Political hatred: its genesis and its toll

We’ve known for ages that there are pockets of political hatred in the electorate that fester away and erupt from time to time, pouring their purulent discharge over the political discourse, offending many with its stench. But how many of you can remember such an exhibition of hatred as we have seen recently?

For me it came to a head after Julia Gillard wept in parliament when introducing the final piece of legislation to enshrine the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Not long before, she had witnessed the situation of a 17 year-old boy Sandy, severely disabled with cerebral palsy, and that of a 12 year-old girl Sophie who has Down syndrome.

As she recounted these encounters, she was moved to tears – genuine tears. Tears of sadness at the plight of these children and their families, tears of relief that at long last the parliament of Australia was legislating a scheme that would support them not just now, but in the future when their carers were no longer able to care for them, and perhaps tears of regret that so few Coalition members were present to witness the introduction of this historic legislation, a bill they supported. As far as one could see, only the shadow minister and one other of the Coalition were in the House – for the others it seemed to be not important enough to warrant their presence.

Even some hard-nosed journalists acknowledged the genuineness of her tears, and some Opposition members, when questioned, did too.

But talkback radio was a different matter. One caller said they were ‘crocodile tears’, adding that Julia Gillard ‘couldn’t lie straight in bed’. Jon Faine reported on ABC Melbourne radio that two-thirds of the many text messages he received on this matter accused PM Gillard of faking her tears for affect, of using them to foster sympathy. Two-thirds! Another caller, appalled by such vicious, vitriolic, venomous comments asked why these people had such hate in their hearts, why, when people were ‘celebrating in the streets’ the advent of the NDIS, there were ‘craven, mean, petty-minded characters saying such awful things’, adding: ‘what’s inside the people who say these horrible things’. Indeed, what’s inside them?

This piece posits that this hatred is cultured, that it has been cultured ever since Tony Abbott became Opposition Leader, and all the more so after Julia Gillard outmanoeuvred him to gain the support of the Independents to form a minority Government. The evidence to support this proposition follows.

Abbott has always maintained that he should have been PM, that the Gillard Government is illegitimate, and that he would do everything in his power to bring it down, something he envisaged would be easy and swift, and The Lodge his by Christmas. That was two Christmases ago, and with each passing day his anger heightened and his campaign of vilification intensified.

Before any of you tell me that politics is a rough and tumble business, that conflict is at its very centre, that such hatred is the norm, reflect on when you have previously seen such intense hatred. We all remember the unpleasant things that were said about some of John Howard’s policies, about some of his statements, about some of his ideological positions, about some of his reversals – ‘core and non core promises’ – even about his eyebrows, but can you recall such a level of hatred, such vitriolic hatred, being expressed? Older readers will remember some of Paul Keating’s colourful language, but can you recall him emitting hatred such as has been directed to Julia Gillard?

I have not witnessed such hatred as we now hear in the language that Opposition members and some commentators use, and see in the angrily contorted faces of Tony Abbott, Christopher Pyne, Joe Hockey, Julie Bishop and other Opposition members in parliament and in interviews.

I point the finger of blame for the genesis of the hatred we now see in politics, and in particular the hatred aimed at our Prime Minister Julia Gillard, directly at Tony Abbott, an attack dog from way back and more viciously so since the 2010 election.

I also blame his Coalition colleagues, particularly Christopher Pyne, Julie Bishop, George Brandis, Eric Abetz, Joe Hockey, Andrew Robb, Mathias Cormann, Sophie Mirabella, Bronwyn Bishop and Kelly O’Dwyer for echoing the Abbott hatred. I blame his sycophantic media shock jocks that spew venom from their radio and TV shows: Alan Jones, Ray Hadley, and Andrew Bolt, who not only echo the hatred, but add to it. I blame his many media supporters, who in a subtler way echo Abbott hatred, and who by their sins of omission fail to admonish Abbott for his hate, who fail to pull him up and question his behaviour, often preferring to congratulate him on the ‘success’ of his vitriolic conduct. I blame media proprietors and editors for fostering hatred through their pages, particularly their front pages.

How has the hatred come about?

From the moment of his defeat seventeen days after the 2010 election, the Leader of the Opposition labelled the Gillard Government as illegitimate – a ‘bastard’ government. He labelled Julia Gillard’s Prime Ministership illegitimate, a ‘bastard’ Prime Ministership. He insisted minority government was unworkable and destined for failure, and relentlessly set about ‘proving’ it so, repeatedly insisting it was a ‘failed experiment’ almost as soon as it began. He created a seething environment of loathing of minority government.

This festering atmosphere of hatred was the ideal milieu that allowed, even fostered, the genesis of one of the most potent progenitors of hate – the use of LIAR as a label for PM Gillard. We all know how it came about: “There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead”, a clip replayed hundreds of time to underscore Abbott’s insistence that this PM is a liar. The other things she said during the 2010 election – that she was determined to put a price on carbon prior to introducing an emissions trading scheme – were given virtually no prominence. It was her ‘promise’ not to introduce what everyone insisted on calling a carbon tax, and her subsequent decision to introduce one temporarily as part of her negotiations with the Greens in forming minority government, with transition in a couple of years to a market-based emissions trading scheme that fuelled the ‘liar’ accusations. For the Coalition, it was simple: ‘She made a promise – she broke her promise – she is a liar.’ As if ‘liar’ was not potent enough, ‘untrustworthy’ was added. How many hundreds of times have you heard ‘liar’, ‘untrustworthy’, ‘broken promises’ used against our PM? It is a mantra that has assumed almost a religious fervour. It’s easy to envisage drum-beating, cymbal-clanging Coalition advocates chanting these words.

As if the Coalition’s attack on our PM’s integrity was not enough, Alan Jones entered the fray with his insulting interview of Julia Gillard on 2GB, first reprimanding her for being ten minutes late for a radio interview with someone as august as Jones, then insolently calling her ‘Ju-liar’. But Jones was not finished. He expressed his utter disdain for our nation’s leader when he said she should be placed in a hessian bag and taken out to sea. He demeans her day after day and his listeners lap it up. There’s more – Jones was a sponsor of carbon tax rallies in Canberra that sported placards with ‘Ditch the Witch’ and ‘Bob Brown’s Bitch’ emblazoned on them, placards in front of which Tony Abbott, Bronwyn Bishop, and Sophie Mirabella stood, placards they denied seeing!

What began as an accusation of lying rapidly escalated into a hate-filled exhibition of contempt, derision, and scorn. The vision of those placards, the remembrance of that appalling episode in our political history, has been etched into the memory of the electorate. Is it surprising then that such hatred still burns in the hearts and minds of so many, so deeply imprinted that it evoked venomous comments about Julia Gillard’s tears last week?

Alan Jones is not alone. His 2GB colleague Ray Hadley has a vicious tongue that he uses to lash our PM, and many others. This week’s Australian Story on the ABC about this shock jock revealed that Hadley ‘encourages people to loathe’ – think of that: ’to loathe’. Is it any surprise that hatred lives in the hearts and minds of his listeners?

Here on this blog we have a few visitors whose singular message is that Julia Gillard is an untrustworthy liar, something they tell us endlessly, no matter what the subject. The language they use, the derogatory labels they apply to her, and the venom and sarcasm with which they write of her bespeaks their loathing of our PM. They reflect the hatred that has been generated in the community by the Coalition and its media sycophants.

Hatred grows. The Coalition has added even more to the loathing of Julia Gillard. It was not enough to call her an untrustworthy liar who broke promises. If an aura of incompetence could be added, how much more loathsome she would seem to be. From the early days of the Gillard Government, Tony Abbott, Joe Hockey, Christopher Pyne, and their colleagues steadily built up an image of incompetence, poor decision-making, disorder, chaos, confusion, back-flips, dysfunction, an inability to govern, indeed an image of ‘a bad government, getting worse’, one that practises dirty, low politics. They have managed to do this even in the face of over 450 pieces of legislation already passed by the Gillard Government, much of it ground-breaking reform; even in the face of a Government that has successfully managed a $1.5 trillion economy through the greatest financial crisis in 70 years, an economy that is by far the best in the developed world, and acknowledged so with its three triple A ratings. All of this excellent achievement is negated by the spurious overlay of incompetence and chaos. The recent budget is portrayed by the Coalition as ‘an emergency’, as ‘chaotic’, loaded with ‘debt’ and ‘spin’. It is painted as unbelievable, its projected surplus as unattainable, and spending and savings figures as fictitious. Treasury’s estimates, and even its integrity, are queried. Gross incompetence is overlaid on everything the budget is proposing to achieve. Those who already hate our PM could only loathe her more as she goes about ‘wrecking the economy’, and those still with an open mind have any doubts amplified.

To add to this sorry scene, Tony Abbott, Joe Hockey, and indeed the whole Coalition finance team, have been talking down the economy for years, no matter how destructive they know this talk to be. Demeaning PM Gillard and Treasurer Swan is their objective, whatever the cost to the economy. Is it any wonder that consumer and business confidence is wavering?

This loathing manifests itself in unexpected ways. Talkback callers insist they cannot bear to listen to her, that her voice is like fingernails scraping down a blackboard. Even pro-Government commentators like Mungo MacCallum and Mike Carlton have unkind things to say about her voice and delivery: ‘droning’, ‘school-marmish’, condescending, boring, repetitive, lacking ‘cut-through’. Yet, John Howard’s voice was hardly inspirational. Tony Abbott’s cackle is grating, his angry barking repulsive; Joe Hockey’s bellowing is jarring; Christopher Pyne’s yapping repugnant; George Brandis’ sarcasm sickening; Julie Bishop’s feline spite shrill; Sophie Mirabella’s nastiness nauseating, and Eric Abetz's whining repellant. But have you heard criticisms of their voices and delivery from the commentariat? No, it’s Julia’s voice that we are encouraged to despise, to loathe, to hate, along with her nose, her dress, and her posterior. Hate grows.

It should come as no surprise that vox pops comment includes: ‘I’ve stopped listening to her’ and ‘I don’t believe anything she says’, which enables journalist after journalist, commentator after commentator, to insist ‘that the people have stopped listening’, a nihilistic conclusion, based on little but ephemeral comment. How many poll questions have you seen that address this matter?

All of this hate would have limited penetration had it not been for a compliant media, that virtually everyone now acknowledges is set upon the destruction of the PM and the Gillard Government. The ideology of the Labor Government and its pursuit of fairness spread across the community don’t fit with the ideology of commerce and industry, which is aimed at profitability. Labor’s emphasis on fair work conditions, strong superannuation, good education even for the disadvantaged, and universal health care does not align well with the aspirations of the commercial world, which is focussed on cost cutting, profit, expansion and competitiveness. Any attempt to have the prosperous sectors pay a fairer share is resisted with multi-million dollar public campaigns, as we have seen. Any attempt to raise the salaries of the lowest paid is habitually greeted with ‘commerce and industry cannot afford more than a modest increase’ and ‘jobs will be lost and sent overseas’ and ‘competitiveness will be destroyed’. These sentiments are expressed through all forms of the media, all the more strongly when the Opposition berates every move the Government makes and promises to reverse it in government.

Clearly most of the Fourth Estate favours Coalition policies and is doing whatever it can to have the Coalition in government. This was all the more obvious when their own industry was threatened, as it was with the Finkelstein Inquiry, the Convergence Review and the subsequent moves by the Government, moves that were resisted almost to the level of apoplexy by News Limited’s chief executive, Kim Williams.

Watch him here in action on Lateline!

So overwrought was he with the Government's proposals, that he portrayed the responsible minister, Stephen Conroy, as Stalin in one of his tabloids, a radical action he airily dismisses in his Lateline interview.

The media contribution to the hatred and contempt of PM Gillard, her ministers and her Government, was yet again exhibited starkly in the Front Pages after the budget.

Illustration from Crikey.

Notice how the inevitability of the defeat of Labor is embedded in these headlines. This is another element of the media’s strategy. The message is: How could you vote for this loathsome Labor Government, with its inept PM and its incompetent Treasurer? No one else will be voting for it. It is finished, set for a massive defeat, singing its ‘Swan song’, hopeless. The implicit message is: don’t waste your vote; get onto the winner – the Coalition. Overlay this sentiment onto the already hate-acculturated electorate and a powerful message is transmitted – vote this awful Gillard Government OUT.

This week, Mr Denmore began a superb piece Damned Lies and Journalism with a Tweet from Rupert Murdoch: “Oz polls show nothing can save this miserable govt. Election can not come soon enough. People decided and tuned out months ago. – Rupert Murdoch(@rupertmurdoch) May 19, 2013”. Is there any more convincing evidence of the genesis of this message? Is there any more powerful progenitor?

Reflecting the language of the Fourth Estate, particularly the Murdoch press, Mr Denmore’s first paragraph reads: “'The nation is drowning in debt. The federal government has lost control of public finances. The NBN is a disaster. Business is struggling because union thugs are destroying productivity growth. We are being overwhelmed with illegal boat arrivals. Refugees are living on welfare and bleeding us dry.'” Note how these themes, although gross misrepresentations and distortions of the facts, accentuate the ‘incompetence’ line. Here is his piece in full.

The strategy adopted by the Coalition and echoed by a largely compliant and supportive Fourth Estate, and by many in business and industry, is not new or unique. In Germany in the early thirties of the last century, the Nazi Party used the prevailing anti-Semitic sentiment to ‘blame’ the Jews for the loss of the First World War, (the ‘stab in the back’ myth) and for the poverty, the hyperinflation, and the unemployment that beset the republic at that time. Hatred and loathing of Jews was thereby accentuated. This was heightened by institutionalized persecution of Jews and Jewish businesses, which were subject to increasing vilification and restrictions. So much loathing of this group of people was generated that the obscenities of the Holocaust were able to take place under the nose of the German people with scarcely a murmur of protest. Therein was the terrible toll of hatred.

Joseph Goebbels oversaw that propaganda campaign. Here are some of his sayings. Read them and reflect.

The background to his campaign against Jewish people is encapsulated here: “A Jew is for me an object of disgust. I feel like vomiting when I see one. Christ could not possibly have been a Jew. It is not necessary to prove that scientifically - it is a fact.”

The basis of his propaganda strategy is captured by: “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” and “The bigger the lie, the more it will be believed." Goebbels went on to say: “The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.” Reflect on: ‘the truth is the greatest enemy of the State’.

Reflect now on two other statements Goebbels made: “The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly - it must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over.” and “Think of the press as a great keyboard on which the government can play.”

I need add no comment for these statements to be understood; nor need I spell out any comparison with what we are witnessing in this country day after day. It is all too obvious. Note though that I am NOT labeling the Coalition as ‘Nazi’; I am simply drawing attention to the striking parallel between the Goebbels propaganda strategy of the Nazi era and what we are seeing unfold here before our very eyes. And I am drawing attention to the toll that this strategy brings in its wake.

The thesis of this piece is that there has been a carefully orchestrated campaign by the Coalition and much of the media to establish a culture of loathing and hatred of PM Gillard and her Government. The panoply of lies, broken promises, incompetence, chaos, ineptitude, mismanagement, an economy being wrecked by profligate spending and overwhelming debt leading to an aura of hopelessness, has been etched into the image of a Government in terminal decline, moribund, and needing to be put down.

I place this evidence before you and invite you to reach your own conclusions.

For the genesis of this campaign of hatred I point the finger at Tony Abbott and his media managers, for the dissemination and accentuation of it I point the finger at Coalition members, at the Fourth Estate, and at vested interests in commerce and industry.

This is no trivial matter. Our nation will suffer an awful toll. Look at the venomous hatred that infects our community now, hatred that promises to become overwhelming and even more toxic in the months ahead, and be afraid. This hatred threatens to be our national ‘grapes of wrath’.

Here is the woman the haters long to loathe.

What do you think?

If you wish to ‘Disseminate this post’, it will be sent to the following parliamentarians: Tony Abbott, Eric Abetz, Anthony Albanese, Bronwyn Bishop, Julie Bishop, George Brandis, Greg Combet, Stephen Conroy, Mathias Cormann, Craig Emerson, Josh Frydenberg, Joe Hockey, Greg Hunt, Barnaby Joyce, Christine Milne, Sophie Mirabella, Robert Oakeshott, Kelly O'Dwyer, Christopher Pyne, Andrew Robb, Bill Shorten, Arthur Sinodinos, Wayne Swan, Warren Truss, Malcolm Turnbull, Andrew Wilkie, Tony Windsor, Penny Wong and Nick Xenophon.

Who's been playing in MY estate? Yet more ferment in the fourth and fifth

When is a writer not a journalist but a blogger, and when is a writer/blogger a journalist? Who decides? Does it matter?

Traditional or mainstream or 'old' media, and its power affiliates, are pushing back at the moment against the proliferation of small 'new media' online ventures fighting to be heard. Those broking power in the world of media are pushing hard because, as political commentator and ex-Press Gallery journalist Mungo MacCallum states, “these are not normal times and those making the judgements [media owners, editors, journalists] are anything but impartial”.

Three incidents highlighting the tension in the journalist/blogger, blogger/journalist dynamic occurred in media-world in the last few weeks.

Callum Davison [@callumdav], a freelance journalist, who had sought accreditation as Press Gallery representative for Independent Australia [@independentaus], received notification that he had been knocked back.

Then blogger, commentator and author of The Rise of the Fifth Estate (2012), Greg Jericho [@GrogsGamut], notorious overnight for being 'outed' from his blogger pseudonym by The Australian's James Massola, was hired as a journalist by the not-quite-yet-launched Guardian Australia (online). (Tweet: “Katharine Viner @KathViner Delighted to announce: #GuardianAUS joined by @NickEvershed, @GrogsGamut, @SimonJackman, @bkjabour, @heldavidson, @olliemilman, @mikewsc1 12:06 PM - 1 May 13”).

As well, on Monday 29 April, a new kid on the online publication block launched, its aspirations embedded in a somewhat classically titled masthead: The Citizen [@thecitizenweb].

These events resurface questions of who gets to define who is or is not a working journalist, how that defining occurs and to what standards a journalist, once defined as such, should be working – including ethical standards. If Callum Davidson (who holds a journalism degree and has worked freelance) can't be a Press Gallery member, could – if he wanted to and applied – Greg Jericho, who may never have actually worked as a journalist before? What about Margaret Simons, now overseeing The Citizen, who certainly has worked as a journalist?

We know that many journalists from newspapers and magazines now producing in digital and print media have jumped or been pushed in the last year or two. It's been hard not to hear the cries of anguish across the industry (especially if you follow journalists on Twitter). But we may be less aware of just how steadily the fourth estate has been bleeding into the so-called fifth and how many people who have worked as journalists are doing or have done real time in behind any number of online ventures that Twitter tags #newmedia. (Nor is it easy to clarify just how many once-were-bloggers have slid the other way across the divide into working as a journalist with reasonably established traditional media, albeit, as with Guardian Australia, on a digital end-product only.)

What does this two-way drifting make of the so-called divide between the fourth estate and the fifth? Are they still pretty much at standoff, with the fourth accusing the fifth of pea-green envy because they want to be the fourth, but don't have the 'right' credentials? Or, are they collaborating more, as Greg Jericho suggested should happen in his The Rise of the Fifth Estate? Or is the fourth trying to annex aspects of the fifth it can make fit old media models, while still pushing back against aspects it finds threatening?

Looking at how some of the #newmedia sees itself proffers some first clues, perhaps.

Amongst the more established online ventures set up by, or sometimes employing, journalists, New Matilda [@newmatilda] describes itself as an 'independent journalism site'; Independent Australia [@independentaus] as an 'online journal'; The Global Mail [@TheGlobalMail] as a 'not-for-profit news and features website'; The King’s Tribune [@TheKingsTribune] as a magazine, now in the form of a subscription email; and The Hoopla [@TheHoopla] as an 'online news and magazine site'. 

Then there's Crikey [@crikey_news], which describes its own 'mode of delivery' as 'website and email' and its mission (partly) thus:

“Crikey sees its role as part of the so-called fourth estate that acts as a vital check and balance on the activities of government, the political system and the judiciary.”

Crikey described The Citizen as 'a new site featuring the work of students, staff and freelance writers'. This is a tad disingenuous given that The Citizen, while first stating that it is a 'teaching tool', also states:

Finally, THE CITIZEN aims to be a serious and worthwhile publication in its own right, with an emphasis on quality journalism that, in part, seeks to ‘back fill’ on issues and events neglected by mainstream media battling cut-backs and cost constraints.”

This makes The Citizen not just a 'site' (for students), but a publication in direct competition with Crikey. Experienced ex-mainstream journalist and now academic Margaret Simons is Editor-in-Chief of The Citizen and Simon Mann, ex-The Age, amongst other things, is Editor. If you don't know Margaret Simons’ work, and her very lateral thinking on where journalism is headed, her 2012 e-book is available from Amazon: Journalism at the Crossroads: Crisis and Opportunity for the Press. Reading Chapter 5: 'The Citizen's Agenda' should prove illuminating.

Of the online ventures mentioned so far, most see themselves as paperless equivalents of newspapers or print magazines, thereby claiming a space in the fourth estate.

Well may they claim, but are they staking in very soft sand?

There are other online ventures, too, that just may be making claim. These began life more as blogs: community blogs set up for contributions by a group of writers, only one or two of whom might have a background in journalism or even public relations. They tend to describe their raisons d'être in similar terms to one of the aims of The Citizen, that is 'to fill the gaps', even if their motivation seems more frustration with the inadequacies of political reportage in the mainstream, or resisting what they see as bias in the existing media, than with omission via industry cost and cut-back.

There's Australians for Honest Politics (AFHP) [@NoFibs]. With a 'sub-banner' of 'Citizen Journalism' it describes itself as 'a new citizens journalism project in the tradition of one of the first, Webdiary'. Webdairy was in turn a first citizen journalism effort run initially under the Fairfax banner by journalist Margo Kingston [@margokingston1] and later run as an independent venture by her and others. Kingston argued strongly that Webdairy was not a blog, partly because a community of citizens wrote for it, and one would guess she might argue the same for AFHP, which she set up with Tony Yegles [@geeksrulz] who had some background with Webdairy in later years. Whether Kingston considers AFHP to sit within the fourth or the fifth estate might be gleaned from her 'outsider' comment:

“Me, I feel relaxed and comfortable sitting outside the system looking in. In my day, I was the first highly paid mainstream ‘blogger’, regularly on radio and TV. The nasty right, exemplified by Tim Blair, were the volunteer outsiders. Now Tim is ensconced in News Ltd, Andrew Bolt is the most-read mainstream blogger, and I’m the volunteer ignored by the MSM.

“Times change. I like where I am more than where I was. Because I’m free.”

There's the Australian Independent Media Network (AIMN), which has the subtitle 'An information alternative'. Its welcome post also flags the term 'citizen journalist'. It references Tim Dunlop's [@timdunlop] piece Media pass: citizen journalists need an industry body whose headline paragraph states: 

“Australian bloggers have a lot to offer in public debate, but an independent body is needed to establish the credibility and increase the exposure of our citizen journalists …”

and whose last sentence reads:

“Diversity of opinion is vital to the proper functioning of a democracy, but diversity without reach is just noise.”

AIMN's welcome post also notes:

“Over the coming days and weeks you’ll see this site take shape and the network develop, followed by what we endeavour to be quality, unbiased, balanced, independent journalism.”

And then there's Ausvotes2013 [@Ausvotes2013]. Is it a bird, is it a plane, is it – Superblog? The last, it seems, since it has just won the 'Commentary' category of the Australian Writers' Centre Best Australian Blogs 2013 (where one of the judges was Greg Jericho). With a subheading of 'Election policy wonkage and much more' it describes itself as a 'group blog' and states:

“The concept for this blog is simple – to provide the observations, analysis and opinion that are missing in the traditional media’s coverage of the election. In short, to provide the perspectives we wish we could read in the MSM.”

But to return to the The Citizen, it seems, then, to be competition not only for Crikey, but for any number of longer-term #newmedia ventures as well as a number of recent 'online start-ups', this latter term being one way the Canberra Press Gallery described the growing band of independent, small-press-like online presences seeking real (as opposed to virtual) space in the Press Gallery's wing at Canberra's Parliament House. This Crikey piece doesn't quite tell us why Independent Australia's freelance journalist Callum Davidson didn't make it into the Press Gallery although a further piece from AFHP adds the insider colour of parliamentary security needs.

But there's the rub. Neither in the office space nor probably in the needs of Parliament House security do we really find the answer to why a Press Gallery pass was refused to Callum Davidson.

One further reason is suggested by The Citizen's launch edition via a critical article from Sydney Morning Herald Contributions Editor, and sometimes freelancer, Gay Alcorn, Want to be a journalist? Bloggers, online media sites invited to sign on to ’journalism code of ethics'. She states:

“The journalists’ union, the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, wants to bring them into the professional fold, at least tentatively. And the Australian Press Council, which regulates press standards, says one of the most critical issues facing the media is defining who, exactly, is a journalist in the digital age.

“The union has approached 20 websites it believes have shown signs they are interested in ethics, accuracy and paying contributors once they earn enough to do so. It says that so far, 12 have signed up to the union’s ‘Charter of Excellence and Ethics’, to be launched mid-year.”

According to Alcorn, both The Hoopla and The King’s Tribune are among the 12 'websites' that have signed up to the MEAA's Charter. Via tweet on the 29th April, Margo Kingston advised she had signed on too – presumably on behalf of AFHP. (If Independent Australia did, would that mean Callum Davidson would be accepted by the Press Gallery?)

Alcorn's piece takes us back to the same issue Tim Dunlop raised. But Dunlop posited a different approach: that 'citizen journalists' might, rather than being drawn into existing press structures and regulation, band together in:

“… an informal framework that allows smaller websites to acquire advantages currently limited to what we might call the legacy media, the mainstream journalists, who, by convention as much as anything, are given society's permission to pursue stories.”

Clearly, the advent of online media and the blogger/journalist dichotomy is proving a conundrum to those who claim the 'inside'. All kinds of attempts to corral and brand the small online media ventures are being made, either by keeping them outside an 'august' institution such as the Press Gallery, or by pulling them into an arguably equally august institution, such as the MEAA (and offering access to Walkley Training, no less), or perhaps by offering a lesser version of the MEAA's approach, a kind of outside/inside position, as in 'band together, at least in a loose structure, but self-regulate'.

It's a conundrum raising some significant questions – especially for an election year.

If the role of the fourth estate is to keep check on the first to third, and the rise of the fifth has been to balance the perceived inadequacies of the fourth, is the fifth better not to join any part of the fourth's power structures? How well can you check and balance if you become part of what you are checking? Does one challenge the status quo best from inside or outside (or is that all false dichotomy?)

If the quality of journalism is plummeting into sensationalist partisan regime-change-bent 'crap', as is often being suggested in this election year, but the ownership is large and powerful, should all the small independents come together to provide some truly competitive weight? Or does coming together, perhaps as one media producer with many arms, or perhaps as a loosely affiliated regulatory body, undercut entirely the potentially more radical action available to many smaller and diverse voices?

Are we even asking the right questions?

Does joining the Press Gallery really matter for #newmedia, or is this a body now diminishing in power and 'on the way out', and different bodies are needed?

In the flurry of Twitter activity following Callum Davidson's rejection by the Gallery, Andrew Elder tweeted:

Andrew Elder @awelder @margokingston1 @MargaretOConno5 @SpudBenBean Current President is @PhillipCoorey, who despises socmed. Good luck. Am trying to abolish PG.”

Within 10 days Elder [@awelder] had written this: Shadows on the Press Gallery wall 2: Where the action isn't. He noted: 

Today, press gallery journalists still think they are Where The Action Is, despite many years of evidence to the contrary. They are confirmed in that opinion by their dull-witted editors, and by the boards of the organisations which currently employ them. When broadcast media laid off hundreds of journalists last year, the fact that very few jobs went from the press gallery was a sign that they'd botched it.”

Is it that journalism as we know it is, itself, defunct for what was once its reading public, as Bushfire Bill [@BushfireBill] very recently argued:

People will not pay to see their beliefs and ideologies, their aspirations and loyalties, their need to be informed and to remain so, trashed by two-bit gurus with a bully pulpit put at their disposal, rabbiting on in the most offensive way about dinner parties, leaks from insiders and their own benighted opinions.

“It just won’t happen”.

Last, but not least: PolitiFact has launched in Australia. Its Australian editor is former SMH Editor-in-Chief Peter Fray [@PeterFray].

Will it police across all media, old and new, checking facts? Via its 'Truth-O-Meter TM', will it hound to metered truth all journalist/bloggers or blogger/journalists? Should it? How would it decide, given the ceaseless ferment in the fourth and fifth?

Perhaps we should ask Peter Fray!

What do you think?

Feathers Fly at the Federal Chook House

Gather around kiddies and I’ll tell you a story. 

Once upon a time there was a large farm where many farmyard animals lived. It was a very special ‘Animal Farm’. The farmer loved all his animals, but most of all his big flock of chooks. The farmer loved chooks so much he collected them from all over the country. He had hundreds of them. The more types of chook he had, the happier he was. Because he was ‘green’ farmer, he allowed his chooks to wander all over his farm to eat what they wanted, and scratch around where they liked. They were his pride and joy. He even had some that were rather thin and some that were lame. He was a kind farmer. He made sure they had plenty to eat. Every day he fed them grain and scraps.

He had run his farm for many years, and enjoyed watching how his chooks got on with each other. Sometimes they seemed to get on well; sometimes they quarrelled. Some were kindly chooks, but others always seemed to be angry and ready for a fight.

He noticed how there was always the boss chook, the Top Chook who was in control. The other chooks showed respect and seldom dared to challenge his authority. For a long while the top chook was a male, a rooster. He was a fine buff-coloured Orpington. Strangely, he didn’t have the most beautiful feathers, and he was not the biggest chook. He just looked important though, so important that he stayed Top Chook for over eleven years.

There was another chook who was always with the Top Chook. He helped him sort out the scraps that the farmer threw into the paddock every day. He was an Orpington too, but he was larger and white.

Secretly, he wanted to be Top Chook, but the other chooks didn’t like him that much. He always had a peculiar look on his face, and tilted his head to one side, as if he thought himself wise and clever. Although all the other chooks knew he wanted to be Top Chook, and some said he should have a go, he never plucked up enough courage to challenge Top Chook, so eventually he went off to another farm. He still thinks he ought to have been Top Chook, and occasionally comes to the other side of the fence to give advice to the other chooks.

All the time Top Chook ruled the roost, there was another chook who wanted his job. He had different ideas about how the scraps and the grain the farmer threw about should be divided up. He was a big and friendly Sussex with fine silver and black feathers.

He puffed up his chest but never bullied. But he let Top Chook bully him. So every time he tried for the Top Chook job, Top Chook came out on top. Eventually Silver Sussex’s friends decided he could never win. They decided instead that another chook, a much younger one, should have a go for the Top Chook job. He was a Silkie. He had a rich white colour and a fine crest of feathers. He was particularly proud of his crest and often tossed his head to keep his feathers in place.

Silkie decided that to beat Top Chook for the job he would pretend he was almost the same, only better. It worked. The other chooks were tiring of Top Chook. So was the farmer, and even the farmer’s wife and children thought it would be nice to have a different Top Chook after all this time. So when there was a contest, Silkie won and became Top Chook. His friends were delighted and gently pecked his plumage. He became the most popular chook since as long as anyone could remember. He did lots of good things and his friends and the farmer were very happy. But he became very cocky. He thought he was the smartest chook in the farm. He didn’t ask anyone else about what to do, because he though he knew it all. He looked down his nose at the other chooks and often kept them waiting when they wanted to talk with him. They got more and more angry, but he was so popular with the farmer they couldn’t do much about him. The farmer took him to chook shows where he did well, so he stayed the farmer’s favourite. But eventually Silkie became so cocky that his popularity fell and fell, and his friends got so fed up with him they decided they didn’t want him as Top Chook any more.

Instead, they wanted someone different to be Top Chook. Who do you think it was? Here’s a surprise. Top Chook had always been a rooster – now they wanted a hen. Imagine that – a hen. A hen had never been Top Chook before. But this hen was special – she was a Rhode Island Red. She was popular and clever.

She had been a helper to Silkie, had done a great job helping him, and had lots of admirers. Then one day, all of a sudden, the other chooks banished Silkie and made Rhode Island Red Top Chook. It was big shock to all the other chooks and to the farmer too. Although Rhode Island Red was popular, some didn’t like how she became Top Chook so quickly.

But then something nasty happened. Silkie still thought he was the best one to be Top Chook, and so started telling spiteful tales about Rhode Island Red. The tales worried the other chooks and the farmer and his wife and children. This nastiness went on and on for years. Rhode Island Red became less popular. Silkie tried to become Top Chook again and again, but failed every time.

All this time there was another chook who wanted to be Top Chook. He was a scrawny fellow that ran around the farmyard continually clucking the whole time. He never actually said much, but he crowed a lot and made a lot of noise. He was a strange chook, one you don’t often see - an Australian Pit Game. He had dark feathers but just a few on his head, and his red crest was small. He was very lean.

He kept on saying that Rhode Island Red should not be Top Chook. He said he should be. He had become ruler of the roost in his part of the chook pen by knocking off an opponent who also wanted the Top Chook job, a stylish, aristocratic rooster, a White Leghorn with lots of tail feathers.

So with White Leghorn out of the way, it became a contest between the Rhode Island Red and the scrawny Australian Pit Game. He said he would do anything to become Top Chook, anything. He just wanted the job.

So there was a big contest and something strange happened, something that had never happened before – at the end of the contest it was a draw! Rhode Island Red and the scrawny Australian Pit Game had the same number of friends. But there were some other chooks around who were not friends to either of them, and so they had to decide who would be Top Chook.

First they asked Rhode Island Red how she wanted to run the chook yard, and then they asked scrawny Australian Pit Game. The Red said she wanted to make sure that all the chooks got their fair share of the grain and the scraps. She had noticed that the big fat bossy chooks got the biggest share leaving only what they couldn’t eat for the smaller, thinner chooks, and those that were lame. So they stayed thin and their feathers stayed dull. She wanted to give them their own pile of scraps. Scrawny Australian Pit Game said he too was concerned about the lame chooks, but felt the thin ones didn’t deserve their own special scraps unless they put more effort into finding food. He felt everyone should work for what they wanted and not rely on others. He preferred to hang out with the bigger chooks, the bossy chooks, the fat ones that could look after themselves.

Guess how long it took the other chooks to decide who should be Top Chook – seventeen days! And which chook did they pick? You might be surprised – they picked Rhode Island Red to be Top Chook. Scrawny Australian Pit Game was furious. He wanted to be Top Chook and to sit on the Top Perch. He told the others that he would do anything to be Top Chook, anything at all. But they knocked him back. He was so angry and grumpy that he decided he would do whatever he could to push Rhode Island Red out, to throw her off the Top Perch. He started to call her names. He told everyone she told lies, broke promises and could not be trusted. The farmer and his family began to listen to him and her popularity fell. They began to wonder if she was the right person to be Top Chook. No matter what she did to help the other chooks, grumpy scrawny Australian Pit Game told everyone she was no good at her job, that she made too many mistakes. Like Henny Penny, he went round telling everyone that the sky was about to fall down because of her mistakes. He accused her of paying too much attention to the thin chooks. Her popularity fell and fell.

Then along came Top Fox. The farmer knew there were sly foxes around looking for an opportunity to take his chooks and kill them, not so much to eat them, but just to kill them. That’s what foxes do. Top Fox set out to kill Top Chook.

He had lots of fellow foxes that would do what he wanted, but the farmer had put a high fence around his chook yard to stop the foxes, so Top Fox had to wait for a chance to get her. He tried and tried. He too told everyone that Rhode Island Red was an untrustworthy liar and that she was so bad at looking after the chook pen that she was ruining it, and should be thrown out. He never ever talked about the good things she was doing. Scrawny Australian Pit Game was delighted. He crowed loudly and told anyone who would listen that he would soon be on the Top Perch.

But time went by and Rhode Island Red clucked quietly and went on looking after all the chooks, making sure the thinner ones and the lame ones got enough to eat. She smiled at Top Fox and his troop of foxes through the fence and ignored all their nasty talk. The other chooks took less and less notice of them and even laughed at them. This made Top Fox mad and he tried even harder to get through the fence.

All the while scrawny Australian Pit Game got even madder. He hated losing to females, he always had, and now he was losing again. She was Top Chook, not him. He made fun of her because she was ‘only a hen’. Hens were for laying eggs and looking after chickens, and here she was strutting around as Top Chook. She had no chickens, and had never even hatched any. He called her all sorts of names and so did the foxes, who were friends with scrawny Australian Pit Game. Then one day Rhode Island Red had had enough abuse from scrawny Australian Pit Game. She stood on the Top Perch and told him off in no uncertain fashion. She said he was anti-hen and should be ashamed of himself. He sat there very crest-fallen and looked much smaller than he was. Hens everywhere flapped their wings in delight. They too had had the same nastiness from roosters, and they were glad someone had finally stood up to a bullying rooster.

But with all the awful stories the foxes and scrawny Australia Pit Game were putting about, the farmer and his family began to believe them, became more and more worried, and wondered if Rhode Island Red was really the best one to be Top Chook. Her popularity fell even further. Eventually the farmer decided he might have to get rid of her when there was an opportunity. Her fate seemed sealed. No matter how well she managed the chook house, he felt that she might have to go because she was becoming so unpopular.

Then a funny thing happened. It really was funny because a flock of kookaburras came along. You know their nickname is Laughing Jackass. They sit on a tree branch and laugh and laugh and laugh.

They laughed at scrawny Australian Pit Game, and at Top Fox and his company of foxes too. The foxes became so mad they barked and screamed at the kookaburras and jumped up to catch them. But they always sat on high branches, too high for the foxes, and laughed and laughed and laughed.

They told the foxes they were sly and nasty and should stop telling lies about Rhode Island Red, and should be nice to her when she was doing such a good job in the chook pen. But the foxes didn’t want to listen, and said the kookaburras were ignorant and stupid and had no right to tell them what to do. They said foxes knew more about chook pens than ‘amateur’ kookaburras. But the chooks and the farmer’s family took more and more notice of the kookaburras and less and less notice of the foxes. The more they were ignored, the angrier the foxes became, and the louder they screamed. They were not used to being ignored. They had never ever been ignored in the past, and to make matters worse, the kookaburras were taking over from them. The chooks and the farmer enjoyed the laughing of the kookaburras and were getting sick of the screaming and barking of the foxes.

Kiddies, this is not the end of the story. How do you think it ended? Did they get rid of Rhode Island Red as Top Chook? Did scrawny Australian Pit Game become Top Chook and get to sit on the Top Perch? Well, we don’t know. We don’t know because there’s more to the story. The contest between Rhode Island Red and scrawny Australian Pit Game is not for another four months. He tried and tried to have the contest sooner, but no matter what he tried, he failed, which made him madder and madder.

The farmer was a fair man. He realized that he couldn’t throw out Rhode Island Red while she was doing a good job. His wife wasn’t so certain, and the children were split – one sided with Dad and the other with Mum. They all agreed though that scrawny Australian Pit Game couldn’t expect to waltz into the Top Chook job and sit on the Top Perch without telling all the chooks how he would make the chook pen better. He often said he would be much better than Rhode Island Red. He said she was hopeless, and was always running around like a ‘chook with no head’, but he never said how he would do a better job. The chooks that were friends with Rhode Island Red said: “Come on scrawny Australian Pit Game, tell us what you would do”. So did the kookaburras. Even some of the foxes said the same. But he wouldn’t say – he said “I’ll tell you later”.

So kiddies, you will have to wait. You will have to wait for scrawny Australian Pit Game to tell us what he will do. The farmer and his family and the other chooks wonder why he’s keeping it a secret, and some of the foxes are beginning to complain about the few things he did say he would do. Scrawny Australian Pit Game is beginning to look worried.

All the chooks, and the farmer and his family too, are asking when will he tell everyone what he intends to do to make the chook pen a better place? And if he does eventually, will the farmer’s family and the other chooks like it?

Isn’t it exciting kiddies! Only four months to go to the big contest. Then the feathers will fly in ernest. The Top Fox and his troop of foxes are getting madder, scrawny Australian Pit Game is frowning a lot and crowing very little now, but Rhode Island Red goes on calmly doing her job, trying to make the chook pen better, and the kookaburras go on laughing and laughing and laughing.

Living within our means, Hockey style

You have to give it to the Coalition propaganda machine – it never fails to come up with a brand new slogan with which it can belabor the Government. We are now being told by Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey that we must ‘live within our means’. How many times have we heard that? Otherwise, they tell us, there will be Federal Budget deficits ‘as far as the eye can see’. Can you count how many times you have heard that little gem?

Again, the ability of the Coalition’s media machine to devise catchy slogans is apparent. Who would want deficits for as ‘far as the eye can see’; who would object to the notion of ‘living within our means’? When you look at these words seriously though, you will see that they are, as usual, just more of the Coalition’s catchy, plausible, yet meaningless slogans.

What does ‘living within our means’ really mean?

It all depends on the time, and the circumstances. By using the phrase though, the Coalition is relying on the electorate giving it a tick of approval without asking what they really mean by it.

When the parents of baby boomers lived within their means they did so by saving until they had the cash for what they wanted. With no credit cards around, that was the only option. For a house they saved until they had a deposit and then approached the bank manager with trepidation for a house loan that often stretched over 25 years, with three-monthly repayments. They ‘lived within their means’ because there was no other option.

By the time Generation X arrived, living within one’s means morphed into paying off the required minimum on the credit card each month, which was often ‘maxed-out’. They bought what they wanted within the limit on their cards and hoped they could pay for it some time. They paid a lot of interest on the way, and some defaulted. For housing, banks were willing to lend vast sums to buy McMansions, leaving house owners to worry about every interest rate rise lest it tip them over the edge and leave them not living within their means.

These two times reflect quite different ways of ‘living within one’s means’. The Coalition is using this homely metaphor in the hope that older people will think of what was in their early years almost a ‘cash economy’, certainly for everything but buying a home, and will apply that image to the one and a half trillion-dollar economy that Australia has. It is a misleading analogy that the Coalition hopes will have older people nodding in approval – of course the country must live within its means, just like we did!

Yet, should voters think about it, most of them who own a home today did not pay cash for it – they borrowed money and paid it off over many years. If that is normal and OK for homeowners, why is government borrowing so ‘evil’, why is incurring debt such a terrible blight on government? It’s only so because the Coalition has said so. Humpty Dumpty Hockey has ensured that ‘living within our means’ connotes just what he wanted it to mean – out-of-control borrowing to fund profligate spending. He even uses the maxed-out credit card analogy.

Let’s then examine why government borrowing is in a category different from personal and household borrowing, and why placing them in the same class is misleading.

Joe Hockey would have us believe that running a $1.5 trillion national economy is not dissimilar from running a household budget. He would have us believe that borrowing and running up debt is bad in both circumstances, and that when the budget is not balanced his so-called ‘belt tightening’ is necessary, whether it be a household budget or a government one. That analogy is simplistic either by design, or because Hockey knows no better. As Hockey wants to be Treasurer, we can only hope it is not the latter.

Governments are responsible for maintaining the health of an economy, no matter what the global financial circumstances happen to be. When there is high debt, where expenditure has exceeded revenue, especially for a long while, there is a natural tendency towards ‘belt tightening’, contemporaneously styled ‘austerity’, to reduce expenditure, to lessen debt and to move towards balancing the budget. That has been a dominant school of economic thought during the current global financial crisis. However, notwithstanding that plausible strategy, austerity has not been a spectacular success where it has been applied.

Europe has been the test bed for the application of austerity, or to use Hockey’s phrase ‘belt tightening’. The economies of Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Ireland, and more recently Cyprus, were jeopardized by chronic overspending, particularly on social services, generous pensions and the like, spending that was not offset by revenue. The very wealthy in some of these countries, Greece in particular, made an art form of tax avoidance, so tax revenue has been chronically below expenditure. I emphasize ‘chronically’, to highlight the fact that this is no temporary deficit, as is Australia’s. It was understandable that when these economies reached the point where default on debt threatened, bailout funding was sought to address this sovereign debt risk.

Taking Greece as an example, the Eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund agreed on a €110 billion bailout loan provided Greece implemented austerity measures to restore the fiscal balance, privatised €50bn worth of government assets by the end of 2015, and implemented structural reforms to improve competitiveness and growth prospects. Similar arrangements were made with other countries in a comparable situation. Austerity was a key element.

It was always a controversial remedy; advocates and opponents disagreed passionately about its capacity to resolve the Eurozone state of affairs.

In his 28 April article in The New York Times: The Story of Our Time, Paul Krugman, Professor of Economics and International Affairs at Princeton University, wrote: "People like me predicted right from the start that large budget deficits would have little effect on interest rates, that large-scale “money printing” by the Fed…wouldn’t be inflationary, that austerity policies would lead to terrible economic downturns. The other side jeered, insisting that interest rates would skyrocket and that austerity would actually lead to economic expansion. Ask bond traders, or the suffering populations of Spain, Portugal and so on, how it actually turned out."

Even those of us who were not in touch with the detailed economic arguments for and against austerity, saw on TV the political upheaval and civil disturbances that followed the imposition of austerity measures, first in Greece, and later elsewhere. Despite the application of these measures for a long while, there is not much positive to show for them in economic terms, and in places like Spain, unemployment has reached 27%, with youth unemployment approaching 50%.

Another article in The New York Times that Krugman wrote earlier in the year: Austerity Europe, may be of interest to the technically minded as it includes a revealing graph of how austerity is accompanied by reduced, not increased growth. Regarding that graph, Krugman says: "In normal life, a result like this would be considered overwhelming confirmation of the proposition that austerity has large negative impacts. Yes, you can concoct elaborate stories about how it could be wrong; but it’s really reaching. It seems safe to say that what we have here is a case in which rival theories made different predictions, the predictions of one theory proved completely wrong while those of the other were totally vindicated – but in which adherents of the failed theory, for political and ideological reasons, refuse to accept the facts." The last sentence is telling – although experience has demonstrated the failure of the austerity approach, its adherents cling tenaciously to it, even to this day.

Since Krugman wrote that article, academic evidence devastating to the austerity approach has emerged. The intuitive argument for austerity and belt tightening has been underpinned all this time by a 2010 academic paper Growth in a Time of Debt by Harvard academics Carmen Rinehart and Kenneth Rogoff of the US National Bureau of Economic Research, a paper that purported to ‘prove’ that debt inhibited economic growth, and by implication, austerity promoted it.

Rinehart and Rogoff reported three findings; the first, the one that austerity proponents relied upon, read: "Our main findings are: First, the relationship between government debt and real GDP growth is weak for debt/GDP ratios below a threshold of 90 percent of GDP. Above 90 percent, median growth rates fall by one percent, and average growth falls considerably more.”

The austerity advocates in Europe grasped onto this paper to reinforce their intuitive approach to debt problems in the Eurozone, namely that debt above a certain level inhibits growth, and that austerity was the answer. But it was not just in Europe that the paper gained ready acceptance. It was cited by Paul Ryan, the 2012 Republican nominee for the US vice presidency, in his proposed 2013 budget The Path to Prosperity: A Blueprint for American Renewal. Did Joe Hockey also read the Rinehart Rogoff paper and use it to support his ‘belt tightening’ mantra? I wonder!

The paper held sway for a couple of years, then along came Thomas Herndon, a doctoral student at the US Political Economy Research Institute, who, as part of his studies re-examined the Rinehart Rogoff paper, and to his surprise found an elementary error in the Excel spreadsheet they used to calculate their results.

Writing in an article: The Reinhart-Rogoff error – or how not to Excel at economics in The Conversation, Jonathan Borwein and David H Bailey from The University of Newcastle reported that after analysing the data, Herndon identified three errors: “The most serious was that, in their Excel spreadsheet, Reinhart and Rogoff had not selected the entire row when averaging growth figures: they omitted data from Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada and Denmark. In other words, they had accidentally only included 15 of the 20 countries under analysis in their key calculation. When that error was corrected, the “0.1% decline” data [a key finding supporting austerity] became a 2.2% average increase in economic growth.” [My bolding.] "So the key conclusion of a seminal paper, which has been widely quoted in political debates in North America, Europe, Australia, and elsewhere, was invalid.” Herndon’s professors, Michael Ash and Robert Pollin, checked his findings and found Herndon had correctly identified the Rinehart Rogoff error.

The article in The Conversation concluded: ”If Reinhart and Rogoff…had made any attempt to allow access to their data immediately at the conclusion of their study, the Excel error would have been caught and their other arguments and conclusions could have been tightened. They might still be the most dangerous economists in the world, but they would not now be in the position of saving face in light of damning critiques in The Atlantic and elsewhere.

“As Matthew O’Brien put it last week in The Atlantic: “For an economist, the five most terrifying words in the English language are: I can’t replicate your results. But for economists Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff of Harvard, there are seven even more terrifying ones: I think you made an Excel error.

“Listen, mistakes happen. Especially with Excel. But hopefully they don’t happen in papers that provide the intellectual edifice for an economic experiment – austerity – that has kept millions out of work. Well, too late.”

The Gillard Government is not an adherent of the austerity approach, at least in the extreme form that was applied in Europe, but if one can judge from Joe Hockey’s words and Tony Abbott’s mutterings, the Coalition is.

It seems as if it is the conservative side of politics that favours the austerity line of attack. We hear it from the Coalition, we see it in an extreme form in Campbell Newman’s Queensland, we see it applied in its grossest form in Europe, we see it in the US in the ongoing fiscal cliff debate where the conservatives (Republicans) insisted that radically cutting government expenditure (austerity) and leaving untouched tax breaks for the wealthy is the only way to go, whereas the progressives (Democrats) advocate the opposite.

And if you need any more convincing of this stark difference in attitude and approach to debt in the Australian context, do watch Friday evening’s episode of Lateline where economist Stephen Koukoulas, MD of Market Economics, debated ‘the health of the economy’ with Judith Sloan, academic economist and economics editor at The Australian. Koukoulas spoke like an economist, Sloan like a Coalition advocate, slogans and all.

What the voters in Australia will soon have to decide is whether they want to go down the austerity track – ‘living within our means’ Hockey style – as advocated by the Coalition, or whether they prefer the less radical approach of the Government to bring the budget back to surplus in a steady fashion, preserving jobs and economic growth in the process.

Putting it more bluntly, voters will have to decide whether they want to follow a process of austerity discredited by experience in Europe, now stripped of its intellectual underpinnings, or follow the less radical approach of the Gillard Government that seeks to maintain modest expenditure and stay away from heavy-handed austerity, and in the process enable our nation to avoid an economic downturn and rising unemployment, a process that is based on sound economics and proven practice.

Sadly, the loose language that the Coalition uses in this debate may seduce the unthinking into believing that their plausible but empty slogans are economically sound, and well tried and tested.

What do you think?

Should you decide to ‘Disseminate this post’ it will be sent to the following parliamentarians: Tony Abbott, Eric Abetz, Anthony Albanese, Julie Bishop, David Bradbury, George Brandis, Greg Combet, Stephen Conroy, Mathias Cormann, Craig Emerson, Josh Frydenberg, Joe Hockey, Greg Hunt, Barnaby Joyce, Bob Katter, Andrew Leigh, Christine Milne, Sophie Mirabella, Robert Oakeshott, Christopher Pyne, Andrew Robb, Bill Shorten, Arthur Sinodinos, Wayne Swan, Warren Truss, Malcolm Turnbull, Andrew Wilkie, Tony Windsor, Penny Wong and Nick Xenophon.