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.