Reading today’s editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald, Rudderless leader? creates the feeling that there must be another world out there inhabited by a collection of journalists whose perception of reality is in sharp contrast to that of the man in the street.
After publishing the essay by Kevin Rudd at the weekend and having been accused of giving him a free kick, is this the SMH’s way of evening the score, kicking Rudd where they think it might hurt? [more]
It begins: “Is Kevin Rudd capable of governing Australia in a timely and effective manner? For some time questions about the Prime Minister’s leadership qualities have been growing. At best, he is seen as a politician constantly seeking political cover for his decisions: national ideas summits, consultative forums, a tax review that excludes politically unpalatable options, and this week a vision of what Labor might do about our inefficient and at times dangerous health system. Less charitable observers discern timidity and prevarication.” And later: “His failure to make change happen has disappointed those who celebrated his ascent to power.”
Where does the writer live?
First he (I presume maleness) uses the oldest of techniques, vague assertions without naming sources: “For some time questions about the Prime Minister’s leadership qualities have been growing.” Who has been asking questions? How many? How long? About what? This week’s Newspoll says two thirds of those polled prefer Rudd as PM. Are they the ones asking questions? Or is it the 16% preferring Malcolm Turnbull?
The editorial asserts Rudd is seeking ‘political cover’ via consultations and reviews. Political cover? Is asking the stakeholders for its views ‘seeking political cover’? Would the back-of-the-envelope approach John Howard used for his water initiative be preferable – ask almost no one, even Treasury officers, just announce a $10 billion plan without consulting cabinet? Is that how we want our PM to behave?
What so many in the media have been so slow to see, certainly reluctant to accept, is how Rudd operates, how he goes about addressing problems he needs to solve. There are countless businessmen, scientists, professionals in many fields, ordinary folk who have a community problem to address, even politicians, who do just what Rudd does – define the problem, set parameters for addressing it, select experts to gather and analyse the relevant information and recommend actions, test the feasibility and appropriateness of the recommendations among the stake holders and make adjustments in the light of feedback. To that the politician adds a process of ascertaining the political and financial implications, seeking cabinet and party room endorsement, and then, and only then, fashioning enabling legislation. In some instances changes to the Constitution may be necessary. What’s inappropriate, tardy or indecisive about that process?
Does the editorial writer have a different formula for making decisions, for example about his newspaper? If there’s an easy way of making decisions about highly complex problems he should share the secret; he’d have an eager audience.
This is the modus operandi of our PM. The media should get used to it or suggest a different way. It should explain how decisions can be reached easier, quicker, smarter, more ‘decisively’. But they never do - because they don’t know. The issues politicians deal with are seldom uncomplicated; they are usually multifaceted and operate within a highly complex interactive system where every change has a consequence for all other elements of the system. Why do so many journalists hold the view that political problems can so easily be fixed? Like ‘fixing’ the health care system? If they only took the time to look at the complexities within their own microcosm – the newspaper company, they might get an inkling of the much greater complexities that characterize the political system.
The editorial gives the impression that nothing much has happened in the eighteen months since Labor’s election. Where has the writer been? Here are some, free of spin:
Ratification of Kyoto
Apology to the stolen generations, and follow up to the intervention
Abolition of WorkChoices and the introduction of a new IR scheme
Abolition of the Pacific Solution
Withdrawal of remaining combat forces from Iraq
Several stages of the ‘education revolution’
Completion of the Garnaut report, Green and White papers and introduction of the CPRS, and a ‘green jobs’ initiative
Initiatives to investigate CCS, clean energy and solar
Moves to support manufacturing, especially in the car industry
A national homelessness strategy, with public housing initiatives
A national broadband network plan
Pension and carer payment reforms
Henry review of the tax system due by year end
Large boosts for home buyers and home building
Bank guarantee, now acknowledged as successful
The three stage response to the GFC: cash stimulus, shovel ready schools and local infrastructure, and major infrastructure, now bearing fruit and possibly avoiding or ameliorating recession and high unemployment
Initiatives to support those who become unemployed with retraining, more announced today
Support for jobs, small business and apprenticeships
Tax breaks for business to invest in plant and equipment
Paid parental leave scheme
Productivity Commission report on book imports
Comprehensive review of the entire health care system with over 100 recommendations
Numerous regional and international initiatives and diplomatic moves
No doubt there’s some I’ve omitted, but for eighteen months' work that’s a solid performance, and with more reports due soon more initiatives will result.
So why does our editorial writer write such an ill-informed piece, riddled with omissions, built on unspecified hearsay, and making such unsupported and damning assertions? And end up by making a childish play on the PM’s name. Rudderless indeed. Why can’t some journalists fight their way out of the bubble of unreality in which they seem to live?
We deserve better. No wonder newspapers are declining.