From Big Brother to Survivor – Ignoring Abbott and Focusing on his Team

We have the dust settled from the somewhat absurd challenge from the Kevin the Tea Man, which highlighted somewhat how centred on leaders our politics and coverage of politics has become. The idea that people vote for a leader, not a party has become the key idea in the way politics is represented. The ALP played to this somewhat with the Kevin 07 shirts and the Howard-lite positioning of the Milky Bar Kid.

This leader-centric approach has also gripped the ALP in their strategy against Tony Abbott. It’s all focused on Abbott, because opinion polls are telling them Abbott isn’t popular, especially amongst women. Lachlan Harris, former adviser to Rudd, repeated this line on Q and A on Monday night – “Abbott is the Government’s best asset”.  It is not, however, the best strategy. It continues, somewhat, the idea that politics is a Celebrity Big Brother contest, where individuals compete for the ring in votes.

It’s a mistake because Abbott is like the contestant on Big Brother that surprises everyone with his resilience and ability to stay around. He has proven to be cockroach like in his ability to survive attack after attack launched by the government. His approach of relentlessly simplifying everything to soundbites and opposing government spending on anything public is working. Rudd tried to oppose him with intellect and well constructed argument – Abbott was able to sound more like an “average bloke” by using simple language to demonstrate how Rudd was out of touch with the “ordinary Australian”. It was an approach that worked for John Howard against Paul Keating – playing to an anti-intellectual tune works nicely in an media landscape where intellectual rigour is derided as “elitism” and megaphone ranting is highly prized.

Against Gillard, Abbott’s “Aussie bloke” approach has worked easily against an opponent whose voices has been drained of warmth by advisers who seemed to have turned her into an automaton.  It is this success that still makes me unsure that Turnbull would succeed in taking over from Abbott. Turnbull plays well to the inner city people who frequent Twitter and various media outlets – because he’s a very smart, compassionate politician. However, the Liberals don’t need votes in those areas. To many Australians, Turnbull is a super rich corporate banker, therefore not one of “them”.

The approach the ALP should be taking is looking at the mid-season Survivor model – demonstrating that teamwork wins the challenges.  This is why I wonder why they persist with the focus on Abbott when he has proven to be able to bounce back from every attack with the same, boring, droning response. They should be focusing on his “team” – the ones who only just voted for Abbott over Turnbull. The ones who make such monumental stuff-ups whenever they are asked questions.

– The multi billion dollar black hole Joe Hockey and Andrew Robb have offered up, as well as their own failed sums when attacking the Government.

– There’s Malcolm Turnbull’s suggestion that the NBN really isn’t necessary – wireless will suffice. Or maybe not – silence about the issue seems to be the theme now.

– Perhaps Christopher Pyne’s 1950s education suggestion that students should be learning Classics instead of skills “that could become obsolete”. Great quotes “You have to teach kids about things, not just how to do things” shows just how clueless Pyne is about modern schooling, where both things do indeed occur.  His call for greater private investment in schools could also do with some attention, suggesting as it does that advertising should be in schools, as should companies recruiting students about to finish Year 12.

– They should be highlighting a Climate Change and Environment Spokesman in Greg Hunt who once spoke glowingly of carbon pricing

– Barnaby Joyce, who provides gold most days

– Cory Bernardi’s views

– The rantings of Sophie Mirabella, shown here in a confrontation with Bill Heffernan about milk prices – an issue that shows a stark contrast between the neoliberal and agrarian socialist instincts of the Coalition.

The list goes on with Liberals who crumble under anything approaching a cross examination by a journalist or politician. There are a number of people in the community who are unaware of just how many holes Abbott has in his team, the mistakes they make, the concepts they don’t understand. They are unaware because the main Government emphasis is on Abbott – and the media report what the Government is saying about him.

It is even more puzzling when the emphasis of Gillard’s time as leader hasn’t really been about her, it’s on her government, her team. The narrative that Rudd wasn’t a team builder, but she is.  That is even more reason to question the Coalition team’s ability to deliver competent government.   They should be working at constructing the narrative that you may respect / possibly like Abbott, but his team can’t run an effective government, they would fail at any Survivor challenge that would be thrown at them.  I suspect, though, that the ALP will continue to struggle to make an impact on Abbott, wasting resources and time on the episode of Celebrity Big Brother that Gillard had hoped she’d avoided.

You could say that the Survivor metaphor doesn’t work because ultimately, it is about the individual winning over everyone. Yes, that is true. However, for me it works because you can’t make it through the whole series without a good team.  Nor can you win in Australian politics by playing nice.

Politics Uncategorized

Kevin the Poll Dancer – Harnessing the Power of Political Popularity

Before going out last night to enjoy a performance by Damien Cowell with his two recent bands, Root! and the DC3, I made the decision to go in my Kevin 07 Tshirt. This one.

Taken by @clairebbbear

The shirt was greeted with a variety of comments as I walked the streets of Newtown, mostly favourable. “He’s a legend” came the comment from a variety of people – more often women than men – who seemed to know little about just how poor he was as a leader of a team. That didn’t matter to them. Kevin Rudd seems to have managed the trick of attaining the holy grail of Australian Politics – obtaining public popularity, a positive place in the Australian subconscious. A similar place held by John Howard over many years, despite the superior talents held by Peter Costello. Both Howard and Rudd had the Polls on their side.

We now have a name for this phenomenon of this public popularity with Julia Gillard saying politics wasn’t a Celebrity Big Brother contest, where people ring in and say who they like the most. I would beg to differ, due to our seeming obsession with Polls. Howard and Rudd shared one big feature – they were very successful Poll Dancers. They knew how to boil issues into asinine, generalised talking points – though Howard lost his ability to slide and writhe after he stopped being everyone’s flexible friend and tried to enact something he believed in – WorkChoices.

Kevin’s success as a Poll Dancer is the main problem for Gillard, because he will continue to show Australians what they want to see – principles, reform of a party that seems to be run by “faceless men”, a smiling face with a smooth delivery. With Gillard, unfortunately, the audience seem to be already telling her to put her clothes back on.

The ALP didn’t need all this. On the Bolt Report (no, I never watch it, but there are people on Twitter who do), Nick Minchin offered the opinion that the ALP could have won the 2007 election with Kim Beazley in the frame, rather than Rudd. While this can be seen as mischievous stirring by the Mark Arbib of the Liberal Party, it is an interesting point. The ALP, though, in the lead up to that election, blinked and panicked, gripped in fear that WorkChoices would continue to tear into union power as well as into the ability of the working poor to get by. Hence, they unseated a leader in Beazley who knew how the factions worked as well as presented a principled face, though without a simple poll dancing style, as well as health problems (thanks to Kimberley Ramplin for suggesting that to me).

At that time, Julia Gillard was seeking the numbers for a challenge, but as has been revealed by Laurie Ferguson, she had superior numbers to Rudd – but Rudd’s supporters refused to put their numbers behind Gillard – in the end her supporters decided Rudd was better than Beazley. So, as a result of the Rudd supporters’ highhandedness, the ALP put in Beazley’s place a man who had impressed the judges on Sunrise, but who had a long standing loathing for the factions and structure of the ALP, as well as known history of leaking to the media against his leaders. The man happy enough to make himself such a focus in the 07 campaign to have his name on the campaign Tshirts.

Ultimately, that was the biggest mistake the Federal ALP made in this whole sorry mess. They didn’t recognise how much of a problem Rudd would be as PM, that when he made it, he would insist that because he was the popular one, the one everyone wanted to see, that every member of the government would have to supply everything he listed on his long backstage rider. As a result of that mistake, we now have long term cynical political game players like Anthony Albanese realising Rudd’s ability, asking that he comes back to the stage. Albo, in his speech yesterday, proved that he has a few poll dancing tricks up his sleeve – he can out principle anyone, given a chance. It’s a good act. He doesn’t have enough tricks to be leader, though.

Another strand in this Poll Dancing phenomenon is the ALP’s unshaken belief that Tony Abbott is an unpopular man who needs to be targeted. Political commentators I usually respect have said the ALP is failing “because they can’t even take someone like Abbott down”. Gillard and Rudd have both unloaded on him in a style reminiscent of a Big Brother Diary Room rant. It sounded a bit like “Tony’s so negative. He said such a lot of negative things about me in the spa.” “I started cooking, and Tony came along and told me I was putting too many Great Big New spices in the sauce” and so on. It’s part of the Poll Dancing phenomenon, where they think that by laughing at the dancer in the budgie smugglers that you’ll win. It’s a poor strategy.

Abbott wins because people pay attention to him because he plays the game well. His game is to be a critic, an outsider, that man in the taxi or the bar who says “Oh, this government is terrible. All they do is put taxes up.” He is the bloke telling everyone the tricks that have gone into the poll dancing routine. It’s hard to argue against his simplification in a culture that doesn’t really read into politics with much depth. If the Government’s current mantra is “delivery, reform, teamwork”, then it should be focusing its attacks on the Opposition’s team – how they would be terrible at delivering anything. Pyne, Hockey, Turnbull, Morrison have said absolutely mind blowingly stupid things about issues relating to their portfolios, but we hear little about that.

If the ALP’s focus is on winning elections, then it should be putting Rudd back onto the stage. He has residual allure and the money is still bulging from his Kevin 07 pants. That seems to be what Australian politics has become. Put on that music. Put on the shirts. Then writhe around that poll, Kevin 13.


A Question of Language – Rudd and Gillard’s Appeals to the Party

Watching the competing press conferences today has been illustrative of the competing styles and values of our two aspirant leaders. First of all, it is interesting to look at the style and structure of Rudd’s speech, which he clearly worked on assiduously on that plane trip from Washington.

He spends the first minute talking about Australia’s challenges in the first 30 seconds – though not without framing that through the lens of his time in public life and his two core goals. He refers to those two goals as how to build a better Australia and how to build a better Australian Labor Party.  So, he is giving his supporters a picture of Kevin the Builder and Kevin the Reformer of that rotten union infested ALP.  He then checks off the things about the new GFC that could affect Australia – making sure he mentions manufacturing – a key concern for any Labor party, before Small Business – a key constituency that Rudd appealed to successfully in his 07 election campaign.

In a blink of an eye, he turns to the main problem facing the ALP – the “ravages” of an Abbottpocalypse, where “the most conservative and right wing government we have ever seen in our history” would come to power. He infers that the Government has lost the “confidence of the Australian people” and then says “Julia” – not the Prime Minister, not the Leader, Julia, has “lost the trust of the Australian people”. In this, he immediately acts to reduce his opponent as just being an ordinary person. A bit like Coalition MPs who do the same trick. He then says he “wants to start restoring that trust”.  Many would be a bit confused with that line, considering that he has, over the past few days, virtually confirmed that he leaked confidential information against the government to his favoured four journalists. Not exactly an act of a man who is asking people to “trust” him.

It is then we come to a piece of rhetorical sophistry, where he says he wants “to finish the job the Australian people elected me to do, when I was elected by them to become Prime Minister”.  In that, he adopting another Coalition line, in saying that people voted for him to be their PM in 2007, they didn’t vote for the party that made him leader.  What can be called the Presidential Line. Using that line, he is making it clear that he would still run things his way, because he was the one elected in 2007.  Skating away from that quickly, however, he does make mention of the “right team”. The leadership structure, however, is made clear with the positioning of the sentences.

The next part of the speech seems to be intended to show how he can be a good salesman, articulating clearly the achievements of his government, making special emphasis on the much maligned Building the Education Revolution project, repeating the line that he was “proud of each and every one” of the libraries and other resource centres built with the money.  In this, Rudd is showing a clear advantage over Gillard, due to a better, more natural delivery of his lines than Gillard has shown since becoming the leader. The same goes with his obvious pride at Australia becoming part of the G20.

Then, with that old rhetorical trick of seeming to let the audience have some power – “let me just say”, he lists what he could do if he was leader.  In that, he refers to families “doing it tough”, and saying “it’s all about jobs, creating jobs, not exporting jobs” using the same simplifying (some would say simplistic) language he was known for from his Sunrise days – and the 2007 campaign.  Interestingly, it does cause pause for reflection that Rudd seems to speak better as an opposition leader than as a Prime Minister.

That vision of what needs to be done is short, though, in the face of his real target – the ALP itself. He says it needs reforming and that his interest is in “the Australian Labor Party of the Future”. He then goes straight to talking about democracy being important around the world – making an inferred reference to the Arab Spring – but then inferring that the ALP (my own party) isn’t democratic – a sentiment expressed with a short chuckle. This is where he starts putting his coded boot into the party.

He starts with a reference to the leaders of the union movement moving to oust him in 2010 – “Australians are sick and tired of outside forces calling the shots”, going further by calling for the ALP to have secret ballots and be free to vote however they wish, “free from intimidation, including intimidation from factions”, plus “no-one should live in fear”.  This is Rudd putting himself on the higher moral ground, suggesting that if people don’t vote for Rudd, they have been intimidated. He links this intimidation to Gillard by “calling on her to guarantee” that the preselection of MPs would not be changed as a result of voting for him. This is a promise he knows that Gillard, an insider in the Labor Party / Union nexus, can’t make.  He also adds that the ballot should begin with a short speech from each candidate, breaking from the tradition that each vote has been decided before the ballot is held. Another play for the high moral ground, as the “outsider”.

The next gambit of his appeal to the parliamentary party is to attempt to separate his attempted attack on unions with his own mistake of taking away the power of the unions by insisting on selecting his cabinet.  That is why he wants to give the power of appointing ministers back to the parliamentary party – with the caveat that that union influence – the factions – could not play a role. In other words, a virtual impossibility for a party so enmeshed with the union movement that supports their campaigns. He goes on to assert that it’s the Australian Way to have their free and independent say.

It is clear at this point that he is addressing voters – telling them that it’s union power and the factions that is blocking him from coming in and steering the party to help ordinary working families like them.  It’s a powerful line, that does steer the mind away from the policy paralysis of his time as Prime Minister, especially in the final months.  This is underlined by the fact that he identifies his main flaw as not allowing the parliamentary party select the ministers.

Rudd then reveals another core selling point of him being leader – being able to stymie Tony Abbott. He produces a vision of a negative man stuck in the past, in terms of women, climate change and technology. This boot is stuck in further by comparing him to past Liberal leaders, saying he is more conservative than the lot of them.  The code here is that Rudd has a clear line to use against Tony Abbott and he would intend to repeat it, time and again – a bit like Abbott himself. A simple line for a simple goal. Back to the Sunrise technique.

To make a vastly negative speech seem to be about positives, Rudd finishes with a recap of what needs to be done. Curiously, though, he says that a Green Party doesn’t need to be there to tell the ALP what to do about the environment. Very curious, in that Rudd would need Green support in the both the lower and upper house to get his programs through. Though, perhaps with that line, we get some insight as to why he failed to negotiate his ETS with Bob Brown when he had the chance. He then returns to “trust” and the “ruthless” factions that would be stopping him from his positive, achievable goals.

Ultimately, the speech makes it clear that Rudd is making this battle about the structure of the ALP, which allows factions and unions to control its appointments and decision making – something that has always been there. It is also about who is more capable of pointing out how bad Tony Abbott is. And a little bit about what he can do with policies already being implemented.  It’s an extraordinarily ambitious aspiration, from a man who has cast himself as an rugged individualist trying to make the ALP into a party for the people once again.  It’s little wonder the ALP / Union nexus has a problem with Rudd, who is a loose cannon beyond anything Mark Latham offered with his distaste for union and “machine” control.  And why he won’t succeed in anything more than giving the Liberal Party ammunition for the election next year.

Gillard, however, in her statement is defending herself and her the system that keeps her there. She can’t attack the rhetoric of a person claiming that the unions have wrecked democracy in the ALP, because that is a hard case to make in press conferences. As a result, she made it personal, about choice and about “character, temperament, strength to deliver”.  As a Rudd directed zinger on top of that, she makes the comment “this isn’t Celebrity Big Brother”, making the inference that Rudd is more a TV star on a reality show than a leader who can deliver on his promises – “get things done” being the repeated theme of this speech.  Then the speech goes into the rhetoric of “delivery”, “building” and “creating jobs”, saying that she is interested in delivering on core ALP policies, not making rhetorical stands and spending time reforming the ALP.   She casts herself as the steady worker, working with purpose, method, long haul thinking.

It’s not a pretty speech with the rhetorical flourishes of Rudd – which does define their different leadership styles. To emphasise this point, Gillard says “talk is easy, getting things done is harder and I am the person who gets things done”. With frequent recent talk of Rudd’s time as PM being about a lot of rhetoric but not a lot of completion, this is Gillard speaking to her party – though, it’s not terribly vibrant or sexy for the public’s ear. Gillard’s dreary pragmatism never has been.

Gillard, like Rudd, spends time talking about Abbott’s weaknesses – essentially that he is negative, revealing that he and his repetitive, negative and simple tactics have been playing on their minds for a long time. Neither mention, however, that the Coalition’s chief weakness may well be with the team behind him, who aren’t really mentioned that much in either the media or in these speeches. It’s a clear strategy that could be pursued, but has not been.

The speech ends with repetition of the theme that she as leader is about delivery and governing – delivering on “historic” reforms for working people and the inference that Rudd is all talk, without the character to lead.

Renae Farrington's Excellent Cartoon

It’s an ugly business. Rudd with his Four Journalists of the Ruddpocalypse, helping to break union power over the ALP, plus deliver that policy stuff Versus the Dreary School Principal delivering programs.  It’s easy to see why many people would like Rudd – he seems sincere and principled. But his is the impossible dream, because he has been there before and failed – and doesn’t seem to have learned that government is more than just ideals, rhetoric and settling old scores.


Pre 2007 Insights about Rudd – The Latham Diaries Revisited

Say what you can about the shambling former Labor leader Mark Latham these days, but his diaries make for an interesting read, in the light of Kevin Rudd’s recent actions.  We can see that Latham loathes Rudd with a passion – and we need to see Latham’s words in that light. Rudd’s actions as described in the diaries, however, don’t surprise, considering his performance as Prime Minister and in recent times.   The diaries provide a picture of a man willing to do whatever it takes to make himself look good, but be a shambolic mess behind the scenes.

Latham likes to refer to Rudd as a machine man, an elitist in the Rodney Cavalier / Bob Carr mould – but one with constant ambition and “insatiable for publicity”. A key moment that reveals Rudd’s ambition on p. 249, where Latham is referring to the leadership ballot where Latham was made leader, he thanks “Heavy Kevvy” for staying in the ballot, despite never having more “than six or seven votes” and mentions him “kicking along the generational change argument”, ending with the comment that it was “amazing that journalists couldn’t see through him. Two factors: they are dumb and lazy, and Rudd is a fanatical media networker. He is addicted to it, worse than heroin”.

Rudd’s propensity for self aggrandisement is covered on p. 256, where we have the story of Rudd wanting to be made “Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Security”, but then threatening to go to the backbench because Robert McClelland’s job title also had the word security in it. Latham “thought it was some kind of joke, but the crazy bastard was serious”.

The suspicion people currently have about Rudd’s relationship with the media is explored in the later stages of Latham’s diary. We have on p. 280 an interesting passage “I’ve had a suspicion for some time now that Rudd has been feeding material to Oakes. Decided to set him up, telling Kevvie about our focus groups on Iraq. No such research exists… Today, right on cue, Jabba (Oakes) was written in the Bulletin: ‘The Labor Party’s polling firm has…’  Oakes seems to still have that relationship with Rudd.

Latham also reveals some interesting insights into the idea of Rudd presenting a facade with little going on inside, with his assessment of Rudd’s performance in the 2004 Election Campaign. (p. 356) “Publicly, he promised to produce a White Paper on foreign policy. Privately, he told me he had been hoping for an early election, so he wouldn’t have to do it. Finally, he produced a draft document… the material was unusable; wads of commentary about world events but next to no policy. As [National Secretary of the ALP Tim] Gartrell points out from our polling, the public like Rudd, but they think he’s a commentator, not a political advocate… more than anyone else in Caucus, Rudd has worked the media, trying to convince them that my policy ideas are inconsistent… He doesn’t write books or policy material, and never will.”

The most telling and damning part of Latham’s description of Rudd comes with his response to a story in The Australian which said that Rudd was saying that if he didn’t get the job of Shadow Treasurer, he would go to the backbench (p. 364). When Rudd saw Latham in order to lobby for the job, Latham says Rudd “went into a long explanation of why he’s so wonderful. When he finished, I put my cards on the table: that I regard him as disloyal and unreliable, and he only holds his frontbench position because of his media profile and public standing among people who have never actually met him.”

When told of Latham’s intention to make him go to the backbench, Rudd “broke down badly, sobbing over the recent death of his mother, just before polling day. Rudd was in a very fragile condition. I told him to leave work and go back to Brisbane to rest with his family. But he wouldn’t give up. Even though he was crying, he kept on lobbying to be Shadow Treasurer. It was becoming quite sad. Then he said words that I will never forget: ‘I swear on my mother’s grave that The Australian’s story is wrong, totally wrong, and that I’ve been loyal to you and will continue to be loyal to your leadership.”

Latham responds to this comment with “I don’t mind people bullshitting to me in politics, but not this. Last week, he rang around Caucus to gauge the mood after our loss, and told Trish Crossin that my leadership was on notice: I had until the Budget Reply speech next May to prove myself. He’s always bagging me to journalists and that’s not going to change any time soon. I don’t trust him, no matter what he says.”

When I read Latham’s Diaries for the first time, I wondered why he ever wanted to become leader. But he was a fighter, a maddie and power hungry like most other politicians appear to be.  Unlike a lot of ALP supporters, I didn’t mind Latham, due to his background as a outer suburban politician – though, in retrospect, he would have been a disastrous PM – and probably would have been toppled before the end of a first term. When Rudd became leader instead of Gillard in 2006, however, Latham’s words rang like an alarm bell for me in regards Rudd. When Rudd ran his risk averse, Howard-lite, everything focused on Kevin campaign in 2007, Latham’s words stuck like glue. They still do. Rudd has done very little that would distance him from what Latham has said about him in his diaries. Rudd’s media cheer squad haven’t changed that much from the judgment and commentary Latham offers. We can expect to hear a lot more from them in the next four days.

Cultural Comment Sport

GWS Giants – The Latest Faux Media Battleground

Those familiar with my tweets and earlier blog posts will know of my enthusiasm for the Greater Western Sydney enterprise – a western Sydney team for the football I prefer.  It was great to go to the Blacktown Sportspark to see them do very creditably against the Western Bulldogs and Collingwood. The crowd was very different from those I have experienced at Swans games – apart from a bigger chunk of working class people, there seemed to be a lot of expatriates from other states in their team colours or have adopted the old AFL cries – especially when Collingwood was being headed.

In addition, my kids have fully bought into the Giants fun – they love the song. As do I. This extended version shows how much Harry Angus from The Cat Empire enjoyed writing the song and its instrumental solo.

The media coverage I have seen about the Giants, however, has not inspired confidence that a new, enthusiastic supporter like me, my kids or those around us matters much in the way this team will be covered. Already, it’s all about TV ratings numbers and crowds, as reported here by Sydney Morning Herald league writer, Brad Walter. He, along with AFL media people, is reporting mostly TV watching numbers and crowd comparisons.

Problem is with comparing the crowd numbers – indeed using the word “dwarfed” between the NAB Cup and Charity Shield games is one of stadiums.  The Blacktown Sportspark only fits 10,000. It’s a suburban hill ground with a moderate grandstand – one to which tickets were not being sold.  The ANZ Stadium figures for the Charity Shield aren’t that good – 1/4 full – for a game featuring two teams with large supporter bases, Souths and St. George Illawarra.

All in all, it doesn’t bode well for the way the game will be covered.  It is natural that crowd wise, GWS will have a lean first year. They are a brand new club who might win one or two games.  Yet we will hear all about crowd and TV numbers from the NRL, who clearly feel threatened.  Proof of this can be found in the Walter article, where reference is made to the NRL putting up “giant billboards on the motorway to Sydney’s west and near the airport that will make it clear this is a league town” as being evidence of league’s supremacy. I would have thought that if people from other places were to judge Sydney by its billboards, they would think we were a city full of men who can’t “get it up” and need some nasal spray.  I can understand the strategy of selling rugby league to people stuck on Sydney’s motorways – but saying it’s a response to the “threat” of AFL is stretching the significance a little too far. League crowd numbers for the next few years won’t be threatened by AFL in anywhere near the capacity written about by the likes of Roy Masters and Walter.  League is still No. 1 in the west and will continue that position for many years.

If it wasn’t enough to get reasoned treatment from league writers, then there is the SMH’s resident funnyman, Richard Hinds, who wrote this snarky piece about the Giants. He basically writes in a bitter tone about the way the Giants have been set up, as well as throwing in the predictable jokes about acts who perform at Rooty Hill RSL. Hilarious. We have never heard those before.   I can’t really say anything else about the quality of the piece, because there is nothing to say in that regard.  Hinds seems to have some scores to settle with the AFL Commission and is using criticism of the Giants to carry that bitterness. If this is setting the tone, I can’t really see much analysis of any meaning from Hinds during this season.

As with the field full of derp that is in the way Federal Politics is reported, I can predict the Giants won’t get much better. I personally am looking forward to the games and atmosphere of the new members. That will be enough for me.


The Greenhouse Effect – Canberra Style

Greenhouses can be wonderful things. They help to isolate growing plants from potentially dangerous elements from the outside such as variations in temperature, wind, rain and hail. When nurturing something precious and delicate, greenhouses are ideal.

The problem for Australia right now is that Canberra – and more specifically our parliament – is also a greenhouse. Our parliament members of both sides are being propagated in a greenhouse where little to no contact is made with the outside world by those members. Instead, they are fed nutrients and fertiliser by their advisers, internal polling people, focus group results. Somewhere along the way, the ability to control the temperature inside the greenhouse was delivered to the members of a press gallery who seem to enjoy turning up the heat inside the greenhouse with their assertions, high modality language and conflating. The claque of Oakes (slapstick politics), Hartcher (it will happen; collapse), Grattan (“crisis”), Maiden (“revolt” – a favourite of hers), van Onselen (Four Corners interview a terrible look) and various other chatterers are delighted to be given the space to tell us – and the plants inside the greenhouse – who should be leader and why. They know that the plants inside the greenhouse would be absorbing the heat they create.

The Four Corners story last week provided us with an ideal way of seeing how the greenhouse works. It was a nothing story, featuring an ex staffer with a book to sell, the SDA Catholic Crusader, Joe de Bruyn, Con Sciacca and Graham Richardson – again. Basically using The Drum / Q and A method of analysing politics. The only irrelevant commenters needed were Peter Reith and Mark Latham. Shots of Kevin Rudd attempting to look popular file sipping Peronis in Darling Harbour were shown as evidence of his popularity. The story was a tiny shift away from being hosted by Tracy Grimshaw. Questions were asked, though, as to why Julia Gillard graced the show with her presence. She was a victim of the greenhouse effect. If she said no, she would be accused of being evasive and scared of Rudd. She said yes, however, and so every tiny thing she said was analysed and placed in planter boxes built by the press gallery.

The end result of this greenhouse effect is that the growth process is halted and all hell starts to break loose. Then we see absurd lists of people who are voting for one side or another, individual plants (even ones that taste like cheese) buckling under the pressure, as well as videos released of one of the plants swearing

Personally, that video puts me in mind of one of the most famous plant based TV show in history, which makes more sense than the current show in Canberra

All sorts of stuff that gets the journalists very excited. Then those journalists sitting outside the greenhouse will retweet comments like this as some kind of “nyah, nyah” comment to those of us who tire of the turning up of the temperature inside the greenhouse

Michael O'BrienMichael O’Brien @michaelobrienmp

Funnier than the uncivil war of embattled Labor PM v embittered ex-Labor PM is TwitterLeft realization that it’s *not* all a media beat up.

Leadership seems to be almost always bubbling inside any government. That seems to be the nature of the egos inside the greenhouse. So, this is not about any “beat up”, it is more about the way journalists become the anointers of new leaders after their own actions in turning small disturbances into full blown wars.

Meanwhile, far away from the artificially controlled greenhouse, there is a nation. A nation that needs a government to formulate good policy and legislation in order for that country to progress. It appears that the people who gleefully turn up the heat inside the greenhouse know or care little about those policies or the people – instead focusing on the “winners and losers” and “what is means for Kevin”. In other words, using them as another way to fiddle with the heat. The truth is a casualty of this manipulation. I laugh at the dumb that is said about the “Western Suburbs” by journalists who wouldn’t be seen dead there, until I realise how a whole community is pigeonholed and then used.

The end result of this greenhouse activity will not be the glorious flowers of Floriade, more like a browned off bunch of leaves.

Cultural Comment

The Mythical West

Hopping into this fun old game of blogging and tweeting has opened my eyes as much as it has confirmed what I had suspected amongst many of our opinion shapers and makers. That when it comes to the Mythical Western Suburbs, they are just that. A myth that continues to be perpetuated by people who are happily living in either their inner city boltholes or in hideaways away from the same Mythical West.

I have this picture above my desk at work, just to remind me of how those from the inner see the outer.

For us who live and work in the actual west, we find this mildly amusing for its stereotyping. For people who think Leichhardt is the limit of their idea of Sydney, it summarises their understanding of life in the Mythical West. The only thing is missing are the angry mobs wanting to Stop The Boats.

For them, there is this kind of political propaganda, placed in the letterboxes of voters living in the poorers areas of Lindsay in the last Federal Election, assuming that people won’t read any kind of facts in relation to the issue.

As with any set of stereotypes, there is some truth to the things said about The Mythical West. There are cashed up bogans. There are flanno wearing people on welfare payments. There are racists. There are groups of newly arrived immigrants who have had little to no help in settling into life in a completely new country and culture. There are also groups of dedicated people – teachers, nurses, social workers, pastors, priests and so on trying to do their best to help the suburbs maintain a good and happy balance. Yet you almost never hear their voice in the “National Conversation”.

Read newspapers, watch ACA, Today Tonight, 730, Q and A, watch or read The Drum and The Punch, Things Bogans Like and virtually everything else. The authors are almost exclusively people from the inner city, talking about The Mythical West as an abstract concept, not a real place. You’d never see David Marr or Robert Manne out at Penrith Plaza or Chadstone, for example. You’ll see Gemma Jones from the Daily Telegraph get in a car to find someone on $150,000 in Baulkham Hills for a story, but that’s feeding the Mythical West stereotype as well. The same goes for Alan Jones and Andrew Bolt – even though their mendacity is pretending to know the outer suburbs whilst all the while scuttling to their fortresses away from the unwashed.

This Mythical West image won’t change, though. Media outlets like to perpetuate the myths, as do the new hipsters and those who like to furiously define things like feminism. In the case of feminism, we recently have had endless arguments about who or what is a feminist. Whilst they jump on each other in such arguments, people in the actual west still like Charlie Sheen and Chris Brown, despite their appalling actions. This is because those people cannibalising each other in the inner don’t seem to be interested in fighting the good fight to change perceptions and people’s lives in the vast heaving outer. But don’t worry. There are people who are doing their best to work in those areas. And most of them read the guff and sigh, knowing that the media merry-go-round has very little to do with them and their daily toil.

Cultural Comment Politics

Our Future in Poetry – Gina Rinehart

Today’s blog is dedicated to our newest poet, Gina Rinehart, who has produced a protest poem, Our Future. It was put on a plaque and set in stone.  Here is the poem:

Our Future

The globe is sadly groaning with debt, poverty and strife
And billions now are pleading to enjoy a better life
Their hope lies with resources buried deep within the earth
And the enterprise and capital which give each project worth
Is our future threatened with massive debts run up by political hacks
Who dig themselves out by unleashing rampant tax
The end result is sending Australian investment, growth and jobs offshore
This type of direction is harmful to our core
Some envious unthinking people have been conned
To think properity is created by waving a magic wand
Through such unfortunate ignorance, too much abuse is hurled
Against miners, workers and related industries who strive to build the world
Develop North Australia, embrace multiculturalism and welcome short term foreign workers to our shores
To benefit from the export of our minerals and ores
The world’s poor need our resources: do not leave them to their fate
Our nation needs special economic zones and wiser government, before it is too late.

Here is the stone

And here is the video version.

As her favourite commentator, Andrew Bolt would say, this material arrives without comment.


What Welfare? Providing a Bed for Private Health Insurance

I remember the day in the early 80s when my father entered the house, exclaiming that he was going to cancel his private health insurance with MBF. He had just received the rebate on a recent treatment, which was somewhere near 50% of the cost. He thundered about paying premiums every month for years, only to get back the meagre amount from the insurer the one time he claimed. The health insurers still do the same with claims on minor treatments, dental care and glasses.

Flash forward to the late 90s and we had the Howard Government, in a very non-neoliberal move, ensuring in 1999 that the Government was to prop up the ailing private health insurance (PHI) industry and the private hospital network it was supporting. They began the 30% government rebate to those wealthy enough to pay for private health insurance. As a result, the government set up a system that ensured that a considerable about of money going into the health budget was not being placed in public hospitals, instead it was to be used as an incentive for more people to take out private insurance. Even better, the same government punished those who were considered to be earning too much to not have private health insurance by starting the Medicare Levy Surcharge (MLS). In other words, forcing a large sector of the population to take out private health insurance. It’s a social coercion scheme that any old Communist leader would admire for its ingenuity. Imagine if the government did the same for independent schools.

As a result, many of us are forced to take out private health insurance most of us barely use or need. Most of our health needs are serviced by the Medicare system, with the exception of optometry, dentistry and elective surgery. Even in those cases, if we didn’t have to pay the MLS or for PHI, we could save and pay for most procedures many times over. It has also instituted the belief amongst many people in society that they now must have private insurance no matter what, that to have a private room and choice of doctor is a right, not a privilege. It’s now become almost an article of faith that we should have a subsidised private health establishment. That it allows people avoiding public hospital waiting lists for needed “elective” surgery – and that if there was no private health insurance or hospitals, the public hospitals would be overflowing.

These arguments have their flaws, however. This is public money being put into the hands of private individuals – away from hospitals that could expand their elective surgery departments. Could be put into a dental scheme. If the Howard Government was really interested in a neoliberal agenda that involved small government, it should have prosecuted the argument that people who want to choose their own doctor, have their own maternity room or have elective procedures quicker than others should have been paying for that privilege. The private hospitals would still continue to provide their limited range of services – as well as pay their nurses considerably less than those who work in the public system.

This is a point that is crucial about private health cover. While there is a cogent argument for the extras cover for things like optometry and dentistry, the biggest proportion goes to the private hospital system. They, unlike independent schools, will never provide a full alternative for the public version, especially in terms of emergency and accident care. If they did, there could be some argument for governments subsidising them in the same way they support independent schools.

As a result of the Howard Government’s largesse, we are still paying many billions of dollars each year for various forms of middle class welfare like the private health insurance rebate. It is difficult, nigh on impossible, for any government to stop these forms of payments, for fear of an electoral backlash. And so we arrive at the Gillard Government means testing the rebate, which will save governments many billions of dollars into the future – in addition to increasing the punishment for people for people earning a certain amount who don’t take out PHI.

The Australian has performed what seems to be a regular job of attempting to whip up battler anti-government sentiment through a Verity Edwards article featuring a family who will be forced to pay the full commercial cost of PHI. As is usual with such articles, Edwards found people earning that money who were performing a job that we associate with the working class – concreting. These battlers, earning more than $258,000 p.a, may be forced to pay somewhere near $800 each year more for it. It’s a curious article, especially this quote

“It’s ridiculous – the better we do, the more the government takes,” Ms Richards said yesterday. “Every time we try to get ahead and don’t rely on the welfare system, we get a guarantee they’ll hit us again.”

They are relying on the welfare system. The rebate is a welfare payment. In addition, the comment “the more the government takes” is also a clear inaccuracy, as company taxation rates have steadily fallen over the years and will continue to do so when the MRRT kicks in. It would be interesting to see if any columnist at the Australian or any other paper would point out that inaccuracy. The article also includes this curious quotation –

“I think if they’re going to take away the 30 per cent, I would be looking at what we’d spent, what we received back with Josh, and whether we need it,” she said.

The difficulty for them is that they would be punished if they didn’t take out the insurance, because they would pay the MLS. Not that this is pointed out by Edwards in the article. There is no way they would do it, based on the stratospheric costs associated with orthodontistry and physiotherapy.

I believe that the government should kick away all the props from the private health industry, but I understand the difficulties that would flow from that action. In terms of the changes they have made, however, I think governments should be using public money to fund hospitals and health care for as many of those who need urgent medical care. Better that trying to bribe a family that takes in more than a quarter of a million dollars a year to support private enterprise. I look forward to seeing people from the IPA supporting the Government on this issue. It is exactly what a libertarian would be doing.

Cultural Comment Politics

The Curious Incident of the Rat in the Daytime

People in Sydney would have seen this image on their Daily Telegraph front pages as they walked to trains or into workplaces. It is based on a rumour that the new Speaker of the House, Peter Slipper, wanted to wear a wig as the speaker. The Daily Telegraph decided to revive their image from earlier of the “King Rat”, this time in a wig.

This seems to be what passes for political coverage in Australia – degrading images of humans depicted as animals. They not only degrade the person in question, they degrade us as a nation. This was the lead story on the Telegraph – and it then turned out to be inaccurate in any case. At the same time, we had the the Herald’s story about the catering company that provided the Coalition’s costings on Nauru, which raised questions about the reliability of costings and policies coming from the opposition. It has turned out the story has more dimensions than first reported, but yesterday it was more important to our national agenda than the Speaker wearing a wig.

Such a story about the costings did not appear in The Telegraph, neither today or yesterday. Instead, it was Slipper. Slipper with the wig – and when that was shown to be a fabrication, it was Slipper going to NZ. My view of the degrading nature of the rat picture was part of a Twitter conversation that featured Alison Rehn, Greg Jericho and the National Affairs Editor at the Australian, Ben Packham. It was started by a comment by Packham about Greg Jericho – to which I retweeted with my own comment.

Media = Commodity. RT @bennpackham @GrogsGamut @alisonrehn love to see a newspaper edited by Greg Jericho, but who’d buy it?

After he agreed with me that media is a commodity, I responded with:

Me – @bennpackham @GrogsGamut @alisonrehn Therefore, Slipper in wig depicted as a rat takes prominence over catering company providing figures.

Packham – @prestontowers @GrogsGamut @alisonrehn Slipper IS a rat. You dispute this? Labor is tarnished y it’s association with him

Me – @bennpackham @GrogsGamut @alisonrehn It is fine for media outlets to quote people who believe he is a rat. It’s not for the media to judge.

Packham – @prestontowers @GrogsGamut @alisonrehn no, he’s a rat by common definition

Me – @bennpackham @GrogsGamut @alisonrehn I am not sure when society said yes to people being depicted as rodents on front pages.

Packham – @prestontowers @alisonrehn @GrogsGamut Coalition says yes, his electorate says yes, Labor says you bewdy

Me – @bennpackham @alisonrehn @GrogsGamut You did not address my point – the depiction of a man as a rodent on the front page of a paper.

Packham – @prestontowers @alisonrehn @GrogsGamut so what, he is

Tasmanian journalist Alex Johnston (@swegen31) then came with this comment:

Johnston – @prestontowers don’t agree with you on this one mate. There’s no arguing he’s a rat. @bennpackham

Me – @swegen31 I know he’s a “rat” – but I object to his physical depiction as one. It’s puerile. @bennpackham

Packham – @prestontowers @swegen31 don’t buy the feckin’ paper

Me – @lloydois @bennpackham @GrogsGamut @alisonrehn Going back to my original point. Coalition costings story is much bigger than Slipper’s wig.

Packham – @prestontowers @lloydois @GrogsGamut we reported coatings and wig

Me – @bennpackham @swegen31 If the paper had front page stories like the coalition costings story, wouldn’t that sell papers as well?

Packham – @prestontowers @swegen31 get real. Not tabloids

Me – @bennpackham @lloydois @GrogsGamut What page was costings on?

Packham – @prestontowers @alisonrehn @GrogsGamut we reported costings online I dunno about paper. When is Labor going to deliver surplus anyway?

Alex Johnston @swegen31: @bennpackham @prestontowers the fact we are still talking about the rat shows it was the right front page.

Me – @swegen31 @bennpackham I think the fact we are talking about the rat is because it shows a low watermark of our media.

And that was it. The most illuminating comment – other than “so what, he is” was that about tabloids not publishing such a story. Having seen how the Daily Telegraph works, I would have thought that if the Government was being accused of using faulty costing mechanisms like that, we would be seeing a front page featuring a McDonalds or Cafe sign superimposed on a picture of the existing Nauru facilities. The most absurd from Mr. Packham was throwing in the irrelevant issue of the Labor surplus – perhaps showing us how much of a one track mind is being developed at The Australian.

I’m still not sure when we all thought it was good and acceptable to depict people this way – and for journalists to play such a partisan and immature game of name calling and liking the 14 year old style of scribbling on pictures. Perhaps the naughty boys up the back of our classrooms have become our journalists – not the “nerds” sitting up the front.

But perhaps I could just not be concerned about this style of political coverage and ignore the feckin’ paper.