The ‘ain’t it awful’ syndrome

The Liberal Party is still mourning its loss of Government.  As pointed out by Maxine McKew on the ABC TV’s Q&A last Thursday, Peter Costello’s Memoirs, written well after the loss, express surprise that a Government that had done so much, which had governed Australia during such a time of prosperity, was rejected by the people.  As Maxine said: “They just don’t get it”.  They accept that Howard stayed too long, but they don’t accept that they wasted the bounty the country enjoyed, that they failed in a time of great affluence to invest in infrastructure, skills and education, and instead spent profligately.  We know that much was spent preferentially on what would give them the best chance of re-election.  On the same show, Tony Abbott’s reaction was that the Rudd infrastructure fund was just a slush fund to prop up the States, and dismissed it as “all nonsense”.  He just doesn’t get it, he never has.

We all remember his lament about the poor pre-election opinion polls, which were a mystery to him “as we’re such a good Government”.  He said the electorate seemed to be sleep-walking, and hoped it would wake up in time for the election.  The lament and the mystery continue in the Coalition to this day.   ‘Ain’t it awful’ and ‘We was robbed’ remains a prevailing sentiment.  Coalition members behave like football supporters whose team had already won four premierships, still considered it the top side, but unfairly lost the fifth Grand Final. 

The consequence is intense anger and frustration, exhibited most blatantly in Question Time where they make repeated and rowdy interjections and spurious points of order, and refuse to listen attentively to answers to their own questions.  They are having difficulty accepting that they are no longer in power and that the adversary has been chosen by the people to govern the country.  They see the Coalition as the natural party to govern and hope Labor in power is just a temporary, albeit unpleasant aberration, a one-term government.  So their focus is on winning the next election rather than advancing policies that will be more attractive to the electorate than the Government’s.  “We Will Win” was the Sun-Herald’s 20 September banner headlines, paraphrasing Malcolm Turnbull’s “We think we can win the next election”.  Judging from what he told the Sun-Herald, producing good new policy seemed secondary to winning.  And some Liberals still seem enamoured of some of the old policies that brought them undone, such as John Howard’s IR.  Julie Bishop is one that seems still wedded to WorkChoices.  [more]

They cannot accept that the Rudd Government has talented people who can govern this country well.  They repeat ad nauseam the ‘all talk, no action’ mantra despite frenetic activity by Government ministers.  They seem unable to accept that ‘talk’, gathering relevant information, consulting widely with experts and stakeholders, and planning meticulously IS action.  Perhaps they are used to less careful planning, such as we saw with Howard’s 10 billion dollar water plan, back of the envelope stuff  with little supporting information, almost no Treasury input, and no discussion in Cabinet, Or the Northern Territory intervention that bore the hallmarks of hurried planning that lacked detail.  If that is the planning that the Coalition deems satisfactory, it’s no wonder they see Rudd’s careful approach as too slow, all talk and no action.  They prefer action-man Howard’s approach.  They just don’t get it – they don’t understand that the Rudd approach is process-oriented so that he gets it right first time.  Nor does much of the media understand this either.  With such crucial endeavours as an ETS, the tax review that encompasses social service payments, rejuvenating and extending education – the education revolution, new federalism, infrastructure development and skills training, one would hope that our Government would approach these complex areas carefully and take the time necessary to get them right.  Rudd is determined to do this – his bureaucratic training tells him that this is the best, indeed the only sensible approach.

Until the Coalition stops crying ‘Ain’t it awful’, until it realizes why it lost, until it accepts that there is a well-disciplined, competent new order in Government, until it accepts that thorough process will now precede action, until Coalition members rid themselves of the anger that erodes their effectiveness, until they abandon populism in favour of thoughtful discourse,until they focus on sound and appealing policy instead of just devising a winning strategy, they will continue to have difficulty becoming competitive.  It is up to Malcolm Turnbull to effect this transformation.  His and the Coalition’s success depend on it.


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22/09/2008Just maybe, Ad astra, Turnbull can help them ditch the 'Howard way' that has them blinded to reality. He might be treading warily just now but so far he doesn't come across to me that he will make any inroads soon.


24/09/2008To be fair (my memory now spans changes of government in 1949, 72, 75, 83, 96 and 2007) current Opposition behaviour is the normal response to loss of government, no matter the party - although I can't recall any other Opposition of either party pulling as many "dumbed down" stunts, especially one as unconstitutional and exploitative of our poorest citizens as the single pensioner stunt. There seem, however, to be a couple of current factors that I don't remember as prominent (or present) in earlier change of government; factors that the Opposition and its media supporters (esp in print media) seem unable comprehend, let alone take into account. 1. The way media, especially NewsLtd, has responded to the change of government The extent to which NewsLtd allowed itself (except for a few incidents and a few regular columnists and cartoonists) to became a quasi-propaganda arm of Howard and his Coalition government - In The Australian's case, what Caroline Overington memorably referred to as its "Kingmaker" self-image - and continues even with the Coalition in Opposition, distorts Australian political realities, even though Opinion Polls portray a quite different reality. When its "king" was "dethroned" in FedElection07, and the new king preferred newer media (although he claims he's the last member of his family who still reads paper versions of newspapers), TheOz, instead of accepting reality, continued its loyalty to the "Ancien Regime". Though its main former "Howard Hugger" journos and OpEd writers occasionally praise something the Rudd Government does, the main "narratives" have been "Rudd is a one term government", the groundless "Costello for Opposition leader" beat-up, and the last couple of weeks' nauseous gush over Malcolm Turnbull. Obvious, too, has been the inaccuracy of NewsLtd's most senior journalists. Shanahan's first two articles on PM Rudd's USA-European trip (March) were wildly inaccurate: the first a gush about how impressed by Rudd's NATO speech everyone was (not mentioned by a single main UK/European newspaper, although the NZ stance was); the second a negative piece on his failure to impact, when, in fact, UK & European newspapers were gushing about Rudd's "standing up to China" over the thuggish behaviour of those guarding the Olympic torch. Hard as it was to believe, Shanahan was actually travelling with the PM! Rudd's first two OS trips (for 2008) featured beat-ups by the Opposition and senior journalists. TheOz's first pensioner beat-up made statements at odds with its and other NewsLtd's reporting (available on indexed on-line archives) of Liberals' election policy; which is what Rudd intended to implement! Not long after - also while Rudd was OS - Milne (in Sunday tabloids) beat-up a story about a planned tax on plastic shopping bags, except that his Sunday Mail (print version) story stated that tax was 25c per bag. Yet, in his online Herald Sun version, the tax had magically quadrupled to $1! Add to these the quite misleadingly headlined "We shouldn't be leading the world on Climate Change" and this week's "We're leading the world on Short Selling" and reportage - neither of which (stories or reportage) concurred with reports in overseas newspapers, and one recognises the problem NewsLtd and Opposition credibility share - access to OS Online papers and blogs. That Internet-provided access, with its blogsphere, Facebook-style interactive sites, RSS and "streaming", is the second problem. Rudd's statement about the "last of the print newspaper readers" is a reality Opposition and many journalists ignore. Australia is a migrant county, so OS Online newspapers and journals offer access to "news from home". We're also a nation of inveterate travellers, so develop an interest in OS online papers. Politically, financially and culturally savvy Australians read OS Online papers. In addition, SBS offers coverage of important overseas news, and those with access to "Pay TV" can also access OS news. I clearly recall (and can check) TheOz's discrepancies because, in all cases, I sent comments picking-up on them, and the comments sneaked through the moderators & were published. I did the same on ABC news reports on these and other reality v spin, and I'm by no means alone. In fact, I believe that this ability to rebut media statements, complete with url "links" to contradictory statements (including links to their own archives, often to the individual journo's archives); ability which comes with access to the world's media and blogsphere - ability which can and does (if reporting is not accurate) undermine the credibility of journalists and their newspaper, journal or their TV equivalents - is the real reason behind journalists (esp NewsLtd's) current "quality" journalists v bloggers debate. What's crumbling, for all politicians and journalists alike, is the centralised (and, in the latters' case, largely unchallenged) information control that pre-Internet governments and media enjoyed. If Opposition politicians and journalists (especially of TheOz Online) choose to ignore the reality that the listening reading and viewing public access OS Online papers and the blogsphere, they have only themselves to blame. That this Federal Opposition is the first to confront these problems is no excuse to ignore them. Opinion polls show that none of their stunts have "cut through", nor has negative media reporting; nor (AGN's "before preferences", but not 2PP or PPM stats to the contrary) has the change of leadership, especially since Turnbull is perceived as arrogant. Non-traditional media; non-traditional access to traditional media; on-line data bases and indexes, and their constant use to cross-check claims and statements against other versions; the blogshpere & its on-line archives, and wide blogsphere critique, alternative viewpoints and reports of cases and circumstances - even hackers access to supposedly secure sites, followed by widespread reporting of the results (as happened to Sarah Palin's yahoo email) - can only increase. If the Opposition chooses to behave as if it neither recognises nor understands this "reality", it can blame nobody but itself.


24/09/2008Ad Astra It is clear why the Liberals, along with their cheerleaders in the mainstream media, are running with the line "Kevin Rudd will be a one-term wonder." It is their marketing (electoral) strategy put into place ~years~ out from the election. They are trying to implant in people's minds the notion that Kev will be voted out next time ... so you'd better do your bit too and vote against him. It's a devilishly clever strategy. We must use it ourselves against the conservatives if ever they get back into government. As soon as they win (that's if they ever do win again), immediately begin putting out the line that theirs will be a one-term government. Use it over and over and over in every possible context from the moment they win (that's if they ever do win again) all the way till the following election. I certainly shall.

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