Cronyism refers to giving appointments of authority on the basis of friendship, or in this country mateship, regardless of qualifications, rather than through the practice and principles of meritocracy. So to accuse Labor, and in particular Kevin Rudd and Wayne Swan of cronyism over the OzCar affair is wide of the mark; they have offered no appointments. Despite cronyism being a badly chosen descriptor, Tony Abbott was using it again this morning on Insiders accusing Labor of ‘capitalist cronyism’, whatever that is.
A more appropriate accusation would be that they used political power to do ‘favours for mates’. Whatever label political opponents choose to use in such circumstances, it will always be pejorative. It will be used to condemn and to seek penalties, such as an apology, or a resignation. [more]
Labels do have implications. Those who work in the fields of science and particularly in medicine know how potent labels are. Good labels can enhance, adverse ones diminish. How may have suffered from labels, sometimes inappropriately applied, such as paranoia or schizophrenia, or personality disorder, or worse still psychopathic disorder. Because of the danger of labels being wrongly applied, strict diagnostic criteria have been developed for most diagnoses, criteria that have to be satisfied for the diagnostic label to be used.
Politicians seem to be less careful in applying labels. They use less stringent criteria, and like Humpty Dumpty in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass, behave as if when they use a word, it means just what they ‘choose it to mean – neither more nor less’. So they use cronyism when it doesn’t apply, and use ‘favours for mates’ to mean giving an unfair and undeserved advantage to a mate that flows from their political power. That wouldn’t be a problem if diagnostic criteria were available and rigorously applied.
Let’s look at the ‘favours for mates’ label, not so much because doing favours for mates is so inherently bad as to warrant political oblivion, but because misleading parliament about such matters does.
The Coalition via Malcolm Turnbull has accused Swan and Rudd of giving favours to mates, and then misleading parliament by denying this. For the latter to be proven, the former has to be shown to be so.
In science quantitative and qualitative evidence is often available. Counting things is relatively easy, but giving appropriate emphasis to qualitative data is more problematic. It is more ‘fuzzy’, to use an in-vogue term.
So what diagnostic criteria have the Coalition used? They have been quantitative, mainly numerical. They have studiously counted the number of calls Swan made, and to whom; they have counted the number of emails about each car dealer seeking assistance or information; they have counted how many faxes have been sent to Swan’s home fax; they have counted how many contacts were made by Swan or his staff and with whom, and when they add the numbers they are convinced that Swan gave more to John Grant than to others, and extrapolate this to assert that he was doing this as a favour to ‘Rudd’s mate and benefactor’, something he denied in parliament. The media too has gone along with the quantitative criteria and even senior journalists continue to insist Swan ‘still has a case to answer’. Lamentably, it has almost totally ignored relevant qualitative data, such as ‘character’.
One can count until the cows come home and draw conclusions, but to ignore qualitative data is perilous.
Let’s take a look at the person Wayne Swan. Is there any evidence that this is a corrupt man, an underhand man who gives unfair favours to his mates or Rudd’s mates? Does he come across as a devious man? Does he look like a man who tells parliament bald-faced lies? Really, does he? No. Or does he come across as a decent, hard-working, trustworthy man trying to do his best for the nation and its people in combating the global downturn, attempting to shield Australia from recession and unemployment? Yes. Do individual Coalition members really believe Swan is a disreputable person intent on unfairly looking after his mates, using his powers illicitly, and then covering it up? In their heart of hearts do they really believe that? I doubt it. Yet they persist because their object is to add another ministerial scalp to their collection. It’s as simple and as ruthless as that, and too bad if a decent guy gets badly damaged in the process – that’s politics. Unfortunately that’s the way the Opposition thinks, and the media is almost mute in pointing that out.
What about Rudd? Is he the type of person who would go out of his way to advantage a friend, someone who had loaned him an old ute for electoral purposes? Of course not. Yet we get a torrent of assertions to that effect from the Coalition and holier-than-thou arguments from the media that insists that politicians must be purer than the driven snow, or at least appear to be.
Julia Gillard put it well when she said that all politicians are approached daily for advice, assistance and support, which is readily given. Do they remember every contact? Do they count how many times they have contacted a constituent to be sure they are not overdoing it? Of course not. Yet when Gillard said this, some journalists ridiculed her, calling her statement ‘risible’.
Does anyone imagine that in the middle of managing something as massive as the GFC, Swan has the time to count how many times he’s attended to a constituent? Does anyone believe that he has had time to read all of the hundreds of emails and faxes sent to him? Of course not. Even less so does Rudd have such time. So when they said they didn’t know the outcome of some of the matters referred to OzCar, that is far more credible than indicating the contrary.
The positive qualitative information we have about these men overwhelms any negative conclusions that opponents or the media might try to draw from the quantitative data. These are decent, conscientious, industrious men trying to manage this nation and cope with the financial downturn, not small-minded operatives trying to do favours for mates. That’s nonsense.
It’s sad that this sentiment has been expressed so seldom. In QT a few days ago Rudd said positive things about Swan as a person, yet only an occasional comment along these lines has filtered out in the media. Why? Because the media would sooner put down, demean, diminish, criticize, and castigate than build up. It’s only this week that more positive things have been stated as a new and admirable side of Rudd has emerged, and by journalists who would not usually make them. Dennis Shanahan’s piece in The Weekend Australian The Rudd you never knew is an example.
Look carefully at the character of these men and honestly answer – are these bad men with ill intent, men that do favours for mates and then lie about them? If you can’t bring yourself to say yes, discard this ‘favours for mates’ label, take a big dose of reality, and see them for what they really are.