy, which journalists don't understand and rely on official announcements to interpret for them. This announcement is clear, and all the spin in the world can't fix things (if you believe the Australian government did know about the US-China deal ahead of time, then you have to believe they couldn't be bothered lobbying on behalf of fossil fuel companies, when this has been its core business to date).

Because the political class has outsourced our foreign policy, and the journosphere accepts this is the way it has to be (with the occasional empty gesture), our country is exposed to initiatives taken elsewhere to a greater extent than would be the case were we to have our own foreign policy.

This government is run by control freaks. They bet the government on things they can't control, developments in Washington and Beijing and the other great capitals of the world. And now events have gotten away from them, and now even the dimmest bulb in the press gallery is obliged to note this.

Political parties can't develop such policies and the media can't critique them. Neither can adapt. Both institutions will have to be gotten around to develop a meaningful foreign policy for this country.


  1. 'practising the goldfish journalism of an eternal present.'

    Brilliant, got 'em in one line

  2. Hi Andrew,

    Thanks for the excellent analysis.

    Whilst attempting to claw back some credibility and votes by shifting to Foreign Policy, Abbott has yet again shown how poor a politician he is.

    He had a perfect opportunity at the Leaders Retreat at the G20 to portray himself as a great statesman comfortable on the International stage, keen to tackle the major problems facing the world.

    Instead his bumbling speech merely highlighted a man fixated on his own parochial achievements and problems. How his political handlers could have let him utter such inane and inept drivel in public beggars belief.

    The stubborn attempt by Abbott and Hockey to keep Climate Change off the agenda at the G20 was stupid and was doomed to failure as soon as it became clear that the U.S. and China as well as the EU countries wanted it front and centre. Instead of graciously admitting defeat on the matter they doggedly attempted to ignore the subject and in doing so eventually looked weak, isolated and politically inept.

    If the LNP and their supporters in the Press hoped this G20 weekend would be a turn around moment for Abbott and his party, then this cack handed performance will be a major disappointment.

    If you can't perform in either the domestic or foreign setting, what's left?


    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. This morning's paper tells me how the Gallery will deal with Abbott's unravelling: Just don't discuss it in too much detail

  4. Could it be possible, even conceivable that this govt', in a state of IPA./Murdochian confected hubris, really believes IT is the centre of world policy innovation?...surely it cannot be true that Abbott, Hockey or Bishop, in being granted a "firmly paved", clear run to the top jobs, really believe they must then be the best of the best in that job?
    It does ring as unbelievable, but Hockey saying that he didn't even listened to Obama's speech..a speech from the most powerful leader in the Western sphere of influence, indeed!..WORLD influence, while occupying the portfolio of treasurer seems eye-wincing unbelievable...but such, are some disastrous moments of historic culpability built upon, to the detriment of entire civilisations.
    The conclusion must be that these marionettes of the MSM. are as husks blowing in chaotic swirls within the erratic winds of change.


    1. Obama is NOT a republican ,,, is that why?

  5. Brilliant. Spot on.
    The best of the best?
    Possibly this:
    "30 years in Canberra and you really don't know? So much for being an insider. Give it away."


  6. andrew it occurred this grade 10 educated oldie that perhaps the G 20 has been good for aus, NOT us we paid for thing, our taxes,,but Business
    do not
    want to look as though are behind it just not a good look for them?

    when i had my own business within a business ,, looking to the future designing and have samples some 12 out before the next release of products was a must,, forward thinking forward planning always 12 in advance.

    Business seeing world leaders here on the front foot going back to their own countries now for this bigger
    reason re China & US agreement ,, think wow this so exciting,, Solar ETS and all he business deals that go with it,,
    ,,,,, abbott they will laugh about in the board rooms will they?,,, and will business here say my god we better get our scattes on these people mean business,,,, as they say.
    we must no be left out in the cold,,, will they say as look in envy and other leaders ( may be wish they still had wayne swan}

    is abbott and apostles on the wrong side of history,, are we with out realizing in the beginning of another Industrial Revolution, hope so how exciting,, i don t see abbott around much longer,, in fact i feel there could even be an early election ,, just feel i get,,

    so all in all Business leader would now see USA and China as world leaders in the new power the SUN and want to be part of surely

  7. Congratulations on yet another nail in the coffin of shit for brains. In a side note shirtfronting is what John Worsfold mastered and why they called him the smiling assassin as his opponents were left horizontal and breathless!

  8. I think you're either missing or simply implying something here, Andrew.

    The voters are increasingly intolerant of lies.

    As much as ALPites like to quibble about what "Juliar" really said, she did, in the end lie. And it skewered her.

    Now, we are seeing signs that voters have had enough. In Victoria, Labor's strategy to anull the East-West link has probably sealed the election for him. It doesn't matter if he's right, and I have no clue if he is; what matters is that the previous government lied when they said they would focus on public transport.

    Abbott and his neanderthalic government are in trouble because they fail to understand why they won the last election. They didn't receive a mandate ... the Australian public were outraged to the point of frustration about the in-fighting in the ALP.

    We are probably going through a period where short-term governments are the norm until politicians realise they can't lie.

    - Joe Fitzpatrick
    (who teaches an acid-scarred Muslim girl and whose response was not published on here after a poster said s/he "doubted" if I worked with Muslims at all)

    1. I have no idea who you work with but you are wrong about Gillard which does undermine your credibility. Parroting the MSM is to invite ridicule.

    2. Except Julia didn't really lie.

      ALP policy at the 2010 election was an ETS with a 1 year fixed price. With the hung parliament that got changed to a 3 year fixed price.

      By any fair measure the "Lie" was required to maintain a "core promise". What would Julia have been able to say to people like me who actually voted for her if she hadn't kept her core promises?

    3. I don't know that there's any real evidence to suggest that voters are 'increasingly intolerant of lies'. If you have any, let's see it, but I reckon it's a bit of an insult to voters of yesteryear.

      It may be that lies are able to challenged in an increasing number of fora but that's a significantly distinct claim.

      - Melena Santorum

    4. There are still those people who use their own definitions of what a lie is for their own political purposes.

      A lie is a deliberate deceit spoken at the time knowing that there was no intention of carrying out the 'promise'.

      This is where the proponents of Gillard's 'lie' have a problem. They have no proof that Gillard was deliberately setting out to deceive.

      The real deceit comes from the critics who ignore what Gillard said at the time: that she intended to put a price on carbon. What did they think she meant by that?

      Meanwhile, the Coalition has lied and lied and lied - all well documented.

  9. What I learned from G20? When Obama is asked a question he pauses to collect his thoughts. When Abbott is asked a question he pauses to try to remember what someone told him.

  10. Great analysis

    Your opening two paragraphs capture perfectly the total hypocritical herd mentality of the media pack.

    To the question of why the double standard in coverage between Gillard's carbon tax 'lie' and the myriad of coalition lies, I think this can principally be attributed to Fairfax's political coverage. I've long since given up hoping for any kind of sharp ended analysis from the ABC which is now a shadow of its former self, harrassed, denigrated and clearly scared of its own shadown.

    Fairfax has disgraced itself with it tepid, mediocre political coverage - its now its letters to the editor section that you can rely on to accurately capture the political moment. Hartcher is clearly busy trying to craft a Paul Kelly faux gravitas to his every utterance and, when he's not toadying to which ever politician of the moment is holding his hand, cannot make any statement of fact without qualifying it or 'balancing it'.

    Like Mark Kenny, he's also a chief proponent of 'access journalism' - a particular problem with some Fairfax careerists who, who in the face of News Limited functioning as a PR arm of the Coalition, fear that if they don't offer inducements of favourable coverage they risk total alienation and irrelevancy. Its a mindset that sees journalists as 'players' rather than independent critics.


  11. A further layer of credibility is being shed by the government and the poor performance of the MSM prior to the election is being exposed in relation to broadband. The government has yet to reach agreement with Telstra on the use of its copper. In February Turnbull said the agreement would be concluded in a couple on months and then in June it was the end of the year. When Abbott and Turnbull announced the policy in May 2013 no journalist thought to ask them, how confident are you that you can quickly conclude a deal with Telstra. Well we can see how that is panning out! Someone now needs to ask Turnbull if he is still confident that he will meet his first target of all homes and businesses having 25 - 50 mbps by the end of 2016. This is increasingly unlikely. But unlike Labor, the MSM just seems to wave though the coalition of broadband.

  12. And Crabbe's 'surprise' thing says that while there are lots of surprises from this government (ie. broken promises) it's nothing like the previous government (one broken promise over and over and over again).

    Sounds like she's trying to justify her existence.

  13. "Abbott should take responsibility for his actions, the Murdoch press should take responsibility for theirs."

    The former will probably never happen, the latter most decidedly will not happen.

  14. You know how negotiations (for a free trade agreement) go when the weaker party is under pressure? It sells its arse, that's what it does.

    And Australia is selling its arse to China. That is abundantly clear.

  15. Our MSM are as bad as anything the North Korean group thinkers could come up with and the PG are a sick joke.

    They are carrying on about the big beef on the hoof deal but last night I watched Evan Williams show on Al Jazeera (you can see it on Youtube) about the terrible drought and cows starving to death all over the top end.

    When Gillard stopped the trade there were cows that had been bred just for Indonesia but we put a bit of cruelty above the livelihoods of farmers and the hunger of Indonesians.

    Tens of thousands of cattle have now starved to death and graziers owe the banks millions to try and keep some alive - it's a gut wrenching story even for me, I grew up in farmland and weathered many a drought.

    Nothing like that seen in Qld and NT right now though.

    Even if we sold 1 millions to China that would mean 1 million richer Chinese would get one cow each.

  16. Another unflinching analysis Andrew.

    I will never understand what journalists see in Abbott.

    That said, I cannot believe that I was once impressed by Malcom Turnbull.
    I was a real sucker there.

    1. The journalists see themselves - Abbott was never anything more than a mediocre Press Secretary for Murdoch Inc.

  17. I am setting you an essay topic Andrew.

    'But really, no one knows why the Abbott government is travelling so badly'. - Peter Brent, Mumble blog, the Australian, 19 November, 2014.

    Two thousand words by Friday 4 pm.

  18. Cogent and insightful. Your blogspot bookmarked for frequent fly-in.
    Most MSN journos remind me of those gape-mouthed clowns at Luna Park, with their heads oscillating; balls being chucked in by the LNP.

  19. Like most of Barrie's ...journalist, churnalist, and stenographer counterparts in MSM, fools seldom differ. Only a fool would believe Barrie Cassidy is not a fool.

  20. Control freaks is an understatement.. they think they're gods.

    Ms Bishop has her inner Thatcherism in place as our foreign minister and it shows.. asbestos Julie and other nasty names are making the rounds via social networking.. her star is rising and i hope they make her p.m and get rid of our current prime minister...if the boys club allows it. Good for the next generation of liberal women to be more sophisticated and softer and less nastier.