An accolade for Julia Gillard: a fine prime minister

Wondering what word I should use in the title to best capture my opinion of our first female prime minister, now sadly at the end of her period in federal politics, I have chosen ‘fine’. Of high quality, clear, pure, refined, delicate, subtle, exquisitely fashioned, elevated, capable of delicate perception or discrimination, excellent, of striking merit, good, dignified, are among the many synonyms of ‘fine’. Each on its own portrays how admirers of Julia Gillard see her.

There are other superlatives that apply to this extraordinary woman: courageous, resilient, persistent, tough, a fighter, focused, intelligent and hard working, an accomplished negotiator, a high achiever, one who gets things done. But there are other softer terms: gracious, dignified, poised, good-humoured, friendly, easy-going, relaxed, composed, fond of children, the aged, and the disabled. Another apt adjective is articulate.

How can I justify these laudable descriptors?

Let’s start with the last – ‘articulate’.

There are some who would dispute this, claiming that she could not get her message across, was unable to ‘cut through’, could not convey ‘what she stood for’, her ‘narrative’. This has always been a mystery to me.

How many times did she say that she stands for fairness and opportunity for all, opportunity for all to have a great education, a good job, a rewarding occupation built on a sound education? How many times did she say that she wanted a fairer workplace? How often did she talk about the need for pay equity, paid parental leave and better superannuation?

How many times did she speak about a National School Curriculum, the MySchool website, NAPLAN, and the Gonski reforms for fairer school funding?

How many times did she say she wanted a strong economy to support jobs and growth? Did you hear her say that she wanted to share the profits of mining across the community? How many times did she say that she wanted super fast broadband by way of the NBN to make Australia internationally competitive? How often did she emphasize the need to lift productivity? How often did she say that she wanted to improve road, rail and ports infrastructure? How many times did she say that she wanted an ETS to limit global warming? How often did she urge the development of alternative energy sources?

How many times did she say she wanted a solution for the Murray-Darling water system? How often did she say that she wanted a regional solution to the asylum-seeker problem?

How many times did she say she wanted a better health care system, one that catered for the increasing number of aged, mentally impaired, and the disabled? How many times did you hear her advocate an NDIS? Did you hear her talking about the dangers of alcopops and the need for plain packing on cigarettes?

Did you hear her advocating a Royal Commission into institutional child abuse?

You all heard her say these things over and again.

Where was the Canberra Press Gallery? Asleep, focussed on the trivial, blind to the central issues. Or were journalists simply so spellbound with groupthink that they ‘heard’ only what they wanted to hear, heard only what confirmed them and their editors in their collective view that she had no narrative, and stood for nothing. There were just a few who were not infected with the same groupthink, but the majority drowned their voices out. Sheer ineptitude or malevolent intent are the only plausible explanations for the Fourth Estate’s incompetence.

To me Julia Gillard was articulate; I heard clearly what she said, I understood what she stood for, and I was satisfied and pleased.

Was she able to achieve everything embodied in her narrative? No, there is still unfinished business, but she did achieve an enormous amount in just three years.

Her Government was the highest performing government in Australian political history with around six hundred pieces of legislation passed, many of them visionary reforms.

This is not the place for an exhaustive list, but here’s a glimpse of her achievements and that of her government:
Removal of WorkChoices, and legislating the Fair Work Act, PPL, and better superannuation and child care.
Pay equity for lower paid workers, mostly women.
Placing a price on carbon pollution, leading to an ETS in two years.
Implementing renewable energy initiatives to contribute to carbon reduction targets.
Introducing a minerals resource rent tax to share mining super profits across the community.
Sustaining a growing economy, the best in the developed world, during the most severe financial crisis for over seventy years, and the creation of a million jobs.
Adjusting pensions, carbon compensation, tax cuts and the school kids bonus.
Instituting infrastructure development: NBN, ports, roads, rail.
Introducing a package of health reforms: in hospitals, community health, aged, mental and cancer care, plain packaging of cigarettes, and healthcare administration.
Completing the first Murray-Darling water plan in a century.
Development of the ‘Australia in the Asian Century' White Paper.
Enhancement of relationships with the US, China and Indonesia.
Bringing about ground-breaking school education reforms culminating in the Gonski reforms for fairer school funding, and increased university places.
The introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (DisabilityCare Australia), a crowning achievement.

She has set in place monumental reforms to vital parts of our national edifice, the likes of which we have never seen before. She has bequeathed these to our nation. This will be her legacy, a mantle she can wear with pride.

All of these accomplishments have taken place in a minority parliament where every move had to be negotiated with several parties, where many were fiercely resisted by the Coalition and in several instances by the Greens, where negotiating skills were paramount, and where obstruction and delaying tactics were daily barriers to progress. Julia Gillard achieved all this because of her persistence, her toughness, her patience, her courage and her determination to get done those pivotal reforms and this essential legislation, all focussed on making Australia an even more prosperous nation, one that was “stronger, smarter and fairer” to use her own words.

It is not just what she achieved that is so praiseworthy, it is the circumstances in which she did so, the environment she had to endure.

Has there ever been a prime minister who has had to cope, day after day, with the toxic, poisonous environment that enveloped her? There is no need to elaborate at length. You know it all.


Day after day the Opposition Leader and his Coalition colleagues heaped upon her personal abuse, contempt, vitriol, and nastiness. She was attacked with demeaning words that revealed disdain, disrespect and derision, often with sexist innuendo, until one day she could take no more. The feisty Julia burst out and flayed Tony Abbott with that memorable rebuttal; one captured on YouTube to the delight of two million viewers and women the world over.

Unremittingly, she was debased in the media, by the vile Pickering, the contemptible shock jocks Alan Jones and Ray Hadley, and in her last interview, the despicable Howard Sattler. The mainstream media put out material every day that condemned her actions, ridiculed her ideas, criticized her every move, and found fault with her demeanour, her voice, her dress and her body shape, but seldom ever gave her any credit. The malicious Andrew Bolt and Piers Akerman led the charge. The Murdoch media, joined latterly by Fairfax media, and sadly by elements of the ABC, clearly wanted her out of office and Tony Abbott’s Coalition in. Almost every news item portrayed that, sometimes subtly, but often stridently. The Press Gallery condemned what they characterized as her inability to get her message out, even her good messages, while steadfastly refusing to give them any oxygen.

Then there was the persistent sabotage of some in her own party from the moment she took office. Kevin Rudd and his supporters ran a relentless campaign of erosion of her authority, engaged the media disgracefully to pursue their agenda, and used poor polling to push its case for a change of leader. It is possible for strong people to endure for a long while despite life’s ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’, but internal hatred and disloyalty eventually takes its corrosive toll, as it did on 26 June when her colleagues, some of them previously loyal compatriots, turned on her and ousted her.

To me this was an unforgivable act of infamy and treachery that will forever stain the history of Labor.

The Victorian Women's Trust agrees. Last Friday, it placed full-page advertisements in four Australian newspapers praising Julia Gillard's achievements and condemning both Labor and the Liberal parties for their actions over the past three years; Kevin Rudd for orchestrating a treacherous ‘seek-and-destroy’ mission against Julia Gillard, and Tony Abbott for his opportunistic appeals to people's prejudices.

Should you need more evidence about the poisonous environment in which PM Gillard had to work, do read The Stalking of Julia Gillard: How the media and Team Rudd contrived to bring down the Prime Minister by Kerry-Anne Walsh (Allen & Unwin, 2013), a lucid account of all the forces pitted against her.

That Julia Gillard survived for three long years in the face of this tripartite hostility: from the Opposition, the Fourth Estate and her own colleagues, signals her strength of character, her resilience and her toughness. The way she departed showed for all to see, her poise, her grace and her gentleness.

There are many other attributes of Julia Gillard that I could explore, but I will end with her delightful personality. It would not have been surprising if she had become ‘bitter and twisted’ in the face of all the personal abuse and denigration that was heaped upon her every working day. But she retained her equanimity. Will we ever forget that marathon press conference where the Press Gallery finally exhausted itself asking her question after question about her days at Slater and Gordon twenty years ago until they had no more? Despite her despair of the Canberra Press Gallery, evidenced by her admonition: “Don’t write crap; it can’t be that hard”, she patiently took every question and ended smiling at them, as she had begun.

It was when she interacted with children, the disabled, the aged, and indigenous folk that gave us the most penetrating look into her soul, her inner being.

She was always smiling, often laughing with her infectious chuckle, always ready to embrace those around her, always concerned about the welfare of others, exhibited by her concern for the safety of Tony Abbott at the time of the Canberra restaurant ‘siege’ by aboriginal activists on Australia Day.

Despite all the visceral nastiness, the sexist taunts, the media vitriol, the Abbott attack dog snarling at her day after day, the disingenuousness and condemnation coming at her from every direction, the treachery in her own ranks, the ugly images painted by the cartoonists and the vile words of the shock jocks, she was able to smile, able to bounce back showing no desire for retribution, finally able to relinquish the most important political position in the nation with dignity, poise, and composure, and then sit on the back bench with a wistful smile on her face and with tears in her eyes as Rob Oakeshott told her in his valedictory speech that he had tweeted her on the night she was replaced: ‘Your father would have been proud of you’.

And so are we.

Thank you Julia.


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Who will Newspoll kill off next?

During this week past we saw Newspoll: The Killing Machine in lethal action. Ironically, it was her own party members who took the ammunition from Newspoll, aimed it at Julia Gillard’s heart, and killed her politically. Although polls are no more than a snapshot of public opinion, they have again become the determiner of the fate of a political leader. They are killing machines.

Politicians are obsessed with polls, place blind faith in their capacity to predict election results although they have no predictive value three months from an election, and have once more used them to make decisions about who is best equipped to lead them to victory. Writing in The Hoopla, Gabrielle Chan says: “It was the polls that fed the Rudd monster – the same polls that slew the beast in the beginning.

How have we got to where we are? As this is a multilayered issue, let’s peel back the layers and take a look at what’s underneath.

For a long while now, Newspoll, and indeed most of the other polls of voting preference and personal approval, have carried importance they do not deserve. Pollster Peter Lewis of Essential Vision tells us: "A poll never predicts the future. Anyone who says they know what the future holds is deluded". Aggregated polls that show trends are more useful though.

The polls have been adverse for Labor and Julia Gillard for a long while; they did not arrive out of a clear blue sky. They began falling when the Rudd saboteurs, bridling at the memory of Rudd’s abrupt and savage removal because of falling polls three years ago, began undermining the newly appointed leader, Julia Gillard. They derailed her 2010 election campaign at its very outset when they leaked damning information to Laurie Oakes who confronted her with it at the end of a National Press Club speech. The polls that began promisingly for her and Labor immediately after she became PM fell, and continued to fall. This result was a hung parliament and a minority government.

Because through most of the life of the Gillard Government the polls have been persistently unfavourable for her and Labor, their importance has been unreasonably amplified. Despite the doubts professional pollsters have expressed about the validity and reliability of opinion polls, media commentators have used them over and again to predict electoral disaster for Labor – a ‘wipeout’ that would reduce Labor to a ‘rump’. Politicians believed them. Labor has been dismayed and depressed for many months. Convinced that the commentators were right, Labor parliamentarians have agonized for a long while about what to do. The Rudd saboteurs became more and more determined to strike when the time was right to reinstate their man, whom they believed would give Labor a better chance.

As more and more Labor politicians became convinced that they must act to counter this existential threat, they reached a conclusion that the action needed was a change of leader, because no matter what else they had tried, the polls remained poor. Their apprehension got the better of them last Wednesday. Precipitated by a mysterious petition circulating among members, they used poor polling to insist on a Caucus meeting and thereby to remove their leader, Julia Gillard, believing the alternative, Kevin Rudd, would lift their rating.

The validity of that decision seemed to be borne out almost immediately by a Morgan Poll taken the evening of the change of leader. Gary Morgan documents it thus: Big swing to the ALP after Rudd returned as leader tonight. ALP 49.5% (up 5%) cf. L-NP 50.5% (down 5%) – but will it be enough? This special snap poll on Federal voting intention was conducted on the evening of June 26, 2013 via SMS interviewing after the result of the ALP leadership ballot was announced at 8 pm, among an Australia-wide cross-section of 2,530 Australian electors aged 18+, where of all electors surveyed a low 0.5% did not name a party. A national ReachTEL poll last Thursday, and a subsequent poll of selected seats in Sydney and Melbourne, and this morning’s Galaxy Poll showed a similar boost to the Labor vote.

Commenting on ABC 24 about the Morgan Poll, John Stirton, Research Director of Nielsen Polls, when asked whether polls were dictating who should be leader of our nation, answered that regrettably that seemed to be the case. They did so three years ago in the case of Kevin Rudd, and last week it was Julia Gillard. Stirton expressed the hope that this will not be the case in future. Even pollsters admit that this is a misuse of polls. He estimated that Labor could improve by up to ten points in primary votes with the change to Kevin Rudd, but questioned how long this would last. He felt that it might taper off near the election date, no matter when this was.

So here’s the rub: no matter how many warnings professional pollsters have given about the danger of using polls for decision making because of their lack of predictive power, media commentators have ignored the warnings and have used them to make predictions day after day, month after month. Politicians have lapped up what they have said and have used their predictions to make some of the most drastic decisions imaginable, such as changing leaders. It amazes me that seasoned politicians have allowed themselves to be captured so profoundly by the polls and their media spruikers. Then again, they may have been aware that they have been swept along by all the hype that polls spawn, but were fearful that as bad polls create more bad polls and generate a bandwagon effect, a self-perpetuating prophesy, voters might have become convinced that Labor had no hope and that they ought to back what the polls are indicating is the hot favourite, the Coalition.

But there’s more to this multilayered issue. Why have the polls, which have precipitated this crisis, been so consistently poor for Labor and Julia Gillard? The answer hides beneath another layer. Let’s peel it back.

As soon as Julia Gillard became Prime Minister, a concerted campaign began to demonize her. Built on what Opposition Leader Tony Abbott labeled a ‘lie’, and a ‘broken promise’ when she introduced a price on carbon despite her ‘no carbon tax’ pledge, shock jock Alan Jones coined ‘Ju-liar’, said she should be put in a hessian bag and dumped at sea, and arranged ‘carbon tax rallies’ that featured ‘Ditch the Witch’ and ‘Bob Brown’s Bitch’ banners in front of which Tony Abbott stood with two female colleagues. This was just the start of the demonization. The Fourth Estate took up the theme and inflamed it day after day, month after month, year after year. The Murdoch media was particularly venomous, intent on using the demonization of the PM to derail her Government and the Labor Party. I will not tire you with more details; you know them well. This was the genesis of PM Gillard’s unpopularity and the poor showing of Labor in the polls. If the media continually berates a leader, criticizes virtually everything she does, paints over and again a picture of her as an incompetent liar, in classic Goebbels fashion the people eventually believe it. When that picture is reinforced by Tony Abbott at every Question Time, at every parliamentary doorstop, at every visit to a factory or a shopping mall, when he repeatedly damages her credibility by insisting her Government is illegitimate, it become the given truth for most of the populace.

Given that after years of demonizing our first female PM, who has been categorized as a lying, incompetent witch, one warranting hate and loathing, it ought not be surprising that her standing in the community is poor, that her disapproval is so much higher than her approval ratings. A Salem witch trial of Julia Gillard has been going on for ages in the minds of many voters, and they have judged her guilty. Listen to the vox pops! Tony Abbott and his Fourth Estate sycophants have been spectacularly successful in prosecuting the trial of this ‘Canberra witch’.

There is another media issue, the old chestnut of Julia Gillard being unable ‘cut through’, to get her message across, to let people know what she ‘stands for’. Pundits ask why she is not ‘resonating with the community’. It is incredible to me that over and again media personalities repeat these accusations when it is the media itself that is largely responsible for this state of affairs. If there are parallel events, one about a major reform the Government has legislated, and the other about a trivial issue, it is the trivial that wins out every time. The media castigates her for being a poor communicator, of failing to tell the people the good things her Government is doing, and then steadfastly refuses to give these things any prominence. It is her glasses, or her hair, or her jackets, or her tripping over, or her photo in Women’s Weekly that gets on the front page, while details of vital reforms, or the great economic state of our nation, are relegated to page seven. Yet the media has the temerity to criticize her inability to ‘cut through’. What hypocrisy! Or perhaps it is simply blindness to its own role. Maybe though it is deliberate media disingenuousness.

I can hear some of you saying: here he is blaming the media again. You are right. I am blaming the media because they are manifestly blameworthy. Only someone blind to what is going on could conclude otherwise. But this is not to say that PM Gillard and her Government are blameless. Moves have been made that have not turned out well; judgments have not been universally correct; ideas have not always been brilliant. That ought not surprise us given the complexity of governing in a minority parliament. Yet it is one in which around six hundred pieces of legislation have been passed with 87% bipartisan support, leaving just 13% in dispute; where major reforms have been enacted in education, health and disability, communications, infrastructure, water, defence, industrial relations and paid maternity leave, and important advances have been made in international relations, all with the oversight of PM Gillard. Yet she is portrayed as an incompetent Canberra witch.

There is another aspect – the gender issue. I do not intend to labour this here. It is well documented in the writings of Anne Summers, author of The Misogyny Factor, and writers on The Hoopla such as Gabrielle Chan. There is no doubt that being a female has made political life much harder for Julia Gillard. It seems that many men in this country cannot abide a female PM; they are unable to adjust to a female being in charge, when it has always been a male. It’s a man’s world after all!

So it is in the deepest recesses of this multi-layered issue that the core cause of the poor polling lives and festers – a virulent and persistent media onslaught against our first female PM the like of which we have not seen before, which has led to a level of demonization and deprecation once reserved for the Salem witches.

To recap, beginning from the core of the issue, the layers are: denigration and demonization of PM Gillard, leading to the creation of a damaging image of her in the minds of the electorate, leading to poor polling, leading to a media prediction that electoral disaster lies ahead with Julia Gillard as PM, leading to this prediction being embraced by Labor parliamentarians, leading to the radical action of removing Australia’s first female PM and replacing her with what the polls say is an electorally popular male.

This is the rationale behind the move to replace her, but the modus operandi of the Rudd saboteurs has been both destructive and despicable. For Labor members to deliberately and surreptitiously undermine a Labor Government and its leader over a three year period, and to sometimes publically ridicule her, is unforgivable disloyalty. I’m thinking of the smirking Joel Fitzgibbon, and the blustering Kim Carr and Doug Cameron. And then to follow this with attempt after attempt to dislodge PM Gillard, at first abortive, and finally successful, is contemptible. It is distressing that this level of treachery has been rewarded. I deplore these actions and hope I will never see such subversion, disloyalty and destructiveness again.

Those of us who have supported Julia Gillard so fervently are appalled at the way she has been treated, and lament her fate. We have lost an outstanding politician, and a strong and steadfast female warrior. We commiserate her untimely exit from public life and hope she will reappear in another influential role that will engage her outstanding talent and her strength of character. We shall miss her bubbling personality, her strength, her courage, her resoluteness, her devotion, her graciousness, her capacity to get things done against the odds and bring about much needed traditional Labor reforms, and her determination to stand up for women’s rights.


Let’s return now to the subject of this piece: Who will Newspoll kill off next? If polls have destroyed two Federal leaderships in the last three years, is that where the destruction will stop? Who else might Newspoll kill?

This piece postulates that other Federal leaders are vulnerable. What if the polls reverse after Rudd’s installation, and Labor stocks rise or even surpass that of the Coalition? With time running down to the election, how will Coalition members feel about their leader, Tony Abbott? Will they continue to believe that he can deliver them victory? What happens as his popularity slips and falls below that of Rudd as preferred prime minister? He has been unpopular with the voters for three years now with his unpopularity exceeding his popularity, although lately his popularity had picked up a little. But what if that now worsens? There are other leaders in the wings, most notably Malcolm Turnbull, who consistently has been more popular than Abbott, and recently preferred by twice as many voters as Abbott. When would Coalition members, like their Labor counterparts, feel they ought to ditch Abbott for Turnbull? It would be a big reversal of their loyalty to Abbott, but if such reversal can occur in Labor circles, why not in the Coalition?

The recent poll results will already be creating uncertainty and doubt in Coalition minds. Minders will be reviewing Abbott’s messages, perhaps asking whether the three word slogans will do during the election campaign. Abbott will be re-groomed, given some new words he can repeat from memory, words that are memorable, although meaningless because of their lack of specificity. Minders will fret about how Abbott will manage in a vigorous debate with Rudd on serious policy issues, a debate Rudd has already invited on economic issues. Rudd has panache that Abbott lacks, as well as policy smarts, which Abbott doesn’t enjoy. Because Abbott has avoided solid policy work, preferring mantras that he repeats like a Buddhist monk, policy debates promise to be a big problem for him and the Coalition. Close observers have recognized for ages his policy paucity as a major vulnerability; now it threatens to be exposed for all to see, for voters to see his vacuity. How long would it take for the electorate to have their eyes opened, and their approval of him plummet?

As last week came to an end, while Kevin Rudd was in full flight at a media conference on Friday, answering dozens of questions from a rowdy bunch of journalists, Coalition minders were scrambling to prepare a response to the emergence of another Rudd Prime Ministership. Tony Abbott, Julie Bishop and Warren Truss were sent out to recite disparaging statements about Rudd, all intended for the airwaves. They sounded pathetic. How much impact such negative stuff will have, especially when Rudd is now enjoying positive acceptance from much of the electorate, is debatable.

I can see a wave of panic spreading across the Coalition camp as they realize that they are now in for a close contest at the election and a challenging combatant to cope with beforehand. I can see Tony Abbott and his minders wondering how to deal with a resurgent Kevin Rudd, how to counter his newly-won popularity, how to respond to his exuberant rhetoric, and with a deep feeling of apprehension, how to match him in a policy debate.

I can imagine the sinking feeling that will oppress their souls as they look at each new poll, and most of all, the giant killer Newspoll, to see how they are faring.

I can see the Honourable Leader of her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, Anthony John Abbott, with his hands eagerly outstretched to grasp the coveted keys to The Lodge, fearfully wondering if he will see his long-held dream evaporate, wondering if HE will be the one that Newspoll will kill off next.


What do you think?

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Newspoll: The Killing Machine

In the following thirty-six hours the next Newspoll will be published. If it is as poor a result for Labor as was last week's Nielsen Poll, the leadership frenzy will reach an even more feverish pitch. Frantic media packs will jostle to assail every politician entering and leaving parliament, thrusting microphones into their faces, and insisting they declare their allegiance to Julia Gillard or Kevin Rudd, or at least take a punt on whether a leadership challenge is on, and who is likely to win. The words uttered by the key players will be analyzed endlessly for nuance. Every news bulletin on radio or TV will be embellished with phrases such as 'another bad poll for Labor has renewed/fuelled/rekindled/heightened leadership speculation', with clips of comments from Labor politicians at doorstops, clips of Tony Abbott, with nodding supporters in the background, sagely reminding us how dysfunctional, divided and chaotic the Gillard Government is, and Christopher Pyne emitting his usual venom outside Parliament. It is as predictable as the sun rising in the East.

The press will have a field day. Dennis Shanahan will be emboldened to predict an even greater electoral disaster for Labor, Paul Kelly will be more pontifical than usual in telling us why, and other News Limited journalists will report the findings gleefully, and in every sordid detail. The predictive value of the poll will be assumed, as it has been for two years now, and to give the result some statistical authenticity, the result will be stated to be 'outside the margin of error'.

Should the result be much the same as the last Newspoll, the media response will be less strident. What Labor could expect would be one of Shanahan's favourite phrases: 'flat-lining', or words to the effect that Labor 'has failed to get a bounce out of Gonski', or any other piece of legislation the pundits believe ought to have given it one.

But if the result were to be better for Labor than Nielsen or the last Newspoll, it would need to be vastly better to attract any acknowledgement of an improvement. And to counter any better result, we will be reminded that the Coalition 'still has an election-winning lead', or that ‘it would still win in a landslide', or that 'Labor would still lose (insert number) of seats at an election, should it be held today'.

So whatever happens this coming week with Newspoll, the result will be painted as bad for Labor, and should it be much, much better by any chance, it will be categorized as a 'rouge poll'.

Nothing I have asserted so far will come as a surprise to any reader. I write these words simply to underscore the extraordinary influence polls of voting intention and personal approval have on our political dialogue through all forms of the Fourth Estate. They actually create the dialogue.

This coming week, Newspoll will be used as a killing machine, as it has been for many years.

Of course it was used as a killing machine in the dying days of the Howard Government, although not as powerfully as it is now. And let's acknowledge that it is not the only one. The Nielsen poll too has potency as a killing machine, as we saw last week. It precipitated a furious frenzy in the Canberra Press Gallery that went on for several days, until it became apparent that no leadership challenge was in the offing, whereupon the frenzy abated for a while. Of course there are regular Galaxy polls that seem to emerge at weekends that give good copy to political journalists for the Sunday papers, and now automated ReachTEL polls are gaining prominence and are given publicity in News Limited media. Those aiming at the heart of Labor use them all as killing machines.

But there are other polls, some longstanding. Morgan Polls have been around since 1941. Morgan conducts both face-to-face and telephone polls. The last one did not replicate the results of the Nielsen poll. Under a heading: Female support rises strongly for the Government after Howard Sattler interview with Prime Minister, Morgan wrote: “Today’s Morgan Poll shows the ALP closing the gap on the L-NP with the L-NP (53.5%, down 2.5% in a week) cf. ALP (46.5%, up 2.5%) after Perth radio host Howard Sattler interviewed Prime Minister Julia Gillard last Thursday and questioned the Prime Minister about her partner’s sexuality. Sattler was subsequently sacked on Friday afternoon by Fairfax Radio and the Morgan Poll which was interviewed after this point shows a clear swing back to the Government. A Fairfax-Nielsen poll released overnight showed the L-NP (57%) cf. ALP (43%) on a two-party preferred basis. However, it is important to note the Fairfax-Nielsen poll was conducted between Thursday and Saturday last week (June 13-15, 2013) which means many of the Fairfax-Nielsen interviews were conducted before the full impact of the Howard Sattler interview and subsequent sacking was known."

Did any of you see the Morgan Poll reported in the Fourth Estate? The only place I saw it was in the Fifth Estate, in Independent Australia. Isn't that strange? No it isn't. Fairfax would not want to diminish the potency of its own killing machine by giving credence to a poll that was at variance with its own, especially the last poll that placed Labor in such a poor light. In fact isn't it strange that we almost never see Morgan Polls given any airing in the Fourth Estate.

And there is the weekly Essential Poll that uses a methodology different from other polls, and aggregates two weeks' polling into each week's result. On June 17 it showed the same result as the previous week: 54/46 TPP, with no dip that could be attributed to the previous week's events. Of course next week it might. But where in the Fourth Estate do you see Essential Polls reported? Both Morgan and Essential seem to be personae non gratae within the Fourth Estate. The only time Essential Media Communications gets exposure is when its Director, Peter Lewis, appears on the ABC’s The Drum.

Polls, Newspoll particularly, and to some extent Nielsen Polls and Galaxy Polls, are used as killing machines by those who use them to attack political parties. This is not to imply that the polls are wrong, or unprofessionally conducted, much less rigged. But there seems little doubt that in the hands of journalists they can be, and are used as killing machines aimed at the party on the decline and ipso facto as boosters to the party on the rise. Polls supply the heavy ammunition; journalists fire it at their target. For the contemporary Fourth Estate, this suits their purpose because the polls match the stories they want to write.

What this piece argues is that commercial polls of voting intention dictate the political dialogue by allowing proprietors, editors and journalists to interpret them as they wish, and thereby create the stories they want to disseminate.

But let me address an issue that infuriates journalists. When anyone suggests they are 'making up stories', or that their stories are just ‘a media beat up', they become highly indignant, insist that their stories have real sources, that the information upon which they base their stories is real, neither imagined nor made up, and that they are simply reporting to the public the information they have sourced, which they insist is their sacred duty, as 'the public has the right to know'. So let's be clear, journalists are fed tidbits, journalists do fossick out bits and pieces of information, and journalists do have their 'sources'. That is not in dispute. What is debatable is the quality of the information they solicit or are offered, that is, its validity and its reliability. Sometimes it is of high quality, and enables them to write important articles. There are many examples we can all recall. It is when the information is of doubtful quality or simply wrong that articles derived from it are suspect or disingenuous.

But even when the information is valid and reliable, it is how the journalist evaluates its importance that determines how the story is written. A tiny piece of information, no matter how valid and reliable, does not a major story make, yet that is what the Fourth Estate too often dishes up to us. Corridor whispers, an overheard comment, a story exchanged between journalists at their favourite drinking hole, seem too often to be the basis for a big story, a prediction of major importance. Reflect for a moment on how many times senior journalists have predicted PM Gillard's political demise, how often they have suggested she step down. They still are! The media, becoming desperate as time for a change runs out, is pulling out all the stops to dislodge our PM. This weekend, Andrew Holden, editor of The Age, perhaps miffed that PM Gillard did not fall on her sword after his Nielsen poll last Monday, is now somewhat arrogantly insisting in an editorial that she must stand aside ‘for the sake of the nation’.

How many times have we been told that she will be gone by Christmas - the killing season – or by Easter, or by the time parliament rises, or when the caucus next meets, or when it has its last meeting, or by whatever date the journalist conjures up, and in any year you care to imagine. Yet she is still standing - 'she won't lie down and die'. Maybe she will meet the fate that has been predicted for almost three years now in the three months before election day. But so far predictions have all been wrong. But like stopped clocks that are bound to be right twice a day, journalists continue to hope that eventually they might be right.

Journalists in the Fourth Estate often place too much reliance on unreliable information, on invalid intelligence, on at times deliberately false information fed to them by people with a subterranean political agenda into which they allow themselves to be sucked, and thereby conned. Faulty information would not be so much of a problem to them if they sat on it until it could be checked for its validity and reliability, an exercise good journalists carry out routinely, but instead they take up their megaphones and shout their paltry and sometimes shonky messages for all to hear, and they go on doing this time and again despite them being wrong over and over. And when something really important does actually happen, they often miss it, as they did when they missed Kevin Rudd's removal until almost the last minute, and completely missed Bob Carr's appointment as Foreign Minister.

By the way, we can’t let journalists off ‘scot-free’ on the charge that they don’t make stories up. Reflect on the second half of last week. There were no more polls, and as far as I am aware no comments from Labor that could be mined for flecks of gold, yet Leigh Sales managed to spend most of her Thursday 7.30 interview of Craig Emerson fishing for leadership tidbits; Tony Jones’ Lateline featured an unnecessarily convoluted piece by Tom Iggulden that explored what might happen constitutionally if leadership changed; and on Friday, ABC news picked up on words Kevin Rudd used on Seven’s Sunrise when asked about a potential bid for leadership: ”I don’t believe there are any circumstances in which that would happen”, and wove them into a story that this was a less vehement denial, and therefore significant! Can you believe it? Yes you can. Journalists do make up some stories, and they do ‘beat up’ others. Read what Michelle had to say about the Leigh Sales interview in her blog piece: Dear Leigh Sales. I’m sure many would echo her sentiments.

It is the rush to the megaphone to shout their stories on every medium they can access without proper checking, or simply the rush to shout a story they have made out of nothing, which characterizes far too much political journalism today, and brings it into disrepute. Is it any wonder the public holds journalists in such low regard, and levels at them accusations of poor quality journalism, of 'making stories up', and of 'media beat ups'?

We all know though that there is another reason for the rush to the megaphone. Journalists, fearful about their own jobs, are mindful of the need to please, or at least not seriously upset, their proprietor and editor. They know their political agenda, which for most of the Fourth Estate seems to be the removal of the Gillard Government and the replacement of it with a Coalition government led by Tony Abbott. Every story about leadership destabilization, every story about PM Gillard being replaced, every related adverse event, is grist to the News Limited and Fairfax mills. So megaphone journalism aimed at discrediting PM Gillard and her Government is OK by these media outlets, no matter how unreliable and flimsy it is. It adds inexorably to the poor image of the PM and the Government it has been creating for years.

Let's return to the killing machines, which for News Limited is its heavy weapon, Newspoll, the most lethal killing machine of all.

Try this exercise in your imagination. Reflect on how different political journalism would be if there were no opinion polls. I realize that means exploring a fantasy world that will never become reality, but bear with me.

Ask yourself what journalists would write about leadership without polls results to underpin their stories. It is the results of the polls of voting intention and personal approval, and comparisons of the popularity of potential leaders (Gillard/Rudd and Abbott/Turnbull) that give them the material they require to write about leadership. It is the poll of who would save the most seats for Labor that energises journalist's comments about leadership. When the TPP is going against a party, particularly the one in power, journalists jump on it because, to use the words they use habitually, it 'calls into question' the position of the leader, and ‘renews/fuels/ignites/heightens leadership speculation’. If the leader is less popular than the contender, as has been the case with Julia Gillard versus Kevin Rudd, if the challenger might save more seats, that adds to the speculation. If there were no poll results, there would be no leadership speculation, as indeed is the case between polls, when speculation subsides. But the day the poll comes out, especially if it is Newspoll, which seems to have assumed superior status among the many polls, the media: print, radio and TV is ablaze with strident recitation of the results and the dire implications. It's great copy for journalists, hungry for a scoop.

Without the polls, they would have to undertake real journalism; they would have to seek sources, solicit information from those whose opinion is worthy, check its veracity, double check, analyze what the sources told them, and reach a considered conclusion about the status of the leader in question. That's arduous work; it involves 'working the phones' and 'wearing out boot leather', as their predecessors once did. Poll results obviate this weary toil. Writing up poll results is child's play, and any interpretation can be placed on any result, depending on what story the journalist wants to write. We saw Dennis Shanahan's convolutions in the dying days of the Howard Government, when, no matter how poor the results were for John Howard, Dennis could always find a ray of hope to head his analysis.

There are other polls, carried out privately by pollsters on behalf of political parties and their supporters. These are never reported publically, but are regularly ‘leaked’. The fact that they are not subject to the same methodological scrutiny as commercial polls means that their validity and reliability are not questioned. The fact that those who commission these polls choose to leak them to the media suggests that the leaking is a tactic to advantage one side or disadvantage the other, or both. That alone calls into question their veracity. While some question the validity of commercial polls on the grounds of methodology, for example the use of landlines versus mobile phones, I believe commercial pollsters are proficient and attempt to do their polling professionally, striving for representative samples of sufficient size. On the other hand, private polling, or at least its reporting, is suspect, as is the output from focus groups. I place no store on reports in the Fourth Estate of private polling.

Of course, polls would have lesser influence on political dialogue if Labor members declined to engage in public or private conversation with insistent journalists hungry to extract a morsel they might be able to fashion into a story. Although they know that whatever they say journalists will use it in whatever way they prefer, politicians seem to be unable or unwilling to tell them to get lost. And even if they stay mute, the headline is: ‘X refused to confirm or deny’, or ‘avoided the question’, leaving the news consumer thinking that something suspect is going on.

Some Labor politicians, the Rudd saboteurs, are deliberately obtuse, and repeatedly feed the story of a Rudd revival to eager journalists, all the more so when Kevin Rudd’s popularity comes out much higher with the public than Julia Gillard’s. They are a destructive force that gives journalists the tidbits and rumors, true or otherwise, that they crave, and do so for their own selfish purpose. Some of the others, who pander to the press by responding to questions and then do so incompetently, seem to be plain stupid, unaware of, or careless about the damage they are doing. Fortunately, there are those who give unequivocal messages about leadership such as Wayne Swan, Craig Emerson, Greg Combet, Bill Shorten, Tanya Plibersek and Peter Garrett, to name just a few. If only the others would emulate them.

So while we can correctly blame the media for the so-called journalism they offer, we need to acknowledge that a few malcontents do feed them bits and pieces from which they construct their stories. What is reprehensible is that most journalists endow such morsels with a credibility they do not deserve, and don’t bother to check their veracity before enthusiastically taking up their megaphones hoping for a scoop.

Stories about poll results have a profound effect over time. While one bad poll result takes its toll, bad result after bad enables journalists to paint a more damaging picture of the party that is lagging – one of a party that is doomed, fated to lose in a landslide, to be reduced to a mere ‘rump’. Add to that the long-standing media narrative that the Gillard Government is ‘the worst government in Australian history’, indeed ‘a bad government getting worse’, that PM Gillard is an incompetent, untrustworthy liar, who makes one mistake after another, that her popularity is sinking inexorably, that she is dragging Labor down to a catastrophic defeat, and you have a vivid picture of a certain loser, who by that account deserves to lose. This image feeds into the next poll and reinforces the negativity. When that poll turns out poorly, the vicious circle continues. Nobody wants to be associated with a loser, so the downward trend is amplified, again and again. This is what so many News Limited journalists want, as do many in Fairfax.

In case you think I’m in a minority in my view that polls are killing machines in the hands of antagonistic journalists, read what Letitia McQuade had to say on Independent Australia in Gillard, polls, porkies and popularity. Read this too in The Conscience Vote: Dear media, write about something else, and Truth Seeker’s Murdoch’s poll machines stuck on spin cycle, and Jeff Sparrow’s piece in The Guardian: What is the Gillard v Rudd civil war all about?.

This piece describes and deplores the malevolent influence that opinion polls of voting intention and popularity have on political discourse in this country. Poll results are ammunition for adversarial journalists to fire at politicians and parties they oppose. They use them ruthlessly to wound and kill their opponents. They use them to reinforce the stories they write, stories too often based on whispers and questionable intelligence; they use them to create a repetitive story of incompetence, of failure, of a fate worse than death at the upcoming election, of a party that must be decisively discarded. Polls are used to manipulate minds in the desired direction; with every negative poll that arrives, the more the voters are persuaded in that direction.

Sadly, amongst all this, policy issues vital to this country’s future, and that of all its citizens, are diluted or simply ignored. How on earth can the voters decide?

In the hands of journalists polls are killing machines, and the most potent of all is News Limited’s Newspoll. And they are killing not just politicians and parties, they are killing the intelligent policy debate every strong democracy needs.


What do you think?

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The culture of disrespect

In the week just gone there was an extraordinary coincidence of events that starkly reminded us of just how much disrespect contaminates our society, most of it directed towards women. It is a scourge that dates back for centuries, one though that the forward-looking fondly believed was losing ground as more enlightened attitudes appeared to be emerging. What happened last week calls that hope into question.

When Julia Gillard made her speech at the launch of Labor's Women for Gillard campaign in Sydney last Tuesday, she let surge into the open the simmering undercurrent of sexism and discrimination against women that we all know continues to afflict our society, one that many prefer not to see or acknowledge.

Albeit unintentionally, as if to confirm her point, later that day at the post-match press conference after the Socceroos four-nil win against Jordan, coach Holger Osieck set the ball rolling when he made a sexist slur that "women should shut up in public". The following day Jason Hickson, president of the Cessnock Hunter Young Liberals branch, tweeted: "Fairly certain Socceroos coach was referring to @JuliaGillard last night . . . not women in general. Heres [sic] to Holger if that's [sic] the case! #auspol." This earned him suspension from the Liberal Party by NSW Liberal Party state director Mark Neeham.

The PM’s message was that Labor supported women in a way unmatched by the Coalition, and that if Tony Abbott should become PM, women would “once again [be] banished from the centre of Australia's political life”, reinforcing that with her claim that ‘men in blue ties’ would marginalize women. Labor’s front bench of one woman in three against the Coalition’s less than one in five, goes some way to validating her assertion.

She also put abortion back on the agenda with: “We don't want to live in an Australia where abortion again becomes the political plaything of men who think they know better”

Fuming with righteous indignation, Julie Bishop quickly labelled her speech as indulging in the “base politics of fear and division”, of “waging a gender war”, insisting it was “patronising and insulting”, and “a speech not worthy of a prime minister”.

The reaction to PM Gillard’s speech among women was mixed. Some felt uneasy that the gender issue had been raised in a political context, and that abortion had been resurrected as an issue. Even some feminists and commenters on Hoopla expressed concern, some dismay. Of course, male columnists and several female, notably Janet Albrechtsen, were delighted to agree with Julia Gillard’s critics. Even a couple of Labor backbenchers expressed concern.

However, in PM right to put gender on the agenda in the Sydney Morning Herald, Leslie Cannold, Melbourne academic and writer, and President of Reproductive Choice Australia, pointed out that Tony Abbott had made many statements about abortion: “I think it is a tragedy that we have as many abortions as we do…” and “I'm a bit like Bill Clinton…who said that he thought it should be safe, legal and rare. And I underline 'rare'”. In Abbott’s words, a last resort.

Cannold goes on to quote Abbott again:“I certainly have always said that the whole issue here was to try to ensure that we empowered women…[and] gave women in a very difficult position all the support they needed to make what was for them the best possible choice”. (For those confused by that gobbledygook, that was Abbott signalling to his anti-choice supporters that his government could return to the Pregnancy Support Measures of the Howard era designed – and here I quote Abbott – to “reduce abortion numbers through pregnancy support counselling”.)” Cannold fears that the shaming and stigmatizing of the one in three Australian women who have an abortion will escalate under an Abbott government.

Abbott’s unsuccessful attempt when he was Health Minister to assume control of the use of abortion drug RU 486 is another indication of his past attitude to abortion.

On the Jon Faine show on ABC 774 radio on Friday, Cannold said she had looked for any sign that Abbott had changed his attitude to abortion, but had seen none. She believes that Julia Gillard was right in raising this issue.

So unless Abbott has undergone an epiphany on the subject of abortion, expect that an Abbott government would take a regressive attitude.

No sooner had her speech hit the headlines than, seemingly out of the blue, a report emerged of a highly offensive menu at a dinner for twenty in March to raise funds for endorsed Liberal candidate for Fisher, Mal Brough. It described our PM as a quail dish, elaborating on her physical features and her genitals in a deeply odious way. Descriptions on the same menu of two Labor males, Kevin Rudd and Wayne Swan, although grossly rude, carried no sexual connotations. Tony Abbott and other Liberals quickly denounced this sexist attack on Julia Gillard, and Mal Brough apologized. Joe Hockey, a special guest at the dinner, said he never saw the menu, and came over all offended, accusing the PM of calling him a ‘fat man’ in parliament, and insinuating that her reaction to what the journalistic fraternity now insist on calling ‘menugate’, was unfairly directed at him.

Then it emerged that Brisbane businessman Joe Richards had written the offensive menu. He passed it off as ‘a lighthearted joke’, which he had created with his son, a joke that he never intended to be made public. But when Chef David Carter posted it on Facebook it became very public. Subsequently Abbott declared that the menu had never left the kitchen. It was stylishly printed though, and as Brough immediately apologized for the menu, describing it as "deeply regrettable, offensive and sexist", it is curious that he did this, as now denies knowledge of the menu.

In the light of the Richards story, instead of trying to weasel the Coalition out of the firing line, as Abbott would characteristically have done, he suggested that it was time for everyone to ‘move on’. I wonder how much he really knows about ‘menugate’?

News Limited papers, by attempting to connect Labor figures with Richards, are now trying to limit the damage this episode has done to the Coalition, I suspect in vain.

I expect we will never know the full story, but the fact that the menu was for a Liberal fund-raiser, suggests the involvement of Liberal supporters, and will reflect adversely on them.

Whatever the true story, the undeniable fact is that this menu reflects deep-seated disrespect for our PM and deeply sexist attitudes towards her. No one has defended the menu, and politicians from all parties have been outspoken in condemnation. It is yet another example of the culture of disrespect that afflicts politics today, disrespect that is often directed to the nation’s first female Prime Minister.

As Julia Gillard's speech was being dissected and critiqued, another event intervened: General David Morrison, Head of the Australian Army, reported on an extensive study of sexism in the Army, revealing investigations into as many as 90 serving officers who might be guilty of producing what he called "highly inappropriate material demeaning women" distributed across the Internet and Defence's email networks. He added: "If this is true, then the actions of these members are in direct contravention of every value the Australian Army stands for." He bluntly told those involved that if they could not accept the Army’s values they should ‘get out’. Much more will be revealed about this scandal in the weeks ahead. Defence Minister Stephen Smith said that the culture that allowed such actions to occur was not recent; it was decades old and represented a major eradication challenge for the Army.

Although not related to the political events of the week, the Morrison report highlighted the widespread nature of disrespect for women in the Army, one likely reflected in the community generally.

Then came the most infamous event of all, the interview of PM Gillard by shock jock Howard Sattler on radio 6PR in Perth on Thursday evening.

His insensitive probing at the very beginning of an arranged interview with the PM into the sexual preference of the PM’s partner Tim Mathieson with the blunt: “Tim’s gay”, and his persistent questioning along these lines, has brought him universal and strident condemnation from politicians, commentators and the media, including such outspoken shock jocks as Derryn Hinch, and even Ray Hadley. Alan Jones seems not to have commented; I suppose it’s a case of ‘people in glass houses…’. Sattler was subsequently suspended and sacked; Fairfax apologized. Sattler was unrepentant; ‘he had no regrets’. So much for his attitude to Julia Gillard, whom he regards as ‘fair game’! There’s no need to go into details; you probably know them already after all the publicity this event attracted. If you want to, take a look at the video in this piece.

What is important is that here is a radio personality of long standing, who thought it was appropriate to be grossly disrespectful to the nation’s Prime Minister. Would he have been so had the PM been male? Would he have asked about the sexual preference of the PM’s partner? You know the answer.

Julia Gillard’s fear was that an interview like this might deter young women from undertaking a career in public life and in politics.


On Friday’s episode of ABC’s
The Drum, where there was condemnation by all the panellists, Mary Crooks, Executive Director of the Victorian Women's Trust, and author of A Switch in Time – restoring respect to Australian politics, added her words of denunciation about the disrespectful and sexist attacks on our PM.

Anne Summers reinforced Julia Gillard’s assertions about the paucity of women in the Abbott team, and his longstanding attitude towards abortion.

On Friday’s PM on ABC radio, Martin Cuddihy interviewed a Sydney hairdresser who said: “It's really rude to talk to the Prime Minister about her personal life", and when asked what he thought about the implication that because the Prime Minister's partner is a hairdresser, he's gay, he replied: “Really I don't know man, but I feel really sorry about the Prime Minister, the way he talked to her and she felt a little bit embarrassed and I think this is really rude and bad.”

Cuddihy then turned to Dr Lauren Rosewarne, a Senior Lecturer in the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Melbourne, who when asked her opinion, said: “I think what it really was about was yet another example of Julia Gillard being interrogated in very intimate personal ways that we have not see any other politician being interrogated before and being slandered and slurred and derided on the basis of personal intimate things.” When asked what Sattler was trying to ask about her, she replied “He was basically trying to imply what kind of a man would be interested in being with Julia Gillard. What kind of a person is she? Is she desirable? The inference, of course, from his perspective, is no and therefore it's a slight on her sexuality and her appeal and her desirability and what kind of a woman she is". In Rosewarne’s view, the thrust of Sattler’s question went well beyond the ‘gay partner’ query.

On the ABC’s AM yesterday, former Premier of Victoria, Joan Kirner, expressed her outrage at Sattler’s questions and went onto say “Men are rarely questioned on their spouses or their partners, and nor should they be. And the question to ask is why is this done to women? And the answer is because we still see women as appendages to males and not standing there with their own rights, with the capacities to exercise power.” She too suffered at the hands of the media; cartoonists regularly depicted her in a polka dot dress, sometimes so offensively that her daughter would advise her: “Don’t look at the cartoons today Mum!”

There’s no need for any more evidence about what has been a week characterized by one sexist episode after another, unrelated, but pointing to the worrisome residue of sexist behaviour in our community, in these examples directed towards service women, women in general, and PM Julia Gillard in particular. Her speech on Tuesday along these lines, criticized by many, including feminists, seems to have been vindicated by subsequent events: ‘menugate’, the Army scandal, and the Sattler interview.

How has this come about? It seems as if all the efforts of those who have fought for equal rights and recognition for women for so long, still have a battle ahead of them.

Who is responsible?

The Army scandal appears to be the persistence of a culture of disrespect towards women from Army men. The recent exposure follows a long line of similar, although perhaps less pervasive episodes. It points to widespread cultural problems that so far have not been addressed, or have defied correction. This time, General Morrison seems determined to root out the offenders and cleanse the Army of this scourge. We hope he succeeds.

But what of the poisonous sexism and disrespect that pervades our body politic, where menus demeaning the PM in an offensively sexual way are printed, where she is subject to grossly inappropriate questioning by a Perth shock jock? Who is responsible for that?

As in all complex issues there are multiple factors. No one person or group is wholly responsible. But to avoid looking for some of the culprits is simply a copout. The Fourth Estate will not even attempt to ask why we are in this position, nor will it look for the perpetrators. Only the Fifth Estate will dare.

If we look for how the level of disrespect and sexism has come about in Federal politics, the first place to look is at the leadership of the Coalition.

Look at the track record of the Leader of the Opposition. Here is a man with a long past history of aggression and disrespect towards women who have defeated him in political combat. Here is the man who punched the wall near Barbara Ramjan after she defeated him in a student politics battle, who kicked in a glass door after another defeat. His supporters argue that was many years go when he was at university, but we have seen similar behaviour more recently. Ever since he was outmanoeuvered by Julia Gillard in the negotiations with the Independents and she became PM in a minority government, Abbott has called her prime ministership, and her Government ‘illegitimate’. He still insists the prize should have been his. As he has done in the past, he has set himself on a path of destruction of her and her Government.

This path is littered with demeaning insults. He has persistently used the terms ‘she’, ‘her’, and ‘this Prime Minister’ to diminish her standing. She is not the only object of his disrespect. He persists in calling the parliamentary Speaker, who has requested that term be used, ‘Madam Speaker’, just as he called the student chairperson who defeated him back in student days ‘Chair thing’, a sign of his disrespect that continued all year.

In parliament he attacks her like a rabid dog, over and again, as do his front bench: Christopher Pyne, Joe Hockey and Julie Bishop. Read Political hatred: its genesis and its toll, and take a look at their faces contorted with rage, hatred and disrespect. Just this week, Joe Hockey tweeted about Julia Gillard: “She has never deserved respect, and will never receive it.” Think of that for a moment before anyone tries to argue that Abbott and Co. have not generated disrespect for the most senior political figure in this nation, for the high office of Prime Minister. Of course they have.

It was Abbott’s echoing in parliament of shock jock Alan Jones’ slur that her father had ‘died of shame’ because of his daughter’s behaviour, which precipitated her famous and inspiring so-called ‘misogyny speech’ that found favour all around the world, especially with women, who understood exactly what she was saying.

At doorstops, Abbott endlessly repeats his mantras: ‘the worst Prime Minister in Australian political history’, presiding over ‘the worst government in our history’, and ‘a bad government, getting worse’. He paints her as grossly incompetent, as having poor judgement, and as an untrustworthy liar. Both his frontbench and backbench faithfully echo his mantras with almost religious fervour, as do his media sycophants, uncritical of him or his disrespectful assertions. He can rely on Paul Kelly, Dennis Shanahan, Chris Kenny, Janet Albrechtsen and their ilk to back him in with all his disrespectful rhetoric.

Alan Jones’ infamous ‘Juliar’ interview, his ‘put her in a hessian bag and take her out to sea’, and his repeated vilification of our PM in the most offensive terms, have created an aura of disrespect for her and her position. Ray Hadley has joined in the demonization. Tony Abbott, Bronwyn Bishop and Sophie Mirabella standing in front of ‘Ditch the Witch’ signs at an Alan Jones’ sponsored carbon tax rally in Canberra screamed disrespect for PM Gillard.

Is it any wonder that there is so much disrespect abroad that even school kids feel able to throw sandwiches at her?

We ought not be surprised that journalists and shock jocks feel free to ask her insulting and demeaning questions.

I lay most of the disrespect directed to PM Julia Gillard squarely at the feet of the would-be PM, Tony Abbott, and the rest of it at his front bench, his back bench, and his media supporters. By creating an aura of disrespectfulness, day after day, month after month, year after year, they have given ‘permission’ to every Tom, Dick and Harry to do the same, from school children throwing salami sandwiches at our PM, to shock jocks throwing insolent questions at her. If Abbott and Co had drawn a firm line below such disrespectful talk and action, if they had insisted that politics should be above this type of behaviour, or to use a favourite Abbott phrase: ‘We are better than this’, the gross level of disrespect that exists and has been exhibited so grotesquely last week, would not have occurred. Prove me wrong.

You won’t see anything like this in the Fourth Estate. You know why.


What do you think?

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What is the role of political blogsites?

Political blogsites proliferate almost by the week. Many reside in the Fifth Estate. While a few declare their political orientation overtly, most do not. It is possible though to ascertain this by reading the pieces they post. While some purport to be ‘balanced’, ready to criticize any or all political parties, or politicians of any complexion, these seem to be in a minority. Some sites attempt balance by using a variety of authors who hold different views. Individual authors though usually have an established position; it is uncommon to find an author who critiques and criticizes all parties and politicians with equal vigour. Most blogs seem to lean to one side or the other, and some, sponsored by the parties themselves, or closely associated bodies, such as the Institute of Public Affairs, lean exclusively to one party, and condemn almost everything the opposing parties propose or do.

In a comment on the piece Political hatred: its genesis and its toll, Doug Evans, after conceding that the thought of the election of an Abbott government appalled him, went onto say: “I do not understand the unwillingness of intelligent articulate wordsmiths to critically address the shortcomings and missteps of the Gillard government alongside its (admittedly) largely unsung strengths.” His comment prompted me to question the role and orientation of this blogsite: The Political Sword.

Readers have only to read through a few pieces to ascertain that this site is supportive of PM Gillard and her Government. As the owner of the site, I believe that the Rudd/Gillard Government has been an active, reforming government, tackling some of the urgent issues facing this nation: global warming; a failing and inequitable education system; a health system, which although world class, is failing to meet fully the needs of the people, particularly the ageing population, the disabled, and those with mental illness and dental problems; an industrial relations system that was tilted too much to favour the employer; infrastructure deficits in road, rail and ports all over the country; a tax system that needed overhaul to correct anomalies and address the structural deficits in the tax system created by the Howard/Costello Government; a superannuation system that was not providing adequate security for workers; an inadequate communications network that needed upgrading to very fast broadband to keep pace within the developed world; a troubled asylum-seeker policy; and indigenous disadvantage that constituted a national disgrace.

The Government has tackled these and many other issues with purpose and vigour in the last three years, in the face of unremitting Coalition hostility in a minority parliament. Over five hundred pieces of legislation have been passed in this term, without a failure. And in the process, it has sustained the economy in a state better than in any other developed country, even despite the global financial crisis, a crisis that still exists and wreaks havoc in many countries. I applaud what the Rudd/Gillard Government has achieved under very difficult circumstances. For any who doubt the extent of these achievements, do read the comprehensive list in Judging Gillard and the Labor Government by John Lord in The Australian Independent Media Network.

I admire the strength of PM Julia Gillard and her persistence in the face of all the vitriolic hatred directed at her by Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, Coalition members, and the Fourth Estate, notably the Murdoch media. Is there any politician in recent times who has suffered such venomous abuse and denigration, such persistent personal castigation and demonization day after day, week after week, month after month? Is there any other politician that could have withstood it with such equanimity?

Moreover, the PM has shown herself to be highly intelligent and competent, a leader who has an astonishing grasp of every portfolio within her Government, who can answer any question she is asked, and despite the malevolent efforts of journalists, never seems wrong-footed. She does not walk away when the questions get tough. She has demonstrated her courage and persistence in the face of penetrating and sometimes personal questioning on many occasions, some of them marathons.

And I like her. Although we have never met, from all I have seen on TV of her interaction with the public at formal events, at community meetings, or on less formal occasions, and from reports posted here from our visitors, she seems to be genuine, personable, good humoured and charming. She relates comfortably to a wide variety of people, and enjoys especially her interactions with children, who genuinely seem to like her. I find it impossible to feel antagonistic to her, as many seem to feel, and deplore the hatred and loathing that the Coalition and much of the media directs at her continuously.

It is for all of these reasons that this blogsite is an enthusiastic supporter of the PM and her Government.

In stark contrast, from the very beginning her opponent Tony Abbott and his Coalition embarked on a campaign of negativity, obstruction, and vitriolic personal abuse. Progressively, they have announced a destructive plan should they win government, a plan to smash virtually every reform the Government has initiated. Whatever else Abbott says he has in his DNA, he has an abundance of vengeance.

Is there a downside for the Gillard Government? Like all governments before, the Rudd/Gillard Government has made mistakes. There have been matters they might have handled better. But their faults are nowhere near the magnitude that the Coalition and the complicit media paint. They have been deliberately and maliciously magnified. Reflect on how the Murdoch media amplified the difficulties encountered in the rollout of the HIP and the BER, both successful and socially beneficial programs, but painted as unmitigated disasters. Mendacious reporting, skewed analysis, distortions, misrepresentations, and at times blatant lies, were disseminated in place of accurate reporting and analysis.

Although it is not perfect, I support the Gillard Government because of its ideals of equity, fairness and opportunity, its vision, its narrative, and its policies and plans. I have held this position for years, and nothing I have seen has ever given me any encouragement to abandon PM Gillard and Labor and support Opposition Leader Abbott and the Coalition. I reject the ideology, the policies, and the plans of the alternative government, which are anathema to me.

Expect more of the same attitude and approach on The Political Sword.


I will certainly not behave as some Labor backbenchers are at present. The sniggering Joel Fitzgibbon and the spluttering Doug Cameron both mocking the ‘talking points’ given them by the media office was not just unedifying, but corrosive of party cohesion. Making public the packing up of their parliamentary offices by Daryl Melham and Alan Griffin as a sign they would lose their seats, was damaging to the Labor cause. Whatever these four backbenchers felt personally, such a public display of disdain and defeatism was both disloyal and stupid. They could have kept their feelings to themselves, as team players would have done. Surreptitious backgrounding of journalists with stories of dismay at the polling, and despair about the election, is another example of disloyalty; those who do this must know that their corridor whispers will end up being splashed throughout the media. These Nervous Nellies are unsuitable for politics, which always involves contests, and winners and losers. They lack loyalty and guts. They should learn about guts from their leader. So for those looking for criticism, here is a one of contemporary Labor: there are too many parliamentarians who are not pulling together in the interests of the Labor Party and the Labor movement; there are too many creating dissent.

With Labor parliamentarians behaving in this destructive way, should a site as supportive of Labor as The Political Sword embark upon criticism of Labor policies or plans or actions in pursuit of this elusive attribute called ‘balance’? Doug Evans hints that perhaps it ought.

There are two reasons why this seldom occurs here.

First, there are so many blogsites that criticize the Gillard Government incessantly, so many media outlets that do this unremittingly, scarcely ever giving the smallest commendation, that in the interests of fair play, it seems to be unreasonable for a supportive site to join the cacophony of censure, disapproval, and condemnation. Sites supportive of the Coalition do not waste words pointing out its defects, its mistakes. Never. They refrain from critiquing their own side at least in part because they know that their criticisms will end up on opponents’ blogsites as evidence that there is dissent in their ranks.

So, instead of adding to the cacophony, in my view a more productive approach for The Political Sword is to make positive and practical suggestions about how Gillard Government policy and its implementation could be improved. As the next section will show, this is easier said than done. This is especially the case where the problem is beset with complexity, is politically sensitive or threatening, and has the potential to influence election outcomes.

Here is a second reason why The Political Sword has hesitated to engage in critical comment. Some of the policies that Labor has implemented deal with exceedingly complex issues, issues that are prime targets for criticism by those who think they know better, issues that create hostility in a substantial part of the electorate. These critics offer criticisms of bits and pieces of a policy, but never offer a comprehensive alternative. It’s easy to pick holes in a policy and how it is being implemented, but much more challenging to put together an alternative. The asylum-seeker issue is a case in point.

To illustrate my point, I invite you to engage in an exercise with me. Let’s see how adept we are at devising an asylum-seeker policy, an area more contentious than almost any other.

I invite you to present your asylum-seeker policy in ‘dot point’ format because that will make it easier to read and assimilate. I also ask you to preface your dot points with a list of what you wish to achieve with your policy. In other words, aims first, then policy structure in some detail.

Let me give an example of how aims might read. In devising a policy, my aim would be the following:

. To establish a humane and welcoming approach to those escaping from fear of persecution and harm who seek asylum here.

. To arrange a method of arrival that did not include dangerous sea voyages on unsafe boats that risked drowning at sea.

. To ensure rapid appraisal of the legitimacy of claims for asylum of all arrivals, and prompt completion of necessary health and identity checks, with short stays in onshore detention while this is being carried out.

. Once the checks have been satisfactorily completed, to arrange re-settlement in the community, with access to jobs, services, schools, and opportunities for integration.

. To establish community reception amenities and staff, especially in areas that need workforce support, to welcome new arrivals and assist them to integrate into the community.

. To return arrivals that are not genuine asylum seekers according to UN criteria to their home country, provided it is safe to do so.

. To disrupt human trafficking and the business of those who are involved in people smuggling by boat.

. With UNHCR support, to establish processing centres in countries which asylum seekers traverse, and in countries of origin where possible, to provide rapid checks of identity, health and legitimacy of asylum claims, with air transport to Australia for community settlement once accepted. This would be an ‘approved’ way of entering Australia.

. To institute disincentives to dissuade those who might seek to engage people smugglers. This might involve the application of a ‘no-advantage’ arrangement whereby those who sought to bypass an ‘approved’ process, did not gain an advantage. Offshore processing with lengthy delays as a disincentive, ought to be a last resort.

. Recognizing that no one country could accommodate the millions of genuine refugees around the world, to establish community consensus about what constitutes an appropriate intake into Australia.

. Recognizing that asylum-seeker policy is a contentious and divisive issue, and for some in the electorate an explosive one, to establish a national program to inform citizens of our UNHCR responsibilities and to promote the concept of Australia as a decent nation willing to welcome a fair share of the world’s refugees, commensurate with its wealth and its capacity to do so. Such a program would have, as a major aim, the neutralizing of the issue politically.

. To attempt to achieve bipartisan agreement on asylum-seeker policy.

This list of aims is offered, not for your approval or endorsement, but simply to illustrate how aims might be formulated.

In formulating your policy, list first your aims as ‘dot points’, then list ‘dot points’ that flesh out how your policy would work in practice. I have not gone this far as I don’t want to preempt your offerings.

I know that should you respond you won’t insult our intelligence by simply regurgitating anything resembling the simplistic Abbott asylum policy: his three-headed plan to “Stop the boats” by ‘turning boats around when safe to do so’, ‘offshore processing’ and ‘temporary protection visas’. You may wish to include some of these, but please flesh them out more than Abbott ever attempts to do. He treats us all like mugs. We have had enough of this.

While other political blogsites will have their own concept of their role, in attempting to define the role of this particular site, and in response to the suggestion that The Political Sword ought to address deficiencies in the Gillard Government as well as its strong points, I believe that instead of joining with Labor’s opponents in strident condemnation, it is more appropriate for this site, which is supportive of the Gillard Government, to suggest ways that policy could be improved or implemented better. As an example, asylum seeker policy is proposed as the one that causes perhaps the most angst, the one that attracts the most criticism, the one where countless critics tell us by their words of criticism that it should be done differently, and much better. This piece offers the opportunity for these critics to tell us how they would fashion asylum-seeker policy, what aims it would have, and how it ought to be implemented, taking into account the multiple factors that operate in this vexed area of policy. The challenge, simply stated, is that instead of giving us your piecemeal criticism, you tell us what your aims would be and how you would achieve them, in some detail.

It’s especially an invitation to the scathing critics of Labor’s asylum-seeker policy that comment here from time to time, and who may return to comment on the unfolding tragedy near Christmas Island. Instead of another acerbic criticism of this or that aspect of the current policy, tell us in detail what your asylum-seeker aims are, and what your policy would be were you in government. Here’s your chance to put up or shut up.

Your thinking and your response to this challenge will be welcomed.

If you wish to ‘Disseminate this post’, it will be sent to the following parliamentarians: Tony Abbott, Eric Abetz, Anthony Albanese, Adam Bandt, Julie Bishop, George Brandis, Doug Cameron, Jason Clare, Greg Combet, Mark Dreyfus, Craig Emerson, Joel Fitzgibbon, Alan Griffin, Sarah Hanson-Young, Joe Hockey, Barnaby Joyce, Andrew Leigh, Jenny Macklin, Richard Marles, Daryl Melham, Scott Morrison, Robert Oakeshott, Brendan O'Connor, Christopher Pyne, Kevin Rudd, Bill Shorten, Stephen Smith, Wayne Swan, Warren Truss, Tony Windsor, Penny Wong and Nick Xenophon.

Political hatred: Is there a remedy?

The short answer to the question is ‘Yes’. The longer answer is ‘Yes’, but with a string of caveats. While the piece just gone: Political hatred: its genesis and its toll, attempted to define the origins of political hatred and describe the terrible damage it is causing, the damage it is doing to the fabric of our society, no attempt was made to suggest a remedy, indeed if a remedy is at all possible. This piece is to fill that void.

Using the medical model of first seeking an accurate diagnostic formulation before suggesting a remedy, let’s tease out the causes of hatred and how it manifests itself, then see what remedies might be available.

There are always multiple factors that contribute to complex problems, but let’s confine ourselves to just some of the major ones that might bring about political hatred: ideology, adversarial politics, power and money.

Does ideology cause hatred?
While the extremes of ideological persuasion in politics are capable of bringing about hatred, as we have seen manifest in violent revolutions throughout history where, for example, capitalism and communism have clashed, do the different ideologies of our major political parties here cause hatred?

In my opinion, hatred is the most extreme response to ideological debate. What we ought to see instead is robust dialogue, argument, claim and counter-claim, agreement and disagreement, even opposition, but without the hatred.

To give an example of a major difference in ideology, conservatives believe, amongst other things, in free markets, light regulation, small government, enterprise, competitiveness, a modest safety net, and low taxes, or at least that is what they claim. Progressives believe in measures that ensure a strong economy that provides full employment and prosperity, but strongly emphasize fairness, equality, opportunity, a good education for all, universal health care, and now disability care, as the last five years have demonstrated. Conservationists put environmental concerns and ecological sustainability high on their list of preferences. It is when these are applied that the jarring differences become apparent.

During the global financial crisis, preferring a Keynesian approach, Labor applied a succession of stimulus measures to keep people in jobs and avoid the economy going into recession, preferring to incur debt in order to do this. It was successful. Australia weathered the economic storm better than all other developed countries and achieved triple A ratings from all three ratings agencies. The Coalition’s preference was to avoid debt, to apply modest stimulus, and to return to surplus budgets. The Greens generally supported Labor’s moves. Naturally, there was healthy argument about the pros and cons of Labor’s approach, argument that was expected and was an acceptable part of political discourse.

But it was when opposition morphed into strident, and at times vitriolic criticism, when Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey turned the criticism beyond debating the ideological and practical pros and cons of Labor’s Keynesian approach, into venomous condemnation of the Government, the PM and the Treasurer, that hatred was fostered. No longer was it an economic debate, it was ‘a Government addicted to spending and debt’, ruining our economy, and accumulating debt that would burden our grandchildren. No longer was Labor criticized for its economic policy, it was ‘a bad government getting worse’. Disagreement with Labor’s policy became condemnation of it as a party that did not know what it was doing, and a party in which its senior members were labelled as incompetent.

When the debate changed from an ‘academic’ debate about economics to a personal attack, loaded with invective and abuse, which is what took place, hatred was fostered. The voters were encouraged to suspect the Government’s capability and question its intent. ‘Addicted to spending and debt’ stuck in people’s minds and alienated them.

This is an example of where hatred was promoted, where it need not have been at all.

Let’s look next at climate change and Labor’s response. Labor is convinced of the reality of global warming. It favoured an emissions trading scheme as the most effective mechanism to reduce carbon pollution and curb temperature rises. You all know the history of how this was aborted by the Rudd Government, re-introduced by the Gillard Government, and modified after the advent of a minority Government. Julia Gillard’s determination to initially put a price on carbon morphed into a ‘carbon tax’ and her subsequent placing of a price on carbon morphed into a 'broken promise'. ‘LIAR’ was stamped across her forehead. What ought to have been a debate about the reality, or otherwise, of anthropogenic global warming became a personal attack on PM Gillard and the labeling of her as a liar, a denunciation that has stuck in voters’ minds, as the Coalition intended it to do. The debate about AGW, about which the Coalition still seems skeptical despite its recent parliamentary acceptance of it, and what to do about it, was lost in the vicious personal attack on PM Gillard, an attack intended to diminish her as a leader, and make her Government less electable. Some would say that is legitimate business for an opposition. But for the people of Australia I believe good governance is the most important expectation of the Federal parliament; instead, the alternative government is making governance as difficult as possible.

So there is another example of where sensible debate about an important political issue was perverted and transformed to a personal harangue that has generated hatred and loathing. Who loves a liar? It need not have been this way.

Is there a remedy for this phenomenon, for this pathological condition? Of course there is. Politicians could talk about their values, their ideology, their vision for the nation and the policies and plans they have to achieve that vision. They could talk about the raisons d'être of their Party and its ‘narrative’ for bringing about needed change, necessary improvements. Instead, they fight and demean each other, put up as many barriers to progress as they can, and seek to destroy their opponents. Is there any possibility that they might change to a form of debate that is more productive and less destructive?

In my view, it is an addiction to adversarial politics that creates this state of affairs.

Does adversarial politics bring about hatred?
While it is accepted as the norm in Australian politics, and indeed seems accepted as part of the Westminster system of government, is seems to me to be the genesis of much of the conflict and hatred we see day after day. Randolph Churchill’s dictum for oppositions: “Oppose everything, suggest nothing, and turf the government out”, has been adopted by Tony Abbott. Read his Battelines. The Coalition has followed this to the tee. Virtually everything the Government has proposed has been opposed, except for some recent legislation that happens to suit the Coalition as it anticipates taking over government. Even measures consistent with the Coalition’s ideology have been opposed, simply for opposition’s sake. It has been incongruous to see the Coalition, ‘the party of low taxes’, oppose tax reductions simply because they advantaged poorer folk.

When trenchant opposition unnecessarily obstructs good governance is it any surprise that anger and resentment is created, and eventually hatred. Why do we have to suffer adversarial politics? Politicians and most commentators accept it as the custom and accept mindless opposition as ‘what oppositions always do’. Does it have to be this way? Why are we wedded to adversarial politics when some countries, notably in Europe, have governments that operate by consensus? Why couldn’t we operate by consensus on every occasion where it was ideologically possible? One can only conclude that politicians don’t want it this way, that they enjoy the adrenaline rush adversarial politics engenders. Commentators too prefer adversarial politics because it generates conflict, contest after contest, winners and losers, all of which is great copy for our conflict, entertainment-driven Fourth Estate.

In my opinion, adversarial politics is a potent progenitor of hateful politics. Another model seems preferable, but there is no enthusiasm for change. If you believe the polls, our minority government, which has operated largely by consensus among the non-Coalition players, is not favoured by the electorate. A remedy for the ill affects of the adversarial approach remains elusive.

Is the pursuit of power the genesis of political hatred?
Yes. There is no room for disputing this. Politics had always been a power game. Politicians and political parties have always sought power. Power enables people and parties to do what they believe is desirable. In that sense, it is natural. But when the quest for power overwhelms, when its pursuit is the prime activity, perversion of the political process occurs, conflict abounds, and hatred is generated. Killing off an opponent, figuratively speaking, is seen as acceptable in the pursuit of power.

But the quest for power extends well beyond politics. Many players seek the power to influence the political process, sometimes directly or overtly through the media, sometimes surreptitiously through lobbying in all its forms. We saw how the miners publically fought the mining and carbon taxes, how they still seek to influence the political process though their support for Coalition members. Think of Gina Rinehart and her closeness to Tony Abbott and Barnaby Joyce. Think even more deeply about the Murdoch influence on Abbott and indeed on the whole campaign. Think about how the full NBN would threaten Murdoch’s Foxtel empire, and about how media regulations, which a returned Labor Government would likely reintroduce, would threaten what Murdoch insists ought to be unfettered ‘freedom of the press’.

It is these peripheral players whose power is threatened, who believe their commercial interests are being placed in jeopardy, who are already exercising influence to such an extent that Tony Abbott and his senior Coalition colleagues seriously risk becoming mere puppets of Murdoch, Rinehart and anyone else who seeks power, who has money, and who is prepared to use it to get what they want.

It does not take a genius to imagine the dividend of this quest for power, this buying of favours. They want the Coalition and the sycophantic Abbott in power so that they can continue to exercise the power they need commercially. Those who pursue power for commercial reasons do not tolerate obstruction of their wishes. They will demean, diminish, degrade, disgrace, and if that creates loathing and hatred, so be it. We see this in the Murdoch media day after day after day.

Yet, it need not be this way. Labor politicians have shown that even as they seek power to enable their own plans, they can resist the power plays of those who seek to use them for their own ends, as has been the case with the media. Remember PM Gillard’s: “Don’t write crap”. But can Abbott, will Abbott, be able to resist these power plays? Does he wish to? Or is he happy to go along with these powerful people to get what he wants – political power, no matter what the cost to his political opponents, no matter what damage it does to the nation, no matter how much hatred is spread around? It seems as if the answer is: Yes!

In my view, the pursuit of political power by politicians, and by power seekers in the community who use politicians to achieve it, is a potent progenitor of hatred. But is there any remedy for this predisposition? How can those seeking power be persuaded to do so evenhandedly, free of malicious intent. Something approaching an epiphany would be necessary to convert the contemporary players.

How important is money in the genesis of hatred?
Of all the powerful factors that generate hatred, money is arguably the most important. The old adage: ‘Follow the money’ is as true in politics as in any other pursuit.

Money is what motivates the peripheral players. Businesspeople like Rupert Murdoch and Gina Rinehart, to name just two prominent moguls, live and breathe money. Any threat to their continuing prosperity is attacked with vigour. No retaliation is too harsh, no action too severe. No matter how much hatred and loathing is generated, it is justified. The ends justify the means.

We see every day how the Murdoch empire pursues its quest for power through its media outlets. For two years now, noxious material about PM Gillard, her ministers and her Government have been disseminated through its press and its TV. Vitriolic hatred has poisoned the Murdoch offerings, unfortunately now replicated by Fairfax media, and even at times the ABC. Murdoch had created a loathing of Julia Gillard in the public’s mind, so much so that there have been two recent episodes of sandwiches thrown at her by schoolchildren. Imagine the conversation that must have occurred in the homes of these kids that would encourage them to throw missiles at our Prime Minister.

This is a reflection of the loathing and hatred that Abbott and his Coalition members have generated, which has been enthusiastically echoed and amplified day after day, in every outlet he owns, by Murdoch and his editors. He could have chosen to do otherwise. He could have chosen to have his journalists report facts accurately, to argue a position from them logically, to insist that opinion be based on evidence and sound reasoning. He chose to do the opposite: to distort information, to cherry pick the facts that suited his case, to misinform, even to tell downright lies, as hundreds of articles testify. He chose to vilify and demonize. He chose to use partisan opinion as news.

He chose to build up Opposition Leader Abbott, to overlook his misdemeanours, to not challenge his lies and mendaciousness, to echo his vile propaganda. He could have chosen otherwise. He could have chosen to be evenhanded and fair, and balanced in his media outlets. It was his choice to travel the Abbott road. It was his decision that this was in his commercial and ideological interests; it was his choice to do ‘whatever it takes’ to grasp the prize - a compliant, even sycophantic Abbott government.

Just imagine for a moment though what would happen if Murdoch were to call off his dogs, were he to indicate to his editors that he wished now to support PM Gillard, her ministers, and her Government, and wanted every good move it made given front page coverage, and also that he wanted Tony Abbott, his shadow ministers, and the Coalition publically excoriated day after day for their bad behavior, or for that matter, any behaviour at all. The attitude of the electorate and the opinion polls would be reversed in a matter of weeks.

Money drives ambition, avarice knows no bounds, little stands in the way of protecting money and making even more of it. It stands alone as the most powerful of all progenitors of hate and loathing. But is there any remedy for insatiable greed, and for the awful fallout that it can generate as the greedy pursue more and more wealth? Great wealth need not result in avarice and power plays to make more wealth. Bill Gates, the wealthiest man in the world, has found a way of having wealth but using it for the benefit of others. He does not need to generate hate to achieve his aims. Nor does Warren Buffett. Nor should any other wealthy person. Is the Gates/Buffett remedy one the wealthy in this country are prepared to adopt? I wonder?

This piece attempts to identify the factors that generate hate and loathing of PM Gillard, her Government, and the Labor Party. It is postulated that political ideology, the adversarial system of government, the quest for power, and the pursuit of money, all in their own way are capable of generating loathing and hatred, but none so powerfully as money. It suggests that it need not be that way; that it could be different. It suggests that ideological discourse need not end in vilification, that the adversarial system need not be as unremittingly negative as it has become, that the quest for power need not involve denigration, and that the pursuit of money can be associated with generous behavior, can be devoid of negativity, can be accomplished without the sinister overtones of hatred and loathing.

But is it like trying to catch rainbows to contemplate a different way of doing things; is it folly to hope for a change of behavior in those with entrenched views; is it silly to look for a miracle? Perhaps it is. But should the difficulty of effecting change deter us from trying? Should we just fold our tents and retreat? If no voice is raised in protest, if no one tries to change the monolithic structures that dominate the political scene, there is no hope for any of us. Even our small voices just might be heard, just might be amplified by those who feel similarly. So let’s speak up and keep up the pressure for change.

I know some will come here insisting that poor old Ad Astra has ‘lost the plot’, yet again, that I continue to live in a fantasy world, and that none of what I am advocating will ever eventuate. That will not stop me, nor should it you.

What do you think?

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.

Grasping at prime ministership the Abbott way

Let’s be clear from the outset. The lead up to the September 14 election will not be a respectful contest of ideas, a civil battle of policies and plans. It will be a bare-knuckle street fight between personalities, with no holds barred. The Abbott way countenances no other approach.

To seize the top job, the Abbott way is to have many lines of attack. A keen observer of the Abbott way is the source of the principles and strategies detailed below. Some may appear counterintuitive, but they work:

Feelings are more important in winning elections than rational thinking.
Capturing hearts trumps changing minds.
Emotionally laden words beat fact-based logic.


Here is the Abbott way of applying them:

Facts and logic point to the virility and robustness of Australia’s economy. So many of its parameters are laudable: low unemployment, low inflation and falling interest rates, low debt to GDP ratio, growth near trend, even rising business and consumer confidence and increasing retail sales in recent months.

Although we hear of job losses as industries affected by the persistently high Australian dollar shed workers, all except 5.6% of the workforce have jobs, historically low by any standard.

Mortgagees enjoy the lowest interest rates since the lows of the GFC, avoiding thousands of dollars a year in interest payments. Self-funded retirees who depend heavily on interest bearing investments for income complain a little, but there are not many of them; most have investments and property.

But ask the people how they are doing, and they say they are doing it tough.

Yet they live in a vibrant economy, where CPI data tell us that while petrol and power prices are up, food and supermarket prices are falling. Even where some costs have risen because of putting a price on carbon, households have been more than compensated. But ask the people about prices and they vow they are getting higher and higher, despite evidence to the contrary. It is embedded in their psyche that ‘they are doing it tough’.

Facts and reasoning, even commonsense, are replaced by the feeling that things are crook.

With such an economy, the Gillard Government ought to be miles ahead in the polls and be rated as good economic managers, but not only is the Coalition well ahead, polls show that it is consistently rated as the better manager of the economy. It defies logic.

But it does demonstrate the principle that how people feel is more important than what they think. Facts are irrelevant if there is an entrenched feeling to the contrary.

How has the Abbott way achieved this outcome?

It’s been easy. No matter how laudably the Government has been managing the economy, no matter how well Treasurer Swan is regarded in international circles, the tactic has been simply to tell everyone that the economy is tanking, that Labor never could manage money, that it is addicted to spending and debt, that it will never bring in a surplus budget, that it is creating sovereign risk, that its recent superannuation changes were 'shades of Cyprus', and that now even its coveted triple A ratings are under threat, then add that the Coalition knows how to run an economy, has done it before during the golden Howard years, and can do it again. Never mind that the economic circumstances of the Howard era and the current Labor era are radically different. People won’t even think about that if it’s not mentioned.

Which brings us to the second set of Abbott principles:

Truth is irrelevant in politics, but plausibility is not.
No matter how far from the truth, if a statement is convincing, and especially if it matches preconceived prejudices, it will be believed.
Remember Goebbels’ dictums: “If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth.” and “The bigger the lie, the more people will believe it.”


The Coalition has applied these principles to its great advantage. It has created an atmosphere of distrust, even despair about the economy among consumers and businesses, and they have swallowed the gloom holus bolus. When the gloom has been challenged with the facts of a buoyant economy, it has been easy to contradict it by endlessly repeating that people are doing it tough, and exemplifying this with news stories about disgruntled families struggling to pay their mortgages and their household bills, especially power bills. It doesn’t matter if some of these families are earning $150,000 plus. With kids at private schools, a second car in the garage, and a large mortgage to pay off their McMansion; they really feel life is tough. These stories are intended to anger those who see themselves in a similar position, and to muster sympathy from those who aspire to such a position. The next step is to convince them and everyone else that it’s the Government’s fault and that they would be better off with competent managers in power – the Coalition of course.

The Coalition has been tactically clever in promoting this ‘ain’t it awful’ mindset, because it has made it difficult for the Government to counter by telling people that they are doing just fine. So Labor too has joined the ‘doing it tough’ chorus. In fact, only a few weeks back Joel Fitzgibbon said the people working the mines in his electorate on $140,000 a year were doing it tough, and a constituent on $250,000 was ‘struggling’. No amount of reminding these people about how good the economic figures are makes any difference – they remain convinced they are struggling and resent anyone telling them otherwise. So all the Coalition has to do is to repeat the ‘doing it tough’ message over and again.

Which takes us to a third set of Abbott principles:

Repetition is essential.
Never let up on sending your message, no matter how bored some may become. It might look like brainwashing, but it works.
Keep the message simple.
Ensure the message is memorable.


The Coalition has specialized in short sharp messages – opponents call them slogans. It doesn't care, so long as they stick. The message does not have to be true, or even logical, so long as it is believable and catchy.

Take the 2010 election catchphrases: ‘End the waste’, ‘Pay back the debt’, ‘Stop the big new taxes’, ‘Stop the boats’ and ‘Help struggling families’. Remember how easy it was to have the public embrace them. Who wouldn’t want an end to waste? There was no need to advance evidence of waste as already this had been done with the adverse publicity over the HIP and the BER. Who would object to paying back the debt? There was no need to show how the Coalition would do that, or even whether it might be a prudent thing to do at that time. Who would disagree with stopping big new taxes? Explaining what that meant was unnecessary as the carbon tax, vivid in everyone’s mind, was painted as ‘a great big new tax on everything’. All except a handful wanted the boats stopped to avert the risk of drowning. There was no need to say how the Coalition would do this, and at what cost. And the motherhood statement ‘Help struggling families’ was a no brainer. What fool would contradict that? How the Coalition would do this did not need to be spelt out; implicitly the catchphrase assumed it could and would.

Despite the brevity and lack of detail in these slogans, they worked a treat, because they were catchy, easily recalled and plausible, albeit superficially.

More recently, in the pursuit of a more positive image, the Coalition has used another catchphrase in its booklet: Our Plan – Real Solutions for all Australians to portray its ‘plan for the future’. Note how clever this is. ‘Real’ appeals, as does ‘solutions’! People want solutions and if they are ‘real’ what more could they ask? The fact that these words are meaningless without substance matters little. Solutions for what? How do solutions become ‘real?’ Can solutions be ‘unreal’? The meaning of the catchphrase is irrelevant so long as it sounds attractive and plausible. Substance is unnecessary. How many will read the booklet? The title is left to create the desired positive image, and it probably will.

Which segues into the fourth set of Abbott principles:

Use the ‘Humpty Dumpty’ approach – words can mean whatever you want them to mean.
If anyone challenges what meaning has been given to a word, simply say that that is not its meaning.
If anyone confronts you with a damaging statement a Coalition member or staffer has made, first deny it. If the chatter persists, insist that what was said was misinterpreted. If it continues, brush it away as ‘past history’, insist that action has been taken, and that ‘the matter is now at an end’.


For example, when the Coalition's Paid Parental Leave scheme was announced, the words ‘fair dinkum’ were used to describe it. Aussies like things to be ‘fair dinkum’; it’s a bit like ‘real solutions’. The words also had the effect of diminishing the value of Labor’s scheme; by definition it could not be as ‘fair dinkum’. To pay for it, a 1.5% ‘levy’ would be imposed on around three thousand companies with the largest profit. Everyone knew that would be portrayed as a ‘tax’, but it was easy to insist that it was a ‘levy’ and a ‘modest levy’ at that, and it would be offset by a similar reduction in company tax. The Coalition insists it is still a levy, and definitely not a tax. See how easy it is to make words mean whatever you want them to mean.

Another example is the Coalition’s Direct Action Plan to combat climate change. Note ‘action’ is a key word, one voters like, and this time it is ‘direct’, which of course makes it ‘real’. It has been easy to conceal from most voters the fact that the DAP will impose a burden of $1,300 on every household and cost taxpayers many billions every year, will require many new regulations and hundreds of new bureaucrats to enforce them, will rely on the creation of a 15,000 strong Green Army to plant 20 million trees on what semi-arable land can be procured, and on burying tonnes of biochar in farmland. By using the term ‘Direct Action Plan’ – three stylish and comfortable words – the Coalition has been able to deflect attention from details that some voters might find discomforting, and from all the negative appraisals of the Plan by economists and environmentalists, leaving them with just those reassuring words that have given the Plan a comfortable aura, words that would have made even Humpty Dumpty proud.

On the principle of brushing off damaging statements, the Coalition has managed to do that remarkably effectively over ‘Ashbygate’, and the Mark Roberts ‘slit your throat’ outburst.

This leads to the next set of Abbott principles:

To achieve any of the above, a compliant media is required.
The mainstream media in this country is the conduit for convincing the people of the veracity of what the Coalition says.
The value of having media proprietors onside is inestimable.
Be prepared to do whatever it takes to get them onside.
Foster support from the wealthy and powerful as they have influence over the media.


This has been a Coalition success story. The Murdoch media has shown its willingness to not just support the Coalition, but oppose the Government. The Coalition could not have asked for an easier ride from the MSM. The Australian and the Murdoch tabloids have been strongly supportive and ready to put the Government down at every opportunity. News Limited’s Newspoll has been used not just as a measure of support for the parties, but the results have been written up in a way that no matter what the figures show, Labor has been shown up at a disadvantage. Rupert Murdoch gave an early indication that he wanted the Gillard Government gone, and he has been true to his word. Let’s face it, the Coalition could not have been in the favourable position it is in without the help of the Murdoch media, and now with its good friend Gina Rinehart a big shareholder at Fairfax, another large media outlet is onside.

The ABC was hard on Abbott in the Leigh Sales interview about the BHP Billiton Olympic Dam deferral, but her latest interview was a soft one, no doubt the result of lots of angry protests filed by Coalition supporters against the earlier one. It was easy to avoid her questions and control the interview. The ABC too looks like coming on board.

This leads to the fifth set of Abbott principles:

It is not enough to counter your opponent’s policies; you have to counter your opponent.
Demonization of opponents, particularly leaders, is essential. It is a form of ‘shooting the messenger’.
Demonization can be achieved by accusing an opponent of some misdemeanour, over and again, no matter how remote in time.
The misdemeanour need not be of any consequence, as the object is simply to raise doubts in voters’ minds about the integrity of your opponent.
Labelling an opponent pejoratively is a sure fire method, as no matter how improbable the accusation, some of it will stick.
If a theme of malfeasance or incompetence can be established, so much the better, as each instance reinforces the others.
Even if a Coalition member is guilty of the same misdemeanour, laying it on an opponent is the best counter. For example, if you tell lies yourself, accuse your opponent of lying.
Even if journalists contradict your assertions, even if they question their validity, always insist that you are correct. Never retreat. Repeat them again and again as if you haven’t heard the contradiction.
Making the electorate angry with your opponent is essential; it is vital to build up resentment and an aura of blame, so that no matter what good things your opponent does, they will be negated by the antagonism, anger and hatred that you have generated against your opponent.
It is essential to have allies in the media before engaging these strategies.


The Coalition has been successful in employing these principles.

Julia Gillard has been demonised as a liar, and labelled untrustworthy. The Coalition was gifted with her statement about not introducing a carbon tax. We know that only half of what she actually said has been circulated, but that matters nothing. The Coalition has many video clips of her saying these words that it will use over and again in election advertising, painting her as an untrustworthy liar. No amount of logic or reasoning will erase that. It is a sure winner. And hasn’t the rehashing of the Slater and Gordon matter been effective in casting doubts on her integrity!

She and her Government have been labelled as incompetent on the grounds that she has changed her position on some issues, and has not been able to bring off some of her changes. Moreover, her Government has been repeatedly labelled as dysfunctional, disunited, illegitimate, ‘a rabble’, the worst government in the nation’s history, worse that Whitlam’s, and ‘a bad government getting worse’. This has steadily eroded confidence in the Government and Julia Gillard. It has been one of the Coalition’s most effective strategies.

Journalists do sometimes challenge the use of words, for example, the use of the word ‘illegal’ to describe asylum seekers. Although strictly speaking that is correct, it strengthens the antipathy to boat people if the word is used. Those who are antagonistic to them don’t care that it is legal to seek asylum. What they want is reinforcement of their existing prejudices.

This brings us to a sixth set of Abbott principles, which are about policies and the media:

Policy statements are unimportant almost until election-day, as an excuse for not making them can always be found, and the Government blamed for their absence.
The longer policy announcements and costings can be delayed the better. Keep the electorate guessing. Be a ‘small target’.
It is much more important to have a strong media unit than a policy unit.
A media unit sets up the leader and shadow ministers with the message for the day.
Simple messages, consistently delivered, are essential.
It doesn’t matter if the message is simplistic or at times incorrect or even inane, so long as it is delivered accurately, consistently and repeatedly.
Remember, most of the electorate is not analytical.
Messages must be plausible and memorable even if they don’t make a lot of sense.
Soft media interviews with complaint journalists are to be preferred.
‘Doorstops’ are easier to handle and wind up.
If a question is asked that is at all threatening, answer instead a preferred question, or address a more convenient subject, one endowed with more political capital.
If questions become tough or insistent, a tried and tested routine is simply to walk away.
It is better to walk away than to go on the record with an embarrassing or inappropriate answer that can be replayed endlessly.
Lengthy, hard studio interviews with probing persistent journalists are to be avoided.
Whatever you do, avoid saying anything that might ‘frighten the horses’. That can wait until after the election.
Use 'Tea Party' style public events with lots of placards and women as a background as that appeals to the people. Try to look like a nice guy, and behave kindly to women. Try to erase past images of nastiness. Insist you can change and grow into the job.


These principles have been used for over two years now, and the Coalition has got away with them.

The repeated slogans have been a winner. Voters don’t think too deeply about them, but they do repeat them on cue, like Pavlov’s dogs. If challenged, some may reflect on their veracity, but who bothers to put them right. Very few! People prefer their prejudices to a reasoned debate. Neither do voters think too deeply about new ideas, like Abbott's ‘development of the North’ and 'more dams' thought bubbles, and as they attract little scrutiny from the media, no detail is necessary so long as the ideas sound good.

The Coalition has been successful at avoiding difficult encounters with the media, and when the going has gotten tough, walking away has been a good solution. They get criticism from a few journalists for doing this, but most go along with the strategy. What can they do anyway?

The situations Abbott avoids are Q&A, 7.30, Lateline and radio interviews with astute people such as Jon Faine. Interviews with the likes of Alan Jones, Ray Hadley, Andrew Bolt, David Spears, Paul Kelly, and Peter van Onselen give the best result. They feed Dorothy Dixers, don’t come with the tough questions, and even when they try, as did van Onselen last week over the Mark Roberts ‘slit your throat’ episode, it was left to the end and meekly retreated from in the face of a firm rebuttal.

And the 'Tea Party' events have attracted a lot of publicity.

So there it is – how to grasp prime ministership the Abbott way, how to seize it from Julia Gillard, and simply slide into The Lodge, or Kirribilli! If it seems deeply cynical, that is because it is. This is the bare-knuckle approach of the man who wants to be this nation's leader, in all its gory detail.

The Coalition is well aware of hubris and says it is not taking anything for granted, but with the polls the way they are, it looks to Abbott as if he is a shoo-in for prime ministership, so long as no one puts their foot in it in the next five months and blows his flimsy cover.

This then is the ugly Abbott way, exposed for all to see; clever and successful in parts, but ugly nonetheless.

You could almost believe it had come right out of the horse’s mouth.


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David Marr joins ‘the most successful Opposition leader’ chorus

The first words in the online description of David Marr’s Quarterly Essay: Political Animal: The Making of Tony Abbott read: “Tony Abbott is the most successful Opposition leader of the last forty years, but he has never been popular. Now Australians want to know: what kind of man is he, and how would he perform as prime minister?” On last week’s Q&A Marr repeated, with his characteristic certitude, that Tony Abbott “is the most successful Opposition leader…”

Marr is an outstanding essayist and political commentator. His views cannot be carelessly dismissed. So we need to ask how he can make such an assertion. Of course, he is not the only one to do so. Many News Limited journalists have said the same thing in one way or another, from the pontifical Paul Kelly, down to the lesser lights in the Murdoch media and in the Fairfax media too.

What then constitutes success? Let’s leave politics for a moment.

For anything or anybody to be classed as a success, four elements come into play. First, the criteria for success need to be defined; second, a measurement scale needs to be constructed; third, a standard for ‘success’ on that scale needs to be established; and finally, the position occupied by the thing or the person on that scale needs to be measured and judged as having met, or not met, that standard of ‘success’. In educational endeavours, these steps are commonplace.

Let’s take a mundane example. What is a successful cricketer? The criteria of success might be the number of runs scored or wickets captured or catches taken or runs saved in bowling or fielding. For a captain, criteria might include the wisdom of decisions about batting and fielding, team structure, on-field strategy, team culture, and so on. As there is a multitude of measurement scales and expert opinion that capture the extent to which these criteria are being met, it is easy to ascertain how successful individuals are by setting their performance against these measures and the standards that cricket aficionados set.

Returning to politics, what are the criteria of success, and for the purposes of this piece, what are the criteria for success as an Opposition Leader?

It is at this basic level that disagreement begins. For people like David Marr and Paul Kelly and Dennis Shanahan and Michelle Grattan and Peter Hartcher, and even lesser lights such as Graham Richardson and Graeme Morris, it seems that an essential criterion is the ability to oppose. It seems that under the Westminster system, those in opposition feel obliged to oppose. Says Walter Bagehot in The English Constitution: “It is said that England invented the phrase, 'Her Majesty's Opposition'; that it was the first government which made a criticism of administration as much a part of the polity as administration itself.”

Randolph Churchill, whom Tony Abbott quotes in his book Battlelines, said: “The duty of an Opposition is to oppose”, and “Oppositions should oppose everything, suggest nothing, and turf the government out.” This seems to me to be a fundamental flaw in the Westminster system. In an interview of Margaret Thatcher by schoolchildren after her retirement, she recalled that a down side of politics for her was that no matter what she tried to do there was always opposition.

As argued in an earlier piece, Is the job of the Opposition to oppose? NO., it is NOT the job of Opposition to just oppose, but to engage in the process of governance so that the public can benefit from the knowledge and wisdom of all parliamentarians. That piece argued: "They are all paid from the public purse. Why should all of them not contribute and be accountable?"

If simple opposition is a criterion of success for an Opposition Leader, Abbott’s incessant opposition to virtually everything the Government says or does or proposes makes him ipso facto a success, because he measures high on any scale of opposition and reaches the ‘standard’ of ultra-high level opposition. However, as his trenchant opposition has not prevented the Gillard Government from passing over 480 pieces of legislation, his success in thwarting legislation is virtually zero.

But is unremitting opposition what oppositions ought to be about? Of course, where the political ideology of the opposition conflicts with that of the government of the day on a particular issue, opposition is appropriate on that issue.

But there are many instances where ideological positions do not call for opposition. There are instances of collaboration, even close cooperation. Kim Beasley supported John Howard’s initiatives over the ‘Tampa affair’, and Howard supported several Hawke-Keating reforms. In these instances, both sides joined hands in the governance of the nation. That is what I believe should happen more often. Parliamentarians insist it often does, but all we electors see is opposition, obstruction and conflict. Not all of this is ideological. Much of Abbott’s opposition is purely and simply resistance to the Government itself, a Government whose legitimacy Abbott has never accepted. He is hell bent on discrediting and eventually destroying the Gillard Government.

So my question to Marr, and to all who laud Abbott for his success as Opposition Leader, is this: “Is opposition for reasons other than the ideological legitimate, acceptable, even praiseworthy? Is the destruction of an elected government, albeit a minority one, an acceptable function of this Opposition Leader, indeed any opposition leader?” Some commentators think so. They laud Abbott for having dispatched one Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, and having eroded the status of his successor, Julia Gillard. They congratulate him on how difficult he has made governance for PM Gillard and her Government. Destruction of prime ministers and governments seems to be a criterion that commentators use to judge Abbott, and they rate him a ‘success’ on that criterion. What a wooly view they have of what constitutes legitimate opposition.

Is the repeated use of Question Time to berate the PM, her ministers and the Government a criterion of a good opposition? Is the asking of a tiny array of questions over and again (on carbon tax, minerals tax, budget surplus, asylum seekers) a criterion of a good opposition? Is it good opposition to scarcely ever ask a question about whole areas of government, Trade and Health being two examples? Is it good opposition on over sixty occasions to move the suspension of standing orders to castigate the Government, always unsuccessfully, thereby wasting hundreds of hours of parliamentary time and foregoing countless questions that could have been used to ‘hold the Government to account’, a rightful function for an opposition. Should opposition leaders be judged on the extent to which they use parliamentary time well or poorly? Does Marr consider Abbott should be measured and judged for such behaviour? If so, how does he rate him? Does Marr regard that behaviour as contributing to what he describes as Abbott’s ‘success’?

Does Marr consider contribution to the effective governance of the nation from opposition a rightful function? If so, how does he rate Abbott on that criterion? Does Abbott reach a standard that could be classed as ‘successful’? I doubt it. Marr’s criteria for success seem largely restricted to opposition and destructiveness.

What about parliamentary language and behaviour? Should opposition leaders be judged on how they conduct themselves in this the highest political forum in the nation? Should they be judged on their aggressiveness, the vituperativeness of their language? Did Marr rate Abbott’s ‘died of shame’ reference; did he rate his abusive demeanour and his offensive language directed to our PM? If he did, why does he still rate Abbott as “the most successful Opposition leader of the last forty years?

What about the criteria of honesty and integrity? Are these applicable to opposition leaders, to this Opposition Leader? If they are, how would Marr rate Abbott? Would he rate him as ‘successful’ on those counts?

How would Marr rate Abbott’s performance in interacting with the media? How would he judge Abbott’s avoidance of hard interviews, his predilection for ‘soft’ interviews by his favourite shock jocks, his poor performance when nailed down by insistent interviewers, the lies he has told on many occasions, and his obfuscation and deviousness in answering pointed questions? Is this part of Abbott’s ‘success’?

How do Abbott’s gimmicks rate: fish kissing, butchering, banana stacking, supermarket trawling, truck driving, ‘fire fighting’, bicycle pedaling, surfing, appearing with wife and daughters? Does Marr rate these as a factor in his success?

What about the criteria of messaging and consistency of message? On those, Abbott would score well. He and his staff have manufactured a set of catchy and memorable slogans that he repeats endlessly. We know them all by heart. The fact that they are crass, comprising as they do distortions of the truth or simplistic statements of aspiration without substance is of no concern to Abbott or the Coalition, so long as they stick in people’s minds, so long as they effectively discredit the Government, and advantage the Coalition.

Does Marr, and those who vest Abbott with ‘the most successful Opposition leader’ garland, do so because of these slogans, slogans that have been so mindlessly embraced by the unthinking that they have become part of the political lexicon? If so, is that something we ought to expect of a successful opposition leader? Is skill at conjuring and confidence trickery a laudable attribute for opposition leaders? Perhaps Marr gives Abbott credit for the discipline he has shown in staying on message.

How would Marr judge Abbott’s performance at rallies berating the carbon tax and the minerals tax, appearing in front of banners worded: ‘Juliar’, ‘Ditch the Witch’ and ‘Bob Brown’s Bitch’? More Abbott success?

Does Abbott earn Marr’s mantle because of the depth of his vision for the nation, the richness and variety of his policy offerings, the cohesion and persuasiveness of his policies, the accuracy of his policy costings, and the verve and consistency with which he pursues them? Hardly. Even when Abbott does come out with a policy, it looks paltry – his NBN-lite and his Direct Action Plan to combat global warming are examples. Marr is not without insight. Perhaps he regards Abbott’s ability to keep his policies and costings largely under wraps as a measure of success.

In extolling Abbott success, Marr asserts that he is “turning a rabble into a government in four years.” If holding his party together and having it adhere to the party line are suitable criteria, Abbott has done well. There have been outbreaks of dissonance by Malcolm Turnbull, Joe Hockey, Andrew Robb, Mathias Cormann, Barnaby Joyce, Sophie Mirabella and Cory Bernardi, and most recently intemperate language by staffer Mark Roberts, but by and large Abbott has kept his troops under control. If this is a criterion of success for an opposition leader, let’s give him a modest tick for that.

What about poll ratings? Since commentators and politicians alike dwell on poll results and give credence to them, Abbott could be judged a ‘success’ if elevating the Coalition in the polls is a criterion, although he has been less successful in elevating his own level of popularity. How much weight has Marr given to polling? A lot, it would seem.

Let’s add up the sums. Using the criteria outlined above, how many successes has Abbott had, successes that would warrant ‘the most successful opposition leader’ mantle, and how many failures?

Opposition to virtually everything the Government has done: A SUCCESS for some; a FAIL for many.

Contribution to effective governance: A FAIL by any account.

Damage to the Government and its leaders: A big SUCCESS for those who want to bring the Government down; a heavy FAIL for those who deplore such intent.

Prudent use of parliamentary time and resources: A FAIL by all accounts.

Parliamentary language and behaviour: A FAIL for all except his rusted on supporters.

Honesty and integrity: The evidence points to a big FAIL.

Interacting with the media: His minders would probably classify him as a SUCCESS; many observers would give him a FAIL.

Messaging and consistency of messages: His messages (crass and deceptive though his slogans might be) have met with SUCCESS, and his consistency has been a SUCCESS.

Use of gimmicks, publicity stunts and rally appearances: A SUCCESS for inventiveness, a FAIL for boorishness, tackiness and tastelessness.

Depth of vision, sound policies and costings: A very big FAIL by any assessment.

Keeping his party together and on message: A qualified SUCCESS.

Improving the Coalition’s position in the opinion polls: A big SUCCESS.

So there is my assessment of Abbott’s successes and failures. Of course such evaluation depends on the criteria selected, where Abbott is measured to be on the scale, and whether he has reached the set ‘standard’. Some judgements are subjective; others objective to some degree.

David Marr’s overall assessment of Tony Abbott, the pretender to prime ministership, is one of success. This piece explores what criteria he might have been using, challenges his attribution of ‘success’ to some criteria that I consider dubious or untenable, and ends with a challenge to him: “Detail your criteria to us, tell us how you measured Abbott against them, and then explain how your assessment of him against those criteria warrants the garland ‘the most successful Opposition leader of the last forty years’.


What do you think?

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Policy making through the rear-view mirror

“We drive into the future using only our rear-view mirror” was one of the many notable aphorisms of Marshall McLuhan, Canadian philosopher, futurist, and communications theorist of the sixties.

If ever there was an image that captures Tony Abbott’s approach to public policy, this is it: driving into the future using only the rear-view mirror.

In full, McLuhan’s maxim reads: “The past went that-a-way. When faced with a totally new situation, we tend always to attach ourselves to the objects, to the flavor of the most recent past. We look at the present through a rear-view mirror. We march backwards into the future.” His argument was that our futures are always experienced and frequently determined by a past that few of us fully acknowledge or understand.

On a contemporary note, take Tony Abbott’s approach to broadband, the lifeblood of more and more involved in commerce and industry, in education, health, agriculture, tourism, and in the tech-intensive and service industries. His initial approach was typical of his pugilistic nature. “Demolish the NBN” was his instruction to Malcolm Turnbull. It was a Labor initiative and therefore must be destroyed. Moreover, he knew that if the NBN were stillborn, Rupert Murdoch would be pleased, as that would eliminate a competitor to his TV empire.

Abbott failed. As Turnbull sipped from this poisoned chalice, all the more bitter because it demanded he act contrary to his tech-savvy nature, he realized that demolition was going to be difficult, and in the end impossible, and unwise, as the Government’s NBN unfolded. Whether it was Turnbull’s awareness of the logistic and legal difficulties, or whether he became aware of the growing public support for the NBN, or whether his love of communications technology overcame him, he decided he must dissuade Abbott from his pursuit of demolition. That move carried the political risk of Abbott being seen as doing a ‘backflip’, having repeatedly condemned the Government’s NBN as an obscenely expensive white elephant that the nation could not afford. Of course, Abbott doesn’t do backflips; he changes his mind – ask the media.

Last week we witnessed an unanticipated spectacle – Abbott and Turnbull launching an NBN, the Coalition’s NBN, but an NBN nonetheless. Set against a high-tech background, courtesy of the new Fox Sports Sydney headquarters complete with a hologram image of a footballer, Turnbull and Abbott, looking like snake oil salesmen, with Abbott looking out of his depth at that, launched a cheap, low-tech alternative – dubbed ‘NBN-lite’.

Because it has been done to death elsewhere, even in the mainstream media, it is not my purpose here to compare this and the Government’s NBN, except to underscore the patently obvious fact that NBN-lite is not just inferior, but portrays Abbott’s proclivity to plan for the future by looking in his rear-view mirror, to march backwards into the future.

There was a delectable take on the launch in Brisbane Times Free floppies a policy flop by John Birmingham that makes my point: “The Opposition Leader promised this week that every Australian household would receive a free floppy disk drive and monochrome monitor under an Abbott-led government. Launching the Coalition’s long awaited response to the government’s National Broadband Network program, Mr Abbott denied that providing a floppy drive and monitor without the computing box to plug them into would leave Australian households with a second best solution… If people want more they can easily spend a few thousand dollars to upgrade to a very fast 386 or even 486 computing box.”

That is closer to the truth than its satirical tone suggests. From the outset Abbott claimed that Australia’s existing broadband was fine for him to send emails and for his daughters to download movies. His implicit question was “What more do you need? He was looking in the rear-view mirror to gaze into the future. Commenting on the NBN, even journalists who might usually support Abbott’s position have characterized him as lacking vision. That is not correct. Abbott has vision all right: backward vision.

His broadband vision is restricted to email and movies. He says he ‘needs it for his work’, but has he thought about the almost unbelievable potential of super fast broadband? Has he contemplated the possibility that in the years ahead applications will emerge that have not even been thought about yet? Does he remember that when he was a boy the first mobile phone was invented – the size of a brick and weighing a kilogram – and that since then we have seen the emergence of the extraordinary technology we now have? Has he forgotten that the World Wide Web began only a little over 20 years ago? Has he even thought about the next twenty years and the demands that burgeoning applications will place on the WWW? It seems not. Does he really think the Internet will be the same twenty years from now? Whatever he thinks, he tells us that his NBN-lite is ‘good enough’ for us: "I am confident that it gives Australians what they need." Regrettably, we will never know what he thinks about the future while he looks nostalgically into his rear-view mirror and sees only the past.

Looking backwards is Abbott man’s greatest drawback as a politician and leader.

It’s not just about broadband that Abbott looks back, not forward. How many times have you heard him lament that the halcyon days of John Howard are behind us. How he would love to return to that golden era where mining revenue flowed in a torrent into Howard’s coffers, enabling Howard and Peter Costello to hand out middle class welfare and give tax breaks, especially to those on the highest salaries and superannuation, and still bring in their hallowed surplus budgets. There was no global financial crisis, no recession; there was no dire threat to our economy as they prepared their budgets, no impediment to them handing out electoral bribes come election time. Abbott yearns for those days, and berates Labor because they have not done what Howard did.

Abbott looks in his rear-view mirror, sees the Howard years, sees the ideal fiscal circumstances he enjoyed, ignores all that has occurred globally since 2007 as if it had never happened, castigates the Government for taking the actions it did to protect the economy and employment during the GFC, and pretends that had the Coalition been in power everything would have been better, with surplus budgets as usual. Abbott’s capacity to fix his gaze on the rear-view mirror and look back at the road long past travelled, his faculty to ignore the road ahead, is pathological.

And it goes on. Looking back a usual, Abbott fondly remembers the days of high demand and sky-high prices for coal and iron ore and the revenue that resulted. He still refuses to see how the scene has changed, refuses to acknowledge that as a result Government revenue has fallen by $160 billion, and that the anticipated surplus is no longer possible. His rear mirror view shows him that nothing has changed, demand and prices are as they were, and not delivering a surplus is just ‘another broken promise’.

Of all the rear mirror views Abbott relishes, one of the most cherished is the spectre of how WorkChoices brought the workforce into line, and dampened union power. He also catches sight of how damaging that restrictive and unfair policy proved to be for the Howard Government and reflects on how it was a major factor in its defeat in 2007. He is petrified at giving any hint of its return, declaring it ‘dead, buried and cremated’. But his longing continues for the ‘flexibility’ business demands. Abbott’s IR spokesman, Eric Abetz, is using language that hints strongly at Abbott’s intention. He keeps looking back, pining for those ‘good old days’. But with an election pending, looking forward to reintroducing IR changes is too fraught.

How many times have you heard him insist that returning to Howard’s magic three-legged formula for stopping the boats: offshore processing on Nauru and Manus Island, temporary protection visas, and turning the boats around ‘when safe to do so’, would work again just as it did then? By looking in his rear-view mirror, he is able to ignore all the changes around the world in the refugee situation, ignore all the push factors that now operate, and lay blame for the influx of arrivals on pull factors, to Labor’s leniency, to their abandonment of TPVs that the evidence showed were not just ineffective but harmful, and to their refusal to turn boats around, a maritime manoeuvre that is hazardous to service personnel as well as the boat people, one that is considered disaster-prone by senior Naval personnel, and was actually seldom done in the Howard era. Looking into his rear-view mirror Abbott sees the Howard program as ‘the answer’, the only answer: “we did it before and we will do it again”. He yearns for a return to those ‘days of yore’ when the refugee population in detention was tiny.

Take global warming. Despite his affirmation that he believes it really is occurring and that human activity is partly responsible, with his negative behaviour towards measures to reduce pollution by putting a price on carbon, it is not unreasonable to suspect that he still believes that ‘climate change is crap’, that it was ‘hotter in Jesus’ time’, and that therefore radical action is unnecessary. He still believes that planting 20 million trees and paying polluters to stop polluting will do. Again he’s looking into his rear-view mirror at climate in the long past, at the time when Dorothea Mackellar wrote of ‘droughts and flooding rains’, ignoring the constellation of severe adverse weather events that have occurred recently around the world, events that climate scientists attribute to global warming. He is able to ignore the almost universal consensus of thousands of climate scientists that global warming is real, is upon us already, will steadily escalate, and will bring with it untold catastrophes.

Looking in his rear-view mirror, he sees a world that existed before emissions trading schemes began. He still believes, indeed insists that Australia is running ahead of the world, that the trading schemes and pollution abatement programs that abound all around the world, and are proliferating every month, scarcely exist. He can’t see the evidence that is before his eyes, so fixed is he on the past. He repeats his mantra that the rest of the world is lagging behind us in emissions trading, when clearly it is not. His rear-view mirror looks back a long way.

The same mirror reflects back to him the traditional values he embraces so lovingly. During his address at the IPA’s 70th Anniversary Gala Dinner last week, Abbott said this: “Alas, there is a new version of the great Australian silence – this time about the Western canon, the literature, the poetry, the music, the history and above all the faith without which our culture and our civilisation are unimaginable.” Nobody would deny Abbott his beliefs and his values, ones refreshed by looking in his rear-view mirror, but those who are inclined to vote for him should ponder to what extent he will allow those entrenched values and beliefs to intrude on his policy making, to influence him as he fashions policies that ought to benefit all Australians. To what extent is he prepared to look forward, to see changing community attitudes to, for example, abortion, same sex marriage, and euthanasia? To what extent is he prepared to change his long-established viewpoint?

But his value system extends well beyond these emotion-laden issues. Looking back longingly to the Howard era he cherishes Howard’s values: support for private schools to the detriment of public schools that Howard neglected; support for private hospitals and private health insurance even if that disadvantages public hospitals; endorsement of the user pays principle, even if that leaves some behind; support for the privatization of public assets; sustenance of the powerful and the wealthy (Rupert Murdoch and Gina Rinehart spring to mind), even if that means that trickle down economics continues to fail and the gap between the rich and the poor widens.

Indeed, voters need not only to know Abbott’s contemporary attitude to these issues, but to what extent he embraces the Institute of Public Affairs’ list of 75 radical policy changes it is recommending to him and the Coalition? Take a big breath, and read them here. This is what Abbott said about them during his IPA address: “So, ladies and gentlemen, that is a big “yes” to many of the 75 specific policies you urged upon me…! Read YaThink’s response to that.

Abbott is a traditionalist, a monarchist, a Catholic imbued with Jesuit beliefs, and ultra-conservative that hankers for long gone days, days that he gazes at through his rear-view mirror. Even his recently expressed ideas for development of the North, which some rank as ‘visionary’, are a reprise of ideas from the last century, ideas advanced by Ion Idriess seventy years ago.

Look at the people behind Abbott, and you look at relics from the past. Yet he vows to install this team unchanged should he win power. He looks in his rear-view mirror and sees his future ministers.

Abbott longs for the past; he is fearful of any future that threatens his conventional, conformist view of the world. He eschews looking forward; the past is too comfortable and reassuring to abandon.

Yet, this man wants to be the leader of this nation in this unprecedented time of change as it faces the Asian Century, as it faces unparalleled challenges both in its own economic base, and in the global economy. The turmoil ahead demands that our nation’s leader look forward at the evolving landscape and steer our country along a course of prosperity, in harmony with our neighbours and our trading partners, in tune with the evolving geopolitical situation we hear about every day of our lives, and able to align our country with the powers that can give us support and protection and enhance our own defences – a leader who is willing and able to fruitfully adapt to the dynamically evolving world around us.

Tony Abbott, a man whose eyes are fixed on his rear-view mirror, who seems unable see the road ahead, is not that leader.


What do you think?

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Abbott and the Murdoch, Rinehart, Pell connection

Voters need seriously to contemplate what it would be like to have an Abbott Government. They need to dig deeper than the slick slogans, the oft repeated mantras, the weasel words, the deviousness, and the blatant lies that escape Abbott’s lips day after day. They need to ask what makes this man tick? More importantly, voters need to ask who influences Abbott, and how those influences shape the attitudes, the ideology, the behaviour, and the actions of this potential Prime Minister of our nation.

For immediate answers, voters need not look much beyond a momentous event last week – a Gala Dinner to mark the 70th Anniversary of the foundation of the Melbourne-based Institute of Public Affairs (IPA), a right wing organization that grew up in 1943 after the collapse of the conservative United Australia Party. How much will those attending the Dinner shape and mould the nation’s alternative leader? To what extent will Abbott be clay in the hands of the many potters who attended?

The IPA describes itself as “an independent, non-profit public policy think tank, dedicated to preserving and strengthening the foundations of economic and political freedom". It claims that it “has been at the forefront of the political and policy debate, defining the contemporary political landscape.” To get a feel for its political orientation, read its 75 radical ideas, and note those already adopted by the would-be PM, Tony Abbott. In his address at the Gala Dinner, Abbott heaped praise on the organization: ”The IPA, I want to say, has been freedom’s discerning friend.” He lauded its director, John Roskam, previously a Liberal staffer who once ran for Liberal pre-selection.

The IPA was influential in the formation of the Liberal Party. There is no doubt about its ultra conservative orientation, and its support of the Liberal Party.

It says it is ”funded by individual memberships and subscriptions, as well as philanthropic and corporate donors.” We know Rupert Murdoch is a large donor, as was his father, but outsiders can only guess whom the others are. We are told that ‘big business’, and perhaps ‘big tobacco’ is among them, but the list is kept under wraps.

The list of invitees to the IPA Gala Dinner is not public, but we do know that the guest of honour and keynote speaker was Rupert Murdoch, that Gina Rinehart was a distinguished guest and speaker, and that Andrew Bolt was Master of Ceremonies. Apart from Tony Abbott, other Liberal luminaries were there: Victorian Premier Denis Napthine, Melbourne Lord Mayor Robert Doyle, and Shadow Attorney General George Brandis. None of these names are surprising. What I expect though came as a surprise to many outside the IPA was the presence of the most senior Catholic in Australia, Cardinal George Pell, Archbishop of Sydney. What does his presence mean?

This piece suggests that among the many influential people present, none will exert more influence on the man who wants to be our Prime Minister than Rupert Murdoch, Gina Rinehart and George Pell; no others, not even party members, have shaped, and will shape Abbott’s clay more decisively than these master potters.

Let’s deal first with supremo Rupert Murdoch. Is there anyone with eyes to see and a brain to reason that would deny that Murdoch is intent on removing the Gillard Labor Government and replacing it at the September election with a Coalition Government led by Tony Abbott? All his utterances, all the inflammatory words his tabloids use, make this abundantly clear. It is really not worth spending more words ‘proving’ this assertion; just glance at his rabid, malevolent News Limited tabloid headlines, day after day, and at the subtler broadsheet articles that Murdoch uses to influence the business community.

Where does Abbott stand? Of course he is rapt with Murdoch’s objective. Why would he not be? When he first met Murdoch over lunch in New York shortly after he became Opposition Leader, Abbott said: “I hope he liked me”. Whatever else his critics say about him, Abbott cannot be accused of being stupid. He knows on what side his bread is buttered. Around the time of that meeting, Abbott instructed Malcolm Turnbull to ‘demolish the NBN’. Was that a coincidence, or was it carrying out Murdoch’s instructions? The threat to Murdoch’s empire that the NBN constitutes is acknowledged. What will happen to Foxtel when real-time viewing of movies and other TV content online via the NBN is a reality? One thing Murdoch does very well is to protect his interests. What Abbott does very well is to obey his master’s instructions.

With Murdoch supporting Abbott and the Coalition’s push for power, Abbott will obsequiously go along with him. Why would he knock back all the muscular support Murdoch can provide?

Murdoch is the master potter; Abbott is eager clay in his hands.

Abbott’s obsequiousness screams out in the words he uttered in his IPA address last week: ”John Howard has said that Rupert Murdoch has been by far Australia’s most influential international businessman; but I would like to go a little further. Along with Sir John Monash, the Commander of the First AIF which saved Paris and helped to win the First World War, and Lord Florey a one-time provost of my old Oxford College, the co-inventor of penicillin that literally saved millions of lives, Rupert Murdoch is probably the Australian who has most shaped the world through the 45 million newspapers that News Corp sells each week and the one billion subscribers to News-linked programming.” Abbott went on to say of Murdoch: ”For our guest of honour, as for anyone deeply steeped in reporting, experience trumps theory and facts trump speculation. His publications have borne his ideals but never his fingerprints. They’ve been skeptical, stoical, curious, adventurous, opinionated yet broad minded. He’s influenced them, but he’s never dictated to them…”, which shows just how far Abbott will stray from the truth to stroke his master. Those who have written books about Murdoch’s commercial life testify that his editors know exactly what their master wants, and to keep their jobs, give him just that.

Who can dispute Murdoch’s influence?

What about Gina Rinehart?

She too knows how important the media is in politics, how one’s objectives can be better achieved using the power of the media. She has large shareholdings in Channel Ten where she is on its Board, and was instrumental in the creation of the ultra right wing Bolt Report. She also has shareholdings in Fairfax, where she seeks to increase her influence via Board membership, something she has not yet accomplished because of her insistence that she be able to exercise oversight of editorial orientation.

But apart from any media influence on Abbott, she clearly influences him on mining issues and minerals policy. She joined with Twiggy Forrest in public protests against the minerals tax, and in support of Abbott’s promise to abolish it. He embraces her anti-minerals tax efforts. He would give her whatever she wanted for her political support. He fawns over her when they meet. Look at the visuals here.

Their ideas about the development of an economic zone in the North match. Did Abbott embrace Rinehart’s ideas, which would be to her enormous commercial advantage, or was that just a happy coincidence?

Some of Abbott’s shadow ministers are already in her debt – in 2011 Rinehart flew Julie Bishop and Barnaby Joyce in her private jet to an extravagant three-day wedding of a prominent Indian industrialist in Hyderabad. Martin Ferguson was also invited, but declined, indicating that his attendance would have been inappropriate. But the Coalition shadow ministers obviously thought it was appropriate for them and the Liberal Party.

Does anyone doubt the profound influence Rinehart has on Abbott? He is malleable clay in her hands.

So we have master potter Murdoch moulding Abbott ideologically, philosophically, economically and commercially, and Rinehart moulding him in crucial areas of the economy, mining and development of the North.

What about Cardinal George Pell?

To me, his influence is the most alarming. No one would criticize Pell for receiving an invitation, but why would this most senior Catholic clergyman be willing to associate himself publically with an ultra conservative think tank that works hand in glove with the Liberal Party. Pell is entitled to his own political preferences, but what is he saying to his ‘flock’ when he fronts at this IPA event? Is this his way of saying to his people that Tony Abbott, the Coalition, and its conservative IPA-oriented ideology, is now ‘right’ for this nation?

I am reminded of my early days when Daniel Mannix was Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne, a position he held for 46 years. He exercised enormous influence politically. His sway over his flock was profound; there was many a story of how he used his clerical authority to persuade his parishioners towards his political viewpoint. In those days, his stature was a powerful inducement for his supporters to follow his lead; they had little else to guide them.

Whether Pell could exert such power over his flock today is debatable, especially with the aura of priest pedophilia and abuse that permeates the Catholic Church, a scandal that is driving Catholics away from it in droves.

Mannix's best-known protégé in his later years was B A Santamaria, a Catholic most admired by Tony Abbott, a man whose writings Abbott acknowledges still influence him profoundly.

Abbott concedes that George Pell is one of his most prominent mentors, although on one infamous occasion on the ABC’s Lateline, in the lead up to the 2004 election, Abbott lied to Tony Jones about a meeting he had had with Pell, and was subsequently caught out. Why was he so keen to deny the meeting? Perhaps to neutralize any charge that Pell was influencing him?

Abbott still consults regularly with Pell, whom he considers to be ”one of the greatest churchmen Australia has seen.” Abbott is a good Catholic boy. He attended primary school at St Aloysius' College at Milson's Point before completing his secondary school education at St Ignatius' College, Riverview in Sydney. Both are Jesuit schools. He takes his religion seriously but claims that he is able to keep politics and religion separate, something many in the health field would question. Read though the words he spoke at the Gala Dinner: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is the foundation of our justice. “Love your neighbour as you love yourself” is the foundation of our mercy. Faith has weakened but not, I’m pleased to say, this high mindedness which faith helped to spawn and which the IPA now helps to protect and to promote.” As readers reflect on the behaviour Abbott exhibits day after day, some will smile at his ‘Do unto others’ proclamation, but that’s another matter.

It seems as if faith is important to Abbott. That is understandable and acceptable, but it does highlight the potential for Abbott being influenced politically by his religious mentors. That is worrisome. What is Pell’s agenda? To what extent is Pell a devotee of the IPA and its extreme conservative agenda? We know he shares the IPA’s skepticism about global warming. Will Pell exert his influence on contemporary politics, not directly over his flock as did Archbishop Mannix, but via his pupil Tony Abbott, a Jesuit boy, a past seminarian who once studied for the priesthood, but now in the supremely powerful position of aspirant for the highest political office in town – Prime Minister of Australia? We shall probably never know, but we are entitled to be suspicious and deeply apprehensive about this prospect.

This piece suggests that three of the most influential people in Abbott’s political life are media mogul Rupert Murdoch, mining mogul Gina Rinehart, and Catholic Cardinal George Pell, all of whom coalesced at the 70th Anniversary Gala Dinner of the ultra conservative Institute of Public Affairs, which openly boasts about its political influence, which in truth is its raison d'être. This is not an inexplicable coincidence.

In the run down to September 14, we can expect these three to redouble their efforts. Murdoch and Rinehart will exercise their influence overtly. These master potters will fashion the soft malleable Abbott clay shamelessly to suit their own ends, commercial and ideological.

We can anticipate too that Cardinal Pell will continue to exercise his influence, yet subtly and covertly. This master potter will mould Abbott with as much authority as the others, perhaps even more profoundly. Yet we, the voting public, will likely never be the wiser. Therein lies our predicament.


What do you think?

If you intend to ‘Disseminate this post’, it will be sent to: Tony Abbott, Eric Abetz, Anthony Albanese, Julie Bishop, George Brandis, Tony Burke, Greg Combet, Mathias Cormann, Craig Emerson, Martin Ferguson, Joe Hockey, Barnaby Joyce, Christine Milne, Robert Oakeshott, Christopher Pyne, Andrew Robb, Bill Shorten, Stephen Smith, Wayne Swan, Malcolm Turnbull, Andrew Wilkie, Tony Windsor, Penny Wong, and Nick Xenophon.

What was Leigh Sales’ intent with PM Gillard?

As Leigh Sales interviewed Prime Minister Julia Gillard on 7.30 last week, was she hoping it might remind viewers of her interview of Tony Abbott six months earlier, one that attracted widespread applause for its probing, her persistence, and her command of the interview? Looking back, she may be disappointed that this time she came off second best, that she showed her hand so early in the interview, and that she exposed so openly her disdain for our nation's leader.

Her opening gambit, before her subject had had a chance to avoid a question or to obfuscate, gave her game away: ”After recent events, aren't Australians well within their rights to conclude that the Gillard Government is a dysfunctional mess that deserves to be consigned to opposition as soon as possible?” Note her words: ”dysfunctional mess” and ”consigned to opposition as soon as possible”. Judgemental? Of course. Pejorative? Yes. A good way to start? No.

Her opening remark begs the question: “What was Sales’ intent for this interview with the nation’s leader?” To embarrass? To belittle? To intimidate? To set up the interview to give Sales the upper hand? To serve as an introduction to the issue of ‘trust’ that she intended to pursue later? Only Sales would know if any of these applied.

The interview has been forensically analysed by journalism expert Peter Clarke in Anatomy of Sales -v- Gillard interview in Australians for Honest Politics. His analysis is from the point of view of an expert in media interviews, especially with politicians. It is worth a read if for no other reason than it gives an academic journalist’s perspective. This piece does not attempt to replicate or compete with that analysis; instead it attempts to analyse the interview through the eyes of an ordinary citizen, one who viewed it as it occurred.

My first reaction was emotional. Why was this senior journalist assailing our PM from the beginning? I wondered why was she so rude, so disrespectful of the most senior politician in the country. My annoyance increased as the interview progressed in the same vein. So infuriated was I that at the end I sent an email to Mark Scott, MD of the ABC, protesting at Sales’ impertinence, poor manners and disrespect.

On reflection, I asked myself what Sales’ intent really was, and came up with the following possibilities.

I imagine that primarily she wanted this interview to be lauded as was her interview of Opposition Leader Tony Abbott on 7.30 on 22 August, for which she won a Walkley Award. The citation said that she “pressed him on his attack on the Government over the mining tax and carbon tax. The fiery exchanges saw Mr Abbott eventually admit he had not read a statement from miner BHP which was central to the attack.”

For her to have the same intent for the Gillard interview as she did for the Abbott one is understandable, even laudable.

But what other intent did Sales have?

Did she set out deliberately to demean and insult the PM, to show her, and her high office, disrespect?

If that were so, is that an acceptable intent for a senior journalist? And even if it were acceptable, ought it to have been so overt, so up front? If it was not Sales’ intent, she certainly messed up badly from the outset.

One would hope that, like any competent TV journalist interviewing a politician, she would have intended to elicit relevant information: facts and figures, explanations, reasons, opinions, plans and policies, information that would enlighten the viewer, information that would assist the viewer to make an assessment that would be useful come election day.

Let’s see what she did achieve in this regard by analyzing her questions and the responses they evoked.

PM Julia Gillard responded to Sales brusque opening question by agreeing that she too was ‘appalled’ by the week, but argued that in the end people would judge the Government on what it had achieved, on its plans. She then listed its achievements.

Sales brushed that aside, and elaborated on what emerged as her central agenda: ”But you say that people should look to your plans for the future. Why should we trust Labor's plans for the future when you've had so many problems and so much dysfunction in your past?” Building on the notion of ‘dysfunction’, Sales now makes overt the issue of ‘trust’, a dependable theme for any political journalist.

This time it is the PM that brushes aside Sales’ direct question of trust. She answers obliquely by reiterating the considerable achievements of her Government, implying that the people can trust a Government that gets so much done. Critics would label PM Gillard’s response as obfuscation, or at least avoidance of the question.

Sales was having nothing of her answer. Labelling the Government’s achievements somewhat pejoratively as ‘a laundry list’, she cheekily assails the PM with: ”let me give you one back”. Sales then reads her own list, the theme this time being a list of ‘broken promises’, and ‘mistakes’, leading to ”how do you expect the public to have any faith in what you're planning to do going forwards?” Here we see more on the ‘trust’ theme – but now it’s nuanced to ‘broken promises’ and ‘faith’. She was not going to let go of that. Viewers could be excused if they saw this as echoing the Coalition’s ‘who do you trust’ theme, used first during the 2004 election campaign by John Howard, now repeated by Tony Abbott.

The PM offered to go through Sales’ long list of ‘misdemeanors’, but Sales was not interested: ”But Prime Minister, you're not addressing my central problem there, which was that there was a broken promise ...”, and when the PM said she disagreed with her list, Sales interrupted with ”No, no, there was a broken promise there and there is a long list of initiatives that the Government has introduced that have been failures or have not come to fruition. The most recent of course last week, the media reforms. Let me put it to you ...” And when the PM addressed Sales’ list, ending with the live cattle export issue, she interrupted again with: ”It was very messy in the way that it was done though.” Sales was determined to hammer the PM relentlessly with her ‘long list’ of ‘broken promises’, ‘failures’, ‘messiness’. She was not going to let the PM escape, just as she had not allowed Abbott to escape. That was her intent – no escape!

She is now almost half way through her twelve-minute interview, and has not asked one question that might elicit useful information about policies and plans. All the questions had centered on trust, faith, broken promises, mistakes, misdemeanors, and messiness. If that was her intent, she was certainly on song.

There was no way the PM was going to respond to the accusation of messiness, so she pressed on: ”Now, on the rest of the list, you can keep going through it, but when we've worked through some very difficult things like carbon pricing, our eyes have always been on what is best for the nation, what's in the national interest, what's in the interest of a strong, prosperous, fair, smart future and I am very happy to be judged on that.”

Not to be deterred from her claim of messiness in governance, Sales cited the concerns of Martin Ferguson and Simon Crean about the process of government, and in particular the media law reform last week, quoting them as saying that ”it was mishandled and that it was a debacle.”, adding: ”Doesn't that go to the very heart of the way you run government when senior ministers in your own team have stepped down and made that criticism?”

The PM responded by acknowledging the centrality of cabinet debate and went on to explain the protracted processes that preceded the presentation of the media bills.

But Sales, like other commentators, had already decided that the process was appalling, so pressed on with: ”How is it good government that your minister, presumably with your approval, produced legislation with a minimal consultation of cabinet and the caucus and then demanded it be passed in just a week's time without amendments and without negotiation?”?

As the PM reiterated the prior inquiries (Convergence and Finkelstein reviews), Sales interrupted with: ”… I'm just asking why you put legislation up with one week's notice and said, "No negotiation, no amendments".” Sales sounded like a schoolmistress reprimanding a wayward schoolgirl.

Julia Gillard patiently went through the reviews again, but again Sales, somewhat defensively, interposed with: ”Well the content of the reports of the reviews weren't unknown, but the content of the legislation was unknown until Stephen Conroy produced it.”

The PM again pointed out that the changes had been publicized in the newspapers, and after more interruptions, Sales retorted: ”If we judge the process on the end result, you put up six pieces of legislation and only two of them got through, so therefore on any assessment you'd have to agree that it was a mishandled and a botched process.”

She was not going to let go of her portraiture of the Gillard Government as one characterized by mistakes, misdemeanors, mishandling, and messiness.

The PM pointed out that in a minority government everything had to be negotiated and that she ”wasn't prepared to cross-trade and do any deal to get these bills through”, but Sales came back, rather sarcastically, with: ”So you were quite happy with how that process was handled last week from woe to go, the media reforms?”

Once again, PM Gillard began to explain the process, but perhaps sensing the pointlessness of this in the face of a obstinate interviewer ended with: "…our focus has to be relentless on what it is we need to do to strengthen our nation for the future and what we need to do to support families today.”

Three quarters of the interview, nine minutes, had already elapsed, without one question that probed policy issues. All had focussed on trust, and what Sales saw as mistakes, misdemeanors, messiness and botched process. Now it was time to assail the PM with leadership issues: ”You said today that last week's events make it clear now that you have the confidence of your colleagues. Isn't the reality though that many of your colleagues are in despair about your leadership and about the ALP's prospects in the election, but that they just don't see a viable alternative?” Sales’ provocation continued.

Julia Gillard, whose patience must now have been wearing thin, replied briefly that her leadership had been tested once again and that she had the ‘emphatic’ endorsement of the party. She concluded: ”Leigh, it's over. I don't think that any of this is worth speaking about anymore.” But Sales was not finished, adding condescendingly: ”But you can understand, can't you, how Australians would be looking at your side of politics and feeling very nervous about taking a gamble on you again given that a number of senior members of your own cabinet have stepped down in recent days, criticized the process by which you govern and basically indicated they don't have any confidence or faith in your leadership?”

Once more, our PM, with patience that most of us would have difficulty mustering, repeated that the events of last week were indeed appalling and self-indulgent, but finished with: ”What is then appropriate for me as Prime Minister is to renew the team with quality and talent and that's what I've done today.”

But her mea culpa was not enough for Sales who impudently came back with another ‘but’: ”But Prime Minister, I don't think that Australians can quite so neatly as you have done draw a line under everything they've seen for the past few years and then just ignore it and do what you want them to do which is to concentrate on what you're promising going forwards.” Sales obviously believes she has her finger on the pulse of the nation.

The ever patient Gillard concluded this wearisome interview with a confident assertion that she and Labor were in the best position to lead our nation ” through in what can be a very rough and tumble world.”

Twelve minutes had elapsed, the interview was over, but not one question had addressed policy details, or plans, or prospects for our nation in the Asian Century under Labor, and under the alternative, the very matters about which voters need to be informed. Every question was directed to issues of trust, to Sales’ recital of the broken promises, the mistakes, the misdemeanors, the messiness, the mishandlings, the botched processes, which by implication brought into question Labor’s and the PM’s competence to govern. And at the end came the ubiquitous leadership issue; no journalist worth his or her salt would miss that.

Will this interview win Sales another Walkley Award? Perhaps a Wonkley!

It is easy to be critical, so let’s examine how Sales might have approached the interview. Here are some possible questions, ones that would address the matters that Sales had on her agenda, as well as policy matters:

Prime Minister, it has been a tumultuous week for you and Labor. How do you plan to overcome the damage that you yourself acknowledge has been done to the Labor brand?

You have said that the leadership issue is now ‘done and dusted’, and you have emerged as the leader, seemingly now beyond challenge. How will you approach the task of healing the wounds that have been inflicted by this latest leadership challenge, particularly among those who supported Kevin Rudd, many of whom have resigned?

Are you confident that there will be no more leadership challenges and no more sabotage by Rudd supporters?

There have been criticisms from both within your party and from without about how some legislation has been presented; I’m referring specifically to the recent media law reforms. Would you care to comment about this, and whether the four bills that were not presented will be presented when parliament next meets.

Do you think these bills might have passed if more time had been available for their consideration?

John Howard made a feature of ‘trust’ in his 2004 campaign, and Mr Abbott has often labelled you as ‘untrustworthy’. How do you plan to engender a sense of trust among voters?

The opinion polls suggest that voters have doubts about Labor’s capacity to manage the nation’s affairs into the next term, and concerns about your leadership. How do you propose to address these doubts and concerns?

You have several important pieces of legislation in progress but not yet complete; I’m referring specifically to the NDIS and the Gonski reforms to school education. Many have queried how these desirable reforms can be funded now and in the future. While I’m not asking you to reveal budget discussions, can you give us some insight into how you are approaching the funding issue?

Much has been made of the harm that the carbon tax is doing to the economy. What evidence is there about its impact to date?

Has it made any difference to Australia’s carbon emissions?

You have been accused of promising that there would be no carbon tax under a government you lead, and the Opposition has continually assailed you with this. How will you counter that accusation of lying?

You have spoken of the Asian Century. Could you elaborate for me how Australia might take advantage of it?

Explain to me and to our viewers how Labor’s policies would be more beneficial to this country than the Coalition’s.


One could go on and on in this vein.

No doubt, those who enjoy seeing our PM hammered mercilessly applauded Leigh Sales' interview, and would categorize the above questions as insufficiently probing, far too soft, or even as Dorothy Dixers. But they would at least stand a chance of eliciting answers that would inform voters about the PM’s intentions, her trustworthiness, her capacity to lead, Labor’s plans for the time ahead, and how it compared with the alternative. Their intent would be to uncover informative facts, opinions, policies and plans.

In contrast, the intent of Leigh Sales’ interview seemed to be to demean, to belittle, to show disrespect for our PM, and by implication the office of PM. It focussed on a collection of what Sales considered were Labor’s and the PM’s failings, misdemeanors, and botched processes. She seemed intent on hammering issues of trust and leadership, implying that trust was irrecoverable and leadership still in doubt. If these indeed were her intentions, and also to expose her own feelings about, and attitudes towards the PM and the party she leads, she succeeded brilliantly.

Viewers were left no wiser though about Labor’s policies or plans for the next six months and the next term. If it was Sales intent to inform them, she failed miserably, but that seems to have not been on her agenda. Only she would know; we can judge only on what we saw.


Words are but one aspect of communication. View the video and observe her tone of voice and her body language yourself.

Despite her overt hostility, Sales lost control of the interview as Julia Gillard calmly and patiently answered each thrust she made. In contrast to her Abbott interview, this time she came out the loser, in more ways than one.

Perhaps even more disturbing is the prospect that Sales’ attitude may reflect an emerging culture at the ABC among some journalists there – one antagonistic to the PM and Labor, a culture that gives ‘permission’ to lesser journalists to follow Sales’ lead. The crucial question is whether ABC Managing Director Mark Scott permits such a culture. Viewers will be watching carefully in future with this question in mind.


What do you think?


If you intend to ‘Disseminate this post’, it will be sent to: Anthony Albanese, Chris Bowen, David Bradbury, Tony Burke, Doug Cameron, Jason Clare, Greg Combet, Stephen Conroy, Simon Crean, Mark Dreyfus, Craig Emerson, David Feeney, Martin Ferguson, Joel Fitzgibbon, Peter Garrett, Ed Husic, Andrew Leigh, Jenny Macklin, Robert Oakeshott, Brendan O'Connor, Amanda Rishworth, Kevin Rudd, Bill Shorten, Tony Smith, Stephen Smith, Wayne Swan, Tony Windsor and Penny Wong.

Polls perpetually poison politics

Imagine that last Thursday an alien arrived from Mars. He picked up the papers and read that the leader of this nation is under threat of losing her position. He wondered why. He is surprised that she is female.

He speaks to a normal-looking local. For the sake of this piece, let’s imagine the alien from Mars is male [bold type] and the normal looking local is female [italics].

What has she done? Has she made a heinous error? Did she say something unbecoming for a national leader? Did she make a blasphemous or libelous accusation against a religion or an opponent or a citizen? Was she absent without leave? Was she neglecting her duties? Had she committed treason? Did she insult so many in her party that they viciously turned against her? She must have done something awful, something so serious that it warranted grave questioning of her capacity to lead.

No, none of the above. She hasn’t sinned in any of these ways.

Why then the frenzied talk about her leadership?

The answer astonishes the Martian.

She is deemed to be in deep trouble because of opinion polls.

Opinion polls?

You don’t know opinion polls? Really, let me explain. We have organizations, usually owned by newspapers that make a business of asking people how they would vote.

How do they do that?

Well, most of them use telephones to call up people. They call people with landlines because it’s too difficult and too expensive calling mobile phones; we have both you know.

I understand, we have mobiles too; every youngster has one. But doesn’t that mean that those with mobiles miss out – doesn’t that leave out a lot of younger people?

Yes, I know it distorts the sample, because young people vote differently from the old, but that’s the best pollsters can do.

How do they pick those they phone?

They take random picks from the telephone book but they try to select what they call a representative sample from all over the country and all age groups.

How many?

It varies from as few as 400, to as many as a thousand or two. The more the better, you know.

That doesn’t seem to be a lot.

No, but it’s too costly to call up a bigger number.

How do you know the number they choose is enough to be accurate?

They have ways of calculating that, but with the usual numbers phoned, there is the possibility of error. For around a thousand phoned, the error can be around 3% too high or 3% too low.

That doesn’t seem too precise.

Well no, but it’s the best they can do without going broke. What’s more, it only the statistically minded that worry about error – they call it the ‘margin of error’ – most don’t know or care about that; they take the figures as gospel.

But I still don’t understand why these pollsters are asking people how they would vote – are you having an election?

No, not for six months.

Then what’s the point? Wouldn’t it better to wait until they actually vote in six months, then everyone would know exactly how people voted?

Well, you’re right, but there’s a lot of money to be made out of asking beforehand.

How’s that?

I know it sounds crazy, but there are a lot of people who think they can predict the election outcome from these polls, and there’s a lot of money to be made out of prediction – it sells lots of newspapers, fills countless TV and radio bulletins, and gives lots of journalists a job writing endlessly about the polls. It’s about the easiest job in journalism, but I suppose it keeps them in work.

Well, CAN they predict the outcome of elections?

No they can’t.

Then why on earth, if a Martian is allowed to use that phrase, do they do it?

Good question. The answer is that there are lots of people, in fact the majority of people, who, because they know nothing about polls or statistics, believe that polls do accurately predict events that are months away, even years away.

It seems then that they are being conned.

Yes they are, but those doing the conning, the media proprietors, are making a packet out of this. No con artist is going to give up his act unless he’s hauled before the courts, and that’s not going to happen – the media moguls are too powerful.

So do you mean to tell me that although polls are unable to predict the future, the pollsters still do them and the media still publishes the results, and write about what they mean?

Afraid so. I don’t blame the pollsters – they all agree that they are not predictive, but the media makes so much money conning the public they are predictive, that they go on, week after week, month after month, year after year. They sell papers, make great headlines, excite political journalists, and help to keep the print media moguls afloat at a time they are steadily sinking, because people are switching to online media.

In fact, only the other day, Peter Lewis, who runs a weekly poll, Essential Report, said on TV: “A poll can never predict the future”, and “Anyone who says they know what the future holds is deluded.” All pollsters, and all who study polls, say virtually the same. In fact, a couple of days ago one of the few journalists to write rationally about polls, John Watson, managed to get a column in one of our major newspapers titled: ‘Penchant for picking a winner is poll waffle’ that concluded: “One might hope commentators learn from past predictive follies and leave fortune telling to the charlatans and crackpots.” Unfortunately, no one will take any notice of him or what the pollsters say, because it doesn’t suit their case.


That sounds to be a monumental con job. I’ve never heard of anything like that!

Actually, it’s even worse than it sounds. Politicians themselves have fallen for the con. They are so convinced that the current polls are accurately predicting a devastating defeat for the party in power at present that even members of that party believe they need to change the leader to improve the polls. And practically every poll, and every commentary, reinforces this view. Which brings us back to where we started!

Our female leader is condemned because a series of opinion polls of voting intention of the national electorate have shown that her party is not doing well and she is not popular. So some of her own party have turned against her and have been agitating for her replacement by a previous leader. It’s been going on a long while, and came to a head over a year ago when the previous leader and his supporters mounted a challenge, but he lost, getting only a third of the votes of the party. Everyone thought that would be the end of it, even the pretender, but he, and his supporters, were so convinced of his messianic attributes, so convinced that elevating him to the throne would improve the party’s polling, that they continued to sabotage the leader, month after month, leaking damaging tidbits to political journalists, who were hungry to devour every morsel of it because they, and their editors and proprietors, wanted to get rid of her party and her with it. They published column after column predicting her political demise, thereby adding fuel to the fire, a self-perpetuating cycle of doom and gloom they hoped would be a self-fulfilling prophesy.


The Martian scratches his head.

You know that polls of voting intention six months before an election are worthless, indeed worse than that, they are seriously misleading. You know that they can’t predict who will win. You say that pollsters know that, but media outlets find the polling game so lucrative that they continue the charade, and even the politicians, whom might be expected to know they were being conned, go along with the charade, and worse than that, use polls in an attempt to get rid of the leader by saying she can’t lead them to victory at the election because the polls say so, and therefore the old leader needs to be brought back. Bizarre!

Well, he was popular once, but that popularity slipped and the opinion polls went down, so his colleagues lost faith in him and threw him out for the current female leader.

I don’t understand. If they lost faith in him, why would they want him back?

Because of the polls. They say he is now more popular with the people than the female leader, and the polls also say he would be more likely to win the election.

But you said the polls are not predictive of what will happen at an election. So why would you rely on them, indeed use them to change leaders? Seems to me you are backing an outcome, but you have no idea of the odds? You have no idea at all that changing leaders will make things better or worse, and if you did, by how much. Yet, you tell me that intelligent people want to do that. How come they think in this wacky way?

You might well ask. But don’t expect me to give a sensible answer! It defies reason and logic. Frankly, I think emotion has got the better of their brains. They are so upset at what the polls commentators are telling them: that the party is doomed and that they will lose their seats in parliament; they are so scared, that they are acting on emotional autopilot. They are so convinced there is train wreck ahead (the commentators remind them of that every day), that they are frantically pulling levers, trying to put on the brakes, mindlessly shouting orders, and covertly working on plots to oust the leader, the female leader. They are in a state of panic. Anything might happen.

I see you are open-mouthed, but this is for real. In one of our papers, The Global Mail, Chris Wallace wrote an article called ‘ALP Noir: Serial Leader Slaughter’ that began: “Opinion-poll-fuelled bloodlust is the common factor. Opinion polls don’t kill politicians, politicians kill politicians, right? Just like guns don’t kill people, people kill people. Well, I don’t buy that line from the National Rifle Association in the US, and I don’t buy it in relation to opinion polls in Australia, in relation to the serial political slaughter that’s gone on here in recent years, either.” Later she says: “Our polity has become absurdly sensitized to opinion polls, aided and abetted by bored journalists for whom only regicide and elections amuse the jaded palate.”


’Regicide’ is a pretty strong word. That’s not how we Martians imagined Earthlings would behave.

Sorry to disillusion you, but that’s the reality! They are talking of urgent action, even perhaps today, to kill off the female leader. Politically of course – we are not complete savages!

I guess I’d better stick around. This could be interesting.

FOUR DAYS LATER.

What happened?

You won’t believe this, but the saboteurs in the ranks that have been undermining the leader reckoned they had enough of their mates on side to topple her, so one of them took it on himself to demand that the leader declare vacant her position, and that of her deputy, and have a secret ballot, but he didn’t bother to tell the pretender to the leadership. Then the female leader caught them all short by announcing: “OK, let’s have the ballot this afternoon”, in just over two hours!

Now this is bizarre! The guy who wanted to be leader again seemed to be caught off guard. He quickly got his troops to count the numbers, but despite their best efforts, they came up short of a majority. Now he was scared witless of getting knocked off again, so he said he wouldn’t stand. He wanted an absolute assurance that he would win this time, and when he knew he couldn’t, he chickened out.

So they all went into the meeting, the leader and deputy leader’s positions were declared vacant, nominations were called, but the only nominations were the ones already in those positions! So there was no ballot, and both the leader and her deputy were appointed again, unopposed. It was all over in a few minutes.


I’m gob-smacked. What an weird way of doing business!

You’re not wrong. But there’s more. The guys who were trying to topple her were soon spitting chips. As it turned out, they got only six more votes than last time, nowhere near what they needed, although they kept telling everyone that it was ‘very close’.

Naturally they felt embarrassed, annoyed, let down by the pretender, and with much egg on their face – not actual egg of course, that’s just one of our odd sayings for making a very big mistake.

They were so mad, so humiliated, that they came out, one after the other, and resigned – that’s the British way of doing it when you’ve stuffed up – very honourable!

So the female leader found others to replace them. There’s a feeling around that she’ll be better off without the saboteurs and able to get on with her job without having to look over her shoulder the whole time. Anyway, time will tell how it all works out.


So you’re telling me that all this extraordinary behavior, all those astonishing moves, all the plotting, all the sabotage, and the meeting that did nothing and changed nothing, came about because of opinion polls. Yet these polls don’t predict the future, don’t tell anyone who is going to win the election in six months. I can’t get my mind around that.

That’s right. And this charade has been played not just by the politicians, but aided and abetted, day after day, by the media, its journalists jostling with each other for the juiciest story, the exclusive, the scoop, the brilliant prediction of the time and place of the leader’s political demise. And they were all wrong. And are they furious! They regard themselves as the pundits, the insiders, but once more they have been caught short, and played for suckers. We are waiting to see upon whom they will vent their spleen.

Well, as I believe you say here on Earth, ‘you could knock me down with a feather’.

Seems to me that polls poison politics, and everyone caught up in their tentacles. Why on earth do you have them, literally?


I told you – they are money spinners for the owners, easy copy for languid journalists, great entertainment for poll watchers and sharp tools for subversive politicians. They are pointless, but there’s no way we will ever get rid of them.

Here on Earth it is true to say: “Polls perpetually poison politics”. Twelve months ago Ad Astra wrote ‘How opinion polls poison politics’. Sadly, since then polls have poisoned politics even more profoundly.


OK, but I still don’t understand; there must be something wrong wih my Martian brain.

No, it’s not your brain, it’s ours!


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How to vote: first examine your values

How do voters decide on where to cast their vote? For some it is automatic, even unthinking. They have voted this way before, maybe always. They are the rusted-on voters.

For many though, it's a question of “What’s in it for me?” “What will I gain if I vote this way and what will I lose?” The party matters less than the gains that each pledges, and the losses each threatens.

There is another group. Its members weighs up the pros and cons of each party’s platform and selects the ones that align best with their individual values, beliefs and ideology. These are the thoughtful; they probably comprise many of the so-called ‘undecideds’, who in a recent Essential poll sat at 16%, with another 31% saying: ‘I am leaning in one direction, but it could change.’ In other words, 47% could still vote either way on September 14. These are the ones who decide who wins – the swinging voters. How do they decide?

If one can judge from comments in the Fifth Estate, many of this group has well-established views about society in a democracy and how it ought to operate. They have their policy preferences and their biases. They have attitudes towards the leaders, and know what they like and dislike about them.

This piece attempts to tease out what it is that separates the major parties ideologically, how this is reflected in policy, and how this influences voting behaviour.

The Liberals, the Nationals, the Greens and Labor all have party platforms available on the Internet that depict their values, ideologies, policies and plans. They make informative reading. You can look at them here:
Liberal Party: (24 pages).
National Party of Australia: (57 pages).
The Greens: (43 policies).
Labor Party: (268 pages).

There has been a tendency for the uninformed to mouth what I believe to be an inanity: ‘They are all the same anyway’, implying ‘What does it matter for whom we vote’, followed by the unrealistic proposition: ‘If the party we vote for is no good, we can throw it out!’ This is not only ridiculous; it is a cop-out, a lame excuse for not thinking, for not looking for the things that separate the parties. There are plenty, yet a glance through the party platforms shows striking similarities. They all embrace laudable objectives that on superficial inspection seem quite similar, which may explain why some believe the parties really are ‘all the same’.

And of course there are also similarities among politicians: the ruthlessness, the ambition, the primeval urge to claw to the top, the factionalism, the disingenuousness, the spin and the use of the glib slogan, as well as common decency and a desire to make this country a better place. But there are deep and enduring differences in philosophy, ideology, attitudes and values that starkly separate politicians and parties.

I thought it would be an interesting exercise to examine the party platforms by using a rather crude process to identify their major attributes – searching for key words and phrases in their platforms.

My first observation is that all party platforms and policies enshrine commendable objectives such as a robust economy and strong employment. All support good education and health care systems. They all insist that they want a fair society, opportunities for all, and support for the disadvantaged and the disabled. It is only when these policies are applied that the stark differences become apparent, and they are stark.

Let’s look at some areas to tease out these differences, beginning with the economy.

The economy
It is this aspect of governance that show up the differences most noticeably. Bill Clinton is often quoted as saying: “It’s the economy, stupid”, and it is. But I suspect he was referring to the need for a strong and growing economy. All parties in this country would agree with him, but the angle I wish to emphasize here is not that objective, but how different parties believe it can and should be achieved.

The Liberals place great value on ‘the right to be independent, to own property and to achieve’ and the ‘creation of wealth and competitive enterprise’. The Nationals do too, but seem to give the economy less emphasis.

The Greens believe that ’a prosperous and sustainable economy relies upon a healthy natural environment’ and that ’the pursuit of continuous material-based economic growth is incompatible with the planet’s finite resources.’

The Labor Party emphasizes the need for a strong and growing economy with employment opportunities for all who can work.

Note the subtle differences. The Coalition values enterprise, competition and independence with less emphasis on employment; labour is seen as a vehicle that enables enterprises to prosper. The Greens’ support of the economy is subject to its compatibility with a healthy environment. Labor sees the economy as providing jobs and prosperity for all.

These differences create the tension that exists, and has existed for centuries, between enterprise and labour. This is described in a piece on Turn Left 2013, that was written by Flora Tristan way back in 1843. Titled Workers’ Union, it describes the awful struggle that women had in that era achieving decent working conditions. Then, there was grotesque exploitation of labour by management – low wages, poor working conditions, child labour, and no benefits. Of course working conditions are much, much better now, but the tension continues.

Business and industry insists there must be more ‘flexibility’ in working conditions, which is code for workers working when management wants them to, poorer working conditions and entitlements, and lower wages and benefits. The struggle goes on to this day. For example, those in tourism and the catering industry are insisting they cannot turn a decent profit if they have to pay penalty rates at weekends, which they insist are just working days that should attract ordinary wages.

Unions battle for better working conditions, sometimes overegging their claims; management tries to whittle them back to improve competitiveness and profit. It is where political parties position themselves on the ‘management – labour’ spectrum that exposes their values and attitudes.

You will all recall how the public reacted to the punitive aspects of John Howard’s WorkChoices, legislated when he controlled both houses. He acknowledges he went too far, as do many of his ministers, so much so that Tony Abbott is scared witless about changing industrial relations in a way that suggests a return to WorkChoices, which long ago he declared was dead and buried, and for good measure, cremated as well. Very dead! It was electoral poison then and was a major factor in the Coalition’s 2007 electoral loss, and it is still poison. It is a metaphor for the political danger of taking extreme positions. Similarly, unions who adopt extreme positions in the other direction, also take dangerous political risks.

So here is the battlefield. Business and industry takes entrepreneurial risks, invest money and resources, and seek a healthy return and consistent profits. Enterprise generally seeks to engage its workforce for the least outlay. Those representing the workforce seek to ensure good wages and conditions, and security for workers.

If you imagine the tension has dissipated, think about the contemporary ‘457 visa’ row. Unions, workers, and the Government insist that some employers are abusing the system with overseas workers being brought in when local labour is available, leading to Australians missing out on jobs, and a lowering of wages in the affected sectors. Instances have been quoted, sufficient for Government to legislate a tightening up of the 457 visa system. The Coalition reacted by denying the problem, linking it to ‘the Government’s failed border protection policy’.

This is not the place to argue the pros and cons of the 457 system, but simply to highlight the reaction to the plan to revise it. Business groups screamed blue murder, insisting the scheme was vital in some sectors (no one is denying that) and that abuses were minimal. It seemed reluctant to accept that there ought to be more emphasis on training locals in preference to importing foreigners. It labelled the Government’s moves as xenophobic, Pauline Hanson style. Returning from overseas, Peter Anderson, CEO of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, although conceding that there had been problems with 457 visas, nevertheless lambasted the Government’s moves on the basis of a headline in Singapore’s The Straits Times, insisting that the crackdown on the 457 visa scheme was getting bad publicity in Asia, and expressing the fear that it might damage Australia's reputation and create a backlash against Australian workers and companies in Australia.

This is yet another example of the tension between those in business and industry and their workforce.

There are those who take the extreme view that enterprise ought to be given the breaks because entrepreneurs are the ‘wealth creators’ who provide jobs for the workers. They take this view on the basis that the wealth they create trickles down to those at the bottom of the pile. That this is often little more than crumbs falling from the rich man’s table is illustrated in a graph from John Quiggin’s book Zombie Economics - How dead ideas still walk among us. In a paragraph headed Death – the rich get richer and the poor go nowhere, Quiggin uses a telling graph of household income in the US over a 36 year period, from 1967 to 2003. Do take a look. It shows that while those in the top 5% increased their income by over 60% in that period, those in the bottom 10% did not increase it at all, and even those on the 50th percentile, the half way mark, increased by less than 10%. It was only those on the 80th percentile or above that showed a substantial increase. The top half boomed; the bottom half stagnated. Not much trickle down there.

The theory of ‘trickle-down economics’ has been thoroughly debunked, yet it is still the base on which the Republicans in the US and their extreme partners, The Tea Party, build their case for not increasing taxes on the rich or taking away their tax breaks, preferring expenditure cuts that would adversely affect the poor and the disadvantaged. This was at the root of the dispute termed ‘the fiscal cliff’, which continues to this day. The conservative parties here, and the Coalition governments around this country, embrace the same doctrine and the ideology on which it is based. It might not be as extreme here, but it is nonetheless a driving force behind Coalition economic policy. Listen to Joe Hockey, Andrew Robb, Mathias Cormann, Barnaby Joyce and Cory Bernardi and your will hear the same dogma. Don’t bother listening to what Tony Abbott says; he says what ever suits his audience of the moment.

Yet another example of the tension between business and its workforce is the push by governments to achieve a budget surplus. All parties seek this outcome, but conservative parties believe budgeting for a surplus is an imperative even if the social consequences are dire. Labor pushed for a surplus for the current financial year in the belief that it was prudent economic policy to return to surplus after a period of stimulus. And it was. As it turned out, falling revenue meant that to achieve a surplus severe expenditure cuts would be needed that would slow the economy and increase unemployment. The Government chose to abandon its quest for a budget surplus and instead to support economic growth and growth in jobs, knowing it would be ridiculed by the Coalition for not achieving its aim, and breaking yet another ‘promise’.

On the other hand, Coalition governments in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria, which continue to pursue budget surpluses, have demonstrated whom it is that suffers – those in education, health, other services, and of course the public service. Savage cuts in these areas in Queensland reduced Campbell Newman’s net popularity from +23 to -13, a 46% drop in six months. In Victoria, Ted Bailleau, who resisted wage increases to nurses, paramedics and teachers, and who savagely cut TAFE funding, found he had lost the confidence of his party room and resigned. His successor, Denis Napthine seems to understand that he has to be less fanatical in achieving a surplus.

Conservative governments also eschew debt, insisting that governments must live within their means, notwithstanding the fact that almost one in two Australian households have a home mortgage that takes many, many years to pay off, and three out of four have credit card debt. It’s apparently OK for households to go into debt when circumstances demand, but not governments. You will recall the resistance of the Coalition to the second and larger tranche of Government’s stimulus package during the GFC. Presumably the Coalition would have preferred to keep the debt down rather than keeping people in work and safeguarding small and large business. Labor preferred the opposite, and in doing so protected our economy from recession, steering it to be the best in the world today, with the lowest debt to GDP ratio in the developed world.

Although we have touched almost exclusively on the economy, these examples vividly illustrate the stark difference between progressive (Labor) parties and conservative (Coalition) parties.

Because this piece is already long enough, comparison of the parties and the contrasts they throw up in other areas of governance needs to be left for another time.

This piece asserts that indeed ‘it is the economy, stupid’. It most influences voter thinking, but in a subtle way.

Although Australia has the most prosperous and vibrant economy in the developed world with parameters that finance ministers the world over envy, this will not be sufficient for many voters. They have come to expect such economic strength, and give the Government little credit for having brought it about. Therefore the driving force behind thoughtful voters’ decisions at election time is likely to be the extent to which each party matches the values they hold dear.

The two major parties exhibit almost diametrically opposed values. Progressive parties value jobs and economic growth more than running budget surpluses and retiring debt. Conservative parties detest debt and insist on running surpluses to pay it off, more than they value full employment and economic growth. The behaviour of contemporary Federal and State governments provides the supporting evidence this assertion requires.

Progressive parties place great store in social justice. By their actions, conservative parties appear to place more emphasis on commercial success. Labor values fairness and opportunity for all, seeks to achieve an equitable balance between incomes and wealth across the population, and supports the disadvantaged. In contrast, the Coalition decries what it describes as ‘a sense of entitlement’ that it says afflicts much of the electorate, ironically having created much of it in the first place. It takes a neo-liberal free market approach. It prefers to support the entrepreneurs, the wealth creators: business and industry, and casts as villains those who support working conditions: Labor, and of course the unions, whose officials it describes as thugs. The contrast between the parties is striking.

This comparison, this contrast, ought to influence thinking voters, who ought to vote according to their values. I wonder if they will, come September 14?


What do you think?

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Cool courage trumps cringing cowardice

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king's horses and all the king's men

Couldn't put Humpty together again.


For many of the opinionistas, PM Gillard is Humpty Dumpty. They insist that she has had a great fall, indeed one fall after another, and no amount of effort by the king’s men can ever put her together again, no amount of effort can give her an election winning edge. This is certainly the view of the vitriolic Niki Savva and her ilk; the News Limited coterie: Paul Kelly, Dennis Shanahan, David Spears – you know them all; the Fairfax opinionistas: Peter Hartcher, and the ‘new’ Michelle Grattan, now at The Conversation, but writing exactly the same anti-Gillard spiel as before, now under a cloak of academic respectability; turncoat and Eddie Obeid friend Graham Richardson, valued by the anti-Gillard camp because of his prior Labor connections; and a vast array of Coalition has-beens: Peter Reith, Michael Kroger and Graeme Morris are just a few of these particularly venomous critics that pop up over and again. If I may borrow a Coalition phrase, ‘these people’ are the ones who paint our PM as Humpty Dumpty, who can never be put together again.

Distressing as that is to Labor supporters, it comes as no surprise because Labor people know that for at least two years News Limited has been hell-bent on destroying PM Gillard and her Government, and now it seems Fairfax has joined it.

What is most distressing to Labor supporters though is that some Labor politicians have joined in the anti-Gillard chorus. I don’t mean Graham Richardson – he long ago sold his soul to Rupert Murdoch. I do mean, for example, Alannah MacTiernan, an accomplished past Labor politician who is now the well-regarded Mayor of the City of Vincent in WA. Known for her strong views, she opined after the WA election that Labor could not win federally with Julia Gillard as PM, and urged her to step down. She stopped short of suggesting who might take her place. Current NT Labor MLA, Kon Vatskalis, soon joined her.

Others in Labor ranks have hinted similarly, and many opinionistas have strongly asserted the same. Most avoid suggesting who should replace her and how this should come about. Bill Shorten, Greg Combet, and even Simon Crean (the Napthine option) have been named. I do wonder what MacTiernan thought she might accomplish with her suggestion. She has certainly accomplished plenty of press coverage, all the more so I suppose because she is Labor, and many Labor politicians have been confronted by journalists with her statement and asked to respond. She had caused much discomfort in Labor circles, made all the more so because her advice lacks a credible mechanism for bringing about the PM’s resignation and installing a replacement. In a word, her unnecessary intervention is having a negative effect on her own party, and increasing the likelihood of a defeat in September. She, and other Labor figures that utter such unhelpful comments, are a menace even more threatening than the usual media suspects.

Let’s for a moment look at the alternatives to Julia Gillard who has shown herself to be across all portfolios, who has managed a minority government better than anyone thought possible, has a vast legislative agenda and has already had over 460 pieces of legislation passed against trenchant, and at times vitriolic opposition. Is anyone suggesting that Bill Shorten, who has done well in his portfolio, especially in addressing disability, is capable of addressing the full gamut of portfolios if he were to become PM? Who of you believe that Greg Combet, who has performed excellently in his climate change portfolio, could do as well across all areas of government? Do any of you really believe that Simon Crean, who was so cruelly ejected from leadership years ago, would risk his hand again?

If it’s not those men who might replace the PM, who is it? It would not be Wayne Swan who has been tarred with the same brush as the PM. And the possibility, let alone the appropriateness of a return to Kevin Rudd, seems to have been all but discarded by Rudd himself and rejected by a plethora of his caucus colleagues who don’t want him, a failed PM, back in that position under any circumstances. There are of course still pro-Rudd agitators in caucus who believe his return would enhance Labor’s electoral fortunes, and perhaps save their own seats, but that belief is based on opinion polls. How any rational politician could base his or her beliefs and take radical actions on such unreliable and evanescent data is beyond my comprehension. In my opinion, the disruption and chaos that a forced return to Rudd would occasion would quickly negate any imagined electoral advantage. In my view, the only way Rudd’s electoral appeal might be usefully harnessed would be for him to agree to unreservedly back PM Gillard publically, get out on the hustings where he is popular, and strongly advocate a return of the Gillard Government to counter the danger posed to this nation by an Abbott government. A reward that would give him the status he craves might be an inducement, as Mark Latham has suggested.

Because nothing is impossible in political circles, we have to work on probabilities. Get real Folks; how high would you realistically rate the possibility of a Gillard resignation in favour of any of the above-named? And more importantly, how high would you rate the probability that any change would result in a better outcome on September 14? Would you put any of your own money on either of those? What odds do you think you would get? Come on.

Yet the more Labor folk waver, the more they behave as if they need to ‘save the furniture’, the more they propel Labor towards the very outcome they fear.

Cringing cowardice will get Labor nowhere, except drive it backwards. What is needed by all who support Labor is what Julia Gillard exhibits every day of her political life: COOL COURAGE.

She puts to abject shame the doubting Thomases, the Rudd agitators, the marginal seat worry-warts, the timid Labor supporters who talk to their mates, hear adverse comments about our PM, give them predictive credence, and wring their hands in anguish. ALL Labor supporters need guts, stamina and resolve. Where it is lacking, recrimination and self-defeat looms.


The latest round of doubt and uncertainty has arisen from the WA State election, won convincingly by the Liberals and Nationals. Variously described by the commentariat as ‘dire’, a ‘landslide’, a ‘rout’, a ‘crushing defeat’, it has been attributed to ‘Federal Labor being on the nose’, ‘toxic’ even ‘lethal’ according to Peter van Onselen. Leigh Sales sees Labor’s electoral woes as a precursor to a ‘wipeout’ in September. Such extravagant words seem to be all that is necessary to ‘spark a new round of leadership speculation’, especially among the opinionistas. The facts are less important to them, but let’s look at those facts objectively.

Labor was defeated convincingly by Colin Barnett and his team, but why? Barnett himself said that the election was fought mainly on State issues. He credited good governance as the major factor. He made little of the suggestion that the result was an anti-Gillard protest; he even said it might have been a mistake to not have her involved in the campaign. He was not about to assign the major factor in his substantial success to any factor other than his government’s work. Do we believe what the winner has said, or the interpretation put upon the result by the antipathetic commentariat?

There has been much made of the swings to the Liberals and Nationals. In some electorates it was very large and Labor’s loss commensurate. But the State swings show a different picture. The State wide swing to the Liberals was 8.8%, and to the Nationals 1.1%, a total of 9.9%. Now one might reasonably expect that Labor would have borne the brunt of that swing, but that was not so. The swing against Labor was 2.3%, its primary vote falling from 35.9% at the last WA election to 33.6% this time (at the last count), a loss in percentage terms of 6.4% of its total primary vote since the last election that you will remember was close, delivering a ‘hung parliament’. Is that really a ‘rout’? Julie Bishop’s talk of a “12% swing, which would have been 15% had Julia Gillard taken part in the election campaign”, was just hogwash, as is so much of what she utters. It was the Greens who suffered much more, losing about a third of their primary vote: 11.9% to 8.0% (-3.9%), and the conservative Independents still more: 9.0% to 5.3% (-3.7). That is where the LNP garnered most of its swing.

Stephen’s Smith’s concession that Federal Labor had been ‘a drag on State Labor’ was broadcast endlessly, and had an element of truth to it, but if one can take Colin Barnett’s and Labor leader Mark McGowan’s assessment as valid, the ‘drag’ was small. They ought to be in a well-informed position. But to the commentariat the ‘drag’ was massive and predictive of electoral annihilation for Labor in September.

The effect on Federal Labor seats in WA is uncertain. Anthony Green has said that the three Federal Labor seats would likely be held, even in Perth, Stephen’s Smith’s seat, about which doubt has been expressed. Green said that based on ”state figures it [Perth] would be held by Labor…The state figures within Perth are Liberal 44.7%, Labor 42.2%, Green 10.1%, Christian Democrat 2.6%, Family First 0.3%, Socialist 0.2%.”

The most disappointing aspect of these last few days though has been the reaction of members of the Labor caucus, some of whom seem to suffer from chronic depressive illness with an overlay of obsessive behaviour, and others whose melancholy is given expression through agitation for a change to Kevin Rudd, white-anting of the PM, and the back-grounding of ever-eager journalists ready to make a meal of any tidbit that comes their way. These are Labor’s, and Julia Gillard’s, most dangerous enemies.

In my view, their reaction, and that of journalists hungry for sensational headlines, has been way over the top. What did they expect out of the WA election? They must have known that a well regarded first term government in a State that is prospering was not going to be kicked out. They must have expected loss of seats. How many would they have accepted as reasonable? It looks as if around nine seats will be lost. Would one or two, or perhaps three or four have been OK? What did they expect? What would have silenced the malcontents? Do we know? Do they know? Would any loss at all be enough to set the hares running?

Then came today’s Newspoll. Long before it appeared, the commentariat was out there pumping it up as being decisive in determining Julia Gillard’s future. They were salivating at the prospect of delivering a double whammy – the WA result followed within forty-eight hours with another disastrous poll, with Labor’s primary vote sinking even lower and PM Gillard’s popularity falling, as well as her PPM rating. They hoped that this would stir the Rudd agitators to action and whip up even more intense leadership speculation. They were hoping for more self-flagellation from the caucus malcontents, and were ready with tongues hanging out for another round of predicting Julia Gillard’s Prime Ministerial demise. Would she even see out the next fortnight of parliamentary sittings?

No rational person would have expected a vast change in a poll of voting intention from the last Newspoll or the earlier Nielsen poll, especially after all the mud the media has hurled at PM Gillard since then. Yet the commentariat was out there whipping up the ‘Gillard is doomed if the polls don’t improve’ scenario, in anticipation of just that result. The piranhas, thirsty for blood, for tearing every skerrick of flesh from the PM, circled in anticipation of a kill.

But surprisingly the Newspoll came in at a TPP of 52/48 for the Coalition, somewhat of an improvement from the 55/45 figures last time. And Julia Gillard has jumped above Tony Abbott in the PPM stakes: 42/38. Of course there was a morsel for the opinionistas to play with – the statistic that with Kevin Rudd as leader Labor’s primary vote would jump to an improbable 47% and the TPP to 56/44 in favour of Labor. It will be fascinating to see how they play with those statistics, but anyone who believes those figures would be even remotely approached at an election is delusional and ought to be on medication. Yet that is what the commentariat would have us believe, and what the Rudd agitators dream about.

To return to the theme of this piece, what ALL Labor politicians need, particularly the caucus malcontents, what ALL Labor supporters need, is COOL COURAGE in place of the cringing cowardice too many exhibit. They need to emulate our gutsy PM. They need to ignore the ups and downs of meaningless opinion polls, even when they move in Labor’s favour, and get behind her, get behind Labor, strain every fibre of their being to ensure that Tony Abbott never becomes PM of this country.

To return to our Humpty Dumpty Nursery Rhyme, to my mind the most plausible explanation of its origin is the story of the siege of Colchester.

As the story goes, according to Jennifer Wright, writing on Yahoo voices: ”during the English civil war, which took place from 1642 to 1649, there was a battle referred to as the Siege of Colchester, which was a walled city guarded heavily by the Royalists. Parliamentarians were the enemy and known as Roundheads because of their close cropped hair cuts. Inside the city walls stood a castle and a few churches. One church in particular, St. Mary's, stood right beside the wall.

“Humpty Dumpty was believed to be a large cannon that was placed on the wall next to the church…

“Story has it that the walls of the fortified city were shot at for 11 weeks before finally falling. The wall beneath Humpty Dumpty was destroyed and the cannon fell to the ground. Therefore "All the king's horses and all the king's men" tried to put Humpty back together again by attempting to place the cannon onto another part of the wall. Unfortunately Humpty Dumpty was too heavy and could not be replaced. This siege ended with Colchester being taken by the Parliamentarians.”


Here, it is the Coalition parliamentarians, reinforced by a compliant media, that has been shooting incessantly at the Labor fortifications and the Labor leader. They repeatedly proclaimed that the Labor cannon, which had been vigorously returning fire, was falling down, or about to have a great fall. The fall of the leader, who was firing the cannon to great effect, was predicted time and again, but she wouldn’t fall, or as the chief Roundhead said: "She won’t lie down and die."

Meanwhile many, but not all of the king’s men were supporting her and her cannon. Some were timid, afraid of defeat. They detracted from her cannon firing; they touted for another king. They are still to realize that instead of distracting, if all the king’s men secured Humpty Dumpty on the embattlements, the king could fire cannon balls uninterruptedly at the enemy, and win the war.

But that requires discarding their cringing cowardice, and in its place exhibiting cool courage, just like their king. The king’s men owe it to her and her many admiring supporters. Are they up to it?

What do you think?

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The curse of the opinionistas

Reflect on how often you have heard a Fourth Estate political commentator argue: “Because of this set of facts, I am of the opinion that so and so is true”? Seldom. How often have you heard one of them say: “My opinion is based on the following propositions…”? Practically never. How often have you heard or read: “If you put together these facts, it is logical to conclude that…and here is why”? Never.

So what do they say? “He/she showed poor judgement” (no supporting evidence advanced). “That was an appalling mistake” (no facts or reasons for that view provided). “That will play out badly with the electorate” (why this is predicted is not stated). We see this time and again.

This piece asserts that it is the substitution of unsupported opinion, often arising from a partisan mindset, in place of evidence and reasoning, that is the genesis of most of the media ‘bias’, about which there is so much contemporary angst.

Let’s examine a recent case in point. Here is what Niki Savva said in her discussion with Sky News Political Editor David Speers on 25 February in an Agenda session: Are we too focused on polls? Referring to leadership speculation, Savva insisted that PM Gillard: ”brings it on herself” because: ”she performs badly, not just once, but repeatedly.” And: ”She has shown continuously that she has bad judgement…it’s a case of her own missteps. She calls the election for September 14 and then within a matter of days…she announces the departure of two senior cabinet ministers…”

Read that again, or better still, play the YouTube video of the Agenda discussion.

Reflect on her words, and if you watch the video, take a look at Savva’s body language.

What are the relevant facts? There are two: PM Gillard announced a September 14 election and two days later announced the resignation of Chris Evans and Nicola Roxon. Indisputable facts. The rest of what Savva says is simply opinion – her opinion. She offers no reasoning. She simply states, with her usual self-confidence, that: ”she [Gillard] performs badly, not just once but repeatedly”, and that she has “bad judgement” and “missteps”. In the next breath she says: “She [Gillard] calls the election for September 14 and then within a matter of days…she announces the departure of two senior cabinet ministers…”, as if that is sufficient reason for her to condemn the PM vigorously. Savva is of the opinion that announcing the election and then the resignations is ‘bad judgement’, a ‘misstep’. Who says so, apart from Savva? No doubt other anti-Gillard journalists, such as Judith Sloan, who agreed recently on The Drum.

But not one journalist that I have heard or read has argued why these actions constituted ‘bad judgement’ or a ‘misstep’. On what basis were they so? What precedents suggest this is so? We are supposed to accept this journalistic ‘wisdom’ as if it were gospel, without the need for facts, evidence, argument, or reasoning to support it. This is what we the public are confronted with day after day – opinion masquerading as informed reasoning, well thought through conclusions, fact based logic. It is a monumental con. It’s time we cried out in protest.

But remember that Niki Savva and her ilk are intelligent. They are certainly not stupid. So, if she eschews the verifiable facts that you and I can access, or interprets them in her own idiosyncratic way, what generates her behaviour? It can’t be nothing at all. It must be another set of facts.

In my opinion, judging from her behavior time and again on Insiders and other TV programs, what seems to motivate her, what appears to condition her behavior, is a desire to see PM Gillard gone and Tony Abbott installed in her place. Her oral language portrays a loathing of Julia Gillard, as does her body language. That ‘fact’ seems to me to be what energizes her. What generates her behavior appears to me to arise from her values and attitudes towards PM Gillard and Labor, her apparent disdain. What do you think?

The question for us then is how congruent are her values and attitudes with ours, and therefore how acceptable are her opinions to us.

Savva’s attitudes and values were exposed as she argued with Kerry-Anne Walsh, the other panelist on David Spears’ Agenda. Presumably Walsh was included because she had a strong opinion about the way the media uses opinion polls to create news stories and influence the politics. If this was so, Spears got his money’s worth of conflict and argument. Walsh suggested that the purpose of polling was to generate stories, particularly surrounding the Labor leadership, for the benefit of those who own the polling organizations. She went on to accuse the media of using polls to deliberately manipulate the politics. As soon as she did, she was set upon by an indignant Savva and a self-righteous Spears, both of whom denied Walsh’s accusations vigorously. They protested that the media was only following ‘the story’, one that had its origins in the anonymous leaks, corridor whispers, and back-grounding from Labor politicians. They didn’t make this up, insisted Savva and Spears; they were obliged to follow ‘the story’.

When you view the discussion, see if you can discern Savva’s attitude to Julia Gillard. It looked to me that she was very hostile, critical, and even emotional as she expressed her contempt for our PM. Savva’s values seem not to coincide at all with those of the PM. Savva’s opinions are going to be antagonistic to the PM, no matter what the issue. What then are her opinions worth in the context of a balanced discussion? There is no chance of her making a genuine concession, no chance of her giving the PM credit for anything at all. She acts like a court prosecutor, always seeking to bring out the worst and conceal everything other than that.

Savva is but one of many whose opinions are noticeably warped by their attitudes, values and political allegiances. Peter Reith, a frequent panelist on The Drum, Q&A and other TV programs, is another. Have you ever heard him say anything complimentary about our PM or anything Labor has done or proposes to do? He is unremittingly and sarcastically critical, negative and disparaging. Yet, like Savva, he is included, supposedly to provide balance. What are he and Savva supposed to be balancing? How many avid left-leaning, Government-supporting, Gillard-admiring panelists are there that need the counterbalance of a Savva or a Reith? I can’t think of any. Can you? Even Kerry-Anne Walsh, who argued so strongly with Savva and Spears on Agenda, was not mounting a strident pro-Gillard agenda; she was simply criticizing the media for its preoccupation with polls, leadership and for manipulating the politics. The only supportive comment Walsh made was that she felt that our PM had been unfairly dealt with by the media, not a highly disputable assertion. And on other programs, Walsh has certainly not come across as a Gillard fancier.

Apart from Savva and Reith, there seems to be a plethora of anti-Gillard, anti-Labor opinionistas that can be drawn upon. Among the many are the odious Piers Akerman, rabidly anti-Gillard Andrew Bolt, turncoat Graham Richardson, the oleaginous Graeme Morris, smarmy Gerard Henderson, the egotistical Joe Hildebrand, past-Liberal politician Ross Cameron, Liberal advocate Judith Sloan, the hard right John Roskam, smart Aleck Tim Wilson, the too-clever-by-half Tom Switzer (the IPA has an abundant supply of panelists that the ABC seems compelled to engage). News Limited has an almost inexhaustible stock of anti-Labor journalists that can serve on panels to inject their learned, but invariably biased opinions: the pontifical Paul Kelly, the let’s-get-rid-of-Gillard Dennis Shanahan, fence-sitter Peter van Onselen, the consistently antagonistic Irme Salusinszky and Henry Ergas. There are many others.

Shock jocks Alan Jones and Ray Hadley are extreme anti-Gillard opinionistas. How many moderate ones are there? Jon Faine on ABC 774 Radio is one. I know of no left-leaning shock jocks. Do you?

As one would expect, panelists drawn from political parties are extreme in their views. George Brandis, Eric Abetz, Barnaby Joyce, Christopher Pyne, Scott Morrison, Julie Bishop and Sophie Mirabella are consistently acerbic and unremittingly negative to Labor, more than matching Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey. This is no surprise, but that doesn’t stop journalists from engaging them on panels and at doorstops to ‘give balance to their programs’. They provide the conflict and entertainment the media craves.

Are there any journalists out there that can and do give a balanced opinion, an opinion that is ready to give credit to, as well as criticize any of the parties? Some of those, who in my opinion fit that specification, are Mike Seccombe, Dennis Atkins, Laura Tingle, David Marr, Ross Gittins, Peter Martin, George Megalogenis, Andrew Probyn; and Steve Cannane, Tim Palmer and Julia Baird of The Drum. None give the impression of being ‘lefties’.

What this piece is arguing is that the electorate is bombarded day after day with opinion from the opinionistas that derives far less from facts and reasoning than from the political orientation, the political preferences, and the attitudes and values of the opinionistas. In other words, it is what political outcome they desire that determines their utterances and writings, not the hard, cold facts, not a logically reasoned conclusion derived from them. In short, their opinions are worthless. All they portray is what they want, what they desperately wish and hope for. Not what logically follows from verifiable facts. We are being sold a pup, by con merchants, deliberately and shamelessly. And we’re fed up with being treated like idiots.

‘Media bias’ has attracted a lot of attention recently in the Fifth Estate. Arguments have arisen about whether it is real or imagined. Ben Eltham wrote about it recently in New Matilda: The Truth About Media Bias . Studies have attempted to define bias and document it. Some find that partisan bias is minimal or non-existent; others suggest bias one way or the other. This piece takes a different tack. It argues that the opinion of opinionistas is worthless, in fact dangerous, when their opinion is not based on facts and logical reasoning, instead being predominately a product of their political orientation, attitudes and values, the more so when their political orientation is strongly partisan. Commenting on the Eltham article, Ross C said pointedly: ”We all should remember that a journalist’s role is to dispassionately document what happens, not cause stuff to happen. Overstepping that mark consistently can destroy credibility, and the transition from journalist to commentator is hard to reverse.” Indeed!

That there are many partisan opinionistas seems undeniable; we see, hear, and read them every day. What might be debatable is the relative proportion of right-leaning and left leaning opinionistas, and how heavily they lean when they do. My impression is that there are many more right-leaning, and that they lean strongly that way. What do you think?

The question that begs an answer, at least for me, is why the right-leaning seem to predominate on current affairs programs on radio and TV and in print. Why are their opinions, which to me are worthless because they lack underpinning evidence and reasoning, solicited so frequently?

A cogent reason would be that some news outlets are actively seeking to bring down the Gillard Government and replace it with an Abbott one. News Limited is one; it looks as if Fairfax has joined them. In ‘breaking news’ in a postscript to an article: Among The True Believers on The Pub Bushfire Bill recounted a discussion he had had with journalists at the recent Community Cabinet meeting: "Tony Abbott has lunch at News Ltd HQ every week." Incredulous, I asked the person to repeat it. "Every week, in private, to discuss the latest ‘Get Gillard’ strategies." BB went on to comment: ”No wonder there’s such a seamless segue between what News writes and what Abbott parrots. He’s dealing with the enemy. They’re writing the script for him.” If this is so, is it any wonder that so many pro-Coalition opinionistas are on the air and in print, hour after hour, day after day, week after week offering their partisan opinions sans evidence, sans logic? It is part of a combined Coalition/News Limited strategy to bring Labor down. As BB reminds us: When they really ARE out to get you, it’s NOT paranoia.

Even leaving aside the conspiracy to which BB alludes, its suits media outlets to use these opinionistas because they generate indignation, now media stock in trade, as NormanK pointed out in a comment on the last piece: ”A few years ago I wrote a fairly lengthy comment here about Mr Abbott's campaign to convince the populace that they had a 'right to be angry'. Angry about a flood levy, angry about a supposed broken promise, angry at renegade independent members who went against the prevailing mood of their electorates, angry about just about everything that stopped their lives from reaching the nirvana that they so obviously deserve. A different theme has emerged in the way in which the popular media approaches just about every story that it covers. Perhaps the tactic has existed for many years but I'm only noticing it now. The new emotion for the decade is 'indignation'. It started manifesting itself in my consciousness when the 'sporting scandal' broke. Remember that 'darkest day' in Australian sport?” NormanK concluded: ”Next time you have the misfortune to be consuming the tabloid media (I include 7.30 & Lateline in this category) ask yourself whether or not indignation is not the primary emotion that the slant of the story is attempting to engender.”

He is right. Opinionistas generate indignation. Indignation about the ‘cost of living’, electricity prices, the cost of housing. It must be someone’s fault. Opinionistas invite people to be indignant about PM Gillard, her ‘poor judgements’, her ‘missteps’, her ‘broken promises’, the carbon tax, the minerals tax, many of her policies (asylum policy, gay marriage), her manner of speech (condescending, schoolmarmish), her demeanour, her appearance, her marital status, her willingness to take the fight up to a male opponent, her audacity negotiating and managing a minority government, ‘against the wishes of the electorate’; the list of ‘indignation triggers’ goes on and on.

In my view, opinionistas are a curse on our political system. Predominantly, they offer opinions based on partisan positions rather than on facts and well-reasoned arguments. Moreover, their opinions deliberately evoke indignation, which incites anger among the electorate and opposition to those in power. This fits nicely into the anti-Government, anti-Gillard narrative that most of the Fourth Estate promotes day after day.

In my view, the whole tenor of political debate is warped, is cursed by opinionistas. What a difference it would make if those who proffer an opinion did so using verifiable evidence and logical reasoning, and steered clear of partisan bias?

‘Pie in the sky’, I hear you murmuring!

What do you think?

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Tony Abbott, Joe Hockey, stop killing confidence

How many times have you heard commentators lamenting how low consumer and business confidence have become? Time and again. How many times have you seen journalists attempting to analyse why? Very few. How many times have you seen them sheet home any of the lack of confidence among consumers and businessmen to the negative utterances of Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey? Practically never.

Indeed, it has been only recently that some journalists have been willing to point the finger at them and the Coalition’s unending talking down of the economy. Peter Martin was one who obliquely did so recently.

Here at The Political Sword we have maintained that the negative talk from the Coalition has had a substantial effect on confidence. Read Abbott and Hockey are endangering Australian business, written last November. Also read Do Australian businessmen really believe Tony Abbott?, written a week later, which is on the same theme.

Was this theme echoed in the MSM? Not until recently. Why? For the same reason the MSM highlighted in screaming front page headlines and grotesque photo-shopped photos the alleged misdemeanors of Peter Slipper and the supposed transgressions taken to court by James Ashby, but buried in its back pages Justice Rares condemnation of this Ashby action as ‘an abuse of process’, one intended to damage Slipper personally and politically, and the Gillard Government too. Much of the MSM deliberately and repeatedly buries or distorts the truth for its own commercial and partisan ideological purposes. It does the same with consumer and business confidence.

There are very few in the MSM, and none in News Limited, who will lay a finger on Abbott or Hockey. We have just a few journalists that will say it the way it is – Peter Martin and Ross Gittins are two at Fairfax, and Bernard Keane at Crikey. Let’s look first at an article by Keane: The strange case of the national delusion on cost of living

Here are some edited excerpts from Keane’s piece: ”Essential Research asked voters to give their impressions of how much prices had changed on a range of basic consumer items over the last two to three years… 70% of voters said they were paying “a lot more” for electricity and gas…that corresponds with reality: according to ABS inflation data, electricity prices have increased by 38 index points since December 2009, or over 16% a year. Gas has gone up by 29 index points, or around 11% a year.

“But what about petrol? That’s gone up by just over 16 index points, or just over 6% a year on average – ahead of CPI, but not in the same league as electricity. Yet 50% of voters say they’re paying a lot more than they were three years ago…That’s bordering on the implausible…On water, perceptions look more plausible: 47% said they were paying “a lot more” for water, and water prices have increased 22 index points or around 9% a year on average.

“After that, though, there’s a growing gulf between perceptions of inflation and reality. 43% of voters say they’re paying “a lot more” for insurance…But insurance across the country has only increased 10 index points, or less than 4% a year – around about CPI.

“36% of voters complain they are paying “a lot more” for fruit and vegetables. Fruit and veg prices have only gone up just over 10 index points since December 2009, or less than 4% a year… 28% said they were paying “a lot more” for food generally, when in fact food and non-alcoholic beverages prices have grown at less than the CPI...

“Health costs have gone up 15 points, or just over 5% a year, but 33% said they were paying “a lot more” for medical expenses… 24% thought they were paying “a lot more” for housing (both mortgages and rent) when housing costs have only increased slightly faster than inflation…

“Education costs have gone up by around 16 points, or about 6% a year, ahead of inflation, but only 24% said they were paying “a lot more”.

“One category stands out as being the basis of what is almost a national delusion. Clothing has fallen in price by 7 index points or around 2% a year each year, since 2009 (kids’ clothing has fallen by more, 11 points). But 21% of voters say they’re paying “a lot more” for clothing…

And there’s another factor that distorts perceptions: partisanship. On average, 10% more Liberal voters say they are paying “a lot more” for products compared to Labor voters.

“Is that because Labor voters have a positively-skewed perception of the economy, or because Liberal voters have a negatively-skewed perception? A bit of both, it seems, but more the latter. Both share the delusion about clothing prices…but 77% of Liberal voters more realistically say they’re paying a lot more for electricity, compared to 67% of Labor voters…

“Other categories, though, suggest Liberal voters see price rises everywhere even when they don’t exist. 58% said they were paying “a lot more” for petrol, compared to 41% of Labor voters. 42% said they were paying a lot more for fruit and veg compared to 28% of Labor voters. Insurance was 50% to 38%. Food, 32% to 23%. Medical, 42% to 25%...

“…A substantial proportion of voters will always be convinced inflation is much worse than it is, and in fact filter their perceptions of inflation through partisan bias....”
(my emphasis)

So here is the first piece of evidence – Coalition voters are more pessimistic about price rises than Labor voters. Why? Could it be because they have taken as gospel the negative talk that Abbott and Hockey feed to the electorate every day?

Recently, consumer confidence has been analysed to ascertain from whence the lack of confidence arises. In Coalition voters underpin surge in confidence, Peter Martin writes:

”Supporters of the Coalition are suddenly confident about the economy, moving clearly into positive territory for the first time in two years. The latest Westpac-Melbourne Institute consumer confidence survey shows optimists among Coalition voters outweigh the number of pessimists by five percentage points, a reverse of the recent pattern in which Coalition voters have been strongly negative. Labor voters remain extremely positive, with optimists outweighing pessimists by more than 20 points.

“The lift among Coalition voters has been enough to hoist the overall consumer confidence index from around 100 points to 108 on a scale where 100 means the number of pessimists balance the number of optimists.

“Westpac senior economist Matthew Hassan said the change was primarily the result of the carbon tax. Ahead of its introduction in the middle of last year it pushed the confidence of Coalition voters (but not Labor voters) into a downward spiral. ''There was the point when there was a whole series of overlapping concerns around tax changes - the carbon tax, the mining tax, the global situation was getting worse and in Queensland things looked dire. The incoming government spoke about Queensland being the Spain of Australia. At the same time low- and middle-income households likely to vote Labor were being showered with carbon tax compensation, exacerbating the wedge. In all the time we've been doing this we've never seen as big a deviation. In terms of confidence, we had a divided nation. It was off the charts.''

“Mr Hassan said the improved consumer figures represented a return to normality. The carbon tax had not been as bad as expected, the share market had climbed and interest rates had fallen.

“HSBC Australia chief economist Paul Bloxham hailed the surge in sentiment as a sign interest rate cuts were having their desired effect. ''This result is consistent with what we've had in mind, which is that the soft patch in the Australian economy may be behind us,'' he said.

“Asked whether now was a good time to buy a major household item, an extraordinary 59 per cent of Australians surveyed said yes. Only 16 per cent said no.

“One-quarter of those surveyed expected their personal financial situation to improve in the year ahead. Only one in five expected it to get worse.”


Here is another piece of evidence that it is Coalition voters who are depressing confidence ratings. The thesis of this piece is that this is because they have swallowed whole the Abbott/Hockey doom and gloom narrative.

The weekly Roy Morgan Consumer Confidence Rating of 12 February shows “Consumer Confidence rising to 121.4pts (up 2.9 pts since February 2/3, 2013) after the RBA left Australian interest rates unchanged at a record low of 3%. Consumer Confidence is now 5.7pts higher than at the same time a year ago, February 11/12, 2012 – 15.7. The rise in Consumer Confidence has been driven by an increase in confidence about buying major household items and increasing confidence about personal finances over both the last and the next 12 months.

“Now a much larger majority of 60% (up 6%) of Australians say now is a ‘good time to buy’ major household items compared to just 16% (unchanged) that say now is a ‘bad time to buy’.

“Also, now 34% (up 6%) of Australians believe they are ‘better off” financially than this time last year (the highest since September 22/23, 2012) compared to 27% (down 2%) that say they are ‘worse off’.

“Australians are also more positive about their personal finances over the next 12 months with 43% (up 2%) saying they expect their family to be ‘better off’ financially while 14% (down 1%) expect to be ‘worse off’ financially.

“Now 39% (up 2%) of Australians expect ‘good times’ for the Australian economy over the next five years compared to 18% (up 2%) that expect Australia to have ‘bad times’

“However 29% (up 4%) of Australians expect ‘bad times’ economically over the next twelve months compared to 35% (up 2%) of Australians that expect ‘good times.”


So it seems that consumer confidence is on the rise. Which begs the question, why has it been so low for so long?

Clearly, there are many factors. The residual effect of the GFC lingered long. People are still more inclined to save; less inclined to make extravagant purchases, something retailers testify; more prudent about buying an expensive house, as estate agents tell us, and banks are less inclined to lend for this purpose. This prudence is not without merit as many were spending wildly beyond their means, encouraged by retailers such as Harvey Norman, maxing out their credit cards, and entering into maxi-mortgages to buy their four bedroom, three bathroom McMansions, complete with al fresco dining areas, and home entertainment theatres.

Then there was the Eurozone financial crisis with the dire threat of default on loans by the governments of Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, and even Italy, a threat that worried many voters, one that eroded their confidence. Politicians here, to wit Campbell Newman, referred to Australia as ‘another Spain’, and even Joe Hockey hinted that Australian too was a sovereign risk. Add to that the ‘financial cliff’ saga in the US with the Republicans blocking the Democrats at every turn, together with the poor economic data coming from there, and you have an ugly picture that would depress anyone already feeling insecure.

But while there were these global factors that undoubtedly influenced the thinking and feeling of the people, there was a persistent local factor: the continual daily talking down of the Australian economy and the Gillard Government’s capacity to manage it by Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey.

While commentators largely blame overseas factors for the depressed confidence of consumers and businessmen alike, they show almost no willingness to recognize the elephant in the room – the negative, continually depressing talk of Abbott and Hockey, the demeaning of the Australian economy, day after day. What evidence is there for this assertion? Just look at the figures quoted above. It has been largely Coalition voters, those who swallow the Abbott/Hockey propaganda without question, who have pulled down consumer confidence, and I suggest also the confidence of businessmen, especially those involved in retail.

Their talk of the disaster that the carbon tax would bring about affected people’s confidence, and I suggest that the fact that the dire predictions of Abbott and Hockey, and of course Barnaby Joyce and his ‘$100 lamb roasts’, have come to naught, has ameliorated their anxiety and boosted their confidence. There seems to be an uncomplicated ‘cause – effect’ relationship between carbon tax doom and gloom and diminished consumer confidence, and between the dissapation of that gloom and improving confidence. We know that there is more to it than that, but the relationship seems germane.

In Why voters believe the economy is in trouble, Ross Gittins offers another reason for low confidence:

“With all the silly talk about 'the cautious consumer' and with punters blissfully unaware that retailing accounts for only about a third of consumer spending, all the highly publicized complaints of the Gerry Harveys helped convince the public not that the retailers have their own troubles, but that the economy must be going down the tube.

“Then there's the contribution of the unending fuss about ‘debt and deficit’, in which the government has been completely outfoxed by the Liberals. Although every economically literate person knows Australia doesn't have a significant level of public debt, the opposition has had great success exploiting the public's ignorance of public finance and of just how big the economy is ($1.5 trillion a year) by quoting seemingly mind-boggling levels of gross public debt.

“With much of this argy bargy being reported by political rather than economic journalists - how many times have you heard talk of 'the economy's deficit'? – it is hardly surprising the public has acquired an exaggerated impression of the economic significance of the budget deficit. Ironically, the budget deficit is a case where a cyclical (temporary) problem has been taken to be a structural (long-lasting) one.”


And who were responsible for all the spurious ‘debt and deficit’ talk – all this scary chatter about this nation being over its head in debt and borrowing a million dollars a day to service it? Abbott, Hockey, and bringing up the rear, Andrew Robb and Mathias Cormann.

And who in the media pointed out that the nation’s debt was miniscule, indeed much lower proportionately that the homebuyer taking out an average mortgage. It was left to Ross Gittins and Peter Martin. Even the AFR, that ought to have been exposing this, defaulted. With Michael Stutchbury at the helm there, I suppose we ought not to be surprised!

This piece asserts that much of the poor consumer confidence and low business confidence has been the direct result of Abbott, Hockey and the Coalition talking down the economy, mendaciously painting a dismal picture of the state of our nation, shamefully eroding confidence and damaging the economy for its own political ends, aided and abetted by a largely compliant media.

That other factors, some global, are operating on confidence is obvious, but ignoring the massive elephant trumpeting in the room where the people live – the Abbott/Hockey/Coalition elephant – is to miss what I believe is a major factor: the negativity, the doom, the gloom, the cynicism, the dismay, the distrust and the pessimism that these cynical, self-serving, ruthless politicians propagate every day, every week, every month.

And most of the media remains shamefully mute.

Tony Abbott, Joe Hockey, stop killing confidence.


What do you think?

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