The Horcrux of the Matter

In the epilogue to “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”, the last book in the series about the wily young wizard, the author JK Rowling tells us that, after the demise of the evil Lord Voldemort, Harry and Ginny later get married and have three children. Similarly, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger tie the knot and they have two children.

However, the famous author didn’t reveal everything as, eventually, Ron, Hermione and their family later migrate to Australia (as ten-knut Poms).

Not long afterwards, a third little bundle of joy, Julia, arrives to further brighten the Weasley household down under. And the proud parents are delighted that Harry agreed to be the godfather of the newly hatched little witch.

Anyway, five or so years have passed since Julia was born and it is clear to everyone who meets her, she is quite the child prodigy. Harry, meanwhile, has been so busy cleaning up the mess caused by the now-deceased evil Lord Voldemort, he has never had the opportunity to visit Australia and catch up with his old friends. He decides it is time he went Down Under for a holiday. However, knowing that Ron and Hermione are interested in politics, he did a bit of research, before he left England, on recent Australian political developments.

So, eventually, he apparates, or hires a Concord broomstick, or whatever, and heads off to Australia for that well-earned holiday.

Everyone in the Weasley household is ever so pleased to see Harry and the three friends spend lots of hours reminding each other of the many good times, and the not-so-good times they had when they were fighting the Dark Lord. And, like any curious five-year-old, Julia listens in to the adult conversation, wide-eyed and gob-smacked at the fascinating tales surrounding the epic struggles her parents and “Uncle Harry” (as she called him) had against Lord Voldemort.

This particular evening, however, Ron and Hermione take advantage of Harry’s visit and go out for a few butterbeers at their local, the Spilling Billy-Can, leaving him to baby-sit the five-year-old Julia, who had been, that afternoon, at the beach, participating in her learn-to-swim program. Harry is reading the paper on the sofa, with Julia beside him. Julia recognises a man in swimming togs pictured on the front page.

Julia: Uncle Harry?

Harry: Ummm?

Julia: Uncle Harry...I saw that man at the beach today...

[Harry, caught up in reading an article about Rebekah “Bellatrix Lestrange” Brooks, merely gives Julia a patronising, “is that right”, before continuing with his reading. Julia, now bored stiff, heads off to bed. After a while, however, Harry hears a little plaintive cry from upstairs. “Uncle Harry...Uncle Harry...I’m frightened...” He bounds up the stairs and enters Julia’s bedroom. Lying in her bed, Julia’s long Weasley nose and red hair are silhouetted against the dim light emanating from her Kreacher the house-elf comfort lamp.]

Harry: What’s the matter, Julia – had a nasty dream?

Julia: Not really, Uncle’s just that I saw something at the beach today that frightened me and I can’t get it out of my mind...The other kids were saying it was one of those hospital crutches that you, mum and dad used to fight against in the olden days...

[Harry is wondering to himself: “whatever is Julia talking about – hospital crutches...mmmm...”

Just then, Harry has a eureka moment as it dawns on him what she is referring to.]

Harry (triumphantly): Oh, you mean HORCRUXES, Julia! Now, don’t you worry your little head about them...Your Mum and Dad and I, and Dumbledore and Neville, amongst others, destroyed all the horcruxes...There aren’t any more, so don’t worry about them...they’re all well and truly gone...

[For those readers who aren’t familiar with the nature of horcruxes in the Harry Potter series, they are items, living or inanimate, that Lord Voldemort encased parts of his soul in. As long as these horcruxes remained intact, Lord Voldemort maintained his immortality. Harry’s mission, therefore, was to arrange for the destruction of the horcruxes, thereby killing the evil Lord.]


Julia: But...but...but...Uncle must have missed one...cos I saw it today at the beach!

[Harry laughs out loud, trying to re-assure his god-child there is nothing to fear. He decides he will have to use a bit of poetic licence and some of his recently researched knowledge of Australian politics to list the horcruxes and how they were eliminated.]

Harry: Okay, put your mind at rest, I’ll describe how all the horcruxes were destroyed...First, there was Godwin Grech’s email dairy, which we deflated by piercing it with one of the hairpins Bronnie Bishop used to hold together her bee-hive...hee...hee...

Then, there was Gaunt Tony’s three-ring circus, when he was so confused about whether he did or did not support a 5 per cent reduction in his flatulence emissions, everybody concluded he was full of hot air and boycotted his circus, putting him out of business...

And then, later, the infamous Death Eater, Alan Jones got his Tea Party cup smashed, weakening Lord Voldemort’s power even more...

Julia: was the cup smashed, Uncle Harry?

Harry: Actually, it was your mum who did that, Julia...You see, your dad made one of his gross male chauvinist remarks and your mum threw it at him...Luckily he ducked in time and it hit the wall instead...hee...hee...

And the next horcrux we destroyed was the locket that Mark Scott of the ABC wore around his neck...Every time he opened it – which was every second minute – it blared out, “The Leader of the Federal Opposition said...”

Your Dad actually gummed up its works, literally, by pouring superglue over its clasp...heh...heh...

And then there was “Lord” Monckton’s diadem – he was another death-eater who had tickets on himself by claiming he was a member of the House of Lords...

Julia: And what happened to him, Uncle Harry?

Harry: Oh, the last I heard, Julia, he got banged up in the Tower of London by the Queen, for impersonation...Then, she beat the crap out of his diadem with that big sword she knights people with...That made it safe from Lord Voldemort’s evil soul, and then she gave it to Kate Middleton as a wedding present...

Julia: Oh, that’s lovely, Uncle Harry...And, by the way, did you know I have a diadem as well? Though mine hasn’t got real diamonds – it was a present from Uncles Fred and George when they were getting rid of old stock from their Diagon Alley jokes’ and trinkets’ shop, Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes...

But, Uncle Harry, I’m still frightened...Are you sure you got all those horrid-thingies?

Harry: Yes, of course, Julia. Now, as I was saying, the next horcrux we had to deal with was an old pair of trakkie-daks, belonging to Lord Voldemort, which he didn’t want. There was a lightning-shaped rip in them, but, because I lived in the cupboard under the stairs, and was so poor, I had to wear them, as I had nothing else. Eventually, I grew out of them and chucked them in the fire, as even the Salvos wouldn’t take them...

Then, we destroyed the last horcrux item when that slimy snake, Declan Stephenson, crawled out from under his rock and started to stalk some of the female students at Hogwarts...So, we hid his rock, giving him no-where to hide and Hagrid’s hippogriff, Buckwheat, had him for a snack...heh...heh...

So, that brings me to the part of the story when we destroyed the last of the horcruxes – Lord Voldemort’s own body! And it was your Mum and Dad, Julia, who helped organise his downfall when, in 2007, they were the leading lights in Bennelong and he finally got kicked out...So, you see, Julia, all the horcruxes have gone, so you have nothing to worry about...So, get yourself a good night’s sleep and you’ll feel a lot better in the morning...

Julia: But...but...but...Uncle Harry...I’m telling you – the kids at the beach said the man in the paper was wearing one of those hor-thingies!

[By this stage, Harry is totally exasperated.]

Harry: Right, Julia! Now, just tell me again exactly what the other kids said...

Julia: They were pointing to his bathers and saying, “Euwwww...yuk...what a horrible crotch!”

[Harry stifles a loud guffaw at Julia’s expense. “Out of the mouths of babes”, he says to himself.]

Harry: Okay, Julia, your Mum and Dad and I are going down to the beach tomorrow with our wands and we’ll soon put paid to that nasty horcrux...and after that, I’ll get onto the floo network to JK Rowling herself – I reckon this has got the makings of another book and follow-up

If Tony Abbott were PM

What would Tony Abbott do if this nation were so unfortunate as to have him elected as Prime Minister some time in the future? I can see your lips moving to mouth the words: “Who knows?” And our would-be PM, who by his own admission is a weathervane, would likely not know either, because even he would be unable to predict which way the political wind would be blowing so far ahead.

So let’s imagine what might happen in several of the key policy areas that are of contemporaneous importance. It is worthwhile doing as I am unaware of anyone in the MSM who has sketched even a rudimentary picture of life under PM Abbott. I have wondered why as all the polls suggest he will be PM after the next election. The MSM is naturally preoccupied with PM Gillard and her Government, but why not paint a picture of what the alternative might be like, what he has to offer? I suspect that one reason is that it is too difficult an exercise for the average journalist, but perhaps a more likely reason is that media proprietors don’t want that disturbing picture exhibited lest it drive away voters from the one the media has anointed as the next PM, one that will suit its commercial imperatives better than the present PM

Climate change
PM Abbott would be able to choose any position he wanted and to say this has always been his position as he has occupied every possible one from skepticism bordering on denial at one end of the spectrum to support for an ETS and a carbon tax at the other. Last week he claimed that he never supported an ETS, although he is on record as having done so several times, even at one time supporting a carbon tax. The media, instead of calling him a liar as they do PM Gillard every day and play her ‘no carbon tax’ clip to reinforce the liar message, is chary of doing this, contenting itself with a ‘he said, she said’ account and blushingly adding that he later ‘clarified’ what he meant, which was that he has opposed an ETS ‘since becoming leader’. As telling untruths and changing position according to the wind direction or his audience is no impediment to Abbott, he could and would say anything he liked, and have the compliant media swallow it whole.

So let’s postulate what he might do as PM. By then, accidents apart, the carbon plan will have been passed into law. As he has promised to repeal that law in Government, he would lose a lot of credibility, and run counter to his aggressive nature, if he did not try to do so. I imagine he would threaten the Greens, who have vowed to oppose any repeal motion, with the prospect of a double dissolution election during which he would attempt to wipe them out or at least seriously diminish their power, a task that would have the full support of News Limited media. He would also threaten Labor in the same way with an even bigger wipe out than at the election that brought him to power. There seems to be some uncertainty about when a DD election would be possible after the normal election of an Abbott Government, but Antony Green believes it would not be possible before the first half of 2015.  So Abbott could huff and puff as much as he liked but not be able to force matters before then, and could repeal the carbon tax legislation only if he got control of the Senate after the DD election. It’s all rather hypothetical and unlikely to happen.

And even if the unlikely occurred and Abbott had the numbers in both houses in early 2015, the legislation would have been in place for almost four years, by which time most of those affected would have adjusted to it and discovered that the sky had not fallen in, massive job losses had not occurred, industrial towns had not been reduced to ghost status, and few had been made worse off in any way. Moreover, the world would have moved closer to consensus on carbon pricing. At that time, business would not welcome another period of uncertainty that repealing the tax would occasion.

So Malcolm Turnbull’s suggestion that the Coalition’s Direct Action Plan would be easy to discontinue may never be tested, because it would never likely be introduced, lacking as it does support from even one trustworthy economist. And if it were by any chance, how would Abbott and Greg Hunt explain where they would find 29,000 hectares of marginal land to plant trees when only 27,000 hectares of arable land currently exists? How would they justify the high cost of increasing soil carbon? And most importantly how would they justify paying polluters taxpayer’s money in the hope they would reduce pollution, and how would they justify and implement the clawing back of increases in pensions and compensation payments?

In summary, PM Abbott would be stuck with what this parliament had legislated and would have to like it or lump it. All his overblown rhetoric would be seen as just hot air, opportunistically emitted in pursuit of his aim of overthrowing the elected Government.

The Mining Tax
This also will be passed by the current parliament. As the three largest mining companies have negotiated it with the Government, any protest by the now somewhat discredited Twiggy Forrest, or similar miners, will have little effect. As the tax will be operational, attempts to repeal it will be subject to the same restrictions that apply to the carbon tax. Again, despite his insistence that he will repeal these taxes, Abbott will get nowhere.

So two of his big election campaign ploys, repealing the two taxes, will be seen for what they are – hollow promises that he cannot keep.

Accidents barred, by the end of 2013 when the next election is due, the NBN will have been rolling out for almost four years. As several regional towns will have begun to experience the benefits of very fast broadband download and upload speeds, faster than anything we have now or the Coalition is offering, the others will not want to be offered something inferior, not even Malcolm Turnbull’s less costly compromise. They will have realized what enormous benefits are available for small business, farming, education and health. The NBN is not just about sending emails and downloading movies, as Abbott seems to think; it is revolutionizing many professional and business endeavours. Any region or city that is still to get the NBN will not want anything with quality and potential poorer than other regions, no matter what Turnbull says.

Moreover, as Turnbull has pointed out, the cost of aborting the NBN will likely be considerable, especially after Telstra has decommissioned its copper network, and the contracts that the NBN Co. and the Government have entered into will be difficult and expensive to break. So Abbott will likely find himself frustrated in carrying out his threat to ‘demolish the NBN’. It will be too far advanced and too popular for him to destroy.

The regional asylum seeker plan
Today’s signing of the agreement with Malaysia for the so-called asylum seeker swap will put a spoke in the Abbott slogan ‘stop the boats’ as this move is likely to achieve just that. And now that alternative arrangements for processing those arriving after the announcement of the Malaysia plan have been announced – in Australia as the Manus Island option is not yet available – the negative impact of irregular boat arrivals will have been substantially reduced. Abbott will not get traction from his ‘we will stop the boats’ slogan if they have already stopped. So long as human rights and dignity have been addressed to the satisfaction of the UNHCR, and since opportunities for schooling, healthcare and jobs for returned asylum seekers have been agreed to, the sting of criticism from the Greens and Labor members supportive of asylum seekers will have been blunted.

The Coalition will hardly be likely to swing over to the Nauru solution if the Malaysian arrangement is working, as it would risk boat arrivals escalating. So Abbott will be frustrated yet again.

Health system reform
A major reform of Australia’s healthcare system is underway. Although the Liberal Premiers have made it more difficult to bring it to a conclusion, progress continues. In as far as it delegates much responsibility for management to local bodies, in a way similar to the Coalition policy, there will be little for the Coalition to gain by advocating its policy once the changes are bedded down. The cigarette package labeling legislation is in train, and as Abbott could not find a reason to oppose it now, it will not be an item of contention come the next election.

Overseas Cattle Trade
Although this issue provided fodder for Abbott when the crisis struck, as it is now been satisfactorily resolved, it will not be relevant at the next election.

Bringing the budget out of deficit
Since the Government has promised to bring in a surplus budget in 2012/13, if that is accomplished, the prospect of the Coalition bringing in a surplus budget will have lost its novelty. An Abbott Government would have to do better in validating its so-called savings, and have no $11 billion black holes. The $50 billion savings the Coalition claimed in its election budget proved to be fictional, but despite that they still quote that fabricated budget as if it was real, and the media lets them get away with it over and again.

Abbott and Joe Hockey claim they will make further savings by eliminating 20,000 public servants by not replacing those leaving through attrition. Apart from that being a slow process, the Coalition may find it can’t do without these people, and therefore the expected savings could be evanescent.

Stopping the waste
How the Coalition will do this is problematic. As by the time an Abbott Government could assume power, the Government programs that have been accused of waste, such as the HIP and the BER, will be complete or close to it. There may not be any waste left to stop. There never was much.

Paid Parental Leave Scheme
Since the Government scheme is already operative, what dividend would accrue to the Coalition by substituting its more generous but more costly scheme? There may be little credit to be gained, but considerable costs to wear. The scheme was to be funded by increasing company tax on the 1000 largest companies, many of whom are already running their own schemes. Then through an Abbottesque manipulation, the cost was to be offset by reduction in the company tax rate that according to Hockey would leave them square. It was somewhat of a smoke and mirrors illusion. Abbott is so likely to be short of the funds he needs for his generous scheme that he would be likely to postpone it.

The Murray Darling Plan
After an abortive start, this is moving towards resolution. What does Abbott plan to do different from that proposed by the committee that is investigating how to ensure water security, enough for farming and the environment, while securing the economies of regional communities? I have not heard any.

So we’ve covered climate change and the carbon and mining taxes, the NBN, asylum seekers, health reform, deficit budgeting, stopping waste, surplus budgeting, the PPL scheme and the Murray Darling plan. What other policies has Abbott put forward? Just about every utterance has been negative and obstructive, pulling things down and stopping things, with a side promise to do everything cheaper.

Where are his economic policies? He talks of taking up the recommendations of the Henry Review, on which the Government has already made a start, but so far that is just words without plans or costings.

Where are his plans for increasing the nation’s wealth and improving productivity? How does he plan to deal with the patchwork economy?

Does he have a population policy that allows for measured and balanced development, particularly in the regions?

Where is his foreign policy? Whatever it is he may have to do a repair job with China, India, Malaysia and Indonesia after the derogatory remarks he has made about these countries.

You may be able to think of other policy areas that an Abbott Government might implement; if so, please share them with us. Of one thing we can be certain, to date the Coalition has eschewed policy announcements, preferring to leave that until closer to the election. But if Abbott succeeds in precipitating an early election, where would that strategy of delay leave them? We have heard for years that the Coalition has a policy group beavering away producing policies; but so far the slate is blank.

In summary, the threats Abbott has made to repeal legislation he opposes and to demolish what has been started, will come to naught.  And all the hype that the Coalition has propagated about this incompetent bad government that can do nothing right will look as shallow and trumped up as it is unless and until we see the policies, plans and plausible budgets that would be central to an Abbott government. Even if a compliant pro-Coalition media might not demand them, the public eventually will. 

What do you think?

A nice juicy tale

The British House of Commons’ “Court of Star-fruit Chamber” hasn’t been as busy since The Monkees and Milli Vanilli were arraigned before it on charges of pretending to sing on their own records.

And, more recently, Rhubarb Rupert, Rebekah Radish and Jammy James have also been subjected to the pressure-cooker treatment.

So, to offer their mate Rhubarb some moral support, Tony Abbott and his Coalition friends have gone over to London.

Meanwhile, the managers of the House of Commons’ scullery, the husband-and-wife team, George and Mildred, are busily trying to order in enough food and drink to cater for the ravenous appetites of the Court of Star-fruit Chamber members upstairs. Eventually, their order arrives and is plonked at the back door. Mildred asks George to bring the crates of food and drink items in, whilst she goes upstairs to the Chamber to ask the greedy bastards what they want to eat and drink.

However, there are no flies on Tony and the gang, as, disguised as various food and drink items, they had already secreted themselves, back at the suppliers, in the appropriate crate. George now carts the wooden containers inside and awaits further instructions from Mildred. The over-fed seat-warmers upstairs, however, can’t make up their minds what to order, so George, to kill time, pops out to the yard to have a quick smoke. Tony and the others take advantage of George and Mildred’s absence from the scullery to break out of the crates and settle themselves quickly on the table. Ostensibly, they will discuss how they can help their mate Rhubarb, before he gets stretched on the rack.

So, just as during the French Revolution the poor downtrodden aristocracy had their champion in the Scarlett Pimpernel, now Rhubarb Rupert can turn to his very own home grown liberator – Tony the Annoying Orange!!!

Having finished his smoke outside, George wanders back into the scullery and notices some things on the table that weren’t there before.

George (to himself): Hmmmm...funny that...I wonder how they got on the table? Must have been Mildred when I was outside...She must have taken one item from each of the crates for our morning tea and lunch...anyways, those greedy bastards upstairs won’t notice a few things going missing...heh...heh...

[George saunters off to fetch some coal from the bunker, to ensure the ancient range has got enough heat in it to cook the meals for “that lot” upstairs. Tony the Annoying Orange seizes his opportunity. You see, Tony has an ulterior motive for coming to London. He wants to get all his leadership rivals in the one spot where they would most likely all be “taken care of”, Machiavellian-bastardry-style, in one fell swoop...heh...heh...His first target is Malcolm “Turnip” Turnbull.]

Tony: Hey, Turnip...Turnip...hey...hey...Turnip...

[Malcolm pretends he doesn’t hear Tony the Annoying Orange trying to attract his attention. “Who does this oaf think he is, addressing moi as a common vegetable”, he complains inwardly. And, talking of his innards, Malcolm isn’t feeling too well. The suppliers had boiled him in water for a quick preparation when he got to the Court of Star-fruit Chamber’s scullery, but the slack bastards hadn’t bothered to dry him off. So, he is now sitting on the table in the middle of a pool of water.]

Tony: Hey, Turnip...Turnip...hey...hey...Turnip...

[Tony the Annoying Orange, as usual, won’t give over. Eventually, Turnip snaps.]

Turnip: What is it, you moron? Can’t you see I’m not feeling well...and it looks like I have pissed my pants...

Tony: Hey, Turnip...Turnip...hey...hey...Turnip...I always said you were a bit of a wet...heh...heh...heh...heh...heh...heh...

[Turnip decides to ignore this imbecile from now on.]

Tony: Hey, Turnip...Turnip...hey...hey...Turnip...Masher...

[Turnip had been feeling so sorry for himself he didn’t notice Mildred coming into the scullery. Like George earlier, she is puzzled as to how only one item of the various food and drink orders had got onto the table. So, for her part, she assumes that George had done a bit of pilfering on their behalf...hee...hee...She takes a bowl out of the cupboard, lifts Turnip Turnbull up by the scruff of his neck, plonks him in and proceeds to quickly mash him to a pulp.]

Tony (to himself): Ouch...ooooohhhhh...that must hurt...But, anyway, c’est la vie – another leadership rival less to worry about...heh...heh...heh...heh...heh...heh...

[Mildred then leaves the scullery to run some other errands, so Tony the Annoying Orange seizes a further opportunity to cull his opposition. This time he picks on Julie “Bulls-eye” Bishop.]

Tony: Hey, Bulls-eye...Bulls-eye...hey...hey...Bulls-eye...

[Julie is not impressed by the conduct of this ruffian. She also ignores Tony.]

Tony: Hey, Bulls-eye...Bulls-eye...hey...hey...Bulls-eye...

[Julie can’t take any more. In a tone that would make Sybil Fawlty sound like the Avon Lady, she turns on Tony.]

Julie: What do you want, you freakin’ cretin?

Tony: Erm...if there were two bulls-eyes sitting on the table, would one be a copy of the other...heh...heh...heh...heh...heh...heh...

[if Julie had a lip, she would be biting it, hoping this idiot would just go away.]

Tony: Hey, Bulls-eye...Bulls-eye...hey...hey...Bulls-eye...Mouth...

[Just at this moment, George comes back in with a couple of buckets of coal for the range. “Yum”, he says, “I love bulls-eyes”, and proceeds to pop Julie into his mouth, sucking ferociously.]

Tony: Yuk...oooohhhhh...not nice...that fur-coated tongue...those yellow teeth...that foul-smelling tobacco breath...what a way to go...heh...heh...heh...heh...heh...heh...

[So, Tony is delighted at the demise of yet another leadership rival. His next intended victim, however, isn’t a currently serving politician yet, but has shown all the attributes of fitting right into the Coalition groove. It is none other than Declan “Lobster” Stephenson.]

Tony: Hey, Lobster...Lobster...hey...hey...Lobster...

[Declan, to be honest, doesn’t look like your common or garden regular lobster. Unfortunately, he had been born a mutant, with knuckles instead of claws. However, since birth, he had made the best of a bad job by dragging them across the sea floor, unearthing all sorts of tasty morsels to prey on. Now, looking around for his next victim, Declan is studiously ignoring this prattling, annoying, piece of fruit.]

Tony: Hey, Lobster...Lobster...hey...hey...Lobster...get back under a rock...heh...heh...heh...heh...heh...heh...

Declan: Hey – stop stealing my lines, you mongrel...

Tony: Hey, Lobster...Lobster...hey...hey...Lobster...Hammer...

[At that moment, the sickening thud of a hammer being wielded mercilessly by George reverberates within the prison-like walls of the scullery. Soon, Lobster’s flesh is being picked out, piece by piece, from amongst the detritus of his shattered shell.]

Tony: Ooooohhhh...not nice...not a fairy-tale ending...for him anyway...heh...heh...heh...heh...heh...heh...

[And so the carnage continues. Much to Tony the Annoying Orange’s morbid fascination, another pretender, Jonnie the Marble Cake, smothered in fresh cream, is munched to bits for morning tea by George and Mildred.

Joe “The Pie” Hockey is so convinced by Tony that he is the nicest pie in the world, he actually commits hari kari by eating himself! And David Bushby suffers the same fate as Joe by foolishly turning up as a tin of cat-food!

Scotch Morrison is downed in one gulp by a very thirsty George, whilst Christopher Pyne-cone is chucked on the hot-plate and roasted to perfection. And the two busy kitchen-hands also have half of a John “Ring Donut” Howard each for another snack. As Johnny disappears down their cake-holes, the last mocking words he hears from Tony are: “where’s your middle, donut? Is it one of your non-core promises...heh...heh...heh...heh...heh...heh...”

Finally, all of Tony the Annoying Orange’s rivals have gone to greet George and Mildred’s gastric juices. If he had any thumbs, he would be twiddling them, waiting impatiently for another food item rival to turn up. However, he has nothing better to do than listen in to George and Mildred’s conversation.]

Mildred: It looks like they’re finished questioning old Rhubarb Rupert and his gang upstairs, darl...

George: And about time too, love – we were just about to run out of wet lettuce leaves to flog ‘em with...hee...hee...

Mildred: Too true, snookums, too true...All this cooking and preparing isn’t half making me thirsty, though – is there any juice in the fridge, darl?

George: Hah, hon...those greedy bastards upstairs drank it all...But, wait a minute...what about that blender we brought back last year from our holidays in Wales...I’ll just grab it from the cupboard...

Mildred: Good idea, sweetie...I’ll just slice the peel off this nice orange, and then you can give it the works...

[Tony can’t believe his number’s up. His dreams of becoming the Chief Mandarin at the liquescent Lodge are now getting well and truly sliced open by Mildred’s sharp knife. This is bad. But surely the liquefier is going to be a lot worse.]

Tony: Noooooooooooo...not Julia the Juicer!!! I’m too young to die!!! I thought I would have at least two and a half years left in me to be the most annoying person in the world...Aaaarrrrrrgggghhhh...STOP THE JUICER!!!

[Shortly afterwards, George and Mildred are contentedly sipping their freshly-squished orange juice.]

Mildred: Y’know, George...when you were blending that orange, I thought the machine was making some funny noises...

George: Oh, I wouldn’t worry about that, darl...When you juice ‘em, it’s normal to hear the pips squeak...heh...heh...

Why does the media believe it must hold governments to account?

Newspapers should hold governments to account according to John Hartigan, News Limited chairman and chief executive. Interviewed on the ABC’s 7.30 last week by Leigh Sales, the actual words to this effect that appeared in the transcript were: “I think we take them to their official capacity and responsibilities.” This boldly expressed assertion, backed by many other similar statements he made, begs the question: “Who assigned the responsibility for holding governments to account to newspapers or for that matter any section of the media?” I for one certainly haven’t; how many others have? I have always believed that it is the electorate that should hold governments to account, not a third party. Does the media have a role in this process. If so, what is it?

Tony Abbott seems to be in accord with Hartigan. In rejecting the notion of an enquiry into the media, Abbott declared that politicians ‘complaining about the media is like footballers complaining about the umpire’. To use the term ‘umpire’ seems be assigning an even more onerous role to the media, one where it not only holds politicians and governments to account but also imposes penalties for misbehaviour. What is going on here? As it’s an Abbott utterance, not scripted, I expect it is in the category of a glib but superficially plausible off-the-cuff quip without depth or meaning. If pressed, he might not be so willing to be subject to media ‘penalties’, as evidenced by the way he walks away from pressers when the going gets tough.

Let’s begin then by agreeing what we mean by ‘holding to account’. One definition that seems to fit the bill is: “The strength of resolve to hold others to account for agreed targets and to be held accountable for delivering a high level of service.” Although written to apply in a business context, it seems applicable to any endeavour that involves reaching targets and providing service, such as governing. 

In a political context there are several aspects where accountability might apply: ideology, planning and implementation.

Although governments are elected for a variety of reasons, many of which are financial (the hip pocket syndrome), there as still some who vote according to the ideological base on which their preferred party rests. Labor supporters prefer the concept of social justice and concern for workers that that party espouses, whereas Coalition supporters prefer the free enterprise and market based approach of that party. Of course there is now much overlap in ideology between the parties, but the basics are still there for voters to choose.

More important to most voters are the policies and plans that the parties present to the electorate for the time ahead, how they will be implemented and at what cost.

Traditionally governments are expected to detail plans and costings, whereas oppositions are allowed to be much more vague about them. Why that is so can be attributed, at least in part, to different treatment by the media of governments and oppositions, where scrutiny of the latter is too often lacking.

Perhaps as important to voters as plans for the future, is the way in which past policies and plans have been implemented – the Government’s record of achievement. The current federal Government has been criticized heavily for the way it has implemented its policies and plans, by both the Opposition and the media. Hartigan had this to say: “…I think most people would think that the BER program was a sham and very badly organised and I think that some of our newspapers reflected that very strongly. Some of the other issues - the NBN, I think, you know, Australians are asking a lotta questions about the transparency of huge amounts of billions of dollars. So I would suggest that we're acting in the public interest.” Here we have it again: ‘acting in the public interest’, which is code for ‘holding to account’.

The fact that three Orgill Reports have documented a 97% satisfaction rate with the BER seems to have had no influence on the views of Hartigan or his editors. They have made up their minds that the BER was a ‘sham’, whatever that means, wasted a lot of taxpayer’s money, and therefore deserves to be repeatedly castigated by The Australian, which took up the cudgels against this program from the outset and pursued it relentlessly. It seems to believe that it has not only the right, but also the responsibility to pursue this matter. Is this pursuit on behalf of the electorate, as it likes to imply, or is it simply following its own anti-Government agenda?

In his masterful piece on The Failed Estate: If the cap fits… Mr Denmore had this to say on this issue: “A vigorous, questioning press is indeed an asset to a functioning democracy. But only if it employs that vigour against all sides in politics. News Limited does not do this on even the most charitable measure. Instead, it has run a nakedly partisan anti-government line on the NBN, the fiscal stimulus, asylum seekers and any number of issues with the clear intent of breaking down a minority government it has never accepted as legitimate and in which a major part is played by a party it has openly vowed to destroy. What's more, it has done this with little respect for the facts.”

What is it that gives the media the belief that it has an entitlement to act on the electorate’s behalf in holding governments to account?

I submit that this is an assumed entitlement, one that the media has taken on itself, without public authorization, and having enjoyed the power that such entitlement endows, exercises it ruthlessly in pursuit of its own political agenda. Hartigan went on to say: “…we're the only organisation that really takes it up to the Government”, and talking about The Australian says: " really is very strident in the way that it covers politics and I'd argue it's really the only newspaper in Australia that properly covers politics, national politics." He discounted the Fairfax media and the ABC as sympathetic to the Government. Anyone who still doubts the role New Limited believes it has in politics should read the full transcript of the 7.30 interview, particularly about his paper’s assault on Rob Oakeshott. If you are still not convinced of his aggression towards the Gillard Government, look at the video.  

Another of the News Limited newspapers, The Daily Telegraph, has engaged in vigorous anti-Government behaviour ever since the new editor, Paul Whittaker, took over in April. Its negativity has been so gross, turning as it does even positive stories for the Government into negative ones, that it has been named and attacked by Stephen Conroy. He has accused the newspaper of ignoring the basics of journalism - accuracy and balance: "The problem you have when you run campaigns in newspapers is that you are not prepared to give equal coverage to both sides of the argument…the Daily Telegraph is interested in distorting the debate, it's interested in demanding an election campaign purely intended to try and get rid of the Government."

So we have two papers hell bent on attacking the Government with a view to removing it from office; other Murdoch papers are following similar lines.

Conroy acknowledged that newspapers were entitled to take a political position, but my question is whether they are entitled to do so without declaring their hand, instead covertly, and often overtly, undermining the party they oppose by distorting the facts and offering their influential opinions in a way that steers public opinion.

The Murdoch empire has exercised an influence over political debate here and in the US and the UK. In the US, through Fox News, it has become a virtual mouthpiece for the Republican Party, promoting its position relentlessly; some celebrities, such as Sarah Palin, even have their own segments on that network. In the UK we have seen recently how much influence Murdoch has had on politics there. In The Drum Opinion, Stephen Mayne reports on what UK PM David Cameron actually said about the relationship between the Murdoch media and politicians: “Over the decades, on the watch of both Labour leaders and Conservative leaders, politicians and the press have spent time courting support, not confronting the problems. Well, it's on my watch that the music has stopped and I'm saying, loud and clear - things have got to change. In future, politicians have got to stop trying to curry favour with the media, but instead regulate properly. We were all in this world of wanting the support of newspaper groups and, yes, broadcasting organisations and when we are doing that do we spend enough time asking questions about how these organisations are regulated, the malpractices and the rest of it? No, we did not. We have to.”  

If the media has no inherent entitlement to be the voice and opinion of the people, what are its rights and responsibilities?

For my part I expect the media to report the facts, the verifiable facts, and to report them accurately and in full. The media is geared to ascertain the facts, and ought to do so. It then has an obligation to inform the public of them in a balanced and unbiased way, so that voters can use that information to make a judgement about the Government's performance when they come to cast their vote.

Is the media entitled to express a political opinion? It must be in a society that has enshrined free speech as one of its basic tenets. In turn the public is entitled to know what is opinion, as distinct from the facts. Yet opinion and fact are too often inextricably mixed so that it is difficult to know which is which. Murdoch believes that opinion is news, never mind the facts.

So we have Hartigan volunteering on 7.30 that the BER was a ‘sham’, an opinion unsupported by any facts he was prepared to offer. It is simply a sham, don’t ask how or why it was. Opinions such as these are offered endlessly by The Australian, The Daily Telegraph and other News Limited outlets, with little or no confirmatory evidence, opinions deliberately cast before the public, much of which unthinkingly accepts opinion as fact. Indeed because the purpose of these Murdoch outlets is to influence public opinion to their way of thinking, facts are irrelevant and sometimes inconvenient. So they do a typical Murdoch – misrepresent the facts, leave out those that don’t suit their case or dispense with them altogether; instead just offer an opinion.

Later in his piece: If the cap fits… Mr Denmore offers a similar view: “…the media also has a responsibility to get its facts straight and provide honest reporting of primary information before it starts opining on it. It should also separate out straight reporting from analysis and opinion. This is not the way of the Murdoch titles, which revel in openly partisan journalism. And while fearless scrutiny is wonderful, it needs to be applied to everyone - including Tony Abbott. ‘Accuracy, balance and fairness’ were the three principles rammed down the throats of journalism students when I went into the trade and they still should be the bedrock upon which everything is built.” Mr Denmore’s whole article is well worth a read. 

In my opinion the media has a responsibility to give us all the information we need to make a judgement about our governments, information that we otherwise may have difficulty accessing. It has the right to express an opinion so long as it’s clear that it is just that. Its opinions would be worth having if they were based on all the verifiable facts and a well-reasoned argument, but to hope for that from most of today’s media is pie in the sky.

In my view, the media has no right to arrogantly inflict its opinion or its personal biases and preferences on us, devoid of facts and reasoning. Yet that is what it does over and again. It has no entitlement to hold governments to account on our behalf. It ought not to assume that it has a divine right to speak for us, or to influence us to its views. After all, the media is just the media, a group of people: proprietors, editors and journalists, who gather and analyze facts, reach conclusions and offer opinions, which we are entitled to take or leave. They ought not to assume that their opinions are more worthy than ours, and they ought not to believe they have they right to tell us how to think. Yet that’s just what many do, especially those from the Murdoch stable. Let the voters hold governments to account, not the media.

What do you think?