In several pieces on The Political Sword it has been argued that Malcolm Turnbull is at his best when he’s advocating ideas and actions in which he believes, but when he’s required to promote that in which he does not have his heart, he flounders and is unconvincing. Over the last few days we have seen both sides again. When offering bipartisan support for the Government’s $10 billion emergency boost for the economy, he sounded statesmanlike, but as soon as he started to qualify it to make a political point, insisting the public be informed of the details of why the Government decided on urgent action, he began to sound less persuasive, became circumlocutory, and arguably lost his audience.
This was starkly apparent on ABC Melbourne 774 radio this morning 15 October, when being interviewed by Ali Moore. When he was asked about the desirability of the Government providing a guarantee for deposits in financial institutions not overseen by APRA, he waffled. Even listeners with a working knowledge of the subject would have found him difficult to follow; those without would have turned off. It really was awful - halting, long-winded and confusing.
Kim Beasley was criticized for his prolixity, and unable to overcome it, eventually people stopped listening. Indeed this was a major factor behind the move to replace him as leader. Leaders who lose their audience – Beasley and Howard are examples - lose elections.
Turnbull’s minders would be wise to point out this defect to him, and try to rectify it, always providing Malcolm’s ego will tolerate such a move.
This piece is prompted by two recent episodes where the PM was interviewed in a manner that could only be described as aggressive, if not downright rude.
We know that politicians enjoy lowly status in the respectability stakes. Broken promises, speaking with a forked tongue and partisan chatter have eroded regard for them. But should that translate into so much disrespect for our leaders that interviewers feel entitled to address them and heavily question them to the point of insolence?
Last Thursday evening on 9 October, Kerry O’Brien interviewed Kevin Rudd about the financial crisis on the ABC’s 7.30 Report. After an introduction during which O’Brien showed in his voice concern as he described the unfolding drama, he went on: “But absolutely nothing has stopped the slide of confidence for more than the blink of an eye. That must really worry you.” Rudd responded by describing what had transpired, emphasizing the need not just for liquidity, but for fixing up the banking regulatory rules, concluding that he didn't believe we'd get confidence until they were fixed. This provoked O’Brien into a more emotive “On that point, with all respect, fixing up for the future is a long way from many people's minds right now, they are deeply concerned about the present and the immediate future.” Again Rudd began to patiently reiterate this two pronged approach, only to be interrupted by O’Brien with “But primarily about the liquidity, and the judgement of the market, day after day, is you guys, governments, George Bush, Gordon Brown, whoever; we don't really think you know what you're doing, or we don't think you're doing enough. That is the market's judgement, right or wrong?”
Rudd began to look uncomfortable as O’Brien’s barrage hit him. Rudd’s critics said he ‘squirmed’. No wonder. Again he explained what the IMF had said about Australia’s situation and the planned meeting of the G20 Finance Ministers, and reiterated the changes which needed to be made to the rules, including transparency, capital adequacy, prudential standards, corporate governance, and for those to be consistent across the major economies.
With a voice rising to an almost hysterical pitch, O’Brien continued “Okay let's concede the point for the sake of the argument. But that's not going to stop right now Australian house prices going into a slide. If what we heard on this program is right last night, that our own housing prices in this country are at such unsustainable levels that the debt binge of this country in households is also unsustainable and the only way for them to go is down. Does that bother you?” Silly question. Of course it’s going to bother any PM. Rudd explained that the Government’s responsibility was to provide tough action to keep the economy strong relative to what is happening around the rest of the world, and to underpin and maintain the stability of our banking and financial system. More...
Watching Andrew Bolt on ABC TV’s Insiders yesterday, I wondered when last he was subjected to the same critical judgment to which he so eagerly subjects others. This prompted the idea for a series on The Political Sword on how we perceive our political journalists, with Bolt as first under the looking glass.
Ever confident of the correctness of his own views and opinions, Bolt shows scant respect for contrary opinions. This applies to matters of science as well as politics, despite his background being limited to journalism. After a year as foreign correspondent, he became a columnist and associate editor of Melbourne’s Herald Sun. He also writes for Brisbane's Sunday Mail, and appears on the Nine Network's Today programme, the ABC TV’s Insiders, Channel 10's Nine AM, and Melbourne radio station 3AW, Adelaide's ABC, Perth's 6PR and Brisbane's 4BC. In 2005, he released his first book, The Best of Andrew Bolt - Still Not Sorry. He has wide exposure. The Herald Sun rates him as "Australia's most read and talked about columnist.” He is 49.
Apart from his regular columns, he oversees a popular blog which claims now to receive over one million hits a month. It’s hard to know about the readership of his paper columns, but the respondents to his blogs give a clue. Let’s look first at his topics. Here’s the list as at 12 October:
The interview that would have killed Palin
Thank heavens Hollywood doesn’t run the CIA
Liberals don’t need elitists
CSIRO slips on oil
A quick cut in tax would be simpler
What Palin scandal?
Sir? It’s that Australian guy ringing again
Flung mud misses again
Who’s minding Rudd’s office?
Be nice to the rice
Bryce just digs in deeper
Individualists have green zones
The interview that would have killed Palin on 12 October seeks to demonstrate that Stephane Dion, leader of Canada’s left-wing Liberal Party is truly dumb compared with Sarah Palin. Edifying stuff, nothing to do with Australia, but that didn’t stop one of Bolt’s bloggers commenting: “He (the interviewer) needs lessons from Rudd, who could have given hypothetical scenarios about being PM two years ago, today and next week. With a few lessons from Rudd he could have obfuscated and theorized until the interviewer asked to start again. Then, when the going got really tough, he could have switched to a foreign language and told the audience how he would stuff things up without anyone twigging to what was happening." Many of Bolt’s bloggers need little pretext for taking a sideswipe at Rudd. More...
Spin doctors love slogans. Their focus groups test them for efficacy. They launch them, repeat them incessantly until their use-by date, then go onto the next. They know the corrosive effect the negative ones can have on those to whom they’re applied. The media too loves them. Great headlines and acerbic copy flow from them. Who knows how much they influence the public?
Take ‘Kevin07’. A smart slogan, but it invited variants. Kevin Rudd’s frenetic pace gave rise to ‘Kevin24/7’, but not satisfied with that benign label, the media launched a campaign condemning not Rudd’s own work patterns, but that he was placing the public service under intolerable pressure. Fatigue, exhaustion, even staff revolt and loss of staff were predicted. ‘Ain’t it awful’ was the media message. The public weren’t all that impressed, indeed they not unreasonably expected the public service to get stuck in and support a new Government trying to implement the policies on which it was elected. This campaign has fizzled as the public accepts that it’s not a bad thing to have a hard-working Government. But while it lasted, it did have a corrosive effect.
‘Control freak’ is a slogan that evolved from Kevin24/7. The accusation was that Rudd had to have his hands on the wheel at all times; and that this resulted, to use Glen Milne’s words, in a “constipation of process” – everything had to flow through “self-obsessed sclerotic arteries that run from the PM's office”. The only evidence advanced to support this assertion was the obvious: “every senior bureaucrat knows”. ‘Control freak’ seems to be dying a natural death, as Rudd’s ministers do their own thing, Stephen Smith travels as Foreign Minister more than does Rudd, and Wayne Swan flies off to New York this week for a Finance Ministers’ meeting without Rudd holding his hand. But don’t be surprised if it’s resurrected when the Opposition or the media thinks fit.
Kevin 24/7 morphed into Kevin747 when Rudd recently flew to Washington and New York for the meeting of the UN and for talks with world leaders about the gathering financial crisis. Malcolm Turnbull and Andrew Robb had great fun with it and added ‘Prime Tourist’ to their repertoire, again with great hilarity. The fact that the PM was attending critically important meetings, at which any sensible citizen would expect him to attend, did not inhibit the Opposition in ‘making hay’. Again, it had an adverse effect – a relative, not prone to thinking too deeply about such matters, echoed the criticism – ‘Rudd's always flying off somewhere’. Mud sticks.
Then there was Wayne Swan on his ‘training wheels’. This might have been just a good-humoured jibe had it not been for the accompanying by-line: “He has no idea what he’s doing.” oft-repeated by Malcolm Turnbull, then Shadow Treasurer. Now that it is evident even to Turnbull that he does know what he’s doing, and is doing it well, it would be too much to expect that Turnbull, or the media who repeated this line ad nauseam, would acknowledge that he no longer needed his training wheels. Julie Bishop, who began her short career as Shadow Treasurer with a couple of gaffes and an inauspicious first month certainly looks as if she’s still on her ‘training wheels’, but not a word of this in the media. ‘Training wheels’ apparently applies to Labor people, not Liberals. More...