02 January 2016

Not ready

Not ready for a ministry

For years, Little Jimmy Briggs was touted as a rising star in the Liberal Party - particularly by journalists who've been around the press gallery long enough to know better. Just because the Liberal Party holds someone in high regard it doesn't mean they're much good: Ross Cameron, Tony Abbott, and Peter Shack, among others, got the Rising Star treatment. They, and we, are all poorer for it.

The press gallery must have known what he was like on the grog - the fractured leg and now the sexual harassment allegations couldn't be hushed up or buried on some inside page.

Firstly, there are no inside pages to hide in any more: it's all surface with mastheads these days.

Secondly, the strict demarcation between "official duties" and "personal activities" maintained by the press gallery was always bullshit. The personal always, for good or ill, intrudes into the official. To go back into history (but within the direct personal experience of some members of the press gallery), John Gorton's performance as Prime Minister is inseparable from from his personal predilections toward women and alcohol.

The onus is on the gallery to defend this pointless and destructive demarcation. We're all flawed in various ways, but where is the philanderer, the pisshead, the fraud, the broken person who is nonetheless particularly good in the execution of public duties (I don't mean someone who can hold it together so long as the media goes easy on them; I mean someone who can beat all comers from all other parties in a public contest where voters are aware of the facts).

More than a month elapsed between the incident in Hong Kong and Briggs' resignation. Canberra must have been abuzz with rumours, yet the press gallery either a) missed them, or b) knew all about it and hid it from us. How many media cycles are there in a month? There are more than two hundred "journalists" in the press gallery' every one of them has been derelict in their duties, and now that Christmas is behind us all now should show cause why they should not be dismissed.

When a scandal erupts it isn't good enough for the press gallery to say: we knew he was like that. Whenever there is any discrepancy between insider knowledge and the general awareness of the public, journalism has failed. You have to tell us, show us what they're like - and none of this Annabel Crabb confected shit either. We can handle the truth, the press gallery's job is to tell it.

This means journalists can't reasonably spend fifty years steadfast hung aloft in the press gallery, but that's OK because longevity there is drastically overrated. They still fall over surprised at things that should be foreseeable. The press gallery is not some politico-media protection racket, and it is not the media's job to protect politicians against the populace they serve.

It is not, as Terry Barnes seems to imply, the role of the public service to cover up for inadequate representatives like Briggs:
... the public servant should not have been placed in that situation, not only by Briggs and his chief of staff, but by her own managers and supervisors. From Briggs's explanation, it appears that she was a locally-based officer: her bosses should have ensured that she was not put into a position that risked compromising her. They failed her.
Note the passive voice ("she was not put into a position"), and the way Barnes relies on Briggs' word. Jennifer Wilson's piece on Briggs is particularly good at calling out excuse-makers and smoothing-over incidents like this.

Turnbull could have stood up for ol' mate Briggsy, and for the next one, and the one after that, as Abbott would have done. To squander his political capital in this way would not enable Turnbull to solve the Liberal Party's short-term problems with women voters, let alone its long-term problems in being able not only to represent women, but to be comprised of and embodied by them. Turnbull seems genuine about seeking to address structural disadvantages faced by women within the Liberal Party, and he is certainly better placed to do so than any other leader in its history.

When boofheads like Cormann, and Ewen Jones, and this blog's favourite Josh Frydenberg, start insisting that Briggs will be back, they do him no favours. They did this for (to?) Sophie Mirabella in 2013; all that insistence, plus numerous petty snubs to Cathy McGowan since, have only strengthened McGowan and weakened Mirabella's case for re-election in Indi. Rebekha Sharkie has a strong story to tell about why she can do a better job than Briggs. If voters in Mayo are as receptive to change as those in Indi were before the last election, Briggs is finished.

Why should Briggs not be finished? The last politician caught doing something similar, Andrew Bartlett, certainly was.

Are we obliged, as Crabb insists, to maintain the political class in the manner to which it has become accustomed? Could the people of Mayo not do better if they tried, and were better informed than they have been? Will Briggs spend his future on The Drum or lolling about Adelaide in some consultant/ lobbyist/ slashie role - opening and closing his mouth without saying anything, like a fish out of water?

Is the press gallery entitled to be believed when it insists that only chaos can ensue when people elect politicians from beyond the major parties? Will the SA Liberals sandbag Mayo at the expense of marginal seats in Adelaide (including that of Chris Pyne), as the Victorian Libs did for Mirabella?

Not ready for the future

The reason why we are unlikely to have an early election is not because of Briggs - nor even because of the press gallery, which brays for an early election when it cannot handle policy. The reason is because the Nationals are broken.

Tony Windsor points out what the press gallery never could - that two old men (Warren Truss and Bruce Scott) are prolonging their political careers to block Barnaby Joyce, who will inevitably be elected Nationals leader - and hence Deputy Prime Minister - if Truss retires over coming weeks.

Joyce does not get along as well with Turnbull as he did with Abbott, and he is not a capable minister. His agriculture white paper failed to address national quality branding strategies, failed to link meaningfully with recent big free trade deals, and failed to address anything but drought handouts for family farms. It is a welfare policy, not a strategic, big-thinking, ambitious long-term strategy at all.

Where is the regional electorate not held by the Coalition that the Nats might win if Joyce were leading them? Where is the Nationals-held electorate on a knife-edge margin that they will retain if Joyce were leader? The NSW election last March showed the Nationals are the only Coalition partner at risk of losing seats to the Greens. Joyce has a profile all right, and the press gallery love him - but so what?

Barnaby Joyce is already a dead loss to the parliament and government of our country, but the press gallery can't imagine their "jobs" without him.

The decline of all media organs in regional Australia bar the ABC means that every National MP could well be on the skids, and nobody in the press gallery would even know. Look at how bad the reporting out of Indi was over 2010-13; it hasn't gotten any better. Imagine if an ABC reporter detected a shift against a sitting Nationals MP, and reported on it: Senator Canavan would bellyache as only a Nat can, but neither he nor anyone in his party would have the wit to shore up the vote or get a better candidate. Maybe they have no better candidates.

Joyce is the architect of his party's funding strategy, whereby mining companies fund the Nationals. This was fine so long as farming and mining were separate - but the Shenhua mine on the Liverpool Plains within Joyce's electorate shows how the boomerang can smack you in the back of the head. Small miners (the ones with ex-MPs on their boards) have less cash to splash about these days, while drought-stricken farmers have less still.

It's understandable that Joyce faces so much resistance within the Nationals, but that resistance is so feeble - Truss and Scott are too old to credibly present much of an alternate future, and if they could have crushed Joyce they would have done so by now. The next generation of Nationals, like Darren Chester or Bridget McKenzie, are not ready for the Deputy Prime Ministership or even the future of agriculture.

The Nationals are not ready for the future of their own party. The idea that, in a few weeks, they might be ready to present a vision of the future to voters at an early election is not merely inaccurate, but crazy. Add to that:
  • the disarray within the Victorian Liberals;
  • the outright chaos within the CLP in the Northern Territory (one HoR seat and one Senate seat, but still);
  • the existential crisis within Queensland's LNP;
  • the factional wars exacerbating decay in Tasmania and WA; and
  • the fact that Tony Nutt, while a formidable campaigner, has only just gotten his feet under the desk as National Director of the Liberal Party.
Now consider all of that against the oeuvre of the press gallery journos' press gallery journo, Phillip Hudson:
  • Is the government doing well in the polls? There must be an early election.
  • Is the government not doing well in the polls? Early election.
  • How should we respond in Syria? Early election.
  • How do we balance the budget? Early election.
  • Will an early election make Australia more innovative? Whatever, early election.
  • What's your prediction for 2016? Early election.
  • Was that your prediction for 2015? Yes.
  • Is there any problem that can't be solved with an early election? No, or make one up.

Not ready for prognostication

There is something about a new year that leads one to forecast what is foreseeable but unknown, and to set aside a record of failure in doing this very thing.

This blog has often detected the decline of the Nationals, and prefers to be regarded as premature rather than flatly wrong after successive rebuttals at the hands of political reality. However, intelligence from the obviously self-interested Windsor, and the usual obtuse reporting from the press gallery, seem to indicate that this time (for sure!) the politics of the bush are in for their biggest upheaval since the Country Party was founded in 1919.

Can Labor take advantage of this chaos in Coalition ranks? Not really. Shorten has done an impressive job in stabilising his party and even tentatively generating some centrist ideas. The fact that he has gone from parity with Abbott to roadkill under Turnbull shows Shorten is not yet the master of his own fate and has not used the media to convey a strong sense of what he is about, as one expects of prospective Prime Ministers. Shorten will not be Prime Minister after the election later this year.

Maybe he was always set on a two-term strategy. Maybe it was unreasonable to expect him to win after one term - but even factoring out partisan bias, Abbott was always going to stuff up the Prime Ministership and the Libs were always going to be reluctant to blast him out.

Second-term governments often lose seats. The press gallery must know this, yet later this year it will engage in pantomime surprise that the public are rejecting Turnbull (with a disbelief that such a result endorses Shorten). It will be helpless before right-whinge Liberal claims that Abbott might have done better. Voters' rejection of the Nationals would not necessarily be a rebuttal to Turnbull, but the Liberal Party is not equipped to do anything but wring their hands at the Nationals' foreseeable shortcomings.

The press gallery will cover this year's election closely, and badly. This year's election coverage will, yet again, make a mockery of the press gallery's belief that it is better at the sizzle of elections than at the sausages of governing.


  1. Since Abbott replaced Turnbull as Opposition Leader we heard over many years LNP member after LNP member as well as a rogues gallery of conservative commentators repeat the mantra, ABT (anyone but Turnbull). Turnbull finally wins his prize and almost immediately begins alienating as many as he can; Abbott, Abetz, Andrews, Macfarline, Brough, Briggs, Bernardi, Bolt, Jones, Hadley etc, etc. It was always a big ask but now it is clear he has zero chance of achieving what Shorten has, stability and unity in his party. The white anting of Turnbull and his Government in 2016 will be overt, constant and damaging and maybe, just maybe the chuckle heads in the gallery will actually notice and may even report on it.

  2. Andrew, I'm no commentator but couldn't help wondering, reading your list of the internal decay and chaos of sections of the Coalition, whether Turnbull's best chance of getting elected with a reasonable majority might be to go early before the whole mess gets even worse?
    Rais, Perth WA.

    1. The machine isn't ready, and he runs the risk of losing focus without an agenda coming out of the budget.

  3. There must be an early election? Or a double dissolution, of course.


  4. I'm looking forward to the next election. If Windsor stands, Joist is gone. If Xenephon puts up some credible candidates (and it looks like he will), Pyne and Briggs are gone. Turnbull is starting to show the poor judgement he's famous for, so Shorten may even be a contender.

    1. Not only has Xenophon put up a solid-seeming candidate in Mayo, she taps into Briggs' core problem.

      Turnbull's weakness is that he can only work with the people that the party organisations send him. He doesn't have the scope to hire and fire like he did in business, and nor does he have Howard's ability to understand the parties from the ground up and shape them accordingly.

      I agree with Stephen Koukoulas' point 11 (though he underestimates the independents), and while such a result would reflect well on Shorten he hasn't presented Labor as the answer to both the need for stability and for policy responses to move forward.

  5. "where is the philanderer, the pisshead, the fraud, the broken person who is nonetheless particularly good in the execution of public duties"

    Hawke, perhaps? I don't mean as PM, he'd beaten alcohol by then (or not long into it), but as a union leader and ACTU head while an alcoholic?

    William Pitt the Younger is often touted as one of the greatest UK leaders, and whilst that's an overstatement (his achievements were essentially 'not having the entire country collapse despite governing through a period of massive change'), he probably still qualifies as 'particularly good'. He's also known for being so drunk during one of his parliamentary speeches that he threw up part-way through and promptly passed out. His party colleagues then insisted that the reason he was having an off day was that he had a stomach bug, and so had refrained from drinking ENOUGH - claiming that he was at his best after at least 3 pints.

    Granted, it might be an unfair anachronism to say Pitt had a drinking problem - alcoholism seems to be more about inability to meet the social standards of the time, as evidenced by the manner in which the 'normal' intake in some Australian towns would be deemed alcoholism in the US.

    1. Clinton did well in public office despite his philandering too. JFK. Countless others over the course of history, probably. It's a common enough sin among the general population let alone the type of egomaniac you have to be to seek the top job in most countries.

    2. Yes it is - but the idea that it has to be covered up, that the public can't handle this knowledge, is bullshit. With Clinton it couldn't be covered up, and covering it up in Kennedy's case made no difference. It only discredits the media when they sit on information like that.

    3. The Kennedy cover-up was in another time, I guess. The relationship between the media, politicians and the public underwent a seismic shift after Watergate. I can't imagine Kennedy's affairs being covered up these days.

      I don't think the media should cover this stuff up, people should make their own informed judgments about whether something reveals a politician with poor judgment who fails to treat staff professionally (Briggs) or whether the dishonesty in personal life does not prevent the politician being effective in public life (Clinton). Although in reality it tends to be covered up and downplayed by friendly media and blown up into a world-shattering disaster by unfriendly media, rather than analysed- just like every other political story these days.

  6. "For years, Little Jimmy Briggs was touted as a rising star in the Liberal Party"

    Why would any political party consider a nasty sycophantic little turd like Briggs as a potential leader?
    Why can't the LNP find people better than this lot?

    J Briggs
    B Bishop
    K Andrews
    S Morrison
    P Dutton
    S Ley
    T Abbott
    M Brough
    S Buchholz
    G Christensen
    I Goodenough ( the name says it all)
    L Hartsuyker (rhymes with)
    G hunt (also rhymes with)
    D Jensen (Science...I remember that word at school, but never really came to grips with it)
    Bananaby Juice
    M Keenan
    A Nikolic
    K O'Dwyer
    C Pyne
    W Roy
    A Tudge
    E Abetz
    C Bernardi
    G Brandis
    M Cash
    M Cormann
    B Heffernan
    A Sinodinos

    This lot are are really a non-talented bunch of numpties, and the LNP should be able to firld better candidates.
    This is not to say that Labor is all that red hot, but if you put them side by side the LNP bunch is like a bunch of kindergarten kids.

    1. You're expecting the party organisation to be capable of something that's beyond it.. The party itself is rubbish, hence the candidates.

  7. That sad thing about it is the election will not be won on policy - the very thing that effects people the most . I have never seen a prime ministerial contender have an easier run with the press than Turnbull although pictures of Abbott with his jacket off looking over glossy brochures runs a tight second, I was hoping the press's greed for sport might over ride their blatant partisan stance, It appears not , the press are not gamblers they only just pulled through after Abbott and I'm thinking the media right are not feeling like pushing their luck. Turnbull will get handed the job on a platter , it is quite bad for the country to have 3 more years of Scott Morrison, Brandis and Dutton in really powerful positions , the thought of someone like Cormann getting more of a toe hold is also of concern , they will, along with the chamber of commerce and the minerals council pick over the scrapes of what is left of this country.God help us all..

  8. if i was in the gallery an article like this would inspire me to do better . to act with courage without fear or favour ,to be embarrassed at the failure of myself and my colleagues to have done so poorly . but then again i probably would be reading it if i was.

  9. Here's a radical alternative for Labor. As Shorten has no chance at the next election, and there is no obvious candidate with serious leadership skills to replace him, why not slot KIM BEAZLEY into a safe seat for the coming election and give him another chance to get Labor back into the game?

    1. What did Beazley do after 1998, pioneer the "me too!" strategy that told the electorate that even the ALP thought Howard was right about most things and began the "what does the ALP stand for?" issue?

      I am amazed that Andrew and readers of this blog, aware of the press gallery's poor performance, nonetheless mark down Shorten because the media won't give him the time of day or report his policies. No other potential ALP leader will get better coverage.

      The reality is he did for Abbott and restored discipline to the parliamentary party even if the media and ergo the general public give him no credit for it. Pretending Abbott was always going to explode and giving the ALP no credit is ludicrous hindsight.

    2. For Christ sake!! "blow-hard" Beazley, the "me too" man from the Tampa days... get a grip !!

    3. I think you need a new definition of 'radical', and to know when a man has had his go

  10. Hi Andrew,

    Abbott once described Joyce as the nation's best "Retail Politician". It was the first time I had heard this term but soon discovered it was just another way of describing the time honoured tradition of shaking hands with the voters and kissing babies (although originally, retail politics evidently referred to buying votes).

    Pressing the flesh and courting controversy (Depp's dogs for instance) has evidently convinced the Press Gallery that Joyce is wildly popular. Another instance of them mistaking the reflection of their own slanted reportage as confirmation of their views.

    As to how popular Joyce is with National voters is, as you pointed out, difficult to gauge. It depends on if they are just a bunch of dumb hicks, as the Press Gallery predisposes or that they have noticed self serving politicians such as Joyce have consistently sold them out to mining interests (note Joyce's close relationship with Gina Rinehart and his fondness for attending weddings on the Indian sub-continent).

    Joyce and Abbott are evidently close personally as well as ideologically and Joyce has more than once taken flak to cover Abbott's blushes (Depp's dogs for instance).

    If Joyce does become leader of the Nationals and Deputy PM he is likely to be a major thorn in Turnbull's side. Not only will he push to retain Abbott's "legacy" of unpopular policies by threatening major tantrums whenever Turnbull veers towards the left/centre but also could end up being electoral poison in the rural electorates.


  11. The proxy war continues. Dorothy at Loon Pond always worth a visit for News Corpse updates.

  12. Hi Andrew, any comments on the ABC NBN Nick Ross matter?