Gillard won't lie down and die - Abbott's dilemma

Prediction in politics is fraught but tempting. Will Tuesday 29 May 2012 go down in Australian political history as the day the decline of Tony Abbott, Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, accelerated? This was the day he announced to the Coalition party room: "Gillard won't lie down and die, and where there's life, there's fight", reminding his colleagues that their job would not be over until the election was won. It was an extraordinary statement to make in such a public forum (which clearly has its leakers), as it was a tacit admission that the task of tearing down Julia Gillard and her Government, one he set himself from the moment the Independents supported her to form a minority government in September 2010, will be a formidable task, one that is becoming more difficult by the day.

For a man who has exhibited such hubris, boosted every week or two by polls of voting intention that showed the Coalition’s position was strong, this was a significant concession – winning the next election would be no pushover. What Abbott thought would be a sprint to The Lodge, has turned out to be a marathon, for which he is beginning to realize he has less aptitude.

This is the man who would be PM

In politics, seemingly small events can have a disproportionately large effect. Remember the repercussions of ‘that handshake’ – the one Mark Latham gave John Howard at a TV studio door during the 2004 election campaign, a handshake that journalists deemed to be overly aggressive, too confronting, the tall man hovering threateningly over the shorter. While media reaction was over-the-top, that event signaled the weakening of Latham’s campaign, which steadily declined to end in defeat. Remember Kim Beasley’s confusing the name of Karl Rove, George Bush’s adviser and deputy chief of staff, with that of Rove McManus, our own TV entertainer. An innocent slip, but magnified by the media as a sign of Beasley’s incapacity to become PM, his unsuitability for this high office. Beasley never recovered from this seemingly small memory lapse.

In the same way, we have to ask whether Abbott’s “Gillard won’t lie down and die” was a momentous admission of concern that events are not unfolding as he predicted, or had hoped they would; an expression of anxiety, even fear that the certainty of winning the next election was receding. Anxiety and fear engender uncertainty and doubt, which in turn fosters more anxiety, more fear, which is so corrosive of confidence.

What precipitated Abbott’s admission?

Let’s go back to the beginning. Read again The pugilistic politician written on 10 December 2009, ten days after Abbott’s ascension to leadership. Here are some excerpts. After recalling his boxing exploits at Oxford where flattening his opponents to the canvass in the first round was his aim, I wrote this: ”… suddenly, and for most unexpectedly, he became Leader of the Opposition last week, and found himself thrown into the spotlight, with nothing much in the ledger but opposition to almost everything the Government was trying to do, trenchant opposition to the Government’s ETS leading to its defeat, a heap of political baggage, a mediocre team, a disgruntled ex-leader, and very poor popularity ratings in the opinion polls.” Later in that piece there was this: ”Abbott intends to criticise everything the Government does, to fight everything it attempts to do, to refuse to collaborate on anything, and to decline to reveal any policies until the last moment…”

In the next paragraph: ”So to what can we look forward? If one can judge from Abbot’s demeanour and performance during the last week, from the look in his eyes, from his aggressive attitude, from his determination to fight in hand to hand combat, we are in for a ruthless, cruel, bare-knuckle fight with no holds barred. This week Abbott reminded me of the familiar scene before a prize fight when the combatants line up – hairy-chested, jaw-jutting, throwing punches in the air, loud-mouthed, asserting their prowess, and promising to knock their opponent out early in the bout.” The final paragraph of The pugilistic politician reads: ”…we can expect Abbott, the pugilistic politician, to attack Government policies and actions incessantly and relentlessly, to keep Coalition policies under wraps as much as possible to avoid having to defend them, and to exhibit venom, vitriol and vituperativeness the like of which we have not seen in politics in Australia for a long while. It will be unremittingly ugly. What a prospect for 2010!”

I suppose one cannot accept acclaim for a prediction that has turned out to be strikingly accurate. It was not rocket science to make that prediction – the evidence was there for all to see. Reflect. Is there anything that was predicted in that piece that has not come to pass? In fact, Abbott’s behaviour, if anything, has become worse than predicted. His belligerence is more overt, his aggression escalates almost by the day, his vitriol pours out in ever-increasing volumes, his hatred rises, his anger boils over into unseemly language and gestures. He becomes more grotesque by the week. Several longstanding politicians have cited this period of politics as the ugliest ever.

So making the prediction now that Abbott’s decline is accelerating, feels less hazardous than most political predictions usually are.

Let’s look at a few facts.

Tony Abbott is a failure, and he knows it. It is his failure that is the likely reason for his contemporary behaviour. Failure fosters doubt and fear, and eventually evokes despair. Despair manifests itself in increasingly desperate and bizarre behaviour. The ferocity of his questions, the nastiness of his rhetoric, and the bare-knuckle approach he brings to the parliament, is the only behaviour he knows, and it escalates with every sitting week.

Coalition supporters will protest that Abbott has been a very successful Coalition Leader, and many journalists would agree, because he has elevated the Coalition’s TPP level to what they like to describe as ‘an election winning lead’, although no election is imminent. That seems to be the one criterion of success to which Coalition supporters cling.

But as a parliamentary performer he is an abject failure. He has not succeeded in defeating even one of the three hundred pieces of legislation that the Gillard Government has passed this term, and we are only halfway through. His opposition to a tiny handful of legislation has blocked them being presented to parliament, but only with the help of the Greens. He follows Randolph Churchill’s dictum that: “Oppositions should oppose everything, suggest nothing and turf the Government out”, but so far he has opposed without success, and is far from turfing the Government out.

He has moved almost sixty motions to suspend standing orders to censure the PM or the Government, or initiate a debate to castigate the Government. None have succeeded. Yet Abbott goes on hitting hit head against a brick wall. Until now, failure after failure has seemed no deterrent, but there is now evidence that it is getting to him.

He and his Coalition colleagues ask question after question in Question Time, but never score a direct hit. In fact, during this current sitting the Government has had the better of QT by far. Time and again questions asked by the Coalition about ‘the world’s biggest carbon tax’ have rebounded on them as Julia Gillard has catalogued the wild claims of disaster that Tony Abbott has made about the effects of the carbon tax – the death of the coal mining industry, aluminium smelting, cement production and of manufacturing, the disappearance of towns from the map, notably Whyalla, skyrocketing electricity prices, up by 30%, food prices going through the roof, or as Abbott would have it, up and up and up, and countless thousands of lost jobs. She has thrown these claims back at Abbott over and again with colourful turn of phrase and repetition: “When the sun goes down on July 1…” all of Abbott’s scaremongering will be shown to be deceptive and false, and he will be exposed for the dishonest scaremonger he is, always frightening the people, always talking down the economy, always eroding confidence.

Despite the failure to gain any advantage from questions on the carbon tax, which in fact are now a liability, the Coalition persists, like a broken record, bereft of any better questions to ask.

Today, in the last QT for this session, Julia Gillard slaughtered Tony Abbott with her replies, some would say ‘smashed’ him, and Jenny Macklin, talking about Abbott’s intention to claw back the Schoolkids Bonus, attacked him with the words: “The Leader of the Opposition has failed Australian families; he has failed the leadership test for families”. But it was Greg Combet who gave the most impassioned, the most eloquent performance, where he massacred Abbott, and with a smile on his face, broke into song with “I’ve been everywhere man, everywhere is doomed man”, as he characterized Abbott’s peripatetic campaign of spreading unmitigated doom and gloom once the carbon tax begins. Even the Coalition front bench smiled, but I suspect few realized the import of what Combet was saying, and the effect it would soon have on their leader’s credibility.

If one can judge from Abbott’s uncomfortable facial expressions and his body language, this is getting to him. He senses that another failure is fast approaching him, failure of his campaign of fear-mongering – when the carbon tax arrives and the sun still comes up in the east, the sky does not fall in, and the world goes on as before, while the people thankfully pocket the compensation money that Government ministers continually remind the recipients will be ‘ripped from them’ should Abbott become PM, he will be exposed for the deceitful fraud he is.

It may take some months, but by year end it ought to be obvious to all that Abbott has lied to them consistently since he became leader on his ‘defeat the carbon tax’ platform. He fears this exposure, and the damage it will do to his credibility.

There are other signs that Abbott is on the decline, perhaps they have contributed to his “Gillard won’t lie down and die…” meme. From the outset Abbott has been unpopular as recorded in opinion polls. We all know that an unpopular leader can lead a popular party, but his unpopularity scarcely altered as his party’s lead in the TPP stakes rose and rose, and this week a small recent gain has reversed. While it is wise to give no credence to polls of voting intention this far from an election, and even take approval/disapproval ratings with a grain of salt, I suspect that this week’s Newspoll was unnerving for Abbott. His popularity has declined and his PPM rating with it, while Julia Gillard’s has improved, although the TPP has changed little and is within the margin of error. He must be asking himself if his negativity is putting off even his supporters.

Another fragment of relevant information was an online poll in the Sydney Morning Herald this week that asked: “Do you think Tony Abbott’s negative approach is hurting his popularity?” We know these polls are unreliable because they do not poll a representative sample, and even the pollsters add a disclaimer: “These polls are not scientific and reflect the opinion only of visitors who have chosen to participate.” What was notable though was that although these polls generally reflect very poorly on the Government, I imagine because of the bias inherent in the sample of respondents, this one, in which 6913 voted, revealed a ‘Yes’ count of 70%, a ‘No’ count of 26%, and only a 4% ‘Don’t know’ count, the reverse of results usually found in these polls. So even many of those who would be expected to support the Coalition added to the total of 70% who thought Tony Abbott’s negative approach was hurting his popularity. Abbott must have become aware of this.

Another sign of Abbott’s decline is his unwillingness to confront questions at doorstops and press conferences. It is increasingly attracting criticism. When the questions get tough he simply walks away. He prefers interviews with sycophantic shock jocks and seeks pre-recording of important interviews on ABC TV, some of which are edited. He is a failure when the going gets rough. People ask how he would cope with the questions that he would have to answer were he to become PM.

What we are witnessing is a steady and accelerating unravelling of Abbott’s credibility and his status, even among his supporters, and among his opponents confirmation that he is becoming unhinged, something of which I wrote in the last piece.

Evidence of this unhinging was starkly displayed when he attempted to scurry from the House on Wednesday to avoid having to count Craig Thomson’s vote among the Coalition’s on a gag motion, all to justify his unconstitutional insistence that the vote of the member for Dobell’s vote should not count, even although this would disenfranchise voters in that electorate. It looked childish; it was. It further damaged his credibility and that of the Coalition. Here’s how it looked:

Another look with a little humour added:

Here’s how cartoonist Sean Leahy saw it.

So what does "Gillard won't lie down and die, and where there's life, there's fight" really mean? In my opinion, it means that ‘this Leader of the Opposition’, this Tony Abbott, is becoming increasingly unnerved and progressively unhinged, as he sees the prize – the keys to The Lodge – retreating from his eagerly outstretched hand. He realizes that it will be no cakewalk now to grasp the keys. He knows that his strategy to demolish Julia Gillard and her Government has failed – that she is going from strength to strength, that she won’t lie down and die as he had hoped and anticipated.

He knows that he will have to fight fiercely for his prize, yet the only fight he knows is not working. He must now know that his incessant negativity is not only not working, it is actually working against him. He must know that the only strategy that could work for him and the Coalition would be coming up with sound and attractive policies, properly costed, policies more attractive and less costly than the Government's, smartly packaged and presented. But this option is inconsistent with his lazy approach to policy creation, his dilatory approach to costings, and his ignorant approach to economics. It’s all too hard.

He expected to surf to power on the unpopularity of the Government and a wave of favourable opinion polls, waving triumphantly from his surfboard in his red budgie smugglers. But the surf has become choppy, the rocks too close, and the best waves are now down the coast where a red-headed surfer is riding quietly and confidently, headed for a welcoming sandy beach.

‘Gillard won’t lie down and die’ really is Abbott’s dilemma.

What do you think?

What is making Labor stalwarts gloomy?

It no longer surprises us that Graham Richardson (Richo) emits gloom about Labor whenever he appears in the media. He knows on which side his bread is buttered. While he may believe what he says, he says it with such conviction and enthusiasm that the casual observer could be excused for thinking he is a dyed-in-the-wool Coalition advocate rather that an ex-Labor minister, and a high ranking one at that. Anyone who has read his fascinating 2005 book The Latham Diaries will understand why Mark Latham is ready to throw mud at Labor whenever he can. He believes he was dudded by his colleagues and badly let down by the party machine, especially during the 2004 election campaign which Labor lost, gaining only 60 seats to the Coalition’s 76. For him, revenge on his old party is sweet.

But it was disturbing when several Labor stalwarts, speaking before and during the recent ACTU conference, expressed so much gloom about Labor’s current situation and its electoral prospects. One such stalwart was Bill Kelty, who has given so much to the Labor Party for so many years. During his address he said: “It’s too easy to blame the media, too easier to blame the playthings of politics. And there’s no purpose blaming the opposition for doing, what after all, you’d expect them to do and that’s to beat you.”

I was dismayed that such a Labor icon could give the media in this country a free kick, a media that pours its malevolence over our PM and our Government day after day - not all of the media, but well over the seventy percent of it owned by Rupert Murdoch. I was disappointed too that in those few words he had let the Coalition off the hook. We all know that the job of an opposition is to beat the government, but does that permit it to mount the most vicious, malignant, toxic personal campaign of denigration and demonization of our PM and our Government, and of particular individuals, that we have seen in recent Australian political history? No. I thought at the time it was imprudent for Kelty to use those words, and I still do.

What is equally distressing is that those two sentences were the ones seized upon by the media. They were the ones that got the column inches, the radio news coverage, and the TV slots. Do you know what else Bill Kelty said? If not, let me tell you. I doubt if you would have picked this up in any of our media, determined, as is so much of it, to destroy our elected Government and its leader.

Here is what he said a few sentences later:

And it is also too easy to accept defeat. Too easy to say the Labor Party will not win.

“I remember Bob Hawke coming back from a Labor Party conference in which the headlines of the Sun was “Hawke finished. Never again will his name be mentioned as a future Prime Minister”. And I talked to Bob; I said how did you go? He said “shithouse”. I said, what are you going to do? He said, "I’m gonna regroup, I’m gonna rebuild, learn from what mistakes I made, but Bill I will be the Prime Minister".

“And he was.”

Kelty then talked about Paul Keating:

I sat with Paul Keating one day, when he wasn’t feeling particularly well that day. And he said, "It might be too hard Bill. I’ve got the wrong end of the political cycle".

“I won’t tell you all he said… But I said, "There’s never been an economist
[John Hewson], elected as Prime Minister yet, mate, and there won’t be. You can beat him…you can beat him".

“And he did.

Kelty recalls a phone call from Keating at that time: ”He said, “I’m gonna win, mate”... I said, “that’s good, now why are you gonna win.”

“And he said, “Hewson made this speech. And the speech he made, he said, ‘this country, for too long, has stopped to pick up the people. Stopped to care too much for people’.” >

“He said, “By the time I’m finished with him, mate, he’ll be picking up himself.”

Did anyone read that rallying cry of Kelty in the press; how many of you heard it in radio bulletins or in TV clips?

This is what Labor now needs, not the negative emissions of the prophets of doom, the merchants of gloom and despair. What a difference it would have made to Kelty’s speech if he had left unsaid the comments about the media and the Coalition, and simply hammered home the encouraging words of Hawke and Keating!

This is my starting point. Confident words, the words of those two great leaders, words that lift spirits and give hope. And I will summon logic and reasoning to make the case that Labor will win in 2013, rather than offer you just wishful thinking.

The polls
Of all the evidence that the doomsters use for their dire prognostications, opinion polls of voting intention are by far the most potent. Polling companies prosper by running frequent polls and feeding the results to media outlets, some of which actually own the polling organizations. With often more than one poll a week, there is ample fodder for hungry columnists, some of whom have become poll experts whose word is gospel, or so they believe. Poll commentary is easy journalism, it fills column inches, and it serves the commercial, and often the ideological objectives of the media outlets.

Those who understand polling, the assumptions underlying polls, the statistical manipulations that take place, and the limitations of polling, attest that polls of voting intention so far from the next scheduled election are not predictive. That cannot and do not tell us who will win the next election. They tell us only what has happened in the past, or is happening now. That is why commentators preface their comments with: “If an election were to be held today, the result would be…” But it is not being held today. It will likely be held eighteen months from now, when the polls have a chance of being more predictive. Why do commentators persist with this monotonous charade? Because it makes plausible copy for papers, radio and TV, and because they believe the people will swallow it. More sinisterly, because it often suits their political purposes, which for many is the removal of the Gillard Government.

So while poll commentators and news writers would have us give credence to their offerings, can we please ignore them for at least another twelve months? Look at the trends by all means, but not individual polls. They mislead, feed into the next poll, seriously distort thinking about the parties, and tell us nothing about how they will rate in eighteen months. We know that polls always narrow as the election approaches, and in federal elections, notwithstanding substantial gaps between the parties beforehand, the gap narrows to just a few points. Federal elections are close, as will be the 2013 election, not the catastrophic landslide the pundits now predict.

There are of course other parameters polled such as approval/disapproval ratings, preferred PM, and opinions about a host of other issues. Because the popularity ratings reflect TPP scores, it is likely that the leader of the least preferred party contemporaneously will be unpopular. So let’s not place much store on Julia Gillard’s current ratings, as the commentators would have us do. They use these spurious figures to stir up talk of leadership change, which is always great copy, especially for the tabloids. We have had enough media speculation about leadership change to last us a lifetime. The media knows that low popularity, and murmurings from the Nervous Nellies in the Labor Party who seem to see no harm in backgrounding marauding journalists with their fears and their desire for a change to a leader that they feel might give them a better chance in their marginal seats, is a powerful combination. Leadership speculation is on again this week! Ignore all this leadership talk. Despite the confident predictions of Richo and his News Limited mates, Julia Gillard is going nowhere. There is no one else. And the game of asking the people about their preferred leader and throwing up Kevin Rudd and sundry others as alternatives is as stupid as it is malevolent. Forget this charade too.

In summary, forget the polls. Look at the Government’s performance.

Strong Government performance
Any reasonable observer of the Gillard Government’s performance in passing legislation would rate it as good. With over three hundred of pieces already passed by mid term, this result surpasses by far anything achieved by the last government. And they have included major reforms to taxation, industrial relations, health, disability, education, business, manufacturing, mining, agriculture, climate change, the renewables industry, and environmental sustainability. There have been no failures. The only motions not passed have been a couple of inconsequential procedural ones.

The Gillard Government is an active, fast moving, reforming one. While some of its achievements have filtered out to the public gaze, they have not had much coverage in the conventional media, and as journalists like to tell us so often, even our ABC journalists, the Government’s good news has been ‘overshadowed’ by scandals or other salacious events, or that Julia Gillard ‘could not escape questions’ about Craig Thomson or Peter Slipper, or any other distraction, which the media itself creates to corrupt the dialogue about policy and achievements. What hope has the Government got in the face of the hostile, sensationalist media in this country?

Only this week the OECD gave Australia’s economy a very glowing report, rating it as one on the best among advanced economies, even predicting it would surpass the US economy as the safest in the world for investors. This is the economy the Rudd/Gillard Government shielded from the GFC, one that it has fostered since into one with unemployment, interest rates, and inflation all under five percent. Yet how much front-page publicity does this get in the tabloids. None. Even the broadsheets give little exposure of Australia’s outstanding position and performance. The good news is buried.

Our high performance Government gets far too little credit, too little positive publicity. How long can this disregard for the truth continue to give way to the media goals of titillation, sensation, and entertainment? Surely as an election approaches the public must be given a truthful account of what the Gillard Government has done, and its fiscal performance getting the Budget into surplus, alongside what the Coalition is promising and the cost of its promises. To do otherwise would be a travesty.

I believe we ought to expect a more honest appraisal of both sides from the media as the election approaches, and that will tilt people towards the Government that gets things done, and away from the Coalition that won’t tell us what their policies are and what they will cost. We know that if the media ever gets round to forensically putting the policies and costings of Abbott and his frontbench under the microscope, their paltry, disingenuous house of cards will collapse.

We know that there is much leeway to make up after all the adverse publicity the media has given the Government, but believe me, a reversal is not just possible, it is probable.

The Government’s strong performance will be its main selling point come election time.

The scare campaign will peter out
Much of the antagonism against Julia Gillard has emanated from the carbon tax, that ‘toxic’ tax that she ‘promised’ she would not initiate. Apart from the ‘broken promise’ mantra that Tony Abbott and his sycophants have echoed unremittingly, his obscenely deceitful scaremongering has led people to believe that with the carbon tax the cost of electricity and everything else will go up, and up, and up, even before it starts. Whole industries will close down, ghost towns will cover the nation, Whyalla will be wiped out, and our economy will be decimated as our competitiveness plummets.

We know none of this will happen. We know that the compensation for ninety percent of the people for the extra costs generated by the tax will exceed the actual increase in costs, which will on average be less than ten dollars a week. We know pensioners will be well compensated with a substantial increase in their pensions, and the tax-free threshold will be raised to $18,000, relieving over a million taxpayers from submitting a tax return. Trade exposed industries will receive carbon credits that in many instances will effectively reduce the cost per tonne of carbon emitted from the set price of $23 to just a dollar or two.

In effect, both the people and industry will come to realize in the second half of this year that Tony Abbott has been running a giant hoax, spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt everywhere he speaks. The effects of this scaremongering has gone well beyond frightening people out of their wits about rising costs, it has been a major contributor to the fall in consumer and business confidence. Abbott swings his wrecking ball wildly and indiscriminately, careless of its potential to devastate our economy.

By the time the election arrives, the electorate will have become aware it has been sold a pup, and will turn on Abbott and his lies and deceit. As Abraham Lincoln said: “You may fool all of the people some of the time; you can even fool some of the people all of the time; but you can't fool all of the people all of the time.” Abbott has fooled the people for too long; when they catch him out, they will punish him severely.

Time will be on Labor’s side as Abbott’s deceit is steadily exposed, and the electorate will turn savagely on him and the Coalition.

Deteriorating State Coalition governments
There has been much talk about the Labor brand being tarnished, even toxic, especially with big defeats in State elections in New South Wales and Queensland, and by one seat in the usually strong Labor state of Victoria. Since until recently there were wall-to wall Labor governments, it ought not surprise us that the people tired of Labor and looked for the alternative. When Federal Labor goes to the next election, there will be at least four State Coalition governments.

Quite apart from the Aussie aversion to the same party in power everywhere, these Coalition/LNP governments will have started to get up the nose of the electorate.

Barry O’Farrell’s government is already on the nose over its attrition of the public service. It is wrestling with corruption, has sacked parliamentary secretary Steve Cansdell, and is accused by Opposition Leader John Robertson of already breaking 200 promises.

The one-year-old Baillieu Government is under fire for its lacklustre performance, its poor record in job creation, and its savage cuts of $300 million to TAFE funding, especially in regional areas, with a projected loss of 2000 jobs. Ted Baillieu’s popularity has dropped sharply, the polls have narrowed, and one of his ministers, Geoff Shaw, is under investigation accused of using his parliamentary car on interstate trips for his hardware business.

Even in its first few months, Campbell Newman’s LNP Government has attracted criticism for its funding cuts, the scrapping of the Premier’s Literary Awards, and assuming tough strike-breaking powers.

In the West where Colin Barnett musters support every time he challenges the Federal Government over GST funding or the mining tax, or talks of secession, his Coalition Government is not in as good a shape as when it was elected.

Now none of this slippage is serious yet, or the misdemeanours hanging offenses, certainly not in our political system, but give these governments another eighteen months and the electorate will be tiring of them, and the Coalition/LNP brand will be tarnished, maybe even toxic.

The people will be aware that despite all the bold promises, these conservative governments are no better than the alternative. That will favour Labor.

The Great Abbott Unhinging
This will perhaps prove to be the most potent force in changing the balance of popularity and support for the two major parties.

Despite the good polls for the Coalition that the pundits attribute to Tony Abbott’s ‘brilliant’ strategy of unremitting negativity, obstructionism, and malevolent attacks on Julia Gillard, in a parliamentary sense he is an abject failure. He has not defeated one piece of legislation this term, and has caused the deferral of a tiny handful of bills, only with the help of the Greens. He has not landed a blow on Julia Gillard, who has wiped the floor with him in the House. With the help of Anthony Albanese she has frustrated his every attempt to subvert the business of the House. While she is calm, confident and assured, as well as witty, acerbic and scornful of him, he has become increasingly angry, frustrated, desperate, and ineffectual, almost frothing at the mouth with fury and venom as he sees his opportunity to seize power steadily slipping away.

His recent attacks have centered on the saga of Craig Thomson and Peter Slipper. While he would hardly have bothered had the Gillard Government had a substantial majority, he has attacked relentlessly on the grounds that the Gillard Government is illegitimate, minority government a failure, and he ought to be in The Lodge.

This week Abbott has seemingly become more and more unhinged as he rants and rages, moves motions to suspend standing and sessional orders, now nearly sixty times without success, and tries to bludgeon the Government into making moves, or the PM into making statements, all of his attempts unsuccessful. Yesterday’s grotesque performance in the House starkly exposed Abbott’s dark inner self, his desperation, his extreme viciousness.

He is regularly outmanoeuvered by Anthony Albanese, despite the best efforts of Abbott’s attack dog Christopher Pyne, who comes close to apoplexy again and again as he raises points of order or moves spurious motions. Abbott seems to have no concern for the time of parliamentarians, or the processes of the house in the pursuit of his malicious and destructive objectives.

In the matter of Craig Thomson he seems willing, even determined to trash our sacred conventions of the rule of law, the separation of powers, the presumption of innocence, and the proper processes of the parliament in the pursuit of his single-minded intent to upend Julia Gillard and her Government and seize power for himself and the Coalition. And despite his recent words of concern about Thomson’s health, Abbott’s behaviour is one of callous disregard as he pursues him relentlessly, no matter what the cost. Read what Barrie Cassidy had to say about this on The Drum in The alarm bells ring, but precious few heed them.

Abbott has gone over the top, and the further he goes the more he will alienate the electorate, which is giving strong signals that it is tired of this saga and wants it to disappear, wants it over. Yet, Abbott refuses to let go. It’s all he’s got and he will not retreat even as he sees events turning against him. He knows only aggression, only fight, just as I described in The pugilist politician written just ten days after his election. It will be his downfall. It is all he has to offer, and the people don’t want it. Even the media has begun to move on, realizing that the saga has many months, perhaps years to run, and the dramatic final outcome it is seeking is still far away. Barrie Cassidy expressed this view yesterday in his regular summing up of Federal politics on ABC 774 Melbourne radio. The media thrives on fast moving drama – when the pace slows, its interest wanes. Other dramas take over. But Abbott hangs on. He will find himself beating a hollow drum all alone.

It is Abbott’s behavior, a behavior he will not or cannot change, that will become his anchor, more and more firmly stuck in mud of his own creation, one that will hold him back while Julia Gillard and her Government steam away leaving him floundering in its wake.

Why then are some Labor stalwarts gloomy? I believe it is because they have become entangled in the web of deception perpetrated by the media about Labor’s prospects. Based largely on the polls, and propelled by a political agenda, that of removing the Gillard Government, the media has consistently predicted the annihilation of Labor at the next election, and is doing so to this day. Our stalwarts have been afflicted with the same infectious groupthink as have many journalists.

In past issues of The Political Sword I have asserted that although the Gillard Government is battling both a hostile media as well as a truculent Opposition, it will win the 2013 election. This piece gives some cogent reasons why I believe this to be so.

Forget the polls, observe the Gillard Government’s performance, watch the scare campaign peter out, detect how the State conservative governments wane in popularity and attract distrust, and above all watch Tony Abbott become unhinged, watch him self destruct as he overreaches, watch the vitriol he spews over Julia Gillard day after day wash back to poison him, watch his desperation reach an explosive crescendo that will destroy him. Then you will see why Julia Gillard will win in 2013.

Let’s embrace the optimism and determination of Bob Hawke and Paul Keating, and win.

What to you think?

How to turn the polls around in six months

Bear with me. Join me in a little game. Let’s imagine that you have won the biggest lottery prize ever – the ownership of the Murdoch media empire in Australia. You now control it and its editorial policy. You can decide on the stories you will run, the headlines, the text, and how you want the stories to work. In other words you can do what Murdoch and his editors and journalists do every day.

This piece makes the case that although what leaders and parties say and do forms the basis for most of what appears in the political media, it is the way in which the media represents this reality that is the critically important factor in how the public perceives it. No matter what the story, the media can choose the angle it will promote, the message it wishes consumers to take away, the outcome it desires.

This piece selects just four newspaper articles from the Murdoch press, displays the headlines and initial paragraphs, briefly analyses their content and tone, and then offers alternative headlines and initial paragraphs written by fictitious journalists who are in tune with the Gillard Government’s objectives and supportive of them. The facts are the same – the difference from the original is how they are presented in the facsimile. If anyone reading the facsimile feels the facts have been distorted, as distinct from how they are presented, tell us about this via the comments facility.

The original media article is presented in brief first with the text in italics, followed in each instance by the ‘alternative’ version, with the text in bold.

Let’s begin with The Daily Telegraph front page of May 9, the day after Wayne Swan presented his 2012/13 Budget.

Black Swan in Cash Splash
Business, rich slugged to fund election sweeteners
Treasurer slips out of red but finds $5b for battlers

The headlines were accompanied by a cartoon of a rather dilapidated Wayne Swan with many feathers missing, and a bandaged neck.

”Treasurer Wayne Swan has promised a wafer-thin surplus of just $1.5 billion after a savage round of spending cuts aimed at the rich and big business.

Despite the austerity drive, he has found $3 billion for the unemployed and low and middle-income earners as an extra election year sweetener to combat the carbon tax.

Family payments worth between $100 and $600 will be rolled out next year as a ‘‘cost of living’’ supplement. The rich will pay for the redistribution of wealth with the loss of a range of concessions and benefits.

The Gillard government has had to dump another promise – the 1 per cent company tax cut which would have been funded by the mining tax – in a move likely to rile small business.”

Note the pejorative words in just these few paragraphs. ‘Black Swan’, ‘Cash Splash’, ‘rich slugged’, ‘election year sweetener to combat the carbon tax’, ‘wafer-thin surplus’, ‘savage…spending cuts’, ‘aimed at rich and big business’, ‘the rich will pay’, “cost of living” pointedly in inverted commas, ‘dump another promise’, ‘rile small business’; all designed to paint a negative picture of what the Government is doing through these budget measures. It’s not the facts that are being disputed here, but the way they are being presented.

Now let’s see how the piece might have been written.

White Swan brings in surplus budget
Finds savings to support lower income families

Treasurer Wayne Swan has achieved what the Coalition confidently predicted he would never do – bring down a surplus budget. Despite this, Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey insists that the 2012/13 Budget is all ‘smoke and mirrors’, that Swan has ‘cooked the books’, and that the surplus will never eventuate.

Families who will soon receive cash benefits deposited into their bank accounts will be unlikely to see them as ‘smoke’; rather they will regard them as mirroring the promise made by the Gillard Government to spread the benefits of the mining boom more evenly across the country.

These family benefits were achieved by not continuing with the planned company tax reduction of 1%. Although the Government insists it is committed to reducing company tax and has established a working group to consider how this might be achieved, its desire to do so in this budget was frustrated by the Coalition’s intransigence in refusing to vote for the tax reduction, and by the business community’s refusal to pressure the Coalition to support the company tax cut. Unable to get its legislation passed, the Government decided instead to use the money thereby saved to support working families, especially those with school children.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott is crying foul and accusing the Government of breaking another promise although it was his decision to oppose the tax reduction and prevent the Government from keeping its promise. PM Gillard pointedly drew attention to Abbott’s hypocrisy.

The business lobby expressed its disappointment, but observers commented that it has only itself to blame for not showing public support for the move, by looking down its nose at a ‘mere 1% company tax cut’, and by not bringing the Opposition along with it in support.

What do you think about the facsimile – same facts, vastly different presentation!

Next, let’s look at Editor-at-Large Paul Kelly’s piece in The Australian on May 12. The paywall prohibits access to no more than the first two paragraphs, but that is enough to get Kelly’s drift.

This week highlighted how economic policy has been trapped by a tainted parliament


”Despite its fiscal merits and "return-to-surplus" Wayne Swan's budget strategy is unlikely to win the clean political oxygen it needs to secure even a modest turnaround in Labor's fortunes.

For Labor, the minority government parliament has now become political poison. The trap is diabolical – the government's survival depends on tainted numbers such as Craig Thomson and Peter Slipper, yet such transparency ruins the government's integrity on a daily basis.”

Note the pejorative words in the headline: ‘trapped by a tainted parliament’. Readers know what is coming. Note too how Kelly pointedly uses inverted commas around “return to surplus”; we get his sarcastic meaning. He posits that the Government is ‘unlikely to win clean political oxygen’. He uses a poisonous phrase to describe minority government: ‘political poison’. He uses one of his favourite descriptors – diabolical – in asserting that the government is trapped: ‘the trap is diabolical’. He insists survival depends on ‘tainted numbers’, which ‘ruins the government’s integrity on a daily basis’. It’s a measure of Kelly’s literary skill and partisan antagonism to Labor that he could pack so much malice into just two paragraphs.

So let’s try writing the piece another way.

Swan’s Budget wins support for its sound economic policy

Although working within a minority government presents daily challenges to PM Gillard and her ministers, Treasurer Wayne Swan has garnered support from the cross benches for his 2012/13 Budget, and already the so-called ‘Schoolkids Bonus’ legislation has passed both houses of parliament.

Despite trenchant opposition to providing benefits to families to ease the costs of schooling from Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, whose philosophy seems to be ‘no matter what it is, oppose it’, the legislation has passed into law and cheques will soon arrive in the bank accounts of eligible parents with schoolchildren.

This rapid outcome was achieved in the face of repeated attempts by the Opposition to slow down parliament through repeated motions to suspend standing orders to debate the accusations made about Craig Thomson, now sitting on the cross benches as an Independent.

Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, and Manager of Opposition Business, Christopher Pyne, had the audacity to suggest that the PM should not accept Thomson’s vote because it is tainted by accusations against him, although no charges have been laid. This suggestion is not only unconstitutional but would have disenfranchised the electors of Dobell whom Thomson represents.

That such a suggestion could be made points to the extremes to which Tony Abbott will go to seize power.

Same facts – different presentation.

Next shall we look at Political Editor’s Dennis Shanahan’s article in The Australian on May 15.

Credibility takes a hit in wooing battlers

”With all his talk of fighting billionaire miners and class warfare rhetoric, Wayne Swan has achieved exactly what he intended with last week's budget: a direct appeal to Labor's base and some support bought from families and low-income earners.

What the Treasurer has sacrificed to achieve a small lift in the latest Newspoll for Labor and to give the Gillard government hope of survival is economic credibility.”

Again all we have is two paragraphs but that will do.

In just seventy words, Shanahan manages to tell us that the Government’s ‘credibility’ has taken a hit, that the Newspoll result constituted just ‘a small lift’ to Labor’s ‘hope of survival’, but in achieving this it has ‘sacrificed economic credibility’. With that opening, the other paragraphs are almost redundant.

So try this:

Wayne Swan supports ‘battlers’

In a masterstroke, Treasurer Wayne Swan has crafted his Budget for 2012/13 to support families on lower and middle incomes, while bringing back the Budget to surplus, as promised. His Budget redistributes wealth in a way that begins to narrow the widening gap between the well off and the poor. It truly is a ‘battler’s Budget’.

Although this outcome was ridiculed by Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey, who has repeatedly said that “Labor will never bring down a surplus budget”, Swan has achieved it through well-targetted cuts to spending, particularly in Defence, one of the largest consumers of taxpayers’ money, and he has done this without impairing Australia’s security.

Already, acceptance of the Budget has been reflected in the latest Newspoll that shows a modest lift in support for the Government accompanied by a sharp drop in support for the Coalition. While this may be but a temporary change, it suggests the economic credibility of the Government might be on the rise after presenting its Budget, and its electoral prospects brightening.

Finally, let’s look at an item of contemporary interest, an article by Chip le Grande in The Australian on May 16.

Union boss sues Tony Abbott for 'thug slur'

”A courtroom showdown is looming between Tony Abbott and one of the nation's most militant union leaders after the Opposition Leader last night refused to back down from public comments that Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union organiser John Setka says wrongly portray him as an industrial thug.

“Mr Setka, a former Builders Labourers Federation senior official twice jailed and repeatedly fined during a career spent at the sharp end of construction industry disputes, is suing Mr Abbott for defamation in response to a speech he gave at a Master Builders Association conference earlier this year.

Note how in just two paragraphs le Grande paints a pretty poor picture of Tony Abbott’s accuser, John Setka, with words like ‘most militant union leader’, and by referring to Steka having been ‘twice jailed’ and ‘repeatedly fined’, presumably through union activities. In two paragraphs he is deliberately attempting to tip the balance of opinion against Setka, and by corollary towards Abbott.

Here’s how it the matter could have been reported:

Tony Abbott sued for defamation

A leading union leader, Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union organiser John Setka, has issued a writ for defamation against the Opposition Leader for remarks that he made during an address to a Masters Builders Association conference in February where he said: "So many of you have got to go on to sites every day and you've got to deal with the John Setkos of this world every day. And the last thing you need is home visits from some of the gentlemen associated with some of the industrial organisations."

Mr Abbott went on to talk about intimidation, extortion and "thuggery" in the televised speech.

Court papers filed by Setkos say Mr Abbott meant to call him "a thug, in that he visits the homes of people working in the construction industry for the purpose of intimidating them" and makes demands "that amount to extortion".

In response, Mr Abbott says he stands by his remarks and will strongly defend the case.

Mr Setkos has been involved in defending the rights of his union members, and having been at the sharp end of several intense construction disputes has been fined and jailed for his efforts on behalf of his members.

Mr Abbott is entitled to the presumption of innocence until proved guilty, and should be afforded due process in the court. Questions are being asked though about whether Mr Abbott ought to stand aside until the matter has been resolved, as he has insisted some other parliamentarians do in similar circumstances, and whether his ‘tainted’ vote should be counted. In a minority parliament where every vote counts, it could be reasonably argued that if Mr Abbott insists that Craig Thomson’s vote ought not to be counted, his too should be embargoed.

I trust this game we have played as imaginary owners of the Murdoch Empire and therefore able to determine not the facts, but the way they are presented, has demonstrated that simply by writing them in a way that does not demean or demonize the PM and her Government would make all the difference in the world to how the selected stories would be received by the public, the reaction they would evoke, the attitudes they might induce, and the way they might influence voting intention at the next election.

The Political Sword has long contended that the mainstream media is a major player in Australian politics, and has a disproportionate influence on how voters assess the major political parties, and how they might cast their vote. It has argued that the Gillard Government has two opponents to battle: its natural opponent, the Coalition, but also the majority of the mainstream media, which is manifestly hostile to the Labor Government and supportive of the Coalition. It continually puts the Gillard Government under the blowtorch, while declining to do the same to the Opposition. More seriously, it distorts the facts, cherry-picks the information most favourable to its arguments, and cloaks what facts it chooses to use in pejorative language deliberately designed to demean the Government, diminish its achievements, and smear its ministers, particularly its leader, our PM.

A mainstream media different from the one we have could create a significantly different attitude in the electorate, and a different outcome at the next election.

I trust that this little game will have persuaded you that if the selected stories were written in a way that enhanced the image of the Government instead of depreciating it, instead of the electorate’s attitude to the Gillard Government being strongly negative, it would be strongly positive.

In six months of such positive press the polls would certainly turn around. Labor would be well in front, and the Coalition languishing.

What do you think?

The polluting power of poisonous politics

We are witnessing the most disgraceful campaign of poisonous politics this country has ever experienced. It is perniciously eroding the confidence of the people in its elected Federal Government. The campaign is aided and abetted by much of the mainstream media, which faithfully echoes the disingenuousness and downright lies of the Opposition.

This world has seen how lies perpetrated by malevolent people can cause damage to people and ultimately unspeakable destructiveness. The treatment of Jews by Nazis in Germany in the first half of the last Century is a grotesque example. They used Joseph Goebbels' ‘Big Lie Theory’ that states: “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” Goebbles went onto say: “The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie…”.

Before Coalition supporters bristle at the drawing of the parallel between what the Federal Coalition is doing and what the Nazis did during the last Century, read on for a while, and then use the comments option to point out whatever error you believe I have made. I am not in any way suggesting that the Coalition and the Nazi Party have anything in common ideologically or politically. What I am proposing is that the Coalition is using Goebbels' ‘Big Lie Theory’ to advance its political objectives. Let me elaborate.

We know that the Nazis used a purposeful strategy to demean and dehumanize the Jewish race. As recorded in Jews in Nazi Germany, in a speech in Munich in 1922, referring to the Jews, Hitler said: "His is no master people; he is an exploiter: the Jews are a people of robbers. He has never founded any civilisation, though he has destroyed civilisations by the hundred...everything he has stolen…” It goes on:“Once in power, Hitler used his position to launch a campaign against the Jews that culminated in the Holocaust. Hitler blamed the Jews for all the misfortunes that had befallen Germany: the loss of the First World War was the result of a Jewish conspiracy; the Treaty of Versailles was also a Jewish conspiracy designed to bring Germany to her knees; the hyperinflation of 1923 was the result of an international Jewish attempt to destroy Germany.”

Having promoted hatred, the Nazis forced Jews to identify their businesses with the Star of David, which they also had to wear around their necks with the label ‘Juden’. Hatred for the Jews based on their race was deliberately escalated. They were labelled as exploiters and robbers, to be despised and rejected. In 1938, in Germany and Austria, 10,000 Jewish stores, homes and synagogues were burned, looted and destroyed in what became known as ‘The Night of the Broken Glass’. The police did not intervene; the fire brigade did not arrive; and afterwards the Jews were forced to clean up the glass from the streets and pay for the damage.

I relate all this simply to demonstrate the terrible outcomes that result from fostering hatred, from demeaning people, from debasing people or groups by telling downright lies about them.

This is what we have seen in this country politically for a long while. But it has never been as gross as it has been since the ascent of Tony Abbott to leadership of the Federal Coalition. And it is having its predictably awful effects on our political life, and particularly on the people’s image of the nation’s Prime Minister. Let me illustrate with some now familiar examples of how Abbott and his strategists and minders have used these devices to damage the Prime Minister and her Government.

Demeaning the Prime Minister – Ju-liar
It was shock jock Alan Jones who created the now-infamous tag: ‘Ju-liar’ at the beginning of that appalling interview on Sydney 2GB in February 2011, which he began by publically castigating her in the way of a schoolmaster chastising a schoolgirl for being ten minutes late for the interview. His attitude from the beginning was belligerent and rude. Writer Mick Molloy had this to say after hearing the audio: "There is not another nation in the world that would tolerate that kind of cross examination, that petulant cross examination from a radio announcer." Indeed!

The Ju-liar label stuck and has been repeated endlessly by the PM’s adversaries, the media and by members of the public. Every time it is used it puts her down, diminishes her in the eyes of the electorate. Tony Abbott has promoted the ‘liar’ meme over and again, adding variations such dishonest, devious, evasive, tricky, untrustworthy, not to be trusted with anything. Is it any wonder that opinion polls about attributes rate her poorly on ‘trustworthiness’? Coalition members will argue that she broke a promise on the carbon tax. I won’t go over the fallacy underlying this accusation, but to label the PM as an inveterate liar as if all other politicians are as pure as the driven snow when we know they are all prone to lying, is disingenuous. Abbott’s lies abound as pointed out on The Political Sword in Tony Abbott, we are sick of your lies, yet has he been burdened by the ‘liar’ tag? No, it’s only Julia Gillard, and that is not because she has told more lies than Tony Abbott – he leaves her well behind – but simply because the Coalition strategy is to make the ‘Ju-liar’ tag stick indelibly, as it virtually has. She will have great difficulty shaking it off.

Even during Abbott’s Budget Reply speech last night, during which the electorate was hoping to hear about his vision and plans for our nation, what we inappropriately got was another vitriolic attack on PM Gillard, calling her ‘fatally compromised’ and urging her removal, and yet another load of lies, misrepresentation and deception.

Demeaning her has been very successful. It has given ‘permission’ for others to follow the lead. So we saw ‘Ju-liar’ again at the Alan Jones sponsored anti-carbon tax rallies in Canberra where Tony Abbott stood with Sophie Mirabella and Bronwyn Bishop in front of ‘’Ditch the Witch’ and Bob Brown’s Bitch’ placards. Once the demeaning process begins, it escalates.

It has given the OK to interviewers, even on our ABC, to be rude and aggressive to our PM. Only this week we had Chris Uhlmann interviewing her on 7.30 in a demeaning way, disrespectful of her as a person, and as our Prime Minister. If you missed it, view it here. His opening question was: “Do you think that people believe you when you say that you're going to reach a small surplus by this time next year?” Later Uhlmann asked: “If you have to break a series of old promises on aid, on Defence, on company tax, in order to make new ones, why should people believe any promise? And later: “And all of them were promises that you broke.” And: “But to some of those three things, on company tax, on aid and on Defence, you're happy that people will look at all those things and take you at your word, that you are not breaking any of those promises?” Note the repetition, and the emphasis on ‘broken promises’, which is another way of calling her a habitual liar.

Just as in Nazi Germany ‘permission’ was given to the German people to demean the Jews, so in Australia ‘permission’ has been given to anyone to demean our PM by calling her a liar, to question her ability to keep a promise, to be disrespectful and rude. It seems there are all too many willing to join the throng ready to demean her whenever they can. It is dangerous for our democracy that our elected leader is so treated.

Labelling the Government incompetent
This is another tactic that the Coalition has used to good effect. Again it was Alan Jones who said: “…in the best country in the world we have the worst possible government.” How many times have you heard Tony Abbott say “This is a bad government getting worse”; “This government can’t manage money”; “This government is addicted to spending and debt”; “This is an illegitimate government that has lost its way”; “This government cannot be trusted”; and just this week in reference to the return of the budget to surplus: “This is a desperate government in diabolical trouble that has cooked the books and the people are not buying it’. How does he know what the people are ‘buying’ the day after the Budget? He doesn’t – it’s just another Abbott lie, which we can be sure no one in the media will challenge.

More recently, it has become fair game to accuse PM Gillard of lack of judgement. Abbott does it all the time, and just this week on 7.30 Chris Uhlmann asked the PM in reference to the fact that her support for Craig Thomson went on for a long time: “Was your judgment wrong on that?” And later: “Was it an error of judgment to put Peter Slipper in the Speaker's chair?” Uhlmann was deliberately provocative and rude.

In Nazi Germany the Jews were labelled as exploiters, robbers and conspirators, despoiling and destroying the countries in which they lived, and responsible for all their economic ills. These labels invited retaliation from non-Jewish citizens. In a similar way, PM Gillard and her Government have been labelled as illegitimate, incompetent, one that can’t manage the economy, lead by a PM who has poor judgement, and which needs to be removed immediately. Judging by the mood of the people derived from the additional questions asked by pollsters, the people have bought this rhetoric. They blithely discount the buoyant state of our economy, the fact that the Labor Government steered the country through the GFC with flying colours, sustaining it as the most admired economy in the developed world, and instead believe the rhetoric of the Coalition, echoed in the media, that this is an appalling government that should be chucked out now. In polls that ask which party is the best economic manager, the Coalition wins comfortably, the respondents apparently ignoring the Government’s outstanding recent record as economic managers and the Coalition’s almost complete absence of economic credibility or knowledge. Coalition propaganda, redolent with big lies, Goebbels-style, has so far won the day.

Dishonesty about Government achievements
A vast array of lies has been perpetrated about the achievements of the Gillard Government. Although it has now passed over 300 pieces of legislation, and only yesterday the ‘Schoolkids Bonus’ legislation, the Coalition represents it is a do-nothing, incompetent government. Among the bills passed have been vitally important and far-reaching reforms in education, health, infrastructure, climate change and taxation. None of these achievements are acknowledged by the Coalition or by much of the media. Moreover, the reality of the GFC and the ongoing uncertainty in global markets, against which Labor’s economic achievements have been wrought, seems also to be denied by the Coalition and the media.

Successful programs have been pilloried. The HIP, demeaned by the derogatory term ‘pink batts’, insulated a million roofs; the BER, characterized by the slogan ‘waste and mismanagement’, was highly successful, attracting over 97% approval. JohnL has debunked the criticism of these initiatives in a series of four articles on The Political Sword: Absurdities abound as Abbott wages a crass war, Abbott’s amazing amnesia on insulation inquiry, Nonsense of $8bn BER ‘waste’ claims exposed, More falsehoods of the $8bn BER ‘waste’ claims.

Yet the pollsters tell us that much of the public still regards these programs as failures, debacles and disasters. The only exceptions are the parents who have children at the schools that benefitted from the BER; they give it a tick.

Spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt
The ‘toxic’ carbon tax is an example of how slogans and cleverly designed Coalition propaganda have influenced the electorate through fear mongering. From a majority wanting action on climate change a couple of years ago, a minority now accept that an ETS, preceded by a price on carbon, is necessary. Abbott’s ‘toxic tax’ has taken hold in people’s minds. His propaganda has effectively negated the generous compensation that will accompany its introduction. Climate deniers too have been given much publicity and have added to the rising opposition to the ‘toxic tax’. Lies and disingenuousness have triumphed over the truth. Only when the people experience the tax will the fear and the doubts be removed, and that will take time.

Another area where Abbott has transmitted doubt and uncertainty is the state of the economy. For his own selfish political purposes he has constantly talked down the economy, even in the face of low unemployment, low inflation, low interest rates, growth at trend, return to surplus, and a vast pipeline of investment. The result is diminished consumer and business confidence, which is harming our economy. Abbott does not care about the damage he is doing so long as he gains some political advantage. He is an economically irresponsible liar.

Media complicity
How is it that this mountain of lies, misrepresentation, and disingenuousness has been promulgated so successfully. There is a simple answer – the media.

In Nazi Germany the police and the state-controlled media were complicit in transmitting hatred and lies that so poisoned the minds of the people against the Jews that indescribable obscenities were committed against those people, beginning in the towns and cities, but inexorably leading to the extermination camps of the Holocaust.

In the same way, much of our media, particularly the Murdoch media, is complicit in promulgating the hatred of our PM and the lies about her Government, so much so that her position in the eyes of much of the electorate is significantly diminished. Indeed, her chance of reelection is deemed impossible by the very same media that has spread the hatred and the lies, relying as they do on their own unreliable polls of voting intention, polls that result from the lies and misrepresentations that are fed daily to the public by their media outlets. Is it any wonder her status in the polls is low?

I trust that this comparison of the outcome of Goebbels' ‘Big Lie Theory’ in Nazi Germany last Century, and the contemporary outcome of its use by Tony Abbott, the Coalition and the media here in our own country, will convince you of the pernicious effect of this malevolent strategy, and that you will join me in condemning it vehemently.

Poisonous politics pollutes powerfully. It was lethally dangerous in Nazi Germany – it is dangerous here.

What do you think?

Julia Gillard can defeat Tony Abbott in 2013. But how does she neutralize Rupert Murdoch?

The ‘secret’ is out. We have known for ages that Rupert Murdoch has wanted PM Gillard out. Robert Manne wrote about Murdoch’s aspiration in The Monthly in Bad News: Robert Manne on Murdoch’s Australian and the Shaping on the Nation and many, many in the Fifth Estate have testified to his intention to oust our PM and install Tony Abbott - after all it’s his turn! But last week Murdoch’s twitter finger got the better of him and he tweeted: @rupertmurdoch 
Dramatic, slimy events in Australian politics. Country desperately needs election to get fresh start. 
28 Apr 12. There’s no room for doubt now – Murdoch wants an election and expects that it will be the end of Julia Gillard and her Government.

While PM Gillard needs to defeat Tony Abbott and the Coalition at the next election, that is not her most forbidding task. Her most powerful enemy is Rupert Murdoch. It is he who must be countered for electoral success. Our PM has two virulent enemies, and an unequal battle with them.

For Murdoch to tweet this message so soon after his most recent appearance at the Levinson Inquiry where his influence over the political process and politicians in the UK was placed under the public microscope so forensically, and where he denied having such influence despite overwhelming evidence that this was so, is a sign of the man’s arrogance and self confidence.

He has been subtler in the past, but seems to see no need for subtlety now. When all but one of his 175 papers worldwide editorialized in favour of US involvement in the Iraq War, he claimed that he had not instructed them to do so, or even influenced them. But they all knew what Uncle Rupert thought and wanted, and followed sycophantically. Just as kids know what their parents think, so do Rupert’s children, and knowing on what side their bread is buttered, readily, even enthusiastically, comply.

At the Levenson Inquiry, Murdoch put the lie to his earlier contention that: ‘I don’t instruct my editors’ when he said: ‘If you want to know what I think, just read the editorials in my papers’. The counsel assisting the Levinson inquiry, Robert Jay QC, used a telling description of the relationship between Rupert Murdoch and those he wishes to influence, and in turn, who want to influence him. He described it as a 'pirouette', where each circles the other subtly indicating wants and desires, without a telling word being spoken to convey the message – the ‘pirouette’ was all that was necessary.

On the Australian scene though, Murdoch’s pirouette seems unnecessary. Everyone knows his power, his capacity to make and break political leaders. After his first personal meeting with Murdoch over lunch, Tony Abbott said: ‘I hope he liked me’. We understand why.

Murdoch’s tweet was no subtle pirouette – it was bare-knuckle advocacy, Abbott style.

Most recently, a majority of the UK parliamentary committee set up to investigate phone hacking by News Corporation described Rupert Murdoch as “not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company”. This ‘unfit’ person is the one who tweeted that Australia needs an election and a ‘fresh start’.

But let’s go back to ‘Julia Gillard can defeat Tony Abbott in 2013’. Attribute by attribute, Julia Gillard is superior. As two political leaders in a face-to-face contest without the pernicious influence of the mainstream media malevolently distorting the truth, without the influence of Murdoch’s outlets gunning incessantly for PM Gillard, how would they measure up?

Negotiating skills
The old adage, coined by Prussian politician Otto Von Bismark in 1867: ‘Politics is the art of the possible’, is as true now as it was then. Negotiating what is possible is therefore a crucial skill. Julia Gillard has this in spades; Tony Abbott does not.

From her days as a legal advocate, through her time in parliament in ministerial positions in industrial relations and education, to her period as Deputy Prime Minister and then Prime Minister, Julia Gillard has exhibited outstanding negotiating skills. After seventeen long days following the 2010 election, she, and Tony Abbott negotiated with the Independents, seeking their support to form a minority government. The PM won hands down. Stories gradually emerged about Abbott’s approach – ‘I’ll do anything, offer anything to become PM’. As Tony Windsor reported, and repeated this week on Lateline, the only thing he said he wouldn’t offer was the nether part of his anatomy, and he’d even consider that. His desperation to do whatever it took to gain power was starkly exhibited when, sitting with his shoes parked on his coffee table, he offered Andrew Wilkie $1 billion to rebuild the Royal Hobart Hospital, an offer that Wilkie described as ‘almost reckless’, one he rejected as irresponsible, preferring instead Julia Gillard’s $100 million offer. Because Abbott failed to indicate from where the money would come, Wilkie moved toward Gillard on the grounds that Labor's proposal was "a much more ethical way to go than simply just grabbing $1bn for Tasmania". Despite the obvious appeal of a massive grant for his electorate, Abbott’s dubious ethics repulsed Wilkie.

Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott too gave PM Gillard high marks for her negotiating skills and Abbott very low marks. We know the outcome, so painstakingly spelt out on that fateful day in October 2010 when they held their press conference to announce their support for PM Gillard.

She also negotiated a compromise with the three big miners over the MRRT, which although some think is inadequate, is nevertheless now part of our laws.

And if anyone is entertaining the idea that Tony Abbott’s negotiating skills might be on the improve, just listen to his latest advice to Windsor and Oakeshott. He advised them “to wake up to themselves” and vote for a no-confidence motion in the Government; an admonition hardly likely to draw them to him.

Negotiating skills: Julia Gillard 9, Tony Abbott 0.

Policy creation
Even conceding that the party in Government is the one charged with the responsibility of formulating policy in order to pass legislation, the score of over three hundred pieces already passed is impressive. And many of those have been momentous. The much maligned carbon tax as a prelude to an ETS, the MRRT, the repeal of WorkChoices, the heath care and education reforms, changes to the private health insurance rebate, plain packaging of cigarettes, massive infrastructure projects, notably the largest ever, the NBN, and more recently the aged care reform package and the National Disability Insurance Scheme, are but some of the important measures that the Gillard Government has put in place. This is a vigorously legislating and courageous Government, which has achieved what it has against almost continual opposition and obstruction from the Opposition and its leader. Next week it will return the Budget to surplus after going into deficit to shield this nation from the ravages of the global financial crisis that devastated so many other developed nations.

What policy has Tony Abbott created? He excuses himself from announcing policies on the grounds that he will do so ‘in good time before the election’, which of course he insists should be held right away. What we have seen is an extravagant PPL scheme that favours the wealthy, a thought bubble about a nanny scheme for working mothers, an immigration policy that is simply a re-run of the Howard Government scheme, with the added hairy-chested effrontery towards Indonesia, Abbott style, which has already evoked anger in that nation. He has his expensive ‘Clayton’s’ Direct Action Plan to combat climate change that will pay the polluters to stop polluting and send the $1300 bill to householders. Economists won’t endorse it. Environmentalists doubt if it will work. Abbott also says he would set up a mechanism for monitoring government expenditure, which he insists he would prune radically; he would remove 12,000 public servants and abolish the climate change department as part of this pruning.

Is there anything else? Yes, he will piggy-back on the NDIS, for which he announced he is indeed ‘Dr Yes’.

His attempt to cost his shadow budget last year was beset with shonky figures and an $11 billion black hole; his efforts to find $70 billion of savings in his budget this year will be watched with great interest and suspicion.

Oh, I almost forgot, Abbott will repeal the carbon tax, the MRRT, stop the NBN, reverse the health insurance rebate, all if he can, and yet retain many of the goodies that flow from these Government policies, using his magic pudding approach.

If any Coalition supporters have read this far, please let me know if I’ve forgotten any innovative Abbott policies.

Policy creation: Julia Gillard 8, Tony Abbott 1.

Vision for the nation
Here the comparison is stark. While Julia Gillard has spelt out her vision for the nation repeatedly, one the tune deaf media cannot or will not hear, and has developed a policy agenda that embraces many far-reaching and courageous reforms that her Government is steadily having passed through the parliament, Tony Abbott has opposed most of them and has offered almost nothing.

Has anyone ever heard him make a comprehensive vision statement? If so, please post it in the comments.

Vision: Julia Gillard 8, Tony Abbott 2.

Understanding of global economics
Few words are needed here to describe the contrast. Julia Gillard was part of the team of four that fashioned the Government’s successful response to the GFC, and she is involved day after day with her economics team, Wayne Swan, Penny Wong, Bill Shorten and David Bradbury in attending to the nation’s economy, currently the envy of the world. Tony Abbott is bored with economics, should not be let anywhere near money according to Peter Costello, has made almost no statements on how Australia’s economy should be run, and what he has said has shown his ignorance. His team of Joe Hockey, Andrew Robb and Mathias Cormann add very little.

Economics: Julia Gillard 8, Tony Abbott 1.

Communication skills
The media would give Tony Abbott high marks for ability to communicate with the public, and mark Julia Gillard down.

When virtually all communications are endlessly repeated slogans and virulent attacks on the PM and her Government, communication is straightforward and seemingly effective. But what about Abbott’s current affairs appearances? He rarely appears on programs that probe, preferring to interact with sycophantic shock jocks like Alan Jones. His only appearance on 7.30 this year was with the flaccid Chris Uhlmann in the chair, a prerecorded event that allowed editing of the bloopers. His press conferences are tightly controlled, and when the going gets tough, he walks away. He did it again this week when asked probing questions about Christopher Pyne’s prior contacts with James Ashby, Peter Slipper’s accuser.

Skill in communication is needed when complex matters need to be explained and when the questioning is tough and insistent. Tony Abbott avoids these situations; Julia Gillard encounters them almost every day and takes multiple questions.

The problem Julia Gillard has is that whatever she tries to communicate is masked or overshadowed by the media, misreported or not reported at all. Journalists mark her down for her voice, her delivery, her demeanour, and her content, which it claims does not cut through, but never accept any responsibility for this lack of ‘cut through’.

Springboard diving includes a weighting for difficulty. Tony Abbott usually launches into a ‘bomb’ that any kid can do; Julia Gillard faces a substantial degree of difficulty almost every time she launches. That ought to be acknowledged when rating their respective skills in communication.

Communication: The media would rate Julia Gillard as around 2, and Tony Abbott as 9. I would rate her as 7 and him at 5.

Fairness and egalitarianism
Julia Gillard’s mantra from day one has been one of equality of opportunity for a good education, a rewarding job, fairness in the workplace, and equal opportunities for the disabled. What has Tony Abbott offered? A Rolls Royce PPL and the possibility of a nanny scheme that would favour the wealthy, and, despite his colourful denials, a veiled threat to bring back some of the features of WorkChoices. Is there anything else he has offered in the name of fairness?

Fairness: Julia Gillard 10, Tony Abbott 1.

Julia Gillard has exhibited dignity and restraint in her public appearances, even in the hurly-burly life of parliament. In stark contrast, Tony Abbott has exhibited snarling attack-dog behaviour ever since he became leader. Always demeaning PM Gillard herself, and virtually everything she says and does, he has spread such vitriol that deep-seated hatred of her has been generated in some of the electorate. He has appeared against a backdrop of placards displaying ‘Ditch the Witch’ and Bob Brown’s Bitch’. His venom seems to have no bounds; his charity is invisible. He is the most destructive politician in living memory. Should you have forgotten his malignant words or those of his colleagues, take a look at the video on Archies Archive on 2 May, The Right and Polite Discourse and the ‘list of ten insults and threats to our current Australian Prime Minister’.

Despite this verbal abuse, despite the media’s rudeness, despite much of the media insisting the electorate has stopped listening to her, she continues to exhibit equanimity, resilience, courage, strength, determination, and a sense of purpose. Few could have withstood these personal attacks as calmly as she has.

Abbott’s words have debased not only the PM and the Government and every action it takes, but the economy as well, the best in the developed world. He is a major contributor to the diminished confidence that the people and businessmen exhibit. We live in a wonderful country, the envy of the world, yet Abbott talks it down incessantly, frightens people with his talk of doom and gloom, scares voters with dire talk about the carbon tax and almost every other move the Government makes. As David Marr observed on last Sunday’s Insiders in the context of the poor popularity ratings of both leaders, “Abbott has managed to pull her down to him”. His incessant negative talk is dangerous and harmful to our nation.

Behaviour: Julia Gillard 7, Tony Abbott 0.

Let’s give them equal scores for intelligence, persistence, endeavour, and connection with the people. Julia Gillard does not rate well for trustworthiness in opinion polls, but neither does Tony Abbott.

So on a face-to-face contest with a neutral media free of unfair interference (what a bonus that would be), Julia Gillard would beat Tony Abbott hands down on vision, policy formulation, and negotiating policies through a parliament that has a minority government, thereby getting done an imposing set of reforms that will set this country up for the decades ahead. She would overwhelm him in the area of economics, fairness, and behaviour. It would be a ‘no contest’ event.

Tony Abbott is not a fit and proper person to be the leader of this nation. He lacks the necessary competencies, but more telling, since becoming leader his behaviour has been destructive in the extreme. He is incapable of building, incapable of leading this nation.

Yet we all know that the next election will be a mammoth contest, not because the skills of the leaders and their vision and their plans are well-matched, because they are not, but because the sinister spectre of Rupert Murdoch casts a dark shadow over the contest, so threatening, so menacing that unless it can be countered, victory will be impossible.

Every move that PM Gillard makes is blunted by the Murdoch media, aided and abetted by Fairfax and the ABC that now seems slavishly to follow the News Limited lead, echoing the headlines, often repeating the lines word by word. It seems that the majority of journalists, but thankfully not all, are captive to the Murdoch domination of news and current affairs, perhaps afraid that should they step out of line in this world of shrinking opportunities for political journalists, they find themselves on the outer.

Think how many announcements of splendid Government initiatives have been deliberately overshadowed by other events adverse to the Government. It is no accident that the Slipper affair entered the public arena just as Julia Gillard announced her important aged care reforms and the NDIS. As soon as she announces something that might bring credit to the Government, the media trumpets on its front pages a negative counter story. When did you see a positive Government story dominate the headlines of the Murdoch tabloids or its flagship, The Australian? Good news for the Government always gives way to bad news. Is it any wonder that Julia Gillard despairs that she will ever get fair and balanced coverage from the Murdoch press, or for that matter any other part of the media.

And when Coalition members and supporters step out of line with inflammatory comments, such as Graeme Morris’ ‘kick her to death’ remark, there is scarcely a murmur anywhere in the MSM. Christopher Pyne’s involvement in the ‘get-Slipper’ campaign is glossed over and quickly buried, even when more evidence of his complicity is uncovered.

The simple fact is that most, but providentially not all of the mainstream media, is engaged in a concerted and unremitting campaign to demean PM Gillard, to diminish her Government, to paint a dishonest picture of the state of our economy, to give scant credit to the Government for its achievements, to highlight perceived shortcomings, and to exaggerate so-called ‘scandals’. At the same time, it fails dismally to hold the alternative government to account for its lack of vision, policies and plans, its shonky economics, its incompetence and its appalling behavior. All the Coalition’s manifest deficiencies are glossed over, seldom challenged or simply not acknowledged. This is done via the well-tried editorial devices of burying the Government’s good news in the back pages or well down the news bulletin, overshadowing the good news with the bad, or simply not reporting it at all, and endlessly repeating the bad but not the good. Even the ABC exhibits this phenomenon, and in many of its interviews uses ‘wet-lettuce’ questioning of Coalition members, and acerbic, interrupting, harassing, rude questioning to intimidate and diminish Government interviewees.

How has this disgraceful and unfair state of affairs come about? In my view, the prime perpetrator of this malfeasance is Rupert Murdoch.

We have all known about the influence he exerts via his 70% ownership of metropolitan newspapers, and through his TV outlets here in Australia, and in recent months we have seen his pernicious influence on politics in the UK and the depths to which he will stoop for a salacious story. I expect we might see something similar in the US.

Rupert Murdoch has always sought to influence politics in every country where his vast empire has its tentacles. He has now stated overtly what we all knew, that he wants PM Gillard and her Government out and Tony Abbott and the Coalition in, and will use all his massive media power to achieve that end. He will not ease back, he will not take the pressure off, he will, through his media, one overseen by sycophantic hirelings, wage relentless war on our PM and her Government. It is to the mainstream media’s eternal shame that so many of the others have followed the Murdoch lead.

Julia Gillard would trounce Tony Abbott were the election to be based on competence, performance and behaviour, and an accurately informed electorate. But we know that the Murdoch factor will ensure that not only is the electorate not informed about the Government’s achievements and its plans, but that it will be deliberately misinformed through distortions, omissions, and at times downright lies.

Julia Gillard can defeat Tony Abbott, but can she counter the Murdoch menace? How possible is that? Can the Fifth Estate reduce the effect of the Murdoch hazard? How?

What do you think?

No Room in the Lifeboats


In the last, few tumultuous weeks we have seen emerge an irresistible metaphor for all that is wrong in Australian politics.

In perfect harmony with the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the original RMS Titanic, events in modern Australia have taken on an uncanny resemblance to the disaster of so many years ago.

The unsinkable Labor government, once sitting so proudly high in an ocean of polls, has been holed and appears to be going down.

Maker and un-maker of Prime Ministers and governments, Rupert Murdoch, has seen his credibility mortally breached. Disaster awaits him, not immediately, just as the Titanic did not sink immediately, but surely, as his spin and lies to the Leveson inquiry attract rebuttal by an army of critics, ex-employees and eye witnesses who are queuing up to testify to his wicked lies and evasions. The legendary omertà of Murdoch's organization, the "watertight holds" of his own personal Titanic, have been breached. Is it now only a matter of time until the freezing waves start gushing over the Murdoch bow?

The ever-shrinking Australian press industry, beset by falling stock prices and dwindling sales, has compensated by turning a once robust tradition of objective reportage into a farce of cheap opinionation, amateur forensic analysis and wilful omission.

A bellowing rump of political commentators, the prima donna, preening elite of journalism write, without the slightest sense of the absurdity of their outpourings, increasingly bizarre, self-referential and nonsensical analysis. The pampered prognosticators, their feet still dry, waving their first class tickets, claim a right to seats in whatever lifeboats are left, even as they repel survivors still in the water, seeking rescue. In a tighter than ever market for their shallow skills, even the non-News Ltd journalists, those from the nearly bankrupt Fairfax and the cowering ABC, work effectively for Murdoch as when their own lifeboats go under, they believe there will always be a welcoming News Ltd there, ready to take them on-board.

And as if to cap off the farce with sheer, head-shaking insanity, Clive Palmer has declared he will build a new RMS Titanic, promising, as did the builders of the original ship - now at the bottom of the Atlantic - that it will be unsinkable, even with his bloated, morbidly obese frame aboard.

Murdoch's grand vision of profitable chaos is coming to fruition in front of our eyes. It is a race to see who will disappear first: yet another Labor government, the corrupt, criminal News Corporation empire, the incestuous group thinking press, or the entire nation of Australia, once a "lucky country", now one of the last remaining laboratories where the Murdoch family is still permitted to conduct its vain, stomach-churning political experiments.

A hundred or so years ago Murdoch's father, Sir Keith, fell victim to the then elite of British Imperial class system. Sir Keith was set upon by generals and politicians alike for his reporting from the front at Gallipoli and later on The Western Front. In one of the most revealing pieces of evidence given by his son, Rupert, at the House of Commons Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, Sir Keith's ghost was resurrected as the now white-haired and wizened son told the Committee of his lifelong quest to vindicate his father, by taking on the elites of whatever country in which he chose to do business, either as a citizen or (mostly) as an alien, and pulling them down to suit his business interests and victimhood simultaneously.

Murdoch has been on this self-imposed mission ever since, or at least that is what he would have us believe. Maybe he half-believes it himself. But in place of the old elites, he has positioned himself, his family, his companies, and those to whom he gives his political patronage, as the new elite. Murdoch works for no person. People work for Murdoch, whether those people be individual staffers, editors or entire political parties and governments. Shareholders and voters in those companies and countries respectively are the pawns in his game of megalomania and iron-fisted control. Godfather-like, he runs News as a private dynasty.

On Sunday Murdoch tweeted that it was time for an election in Australia "to make a fresh start", away from the sleaze and corruption of the Labor government. That the "sleaze" had been mostly promulgated through his own newspaper outlets Murdoch omitted to mention. Perhaps it was Twitter's 140-character limit that prevented him from doing so.

Dutifully, on Monday we saw bootstrapped calls for the resignation of the Prime Minister, even from the Fairfax papers.

Michelle Grattan, the doyen of the Canberra Press Gallery, made her now infamous call for Julia Gillard to "fall on her sword". By that afternoon a commentator on ABC TV's The Drum had told viewers that such a call, by someone no less than the "respected" Michelle Grattan, was a serious development indeed. Grattan's obvious hatred for Gillard (who is known to dismiss convoluted Grattan questions with the word "Next!") was not even mentioned.

Katharine Murphy, Grattan's groveling clone, and acolyte, acknowledged that her readers want policy discussion, not dissertations on political belly-fluff. She responded, exasperated, by telling them there is no other story than belly-fluff, and then proceeded straight onto leadership challenges that might be mounted against Gillard in the coming months.

Dennis Shanahan wrote in Murdoch's sentimentally favourite, but wholly unprofitable flagship, The Australian (po-faced, presumably, could Dennis be anything else?) that Gillard's reluctance to abandon her Prime Ministership was causing tangible damage to the Australian economy, as if the Opposition had not been callously talking down the economy - one of the most prosperous in the world - for the past 36 months.

Graeme Morris, a panel member with Sky news on that same day, suggested Gillard should be "kicked to death." This added to a suite of calls for her physical demise, made over the last year or so: being "drowned in a chaff bag" from Alan Jones; "burnt at the stake" as a witch by members of the astroturfed Consumers And Taxpayers Association (CATA), so beloved of the shock jocks on 2GB that they give it hours of free time every week; and for a target to be placed on her forehead (all the better for the people of Queensland to take aim), an assassination concept put out by Tony Abbott in the House of Representatives itself. This is a man who, without irony, constantly tells us that the dignity of the Parliament is being destroyed by the government.

The utterers of these close-to-seditious homicidal suggestions have mostly apologized for them afterwards - the Sydney Morning Herald called Morris' comment a "quip" - claiming to have temporarily taken leave of their judgement, in the heat of debate. But of course the damage is already done in the uttering, not the apologizing, and their corrections of the record were buried by a media obsessed with their own assigned mission: the demise of the Gillard government before any of its key legislation can kick in. In their wild enthusiasm to see the government fall they seem to believe that an election, or handover of power from Labor to the Coalition, on the eve of the Budget session, would be good for the country.

Ladies and gentlemen: I give you our responsible, professional media, "fair and balanced", non-judgemental and reporting only objective fact.

Speaking of facts, what is this "sleaze" everyone is talking about?

It seems that a Labor MP, Craig Thomson, allegedly had his hand in the till of the Health Services Union, abusing its credit cards on prostitutes and lavish expense account expenditure. But for this supposedly "criminal" activity, Thomson has not even been charged. Police investigations in two states and a series of inquiries have found he has no case to answer, and that is when his name has been mentioned at all. He is presumed innocent by the law, but clearly the media thinks the law is an ass and have convicted Thomson anyway. the Opposition calls for his standing down, but when he does finally resign from Caucus and the Labor Party, they say it's not enough. They say Gillard should "refuse his vote", whatever that means. The Opposition does not tells us, either.

Peter Slipper, in main composition a creature of the Queensland Liberal and National Parties, a "colorful character" by all accounts who has cut quite a swathe with his razor's edge use of parliamentary entitlements in the past, is up before the Federal Court on charges - actually at this moment mere assertions - of homosexual-based discrimination against a staff member James Ashby. Ashby alleges that homosexual advances were made to him by Slipper, and that when they were rebuffed Slipper said he was too fat and refused him access to a Harbour cruise he might normally have attended. It is claimed that these "spiteful" discriminations, made only because Ashby is homosexual have caused Ashby psychological harm and real career damage.

Ashby also asserts that Slipper "forced" him to witness a crime: the handing over of signed but otherwise blank Cabcharge dockets to a mysterious limousine driver on three occasions. This, alleges the apparently fragile Ashby, breached the Commonwealth's duty to him to provide a pleasant workplace, free of such shocking occurrences as the filling out of blank chits. The sensitive Ashby wants a lot of money to be paid as compensation for both affronts to his delicate mental constitution.

If this leaves you scratching your head, you are likely not alone.

Slipper has been charged with no crime. He has not been charged with "sexual harassment", (as many in the media have suggested), either. Sexual harassment charges involve compulsory mediation and conciliation, not something that Ashby's expensive "gun" lawyers, Harmers, are famous for. Ashby has set his case around establishing his undoubted homosexuality and then alleging Slipper treated him discriminately because of it. When you think about it, the charge involves closer to the opposite of sexual harassment. Ashby appears to be going for the main chance: a lucrative Federal Court damages award which could, if everything goes well, set him up for life, as similar awards have set up others.

Indeed there may be a perfectly reasonable explanation for at least the Cabcharge incidents: they were and remain within Slipper's entitlement, plus the practice of using Cabcharge dockets for limo rental is ubiquitous among parliamentarians. The rest is administrative detail.

Slipper is reserving his case on the discrimination matter. Much has been made, by some who should know better and by some who are proud they couldn't care less, of a supposed "reversal of the onus of proof" in these matters by "Julia Gillard's Fair Work Act", but this does not detract from Ashby's duty to prove the asserted actions by Slipper occurred in the first place. Guilt must still be proved at law, and moral innocence should always be assumed. The concept of "innocent until proven guilty" forms the basis of our legal and jurisprudential system, another convention sought to be trashed by the media and the Coalition.

As to Ashby's state of mind, we know very little. Perhaps after today's revelations (referred to in Ashby's court documents, although without the "Pyne" context) that Christopher Pyne met with Ashby for drinks a month before Ashby dropped his bombshell, Pyne knows more. No wonder Ashby did not seem to want Pyne's name brought into his case - preferring to leave the identity of the person he met with as an "enemy" of Slipper's.

How Ashby turned from a dutiful employee, reportedly fiercely defending his boss's reputation against enemies everywhere (indeed right up to a couple of days before lodging his complaint to the Court), into a psychological wreck in hiding, too scared to front the media he has sent off looking for a moral "nigger" to lynch is a mystery.

James Ashby has disappeared from the face of the Earth, and no one is trying very hard to find him, at least not anyone from the ranks of the media. They are too busy vying with each other for the loudest, most clamoring negative connotation of Slipper's behaviour, thus, indirectly, condemning the Gillard government, to worry about checking out James Ashby's bona fides, much less his motivations, by interviewing him directly. They let his publicity manager act as a firewall between them and him. Maybe the commentators believe this satisfies their professional obligations. After all, they seem to adjudicate everything else among themselves, right down to handwriting analysis. Why not evaluate their own performance "in-house", as it were?

In the panicked rush to the lifeboats the last vestiges of decency, fairness, and justice in Australian political life have been swept aside. The presumption of innocence has been thrown overboard as so much unnecessary baggage.

The media lifeboat, full to the scuppers with by-lined opinion writers, tries to distance itself from the suction that will be generated by the sinking of the traditional medium of the printed page. In the meantime, any poor wretch who tries to climb aboard to have their side of the argument heard is mercilessly shoved off with the sharp end of an oar for their trouble.

In the Murdoch lifeboat the scene is similar. As his empire distils down from a world wide enterprise, a floating palace full of promise and profit to a grubby, fetid bilge in the bottom of a sinking rowboat, anyone not "family" is unceremoniously thrown overboard: staff members, managers, ministers and, in Australia, entire governments and political parties have become expendable. Australia was Murdoch's first and, now it seems, has become his last redoubt, a lifeboat of last resort where his final desperate battle against the marshalling forces of ethics and objective truth will be fought.

What of the government? Despite the challenges to its integrity and the vicissitudes of its existence, the government lifeboat continues to stay afloat. It went into the water launched in haste, upside down (film buffs will note that this has been a scene in most "Titanic" genre movies, but ominously not in Murdoch's recent version), and has had to be kept afloat by deft maneuvering of its crew, striving to keep a delicate balance between basic survival against political and policy achievement. There have been dissenters and challengers to the newly promoted Second Officer's authority (as the Captain has already drowned), and there may well be more challenges to come, perhaps even from the same source as the previous ones. Will the political body of Captain Kevin Rudd rise to the surface still breathing, as the opinionistas speculate? Or will it sink like a stone, as common sense dictates? Whatever, for the moment there is no option for the government lifeboat but to stay as shipshape as possible, ignore the weather and try to be above water in the morning and the one after that, if necessary.

So much is changing, so much is at risk. There are icebergs everywhere, for everyone. Any mistake means certain death. A poor choice of rowing companion can mean temporary dry feet, but no ultimate rescue. A failure to grasp an oar of opportunity can mean being left to drown. If you're already in the water, what do you choose to be under: the funnel as it topples from its gantry, or Clive Palmer jumping for his life? Decisions, decisions...

If you've read this far, then thank you for your perseverance, but you really do belong in a submersible.

I think I've done this metaphor to death, except to ask: when the unsinkable Titanic does finally hit the iceberg, who will end up on a life boat, who will be adrift in the water, and who will go down with the ship, never to be seen again?
UPDATE #1 May 1, 8.45pm
The UK's Guardian reports as follows:
Rupert Murdoch is “not a fit person” to exercise stewardship of a major international company, a committee of MPs has concluded, in a report highly critical of the mogul and his son James’s role in the News of the World phone-hacking affair.