In support of Julia Gillard’s Citizens' Assembly on Climate

I suppose we should not be surprised that most journalists have sneeringly dismissed the proposal by Julia Gillard to convene a ‘Citizen’s Assembly on Climate’ as just another ‘talkfest’ or more derisively a ‘gobfest’, or just a cynical ‘stunt’ to make us believe she is doing something about climate change, or to enable her to coast to the election without a proper policy. Some journalists have called it a ‘massive failure of leadership’, and ‘an excuse for inaction’. Miranda Devine’s PM’s so sure Bob’s your uncle wrote one of the more acerbic pieces about it.  As one would expect, Lenore Taylor wrote a more balanced piece: Gillard seeks citizens' group on ETS policy.  

Of course Coalition members have joined in the chorus, but so have several niche columnists and bloggers, some of whom I respect as writers. Mungo MacCallum says: “Gillard’s idea of a people’s assembly to achieve consensus under the guidance of a commission of experts is the silliest and most pusillanimous proposal to date…”. Grog of Grog’s Gamut talks about “…her mind numbingly stupid climate change policy, I think this is proof that whoever advised her to adopt the citizen’s panel should be taken out back and shot…” – pretty strong sentiments that reflect annoyance and disbelief.

Even nine out of ten in an online poll, for what it’s worth, thinks the idea is ‘a lot of hot air’, having selected the option that canvassed that answer.

But is this onslaught of negativity based on knowledge of such forums, or experience in educational settings, or an understanding of how public opinion is formed and can be influenced? Or does the idea just seem daft and therefore something to be flicked away like an annoying cattle fly?

Writing in the National Times, Carolyn Hendricks, political scientist at the Crawford school of economics and government at the Australian National University, is not so negative, although you might not think so from the title of her piece: Citizens' assembly on climate may turn the heat on Gillard.  In The Australian Mike Steketee writes positively in Academic sees merit in citizens' assemblies.  

Education the answer

Those of you that have a background in education will be less skeptical than most in the media, most of whom are trained as journalists not as educators or in public relations. You will remember the work of Kurt Lewin who pioneered social psychology, group dynamics and action research. You may recall the way he used groups to persuade housewives to use offal in place of better animal protein during wartime shortages. He tried traditional ‘instruction’ with almost no resultant change in their behaviour; it was only when he involved the women in group discussions about how THEY might use offal, and how THEY ACTUALLY HAD used it, that a substantial change towards the use of offal in their kitchens resulted. It was the discussion that did the trick – the women reached conclusions themselves; it was that which changed their behaviour. Since then group process has been used extensively in education, health care, science, the arts, business and commerce to effect behaviour change. It works.

If this group process is what Julia has in mind, it stands a good chance of meeting her aim – to facilitate a new and deep consensus in the community about the need for action about climate change, the options for action, and the consequences of those actions.

So let’s not join the knockers without giving it a go, condemning it out of hand just because it doesn’t ring a positive bell. It’s the knockers who need to ask themselves: ’Why am I knocking this idea?’ and ‘What is the evidence I have to support a negative attitude to it?’ If they come up short, they might care to read on.

Unlike journalists who fume about the idea but offer no reason why ‘it won’t work’, my support for the idea will be accompanied by an account about how it might produce the results Julia seeks.

What is needed?

First let’s be clear about the skeleton of what’s proposed. The Citizens' Assembly is to be informed by an independent commission of experts whose task is to explain the science behind climate change and report on international action. This body will include climate scientists and credible, with the emphasis on ‘credible’, skeptics. There would be little point in including rabid deniers who cannot support their stance with scientifically verifiable facts and figures, and who have no intention of being persuaded from their viewpoint.

So the first point to make is that the Citizens' Assembly will not be required to collect its own scientific information; instead it will be presented with this by the independent commission and asked to appraise it in the context of what the nation ought to do.

So if one had the responsibility for fashioning such a Citizens' Assembly, what approach might work?

First, the aim of the exercise

It seems that the ultimate aim is to restore the resolve of the Australian electorate to pursue climate change actions that have the possibility of slowing, halting, and perhaps even reversing the adverse effects of climate change and global warming, and mitigating its immediate cause, carbon pollution.The more immediate aim seems to be to use the citizens’ group to create a narrative about the need for climate change action that is plausible, understandable and appealing, even although it might include elements that are discomforting, such as increased costs of energy and products and services that depend heavily on energy. The narrative would then be used to influence thinking in the community towards rational and timely action on climate change.

Some argue that the public already supports action on climate change and that the Government, having been given a mandate to act at the last election, should ‘show leadership’ and ‘just get on with it’. But since then, with the Coalition’s negative ‘Great Big New Tax on Everything’ mantra perpetrated with vigour by Tony Abbott and Barnaby Joyce, support has fallen. Look at the graph on Pollytics: Lowy Poll – climate change and public hypocrisy which shows a fall from 68% in 2006 to 46% in 2010 among those who want immediate action, and the rise in those who want something done, but at low cost and with little urgency from 24% to 40%, while the real deniers have moved from 7% to 13%. Moreover in 2010, 33% are not prepared to pay anything extra for electricity, whereas in 2008 it was 21%. Only one in five are prepared to pay $21 a week or more extra for electricity to tackle climate change.

This is why Julia is seeking ‘a deep community consensus on climate change’. There is NOT a strong enough consensus now, yet such a strong and deep consensus IS needed to support the radical changes to the economy and the lifestyle and budget of ordinary citizens that action on climate change entails.

Parliament not the answer

Some, including Abbott himself, says that the nation already has a 150-member forum to reach consensus on what to do about climate change, - it’s called parliament. That he could have the effrontery to say this is breathtaking. It was in parliament that he led the push to destroy consensus after the Coalition under Malcolm Turnbull had reached agreement with the Government to pass the ETS. It was HE who ensured that parliament could not be the forum where consensus was reached, a consensus that would have brought the country along in its train. No, destruction of consensus was Abbott’s intent, and he succeeded.

So how could this Citizens' Assembly work?

Choosing the citizens

First, the 150 citizens need to be chosen. To represent the Australian community they need to reflect the demography of the country, the age and gender mix, the geographic distribution and the mix of occupations. The Bureau of Statistics would be capable of randomly selecting a group that reflected these parameters from its census data. No, it would not stick a pin into a telephone book as Greg Hunt suggested. It would need to select many more than the 150 required as many would not be able or willing to participate; perhaps a thousand would be needed initially.

The next step would be to whittle this larger group to the 150 required. This could be done by communicating with them asking if they are interested and willing to be involved. If they were, they would then be asked to answer questions about their country of origin, ethnicity, educational achievement, past and present occupation, their status in the community, their beliefs about Australian society and their aspirations for it, and their beliefs about climate change and what ought to be done. Attention to these details would allow a spread of people to be selected that represented the wide variety of opinion that exists in our community.

Once the 150 had been identified an educational process would be needed to ensure that all had a similar understanding of the scientific evidence for global warming, the consequences of doing nothing about it, the action that could be taken to mitigate it, the costs and implications of taking suitable action, and the likely sources and nature of opposition to action. This educational process could begin with written material prepared by experienced educators that explained all this in a simple, understandable and convincing narrative, attractively laid out with check lists, diagrams, illustrations, graphs and photos, complete with references, particularly those available online, for those who wish to delve more. The information upon which this would be based would be derived from the independent commission of experts on climate change mentioned above, which would provide the facts, figures and pros and cons of the climate change debate.

The first meeting of the citizens

The next step would be a preliminary meeting of the 150 to ensure that the written material had been understood and assimilated, and that the task for the group is explained and agree with the participants.

The task would be to digest the material, clarify with the independent commission of experts anything that is not clear or is incomplete, and discuss the veracity of the arguments for and against global warming and taking action to mitigate it.

Then the group would tackle the question: “How can we convince the Australian community about climate change, what we need to do about it, the cost and expected outcomes, and the cost and consequences of doing nothing, or doing less than is required?” and “How can we achieve consensus in the community?”

Small groups of around ten to twelve would discuss all this in the security of a small forum with group facilitators to assist, and experts available on request to answer questions. Different groups might be assigned different aspects of the matter to discuss. Plenary sessions, where the small groups gathered together, would share the output from these groups. An iterative process would be followed until some concrete proposals for informing, educating and convincing the wider community emerged. These would be consolidated into statements that might be useful in community settings. This process would be commenced at the meeting and got into usable form by the facilitators.

Initially, a two day meeting, where most participants could fly in on day one and home on day two, would be the most economical.

Community consultations

The next step would be asking the participants, armed with the output of the first meeting, to discuss the material at a local level among friends, workmates, community groups and any other interested forum to gauge reaction, seek feedback, solicit changes that might improve the impact of the material, and elicit support. The outcome of these ‘community consultations’ would be fed back to the facilitators of the 150-strong Assembly for consolidation.

Meeting two – message consolidation

Then it would be time for a second meeting – a message consolidation exercise. At this face-to-face meeting, participants would share their experiences at a community level. Messages that resonated positively would be confirmed as useful, while those that didn’t would be discarded or modified. Responses from the community would be shared, analysed and examined to determine how best to respond to them. Some would be negative and need counterbalancing messages. Geographical and demographic variations in community opinion about climate change might emerge which would need to be accommodated. Some would signal areas not to be traversed. By the end of this two-day meeting the aim would be to have consolidated messages that worked, and to have modified those that needed further field trial. 

Second community consultation

After the second meeting the next task would be to field-test any new or modified messages. This time the testing would be more extensive, with community meetings being organized by the local Labor member and in Coalition-held electorates by a Labor official. The messages would be subject to scrutiny by as wide a variety of citizens as possible where feedback would be welcomed and advice solicited about how to improve them. Several local meetings might be held; the more the better will be the outcome. Group process would be used in these larger forums.

Meeting three – message finalization

The third meeting of the Citizens' Assembly would examine the outcome of this second community consultation and the same iterative process would occur with the aim of fashioning a set of convincing messages that could be used in a community-wide information programme.

At this meeting graphic designers would create and present near-final mock-ups of promotional material: fact sheets, graphic representations of the facts, pros and cons of action and non-action, an argument for action, the expected outcome of action and the time frame, and the cost of action in dollars, living expenses, changes to industry and commerce and to our way of life. Formats would include letters, pamphlets, posters, newspaper and online articles, videos and TV pieces, audio clips for radio, and the usual T-shirts and other attention-grabbing devices.

This stage might require further time for completion of the material by educationalists and designers. When ready, the material would be sent to the Citizens Assembly members for final comment and approval. Another meeting might be needed if further work was needed.

When all is ready, a large-scale promotional campaign would be needed to saturate the media.

After this, polling companies would need to be commissioned to determine if public opinion had moved. The polling would need to be extensive so that the margin of error in the results was low. Only then would it be apparent if a strong consensus had been accomplished.

One more thing

Let’s be clear about one more thing. The Citizens' Assembly is NOT to determine Government policy, despite the insistence of some that Julia had abdicated decision making about climate to the citizenry. She has no intention of doing so and has said so clearly. But some journalists just don’t listen, or want to hear anything other than their own preconceived notion of what they want to hear. The aim of the Assembly is to assist in the development of understandable and memorable information about climate change and what needs to be done, such that would bring about a solid consensus in the community.

So there is an outline of how a Citizens’ Assembly might be fashioned and how it might work. Skeptics might dismiss it as ‘unrealistic’ or ‘unworkable’ or just plain ‘’stupid’. So be it.

Could it work?

Of course it could. Will it work? If given a fair chance and community approval, it probably will. But if the adverse forces that have been pitted against timely and effective action on climate change have their way it may not. If the likes of Tony Abbott, Barnaby Joyce and Nick Minchin are let loose, they may have the same destructive effect as they have had on climate change debate to date. We should never dismiss or minimize the destruction that skeptics and obstructionists can wreak.

So all you skeptics and knockers out there, comment here and tell us what you think. But please don’t insult our intelligence by knocking it without cogent reasons for doing so. Any idiot can do that. Tell us why it won’t or may not work, and if you have any inclination to have it work, tell us how to do it better.

Please tell us what you think.

Destructive politics - Abbott style

Long past memories do fade, but can anyone remember a period in federal politics when there was more destructive behaviour from an opposition than we are suffering today? Last week Tony Abbott averred that his Opposition was the most effective in Australian political history. He said that was so because he had stopped the Great Big New Tax of the ETS/CPRS, had forced Julia Gillard to change her asylum seeker policy, had forced a change to the mining tax – another GBNT, and had played a part in getting rid of a Prime Minister – all destructive actions.

It seems to me that everything the Government says and does is countered by a destructive comment. This not only damages the Government, which is its intent, it also damages our democracy and the governance of our nation. Its only purpose is to destroy the Government and seize power.

Even before Julia Gillard had announced her climate change policy Greg Hunt was out on the ABC’s AM on 23 July with: ”Julia Gillard has failed her own test of action. Instead she has produced a 2020 summit meets the Copenhagen conference.” – a slick piece of meaningless but destructive sloganeering. He went on: “All that Julia Gillard has done is provide an excuse not to take any action before the 2013 election. She has talked the talk but she has not walked the walk. This is classic Labor chaos. She believes nothing. They have achieved nothing. They are about to do nothing. But they are talking as if Kevin Rudd were in office and all of a sudden a summit becomes an excuse not to take action.”

Negative, destructive, dismissive, schoolmasterly, arrogant – Coalition style, Abbott style, Hunt style. Hunt finds this sort of talk easy – he’s always instructing the Government what to do – because he knows best.

Talking with Eleanor Hall on The World Today on 23 July about Labor’s climate change plan, Abbott said: “Look I think it's a camouflage for Julia Gillard's plan to bring in a carbon tax. I think that she wants a price on carbon; Bob Brown wants a carbon tax. Thanks to the secret preference deal with the Greens there will be a Green balance of power in the Senate. So we will get a carbon tax if this government is re-elected.”

He’s onto the Great Big New Tax theme again, a theme that played such a large part in destroying the ETS that the Government, Malcolm Turnbull and Ian MacFarlane had negotiated, and would have passed had Abbott not destroyed it.

Negative, destructive, dismissive of community opinion, and once more on the GBNT scare bandwagon.

Later that day Tony Abbott had this to say in Western Australia in I will be next PM: Abbott: “I can sense there will be a change of government come August 21” and "Yes, I think that there will be a change of government and yes, I think that I will be the next prime minister of Australia" Hubris – he fancies his destructive actions will be rewarded by victory.

Reflect on Joe Hockey’s approach. Asked by Lyndal Curtis last Wednesday on AM about the Coalition’s Budget ‘savings’ Hockey said: “Well you will see that during the course of the campaign, but what I can tell you absolutely is that at the end of the election it will be perfectly clear to the Australian people that under the Coalition we will spend less than Labor, we will tax less than Labor, we will pay off their debt again and we will go down the path of easing part of the pressure. You can't ease all the pressure but easing part of the pressure on those family budgets and taking upward pressure off interest rates.”

And later: “Well the bottom line here is controlling inflation and at the moment the government has its foot on the accelerator. It is borrowing $100 million a day, every day, just to fund its expenditure today and then it's got the debt on top of that. So this government by, with its reckless spending is putting upward pressure on inflation and so the Reserve Bank is trying to put its foot on the brake. It's trying to slow things. It's increasing interest rates and the electorate is hit both ways. We've got higher electricity prices, higher water prices, higher public transport prices, higher house prices and Labor's spending more and more money with its foot on the accelerator. The Reserve Bank is slamming its foot on the brake with higher interest rates and if it doesn't happen this month it will happen in the next few months unless we get inflation under control.”

A destructive rant not based on verifiable fact. Reserve Bank Governor Glenn Stevens said last week that Australia does not have a serious debt, but that is discarded by Hockey with the wave of his hand. According to Hockey the Government is wrong, on everything - incompetent, hopeless.

Hockey goes on to say: “We are the only party that has a climate change policy. Labor has just done a deal with the Greens, Labor has no climate change policy, but I bet you, I bet you that deal, which we'll never hear about until after the election is about introducing higher electricity prices, which is what the Greens want. Higher electricity prices and making life even less affordable for everyday households.”

Can you believe that he really thinks the Greens, or any party for that matter, wants higher electricity prices with the object of making living LESS affordable? Yet another destructive rant.

Later he says: "Tony Abbott is I think the best person to lead the country. You know he is a conviction politician, he believes in things. When he talks, he talks in real terms. At the moment we have someone who is not disclosing what she really believes in, I don't know what Julia Gillard believes in Lyndal. I really don't. I ask myself every day - what does Julia Gillard end up sleepless at night about? What really burns in her heart for our country? I don't know what it is and Julia Gillard...

Even allowing for Joe being slow on the uptake, how can he say such destructive things, how can he be so keen to assassinate her character, how can he be so negative when every day Julia is telling the people what she believes in. Some may not like it or agree with her, but we can all hear what she’s saying. Joe is deliberately seeking to destroy Julia Gillard in the eyes of the Australian people.

On PM on 20 July Hockey said: “This Labor Government never has delivered a surplus. In fact the last time Labor delivered a surplus was 1989 - 1989 when the Bangles led the charts."

Many times he has repeated that Labor has never delivered a surplus since 1989 and this Government will never deliver a surplus. On the 7.30 Report Hockey said: “Julia Gillard will never deliver a surplus. I said before that Kevin Rudd and Wayne Swan would never deliver a surplus. I was right and here we go again. They'll never deliver it, Kerry.” He asserts he will deliver one: “Well, you know, we were running surpluses. We were running surpluses, the country was in good shape, we had four per cent unemployment. That's all gone. Surpluses are gone. We now have $90 billion of net debt, we're facing $40 billion of deficit this year, we're borrowing $100 million a day under Labor. Everyone has to pick up the pieces and ultimately it's the taxpayers and we've got to do the hard yards on that.”

Again destructive politics, and disingenuous to boot – Labor will NEVER deliver a surplus, WE WILL.

Defending Abbott’s ‘WorkChoices is dead buried and cremated’ mantra, Hockey tell O’Brien: “We're saying the Australian people want stability and certainty in industrial relations. They've had changes for the last three years - sorry, longer than the last three years - for the last seven years. There have been three major changes to industrial relations. We now accept the Australian people want certainty and stability out of Canberra. They've been on a wild ride. They've been on a ride with a new prime minister only a few weeks old, they've had pink batt programs that are reversed, school hall programs that have been a mess, they've got a boat policy that is in flummox. Give us back a proper government.”

Again, even while defending his own leader’s position, he destructively damns Gillard and the entire Government programme for the last two and a half years. Nothing it has done is of any value.

On The World Today Hockey said “The fact is the Labor Party is not committed to surpluses. It never will deliver a surplus. You can never repay the debt if you never have a surplus and for so long as the Commonwealth Government, as the 800 pound gorilla in the marketplace, is borrowing at least $100 million everyday in competition with the private sector, it's going to be harder for small business to borrow money. It's going to be more expensive for small business to borrow money.”

Here he is again destructively condemning the Government as ‘not committed to surpluses’, of being the 800 pound gorilla borrowing and thereby pushing up interest rates, although the effect of government borrowing has been shown repeatedly by economists to contribute just a tiny fraction of one percent to interest rates. More lying and deception.

Andrew Robb had this to say to Lyndal Curtis on The World Today on 20 July on the Coalition’s ‘savings’ in answer to a query about $400 million of savings claimed by the Coalition by not paying for infrastructure: “Well it's still something the Government has committed to so it is a directly a saving. But look the trouble with this government is that we as a government they're living beyond their means, they're making Australia live beyond its means. We haven't got the money. We've got to get our economy back into the sort of resilience that the Rudd and Gillard inherited three years ago.” Lyndal then asked: “Just a quick question of accounting. If you are not going to raise the money from the mining tax, can you really count the $400 million you're not going to spend from money you're not going to raise as a saving?" 
His response was: “Absolutely because if the Government is still committed to that $400 million, which will just mean they will borrow that money as they have done with most of their spending, it's borrowed money. A hundred million dollars a day they are borrowing to pay for their reckless programs - that's for the next two years. So that means that will be an extra four days of borrowing by this government to pay for that $400 million infrastructure fund.”

And so on goes the Coalition rant – destructive, disingenuous, intended to obfuscate and deceive.

On Thursday’s AM on 22 July, talking to Lyndal Curtis about the costings for the Coalition’s education initiatives and Labor’s challenge to them that showed a large black hole, the cost being double that stated, Christopher Pyne said: “This is a party with absolutely no credibility when it comes to figures, in the last election they claimed that to have computers in schools, that would cost a billion dollars, it turned out it would cost $2.2 billion. So this is the standard Hawker Britton mantra for the Labor party, as soon as the Coalition releases a policy, Hawker Britton says to Labor, go out and say the figures are wrong."

In other words, Pyne decided he wouldn’t address the question and explain how the costings were derived, just destructively condemn the Government’s financial management, and hope the question will go away. But it didn’t. Lyndal suggested the Coalition submit the costings to Treasury, to which Pyne replied: “Well look Joe Hockey and Andrew Robb are the spokespeople for finance and treasury, we'll go through exactly the normal procedures that every opposition and government goes through during election campaigns.”

In other words, don’t press me for justification; just let me rave on for a while about how incompetent financially the other side is. Destructive politics.

It still goes on. Today on Channel Nine’s Laurie Oakes interview with Joe Hockey, Hockey said “We don’t know what beats in the heart of Julia Gillard. Nor do the Australian people... Interrupted by Oakes with “But people say that about both leaders.” Hockey replied: “Well, no, no, no. But I say to you Laurie - everything Julia Gillard has touched in a policy sense has been a disaster. From Medicare gold, to computers in schools, to the school halls program, to the asylum seeker policy, to the mining fix, to the new 20-20 summit for climate change because she doesn’t want to be honest with the Australian people. Julia Gillard doesn’t stand for anything and is not being fair dinkum with the Australian people.”

So there you have it. More destructive politics, more character assassination, more negativity, more ‘nothing the Government has done is any good at all’.

Does the Opposition think the electorate is stupid and dumb, Does it think that its incessant negativity, its carping criticism of EVERYTHING the Government has done, its insistence that it has done NO good, that it will NEVER deliver a surplus, that it can’t get ANYTHING right at all, will impress. Does it believe that its destructive behavior over the ETS, the mining tax, asylum seekers and population and the BER will impress swinging voters to rush from what the Coalition insists is a wholly incompetent Government with hopeless leaders, with no policies or plans, with absolutely no achievements in Government, into the arms of the Coalition begging to be rescued from the disaster this Government has brought about?

Worse than that, does the Coalition and its mouthpieces, Abbott, Hockey, Robb, Pyne and Hunt, as well as Joyce, Bishop and Morrison, believe that the destructive behavior of the Coalition is contributing positively to good governance in this country? How could they believe that by obstructing important Government legislation over and again, by destroying some completely, is good for the nation? How can they believe that continually distracting the Government from its work with spurious claims, outrageously deceptive statements, and downright lies is good for the people? When will they ever realize that we want our elected representatives from all sides of politics to contribute to good governance, not destroy it?

This is adversarial destructive politics gone mad and we’re sick of it.

What do you think?

Who do you prefer - Laurie Oakes or Hugh Riminton?

I was astonished when I viewed a video titled Oakes hasn't lost his touch, with the byline: Laurie Oakes remains on top of his game after he dropped a bomb on PM Julia Gillard. It was a discussion between by Geoff Elliott, Media Editor and Caroline Overington, 'Media Diary' for The Australian.

Do play it through its full six and a half minutes - to do so click here.

Overington begins by describing the Oakes question to Julia Gillard at her National Press Club appearance last week as a 'bomb' and “a classical example of how journalism should work”. She goes on to describe how journalists should approach their 'target' with a question the target is not expecting and to which they won't have prepared an answer, and 'drop' it into a telecast arena so there is no way the question can be dodged. After replaying the actual question and Gillard's response, Overington goes onto advocate the use of this 'classic example' in the training of journalists. She asserts that the Oakes 'bomb' shows how on top of his game he is.

Although it may horrify you as you view this short video, it will repay your time, as it will give profound insight into how at least one journalist from The Australian believes journalism should work, how the game should be played.

I was incredulous and horrified that any journalist in this country could believe that deliberately ambushing a recently-appointed Prime Minister at a National Press Club appearance with a question not related to the prime purpose of the event - to unfold to the Australian people the vision and plans she had for the nation - was 'classic' journalism, to be copied by novitiates. As we saw, it detracted substantially from subsequent coverage of Gillard's actual address, sucking up a lot of the media exposure, thereby depriving the electorate hearing much of what Gillard proposed for the next term of Government. Calculatingly, Oakes did us great disservice by distracting us from what the media itself is screaming for from Gillard - substantial statements of policy. Why fume about lack of policy and then, when it's being delivered, in Oakes' own words, 'put a spanner in the works' and wreck the process?

Does it have to be like this? Do we the viewers have to put up with journalists like Laurie Oakes, Kerry O'Brien and Tony Jones savaging politicians from all sides of politics with aggressive, rude questions, impertinently put by people whose only claim to fame is the powerful position the media affords them? They ask questions as if they already know the answers, as if they already know what ought to have been done or said, as if their subjects are schoolchildren who have messed up, lied or have shown themselves to be incompetent or ignorant, who have not done their homework and who are unable to do what is expected of them. Tony Jones' interview of Julia Gillard about the East Timor regional asylum-seeker processing concept was disgraceful. If you want to confirm that, read the transcript here.

After some very schoolmasterly questions, Jones said, “I just can't understand why you didn't pick up the phone and speak to Xanana Gusmao, who after all is the prime minister of the government of East Timor who would be responsible, his government at least, for approving this, not the president.” Note this is not a question - it is a statement of Jones' opinion, which incidentally showed his ignorance. Gillard replied: “Well, Tony, you seem to have taken some umbrage at this….”. Exactly - the schoolmaster had taken umbrage at this schoolgirl's actions. Now what right has Jones to take umbrage? Who is he to not just question his subject, but gratuitously to tell her what she should have done?

No, it doesn't have to be like this. There are journalists, just a few, out there who conduct themselves with propriety, who are able to ask searching questions without rudeness, with respect and consideration for the interviewee's position. One who springs to mind is Channel Ten's Hugh Riminton, who, after an illustrious overseas career, is now a political journalist. His CV includes: “Riminton has won Australia's top journalism awards, the Walkley and the Logie, as well as prestigious honours from New York's Columbia University and the Asian TV Awards. In all, he has been honoured for international reportage from Iraq, Sri Lanka, PNG, French Polynesia, Fiji, Kosovo and Sudan. He holds a Masters degree from Macquarie University.”

He sometimes substitutes for Paul Bonjiorno (who is himself a sound and courteous journalist) as host of Channel Ten's Meet the Press. In case you've not witnessed Riminton's approach, you can hear his conduct of Meet the Press on 18 July when he interviewed Nicola Roxon and Galaxy's David Briggs. To hear as much as you wish of Riminton's interview, click here.  You will have to endure the ad and watch the preliminaries of Meet the Press.

You can also see the transcript by clicking here and then clicking: 18 JULY 2010 - NICOLA ROXON AND DAVID BRIGGS, which you can download and open.

Let's take a couple of Riminton's questions to Nicola Roxon: “Now,can you tell us, in very simple, clear ways, how is my health, how is the health of all Australians, going to be better under Labor than it would be under the other lot?”, and later: “Okay, well, you've set out to get national health and hospital reform and, of course, WA is not part of that at the moment. Will you be able to, by election day, say that WA has moved back in with the rest of Australia?”, and further on: “Okay, now you are Minister not only of Health but also of Ageing. Of course, we know that health gets ever more expensive, and as we age, it gets ever more expensive.The Prime Minister has made it plain that we are moving forward, as she says, not to a big population but a sustainable population, but as the Minister of Health and Ageing, isn't it your job to make the case to the people that if we are going to pay for our health costs as we get older, we're going to need more children, more migrants, essentially a bigger population, to broaden the tax base?” These are all well phrased but penetrating questions, questions that require a thoughtful answer, yet courteously put with respect and consideration, without the use of abrasive words.

You may have seen him recently sensitively interviewing Blanche d'Alpuget and Bob Hawke after the telemovie Hawke. Although some of the questions were 'hard' ones, Riminton's approach was always courteous and polite, and the entire interview congenial.

Belligerence is not necessary. Rudeness should be a no, no. Discourteousness should be taboo, after all these are our elected representatives. Journalists should remember that in the 'trustworthy profession' stakes they are 35th on a list of 40 professions, just a couple of notches above politicians with real estate agents and sex workers in between. Is it any wonder that politicians rate only above car salesmen and telemarketers, treated the way they are by the media and in copycat fashion reviled by the public. Whilst acknowledging that politicians certainly contribute to their lowly position on the 'trustworthy totem pole', I believe that the media contribute profoundly to that state of affairs. Imagine how the public's opinion of its elected representatives might improve if journalists showed them respect and courtesy and approached them with intelligent but evenhanded questions. We might be surprised and delighted with their response, and the quality of political discourse might rise from the slough of despond in which it is mired most of the time.

I for one do not want Laurie Oakes 'classic' journalism - I find it repugnant. Give me Hugh Riminton any day.

What do you want?

So many questions, so few answers

Does anyone else get frustrated when they hear and see the members of the Federal Labor government being given the Third Degree by the media over the tiniest tidbit of unsourced gossip or misstep, and with respect to their policies, yet the Opposition are only given the once-over-lightly?

I know I do.

I am also heartily sick of their glib dismissal of valid questions, on the odd occasion that they are asked them by journalists, with the pat line,“We are merely an Opposition, and as such we cannot be expected to make (difficult) decisions about our policies, and inform the electorate with answers, until after we get back into power.” Or some such similar codswallop.

Where's the journalist who has the gumption to make the perfectly valid point back to the Opposition mouthpiece, whoever they may be, that, no, you are the alternate government going into an election campaign and the electorate has the right to know the detail of your proposals so that they can judge both teams competing for their vote on a level playing field?

If you, like I am, are sick to death of the ABC, News Ltd., and to a lesser degree, Fairfax, being used as Coalition Talking points platforms, then I suppose it will again be the job of the citizen journalists of the Fifth Estate to ask those tough questions.

I know that we will never be able to ask the Coalition MPs to their faces the questions that need more than those glib Talking Points mouthed back to us as answers, but maybe, just maybe, there's a journalist out there reading this who will take our concerns and questions on board and put them to the Coalition.

Thus, in the interests of truly 'Fair and Balanced' inquiry I have begun to wade through the mire of the Liberal Party website and their statements to the press, and composed some questions, based on their stated words which have been written down there, so we have to believe them, which are begging for answers.

This is by no means an exhaustive examination of the composed output of the Libs, so I'm sure I'll find fertile ground for further questioning in the future as we make our way through the election campaign.

OK, let's start with Coalition 'Economic Principles' and Industrial Relations policy, shall we?

The Coalition say they are for 'Building Sustainable Prosperity' and that, 'Individuals, rather than governments, are usually best placed to make decisions that maximise community well-being.'

What I would like to ask is, how will an Abbott government be able to rein in the well-documented exploitative practices of 'individuals' in the form of employers, who made decisions which demonstrably minimised 'community well-being', as a result of WorkChoices, which Tony Abbott has pledged to bring back in a modified form? He may say that he will not bring back WorkChoices and that the community has no appetite for further workplace change, but doesn't that contradict other statements which he has made this year wherein he stated he did want to make changes to the new Unfair Dismissal provisions of the 'FairWork Act', and to abolish Weekend Penalty Rates? See here for a reminder:

I would especially like to highlight this quote from Julie Bishop: "Signalling the Coalition's intent, deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop yesterday attacked the government's overhaul of workplace awards and said the return of 'inflexible working conditions' such as weekend penalty rates was costing employers and workers."

I would thus like to encourage an enterprising journalist to ask Ms Bishop, or Mr Abbott, to come up with definitive evidence to explain that assertion. I mean, whenever I have been into my local pharmacy of a weekend recently, post the introduction of the 'Fair Work' legislation, they have seemed to be doing pretty well, have sufficient staff to meet everyone's needs, a goodly number of customers, and the pharmacist has seemed happy enough. I also have not seen any pharmacies, or any other small businesses, having to close down of a weekend as a result of the new workplace laws or having to pay weekend Penalty Rates. Sure, that is not to say that some small businesses have not had to close their doors. However, I would make a guess that that would more likely have been due to the credit squeeze the banks imposed during the worst of the GFC.

Now, could someone ask a Coalition spokesperson whether, as Joe Hockey said on Lateline this week, whether the Coalition will tamper with the Workplace Laws, or not? Will they leave Penalty Rates alone, as Hockey suggested, or will they seek to abolish them, as their Leader and Deputy Leader suggested in their February, 2010 statements?

Could an enterprising and conscientious journalist ask Ms Bishop to detail with hard facts where jobs have been lost in the Aged Care sector, in the Retail sector, in Pharmacies, or in Agriculture, as a result of the Labor government's new 'inflexible working conditions'? I thought we had 5.1% unemployment and a looming skills and worker shortage again? Which tends to suggest otherwise, Ms Bishop, don't you think? Please explain, Coalition.

Also, as stated in Tony Abbott's February speech to a Business luncheon, does he still subscribe to the statement he made back then, that the Coalition “had a mandate to take the Unfair Dismissal monkey off the back of Small Business, and we will once more seek that mandate”?

Also, whether, he continues to believe that, “We had a mandate to introduce Statutory Non-Union Contracts and we will seek to renew that mandate”?

Does this also mean, as that statement seems to suggest, that he is specifically anti-Union? If not, why make a virtue of the fact that Statutory Contracts should be 'non-union'?

Tony Abbott also stated that, “Labor had interim transitional employment agreements”, and “We will make them less interim. ”What exactly does he mean by that statement? Does it mean that he would like to abolish them on coming to government? Sure sounds that way to me.

Also, “Labor has individual flexibility agreements. We will make them more flexible because we understand that you can't run a successful business without being able to deploy your workforce to their best advantage and to your best advantage”. Somehow I think the bit about 'to their best advantage' was put in there as camouflage for his real intent, to craft laws that will work to the employers' best advantage.

He then goes on to say, “We want to make it possible for businesses to be more profitable and for workers to earn more. That's what we had under the Howard government. That's what we need to have again.”

Now, those statements suggest a number of questions to me.

Firstly, could Tony Abbott suggest how the ALP's flexible workplace arrangements do not now deploy employees to their employer's best advantage, beyond going into the realms of worker exploitation?

Also, how increasing the 'flexibility' of employee work arrangements does not equate to the Howard government, under WorkChoices, allowing for employers to order their employees to work whenever the employer wanted them to? And being forced to come into work at short notice, under threat of being sacked if they didn't, taking absolutely no account of the employees home situation with respect to their families?

Is that not the extreme sort of 'flexibility' that Tony Abbott's words conjure up in your mind?

It sure does in mine.

I'd like someone to ask him if that will be the case if Eric Abetz, member of the H.R. Nicholls Society of extreme I.R. advocates, becomes Industrial Relations Minister in an Abbott government.

Enough of the tightly controlled message being the only thing that gets out each day from the Coalition during the election campaign. We need real answers to real questions!

Finally, could some enterprising journalist, during the election campaign, challenge Tony Abbott, when he comes out with the statement again, which he no doubt will, that workers earnt more under the Howard government as a result of the changes brought about by WorkChoices? As far as I can remember it, that 'fact' was as a result of the figures being inflated by the salaries of upper and middle managers on Individual Contracts, who benefited the most from WorkChoices, and not the wages of employees on the bottom rungs of the employment ladder who were forced into Individual Statutory Contracts.

I will be endeavouring to scour the Liberal Party's written words (because they are the ones we are told to believe) to formulate more questions which they should be asked in the days and weeks ahead during the election campaign. Hopefully, as I said, there will be some journos out there still with a conscience and not an agenda, who will take those questions on board and try to ask Tony Abbott for some straight answers to them, and not be fobbed off when he gives non-answers.

I would appreciate it if we could all be on the lookout now for the statements, made by members of the Coalition, which suggest pertinent questions and thus demand straight answers. Maybe we could compile them into a file which could be sent out to all the journalists on the campaign trail, so that they may in turn ask those questions of the Coalition on our behalf.

Especially so considering the fact that Tony Abbott has today said that he not only wishes to bury WorkChoices but to cremate it. Which is all well and good as a soundbite intended to disarm the electorate from Day 1 of the campaign. However, it is my hope that the journalists with Tony Abbott scrutinise closely what he has written down as commitments with regard to this contentious policy area. An article from The Courier Mail today outlines the bare bones of his Industrial Relations pledges.

However, the last couple of sentences give me pause for thought: "Mr Abbott will pledge that if the Coalition wins the election it will not seek to change Labor's new Fair Work Act for at least three years." He will say he wants to make individual agreements more flexible and reduce small business burdens, but "do so within Labor's existing legislation".

What that says to me is that he is engaging in an electoral fix to get the issue off the agenda by saying that he won't touch the Fair Work legislation in the first term of an Abbott government. No doubt he would spend the entire first term of his government massaging the electorate and softening them up for the changes that he has promised to bring in in his second term. Therefore an eneterprising journalist on the campaign trail should pointedly ask him what exactly are the changes that he intends to bring into the workplace in his second term? And, if he fobs off the questioner with a glib line about just let him get a first term before he discusses a second, then I would not let him get away with that. The electorate needs to know now!

Also, what exactly does he mean when he says he wants to make 'individual agreements more flexible'? Does that mean he wants to abolish Enterprise Bargaining in favour of Individual Agreements for all employees? Does it also mean, as I noted above, that he wants to bring back the employers' ability to demand an employee work at the employer's whim, with no say in the matter of when they are rostered on to work, and no allowance made for family duties and Work/Life balance?

Lastly, what does he mean when he says he wants to 'reduce small business burdens...within Labor's existing legislation'? Does this mean that he will be wanting to severely modify Labor's Unfair Dismissal provisions within the Fair Work legislation? Well, isn't that just returning to WorkChoices principles under the cloak of the Fair Work legislation?

We need answers to these questions, and we need our best and brightest journalists to ask these questions of Mr Abbott now, and not just let him skate on by with his glib daily soundbites that say everything and nothing as he is never pinned down for long enough to get a straight response and a truthful, explicit answer from him.

What do you think? Will you join us here at The Political Sword and work with us to provide the scrutiny of the campaigns of both parties, which the Press Gallery appears to have not the time or the inclination to apply to the welter of material that will be released over the life of the election campaign?

How to beat up a story - ABC style

In her address to the Lowy Institute last week, when addressing the issue of asylum seekers, Julia Gillard talked about: “...building a regional approach to the processing of asylum seekers, with the involvement of the UNHCR, which effectively eliminates the on shore processing of unauthorised arrivals and ensures that anyone seeking asylum is subject to a consistent process of assessment in the same place.”  Later in that address she referred to how much effort had been put into regional cooperation in recent years via the Bali Process and then went on to say: “Building on the work already underway through the Bali Process, today I announce that we will begin a new initiative. In recent days I have discussed with President Ramos Horta of East Timor the possibility of establishing a regional processing centre for the purpose of receiving and processing of the irregular entrants to the region.”  Note the words ‘begin a new initiative’ and ‘the possibility of establishing’. 

The media jumped to the conclusion that the centre WOULD be in East Timor and immediately began talking about ‘The East Timor Solution’, likening it to John Howard’s ‘Pacific Solution’; the Greens said ‘same Pacific Solution, new postcode’.  This was slipshod thinking, sloppy talk.  Every sceptic and knocker soon had their criticisms aired in all forms of the media with typical journalistic relish.  

An additional object of criticism was Gillard’s approach to the East Timorese President rather than the PM.  Just about every journalist leapt on what they saw as the inappropriateness of that move, likening President Ramos Horta to our Governor General, apparently not knowing that the comparison is invalid.  On Lateline Tony Jones was at his arrogant schoolmasterly worst, dressing down schoolgirl Julia for making such an elementary error.  As Stephen Smith has since twice explained, this criticism was not justified; Gillard’s actions were entirely appropriate.  Smith’s assertion is backed up by the fact that the East Timorese PM has assigned the President the task of carrying this matter forward, something our GG would never be asked to do.  Despite the media’s mistake, has anyone heard any retraction?  And we know we never will.

After a couple of days, with the media going feral over the ‘East Timor Solution’, sending journalists to that country to solicit reaction and seek out contrary views, always there if you look for them, Gillard sought to correct the media’s assumption that East Timor WOULD BE the place for the processing centre, by pointing out that this proposition was only at an exploratory stage, that much discussion was needed, and that East Timor was not the only possible venue.  The media leapt on this as a Gillard ‘retreat’, a headline used in both The Age and The Australian.  But when journalists were confronted with Gillard’s actual words and presumably recognized that they had got their stories wrong, to a person they resorted to: ‘she gave the impression the centre would be in East Timor, and over the next couple of days neither she nor her office sought to correct that impression.’  In other words, don’t blame us for getting it wrong or for jumping to conclusions – presumably they expected Gillard to put them straight sooner.

More recently some journalists, and certainly Tony Abbott, have declared the East Timor initiative dead as the East Timor parliament had voted unanimously against the idea.  But as only about a half of the 65 parliamentarians were present and none of the government ministers, and since, unlike Australia, the government is different from the parliament in that country, this unanimous vote has little significance and has not affected the ongoing discussions between Australian Government officials and the East Timor Government, which continue satisfactorily despite Julie Bishop declaring today that Gillard’s plan was an example of incompetence.  Today the media is focussed on Nauru since it has offered its facilities and a newfound willingness to sign the UN Refugee Convention.  Journalists, such as the ABC’s Fran Kelly, are hammering Government ministers with ‘why not Nauru?’  It seems to have escaped them that the Government is already in discussions with East Timor, and that an entrepreneur there spoke today of benefits for East Timor in the plan. 

Another furphy is the media line that rich Australia should not expect poor East Timor to carry Australia’s asylum-seeker burden.  It isn’t and it won’t.  Do journalists really believe Australia would not cover the financial burden?

Yet again we see poor journalism obscuring reality and commonsense.

This episode shows how incompetent and arrogant our MSM has become.  It decides what the real story is, never mind the facts, pursues it relentlessly even if it has got the story wrong, and even when that becomes apparent, set out, in chorus, to lay the blame elsewhere, anywhere but where it belongs.  And since the pen is mightier than the sword they can say what they like, make it up if necessary, and use language that slants the story towards their point of view or their preferred position. 

Blog site after blog site records comments about the perpetual bias exhibited by the ABC, nowhere more flagrantly illustrated than by the ABC’s coverage of the asylum seeker issue. Some recent news items on ABC radio illustrate this. Let’s take just a couple of stories to argue this point.  To demonstrate how different the story might have been, I have suggested alternatives to some of the words used.  In the original transcript, the pejorative words that I believe portray bias are in bold italics in brackets; the alternative more neutral wording is in bold.  What follows is rather lengthy, but is easy reading.  It is reproduced in full to illustrate my point.

First, let’s examine Emily Bourke’s report on Saturday, July 10 on the ABC’s AM, headed Gillard's approach to asylum seekers (attacked) questioned. 

ELIZABETH JACKSON: After (much confusion) the uncertainty over Prime Minister Julia Gillard's (on again/off again) plan for an East Timor processing centre for asylum seekers the chief executive of the Australian Industry Group Heather Ridout has (warned) advised Julia Gillard to slow down her plans to roll out her new climate change policy.

Ms Ridout has told The Australian newspaper it would be "over-reaching" for the Government to roll out a replacement for the emissions trading scheme ahead of the election.

The Prime Minister (has come under sustained attack) has been criticized in some quarters this week over her handling of the asylum seeker issue and her plans for a regional processing centre.

Julia Gillard's consultations with East Timor have been (fiercely) criticised with the Opposition claiming that amateurs are running the Australian government.

While the Prime Minister and her ministers have denied they've (bungled) mismanaged the deal, the policy has also attracted (scorn) criticism from the union movement. 

Emily Bourke reports. 

EMILY BOURKE: While Kevin Rudd was expert in international diplomacy, Julia Gillard's foray into foreign affairs hasn't been a smooth one. 

The Opposition has accused the Government of incompetence and deception over plans for a regional processing centre for asylum seekers. 

But the Government has also drawn criticism from an unlikely source - Paul Howes from the Australian Workers Union on Sky News. (No mention that Howes also criticized the Opposition’s approach)

PAUL HOWES: I am not happy with the Government's response to this. I'm not happy with what the Coalition's doing on this. I accept that you know, we have largely lost the debate.

EMILY BOURKE: Michael Wesley is an expert in international affairs and the executive director of the Lowy Institute. 

MICHAEL WESLEY: The concentration on East Timor has really overshadowed other parts of the Prime Minister's speech and I think probably in retrospect it may not have been such a good idea to name specific countries' leaders that she had talked to.

EMILY BOURKE: In that sense has she (faulted) made an error? Has she (bungled) slipped up in making this announcement?

MICHAEL WESLEY: I don't think she's bungled it but in some ways it would have been more useful to have been closer to agreement than she was if she was to name the country itself. 

I have no doubt that there has been more than a conversation between the Prime Minister and Jose Ramos-Horta. I am sure there have been all sorts of back channel conversations between Australia and East Timor.

EMILY BOURKE: While the Government has stressed that it is in dialogue with East Timor, (Dr Wesley says it's clear the Government hasn't done crucial groundwork) Dr Wesley says that the Prime Minister didn’t have the time needed for the careful negotiations required for this diplomacy.

MICHAEL WESLEY: Diplomacy of this sort works when it’s preceded by months and months and months of careful negotiation. Now obviously the Prime Minister didn't have that sort of time. She wanted to come out and make a statement on this issue that seems to be showing up in the polls as fairly damaging to the Government. 

So she wanted to come out and say something strong on this. She'd only been in the job a few weeks and obviously there hadn't been the chance to do that sort of careful preparation. 

EMILY BOURKE: Dr Wesley says this week's events are unlikely to be a sign of things to come. 

MICHAEL WESLEY: I don't think we can judge Prime Minister Gillard on this particular episode. I think Julia Gillard is in kind with a very long line of Prime Ministers. People like Malcolm Fraser, Bob Hawke, Paul Keating and John Howard really had no experience of foreign affairs when they became Prime Minister. 

I think in a lot of ways Kevin Rudd was a rarity. He will stand out as a rarity in Australian political history, in a Prime Minister with significant diplomatic experience and background on coming to office. 

I think Julia Gillard is much more in the mould of Prime Ministers who haven't really focused on foreign affairs before they've reached office but then become quite adept at it once they get a feel for it in office. 

EMILY BOURKE: With the emissions trading scheme on ice, next week the Prime Minister is expected to announce more detail on the government's climate change policy. Renewable energy schemes on the domestic front (might prove safer and familiar turf) will be familiar territory for the new Prime Minister.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Emily Bourke with that report.

To access the story click here 

Now Lyndal Curtis

Here’s another example of ABC hype: Mark Colvin introduced a Lyndal Curtis’ segment on PM on Friday 9 July that was headed:  Asylum seeker policy (confusion leaves egg on PM's face) continues to cause concern.  (Of course Mark was trying to be clever with the egg reference) 

MARK COLVIN: It appears you can’t become Prime Minister without breaking eggs. Something about Julia Gillard had annoyed one middle aged man in Perth today enough to provoke him into throwing an egg at her.

The egg missed but it was another indication that the new Prime Minister wasn’t getting the continuing dream run that her backers had hoped for.  (What a gratuitous backhander.)

Her plan for a regional processing centre for asylum seekers is struggling for traction and (credibility) acceptability.

And while East Timorese politicians have had at best a lukewarm response to the idea of hosting the centre, the Prime Minister’s real trouble has come from her own words.

Chief political correspondent Lyndal Curtis reports. 

LYNDAL CURTIS: On Tuesday Julia Gillard announced she’d be pursuing a regional processing centre, leaving the clear impression she wanted it to be in East Timor.   (Here we go again ‘leaving the clear impression’)

JULIA GILLARD: In recent days I have discussed with president Ramos-Horta of East Timor the possibility of establishing a regional processing centre for the purpose of receiving and processing irregular entrants to the region.

LYNDAL CURTIS: It was an impression the Immigration Minister Chris Evans got as well that night he spoke to the 7:30 Report

HEATHER EWART: How are you going to be divert boats to East Timor? 

CHRIS EVANS: Well it’s not about diverting boats. People, if they arrive in Australia, as unauthorised boat arrivals will be returned to East Timor, will be taken to the centre.  (What else did she expect him to say?)

LYNDAL CURTIS: Although by the next morning he was canvassing the possibility of other locations.

CHRIS EVANS: It’s certainly the starting point for a discussion, East Timor. But obviously it’s about a regional solution and there may well be other alternatives. 

LYNDAL CURTIS: The Government did nothing in the days between the announcement and yesterday to dissuade people from thinking that East Timor was the Government’s preferred location for the regional processing centre. Although by yesterday, with the reception in East Timor to her idea looking less than overwhelmingly supportive, Julia Gillard seemed to be backtracking.  (Here’s the same media theme ‘…did nothing…to dissuade…’, ‘backtracking’)

JULIA GILLARD: I’m not, I’m not going to leave undisturbed the impression that I made an announcement about a specific location… 

MICHAEL SMITH: Where will it be then? 

JULIA GILLARD: … which is how you’ve phrased your question. 

MICHAEL SMITH: Where will it be? 

JULIA GILLARD: Well, we will have the discussions I’ve just outlined and they have started already. In addition in that …

MICHAEL SMITH: Yeah, yeah but where will it be? 

JULIA GILLARD: Well this will have to emerge from the work with our regional neighbours.

MICHAEL SMITH: Do you know where your regional processing centre will be?   (How many times does Julia have to put up with this persistent rudeness?)

JULIA GILLARD: What I’ve said, no, what I’ve said is this, a consensus about a regional processing centre, where it would be, how it would work, all of those things would need to come out of the regional dialogue. 

LYNDAL CURTIS: She didn’t mention the possibility of East Timor being the location for the centre during that exchange. 

This morning the Home Affairs Minister Brendan O’Connor was on board.

BRENDAN O’CONNER: It was on Tuesday the Prime Minister made clear she would be discussing this matter and had discussed the matter with the president of East Timor about the possibility of a regional processing centre. There’d been no reference to where and indeed there was certainly no, there was no point made about exactly how this was to be done.

LYNDAL CURTIS: And Chris Evans was again canvassing alternatives.

CHRIS EVANS: There seems to be some surprise that alternatives were possible and as I say both Stephen Smith and I have in numerous interviews made it clear that there are alternatives but that discussions had started with East Timor. 

LYNDAL CURTIS: But by morning in Perth today, Julia Gillard was addressing a business breakfast where she was back to talking about East Timor.

JULIA GILLARD: Earlier this week I made the case that regional processing needs to be part of our long term solution to unauthorised arrivals. I said in my speech that one possibility was a centre in East Timor.

LYNDAL CURTIS: And at a later doorstop she wasn’t willing to canvas any other alternatives.

JOURNALIST: And Manus Island and PNG (Papua New Guinea) are they in the offshore mix? 

JULIA GILLARD: Well our focus here is on the dialogue with East Timor. I couldn’t be clearer about that.

LYNDAL CURTIS: The Opposition Leader Tony Abbott says Julia Gillard has bungled.

TONY ABBOTT: What we’re seeing from this Prime Minister, as from her predecessor, is incompetence, deception and ideology. It’s just not good enough.

LYNDAL CURTIS: The Prime Minister’s office is explaining the confusion by saying that nothing has changed. And when her wording is looked at closely it’s all been consistent. A spokesman says all Ms Gillard was pointing out yesterday was that there had been no announcement, that she can’t make a decision on behalf of another country.

A point Senator Evans was making this morning.

CHRIS EVANS: Well, what the Prime Minister did is she indicated who she’d spoken to but she also made it clear it was a decision for their national government. You can’t go around speaking on behalf of other national governments.

LYNDAL CURTIS: The need for diplomatic niceties does seem to have driven Ms Gillard yesterday pointing out that she hadn’t announced a centre would be in East Timor. And while her offer says her language has been consistent, the problem is that she looked like she was backing away from the idea of having the processing centre in East Timor at a time when the East Timorese were sending lukewarm signals and she was under fire for having bungled the diplomacy. 

And it looks like Ms Gillard, who narrowly missed being hit with an egg thrown at her in Perth today, had scrambled the message and has been rapidly trying to unscramble it today. The perception that’s left is one of confusion from a Prime Minister and a ministry rapidly trying to keep up with a changing situation - all in a policy Labor was trying to neutralise and get off the agenda as a potential electoral disadvantage.   (That might be the media’s impression Lyndal, but that doesn’t mean the media is correct.)

Australia’s seventh prime minister, Billy Hughes, established the Commonwealth police after being struck with an egg in 1917. If he was around he might have some advice for Australia’s 27th PM.  (That, I suppose, is meant to be funny!)

MARK COLVIN: Lyndal Curtis.

To access the segment click here 

Lyndal Curtis again, this time with Stephen Smith

On PM Friday 9 July Mark Colvin introduced: Australia's Government defends asking Horta about asylum centre 

MARK COLVIN: So first the Prime Minister mentioned East Timor as a possible site and said she’d begun talking to the Government in Dili. Then she rowed back on that and said she’d never said it would be in East Timor.

So is anything about the Government’s regional processing centre plan getting any clearer? The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Stephen Smith, is speaking to Lyndal Curtis. 

LYNDAL CURTIS: Stephen Smith if we could just clear up any remaining confusion, is it the Government’s preferred position or starting point to have the regional processing centre in East Timor if East Timor says yes? 

STEPHEN SMITH: Well we started a dialogue with East Timor. I think people should frankly, you know, just take a cold shower and calmly go through where we’re at. The Prime Minister, the first leader in our region to do so, has indicated that we should have, for very good policy reasons, a regional processing centre.

She approached president Ramos-Horta and despite some commentary to the contrary that was an entirely appropriate response as has been indicated by the prime minister of East Timor saying that he wants the president, president Horta to be responsible for discussions from East Timor’s point of view. 

We’ve made it clear we’re in dialogue and discussion with East Timor. But at the same time we are taking our suggestion to the region because we need this suggestion, if is to go anywhere, to have regional support and also to have United Nations High Commissioner for Refugee support. 

So, we’re pursuing this with East Timor and we’re pursuing it seriously. Now other countries in the region may indicate an interest, may indicate that they want to be considered for a possible regional processing centre as part of a regional framework, you know, as Chris Evans has made clear, as I’ve made clear. That would be entirely a matter for them.

But so far as we’re concerned, we are in a dialogue with East Timor and we’re proposing to pursue that.

LYNDAL CURTIS: Did you advise the Prime Minister that it was okay to speak to the president? 

STEPHEN SMITH: Look, I see Tony Abbott is out there making, you know, a range of outrageous comments about, you know, a quiet invasion of Australia by asylum seekers. Also asserting, without any evidence whatsoever or any basis whatsoever that the Prime Minster and I hadn’t had a conversation about this matter.

There was a full Cabinet discussion about all of the aspects of this matter that are now out there in the public arena. There was also a conversation amongst national security committee reasons. So I’ve previously made the point that in national security and national interest areas you have to be very careful about how you proceed and Tony Abbott making outrageous comments with no basis, no evidence, no foundation, doesn’t do anything other than add to the risk which he poses to these sorts of issues. 

LYNDAL CURTIS: But aren’t the usual protocols when a matter’s being raised with a foreign government to speak to the head of that government? Did you advise the Prime Minister it was okay to speak to president Ramos-Horta? 

STEPHEN SMITH: Anyone in Australia who has taken a passing interest in East Timorese matters; in its independence, in its close relationship with Australia, knows that president Ramos Horta is more than just a head of state.

That’s reflected by the fact that the Prime Minister has asked him to be responsible for the discussions with Australia on this matter. He’s not just a titular head of state. He is a person who is integral to East Timorese life, East Timorese society and anyone with a passing interest in Australia’s relationship with East Timor knows that. 

It was entirely appropriate for Prime Minister Gillard to start a conversation with East Timor by having a conversation with the president. 

LYNDAL CURTIS: Why not start with the prime minister?   (Lyndal is not going to be satisfied because she didn’t get the answer she wanted.)

STEPHEN SMITH: Also crystal clear from president Horta’s remark that the starting point of president Horta’s deliberations would be a conversation with prime minister Gusmao which they both regarded as entirely appropriate.

It is a complete furphy. Where have we ended up? We’ve ended up with Australia and East Timor in a serious dialogue for the first occasion about trying to find a long-term sustainable regional solution to a significant problem of people movement, people smuggling and human trafficking.

The interview is too long for this piece, but if you want to read the full transcript or listen to it, click here. 

A beat-up ABC style

This has been one of the more flagrant examples of journalistic ignorance and incompetence, and it’s OUR ABC that is as guilty as the rest of the MSM for this beat-up.  If only journalists, especially very experienced ones like Tony Jones, had taken the trouble to research the subject even superficially, they would have read Gillard’ speech more carefully and avoided jumping to unwarranted conclusions; would have known that East Timor has different arrangements for governance from Australia and thereby avoid making fundamental mistakes about who should have been contacted first; would have understood better the past negotiations that have taken place under the Bali Process; would have seen clearly the difference between the proposed regional processing centre and John Howard’s Pacific Solution which Australia alone controlled and which used countries not signatory to the UNHCR Convention on Refugees.  But no, sloppy journalism dictated that such investigative probing was too difficult and what’s more might get in the way of the ‘good story’ they already had in the can.  Finally having stuffed up badly they sought to lay the blame for their incompetence and laziness at Julia Gillard’s and the Government’s door.  And to this day they continue the beat-up with Fran Kelly jumping on the Nauru option and pushing the line ‘why not?’

We are entitled to have better than this from OUR ABC.

What do you think?

Phudget 2010

In their clubhouse on Canberra Avenue, the shadowy Kanberra Kricket Klub is convening a special meeting to discuss this year’s budget proposals. All elected officials are present at the head table and a sizable contingent of Ordinary Members fill the plastic chairs lining the rear of the room.

Tony (Chair)

Welcome all. I see we have a uh quorum so I’ll declare this meeting open. Tonight we are here to discuss proposals put forward in Joe’s budget but, but, time allowing, we will deal with any ah General Business that arises.

Could I be the first to say ah Joe that I am ah I am greatly impressed and ah heartened to see that you have brought the Klub’s finances back into the, the, the black after such a shocking shortfall last season.


Thank-you Mr Chair. The Kanberra Kricket Klub can move forward this year with confidence and certainty now that the budget is showing a surplus.


Tell ‘em how you did it, Joe?


How WE did it, Andrew. (chuckle) Well, it wasn’t too hard really. We just sat down with a couple of bottles and a piece of paper and moved the numbers around, added them up, moved them around some more, had a drink, cut a whole heap of projects, moved the numbers around a bit more, added them up again and Hey Presto! - a surplus! I don’t know why those guys over at the ALP are always making such a fuss.


How much did you manage to save?


Forty-seven THOUSAND dollars!

Malcolm (smiling)

That’s a big number.

Joe  (frowning)

Hey! You KNEW I wanted to say that!


I'm not saying that you’re cooking the books but there is something fishy here. I’d like to see your modelling.


You mean like - casual evening wear? Formal? Swimwear?


Ee-ooh no! I meant economic modelling. Doesn’t matter. How did you swing such big savings? Cut a deal with the minors, did you? Higher membership fees.

Unknown (from the back of the room)

No! New! Taxes!


There will be NO NEW TAXES! How many times do I have to say it?

Joe (waving a single sheet of A4) (double spaced)

Have you bothered to read my briefing notes?


Malcolm, I think you are uh you are being uh obstructionist. I’m still not sure how it is that you are allowed to speak at these meetings.


Because when you shafted me, Tony, forty-nine percent of the Klub thought I should be given a position at the table.


Yeah but it’s not really a position, is it? Member in Charge of the Trophy Cabinet. The bloody thing’s ....... uh ....... the thing’s .... ah ......... the bloody thing’s bloodywell empty!


That’s not the point though is it? We wouldn’t want to be taken by surprise by a win this year and find we were unprepared to accommodate our shining achievement.

Win or lose, always be prepared, Mr Chair. Be very prepared.

A furtive movement in the doorway attracts the room’s attention. All eyes turn to a forlorn bespectacled figure slinking into a front row seat.


John! John? What are you doing here?


I was just passing and I thought perhaps you could use my help.


Having a bit of trouble filling your days, eh John? I’d have thought something on the world stage would be more in your league.


Yes. Ahem. As you very well know Barnaby, I put in for a job but they said I didn’t have enough experience. It seems running a country for eleven years wasn’t good enough for them. I thought some old friends (who owe me one or two favours) might be able to help with some on-the-job training. Deputy Chair perhaps, that sort of thing.

I’ve got over fifty-five years experience in watching cricket, you know.


That’s ah very kind of you John but as you can see we ah already have a Deputy Chair.


Yes but she’s a female. What does she know about googlies and doosras and yorkers and switch-hitting?

There is a loud crackling of electricity, the distinct smell of ozone in the air and a sickening crunching of bones and tendons as Julie turns her head through 360 degrees.


Oh knock it off Julie! We all know they’re just contact lenses.


That’s a neat trick with the ozone though. I could’ve used that back in the day.


John, we really ah must press on. You’re ah welcome to stay and observe if you like. Joe, the Treasurer’s Report.


Thank-you Mr Chair. Since you’re being so picky Malcolm, we’ll go through my COMPREHENSIVE briefing notes. First we rethought our border protection plans.


Oh no. We are still building the three metre fence around the oval, aren’t we?


Ah, no. Sorry David. It’s a bit complicated but what has happened is that Julie - thanks Jules, beaut job girlie - went round the neighbouring houses and collected pledges for money to help build the fence.


Why would they do that? Why pledge money for a fence which is of no bloody use to them


The erection of the fence would stop cricket balls smashing windows and damaging cars in nearby houses.


You are joking, aren’t you? The pitch is five hundred metres from the nearest house.

Julie (glaring myopically)

Never-the-less SOPHIE, there were several instances of cricket balls going through windows at all hours of the day and night. They all thought it prudent to make a pledge towards the project. Co-incidentally, most pledges were roughly equivalent to the cost of a new window. Funny really.


Right, so. Julie has pledges for three thousand dollars. Bruce, our small businessman, has got a mate who was gonna put the fence up for half price, so that would have saved us another four grand and the local hardware shop was gonna knock 25% off the cost of materials - about five thousand dollars there.

(muttering) So that’s three plus four plus five, carry the one, multiply by ten, strike off two zeros, move the decimal point one place to the left, divide by ten and multiply by a thousand. Wow.

Since we’re not gonna build the fence now, we’ve saved TWELVE THOUSAND DOLLARS just on that one project alone.



I don’t want to nitpick but how can you regard as savings, money which you haven’t collected


You surprise me Mal. This is Grade Eight Home Economics. If you don’t spend money then it’s a saving. Simple as that.

We were going to have to borrow twenty-eight thousand dollars to get the project started and now that we’re not building it, I wanted to put that money in the budget but Tony and Andrew thought we should save it for a rainy day.


We may have to revise that bottom line figure, Joe. Some of the locals are paid-up members and reckon they would be coughing up twice. Some were threatening to boycott the club.

Unknown (from the back of the room)

Too bloody right!! No! New! Taxes!


It wasn’t a tax! It was an extortion!       No. Wait.    A donation.

(scribbling frantically with a pencil)

Ah no - now I’m gonna have to print all these pages again. Bugger.


That was pretty sloppy, Joe.


Listen Monk-breath ........


Boys. Boys. Play nice.

Tony & Joe

Sorry Bronnie.


I thought this was going to be a more consultative committee? It seems like you and Joe and Andrew and Julie are making all the decisions. Sounds like a gang of .......


Don’t you dare! Don’t you bloody dare! We are ..... we are uh ............ collegiate. We’re consulting with you now aren’t we? So. Scott. What do you think about ah shelving our new perimeter fence until such time as we are better able to afford it?


I don’t like it. I think we need a fence and we need it as soon as possible!


Good. Thank-you Scott. See. A free and uh fair exchange of views and I’m sure we’re a better committee for it. There WON'T be a fence. But you ah you were consulted. Next item.


Training. Unfortunately, we have had to scale back our weekend workshops from three this season to one.


That’s a pretty big “scale back”. So who’s still coming? Greg Chappell, Glen McGrath or Shane Warne?


We’ve all got to tighten our belts, Chris. Luckily, John has pulled a few strings and we’ve got John Senden - rated number ninety-nine in the world - at a very reasonable price.


But he’s a golfer!


Ricky Ponting is a keen golfer AND he’s a former number one batsman in the world. Third highest run scorer of all time, record-breaking captain, superb in the field - surely if it’s good enough for Ricky, it’s good enough for you.


Look maybe we could pass the hat around and ......

Unknown (from the back of the room)

No! New! Taxes!


For goodness sake, will you be quiet! I’m sorry Chris, it was either the training budget or the wine list that got trimmed and this year you lose out.

Sophie, you can tell us more about the changes we’ve made to the BNS.

Tony Smith

No! Not my beautiful new scoreboard!

Sophie (terse)

We will not be going ahead with the proposed hi-tech hi-speed BNS (which we don’t need) and will instead be trialling different coloured fluoro chalk to make the numbers JUMP off the blackboard. This will also contribute to our LCE target - Low Carbon Emissions, Barnaby. By taking this decision we no longer need to borrow eighteen thousand dollars from the bank and we can count this as a saving.

Tony Smith

But it was going to pay for itself, renting it out as an advertising hoarding during the week. Five years! Five years and we would have had our money back and be turning a profit. Now we’ll be the laughing stock of the ACT. All of NSW probably. Not to mention Sweden. A blackboard! This is taking us back to the dark ages.

Ah! What’re you going to do when it rains?

Tony (snide)

When it rains you ah (chuckle) you ah ...... you can’t play Smithy.

(general laughter)


What’s this at Item Four? A PPL? What’s that?


This is Tony’s idea so I’ll let him explain.


I’m ah particularly proud of this. It’s a Pay Parents to Leave scheme. The idea is that once they’ve dropped their kids off we want them to ....... ah .... to ......... to ..... leave. Instead of hanging around here all afternoon (rather than in the kitchen where they belong) shouting ah encouragement to their kids and clapping for every flaming run made, we will pay them to ah ..... go home. I think we can all agree that they are uh they are spoiling the uh ambience of the facilities. Some afternoons, I can hardly hear the ......... uh .......... the television in the bar.


How can we afford this?


We have devised an ah ..... an ah .... an ELEGANT solution. Every time one of our uh batsmen scores more than twenty-five runs, he puts twenty-five dollars in the kitty. Then he pays a uh a uh levy of one dollar seventy for every ten runs after that.

Unknown (from the back of the room)

No! New! Taxes!


It’s a levy! It’s a bloody LEVY awright?


That doesn’t sound particularly fair. Isn’t that a financial disincentive to succeeding? I mean, the players aren’t going to like it very much.


I think you’ve been knocking around with your commie mates over at the ah the ah Association of Lawnbowls Players too long, Mal. The players understand that the decisions we make are for the uh ..... the uh .... greater good. WE are the only ones who can see the big picture and WE are the only ones tough enough to make the hard choices.


Okay. Item Five. Lowering our carbon footprint. Barnaby, Sophie and Greg have been working together on this. Barnaby?


Cheers Joe. I’m a bit peeved you decided to call your PPL an “elegant” idea Tony, ‘cause I was gonna call this an "elegant" idea. Sort of stole my thunder there. "Elegant" ideas don’t grow on trees you know.

(pause for effect) (none)

Anyway, we did some research and Sophie found that the Chinese are working with an innovative new product called (shuffling papers) called “con-crete”. So what we’re gonna do is rip up that bloody awful grass pitch and put down a maintenance-free con-crete one. Doesn’t need watering, doesn’t need mowing, doesn’t need rolling - I don’t know why no-one’s thought of this before. It’ll pay for itself inside the first year.


Not only that, we can charge visiting teams a Pitch Maintenance Levy - SHUT UP - it’s a LEVY, so that we can give it a fresh coat of green paint every season.


But wait there’s more!

(pause for effect)

No? Too old? Sorry.

We’ve calculated that if we don’t use the sprinkler system we’ll use less water.

(pause for approval) (not forthcoming)

Gee. Tough house tonight.

If the grass dies, we save on mowing, tractor maintenance, fuel, fertilizer and groundsman’s fees. We just put the sprinklers on the night before a match so the clubhouse doesn’t get covered in dust. Don’t want to spoil the food, do we ladies?




So we will have reduced our carbon output AND saved money.


Bob’s not going to like this.




Brown. The groundsman.


Is he under contract? No? Then sack him. We’re not going to ruin the entire planet just to keep one groundsman happy.


What do the players think about playing in the mud?


Yeah yeah okay Lefty! Here we go again. Jesus!


Joe! You know how uh strongly I feel about blasphemy.


Yeah. About as strongly as you feel about lying, sex outside marriage and throwing children to the sharks!


Why you fat overblown ..........


What’s the matter Wingnut? Don’t like it when ..........


Boys! Don’t make me speak to you again.


Don’t be too harsh, Bron. You know what WARRIORS are like, they’re just SO strong they can’t help themselves sometimes. I think it’s dreamy.


I see there’s fifteen hundred dollars put aside for mental health. That’s a lot isn’t it?


I have no doubt that you would know that Andrew has been plagued by the black dog of late and so it was decided on compassionate grounds that the club would put fifteen hundred dollars on to a bar tab for him.


But surely alcohol’s not the solution if he’s suffering from depression?


No, but we reckon with a bar tab that size, he’s going to have lots more friends! (chuckle)


While we are talking health, Peter has put in a request for increased funding for the First Aid box. Perhaps you could explain further, Peter.


Thanks. As the committee is no doubt aware, our general membership is rapidly aging and there has been a concomitant demand for band-aids, ice-packs, pain killers and the like to help alleviate injuries sustained from falls - particularly in the bar. To help fund this expansion of our health care system without raising - SHUT UP - without raising taxes, Warren and I have decided to liquidate some of the new equipment provided to us last year by the state government. To this end we will be selling all new shin-guards, chest protectors, elbow-guards, glove inners and boxes. Barnaby suggested we sell the bats too but we found this harder to justify.


Peter, do you mind if I ask, do you ever have people, you know, complete strangers, come up to you and say they’d like to punch you in the face?

Peter (surprised)

No! Why?


Oh, no reason really, it’s just a bit of a hobby of mine. People’s faces. My Mum used to say when women saw Dean Martin’s face, they had an overwhelming urge to kiss him on the cheek. When men see Clint Eastwood’s face, they want to stand beside him and glare at whoever he’s glaring at - “You feeling lucky punk?” When people see Kevin Rudd’s face they want to spray his glasses with whipped cream. When I look at your face ..............

Peter (eminently punchable)

We. Will. Be. Using. The. Derived. Income. For. The. Benefit. Of. All. Members.


The players are REALLY not going to like this. And aren’t you going to risk higher outlays through players getting injured?


Let us ah worry about the players. You obviously have no expertise in this field. Once they see the budget is returned to surplus, they’ll come flocking back.


Sorry to revisit old ground but if we’re not building the fence, what are we going to do about strange kids using the field?




Thanks John.




Bloody hell.


All well and good but some mothers don’t want their kids under their feet all afternoon. And what if they just won’t go?

(from the back of the room)

What harm are they doing? Surely we’re not afraid of a few kids?


It’s not just the fact that they come here. It’s a moral and cultural point of principle. They bring all sorts of baggage with them. Strange clothes. Strange food. Strange music. Ich. Strange perfumes. Strange languages - have you heard the way they talk?

They don’t hold the same values as us and we have a duty to uphold and maintain our culture. They threaten the very foundations on which this club was built by bringing in foreign ideas and heathen practices. Not to mention the footballs, basketballs, soccer balls, sorry, “football” balls, Frisbees, kites and baseballs. We’ve even had GIRLS on the park with SOFTBALLS.

(from the back of the room)

I still don’t see the problem.


WE will decide WHO comes to this oval and the circumstances in which .................


Yeh thanks John. We ah we like to think we’ve ah we’ve moved on from that sort of talk.


The Rottweiler Solution!!


Ooh yes.

Of course.

The rottweilers!

Yes, yes.

I like dogs.

Sic ‘em boys!

You’re right Scott.

I prefer cats meself.

Go the Dogs!!


Rend! Tear! Bite! Batter! Maim!

Damage! Disembowel! Devastate! Mutilate!

Mangle! Wreck! Wound!

Crack! Crunch! Cripple!

(pauses for breath)

The ensuing silence is only interrupted by sounds of heavy breathing, subtle rearranging of clothes and foreheads being dabbed dry with lace-edged handkerchiefs.
(spraying foam)

Slash! Gash! Gouge! Split! Spurt!

Ravage! Rupture! Disable! Debilitate! Dissever!

Incapacitate! Eviscerate! Emasculate!

Lacerate! Perforate! Pierce! Puncture! Pulverise!

(sits back, flushed and elated)

Heavy breathing and nervous coughs continue for several minutes.


Ooh Scott, that was pure poetry. I feel as giddy as a schoolgirl.


That was just SO naughty! You get an extra scone later for that.


Scott, that was ah that was most enjoyable. You know I like the Rottweiler Solution but now that I’m ah ..... I’m the Chair of the Klub, I don’t think ah that I can be seen ah running around the oval chasing children.

(still over-excited)

No, no, no! Not you! REAL dogs! Rending and crunching and .......


Now now. Don’t get me started again.


But we don’t have a fence. Remember?


Oh. True, true. George, any ideas.


I think we would be on pretty safe ground if we detained them and held them in the toilet block for a couple of days in order to verify their claims about being children.

As I understand the LPA - the UN’s Little Person’s Act of 2001 - if we find that they have no papers and are therefore, by default, dwarfs pretending to be children, we would be well within our rights to barbeque and eat them.

A stunned silence fills the room.

More than one Member is quietly contemplating the tenderising effect of dog bites. To season or not to season? What would Matt Preston do?


I’m ah .... I’m ah ..... I’m a bit skeptical about your ah interpretation there ah George. Perhaps you could do a bit more ah research and get back to us.

Let’s leave that for now.

Christopher, how is our ah recruitment drive going?


Well it’s good and bad really.

We could do with some more bowlers ..........


I bowl a pretty mean right arm orthodox!


John? John? Where are you? Come out from under the table.




I thought you were going to keep a low profile once you left politics?


I’m under the table at some second-rate suburban cricket club listening to a bunch of morons rabbiting on about eating small children. How much lower do you want me?


I think you may be a bit old for what we’re looking for, Mr Howard.


Look. I just want to say that I’m prepared to serve the Klub in any way you see fit.


Gees. What is it with ex-Prime Ministers?


Anyway, as I was saying, we’ve found a couple of good prospects. A quick bowler and a wicketkeeper/batsman who’re showing promise. But ............. but ...


Out with it boy.


Well the only problem is that they are ................... um ......................... they’re Ghanian refugees.




Which presents us with a number of philosophical and moral dilemmas. For a start, they are very, um ............. very ............. ah ............. tall.




And incredibly fit and strong.




And they are ..................... uh .................... they are uh ............................................ they’re very ........ um .......... black.




Not just, sort of, “every day” black you know? They’re very um ...... very ................. they’re very dark black.

(from the back of the room)

What’s your point?


Well I wouldn’t want them to feel ...... uncomfortable here, that’s all. Everyone else here is of a “normal” height  and  ............ and “ordinary” physique and ...... and ........ “average” skin colour. They might feel .......... inferior in some way.


That’s very uh considerate of you Christopher, after all they’ve been through, we wouldn’t want to ah add to their uh burden. Perhaps next season when they’ve had more of a chance to assimilate, they might feel a bit more liberal and tolerant.


So to summarise, Mr Chair, through the savings accrued from not building the perimeter fence, not borrowing to finance the BNS, cutting our workforce by 20%, scaling back our training and education  programmes, opting for "greener" alternatives on the field, liquidating superfluous assets and levying high achievers to fund our PPL scheme, I can safely forecast a budget surplus this year of eleven dollars and fifty cents. Minimum.


From the front of an unruly crowd gathered in the doorway, a flame-haired Welsh witch shows off for her mates.


Hoy! What are you bludgers doing here? We’ve got a meeting tonight, so piss off!

Bronwyn & Helen

Ooh the language.


Ooh the breasts.


Go on - on ya bikes! Bloody wannabes.

(shaking his fist)

One of these days, Julia, one of these days.


In your dreams Phoney.


Just you wait ‘til the next AGM. We’ve got plans that are gonna cream you.


Yeah awright Tony. Just don’t slam the door on your way ut.

(hand on Tony’s biceps)

C’mon Iron Man. We’ve got miles to go before we sleep.



(examining Joe’s briefing notes)

This bunch couldn’t organise a ***k in a brothel.

Wayne (from the back of the room)(giggling)

No! New! Taxes!

What is the best way to decide who gets room at our Inn?

By now we have had a couple of days to let both major political parties' Asylum Seeker policies soak into our consciousness and consciences.  I believe that I can safely say that the new policy as enunciated by PM Julia Gillard in her speech on Tuesday morning to 'The Lowy Institute' showed Labor's still more compassionate attitude with respect to this issue as compared with the Coalition's policy, released on the same day.


Now, what is open to discussion is whether you believe, with this new policy, Labor has 'lurched to the Right', as Kevin Rudd said they would, in order to harness the 'Redneck vote', as Julian Burnside termed it, in the outer suburban marginal electorates, or whether a fine line has been successfully walked between the, as I see it, unrealistic, bleeding-heart approach of The Greens, who would accept anyone who turns up on our doorstep claiming to be a refugee, ignoring the People Smuggling industry that has been established in Indonesia to feed people in boats to our shores; and the hard-hearted approach of the Coalition, who do not want anyone turning up to ask for shelter and a room at our Inn, 'Hotel Australia', with ways prescribed to make that happen and to make them go away... Just as well Jesus, Mary and Joseph aren't floating across the water on their donkeys to Australia nowadays, isn't it?

In other words, do you think this new Gillard government policy has found the Rosetta Stone to unlock the secrets to a successful Asylum Seeker process for this country or not?

I have my own opinion, but I am not going to foist that upon you now.  Instead I thought that we should examine the two approaches side by side, compare and contrast them, and see what others directly involved in the process and more expert and relevant in their opinions have to say.  Then we might be able to come to a conclusion.  

Firstly, the essence of the Labor policy is as follows:

  • Set up a regional processing centre in East Timor.
  • Send all unauthorised arrivals to the centre for processing under UNHCR guidelines.
  • Increase penalties for People Smugglers.
  • Fund eight new Patrol Boats.

The Coalition policy is:

  • Restore Temporary Protection Visas and the 'Pacific Solution'
  • Turn back boats “when circumstances permit”.
  • Refuse entry to people who destroy identification papers.
  • Give Minister greater oversight in refugee decisions.
  • Priority to offshore camp applicants.
  • Buy three aerial patrol drones.
  • Introduce pilot scheme for sponsoring refugees.

Let me start out by saying that the East Timor Regional Processing Centre will be no 'Pacific Solution Mark II'.  It may well be, as Abbott snidely put it, “A way-lay for refugees on the way to Australia.”  But even if that's so it will be one which is more humane than the Coalition alternative on Nauru or Manus Island.  This is the fact that Abbott refuses to admit to, that is, that the Pacific Solution simply served as an expensive and draconian 'way-lay' for refugees in the Howard era, on their way, ultimately, to Australia too.

Also, as Lenore Taylor so succinctly put it, in the Sydney Morning Herald:


"Abbott rushed out an even 'tougher' policy to gazump Gillard.  Under a Coalition government there would be a 'presumption against' people turning up to claim asylum without identification papers.  

"But he didn't have answers either - he couldn't say how he would distinguish between genuine refugees (who often have to travel without papers because they are fleeing, or because they fear persecution) and those who discard them. Nor could he say how he would 'turn back' a boat that had been deliberately disabled and was sinking, nor where he would return it to.


"And the Coalition hasn't yet said to which country it would try to send the asylum seekers, only that it wouldn't happen in Australia. And Abbott was tapping into voters' fears, too. The Coalition, he said, would do 'whatever it takes to keep our borders secure and our country safe'.  He didn't explain how asylum seekers pose a threat to our safety."

Thus we can see that at least Julia Gillard is proposing to do the right thing by the Asylum Seekers, even if she has had to adopt an element of the Coalition policy, offshore processing, in order to assuage the fears that the community has had inculcated into them over many years by the Coalition. However, I think that she has had similar thoughts to the outgoing Secretary-General for Amnesty International, Irene Khan, who said:

“A fair response to refugees is not to punish them for using people-smuggling channels or burning their documents...The emphasis should be on why these people have left their countries,...and do they need protection?” 

"Any arrangement to put people in a transit centre should take into account how to process people quickly, identify genuine refugees, find a solution for them and then arrange for safe return of all those found not to be refugees. It should be seen as a fast, effective process and not just a deterrent or a dumping ground.”

Is that not in essence what we should be aiming for if we in Australia are to maintain our tradition for compassion? Every latter-day evangelical Christian speaks about compassion and emulating the example of Jesus Christ. So isn't it funny how it is our avowedly atheistic Prime Minister who seems to have found the compassionate solution to finding room at the Inn for the itinerant homeless who wash up on our shores, without seeking to feed the exploitative people-smuggling trade; as opposed to the cruel solution of 'Captain Catholic', who wants to put up the 'No Vacancy' sign when he sees them approaching?

What do you think?

Contemplate soberly the alternative – an Abbott Government!

Have you noticed how little scrutiny the MSM has given to the prospect of an Abbott Government?  Why is this so?  With an election soon to occur, and the possibility of a Coalition win, how is it that we have had almost no analysis of what it has to offer and what an Abbott Government would mean for this nation?

We could be excused for attributing this to the preoccupation of the media with the current Government and its recent upheaval, but it seems to go well beyond that.  Anyone with eyes to see must have noticed the intent of some sections of the media, specifically News Limited and especially The Australian, to denigrate Kevin Rudd and his Government, and eventually bring them down.  That has been an around-the-clock commitment for a long while.  Reflect on the countless stories about the Home Insulation Programme and the BER, for which The Australian has an ongoing Schools Watch; consider the publicity given to every boat arrival, to the ETS/CPRS, the RSPT now the MRRT, practically all of it negative; think about all the derogatory articles about Kevin Rudd as PM and as a person, and any doubt you may have had about the intent of this onslaught will dissipate.  The logical extension of attempting to bring down a government is that the alternative is acceptable.  Presumably then, any criticism of it would be counterproductive.  I believe this is why the flaws in the Abbott-led Coalition, obvious to anyone who looks, are seldom exposed by a largely sycophantic Canberra Press Gallery.

Now that the primary mission of removing Rudd has been accomplished, attention is bound to turn to his replacement.  She will be afforded a modest honeymoon – it would be regarded as unseemly to immediately attack her as viciously as they attacked Rudd.  Instead, they have started to niggle with stories such as the cost of running The Lodge while Julia Gillard declines to occupy it, stories seldom heard when John Howard did the same and lived at Kirribilli; a tale about her use of the PM jet to attend a fund-raiser in Brisbane; and ever-so-subtle references to her marital status and beliefs.  She should watch her back once the honeymoon is deemed by the media to be ‘over’.

In the absence of any searching appraisal by the MSM of what an Abbott Government might look like and do, let’s have a go here.

First Tony Abbott

Abbott the pugilist
Long before he became Opposition leader, he showed us his pugilistic nature, an attribute that harks back to his days at Oxford when his prowess at boxing was legend.  I wrote about this in The pugilistic politician in December of last year. 
 Recognizing this, John Howard used him as his attack dog, again and again.  WorkChoices was an area where he excelled.  That pugilistic approach has exacerbated from the very day he defeated Malcolm Turnbull by one vote in a party leadership ballot.  He has incessantly attacked virtually everything the Government has said, done, or attempted to do.  He has been consistently negative and obstructive.  This seems to be partly born of his extreme conservatism, but more significantly of his antagonistic nature.

As an extension of his aggression, he tries to portray himself as ‘Action Man’ with his sporting achievements that he hopes will translate into ‘Political Action Man’ – the man who gets things done!

How can someone so fundamentally aggressive assume the mantle of Prime Minister where conciliation is so essential, where listening is so critical, where a calm approach is crucial?  Can Abbott transform himself into that sort of person?

Abbott the extreme conservative
His position on the political spectrum seems more radical, more extreme than was John Howard’s.  On the IR front he is strongly anti-union, anti-worker and pro-business, when a balanced approach is needed.  Although he says WorkChoices is dead, it is more accurate to say only the term is dead, as he is intent on restoring individual worker-employer contracts and restoring unfair dismissal laws.  He says the Howard Government went too far, but everything he says points to him dragging back many elements of WorkChoices, which in his inner heart he believes was not all that bad and was unfairly maligned.

His extreme conservatism was exposed in the global warming debate with his now infamous ‘absolute crap’ utterance, and his blocking of the ETS.

His conservatism has been exposed again recently with the RSPT (now MRRT) initiative which he vowed, and still vows to oppose and rescind in Government.  By so doing he is refusing to embrace tax reform, is happy to let the miners pay an inappropriately small tax on the nation’s non-renewable minerals, miners he stated already pay too much!  In so doing he is rejecting over $10 billion in revenue over the forward estimates that is targeted towards social benefits – better superannuation; benefits to business – lower company tax; and infrastructure improvements that benefit all.  Can you imagine more extreme conservatism than that?

How can a man who is so extremely conservative that he rejects such large additions to revenue, additions the miners are ready to pay, additions that will bring about such benefits, properly govern this country?

Abbott the untruthful
Perhaps the most damning words to come from Abbott’s mouth were spoken in an interview with Kerry O’Brien where he conceded that words he uttered might not necessarily be his real position, only what he committed to writing was. This will come back to haunt him during the election campaign.  There are many instances of this, the most recent being his declaration in a party room meeting that ‘...the Coalition was within reach of a famous victory’, faithfully reported to the media by always-pedantic George Brandis, subsequently denied by Abbott, but finally admitted to on another O’Brien interview.

Of course the media seems to think that Tony is entitled to have thought bubbles and to change his mind if they unexpectedly burst in his face.  He doesn’t do back-flips, only Kevin Rudd and his ministers did that, and were pilloried every time the media deemed they had.

Despite these conceptual contortions, his advocates, many of whom live in the Canberra Press Gallery where he’s considered a ‘good guy’, insist he is ‘the real deal’, that he’s ‘authentic’ Tony, ‘what-you-see-is-what-you-get’ Tony.  That is nonsense.  What you see is not what you get.  What you get is a man who is shameless about lying when it suits him.

When can you believe this man?  If it’s only when it’s in writing, how can he expect the people to entrust to him the leadership of the country?

Abbott the economics ignoramus
When did you last hear a rational statement about economics come from Abbott’s mouth.  He has a longstanding reputation for being ‘bored’ by economics.  Peter Costello has stated that he would never let Abbott get near an economics portfolio.  Yet he is putting himself forward to run a trillion dollar economy.  I suppose he expects he will delegate that to his finance team, Joe Hockey and Andrew Robb, but that is not good enough.  For all the faults that were laid on him, Kevin Rudd clearly had a deep understanding of economics.  Yet even this weekend Abbott exposes his incompetence by saying he can’t understand how in reducing the MRRT tax rate by 25% the loss to revenue is only about 10%, while overlooking the savings that result from deleting other aspects of the scheme where the Government was to subsidize exploration, and ignoring very recent estimates of windfall minerals prices.  He is either being disingenuous and opportunistic in casting doubts in people’s minds, or he just doesn’t understand – possibly both.

How can someone so ignorant and apparently disinterested in economics put himself up as a potential PM?

Abbott the social enigma
On the one hand Abbott opposed the introduction of abortion drug RU486; feels ‘threatened’ by homosexuals, but has lots of friends who are; but on the other is promoting a generous PPL scheme after saying such a scheme would come in over the then ‘government’s dead body’, and wants a ‘stay-at-home-mothers’ scheme, one his shadow cabinet has so far rejected as fiscally irresponsible.

Abbott’s period in a seminary studying for the priesthood has left a lasting impression on him, both good and not-so-good.  He behaves as if asking forgiveness is the remedy to making mistakes, rather than getting it right first time.  He consults with Cardinal Pell.  There is nothing wrong with this, although sometimes he is reluctant to admit that he has consulted his mentor.  Despite his Christian upbringing he takes a hard-nosed approach to asylum seekers, infamously threatening to turn around boats laden with those escaping persecution, hardly a ‘Good Samaritan’ approach.

Who can predict where he will stand on any social issue?  How can this man expect the people of Australia to endorse him when he has not set out his social ‘narrative’?  Rudd was harassed incessantly for his narrative – let’s see what Tony Abbott stands for, let’s hear where he stands on the wide range of social issues this nation faces.

Abbott the dog-whistler (added after a comment by Mobius Ecko)
Like John Howard, Tony Abbott has discovered the political value of dog-whistling.  Howard did it with the Tampa; Abbott is doing it right now with the updating this last weekend of his asylum seeker boat arrival count, displayed on the converted ‘$315 billion debt’ truck Malcolm Turnbull launched so proudly a year ago.  Like Pauline Hanson, he knows there are votes in a hard-nosed approach to refugees arriving by boat. He knows he can, and indeed has heightened fears among some of the population about ‘the influx of boats’ under Labor, and is promising a return of TPVs and other Howard measures.  He insists Howard stopped the boats and so will he, despite the fact that the refugee situation is quite different now with push factors being so much more powerful.  The potency of this latest piece of dog-whistling is evidenced by Julia Gillard’s keenness to address the asylum seeker issue, which it is reported is a negative factor in some Labor electorates.  It will be interesting to see whether Abbott’s loud dog-whistling will push Labor to take a harder line, and match Abbott’s pledge to ‘save’ Australia from this ‘threat’.

Abbott the policy vacuum man
Think for a moment what policy announcements Abbott has made.  There have been a few; we are told we must wait patiently until election time for the others.

A recent one was the mental health initiative.  Seeing an opportunity to wedge the Government, and picking up on discontent in the mental health field, he announced an increase in the number of ‘Head Start’ clinics for youth mental health at a cost of $1.5 billion, but will fund this important initiative by stopping the building of GP super clinics, the idea of which is to provide round-the-clock comprehensive primary care to take the load from hospital emergency departments, which have been chronically overloaded for as long as anyone can remember.  He’s robbing Peter to pay Paul because he thinks that will garner more votes.  He says he will further fund this initiative by carving out chunks of ‘unnecessary bureaucracy’, which would be in sharp contrast to the way it burgeoned under Howard.  Is this believable?  Is this fiscally responsible policy?

This weekend he stated that type 1 diabetes sufferers would be better off under a Coalition government as he will fund a $35 million clinical trials research network.  Sounds like another thought bubble – wait for the details, and how he will fund it.

His so-called health reform consists of creating local boards in Queensland and NSW to replace regional networks, a scheme that sounds similar to the Government’s plan, but of course would be so much lighter on bureaucracy.  There are no more details, no indication of how he will get the states to play ball, no mention of primary care – wait for it.  For a man who reduced health funding by $1 billion when Health Minister, who reduced funds for training doctors and nurses so now they are in very short supply, can you believe anything he says about ‘fixing’ the health and hospitals system?

He floated the idea of a lavish PPL, arguably to trump the Government’s more modest but fiscally responsible scheme that had been worked out after long consultation with stake holders.  His was an opportunistic thought bubble launched without party consultation, with funding coming from a new tax – sorry, temporary levy – on the very sector, big business, he says he’s looking after, and after his ‘no new taxes’ pronouncement.

Another thought bubble was the stay-at-home-mothers’ plan, killed off quickly because it couldn’t be funded.

Then there is the Direct Action Plan for carbon mitigation, a feeble attempt to con people into thinking it would achieve what it said it would.  It’s not without merit, but it’s really a cop-out for a proper plan and having to take hard decisions that affect businesses and householders alike – but after all, global warming is ‘crap’.

Remember the Budget reply speech and the $47 billion ‘savings’ that would fund Coalition initiatives.  Abbott gave us no detail – that was shadow treasurer Joe Hockey’s job, but, anxious to display his economics credentials, Hockey read a ‘learned’ paper to the National Press Club and waited until the end to hand out the list, which in turn was left to Andrew Robb to explain.  That all three included as ‘savings’ the funds that the Government planned to use for infrastructure, reducing company tax and facilitating superannuation funding from 9 to 12% ONLY if and when the RSPT was passed, a measure the Opposition vowed to stop in its tracks, shows their level of illiteracy in economics or simple accounting, or their willingness to deliberately attempt to deceive the public.

Recently Abbott declared the Coalition was ready to govern, and to prove it he presented a 12 point plan.  It’s not worth the space to reproduce here his platitudes – if you want to read them, Andrew Bolt has them listed in Abbott’s 12 points a bit blunt; even he didn’t think much of them.

Can anyone recall policies on tax reform, social services and transfer payments reform, reform of indigenous affairs?  Has he ever said what he would do with the rest of the Henry Tax reforms?  Has he a population policy apart from criticizing every move the Government is making to address the population issue? In fact can anyone recall hearing any coherent statement of his vision for this nation, his narrative for achieving that vision, his determination to tackle the hard reforms that are needed for continuing prosperity?

Yet this man has the hide to present himself to us as potentially the next PM.  But what has the media to say about this, about him, about his policies or lack of them.  Almost nothing, after all, Tony’s a ‘good bloke’.  That’s all that’s needed to escape scrutiny.

What of the rest of the team?

Julie Bishop
What has she done that warrants her position?  She has retained Deputy Leadership across three leaders, mainly because she is a Western Australian.  As shadow treasurer she was incompetent and was replaced.  Then as shadow foreign minister she said all the wrong things over the Stern Hu affair and messed with our national security over the Israeli faked passports episode.  With that record, how could we entrust her to conduct delicate diplomatic discussions?  As chair of a Coalition policy group she seemed to have achieved nothing that can be seen, so it was handed on.

She is a very weak performer.  What could she usefully do in government? 

Warren Truss
As leader of The Nationals, Warren is a nice guy, the antithesis of Abbott’s aggressive approach, but is overshadowed by Barnaby Joyce to the point of being ineffectual.

Joe Hockey
I’ve mentioned his fabricated ‘Budget savings’ already.  It’s been estimated that the Coalition’s real savings are less than a quarter of that claimed, because of the non-existent savings in the MRRT and the fictitious savings by scrapping the NBN.  As Lindsay Tanner put it: “Either Mr Abbott and his colleagues have reached a new level of deceit or . . . the Liberal Party's economic team is even more inept than previously thought."

During the GFC he castigated the Government for ‘reckless spending’ in denial that a recession was coming or had been averted.  He attributed Australia’s avoidance of recession to everything except the Government’s stimulus. This was ridiculous, literally.  He showed no sign of competence regarding financial matters and global economics.

And yet he says repeatedly he wants Wayne Swan’s job!

Andrew Robb
Andrew is to be admired for coming out over his depression and for the way he is coping with it.  But his credentials as shadow finance minister are suspect; he has shared in making the ludicrous statements about the nation’s finances with Abbott and Hockey.  And just this weekend he labelled the Government’s MRRT ‘all smoke and mirrors’, a meaningless mantra that would not escape the lips of one competent in economics and finance.

The Coalition economics/finance team is a motley crew.  How could they be entrusted to run a trillion dollar economy in troubled economic times?

Christopher Pyne
As education spokesman he has done nothing but carp about ‘waste and mismanagement’ in the BER.  Nothing positive about education has escaped his lips.  And as Opposition Manager of Business he has been a serial pest with multiple, spurious time-wasting points of order during parliamentary debates.  He is largely a mouth with no sign of his brain being in gear.

Peter Dutton
This man is almost totally ineffective as shadow health minister and no match for Nicola Roxon.  He may not return after the election.

Scott Morrison
Scott shows some promise but is burdened with Abbott’s intention to return to the ‘successful’ Howard asylum seeker policies that kept the boats from coming – through ineffective TPVs and the inhumane Pacific Solution.

Ian MacFarlane
Ian has had experience and did a commendable job negotiating a revised ETS with Penny Wong; he is one of the better prospects.

Then there are the lesser lights who raise countless points of order in QT such as Bronwyn Bishop, Wilson Tuckey and Kevin Andrews, those who ask occasional questions such as Greg Hunt, Susan Ley, Sophie Mirabella and Steve Ciobo, and those who make up the numbers like Philip Ruddock and Sharman Stone.

Yet sitting on the back bench is Malcolm Turnbull, arguably the most intelligent and talented of all, hoping to return to the front bench, and if Abbott loses comprehensively, maybe to leadership.

In the Senate probably the most gifted Coalition member is Deputy Opposition Leader George Brandis, but surrounded by Eric Abetz of Grech affair fame, Barnaby Joyce who seems more suited to vaudeville with his smart but meaningless quips, Cory ‘Ban the Burqa’ Bernardi, arch-conservatives Mathias Cormann and Concetta Fierravanti-Wells and old-timers such as Bill Heffernan and Helen Coonan, there isn’t much talent around to support him.

What has the Coalition to offer the people of Australia?

Looking critically at the leader, his paper thin front bench, his aging back bench and his limited Senate team, there seems to be little that the Coalition has to offer this nation.  Indeed it is outrageous that it has the temerity to offer such a paltry team to the Australian electorate to replace a competent Government that despite some failings has achieved so much and needs more time to complete its reforms.

Even more outrageous is the fact that the MSM has made so little effort to appraise the Coalition, has made almost no critique of its plans, and has allowed Tony Abbott and his key ministers to get away with hyperbole, spin, factual errors and disingenuous behaviour almost without correction.  It has been left to the Fifth Estate and specialist outlets such as Crikey to set the record straight. 

Is the MSM waiting for the election campaign to do that work, or will its desire for a fierce contest and a close result inhibit it doing its proper job – soberly informing the electorate of the stark choice it has at the 2010 Federal Election?

What do you think?

Turncoats and Political Judas Sheep

Well, over the last week and a bit, after the boil was lanced by the Labor Party and Kevin Rudd was squeezed out of the top job in the country, it seems to me that every entrail has been pored over, from the smallest blog in the land and by every Tweeter, to the analysis of the 'coup' generated by the heaviest hitters at the largest national dailies in Australia, before they paused for breath and turned their attentions to Julia Gillard.  Every word spoken has been recorded, to whom and by whom, every raised eyebrow catalogued and interpreted as to its meaning.  The modus operandi of the Rudd government has been explicated in detail.  Not so much the modus operandi of the media and the part they played in the downfall of Kevin, sadly. 


Which is exactly where I'd like to come into the conversation.

Today, I'd like to look at the way the media has used Labor turncoats, and former social progressives, against the ALP, as Judas Sheep to lead the electorate astray on behalf of the conservative side of politics.

Let me begin by explaining, conceptually, what I mean.

I began to notice a new phenomenon appearing in the media before the 2004 election between Mark Latham and John Howard.  The Murdoch media had incorporated a new weapon into their armoury and deployed it effectively to attempt to destroy the Labor leader and the Labor election campaign.  Chances are they are casting around for one to use against Julia Gillard right now.

The disaffected former partner, member of the ALP, or former ALP Member of Parliament.

When we cast our minds back to the 2004 Latham election, who was it that wounded Mark Latham repeatedly in front of the eyes of the voters, as they scanned their daily papers, over and above the daily grinding down contributed by the usual media suspects?  

Mark Latham's former wife.

She was given a national platform whose prominence was inversely proportional to the value of her contribution to the debate when assessed by objective eyes.  The Australian allowed her to regale the reader with lurid tales about the man, plus provide a running commentary and analysis of his behaviour throughout the campaign.  No wonder Latham had a nervous collapse by the end of it!

I'm sure many electors came to form a large part of their opinion of him based upon her negative characterisations.  For the life of me, I don't know why the bitter recriminations of a spurned spouse should have been given such prominence.  Except to say that they served their purpose well.

Now, fast forward to before the elections of Kevin Rudd and Barack Obama.  It was the appearance of the turncoat as critic that was again used as a tool to bludgeon them and to assail their characters. Both here in News Ltd. Publications and on Sky TV, and in America on the Fox News Network.

In America, Dick Morris, former close adviser to Bill Clinton, has become a strident critic of the Obama Administration on Fox News.  Rabidly so.

In Australia, we have a few also.  Firstly, let me say, before I mention any individuals specifically, what I think it is that their role has become, on behalf of the conservative cause which they are now advancing, whether they admit that that is what they are doing or not. Benignly branding it as 'analysis' cloaks its true purpose.

They are political Judas Sheep, who are being used to lead the electorate astray and the ALP to electoral slaughter, hopefully, if they do their job well for their new masters.

You will notice that the conservative media, whenever these people appear in their pages or on their screens, are punctilious about mentioning their former political incarnation with the ALP.  This serves two purposes as far as I can see.

Firstly, it lends an air of legitimacy to whatever criticism they have to make about the ALP.  Well, were not these people once of the ALP and do they not have the ALP in their political DNA?  So there must be an element of truth to what they say???  This is the expectation that is encouraged in the minds of the unthinking as I see it anyway.  But at the same time it is precisely that link to the past which has been expunged from their present political persona.  Nevertheless, this commentary has a most corrosive effect on the public's perceptions of the ALP, a fact which the conservative media thus knowingly exploits mercilessly.

So, let me just run through the roll call of those who were used, and I'm not saying that they don't do it voluntarily, up until last week, when the Prime Minister of the country was deposed by his own party in a bloodless fashion which was aimed at fending off the attacks to his credibility which had mortally wounded him, like the henpecked chicken and media punching bag that he had become during the last days of the terminal decline of his Prime Ministership, and, as a consequence, his government.

Now, to specifics.

Exhibit #1:  Mark Latham

With the reliable regularity of the terminally-embittered, ever since his own fall from grace at the head of the Labor Party into ignominious defeat was complete, Mark Latham has provided the generally conservative readers of the Australian Financial Review on a fortnightly basis since Kevin Rudd became leader of the ALP, the dubious benefit of his 'wisdom', gleaned from his many years on the inside of the ALP.  Without question his prognostications are now taken as gospel and holy writ.  No longer is he the electorally-humiliated 'Maddie' who broke a taxi driver's arm.  He has been reborn.

As a conservative tool.  No longer are damning assessments written about what he has to say by the likes of Janet Albrechtsen, Matthew Franklin or Dennis Shanahan in the Murdoch press.  Every nugget is now gold.  Pure, unalloyed soothsaying, to be absorbed as the gospel truth, magnified and echoed instead by that same conservative bootstrap machine that once used to flay him alive publicly on a daily basis.  Incongruous, to say the least.  Need I add that he was the first port of call for Murdoch's Sky TV when 'analysis' was needed of the machinations of the ALP's people post Julia Gillard's ascension to the role of Prime Minister.  Suffice to say that once his purpose has been served, and he has no further relevant 'insight' to give, he will be cast aside brutally once again by them, like a used tissue.  Just like his former wife has been.

Exhibit #2: Greg Rudd

As I mentioned before with respect to Mark Latham when he was leading the federal ALP, no one serves the purpose of the conservative media machine better when it comes to the capability of inflicting damaging blows to the credibility of a popular ALP figure than the close family member.

The pretext is, of course, that surely a family member would not speak out of school about their own flesh and blood, or relative by marriage?  Families are harmonious entities where everyone is on the same team, aren't they?  Except in exceptional circumstances, surely?  Hence, if someone from your own family feels the need to criticise you then, ipso facto, it must be a valid criticism.

Yeah right.  And the Easter Bunny is real too.

No converse criticism is ever mounted, no argument made, that I have come across anyway in the mainstream media, that maybe, just maybe, this person just might have an axe to grind with their famous family member.  Instead, what they have to say is given the imprimatur of legitimacy by being given a national platform in the national daily paper, from which all other media outlets appear to source their daily lines and talking points these days.

And so it goes, drip, drip, drip, as their message seeps out into the broader community consciousness, from the loss-leading spigot that is The Australian, whose influence these days is not gauged by the number of papers sold, but by the number of other media outlets influenced.

Exhibit #3: Gary Johns   

This guy is 'the former Minister in the Hawke/Keating government' who now writes regular opinion pieces critiquing the policies of the current Labor government...from his perch atop the conservative Think Tank, the Institute of Public Affairs.  His value to the conservative media appears to lie in the fact that as he was a Minister in the belatedly acknowledged 'reforming' Hawke/Keating government, therefore his standpoint is one of economic rationality, reinforced by the conservative kudos accorded to the Austrian School of Economics fan club that is the IPA, and thus any criticism that he makes, therefore, exposes the economic irrationality of the Labor government.

As he appears to have drunk the conservative Kool Aid, his services probably won't be disposed of anytime soon by the powers that be.  Just expect him to fade from view if the Abbott Conservatives are elected to hold power in the federal government.  Or maybe he'll continue to be trotted out to write glowingly about the economic duds that the Abbott Party obviously are to those who look at them objectively, have more than two brain cells to rub together and eyes to see which are connected to them.

Exhibit #4: The Culture Warriors

Not ones to leave any flank exposed to attack and advancement by the progressive forces, the relentless prosecution of the Culture Wars is maintained in order to diminish the progressive iconography that social democrats hold dear and which form the basis for their faith.  You know, such things as the right NOT to get married, abortion rights for women, the right to be an atheist, or not to have children.  The sort of thing Julia Gillard has been vapidly criticised for already this week, by the feminist turncoat Bettina Arndt.

I mean, who better to have a seemingly similar perspective to the progressives than a former editor of Forum, the 70s equivalent of a ladies lad's Mag?  Couldn't she be relied upon to have the Sisterhood's best interests at heart?  Like hell she does.  I think Bettina Arndt is worse than Keith Windschuttle, who went from 70s Marxist to ultra conservative Editor of Right Wing Thinking Lad's Mag, Quadrant, and ABC Board Member-keeper of the conservative flame at the National Broadcaster for John Howard, as at least Keith is upfront and honest about his transformation.  Bettina, on the other hand, would still like her audience to believe that she still has her finger on the pulse of Australian women.  Hence her opinion is our opinion.  

Don't believe a word of it.  She is as traditionally conservative as they come these days, and I'd no more believe her pronouncements about contemporary female mores, than I would Sarah Palin's, who, coincidentally, is attempting the same conservative wolf in feminist sheep's clothing schtick in the US.

So, in conclusion, let me just ring the warning bells one last time.  Beware the political Judas Sheep who will be used as ALP or progressive proxies, by the powerful forces of darkness that lurk in the shadows, to lure 'the mob' (as Howard loved to derisively refer to the electorate) away from the party who seeks to do the right thing by them, to their doom, like lambs to the slaughter on the altar of global capital and free markets, and against their best interests.

Be alert to their ways and alarmed about why they seek to do it.