19 February 2015

The challenge is on

The whole idea of being a liberal is because you can't be sure who or what is right, you allow different people with different perspectives and different information to debate civilly and come up with an answer that suits most people. This allows progress while maintaining civil order - non-liberal regimes tend to manage one or the other in fits and starts, but ultimately cannot sustain both.

The problem with this government is that they can't cope with alternative sources of information. They can't cope with the CSIRO, finding out stuff without checking with the PM's office first. They can't cope with the Bureau of Meteorology, whose every forecast resounds like a chime of climate doom. Alternative sources of information are alternative sources of power.

They can't cope with the census. Ancient civilisations like the Egyptians and Romans used a census to keep tabs on those they governed, and to plan for capital works. Matt Wade and Liam Hogan are right to point out how important the census can be for government decision-making - assuming government doesn't just [$] ignore the data and impose its own dopey assumptions.

"Who could object to such knowledge?", splutters Hogan:
Think tanks like the CIS and Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) have this conservative government's ear, and have been whispering into it so long that the Liberal party has taken on their attitude to government and governance; so dry as to be desiccated, with the fundamental premise that anything the government does is likely to be wasteful and illegitimate.
It's more conservative than libertarian. When you give money to the Liberal Party, disclosure means you can't be too blatant about the quid-pro-quo. When you donate to the Central Institute for Public Affairs Studies (offices in both cities) you can twist them as you will, they have no other intrinsic purpose. The hapless William Shrubb will succeed at nothing but being quoted fifty years from now for dismissing some far-reaching and profound shift as a fad, grumbling into his dotage that he was taken out of context.

This government takes the attitude that you'll get a social service as and when we're good and ready to give it to you. The idea that a primary school simply pops up in an area with lots of young families as some sort of civic right goes against everything this government stands for.

There are two sets of number-crunching experts this government never quibbles with. One are economists. They need census data and the sort of data that feeds into the budget in order to advise on when to hold 'em, when to fold 'em etc. The advice economists give in private is different to that they offer for free public consumption. Journalists don't realise this, and play a role in misinforming the public by simply transcribing what they say. The economist suffers no penalty for being wrong, but the journalist loses credibility.

The others are pollsters, who use data on a much more superficial level but, similarly, offer different advice to paying clients in private to what they excrete for public consumption. Economists can make gullible journos feel smart; pollsters make them feel all savvy and insider-y. Next time you read a press gallery piece on the latest findings from HawkerTextor, remember: just because the journalist wants to believe, it doesn't mean you have to get sucked in too.

This government is like those two number-crunching groups. What it does behind closed doors is significant. What it says is often very different, and more often not significant at all. A journalist who simply quotes a politician and thinks they've done their job is a mug who has done nothing of any worth.

This government can't cope with skittish backbenchers getting feedback from randoms in the streets. They barely tolerate the same feedback filtered back to them through focus groups. This government is beset on all sides by alternative sources of information, each of which is a challenge to its authority. Keating tried to orchestrate different sources of noise into a national symphony, but Howard beat him by offering a quiet night at home with the radiogram. Nobody is offering complicated and outlandish these days, but nobody is remotely convincing in offering And All Manner Of Things Will Be Well Amen, either.

The Coalition just wanted to run things. All they wanted was for everyone else to shut up and let them do whatever. Though no government has ever operated in such a critical vacuum, this lot seriously thought scaling such a high clear place would offer only soft gentle breezes and the valley below. Australians are better educated than ever, and just when Murdoch homogenised the press as far as anyone could, social media came along and devalued the whole media-mogul thing. If they can't work without a bit of shoosh, it's their problem and nobody else's.

By arranging the Pyramids at Giza to match the pattern of the constellation of Orion, the governing class of ancient Egypt thought they were building the instrumentation to govern the universe. They thought that, with a bit of tweaking, they were close to ordering the seasons and the rainfall at will. The modern political class is a bit like that, ever so close to controlling all the information and silencing all the dissent so that the incumbent government might govern forever. When journalists come over all savvy and accept their assumptions, they are part of the farce. They confuse its fundamental failures with short-term blips that can be overcome.

We live in an Information Age because to have information these days is to have power - just as in the Bronze Age the rulers bedecked themselves in bronze, and in the Space Age the most powerful nations went into space. Information is diffuse and the powerful are only learning what it means not to have a monopoly over it. The current government cannot bear the fact that information, like other trappings of authority, doesn't simply accrue to them by right.

This government (particularly one with no real policy agenda to speak of) could have reached out and said we're all in this together so let's find a way through - but no. It could have cultivated a party full of Steph Crofts, worthy of a governing elite - but no. They chose command-and-control and sought to stifle other, more knowledgeable and diverse sources of information and the authority that comes with it.

They've chosen to spy on us rather than engage with us, unable even to trust us with a definition of the information they would use against us. They can't accept that the information we share with them must be used for our benefit, and the information they must share with us must also be used for our benefit, too. The government are public servants or they are nothing - and that idea looms as a bigger shirtfront to this Prime Minister than even the President of Russia could muster. It's on, all right. You bet you are. You bet I am.


  1. Best, most cogent, most liberal article you've ever written. Salut.

  2. watching Tim Wilson at the press club yesterday , it was just a bizarre and weird propaganda piece for the far right wing...

    His deluded sense of self entitlement has clouded his viewpoints for any respect or decency for the office he holds.

    What has strangely happened is the Gillian Triggs as president from the human rights commission has come out of all this with more respect from the wider community who didn't even know who she was.

    Poor Tim has shown immaturity and resulted in.a public backlash against his obsession with hate laws being passed for his friend Bolt et al.

    it s sad to watch a grown man throw a public tantrum via a press club performance.. why he was given this role just astounds me.

    1. Hardly surprising. Tim's just another private-school educated twat who's never known hardship in his life. He goes one better: he's never had a real job.

      (Look at his CV. He really hasn't.)

    2. His partner is a teacher and works at a state school while Tim advocates to discriminate against him at religious schools...

      He really should go back into the closet as he's a silly role model....bloody idiot!

      By the way I'm gay and can say that as well!

  3. Mr Elder,

    You're on fire lately mate. It's a shame such bad politics hasn't resulted in better writing in other forums.

    I would allege that you find this government is 'for a certain kind of baby-boomer' by 'a certain kind of baby-boomer', looking at statistics professionally and discussions privately there is a propensity for rejection in that section of the generation. Rejection and loathing of any narrative that would suggest that 20th century priorities ain't what they used to be even though we're going to have to hammer out new ones. I think they really hoped all the hippies would die from drugs instead they got MBAs.

  4. Interesting piece Andrew which is bolstered considerably by John Lyons' long read in the Oz today which should alarm us all.

    It expands on everything you have written about Abbott over the years and particularly above.

    Authoritarian. Isolated (in the company of Credlin). Lazy. Confrontational.

    It takes a particular type of arrogance and other-worldliness to imagine that Australia could invade Iraq alone. Gosh. I had read on-line somewhere that the PM had wanted to send troops to fight ISIS in Iraq but I had assumed that would have been part of a coaltion.

    I was amazed to learn that Abbott had wanted us to go it alone.

    I was astonished too that Howard man Tony O'Leary had been frog marched out of the Libs election victory party because he did not have a security pass. In front of journalists, I believe. Did anyone report that?

    I must say though I find the emphasis on Credlin disturbing. The whole controlling she-witch thing should not distract and overwhelm attention on Tony Abbott's character and leadership abilities.

    1. Agree re Credlin. Her ideas, and style are not something I like but the emphasis is troubling. Seems that the hacks at News Ltd are really in for the kill on her, judging by the stuff they are printing at the mo. The buck stops with Abbott, what part of that don't they get? What part of the fact that Abbott has delegated a great deal of governing to team Loughnane/ Credlin have they missed? They don't seem to mention Loughnane in the discussion. A story last week even referred to the fact that he is the one meeting with backbenchers to brief them on policy, and listen to their feedback......but the dots weren't joined (they were too busy focusing on Ruddock).

      The nature of their attacks is, to me, deeply troubling........deep misogyny there I reckon, and I don't throw the M word around lightly.

    2. Sexist and creepy however bizarre with having Rosie Batty as Australian of the year...

      Interestingly the police commissioner said he knew of prominent men who engage in abuse

      I would start with the liberal party on that journalistic quest....really I'm not joking.

      Don't forget Tim is a gay man and despite his stupidity having a gay man being accepted into the conservative establishment makes me think times are changing for the better.

      He will grow up when sadly there will be another terrorist attack..

    3. Pia, I believe the Murdoch hacks are working to force Abbott and for Bishop to take over. But she can't be seen to be stabbing him in the back (that would be too much hypocrisy even for them) so they will get to Abbott via Credlin. Abbott knows he cannot survive without Credlin, so Murdoch's strategy is for Credlin to be discredited to the point where Abbott is forced to resign. That way, the lizards at the Oz can draw the distinction between Abbott/Bishop and Rudd/Gillard with a straight face.

      Murdoch won't support Turnbull because of the risk of him changing his mind the NBN, and also Turnbull's popularity with the left. So the only way he can retain control is via Bishop becoming PM, with Abbott's "honourable" exit.

      There is no misogyny (though it helps that Credlin is a woman in their eyes) and whether it's Abbott or Credlin/Loughnane making the decisions is irrelevant as far as they are concerned. To Murdoch, it's all a huge game of chess; and he's having the time of his life.

      The only potential spanner in the works, so to speak, is the LNP backbench. Murdoch knows he can't control that.

      I believe Bishop has already paid a visit to the Oracle and received this intelligence.

    4. Interesting perspective, Mercurial, but it's doubtful whether Bishop has the guts required to seize power. No matter what real or imagined influence Murdoch may have, that final step has to be made with a lot of personal strength, and I don't believe she has that. The prime ministership has rarely, if ever, simply fallen into anyone's lap.

  5. Wonderful piece (shared on social media).

    The bit that had my sides splitting recently was Abbott describing social media as "electronic graffiti" . How ironic this was, given that last year this government created a hub of 37 communication and social media specialists to monitor social media and offer strategic communications advice (costing taxpayers almost $4.3 million a year).

    What a twit he is, although sadly, I didn't see any MSM pick up the point above, when he panned and dismissed social media. I really don't know whether he is simply stupid (too many boxing blows to the head?) or thinks we are...or both?

  6. I have almost finished reading Gillard's "My Story" and whilst I have to take a lot of what she ways with a grain of salt, the difference between her and Abbott could not be starker in my mind.

  7. I'm a little lost by the lyricism here.

    - Joe Fitzpatrick

  8. Holy crap, not content with pissing off the entire medical sector re Medicare co-payment, Abbott has now set his sights on the legal sector to boot, re Gillian Triggs.

    So long LNP voting professional classes.

    Abbott was widely considered excellent opposition leader, because word OPPOSE is in the job definition. But his and likewise, Credlin's position. is primarily that, oppose, pretty much everything - say post 1945 - per se.

    Now we have Abbott going nuts over Triggs, and despite his own reverence for Westminster system, he is blind to see his increasingly desperate survivalism leading to violations of said protocols of executive and judiciary.

    What is the purpose of Abbott government, beyond, a retrograde approach to the social fabric, they deem as already to way too far gone? Nothing. Meaning three years of national inertia whether you are (centre) left or right.

  9. The upper classes are sick of him as well...

    Further allegations that Tim Wilson was offered her job is further proff of the disgusting idiocy of the I.P.A and this very dubious government.

    No wonder there is a gay mafia associated with him and all these vested interests associated with the I.P.A.