The most important sentence in Australian political journalism for a decadeOne paragraph, buried way down the article, revealed more than Hartcher knew or dared admit. In it lies buried much of what's wrong with our politics, mediated through traditional broadcast media, with an insular political class that monitors those it governs, but keeps its distance; that doesn't understand what a country needs, and fights a losing battle over its bipolar tendencies to populist binge followed by neoliberal purge. In it lies everything that's wrong with the press gallery: those who see it and fail to understand must not report for "work" on Monday. The second sentence in this paragraph:
The Labor opposition has struck a position of bipartisan accord with Abbott on national security. For this reason, the Parliament is no longer a functioning check on the government in this realm.The press gallery - and Hartcher is one of the worst offenders - reports on politics from the premise that whatever Labor and the Liberal/Nationals/LNPQ/CLP/OMG/WTF Coalition agree upon is Sensible Bipartisan Reform. They believe - yes, even the best will lapse from time to time, or their editors do on their behalf - that whatever Laborandthecoalition don't agree on (or what others disagree with the joint ticket on) must be pointless bickering at best, destructive nonsense at worst.
All manner of dumb, nasty policy has been foisted on the Australian public by Laborandthecoalition: a budget in structural deficit, mandatory detention of boat-borne asylum-seekers, a contradictory and half-baked foreign policy, no policy on renewable energy or climate change to speak of, lip-service to health, education, science, and social programs while actually cutting them (more on that later); I could go on, and I have. All of those bad policies have been praised by the press gallery for being bipartisan. That praise only spurs more bad bipartisan policy, which will escape scrutiny because bipartisanship, and the press gallery become drawn into the protection racket that is the political class.
Any and all criticism of those bipartisan positions has been written off as irrelevant, because bipartisanship is its own reward and trumps all others. Peter Hartcher is one of the worst offenders but they all do it. Bipartisanship is an idea above its station.
When bipartisanship shuts down debate, there is some scope for the broadcast media represented in the press gallery to open up the debate that parliament isn't having. To do that, they'd need some understanding of the issues at hand and the stakeholders in the community who can articulate why the bipartisan position isn't the only and best one, which is how it appears to Capital Hill insiders.
Hartcher is yet to demonstrate any difference in the way things appear to Capital Hill insiders and the way such decisions affect those who are governed. This is why the rest of his article, bar the sentence referred to above, fails and fails utterly.
Wannabe WoodwardBob Woodward is a US journalist most famous for his work uncovering the Watergate scandal in the early 1970s. More recently he wrote a series of books on the decisions by the Bush Administration to go to war against Afghanistan and Iraq, in which he used verbatim quotes from leading figures at crucial moments. Woodward had access to those people but he didn't have access to those meetings; he could not have taken those quotes directly but those who uttered them all come off as wise, learned, experienced, and wanting what's best for the their country and the world.
A review of Hartcher's recent columns show him to be a Woodward wannabe. Joe Hockey, Julie Bishop, Barnaby Joyce, and Malcolm Turnbull have all been tongue-bathed in recent Hartcher columns, where he uses direct quotes from meetings he did not attend that flatter those who flatter him in return. Hartcher is aiming for some sort of eminence in his profession, rather than a serious examination of how we are governed by this government.
unAustralianPeter Dutton's proposals to strip people of their citizenship are the result of too little scrutiny of bad decisions that arise from bipartisanship.
Under the last Coalition government, Australian citizens Vivien Solon and Cornelia Rau were effectively stripped of their entitlements under Australian citizenship. Robert Jovicic, born in Serbia but who emigrated to Australia as a child and who held dual citizenship, was deported to a country he had not lived in for four decades after committing crimes here. Mohammed Haneef, a foreign citizen working in Australia, had his visa cancelled because of a ministerial decision about his terrorism activity. Dutton's proposal should not be seen as some sort of ambush, but an example of the classic conservative principle of perpetuating that which has gone before. Consider Dutton's predecessors as a Liberal immigration minister:
- Phillip Ruddock is an elder statesman among Liberals, whose demotion by Abbott earlier this year anguished many in the party but who has recently been restored to a supporting role in anti-terrorism measures;
- Amanda Vanstone is a Fairfax columnist. OK, so maybe she wasn't commissioned directly by Hartcher, but it's hard to imagine he hasn't at least acquiesced to such a position;
- Kevin Andrews not only sits at the Cabinet table but was quoted favourably by Hartcher in his piece.
Turnbull asked Abbott directly if the Daily Telegraph had been briefed on the proposal for the next morning's paper, which would have meant the cabinet meeting had been pre-empted by the Prime Minister's press office. The Telegraph is a favoured Abbott outlet for signalling his moves in advance.OK, so Abbott is a liar. This isn't even news, let alone the big give-him-a-Walkley-already scoop that the journosphere thinks it is.
It had not, replied Abbott.
Yet the next morning the Telegraph carried a report saying that the proposal would be "included in the bill" that had been approved by the cabinet the night before. Oops.
What this does is prove a point that has been obvious throughout Abbott's career, not least in his infamous interview with Kerry O'Brien where he basically asserted his right to make shit up on the fly and nobody in the broadcast media called him on it. This was a significant moment in Australian political and journalistic history; Abbott should have been politically dead, but he is Prime Minister today because Peter Hartcher, those who report to him, and their counterparts in other organisations, went along with the idea that Abbott had to be taken at his word - whatever that word was.
The kind of insider access Hartcher and the rest of the press gallery aspires to is negated by the assumption that a direct quote has some sort of journalistic value, that there might be a connection (rather than the odd coincidence) between what is said and what is done.
The result of the 2013 election was based upon the assumption - reinforced by the coverage by Hartcher, his underlings, and their peers - that Abbott's word was worth more than that of Julia Gillard or Kevin Rudd.
Journalists place a lot of value in a direct quote. Abbott has devalued it considerably. Yet they go on, jamming stories full of direct quotes, often from people who don't have names (admittedly Hartcher's piece is refreshing for having a named person by each quote, which his reporting and those of his underlings have lacked in recent times).
It is in the nature of politicians to give self-serving quotes that reflect well upon them. Journalists need not feel obliged simply to transcribe these without further analysis.
On re-reading the above quote, why not have Abbott snarl: "And I suppose you're going to leak this to Hartcher at the SMH, are you Malcolm?". It would have been out of character for Hartcher to have published it, though. Anyway, Abbott isn't that fast on his feet, and his rejoinders tend to be both nasty and prepared in advance.
Rights are hard won and should not be lightly discarded. And, overall, the Abbott government is an active agent in the furthering of rights in Australia in at least three areas.This is Hartcher's attempt to avoid being frozen out by a government that insists, against all evidence, that it must hold office without being criticised for the decisions it makes.
The rights of the disabled. The Abbott government is working to bring to fruition the National Disability Insurance Scheme. The rights of women and children in the home. Abbott has pledged to work to reduce domestic violence, even if he is criticised for doing too little.
The rights of Indigenous Australians. He has called a meeting with Aboriginal leaders for July to try to set a process and timetable for achieving recognition of Indigenous Australians in the constitution.
The NDIS has been cut down in budget and scope to suit a government of limited capability. Let's hope that it helps Australians like Solon and Rau, and Greg Anderson, and millions of others similarly afflicted - and their carers. It has a precarious existence under this government, whose announcements are received with nervous surprise rather than the warm gratitude they would hope for.
Hartcher's other two examples are just bullshit. Funding has been cut for women and children facing domestic violence, and for Indigenous people (not to mention those who fall into both categories). The government is not entitled to be taken at its word, which is a key assumption of the very notions of human rights. The insider access counts against the insider who ignores this credibility gap, and who therefore falls into the gap along with those in the community afflicted by more than their pride or 'balance'.
Hartcher sits atop a reporting structure designed to feed him the information necessary to avoid such a strain to his credibility. His lunge for insiderdom undermined the credibility he had sought to put beyond doubt.
Don't take his word for itBizarrely, Hartcher rounds off his column by reference to what he considers a higher authority, Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker. Pretty much everybody who has been a second-year Arts student over any of the past thirty years has an opinion on Pinker, but Hartcher is happy to quote him too verbatim and uncritically.
The only risk now is that it falls prey to petty political vanity ... Rather than a mean game of using rights to divide, whether the rights of citizenship or the rights to equal treatment of gay people before the law, Australia's leadership has a chance to use rights to unite.Hartcher dumps us back in the moral swamp of bipartisanship. Had Shorten endorsed Dutton's proposal, Hartcher would have no story and would likely have piled on the criticism of Turnbull and other "dissenters".
An Australia united in advancing fairness and human rights is not only the right thing to do. It's also a profound repudiation of the barbarians who call themselves Islamic State. That truly would be an extraordinary proposition.
Whether or not others share Hartcher's political-class delusions is neither here nor there. We have a government that stands athwart history, screaming "stop!", across almost every portfolio. That is the nature of our government and Hartcher, as with the rest of the press gallery, is wrong to represent it in any other way. With regard to same-sex marriage Abbott is foxing, like Howard did with the convention on the republic. Hartcher is a fool to take the current prime minister at his word, to assume he is capable of anything beyond political vanity at its most petty.
This triumph of hope over experience, sacrificing reportage of what is happening to a desire to think well of the government, is where all political reporting fails. Peter Hartcher, a puffed-up man holding a senior position in Australian political reporting, fails where he wanted to succeed and fails all the more for that.