The ALP has come to its own fork in the road

And so it has come to pass...that the NSW State Labor Party was beaten about the head metaphorically with baseball bats by the electorate, and they lost the Unwinnable Election.

So, now that I am through my period of mourning, and with the 24/7 world, you can only take 24 big ones, and that's hours not days, to get over your grief about these things and then get on with it. I thus hereby declare that today, the Post-Election funk ends, and the period of Rebuilding, Renewal, Rebirth and Rebadging for the ALP begins.

Ergo, I, Professor Feral Skeleton, have come up with a Baker's Dozen of helpful tips and advice to get this party started again. A Baker's Dozen because I am a generous soul, and to have a generous soul should be a Core Principle of any Labor Party in Australia. We are the good guys who have EVERYONE'S backs and no one should be allowed to forget that fact. Most especially Labor MPs.

So to begin:

1. Tricky Dicky Nixon Political Tactics Should Be Binned
Copying and pasting political tactics from your Political Science 101 textbook and then believing they will work for you, will, well, no longer work for you. The electorate is too well-informed and sophisticated now for them ever to be successful any more. Main Street Media Management, PR and Ad Companies left behind such techniques for selling political parties, their brand, as in, 'What do they stand for?', and their policies, a long time ago. Time to realise that in the Post-Modern age of politics, now that the old Left/Right divide is dissolving, it is necessary to sell the concept of your political convictions to the electorate. Determine them yourself, and ditch the Focus Groups, except as they may add a bit of sugar on top of the political product you are trying to sell.

How about this for an idea? Try being straight up with the electorate about what you want to do for them and why, after listening to their valid concerns, not behind the closed doors and two-way mirrors of the Focus Groups, after which you trickily tailor your talking points and your policy according to the shifting sands of opinion they represent, but by regularly going out into the electorate and genuinely listening to anyone and everyone on the ground, and in the shopping centres, and their opinions and concerns. Then, take it back to the Party Room, and brainstorm solutions after assimilating it into clearly defined problems that require solutions by the electorate. You'll generally find most causes and concerns are pretty universal across the electorate, and if you come up with a solution people will appreciate that. Simple.

For example, the line that the NSW State ALP used in their campaign, 'Don't give Barry a Blank Cheque', was lame. As if the electors couldn't figure that out for themselves. Anyway, such a shallow point was hardly going to affect elector's votes when it finally, after 4 years, came time to put pencil to paper.

Which leads me to Point 1a.

1a. Sack Sam Dastyari, NSW ALP General Secretary
He couldn't run a piss-up in a brewery, let alone an effective election campaign. He is also a potent symbol of the 'NSW Disease', and he, and it, should be excised from the ALP body politic like the cancer it is. What the NSW Right and 'Sussex Street' stands for is a microcosm of all that is wrong with the party and which needs to be fixed if the ALP is to have any decent future at all. And Pronto!

2. Candidate Selection
The ALP's base for candidate selection is narrower than the Liberal Party's. How can that throw up a wealth of talent from which to choose election winners? I have been banging on about this to anyone who would listen in the ALP since I joined over 10 years ago. Which I must say, is starting to feel like banging my head against a brick wall as I shout in an empty room, as they in the Upper Echelons of the party, who have expended all their energies in getting there and putting their own interests first, as opposed to the party's interests, think they know best - which they obviously don't, if the NSW Election result is anything to go by. However, again, I reiterate, stop choosing your factional colleague, Electorate Officer, or Chief of Staff, to succeed you in your seat, based upon the numbers which you and your cronies, both in the Unions and out, strictly control in your Electorate Council.

Expand your horizons and look into the electorate itself and the community it serves, and start identifying influential and inspiring community leaders and advocates in local special interest groups who espouse sentiments similar to those which the ALP broadly supports philosophically.

For example, Labor is the party that champions the causes of Carers, the Disabled and Pensioners. Can you name one ALP MP who has come out of this sector into parliament? I can't. In fact, just today Bob Brown of The Greens was giving the keynote speech at the ACOSS Conference. Yet it seems like such a natural fit for the ALP, a party of government as the Prime Minister said, who can actually make a difference to this constituency's lives. So why doesn't the ALP at least broaden its base to this sector? I don't know. One thing I do know is that John Howard saw fruit here ripe for the plucking. When he was in government he had the head of Carers Australia in his fold. He knew he had to broaden his base, not collapse it.

The Liberals have certainly broadened their base in a number of areas. And, in general, the Coalition make a point of currying favour with all groups in their communities, macro and micro, such as those Special Interest Groups such as I mentioned above, all the way to the local Rotary, Lions, the local Sporting Associations, Chamber of Commerce, and everything in between, all the way down to the local Bowling Club.

In other words, they have gone out into the community and co-opted all the good burghers to THEIR cause. It provides a wellspring of talent with a wealth of local name recognition in their electorates.

This is opposed to the ALP that just seems to keep going back to the Unis and trawling through the ranks of Political Science students and Labor Club members who have cut their teeth in student politics. Yes, they can provide valuable fodder for the parliamentary ranks, but the ALP needs real people who have led real lives, that the community can identify with, to represent. And for those who think that John Robertson, ETU and Unions NSW apparatchik since the age of 16 when he left school to start his Electrician's Apprenticeship, is as far afield into the real world as the ALP has to go to explore for new talent, then think again. At between 10 and 20% of the working population, Union members are no longer truly representative of our communities. They should thus no longer overwhelmingly represent the ALP in parliament, or as candidates for the party. Anyway, even Unions and unionists are defecting from the ALP and affiliating with other political parties. And not just The Greens. A Teacher was just elected into the NSW State Parliament for the Liberal Party!

The Liberal Party have become adept at targeting these 'Real People'. The new NSW State government has Dentists, Veterinarians, Teachers, as I said, and they almost got an ex-ABC journalist in. The ALP sort of gets it, as I spied one Public Hospital Doctor among the ranks of new MPs who had survived the bloodbath, but that seemed to be it. And he probably had to fight the factional warlords in the ALP tooth and nail in order to get over the top of one of their own people. My own local electorates had a couple of lawyers standing for the ALP, hardly inspiring choices but the only group within the community that still seem willing to stick their hand up for pre-selection.

Which brings me to:

3. Stop the internecine factional warfare
If there's one thing the electorate finds distasteful, it is the sight of the Right of the ALP fighting with the Left for the spoils of office, and for positions on tickets, etc.

I can guarantee you that the ALP lost, and loses, countless Upper House votes in elections because the ruthless political operators within the party, such as Eric Roozendaal and Eddie Obeid, and others like them in the Senate and Upper Houses of other State parliaments, arm-twist and intimidate until they are given the winnable spots on the ALP ticket at elections, even though it is obvious even to Blind Freddy, let alone the electorate, that they are the problem and the cause of the 'NSW Disease', not its cure.

People like that have to be sidelined in the party, as the NSW Liberals have successfully done with their equivalent numbers, by equally hard-headed individuals within the party who have the party's best interests at heart, whether Kristina Kenneally, or her like, threatens to walk, or not. The party in NSW was always going to lose this election anyway, ferchrissakes, and that whole scenario playing itself out in public, as some sort of watershed moment, may have even GAINED a few votes and some much-needed credibility for the ALP because it would have shown the electorate that the party still had some integrity left. And integrity certainly appears to be the coin of the realm in politics at this time.

Oh, and as I alluded to before, could the ALP get over its aversion to choosing journalists as candidates? The Liberals have pretty successfully spooked them on that front, Maxine McKew notwithstanding. Especially when the Coalition does it all the time these days. Just look at Dai Le, former ABC (yeah Their ABC) journalist and former Vietnamese Boat Person and candidate last weekend for the Liberal Party. They are nothing if not successful hypocrites, the Libs. Criticising Boat People up hill and down dale as 'Queue Jumpers' one day, saying they really only care about their safety on the 'Leaky Boats' the next, then selecting them as candidates for ethnically diverse electorates in the next breath.

Hence, the ALP has to stop being afraid of being identified too closely with specific demographics like this, and I acknowledge they have chosen well among the Middle Eastern and Muslim community, but where are our Asian candidates, or our Indian candidates, or South American Hispanic candidates? I know there are large communities of all these peoples in Australia. I know there are members of those communities in the ALP. The Liberals have thrown caution to the wind and adopted certain ethnic communities and are unashamedly tailoring their political product to their electoral market as they congregate in certain areas.

Which leads to the obverse:

4. The ALP can no longer count on any particular group in the community to automatically vote for them any more
Last weekend's NSW State election put paid to that idea and I saw it with my very own eyes. I saw a couple of washed-up former TV Soap actors sucking up to the Liberal Party booth workers at the polling place where I was working. That is, there's no more, 'the Arts Community always supports Labor' any more. Or Teachers. As I said, they've gone to The Greens and the Liberals too. Ditto Union members.

5. No more sinecures should be guaranteed
This is along the lines of the previous suggestion with respect to Factional Warlords, but it really is a waste of a good seat in parliament if the ALP guarantee a place for every former ACTU President and/or Secretary. A greater waste of space I have never seen than former ACTU President, Jenny George. She may have been a nice person with the ALP in her heart and soul, but as an effective politician she is useless. Unlike Greg Combet, who we have seen is the complete antithesis of Ms George. He's an extremely capable and effective Member of Parliament for the ALP.

I could almost guarantee there's someone in the rank and file of the ALP in Ms George's electorate, or in her community who self-identifies with ALP values, who would be a better candidate for the party and MP than she has been. Yes, the ALP must be respectful of their Union roots, but unionists should not be put into politics if they are not good politicians, or merely representing their patch of the Union turf in parliament. And, even though I am repeating myself again and may seem to be labouring the point, with only 20% of the workforce Unionised, the ALP by concentrating candidate selection in this area, are ceding the very large demographic of Contractors, the Self-Employed and the Non-Unionised workforce to the Liberal Party as candidate pools for them to fish in.

6. Ditch the Top End of Town
They'll come crawling to the ALP if they're in power and also drop it like a hot potato for the Liberal Party if they're not. They'll donate to the ALP anyway if they look like they're going to win an election. Trying to curry favour with them, therefore, is a zero sum game, especially when the electorate is repulsed by the sight of obsequious toadies from the so-called Party of the Workers, the ALP, licking the boots of, and hob-nobbing with the Bosses. Or using the parliament to enrich themselves and their friends and family.

Of course, hypocritically, it's OK for the Liberals to act similarly because they are perceived as coming from that millieu and thus are merely putting their 'talents' to work when they privatise and outsource government services and projects to their mates in private industry. As:

7. We're All 'Aspirational' Now
It's like the 'American Dream' that the Republicans in America have co-opted and like to wave as bait in front of the electorate in order to allow them to enact policies inimical to employees and favourable to the bosses, millionaires and billionaires who really get the most out of Republican policies. So it goes here also, and it was conclusively demonstrated in the NSW Election last weekend. People now vote Liberal because they identify with the ‘Aspirational' iconography which has been cultivated as being what the hopes and aspirations of us all should be, and thus, when we reach those goals we tick off 'Voting Liberal' to acknowledge we have 'Made It' - from the smallest Bakery Franchise Owner to the most successful Barrister.

In NSW we must even have had the Welfare-dependant and unemployed voting Liberal the other day. How Labor breaks the back of this conundrum and gets these people back into its voting fold I haven't quite figured out yet. The 'Aspirational Voter' has now become a generic brand for the Liberal Party and Labor needs their own new brand identification awareness campaign that everyone can identify with and support.

8. Campaign Non Stop
Get a truck. Dream up an outrageous claim with plausible deniability that resonates with a core theme you constantly advance, and then plaster it on billboards on both sides of the truck. Find a generous benefactor to fund the truck to drive around all day, every day, from Peak Hour traffic jam to Peak Hour traffic jam, and all points in between, and get out in the faces of people stuck in those interminable traffic jams. I mean, no way are families going to be $500/year worse off as a result of a Carbon Tax. Didn't stop Barry O'Farrell and the Libs mocking up a truck with a billboard on either side disingenuously claiming just that and driving it around during the NSW State election campaign. Politics is all about perception remember?

9. When attacked: 'Repudiate! Repudiate! Repudiate!...Obfuscate!'
One thing I have noticed when the Liberal Party are correctly attacked for something, they quick sticks brainstorm a repudiation of the attack and send the troops immediately back into the fray and the media to run the new line and muddy the waters around the issue. Then they keep it up, and follow it up with their own attack along a similar thematic line, against the ALP! Thus have they have turned the issue away from being about them and back onto the ALP.

For example, in the past week, Tony Abbott made a massive miscalculation addressing the, allegedly, 'No Carbon Tax Rally', organised by Political Wingnuts, Chauvinists and Bigots Inc., and standing four square in front of offensive, slimy and abusive signs. Yet you wouldn't know it from the way the Opposition reacted to their mistake. They quickly devised a plan to turn this negative into a positive for them and into a negative for the Prime Minister and the government. Hence the line: 'Julia Gillard is just being precious'. I don't know how well it went down with the electorate; the next poll may reflect that. However, as a general tactic Labor could do worse than adopt it for its own ends. It works.

10. Learn how to slip the political shiv into an opponent with a smile and a reasonable-sounding line of patter wrapped around it to disguise it effectively from the casual and untrained listener who might take offence at anything more strident, whilst at one and the same time effectively conveying your meta message. If you say it matter-of-factly, it must be a matter of fact, surely?
I was amazed at how Barry O'Farrell's, 'Campaign Communications Chief', Gladys Berejiklian, performed this task for BOFfa with consummate adroitness, both during the campaign and during the ABC's election telecast. No opportunity was too small or insignificant for her to take advantage of. She exploited every opportunity to either slip in a laudatory plug for her team, or a snide put-down of Labor. Labor could learn a lot from studying her style of attack.

Which leads me to:

11. Relentlessly negatively characterise your political opponent
If the Opposition can twist a scenario, push it through the Looking Glass and make it come out the other side as something that it is not but which casts their political opponents in the Labor Party (or The Greens), in a negative light, they will do it.

I admit, they have the weight of the Murdoch Press, Fairfax Radio and the John Singleton-owned Radio Stations such as 2GB, plus various old political pros from the Howard years, and Republican Party Message Masters such as Frank Luntz, helping them out and backing them up, but it behoves Labor to just keep trying to match them at it.

The prime question must always be:
What emotionally-charged language can be used to sensationally comment on this situation, so that it sticks in people's minds?

12. Smile until your face aches
It's been my observation that voters seem to respond positively to a negative message about your political opponents if you smile while you are delivering it. In fact, people respond positively to any message delivered with a smile.

12. There is no #13, because that would be bad luck and I just want to wish the ALP all the luck in the world. They'll need it if they are to survive and continue to prosper. Of course I hope so.

What do you think? Do you have any helpful suggestions?

Yes and No

Tony Abbott’s ‘STOP THE WASTE’ campaign against the Public Service is unrelenting. From the bureaucrats in Queensland to the fat cats in Canberra, its open season as far as Tones is concerned. However, one of the top public servants in Australia, Nic ‘Macca’ Machiavelli, is not taking the sniping lying down. Macca has invited Tones to spend a day in his office, to see how hard working the Public Service really is.

On the day in question, Tones, as usual, dons the Lycra and peddles in. By the time he reaches Macca’s establishment, he is very hot and sweaty. With a cordial welcome, Macca invites Tones into the office that he will be occupying during the day. All it has is a desk, two chairs and a computer. Also, a door leads to an adjoining office in which Macca resides. Macca says he will leave the door ajar, in case Tones requires anything.

Tones: Yeah, mate...thanks for inviting me along today...Oh, and by the way, are you Canberra’s version of Chief Sitting Bull?

Macca: Erm...whaddya mean, Tones...I’m not with you on this one...

Tones: Why, its easy, the States they’ve got Chief Sitting in Canberra I’m presuming you’ve got you own version – Chief Shiny Bum...haw...haw...

[Macca laughs along at Tones’ lame joke and smiles to himself, as it is he who plans to have the last laugh at the end of the day. Macca asks Tones does he want a nice cup of tea.]

Tones: Huh, thought as much…you blokes are certainly living up to your reputation…But, I’ll tell you what – just as I’m parched after my big ride in, I’ll take you up on your offer…white with no sugar thanks…

[Macca excuses himself and sticks the kettle on in his room next door. He puts a tea-bag in a mug, and while he waits for the kettle to boil, he adds a few drops of liquid Mogadon. He pours the boiling water and a dash of milk, gives it a good stir, and brings it into Tones, who slurps it down thirstily. Macca returns to his office.]

Macca (to himself): The Mogadon will take effect pretty quickly…this looks like the beginning of a very interesting day…heh…heh…

[After a few minutes, Macca looks in, expecting to see Tones in a near-comatose state, a piece of ripe fruit ready for picking. However, he is shocked by what he sees – Tones is still his hyperactive self, lying underneath the desk, doing push-ups whilst lifting the desk with his back as he does so. “Whew”, says Macca to himself, “It looks like he needs a lot more Mogadon”. Macca boils the kettle again, and this time pours the rest of the bottle into the mug. He brings it into Tones, who again consumes its contents immediately. This time, the Mogadon overdose has its desired effect and Tones slumps down into the chair, staring blankly at the computer screen. “Great”, says Macca to himself. “Now for part two of the plan”. This entails Macca re-jigging Tones computer so that he can type on his computer in the adjoining room and make the text appear on Tones’ computer. The scene has now been set for turning this tiny part of the Canberra Public Service into LITTLE BRITAIN with Carol Beer]

[In order to show he could multi-task, Tones/Carol had, the day before, arranged for three people to come along to Macca’s joint, so that he could individually discuss some issues with them. The trio are: a marketing guy from a swimwear company; one of the managers from the bank where Tones got his mortgage; and Tony Windsor.]

[So, Macca shows in the first appointment, a Mr W.E.L. Hung from the Big Balls Budgie Smugglers Co. Macca retires to his office next door, but keeps the adjoining door ajar.]

W.E.L.: Good morning, Mr is my great pleasure to put a proposition to you – one that you cannot refuse...

[W.E.L. waits for a reply from Tones, but he continues to stare vacantly at the computer screen. W.E.L. is a tad disconcerted but, nevertheless, proceeds with his marketing pitch.]

W.E.L.: So, Mr Abbott...we would be delighted if you would be the public face of our new line in male swimwear...It would definitely give you a lot of positive publicity, raising your profile, and maybe even increasing your atrociously-low Preferred Prime Minister ratings on Newspoll...So what’s your decision, Mr Abbott? [At this, Macca types on his keyboard and the text appears on Tones’ screen. As usual, Tones stares at it blankly.]

Tones: The computer says No...

W.E.L.: Whaddya mean, “No”!!! You won’t ever get an offer like this to increase your support with females and gays, Mr Abbott!! So, there’s nothing else for it but for me to make the offer instead to Ban Morrison...he would look well posing in his budgies with a Nauru guano pit as background...[cough]

[W.E.L. gets up and exits. On his way out the door, W.E.L. nearly knocks over Macca, who is bringing in a person from Tones’ bank to discuss his mortgage. Fortunately for Tones, it is not the formidable District manager, Mr Stop-the-Debt, but a junior manager, Cuthbert Postletwaite, who is sent along to get a bit of on-the-job experience. Just by chance, Cuthbert is also a member of the Young Liberals. Macca introduces them to each other and retreats to his adjoining room, again leaving the door open.]

Cuthbert (gushingly): Oh, Mr Abbott...I am such a big admirer of yours...I think you are a great Leader of the Opposition...

[At such faint praise, but still mightily under the influence of the Mogadon, Tones can do no more than glare at this half-wit.]

Cuthbert: Well anyway, Mr Abbott...I believe you want us to waive your payments until such times as you become Prime Minister and get a whacking great new big pay rise...Well, I can do a lot better than that, Mr Abbott...Because you are a great friend of Big Business, our bank is prepared to write off completely your entire debt...Just sign here, Mr Abbott...

[Again, Macca doesn’t miss his cue, and types on his keyboard. As before, the text then appears on Tones’ screen.]

Tones: The computer says No...

Cuthbert: Whaddya mean, “No”? We’re prepared to waive your $700,000 mortgage and you say, “No”!! How ungrateful you are, Mr Abbott...And now you can jolly-well pay up like all the other losers on our books...Good-day sir!! [cough]

[Alone again, Tones can’t believe what is happening to him. “What sort of living nightmare is this anyway?” he laments to himself. “There I was, ready to get free publicity as swimwear model, and the total redeeming of my enormous mortgage and I said, “No” to both. What’s wrong with me?” At this, Macca reappears, this time with Tony Windsor, who wants to see Tones urgently. Again, Macca absents himself into his adjoining office.]

Tony W: Now look here, Tones...this malarkey of yours is just going to have to stop...With your present carry-on, there’s absolutely no way the Indos are going to back you and give you a free pass into the Lodge...We need to get down to brass tacks here...Are you going to continue repeating all those idiotic three-word slogans...and keep up this denialist global warming mumbo-jumbo...and continue to hint you might un-cremate WorkChoices...and keep saying, “bullshit” all the time...and talk endlessly on that silly boatphone...and condone the labelling of Julia Gillard as a “back alley bitch”, “a Gaddafi look-alike”, and a “Ju-Liar”...and walk out of press conferences...and say that New Zealanders aren’t foreigners, for flip’s sake!!!

[Tones can’t believe his luck. “If this dopey computer is going to be consistent, it will say, “No” to all of these and Tony Windsor will be placated enough to get his mates to join my team. Bingo!!!” Macca, however, has heard everything, and types on his computer. Tones looks at his screen and a loud despairing scream emits from the very bowels of his being.]

Tones: The f**king computer says Yes!!!!!!!

Tony W: Well, that’s it, looks like the Lodge is a lost cause for you mate – it’s been nice knowing ya...[cough]

[Tones holds his head in his hands, wondering what the hell he is going to do now. After a while, he lifts his gaze to his computer screen.]

Screen: And you thought Julia Gillard was full of Machiavellian bastardry? Mate, she’s not in the same league as me...Shit happens, eh? [ cough]...

Hartcherism – a new descriptor for political gymnastics

It was unusual to see a generally sensible journalist write such an astonishing article. But there it was, Peter Hartcher writing in the March 19 issue of the Sydney Morning Herald: Labor's end - that's all, folks. You may care to read it before reading this commentary.

A recent article by Annabelle Crabbe, Kevin, um, it seems, ah, we (shuffle) sort of, ah, owe you an apology in the 18 March issue of The Drum set hares running. It energized Andrew Elder, on Politically Homeless, to forensically dissect and destroy her article. You might be interested to read Elder's March 19 analytic piece: Sorry for what?  

Hartcher’s article deserves similar analysis.

At first I thought that the title, Labor's end - that's all, folks, was that of some sub-editor seeking to attract attention, but the first paragraph left no doubt that this was exactly what Hartcher was saying: “The party's looming death as a stand-alone political entity is the biggest story in contemporary Australian politics.” Later he says: “The Prime Minister is like someone under a death sentence, carrying on breezily as if everything is normal. Let's be realistic. As things stand, Labor cannot hope to govern in its own right any more.” He ends by saying: “…even if she can win passage of a carbon tax through the Parliament, it will not be enough to save her, and Labor, from oblivion.” No ifs or buts, Labor and Gillard are finished – ‘that’s all folks’. In fact it’s worse than ‘finished’, it’s ‘oblivion’ – ‘the state of being forgotten; destruction or extinction’. Kaput!

This is Hartcher’s opinion, derived from the facts, but opinion nevertheless. Journalists are adept at slipping in opinion so that it appears almost as a fact.

Why would a usually balanced journalist writing for the moderate Fairfax press declare Labor and Gillard headed for oblivion years out from the next election? What on earth got his dander up? It looks as if it might have been Julia Gillard’s brief farewell comment, which Hartcher labeled ‘glowing’, about Karl Bitar: “The Prime Minister thanked Karl Bitar for his efforts that ‘helped us be re-elected in 2010 allowing us to deliver our plans to make Australia a stronger and fairer society’.” Hartcher goes on: “In just 20 words, Gillard said so much, and so much wrong.” What was wrong? Why is Hartcher pinning his story so strongly on a Gillard statement that most would deem innocuous?

Well Hartcher disputes the word ‘re-elected’: “The first glaring problem with this statement is Gillard's assertion that Labor had been ‘re-elected’. It was not.” He insists: “Labor did not win the election. It failed to win a majority of the seats in the House of Representatives. It was unable to form government in its own right.” So Julia better get her words right or Hartcher will jump on her with both feet. It could be argued that Hartcher is technically correct, but why such angst over a word? All members of the House were elected, but no party could form government without support from the independents, which Gillard managed eventually to achieve, so one could argue that since her supporters too were elected, her Government was ‘re-elected’. But why anyone would want to get into such an angry semantic argument begs the question: ‘What is it meant to achieve?’ Maybe Hartcher felt better getting this off his indignant chest.

But that was not all he had to criticize in Gillard’s twenty words: “The second problem with Gillard's statement is her claim that Labor is delivering ‘our plans’. The biggest item on the government's agenda is a carbon tax. This was not ‘our plan’. It was the plan of the Greens and the independents.” So what are you saying Peter? That Labor has become a puppet of them? Yes that is it: “…the Gillard government is a vessel for delivering the ambitions of others.” One can reasonably assume that he disapproves of such an arrangement, despite it being the only one available, other than doing nothing. Again opinion has been subtly slipped in among the facts.

Hartcher then goes on to describe Labor’s ‘state of denial’, and insists that “As things stand, Labor cannot hope to govern in its own right any more.” He ‘backs’ this up with an account of the election stats, and goes on to assert that: “Under her slogan of ‘moving forward’, Gillard is taking Labor backwards at a dizzying clip.” Again we have a Hartcher opinion, but no evidence is advanced. I suppose we are expected simply to swallow this, despite many of us believing just the opposite.

Then repeating his ‘Labor is finished’ opinion he adds a curious caveat: “Unless, of course, it can engineer an extraordinary resurgence”, only to talk in the very next sentence of Labor’s 'looming death’. So what is it Peter? Is Labor’s death, oblivion, as dead a cert as you have said all through your article, or are you hedging your bets, so that you can write later about Labor’s ‘extraordinary resurgence’. This political gymnastics is dizzying for we consumers.

Hartcher then rehashes the ‘greatest moral and economic challenge of our time’ story, talks about a ‘quick and dirty deal with the multinationals on the mining tax’ (more Hartcher opinion), berates the ‘Timor solution’ and castigates PM Gillard on “…a total abandonment of serious action on climate change with her ’citizens' assembly’.” – a curious statement in the light of the feverish action now extant on climate change, a carbon tax and an ETS. Where have you been Peter?

He talks of the two pillars on which Labor’s vote depends: the working class vote and the progressive vote, and goes on to insist: “Labor self-destructed as the party of the progressive vote”, backing this assertion with the increase in the vote for the Greens. He sees this flight to the Greens as being established and that Labor’s task is to regain the progressive vote, but dismisses that possibility because the ‘Right’ in Labor is not interested and the recent polls show this is not working. Maybe so, but isn’t it a little early to be casting the destiny of Labor on the result of polls in the first six months of its second term. Has he forgotten Coalition polls in the early years of the Howard Government? I wonder what he thinks of the latest Newspoll? Why is he so quick to judgement? Is he seeking the status of a prophet? That’s pretty dangerous for one’s reputation so early in the piece. Still that’s his right.

He summarizes his position with: “Gillard Labor seems to have got no political credit whatsoever for embracing the tough task of championing a carbon tax. Rather, the party seems stuck in the worst of all possible worlds. It's under ferocious attack from Abbott and the ‘people's revolt’ on the right. Yet it's winning no new support from the green left.” Note the words: “no political credit whatsoever”; no ifs or buts, and still more Hartcher opinion. Elsewhere in his piece he talks about Labor’s "total abandonment of serious action on climate change". How does this line up with his words: "...embracing the tough task of championing a carbon tax." And what of Abbott’s 'people’s revolt' – has he not seen the numbers ‘revolting’, or should it be ‘revolting numbers’?

He goes on to PM Gillard’s Don Dunstan speech and says that Gillard took: “…the extraordinary step of denouncing the Greens”. Curious, because I didn’t hear her ‘denouncing’ the Greens; it was the Coalition she denounced. Hartcher actually quotes what she said: “The Greens are not a party of government and have no tradition of striking the balance required to deliver major reform." Hardly a denouncement, even if one throws in Gillard’s word: ‘extreme’.

Then he re-asserts: “…Labor has yet to squarely confront the fact that it is on track to bring the two-party system to an end as Australia witnesses the rise of a three-party system.” Well that’s consistent with his earlier statements, even if contestable.

Then towards the end we see more gymnastics: “…if Gillard is carrying on in a blithe state of denial, as if she were not under a political death sentence, then Abbott is becoming the cartoon villain of Australian politics.” That’s the first mention of an alternative to the ‘doomed’ Labor party, the one headed for ‘oblivion’. As one read the piece it would not have been surprising if Hartcher had pointed to the Coalition as the alternative. But instead he gets into Tony Abbott: “Abbott is a bit like Yosemite Sam. Noisy, angry, quick to reach for his six-shooter, full of bluster and threats, he is terrific with the threatening theatrics. But he never actually manages to get his hands on his prey. Remember the flood levy, the end of modern Australia as we know it? Remember Abbott's angry fulminations? The levy was ‘the opposite of mateship’. It would impose an unconscionable burden on the hard-scrabble families of Australia. The moment the flood levy passed through the House of Representatives, Abbott fell silent on it. Now he's busy ranting and fuming about the next great danger. The theatrical bluster conceals the hard fact that 72 bills have been voted through the House of Representatives since the election. How many has Abbott successfully opposed? Zero. If Yosemite Tony can't stop the carbon tax, his one-trick oppositionism will be terminally exposed as a failure.”

Goodness me, so Abbott is no good either! Where does that leave us? Labor doomed and Abbott an ineffective ‘Yosemite Sam’. It seems Australia is doomed.

But in case you somehow missed his central point, he concludes: “But for Gillard, the task is harder. Because even if she can win passage of a carbon tax through the Parliament, it will not be enough to save her, and Labor, from oblivion.” So gloom compounds gloom – no matter what Labor does, no matter what PM Gillard does, she and Labor are doomed, headed for ultimate oblivion.

So what do you make of Hartcher’s gymnastics? He insists over and again Labor is finished, but gives himself an out: unless of course she ‘can engineer an extraordinary resurgence’. He then looks at Tony Abbott and gives him the flick, and he doesn’t seem overly enamored with the Greens. So how are we to be governed? By a doomed party, lead by a PM under a ‘death sentence’, or by Yosemite Sam? It’s an exercise in nihilism the like of which I have not seen.

So I ask: ‘Why does Hartcher seem to be so angry? Why did he write the piece at all? What was it expected to achieve except perhaps giving him the Nostradamus touch? Why did his editors think it worth publishing? Was it the ‘shock value’ of the piece? Why does Hartcher cavort like a gymnast, from the Roman rings to the pommel horse to a floor display to horse vaulting?

After reading ‘Labor's end - that's all, folks’ several times, I still came away dizzy with Hartcher’s gymnastic moves, but none the wiser about what the future holds for Australian politics – perhaps he’ll tell us in his next piece.

But I did feel that a new term for political gymnastics might be coined – Hartcherism.

What do you think?

Is the Liberal Party guilty of ‘race baiting’?

On the last day of the most recent session of federal parliament, Julia Gillard accused the Opposition of 'Race Baiting'.

Now, the immediate response from the media, predictably, was, 'How could she say that?' Tony Abbott, just as predictably, sidled up the next day to whatever sympathetic media outlet would have him on, and condemned, with a straight face to camera, the PM for her 'baseless slur'. As well as the previous day in parliament launching one of his entirely predictable ‘Motions to Suspend Standing Orders to Censure the Prime Minister’, going to the outrage he felt about her accusation.

So, I thought, rather than just take his word for it, I'd go in search of the proof for the Prime Minister's assertion and its validity, one way or the other.

First, let's start with a definition:
Race Baiting: Strictly speaking, Race Baiting ‘is the act of using racially derisive language, actions, or other forms of communication in order to anger or intimidate or coerce a person or group of people.’

As this definition refers to defiling a particular group of people in a society based upon their race, e.g. Chinese, Black or White, then coming to a conclusion about whether the Coalition has been 'Race Baiting' with respect to the Muslims in our society, or those attempting to seek Asylum here, or Muslims in the world in general as part of some concerted Conservative attack on them, then, I guess you have to say that Tony Abbott was right and Julia Gillard was wrong. The Coalition is not guilty of 'Race Baiting'. The Muslims are not ‘a race of people’.

However, and this is where I think the PM was right, and probably where she was coming from, the term 'race' in this context can be construed very broadly to include the social constructs which define race or racial difference as ethnic, religious, gender and economic differences. This broader definition covers the vilification of a religious diaspora such as the Muslims. It's not strictly correct, as you can deduce for yourselves, but it's understandable how vilification and the term 'Race Baiting' have become co-mingled.

Which brings me to the point then of what exactly is it that the Coalition ARE guilty of, if not 'Race Baiting', as it's obvious to Blind Freddy and his dog that they are guilty of some sort of generalised and organised slur against those 'invaders' of our shores via the haphazard mode of the leaky Slow Asylum Seeker Boat to Australia. Who have in common with the 'Terrorists' (just don't mention the White Supremacist ones), the fact that, in the main, they are Muslim.

I think where a lot of people are getting confused with what is going on here and elsewhere with respect to Muslim 'infiltration' and 'Race Baiting' is that it bears a great many eerie similarities to past eras of Australian and World history: the 'White Australia Policy' here, and the 'Jim Crow' era of race hate and vilification of African Americans in the USA. Unlike, in the John Lennon song, where 'Woman is the Nigger of the World', the tide has turned against Muslims such that, 'Muslims are the Nigger of the World' now. Any sort of mealy-mouthed equivalency from the likes of Cory Bernardi wherein he trys to paper over his overt anti-Muslim remarks, by saying he just meant anti-radical Islam, is just playing a semantic game. He, and many others in the Coalition mean to encourage an attitudinal bias against Muslim members of our community, and those seeking to become part of it as Asylum Seekers. In general, they are doing it knowingly and deliberately.

To get an idea about how far down the Islamophobia rabbit hole we have gone, because I think in the final analysis, without having to be specific about it, that was what Julia Gillard was implying that the Coalition were guilty of, I thought I'd therefore take a trip into this netherworld in Australia that the Coalition are playing to with their dog whistles and pick off the scab that covers what is festering underneath.

Surprisingly, or unsurprisingly, I haven't quite decided which of this religious bigotry is being nurtured and nourished by...the Christian faithful. That is, the religious!

First, let's start with a Christian crew called the 'SaltShakers'. 'Christian ethics in action', so they say. Go to their website.  

What you get instead from these self-aggrandising 'Christian ethicists', is flat-out homophobia, Islamophobia, Climate Change Scepticism, sanctimony about the Labor Party's 'Lies' and 'Broken Promises' (funny how they never highlight the Coalition and self-proclaimed sinner, Tony Abbott's form in this area though), and, humbug when it comes to their 'pro-active' discrimination as regards their 'right' to choose who works for them in any of their organisations, schools or business enterprises. Of course it goes without saying that these intolerant bigots dressed up as happy families and ethical individuals are rabidly anti same sex marriage, anti-pharmaceutical contraception and anti-abortion. In short, people who wish to impose their 'values' on you and me just as much as the groups whom they vilify. Also, if you have a look at the website, check out the left-hand side of the home page. Want to know where all the organised e-mail campaigns to our Members of Parliament are coming from? Wonder no longer.

That's the 'Shiny Happy People' side of the seamy underbelly of our society that Julia Gillard says the Coalition are dog-whistling to with their mischaracterization of the effect Muslims are having on Australia.

Further down the rabbit hole we have 'The Q Society', whose motto, in the good old style of the Culture Warrior demographic of unbending Coalition support is, 'Upholding Australian Values' 

These people have realised that a reasonable-looking spokesperson is the key to disarming the sceptical and winning over a lot of people who otherwise may have been antagonistic to your message than if you instead put out as your media talent someone who looks like Adolf in a skirt or a suit. And here she is, the entirely anodyne and harmless looking Ms Vickie Janson, a migrant herself (!) from New Zealand. Now, if you read through this candidate's statement from the recent Victorian State Election, where the perennial candidate for the Christian Democrat Party laid out her platform you can see that she has deliberately sought to go down the road of equating even moderate Muslims with terrorist groups such as Hizb Ut Tahrir:  

Also, you can see how she has honed in on Australia's most eloquent and reasonable spokesman for Muslims in Australia, Waleed Aly, as her target for attack. Smart because, if she can delegitimize this most rational Muslim's credibility in the eyes of the public, then it will be that much easier therefore to negatively characterise all others in the Muslim diaspora in Australia, save those who meekly agree to subsume themselves and their religious beliefs and conform to a broadly Judeo-Christian set of 'values'. Which Ms Janson and her Christian Democratic godfathers, such as Fred Nile, have deemed to be appropriate for modern-day Australia. And I use the term 'modern' advisedly because the world that the Vickie Janson's, the Fred Nile's, the Cory Bernardi's et. al. want to plunge us back into is that of a strictly patriarchal, conformist, Christian conservative paradigm, where women know their place is behind the ironing board wrangling the creases out of Tony Abbott's crisp, whiter than white shirts, baking Pumpkin Scones to Flo BJP's recipe for Fred, and pumping out Stepford babies for Cory. Of course, now that the 'Feminism' genie is out of the bottle, and in line with the acknowledgement, post-Thatcher, that some women should be allowed out of the kitchen to lead (as long as they go home to cook tea and perform their 'conjugal duties', I suppose), we have started to see Conservative women take from feminism what they want and bin the rest. Thus we have Vickie Janson, Sarah Palin, and an increasing number of others, proudly wearing their Conservative Christian credentials on their sleeve, but in an 'empowered' way, a la Feminism, however seeking again to impose, along with their Conservative Christian brothers, the same old straitjacket and mindsets, with minor modifications merely for decorative and distraction purposes.

Still further down the rabbit hole, and beyond the bright and breezy spokes-models for the anti-Moslem push, when you start to get down among the weeds of their intolerance and belief in a Judeo-Christian Supremacy (which appears to have replaced that nasty 'White' sort of Supremacy as they have co-opted a wider demographic of different skin colour but essential belief in those J-C 'values'), you then begin to see the seamy side of it all.

Larry Stillman, in a very cogent piece for New Matilda, called 'The Rise of Organised Intolerance', points out that the coalescing of this new grouping of people who are organising the ramping up of Muslim Intolerance runs through conservative sections of the Jewish community, the Q Society, the Salt Shakers, and through a myriad of other groups, some of them nominally 'Left'( though as I have always said, the Far Left and the Far Right have a lot in common and are closer bedfellows than they would like to admit), such as those who support the rights of Indigenous West Papuans to independence from Indonesia, a Muslim State, of course.

A lot of the Anti-Muslim emotions are stoked at this website.

And guess what? There's a 'Say No to Burqas!' letter you can sign there. I'm sure Senator Bernardi is well chuffed about that.

Which only goes to prove my point, really. No, the Coalition are not guilty of 'Race Baiting', specifically, as accused by the PM, or, only 'yes' in the broad sense, as I outlined earlier. However, yes, the Coalition are as guilty as sin of stoking religious intolerance and feeding the beast whose maw is growing bigger by the day on the internet.

Are they knowingly complicit in this? Only they know that.

All I know is that President Obama put up the correct signpost in this area when he said the other day, “Despite all our differences, culture, religion, language; ultimately Humankind is one.”

What do you think? Do you think we should be rearing up against the Muslims? Learning to live with them, and they with us? How?

One thing there is no question about, the Coalition stand condemned. They ARE guilty, looking at the 'Field Evidence', as Tony Abbott has taken to parroting in the style of John Howard, of stoking the fires of Religious Intolerance. And I didn't even get around to mentioning Scott Morrison!

The day the Canberra Press Gallery believed it was governing the country

It’s not possible to pin down what day that was. Takeovers can be abrupt or ever so subtle. This one was subtle, at least initially. It probably derived from about the time that Kevin Rudd retreated from his response to climate change, his ETS, and put it on the back burner for a couple of years. Until then he was riding pretty high, although there were a few journalists ready to challenge him and subject him to forensic questioning; Kerry O’Brien and Tony Jones come to mind. About that time of retreat respect for the nation’s leader was irreparably damaged, and the journalistic jackals, salivating over the prospect of tearing into a wounded prey, bared their claws, armed their questions with poison barbs and flung them disrespectfully at their victim. From then on it has been all down hill.

I suppose the inflated egos of so many in the Canberra Press Gallery were always seeking to express themselves, even as far back as in John Howard’s time, and before, but the vulnerability of Kevin Rudd after his backtracking on his ETS, and that of Government ministers, gave expression to the worst in human nature, a readiness, even a savage desire to tear down someone in authority, someone in a high place, someone who many journalists had come to dislike. Like jackals in a pack they smelt blood and went in for the kill. Of course they would argue that Rudd deserved all he got, and that it was their job to hold him to account, a questionable role, but the relish with which they went about their savaging of the nation’s leader bespoke a primeval urge to humiliate, to destroy, to kill. And unedifying it was to see.

Since then Kevin Rudd has gone and Julia Gillard has come. With the smell of blood in their nostrils, they were not prepared to pull back. They gave Julia Gillard the shortest of honeymoons. They would argue she deserved no better. So they set about savaging her with arrogant questions, rude preambles, and disrespectful language. The questions reflected two things: gross disrespect for her, but even more dangerously a belief that the Canberra Press Gallery knew best what the Government should be doing, the right to insist that it did so, and the right to question, in the most arrogant way, why the Government was not doing what it ought to do.

Many commentators have written about the role that political journalists have assumed in recent times. How many times have you read that the journalists have made themselves part of the story instead of simply reporting it? Mr Denmore, himself an experienced journalist, in his blog The Failed Estate says in a piece End of Affairs: “The second problem with current affairs, as it has evolved, is the cult of the host. This is the idea, never expressed directly, that the program really isn't about the issues; it's about who's presenting them.”

This has two elements. First it assumes that journalists know their stuff so well that they are entitled to express their views and critique the views of politicians without question. Next it assumes that the reporter is integral to the story. They believe they are expert interpreters of what politicians say and do, adept at describing the ‘atmospherics’ surrounding the story, and able to interpret any numeric data that accompanies the story, such as poll results.

They are quite shameless in their interpretations, they seldom modify them with caveats that those of a more scientific bent might feel compelled to add, and lay their opinions on their reading and listening public as if they were handed down from on high on tablets of stone. Mr Denmore calls it ‘institutionalized innumeracy’ in his piece, Noise Vs Signal: “This institutionalised innumeracy is rather unfortunate and perhaps explains why an experienced journalist like Barrie Cassidy, appearing on a taxpayer-funded public broadcaster, can just sit mute as one of Rupert Murdoch's professional trolls [he’s referring to Andrew Bolt] is paid to come on the Insiders program and spray deliberate mistruths to support a far right political agenda.” Bolt ‘sprayed’ several bits of numeric data, all incorrect, but Cassidy failed to pull him up.

It is now commonplace for journalists to place their own interpretations on poll data even when the pollsters are more circumspect. For them there are no ifs or buts, they simply know, for example that Labor’s recent poor performance in the polls is directly attributable to ‘the carbon tax’ or ‘the broken promise’ not to introduce it, or Labor’s ‘alliance with the Greens’, or whatever enters their head. Of course some explanations are likely correct, but that does not absolve journalists from backing their assertions with evidence, or at the very least qualifying their conclusions with words like ‘possible explanations are…’, instead of their absolute and uncontestable words.

The other aspect of this focus on polls is that the polls become the story rather than reflecting what the people think. The way the questions are framed and sequenced influence the outcome, and the interpretation journalists place on the results fashion public opinion, not just reflect it. Newspoll in particular has cleverly positioned itself as the key indicator of public opinion, far above all others, without acknowledging that through the supplementary questions and the interpretation placed on the responses by the likes of Dennis Shanahan, public opinion is being shaped towards that desired by the journalist, editor or proprietor, or all of the above.

Today in a press conference about the rescue efforts by Australians in Japan, our PM was subjected to rude and arrogant questions, not related to this matter. One was on ‘Kevin Rudd’s Brisbane Bronco Declaration’. The latter was brushed away with: "I didn't know we now had press conference by rhetorical flourish" refusing to dignify the question with an answer. What right does Samantha Maiden believe she has to address such an irrelevant and pointless question when the PM is talking bout Australian personnel being exposed to radiation? Who does she think she is? There is an answer – she, like many, many others in the Canberra Press Gallery think they are surrogate rulers of the country, that they know what should be done, that they are entitled to ask any stupid, irrelevant, nasty, discourteous question of this nation’s leader, that they can harass and mock her with abandon with their infantile questions like cheeky schoolchildren, and still expect a considered, rational and unemotional response.

Well from today’s performance Julia Gillard is not going to take any more nonsense from this inconsequential self-opinionated clutch of journalists, and all except rusted-on Coalition supporters will loudly applaud as she slaps them down and puts them in their miserable place – lowly reporters of the passing scene.

Journalists are our servants. Too many seek to morph into our masters, to tell us what to think, what to believe, what is true and what is false, but all through their own biased optics. They believe they are governing the country through the thrust of their journalism. They feel entitled to question, confront, assail, even threaten those we have elected, because after all, they know best.

They had better get the message that we are fed up with their insolence, their arrogance, their inflated opinion of themselves, their misplaced self-confidence, and their disrespect for those WE THE PEOPLE have elected to be our leaders.

Let’s put them in their place – servants of the people, purveyors of the facts and figures, reporters of the truth, and supporters of the democratic process. We are not remotely interested in their opinions unless they can back them with verifiable evidence, not hearsay, and argue their position logically and with conviction.

Despite what it thinks happened those twelve months ago when Kevin Rudd went into decline, despite what entitlements it assumed it had to attack the nation’s leaders, the Canberra Press Gallery is not governing this country. We must imprint this message on their self-important skulls.

What do you think?

The Day News Limited Took Over Our ABC

Mark the day – Sunday 13 March 2011, the day Andrew Bolt took over as compère of the ABC’s Insiders, bullied his way into the dialogue and eventually ruled the roost, leaving Barrie Cassidy looking defeated.

That day the panelists comprised three current and past News Limited journalists – Andrew Bolt from Melbourne’s Herald Sun, The Daily Telegraph’s Malcolm Farr, and Kerry-Anne Walsh, a political reporter for The Daily Telegraph, Sunday Telegraph and The Sun-Herald and now writing and commentating for national and international publications and broadcast media.

Many who comment here and on other blogs in the Fifth Estate have lamented what seems to them to be a steady take over of OUR ABC by News Limited. Again and again ABC news headlines replicate, sometimes word for word, headlines in a News Limited outlet. While everyone knows that news is news and that accounts of the news are likely to resemble each other, the carbon copy we see so often on the ABC suggests that ABC staff, now required to run a 24 hour news service as well as its TV and radio news bulletins, are so stressed that copying headlines is the best they can do, or that this is a deliberate strategy that is approved by ABC management. How many times have we heard ‘The Leader of the Opposition says…’ or ‘The Opposition has objected to…’ before we hear what the Opposition is responding to? Instead of putting it the other way round, leading with what the Government is saying or doing, and then giving the Opposition response, an eminently logical sequence, it is the Opposition up front. This looks to be quite deliberate. And since many of these sorts of headlines in News Limited media derive directly from Coalition press releases, the inbuilt bias of such releases is perpetuated.

But this infringement of political reportage pales when compared with the flagrant infringements we see when Andrew Bolt appears on Insiders.

Bolt, who is vying for the title of Australia’s most aggressive shock jock, has a penchant for taking over Insiders with his bullying, loud-mouthed, ‘I will not be silenced’ behaviour that thrusts aside comments from the other panelists and sadly the show’s host Barrie Cassidy. Any comment with which Bolt does not agree, whether made by Cassidy or the other panelists, is dismissed with an imperious wave of his hand and a supercilious smirk. On this week’s show, Malcolm Farr tried to counter Bolt’s claim that Kevin Rudd had sought to dominate the front page of the Sunday edition of The Courier Mail, by explaining that the decision about what appeared on the front page was the paper’s not Rudd’s, but that was of no interest to Bolt who peremptorily dismissed Farr’s comment. Kerry-Anne Walsh made no attempt to contradict Bolt. Perhaps she agreed with his every utterance, but I suspect Bolt’s intimidation ensured her compliance.

The saddest sight though was Barrie Cassidy, who many of us like and respect, diminished by Bolt’s aggression, intimidated by his bullying, subjugated by his rudeness and self-opinionated dominance, and eventually reduced to the defeated look of the conquered in a cock-fight. We longed for Cassidy to pull Bolt into line, to contradict his outrageous statements filled with hate and loathing for Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, but no, Bolt was allowed unfettered opportunity to emit his bile on whomever he pleased.

This is not the first time that Bolt has behaved this way on Insiders. Similar performances have evoked angry letters to Cassidy imploring him to ditch Bolt from his panel in the interests of balanced discourse about contemporary politics that at present are as complex as they have ever been. But the pleas have fallen on deaf ears. Is Cassidy deaf to the damage Bolt inflicts on our ABC when he appears on Insiders, or is he bound by a contractual arrangement that guarantees Bolt a regular place, or is Bolt’s appearance part of a deliberate strategy of ABC management to facilitate Bolt’s extreme views? We ask the questions, but know not to expect any answers.

Past communication with Barrie Cassidy have evoked an always-courteous but generic response. The ABC values our feedback and is grateful for our communications, but excuses itself on the grounds that the likes of Bolt are used to provide what the ABC euphemistically likes to call ‘balance’.

You cannot achieve balance by engaging someone who is consistently antagonistic to one side of politics, even if the others are leaning the other way. Balance is achieved by engaging balanced people. By no stretch of the imagination could Bolt ever be categorised as balanced.

While facilitating difference of opinion is stock in trade for current affairs programs, that is achieved by engaging panelists who exhibit a diversity of opinion, sometimes for, sometime against the various political parties and their policies. Check this week’s Insiders and find even one occasion when Bolt said anything complimentary about Julia Gillard, Kevin Rudd or any member of the Government. It was all negative, carping, destructive, finishing with his prediction: "Julia Gillard is finished".

We know that Greg Jericho’s caustic comments on Grog’s Gamut about reportage of the run up to the last election caught the attention of Mark Scott, MD of the ABC, who took his comments to a meeting of his executives and to a forum on journalism. He took them seriously. Whether any change of behaviour at the ABC resulted is difficult to discern, but we hope he might similarly take note of all the voices of protest that were generated by this week’s Insiders, more than I can recall previously. Evidence of action in response would be the permanent removal of Bolt from the Insiders panel. That might prove to be too difficult for the ABC who no doubt would fear a backlash from Bolt and from News Limited for whom he operates. I suspect that a ‘long talk with Andrew Bolt, asking him to tone it down a bit’, would be the ABC’s preferred option. But those who have observed Bolt over the years know that a ‘good talking-to’ will do nothing to change his behaviour.

Bolt is a case hardened political operative for the conservative side of politics. His aim is to remove the Labor Government from power, even if that means having to endure an Abbott Government. He will use any means in his considerable armamentarium, backed as he is with all the power that his sponsor News Limited has at its disposal. He is a formidable operative boosted by a level of arrogance that saw him yesterday returning to his blog to boast about what ‘fun’ he had had on Insiders, while ‘others were choking with rage’.

Those of us who value what OUR ABC has to offer, resent the influence News Limited appears to exert on our ABC through its news bulletins and current affairs programs, and the pernicious influence that the likes of News Limited’s Andrew Bolt has on the ABC’s flagship political program Insiders. We are angry at the subversive influence of News Limited on the ABC through its media outlets and political operatives.

Yesterday seemed like a turning point, when what we had been suspecting for years – that increasingly News Limited was dominating the ABC – became obvious as Andrew Bolt took over and arrogantly, and with almost no resistance, pushed his venomous agenda as he pleased. If you see it differently, don’t forget what Bolt and other political operatives tell us repeatedly, ‘in politics, perception is everything’.

This is our perception - we want OUR ABC back. And if we can’t have it back, don’t expect us to stay tuned to Insiders when Bolt is there.

What do you think?

The People’s Revolt goes ‘On the Buses’

G’day Swordians!

A group of Coalition supporters need transport to get themselves along to one of the Peoples’ Revolt rallies. They have put an ad in the Oz and have been contacted by a taxi crowd called CT (“CabTeam”), under the proprietorship of J Gillard and W Swan. However, even though the taxi firm offered cut-price rates, the Coalition knocked them back on the grounds that the roofs of their cabs are insulated with pink batts and they are afraid they will self-combust. Luckily for the Coalition supporters, a more suitable alternative presents itself with a tender from another outfit, this time a bus company (“The Independent Bus Co”) operated by its driver, Tony “Stan Butler” Windsor, and his trusty conductor who collects the fares, Bob “Jack Harper” Katter. However, to ensure as much as possible that things will go according to plan, the Coalition day-trippers insist that one of their own, Tony “Blakey” Abbott, fills the role of Bus Inspector. So, eager to join the Revolting Peoples’ Rally, the Coalition is, “On the Buses!”

The punters are queuing up on the pavement, but there seems to be some sort of a hold-up. Even though the bus itinerary is completely restricted to the Australian mainland, Inspector “Blakey” Abbott, keen to solicit contributions to his “STOP MY MORTGAGE” appeal fund, is insistent that, before they board the bus, the passengers need to fork out a $100 fare and an additional $100 if they can’t show their passport. However, the impasse is eventually overcome when Julie Bishop gets wind of Blakey’s scam, pulls out her portable counterfeiting machine and, for $10 a head, issues each of the punters with a near-perfect edition. However, even when subject to one of Blakey’s metronome-dome death-stares, Julie remains totally unflappable. “Why not?” she says, “isn’t everyone doing it?”

So, the Revolting People start to clamber onboard. The first is Mavis, one of Conductor Bob’s neighbours from North Queensland.

Mavis: G’day Bob...just got back from taking some tourists to the zoo, hey?

Bob (puzzled tone): Erm...not really Mavis...This is our first job today...Anyway, what’s the zoo got to do with the price of bananas?

Mavis: Oh, I just presumed you had been to the zoo, cos there are at least 20 or 30 crocodiles on the roof of yer bus...hee...hee...

[Before Bob can make an equally cheeky retort, Blakey insists that Mavis pays her fare, so that he can proceed with getting more passengers on. Having relieved Mavis of her $100, and passed it on to Bob the Conductor, Blakey quickly shoos her up the bus. The next boarder is none other than Malcolm Turnbull, who, typical of a multi-millionaire, is squabbling over the fare]

Malcolm: Are you sure we are getting value for our money here, old chap? You know, I think we need a jolly good cost-benefit analysis...

Blakey: Bullshit, mate!!! If you don’t fork out the $100 fare, it’ll cost you your front teeth and that’ll benefit us, as we won’t have to listen to any more of your crap...

[Suitably cowered by Blakey’s belligerence, Malcolm hands over the $100 to Bob the Conductor and moves up the bus. Next on board is John Howard]

Johnny: this bus going to the cricket?

Blakey: It’s going to wherever you like, long as you hand over the fare...

Johnny: Urrrr...unfortunately I don’t seem to have any cash on you accept a Gold Card?

[Johnny is unceremoniously booted off the bus by Blakey, who mutters ominously, “We will decide who comes on this bus, and the circumstances by which they pay”. Eventually, all the punters are on board, and Bob’s money satchel is bulging. Blakey is delighted with the money-collecting progress so far, and even promises Bob an extra commission at the end of the trip. However, Blakey’s fiduciary engorgement campaign has only started and so he starts on the next stage of ripping off the passengers.

With Bob in tow, Blakey moves up the bus, microphone in hand, asking them to describe their pet hate against Julia Gillard. The punters come up with the usual litany – her dangly earlobes...her ranga hair...her voice...her pointy nose...she’s handbag...her porno step-daughter...she doesn’t carry any letters to the troops when she visits gravitas (whatever that means) wooden...On and on they went, causing great merriment as each foible was broadcast over the bus speaker. However, Blakey had the last laugh, when he ordered everyone who said something to hand over $100 to Bob the Conductor. “Cash for Comment”, he called it – “Jonesie would be proud of me...heh...heh...”

So, Bob’s money pouch by this stage is so stuffed, it would make Joe Hockey’s belly, after he had consumed a few trays of party pies, look somewhat concave. Blakey is delighted, and can’t wait to use the dosh to make some headway into the burden of his crippling mortgage. However, during a lull in the money-grubbing processes, Bob takes Blakey aside and has a quiet word in his shell-like.]

Bob: case you didn’t notice...but most of your passengers are close to getting a telegram from the Queen – shouldn’t we have a pit-stop and allow them to empty their bladders?

Blakey:’re right of course, Bob – but don’t forget to charge them as they do their ablutions – and I don’t mean they should only spend a penny either...haw...haw...

[Bob dutifully concurs and informs Tony the Driver that the bus will need to stop as soon as possible. Tony pulls up at the side of the road and alights with Bob, seemingly to stretch their legs. Meanwhile, Blakey forces the passengers to empty their bladders and colostomy bags right there on the verge. And, true to form, and to add insult to injury, he charges them $100 a head for the “privilege”.

However, all of a sudden, a vehicle screeches to a halt close-by, and Bob and Tony quickly clamber into the vacant back seats, with the engorged satchel of money wedged in between them. Things were happening so quickly, Blakey couldn’t even identify what type of vehicle was involved. However, he could have sworn the driver, who looked like Col Gaddafi, shouted out the window: “tax the polluters – compensate us, the people!”]

Blakey (nodding his head in unspeakable rage and shaking his fist at the fast-disappearing vehicle): You bastards!! Come back with my money!!

[Then, Malcolm Turnbull sidles up to Blakey, looking like the cat who got the cream]

Malcolm: Erm...old chap...I think the costs have definitely outweighed the benefits on this particular excursion...hee...hee...And with this place looking like a latrine, you had better start cleaning up this particular environment, making sure you do just as good a job as Gillard did in cleaning out your wallet...haw...haw...

Blakey: But...but...but...are you sure it was her...I could have sworn it was Col Gaddafi?

Malcolm: Nah, it was definitely the CabTeam mob for sure – after all, if it acts like a taxi, and it hits you like a taxi, it is a taxi...heh...heh...

Blakey (still futilely shaking his fist): I ‘ate you, Windsor!! I’ll get you for this, Katter, you see if I don’t...

[To make matters worse for the Revolting People, it started to rain cats and dogs, so much so, the creeks began to flood. In the absence of Tony the Driver, Barnaby Joyce volunteered to drive the bus. No-one took up his offer. The long march home began. It resembled the biggest surrender since Singapore]

It Ain't Half Hot Mum

G’day Swordians!

The cultured choristers of the Royal Regiment of Australian Artillery Concert Party, under the tyrannical oversight of Warrant Officer Tony “STOP THE...” Abbott, have been sent to East Timor to entertain the troops. And, at 50-degrees-plus in the shade, it Ain’t Half Hot Mum!

Sergeant-Major Abbott (due to his arch-monarchist and pro-British leanings, he insists on being addressed according to the old-fashioned rank) has called parade so that the men can be addressed by Brigadier Bolt. Moreover, in spite of the stifling heat, Tones has ordered the Concert Party diggers to kit out in clobber more suited to alpine warfare, like fleecy-lined anoraks and Ugg boots. However, the guys have still not lost their larrikin sense of humour and on the parade display table have replaced the folded regimental flag with a tea-towel picturing Osama Bin Laden with the caption, “Compared to WorkChoices, mine is a kinder, gentler polity”. And, to add insult to injury, the wags have substituted the Bible with the Koran and The Regimental Standing Orders booklet with the latest edition of Gay Weekly. So, as the dulcet-toned diggers stand rigidly to attention, dripping in sweat, Sergeant-Major Abbott and Brigadier Bolt arrive on parade.

Tones: Right then, you maggots...the world used to be divided into the just and the unjust...but with you lot, it’s a choice between the unjust and the severely maladjusted...heh...heh...
[The guys know not to dignify Tones’ lame jokes with even a modicum of a suggested snigger. Instead, they remain completely at attention. Then, Tones turns to the parade display table and reaches out for what he presumes is the Bible, so that he can pray one of the psalms over these god-forsaken no-hopers standing before him. However, to his unadulterated incredulity, his eyes light upon the Koran and his head starts to nod in total disbelief. Then he sees the Bin Laden tea-towel and, worst of all, the copy of Gay Weekly. By this stage, Tones is approaching a catatonic state and his head is nodding at a rapidly accelerating rate of knots. One of the diggers, ‘Lofty’, takes advantage of the deathly silence to ask a question]
Lofty: Erm...permission to speak, Sarn’t-Major...
[Tones is still interminably nodding, seemingly transfixed by the scandal of the blasphemous objects traducing the sacred parade display table. Lofty assumes that Tones’ nodding gesture indicates he indeed has permission to speak.]
Lofty: Righto, Sarn’t-Major...I’ll just take that as a ‘yes’ then...Now, as its so damn hot in this winter clobber, we’ll soon all be dead, buried and cremated if we don’t get them off...Permission to disrobe, Sarn’t-Major sir?
[Still, Tones is just standing there staring in utter disbelief at the table, nodding like a metronome experiencing endless repeats of Groundhog Day. As before, the Concert Party crooners take this for a ‘yes’ and start to relieve themselves of their excessive clothing. However, unfortunately for them, this mutinous act of Machiavellian bastardry only succeeds in snapping Tones out of his shocked state. He gives them both barrels]
Tones: STOP THE UNDRESSING!!!! Keep that kit on, you poofs!!!!
Lofty: But Sarn’t-Major...why do we have to dress like this in the East Timor tropics...can’t we just wear our budgie smugglers?
Tones: STOP THE BUDGIESMUGGLERS!!!!! I’ll tell you why you have to wear polar-regions’ fighting kit in East Timor, you nonces – because all this global warming palaver is a load of crap!!! And the sooner you warmists get that fact into your thick girlie heads the better...Brigadier Bolt here, like me, can spot nancy-boy warmist twaddle from a mile don’t you dare try to take that kit off...And, for your insubordination, and the desecration of our beloved parade display table, you can all go for a twenty kilometre hike in your arctic gear...and remember, it was a lot warmer in Jesus’ day, so consider yourselves lucky...heh...heh...At the double...left, right...left, right...
[As the sweat-saturated squaddies tramp off despondently into the East Timor midday sun, Brigadier Bolt turns to Tones]
Bolta: Erm...Sergeant-Major...I know we have to nip this leftie warmist bolshevism in the bud...but aren’t you being a tad rough on the chaps?
Tones: Oh, I’m only having a bit of fun with them at the moment, Brigadier – for our next posting I’ll allow them to wear their budgie smugglers...
Bolta: Really, Sergeant-Major? And where are you getting posted to?
Tones: Actually our next posting is to Antarctica...
Bolta: Antarctica? Why, surely budgie smugglers won’t be appropriate fatigues for that sort of climate?
Tones: Au contraire, Brigadier...As you know, if we keep up this global warming denialism for a few more years, the polar ice-caps will have melted and the men will be in their element prancing around in their speedos...heh...heh...
Bolta: Yes, very good, Sergeant-Major...And another thought has just struck me – with the ice-caps melted, won’t the mining companies be able to make hay, so to speak?
Tones: Got it in one, sir...Yes, the big-wigs at Staff Headquarters – General Gina, Cromwell Clive, and Twiggy the Terrible – certainly know what they’re doing...hee...hee...
Bolta: And we’re just following orders, right?
Tones: Yup! And I just hope the Nuremberg Excuse holds up this time...cos, if it doesn’t...shit happens...

For further reflection:
- Due to the immensity of Clive Palmer’s profit margins, should an eighth continent be named after him?
- Discuss: “global warming couldn’t be true, cos if it were, Earth would soon be hotter than hell, and god would have nowhere to send all the naughty lefties”
- Should Ban Morrison re-form his original band and re-name it, “Us and Them”?
- When the glaciers turn to rivers, should Barnaby Joyce be allowed anywhere near them in a four-wheel drive?

Whaddya think?

Tony Abbott’s Great Big New Tax

No, that can’t be right – Tony Abbott and Great Big New Tax in the one phrase. Isn’t it Julia Gillard and the Labor Government that’s addicted to the Great Big New Tax – on Everything! Well no. Not to be outdone by Julia, Tony has his own Great Big New Tax – in his ‘Direct Action Plan’ for combating that heap of ‘absolute crap’ – global warming.

Take a look at it.  You need scroll only to page two to see that the estimated cost is $3.6 billion, which presumably will come from the ‘Emissions Reduction Fund’ it intends to establish. But the Fund has no money. So they will have to put some there. Where will it come from? Where else but from you and me, the taxpayer, $3.6 billion of your money and mine? It will not descend from the ether on the wings of a dove, or arise from ashes like the mystical phoenix; it will not come out of some surreptitiously funded treasure chest kept for Coalition purposes, or out of that mysterious source called ‘consolidated revenue’ which carries the aura of being money that somehow just arrived without pain, and from no one’s pocket.

We all know all of this is nonsense. Any money the Government has comes from taxpayers: individuals, small business and large companies, and from interest earned on funds collected. So the $3.6 billion is a Great Big New Tax, a la Abbott.

Now the Coalition will argue that it’s not a tax, it is simply redirecting money already collected. So what money is this? Is it money allocated to education or health, or border security, or defence, or infrastructure, or any other Government item of expenditure? If so, the tax you paid for these services will be ripped away from its intended purpose to fund the $3.6 billion the Coalition intends to spend on combating climate change. No sleight of hand can disguise that this a blatant tax grab – grabbing your taxes that were meant for something else and using them to combat climate change. By any measure it is a GREAT BIG NEW TAX.

But we have to combat global warming lest the planet perish and all of us with it, I hear you say. Of course we do, but recall that the Coalition has said over and again, and it’s on page one of its policy, that it would do this ‘without the need for a great big new tax.’ If you don’t believe that, take a look. It has the temerity to tell us this and then tell us it will cost $3.6 billion of OUR MONEY. If that is not a Great Big New Tax, what on earth is it? Some fictional sum that will be painlessly extracted from us or painlessly ripped out of existing programs, something none of us will notice or feel? What cynical hypocrisy is this? What sort of con job is being laid on us here? Yet have you heard one squeak from the media about Abbott’s Great Big New Tax? It’s as if they are mesmerized – how could Tony Abbott be imposing a Great Big New Tax when half of his every working day is spend cauterizing Julia Gillard and her Government for their Great Big New Taxes? They cannot see through the fog of disinformation that emits from Abbott’s mouth hour after hour to see that he does not have bags of money ferreted away to use as he pleases. He can get his money from only one source – US.

But Folks, that’s not all. A review prepared by the Department of Climate Change and released on 2 March, “…estimates the Coalition plan would force Australia to spend an extra $20 billion buying international carbon permits and would be costing households an extra $720 a year by 2020.”  

So $3.6 billion is not $3.6 billion, it is $20 billion more than that, over six times more. What a confidence trick! The best the Opposition environment spokesman Greg Hunt could do in rebuttal was to reject the review, saying it was just part of a campaign by an ‘increasingly desperate government’. What a pitiable response. He quoted no figures, made no financial arguments to dismiss the attack; he simply fell back on tired old ‘desperate government’ rhetoric because he had nothing better. You can be sure that if he did it would have been out there illuminated by Murdoch media floodlighting.

So now we have Tony Abbott’s $23.6 billion Great Big New Tax.

But that’s not all Folks.

How is he going to spend this $23.6 billion?

Unbelievable as it might be to rational human beings, he intends to use it to pay the polluters - yes PAY THE POLLUTERS!

He’ll pay them to reduce their polluting. While the Government plans to tax the polluters to dissuade them from polluting, Tony Abbott will actually pay them. So we would all be paying a Great Big New Tax so Tony Abbott could use our taxes to pay polluters!

Despite all the misinformation Tony Abbott, the Coalition and the compliant media have spread, the truth is that the Government plans to tax the polluters, not the citizens. In fact the citizens will be compensated for the rise in electricity and other affected prices, while it is the polluters who will pay, which is just the opposite of what is generally believed. The Coalition misinformation campaign has been very successful. Once established, the Government’s carbon tax will revert to a price on carbon, so the tax will be temporary.

Tony Abbott will tax the citizens so he can pay the polluters; householders will shell out another $720 per year in increased taxes, and yet he offers NO compensation to them. If that’s not a Great Big New Tax, what is it? Yet Julia cops all the flak and Tony escapes? How come?

So let’s stop all this nonsense about Great Big New Taxes. Its repetition, day after day, is primary schoolyard stuff.

Grow up Tony Abbott, concede that you are into a Great Big New Tax to fund your ‘Pay the Polluters’ plan, that no matter who tackles climate change, they will have to pay to fix the mess, that in the end the people pay, but that it is possible to ease their burden with sensible compensation, something you decline to do. You paint yourself as the champion of the people; you are just the opposite.

Folks, what do you think about Tony Abbott’s Great Big New Tax to ‘fix’ climate change by paying the polluters?

By the way, before any of you Coalition supporters try to dismantle this piece, take a long hard look at the torrent of words that emit daily from Coalition lips in pressing its disingenuous claims. You wouldn’t want to be the pot calling the kettle black, would you?

Simplicity – the opiate of the people

It was Karl Marx who said: "Religion is the opiate of the masses". An opiate relieves pain, numbs, and before it wears off, gives a sense that all is well with the world. But knowing that opiates are addictive, Marx went on to say: "The first requisite for the happiness of the people is the abolition of religion.” A state of numb unreality does not create happiness.

Napoleon Bonaparte saw religion differently. He said: “How can you have order in a state without religion? For, when one man is dying of hunger near another who is ill of surfeit, he cannot resign himself to this difference unless there is an authority which declares, ‘God wills it thus.’ Religion is excellent stuff for keeping common people quiet.” So is simplicity.

Bertrand Russell said: “There is something feeble and a little contemptible about a man who cannot face the perils of life without the help of comfortable myths. Almost inevitably some part of him is aware that they are myths and that he believes them only because they are comforting. But he dares not face this thought! Moreover, since he is aware, however dimly, that his opinions are not rational, he becomes furious when they are disputed.”

This piece argues that simplicity in political discourse has become an opiate of the people in the manner Russell suggests. Simple explanations to complex problems, ‘comfortable myths’ that cultivate false security, are now stock in trade for politicians, fostered by a lazy and compliant media and swallowed by a gullible electorate.

Life is complex. Complexity abounds in nature, human endeavour and in individual and collective interactions. We try to understand that complexity, to reduce it to bite-sized pieces that we can assimilate. Reductionism seeks to drill down to find ‘the simple answer’, the ‘magic bullet’ that will solve life’s complex problems. Much of medicine is reductionist, particularly in medical science and the narrow specialties, and has provided us with countless profound insights that have lead to startling discoveries, innovative approaches and new cures. But alone it is insufficient. Many problems are not ‘down there’, at a cellular, molecular or genetic level, but ‘out there’ in the totality of an individual’s existence, subject as it is to all the influences of home, family, environment, work, community and the political system.

Why then do politicians, particularly those in opposition, seek to reduce life’s complexities to simple catch phrases? Because it works! Why do Governments have such difficulty in explaining what needs to be done, what they have done, and what they plan to do? Because it involves complexity, and complex things take time and skill to explain.

Our society has evolved to a point where ten second clips are the norm, and insignificant actions and inconsequential events become the news of the day. In a fine article on 4 January by David Horton in The Drum Unleashed: Wanted: serious political reporting, which should be essential reading for political reporters, the concluding paragraph reflected the theme of his piece: “Have political reporters become merely stand-up comedians with humorous one-liners, or do they see themselves as serving the public interest? Are they going to keep on doing the equivalent of The Guardian celebrity profile with great weight placed on how the subject holds a wine glass or folds a napkin, or will they begin reporting seriously about the qualifications, experience, interests, political beliefs, aims of the people who govern us or wish to do so in future?”

It is not surprising that in this media milieu short, snappy yet plausible slogans that imply a simple fix have become the stock in trade of politicians. The federal Coalition has used this strategy brilliantly and to good effect; it almost won them the 2010 election. It will take you no effort to remember: ‘end the waste’, ‘repay the debt’, ‘stop new taxes’ and ‘stop the boats’. There was no need for Tony Abbott to explain these slogans or to validate them. Their purpose was not to inform or argue or even suggest an alternative path. The sole aim was to incite antagonism towards the Government, to give the impression of Government incompetence, and to subtly suggest that the Coalition had the answers and could readily solve difficult political problems – all the public needed to do was to elect them.

The recent Queensland floods gave Barnaby Joyce and Tony Abbott another heaven-sent opportunity to make similar political capital out of what was a tragedy for people, communities and the whole nation. It took no time for them to talk about Australia having ‘a dam phobia’, implying Labor governments ought to have built more, notwithstanding recent LNP opposition to dams that were being proposed. Virtually every expert commentator cautioned against a rush to build dams, but that was of no consequence to Abbott or Joyce. Their aim was to create yet another memorable three-word slogan – ‘Build More Dams’ was suggested as a possibility. Like all the other three-worders, it has a ring of plausibility, indeed to the unthinking and uninformed seems an obvious solution. Wait to see what three-worder emerges as Abbott institutes his Coalition committee to investigate the utility of dams in this country.

We can expect more of the same – pithy slogans about banking, tax review, the minerals tax, carbon mitigation, or anything else the Government suggests or proposes. Even the actions of the Government following the High Court granting access to the courts for asylum seekers who have been rejected and assigned for return to country, was countered by another simple Abbott statement – ‘it won’t stop the boats’. You see, the substantial complexities of the new arrangements to give legal rights to asylum seekers is reduced to the simplest counter argument – ‘it won’t stop the boats’. It is mind-numbing simplicity that makes no contribution to balanced discourse on this troublesome subject, but serves Abbott well – he knows that given the choice of trying to understand the complexities of the matter, or clutching a short superficially believable slogan, the majority of the electorate will likely choose the latter.

The repeated recourse to simplicity by the Coalition, while smart politically, is corrosive of balanced, well informed and sensible discussion of complex issues that cannot be reduced to three-word slogans or ten second TV grabs. Yet by and large the media lets the Coalition get away with it again and again, declines to challenge it, avoids asking awkward questions about it. Many believe this is because much of the media is lazy or unthinking, or in some cases unwilling to paint the Coalition in a bad light – that might be dangerous for those who work in the Murdoch media.

What about the converse – acknowledging the complexity of most political issues, yet making these complex problems, controversial proposals and complicated solutions easy to comprehend and remember? This is a dilemma for governments. Since the electorate has been conditioned to expect simple answers, how does any government in power, of whatever persuasion, get its messages across? How does it reduce inherent complexity to understandable lines?

The federal Labor Government has been spectacularly unsuccessful in getting its good-news messages heard and appreciated by the electorate. It successfully negotiated the GFC, avoided crippling unemployment by keeping people in work through its stimulus program, but received little credit. In fact the Opposition managed to turn its laudable efforts into a ‘debt and deficit’ story. It conducted a highly successful BER with over 97% satisfaction, but the Murdoch media managed to turn that into a ‘waste and mismanagement’ story. It carried out a HIP that was successful in insulating over a million roofs, but the Coalition and the media painted that an administrative disaster and linked it with four deaths, three of which are now the subject of court proceedings in which employers are charged with OH&S breaches. Every Labor success has been turned into disaster or mismanagement by an Opposition uninterested in finding the facts, and a media intent on belittling the Government and in some instances intent on bringing it down. There is no denial of administrative failures in some of these programs, but their extent is small compared with the hugely beneficial effects of them. Labor simply did not sell its success and was unable to counter the negativity of the Opposition and the media. That was its real failure.

It has often been contended here that Labor needs a much better media unit than it has, one that can reduce messages that are necessarily complex into understandable communication, bite-sized units that are assimilable, plausible and memorable. It ought not be impossible for experts in education and communication to fashion them. Yet we read that the Obama administration suffers the same impediment. It seems that the current short attention span of the electorate and it insistence on simple solutions to complex problems, on simplicity rather than complexity, is a root cause. It’s a serious problem that must be solved.

Simplicity is the opiate of the people. It numbs, it relieves the pain of thinking about difficult issues, of finding the facts and figures and coming to a reasoned conclusion. It gives the feeling that all is well with the world, that even the most complex problems can be readily solved by reducing them to simple propositions, captured in an easy-to-understand, easy-to-remember catch cry. Simplicity as a proxy for irreducible complexity is dishonest and dangerous. Yet it abounds and is ruthlessly used for political advantage, particularly by those in opposition. Is there any counter? Is change possible with the political media we have to put up with in this country?

On the other side of the coin there is a question for governments – can complexity be simply communicated?

What do you think?