‘Post-Truth Politics’

Or, How the ALP Should Play the Game of Political Pragmatism, Just Not as the Hollow Man Abbott Does.

So, you will by now have had seared into your brains the immortal words Tony Abbott uttered to his party room this past week: “In a choice between policy purity and political pragmatism, I'll take pragmatism every time.”

Peter Hartcher meticulously explained the context around that statement in his column on the weekend.  

I was compelled to unpack Abbott's statement and reflect upon what it meant with respect to contemporary politics, and especially Climate Change politics and for the Labor Party.

Let's just start by saying that, in terms of policy, it would be safe to make the case that the Gillard government is in many ways an old small 'l' Liberal government, probably not too dissimilar to one in which Malcolm Turnbull would feel comfortable, except for some philosophical differences around the edges which most governments usually accommodate. In fact, it could be said that because the Labor government has forsaken a more radically Left Wing agenda it has bled votes to The Greens. Except, of course, with respect to the Keynesian response to the economic crisis, which saw a lot of those voters come back into the ALP fold and then drift away again over Asylum Seekers and Climate Change. Other than that the initiatives the Gillard government have worked on have been 'Middle of the Road', veering a little to the Right or Left, as necessary. Such as the Health and Hospitals package which incorporated Case Mix Funding, and localised Community Boards to run Public Hospitals, as opposed to control from a Central Planning HQ. Also the NBN is being built by the government because that is the pragmatic and practical course of action, but it is going to be privatized as soon as the government feels it's right to do so.

The same has applied to Education policy. They do not seek to re-run the real Class War which would see Private Schools asked to rely on their own school-levied fees to educate children and Public Schools funded lavishly at their expense.

They are for Free Trade and the Free Market with light touch regulation.

Even their approach to tackling Climate Change is more pro the market than Tony Abbott's 'Picking Winners and Losers' approach from Central Planning HQ in Canberra.

They haven't even placed any real strictures on Middle Class Welfare entitlements, or massively increased the dole to an amount an unemployed person could comfortably live on. Though that's probably for pragmatic rather than ideological reasons. Or is it?

Thus essentially we can agree that the three biggest initiatives of the Rudd and Gillard governments: the NBN, built by government but then privatised at an appropriate time; the Health and Hospitals package - Local Boards and Case Mix Funding; and the ETS/Cap and Trade model for dealing with Climate Change, are small 'l' Labor government in action.

So, what have we seen as a result of these moves into 'small l' territory from the Liberal Party? Tony Abbott consistently deciding to move his party further to the Right, or to the Libertarian Left if you think about his Climate Change policy, where government picks a few winners but generally stays out of the game and leaves it to Private Industry to decide what to do. Nevertheless, the overriding move has been further to the Right under Abbott, and especially as the ALP government has increasingly colonised the middle political ground, which these days has veered to the Centre Right in the electorate's preference. Whether you and I like it or not.

This move has been made by Abbott to differentiate himself and his party from the Gillard government for reasons of political pragmatism, but also for ideological reasons. Though I'm sure that policies, such as an ETS, which Howard and Turnbull took to the 2007 election were compromises the Liberal Party were forced to accept and take to the people so as to attempt to forestall their inevitable defeat and to keep some skin in the 2007 game of Climate Change policy. I mean, as we are now seeing, the Coalition would more likely be happier to just let their supporters in Fossil Fuel Mining and Carbon-Intensive Industries, carry on regardless of the consequences to the Climate.

However, what I do know is that the positions the Coalition are forced to hold on many issues are just a thin veneer which covers their underlying determination to inevitably achieve their core goals, which they have doggedly pursued for decades: reducing taxes on the wealthy, or 'giving people's money back to them' as the Coalition have styled it, which encompasses Middle Class Welfare as well because they can't get away with advocating a large reduction in Personal Income Tax for the wealthy, as they do in America, so they have exploited the Tax and Transfer mechanism, without Means Testing in the main, as their way of getting the money back into the hands of the already well-off, just by another means. At one and the same time however, the Conservatives argue for the dismantling of the Post-War Social Welfare State. You can see this in Abbott's plans for no more 'passive welfare' which would see all welfare recipients moved on to some sort of unskilled work gang situation in order to be able to get money from the government in order to keep hand to mouth existence going. He has already mentioned sending unemployed young people to work on farms picking fruit for their dole, and with a straight face belying its Dickensian undertones also spoke of sending them to the mines.

Interestingly, as has been observed elsewhere, no such strictures are being advocated by Mr Abbott to be placed upon the well-off in return for their taxpayer-largesse to pay their bills for Private Health, Private Education and Maternity Leave from their well-paid jobs. Quite the opposite. Mr Abbott can't wait to shovel government revenue out the door to them quickly enough, with no strings attached and no questions asked.

Finally, in the Conservative ideological troika, of course, has been their overweening desire to 'free' corporate entities from government regulation, such that they can generate more profit for their shareholders, as opposed to revenue for the State, in order that they may make money at will and without control over how they do it, especially with respect to the effect they have on the environment, or the workforce, along the way.

So, for decades, since the Reagan/Thatcher tectonic shift in the Conservative political paradigm around the world, Conservative parties of the Right have pursued their goals determinedly. Sometimes that has meant short-term compromises and half-measures, for example, the GST compromise with the Australian Democrats, and the belated 'Fairness Test' for WorkChoices. Sometimes it's meant exploiting Culture War resentments, in fact inventing the 'Culture Wars'. Who can forget Howard's exploitation of it and Janet Albrechtsen's infamous quote: 'We're all Conservatives now.' It was a 'War' fought in order to drag the electorate around to their way of seeing the world. Sometimes it has meant a pose of moderation, 'Compassionate Conservatism'. For example, the Northern Territory Intervention, which occurred after a brutish decade of Assimilationist policy by the Howard government based upon his single-minded aim to see the end of the Indigenous Determination agenda left in place by Hawke and Keating, resting upon the foundation of The Native Title Act.

The seemingly-compassionate intervention in the Northern Territory was ostensibly on behalf of the suffering exposed in the 'Little Children Are Sacred Report'. Instead, what we got, when you looked closely at it, was a thin veneerial sham of action in order to advance further Howard's desire to destroy the Native Title Act once and for all, crush the Indigenous Homelands movement, and Indigenous Self-Determination, leave the land free from Indigenous control for the Miners to come into and exploit, and to continue the push of the Assimilationist agenda by forcing the inhabitants out of the homelands by restricting their basic services, and into the big towns and cities to be absorbed. Some compassion. Very definitely Conservative.

So, very often - almost always - for the Conservatives it has meant couching their agenda in other terms, via 'political pragmatism', since the agenda is, if you poll these ideas directly, wildly unpopular with the public. Australians generally still want the rich taxed enough, the Social Safety Net preserved, and corporate entities over-sighted by government to prevent their worst excesses from harming the environment and the little guy.

The Coalition thus talks about 'taxes' and 'spending' and 'regulation' in the abstract, never explicitly articulating their real agenda for those areas, since Australians generally oppose those concepts in the abstract while they support their more specific manifestations. The Coalition talk about cutting the Deficit, even as they propose policies which would increase the Deficit, such as with Tony Abbott's 'Direct Action' Climate Change policy, and his generous to the wealthy Paid Parental Leave Scheme, and with wanting to keep Defence spending unfettered, and, of course, with never wanting to Means Test Middle Class Welfare, and constantly thinking of new sorts of tax churn to introduce to satisfy his core covert desire to see the wealthy contribute as little as possible to the Progressive idea of the Welfare State.

So we hear the Coalition talk about 'Free Markets' even as they subsidise Fossil Fuels – an argument that was had between Nick Minchin and Tony Abbott this last week, and which was the genesis of the now infamous Abbott quote.

In short, the Coalition have mastered 'Post-Truth Politics'. They've realised that their rhetoric doesn't have to bear any resemblance to their policy agenda. They can go through different slogans, different rationales, different fights, depending on the political landscape of the moment. They need not feel bound by previous slogans, rationales, or fights. They've realised that policy is policy and politics is politics and they can push the former while waging the latter battle on its own terms. The two have become entirely unmoored from each other.

So, it's not strictly true that they 'moved Right' when Rudd and Gillard took office. They just adopted a new political strategy, especially when Abbott took over from Turnbull, of total, unremitting, hysterical oppositionalism. Tony Abbott accurately foresaw that it was the only thing that could revive the battered party, who were down in the polls after 'Utegate', and it has paid off handsomely thus far. Also, as a result of their poll success, the Conservatives are becoming less and less reticent about voicing their real agenda because the agenda itself has not changed whilst they have been in Opposition. Just think about how sometimes various Coalition MPs bring the ghost of WorkChoices up and attempt to breathe new life into it even while Tony Abbott keeps declaring to the public it is “Dead, Buried and Cremated”.

The failed political logic, it seems to me, behind the majority of the time of the Rudd and Gillard governments, such as the negotiation with Turnbull of an ETS, then abandonment of it altogether, and the re-negotiation of the MRRT away from the RSPT, to make it more palatable to the vested interests who had turned their guns on the original proposal, is that the failure that lies behind these concessions was the thought that the other side would be made quiescent as a result of the concessions made, and that the government would get credit for acquiescing to popular demand and for being reasonable, 'Centrist', and actually politically pragmatic. As the polls and subsequent election showed, that was most definitely not the case. I think they believed they would get credit for compromising, which would translate into votes, victory and political momentum and capital. That has been their basic approach. Unfortunately, it reflects a naïve policy literalism that is absolutely ubiquitous on the Left. Don't they realise 'Good guys finish last' in politics? Not that I'm saying that you should not aim to be good, but that that is not all you should aim for.

What happened instead? On policy after policy, Rudd especially began with grand, high ideals, but was forced by the Opposition, essentially because of the arithmetic of the Senate, and the Opposition's decision to 'pragmatically' oppose everything, to make magnanimous concessions, in order to have any hope of getting anything through the Senate, which he didn't anyway a lot of the time. So he adopted Centre Right policies, and bled votes on his left to The Greens.

Also, every concession to the Right and adoption of some of their policies was still attacked by them in some way, shape or form, especially post-Turnbull, no matter how many concessions had been made, and which is still the case with respect to the MRRT, where Colin Barnett has rounded on the conceded ground as it has morphed from the RSPT to the MRRT, and attacked it again by raising State Royalties in defiance of the concessional deal. He's also trying it on with the Health and Hospitals Reform Package.

Now, from a naïve, positivist point of view, the media and other elite referees of public debate should be calling foul. The Coalition should have been penalised in the media for opposing and maligning policies that they'd supported not that long ago, for brazenly lying, and for rejecting all attempts at compromise. They chose the strategy; the strategy should have been explained plainly to the public.

But the crucial fact of 'Post-Truth Politics' is that there are no more referees. There are only players. The Right has its own media, its own facts, its own world. In that world the Climate isn't warming, and 'Direct Action' can do its bit to solve the Global Warming crisis. The government can continue to try to craft new 'Centrist' policies all day, but with the media the way it is there is no mechanism to convey that centrism to the broader public. There is no judge settling disputes or awarding points. There is just commentary, which either suggests it's a wrong thing to do from a Right perspective, or from a Left perspective, and thus it is simply perceived as craven concessionalism and not Centrism. The strategy – achieve political advantage through policy concessions – has failed. The government's approval ratings are down as a result. Best stick to some core principles instead and be rewarded for it.

Yet there still seems to be this craving, by many self-styled pragmatic, post-partisan moderates, to take the politics out of politics. To have an Adult Conversation. To be 'Reasonable People', to draw forth other Reasonable People with the power of ideas only and together to transcend petty partisan squabbling and 'Move Forward' with a 'Common Sense Agenda' based on 'Shared Values' (are you tingling all over yet?).

It's a nice idea but it's not how politics works. Just look at the polls since the hyper-politically pragmatic Tony Abbott took control of the Coalition, distasteful as it is to admit it. There appears to not be a huge swathe of uncommitted independently-minded voters out there waiting to be persuaded. Many, many voters, if the polls are to be believed, have fallen in behind the Uber politically pragmatic, Policy Free Zone that is Mr Abbott. Why? He knows how to sell his point of view. The selling points of the Conservative agenda – small government, free markets, jingoistic patriotism – have no motive force on their own. They are not binding and support no intellectual consistency. Which is why the endless, tiresome charges of philosophical hypocrisy from the Left are so fruitless. They are the politics, not the policy, and the two are not connected from the Opposition's point of view.

The policy, the motive force among the conservative elites, the real elites, the ones they NEVER talk about, is a defence of an oligarchic status quo ante, before the Welfare State, and a redistribution of wealth upwards. It is those voices that speak in the ears of our political class and their agenda that commands the assent of one and a half of our political parties. It's not hard to see why our political system is choked with veto points, vulnerable to motivated minorities, lobby groups if you will. It is insulated from public opinion, and it floods the political parties and the media with its money.

It is genuinely difficult to say therefore what, if anything, can rally the Left's diverse constituencies into a formidable political force capable of counterbalancing the influence of the country's oligarchy. The much-maligned Greens have had a pretty damn strong run at it. Environmentalists, from a standing start have pulled together a coalition of businesses, religious groups, unions and social justice groups. In a sane world, that's what success looks like. But in our political system it's just not been enough. Labor is still there as one of the two major political parties, so with the ALP we need to place our trust for Progressive political successes. The Greens are going to be hammered even more by the oligarchs in the future than Labor is. And Labor are the party of government anyway. This is also why The Greens have to know that they must compromise on the new Climate Change legislation. They must learn the art of political pragmatism too.

Now, many believe that policy differences are at the root of the failure to dethrone fossil fuels. It's just the wrong ideas, the wrong '5 Point Plan'. A different mix with more of this and less of that will bring the Reasonable People out of the woodwork in support. Again that forlorn, undying hope that the politics can be taken out of...politics.

No, the government and the MPCCC have to negotiate a good package of policies and go out and get the politics spot on in order to sell it to the electorate. The Reasonable People will not magically materialise in support of it and Tony Abbott and the Coalition of Fossil Fuel backstops will be using 'political pragmatism', as wrong and offensive as it may be to our delicate sensibilities, to attack it relentlessly. Because the referees in the media have vacated the field for the most part and are unlikely to call it in the government's favour anyway, no matter how reasonable are the policy prescriptions because it is not in their proprietor's interests to do so.

So. Policy is policy. Politics is politics. First you figure out what you want – for example, in my case I, like the government, want Clean Energy, appropriate land and water use, and economic justice – and then you grasp every opportunity with both hands to make progress towards those goals. Meanwhile you wage political war with the tools of politics: money, message, organisation, solidarity, and a healthy dose of ruthless opportunism.

Just like Tony Abbott.

Policy concessions aren't just a poor weapon in that war, they are no weapon at all.

Just ask Kevin Rudd.

I think that the government, if they use these weapons can prove they are hard-core politicians willing to fight to the political death for what they truly believe in, and they will thus be able to cause the political death of the Hollow Man of politics, who fights only with political pragmatism not policy, Tony Abbott.

What do you think?

Julia Gillard’s Fireside Chat - Your Heath Mark 2

This is a second attempt to craft a set of messages about health that PM Gillard might transmit, modified in the light of your comments and suggestions, some of which have been included verbatim. An attempt has been made to generalize and personalize the ‘chat’ using ‘we’, ‘us’, and some personal anecdotes. Please note that these are fictitious and are simply included to illustrate the value of the personal approach. I have no knowledge of PM Gillard’s experiences in the health area, but she must have had many which would allow her to add a personal touch to what she says.

So this is Mark 2. Please feel free to make further suggestions about how it might be improved. It would be satisfying to at least get the message pretty right. Delivering it is another matter, which needs to be dealt with also, but in your comments it would make for more balanced discourse if you could comment on the content of the message and the process of delivery separately. In regard to the latter, there is the question of the most appropriate media for delivering the messages, and of course Julia Gillard’s style of delivery.

I suggest you read it just as it comes at you, rather than trying to pick the difference from the first version. I look forward to your further feedback. For me, this has been an informative exercise.

Your Health

Good Evening

Tonight I want to talk to you about your health and the health of your community.

All of us know how important good health is to us. It gives us feelings of wellbeing. It makes it possible for us achieve our ambitions.

We know too that a healthy community is a good place in which to live, and a healthy workforce makes for high productivity and prosperity.

Yet many of us are not well; not all have the best of health. This is why we need a good health care system.

It is up to governments, both federal and state, to give all of you the best opportunity to lead healthy, happy, productive lives by providing easily accessible and affordable health services near to where you live.

Yet I have spoken with mothers and fathers who have had great difficulty getting a doctor when they needed need one, and have endured long waits, often in overcrowded hospital emergency departments. One solution was to build GP Super Clinics [images of interior of Super Clinics with just a few patients] where communities requested them, so that these parents can get quick access to good care when they need it, especially after hours. Another solution was to train many more primary care doctors and nurses to overcome the shortage we now experience.

Because much of the illness in the community is preventable, great emphasis has been placed on primary care that is given by your family doctor, your GP, or a community nurse. Your GP [images of a female GP consulting with a mother and child] is trained to prevent illness through immunization and advocating a healthy lifestyle. GPs are also trained to detect illness in its early stages when it is most treatable, as well as treating established disease.

Lifestyle conditions afflict too many in this country. We can all see that obesity is widespread, even among children, [images of obese persons] and combined with physical inactivity and a poor diet too often leads to heart problems, diabetes, joint problems and some cancers.

Alcohol and substance abuse, [images of social effects of alcohol] along with smoking, have caused havoc. Binge drinking, especially among the young, has reached alarming proportions. Alcopops legislation has reduced the sale of these products, so attractive to adolescents yet so dangerous.

Smoking kills over 15,000 Australians each year and costs well over half a billion dollars in healthcare. In a further attempt to reduce smoking plain packaging for cigarettes with dire health warnings will soon be introduced [images of Nicola Roxon with plain packages and warnings]. The tobacco industry is fighting this tooth and nail because it believes it will reduce its profits, but I am determined to press ahead because we believe plain packaging will discourage young people from taking up this dangerous habit.

Mental illness is on the rise. Is there any one of us who has not been touched by it in our family or amongst our friends or workmates? It is affecting both old and young. Suicide is high and leaves tragedy in its wake. Last year 2000 people took their own lives; 300 were young people between 15 and 24.

The 2010 Australian of the Year, Professor Pat McGorry, [image of Pat McGorry with Julia Gillard] has strongly advocated for increased funding for mental health for the ‘headspace’ and other programs, so in this year’s budget several billion dollars was committed for this purpose over the next four years. Mental health must be a top priority.

As the population ages, the number of older people needing support is rising steadily [images of older people in their homes]. I see them as I travel around the country. As more and more baby boomers reach retiring age the demand for services for the elderly and places in retirement homes will rise steeply and place even greater pressure on this sector [images of nursing homes]. We must respond by providing more qualified staff, more carers, and more facilities to care for our older citizens. Carers are in special need of our support [images of carers caring for patients].

We know that the incidence of serious chronic illness, such as cancer, is rising. A few years ago my best friend was diagnosed with breast cancer. I saw at first hand the excellent quality of the medical care she received, but also came to understand that the personal support from family and friends, and the physical environment in which she received her care, were also vitally important to a good outcome. Because she was a country girl the stress on her young family was increased by the need to travel a long way to Adelaide for treatment, and too often be alone while doing so. She told me that it would have helped a great deal if a clinic had been available closer to home. [This anecdote is fictitious and used only as an example]. The cancer clinics that have been built in regional areas in the recent times, [several images of cancer clinics, perhaps with one being opened by the PM] like the one recently announced for Albury, are the result of that conversation, both of us in tears.

We have leading researchers in this field; now I want to support them properly for the next round of breakthroughs in cancer treatment. One day I hope no one will have a young friend dying from breast cancer like I did.

Many people living in rural and regional areas have told me that distance from large specialized centres has been a crippling burden. One of the benefits of the National Broadband Network [images of NBN installations, perhaps the opening of the Armidale one] is that it will reduce that remoteness by enabling consultations between rural patients and city specialists via super fast broadband [moving image of a remote consultation].

The NBN will enable monitoring of the chronically ill in their homes, which will reduce the pressure on hospitals and nursing homes [image of elderly person monitored at home], and e-health will enable your health records to be available to any health care provider that you consult, no matter where [image of health record on a computer].

And the increasing prevalence of disability in both old and young demands our attention, to them and their carers. I have seen the burden that carers carry; we must support them wherever they are. [images of disabled persons with carers]. The NBN will bring support closer to those in remote places.

It is a depressing fact of life that dementia is becoming more and more common. I see many with dementia on my visits to nursing homes, and the sadness that brings to them, their family and their carers. [more images of older persons with Julia Gillard]. We must provide for them and their carers.

With the aging of the population the cost of health care will continue its steady rise to the point where at mid century all of a state’s budget will be consumed by health care costs alone, leaving none for other essential services, unless different funding arrangements are made.

This is why the Federal Government has entered into an arrangement with the states to share healthcare costs, with 50% being funded by the Commonwealth [image of COAG meeting over the health care agreement].

Federal and state governments will contribute to a single national pool for hospital funding to be administered by an independent national funding body. Hospitals will be funded based on the activity they undertake. Independent local hospital networks [images of local hospitals, staff and patients] will be responsible for managing public hospital services and the funding to provide those services.

This will take some of the pressure off state health departments and will give greater responsibility to those actually delivering the care.

The new arrangements are designed to contain rising costs and reduce the far-too-long waiting times for elective surgery and the long periods in hospital emergency rooms that we all know ill patients endure while waiting for treatment or admission.

We are determined to remedy the problems with the hospital system we all know about by providing enough beds, sufficient well-trained staff and easy and rapid access.

The Government strongly supports Medicare, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, Private Health Insurance, which we believe should be means tested, and medical research.

Healthcare, along with education, are at the top of the Government’s priorities. It has already devoted countless billions to health, and in the recent budget has allocated still more.

Compared with other countries we know that Australia has a fine health care system, but we also know that it can be improved in many areas.

We are determined to bring about these improvements and to complete the health reforms begun in the Government’s last term so that all Australians can have the high quality health care and support that all deserve, where they live and when they need it.

I ask that you join with me in achieving that aim. I need your help and support.

Thank you for your attention.


Please note that the anecdotes in this piece are fictitious and are used simply as examples.

What do you think of Mark 2?

Julia Gillard’s Fireside Chats – Your Health

This is the second of a series in which contributors to The Political Sword are attempting to fashion examples of messages that our Prime Minister might give in her 'Fireside Chats'.

The idea of Fireside Chats came from David Horton in a piece titled: The ragged trousered philanthropist on The Watermelon Blog. He spoke of when US President Franklin Roosevelt successfully used ‘fireside chats’ in 1929 during his term as Governor of New York. In this country, RG Menzies’ weekly broadcasts by radio during 1942 were similarly successful. They are well documented in the Menzies Virtual Museum.  

The Rudd Government, and now the Gillard Government, has embarked on many reforms that will benefit both our economy and the lives of our people. The Government has a need to explain to the people what it has achieved, what it is planning, and particularly why it is proposing the substantial reforms it is. The idea behind ‘Fireside Chats’ is to clearly and unemotionally explain these important matters in terms that all can understand and accept.

This Fireside Chat is about health, and as that is not as gripping a subject as NormanK’s ‘A Price on Carbon’, I have kept it short – about ten minutes in duration. The words of the ‘chat’ have been kept simple and the message personalized by frequent use of the words ‘you’ and ‘your’.

In his book Sideshow: Dumbing Down Democracy, Lindsay Tanner quotes Robert MacNeil a former executive editor of a major American TV news show: “The idea is to keep everything brief, not to strain the attention of anyone but instead to provide constant stimulation through variety, novelty, action and movement…(assuming) that bite-sized is best, that complexity must be avoided, that nuances are dispensable, that qualifications impede the simple message, that visual stimulation is a substitute for thought, and that verbal precision is an anachronism.” As this is congruent with our own observations, particularly of commercial TV news, it is incumbent on anyone creating a fireside chat to observe these restrictions lest the message be lost.

Therefore to make the chat more eye-catching than the PM simply talking to the camera, graphics would be superimposed at appropriate places during the chat in a ‘picture in picture’ format in, say, the left top corner, as this is something to which a short attention span audience is accustomed. The placement of the graphics and the subjects of the images are in square brackets in italics in the text below. The PM would be visible at all times against a dignified background, possibly in parliament house.


Your Health

Good Evening

Tonight I want to talk to you about your health and the health of your community.

We know how important good health is to us all. It makes it possible for us achieve our ambitions. It gives us feelings of wellbeing. We know too that a healthy community is a good place in which to live, and a healthy workforce makes for high productivity.

Yet many are not well; not all have the best of health. This is why we need a good health care system.

Your Government is dedicated to giving all of you the best opportunity to lead healthy happy lives by providing easily accessible and affordable health services near to where you live.

Yet many of you have had difficulty getting a doctor when you need one, and have endured long waits, often in overcrowded hospital emergency departments. So we have built GP Super Clinics [images of interior of Super Clinics with just a few patients] where communities have requested them, so that you can get quick access to good care when you or your family need it, especially after hours.

Because much of the illness in the community is preventable, we have placed great emphasis on primary care that is given by your family doctor, your GP, or a community nurse. We have funded the training of many more doctors and nurses to overcome the shortage.

GPs [images of a female GP consulting with a mother and child] are trained to prevent illness through immunization and advocating a healthy lifestyle. They are also trained to detect illness in its early stages when it is most treatable, as well as treating established disease.

Lifestyle conditions afflict too many in this country. Obesity is widespread, even among children, [images of obese persons] and combined with physical inactivity and a poor diet too often leads to heart problems, diabetes, joint problems and some cancers. Alcohol and substance abuse, [images of social effects of alcohol] along with smoking, have caused havoc, especially among the young.

That is why your Government has taken action to curb binge drinking in teenagers through its alcopops legislation, [images of alcopops being consumed by adolescent girls] which has reduced the sale of those products, so attractive to adolescents yet so dangerous.

In a further attempt to reduce smoking, the Government will soon introduce plain packaging for cigarettes with dire health warnings [images of Nicola Roxon with plain packages and warnings]. The tobacco industry is fighting this tooth and nail because it believes it will reduce its profits, but we are determined to press ahead because we believe plain packaging will discourage young people from taking up this dangerous habit that kills over 15,000 Australians each year and costs well over half a billion dollars in healthcare.

The prevalence of mental illness is on the rise and is affecting both old and young. Suicide is high and leaves tragedy in its wake. Last year 2000 people took their own lives; 300 were young people between 15 and 24. Substance abuse is rising and with it violence.

The 2010 Australian of the Year, Professor Pat McGorry, [image of Pat McGorry with Julia Giillard] has strongly advocated for increased funding for mental health for the ‘headspace’ and other programs, so in this year’s budget several billion dollars was allocated for this purpose over the next four years. Mental health is a top priority for the Government.

As the population ages, the number of older people needing support is rising steadily [images of older people in their homes]. As more and more baby boomers reach retiring age the demand for services for the elderly and places in retirement homes will rise steeply and place great pressure on this sector [images of nursing homes with residents].

The incidence of serious chronic illness in older people, such as cancer, will rise, and dementia will become more and more prevalent [more images of older persons with Julia Gillard].  And the prevalence of disability in both old and young demands our attention [images of disabled persons with carers].

Governments must respond by providing more qualified staff, more carers, and more facilities to care for our our elderly and disabled citizens. Your Government is acutely aware of what needs to be done and has allocated funding in this year’s budget. Carers are in special need of support [images of carers caring for patients].

In the 2009-10 budget a multi-million dollar allocation was made to build a network of cancer clinics, particularly in regional areas [several images of cancer clinics, perhaps with one being opened by the PM]. Many have been built and one for the Albury region was announced recently. These bring cancer care closer to those who suffer from this distressing condition.

Remoteness from large specialized centres has been a longstanding drawback for those living in rural and regional areas. The National Broadband Network [images of NBN installations, perhaps the opening of the Armidale one] will reduce that remoteness by enabling consultations between rural patients and city specialists via super fast broadband [moving image of a remote consultation]. It will enable monitoring of the chronically ill and disabled in their homes and will thereby reduce the pressure on hospitals and nursing homes [image of elderly person monitored at home], and e-health will enable your health records to be available to any health care provider that you consult, no matter where [image of health record on a computer].

With the aging of the population the cost of health care will continue its steady rise to the point where at mid century all of a state’s budget will be consumed by health care costs alone, leaving none for other essential services, unless different funding arrangements are made.

This is why the Federal Government has entered into an arrangement with the states to share healthcare costs, with 50% being funded by the Commonwealth [image of COAG meeting over the health care agreement].

Federal and state governments will contribute to a single national pool for hospital funding to be administered by an independent national funding body. Hospitals will be funded based on the activity they undertake. Independent local hospital networks [images of local hospitals, staff and patients] will be responsible for managing public hospital services and the funding to provide those services.

This will take some of the pressure off state health departments and will give greater responsibility to those actually delivering the care.

The new arrangements are designed to contain rising costs and reduce the far-too-long waiting times for elective surgery and the long periods in hospital emergency rooms that ill patients endure while waiting for treatment or admission.

We are determined to remedy the problems with the hospital system we all know about by providing enough beds, sufficient well-trained staff and easy and rapid access.

The Government strongly supports Medicare, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, Private Health Insurance, which we believe should be means tested, and medical research.

Your Government places healthcare, along with education, at the top of its priorities. It has already devoted countless billions to health, and in the recent budget has allocated still more.

Compared with other countries we know that Australia has a fine health care system, but we also know that it can be improved in many areas.

Your Government is determined to bring about these improvements and to complete the health reforms begun in the Government’s last term so that all Australians can have the high quality health care and support that all deserve, where they live and when they need it.

I ask that you join with me in achieving that aim.

Thank you for your attention.

Is this what the public needs and wants to know about the health system?

Would they listen to it?

What do you think?

A Minder, kinder, gentler polity

It’s an early morning start for Tony “Arthur Daley” Abbott at his ACTION MOTORS car-yard (“Arthur’s Commodores – Trade-Ins Or Newies”).

However, as he alights from his car, he can’t help noticing that his rivals across the road (Gillard’s NBN MOTORS – “Net a Bentley Now”), even at this early hour, are managing, unlike him, to do a roaring trade.

On his way to the portacabin that he calls his ‘office’, Arthur passes by the big tree that is the centrepiece of his display-yard. “Great tree, that”, Arthur mutters to himself. “When the customers see that, they think I’m serious about this carbon-capturing Real Action clap-trap...hee...hee..."

However, under the tree, Arthur notices a set of stepladders. “Jeeze...better put them away”, he thinks to himself, “or one of those leftie union thugs will pass by and half-inch them on me”. Arthur grabs the stepladders, opens his office door and places them inside. Therein, moreover, a further shock meets his eyes. He had strategically placed a nice photo of himself in his speedos on the board opposite, so that the mug punters entering the office would spot his muscular physique, and buy a Commodore so that they also could look as manly as him. However, some joker had drawn a pair of specs, a bra, and a comb-over on his pristine photographic likeness!

Arthur’s visceral feelings of hatred towards the perpetrator, however, are interrupted by the sudden entrance into the office of the agitated figure of Malcolm “Dave” Turnbull, the rich owner of the ‘exclusive gentlemen’s club’, the Winchester. Dave obviously has a bone to pick with Arthur.

Dave: Righto, Arthur...I think I’ve given you enough time to pay me back the money I loaned you...

Arthur: Oh, keep your hair on, Dave – you know I’ll pay you back when the Indos ditch those Bentleys Gillard gave them on that discount deal...Soon, they’ll all come over here and buy a Commodore from me at top dollar price...heh...heh...

[Dave is just about to remind Arthur that there is as much chance of the Indos doing business with him, as there would be with Paris Hilton taking a vow of poverty, when, in the background, they hear plaintive cries for help.]

Arthur: What’s that bloody racket? Sounds like somebody’s life’s in danger...

Dave: Yeah – sounds like Joe at the Press Club when he couldn’t answer any of the journos’ questions on the economy...hee...hee...

[Arthur and Dave step outside to investigate and, sure enough, hanging onto a tree branch for dear life, is Arthur’s trusty minder, Joe “Terry McCann” Hockey.]

Terry (pleading): Help! Anyone! For pity’s sake, someone put the stepladder back – I can’t hold on here for ever!

Arthur: What the hell are you doing up the tree anyway, Terry?

Terry: I was putting up some coloured bunting to try and brighten the yard up, and some genius decided to remove the stepladder!

[Just to prolong Terry’s ordeal, Arthur ambles over to the office, slowly removes the ladders and returns, equally slowly, to the tree. He places them under Terry, who thankfully places his feet safely thereon.]

Terry: Phew! That was close! Jeeze, Arthur – I thought you were going to leave me swinging there in the wind for ever!

Arthur: No fear, mate...the only reason I saved you was to see the look on your face when I dock half your wages for vandalising my photo in the office...heh...heh...

Terry: Aw...get real, Arthur! I was only having a bit of fun – people are saying you are the love child of Sarah Palin and Donald Trump, aren’t they?

[Upon having his parentage called into question, Arthur stares menacingly at Terry, whilst simultaneously nodding his head in a decidedly non-rapturous fashion. Luckily for Terry, the ice is broken by the entrance into the car-yard of a potential customer – Barnaby Joyce.]

Barnaby: good morning, gentlemen...I seem to have run into a bit of bother with my four-wheel drive – actually, I wrote it off in a swollen creek...Any chance of a replacement?

Arthur: As much as it pains me to knock back some custom, old son, I think you need to head down to the Naval Dockyard instead and enquire about one of their surplus submersibles...hee...hee...

[If the day started off badly for Arthur, it didn’t get any better. Kevin Rudd dropped in, looking for a replacement for his old Mazda ute. However, when informed by Arthur that he only did Commodores, he promptly threw a wobbly and departed, saying he was going to report him to the United Nations. Julie Bishop was another sale-gone-wrong when she insisted on buying a Holden Replica, and nothing else. Again, she also did her nana, out-stared Arthur, and stormed out. But, the greatest disappointment for Arthur was the no-show, so far, of the Indos. He really needed their purchasing power. Then, as if all those prayers he had said when he was in the seminary had been just answered, he notices, driving up the street in their Bentleys, the Indos! He turns in rapturous anticipation to Dave, who had stuck around, not having any intention of leaving until he got his money back.]

Arthur: Halleluiah! The fatted calves cometh!

[However, much to Arthur’s devastation and disappointment, the Indos drive straight into Jooles’ yard, alight from their Bentleys and are immediately upgraded with their very own Rolls Royce Phantoms! A crestfallen Arthur turns to Dave.]

Arthur: Hmmm...it looks like you’re going to have to wait another while for your money, mate...

Dave: Yeah, looks that way, doesn’t it...And Rolls Royce Phantoms to boot...I think the only Rolls Royce you’re ever going to own, mate, is a Rolls Canardly...

Arthur: Yeah...it rolls down one hill and can-ardly get up the next...tell me about it...

Julia Gillard’s Fireside Chats – A Price on Carbon

Introduction by Ad astra

In a piece titled: The ragged trousered philanthropist on The Watermelon Blog, it was David Horton who suggested that PM Gillard should consider instituting ‘Fireside Chats’.  Quoting from Wikipedia, he related previous attempts at ‘fireside chats’: “President Franklin Roosevelt first used ‘fireside chats’ in 1929 during his first term as Governor of New York. He…would occasionally address the citizens of New York directly. He appealed to them for help getting his agenda passed. Letters would pour in following each of these ‘chats’, which helped pressure legislators to pass measures Roosevelt had proposed…. The ‘fireside chats’ were considered enormously successful and attracted more listeners than the most popular radio shows during the ‘Golden Age of Radio’.” David urged our own Prime Minister to do the same, particularly to explain the ‘why’ of her Government’s plans. The whole piece is thoroughly worth a read.

Those of mature years will remember RG Menzies’ broadcast essays delivered weekly by radio during 1942. Some of them dealt with matters of continuing interest while others were on issues that were more evanescent. They are well documented in the Menzies Virtual Museum. It was in those addresses that Menzies referred to ‘the forgotten people’, by which he meant the middle class. They had a profound effect as they reached out to the ordinary men and women of Australia sitting by their firesides in the evening.  

The Rudd Government, and now the Gillard Government, has embarked on many reforms that will benefit both our economy and the lives of our people. Many are not well understood and because of that some have been misrepresented. The Government has a need to explain to the people what it has achieved, what it is planning, and particularly why it is proposing the substantial reforms it is. So far, there is not only a lack of understanding in the electorate and a degree of disinterest in these reforms that needs addressing, but also a need to correct the misinformation that abounds. The idea behind ‘Fireside Chats’ is to put the record straight on a number of important issues in terms that all can understand, in the belief that when the average person has matters explained clearly and unemotionally she or he can, and usually will identify with the underlying rationale.

This is the first of a series in which contributors to The Political Sword will attempt to fashion examples of messages that our Prime Minister might give in her Fireside Chats. The first is on the contentious subject: A Price on Carbon by NormanK

Before we begin, a couple of disclaimers from NormanK.

This is not a satirical piece. There is no twist in the tail.

This is my first attempt at writing a speech and is not meant to be a replication of good speech writing. There are many tricks to writing a clever speech - word selection, pacing, phrasing and so on. I don't know these tricks.

Finally, this is not meant to be a definitive explication of climate change science. Any errors are of my own making and polite corrections will be gratefully accepted.

No doubt there are many smaller innovations that other federal departments are undertaking which could be brought into this speech to better portray a holistic approach by government. Without access to government staff it is difficult to know what those projects are. 

A Price on Carbon

Good evening.

Thank-you for giving me this opportunity to discuss with you one of the most urgent challenges facing us today.

Tonight I want to talk about climate change and what we can do to prepare Australia for the shock that is coming. As well as bringing about changes to protect our own society, we also need to play our part in slowing the rate of climate change and limiting how bad it eventually gets. As good world citizens, I think all Australians are ready to pitch in and do their bit.

The science around global warming has long since passed the stage where experts are arguing over whether or not global temperatures will increase over the course of this century. Climatologists, physicists, meteorologists and other experts in many different fields have been collecting information on the current state of the planet for many, many decades.

These are not fly-by-nighters or Johnny-come-latelies who have suddenly turned their attention to this problem. Many thousands of papers have been written, published in the world's leading scientific journals and subjected to peer review.

Peer review is something which many of the sceptics who wish to pour scorn on the idea of global warming are loathe to subject themselves to. Scientists are a fussy bunch when it comes to endorsing new ideas and theories and they spend a lot of their professional time and energy testing whether a colleague's methods and conclusions are robust enough to be reliable.

After many years, thousands of papers and countless reviews, the great majority of experts working in the fields which study climate activity have come to a joint conclusion. They believe that the presence of significant quantities of pollutants in the atmosphere has altered the balance in ways that will have consequences in the coming years, decades and even centuries.

Much is made of carbon dioxide as the main pollutant but there are many other gases which are affecting the way our atmosphere operates. It is mainly for convenience of conversation that we refer to carbon dioxide as the primary concern.

In simple terms these pollutants have changed the balance of chemicals in the air and although they are a long way from causing us harm by breathing them, they have affected the ability of the atmosphere to protect us from the harmful aspects of the sun's radiation and they are altering the chemical make-up of our seas and oceans.

I won't try to give a science class because it would take far too long but an easy way to understand the problem is to look at the difference between now and say three hundred years ago. In the eighteenth century some of the radiation from the sun would have made its way through the atmosphere, hit an object and then bounced off back into space.

This is the way it has been for tens of thousands of years and all life on Earth has got used to it.

Since the time of the industrial revolution, mankind has been pouring more and more pollution into the air and we are doing so today at historically high rates.

What scientists are warning us is that more of the sun's radiation is not finding its way back out into space. Instead it is bouncing off the pollution in the atmosphere and returning to the ground and the oceans. Quite a bit of the sun's radiation is easily converted to heat, that's what a warm sunny day is all about.

As a result, the overall temperature of the planet is increasing. Ice caps which would once have stayed frozen through the short summer months are now melting and flowing into the oceans causing sea levels to rise. The water in our rivers and dams is now evaporating at a faster rate than it would have done in centuries past. The oceans are warming, in particular at the surface and this is causing even more water to enter the atmosphere.

What goes up must come down. It would be simplistic to point to something like Cyclone Yasi and say that it was caused by global warming. But what we can do is look at the recent floods around Australia, the storms in the United States and the bitter winter weather in Europe this year and imagine what the future holds if the weather patterns change in the way that most forecasters are predicting.

Water in the atmosphere plays a large part in generating the winds which swirl around the globe and storms are predicted to become more frequent and more fierce over the decades ahead. The wet times will be wetter and the dry times will be drier.

Another one of the problems created by too much carbon dioxide in the air comes from it joining together with water to form acid. Too much acid in our oceans threatens to kill off the smallest of the organisms living there. Larger creatures, all the way up to the fish that we eat and the dolphins and whales that we love, rely on these organisms and other small animals to survive.

You might hear some people talking about how plants need carbon dioxide to live and that it is a natural part of the environment. This is true but just like chocolate at Easter, it is possible to have too much of a good thing. Plankton, very tiny plants and animals floating in the ocean, rely on carbon dioxide and will help to reduce it from our atmosphere but sadly these little plants and animals are under threat from rising acid levels in our oceans.

Along with the removal of trees, one of the primary sources of the increase in pollutants in the air is the burning of fossil fuels. We burn coal to generate electricity and we burn oil and its by-products to run our engines. It took hundreds of millions of years for the plants and animals on this planet to convert carbon dioxide from the air into the fossil fuels we are digging up today. We are now returning that carbon back into the atmosphere at such a rate that Mother Nature can't keep up.

In order to limit the amount by which the temperature might rise we must stop burning fossil fuels. This is not about us, you and me, but about the children who will celebrate the coming of the twenty-second century on January 1st 2100. If we want that to be a joyful celebration, we must start to act now.

If we want those children to be able to marvel at the wonderful diversity of plants and animals that you and I take so much pleasure in, then we must make the first steps to move away from fossil fuels.

How might we best go about this? It's not something that we can do in a year or ten years or even fifty years. We must slowly phase out our reliance on coal and oil and replace them with other ways of generating electricity and powering our machines.

We could take a massive gamble and hope that the scientists are wrong. Continue on with business as usual even though we know that one day there just won't be any more coal, there won't be any more oil to be found.

Continue on with business as usual, pollute the skies and hope that the planet adapts to the new circumstances.

If, like me, you are a keen watcher of David Attenborough's wonderful documentaries, you will know that many of the world's creatures are specially adapted to the circumstances they have enjoyed for hundreds of thousands of years. They can't change their habits as quickly as the climate is changing. But we can. It is part of our obligation to our fellow-creatures that we do everything that we can to protect them.

But if we do nothing and the predictions are accurate, it will be too late to fix the problem and our 21st Century descendants will curse us for not acting.

We could plant more trees and find ways to put some of the carbon back into the soil. These are good ideas but they are very limited. We can only go on doing them for just so long and then there will be no more land to plant trees on and the soils our farmers use will have reached capacity.

We could protest that we are only a small country, contributing a fraction of the world-wide pollution. This would hardly be acting as good world citizens. As the changes become more apparent, each and every individual on the planet will be required to make sacrifices. As a rich developed nation with a ready source of renewable energy sources it is only reasonable that we take action before some of the poorer nations.

We are also in a position where we can capitalise on our own skills and hard work to develop new technologies that generate electricity from renewable sources. As other nations shift away from fossil fuel dependence, we will be ready to export our innovations to the rest of the world.

We could let the rest of the world move to some form of carbon trading scheme and simply buy our way out of our responsibilities by purchasing someone else's permits. Economists who examine these things are warning us that eventually we won't have enough income to buy our way out of trouble.

Plans which don't put a price on carbon will require billions of dollars of taxpayers' money. Tens of billions to reach our target of a 5% reduction by 2020 and a predicted expenditure of tens of billions every year as we approach 2050.

These are taxpayer dollars which could be much better spent on roads and bridges; spent on schools and hospitals or spent on rail programmes to ease congestion in our major cities. There are many uses to which this money could be better put and future governments will be faced with a choice. To find these extra dollars they would have to cut back on basic programmes like health and education, or increase taxes.

There are two other ways that are considered by economists to be viable.

We could put a tax on carbon which means that if a business wants to create pollution they will have to pay a penalty to do so. However, if different governments around the world set different levels of tax then we run the risk of driving some of our businesses off-shore to where they will be paying less tax. Struggling economies might even abandon the idea of a carbon tax in order to coax businesses to them.

The second approach we could take is to adopt a cap and trade scheme otherwise known as an emissions trading scheme.

We as a nation can decide how much we want to reduce our emissions by and set a cap on our annual output. If a business wants to exceed their cap, they must buy permits to do so.

Initially the government would be the seller of permits and therefore the recipient of the money used to purchase them. But as more and more countries adopt a carbon trading scheme, a worldwide market in permits will be established.

Australian businesses will be able to buy and sell permits around the world at a price determined by the market. If they want to avoid the cost of over-polluting they can change the way they operate and reduce their emissions.

The Multi-Party Climate Change Committee has sought the best advice available and determined that the most suitable scheme for Australia is an emissions trading scheme. Because we want to minimise the shock to business and households we have decided to phase in the trading scheme starting with a fixed price which will steadily increase year by year.

The income generated by this fixed price will be used to compensate households considered to be at risk from rising prices. We will also protect businesses which might lose out in the export market because they are competing with products manufactured in countries which have no price on carbon. And we will fund alternate energy projects.

Once businesses have become accustomed to the new scheme we can transition to an emissions trading scheme and leave it to the market to determine the price.

One of the great advantages of this system is that if global warming shows signs of worsening we can reduce the level of the cap to encourage even greater reductions.

It makes more sense to penalise those industries that continue to pollute so that we encourage them to change their ways. It also means that there is no impact on the budget and government can continue to provide those services which you expect of it.

Each of us as individuals will be encouraged to change our habits by purchasing low-carbon products, making small adjustments to our lifestyles and embracing new technologies in our buildings and workplaces. There are already many exciting products out there which recapture wasted energy, especially heat, and convert it back to electricity. Australia can lead the way in the discovery of new products.

Many Australian households will be better off financially and the more you do, the more you save.

The government has already begun preparing Australia for a renewable energy future by building the Smart Grid which will bring electricity from remote generation sources and provide it to our high density population areas. The National Broadband Network will play a significant role in achieving this aim.

At the same time as we are reducing our reliance on energy sources which pollute the atmosphere, we will be investing in cleaner renewable sources like wind, solar, tidal and geothermal.

If Australia acts now we can join in on the technological revolution and become a supplier to the rest of the world. This will stimulate our economy and create hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Future generations will benefit from the new opportunities presented by clean technologies - through extra jobs, a reliable source of energy and by continuing to enjoy the wonderful lifestyle we love so much in Australia.

By the time our descendants are singing Auld Lang Syne to welcome in 2100 there might very well be no coal-fired power stations in Australia. Australia's Twenty-second Century citizens will be enjoying low cost energy from renewable sources.

The future holds exciting prospects if we are brave enough and wise enough to apply our collective efforts and ingenuity to solving the challenges that confront us.

If we do the right thing and set our sights on the needs of those who come after us and work together as a nation, there is nothing we can't overcome.

Thank-you for your time. Goodnight.


One of my aims in putting this speech together was to demonstrate that, in the right circumstances, it should be possible to address the Australian public on serious policy issues without resorting to political banter and point-scoring. There are two reasons why I find this concept exciting.

A significant percentage of the population is made up of disengaged voters who need to be addressed by the government in a manner and language that they won't find confronting or predictable.

If the Prime Minister manages to attract viewers who are traditionally more likely to be disengaged from policy debate, the moment she mentions Tony Abbott, the Labor Party, the Opposition or mentions 'the opposition policy' they will switch off - figuratively and literally. By speaking to them in clear, uncomplicated language and avoiding all references to politics (including the ALP), it may be possible for the PM to provide a better understanding of what she is doing and why.

Secondly, as we saw with the PM's speech to the Sydney Institute, the press will trawl through any speech by the PM looking for a controversial 'hook' on which to hang their story. If Ms Gillard avoided making mention of Tony Abbott or the Coalition there is a greater likelihood that the next day's stories will focus on the policy and not the players. We might see some allusions to 'veiled references' with regard to the Coalition policy but that wouldn't be as bad as 'Gillard slams Abbott' which is what they will do if she criticises the Direct Action Plan.

So, what do you think about deliberately creating a forum where policy issues can be discussed without reference to politics?

What do you think about the idea of an informal 'fireside chat'?


The curse of the leading question

It is often the nature of the question that determines the answer. Moreover, no matter what style of question is posed, the authority of the question is conditioned by the power relationship between the questioner and the questioned. People in a submissive position are more inclined to give the expected answer – a school child in front of the schoolmaster, the suspect being questioned by the police, the bullied confronted by the bully.

Journalists, particularly TV and radio ones, use questioning as their prime method of eliciting information and opinion. How they question, how they control the interview, the level of aggression they exhibit, and the authority they bring to the interview, either because of the setting or because of their own status and gravitas, combine to determine how the interviewee will respond.

Senior journalists such as Laurie Oakes and Kerry O’Brien bring such authority and gravitas to an interview that it renders the average interviewee more cautious, more circumspect.

Then we have the political journalists that inhabit Sky News, whom we know are Coalition leaning and therefore likely to give Coalition interviewees a better run than Labor ones. Politicians respond accordingly. Shock jocks such as Alan Jones and Neil Mitchell bring to an interview a capacity to be aggressive, persistent and rude to anyone they dislike, whose views or policies they despise, but are just as able to be sycophantically pleasant to their favourites. We expect them to do what they do, and at times to be unbalanced, unfair and downright rude.

But there are some journalists that we expect to be balanced, unbiased, or at least to hide their biases; those journalists are at our ABC. Yet we are often disappointed. Biases show through particularly in the way they question, and the way they interrupt if the answer does not suit their purpose. Tony Jones habitually interrupts on Lateline and even on Q&A. Leigh Sales and Chris Uhlmann are learning fast to do the same. But let’s begin with the nature of the question.

Doctors know how careful they have to be when questioning patients. They are taught that there are several types of question:

The open-ended question: ‘Tell me about your headache.’ or ‘How do you feel about the treatment you are having.’ The open question gives the patient the opportunity to say whatever he or she wishes. No words are put into the patient’s mouth.

The direct question: ‘Where do you feel your headache?’ or ‘Have you had any side effects from your medication?’ Here the doctor is seeking further information, but leaving it to the patient to fill in the details.

The closed question: ‘Is the headache severe?’ or ‘Has the medication given you nausea?’ Here the doctor is seeking the specific information he needs in diagnosis or management.

The leading question: ‘The headache is severe is it?’ or ‘The medication made you nauseated?’ Here the doctor is confirming salient features of the situation, but the patient has less freedom in answering, and is less inclined to give an answer at variance from what the doctor is suggesting in the question.

Doctors know that there is a time and place for all these types of question – all are valuable and necessary. But they also know that asked in the wrong sequence, they can result in misleading answers. A closed question asked early in the interview may suggest to the patient the answer the doctor wants to hear, and elicit just that answer. To say early in the interview to a woman complaining of headaches, before the necessary details have been elicited, ‘Don’t you think your husband’s heavy drinking is giving you your headaches?’ is hazardous as it may deflect thinking in that direction so that other causes are overlooked. Alcoholic husbands often do evoke headaches in their spouses, but women so afflicted may also have migraine or even a brain tumour. These more serious complaints need to be considered and excluded before the doctor can be confident about settling on the psychological diagnosis.

Despite the hazard of leading questions early in an interview, TV and radio journalists often use them. Let me illustrate this phenomenon by reference to an interview by Ali Moore of Michael Stutchbury and Peter Hartcher on Lateline on May 10.

ALI MOORE: Michael Stutchbury, if I can start with you. Is the Government too optimistic here? It's looking for a $25 billion turnaround in just 12 months to make its surplus.

That is a direct question. Stutchbury answered:

MICHAEL STUTCHBURY, ECONOMICS EDITOR, THE AUSTRALIAN: I think it could happen. I heard Warren Hogan on before and I'd have to say I'd agree with a lot of what he says.

She could have asked an open question: ‘Tell me what you think about the Government’s promise of a surplus in 2012/13?', and left Stutchbury to answer as he saw fit. 

To Ali’s question Stutchbury offered a conclusion about the projected surplus and he followed that with explanation of the pros and cons of that possibility.

So far little harm done.

Ali then addressed Peter Hartcher:

ALI MOORE: Peter Hartcher, do you agree, and if you do, do you also agree that those sorts of structural changes that Warren Hogan was talking about are not being made?”

This is a leading question. Ali is expecting him to agree not just to Stutchbury’s answer, but agree that structural changes are not being made.

She could have asked the same open question of Hartcher as I suggested for Stutchbury: ‘Tell me what you think about the Government’s promise of a surplus in 2012/13?’, so that instead of answering in agreement, or disagreement, he could have answered in whatever way he pleased. But he answered:

PETER HARTCHER: Yes, I do. I agree absolutely that we are not making the most of our situation. I also think that the Government at least, sort of on the Hippocratic principle, has done least amount of harm tonight. There was no spending spree, they've exercised some constraint and the budget will be mildly contractionary and they're setting the budget back on course for surplus….

He agreed, but felt it necessary to qualify his answer. Had an open question been asked he would have been free to answer as he wished, without having to agree or disagree, without having to qualify his agreement.

Then later she asked this closed question:

ALI MOORE: But we were promised a tough budget, and what we've actually got is a total of $5 billion [savings] according to Penny Wong, on my calculations on the budget numbers $3 billion over four years. Is that really tough?

And later still another closed question:

ALI MOORE: Michael, that might be the case, but this is the first budget after an election. I mean, if we were ever going to make a tough decision and a nasty cut, wouldn't it be now?

Then, in the context of the Government’s ‘optimistic’ reliance on China for its surplus, she asked:

ALI MOORE: But I guess the question is then what will break that optimism because of the mere political realities of a minority government and a very unpopular minority government.

Here we have a closed question that expresses her opinion.

Later, in the context of Hartcher suggesting that Abbott had set the agenda – the carbon tax and asylum seekers, Ali used a classic leading question:

ALI MOORE: But is that because they weren't brave, they weren't gutsy because of what the polls are saying, because of the political position in Parliament, because they rely on the independents?

Hartcher answered:

PETER HARTCHER: Partly, but I think we also should give them some credit on this angle: this the weakest and most fragile federal government we've had since the last time we had a minority government, which was in the 1940s, yet they've managed to hold their nerve on spending, not hand out tax cuts and bring down a mildly contractionary budget.

Forced to answer a leading question, Hartcher was pushed into a qualified answer where he gave credit to Labor after Ali had demeaned it in her question as not being ‘brave’.

She could have said: ‘Do you think Tony Abbott will use the carbon tax and the asylum seeker issue to fight the Government?’ and given Hartcher the opportunity to answer as he preferred.

The whole interview is here. You may care to view it in its entirety.

In case you think I’m singling out Ali Moore, reflect on some of the questions Tony Jones asked of Andrew Robb on 13 May on Lateline after Tony Abbott’s Budget speech in reply.

He began with a closed question:

TONY JONES: Now there was more detail in Tony Abbott's speech about what the Coalition government - what a Coalition government will undo, rather than what it will do. Are you worried about the overall negative impression that might give?

Later in reference to the carbon tax he asked a leading question:

TONY JONES: You can't put it in the budget before you work out the details, can you?

Then another leading question:

TONY JONES: But the problem is, I mean, you're reduced, when talking about the carbon tax, to making up your own figures, so that you can justify your argument. I mean, Tony Abbott's hypothetical carbon tax was $26 per tonne, he claims it'll result in 16 coal mine closures, 68,000 lost jobs, but it's all speculation.

Later on the subject of the skills shortage, a direct question:

TONY JONES: OK. But do you disagree with the assessment of Skills Australia, who claim that the booming resource economy is going to require an extra 2.4 million workers over the next four years? 2.4 million required new workers.

Later, and getting exasperated at the automaton-like answers Robb was giving, as if programmed to emit whenever he could the spiel his minders had given him, in the context of the temporary suspension of indexation of family benefits, Jones asked another leading question:

TONY JONES: But if it is a relatively small number of families in percentage terms that are affected, do you think you might be on the wrong side of the argument?

This was such a painful interview that Jones might be excused for asking mainly direct and closed questions and a few leading ones, as open questions with such a stilted and cagey interviewee might have been fruitless in getting salient information. But these excerpts do illustrate the style of questions that TV journalists ask.  The whole excruciating interview is here.

But while Tony Jones might be forgiven for using the questions he did with the wooden and evasive Andrew Robb, Ali Moore does not have the same excuse with two facilitatory interviewees in Michael Stutchbury and Peter Hartcher.

What this piece is contending is that the nature of the questions asked by political journalists has a large influence on the answers that are given. When interviewers inject their own biases and opinions into the questions as they do with leading questions and also with some direct questions, they often predetermine the answer, or at the very least place the interviewee in a position of having to agree, or more uncomfortably, disagree with the questioner. This is a poor questioning style. It cannot elicit the true feelings and opinions of the interviewee, forced as they too often are into the Procrustean bed into which the questioner is trying to wedge them.

In other words, leading questions are a curse because they introduce the questioner’s own views in a way that inhibits the way the question might be answered. While a bold, confident interviewee might disagree without hesitation, one more timid might be inveigled into a softer response, a lesser degree of disagreement, or as we saw in the Ali Moore interview, a felt need to qualify the agreement: ‘I agree, but…’

Open questions have the potential for eliciting genuine opinions free from the pressure that closed or leading questions inflict upon interviewees. Journalists may be disinterested in employing these open questions though as they may not meet their need to pursue a predetermined outcome based on biases or the journalist’s opinion, or the ever present need for gotchas or ‘exclusives’, or as Lindsay Tanner would have it, sheer entertainment.

In my opinion, while there may be a place for direct and closed questions, it ought to be only after open questions have failed to elicit the information or opinion the journalist is seeking, particularly if the interviewee is being evasive or circumlocutory. Leading questions, if they have a place at all in political interviews, ought to be questions of last resort.

Should we press the ABC to encourage the use of open questions instead of the closed and leading questions that are stock in trade of too many of their journalists?

What do you think?

A day can be a lifetime

G’day Swordians!

Do you remember, or can you imagine, the heady days when The Beatles toured Australia in 1964? Unfortunately, the Mersey Mop-heads never returned to our sunburnt shores, but, fortunately, their spirit was kept alive Down Under by massive vinyl-record sales and due homage paid by countless tribute bands.

By 1967, moreover, the Fab Four had become even famous across the globe, with a notoriety even more enhanced with the banning by the BBC on this day (20 May) of their song, ‘A Day in the Life’, from their iconic album, ‘Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band’. The BBC alleged the lyrics promoted drug use, but The Beatles said they were a combination of references to the recent death of a friend in a car accident, and some prosaic childhood memories.

Anyway, on 20 May 1967, one of the better Beatles tribute bands in Sydney had just finished rehearsing in the shed of one of the band’s members. They walked out to the street, carrying their instruments, ready to load them into their Combie van, which would transport them to their gig that night. Upon approaching the van, which hadn’t been washed in about five years, they noticed a kid (probably about ten years of age, sitting on his bike, with his baseball cap round the wrong way) writing a message with his finger in the grime-covered rear windscreen. This particular kid had been pestering them for ages to join their band, but they just told him to come back in ten year’s time.

They hollered at him to rack off, but he continued, defiantly emboldened by the egging-on of his mates gathered around him. The ‘Ringo wannabe’ is the first of ‘The Beatles’ tribute band to reach the van. The message on the back windscreen read: STOP THE DIRT!!!

Ringo: Hey...we’ve told you before!!! Bugger off and stop scrawling on our van, you little mongrel!!

Kid: But...but...but...mister – let me join your band...please...please...please...

‘George’: Look, mate...you’re too young...so come back when at least you’ve started shaving...

Kid: But...but...but...mister – I have started shaving...just look at my chest...

[The ten-year-old kid pulled up his tee-shirt to show such a hairy chest, it would have made the Abominable snowman look like Boy George.]

Kid: And I’m good at cover versions, mister – just try me – go on!

‘John’ (sighing): Oh, alright then...what songs can you do covers of?

Kid: Well...I’m really good at Little Eva’s, “The Loco Motion”...and I can do the actions as well...

[The kid proceeds to stare menacingly at John, simultaneously nodding his head in a most bizarre fashion.]

‘Paul’: Riiiiiigggghhhhttttt!!! Let’s go guys...

Kid: But...but...but...wait, mister...I would be really good in your band...I can also do a cover of Chubby Checker’s, “Let’s Twist (the truth) Again”...

Kid: and I can also do Bryan Hyland’s, “The Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polkadot Bikini”...

Kid: And I’ve even got mine on – look!!

[The kid pulls down his shorts to show off his yellow polkadot budgie smugglers. The Beatles’ impersonators continue to load the van, hoping the little pest will soon disappear.]

Kid: And, mister, I’m also good at Marvin Gaye and Tammy Terrell’s, “Ain’t no mountain high enough (that I can’t cycle over)”...

Kid: And I do a mean version of Bessie Smith’s, “Nobody knows you when you’re down and out (of Budget ideas)”...

[By this stage, the Beatles tribute band members are totally ignoring the kid. He tries his last throw of the dice – his own version of The Beatles’, “A Day in the Life (of the worst Opposition Leader in history)”...]

:- ) I read the news today oh boy
‘bout me, a lucky man who’s gonna make the grade
And though the news was rather short Well I just had to laugh
I saw the photograph
:- )
I rode around upon my bike
Couldn’t care less if I had no ideas
Or nodded at people with a stare
They'd seen my face before
Nobody was really sure
If I was from the House of Loons
:- )
I saw a film today oh boy
The Revolting Army had just won the war
The leftie people were turned away
And I just had to look
It was my mate Bolt
I love to turn him on
:- )
Woke up, fell out of bed,
Put my crash helmet on my head
Found my way downstairs and drank a cup
And looking up I noticed I was late
:- )
Found the boatphone, chucked on the weathervane hat
Cranked up the bike in seconds flat
Found my way upstate and had a chat
And the Indos spoke and I went into a dream
:- )
:- )
I read the news today oh boy
Changing of the old guard in Canberra
And though the Indos are rather small
I need to count them all
Now I know how many votes it takes to bring about Gillard’s fall
I'd love to turf her out...
:- )
[While the kid was singing, he was so preoccupied with the hubris of his unsolicited audition, he didn’t notice that the tribute band members had shot through. And so, even to this day, forty-four years later, the same kid continues to ride around on his bike, with his baseball cap on back-to-front, and is still a dickhead.]

Clowns to the Left of me, Jokers to the Right, Here I am, Stuck in the Middle with the ALP

Recently I have noticed, as have others, that as The Greens’ voice gets louder, and as the Conservative Party of Tony Abbott takes more positions on issues than the Kama Sutra, as it drags Labor to the Right or outflanks it on the Left if it suits them to do so, so long as it is in opposition to the Gillard government's position, we have reached a situation where the Gillard government is 'Damned if they do, and damned if they don't’, in a political pincer movement from the political parties to the Left and Right of them. Whatever they do is 'never enough' for The Greens, and always 'going too far' for the Conservatives. Of course, this feeds perfectly into the maw of the media who seem to love nothing more than a good political stoush; and being fed ready-made critiques from the Left and Right of the government satisfies this requirement to a T. They can satisfy their Conservative-leaning readers or viewers with, 'The Opposition says...', and their Left-leaning demographic with a Greens spokesperson. Also, as is becoming increasingly obvious to me, it serves well the purpose of the imperial media in this country to 'demolish' the government of Julia Gillard. I mean, you can't say they aren't presenting a 'balanced' point of view when they have criticism of the government from both the Left and the Right, can you?

It almost seems to me as though there has been a societal schism open up as a result of the transformations society has undergone recently, on a dual track, both as a result of the Howard/Bush years of Neo-Conservatism, and the contrapuntal emergence of the Humanitarian Enviro-Organic lifestyle, Healthy Living movement. If you're not a newly-reconstructed Conservative and supporter of a Neo-Liberal ethos, you're a supporter of the causes The Greens have adopted as their own. Or a combination of the two, a 'BlueGreen', if you like, that I have noticed popping up more frequently of late, such as the aggressive Free-Market supporting a Renewable Energy/Wind Turbine company owner whom I saw on Lateline Business a few weeks ago who looked like the embodiment of a Greens' voter, who ate healthily, exercised regularly and kept his chakras in strict alignment. And he was definitely no fan of the ALP. They were obviously not 'pure' enough for him and his well-articulated strain of Green Libertarianism.

Which is leading me to conclude that the Labor Party has become increasingly isolated as a result of this solidifying societal schism between the rock of Neo-Conservatism and the hard place of the Neo-Puritanism of the ersatz ascetic Green Left.

The contemplation of which, in a very circumloquacious way, gets me to the subject of this blog, 'What can a Progressive Labor Party stand for in the 21st Century?' Which was essentially the over-arching theme of the Progressive Australia Conference which I attended over the May Day weekend recently. What can/does the Labor Party stand for? How can it renew and refresh what it stands for?

Firstly, let me just say that I only attended one of the two days, simply because I came back home from Day 1 mightily pee'd off with a lot of the participants at the Conference. So much so that I got into a verbal stoush with one of the so-called Labor Party 'supporters' who were attending the conference (yes, I know, you find that hard to believe :) ), as they had the temerity, in my eyes, to set up a stall, complete with little complaint postcards for attendees to pick up and send off to the PM. The purpose of their stand? To have an almighty whinge that the Labor Party had not done enough in government for Public Education(!!!), and was oh so wrong to keep supporting Private Schools with taxpayers' money, such that they got new swimming pools while the Public Schools suffered in their jocks, or words to that effect. Now I agree that Private Schools get too much from the taxpayers' purse, but it would be political suicide to cut it back severely, as last week's hue and cry over a little trim to Family Tax Benefit showed. Suffice to say I tried laboriously to point out just how much the Federal Labor government had done for Public Education since it had been in power: Laptops, BER, My School shining a light on Public vs Private schools, and now, a full-scale review of the Private School federal funding model, the first in over two decades. But no, that wasn't enough for this underminer from within the Labor tent. Mark Latham's disastrous 'Private School Hit List' should have been implemented the day Labor came to power federally, and all else was a mere sideshow to this one ideal of theirs. Just so they could have their own swimming pool for their children at the Public High School, it seemed to me. As I said to the person, “So you'd rather direct your anger at the party who has made a serious attempt to redress the infrastructure imbalance, instead of redirecting your postcards to Tony Abbott, who is the one who wants to perpetuate the system you are complaining about?” The answer to my question? “Well, we'll have to agree to disagree then”, after which I was roundly ignored. Not one bit of my counter argument and defence of the federal Labor government's achievements in Education having sunk in as she continued to spruik her wares. Sigh.

Anyway, onto the conference itself.

I'll just provide a summary of the main points made by the Keynote speaker first up. I think that in doing so I will provide ample food for thought, which you may like to comment upon.

The keynote was given by James Purnell, former Social Secretary in the UK Labour government. He spoke about 'Renewing Our Progressive Values'. He said that what we need, and need to identify, are Activist leaders in local community debates. That is, so often these days we hear from Conservative activist voices in community debates, but not Progressive activists. Or should I say, not moderate Progressive activist voices. Which reflects the point I made before, that the 'Angry Ants' (or should that be 'Angry Birds’ these days?), in the community are more likely to be to the Left and Right of Labor, with a seeming vacuum in between. However, to remedy this, first we have to identify what it is that we moderate Progressives stand for these days.

James Purnell believes we need to re-establish 'The Labo(u)r Tradition'. In essence what he means is that Progressive 'Labo(u)r parties have always been about getting a fair share of the nation's wealth distributed evenly. Previously that has come about as a result of the workers getting a fair share of the profits of business through fair pay and conditions.

Well, Purnell argues that we can still maintain this ideal, but due to the transformative changes that have occurred as a result of global capitalism and the Free Market, that we should modify the original intent of worker-driven Labo(u)r parties to acknowledge that markets are a valid way to generate revenue, and that workers may indeed also be shareholders or small businessmen and women, but that what should be therefore emblematic of a Labo(u)r party now is that they should advocate that using the money generated by the market is necessary to create a more equal society. Such that Progressive political parties may continue helping the poorest and most vulnerable, and continue to cleave to the ethos of, “A common view of a life proper to human beings”, as their 'Light on the Hill' to work towards.

He also pointed out the fact that we subconsciously assume that there is one only set of Progressive ideals. Not so. In fact, there is a competitive tension between 'The American Dream', that anyone can make it, versus 'The European Welfare State', which recognizes that not everyone has what it takes to make it. He believes we should be advocating more 'American Dream' and less 'Welfare State', post Global Capitalism's transformation of the world economy. He acknowledged that 'Labo(u)r and 'Progressive' traditions and aspirations (now, there's a word we should take back from the Cons), ARE different. We must admit that open markets are the best way to generate revenue, and so, what we need to concentrate our efforts on is the best way to take advantage of the revenue generated by markets in order to satisfy the Progressive ideal of creating a more equal society, helping the poor and most vulnerable and thus allowing all boats to rise equally, in a metaphorical sense.

He also sounded a warning that, when the perceived 'Intellectual Elites' of the Left are seen to be deciding policy that they think is good for us, in contrast to being seen to be reacting to the electorate's commonly and popularly-articulated concerns, then they, and the 'solutions' they impose on the electorate, are in danger of being seen as impositions, and they can engender disgruntlement and ungratefulness. Even if those solutions have produced a net positive result for those very same people. As we have seen only too clearly this past week with the Budget brought down by the federal Labor government. Net positive outcomes, but massive media-led and Coalition-fed disgruntlement and ungratefulness. As positive moves were not sold as well to the electorate as the supposed negatives.

Which leads into another telling point made by James Purnell. It goes to the language Progressive politicians get hung up using. He said that we need to “Keep our language real, to keep us real.”

As we know, the Coalition has this dictum as its talisman. It is partly why it is so effective and successful.

What we also know, from bitter recent experience, is that Kevin Rudd was guilty of the sin of speaking in the twin tongues of Gobbledygook and Bureaucratese, and he ended up paying the heaviest of price for it. His party lost faith in him and his ability to sell its messages to the electorate, and the electorate lost faith in him to be able to speak their language. Their PM became alien to them.

Let me also just add at this point, that I believe that Wayne Swan should not be the Treasurer for this same reason. He may be good at the nuts and bolts of his job, but he couldn't sell a hot pie on a cold day, and he is woeful at selling the Labor government's economic achievements to the country at large. Why the Labor Party ever thought they could get away with putting a man with a speech impediment and about as much charisma as a box of Corn Flakes into the job that had just seen Peter Costello and Paul Keating fill the seat, I don't know. Wayne Swan should have been Finance Minister and Lindsay Tanner, Treasurer. Pity Tanner didn't figure a way out of the Left the way Julia Gillard did.

Which thoughts bring me to another bugbear about the way the Labor Party sells itself back to the electorate, and which James Purnell encapsulated nicely.

It's really 'old-fashioned' the way the ALP sells itself. Day after day the Pic Facs get trotted out, with a Minister or the Prime Minister dropping in to a school, factory or building site of appropriate interest. Some cursory involvement occurs for the cameras, a few questions are asked by the assembled journalists, and then they are all gone. James Purnell said that what we have to do is engage with the people in a more substantive and genuine way. Progressive MPs and activists for the cause need to talk to people about what makes them angry, what they'd like to change. Sit down, talk and build a common interest with people. Build that common interest that you agree to fight for on their behalf. This 'Reciprocity' will build trust and support.

Importantly, James Purnell exhorted Progressives to forever fight for the maintenance of the Social Safety Net. However, in light of the market-oriented, entrepreneurial and aspirational society the world sees as the new normal, what Progressives need to articulate is that we support a hand-out when necessary, then a hand-up to a better life, as the ALP tried to articulate this week with its 'Welfare to Work' initiatives, which were drowned out in a cacophony of, “Is $150,000/year 'rich?”

Markets can empower people, but they can also exploit people. Progressives need to be always on the lookout for this. James Purnell noted that he had seen the rise of 'Individual Flexibility Agreements', which sound mutually beneficial to both employee and employer, but which are simply the Neo-Liberals new AWAs, re-badged. Which goes to the point that the social should never be entirely replaced by the commercial in Industrial Relations. We should never allow workers to be entirely commoditized as 'Units of Production'.

Last, but not least, James Purnell has seen the 'Blue Green' mind meld come to UK society, and, as I explained before with my Green Businessman example, in another form that we are also seeing here. That is, consumers are thinking mindless consumerism is dead. Call it the 'New Frugalism', or 'Responsible Consumerism', but it is one area that I believe the Labor Party should be getting on board with. A responsible approach to consumerism hand in hand with a responsible approach to the planet.

Anyway, there was more, much more, at ProgCon, but that's enough for now.

What do you think?

We’re ‘aving Nan of it

Joannie Taylor (‘Nan’) from the Catherine Tate Show is visiting Australia to spend some time with her grandson, Jamie, who has got a student visa to study at Rooty Hill University. On campus, Jamie has joined the Young Labor Club, and has invited a few of his new chums over to meet Nan. Upon reflection, this was not a good idea.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the character of “Nan”, here’s an excerpt. However, if you’re a wowser, don’t go any further, as it contains very strong language. Oh, and by the way, if you’re a wowser, you shouldn’t be on this blog anyway – so rack off, lol!

Jamie has taken Nan down to the Rooty Hill RSL (‘Revolting Seniors Lounge’) for her to have a go on the pokies. To give Nan a treat wasn’t Jamie’s motive, however. Shortly before this, Nan had, in her own unique way, been taking the mickey out of his Young Labor comrades, and they didn’t know how to take her. So, he walked her down to the RSL to give them a break. The pokies room is packed, so Nan and Jamie wait until two regulars, Alf and Bert, who both have dodgy prostates, get up to spend a penny, and they pinch their seats. Nan and Jamie have momentarily forgotten about the prior tension and are well-ensconced at the adjacent pokie machines.

Nan: You come up to see me, son, didn’t ya? I noticed that!

[Jamie’s disappointment at Nan’s previous behaviour in his flat, however, is still latent below the surface. If the truth be told, he continues to fume at the treatment Nan meted out to his new pals.]

Jamie: Nan, I didn’t come up to see you...You came out to Australia to see me – so behave yourself or it’ll be the shortest trip of your life...And, to be honest, Nan, I wasn’t very impressed by your attitude to my new friends...

Nan: Oh, take a facking chill pill, you! Anyway, the snotty-nosed little gits should go and get a facking job...hehhhhhhhhhhhhh...

[Jamie rolls his eyes to the heavens, but can’t help noticing some of the punters vacating the seats at the nearby pokie machines, obviously aghast at Nan’s bad language. He decides to go up to the bar to order some food. Nan wants bangers n’ mash, or steak n’ kidney pie, or some other English delicacy. Meanwhile, whilst Jamie is at the bar, Nan happily plays the pokies, making her chronic reflux “huuuuup” noises. After a while, Jamie returns, but is bereft of any typical English culinary fare.]

Nan: A pizza!! A facking pizza!! You wanna give me a facking bilious attack, or somefing?

Jamie: But Nan, it’s all they had...have a bite...go on...you’ll really like it...

Nan: Nah, son...I don’t touch that Italian muck – ever since that bint, Nana Mouskouri, pinched me name...What a facking liberty!!!

Jamie: Erm...Nan...I think she was Greek...

Nan: Same difference, son – they all look facking Greek to me...hehhhhhhhhhhhhh...

[At that moment, in walks Tony Abbott, who is meeting a scheduled appointment to address a gathering of the Revolting Peoples Army who normally frequent the Rooty Hill RSL. Wearing his customary budgie smugglers, Tones glances around, failing to hide his obvious disappointment at the paucity of the punters. However, he momentarily gathers his thoughts, mounts the podium, grabs the mic and begins his address.

In his spiel, Tones rabbits on about a few issues, mainly to do with boats and how we are getting duded big time by Malaysia. Nan and Jamie are only half-listening, as Jamie is enjoying his pizza, and Nan is eagerly awaiting the jackpot. However, at about the fiftieth mention of boats, Nan’s attention is finally grabbed. Typical of the Barmy Army, she can’t resist a sledge.]

Nan: Hallo sailor!...hehhhhhhhhhhhhh...

[Tones ignores this preposterous sleight on his masculinity and keeps on speaking to the ever-dwindling number of patrons.]

Jamie: Nan! Stop shouting out – you’ll get us barred and I haven’t finished my pizza yet...

Nan: Oh, he’s such a nice man, isn’t he son...you know, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s Prime Minister some day...

[Nan talks so loud, even Tones up on the podium can hear her. Chuffed at such high praise, he carries on with his talk and, for once, changes the subject onto something else – unemployment. He says we need to send all the lazy bastards to Woop Woop to pick cactuses and herd wild pigs. At the mention of unemployment, Nan’s ears prick up.]

Nan: Well said, old son!! And while you’re at it, keep me grandson here in mind, cos he ain’t got a job, y’see...

Jamie: Nan!! Why do you keep saying that – I’ve told you a thousand times I’m a student...

Tones: Bravo, madam...I’m glad you agree with me on how despicable these unemployed bludgers are...I’m glad we can rely on the vote of the elderly like your good self...

[If Tones, upon reflection, admitted that uttering phrases such as, “shit happens”, “that’s bullshit”, and “I’m really good at people skills”, wasn’t the smartest thing to do, upon further reflection he was to realise that referring to Nan as ‘elderly’ was as foolhardy as General Custer marching into the Little Big Horn saying, “Injuns? What Injuns?”

Nan is sitting there like a volcano ready to erupt. And Jamie can’t do or say a thing to calm the situation, as he has a gob-full of pizza. Initially, she vents her spleen on Jamie.]

Nan: What a load of old shit!! What a facking liberty!!! Who does this clown think he is, referring to me as old...a has-been...a facking wash-up!!

[Nan then turns her guns on Tones.]

Nan: Hey you!! My late ‘usband used to wear a pair of budgie smugglers like those...

Tones: Did he indeed, madam...Well, he must have been a man of exquisite taste...ho...ho...

Nan: Yeah, but at least my ‘usband’s fitted ‘im...hehhhhhhhhhhhhh...And while you’re at it, sunshine...you wouldn’t be a German by any chance?

Tones: No, not at all, madam...

Nan: Nah, I thought not – cos even the facking Germans had the decency to wear their ‘elmets on their ‘eads...hehhhhhhhhhhhhh...

[Tones is getting worried, as the old crone is scaring many of his audience away, and there is virtually no-one left to listen to his message. He tries to smooth Nan’s ruffled feathers.]

Tones: Erm...madam...I couldn’t help noticing that English accent...actually, I spent some time over there doing my studies...

Nan: Yeah, now that you mention it, me old china, I recognise your boat-race now – you’re Elsie Potter’s son from the flat below me...Yeah, I remember you now...you ‘studied’ at the Fulham Road Tech and even that dopey American exchange student, Bart Simpson, got more marks than you...hehhhhhhhhhhhhh...

[At this stage, the RSL has emptied, and Tones decides to cut his losses and shoot through. Nan, looking immensely pleased with herself, gets back to plying the pokie machine with coins. However, the News comes on the idiot box and the barman turns up the volume, to catch up on the day’s events. The headline story is about Julia Gillard’s state visit to the Old Dart. Nan, distracted by the noise, glances up at the telly and, as a Pom, and not knowing Julia Gillard from a bar of soap, lets out another one of her maniacal cackles.]

Nan: Oh, ‘ave a look!! The facking Concord’s landed...what a conk...why, son, it makes the snoz on that girl you brought to see me at the ‘ospital look like a facking pimple...A facking nose like that needs shooting, it does...hehhhhhhhhhhhhh...

Jamie: Nan! Stop! That’s the Australian Prime Minister – you’ve got to be more respectful in public, or you will get deported and it will be your own fault...

PM (on telly): And I would like to offer my support to all those unfortunate British people who continue to suffer under the jackboot of the Cameron Tory regime...

Nan: Oh, and she’s facking Welsh, n’all...It’s bad enough having a nose that big, but being Welsh – its even worse than having double facking pneumonia...hehhhhhhhhhhhhh...

[Jamie’s Young Labor sensitivities are outraged by Nan’s deplorable bogan conduct, but, suddenly, a cunning plan hatches in his head.]

Jamie: Nan, I know you’re only out here for a few weeks this time, sooooo...why don’t you come out again, say...in about two and a half years, and I can bring you around all the polling booths in Warringah on the day of the General Election...I reckon that if you can do half as good a job of scaring away the Liberal voters as you did here at the RSL today, then old hairy-chest will lose his deposit...You would be like one of those Trojan Horses...whaddya think?

[Although she would never admit it, Nan would love to have another opportunity to visit Australia. As is her wont, her mood changes quicker than Tones’ weathervane in an election campaign.]

Nan: Son, now didn’t I tell ya that Prime Minister of yours was a lovely girl...now didn’t I, son?...Oh, and that reminds me, son...and talking about facking foreign animals...while you’ve been stuffing your face with pizza, my gastric juices tell me that I could eat a facking horse...And after that, and as I’m feeling lucky, we’ll put a few shekels on the nags...I gotta get the money up for me fare somehow...hehhhhhhhhhhhhh...huuuuuup...

Should Labor hitch itself to the slogan waggon?

One aspect of contemporary politics in which the Coalition has outstripped Labor has been in its use of slogans. Coalition slogans have been simple, often just three words, understandable, plausible, memorable and successful in promoting the Coalition’s agenda. Because its agenda has been largely negative and obstructive, creating slogans has been relatively easy – it is manifestly easier to develop negative slogans than positive.

Even using the relative difficulty in creating positive slogans as an excuse for Labor doing so little sloganeering, its negative slogans also have been slow in coming and have lacked the potency of the Coalition’s.

In my view, Labor needs to work now on a set of slogans, both positive and negative, to advance its cause, and promulgate them widely, or as widely as the MSM will allow.

Yet even as I write, I have an uneasy feeling. Memories leap into my mind of bar room fights in old Western movies where the bad guys fought ‘dirty’ using any missile at hand: bottles, chairs, tables, and sometimes firearms, while the good guys always fought ‘clean’, using only their bare knuckles. Yet the good guys always won. As the Coalition rolled out its misleading and deceptive slogans, which were sometimes downright lies, my feeling was that Labor ought to reciprocate with hard-hitting counter slogans, but as I perceive Labor as ‘the good guys’ as far as slogans are concerned, I was uneasy about going along with this line, hoping that eventually truth and decency and logic and good intent would enable Labor to overcome the Coalition’s negative assault. Now I’m not so sure. As Tony Abbott tours the country spruiking his disingenuous anti-carbon tax slogans everywhere he goes, and to good effect for the Coalition, I wonder if it is time for a similar onslaught of sloganeering by Labor. Labor is not in a fictional bar room fight – this fight is real, dirty and deadly, and the good guys are losing.

Hillbilly Skeleton’s last piece urges Labor to engage in the process of framing and re-framing its crucial policy messages. Although they may not be a classic example of framing and are relatively unsophisticated, I believe simple political slogans have their place, something the Coalition has shown so convincingly. In his book Sideshow: Dumbing Down Democracy, Lindsay Tanner quotes a Seven Network producer as saying: “Television news has to be simple. If you want to be sophisticated, go write a novel.” He also quotes Labor pollster Rod Cameron: “The people who determine elections in this country are the least interested and least informed about politics…They are basically ignorant and indifferent about politics. They vote on instinct for superficial, ill-informed and generally selfish reasons.” Cameron believes that because voting is compulsory in Australia, emotions play a big part. He goes on to say: “Disengaged voters who are forced to vote are most likely to be susceptible to simplistic scare campaigns and misrepresentations.” The veracity of this is confirmed by the success of the Coalition’s slogans and Tony Abbott’s ongoing scare campaigning. By corollary, slogans ought to be able to help Labor in the same way.

In the opening chapter of Tanner’s book, he disparages the slogans that were used in the 2010 election: ‘Going Forward’ and ‘Standing up for Australia’, as banal. Many would agree. These slogans were generic ones, not directed to a particular policy or plan. The slogans that I believe Labor should consider are those that are specific about the plans and policies it endorses; ones that in a simple and understandable way transmit a positive message, and if needs be negative.

Readers are invited to express their views about the prospect of Labor mounting an intensive campaign of sloganeering. While some of you may feel uneasy at the idea that Labor should follow the Coalition lead, others may feel it’s about time.

If Labor were to do so, it would need to use the same strategies as the Coalition, which seem to be based on several principles:

Coalition principles for slogan creation

Don’t be squeamish about not sticking rigidly to the truth.
Accuracy and completeness are less important than effectiveness.
Plausibility is essential, but that does not require accuracy or truthfulness.
Slogans must be simple and easily understood.
Brevity is essential: preferably three or four words, and not more than ten.
Keywords in the slogan must be upfront.
Slogans should have some commonality, with a theme common to several.
Slogans must roll off the tongue, or the page, and thereby stand out.
Slogans must be eye-catching and music to the ear.
Slogans must be highly memorable.
Slogans should be repeated as often as possible.
Slogans should be repeated in as many media as possible – TV grabs on evening news are among the best ways of achieving exposure.
Question Time in the House is a good place to create TV clips.

I believe what inhibits Labor is the desire to be accurate and complete in its statements and slogans. But with the short attention span of so much of the electorate, long-winded utterances will not be heard fully. So brevity is essential.

To counter the negativity of the Coalition, Labor would be well advised to itself consider negative slogans – the Coalition has shown that they work, and they are easier to create. Labour should remember that they do not have to be accurate or truthful so long as they are plausible and memorable. If anyone is feeling upset at this prospect, they ought not to get into contemporary public relations.

This piece is an opportunity to try your hand at slogan creation. Some examples will be offered for you to appraise and your contribution is invited. If the collection amounts to anything worthwhile it could be sent to the Government. Just three issues will be used as examples: climate change, the minerals tax and the NBN.

Of course there are many other aspects of the Coalition’s performance and policies that could be the subject of Labor slogans, and Tony Abbott and several of his ministers would be good objects for slogan creation. Feral Skeleton has suggested that Labor needs only one of the man who would be PM – the minute of head-nodding in response to Mark Riley’s question to him about his ‘shit-happens’ remark. No sound would be needed.

Here are some suggestions, some of which some of you may wish to discard. But before you do, remember the first Coalition rule: Don’t be squeamish about not sticking rigidly to the truth.

Slogans could be used in any combination but would not all be used together – they would be used singly or in small clusters, and varied to suit the circumstances.

Negative slogans about the Coalition climate change plan

The Coalition is infected with climate deniers
Many of the Coalition are climate skeptics
Climate skeptics just pretend to address climate change
Coalition’s ‘direct action’ plan is a pretend plan
Coalition’s ‘direct action’ plan is a sham
Coalition’s plan WON’T WORK
Coalition’s plan will have NEGLIGIBLE effect
Economists don’t support the Coalition’s plan
Businessmen don’t support the Coalition’s plan
Coalition’s plan lets pollution CONTINUE
Coalition’s plan will NOT overcome carbon emissions
Coalition’s plan PAYS the POLLUTERS
Coalition's plan PAYS POLLUTERS with YOUR MONEY
Coalition’s plan costs YOU more
Coalition’s plan will cost you $800 A YEAR
Coalition will NOT COMPENSATE you
Coalition’s plan will NOT save the planet for your grandchildren

Positive slogans about Labor’s climate change plan

Combat climate change effectively – Labor’s way
Labor taxes the POLLUTERS, not YOU
Labor will NOT tax you
Labor covers ALL your extra costs
Labor PAYS YOU compensation
Labor’s plan WILL WORK
Labor’s plan WILL REDUCE pollution
Labor’s plan will encourage ALTERNATIVES
Labor’s plan will STRENGTHEN the economy
Labor’s plan will CREATE jobs
Labor’s plan will TRANSFORM our economy
Labor’s plan will put Australia at the FOREFRONT
Labor’s plan will ensure Australia is NOT left behind
Labor WILL save the planet for your grandchildren

Negative slogans about the minerals tax

All Aussies OWN Australia’s minerals
YOU own Australia’s minerals
The miners are NOT paying enough for them
Australians deserve a FAIRER SHARE for our minerals
The Government’s minerals tax corrects this unfairness
Once the minerals are dug up and sold, there are NO MORE
So we need to get value for them NOW
Coalition is BLOCKING the minerals tax
Coalition will kill all YOUR BENEFITS

Positive slogans about the minerals tax

The minerals tax is a fairer system for ALL.
All businesses have to pay taxes on their profits
The miners should pay a FAIRER share
The income from the minerals tax will be used to fund:
- BETTER superannuation for all workers
- EASIER tax returns for ordinary Australians
- For most, no need to send in a tax return
- LOWER company tax for small businesses
- Additional capital deductions for small business
- Infrastructure for business - road, rail and ports to transport products
The minerals tax will make Australia’s economy STRONGER
If Coalition blocks the minerals tax these benefits will be LOST

The National Broadband Network

Labor’s NBN will be the fastest ever created
Labor’s NBN will connect you to the world
The NBN will be the best in the world
The NBN is the envy of other countries
The NBN will place Australia ahead of the rest
The NBN will open up vast opportunities and jobs
The NBN will massively advance health, education, business, agriculture
The NBN will reduce the isolation of rural people
The NBN will energize regional areas
The benefits of the NBN will hugely outweigh the cost
The NBN is the biggest infrastructure ever built in Australia
Coalition is intent on ‘demolishing’ the NBN
Coalition would deprive you of all the benefits of the NBN

These are but a few examples of the slogans that might be created on these three sample subjects. There are countless other aspects of the Government’s program that would lend themselves to slogans.

You may wish to let your imagination run wild by creating slogans to characterize Tony Abbott or Joe Hockey or Andrew Robb, or Christopher Pyne, or Greg Hunt, or any other. Whether personal slogans are the way to go is arguable.

If you feel inclined, please add to the slogans listed here, and feel free to criticize any, amend any, or recommend any for discarding.

Should Labor hitch itself to the slogan waggon? What do you think? Is this the way Labor should go?

Sideshow Sam

Aficionados of The Simpsons cartoon series will be familiar with the ‘colourful’ character, Sideshow Bob. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of viewing any episodes that include Bob, he is basically a psychopath, who worked for Krusty the Clown in his circus, got sacked, and irrationally blamed Bart Simpson for his drastic fall from grace. Subsequently, many episodes involving Bob include him stalking Bart, in a vain attempt to exact his revenge.

So, after her seminal article on Lindsay Tanner’s book, "Sideshow" (which she hadn’t read!), Samantha Maiden is getting ribbed by her colleagues. In fact, they have dubbed her, “Sideshow Sam”. Samantha, however, has had enough of the mocking. She is beginning to question her previous sycophantic demeanour, and is keen to see what it’s like to be a bona fide journalist.

In the meantime, Tony Abbott has just showed up for a press conference. Donned in his Lycra, he dismounts his bike and stands in front of the assembled throng.

Tones: Thanks everyone for coming along this morning...As usual, I won’t keep you long, so I’m ready for the first question...

[While Tones waits for the first question, he does a quick 20 push-ups.]

Sideshow Sam: Erm...Mr Abbott...can I just ask you a question...and its on the infamous Black Hole that Treasury found in your costings before the last election...Can you explain how that came about, and can you assure voters that such a debacle will not be repeated in the future...

[Tones cannot believe that someone usually as supportive as Samantha could ask such a question. He gets up off the ground, intending to wing an answer.]

Tones: Erm...good question, Samantha, and for those of you who didn’t hear the question properly, Sam asked how big would the black holes be in voters’ wallets when the Gillard government succeeds in bringing in all it’s debacle-causing great new big taxes...blah...blah...

[Sideshow is flabbergasted at Tones’ blatant misrepresentation of her question, and is just about to ask a supplementary when he invites Nikki Savva to speak. Nikki commends Tones on the sartorial elegance of his Lycra suit and asks him does he have a different coloured one for every day of the week. Tones replies that indeed he does, but the problem is getting them ironed, so he is thinking of asking Julia round to do it, “just to make an honest woman out of her...heh...heh...” Everybody has a good laugh at Julia’s expense. Everybody except Sideshow, that is.]

Sideshow: Errr...Mr Abbott...I would like to ask you about your Real Action Plan for tackling global warming...how will it actually work, and why are no major industrialists lining up to support it?

[While Sideshow was asking her question, Tones was holding Laurie Oakes over his head, whilst doing a series of squats. Upon hearing Sam’s question, he drops poor Laurie like a sack of spuds.]

Tones: Erm...thanks again, Sideshow, for such an insightful question...and again for those who didn’t hear it, Sam is asking why Julia Gillard is always out of the country, leaving all the real action to me...blah...blah...

[Again, Sam can’t believe the effrontery of Tones bastardising her legitimate and erudite policy-focussed questions. He then gives the nod to Chris Uhlmann.]

Chris: Yeah, maaaaate! Great to see you again...looking forward to giving you another good going-over...haw...haw...the next time you’re on my 7:30 Show...But seriously, do you think a future government of yours should bring in compulsory seminary service – after all, it didn’t do you or me any harm...heh...heh...

[The mutual back-slapping continues, much to Sideshow’s disquiet. After all, she is now a conscientious journalist, eager to put the blow-torch on any politician, no matter their political stripe.]

Sideshow: Erm...Mr Abbott...Can I ask you about the balance of power in both Houses after 1 July this year...how will you develop your policies to encourage the Independents and Minor Parties to support you?

[While Sideshow was asking her question, Tones was getting some exercise by following Glenn Milne, who was staggering all over the place. Upon hearing Sam’s question, Tones stops dead in his tracks, unable to comprehend the change, from previous pressers, in the tenor of Sideshow’s questions.]

Tones: Now look here, lady...I don’t come along here to be subjected to any challenging questions on policy, or my lack thereof...

Sideshow: But...but...but...previously, I was mocked for not asking penetrating questions...and now I’m being ridiculed for focusing on policies – you can’t win with you guys!

Tones: Yeah, and I can’t win WITHOUT you guys...So, Sideshow, what were you saying about the responsibility of the Indos and Greens to throw their support behind the natural party of government?

Sideshow: Yeah, I suppose I know what side my bread’s buttered on – that’s what happens when you work for Krupie the Clown...

Dennis Shanahan: Yeah...welcome back, Sideshow – it looks like you didn’t stand up to the Lindsay Test too well...heh...heh...

It’s time for the ALP to drink a protein word shake and muscle up to the Coalition




“They couldn't sell a cold beer on a hot day.” How many times have I heard that said about the ALP lately? A point which was reinforced in my mind with reference to the Democrats in the USA when I read a Paul Krugman article, Let's Not Be Civil, recently; but which could also be as easily said about the ALP in Australia:

The money quote for mine, is as follows: 'So let’s not be civil. Instead, let’s have a frank discussion of our differences. In particular, if Democrats [the ALP] believe that Republicans [the Coalition] are talking cruel nonsense, they should say so – and take their case to the voters.’

Would that Kevin Rudd have had the 'plums', as Possum puts it, to do that at the last election, he may still have been Prime Minister. But that's an argument for another day.

Suffice to say that the article and the quote goes to, what is now an increasingly solidifying fact in the minds of the electorate, that Progressive politicians, 'liberals', as they are sneeringly referred to by Conservatives (mainly overseas because the 'Liberal' Party has facetiously co-opted the term for their own misleading use here), are just too damned nice. Too civil.

Also, we're not very good at this point in political time at getting our message across effectively. Although I do take comfort from Andrew Elder's recent blog, Abbott's Stale Mate, wherein he says about the polls for the Labor Party: 'All governments worth their salt go backwards at this point in the electoral cycle. Howard did this, Keating did it, Hawke did it and all of them came back to win.' Well, Keating helped Hawke to come back and win again. Sadly voter ennui caught up with him in 1996.

Nevertheless, this Nervous Nellie thought she'd have a go at giving the ALP some advice on getting a message across more effectively, as I have to admit that, sans effective and rich policy underpinnings to aid them, the Coalition are surfing a wave of popularity because they are better at sending out a message than the ALP, even though, as I say, their policy cupboard is bare. I am reminded of the Monty Python skit, 'The 4 Yorkshiremen', when I reflect upon the Coalition, whereby four obviously wealthy men seek to outdo each other with tales of their impoverished upbringing, about the 'Luxury' of living in a hole in the road and getting up for work before you have even gone to bed! That is the Coalition: 'Here's a lump of Coal, electorate, but it's the shiniest lump of coal you'll ever see.' And the electorate go, 'Yes, mm, shiny.' Reinforced, of course, by a media whose job it appears to be to encourage the appreciation of lumps of Coal.

Now back to the ALP.

Understanding the Conservatives’ most powerful weapon

For the most part, Progressives still don't understand what Conservatives are doing to them. I have not seen much discussion at all of the mechanism Conservatives use to confound Progressives and forever have them on the defensive.

That mechanism is called 'Framing'. Conservatives have managed to frame public debate on just about every issue. They have framed the NBN as inadequate because it has not had a 'Cost/Benefit Analysis', as if you can put a price on benefit to the common weal or a price on future innovations that haven't even been invented yet. They have framed regulation and new laws that they don't like as 'government interference' in either the free market or people's lives. The 'Free Market', which is in turn framed as the way to optimise wealth for all hard-working citizens. Which leads to the Conservatives blaming poor people and Welfare recipients as undisciplined and to blame for their lot in life. Though I will admit that the PM has bought into this frame as well, however I believe that her solutions will not be half as punitive as those proffered by Tony Abbott to 'solve' that particular 'problem'. Also environmentalists/The Greens are framed as 'Tree Huggers', who care more about the environment than jobs. Yet, as much as Progressives discuss politics, they still have not yet learned enough about framing to see how Conservatives are winning the 'Framing Wars'. Even the term 'Culture Wars' is just another battlefront opened up in the Framing Wars. It is the Conservatives desire to determine which 'Values' the citizenry adopts. The term, 'Values' is yet again just another word that Conservatives have appropriated to give positive lustre to their ideological viewpoints.

So, Progressives have to learn how to fight and win this war so as to be more effective when contributing to public discourse.

Framing is the Conservatives most important weapon. Framing is critical because a frame, once established in the mind of the reader (or listener, or viewer, etc.) leads that person almost inevitably to the conclusion desired by the framer, and it blocks consideration of other possible facts and interpretations.

The Conservative's framing around tax illustrates this. When Conservatives discuss tax reduction, the phrase ‘tax relief’ is repeated over and over. For there to be ‘relief’ there must be an affliction. Tax. A reliever who takes the affliction away is therefore a hero in the electorate's eyes. And if anybody wants to stop the reliever, he's a villain wanting the suffering to go on. Add 'tax' and you have a metaphorical frame: taxation is an affliction. The taxpayer is the afflicted party, the Conservatives are heroes for wanting to remove the affliction and Progressives are villains for wanting to keep a tax or introduce a new one. Despite how fiscally irresponsible such actions by Conservatives may turn out to be.

Tony Abbott's 'Great Big New Tax' mantra is only the most recent manifestation of this political sleight of hand. This message is a frame within a frame. Firstly, the mistaken perception, trumpeted by the Coalition, and reinforced by the media, that the Cost of Living is burdensome for families at the moment. This despite the fact that we are one of the richest countries per head of population on the planet, and the fact that what really is dragging down our budgets is the cost of housing and the cost of the lifestyle we wish to pay for. Electricity bills and Cost of Living are just the bogeymen created to distract us from the facts. Therefore, any political party which does not want to relieve the pain on the hip-pocket nerve and which instead wants to introduce a new tax, is therefore by easy definition, the villain in the frame. Boo! Hiss!

Just forget the reasoning behind the need for the 'Great Big New Tax', for example, the Carbon Tax/Price on Carbon Pollution, the best way to take action to address CO2 production by big polluters in the economy and hence improve the chances of dealing effectively with Climate Change; that doesn't fit the Conservative frame any more and so is increasingly being ignored as the reason for the action by the electorate.

As I said, the Labor Party would be well advised to steer clear of the Opposition's frames and refuse to support them. If you try to negate a frame you just reinforce the frame. Denying a claim in public reinforces the claim in people's minds. A case of encouraging people to think, 'Methinks they doth protest too much.' You are better off just ignoring it, as by using the other side's words you reinforce their frames. It's a trap Progressives continually fall into.

Another trap is the assumption that all you have to do is set the facts straight and people will reason their way to the right conclusion. Wrong! If the facts contradict the entrenched frame, the frame will stay, and the facts will be ignored. The facts won't register unless they are presented as part of a successful reframing of the issue.

This is what the ALP has to learn to do. Reflexively. Frame better. Reframe.

What do you think?