Why are we here on The Political Sword?

What are we hoping to achieve by contributing here? Are we having any impact? Does our dialogue make any difference?

As a group of political bloggers we feel we have something to say about the state of politics in this nation. The Political Sword, which has n o allegiance to any party or political movement, provides the opportunity for its visitors to draw attention to what the Fourth Estate is saying, point us to what others in the Fifth Estate are saying, thanks largely to Lyn’s Daily Links, inform us about what the politicians are thinking and doing, express views, and enter into discussion with others who contribute here, even if they have a different viewpoint or a different take on political events or personalities.

Recent difficulty with the site during the upgrade to the most recent version of the blog engine we use has brought forth expressions of support from regulars and offers of financial support. Over the end-of-year break we will assess the future of TPS and what support it might need.

The last few days have shown something more – a sense of camaraderie among contributors, who value each other’s opinions, who enjoy the company the site provides, and who gain satisfaction from sharing their views with like-minded souls and at times with those who are of a different mindset. The feeling of family that has been fostered by visitors has become amazingly strong. It adds significantly to the enjoyment of blogging here. New visitors are welcomed when they offer a comment, often by several regulars. We are a big family. Although over a hundred make comments here, some almost every day, our site statistics show that there are many more who visit regularly but choose not to leave a comment. The number of visitors is increasing.

As we come towards the end of another year, and look to what 2011 holds, it behooves us to review what we want from TPS, how we might contribute to the discourse, how we ought to conduct our discussions, and what we might hope to achieve.

Starting with the latter, for my part I hope we can influence the thinking of those who visit here, some of whom are referred from other sites. Cross-linking in the Fifth Estate is prevalent. Lyn gives us a great set of links every morning to a variety of sites. Her research saves the countless hours it would take to look individually for these links. They enables us to read what others think and say, enrich our understanding of the contemporary issues, garner facts hitherto unknown to us, and modify or reinforce our opinions accordingly. Users of the blogosphere are thereby among the best informed politically, and are well placed to give balanced and informed opinions.

So what might we contribute? Already Bushfire Bill and HillbillySkeleton have joined me in writing for TPS (BB is having a rest just now), and any others of you who feel you have something to say in the way of an original piece can send it to me by email for assessment.

We have also attracted satirists and poets. First Acerbic Conehead, then Patricia WA, NormanK, Talk Turkey and more recently D Mick Weir and 2353 have had a go. Not only are your poems witty, they add greatly to our enjoyment of the site.

The contributions of visitors through comments are already exceptional. Few sites attract such detailed and informative comments and such a rich variety of links. Moreover, the courtesy with which you make them gives TPS an ambience of thoughtfulness and fairness. Of course sometimes your responses express frustration, even annoyance at the substance and style of some who comment here, especially when they make assertions that are not backed up by verifiable facts and well-reasoned argument to which we feel we are entitled. Yet even when you are in fierce disagreement courtesy usually prevails.

As we have been on the road a lot, we listen to talking-books. Currently it is the talking-book version of Edward de Bono’s A beautiful mind. It has some sound advice for those who enter into discourse with others, which apply particularly to those of us who blog.

His first piece of advice is to avoid agreeing with everything another is saying as that can soon take on an aura of obsequiousness, even insincerity. On the other hand, always being in disagreement is even more obnoxious. Both approaches lead to either useless or unpleasant dialogue. It’s the old story of the bell-shaped curve – those who operate around the middle are the ones who provide the most balanced dialogue – those who operate at the extreme tail-ends, the extremists – are the ones who stifle discussion, anger or bore others, and advance thinking very little. At times we have experienced this on TPS, but the facilitatory approach taken in response by many bloggers here has tempered somewhat the extreme statements.

De Bono insists that finding points of agreement can make an otherwise dissonant conversation pleasant. He describes disagreement as often a battle of competing egos as each strives always to be ‘right’. He describes disagreeing with everything as ‘silly’, something our politicians need to learn. He also eschews labels such as ‘stupid’ or ‘hopeless’, when disagreement arises. He suggests that where agreement seems impossible, we might like to explore whether under special circumstances, or within the opponent’s value system or prior experience agreement might be possible. Making an effort to see where the other person is coming from can change perceptions and turn an argument into a useful learning exercise. Dialogue is facilitated when some points of agreement can be found and acknowledged. We see this on TPS, and find it does make for better dialogue.

He points out how sweeping generalizations are difficult to agree with, and make conversation difficult or impossible. ‘Labor cannot manage money’, or ‘Labor always runs up debt’ are two such generalizations that are manifestly untrue, yet are trotted out mindlessly by Labor’s opponents. Likewise, to say ‘the Coalition always opposes’, is not the case, even although it often looks that way. ‘No politician can be trusted’ is equally untrue. Dogmatism, rigidity, prejudice and bigotry represent box-like thinking, with people or ideas being positioned either in the box or outside it – with nothing in between. He describes the classic errors that bedevil discourse: errors of logic, misinterpretation of data and selective perception. He emphasizes the importance of politeness even when disagreeing, instead of using rudeness, aggressiveness and bullying to get one’s way. I thought as I listened how germane his advice was to bloggers.

To return to the beginning, why do we blog here on TPS? There are many reasons: advancing our political knowledge and understanding, getting in touch with emerging trends – HillbillySkeleton’s last piece is a classic example – communicating with others of similar interest, expressing our views about policies, parties and politicians, pointing to those with which we agree or disagree, plying our knowledge and reason to political issues, advocating or opposing causes with passion and conviction, and not least enjoyment, entertainment, conversation with our blogger friends, lapping up their satire or poetry, enjoying their camaraderie, and feeling part of an extended family, all laudable.

But do we make a difference? Do we influence thinking? How much weight do we carry?

There seems little doubt that we inform each other and influence thinking among our visitors, sometime positively, and at time perhaps negatively. But how far does our influence extend beyond TPS? Many who blog here also blog on both Fourth Estate and Fifth Estate sites, and thereby carry facts, views and opinions from here to elsewhere. Some who have their own blogs, such as Grog, Nasking and Miglo, blog here and cross-pollinate. Occasionally another blog will pick up something on TPS. There was an example of this the other day when North Coast Voices picked up on something written about Tony Abbott on TPS in Does Labor fight too ‘clean’? that linked to that piece on TPS. The extent to which those in the Fourth Estate read blogs at all and this one in particular, is unknown. From feedback, we know some do, but how much is a mystery. The fact that Grog’s celebrated piece about the poor standard of reporting by the MSM of the election campaign was picked up by Mark Scott of the ABC, promulgated at a public conference, and taken up by journalists at The Australian, leading to James Massola’s ‘outing’ of Greg, was compelling evidence that some blogs do catch the eye of those outside the Fifth Estate.

We shall probably never know how far what we contribute here travels, how much influence it has, and how much it changes others’ opinions. But the feeling that it may, and probably does, keeps us going as we fight for what we believe is fair and just and in the nation’s interest. It seems well worthwhile to me. What about you?

Of Grassroots and AstroTurf

Professor Skeleton, here. Today I'd like to explain to you the concepts behind the practice of AstroTurfing.

You'll find, if you just look hard enough around you these days, in the political and public sphere, that an awful lot of AstroTurf is springing up about the place.

What is this 'AstroTurf' of which I speak, I hear you ask? Well, if you check out this link you will get a better idea than any number of words I can spout out at you.

After perusing the information you may mistakenly conclude that AstroTurfing only refers to US groups that are fronts for shadowy corporate interests, but it is my belief that we are seeing/have seen, similar groupings in Australia.

I specifically remember Frank Lowy's Westfield company being caught out a few years ago funding so-called 'Residents Action Groups' who were supposedly opposed to a DFO outlet being built in their neighbourhood, when in fact it was really Mr Lowy, who objected to the competition to his own Shopping Centre in the area, but who had had no legal basis upon which to mount a challenge to it and who was found out to be the funder behind the RAG.

He was found out to be clandestinely fomenting the opposition due to some first class investigative journalism, and the action fizzled. The RAG dried up and blew away. But he almost got away with it, as politicians, who ultimately make the decisions about issues such as this, generally run away from a fight with a vocal local group, as they are also their constituents and they don't want to lose their votes. This is especially so in countries where voting is not compulsory and you have to motivate people to like you enough to get up out of their lounge chairs to go to the polling booth and put a tick beside your name, as in America.

Thus, it's been obvious to corporate types for a long while now how they can successfully affect outcomes, govern by proxy from the shadows, manipulate and influence the political debate by using this very methodology.

This Guardian article outlines how the American Tea Party 'Movement' is just such an outfit at its core.  In this article you will notice the name of a crusading young Australian, Taki Oldham, who was recently presented with an RMIT Business Arts Foundation Fellowship. Here he is. This courageous young man has taken his Fellowship money and talent and taken off from our shores and gone to the US and produced a film about the evil designs of the billionaires behind the American Tea Parties and their AstroTurfing pursuits. You can read about it and see trailers for the movie in the this Huffington Post article. The video is about the political subterfuge that is AstroTurfing.

Why is it important to read about the American Tea Party and their AstroTurfing pursuits?

Because what comes about in American Conservative politics eventually finds its way to the Australian Conservative political movement, now being led by Tony Abbott.

Not only that, but I have also noticed that recently a new political ginger group called 'CANdo', with its links to Tony Abbott's protege, Senator Cory Bernardi, has been formed.  Ostensibly, it has been formed to counter 'Get Up' from a conservative perspective and run campaigns promoting their causes and ideology.

Actually, it would be a good idea to keep an eye on the campaigns they run and whether it inspires the sort of vocal grassroots uprising that has characterised the Tea Party movement in the US.

To the extent that it would not surprise me to find a shadowy conservative group of backers behind the raucous protests which we are now seeing in the Murray-Darling Basin Plan 'Consultation' meetings. The reactions of the people there are eerily reminiscent of those that we saw in the US recently over the changes to their Health Care provisions, which made their system more equitable and affordable, but less profitable for the Health Management Organisations (who had lots of profit money to fund the dissent).

Also, I read recently that the Victorian Farmers Federation is planning on more formal organised protests to the MDB Draft Plan, in order to try to influence the outcomes.  They have declared, 'War!', and whilst they are not your normal sinister multinational concern, they do represent vested interests, and they too have realised that organised grassroots action, performed aggressively, is a sure-fire way of getting results for your cause.

Finally, I have decided to save the worst till last.

Yes, Australia has its very own version of AstroTurf Inc., otherwise known as The Australian Tea Party'.  (Please note the little purple box on the right hand side of the website: 'Tea Party Training - Develop your organising skills'). That is, a prime motivation is organised disruption.

And a very nasty bunch of avid conservatives, Libertarians, in the worst possible sense, and 'Free Market' (as in, free to keep as much of their own money as they can con the rest of us into allowing them to, plus ultimately accreting enough power unto themselves to tell the rest of us to go jump, when to jump, and how high), goons they are.

They have their nifty little slogan: 'Taxed Enough Already', which simplistically appeals to the Greed-head in all hard-working types that don't have the time, or the inclination, to think about what the corollary of drastically-reduced government revenues is. They aim to angrily agitate their way to some other rather nasty goals too. Such that I heard Tony Abbott advocating for the repeal of John Howard's Gun Control Laws the other day. Which is of a piece with the American Tea Party's aim of a fully armed citizenry. This again ties them to the Australian Tea Party, who also advocate relaxation of gun laws, and who seem to have as one of their major movers and shakers a zealous individual called Dean Bertram, who has a PhD from Sydney University in American Cultural History (and you don't need to be Einstein to guess which side of the political divide in America he supports), who wrote his thesis on American UFO Cults(!), and who started the Australian Horror Film Festival.

He epitomises the nastier aspects of this Laissez Faire Libertarian, Dog Eat Dog mindset, where, as in the Horror Movies he reveres, it is the guy with the Chain Saw, or the Mediaeval Instruments of Torture, who wins at the end of the day.

His mindset espouses 'No Room at the Inn' for the weak, the poor and the downtrodden, merely a survival and prospering of the meanest and nastiest.

Also, in a further worrying development, I have noticed a resurgence of the 'One Nation' ethos and mentality in South Australia around the issue of the housing of harmless Asylum Seeker families in an abandoned Defence Forces Housing Estate in Inverbrachie.

A vocal mob of over 500 turned up to a Town Hall meeting with the Immigration Department to 'voice their concerns' about the move.

As has become noticeable since the Tea Party movement started in the US, decorum went out the door to be replaced by jeering, overblown negative rhetoric and an overt intolerance of change and preference for the status quo, which looked very white and very conservative to my eyes.

Also, I'll just make the side point that these are the exact same subset of people who loudly proclaim their patriotism at every turn and support for 'our boys' in the Armed Forces fighting the wars that lead to the displaced people who come to our shores as migrants and refugees and who need to be settled here away from the conflict causing their flight.

However, rationalism and intellectual consistency have never been the strong suits of community knee-jerk responses and agitators like Pauline Hanson and her 'One Nation' political party, or the Tea Party.

Opportunism by the shadowy forces behind the scenes of these movements, who stoke fear and resentment, is the motivating factor. Because if you can foster a sense of naked self-interest in the population as a general raison d'être, then you can use it as a Trojan Horse to advance your own agenda, and you will have cultivated willing foot soldiers angry enough to mount the battlements subsequently, on your behalf.

Which is what it's all about at the end of the day really, this AstroTurfing business. With the emphasis on 'Business'.

Does Labor fight too 'clean'?

Recall a bar fight in an old Western movie. The goodies walk into a bar for a drink and are confronted by a mob of sinister-looking baddies who resent the invasion of their space and soon make it clear they are up for a no-holds bare-knuckle brawl where anything goes. No Marquess of Queensberry rules govern their behaviour – chairs, anything solid and able to be propelled, anything sharp, even firearms are all used as weapons of combat. The goodies though stick to the ‘rules’. They eschew any ‘unfair’ or ‘illegitimate’ tactics – bare knuckles yes, but no chairs or dangerous weapons. And they usually win! Their superior fighting skills and their ability to dodge flying missiles stand them in such good stead that they triumph. The aggressors slink away defeated or lie unconscious on the floor, while the victors casually order a drink from an intimidated quaking barman. Of course that happened in the movies, and represented a fictional scenario. In real life the baddies too often triumph, because they don’t follow the rules, because they use underhand tactics ruthlessly to achieve victory. Remember Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors. Fighting 'clean' is not a reliable way to success.

Recent events suggest to me that Labor is too ‘clean’ in fighting the Coalition’s outrageous aggression, and while that might attract applause from those who prefer to stick to decent ‘rules of political combat’, is it an effective strategy?

Let’s look at a few recent examples:

Take the attack on the Government by Tony Abbott over the contemporary court martial of three Australian soldiers in Afghanistan. In a particularly contemptible assault he accused the Government of ‘stabbing the soldiers in the back’ and not giving them the support they des erved, of abandoning these men fighting as they are for their country. It was a powerful and aggressive strike. Yet what did the mild-mannered Stephen Smith say? He said Abbott’s words were ‘unfortunate’. Too right they were, but in the hurly burley of politics, words hardly like to make headlines, hardly likely to effectively rebut the Abbott charges.

I would have preferred him to say to Abbott: “How dare you have the temerity to make such outrageous accusations. It was the Howard Government, in which you were a minister that created the process for such trials of servicemen thought to be in contravention of the rules of engagement, and it had bipartisan support from Labor. You know perfectly well that in this process Government has no part to play, nor have politicians or politics. You know that this Government wants the process YOU established to bring about a considered outcome and that it wishes to play no part in it. Yet you come along with this completely illegitimate accusation which you know is dishonest, in order to score political points. And you were only too willing to enlist Alan Jones to promulgate this deception, something he was only too ready to do. Worse still, you allowed him, without contradiction, to denigrate the female prosecutor for laying the charges, even although you knew that she was acting completely in accordance with the process the Howard Government established. How dare you behave in this disgracefully disingenuous way, cast aspersions on those involved, and the Government too, although it is NOT involved. This is worse even that the usual low standards of political discourse which you employ. You are a disgrace.”

Smith’s mild reply did nothing to dent Abbott’s aggression, did nothing to quell any anger that Abbott generated in the minds of the people that somehow the Government was not giving these soldiers the traditional Aussie ‘fair go’. Fighting ‘clean’ did the Government no good; it allowed the media to promulgate the Abbott negativity sans the rebuttal.

The second issue, in quick succession, was the Murray Darling Basin report. Again Abbott was quick to condemn the Government for threatening, even destroying rural and regional towns by reducing water allocations, and when angry locals met to discuss the report he asked: ‘Where was the Water Minister?

At least Tony Burke had the foresight to get the facts together to rebut this in QT.

He pointed out that the Commission was established by the Howard Government, was independent of government, had simply produced a report for discussion, not a definitive plan for action, that there were many more steps in the process, and that the Coalition, far from distancing itself from the report, had said during the election campaign that it would implement the Commission’s recommendations in their entirety within weeks of being elected, words Burke quoted verbatim. He also pointed out that it would be inappropriate for him to appear at community meetings of the Commission as it was an independent body, and he had no place there. Every accusation that Abbott levelled was, to use an Abbott expression, ‘demolished’. Burke did it in a good humoured way, but why not get stuck into Abbott for his deceptive assertions. Why not say: “You are grotesque – you know your government established the Murray-Darling Commission as a body completely independent of government and commissioned the Murray-Darling Basin report to be prepared. You know that Government ministers played no part in its preparation, nor could they have, and that accusing them of threatening rural communities is grossly misleading, but typical of the deceitful and hypocritical behaviour for which you have established an unenviable reputation.” Fighting ‘clean’ does not make headlines.

Then there was the pathetic episode over Abbott’s visit to Afghanistan. Again he wrongly accused Julia Gillard of ‘Machiavellian bastardry’, insisting that she had ‘leaked’ the story that he had declined her invitation to accompany her to Afghanistan, which neither she or her office had, as attested by the author of the piece about the leak, Phillip Coorey. Yet that didn’t stop Abbott from saying this episode rendered Gillard ‘unfit to be PM’ a headline the ABC faithfully replicated. I wish Julia Gillard had said: “How dare you accuse me of ‘Machiavellian bastardry’ when you could easily have diverted any criticism the Coorey article implied by simply saying – ‘I already have plans to visit the troops in Afghanistan but they did not fit in with the PM’s visit. I am keen to see the conditions under which they are serving this country – security issues demand that I announce my plans at a time that is appropriate.’ Instead you chose to make political capital out of a situation that you yourself created with your cock and bull story of not wanting to be ‘jet-lagged’ for your meeting with your conservative mates. If you are not smart enough to craft a plausible story, if you are inflicted with chronic foot-in-mouth syndrome, are YOU fit to be PM?”

Fighting ‘clean’ will not attract the attention of News Limited journos hell-bent on demeaning the Government.

Now some of you may prefer the gentle approach, the turning of the other cheek, the countering of aggression with meekness. Personally, I’m sick and tired of this approach. If Abbott wants to pick a bare-knuckle fight, if he wants to delve into his bag of dirty tricks, if he insists on lying, if he insists on deception at every turn, if nothing is too low, too disingenuous for him to assault the Government with, then I would prefer to meet fire with fire, to slam him as he so enjoys slamming Gillard and the Government, kick him where it hurts most, and demolish his arguments with unambiguous searing rhetoric, such that he cowers in a dark corner. Abbott is a bully. Bullies always retreat when they get a strong dose of their own medicine. Abbott needs a very strong dose. Fighting ‘clean’ is not working.

What do you think?

We don’t know the meaning of ‘Wrong’!

Indefatigable, relentless positivism and negativism and a strict adherence to the Murdoch corporate mantra, "We don't know the meaning of 'Wrong'!" That's what amazes me about the Coalition and Conservative politicians in general, both here and around the world, and conservative commentators in the media. Also the fact that Progressive politicians don't seem to understand this political raison d'etre.

As I sit here from day to day observing the machinations of the political world, I see issues come along, germinate, be fertilised, bloom, and be cut down by rational argument from one side of the debate or the other, a result of an objective perspective.

Or so I used to think. However, with the 'Jet-lag-gate' issue which has come to prominence over the last little while that involved Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard, I observed Mr Abbott over the ensuing days attempting to turn, with the aid of his support crew in the media, a negative for himself into a positive, both for himself and the Coalition as others from his political team became players in the latest episode of 'all aggro, all the time' Tony Abbott style politics.

He and his crew tried every which way but loose over the last week, after Mr Abbott made his initial 'Wrong' move, to turn 'Wrong' into 'Right' for the Coalition.

'There is no such thing as 'Wrong', just an opportunity, after the initial 'misstep', where Tony Abbott, our very own Vladimir Putin impersonator, offered up his apology for 'misspeaking', constantly, until he got the form of words right which achieved his aim of correctly airbrushing his mistake away from front of mind of anyone who has been following the saga, and from the front pages of the newspapers, Up until yesterday, that is, when he put his foot in it again, as part of his ongoing campaign to defame and delegitimize the Gillard government, by complaining of the Prime Minister's “low act of political bastardry”, which, as it subsequently turned out, she was not guilty of. No matter probably to Mr Abbott. He got a day's run for his slur in the media. I'm sure he also goes by the mantra that, 'There's no such thing as bad publicity'.

I also found it interesting to note just where Tony Abbott goes when he wants to perform his absolution ablutions or launch a pre-emptive attack on the Gillard government. First stop, not the National Broadcaster anymore, though they can just about always be counted on these days to fall into lockstep once he gets his lines out there, as we have seen most recently with the echoing, without analysis, of the 'political bastardry' meme; no, pitching directly to his favourite demographic he heads for the John Singleton/Allan Jones Syndicated Radio Network of 2GB, 4BC/MTR etc. They can be guaranteed to give whatever he has to say unquestioning support and reinforcement, unlike the ABC, who on occasion question his assumptions when interviewing him directly.

Tony Abbott's words are then bounced around the media echo chamber because, hungry for a mea culpa for a previously identified infraction, when Tony Abbott was identified as having said something 'Wrong', they take what they can get and what he says next, even if they don't end up getting what they were after. They have to, he's the Opposition Leader and they are duty bound to report what he says, and he knows it and exploits that position.

In this way, and with so many other examples from Coalition spokespersons, such as the one referenced by Ash in his blog The Confidence vs The Con, which is about Joe Hockey and the rise and fall of his pre-emptive strike at the government over an Interest Rate rise that never eventuated, we can see the modus operandi of the Coalition Communication strategy very clearly. Every negative that they perceive for the government has to be made into a greater negative and every negative for the Coalition has to be transmogrified into a positive before it has had time to become a negative for them. And they 'Don't know the meaning of 'Wrong'!'.

Which leads me to the actual point of my musing today.

Why is the federal ALP government unable to kick goals in the media the way the Coalition can?

Why is it that they have to be so self-conscious about being shameless when they front the media?

Why don't they have a spokesman ready to go on air and into print every day primed and ready to have a whack at the Opposition over the latest example of over-the-top hyperbole, misogyny towards the Prime Minister, or attack from Tony Abbott or Christopher Pyne? It's exactly what the Opposition do in reverse, every day. Thus they get to fill the vacuum in the media which is always waiting to be filled. The government may wish to rise above the 24/7 cycle that it got sucked into in the last term, and seek to develop a greater over-arching media strategy; however, they should also realise that they must walk and chew gum in the media at the same time. It cannot be an either/or situation. They must do both. Effectively.

In these days, when an avowed non-truth teller, who will gladly and glibly go back on his word, signed in blood or whatever, at the drop of a hat, can still somehow manage to retain at least a skerrick of credibility, and what's more be given the benefit of the doubt repeatedly by an indulgent media, then the ALP spokespeople, from the PM down, have to learn how to take a trick from him and his colleagues in the Coalition in the political Poker game.

As everyone, from Bernard Keane of Crikey, down, seems to be saying at the moment, why, when they have so many positive achievements to sell, with which they could be hitting home runs into the electorate, are the ALP striking out, unable to sell their product successfully to the electorate?

Anyway, so as to help the ALP get its communications act together, because they can't rely on Tony Abbott's foot-in-mouth disease to be his fatal flaw, especially when his mates in the Mainstream Media keep offering him a hand-up out of the verbal quicksand into which he keeps getting himself, I thus thought I'd go do some searching around for some salient advice which might help them along the path to better communication with the electorate. Other than waking up to the new paradigm that is, 'There is no such thing as 'Wrong'!'

Firstly, I think they need to understand the nature of truth telling better. As Friedrich Nietzsche puts it: "What then is truth? A mobile army of metaphors, metonymy's, and anthropomorphism – in short, a sum of human relations, which have been enhanced, transposed, and embellished poetically and rhetorically, and which after long use seem firm, canonical, and obligatory to a people: truths are illusions about which one has forgotten that is what they are; metaphors which are worn out and without sensuous power; coins which have lost their pictures and now matter only as metal, no longer as coins. We still do not know where the urge for truth comes from; for as yet we have heard only of the obligation imposed by society that it should exist: to be truthful means using the customary metaphors – in moral terms, the obligation to lie according to fixed convention, to lie herd-like in a style obligatory for all ... "

In other words, if it is plausible and you say it for long enough and often enough, and it has its basis in truth, somewhat embellished, eventually people will believe you.

Construct the right frame and people will get the picture.

Secondly, keep creating a new verbal paradigm to go with the 'new political paradigm' you say you are trying to foster. Hence, as I have just read concerning Progressive political groups and media companies in the US, leave behind the old 'Left/Right' descriptors – they possess too much confusing baggage – and start referring to your political movement as say, ‘leaning towards the future, seeking solutions that will prepare us for the challenges ahead'. Accentuate the positives, and talk about them constantly, and reinforce the fact that your opponents merely want to re-invent the wheel and recreate past glories, because they are not forward-thinking but conservative thinkers.

Make a point of the fact that their philosophical inspiration comes from archaic, arch-conservative thinkers from the past, such as Ayn Rand and Friedrich Hayek. Get out into the community to explain why this type of thinking is wrong for the 21st century and why we need to leave the past and its mistakes behind. Constantly point out what those mistakes were, and what such corrupt thinking will lead to again. As we are living in the 21st century, with a whole new and unique set of challenges that can't be answered by preserving society in aspic. The old ideologues that the conservatives rely on never had to deal with the challenges which we are facing now. Etc, etc.

See how I infused my statements with words like 'now', 'new', 'unique', 'challenges', 'the future'? Words that make the distinction between the two forces who seek to shape politics as clear as black and white.

Also, as in America, so it goes in Australia. Those of us in the Progressive community need to start thinking about our identity more deeply, as this article, Liberal Branding, outlines. 

How about coming up with a universal byline that encapsulates what Progressives stand for, like this one:

'Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.' – Helen Keller.

They might have Ayn Rand, but we can have Helen Keller! (And guess who is who in the pictures below!) Anyway, you get my drift I hope.

Finally, enough of the apologetic tone. The Coalition never sound apologetic. They don't know the meaning of 'Wrong'! What they do know is that it makes you look weak when you adopt a defensive tone, and that's the last thing that a leader, and that's what our politicians are, our civilian leaders, should look like.

Any more suggestions?


 

Grog, do come back – we need you

We at The Political Sword understand how affronted you must have felt when News Limited’s hit-man James Massola ‘outed’ you as Greg Jericho, a public servant working in the film area of the Office for the Arts of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet in Canberra. He knew that for over a year, and we too knew you were in the public service, that you worked at that job during the day and created your blog pieces after you had cleaned up after your evening meal. We admired your resilience and your capacity to write such incisive pieces late in the evening after a day’s work. Never did we perceive that you had written anything you had derived from your professional work.

So what was the big deal with Massola, or perhaps with News Limited that pulls his strings?

There has been a mountain of newspaper articles and blog pieces written about this unsavoury episode. Most in the Fifth Estate have been supportive of you personally and of your position. The consensus seems to be that you upset News Limited with your piece on Grog's Gamut of July 30: Election 2010: Day 14 (or waste and mismanagement – the media) that exposed the shallowness and incompetence of so much of the MSM’s coverage of the election campaign, and the preoccupation it had with trivia. The ABC’s Mark Scott was impressed sufficiently with what you said to discuss it with his senior executives and mention that fact at the Media 140 conference, but News Limited was sufficiently unimpressed with you that it set out to silence you by ‘outing’ you. The outcry from your many, many supporters must have given you solace, but as far as I can ascertain your last piece was on September 27: Spartacus no more in which you explained how the situation in which you found yourself had come about. Why no more?

Of course not all media coverage has been supportive of your position, or indeed of the position of bloggers in general, as we saw in the Townsville Bulletin, appropriately tagged ‘The Bully’, in its anonymous editorial Cowardly world of bloggers which labelled us “…increasingly puerile bloggers, self-appointed guardians of righteousness and all that is wrong about society and, in particular, newspapers.” And later in the article it asserted: “Bloggers, on the other hand, represent nothing. They whinge, carp and whine about our role in society, and yet they contribute nothing to it, other than satisfying their juvenile egos.” So there…

This short piece is not intended to go over the ground already trampled by many others. Our sentiments and assurance of support were posted in comments on The Political Sword at the time this story broke.

This piece is intended to reinforce our strong backing for what you have done in the blogosphere, to commend you for your forthrightness and the incisiveness of your comments, and to say that we are seriously missing your contributions to the political discourse. You have become one of the most respected bloggers in this country, followed assiduously by many who looked forward each day to your perceptive analysis of the day’s or week’s events. We are missing your penetrating, razor sharp appraisals of political events and political personalities, and hoping you will soon return.

We do not know if you are under any constraints that prevent you from continuing your blog, or are apprehensive that doing so might evoke another uncalled-for attack from News Limited. We earnestly hope that you have not been subject to intimidation. We do not presume to know your circumstances or feelings but I’m sure you will understand our motivation for saying:

Grog, do come back – we need you.

The NBN debate – a clutter of misinformation

Why is it that important debates around complex public policy are so contaminated by misinformation, so uninformed by accurate and complete information? At the charitable end of the spectrum it is because few if any have all the information, fewer understand it if they do, and even fewer are able to provide a lucid exposition if they had the inclination. At the other end of the spectrum, self interest operates so powerfully that withholding some of the information is deliberate, distorting it is a tactical objective, and presenting it in a manner favourable to the individual’s viewpoint is a strategic aim.

The debate about global warming is a classic example. Even those whose professional training requires them to be as objective and factually accurate as is humanly possible, in this case the climate change scientists, have consciously to strive to avoid bias. In a couple of notable instances they failed on this count at the University of East Anglia, and were pilloried for it in the media in what it chose to label ‘climategate’.

We are already seeing the debate about the Wild Rivers legislation distorted by self interest, and the emerging debate about Afghanistan too is headed that way.

This piece focuses on the NBN debate, not in any way to be an exposé that makes everything crystal clear. Many have tackled that in part, but has anyone done it comprehensively? Not that I’m aware of. Instead, the piece challenges the statements that have been made about the NBN, many of which are contradictory, often incomplete, too frequently inaccurate, or just plain devious. The purpose is to highlight the need to question every statement and to insist on seeing the supporting facts and the reasoning that has lead to the conclusion before accepting its veracity.

The $43 billion price tag
Let’s start with the most publicized fact, the total cost, said to be $43 billion, for rolling out the network nationwide. This is the figure the opponents of the NBN like to use as it is the highest. Yet Stephen Conroy has said repeatedly that the actual cost to the federal budget would be around $26 billion, the rest to be raised by NBN Co by selling bonds. The McKinsey KPMG report and Mike Quigley, CEO of NBN Co put the figure at between $26 and $27 billion. Whatever it is, it is around $16 billion less than the figure most used. Yet the larger figure is the figure we all know about. Labor has not done well in countering the $43 billion figure as the cost to the budget with the more probable one. And even when it has attempted to do so, the counter has always been - what happens if the bonds do not raise the money budgeted – won’t the taxpayer have to fork out? So the $43 billion figure persists, notwithstanding the fact that is almost certainly not what taxpayers will have to pay.

On Lateline on 29 September Tony Jones tried to resolve this issue in Malcolm Turnbull in Conroy, Turnbull clash over NBN cost

“TONY JONES: If private investors put up $16 billion of the total cost of $43 billion, that's their risk, isn't it?

“MALCOLM TURNBULL: Well, it's actually the taxpayers' risk because their loans will be secured on the assets and undertaking of the NBN Co; the taxpayer, the Federal Government, will be the equity owner, it will have $26 billion ranking behind the debt, so that if the company gets into trouble, it will be the Federal Government, the taxpayers, that will lose money. I mean, I think everybody understands this. What Stephen is saying is that he believes the company can attract some private borrowing.”


So with a flurry of words Malcolm casts doubt on the prospect of investors stumping up the $16 billion with a wave of his imperious hand. It’s easy for him to do that and insist that the taxpayer still takes the risk!

Obfuscation reigns supreme.

The cost to the householder will be excessive
The next argument is that the cost of the rollout to the householder is too high. How is that calculated? Seemingly by dividing the number of households in Australia into the ‘$43 billion price tag’! Ashghebranious has written a nice dissection of this arithmetic in his piece: Infrastructure: the need for a NBN.  He makes an interesting comparison of the benefit of the NBN with the benefit that would have accrued from Tony Abbott’s offer of $1 billion to Andrew Wilkie for a new hospital in Hobart. I won’t repeat his reasoning here. Do read what he has to say.

The figures bandied around about the cost per household range from $4,000 to $5,000 to as high as $7,000 offered by the Mexican telecommunications billionaire Carlos Slim Helu. How are the figures so different? How are they calculated? Ask the authors. On Lateline on 29 September Tony Jones asked this of Malcolm Turnbull in the same interview Conroy, Turnbull clash over NBN cost. Here’s the exchange:

“TONY JONES: Well, hang on a sec! Hold on, hold on, hold on. You've raised the question of the costs per household, Malcolm Turnbull. Now, I think you've written it'll be $4,000 per household. Tony Abbott says it'll be $5,000 per household. The visiting Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim Helu says it'll be $7,000 per household. Who's right?

“MALCOLM TURNBULL: Well, I mean, you can just work it out. You can divide through the number of households by 40 - divide the number of households into $43 billion and you get the answer.

“TONY JONES: Well, no, you don't. We actually did that. Your figure, your $4,000 figure multiplied by 8.57 million households comes out at $34 billion, so I'm wondering how you came up with your figure to start with.

“MALCOLM TURNBULL: Well, I'm not sure whether that - where that figure came from, but it's $43 billion over around - over around nine million households and businesses. So ...

“STEPHEN CONROY: But that's a completely false representation. This is investing in an asset that will last up to 40 years. If you take even Malcolm's $4,000 and stretch that across 40 years, it's about 13 cents a day.

“So, you can't say that you add up the whole total cost for asset that lasts up to 40 years and suddenly try and bemuse and trick ordinary Australians that that's the actual cost. This is an asset over 40 years, Tony! 13 cents a day!”


See how easy it is for politicians to play with the facts to produce the outcome that best suits their case. But how well does that inform the public?

You may wish to read the transcript of the whole interview here

A colossal white elephant
Then there is the ‘colossal white elephant’ charge that the Coalition makes, without any shred of justification. A white elephant is ‘an idiom for a valuable possession of which its owner cannot dispose and whose cost, particularly cost of upkeep, is out of proportion to its usefulness or worth’. So the onus of proof here is that the usefulness of the NBN is not worth the cost. I have not heard any cogent case made for the NBN not being useful. Even the Coalition concedes it will be useful, but maintains that it could provide something useful enough at a much lesser cost. So the argument is that usefulness of the NBN does not warrant the cost. This argument is void since the potential of the NBN, while knowable to some extent and impressive though that is, it is not completely knowable. The Coalition seems unwilling to concede the potential of the NBN – it doesn’t suit its argument.

More obfuscation.

The clamour for a cost-benefit analysis and a business plan
Next there is the perennial argument that there has been no cost-benefit analysis or business plan. That’s what is said over and again.

According to Wikipedia, 'Cost-benefit analysis is a term that refers both to helping to appraise, or assess, the case for a project, programme or policy proposal, and an approach to making economic decisions of any kind. Under both definitions the process involves, whether explicitly or implicitly, weighing the total expected costs against the total expected benefits of one or more actions in order to choose the best or most profitable option. The formal process is often referred to as either CBA (Cost-Benefit Analysis) or BCA (Benefit-Cost Analysis).’ You may be interested to read more of what Wikipedia has to say about the ‘closely related, but slightly different, formal techniques include cost-effectiveness analysis, economic impact analysis, fiscal impact analysis and Social Return on Investment (SROI) analysis.’  CBA is a very complex concept when applied to massive projects, although it’s represented as being so simple. So what analysis has been done? This is what Stephen Conroy had to say on Lateline about the $25 million, five hundred page McKinsey KPMG report:

“STEPHEN CONROY: Well, the McKinsey's report clearly demonstrates that there is a financially viable business case, that it will start earning positive income streams after about the seventh or eighth year in a way that will allow it to issue bonds. It's quite simple, it's straightforward and it's in the McKinsey's report.” Of course Malcolm Turnbull dismisses the report as ”…the most fanciful pieces of financial analysis you could imagine. It is a laughing stock right around the industry.” The imperious hand at work again.

What about a ‘business plan’. Again Wikipedia has a definition: ‘A business plan is a formal statement of a set of business goals, the reasons why they are believed attainable, and the plan for reaching those goals. It may also contain background information about the organization or team attempting to reach those goals.’ Is that as complicated as those who demand a business plan imply? Is the five hundred-page Implementation Plan prepared by McKinsey KPMG a ‘business plan/case’? It seems to fit the definition. In any case, NBN Co says it has a plan (which is commercial-in-confidence) and on Lateline Stephen Conroy said: “…we spent $25 million on a McKinsey's report into the business case which went through all of this information. It provided a business case that said the NBN is financially viable and affordable for Australians.”

So is there a business plan/case or not? Has a cost-benefit analysis been done? It depends on who you ask!

Let’s have a look at what our own NormanK had to say on this subject in a well-reasoned comment on a recent post:

“On the subject of the NBN, indulge me while I offer an analogy. First, let me make a semantic distinction between ‘cost’ and ‘outlay’. For the purposes of this post let us allow ‘cost’ to mean money put forward with no prospect of being directly recouped and ‘outlay’ to be an investment which might reasonably be seen to produce a monetary return.

“If I were to contemplate the purchase of a new computer because the latest model would be faster, more efficient and require less maintenance, I might do a cost-benefit analysis.

“Cost is pretty straightforward - for ease of handling let's say $2000 plus $100 interest on a loan to buy it. I might anticipate that I will get 5 years out of it before it starts to incur further costs in maintenance and upgrades. I could do some sums to calculate the benefits that I might be able to derive from my new toy such as less travel time, better security for on-line activities, faster speeds for processing work and so on. These sums would be very rubbery and any small shift in a single parameter (e.g. how often I use the computer) could alter the outcome. Let's say I reckon I can benefit to the tune of $1000 over the five year life of the computer. Now I have to decide whether a $1100 loss in cash terms (presuming the computer is worth nothing in re-sale value after five years) and an ambiguous $1000 gain in benefits is value for money.

“If however, I can find people who are willing to collectively pay $420 per year for access to my computer, by the end of five years I will have covered my outlay, including interest on my loan. What need then do I have for a cost-benefit analysis? My computer has cost me nothing to buy and I have accrued possibly $1000 in benefits.

“Seriously understated in the discussion of the NBN is the fact that although the outlay of taxpayers' money will be to the tune of $27 billion (according to NBN Co), the cost after fifteen years (according to the McKinsey Implementation Study) will be zero. On top of that will be the benefits:

“This is from the NBN Co website: ‘Access Economics states that adopting smart technologies in electricity, irrigation, health, transport and broadband could add more than 70,000 jobs to the economy in 2014 alone. It also predicts an increase in GDP by 1.5 per cent within ten years due to the same investments. Access Economics has based its research on a national Fibre-to-the-Node network and notes the benefits would be even more pronounced under the Fibre-to-the-Premises plan. Access Economics has predicted high speed broadband itself to increase the net present value of GDP by $8 - $23 billion over ten years and create 33,000 jobs (in the roll-out) by 2011.’ “

Norman goes on to quote an article from The Australian on August 19, 2010, Report trumpets benefits of NBN: "The research firm (Access Economics) was asked to uncover the impact of a high-speed broadband network on telemedicine for remote consultations, remote home-based monitoring of chronic-disease patients and the aged, and remote training of medical professionals (using haptics). At present some institutions, including some rural public hospitals, have access to the high-speed, high-capacity data connections needed for telehealth. However, with the NBN, small hospitals and medical centres, individual doctors and private homes will all be able to participate in telehealth. While many urban locations currently have high-speed broadband, usually upload speeds are much slower than download speeds, and reliability can be patchy. Both of these are substantial impediments to telehealth, which would be remedied by the NBN.''

Norman quotes from the Access Economics Report with regard to the financial and externality impacts of ubiquitous high-speed broadband on health and aged care costs: "Using a combination of a national level United States study into one aspect of tele-health (tele-consulting) and a national level Australian study that was mostly based on electronic health records but had tele-health components, Access Economics estimates that steady state benefits to Australia from wide scale implementation of tele-health may be in the vicinity of $2 billion to $4 billion per annum."

He continues: “Private money will be attracted to NBN Co through the sale of bonds once the build has reached a particular milestone and not via direct private investment. The Implementation Study strongly recommends against direct inputs of private investment money until at least five years after the build is complete because private money and the obligations to shareholders which accompany it would compromise the government's ability to legislate laws which maintain a level playing field for wholesale customers. This level playing field will also ensure that users pay a similar price per plan regardless of deployment costs. This is something which no private enterprise could get past its board or shareholders. The idea that city folk are subsidising rural folk or that the private company is not seeking a flat rate of return on outlay costs would be anathema to them. However, the government can do it.”

He quotes from Lateline on September 29 NBN faces litmus test in Tasmania a comment about a user in Midway Point: "He's paying $75 a month for faster speeds, telephone and 40 gigabytes of downloads - $25 dollars less than his previous connection costs.”

And later: "HAMISH FITZSIMMONS: ...... so just how much of the NBN's potential is being harnessed at the moment?

“MARTIN GOULD, SORRELL COUNCIL: Not a great deal. We're basically running it on a trial basis. ... We've only had the connection on for about two weeks. It's certainly faster than our previous internet connection. We're paying less money at the moment, so, it's early days for us."


Norman concludes: “There may be shortcomings in the NBN scheme but cost is not one of them and the benefit of 93% of users having access to similar speeds (both up and down) for a similar price is surely a worthy one.”

Criticisms around cost-benefit and business plans seem to be wildly exaggerated.

Technological gobbledegook
Finally, let’s look at just one more point of contention – the technological aspect. Opponents of the NBN insist the technology will be out of date by the time it is built and they make fun of the notion of users dragging a cable around instead of using mobile wireless technology. That is just silly. Wireless technology will be used indefinitely and is actually part of the NBN plan for those areas that will not be serviced by fibre cable. Of course mobile phones, iPads and the like will be serviced by wireless – to suggest otherwise is ridiculous. What is known though is that as the load on the wireless network increases, speed slows, and it becomes increasingly incapable of handling the traffic and large uploads and downloads.

What fibre technology does so well is to enable fast upload speeds for large files, an essential feature for medical, educational and commercial applications, which is currently lacking with existing technology. Some aspects of fibre technology will not be outmoded – the speed of light will not change. But new technologies will enhance, not diminish the capacity of the fibre network. No one has ever shown how it will be outmoded – that is simply claptrap that sounds plausible enough to those who don’t understand these things.

One could go on, but this is sufficient to demonstrate how readily each side of the debate can select facts that seem to support its case, how omission of salient facts can mislead, how reports can be selectively used to argue whatever point one desires, how almost everyone contributing to the debate chooses to reveal only part of the story, either deliberately to mislead, or from sheer ignorance. There seems to be no neutral source that has given a balanced and complete appraisal of the NBN proposal. Most commentators seem to have vested interests that distort what they say. What we need is an academic organization to fill the void, if indeed it is possible to find unbiased academics to inform us.

This piece does not purport to fill the void. I have said what I believe in Would Tony Abbott really be stupid enough to trash the NBN?  This current piece simply highlights the confusion that has arisen from the misinformation, incomplete information, uniformed comment, and downright deception, politically or commercially motivated, that has characterized the NBN debate. We the people deserve better. Why can’t we get it?

So whenever someone – a journalist, a politician, an ‘expert’, a friend over coffee or a mate at the pub – makes an ‘authoritative’ statement about the NBN, insist they provide the firm evidence, not the hearsay, to back their assertion. That should stop a lot of waffle.

What do you think?

For those of you who are not yet satiated, there are many more pieces on the NBN, which you can find in LYN’S LINKS SEPTEMBER 2010, especially in the 22 September batch and in LYN'S DAILY LINKS today, 7 October.

The Political Theatre of the Absurd

 
Theatre of the Absurd:
A form of drama that emphasises the absurdity of human existence by employing disjointed, repetitious, and meaningless dialogue, purposeless and confusing situations, and plots that lack realistic or logical development.


That was the bizarre impression that I got after visiting federal parliament this past week as I got to peek behind the veil that gets drawn between what really goes on and what we see and hear in the media.

For example, for a day or so after I got back from Canberra all I heard about was the momentous defeat of the Gillard government on the floor of parliament over a procedural motion to do with the Standing Orders. The first time a government had been defeated in a vote since 1941 according to the ever-braying Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, but which, according to his own dictum, wasn't true anyway because he only spoke it, and which I know to be untrue because the Fraser government was defeated in a 'No Confidence Motion' in 1975, as was kindly pointed out to us previously.

Now what was so absurd about the whole situation was that, on the one hand, I observed Tony Windsor deep in conversation with the PM immediately before the 'momentous' anti-government vote, laughing and smiling, so I don't think the PM thought Windsor and Oakeshott voting against her government was much of a big deal, especially so because Bob Katter voted with the government. However, on the other hand, Tony Abbott was sure going to try his darndest to make it out to be one.

There I sat, in our Member's office, watching Question Time on her TV, and it was a lot more decorous than I expected. However, when Question Time had finished I noted Tony Abbott and the Coalition did not get up from their chairs. “Here we go”, I thought, Tony Abbott wants to grandstand, in order to get on the 6pm News tonight. And so it came to pass that Tony Abbott got up to request permission to speak on a 'Matter of Public Importance'...about...the tiny little procedural vote loss that Julia Gillard had just suffered.

It hardly seemed worth a second mention if what I had just seen was anything to go by. The atmospherics in the chamber around that vote hardly suggested the calamity that Tony Abbott tried to portray to the outside world had befallen the Gillard government, but there he was, putting on his little 'Political Theatre of the Absurd' playlet, huffing and puffing for all he was worth, attempting to blow the Gillard-led Lower House down.

The members of the Gillard government didn't even hang around to listen to it, that's how absurd they knew the whole thing was.

Yet it didn't stop Tony Abbott, and it won't stop Tony Abbott for the rest of this next parliament as that appears to me to be the 'new paradigm' that the parties of the Right are operating under as they battle to defeat and 'demolish' Progressive Social Democrat parties in government. Taking every absurd opportunity they can get to enact their acidic 'drip, drip, drip' erosion of electoral support for the government. They have made no secret of the fact that that is their aim, and it behoves us to keep this thought front of mind, every waking moment as we read the screeds of the political shills in the media supporting the agenda of the Abbott Opposition, as they work to create a false consciousness about the performance of the Gillard government. Abbott will continue his 'do nothing to help' effort, which has been extremely effective up until this point, not caring whether opposition to the NBN will make regional and rural Australians suffer, while the rich who now live for the most part in our inner cities prosper, like Malcolm Turnbull, who can access the best of everything outside his front door in Point Piper. Same with Abbott's 'Paid Parental Leave Scheme'. 'More generous', but to whom? Those women in the Dress Circle suburbs of our cities, whose well-paying jobs Abbott seeks to supplement with the tax dollars of the workers in the outer suburbs.

And yes, again, in its totally absurd way, this policy would actually make most Australians suffer by diverting tax dollars away from more worthy government initiatives, to ensure the rich continue to prosper. All behind a veil of corporate media-obfuscated accountability for his actions and policies that has pervaded the entirety of Abbott's time as Opposition Leader.

In fact, in a continuation of this absurd position that Abbott has been placed in by his supporters, his actions in parliament reminded me of nothing so much as the play 'Waiting for Godot' – a play about men who divert themselves while they wait expectantly, and unsuccessfully for someone named Godot to arrive (or, in Abbott's case waiting for a divinely-ordained government to fall into his lap).

To occupy themselves while they are waiting for this to happen, they eat, sleep, converse, argue, perform, play games, exercise, swap things around, and contemplate suicide (or, in our particular case this will be substituted with the Euthanasia debate) – anything 'to hold the terrible silence at bay'. As it appears that Abbott is operating on the principle that, 'Nature, and politics, abhor a vacuum', especially in these days of the 24/7 news cycle.

Again I am reminded of a scene from the play where the characters demand of another, 'Lucky', that he 'dance and think' for their amusement while they wait for Godot.

The dance is clumsy and shuffling, and everyone is disappointed. As was I when I sat in the Public Gallery to observe Abbott's MPI 'dance' on Wednesday. His 'think', as was Lucky's, was a lengthy and disjointed verbal stream of consciousness. The soliloquy began relatively coherently but quickly dissolved into logorrhea and only ended when his metaphorical hat, which had been placed upon his head in order to signify his right to speak, was ripped off his head, when his time ran out.

Though you would never have realised the utter pointlessness of it all if you had only had the media's reports to go by. According to them, when I got home and viewed the late news shows, Tony Abbott had achieved a strategic strike at the heart of the Gillard government and followed it up with another bravura performance at the Despatch Box, starting the process of the inevitable decimation and demolition of the Gillard government.

Uh, no, actually.

Thus my advice to you all, courtesy of my day peaking behind the veil of federal parliament is: always keep front of mind how absurd it may be in reality. There will be days when truly important 'Matters of Public Interest' will arise, but mostly it will just be a little 'dance and think' put on to amuse and entertain the Public, and which will no doubt be blown up out of all proportion by the Press Gallery seeking to divert attention away from the political reality.