The Queensland Quagmire

If a week is a long time in politics, then the last week must have felt even longer than eternity in the Fires of Hell for Tony Abbott and the rest of the lost souls of the Federal Opposition.

So, in an attempt to cheer them up, Peta Credlin and her hubby, Brian Loughnane, have decided to throw a fancy dress party. It will have a biblical/religious theme and, of course, Tones is coming along as his hero, Jesus. Brian and Peta, respectively, are dressing up as that nasty biblical plutocratic duet, Herod and Herodias.

So, at the venue, Joe Hockey and Christopher Pyne are acting as bouncers. Dutifully, they are guarding the door, awaiting the guests. Joe is dressed in a cassock and Pyney has a dog-collar on.

Peta: Erm...thanks guys for coming along and helping out with security...Hopefully, we’ll all have a spiffing evening which will help us forget about the Purgatory we had to endure last week...

[Joe and Pyney are no mugs. They know that by volunteering to be on the door, they can get into the keg early, so are both well-oiled even at this early stage of the proceedings.]

Peta: Oh, and great costumes, guys...very thematic...

Joe: Yeah...kitted out in my cassock, Peta, it’s obvious who I am, isn’t it?

[Peta ventures, “Friar Tuck”, and Joe beams, pleased as the punch he’s been drinking, Peta got it in one.]

Peta: Erm,, with your dog-collar, I presume you’re some sort of a priest?

Joe: Nah, he’s come along as the dog in the manger – haven’t you seen him wrecking Question Time every week...haw...haw...

Brian: Yeah, and talking about mangers, I bet Julie Bishop rocks up with an upturned crib on her head...bwahahahahaha...

Peta: Yeah, she’s an expert at copying other people’s stuff...haw...haw...

[Suddenly, interrupting the raucous party spirit that is already under way at the venue door, a stretched limo pulls up and a coterie of characters that looks like it has stepped off a Cecil B deMille set, alights.

Firstly, and most appropriately, out steps Tony Abbott, with a long wig and false beard, but dressed only in his trademark budgie smugglers. Accompanying him is Sophie Mirabella, dressed as Salome; Phil Ruddock is Methuselah; Alan Jones is a penitential monk kitted out in a nice chaff-bag sackcloth-and-ashes number; Warren Truss, making a snoring sound, presumably is acting out the role of one of the disciples who fell asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane; Barnaby Joyce has come along as Moses, with a stone tablet under both arms, each with six Commandments on it; and Bill Heffernan is carrying a pitchfork.]

Peta: Erm...Tones...I know you said you were coming along as Jesus, but I didn’t know they could afford budgie smugglers in those days...

Tones: Of course they could afford them in those days, Peta – there was no carbon tax then to clean out their wallets...heh...heh...

Brian: Tones, I’m very disappointed, I must say, that you’ve turned up in a limo – I thought you would arrive on a donkey...hee...hee...

Tones: Oh very droll, Brian...But, speaking of dumb-asses, Peter Dutton sends his apologies – he’s got a bit of a runny nose and he says he is going to make use of the circumstances to build up some hands-on experience for his future Health portfolio gig...heh...hee...

[So, amidst much mutual back-slapping and boisterous bonhomie, the Federal Opposition party animals, except for Joe and Pyney, who are still dutifully manning the door, enter the venue.

Once inside, however, Tones views the decor and is singularly unimpressed. There is no stage for him to mount later, so that he can give his Sermon on the Mount to the assembled faithful. He complains to Peta, who in turn clicks her fingers, summoning Brian over, like a little lap-dog.

“Sheesh”, sighs Tones to himself. “Why do we do it? Why do we allow ourselves to be demeaned like this? I reckon those gay marriage guys must have rocks in their heads...”

Peta orders Brian to get himself toot sweet over to the Builder’s yard across the street and pinch some planks of wood to build a stage for Jesus’ sermon. Knowing what side his unleavened bread is buttered on, Brian scoots across and is back within two shakes of the Lost Lamb’s tail. He gets down to work so diligently, he makes St Joseph the Carpenter, at the time of the Sanhedrin Stimpac, look like the Big Man Himself after he had made the world in six days and was having his sabbath RDO.

But, another thing Tones wasn’t happy with was the band. Again, he complained to Peta, for which she rebuked him, telling him to lighten.]

Peta [peeved]: I only remembered at the last minute, mate, about organising some music, so they are all I could get...

Tones: Well, a Bruce Springsteen tribute band is better than nothing, I suppose – what do they call themselves, anyway?

Peta: The Swann-E Street Band, I think...and as a bonus, they told me they are going to do a version of the Whyalla Wipeout later on!

Tones: Huh! Couldn’t be any worse than Emo’s pathetic rendition...haw...haw...

Peta: Oh, and the reason we couldn’t afford to hire a venue with a stage was that we splashed most of our dough on the band’s fee...

Tones: Oh? How much did those clowns sting us?

Peta: Well, put it like this...I don’t think Bruce himself would charge much more – the Springsteen look-a-like front-man told me they charged so much cos “they needed to do something to find the dosh to pay for their budget surplus...”

Tones [conciliatory]: Well, I must say, Peta, the food and drink is second to none...there’s everything would make the original Herod and Herodias nosh-up look like Jesus’ forty days’ fast in the wilderness...

Peta: Yeah...the only thing is, there’s so much to be consumed, we’ll never get the buggers to go home at the end of the evening...But, then again, when you start your Sermon on the Mount, that’ll soon clear the room quicksmart...heh...heh...

Tones: Oh, very drool, Peta...But, I’ve got an even better idea for clearing the room – just get Sophie to do her Salome dance-of-the-seven-veils routine – that’s guaranteed to get even the cockroaches on their bikes...hee...hee...By the way, have you seen Julie this evening...bwahahahahaha...

[Whilst Peta and Tones have been chewing the fatted calf inside, Joe and Pyney have been dutifully announcing the guests as they enter. However, there has been a hiatus for a while and they are bored stiff. They decide to play a joke on Tones.]

Joe [hollering into the festivities hall]: And now, dressed as the Angel of Death is...Ms Leigh Sales!!!!

[The very mention of the name of his most recent red-headed nemesis puts the fear of the Lord into Tones and he scuttles, trembling at the knees, under a table to hide, much to the merriment of the assembled guests and Joe and Pyney especially.

Then, outside, walking along the street, Joe and Pyney notice, heading in their direction, a strange figure, tramp-like, and seemingly attired in goat-skins, with a staff in one hand and a jar containing some insects in some yellowish liquid in the other.]


Joe [very alarmed]: OMG!!! It’s that nutter, “CanDo” Campbell Newman!!! He thinks he’s John the Baptist, fresh from making a desert wasteland of the province of Queensland!!! Quick, lock the door before he gets in and spoils the Federal party as well...

[However, falling back on his macho army training, CanDo is more than a match for Friar Tuck and the Poodle who Pooped in the Manger. He whacks them with his staff, leaving them lying senseless on the pavement outside the venue. Striding inside, he spots Tones, who has just extricated himself from under the table. CanDo immediately genuflects in front of his Messiah.]



[Even Peta is lost for words. “What a potential freakin’ disaster we could have on our hands here”, she whispers to herself. “If this fruit-loop banana-bender convinces the whole country that what he is doing in Queensland is a fore-runner to what we are planning to do federally, we’re stuffed!”

Then, CanDo, hollering something about “if locusts and wild honey are good enough for Queenslanders, then they’re good enough for the rest of you”, smashes, with hammering blows from his staff, all the containers of food and drinks sitting on the tables.

Peta, trying to keep her head, but determined that CanDo is about to lose his, turns to Brian, who, all night, had been axing wooden planks and hammering the stage together. She orders him to chop CanDo’s scone off, which he does expertly with one blow. Then, Peta turns menacingly to Tones.]

Peta: Righto, Jesus...your cousin John the Baptist has let the cat out of the bag, so we’ve no other option but to sacrifice you as well...Brian!!! Bring two of those planks and make a cross!!!

[Understandably, the crucifixion of Tones puts a dampener on the evening’s jollifications, so the venue soon empties, except for the Swann E Street Band, who had kept on playing, and Peta. To make sure she gets her bond back, Peta is tidying up, sweeping the floor around Tones’ cross. However, from the near-dead figure, she hears a whispered, barely-audible, pleading coming from his almost-lifeless lips.]

Tones [hoarsely]: Peta...Peta...

[Peta pulls a stool over to stand on, so she can hear Tones’ dying last words.] Tones: Peta...Peta...

Peta: What is it, Tones? I can’t hear’ll have to speak up...

Tones: Peta...I can see The Lodge from here...

Peta: Well, too bad can blame your stupid cousin, CanDo, for your predicament...It’s his fault you’ll never see it’s inside...Now...that reminds me...I better make an appointment to see the pre-selectors for Warringah...there’s going to be a vacancy there pretty soon...heh...heh...

[Then, mockingly, the Swann-E Street Band plays its final number of the evening: “We Take Care Of Our Own”.]

The disintegration of the Abbott machine

Early every morning, the Abbott machine swings into action. Fresh batteries are placed in Abbott man, he is briefed with the day’s messages, slogans for the day are identified, and he is sent on his way, a Duracell Bunny thumping his tub, to friendly TV stations for a puff piece encounter with a morning host who asks soft questions that serve as a vehicle for him to regurgitate the day’s messages and repeat his well worn slogans. It doesn’t matter what the issues are, or what questions he is asked, his answers are the ones for which he has been pre-programmed, and out they come on cue, with some tub thumping slogans as an encore.

He has done this successfully for years because seldom has an interviewer had the courage or perspicacity to challenge his answers, or divert him from his pre-ordained script. It has all been so easy. All that has now changed.

There have been gathering doubts about Abbott man’s legitimacy, about his authenticity, about his grasp of the complexities of today’s politics, about his capacity to cope with anything that is thrown at him, about his ability to answer the awkward or embarrassing question. The doubts have been obvious in recent press articles, documented in Journalists awake! You know Tony Abbott is conning you

But it was not until Leigh Sales took her courage in both hands and challenged Abbott man’s answers in a 7.30 interview last week on the deferment of work at BHP Billiton’s Olympic Dam project, a commercial decision that Abbott man insisted was the fault of the carbon and minerals taxes, that he was exposed as the deceitful person we have always known him to be. The fact that the minerals tax does not apply to copper or uranium mining meant nothing; Abbott man ploughed ahead with his faux sorrow at the deferral, labeled the two taxes as responsible, and so sure was he that there was political mileage for him in this event, he precipitously took up a longstanding invitation to appear on 7.30. He now wishes he hadn’t. Through insistent questioning, Leigh Sales exposed his deception, his lies, his scaremongering, and his inadequacy as an alternate PM. If you haven’t seen it, here is the link to the interview and the transcript.

Abbott man obfuscated, hesitated, lied, tried to avoid answering her questions, diverted attention by reference to Jacques Nasser’s statement about the taxes made some months ago, said he had not read Marius Kloppers’ statement about BHP Billiton’s decision, and later said he had, and under Sales persistent questioning steadily disintegrated into a confused wreck. When she changed the subject to his scare campaign about the carbon tax, out came the now modified slogan, ‘python squeeze’ rather than ‘cobra strike’, and when she nailed him on his use of the word ‘illegal’ to describe asylum seeker arrivals by boat, he was left flabbergasted. I have not heard anyone extol Abbott man’s performance, because it was appalling, the worst since his infamous performance with Kerry O’Brien and later with Mark Riley. Here is the transcript of the O’Brien interview. Here is the video. Here is the Mark Riley shit-happens interview.

The disintegration of the Abbott man and the Abbott machine accelerates.

Emboldened by Leigh Sales, Channel Nine’s Lisa Wilkinson tackled Abbott man herself over the BHP Billiton deferment. What is usually a cakewalk for him on this channel turned into another rough road. Here is the link to the interview on The Wall website, which has added some amusing subtitles to the video. (You need to click ‘View all images/videos’ at the bottom to see them.)

Challenged by Wilkinson, Abbott man bumbled his way through, repeating his pre-programmed messages no matter what questions she posed, umming and arring, obfuscating, insisting he had read the Kloppers statement after all, yet having denied this in the Sales interview. He excused his ‘confusion’ over this by saying Sales’ questions were ‘rapid-fire’ and that he ‘had a lot on his plate’. If he thinks his plate is overloaded now, how could he possibly cope with a prime ministerial plate? Arthur Sinodinos was soon out in Abbott man’s defence, obviously feeling he was somewhat ‘embattled’, a term usually reserved for the PM.

The Wilkinson interview was another calamity for Abbott man, who was stunned by this usually benign interviewer really putting in the boots.

NormanK has pointed out how Abbott man blinked his way through this uncomfortable interview, blinking at a rate that indicates nervousness over and above what might reasonably be expected from a senior politician accustomed to being on TV. Notice this when you view it. Note too that Julia Gillard faced questions from the Canberra Press Gallery for almost an hour without ‘blinking’!

These two female interviewers were not the only ones to leap all over Abbott man. The PM opined that he seemed to have a misogynist streak; Nicola Roxon, who had had an unpleasant encounter with Abbott man during a press conference on health before the 2007 election, called him out by saying he seemed threatened by women in powerful positions, and Tanya Plibersek agreed, citing his behavior in parliament that had him thrown out for defying the Speaker’s ruling. Abbott man responded by claiming he was ‘a modern man’ used to working with women at home and at work!

He made another telling mistake last week when he said private schools were the disadvantaged ones, not public schools, where the majority of disadvantaged children attend. He was hammered on this by Julia Gillard in QT and characterized as ‘Jack the Ripper’, ready to ‘rip out’ funds from public schools.

It was a miserable week for him.

The media has noticed Abbott man’s disintegration. The sycophantic News Limited will probably go softly on him for a while, but a few journalists haven’t waited. In the SMH, Paul Daley says: “Beneath the veneer of assuredness around the Coalition, confidence in Abbott is also waning. That's got nothing to do with a single poll that indicates Labor's primary vote has lifted from catastrophic to merely disastrous. But it has everything to do with the fear that the opposition's ongoing tactic of negating or obfuscating on major government policy - not least on the interim carbon tax, the mining tax and education reform - is starting to lose potency, as the media and the public demand detail and alternatives. Abbott fared badly under the blowtorch last week regarding the reasons for BHP Billiton's decision to shelve its Olympic Dam expansion. He looked like a leader with a short attention span, and none for detail.”

Misha Schubert, in her last piece for the SMH, asked: “Will Abbott continue to lead the Liberals, and become prime minister? After last week, with his line that private schools - not public ones - were hard done by and his exposure on trying to tie the carbon and mining taxes to BHP's Olympic Dam deferral in a mesmerising interview with Leigh Sales on 7.30, some - including in his own ranks - began to wonder anew.”

Even Peter van Onselen in The Sunday Telegraph said in: Is Tony a one-trick pony? “In a week where media attention followed the saga of the Prime Minister's legal dealings 17 years ago, Tony Abbott has also come under pressure. His performance on the ABC's 7.30 Report on Wednesday was not good by any measure, and the government stepped up its attacks on the opposition's slippery accounting and overstated criticisms of the carbon tax in parliament. Even one of Abbott's own frontbench colleagues told me: "The carbon tax attacks are starting to look a bit stale, don't you think? Like he's a one-trick pony perhaps." There are growing internal voices calling on Abbott to broaden his appeal beyond what he plans to repeal if elected prime minister. So far the calls are falling on deaf ears.”

Paul Howes made a cryptic comment: “When the Harbour Bridge was built, the Liberal Party didn't even exist but, given the shrill knee-jerk reactions we see coming from the Liberals today about investment in new infrastructure projects such as the NBN, you could imagine a yesteryear version of Tony Abbott waxing lyrical about Labor's waste in building a massively expensive bridge across the harbour when there's a perfectly good ferry system in place.”

Lainie Anderson in the South Australia Sunday Mail also asks: Is Abbott just a one-trick Tony? She begins: “Every time Opposition Leader Tony Abbott opens his mouth, I feel like I need a shower.

“He's such a grubby piece of work - so naked in his ambition, so willing to stretch any truth to score a quick political point and so unimaginative. When he started picking over the carcass of Olympic Dam this week, he might at least have had the decency to wipe the smug look from his face.

“He might have taken five minutes to get his facts straight on the reasons for BHP shelving the $30 billion project. And it wouldn't have hurt to workshop a few credible arguments on how Gillard policies have had an impact on BHP's cost pressures, instead of lazily (and incorrectly) parroting his "great big taxes" line. Actually, if he had been really strategic he would have been a statesman - saying very little about the demise but announcing a Coalition plan to work with key states and mining companies such as BHP on new strategies to keep investment flowing in a volatile resources market.

“Alas, that's not Mr Abbott's style. He's a kick-heads-now-ask-questions-later kind of guy.

“That's OK when you're bull ... . ing over a few beers around a barbecue, where you can mouth off without fear or favour and your words aren't thrown back at you on national TV. It's not so cool when you're keen to run a country of 23 million reasonably well-educated people, many of whom would quite like the political discourse to rise above three-syllable slogans.

“With Labor's polls beginning to rise (albeit from a pathetically low base) and Mr Abbott continuing to languish near Ms Gillard in personal approval ratings, you would think party strategists would be single-minded in branding the Opposition boss as The Next Leader of Australia. But Mr Abbott seems incapable of transforming himself from masterful antagonist to credible alternative.

“Which begs the question. Is this man a one-trick Tony?

“Brand strategy group Marketing Focus ran 16 focus groups in four mainland states earlier this month to gauge customer views on the attributes of effective managers.

“They were surprised when talk turned to Australia's political leadership and unflattering perceptions emerged of Ms Gillard as a "turn-off" and Mr Abbott as "an angry, negative primate".

"The women participants were very specific," Marketing Focus chief Barry Urquhart told Radio National this week. "They felt uncomfortable, they felt offside, they didn't warm to him by nature.

"For that reason he's going to have to reach out, be warm, be embracing, be engaging."

“For the record, I'm not buying Labor's increasingly shrill line that Mr Abbott has a problem with women in positions of power - he has a long and strong record of promoting women into leadership. But there's no doubt he has to improve his standing among female voters. Taking a more considered, less opportunistic and bombastic line of attack would go a long way to achieving that. (Or, perhaps, that sounds too much like Malcolm Turnbull?)

“The Age political editor Michelle Grattan summed it up best this week: "If trust is the Prime Minister's stand-out problem, Abbott's is credibility. Put simply, the man exaggerates."

“When he was gleefully "exaggerating" about the carbon tax and the mining tax killing off the Olympic Dam project this week, Mr Abbott did at one stage try to insist that his primary concern was the future of our state. "I want those jobs for South Australia," he said. Really? I don't think so. There was only one job on Mr Abbott's mind when he seized the opportunity to opine on the Olympic Dam demise.

“There's only one job on his mind. The rest of us are just collateral damage.

Another focus group story emerged last week, which ended with the words: “When Tony Abbott’s name is mentioned, people laugh”. What a telling indictment.

Look for the signs of accelerating disintegration of the Abbott machine and the Abbott man in the weeks and months ahead. It probably won’t be explosive; a more gradual process is likely, as too much of the Coalition’s future and News Limited’s campaign to destroy the Gillard Government is tied up in Abbott man’s survival.

The Coalition has no one to replace him; Malcolm Turnbull would be the people’s choice, but his party can’t stomach him. News Limited has invested so much of its reputation in destroying Julia Gillard and replacing her with Tony Abbott, that it is unlikely to call Abbott man out. It will try to wrap him in cotton wool and distract from his disintegration by attacking Julia Gillard as it has done so disgracefully this last week via its ‘Walkley Award winning investigative journalist’ Hedley Thomas, and a host of opinion pieces and editorials, unadvisedly continuing these even over this weekend to justify its reprehensible position.

And there’s more to come. As the polls narrow, how possible will it be to repeal the carbon tax, which would require a Senate majority for the Coalition? How popular will stopping the NBN be among those who want the same as those that have it? How will Abbott man compensate Telstra for continuing to provide and maintain the ageing copper wires required by Fibre-to-the-Node technology, the Coalition’s preferred approach? How will Abbott man find the massive savings to fund his PPL and his other expensive promises? How will Abbott man cope with the increasingly strident connection between him and Campbell Newman being made by commentators and the public as Newman’s decline in popularity continues?

Abbott man and his Abbott machine have had a dream run. Propelled by three word catchy slogans, enhanced by countless stunts – truck driving, banana stacking, and fish kissing – to highlight the ‘catastrophic’ carbon tax ‘wrecking ball’ that will cause ‘unimaginable’ increases in the cost of everything, Abbott man is faced with the inconvenient reality that this has not come about, and the people have noticed. He is left naked, still reciting his negative mantras, scratching around for the odd statement that seems to support his position, and making one up if he can’t, as he did with the BHP Billiton announcement, now being openly challenged by journalists who are sick of his deception and lying, and now looking vulnerable to his own party’s machine men who will be wondering how they can ditch him if the polls fall away for the Coalition. The Abbott machine is shaky, destitute of any positive policies to appeal to the people, still reliant on boring, tired old slogans that are now being seen for what they have always been – hollow, disingenuous, and deceptive.

The Abbott machine is disintegrating, and the Abbott man with it.

What do you think?

Our Media: Prosecutor, Judge, Jury and Executioner

Are you, like me, incensed by the performance over the last week of our mainstream media, particularly News Limited, as it pursued our Prime Minister over matters 17 years ago when she was a solicitor at Slater & Gordon?

What has become of our media? Supposedly the guardian of our democracy, the seeker and purveyor of truth, the erudite analyst of current affairs, the vehicle for learned opinion, it has degenerated into a politically-motivated ‘frothing at the mouth’ rabid attack dog, bent on savaging the elected leader of this nation. Murdoch’s News Limited will not let go. Its teeth are dug deep. It is determined to foster and advance a vitriolic hatred of our most senior politician. Facts have become irrelevant.

News Limited media is an utter disgrace and a pox on our democracy. We are witnessing a catastrophic and seemingly irreversible descent into mediocrity and maliciousness within what once was a respected mainstream media operator.

We are seeing this crucial part of our society taking to itself the role of prosecutor, judge, jury, and if it can, executioner as well. It is obscene.

The last piece on The Political Sword detailed all the material on the Slater & Gordon matter that had been published recently, along with the comments and the opinion. It suggested that the motivation was malignant, and the purpose was the destruction of our Prime Minister and her Government. I need not go into the details. You can read them here.

Julia Gillard has been assailed for years with implications of wrongdoing in the early nineties during the time she was an industrial relations lawyer at the Labor-oriented Melbourne law firm of Slater & Gordon, and about the circumstances of her resignation in 1995. I do not intend to canvass the details here as they are well and truly on the public record. She has stated repeatedly that she was not responsible for any wrongdoing at S&G and left that firm on her own volition. But that has not stopped the matter being raised over and again, most recently over the last week in The Australian.

She has repeatedly refused to dignify this scuttlebutt by addressing it in public. She refused most recently on Sky’s Agenda when questioned by Paul Kelly, but yesterday words published in The Australian precipitated her holding a press conference that followed her announcement, with Chris Bowen, of an increased asylum seeker intake. Here is how she began:

“However, this morning something changed on that. The Australian newspaper republished a false and highly defamatory claim about my conduct in relation to these matters 17 years ago. It is a claim about me setting up a trust fund.

“A claim was first published by News Limited in relation to me and funds during the election campaign in 2007. On that occasion, the claim was retracted and apologised for. The claim was made again by Glenn Milne, a then columnist with the Australian newspaper, such a dim view was taken of his conduct in relation to that matter his employment was terminated.

“Despite these events, a similar claim has been recirculated by The Australian newspaper today. People may have already seen that the claim has been retracted and apologised for and that retraction and apology appears on the Australian web site and as I understand it on all News Limited web sites.”

She had decided that ‘enough was enough’ and allowed journalists to subject her to fifty minutes of questioning until literally they had ‘exhausted’ their questions. Senior journalists such Sid Maher from The Australian, Malcolm Farr from The Daily Telegraph, Michelle Grattan and Phil Coorey from Fairfax, Chris Uhlmann from the ABC, Karen Middleton from SBS, Paul Bongiorno from Channel Ten and Mark Riley from Channel Seven were there amongst many others.

She kept going even as the time for QT approached, until there was not one more question that escaped their mouths. Only then did she go onto unrelated questions.

In my opinion she answered all their questions without obfuscation. Whenever a journalist asked for clarification, she gave it. Her answers were straightforward and convincing, even to most, if not all of the journalists present.

You can view her press conference here. It is worth a look.

So how did the media react? The ABC had Chris Uhlmann on 7.30 who explained: “This rebooting of ancient charges began as an Internet campaign and one of its torchbearers is cartoonist Larry Pickering. His base attacks on the Prime Minister are among the many reasons why much of mainstream media hasn't revisited this story. But The Australian's recent investigation did raise new information and new questions, like why Julia Gillard never opened a file on the association. She says it was routine to provide free advice.”

Later he added: “Malicious motivations aren’t confined to the Internet and Julia Gillard's hope that this marks the end of the matter might be optimistic. But the Prime Minister was challenged to answer lingering questions and she did that today and she did it well. She has, in the estimation of her former law firm and its former senior partner, done no wrong and her performance today was one of the best she's given in a long time.

“But the rise of the embittered citizen journalist raises other questions for those who would seek to serve as politicians.”
Then 7.30 played this clip:

“JULIA GILLARD: Yes, it does worry me that that's where politics has got to. That things that are demonstrably untrue, indeed, absurd, are circulated and re-circulated and re-circulated and somehow, at least in some section of the population, manage to worm their way in to become the orthodoxy.

“CHRIS UHLMANN: The Prime Minister has good reason to worry.”

He seemed to give a reasonable account of the press conference, but why end with that cryptic comment – who knows what he meant?

Then on Lateline there was Tony Jones. Beginning with a report by Tom Iggulden, Jones then interviewed Sid Maher and Phil Coorey – journalist interviewing journalists – a format that has become emblematic of so many political TV shows. They behave as if they are the ‘experts’, the ‘insiders’, privy to information denied less privileged others, whose opinions by definition must be superior to the man in the street. I suppose we ought to have expected that the ABC would want to analyse the PM’s press conference in tedious detail, but it really was a tiresome event. You can view it here if you have the inclination and the stomach.

Of course Sid Maher felt is necessary to defend The Australian, insisting that its coverage was “based on primary sources, not something that's circulated on the Internet”, in effect denying that it was Larry Pickering’s ravings that precipitated it. Pressed on whether the matter was now closed, Maher, who reminded me of the ‘smiling assassin’, said: “I think she's answered a lot of questions…one can never really know what this issue will throw up. Certainly, Julia Gillard - there's no evidence that she had any - did anything wrong. But, as I say, this matter is not closed and so one can't know what can come in the future.” I got the impression that Maher did not want the matter closed, and feel certain that even on the flimsiest pretense, The Australian will reopen it. Not immediately, but when it wants to inflict further damage on the PM, especially if she is having a good run, or if Newpoll is in the field.

Phil Coorey looked a little uncomfortable, blinking a lot. Asked his view, he said: “Look, there are people still digging on this…But I just get the impression by listening to Gillard today that she seems fairly confident there's no smoking gun there…She doesn't seem like she's hiding or worried about something else that's going to come out now.” Like most journalists, Phil seemed unwilling to commit himself confidently. Groupthink, which was the subject of my first piece in June 2008 in the days of Possum Box, is alive and well. No journo wants to be wrong, to be caught out, as they have been embarrassingly over the years.

Finally, asked if this was a defining moment for the PM, Coorey referred to a John Howard interview many years ago when Howard said: "Hit me with everything you can," exhausted the questions, when he was absolutely on his knees in early '01, 11 years ago, and this reminded me of that. And that was a turning point for Howard. Too early to tell with this. She's got a lot - the Prime Minister's got a lot bigger problems than John Howard did in 2001, I would say.” So Phil, with his awkward words, covers his back, just in case.

I found the interview distasteful. There were three journalists dissecting what the PM said, how she handled the press conference, prognosticating on how it would be received, and how it would affect her future. I asked myself how the opinions of these people, so close to the action that they might not be able to see the woods for the trees, so incestuous that independence of opinion requires unusual courage, were better qualified to opine than we are, who study politics from a distance, day after day.

On ABC 774 Radio this morning Jon Faine, an ex-solicitor who knows how legal offices work, was insistent that the pursuit of Julia Gillard was ‘completely wrong’, and akin to the way Simon Overland, previous Chief Commissioner of Police in Victoria, was relentlessly pursued by The Australian and his career destroyed. The Australian has form.

How did The Australian treat the matter this morning? Hedley Thomas, extravagantly described in an editorial as a “…forensic, determined and dispassionate…award-winning journalist”, tediously describes the situation again, I suppose for those just returning to Planet Earth.

He was not going to let go something he has been trawling through for ages. In Looking for answers, start with the ‘slush fund’, after going over the well-tilled ground again, commented as he ploughed on: “In her answers yesterday, the Prime Minister deftly moved the goalposts. It was a legalistic answer, a duck-and-weave that takes a minute or two to see as such.” And: “Gillard's explanations on this will raise more questions about trust, integrity and professionalism.”

There is no joy there for Julia Gillard from Thomas; he didn’t give her an inch. He is on her case and will never let go.

Although his headline Julia Gillard declares file closed on union scandal allegations suggested closure, Sid Maher went over the ground again adding: “Ms Gillard dismissed the issue as a 17-year-old story and declared she had been the victim of a "sexist" internet campaign. She did not expect the "misogynists and the nut jobs on the internet" to stop circulating claims against her and lamented the entry of "an eccentric lunar right Tea Party-style" Americanisation of Australian politics. But she ruled out legal action as "dignifying them with a status they don't deserve". Ms Gillard said she did not believe it necessary to make a statement to parliament after a press conference lasting more than an hour.”

Nothing encouraging for the PM there.

Dennis Shanahan had this to say in Frankly, delay only undermines trust: ”Julia Gillard is right - she will never satisfy the nuts and conspiracists lurking in the blogosphere about her suitability to be Prime Minister. The Prime Minister was also right to front a press conference yesterday and answer relevant questions about her professional conduct, judgment and the manner of her departure after years as a partner at Slater & Gordon.”

“However, she was wrong in political and media terms to delay frankly answering those relevant questions about her character until there was an irresistible tide of opinion that she should do so. In the end, she acquitted herself well - as she always does when she assumes the authority of Prime Minister after deciding on a course of action.”

He ended with his archetypical judgement: “Political damage to Gillard and Labor has again been compounded by a stubborn refusal to frankly deal with difficult issues when they arise, which only serves to undermine public trust in the Prime Minister's judgment and preparedness to be frank.”

The editorial in The Australian: Prime Minister finally confronts AWU questions begins: “Julia Gillard's strong performance yesterday was a belated attempt to address questions surrounding the conclusion of her legal career at Melbourne firm Slater & Gordon in 1995.” It proceeds to describe the press conference, trying all the while to use pejorative words and paint the PM in a poor light.

The conclusion: “The broader political impact of this saga goes to trust in the Prime Minister. Following her broken carbon tax promise and other backflips, it is an area of acute political vulnerability, and the way she has avoided transparency on this issue has not helped”, leaves little doubt about The Australian’s attitude to our PM, and that it will be after her again, given half a chance. The final sentence is a very small concession: “Still, at the end of a difficult week the Prime Minister and her party look to be in their strongest position for well over a year. There can be no doubt she did the right thing facing her questioners.”

The Australian, still struggling to justify News Limited’s foray once more into this ancient matter, is going to say all the things it has in its set pieces and its editorial. It will step back a while, trawl some more, set Thomas, its ‘forensic, determined and dispassionate award-winning journalist’ on the scent with the hope he can unearth even a smidgen of ‘dirt’, mud that it can hurl at the PM at a propitious moment when it can do most harm. Make no mistake News Limited is vicious and determined. It will never give up, no matter how distant and irrelevant the S&G story becomes.

It has already been prosecutor, judge and jury, and has found our PM guilty; now it awaits the opportunity to be executioner.

Let’s look at what Fairfax said. Take a look at the video with Tim Lester at the top of this piece by Michelle Grattan Misogynists, nutjobs and falsehoods: PM hits back. He interviews Michelle Grattan, Phil Coorey and Jacqueline Maley. Do play it. It will reassure you that at least some sections of our MSM are not as condemnatory and venomous as is News Limited.

You will see a much more positive Phil Coorey, now among his colleagues who are more supportive of the PM. Groupthink again. ‘Sensible’, ‘convincing’, ‘lets move on’, are words Michelle Grattan used. Jacqueline was very positive: ‘really, really strong’, ‘really convincing’, and she has ‘fight in her’.

Peter Hartcher is his usual pessimistic self in Top effort but it's not likely to work.  He says: “Yesterday Gillard decided it was time to confront the issue. Why? Because The Australian had overstepped the mark on one detail and was forced to publish an online correction. The Prime Minister struck. She would answer all reporters' questions, but only on this one occasion. It was an effort to kill the issue.

“So why won't it work? For three reasons. First, she has now elevated it by her own treatment. She has made it a legitimate issue for prime ministerial cross-examination.

“Second, because you cannot clear the air when the skies are swarming with enemy attack forces. There is a small industry of feverish Gillard haters who inhabit the nether realm of the internet, people she called misogynists and nutjobs. And there is The Australian, dedicated to the destruction of the Labor government. But there are also her enemies in caucus, who are aiding and encouraging the campaign.
(My bolding). “And third is that a political scandal, once launched, is an unguided missile that can take unexpected turns.

“If Gillard wants clear air and blue skies, she'll need to go to the beach on a sunny day because she will not find them in Parliament.”

In Fifty minutes of rolled-gold high dudgeon, Tony Wright, in a more optimistic mood, concluded: “Gillard, magnificent in her dudgeon, assured everyone that she would answer every question they had. She had retained her silence for days, despite being defamed and hounded by an appalling and sexist campaign - including shock-horror circulated on the internet by old cartoonist and conspiracy theorist Larry Pickering - and she wasn't going to take it any more. Here she was, promising to respond to everything. And so she did, for close to 50 minutes, until the interrogation melted to an impotent silence. What a defence lawyer she might have been.”

Quite an endorsement!

Of course Tony Abbott and Christoper Pyne have been on the airwaves today insisting Julia Gillard still has ‘questions to answer’. Despite having had four QTs to ask them, it has not had the guts, or perhaps the good sense, to do so. Still, by saying she still has questions to answer they hope to gain some mileage without taking the risk of actually asking her. Opportunistic wimps!

I trust that this post mortem has given you enough information to be able to judge what is happening. News Limited, particularly via its flagship, is and will continue to pursue this old, old story, squeeze more from it if it can, as long as it believes it can inflict even one more tiny paroxysm of pain on our PM. As prosecutor of this matter for years, as judge and jury with a guilty verdict, it remains malevolently determined to be the executioner, dedicated as it is to ‘the destruction of the Labor Government’ as Peter Hartcher affirms.

It is of some comfort that the Fairfax Media is not as malevolent.

So folks, expect more of the same from News Limited. It’s executioner axe is poised, waiting for its opportunity to decapitate our PM and her Government. No matter what its troops write, that is its intention. No one gave them that right – they just took it.

Is it right that News Limited, or for that matter any part of the MSM, should be prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner?

What do you think?

The News Limited vendetta against PM Gillard intensifies

After a good week for PM Gillard and her Government in which she achieved agreement with the Coalition to go along with the recommendations of the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers, News Limited has ratcheted up its attack on her. Why? Is it because it feels that the asylum issue has been neutralized somewhat and will not be as potent a weapon with which to beat her and the Government? Any loss of weaponry must be a worry to News Limited as much as to the Coalition.

Of course she lost some skin by adopting the Expert Panel’s recommendations because they included processing on Nauru and Manus Island, places previously ruled out because of expert advice that they would not be effective deterrents to getting on unsafe fishing boats. The Coalition used over forty speakers to ensure that she suffered maximum embarrassment about her change of tack, variously described as a humiliating back-down, a back flip, a monumental reverse of stubbornness in the face of Coalition advice, or whatever pejorative phrase you prefer. But whatever the aspersions, she got the legislation through and gifted her Government the possibility that the asylum problem would become less troublesome.

During the same week, the High Court upheld the constitutionality of the plain packaging of cigarettes legislation to worldwide applause, and the economic parameters showed no sign of an adverse affect from the implementation of the carbon tax. Then Tony Windsor got up in response to yet another ‘Suspension of Standing Orders’ attempt by the Coalition, to blast Tony Abbott and call him a disgrace for his carbon tax rhetoric.

As the piece Journalists awake! You know Tony Abbott is conning you documented, for the first time several journalists began questioning Tony Abbott’s statements, or should I say his scaremongering and downright lies. It was an obvious shift, and was interpreted, at least by Labor supporters, as a ‘turning of the tide’. If one can judge from the weekend papers, they were not the only ones to have this feeling.

Let’s just walk through The Weekend Australian to see how this Murdoch flagship responded to the PM’s ‘good week’.

Its top headline read: Revealed: Gillard lost her job after law firm’s secret investigation. Digest that. First, ‘Revealed’, suggests a starling new revelation, and of course one that casts doubt surrounding Julia Gillard. Then consider; ‘lost her job’, which suggests that she was sacked, whereas it is on the public record that she resigned of her own volition. Then reflect on ‘secret investigation’, which suggests something sinister was under scrutiny. In one headline there are three sets of words that imply guilt; she is condemned even before a word of the article is read.

If the reader needed any more detail to fuel doubt about ‘Gillard’, the first paragraph reads:“Julia Gillard left her job as a partner with law firm Slater & Gordon as a direct result of a secret internal probe in 1995 into controversial work she had done for her then boyfriend, a union boss accused of corruption, The Weekend Australian can reveal.” Now it’s ‘left her job’, a ‘secret internal probe’ into ‘controversial work’, done ‘for her then boyfriend’, a ‘union boss’, ‘accused of corruption’, ‘revealed’ by The Weekend Australian. Note how this cascade of uncomplimentary and negative words gains momentum as the sentence progresses. It’s clever but very nasty journalism – the headline and the first paragraph condemn her. Many people would not read further for the details – they would have found her guilty already.

Not satisfied with that, as only an estimated 120,000 read The Weekend Australian, Sky News decided to raise this matter on its Agenda program, with Paul Kelly putting the questions. Take a look at the video of that segment of the interview. Play it through. Watch Kelly’s eyes and body language as he puts Julia Gillard under intense and persistent questioning. Note particularly how annoyed he gets when she suggests that he was asked to put those questions, angrily rejecting the notion that anyone could or would tell him what questions to ask. So it’s OK for a journalist to question the professional integrity of the Prime Minister of this nation based on a tired old story 17 years old, but it’s not OK for the PM to question the professional integrity of a senior journalist. Work that out. Now if you believe what Andrew Bolt says about this, the PM’s staff was told this matter would be raised, but the words used led to a ‘misunderstanding’ that Kelly had been asked to ask those questions. The last bit of the clip is another delightful illustration of how wet-behind-the-ears is Peter van Onselen, the MC of Agenda.

In the same edition of The Weekend Australian Hedley Thomas generously gives all the tedious details for voyeurs in The political controversy that won't go away. I won’t bore you with them here.

Subsequently a statement by Slater & Gordon partner Andrew Grech confirmed Julia Gillard’s contention that she had done nothing wrong and had left of her own volition, but that didn’t stop turncoat Graeme Richardson, now a News Limited man, from indignantly jumping to the defence of Paul Kelly on Monday’s Q&A and rabbiting on about a file he said she should have opened, nastily smearing her in the process.

Stung by the reaction of the PM and the Fifth Estate to the assault of The Australian and Paul Kelly on her, the paper has come out this morning with a large front page cluster of smears, and a ‘leaked’ draft confidential statement by previous partner Peter Gordon, strategically placed next to the Newspoll results, that says, amongst other things: ‘‘My examination of the material available to me at that time led me to the view that there was no sufficient basis to dismiss Ms Gillard for misconduct’’, which a reasonable person might believe would put the matter to rest, but we know it won’t. The vendetta will continue. Read the article by Crikey’s Bernard Keane: This is what the Right is expert at: smearing if you have any doubts.

See how what started as online scuttlebutt on social media emanating from disreputable cartoonist Larry Pickering has been picked up by News Limited, who ran it as a headline story, ostensibly on the grounds that it had new information that it could now ‘reveal’, and then escalated on Sky News Agenda so that it exploded well and truly into the public domain. Andrew Bolt picked it up and made mileage out of it, and other News Limited outlets repeated the original story, embellished with the Agenda interview. Even Fairfax gets into it through the Australian Financial Review with an unpleasant article from Jennifer Hewett: Old ghost is Gillard’s recurring nightmare. If you’re wondering how Fairfax got involved, remember that the editor of AFR is now Michael Stutchbury, an old Gillard foe who worked for News Limited. Michelle Grattan has written the only relatively positive piece: Internal inquiry cleared PM, law firm reveals Then this morning it is again splashed all over the front page of The Australian.

In case you think all this piece is about is the Slater & Gordon episode, it is not. I start with it only because it is News Limited’s current ‘winning’ card, which it turns over at the top of the pack. It illustrates the venom with which it is prepared to attack and denigrate our PM. But there is much more to the attack on PM Gillard over the weekend.

The next headline in The Weekend Australian is New offshore processing regime bars appeal on asylum, with a byline: Surge in boats to test ALP resolve, a double header!

The first paragraph reads: “Julia Gillard's new offshore processing regime has effectively locked asylum-seekers out of Australian court appeals, legal experts declared yesterday, as four boats arrived in 24 hours in a rush to beat the new laws. Human rights lawyers said the new offshore processing regime had stripped back the capacity for judicial review of government decisions and eliminated many of the grounds for legal challenges by boatpeople.” So already the paper that has repeatedly castigated the Government for its ‘failure’ in border protection, is now throwing up concern about the ‘stripping out’ of legal rights in the new legislation. Don’t imagine that the authors are beating their breasts in anguish at this ‘stripping’ of the rights of boat people; their purpose is to beat the Government around the ears for its callousness to these desperate people.

It goes on. Paul Kelly chimes in with For a determined Opposition Leader, all roads lead to turning back asylum-seeker boats. He begins: 
”Despite the gloss of bipartisanship over Nauru, the split between the Gillard government and Abbott opposition over border protection and asylum-seekers is now more obvious in its depth, range and fateful consequences. If you think this week solved the political divisions over border protection then you are misguided. This issue will only deepen as a public policy cancer because there is little prospect the boats will be stopped.” Don’t you love Kelly’s sense of drama – the ‘split’ with the Coalition ‘is now more obvious in its depth, range and fateful consequences’ and is a ‘public policy cancer’. The guru thereby denies any relief from the pain of boat arrivals. The pain must continue – News Limited needs as much Gillard pain as possible.

Later Kelly warns: ”In office, Abbott will face immediate pressure to halt the boats – pressure and expectations that he has created. He cannot wait years to negotiate and implement the protracted diplomacy Houston envisages. What is Abbott's alternative? It remains the policy he outlined to me in an interview published on January 21. Abbott said: "It is time for Australia to adopt turning the boats as its core policy. What counts is what the Australian government does, not what it says." Despite almost universal commentary that it is impossible, Abbott intends to turn the boats. This is his real solution.” Kelly concludes: “And most of the Coalition, dancing on the grave of Labor's retreat, seemed oblivious to the consequences of its own policies and the vast challenge it faces immediately on taking office.”

It’s not all negative, but it starts that way and that’s what counts.

Chris Kenny, who can always be relied upon for an anti-Gillard article doesn’t disappoint with: Jibes about dog-whistle politics on asylum come back to bite Labor. He begins: “Border protection, more than any other issue, demonstrates how Labor has alienated itself from the political mainstream. Right until its offshore processing conversion, moral grandstanding by the Rudd and Gillard governments offended voters. Labor's contortions over asylum-seeker policy have rivalled London's rhythmic gymnasts in all but elegance. But beyond the significant humanitarian, immigration and security implications of last week's backflip, the electoral fallout is consequential.” Note the sarcastic pejorative language.

Kenny has another article – one was clearly not enough for him to express his venom. Titled The onus is on moral posturers to say why they persist with their disingenuous myths, he begins: “The report of the expert panel on asylum-seekers has exposed some long-denied realities, not only demolishing arguments used against tough border control measures but dispelling myths that have been patronising to mainstream Australians. This week's policy reversal might slow the boats - given time and a resolve not seen to this point - but because of the about-face on what has been framed as a moral stand, it is impossible to envisage Labor escaping a political reckoning. Ineptitude, leading to needless trauma, tragedy and expense, will play a role in public assessments, but so will the way the progressive political class has insulted voters over this for more than a decade.” You don’t read any further to get his rancorous drift.

Cameron Stewart has a go in: Finger in the dyke can hold only so long He begins: “The initial euphoria in some quarters about a breakthrough in asylum-seeker policy is being tempered by the realisation that the grand plan unveiled this week by the Houston panel faces a series of potentially fatal obstacles.” And ends: “The government can only hope that those parts that can be introduced immediately can slow the momentum of the boats for long enough to allow the bigger picture of the Houston plan to ripen. It's a gamble of the highest order and the odds are not good. But this government, having comprehensively misread the asylum-seeker issue for the past five years, has little choice now but to roll the dice.” Not much joy for the Government there. Just doubts and uncertainty!

Predictably Christopher Pearson revels in See, Abbott was right all along I won’t bore you much with his hubris; only with his conclusion: “As the Houston report makes clear, Labor was blind to the power of pull factors. It substituted moral self-righteousness for sound policy. The Australian people will not forgive Labor for elevating its moral vanity before the national interest. The reckoning will be protracted." You don’t need to read the rest to get his self-satisfied message.

Peter van Onselen, who is strongly supportive of asylum seekers, couldn’t resist the opportunity to heap scorn, admittedly on both Labor and the Coalition. In Let’s dispel a few myths about asylum seekers he begins:“Attempts by both major parties to rationalise support for offshore processing of asylum-seekers on the grounds that they are saving people from drowning really is a hollow argument.” And ends: “If it doesn't like the laws of the land that afford asylum-seekers appeal rights equal to those of Australians, change the laws. If it doesn't like the international responsibilities being a signatory to the UN conventions on refugees requires, rip up the agreement. Then our political leaders could do what they like without being in violation of the very laws they are elected to uphold. I might not agree with their approach - and would continue to argue against it - but I could at least respect it.” A pox on both their houses says PvO.

Greg Sheridan was particularly critical in Collapse of resolve is to blame. He begins: “The Gillard government lacks the strategic credibility and, on the evidence, the strength of will to deal with a people-smuggling industry that is a worldwide phenomenon of growing sophistication and criminality.” Here are some other excerpts: “…Australia’s liberal institutions have become craven before naked aggression. This aggression often involves the threat to self-harm, but no other group has a blanket licence to ignore the law. Similarly, the Opposition Leader’s proposed push back of boats is lawful and sensible policy.” He continues in this hard-line vein: ”Labor is wrong and weak; Abbott is right and tough.” There’s not a drop of joy for Labor in his piece; only sneering criticism, and Abbott gets a leg up for good measure.

Henry Ergas jumps in with Gillard's morality of convenience He begins: “Julia Gillard is a woman of principle: the survival principle. And if the backflip on asylum-seekers is about saving lives, the life it is intended to save is her own. Little wonder she dressed soberly for the occasion. English judges donned the black cap when passing a sentence of death; this was conservative Julia, in twinset and pearls, dispatching another promise to the high jump.” That’s enough from Ergas – you can guess the rest.

There was an editorial that at least acknowledged that Julia Gillard had had a good week: Good week in parliament tinged with Green hysteria. It was mainly a tilt at the Greens. It began: “After four years in which 23,000 boatpeople arrived on our shores, and at least 1000 perished at sea, the past week was constructive for Australia's parliamentary democracy.”, but the editor could not resist a tilt at Labor and a touch of hubris en passant: “This newspaper has advocated bipartisanship since the High Court scuttled the half-baked Malaysian Solution a year ago. And, as early as July 2008, when Labor abandoned John Howard's policies, we urged the government to guard against an influx of newcomers taking advantage of the changes.”

In case the Greens missed the message, the editorial concluded: “Like the Greens' holier-than-thou rhetoric, the provision of public money to organisations agitating for a more open-door policy is out of step with the values of mainstream Australians.”

Moving away from the asylum seeker debate, there was an article by Christian Kerr: Appeal to WTO may yet deliver Big Tobacco victory. No doubt The Weekend Australian felt it would be a pity if the Government’s big win in the High Court was not sullied by the possibility of ultimate defeat by the WTO. Kerr begins: “We have taken on big tobacco and we have won," a jubilant Attorney-General Nicola Roxon declared on Wednesday when she spoke to the media after the High Court ruled plain packaging of cigarettes did not violate the Constitution. Her glee was understandable - Roxon introduced the laws for plain packaging as health minister - but in the excitement of the moment her rhetoric became hyperbole. The government has won a significant battle against the tobacco companies but it has not yet won the plain packaging war. Two more clashes must be fought and won before it can claim victory, and these battles will be waged on very different terrain.” He ends on a gloomy note: “Plain packaging may yet be doomed”. Of course it could be argued that the article is simply stating the facts and the obvious implications. Perhaps, but its tone suggests that Kerr would take pleasure in that outcome.

There was also a Tom Dusevic puff piece: How would Abbott Govern? and a nicely written piece by the reliable George Megalogenis How the language of shock-jocks came to drive political debate.

Herewith concludes the excerpts from The Weekend Australian.

But there’s more from News Limited. Just take a look at Lyn’s Front Pages for the first day of this week.

The Daily Telegraph screams Carbon Pain Registers: “Half of small businesses are already feeling the effects of the carbon tax – but only a third are passing price rises on to customers. An exclusive Daily Telegraph survey has found some small companies struggling with rising power and supply costs... “ and in The Advertiser a mega headline: Our Carbon Pain “Struggling small businesses are absorbing the higher costs caused by the carbon tax, resulting in reduced profits, and are calling for the tax to be scrapped. In the latest challenge for the Gillard Government, a national survey of 186 small...”

And on cue many of the Opposition questions in QT on Monday were about the awful effects of the carbon tax.

So what is this piece asserting? It is pointing to the concerted attack on PM Gillard, her Government and its policies in News Limited media following a successful week for Labor. It is improbable, even implausible, that this attack on so many fronts is a coincidence. My thesis is that fear that PM Gillard and Labor might be on the up, that the tide might be turning for them, and running against Tony Abbott, has prompted a savage counter attack from a news organization that is devoted to the removal of the PM and of the Labor Government and its replacement with the Coalition. Sensing that the chance of this happening was beginning to recede, and even the bookies were changing their odds, they pulled out all the big guns to give the PM and Labor a massive broadside, hoping it would sink them, or at least hole them amidships.

Murdoch’s News Limited media empire is formidable. We must never underestimate its power, its malevolence towards the Government, and its determination to destroy it. When the signs are improving for Labor, the News Limited vendetta will intensify. It will be out there firing broadside after broadside in a ‘take no prisoners’, ‘rescue no survivors’, ‘fight to the death’ battle.

What do you think?

The Political Sword: A Hub for the Fifth Estate

Today The Political Sword has a new look and has been re-branded.

The branding is dedicated to our Lyn, who is the one who has transformed The Political Sword into a hub for the Fifth Estate through her Today’s Links and her Twitterverse and Twitterati.

We know that a large number of people visit The Political Sword to read and follow her links, which she provides in abundance each weekday morning in Today’s Links, and during the day, and even at weekends, through the many Twitter messages she collects and posts, often twice a day.

This is a unique service. It enriches the site and makes it priceless for the thousands that visit here. Because Lyn spends countless hours scanning hundreds of blogsites to find the pearls among them, every visitor who uses them is saved the time it would take to find them. Not only does she find the salient pieces and provide the title, the author, and the link, she also reads through each piece to find a short excerpt that she adds to provide the substance and the flavour of the piece. That takes time and perspicacity.

Because she follows almost 2000 people on Twitter and has well over 1300 following her, her network of contacts, and the web from which she garners information, is vast. She spends hours sorting the wheat from the chaff and feeds the best of the wheat to us twice a day, enabling TPS users to be right up to date about what’s happening hour by hour in the world of politics. She also passes this onto her followers. Imagine how far and wide her links travel.

It is because she does this for us that we have rebranded The Political Sword with the strapline: A Hub for the Fifth Estate. Lyn feeds information in at the hub; visitors come in there and radiate out to the rich array of links on other sites, many in the Fifth Estate, but also in the Fourth Estate.

Lyn has been doing this now for three years and has collected many thousands of links. Each morning, Today’s Links are posted in the Comments section and are then copied into an archive LYN’S DAILY LINKS, which is accessible from the top of the left panel. As these are kept for posterity, when each file becomes too large, it is archived into a larger file labeled LYN’S LINKS with the dates added. These have become so numerous that to avoid clutter we have decided to leave only the last few weeks of these aggregated links in the left panel and to archive the rest into a mega-file labeled LYN’S DAILY LINKS ARCHIVE, which is accessible from the left panel. There you will be able to go back to the beginning and seek items from this massive library.

Web Monkey is to be credited for the new look for the site and the preparation of LYN’S DAILY LINKS ARCHIVE. We thank him for his design skills and his programming expertise. Since he has switched TPS to a ‘cloud server’, we have had no glitches with the site, and the speeds seem better than before.

Thank you Web Monkey.

We hope you will find the new look for The Political Sword attractive, but most of all please join me in dedicating this rebranded site to our devoted and very precious Lyn who feeds us so plentifully every day.


Journalists awake! You know Tony Abbott is conning you

Do you sense that ‘The Great Awakening’ has begun? For countless months we have read innumerable stories of doom and gloom about Labor’s prospects, endless stories of threats to Julia Gillard’s leadership, a ‘Ruddstoration’ just around the corner, deadlines for the polls to improve or else, and a ‘when, not if’ prospect for a change of leadership. Projections of electoral wipeout based on current polls, with loss of most if not all seats in some States, have filled political columns. ‘The people have stopped listening’ the pundits have said, a supposition presumably based on poll results, as there hasn’t been a poll on ‘listening’. Every new poll, until the last Newspoll, has been tagged as yet another disaster for Labor, another nail in its coffin. Everything is gloom writ large.

But this last couple of weeks has been a little different. The doomster columnists seem to have ever so subtly changed their tune. It might of course be just our imagination, or the wishful thinking of Labor supporters, and it might be evanescent, but there is an unmistakable change.

Tim Dunlop set the scene in his piece If Tony Abbott didn't exist, the media would have to invent him on The Drum Opinion on 9 August. He began by exposing the lameness of Laurie Oakes who pronounced: "Abbott is doing what Opposition leaders almost always do...But he stands out because he is better at it than most." Full marks to Abbott for being an obstructionist, negative, inveterate liar, with no concern for the common good, Laurie.

Then Dunlop got stuck into Phil Coorey, where in his 30 July SMH piece PM fixes stalemate but funding battle will be Abbott's, Coorey makes this comment relating to the NDIS: “...Abbott is the odds-on favourite to win the next election and needs to give it more serious consideration. He has pledged full support for the NDIS and says he will adhere to the commission's plan. This means he will fund it from general revenue and does not rule out a tax increase or massive spending cuts to find the money. On Friday, when asked, he pointedly and wisely declined to address this specific question.”

Dunlop rightly castigates Coorey: “Mr Abbott is not being judged on his ability to run a government, but on his ability to manipulate the media coverage by refusing to address a central question about a major policy.”

Listen though to Phil Coorey talking in a video clip on an article by Michelle Grattan, and you will hear a much more sombre Coorey, acknowledging that maybe things are turning around for PM Gillard and her Government. He may be at the beginning of his Great Awakening.

Dunlop then tackles Lenore Taylor for her 3 August article in the SMH One fight the Coalition will shy away from, an article about Abbott’s response to the independent panel’s review of Fair Work Australia for “tacitly accepting Tony Abbott's attempt to sidestep the matter”. Taylor says: “…the Coalition does not want an election fight on industrial relations. It won't engage”, as if that were a reasonable response, not to be challenged, certainly not by her. Dunlop says: “How does this happen? Isn't the role of the media precisely to make the Opposition - the alternative government - "engage", not just wave them through unchallenged?”

Dunlop concludes: “Tony Abbott is playing the media for fools, dishing up the sort of content that he knows they find, in their weakened state, impossible to decline. By accepting it uncritically, they have created a positive feedback loop where he and the media now feed off each other.”

Hallelujah for a forthright journalist who is prepared not to pull any punches over his colleagues’ obsequiousness.

Dunlop’s message is clear: Abbott is playing the media for fools, and they are falling for it hook, line and sinker. I can’t believe that they are too stupid to see what Abbott is doing to them; the only other explanation is that they are complicit. Why? Instructions from above? Job insecurity? Or wanting to keep onside with the one they consider a certain winner in 2013?

There are still a few journalists that write their columns in accord with the actual facts, rather than the ‘facts’ they would prefer, most from Fairfax. Ross Gittins and Peter Martin keep us up with facts economic and base their opinions accordingly. Laura Tingle, from the same Fairfax stable is another. Does her article on 9 August: Abbott struggles to find form as the game shifts, herald a change of tone in political commentary?

She begins: “Over-investment in electricity infrastructure, and a failure in the regulation of power prices which was financing it, was a “fabrication”, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott told us yesterday…Well Tony, on this occasion, you should probably believe the Prime Minister because she is saying the same thing as your own resources spokesman; because conservative state premiers have also been raising the problem; and because the problem is set out in great detail in the reports of energy regulators. But, more importantly, you should probably believe it because, like a range of other policy issues facing the present government, it is more than likely going to be your problem in about 10 months’ time, and it is time you started saying what you would do about it.” Tingle is saying it the way it is.

She goes on: “But like a couple of other outings in the past fortnight, the Opposition Leader has seemed at a loss about how to proceed when venturing into territory beyond the carbon tax”, and cites his Beijing address and his proposed amendments to the Racial Discrimination Act to protect Andrew Bolt. She comments: “The clunky way Abbott has started to move into new policy areas as the carbon tax caravan has started to move on has surprised MPs on both sides of the political divide, who are used to the stunningly effective way he has pursued the government over the carbon tax. There has long been a fear in Coalition ranks that behind the ruthless effectiveness of the “stop the tax, stop the boats” Abbott attack, there may lurk a more chaotic machine in which the Coalition’s policy positions remain chaotic.”

And later: “The shakiness of Abbott’s performance in the past couple of weeks when he has had to deal with issues other than the carbon tax has been particularly notable in a week when the Prime Minister has returned from holidays on the front foot, dusting up the states over the surge in electricity prices over the past four or five years.”

But then Laura has always been reasonable and balanced. She knows that the would-be Prime Minister has been conning journalists all along, and that it’s time for an awakening.

Tim Colebatch, another balanced writer for Fairfax, in his 9 August piece in The Age Carbon tax in soft landing begins: “The federal opposition's scare campaign against the carbon tax has failed its first test. The Bureau of Statistics reports that seasonally adjusted employment rose by 14,000 in July - the month the tax took effect - while unemployment fell to 5.2 per cent. For the government, it was a double bonus after the TD Securities-Melbourne Institute monthly inflation gauge reported on Monday that inflation rose just 0.2 per cent in July, and was flat over the past three months. While this was only the first test of the carbon tax, if the duo of rising employment and low inflation continues, it could have huge political implications - undermining Opposition Leader Tony Abbott's repeated claim that the carbon tax would be ''like a wrecking ball through our economy''.”

Later he says: “With the election not due for another year or more, the real test of the tax's impact on jobs and inflation lies ahead. But if the economy thrives over the coming year despite the tax - as most forecasters expect - it could become the political ''game-changer'' Labor is hoping for, discrediting the Coalition and its leader.”

Colebatch senses the game is up for Abbott, and that conning the public with his pumped up rhetoric about an imagined carbon tax disaster is at an end. Journalists had better realize this too, or they will look as stupid as Abbott will.

A 9 August editorial in The Age Gillard at least deserves a tick for the economy begins: “What must a government, even one losing the battle for hearts and minds, do to scrape a pass mark for economic management? On any objective assessment, Australia's economy is a gold medal performer. Yet Opposition Leader Tony Abbott routinely condemns ''the worst government in Australia's history''. Coalition Treasury spokesman Joe Hockey, faced with strong growth data, retorted: ''Imagine how well our country could do if we had a good government.''

The editorial concludes: “The Westpac-Melbourne Institute index of consumer confidence reveals a disconnect between such facts and public opinion. Labor voters score 124 and Coalition voters a gloomy 79. The disparity belies their access to the same economic facts. So vital is consumer confidence that all responsible political leaders must be wary of ''talking down'' the economy. Whatever the sins of Julia Gillard and her government, gross economic mismanagement is not one of them.”

Again, even the editorial acknowledges that what Abbott and Hockey are saying about the economy and the Gillard Government’s management of it, are blatant lies, that they are conning the public and the press.

Now turn to Lenore Taylor’s piece in the SMH: Coalition split over energy price rises. Although the headline suggests she is onto a real exposé, her article is just very ordinary, uncritical ‘he said, she said’ journalism with not one word of criticism of Abbott for his ‘fabrication’ pronouncement. It is only when the video is played that you hear her say that his position ‘is not really a credible proposition’. Why does she not write this and call Abbott’s words as bald-faced lies at variance even with his own front bench? Here again we have a senior journalist not willing to criticise in writing a possible future PM, although she concedes in the video that his position is not credible.

Writing on 9 August in the SMH on Abbott’s address to the IPA about free speech and press freedom, and Abbott’s promise to repeal section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act, the one that tripped up Andrew Bolt, in his article Free speech debate is coloured by hypocrisy, Richard Ackland concludes: “Abbott's clunky speech did not finesse the boundaries. His attack on the government's deliberations on the convergence review and the Finkelstein proposals for a News Media Council to patrol journalistic standards shows that he is quite content with the idea that a self-regulated regime, with one company straddling like a colossus the print and pay TV business in this country, is a great way to protect free speech. But then, freedom of speech is a freedom to sprout spurious notions.”

Not much of a pat on the back for Abbott there.

What about Fairfax’s grande dame? Writing in The Age on 10 August in Gillard set to spring into action after a winter of discontent, Michelle Grattan begins: “Julia Gillard will go into next week's spring parliamentary session confident the worst of the carbon nightmare is behind her and that she can turn the debate towards Labor's positive agenda. With Newspoll showing the ALP's primary vote improving five points to 33 per cent and Kevin Rudd apparently well short of the numbers to replace her, the Prime Minister has declared that, against all odds, she can bounce back from the abysmal polls to win next year's election.”

Later she says: “She will use the initial parliamentary week to turn up the heat on Opposition Leader Tony Abbott on issues ranging from boats to electricity prices.” And: “The carbon tax's first six weeks have encouraged her. There are already some early indications that people are starting to see through the incredible wild scare campaign that has been run about carbon pricing.” She concludes: “As always, in whatever adversity, Gillard is disciplined, never publicly showing a hint of weakness or self-doubt.”

Grattan’s article is based on an interview and is very much ‘she said, he said’, but at least she refrains from acerbic comment.

What does News Limited have to say? Let’s not assume that they are in for ‘The Great Awakening’. Peter van Onselen, so fond of pouring scorn in our PM, has a crack at commentary on 11 August in Gillard’s new shock tactics. Amidst dispensing his wisdom he takes a few sideswipes.

He begins: “For so long unable to wedge Abbott in a direct confrontation with the federal Opposition Leader, Gillard is now using the states as a proxy battleground to cause internal divisions within the Coalition. They are an easier target because they are less united than the federal opposition, which has remained remarkably disciplined in recent times. Each conservative state premier has his own agenda, as well as his own political circumstances to deal with.” So PvO gives her a small tick for smart strategy.

Later on, and unable to resist a backhander he says: “And is the public still listening to her anyway? As the clock ticks towards the next election, Gillard’s strategy is becoming more audacious. Attacking others for electricity price increases certainly fits that formula. It is a head-on response to Abbott’s claims that the carbon tax is responsible for cost of-living pressures associated with energy price rises across the board, and it is reminiscent of the approach Mark Textor used to advise John Howard to adopt when he was confronted with politically difficult issues.”

Later still: “Gillard supporters say the past few weeks are a perfect illustration of exactly what they said would happen once the carbon tax came into effect. The debate would move on, and the polls would improve. They have always said a full-term Gillard government would look far more effective than a mid-term minority parliament.”

So here we have a tiny concession from a News Limited journalist that our PM has, or might just be doing something smart.

We have to go to the 11 August edition of the Courier Mail for the most robust News Limited statement in It's game on for Gillard holding the deck, says Dennis Atkins He begins with: “At the end of the six-week winter break, the political positioning of the two main combatants has moved even if next year's election remains very much the Coalition's to lose.”

After almost dismissing the prospect of a Rudd return, Atkins goes on to discuss the issues, and has this to say: “Gillard returns to Parliament with two major political negatives, carbon and asylum seekers.

“On carbon, Gillard will face an unabashed continuation of Tony Abbott's relentless negative assault on the price impacts of the scheme, especially during its tax phase. Abbott proved in recent days he will not shy away from any untruth in his campaign to brand Gillard an untrustworthy liar. It is the most reckless and audacious politicking most observers including this one can remember.

“Whether Abbott makes a lie out of employment numbers by conflating June and July results or blames Gillard for an electricity pricing regime set up by the Howard Cabinet of which he was a member, the Liberal leader is taking the demeaning tactic of not caring what he says to new depths.”

Have you ever read a more damning comment about Abbott from a News Limited journalist? Will Atkins be the one to lead a rethink among his colleagues?

What about the ABC? Last week the acerbic Sabra Lane, who has made an art form of pouring acid over our PM, surprisingly poured some on Tony Abbott in an interview about electricity prices on AM on 9 August. You can hear it here.

The 12 August Insiders echoed the view that Julia Gillard was on the front foot about electricity prices, even although that entailed a risk. It was a balanced discussion; if you missed it, it is here. George Megalogenis offered the view that this was Tony Abbott’s second worst week, after the week where he did a ‘run rabbit run’ for the exit in parliament. He also confirmed his disdain for the widespread preoccupation with polls, and remains on a ‘poll strike’. He did point out though how quickly polls can change as they did in the Hewson-Keating contest when Kennett became premier in Victoria and the voters saw a Hewson-Kennett axis emerging, just as they now see an up-and-coming Abbott-Newman alignment.

Finally let’s see what Andrew Elder has to say in The Price of Power.

“Tony Abbott can't be Prime Minister because he hasn't made the case that he'd do that job better than Julia Gillard is doing it. In recent weeks we have seen Abbott flick the switch that should have displayed the power he has at his command - the power he would exercise on our behalf, if only we vote in the way that the empty refractions known as polls might indicate.” Later Elder labels Abbott: “…a Johnny one-note who can't change his mind and therefore can't change anyone's nor anything else either.”

He reminds us of Abbott’s mistake: “Talking up "the carbon tax" rebounded on him when the sky failed to fall on poor Whyalla and the debate shifted to other factors driving up electricity prices - other factors about which Abbott has nothing to say, nothing to contribute.”

Talking about the MSM, Elder says: “It was understandable that they should give him the benefit of the doubt but now the press gallery embarrass themselves when they simply take him at face value. I talk a lot about the politico-media complex but increasingly, if nobody listens to Abbott on the big issues at the crucial moments, eventually journalists have to stop taking him seriously.”

That is what this piece is about. Abbott has been conning journalists, and there is an urgent need for them to wake up, and stop taking him seriously.

Finally Elder says: “Abbott is committing the worst offence possible against the modern media - providing dull copy - without the gravitas and seriousness of considering the future of the nation and preparing for government.”

I trust that what has been presented in this piece has given credence to the view that at least some of the MSM are waking up to the fact that Abbott has been conning them all along, and that they have been sucked in. Some are beginning to realize that unless they begin to tell the public about Abbott’s deception, disingenuousness, and his lies, their credibility will suffer and eventually be destroyed, something they can hardly countenance professionally. They have to tell it the way it is.

Journalists have to accept that Abbott is no better than a Duracell Bunny, who is fitted each morning with new batteries, and who goes out thumping his tub, the same tub he always thumps. He has nothing else to thump about but the carbon tax, the minerals tax, the boats, the ‘worst government in history’, the awful PM, Ju-liar. They have been conned by him for years, listening uncritically to his tub-thumping, repeating his words without question, never challenging his thumping, believing that he is the chosen Bunny because the polls say so, diminishing their journalistic reputation with every sycophantic piece they write. Well folks, The Great Awakening is upon them.

Journalists who simply echo the tub thumping of the Bunny, the Bunny they have never challenged, the Bunny who has conned them all this time, will go down with him as his batteries corrode, splutter and go flat.

What do you think?

The scourge of the rent-seekers

When we were young there was no such word as ‘rent-seeker’. In fact the word was not coined until 1974. Wikipedia informs us that the term derives from the far older practice of appropriating a portion of production by gaining ownership or control of land. In economics, rent-seeking is an attempt to obtain ‘economic rent’ by manipulating the social or political environment.

In our earlier days, we recognized rent-seeking in other ways. Classically, farmers were seen as the ones who regularly complained about their lot and pleaded for, indeed demanded, government help such as tariff protection and subsidies. The phrase ‘the squeaky wheel gets the oil’ was used to describe their behaviour, reflecting as it did the truism that people who complain the most will get attention, and often get what they want. Today, political aficionados know the term well, can quote many instances of rent-seeking, and name many rent-seekers. This piece argues that rent-seekers are a scourge on the body politic because the loudest of them, those with the squeakiest wheels, too often get the oil, while the wheels of the more worthy go unlubricated through lack of a voice, lack of enough squeak. It argues too that rent-seeking is essentially self-serving, self-centered, and unconcerned with the lot of others, and that it is exercised most robustly by the rich and powerful.

While rent-seekers have always been around, during the life of the Rudd/Gillard Governments they have been in our face week after week, pleading their case, predicting dire consequences should they not get their way, and wrapping their arguments in the soft and often disingenuous cloak that unless they get what they want, ordinary people will suffer, prices will skyrocket, jobs will be lost, industries will collapse, businesses will go to the wall. Their arguments draw on the reasonable concept of ‘the fair go’, particularly ‘the Aussie fair go’, and insist that this is what they’re not getting.

Wikipedia has this to say about rent-seeking. It is “spending resources in order to gain by increasing one's share of existing wealth, instead of trying to create wealth. The net effect of rent-seeking is to reduce total social wealth, because resources are spent and no new wealth is created. It is important to distinguish rent-seeking from profit-seeking. Profit-seeking is the creation of wealth, while rent-seeking is the use of social institutions such as the power of government to redistribute wealth among different groups without creating new wealth. Rent-seeking implies extraction of uncompensated value from others without making any contribution to productivity. The origin of the term refers to gaining control of land or other natural resources. An example of rent-seeking in a modern economy is political lobbying for government benefits or subsidies, or to impose regulations on competitors, in order to increase market share.”

We don’t have to go back far to see flagrant examples of rent-seeking. Take the Emissions Trading Scheme. Remember how those dependent on coal-mining trenchantly opposed its early manifestations. Why? Because they would be required to pay for polluting the planet’s atmosphere with carbon dioxide. It would cost them and reduce their profits. Of course we never heard that point argued; who would care if they made less profit but the owners and shareholders? Instead, they argued that it would make them less competitive internationally, that jobs would be lost and go offshore, and that the pollution would continue there unabated. Their argument was that there was no rational reason for the ETS and its imposition of a price on carbon. The risk to the planet of carbon pollution and the consequential global warming with all its dangers was not mentioned, or if it was, it was minimized. The rent-seekers were silent about the risk to agriculture, food production and water supplies. They had nothing to say about the danger of rising sea levels and increased acidity, with its effect on coral reefs; indeed some denied them. Had they mentioned those risks, public sympathy might not have gone their way in opposing the ETS. So they pleaded their case for special consideration, for relief from this imposition, using heart-tugging arguments: loss of thousands of jobs, families left on the breadline, industries and towns decimated, dramatically rising electricity costs, and the ‘unimaginable’ flow on effect to the cost of everything we buy or use. Remember Barnaby Joyce and his $100 roast.

Mining rent-seekers took out full-page ad after full-page ad in major newspapers condemning the idea of an ETS and a price on carbon, pointing to the terrible damage it would do. Mitch Hooke, chief executive of the Minerals Council, was on every TV outlet pleading his case, with his ‘ain’t it awful’ demeanour, castigating the Government for being unreasonably hard on the miners, who after all ‘create enormous wealth’ and ‘employ lots of people’. They don’t actually, but the assertion was plausible. Supported by a compliant media that gratefully sucked up the advertising revenue and hoped for more, and backed up by an aggressively opposed Coalition, the miners’ argument gradually won public support, and persuaded the Government to modify its stance. Great wealth, the opportunity for nation-wide publicity through the media megaphone, spending millions to get it, enabled the mining rent-seekers to at least partly get their way.

The same thing happened with the MMRT. Mitch Hooke was out again. Full-page colour ads festooned the dailies, and the world’s richest woman, Gina Rinehart, bedecked with Paspaley South Sea pearls, accompanied by Twiggy Forrest, featured at a rowdy rally in Perth advocating that the tax be axed. ‘Axe the tax’ they chanted. Their case was that the Government was unfair to impose the tax because the miners took the financial risk, and they already paid ‘enough’ tax in State Government royalties, company tax and on profits. Tony Abbott insisted they already paid ‘too much tax’. Their story resonated with the people. What’s more, they told them, they were the geese that were laying the golden eggs, heaps of them, eggs that they claimed kept our country out of recession, and of course they employed countless people. In fact, mining income played little part in our GFC survival, constituting as it does only 9% of GDP. Mining employed only 135,000 in mid 2009, less than two percent of total employment, and jobs were shed, not increased, during the GFC.

Although much of the miners’ story was shonky, with the golden eggs imagery, the rent-seekers did strike gold, and sympathy rose for the poor miners facing an intolerable and unfair Great Big New Tax. Billionaire Clive Palmer gave weight to their cause. After all, he was a miner too and threatened by the GBNT. The MSM was out there with supportive editorials, and the ever-reliable Tony Abbott chimed in with loud support, backing his opposition to the MMRT with a promise to repeal it if elected. If he was prepared to forego the revenue it generated and still hand out from Joe Hockey’s magic pudding all the benefits it funded, the tax was obviously unnecessary, an intolerable impost on a struggling industry – just another Labor GBNT.

Wayne Swan came out twice tackling these three miners, accusing them of wielding disproportionate power, enabled solely because of their massive wealth, billionaires all. He pointed out that the ordinary man in the street could not afford full-page ads in papers around the nation to plead a cause, no matter how worthy. The ordinary man could not mobilize a powerful and wealthy body like the Minerals Council to plead a cause, could not mobilize such a body to intimidate the elected Government and even threaten to bring it down. The ordinary man could never expect support from the media to shore up a cause, unless it happened to suit it. The billionaires had it all – untold wealth, influence with powerful industry bodies, and a compliant media.

In just the last few days we have seen yet another example of rent-seeking: Peter Anderson, chief executive of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry fronted the cameras with an unhappy face, declaring that the recent independent panel's review into the Fair Work Act that found no major problems, “will be a bitter disappointment to many in the Australian business community.” The panel did not give them what they wanted: the magic ingredient in industrial relations – ‘flexibility’ – which business believes would solve many of its labour problems, but workers believe would leave them shortchanged. Nobody has ever fully defined ‘flexibility’; it remains what Tom Watson would likely label a ‘weasel word’.

Almost every day rent-seekers ply their wares on TV, radio and in the press. You have seen them over and again.

Returning to Swan’s comments about the billionaire miners, he never argued that individuals or groups were not entitled to put a point of view, to press their case, even to take radical action to achieve it. Nor does any reasonable person. After all, many worthy causes have rent-seekers pleading their cause. Unions too have taken all manner of rent-seeking action from negotiation to strike action, sometimes radical and disruptive, evoking a strong counter-action, as we saw in the infamous 1998 waterside dispute. But that dispute was between workers and employers, as most union disputes are. The billionaires and their corporate supporters are not in dispute with workers; they are in dispute with the Government of this nation. Swan’s complaint was that they are exercising a disproportionate influence because of their great wealth and their influential connections. They are rent-seekers writ large, using their corporate muscle ruthlessly.

Less obvious rent-seekers are the battalions of lobbyists that infiltrate parliaments. They are more numerous than the politicians. Each is a special pleader for a cause, a group, a movement, an institution, a company, or an industry. In the US they swarm about the Congress and Senate consuming the time of members and their staff. The tobacco lobby pressures and cajoles those representing tobacco growing states to support their industry, to remove or reduce restrictions, and threaten the withdrawal of their considerable financial and political support; oil lobbyists press for lower taxes, higher concessions and better access to markets, and lubricate their advocacy with mega dollars.

Lobbyists are here too, not in the same grotesque numbers, but certainly in the thousands, making lobbying a multi-billion dollar a year industry. So overpowering are they that their number and behaviour has had to be regulated with a register of lobbyists and a code of conduct.

In my view, there are two objectionable aspects of rent-seeking. First, it evokes questions of fairness and equity, and second, it encourages the disproportionate exercise of power.

In the prologue to his book: Barack Obama The Audacity of Hope (The Text Publishing Company, 2006), in describing what the book was about, Obama writes that it offered: “personal reflections on those values and ideals that have led me to public life, some thoughts on the ways our current political discourse unnecessarily divides us, and my own best assessment…of the ways we can ground our politics in the notion of the common good.”

It is ‘the common good’ that is at the nub of the rent-seeking issue, yet that notion is distant from the minds of rent-seekers, focussed as they are on their own wants and needs, or those they represent.

Fairness and equity
Rent-seekers by definition attempt to gain advantage for themselves, irrespective of any disadvantage that it might inflict on others. The notion of fairness, equity, and sharing is lost in the clamour for benefits for themselves. While this might pass unnoticed when the cause is a laudable charity, it nonetheless exists, and diminishes the worthiness of the cause. It is a case of ‘look at me’, ‘give me what I want’, but don’t worry about those who will miss out if I do get what I want.

But when the rich and powerful are the rent-seekers their efforts seem obscene. Why are billionaires rent-seeking for benefits, in their case paying less or no tax, when the benefits of the tax are to be distributed to a wide audience of those less well off? When the taxes are to fund better superannuation, elevate the tax-free threshold, reduce company tax, give benefits to small business? Foregoing all of that seemed to be of no concern to the mining rent-seekers in pursuit of their ‘axe the tax’ agenda. They showed no concern for the ‘common good’.

Disproportionate exercise of power
It was this disproportionality that Wayne Swan found to be offensive, unfair, and contrary to the common good. He saw miners like Gina Rinehart, Clive Palmer and Twiggy Forrest as not just putting their case, as any group is entitled to do, not even putting their interests above all others as many others do, but using their immense wealth and power to push their case in a way denied those with lesser means. Twiggy Forrest is even using his vast wealth to fund a High Court challenge to the MMRT, something the ordinary man cannot do.

Swan was angry that they were using their wealth and power to influence public policy, policy designed to redistribute the wealth derived from the mining boom to a wider audience, to those not now benefitting from it, to those less well off. He was angry because the miners’ self-interest, indeed their selfishness, was contrary to the common good. I for one applaud his stand.

Of course Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott labelled Swan’s stand as ‘class warfare’, demonizing the rich, pitting the poor against the rich, penalizing success. All the tired old clichés were trotted out. Swan’s move had nothing to do with class warfare; it had everything to do with fairness, equity and the common good.

While no one would promote a ban on advocacy, especially for laudable causes, we should acknowledge that it comes at a cost, a cost to those who miss out, or receive less because of the success of others.

The cost seems grotesquely obscene when those that miss out do so because of the wealth, power and influence of the vastly rich, because those with disproportionate clout born of their affluence exercise it ruthlessly with no concern for the common good. The three mining billionaires are unseemly examples.

Rent-seekers are a scourge on us all.

What do you think?

Media in the middle

Older readers will recall the days when news was purveyed only via newspapers and the radio. Although that was a long while ago, and memories of those days are dimmed by the efflux of time, my recollection of that era was one where reporters ferreted out the facts from wherever they were hidden, verified them by cross-checking against other sources, and promulgated them in unalloyed form untainted by the reporter’s opinion, unadulterated by ‘he said, she said’ reporting, and free of ‘press release’ propaganda. Reporters ‘wore out boot leather’ or ‘played the phones’ to bring us the real news. Of course during wartime some of the ‘news’ was subject to censorship and state propaganda designed to keep morale high, but we accepted that as appropriate.

How different it is now. Apart from the multiple media outlets that exist, the style of reporting has changed so that the consumer of news now has to refine the slivers of gold from the heavy overburden of dross. And in fact it’s worse than that. If it were only a matter of refinement, many readers are perspicacious enough to find the gold, but we now have another layer of overburden – propaganda, a deliberate intent to persuade, to deceive, to cajole into believing whatever the writer, or more sinisterly the editor or proprietor, wants us to believe. News outlets have become a powerful means of persuasion, of bending consumers to the will and the beliefs of the authors. There is no more flagrant example of this than the Murdoch media, and should Gina Rinehart get control of Fairfax, we should expect the same.

How many times have we heard political commentators say: “Labor never seems to be able to get its message across”. Or “Every time Labor has some good news to announce, it is drowned out by some mishap or disaster”. Or “Whenever Labor has a success or has achieved a legislative goal, leadership speculation overwhelms it.” Or “They just can’t seem to throw off speculation about a change of leader, or Kevin Rudd’s return.” Or “Labor can never get any ‘oxygen’ or clear air”. And who is to blame for this? Labor of course – it is hopeless at communication they say. It amazes me that those who say that with a straight face either cannot see, or refuse to acknowledge, that it is the media that consistently ensures that Labor’s attempts at communication are thwarted. It is the media that can always find a negative story, a downside, a contrarian view to counter anything positive the Government achieves, any ‘good news’ stories it has to tell. How many times have you heard Barrie Cassidy, Leigh Sales, Chris Uhlmann, Tony Jones, Emma Alberici, Fran Kelly, or Karen Middleton utter those very words? Cannot they see that the Murdoch media particularly, and much of Fairfax media too, deliberately runs interference to counter Labor’s good news so that the adverse news gains prominence over the good. These journalists can easily see the phenomenon, but are seemingly blind to its origin.

This piece asserts that one of Labor’s intractable problems is that ‘the media is in the middle’, in between the actual news, good and bad, and the public, that the media filters the good news about Labor out, and replaces it with the bad, albeit too often constructed out of little or nothing at all. It is part of the media’s strategy to run a continual campaign of obstruction so that Labor gets almost no ‘clear air’, no ‘oxygen’ to disseminate its good news. There are hundreds of examples of this.

Before someone comes here insisting that once again I am unfairly ‘blaming the media’ for the contemporary state of news dissemination, for Labor’s current position in the opinion polls, let me quote from David McKnight’s book Rupert Murdoch An Investigation of Political Power (Allen&Unwin, 2012). He describes how in the US Murdoch has used Fox News “…to pioneer a new form of political campaign - one that enabled the GOP to bypass sceptical reporters and wage an around-the-clock, partisan assault on public opinion. The network, at its core, is a giant soundstage created to mimic the look and feel of a news organization, cleverly camouflaging political propaganda as independent journalism”.

McKnight goes onto say: “In Australia, the desire by Murdoch’s news media to shape the agenda of Australian politics shows no sign of diminishing. Its two most powerful weapons, the Daily Telegraph and the Herald Sun, run regular campaigns against Labor and its policies, but are particularly venomous towards the Greens. The flagship Australian, as Robert Manne said in his prescient Quarterly Essay, remains an ideologically driven newspaper ‘unusually self-referential and boastful, with an extreme sensitivity when it is criticized. Its most distinguishing stance is its ‘loathing and contempt for anyone who thought radical action on climate change was needed’.”

McKnight concludes his book: “Given his oft-repeated rejection of retirement, Rupert Murdoch is likely to remain a powerful figure capable of influencing world politics for a considerable time to come.” So unless the Leveson Inquiry brings him undone, we have much more Murdoch interference to come.

If anyone is still sceptical about Rupert Murdoch’s preoccupation with commercial power and the exercise of political and ideological influence over governments on three continents, please read McKnight’s book. Page after page documents how he has become involved in high-level politics for many years.

He was a great supporter of Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Regan, George Bush and John Howard, a strong advocate for the Iraq War, a promoter of the now-debunked ‘weapons of mass destruction’ story, and the supposed connection between Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, one that never existed, one for which there was never any cogent evidence.

He was an opponent of closer relationships between the UK and Europe, and editorialized strongly to push his views on this. Through his US Fox News he has supported the Republican Party and its extreme right wing extension, the Tea Party, running a virtual propaganda machine that is venomously anti-Obama, strongly pro-Republican, and aggressively anti-global warming.

We know he has ‘courted’ national leaders in several countries, and indeed they have ‘courted’ him for his support politically. This has come out in all its ugliness in the Leveson Inquiry. Tony Blair flew halfway round the world to a News Corporation meeting at Hayman Island to curry favour. Anyone who doubts that Rupert Murdoch has an anti-Gillard, anti-Labor, anti-Green agenda should look at the overwhelming evidence that this is so. His editorials have called for ‘the destruction of the Greens at the ballot box’. His media outlets are pro-Coalition and pro-Abbott, who is never put under scrutiny by his media, never challenged, never questioned about his policies or costings, never corrected when he utters lie after lie about the carbon tax, the minerals tax, asylum policy, or for that matter any Labor policy. Abbott gets a free ride. And he knows on which side his bread is buttered: “I hope he liked me”, said Abbott after their one and only meeting in the US. I’m sure he hopes just that, and is now convinced that even if Murdoch doesn’t like him much, he will support him, because he wants a change of regime, a change all his outlets promote day after day.

Now I know any newspaper proprietor has the right to pursue his or her commercial interests, and to hold any ideological or political position, even to use whatever means that are available to pursue them. But is it right, is it fair, is it moral for just one man to be able to exercise such unbridled power on three continents, such that he can change governments or keep them in office through the power of his media?

Should one man have this disproportionate power to persuade the electorate to his own views? And should he have the unfettered capacity to do this by disseminating untruths, distortions, and downright lies? Should one man have the power to poison the minds of the voters against the nation’s PM and her active and productive Government, the power to mount a disingenuous campaign, Fox News style: “a new form of political campaign - an around-the-clock, partisan assault on public opinion”, in order to dislodge an elected Government?

Folks, this is serious – this is exactly what News Limited is doing; it will not stop until it succeeds, no matter how long that takes.

Let’s look at a few examples of how this is being done.

Murdoch regards The Australian as his treasured flagship even although it is said to not turn a profit. Its modest weekday circulation of around 100,000, with weekend patronage a little larger, does not lessen its value to him. It is aimed to influence opinion leaders in commerce, industry, agriculture, banking and politics. And it does.

Murdoch journalists know the ‘party line’ and readily toe it. Maybe they subscribe to it, but even if they don’t, they know that their continuing employment depends on pleasing Uncle Rupert, or at least not upsetting him. Although one reads the occasional ‘no one tells me what to write’ from News Limited journalists, everyone knows what the corporate line is, and dutifully complies. In his Quarterly Essay Bad News – Murdoch’s Australian and the Shaping of the Nation Robert Manne documents how editor Chris Mitchell makes it clear in his weekly meetings with his columnists how he wants stories to ‘come out’. And so they do.

Paul Kelly is a doyen of Australian political comment, has written tomes about it, and is a Walkley Award winner. One might imagine that he would be fiercely independent and not subject to editorial strictures. Yet his writings are compliant with the Murdoch line. In his review of Kelly’s book The March of the Patriots in Crikey Guy Rundle points to: “…the great flaw that runs through his work - an almost visceral dislike of some amorphous group, variously known as “progressives”, “the Left”. People from this group are rarely, if ever, quoted – they’re an amorphous chorus of noises…” This visceral dislike contaminates his weekly columns and TV appearances. He argues against the carbon tax, castigates the Government over its asylum policy, the minerals tax, and its style of government. And because of his aura of authority, his word is gospel to many. It is a pity that someone of his journalistic stature is such a Coalition sycophant.

There is little point in spending much time on Dennis Shanahan, who is unashamedly pro-Coalition, who can extract any drop of good news for the Coalition from Newspoll results, and any amount of bad news for PM Gillard and her Government, not that this takes much effort at present. He joined with Matthew Franklin in the News Limited campaign against the BER and HIP, which ran unabated for months, even after three Orgill Reports showed over 97% satisfaction with the former.

Neither is there any point in discussing the partisan contributions of Christopher Pearson, Tom Dusevic, Judith Sloan or the editorial writers at The Australian. Just glance through the last issue of The Weekend Australian to see what I mean. Find if you can anything that is complimentary to PM Gillard or her Government.

In his desire to establish himself as a columnist and TV commentator, Peter van Onselen prefers to follow the party line, often to his detriment. He sarcastically derided Julia Gillard over her opposition to a levy to fund the NDIS, a move that would have given Tony Abbott another GBNT slogan. Even Abbott discarded the idea of a levy, leaving PvO exposed as naive.

Don’t be deceived by his innocent baby-faced appearance. This man is a venomous enemy of the PM and her Government. This is what Uthers Say had to say about him in a piece: Enter the Australian all spin zone – a News Corporation duplication “Australians are seeing Fox News channelled in Australia by News Corporation’s Australian operations and particularly in not too subtle form on The Contrarians hosted by News Ltd’s Peter van Onselen.

“The practices of the Fox News Channel revolve around keeping the audience afraid and enraged. Those who stand between the very wealthy and greater wealth must be labelled, vilified, and dismissed. The tactics of its “news folk” and commentators include stacked panels, name-calling, talking over or shouting down any opposition, having a ready supply of villains that the audience will have Pavlovian responses to, and of course feeding the perceptions they create that suit the narratives that serve their corporate masters so well.”
The Bolt Report uses similar techniques.

Do read the whole piece to gauge the extent of van Onselen’s malevolence, and how the tactics used in the US Fox News, which is nothing more than a propaganda machine for the Republican Party and its extreme right wing manifestation, the Tea Party, are replicated here. Fox uses the disingenuous slogan ‘fair and balanced’ and its dishonest catch cry is: ‘We report, you decide’.

In searching for even one non-partisan writer for this newspaper one is left with just George Megalogenis, who writes well on matters economic, and at least backs his assertions with facts. But even the much-respected Mega at times seems to be avoiding conflict with the party line when he writes his columns.

In my view The Australian is patently partisan in its opposition to the Gillard Government and its support for the Coalition. Almost everything it publishes is designed to replace the Government with a Coalition one.

The same could be said for the rest of the News Limited stable. It is fruitless looking for a non-partisan writer there. Bolt, Akerman, Lewis and McCrann are conservatives with a vitriolic hatred of Labor, and the others largely follow their lead.

Let’s look at the Fairfax stable, where one could once reasonably expect to find better-balanced journalists. Ross Gittins and Peter Martin are standouts in that they present the facts as they are. They write mostly on matters economic, and do it well. At the Australian Financial Review there are some sound writers, chief among them Laura Tingle, who seems to be able to see things others can’t, and express them in clear prose.

But the Fairfax journalists that are most read are a big disappointment. The grande dame of political journalism, Michelle Grattan, who once could be relied upon to write balanced articles, has got her knife so far into Julia Gillard that she can scarcely say anything good about her at all, even when the PM has a substantial success to her credit. There is always a down side that gets the emphasis. Any acknowledgement is given begrudgingly. Why she is like this she alone knows, but it shows, and reflects poorly on her.

Phil Coorey seems a reasonable sort of fellow, especially on Insiders, but even his articles are tainted with the disparaging remarks about the Government. Peter Hartcher, whose well-written book, The Sweet Spot, I reviewed a little while ago, too gets on his high horse to vent criticism against the Government.

To read their columns a visitor could be left with the impression that Australia had an incompetent, leaderless Federal Government that had no vision, no narrative, and no accomplishments, that does nothing but fight over leadership, and that is headed for certain electoral wipeout at the next election, from which recovery would take a decade, or more.

They, along with many other commentators, are so certain of this electoral tsunami that they speak as if it were a foregone conclusion. Discouragingly, their dire predictions seem to be based on contemporary opinion polls, to which they wrongly attribute predictive capability, even this far from the next scheduled election. How these columnists have been conned into assigning such power to the polls is beyond me, and I suspect to some of the better pollsters too.

And it’s not just regular journalists that indulge in the perpetual ‘Gillard is doomed’ rhetoric. Crikey’s Bernard Keane is regular knocker, and recently the usually supportive Mungo MacCallum has joined the doomsters, basing his assessment on a discussion he had with half a dozen mates at a pub. Even Labor politicians are gloomy. We are used to Richo rabbitting on about the PM’s political demise as a matter of when, not if, but when Steve Bracks joins him and talks about Labour being wiped out around the nation, Labor supporters despair. Mind you, he retreated from this line when he recently launched his book, A Premier’s State.

Indeed it’s hard to find many who support the Government. NAB chief executive Cameron Clyne was one in an article by Ben Butler in the SMH Let’s stop the negativism, says Clyne Read it for a psychological boost!

So there it is – a media in the middle – interposed between the political reality of Federal politics and the public. Most of it is malignant; intent on spreading widely its cancerous message about PM Gillard and her Government, absorbed with metastasizing to every part of the electorate. Truth is irrelevant – bringing PM Gillard and her Government down is all that counts. The Murdoch media now reflects the strategies employed by Fox News in the US – an around-the-clock, partisan assault on public opinion – and the Fairfax media, and to some extent the ABC, is following suit. It is subversive and dangerous.

Can you imagine a football match where one team is playing well and scoring freely, while the other is floundering? Imagine now a clique of TV and radio commentators whose focus is on every real or trumped-up misdemeanour of the winning team, savaging their players and their coaches for ‘unfair’ play, rough tactics, poor strategy, incompetent ball handling, timid tackling, hopeless defence, pathetic attack, and lack of leadership.

Imagine the commentators overlooking the dirty tactics, the behind the play assaults, the lack of any visible game plan, the foul leadership, and the low scoring of the other side, glossing over these misdemeanours as inconsequential. Imagine as the game progresses and the score mounts, the commentators predicting, even at half time, a massive loss for the winning side based upon Sportsbet odds.

Imagine the umpires punishing every small or imagined infringement of the leading side with a severe penalty, while overlooking the gross violations of the other.

Imagine the supporters of the losing team hurling abuse, cans and bottles at the players, threatening to jump the fence and assault them. Imagine them endlessly chanting lurid slogans until they became deafening. Imagine this going on from the very beginning, and continuing even as the superior side piles on goal after winning goal, to the very end.

Imagine even some of the winning side’s supporters turning on them, criticizing their tactics, even the colour and design of their gear.

Imagine all that and you will have an image of what is going on with the media in this country. The media is in the middle, determined to shield the public from the truth, the real score, the real promise of greater things to come; determined to distract the electorate, to misrepresent the progress the Government is making, to promote the losers and paint them as in an impossible-to-lose position, but never prepared to expose their hollowness, their policy paucity, their costing dishonesty, their sinister agenda for our nation and its people.

Labor’s most pressing problem is the ‘media in the middle’.

What do you think?