The Gillard - Rudd comparative scorecard

Among the countless words that have been written and uttered since the contest between Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd for leadership became overt, where have you read a comprehensive comparison of the two? All we have had is brief written accounts, short interviews, multiple sound bites of how the leaders have performed in the role of Prime Minister, and over the last few days several revealing articles, mainly about Kevin Rudd.

Kevin Rudd’s announcement of his resignation has opened floodgates of recrimination against him, much of it from his colleagues, who have suppressed what they have felt for a long while out of loyalty to a sitting cabinet minister in a very senior role. Many have doubted the wisdom of colleagues bagging each other so publically. No doubt that will bring its own reward and penalty, but it was done to counter what many politicians and journalists now openly assert has been a longstanding and continuing campaign of destabilization of the Gillard Government by a member of the Inner Cabinet, Kevin Rudd.

In such a contest, exaggeration is unavoidable as each side presses their points. Cherry-picking points to bolster arguments is the norm. We hear the bad things but not the good from each side.

I hope what follows is a balanced appraisal of the two who would want to be Prime Minister. I have identified a number of attributes that it my opinion a Prime Minister of this country ought to be judged against. You may not agree with them all, and may feel others ought to be added. Use the ‘comments’ facility to express your view. I have ordered them in what I believe is roughly their importance. Under each attribute, I give my assessment of how each of the two candidates has fared. Again, express your agreement or otherwise.

I have placed this attribute first because I believe that without courage no one can survive the travails of prime ministership for long. It is not just having the courage on one’s convictions, but also the courage to implement them against opposition and in the face of adversity.

Julia Gillard
Of all her attributes, courage stands out. She has faced opposition to virtually every reform and every piece of legislation, from Tony Abbott and the Coalition, and in many instances from a hostile media more intent on finding fault than reporting the details of the legislation. Despite having to negotiate every move through a minority parliament, she has succeeded in passing 269 pieces of legislation, some of them major reforms in climate change, minerals tax, health, health insurance, disability, education and so on the list goes. She has had the courage of her convictions and the courage to convert them into legislation, without one failure.

Her courage in facing off the hostility of the media, which in many instances has been more vicious than that coming from the pugilistic Tony Abbott, has become legendary. Her refusal to be intimidated by rude journalists is welcome and lauded by her supporters.

She warrants high commendation for courage under fire and in the face of persistent hostility.

Kevin Rudd
When he became Opposition Leader we were impressed with his convictions, especially about climate change: “the greatest moral, economic, social and environmental challenge of our time”. He began work on this well before becoming PM and then implemented action designed to bring about an Emissions Trading Scheme, about which he successfully negotiated a compromise with the then Opposition Leader, Malcolm Turnbull, only to have his legislation frustrated by the overturn of Turnbull and the installation of Tony Abbott, one vehemently opposed to the ETS, elected on a platform of destroying it.

Rudd had plenty of courage then, but this evaporated in the face of resistance from focus groups and opinion polls, so much so that in the wake of the disappointment of Copenhagen, he decided to put an ETS on the back burner, convinced as he was, that it was an electoral liability. There are many still convinced that had he gone to a double dissolution, he would have won the endorsement of the electorate. But his courage failed him, albeit prompted by some around him. That failure is regarded by many commentators as marking the beginning of Rudd’s decline. The electorate seemed disappointed that he set aside, seemingly so easily, this matter of high principal.

Rudd’s courage was on display when he delivered his Apology to Indigenous People. Only those with the hardest of hearts were not moved with Rudd’s sincerity and eloquence.

He exhibited courage and conviction when handling the global financial crisis, which he and his inner team handled with consummate skill and effectiveness, the result of which is there for all to see in the robust state of our economy. He deserves high commendation.

He had the courage to initiate health reforms, but not sufficient to see them through, leaving an incomplete change over which Premiers were left wrangling. Julia Gillard has taken the reforms to their next stage.

He had the ‘courage’ (albeit ‘crazy brave’) to introduce a Resource Super Profits Tax, but he did so with such meagre consultation that it was largely rejected by the resources sector, forcing a major reshaping of the tax. His courage failed him as he tried to push this reform through. He seemed to misjudge the electorate, whom he thought would embrace the idea of levying taxes on wealthy miners and passing it onto the people, and left the reform incomplete and in disarray. It was Julia Gillard who had the courage to renegotiate it and get it through parliament as the Minerals Resource Rent Tax against Coalition resistance and a hostile industry campaign.

In summary, while Julia Gillard has shown, and still does show outstanding courage in going about her work, Kevin Rudd’s early exhibition of courage left us with high hopes, but disappointment when he seemed to lose his nerve.

This attribute is related to the first. If we define ‘character’ as ‘a disposition to express behavior in consistent patterns across a range of situations’, it can be taken to include honesty, integrity, loyalty, and good behaviors or habits.

Julia Gillard
It may be an oxymoron to talk about an ‘honest politician’, so let’s settle for shades of honesty and integrity. In my opinion, Julia Gillard strives to be honest. She is often accused by the media of dishonesty, of being shifty, of looking guilty, especially during media appearances when confronted unexpectedly with leaked information that embarrasses. The recent Four Corners program is an example. In these situations, it falls to the observer’s judgement; those who wish to read dishonesty do so with conviction; others are prepared to see things in a more charitable light.

Her enemies in Opposition and in the media have applied the tag ‘liar’ to her. Who in this country has not heard Alan Jones’ ‘Ju-liar’? Once applied, such a label sticks, and is reinforced every time it is repeated, which is nauseatingly often. For those who mindlessly accept this label as true, almost every utterance she makes is heard through that filter, and confirms it.

She is accused by Kevin Rudd of lying to him in that fateful conversation the night before his removal, by reneging on what he saw as a promise to give him until October to recover his stature. As only three were at that conversation, we may never know what the truth really was. Those who see her as a liar will believe Rudd; others will believe her. We can but leave it at that.

Similarly, loyalty seems oxymoronic when applied to politicians, but we do see it in varying degrees. It appears that it was loyalty to a sitting senior Cabinet minister doing important international work that inhibited Rudd’s colleagues from exposing his bizarre work patterns and his non-consultative and at times dismissive behaviour towards his colleagues. So we were left with generic phrases such as ‘the Government has lost its way’ or ‘was paralysed’ to ‘explain’ why Rudd was ousted. Only now do we hear the extraordinary way in which he worked, frenetically rushing from one task to another, seldom completing any of them, always late, disrespectful of others’ time and opinions, and demanding of staff while discarding or ignoring their efforts. It was only the loyalty of colleagues that shielded Rudd from exposure; only now when he has resigned as Foreign Minister and he is clearly out to regain the prime ministership, have we been told the facts.

Kevin Rudd
In contrast, if one can believe the stories emanating from close Cabinet colleagues and from journalists, Kevin Rudd has been consistently disloyal to his party since he was deposed. While his supporters will justify his actions as reasonable after Julia Gillard’s ‘betrayal’ of him, how can they justify the treachery against his own beloved Labor party that emerging stories portray? There seems little doubt now that the leak to Laurie Oakes that derailed Julia Gillard’s 2010 election campaign came from Rudd or one of his associates. The leak was designed to seriously damage the PM, but Rudd must have known it would damage Labor’s re-election chances, as indeed it did, to the point of Labor not having a majority. Did he want Labor to lose so as to demonstrate that they couldn’t win without him, an assertion he is now putting about as his rationale for trying to wrest leadership from the PM?

There are many other instances of Rudd’s white-anting of the PM. He has backgrounded many journalists and editors that he would make a bid for leadership and a second one if he failed, something that has not been denied by them. Journalists exaggerate, but they don’t fabricate such stories. He is reported to have sabotaged legislation the Government is proposing. One example is his alleged negotiation with representatives of the pokie industry to water down the Government’s proposed legislation. When a senior minister from inner Cabinet is actively eroding his own party’s legislative program for his own ends, it is gross disloyalty and betrayal. He does not deny that he has been in touch with journalists but says that he will not reveal what dealings he had with them. This weekend he refused to authorize them to reveal the existence of such meetings if they had occurred, tantamount to admitting they did. His supporters will deny the validity of these accusations, but there seems little evidence to dispute their authenticity.

Such disloyalty and treachery is reprehensible in the extreme - such actions in wartime would be considered treason.

On the loyalty front, Kevin Rudd scores very poorly. In my opinion, Julia Gillard does much, much better.

This attribute is important in this leadership contest, as Kevin Rudd has nominated the issue of ‘trust’ as the key element in his announcement that he will contest the leadership. He said: "Rightly or wrongly, Julia has lost the trust of the Australian people. Starting on Monday I want to start restoring that trust.” It is a reprise of Howard’s tactic that worked so well for him in 2004; no doubt Rudd hopes it will for him too.

The caucus will need to assess the validity of his assertion and the plausibility that he could restore trust. He has pleaded to the people of Australia to press their local members to support him on this basis.

While initially Kevin Rudd was seen as a visionary, a fresh new face with an abundance of ideas, it gradually dawned on even his greatest admirers that the vision, though high sounding, was not being translated consistently into outcomes. In his later years, he found a way of deferring action, sometimes seemingly paralyzed by indecision. We noted how in his last year as PM his confidence waned when confronted by tough interviewers like Kerry O’Brien. He seemed intimidated. The lucid speaker morphed into a hesitant one with cliché-ridden talk. Was that because he had so little to show to back up his rhetoric?

In contrast, Julia Gillard has been pilloried by the media for having no vision. ‘What does she stand for’ became the catch cry. Yet over and again she has spoken of her vision – a fair and prosperous country with opportunity for all, a great education and skills training to equip everyone for a rewarding job, a robust economy, support for small business, fair workplaces, a reformed health system, action on climate change – need I go on – you have heard it over and again.

Julia has a vast and thrilling vision for Australia and all its people; if only the media would facilitate its promulgation instead of tearing it down, everyone would know about it.

Competence and management style
Competence is expected from anyone in high office. Competence is related to management style and pattern of work. It is here that one of the crucial differences between Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd is obvious.

Julia Gillard
She has a reputation for hard work, persistence, a methodical work pattern characterized by purpose, stability, consistency, discipline, and tenacity until the job is done. Her record for getting things done and getting legislation through a minority government is legendary. Her performance speaks for itself. Her negotiating skills have enabled her to get through legislation in parliament that has previously been impossible – means testing of the health insurance rebate is a recent example.

Two hundred and sixty nine bills passed, many encompassing historic policy reforms, is a laudable achievement.

Kevin Rudd
His accomplishments in handling the GFC and in initiating work on climate change have been acknowledged. His Apology will remain one of his supreme achievements. His expertise in international relations is accepted; he has been a fine Foreign Minister. What a pity he has resigned from this post; we can ill afford to lose such talent.

But these accomplishments have been overshadowed by his way of working and dealing with others. He is supremely intelligent, but every description of Rudd’s work pattern reveals chaotic, dysfunctional, unstable, unpredictable behaviour. He is a control freak. His documentation was said to be disorderly and often incomplete and his manner of dealing with it erratic. His disdain for most of his colleagues, his unwillingness or incapacity to involve them in decision making, his habitual lateness for important meetings and his disregard for those he kept waiting, his irregular hours, the demands he made on his colleagues and staff, yet his indifference to their response to his demands, have earned him a reputation for being an unremittingly difficult colleague, and an almost impossible person with which to work.

He seems to have a boundless capacity for work and can live with just a few hours sleep. This was seen as a laudable trait until it was gradually realized that it was not accompanied by a steady flow of work completed on time. Rhetoric abounded to coincide with the media cycle but there were disappointingly small outcomes. Soon the slogan ‘all talk, no action’ was coined and repeated endlessly by both the Coalition and the media.

When it comes to productivity, the product of competence and management efficiency, Julia Gillard wins hands down.

This is where Julia Gillard reigns supreme. Her cabinet colleagues tell of the smoothness of her Cabinet meetings, her capacity to include all who can contribute, her skill at fruitful relationships, her willingness to listen, the warmth of her personality, her friendliness.

These attributes are in stark contrast to those of Kevin Rudd, who seems afflicted with virtually the opposite of all of these. The result in his later years was a dysfunctional and at times a paralysed government, an ineffective Cabinet system, and an impotent PM.

Communication skills;
Julia Gillard
Our PM has been lampooned for ‘not being able to get the message across’; more charitable journalists concede that she has many good messages to sell, but insist she fails continually. Why is this so? Is it her ocker drawl, or her frequent repetition of some phrases that grate, or her non-verbal signals, or her schoolmarmish approach to questions, or her dress? Is it what she says or how she says it? To me all this remains a mystery – I have never had any trouble understanding every word she utters. If I were speaking, I would use less repetition, but that simply reflects my style, and who is to judge what is the best style. Journalists certainly think they can and mark the PM down.

She is said to be charming and personable among small gatherings, and the TV clips we see bear this out. But in more formal settings and press conferences she is different and according to the pundits, ineffective. At her recent Adelaide press conference to announce the ballot for leadership, I thought she spoke very well, almost entirely off-the-cuff, and answered many questions, some quite rude, with clarity and laudable brevity. What else do journalists or the public, want?

Kevin Rudd
The contrast with Rudd is stark. He is a brilliant communicator, whether in supermarkets or on the big stage. He has a pleasantly resonant voice, a good turn of phrase, a capacity to write good speeches for big occasions – remember his ‘Apology’ speech – and a sense of place and timing that makes him popular with his audiences and the people at large. He wins hands down over Julia Gillard on public speaking.

I believe this is why he rates so well in the polls as the preferred PM. People at large like him. He is a ‘hail fellow, well met’ who is thronged in public places. People want to touch him and talk with him. He is almost messianic, something not lost on Kevin himself.

Poll addiction
I consider the addiction of political parties, journalists and the media with polling, a pox on our political system, and wrote about this in How opinion polls poison politics. Much of the contemporary turmoil is the direct result of polling, polling which shows Kevin Rudd consistently ahead of Julia Gillard, and Tony Abbott, as preferred Labor leader. There has been a spate of them this weekend showing the same thing, but not all that different from previous polls. But what do they signify? In my opinion they signify approval of the Kevin Rudd they know, the one they have seen in shopping centres, in the street, waving as he gets into cars, in hospitals, outside church, with his lovely family, in arranged ‘pressers’, or in celebrity TV slots. But there is another Kevin Rudd that they don’t know, because little about the other Kevin has reached the general public, kept hidden by his colleagues and media somewhat reluctant to expose some of the nasty side. Now that Rudd has challenged though, the veil has been lifted, and colleagues and journalists feel liberated to tell all. And it’s not pretty.

David Marr in his Quarterly Essay: Power Trip. The Political Journey of Kevin Rudd says: “Rudd had sold himself to the Australian people as a new kind of leader: a man of intellect and values out to reshape the future. If he isn’t that, people are asking, what is he? And who is he? … Millions of words have been written about him since he emerged from the Labor pack half a dozen years ago, but Rudd remains hidden in full view.” That Essay powerfully details Rudd’s pattern of work and behaviour. I could scarcely bring myself to believe it when it appeared in June 2010, such was my faith in Rudd, but sadly what Marr said has turned out to be the case. He repeated his claims in Friday night’s Lateline. Read the transcript here. Malcolm Farr too had much to say on the same show, confirming Rudd’s backgrounding of journalists and business people against Julia Gillard’s legislative program, describing her to a senior businessman as an ‘f bomb (inaudible) bitch’. There are now strong suspicions he or his agent leaked the story to Laurie Oakes, who incidentally, perhaps feeling somewhat chastened about what his leak did to the Gillard 2010 election campaign, has featured an unflattering secondhand story about Rudd’s behaviour in his regular column.

Then there was an exposé by James Button, who was Rudd’s speechwriter for a while, in The Age National Times of 25 February that painted a most unflattering picture of his chaotic patterns of work in We need to talk about Kevin . Here’s just one paragraph: “..Rudd's prime ministership failed, and the failure was, above all, his own. The story of his government, and of its end, has still not been fully told. The consequence has been deep damage to Australians' faith in politics and in government.” He goes on to describe the chaotic Rudd – the Mr Hyde. Anyone still needing to be convinced of this should read the whole article.

Finally, can anyone explain to me why intelligent politicians believe that Kevin Rudd can lead them to victory based on contemporary popularity polls, taken eighteen months out from an election, and reflecting only the public’s opinion of the Kevin they know. What would they say if they really knew the other Kevin, the one who found himself incapable of governing? In my view, these polls are meaningless as predictors, and to base voting for a leader on them is grotesque and stupid to boot. And what is the point of victory under Rudd if he is incapable of governing because of his personality, which he cannot change? These polls are simply personality contests; Monday’s ballot is about who can govern best.

Where does that leave us?
As a strong supporter of Kevin Rudd from the outset, I for one found it difficult to accept the emerging stories of his dysfunctional behaviour, especially after he started so well. I did not want to believe them. But believe them I now must. Was he like that all along? I suspect so; it just took us two years to find that out.

From what I hope you will see as an objective analysis, it is my unavoidable conclusion that Julia Gillard is the only one properly equipped to govern this nation. Kevin Rudd is not. I hope caucus agrees.

What do you think?

Tony Abbott, we are sick of your lies

It is absurdly ironic that you, the one who has admitted on national TV that sometimes you do not tell the truth, should spend so much of your time and energy demonizing Julia Gillard as an inveterate liar, not to be trusted, even picking up on your favourite shock jock’s tag: ‘Ju-liar’. You have been relentless in labeling her a liar while day after day you lie bald-facedly to the Australian public.

Alcoa lies
Only last week you lied by attributing Alcoa’s decision to review the viability of its Point Henry aluminum smelter to the carbon tax, although the MD of Alcoa had specifically said that the carbon tax was not a factor. Later you said that Alcoa’s problems made it the worst time to introduce the tax, maybe afraid you had gone too far. But not willing to let the matter lie, you and the Leader of the Nationals both asked the same question of the PM in Question Time last Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, selectively quoting from a Treasury assessment which mentioned that over a 60% reduction in aluminum output could occur consequent to the carbon tax, but failing to mention that the compensation to the industry for the carbon tax would reduce the cost to it to no more than a one cent rise in the Australian dollar. You failed to acknowledge what the MD of Alcoa had said was the real cause of the company’s difficulty: the high Australian dollar, low aluminum prices and the high price of the commodities used in production.

On Wednesday, you attributed the delay in the $3 billion upgrade of the Alcoa alumina refinery at Wagerup, WA to the upcoming carbon tax, but the PM read out a statement from Alcoa to the contrary, stating it was due to its inability to obtain a satisfactory supply of natural gas. By omitting those facts you set out to deceive – you lied. Still not satisfied you had done enough damage, you then sent out Eric Abetz on Lateline on Thursday to insist that the job losses foreshadowed by Alcoa and also those announced by Qantas and other companies, were ‘preemptive action’ by these companies in anticipation of the carbon tax. No evidence of this was evinced. Your lies multiply. We are tired of them. When are we ever going to hear the truth from you? You are a political opportunist to whom telling the truth is irrelevant.

Budget lies
You, and your two other finance spokesmen lied about your budgetary goals. You seemed unable to agree whether you would produce a surplus in your first budget. You and the other two vacillated until you were reduced to saying that if Labor can produce a surplus budget, the Coalition would. But we still have Andrew Robb being non-committal and insisting the debt be paid off before committing to expenditure, Joe Hockey loudly proclaiming there will be a Coalition surplus budget despite giving tax cuts and foregoing revenue, and you having a bet both ways. Who is telling the truth? We know you all lie, but why not at least lie consistently?

The Howarth ‘audit’ lies
You lied to us about your so-called ‘savings’ that would enable you to reach your budgetary goals. The $50 billion savings you trumpeted at the time of the last budget was shown to have a $10.6 billion so-called ‘black hole’, which you and the others steadfastly denied, citing ‘the fifth largest accounting firm in Australia’, the Perth-based WHK Howarth, as having certified the correctness of your figures in an ‘audit’. That was a lie. Howarth did not do a proper audit. All they said was that they reviewed the Coalition’s costing estimates and that ‘based on the assumptions provided’, they were satisfied they had been accurately prepared and could be funded from the 2010-11 budget.

Subsequently, the professional conduct tribunal of the Institute of Chartered Accountants imposed fines of $5000 each on Geoffrey Phillip Kidd and Cyrus Patell of WHK Howarth after a complaint over a report they compiled about the Coalition's 2010 election costings. You knew that the assumptions upon which your figures were based were to be kept secret so that neither Treasury nor anyone else could check them. Yet examining assumptions is a normal part of an audit process. You and Joe Hockey insisted it was a proper audit, and when challenged by economically literate journalists, Hockey fobbed them off by accusing them of engaging in a semantic argument. Even after the finding of improper conduct by WHK Howarth accountants, you still insisted on the validity of these costings of your election promises, and you still perpetuate the lie that they have been audited and are accurate. You even say that you are proud of them.

The $70 billion budget black hole
The lies go on. You claim that you have made savings of $70 billion in the context of this year’s budget, but we have seen no details. How can we believe you? The figure is in question; some of your finance troika go along with it, others don’t. When will you give us the details of the amount and how it is constituted? Will it be subject to the same shonky ‘audit’ as last time? You refuse to use the independent Parliamentary Budget Office, no doubt out of fear it will expose flaws in your costings. Economists ask how $70 billion can be removed from the budget without severe reductions in services, while still giving tax cuts and other benefits. You don’t answer. You seem to expect the people to just take you at your word that all will be well – magic pudding style!

’Demolishing the NBN’ lies
You continue to claim that by ‘demolishing the NBN’ you will save the cost of the network, although you know this does not contribute to the bottom line of the budget. It is a capital expense and an investment that will yield a dividend for the government. Yet you still claim ‘scrapping it’ will be a ‘saving’. That is a lie, and you know it.

While we are talking about the NBN, you still insist you will halt work to save money and add to your ‘savings’. You know you won’t do that. It will be too far advanced. Only someone disinterested in the damage that might do to our economy would even contemplate this, but you say you will. What about the 37,000 jobs that a fully operational NBN will create? What about the boost to the new digital economy it will provide, with all the jobs that implies? How can we believe you when you talk about demolishing the NBN?

The Home Insulation Program lies
Your lies traverse all areas of government. Take the Home Insulation Program that you have demonized from the outset. JohnL has exposed your lies on The Political Sword in his two part piece: Absurdities abound as Abbott wages a crass war and Abbott’s amazing amnesia on insulation inquiry. You said: “There were the pink batts that this government could not put into roofs for free without houses catching fire right around Australia”. That was a lie. Official records show that there were no fires in 99.98% of the million ceilings insulated. Two in ten thousand (224) had fires and just thirty had structural damage. This rate of fires was less than occurred prior to the HIP. Yet you pilloried the Government, and also made them out to be killers of insulation workers, although you knew full well that OH&S is a state responsibility, that it was breaches of OH&S that were responsible, and that no blame is attributable to the Federal Government. You and Greg Hunt even accused the responsible minister, Peter Garratt, of ‘industrial manslaughter’, a monstrous charge, which you had no compunction in making.

All we have heard from you about the HIP is lies, lies, and more lies. You said “No good government would ever spend more than a billion dollars putting pink batts into roofs and a billion dollars to take them out again.” That is a lie. You know perfectly well that the cost of rectification of faulty insulation installation is nowhere near that figure. Around twenty percent of ceilings had inspections but only 4.2% had rectification works to make them safe. How could that cost ‘a billion dollars’? That was a lie and you must have known that it was, but you said it over and again.

You and Greg Hunt insisted that there must be a Royal Commission into the ‘scandal’, and that you would institute it once in office. But there was no mention of it in your election speech. Did you ever intend to conduct one, or was this just another of your lies?

The Building the Education Revolution lies
The Building Education Revolution was another fertile ground for your lies, aided and abetted by Matthew Franklin, who got his teeth into it with relish, and The Australian, which ran a special section week after week to highlight the BER’s ‘waste and mismanagement’. You knew that speed of rollout was essential to achieve a stimulatory effect during the GFC and that in such circumstances there was bound to be some overcharging. But of course you never allowed for that when you condemned the Government’s effort to save construction jobs, stimulate the economy, and in the process replace or add to ageing school infrastructure that had ran down during the Howard era. You labelled some of it ‘Julia Gillard Memorial Halls’, yet your Liberal parliamentarians were at openings of them, enjoying the accolades these fine new buildings evoked.

You persisted with the ‘waste and mismanagement’ mantra even after three comprehensive reports from the BER Implementation Taskforce chaired by businessman Brad Orgill showed over 97% satisfaction with the program. The report said: “Overall, the Taskforce found that the majority of education authorities attained value for money and delivered quality education facilities. The Final Report notes that the program has touched every community in Australia, and has delivered substantial stimulus.” There was some overcharging, mostly in NSW where the rollout was fastest. There was some waste, but overall there was value for money, not billions of dollars wasted as you asserted. Your lying propaganda so convinced the public that a recent survey showed that an overall majority went along with your mantra. But the majority of those who had children at the schools where improvements had been made were well satisfied with the program, a significant finding. Those who benefited praised the program; those who didn’t benefit directly believed your lies, and went along with you. How do you feel about deceiving the electorate so blatantly?

Global Financial Crisis lies
Let’s go back a little further, to the Global Financial Crisis. The view of almost every reputable economist, here and overseas, is that the Rudd Government did a sterling job in shielding this nation from the crisis. Wayne Swan has been named ‘World’s Best Treasurer’ by Euromoney magazine, the IMF and World Bank continue to laud Australia’s efforts, and governments around the world indicate how they envy our position: our low debt, our low inflation, our low interest rates, our growth close to trend, 200,000 jobs protected during the GFC leading to low unemployment (now 5.1%, resulting in more Australians being in work than at any time in our history), our jobs creation (46,300 in January and 760,000 since the Labor Government was elected), and they say so repeatedly.

For the first time in our history, Australia has triple A ratings from all three rating agencies. Yet you, and your shadow Treasurer have the temerity to attempt to discredit what the Government has achieved, to attribute our strong situation almost entirely to prior reforms legislated by previous governments, previous Howard Government surpluses, a strong well-regulated banking system and Reserve Bank monetary policy that reduced interest rates to record lows. Of course all of these factors are relevant, but to deny the value of all the other actions the Government took – bank guarantees, cash supplements to promote retail trade, and targeted stimulus programs such as the HIP and BER to support the construction industry and local suppliers, is not just mean-spirited, it is another disingenuous tissue of lies with which you smother every good thing this Government does. Joe Hockey even queried whether the crisis ever existed when he said: “What recession?” You never give credit no matter how deserving; instead you lie, even though this flies in the face of informed opinion. We are sick and tired of your lies.

The minority government failure lie
One of your most laughable lies is that the minority government ‘experiment’ has been a failure. You assert this over and again despite the Gillard Government having so far passed 269 pieces of legislation without one failure, despite trenchant opposition from you and the Coalition at every step. Some failure! Some lie!

Changes to the private health insurance rebate lies
‘Addicted to tax’ is one of your favourite slogans to characterize the Government. In last week’s debate about the health rebate changes, you even chose to affix the tag ‘health tax’ to this measure. I noticed that you soon dropped this deceptive description, but I bet it reappears in your election campaign to push your line that the Government is ‘addicted to tax’. Your health tax label applied to the levy, one that was in your legislation, that was applicable if wealthy people refused to take out private health insurance, a stick the Howard Government introduced to push the wealthy into insurance instead of sponging on the public health system. The new legislation simply adjusted that upward. But to you it was a ‘health tax’. Another lie. Last time legislative changes were made to the rebate, Joe Hockey predicted a million would leave private health insurance; since then 800,000 have joined. Another lie, or a major miscalculation?

You threaten to reverse the legislation if you are elected, but say nothing about how you will manage the loss of $2.4 billion from your budget bottom line over the forward estimates, a loss that will amount to $100 billion by 2050. You are now using the qualifying words ‘as soon as possible’ no doubt realizing that you would be cutting off your nose to spite your face, all for a few votes, most of which would come from your supporters anyway. So already you are promising something you have no intention of delivering, as you know full well you will need every cent to balance your budget and achieve a surplus. This will be shown to be another Abbott lie.

Boat people lies
I could go on and on, but let’s touch briefly on your lies about the processing of asylum seekers. Both the Coalition and the Government favour offshore processing, which could begin if only you voted for Government legislation to allow any government to select its own offshore processing arrangements. But you refuse, insisting it has to be your preferred approach – incarceration on Nauru. You insist that this, TPV’s, and turning boats around will ‘work’ in deterring boat arrivals, as you assert they did during the Howard era, when arrivals did fall. You refuse to acknowledge that circumstances in world migration now are radically different from that in the Howard years; you refuse to accept expert advice that Nauru will no longer be a deterrent, you just press on with your deception knowing that much of the electorate will swallow your paltry reasoning.

You claim that within weeks Nauru could be ready for receiving boat people, although you know it is partly derelict and is currently used for other purposes. You know about the water shortages, and the substantial costs of readying the venue, but you are in denial. You get a ‘catering firm’ to give you a quote on the cost of restoration of Nauru, which you will not expose to scrutiny. It is much lower than experts from the public service have estimated. You know the quote is shonky, but you don’t care, so long as it makes the Government look incompetent. If you get into Government you will simply bury your miscalculations.

What about your threat to turn the boats around? You say it was done before and can be done again. Yet you know how many boats were disabled to avoid return, you know of the tragic deaths from such actions, you remember the 353 who died on SIEVX, but you still insist you will turn them around. That is a lie. You won’t because you can’t. Will you use your ‘boat-phone’ to instruct naval commanders to ‘turn them around’? Will you back off if they say that would be dangerous? I bet you will. Your hairy-chested threat is a charade, another lie to elicit redneck support.

Tell us why turning boats around and returning them to Indonesia is legitimate when that country has said it doesn’t want them back? Do you care about the damage such action would do to diplomatic relations with Indonesia? You threaten to send the boats back but you know that Indonesia is not a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention, although that is the very reason you state you won’t support Labor’s Malaysia arrangements. What rank hypocrisy.

To cap it all off you then seized on a recent media beat-up that boat people in detention were being provided with ‘luxury items’ such as TV sets, which Chris Bowen explained were just basic items for living, not for the individual, but for the dwelling. You insisted that this was sending the wrong message by ‘rolling out the red carpet’. You know this and all your utterances about boat people are designed to garner votes, and are simply a bundle of lies.

Lies about the ‘tax repeals’
This piece is already long enough, so let me finish by referring to the carbon and minerals taxes, which you have given a ‘blood oath’ to repeal. You insist you will do that, as well as reversing last week’s changes to the private health insurance levy, thereby sacrificing many billions of dollars of revenue, but you insist you will still give tax cuts and introduce your extravagant PPL scheme. This is where your $70 billion in ‘savings’ will come into play. You know you can’t make the sums add up, but you still persist, although I hear you now conceding that ‘it won’t be easy’. No doubt this is a prelude to claiming that Labor has left the budget in such a state that you cannot keep your promises and a surplus budget in your first year – core and non-core promises all over again! You say you will take away the tax breaks to families and businesses and the pension increases that accompany the carbon tax, along with the increases in superannuation, but you know you won’t and certainly can’t without a double dissolution election. You know the electoral backlash would be so severe that despite all your hairy-chested ‘promises’, you will go to water and blame Labor for your default.

We are sick and tired of your lies, your misrepresentations, your deceit, which you perpetrate day after day because virtually no one in the MSM has the guts to confront you with your deception, and when a marginally less timid journalist tries, you avoid giving an answer and close down the questions. Without a compliant MSM you would not be able to get away with your disingenuousness; you would be exposed for what you are.

To return to the beginning, the irony of you of all people lambasting our PM for lying is risible. It is not just a simple case of the pot benignly calling the kettle black, it is a premeditated, venomous, ongoing personal campaign to discredit our PM, to burn into the public psyche the belief that she is a lair, not to be trusted, and therefore to be thrown out of office because this renders her ‘incapable of governing’, despite her having passed 269 pieces of legislation. It is reprehensible in the extreme, based as it is on a long trail of lies and misrepresentations.

Finally, should any pro-Coalition reader wish to label this piece ‘the rant of an old lefty’, as I suspect some might, respond by exposing any facts in this piece you consider incorrect. To echo the words of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, you are entitled to hold a different opinion from mine, but you are not entitled to your own facts.

Abbott’s amazing amnesia on insulation inquiry

Federal Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, developed an amazing amnesia about the repeated Opposition calls for a Royal Commission into the Home Insulation Program (HIP).

Just 53 days after the call on June 16, 2010 by Shadow Minister for Climate Action, Environment and Heritage, Greg Hunt, for a Royal Commission and 24 days after the July 15, 2010 majority Senate committee report recommending the same thing, Abbott launched the Coalition 2010 election campaign in Brisbane on August 8, 2010.

The only reference in his policy speech to insulation was the following:

“Within a month of taking office, the Coalition will reassure people frightened that Labor’s insulation batts might burn down their homes. In addition to the existing inspection programme, we will reimburse householders who organize their own inspections by qualified tradesmen and further reimburse householders whose insulation has to be removed.” So, not only does the idea of a Royal Commission disappear from the Coalition radar, so too does Hunt’s calls that every home “should be inspected” let alone “has to be inspected”. In fact, the Coalition adopts Labor’s inspection programme and tells householders who have any worry about the safety of homes that they can arrange their own inspections by qualified tradesmen, then seek reimbursement and the Coalition will reimburse those whose insulation has to be removed.

Suddenly, it is all right for “the protections that have been recommended and the warnings given by the Melbourne Fire Brigade, the National Electrical and Communications Association and the Electrical Trades Union” to be ignored.

Attention span of gnats
Mainstream media journalists, together with radio shock jocks, gave plenty of publicity to the various Opposition calls for a Royal Commission into the HIP. Was it incompetence, bias, or the fact that most of these journalists seem to have the attention span of gnats that less than two months after Hunt’s call and a little more than three weeks after the Senate majority report call for the Royal Commission, Abbott was not questioned about this omission or, indeed, of why it was no longer necessary to inspect every home?

Then, some 15 weeks after Abbott’s policy speech where there was no commitment to either a Royal Commission or inspection of every house, Hunt repeated his call for a Royal Commission when he said in the House on November 22, 2010:

“Four young lives were lost through association with this program. The coroner’s cases will follow. There have been prosecutions, but it is absolutely clear that there have never been a full and thorough investigation of the linkages that this program has had to those tragedies. That is why the opposition fully supports a royal commission. The Auditor- General was not empowered to examine the linkages between these tragedies and the program: the quality of the program design at ministerial level, the execution of ministerial conduct, or any of those elements. The Auditor-General was only empowered to deal with the program delivery by the administration, not by the executive. It is a fundamental failing of transparency under this government and there must be, and should be, a full royal commission, and we will prosecute that case going forward.”

Besides being factually wrong, besides ignoring the fact that the Opposition squibbed calling for a Royal Commission in its 2010 election policy speech, this attempt to justify a Royal Commission by using the four deaths is squalid political opportunism.

Far from there being no full and thorough investigation of the deaths, the three Queensland deaths resulted in the companies involved being charged with breaching Queenslandʼs Electrical Safety Act 2002 and being fined $135,000, $100,000 and $100,000 for these breaches.

One company was fined on September 17, 2010 (two months before Huntʼs statement in Parliament) and another was charged on May 16, 2010 (some six months before) and a third was fined $100,000 on August 30, 2011. The charges against the three companies following investigations by Queenslandʼs Electrical Safety Office and Workplace Health and Safety Queensland, both part of the Stateʼs Department of Justice and Attorney-General.

Installation safety a State matter
Hunt obviously could not bring himself to acknowledge that the responsibility for ensuring safety in installing insulation rested with the States and Territories under their occupational health and safety and fair trading laws. He could not accept what the Hawke report said about workplace safety, namely “clearly there would seem to have been some unsafe work practices by employers operating under the HIP.”

The responsibilities for workplace safety with the HIP were spelled out to the Senate inquiry on February 22, 2010 by Robyn Kruk, then Secretary, Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts in her evidence to the Opposition-dominated Senate inquiry at ECA 3, when she said:

“Firstly, the department took advice on technical, safety and compliance issues. They consulted with the industry and training bodies. They took external advice on risk assessment and they had a governance structure with external representation to ensure a wide range of views could be rolled out as the program commenced. Secondly, the department had a clear design whereby the contractual relationship was between the household and the installer. The installers were not contracted by the government to install insulation under the program. Information was, however, given to the householders to support them to make informed choices. Thirdly, as I have indicated, we relied on the existing state and territory workplace, occupational health and safety and fair trading laws. Employers in the insulation industry have always been required to meet these laws. Employers have a clear obligation and duty of care to their employees, and where a householder is unable to resolve a concern over product quality or the installation job with the installer they have the recourse to the state or territory fair trading bodies.”

Hunt’s call for a Royal Commission in his speech on June 16, 2010 relied heavily on the fact that there had been 174 house fires in the 50 weeks from the effective start of the HIP on July 1, 2009 until June 16, 2010.

Another 50 weeks later, on June 2, 2011, Hunt issued a media release headed “Scrutiny denied: Government Blocks Royal Commission into Insulation Debacle” in which he referred to his private member’s bill to set up a Royal Commission (his third attempt) being voted down in the House of Representatives.

In this media release, Hunt went on to say: “The $2.45 billion insulation scheme was a massive waste of taxpayers’ money, and was linked to 200 house fires, 1500 electrified roofs, and four tragedies.”

Huge fall in figures for fires
Hunt seems blissfully unaware of the actual meaning of the house fires figure he was quoting. On Hunt’s figures, the total number of house fires dropped from the 174 in the 50 weeks from July 1, 2009 to June 16, 2010 to 26 in the next 50 weeks to June 2, 2011 to give a total of 200. Actually, the official figure at June 1, 2011 was 207 fires, but this still means that in the second 50 weeks the total had dropped from 174 to 33.

Apologists for Hunt can forget any argument that the end of the HIP in February 2010 made it inevitable that the fire numbers would drop after June 16, 2010.

The reason is that Hunt went to considerable lengths in his June 2010 speech to quote various sources predicting an increase in insulation fires.

He quotes Commander Ian Hunter, head of the Melbourne Fire Brigade (MFB) fire units, saying on March 16, 2010:

“My gut feeling is that what weʼre seeing is a bit like a war zone – the war might be over but all the mines are still there” .

Hunt also quotes fire investigator Rod East as telling radio 3AW on May 31, 2010 that he was worried about the risk of even more insulation fires over winter. When East was asked by the radio interviewer whether he believed that there could be further deaths from home insulation fires and whether they were inevitable, East is reported to have said: “Unfortunately, yes.”

(It was misleading, to say the least, of Hunt to quote this response and the radio interviewer in asking about whether “he believed there would be further deaths from home insulation fires and whether they were inevitable”. Hunt would have known, and the interviewer should have known, that there had been no confirmed deaths from insulation fires attributed to the HIP. Hunt was obviously unconcerned about having the impression of home insulation fires causing deaths being recorded in Hansard).

Hunt also refers to a statement by MFB Commander Frank Stockton on the same day ( May 31, 2010) saying there had been a “marked increase” in insulation fires and warning that with winter arriving “these fires wonʼt stop” because “more lights were being left on for longer which would lead to more roof insulation fires”.

(In fact, figures supplied to the CSIRO by the Australasian Fire and Emergency Services Authorities Council show that in 2010 there were 31.5 fires attributed to HIP in January and February, 32.5 in the autumn months of March, April and May and 12 in the winter months of June, July and August – (see Table 5.5 for months 40, 41 and 42 on page 36 of the CSIRO report).

Purpose was to create community fear
Huntʼs purpose in quoting these officials in June 2010 can only be to create fear in the community by leaving the impression that there was going to be a rise in home insulation fires, particularly in the coming winter months.

Yet in his June 2011 media release, Hunt fails to set the record straight about the dramatic fall in house fires, nor explain how his earlier claims (and those of the experts he quoted) just did not eventuate in the 12 months after they made them.

Far from a rise in home insulation fires after June 2010, the official figures quoted above show that in the 2010-11 year, the total number of house fires was 33, a fall of 141 on the previous 50 weeks. (To put that in perspective, the generally accepted incidence of home insulation fires before the HIP was 70-80 for around a maximum of 80,000 insulations a year).

The CSIRO figures using official fire reports, which ends at December 2010, show that in the six months to December 31, 2010, there were 17.5 fires attributed in HIP homes – 12 definite and 11 classed as unsure of which the CSIRO allocates half to the HIP. This indicates the accuracy of the 33 total for the full 2010-11 year.

The Opposition, with enthusiastic backing from large sections of the mainstream media, carried out a successful (though unprincipled) campaign against the HIP. It was a crass war on a program that was much more successful than most people believed.

Most of the media adopted an unquestioning attitude, simply regurgitating the untruths of Abbott and Hunt.

Why Victoria had the most fires
Just to clear up some other questions that might arise.

The first is that the CSIRO report (commissioned by the Federal Government) explains why Victoria with 270,431 (24.4 per cent) of the then 1,108,151 insulations records 50.2 per cent of the then 207 confirmed fires and has a much higher ratio than either NSW (with fewer fires and more insulations) or Queensland (with less than one-quarter of the fires but only slightly fewer insulations).

The CSIRO says: “Further the safety risk rate is higher in Victoria and the ACT relative to the other states. In particular, about half the differences attributable to States are in fact attributable to the presence of previous insulation, which occurs in a higher proportion of dwellings in these states. The presence of previous insulation increases the safety risk rate by approximately a factor of 2.5.”

On page 94, the CSIRO Risk Profile Analysis shows that Victoria had 53.0 per cent of dwellings with previous insulation, NSW had 19.8 per cent and Queensland 8.2 per cent.

Another point that needs to be made is that there still has not been any charge over the death of Marcus Wilson, 19, during the Sydney heat wave on November 20, 2009. Both Hunt and Ray Hadley referred to this death in an interview on February 7, 2011.

Apparently it did not occur to Hunt, a shadow Cabinet Minister with two staff, to try to find out why before going on the Hadley show. Nor did Hadley, who would have the resources of 2GB to follow up on this case.

But then, why bother with trying to provide accurate information when they can play political football!

The Opposition, with enthusiastic backing from large sections of the mainstream media, did succeed in its unprincipled campaign against the HIP. It was a crass war on a program that was successful in providing jobs for unskilled workers at the height of the global financial crisis. The program also resulted in a lower rate of insulation fires than previously.

Articles demonstrating the success of the HIP can be found in the analysis of the CSIRO report by Possum Comitatus on April 24, 2011 and “A mess? A shambles? A disaster?” by Rodney Tiffen, Emeritus Professor of Government and International Relations at the University of Sydney.

These articles show just how how unprincipled has been the political campaign against the HIP, almost from its inception. Abbott and Hunt waged this campaign with claims such as “houses catching fire right around Australia” and by demonstrating a blatant disregard for truth or fairness in the pursuit of their political mission.

Absurdities abound as Abbott wages a crass war

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott is becoming more absurd every time he attacks the Home Insulation Program (HIP).

The latest examples were his exaggerated claims about the HIP on November 24, 2011 in the House of Representatives and his January 31, 2012 address to the National Press Club.

In introducing “a definite matter of public importance” for discussion in the House of Representatives on November 24, 2011 (the last sitting day for the year) he said: “There were the pink batts that this government could not put into roofs for free without houses catching fire right around Australia”. (Page 13819 of Hansard for 24 November 2011.) Abbott told the National Press Club on January 31, 2012: “No good government would ever spend more than a billion dollars putting pink batts into roofs and a billion dollars to take them out again.”

The Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency provides statistics (current at December 31, 2011 for most and at November 30, 2011 for others) on the HIP on its website.

Using official statistics from this source (as at November 30, 2011) and tables in the CSIRO Risk Profile Analysis on page 86 of its report on the HIP), I have constructed the following table to provide a State and Territory breakdown of confirmed fires due to HIP insulation:


Confirmed fires

Structural damage

Total insulated

Fire %
















W. Australia





S. Australia























No fires in 99.98 per cent of insulated homes
A total of 224 confirmed fires for 1,108,151 homes with non-foil insulation means that 1,107,927 (99.98 per cent) of such homes had no confirmed fires. That’s hardly “...houses catching fire right around Australia”.

Using the key statistics link previously given, there were 237,583 homes (46,551 with foil and 191,032 non-foil) that had safety inspections. This represents 20.2 per cent of the 1,178,089 homes insulated) under the HIP. Those figures demonstrate the nonsense of Abbott’s statement that “No good government would ever spend more than a billion dollars putting pink batts into roofs and a billion dollars to take them out again.” Of the 1,178,089 homes insulated with foil or non-foil under the HIP, 46,891 (4.2 per cent) had work undertaken to make them safe.

(Note: The 1,108,151 figure is that used by the CSIRO report while the 1,178,089 figure includes both foil and non-foil insulation. The December 31, 2011 figures by the Department of Climate Change and Energy comprise 1,119,808 non-foil insulations, or 11,657 more than the CSIRO figure, and 58,281 foil insulations.)

Neither Abbott nor his Shadow Minister for Climate Action, Environment and Heritage, Greg Hunt, has ever thought reality should intrude on their crass war against the HIP.

Plethora of inquiries
For example, Hunt called for a Royal Commission during a speech in the House of Representatives on June 16, 2010 (Hansard, House of Representatives, June 16, 2010, Pages 5560-5563) even though one inquiry had already reported, another inquiry was imminent and still another (also sought by Hunt) announced. They were:

• The Government-commissioned report by Dr Allan Hawke, released some two months earlier on April 6, 2010.

• A Senate committee inquiry into the HIP (with the Coalition Senators in a majority) was set up on October 29, 2009 and was a little over four weeks from bringing down its delayed report (originally due on June 21, 2010) on July 15, 2010.

• A Federal Auditor-General audit of the HIP announced on March 3, 2010. The Auditor- General noted in his report (released on October 15, 2010) that Hunt had made “a number of requests” before March 3, 2010 for such an audit (Paragraph 19 of Summary on page 25 of the Auditor-General Audit Report No. 12 2010–11 Performance Audit of the Home Insulation Program).

Unsafe work practices
It is easy to see why Hunt found the Hawke report unacceptable. It contained such findings as:

“Any objective assessment of the HIP will conclude that, despite the safety, quality and compliance concerns, there were solid achievements against the program objectives. At the time the program closed on 19 February 2010, over one million homes had been insulated.”

• “The associated political wrangling has overshadowed the duty of care of employers, which, put simply, is a requirement that they do everything reasonably practicable to ensure a safe working environment. While determining the causes of deaths and serious safety hazards and any liability for these is a matter for coroners and work safety agencies, clearly there would seem to have been some unsafe work practices by employers operating under the HIP.”

The comment about unsafe work practices was highlighted in the Daily Telegraph report of the death of Marcus Wilson, 19, on November 20, 2009 after collapsing while installing insulation in western Sydney. The newspaper said the temperature was an estimated 60C in the roof in which Wilson was working. It also reported that other installation contractors “said they had sent workmen home at 10.30am as the temperature soared to 42.1C – just short of the November 1982 record of 42.2C.”

Industrial Magistrate John McGrath also drew attention to work safety when fining Arrow Maintenance a total of $135,000 over charges relations to the electrocution death of Reuben Barnes, 16, while moving insulation into place in a home at Stanwell, near Rockhampton, on November 18, 2009. McGrath noted that the company was derelict in its duty and denounced unsafe working practices saying the world had moved beyond the unsafe practices of the Industrial Revolution.

No justification advanced for inquiry
But back to Huntʼs June 16 speech, which occurred after the procedural requirements were satisfied to allow for “a definite matter of public importance” to be discussed, namely “the Governmentʼs continued failure to address the consequences of the Home Insulation Program”.

In this speech, Hunt did not detail any justification for a Royal Commission, merely saying in his closing sentence:

“Against that background these things are evident: first, every home must be inspected and the failure to do so is gross and systemic negligence; second, small businesses must be helped; and, third, there must be a royal commission. Hunt was very big on the need for inspections during his speech, saying:

“So it must be made absolutely clear that every home should be inspected. Every home has to be inspected.”

• “Let us be clear. Against that background there is only one answer: every home must be inspected, every home must be subject to the protections that have been recommended and the warnings given by the Melbourne Metropolitan Fire Brigade, the national Electrical and Communications Association and the Electrical Trades Union. These warnings are from the people who know and they should not be dismissed.”
From these repetitious comments, you could think Hunt was serious in his demand that every home be inspected. But, as it turns out he and Abbott were no more serious about this than in holding a Royal Commission if they won government.

It certainly would not have come as any surprise to Abbott or Hunt that the first recommendation of the July 15, 2010 report of the Senate committee, chaired by South Australian Liberal Senator Mary Jo Bishop, was for a Royal Commission into the HIP.

Thus, the top priority of the Opposition majority on a committee that had lasted some six months and received 53 submissions was for yet another inquiry into the HIP.

In this first part of a two-part series, I have used official statistics to demonstrate how absurdities abound in the crass war on the HIP by Tony Abbott and his henchman Greg Hunt. In the second part I will explore Abbott’s amazing amnesia about his own statements and provide further examples of inconsistencies and false claims by the Opposition on the HIP.

How opinion polls poison politics

Imagine this – a political world free of opinion polls seeking voting intentions and leadership preferences. What would journalists write about? Would they, as they once did, revert to writing about genuine political issues, giving their readers the facts and their well-reasoned analysis of them? Would they still be capable? Some would, for example Ross Gittins, who tells it the way it is without fear or favour.

Reflect on what we have read from political journalists these last few weeks. Ask what proportion has been devoted to ‘leadership speculation’. Would it have been possible to write about leadership speculation in the absence of poll data? Is it not poll data that has been the catalyst for the speculation? If there were no data on voting intentions or the popularity of the leaders, what would journalists use to promote the idea that a leader was under threat? They may of course have heard ‘corridor whispers’ from ‘informed sources’ that there was dissatisfaction with the leader and a desire for change, which no doubt would be amplified in their journalist watering holes where groupthink prevails, but with nothing more substantial than that it would be pretty hard to mount a case that there was a serious leadership challenge. It is the so-called ‘hard facts’ derived from opinion polls that fuels contemporary questions such as: ‘How long can Julia Gillard withstand such poor poll numbers?’ or ‘How can Labor recover from such a low primary vote?’ or ‘How can nervous backbenchers in marginal seats support a leader who is so unpopular with the people?’ or ‘As she has failed to increase her popular support since last year, is Julia Gillard’s leadership terminal?’ or ‘As the polls show Kevin Rudd is more popular, is there gathering momentum to revert to his leadership?

It is dead easy for even the most inexperienced and incompetent journalist to conjure up such questions and fire them arrogantly and sometimes rudely at the PM, her ministers and even her backbenchers at doorstops. Without polling data, all they could say was that someone back-grounded them on the dissatisfaction, without revealing the source. There does appear to be some stupid enough in the Labor Party to background journalists, but without hard data that would simply be gossip.

This piece contends that it is polling data that does the damage, not the whispers. I can hear some of you saying that polling data is important and should be sought and used. My reply is “What makes it important two years out from an election?” Does it have useful predictive value so far out? No. Do journalists give poll data the mantle of predictive power? Yes. Does it feed into the journalist’s echo chamber as fodder for a juicy story? Yes. Does it provide intriguing copy for news editors? Yes. Does it create lazy journalism? Yes. Has it resulted in the deskilling of many of our journalists, even the experienced? It seems so.

Is poll data ever useful? Yes. Close to an election, it can give political parties and commentators a guide about how political fortunes are evolving. This can be helpful in pointing to what needs to be done to improve those fortunes. But way out from an election, voting intention and popularity polls are misleading, often poisonous, and usually create mischief.

But we know they won’t go away. They generate too much income for polling organizations and the news outlets they feed, and countless stories for the press, hungry for sensational tidbits. We are stuck with these pernicious objects. A large industry has developed around them. There are the pollsters whose opinions are eagerly sought – Martin O’Shannessy for Newspoll and John Stirton for the ACNielsen Poll. There is a coterie of journalists that ‘specialize’ in poll interpretation – Dennis Shanahan is one example. There are websites devoted to polls: The Poll Bludger and the brilliant analytic site Pollytics, with its focus on aggregated polls and trends rather than individual polls. There are hungry news writers ready to pounce on any commentary they make, which they can quickly convert into a news item that then dominates coverage in papers, radio and TV news, and current affairs programs for the next day or two. Take away regular polls: the weekly, the fortnightly, the monthly, and the ad hoc polls, and a gaping hole is left in the political news. So let’s not kid ourselves that polls way out from an election have any other purpose but an institutional one. They are of no genuine help to governments, and help oppositions only when the polls are adverse to the government. We are being led by the nose by these self-serving organizations, and it’s high time we realized how we are being duped.

The history of political polling
Wikipedia has an interesting account of the history of polling:
"The first known example of an opinion poll was a local straw poll conducted by The Harrisburg Pennsylvanian in 1824, showing Andrew Jackson leading John Quincy Adams by 335 votes to 169 in the contest for the United States Presidency. Since Jackson won the popular vote in the full election, such straw votes gradually became more popular. In 1916, the Literary Digest embarked on a national survey... and correctly predicted Woodrow Wilson's election as president. Then, in 1936, its 2.3 million ‘voters’ constituted a huge sample; however, they were generally more affluent Americans who tended to have Republican sympathies. The Literary Digest was ignorant of this new bias. The week before election day, it reported that Alf Landon was far more popular than Roosevelt. At the same time, George Gallup conducted a far smaller, but more scientifically based survey, in which he polled a demographically representative sample. Gallup correctly predicted Roosevelt's landslide victory. The Literary Digest soon went out of business, while polling started to take off."

A brief history of polling in Australia, in the form of a PowerPoint presentation created during the Rudd era, shows that Sylvia Ashby began polling in 1908, followed by Roy Morgan. At the last election the main polls were by ACNielsen, Galaxy, Morgan and Newspoll. There are a few other minor polls conducted by news organizations. The Essential Poll is a relative newcomer.

The comments in this history are germane: Walter Cronkite is quoted as saying: “Australia: too many reporters, not enough news”. It insists that Australia has “too many reporters writing about opinion polls, too many opinion polls, and that too much attention is paid to opinion polls.”

It acknowledges that polls can affect behaviour via the “bandwagon” or “underdog” effect. It insists that they are “always beaten up by the journalists, can be paralysing, a tool of demagogues, pandering to irrational fears, have hidden agendas and biased questions, and are misrepresented.” But it concedes that “if read correctly, and modestly, polls are very, very useful tools.”

Without going into tedious detail, polls are only as reliable as the quality of the sampling and the size of the sample. Regarding the nature of the sample, some wonder whether the use of landline phones distorts sampling, as it may tend to sample less adequately the younger people who predominantly use mobile phones. Getting a sample that is truly representative of the opinions of the entire Australian electorate is the greatest challenge to pollsters. Because representative sampling in online polls is impossible, they are not only useless, but dangerously misleading.

A sample size of around 1,000 carries a margin of error of around 3%; with smaller samples (some may sample as few as 600), the margin of error rises. To reduce the margin to 1%, around 10,000 would need to be sampled, but this is too expensive for the pollsters. While pollsters acknowledge these sampling drawbacks, usually in fine print, they usually do not feature prominently in any commentary, so that readers tend to regard the figures as ‘gospel’ and attribute more significance to them than the figures warrant. Even minor deviations, within the margin of error, are given credence.

Are then the questions that are often added to those about voting intentions and popularity, worthwhile? In my view, if they are carefully worded, they can give useful information. For example, last Monday’s Essential Poll carried questions about the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, Aboriginal conditions and problems, the best party for handling Aboriginal issues; workers’ pay and productivity, IR laws, and trust in institutions. All these furnished useful information. Conversely though, poorly worded questions that lead those questioned to a predetermined position, can be dangerous, used as they sometimes are, with malicious intent to deceive. The problem is that the average person reading the poll is unaware of how manipulative the questions may be, and too often are.

Poll obsession
The obsession of political parties with poll results is a serious problem. They appear to attribute to them the status of holy writ. We have seen the Labor Party seemingly make major reversals of policy based on opinion polls and their opinion-seeking cousins, focus groups. The decision to defer action on an ETS by the Rudd Government seems to have been the initial reason for its loss of popularity and Kevin Rudd’s decline. We saw the delighted faces on Labor politicians after the recent less unfavourable ACNeilsen Poll, and can remember the long faces when the polls were steadily getting worse. We can be sure that the look on Labor faces after the next Newspoll will reflect its numbers.

When pollsters and the media that promulgates their results see the power they are able to exert over politicians, political parties and their policies, they relish their capacity to twist political arms and thereby exercise remote control over policy and the parties that develop them. This is just as Rupert Murdoch and his News Limited Empire would have it. If political parties were less preoccupied with every new poll, if they gave them less credence, the power of the polls, and the poisonous influence they now have, could be contained. The Gillard Government is trying to discount their importance, but the media is determined to counter this move so that the profound influence polls have over the political course of events continues.

The disturbing reality is that the media wants to influence politics, wants to mould public opinion, wants to foster its preferred party and leaders; in short wants to call the political shots, usually to fulfill its commercial agenda. Often this is at the bidding of wealthy vested interests that fund the media through advertising or who sit on media boards. We saw that flagrantly demonstrated during the minerals tax and carbon tax debates. We saw Gina Reinhart insist that Andrew Bolt be given his extreme right wing Bolt Report after she joined the Channel Ten Board. Opinion polls are simply one facilitatory device to aid and abet these agendas, which are sometimes overt, but too often covert.

Past polls feed future polls
One poll feeds into the next. As poll results are so widely publicized, those responding to the next poll are significantly influenced by prior polls. As few want to be the ‘odd man out’, and with groupthink operating powerfully, all except the real thinkers go along with the crowd, herd-like. This is why it is so hard to shift opinion polls; it needs either something radical to happen, or gradual attrition of entrenched attitudes as the facts overwhelm the prejudice. The Coalition knows how well its three word slogans have stuck in people’s minds and how that has influenced their response to opinion polls. So the slogans will persist, and its media supporters will continue to promulgate them and the disingenuous rhetoric it uses to justify them.

Opinion polls have a poisonous effect when misused, when used to pursue political agendas. Are they really necessary? Should they be curtailed?

Following the last piece on Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats, let’s attempt to summarize this piece using that method:

The facts – The White Hat
Polls of voting preferences and popularity can be useful, especially as an election approaches.
The further out from an election they are, the poorer the predictive value they have; two years out they are of dubious value, and can have a self-perpetuating poisonous effect on public opinion.
Their value can be in guiding the strategy of political parties, politicians and political outlets.
To be valid and reliable, a representative sample and an adequate sample size are essential.
Many polls are inadequate in this regard and therefore of doubtful value, but this is not always stated.
Polls of political attitudes and values can be valuable provided the questions are carefully worded so as not to lead those being questioned.

The dangers – The Black Hat
Polls that have an unrepresentative and inadequate sample are dangerously misleading.
Polls of voting intention are misleading far out from an election.
Popularity polls can be illegitimately used to drum up discontent and dislodge ‘unwanted’ leaders.
Polls of attitudes and values can be misleading if poorly worded, or if designed to achieve a pre-determined outcome. Wrongly used, they can improperly influence or even form public opinion.
Polls can be used as a manipulative device by vested interests in the media and elsewhere.

The positives – The Yellow Hat
Polls of voting intention and popularity can be valuable close to an election.
Polls of attitudes and values can be valuable as a guide to those developing policy if carefully worded in a neutral way not designed to lead respondents to a predetermined outcome.

How do people feel about polls? - The Red Hat
Political watchers feel passionately about each new opinion poll, awaiting each with keen anticipation or trepidation.
Political operatives feel disappointed and anxious if the polls are adverse, and gleeful if positive for them.
Some political watchers feel angry at the way polls are misused.
Vested interests feel positive about polls when they are serving their interests, and angry when they are not.
Most people are indifferent.

Creative ideas about polls – The Green Hat
Would we not be much better informed if well structured professionally-designed polls of attitudes and values comprised the majority of polls, and those directed to voting intentions and popularity were fewer in number and confined to the last six months before an election?
Could an expanded set of attitudes and values be explored instead of the stereotyped ones so commonly assayed?
Could a more reliable and valid polling method be designed that had respectable and worthwhile predictive value?

So there it is. Let’s have your opinion about opinion polls.

Do you share my concerns and views about them?
Do you regard them as poisonous, as I do?
How would you like to see them conducted?
What suggestions do you have to make them more useful and valid than the present set we have thrust upon us every few days?

Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats and contemporary politics

Most people will have heard of Edward de Bono’s concept of parallel thinking, but fewer will know about his Six Thinking Hats Method of discourse. This piece is to explain this method and to suggest how it might be engaged to improve the quality of political debate among politicians, or if that is not possible, among those in the media who report matters political.

It has become tacitly accepted that politicians have their own adversarial way of engaging in debate, an approach that is less concerned with the facts, the truth, than it is with gaining political advantage by stealing a march on the adversary, or putting the other side down. Truth is often relegated to an insignificant role, in favour of spin, disingenuousness, or sometimes, outright deception.

Much of what follows is drawn from De Bono’s 1994 Penguin book Parallel Thinking – From Socratic to de Bono Thinking.

De Bono traces the history of this adversarial approach back to Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. Plato believed that ‘uncontrolled democracy’ was the ruin of the State. He favoured restricting voting rights to a selected few because the views of the masses could be so easily swayed, in the same way many fear the media now sways the masses to its point of view. His views were reinforced by the existence of the Sophists, whose schools of rhetoric aimed at developing in its pupils skills of persuasion that could make weak arguments stronger. Today’s Sophists are known as professional lobbyists and spin-doctors. As de Bono puts it: “Faced with what he saw as a ‘rabble’ democracy, and the development of unscrupulous skilled persuaders, Plato opted for a government of competence based on rulers who had been bred and trained to rule.”

The ‘Socratic method’ is the endless search for the truth through asking questions. The Sophists believed there was no such thing as absolute truth that questioning could uncover, and that truth was only what someone had been persuaded to believe. To them, a person’s perception was ‘the truth’. Given the activities of the latter day professional persuaders, nothing much has changed since then!

De Bono believes that the adversarial, argumentative approach that the Socratic method encourages, while being suitable for some scientific endeavours, is insufficient and sometimes counterproductive in solving complex multi-facetted problems. He draws a parallel between the Socratic method and the type of argument seen in courts of law where each side is focused on winning rather than revealing the truth. Both prosecutor and defence lawyers place before the jury what they believe is advantageous to their case, and purposely omit facts that are disadvantageous. This is what happens in political discourse. Sadly, much of the media, which too often assumes a partisan position, engages in the same deception.

The Six Thinking Hats
de Bono developed the Six Thinking Hats Method as a way carrying out parallel thinking and avoiding the disadvantage of the argumentative, adversarial approach that bedevils so much debate in so many fields, not the least in the political field. Much of what follows is derived from his 1985 Penguin Book Six Thinking Hats.

He illustrates the notion of parallel thinking by painting a picture of four people looking at a building, one looking at the north aspect, one at the south aspect and the other two looking respectively at the east and west aspects. All are looking at the same building at the same time, but at different aspects. Not surprisingly what each sees and describes is different, although they are looking at the same building. If none were prepared to accept that the others were looking at different aspects, and all insisted that what they saw was ‘the truth’ about that building, and what the others was not, they would argue endlessly and fruitlessly about the nature of the building. On the other hand, if they moved as a group to first look together at the north aspect, then in turn the south, east and west, they would all see the same thing and, while one might take more note of the windows, another of the roof, another the wall and another the surrounds, they would all at least be looking at the same aspect and would therefore be less likely to engage in pointless argument.

With the Six Hats Thinking Method, all the participants ‘wear’ the same hat at the same time, so that all are looking at the same aspect simultaneously. Let me make sense of that by describing the ‘hats’.

First, they are not real hats which people actually wear, but figurative ones. They are categorized by colour: white, red, black, yellow, green and blue, each colour symbolizing the nature of the hats. The chairperson might say: let’s have some white hat thinking, or black hat, and everyone behaves in the manner specific to that hat.

Let’s look at the individual hats.

The White Hat
White is seen as a neutral colour and therefore the one that signifies the facts. de Bono subdivides facts into ‘checked facts’, those that have been verified, and ‘believed facts’ or ‘unchecked facts’, that have not been verified. The latter may take the form of, for example: “I believe I am right in saying that this new model is quieter than the previous one.” Although these are regarded as ‘second class facts’, they are allowed so long as they are qualified by stating the uncertainty that surrounds them. So long as they seem relevant, even unverified facts may have their use, if for no other reason that they invite further exploration of their validity.

Debate often starts with everyone wearing the white hat so as to gather the facts.

The Red Hat
As the colour suggests, the red hat invites the expression of emotions and feelings about the subject matter under discussion. It is important that people be given the opportunity to express their feelings, positive and negative, about the subject, as it is often unspoken feelings that distort the debate and get in the way of resolution. Wearing the Red Hat, it is quite legitimate for anyone who wishes to do so to express feelings freely without debate, and without having to explain why those feelings are present. In fact asking people to explain why they feel the way they do is prohibited when the red hat is being worn. It is enough that they feel the way they do and express those feelings; if they were required to explain why, many would repress their feelings, to the disadvantage of the debate. Some may have a feeling of uncertainty, discomfort, or fear; some may have a hunch, or their intuition may be speaking to them. That is sufficient for the vocalization of that feeling. It may be a valuable pointer, and is therefore given credence.

The Black Hat
The Black Hat is the one most often used, and is probably the most useful. When worn, it invites people to express caution and be careful. Wearing it, people point out what is wrong with an idea or plan, why it may not work, what does not fit. The problem with the Black Hat is that if it is worn continuously, if it is the only hat worn, all that emerges is negativity. We see that every day in contemporary politics. Yet without the Black Hat, hair-brained schemes may be adopted in ignorance of the pitfalls. Risks, dangers, obstacles, potential problems, and the downsides are considered when wearing the Black Hat.

The Black Hat is valuable if used only as one of the Six Hats, along with the others, and only if used by all involved in the debate at the one time. Again, de Bono insists that only one hat is worn at any time, and that it is worn by all participants at the same time. Sometimes people get labeled as, say, ‘a Black Hat person’. This is contrary to the method. Everyone gets a chance to wear the Black Hat, and the other hats as well. Black Hat discussion is not argument and must not be allowed to degenerate into argument.

The Yellow Hat
The bright Yellow Hat suggests sunshine and optimism. When everyone is wearing the Yellow Hat, the benefits of the idea, plan, or proposal are advanced. Everyone is encouraged to look for the good points, even if the individual has reservations or is opposed. The hat is useful because it forces people to seek out the value in what is under discussion, and not just that, but who will benefit, under what circumstances, and how its value might be realized.

Yellow Hat thinking requires positive constructive thinking, optimism, and a focus on benefits and making things happen.

It is the opposite of Black Hat thinking. It covers a spectrum from practical and logical suggestions to the more nebulous hopes, dreams, and visions.

The Green Hat
The Green Hat is worn where the exhibition of creative energy is required. Green signifies fertility and growth. Wearing the Green Hat offers the participants the opportunity to show their creativity. Sometimes even the quietest of people surprise themselves, and others, with their creative suggestions.

New ideas, new perceptions, new concepts, alternative ways of proceeding, and lateral thinking emerge and excite when all are wearing the Green Hat, often to everyone’s delight.

It is essential that creative ideas are marshalled, and even if they are somewhat nebulous, noted for further development. Sometimes it is Green Hat creativity that makes the day.

The Blue Hat
Blue, the colour of the sky, designates thinking about thinking. It is the administrative hat under which the process of the debate is determined. It is the control hat. A Blue Hat thinker acts like the conductor of an orchestra.

Often meetings begin with all wearing the Blue Hat, so as to agree upon how the discussion will begin and progress. What will be the order that the hats are worn? There is no set order, although many discussions begin with everyone wearing the White Hat, then proceeding to the Red, the Black, the Yellow and the Green Hats, often ending with the Blue to ascertain progress. But any order is acceptable.

The benefits of the Six Thinking Hats method
de Bono insists that the most striking thing about the method is that decisions seem to make themselves, and that by the end the decision is obvious to all, in stark contrast to how many discussions end. He quotes many instances where corporate boards, committees and groups that usually take a long time to reach resolution of the matters under discussion, do so in a small fraction of the usual time when they use the Six Hats Thinking Method.

It reduces argument, it gets people out of their entrenched and often unthinking position, enables all to see the facts, the way people feel, the downside, and the benefits, and gives them an opportunity to exhibit their creativity. Any method that levers people out of their entrenched positions, so often governed by adversarial behaviour and perverse motives, must be a useful tool in elevating the calibre of debate, particularly political debate, which in this country is so often characterized by bias, prejudice, bigotry, partisan positions, disingenuousness and often downright lying.

The key to the success of Six Hats Thinking is that at any one time all the participants are looking at the same aspect and all are thinking in parallel, instead of, as so often happens, being at loggerheads and at cross purposes because they are looking at different aspects, and arguing from different points of view.

The question of course is whether politicians would ever adopt the Six Hats Thinking Method. Within party structures that seems possible, although difficult because of factional divisions. Between parties, it looks impossible, set as they so often are on a course of destroying each other.

So why do I even bother describing it in a political context? Because it may help us as bloggers to develop and present better balanced arguments that take into account not just one element, but them all – the facts, the feelings, the drawbacks, and the benefits, all wrapped in a creative mantle. While the Six Thinking Hats Method is designed to operate in a setting where several people are debating issues of importance, it can be applied when writers are composing commentaries on these issues, because the same elements apply. We can adopt such an approach if we wish, and I hope some will, but my most fervent hope is that journalists who write in the MSM, and the other bloggers out there, might see the benefits and the contribution the Six Thinking Hats Method could make to informed discourse through the various media we access day by day, and adopt it in their writings.

Can these folk, who so influence public opinion, make a transition from their usual adversarial, combative and partisan approach, designed as it too often is to achieve a political outcome, and instead present to members of the public a balanced and fair appraisal of political issues for their consideration?

What do you think? Are they up to it? Do they want to change? Do we?