AusOpinion Reblogged 18 – The Ken Sherry Effect – Why Abbott Will Continue to be Unpopular

This was the post where I declared that Abbott would never be truly popular because he’s so a. AWKWARD and b. Deluded, like Ken Sherry from one of my favourite films, Love Serenade.

Yeah, it’s all started. Again and again and again. Election campaigns are always fun as theatre.  The political theatre we see in Australian election campaign is a bit like a Williamson play – full of empty speeches, pompous white men and taking itself much too seriously.  In it are people who are a little bit like some of the best Australian film characters – daggy, a little awkward and a little bit slow.  Even the political characters from the few political films we do – like in The Honourable Wally Norman (never heard of it? Don’t worry, you’re not alone) and the Dad and Dave political film (the original Rudd story), are daggy.  Fair dinkums, sauce bottles and “what the ordinary Aussie wants…” everywhere.

But there’s awkward like Kevin Rudd trying to emulate the Australian idiom in a Kochie kind of way and then there’s a.w.k.w.a.r.d. Tony Abbott strikes me as an incredibly awkward uni student who grew up to be an incredibly awkward man trying to be an everyday bloke.  Trying, but not working.   This week I spoke to a Sydney Uni student of the 1970s who was aware of “this bloke on campus who was DLP. Imagine that!”  For that is one of the more stark facts about Abbott’s life was that he was, in the 1970s, still trumpeting the causes and visions of B.A. Santamaria while others at uni were moving on with their political beliefs. Hence his tenacious grip on a paid parental leave scheme that is more DLP and LNP.

He has always looked awkward when out and about, providing the media with the occasional really awkward shot – spawning unfortunate comparisons like this:


Then there was this Chaser moment from the 2010 campaign, where Abbott is placed out of his comfort zone and makes that tell tale awkward laugh of his:

Now we are seeing the second campaign of Abbott and that awkward way of expressing himself, laughing and talking to regular people is becoming more obvious. Today we had this image from Alex Ellingshausen, which I think is the sort of awkward image we will see a lot as the campaign continues.


I think even the Liberal Party have realised that Abbott looks incredibly awkward around people, so their first campaign ad – called (A) New Hope features a whole group of (almost entirely white) people in stills.   Even the stills of Abbott – one of him in the high vis vest and the “I can look like Don Draper” aeroplane shot at the end – look awkward.

This is not to say that we should either be picking on Abbott for that awkwardness, nor making him look endearing due to it.  It does make me think, however, as this election will drag on, voters will continue to find it hard to warm to Abbott as the leader when he tries to be the blokey alpha matey male figure instead of the fiery Catholic values holding outsider he was in the 70s.  In that, I think Abbott is suffering what I’m calling the Ken Sherry Effect.

Never heard of Ken Sherry? Never heard of the Palme D’Or winning film of 1996, Love Serenade?   Ken Sherry was a major character (well, there were really only 4 characters) in the film.  I love the film because it’s a tribute to awkwardness. Sherry has the self image throughout the film of being a major babe magnet with a deep voice, open necked shirts intoning cliches or long dissertations about love and life. This image is fed by the adoration of Dimity – the most awkward character in Australian film – and Vicki Anne, who still reminds me of every second woman interviewed about politics in voxpops done by our various media outlets.  To Dimity and especially Vicki Anne, Ken Sherry is the paragon of manhood and someone to be admired.  For the rest of us, we see Ken Sherry as an incredibly awkward, poignant character – though one that has realised, deep down, that he is also odd, like the rest of the “town” of Sunray.   Abbott may have supported and pumped up by the Vicki Annes of Australia, but for the rest of us, he’s a dorky bloke who intones nonsense that makes us roll our eyes. He probably also realises that he’s decidedly odd at times, though he’d never admit it.

This is why, when I see Tony Abbott, I see Ken Sherry. I’m not sure that’s entirely healthy for the next few weeks.


AusOpinion Reblogged 17 – Sharknado the Boats – Port Jackson becomes Port Moresby

I was pretty disgusted by Rudd’s Manus PNG Solution – especially as he told the ALP to “not lurch to the right” on the issue when Gillard ascended to be PM. The hypocrisy was rank for Rudd. But then again, there was worse, as we all knew…

New is old, old is new.  The beginnings of what we know as “Australia” were rooted in England wanting a solution to their boat problem – floating prison boats. Therefore the English took off into Port Jackson and started the invasion of English values.  Now the Labor movement, has given us commitments in the past to a White Australia and to mandatory detention has now delivered this mind boggling piece of evil genius, the PNG Solution.

Kevin Rudd has been very busy and focused and each one of his visits and actions have been pointed and deliberate – though I can’t imagine a single journalist or observer could have predicted that his visit to Papua New Guinea would yield this kind of plan. It will be easy to sell as a much more effective deterrent to these ever present “People Smugglers” than the Coalition’s unworkable and merely small scale evil Nauru / TPV / towback / turnback / boatphone policy.  It’s been significant that Rudd and Bob Carr have been showing this week that they have a good working relationship with Indonesia, especially with the Iran visa block, while the Liberals have been made to look foolish while Indonesian ministers criticise their Howard era plan.

We can now look forward to Rudd the salesman repeating phrases about “orderly processing”, “waiting for proper channels in due season”, “making sure people don’t lose lives on these dangerous boats” and “smashing the people’s smugglers’ business model by denying them their most attractive product – Australia.”  There are many who will call supporters of this policy “racist”, but they won’t have understood the dimensions of this issue, which for many has become about being “orderly” and “waiting your turn” – as if those things actually exist in international refugee movements. That is one of the concepts the Howard era successfully dropped into the public imagination and memory for many.

This is why the decision to make all successful asylum applications by boat arrivals Papua New Guinea’s “problem” will going to play well amongst those voters swinging between the ALP and the Coalition on this issue. It will demonstrate that he has a solution to the “orderly queue” issue.  Rudd can also use that appeal of his to show that he has new ideas about it, while Abbott is left with a new catchphrase hiding old thinking – “We are the Original and the Best” in terms of being cynical about this issue. It will probably come out as a touch weak and show he is living in the past and out of touch with the latest techniques of being cruel (as well as recalling that figure that used to promote the “Original and the Best”. It would be a touch unfair to call Abbott the Gobbledok of Australian politics – the Gobbledok only had one phrase, and that only had one word).


As for the outrage that will emerge from many, I can’t imagine that Rudd and the strategists behind this Machiavellian push to clear the decks for the election will care too much. They will know that people who want humane treatment of asylum seekers are hardly going to switch to Abbott and Morrison, who may well be now trying to institute a “Sharknado the Boats” policy in order to appear more cruel and authoritarian than Rudd.  He has left a clear message to these voters – this Labor Government is more concerned with the votes of “Working Families” than it is with people who want a more humanitarian state.


That gets back to the wider picture with this decision. Rudd is intending to neutralise the asylum seeker issue – make it a point of little difference from the Coalition, allowing him to focus on issues where there are considerable differences – health, education and industrial relations. The collateral damage – people who come to Australia on boat and their supporters – is small compared to the bigger power game.  Care for asylum seekers is not a long term core Labor philosophy – care for workers’ jobs and entitlements is – and if this action helps the Labor movement continue in power in order to protect that, then so be it.  We have seen the same attitude with the way Rudd has started to embrace CSG and scrapping Green industry incentive schemes. Care for the environment, too, is not core Labor movement philosophy.   The challenge is out there – if you don’t like it, vote Green. In a compulsory preferential system, voters will have to choose between Coalition and Labor anyway for the House of Representatives.

In all of this is left Papua New Guinea, once upon a time our responsibility but has since become a nation in dire trouble with a revolving door of leaders and scandals – though not as doomed and poor as the former bird poo stronghold Nauru.  This use of our impoverished Pacific neighbours is not new, even in this issue – Julia Gillard tried with her East Timor policy, but that wasn’t as calculated or negotiated in the same way as this.  Also, one can’t imagine East Timor wearing the responsibility for settling refugees in the way PNG has here. One can now envisage Rudd using a variety of patronising phrases about our little “mate” up north and how now the government will be pumping money into the colony. I mean sovereign nation.   We don’t seem to have moved very far forward in attitudes. Still a patronising colonial power, searching for prison camps who don’t want to take responsibility for the care of those who need help around us.

Cultural Comment Politics

AusOpinion Reblogged 16 – Jump in My Government Subsidised Car, I Want to Take You Home

Here was me blasting my former workmates, rorting the tax system and leasing cars. It still revolts me to think of it. 

When I worked in the outer south western suburbs of Sydney, there were colleagues who used to appear in a new car every second year or so. There was one in particular who had a new Audi TT, a Volvo SUV, and two others in between I can’t remember now.  Many colleagues took up the opportunity to save on tax through leasing their personal cars on the novated lease program.  The carpark had several gleaming, shiny new cars that had petrol and maintenance all part of the monthly package. These colleagues really loved the novated lease setup of which teachers could take advantage – though almost none of those cars were Australian built cars. European cars were pretty popular, followed by Japanese models.

One of the more absurd parts of the novated lease setup for these colleagues was that if they lived close to work, they had to take long driving holidays in order to clock up the kilometres needed to make the scheme work. Or lend the car to friends so they could clock up those kilometres. If the staff member lived an acceptable distance away from work, then it was ok – and certainly meant that catching a train was not an option. No point taking out the lease if you weren’t going to take full advantage.

I never took advantage of this scheme. Aside from never taking the time to fully understand what it was all about, I owned second hand cars because I really didn’t want to sink monthly money into new cars, whether there was maintenance and petrol or not. After my separation, it was also made clear to me I would not be under any taxation advantage if I was fiddling around with FBT. More importantly to me, however, was that I thought there was something drastically wrong with the whole thing.

I just did not see the fairness in a government giving what was in essence a tax cut to professionals wanting to sink money into a new car unnecessarily – what about those people who could not afford monthly novated lease payments and having to catch substandard public transport.  It seemed to be just another piece of middle class welfare that encouraged car purchases and use above normal levels.

I could – and still can – see the use of novated leases for people using cars for work purposes, like mobile nurses, union organisers, sales representatives. But for people going to and from work and then ferrying kids to sport and so on?  There was something terribly inequitable and environmentally irresponsible with the philosophy behind the scheme.  Yet another way for governments to push people in the outer suburbs – the ones that could actually do the kilometres required – off trains and into cars.

So it’s come to pass that the Federal Government has decided to do the economically and environmentally responsible thing and cut the novated lease system to just people using their car for work purposes.  The other cuts made due to the early switch to a floating carbon price – cutting environmentally important schemes – are poor moves in terms of long term, environmentally responsible action. However, this action could conceivably have a significant impact on the environment by cutting down on unnecessary uses of cars, apart from anything else.  It also stops the taxpayer from subsidising shiny new cars for people who don’t really need them.

Predictably, the novated lease companies and car manufacturers have screamed that there will be “thousands” of jobs lost and the car industry will die in a screaming heap. The novated lease industry has not had these personal customers for all that many years. They will still have customers, just not the government subsidised personal ones.  As for the Australian car industry, I can’t imagine them suffering as much as they are saying, especially as many who choose to lease a personal car choose imported vehicles, while government agencies and other massed work related leasing arrangements are still often done with Australian made vehicles.  Any cursory look at ex-lease auction houses will show the acres of Falcons and Commodores from businesses that obtain work vehicles for their employees. I bought one of these vehicles once upon a time.

This may have an electoral backlash for Rudd and the Government in the outer suburbs amongst people who were taking advantage of this scheme. It shouldn’t affect their vote more than other actions, because the people taking out these pretty pricey novated leases are financially well off and don’t need to be having their car purchases being part of a tax benefit. For those who actually use their cars for their small businesses and for tradies, this shouldn’t make an impact, unless they are mixing business with pleasure at the expense to general revenue. This is why I hope that at least on this promise, Rudd and Bowen stick to their word and not buckle – it is one of the best things they have done in their short time.


AusOpinion Reblogged 15 – The Fraser liberals and the Greens

This was fairly popular – maybe because it was one of the most personal of my AusVotes / AusOpinion posts.  It was really more of a Preston Institute post than the more analytical style I was after. 

The news that Malcolm Fraser is helping Sarah Hanson-Young’s campaign in South Australia was met with a variety of reactions on Twitter that were entirely predictable. Labor supporters scoffed (and continued a long running campaign against Hanson-Young’s propensity to show emotion during press conferences), Liberal supporters continued to bad mouth Fraser’s years as PM and Greens supporters were left to either be delighted that a former PM was making a stand for refugees or scratching their heads.  The latter because many Greens are former Labor party supporters to whom Fraser is an enemy, the bloke against whom they “maintained the rage” for many years. For some observers, the Fraser “switch” to a “socialist” party like the Greens was evidence of either him going soft or the Greens selling out. It is neither. For me, it has given me pause to reflect on my father.

My dad was born three years before Malcolm Fraser, but died some 16 years ago. He was, however, a supporter of the Fraser era Liberals and, with my mum, was a member of the Liberal Party in the 1970s and early 1980s.  My house growing up was a heavily political house, in that I was taught to believe that Gough Whitlam was a wasteful PM whose government took unnecessary risks and made financially imprudent decisions like making university education free. To this end, that is why I, aged 9, handed out HTVs for the Liberal candidate in the 1981 state election – a hopeless cause, as Merrylands was a safe seat, containing the Deputy Premier, Jack Ferguson – the father of Martin, Laurie and Andrew.  What I remember distinctly from that experience was the friendliness of the Labor volunteers and their excitement of listening to Newtown defeat Easts in the Preliminary Grand Final – a result that was to make the next week Grand Final easier for Parramatta to win. It was the first time I’d ever heard a rugby league game broadcast.

Dad liked the Liberals of that era because they were, in his eyes, decent people who wanted to preserve the traditions present in society and the status quo, as well as small businesses. He was a small business owner in 1981, but had previously had a number of roles in life. He had been a youth club manager for the YMCA, a camp manager at various mines in the north of Australia, then a personnel manager at a dairy processing factory.  He was, in many ways, a tough man – his jobs had made him appear that way and he looked like a rugby league prop – but he also had a soft and gentle heart – which I saw whenever he had Beethoven on the record player.  This meant that he was never interested in playing competitive sports – unlike many of his relatives, who were deeply involved in the world of rugby league.  In addition, the last job as personnel manager took too much of a toll on him – his high blood pressure caused by caring about what was happening to workers who had to be retrenched or affected by company policy in some other way.  He always cared too much – and was always less than diplomatic, he told me, which I always took as part warning and part regret.   He knew I would go on to be less than diplomatic as well.

He was, but the time I was aware of what he did, a self made, hard working businessman who looked after plants in various offices and banks around Sydney. Three days a week made him enough money to make him happy and give us a comfortable life.  Watching him talk to the various bank managers and other people who employed him made me realise that he didn’t care who he was talking to – he treated everyone the same, no matter their position in life. And he was respected for that, no matter how daggy he may have looked in shirts that my mother made for him.

Dad saw in the Liberals a party that wanted to protect what had been as well as people like him – self made businessmen who didn’t want to have to worry about lots of red tape involved with employing others to work for him. He also saw a party that respected the basic dignity of individuals, no matter who they were and where they came from. I remember vividly the happy times we had with a Mauritian work colleague that Dad had sponsored as a part of that colleague’s migration to Australia. If people worked hard, Dad liked them all.  One of my last memories of Dad was when we went on our last holiday to Ballina, booked when it was clear that he was near the end of his life. He insisted that Mum and I take off to the Gold Coast for the day and enjoy ourselves while he rested. I remember him, as we left, having a long chat with the motel’s cleaning staff and seeing them have a laugh and a smile.

Dad and Mum left the Liberals in the early 80s when they saw a group of venal young men start to take over the branch at Merrylands. Men who were in the party for power and to see how much money could be made through that power. Dad saw how selfish and disrespectful these men were – anyone with a lack of dignity offended his sense of equality and decency.  This was no longer the party of Fraser, John Dowd and the like. This was the origins of what we now see as the Liberal Party of today – the party symbolised by the hardness of Mirabella, Morrison, Hockey and Abbott.

Dad went on to be politically homeless – he could never support the Labor Party, the party of union power, of Hawke, Keating and the like. We infrequently talked about politics in the 90s, except for a couple of occasions. There was his retirement in 1992, when, seeing an inevitable GST, he said “I’m not going to become a tax collector for the Government”.  He also became the head of the local Neighbourhood Watch group, which he turned in a local advocacy group for issues in our suburb, when there had been none before.  This is why he expressed in running as an independent for the local council, chiefly because our town hadn’t had a representative in the council’s history.  It was only a passing ambition, though – he knew he didn’t have the backing of a party or a lot of money and then he became sick.

If doorknocking in one township was the only requirement for an election, however, then Dad would have won in a landslide – as the head of Neighbourhood Watch, he knew most of the residents and had a lot of friends because he listened to them.  This respect for Dad was communicated to me in spades when I turned up to the next meeting held after his passing – they loved him and wanted me to walk in his steps. I tried, but couldn’t and left the district soon after, due to work issues. But in that time I ran the Neighbourhood Watch group, it was clear to me, at least, I wasn’t my father.

Flash forward to more recent times, and it is clear that the political landscape has changed significantly from the times of Fraser and my father.  I was fortunate enough to be provided the opportunity by the Greens to do what Dad never did and run for the same council he wanted to join. I, however, am not shaped like a politician or even a social galvaniser like Dad. I, having not long returned to the area of my youth, walked into a difficult situation. The previous councillor had managed to alienate a lot of people, the Liberal and Labor party did a preference deal to squeeze out the Greens, and it was a campaign where it was difficult to get noticed.  Plus, my job and family situation meant that I had little time for door knocking or community work.

Not that all that concerned me greatly. When the figures came out to show my loss, I was disappointed for 10 seconds. That was my Dad’s disappointment, not mine. I realised at that moment that I didn’t have the heart, passion or time that Dad would have had for helping the people I met during the campaign.  Nor did I have the interest in playing the games I saw being played.  A poignant moment of the campaign came for me when my mother passed away halfway through the campaign. The morning after, I still had to turn up to a pre polling booth with materials for voters. One of my opponents sympathised genuinely with me as I told him my news, and then, at the end of the conversation, asked whether I was going to a council meeting that night because of some motion that was being proposed that I had supported in the media. I can understand why he asked – he was fully geared for the campaign and to this day feel no ill will towards him for being focused on helping the community as best he can. I clearly wasn’t, however, a politician in that mould.  I was a little startled and said no.

I knew this was a changed world when not long after the defeat, I was having yet another argument on Twitter when a particular tweep used my losing result against me in a nasty and gratuitous manner, completely out of the context of the argument.  I protect my anonymity for a variety of important reasons, but here was someone wishing to use my real life disappointment against me in something as silly as a Twitter argument.  Suddenly, I could feel the weight of my father’s hopes sitting on my shoulders and the weight of that disappointment hitting me in the face, brought up by a Twitter user used to belittling and not caring about the result of his actions.  And then two of his friends came in to belittle me further – both of them supporters of the Liberal Party.  Here I was being told that I was a fool and should be a figure of derision, a failure, for wanting to help people, to be at the call of others wanting things to be fixed in their area. It was another defining moment for me – and the aftermath showed me who my true friends were on Twitter.

It briefly made me wonder why it is I even go on Twitter and talk to people about politics, about issues that I feel are important.  Many tweeps chide me for being too serious, too earnest, for caring too much. They will say the same for me still harbouring the pain caused on that night. Chastised for being too much like my father, is what I hear.  One is supposed to be insouciant on Twitter – not care about things that are said for more than an hour.  That is why Dad could never have coped with it. For one, he would have gone mad with the silly things said about politics and society on a daily basis. Far too serious about important matters, was Dad.  He would have said “what do I care about what is said from the peanut gallery?”.  I am not as serious for the most part, but occasionally, I make a stand and refuse to be insouciant – which makes me a target of that same peanut gallery, I know.

And now we have Malcolm Fraser, a liberal man of a similar age of my father, being a figure of derision when he believes that a stand needs to be made in regards to basic human dignity in the way we as a nation treat asylum seekers.  I am not for one moment comparing a figure like my father to Malcolm Fraser, but where I do see a similarity is in the concept of making a stand for things that seem important as well as where the modern Liberal Party stands. Australia is a rich nation, a fortunate nation, a nation of great diversity made to seem like a small minded, penny pinching, nation of amateur accountants, seeing asylum seekers as a threat to that wealth, a waste of money.  A nation built by Fraser’s mean spirited, hollowman treasurer, John Howard.  Malcolm Fraser wants to use his presence as an elder statesman to ask people to pause and reflect on how the way we treat those less fortunate reflects on us as a people.  His stand really has revealed a lot about where people on Twitter and in the wider community are in terms of this issue.

It has also showed how far to the reactionary and neo-liberal – not the right – the “LIberal” Party have gone. That party, with the leaving of people like Judi Moylan and Petro Georgiou seems interested just in making government smaller and give them less responsibility for keeping the institutions and public sector of the community going, instead protecting big business, selling off public assets and land as well as the fostering the “right” of anyone to make money, at whatever cost to the morality and dignity of the nation.  A party that thinks that videos like this are a right and proper way to conduct politics:


My statement will appear too moralistic / preachy / patronising / antediluvian to many and really, they are entitled to believe that. I will never agree with them.

It also shows that the Greens and their supporters aren’t only what many in the media and on Twitter will tell you, a group of socialist “watermelons” who live in the inner city, refugees of the Whitlamite Labor Party and socialist parties or hipster university students from affluent families, playing politics as a game.  Election data will tell people the truth – that the Greens are also supported by a lot of people like me – Blue – Greens, who aren’t necessarily from affluent backgrounds who believe the Greens are about conserving a lot of what is great about Australia – the environment, public institutions, the public service, public transport, unions that are about serving their members, those less fortunate and a dignified approach to the processing of asylum seeker claims that remembers that the asylum seekers are human beings, not numbers on boats. Most of the asylum seekers who apply for asylum are genuine refugees, not “illegals” or “economic refugees” as Bob Carr, long time opponent of large population growth in Australia would have people believe. But people know that. Or maybe they don’t, and there are many Fraser era liberals out there who need to hear that message – help them realise how far away from them the Conservatives / Neo Liberal Party of Australia have gone away from them.

I know my father would probably still never vote Green – except for me, I’m pretty sure.  I would have told him pretty quickly that I would have been a pretty pragmatic Green councillor – interested chiefly in doing what I could to preserve the natural environment and helping local groups and institutions continuing to provide services for the community – not issues irrelevant to council operations.  Voting for the Greens otherwise would have been a stretch for him. But he would have listened more to Malcolm Fraser than to Tony Abbott. And he wouldn’t be the only one of that era who would be.


AusOpinion Reblogged 14 – Rudd – Why Perception is Reality for the DIDO Social Media Crowd

Here’s an expression that never caught on – DIDO – Drop In, Drop Out. But I still like it.  As I like all the images in this.  Such a collection. And cop the picture of Christopher Pyne in the K-Mart jumper.  And I completely forgot about #KnittingSongs – remember hashtags? I do.  

There has been much written about the demise of Julia Gillard and the rise of Julia Gillard. Much of it excellent, such as this post by Kelly Exeter, or this excellent summation by Katharine Murphy as to how Gillard lacked the “essential alchemy” it took to become a successful PM.  For me, it can be summed up as the difference between an enabler who needed good spinning and an spinner who needs others to enable, as well as the need to appeal to more than just the “true believers” who liked and supported Gillard.  It also shows the gap between people who connect deeply with Twitter on political issues and the DIDO consumers of social and other forms of media – those that Dip In and Dip Out.

When I started blogging, I hooked into the idea of Gillard being an enabler in terms of political deals and legislation, which never went away for me. Compromises, deals, negotiations – the metaphorical “back room” was where Gillard was clearly in her element – the number of bills passed can be used as testament of the success of Gillard as the head of a government that knew how to formulate and pass legislation.

Problem was as a salesperson of the policies, the perception of Gillard was dreadful from Day One.  The “backstabber” became the “robotic” became the “real / not real” became the “liar” became a mess. And positioning Gillard as the knitter of spun wool wasn’t the smartest move either.


The hashtag I created as a result of boredom on a train trip – #knittingsongs – took off to an extent I could never have predicted – even 2Day FM enthusiastically promoted it.


This told me something that no amount of spin training couldn’t tell the Prime Ministers’ Office – that there was something out of joint about the image that made people laugh and have less respect for the PM. A similar moment to that of Cheryl Kernot in “that” red dress:


Or Alexander Downer and his fishnets:


Or even Tony Abbott and tea cups in child care centres:


It may not be logical, sensible or rational. However, it is a palpable element in society. Sometimes the way of promoting people goes beyond learned and carefully mapped out ways of promoting people.  Oftentimes, it comes down to a mixture of good luck and instinct.  And Gillard, in her time as PM, either had little instinct, or was drained of instinct by those around her.  One of those around her, John McTernan, put the downfall of Gillard in the hands of the sexists of Australia, which sought to deflect blame to the fringe dwellers of the Australian media and public who revealed a deep seated sexism. What is left out is that the infamous “red box” and Sattler question were responded to swiftly in a unilateral sense of disgust, which revealed not sexism, but the ability for society to respond swiftly to such expressions of anachronistic attitudes.  What was telling about McTernan’s piece was the neat way it summed up the approach of the Gillard supporting megaphones to defending Gillard, no matter what was actually happening.

Kevin Rudd, however, doesn’t have an army out on Twitter to defend his record or image.  Indeed, there were conspiracy theories a plenty about the media / Murdoch “installing” Rudd and the like.  However, support amongst Twitter wonks who are deeply engaged in political analysis and comment is not as important to Rudd as support in the DIDO social media world.  The DIDO social media consumers are people who follow celebrities (and therefore, Kevin Rudd, who seems to transcend to that sphere), check Facebook, watch Sunrise, The Project, or read the high profile lifestyle blogs.  Rudd comes across better to them than Gillard could ever achieve. For evidence of how his style plays out, here is Kevin in Macquarie, a seat that the ALP may even win back from the Liberals in this Ruddsurrection world.

What Kevin has is the instinct and the image that strikes a chord with the population.  The Kevin 07 campaign, as hokey and awkward as it may appear to political wonks, worked to make Kevin a marketable brand. He was a Howard-lite, a safe pair of hands with a sharp intellect who would protect workers’ rights.  And, in terms of our family centric media outlets, a family that can be trotted out.


Still vivid in my memory are the billboards next to the Hume Highway heading through Werriwa and towards Macarthur, with Kevin looking serious and slightly aloof, promising the widening of the road. Simple messaging was the key. Importantly, in addition, he was from Queensland and had the image of being a supporter of Northern States sports – including rugby league and rugby union – a factor that can’t be discounted.


Even a satirical image like this excellent one from the Sydney Morning Herald shows us that he is easy to satirise, but that it can make him more endearing a figure.


Julia Gillard was working against not only the Liberal Party, she was working against Kevin. And she was, no matter how good a negotiator or enabler, never going to win that battle. I do think, however, that Julia Gillard has shown that she will be a formidable and positive force in whatever field she chooses to enter after the election – and will become one of our finest ex PMs.  It’s not a reflection on her as a person that she didn’t have the alchemy that people like Rudd – and, I would argue, Turnbull – have.  In the case of the latter, it may well count against Abbott that he appears scared of engaging even with DIDO media consumers by appearing on Today and Sunrise, leaving it to people like Joe Hockey, and oddly, Christopher Pyne (somehow, I can’t picture Pyne going to Kmart to buy this jumper – I can imagine the spin doctors telling to put away his usual gear).


As if by magic, however, Abbott appeared today on Sunrise, trying to engage with the DIDOs and ending up being made to look robotic and stumbling by an excellent carbon pricing question by Andrew O’Keeffe. One day, the Liberal strategists may just realise that Turnbull will appeal better to these DIDO consumers. Or maybe they really want a more compliant and easily manipulated PM in the chair than Turnbull would prove to be.


AusOpinion Reblogged 13 – Waiting for Kevin – And He Arrived

Remember the return of Kevin?  Here I write about it, replete with Beckett references.  Oh, and some Turnbull work. We’re still waiting, Malcolm. 


So it came to pass that 3 years and 2 days after the hurried scurrying down corridors of the #spillard that we had another episode of Corridor Craziness.  This time the Ruddsurrection is complete.   My new Powerfox clock from First Dog on the Moon knew – two days before the spill (and exactly three years after the original spill) due to the dodgy battery I had installed earlier, it stopped at a particular time.


The events, however, should not have come as a surprise to people who have noticed the stubborn poll numbers and public perception that dogged Julia Gillard for most of her term as an “elected Prime Minister”.  I use this phrase because despite what political observers know about the Westminster system, the perception has remained for many in the general public that the people elect a Prime Minister, not party rooms.  Hence Rudd starting his first speech last night with “When the people of Australia elected me…”.  Perceptions. For better or worse, it’s perceptions that run this show.


Why it shouldn’t be a surprise is that the last 2 or so years in Canberra has been an extended play called Waiting for Kevin.  A play where two (and more) journalists stand in corridors, waiting for Kevin to appear – but in the meantime talk about things so mundane as to drive audiences a little mad.  While that has been going on, In that time, Julia Gillard has done her darnedest to work her skill at compromising, negotiation and diplomacy with a minority government, messy, difficult work for which she was rarely thanked or credited with by most media outlets.  The kind of work she did – getting through the NDIS, Gonski and so forth was long term structural policy work that isn’t sexy enough for Sunrise, The Project, ABC News 24 or increasingly asinine Fairfax reports to explain particularly well. While Gillard’s meetings with various people were going on, getting the mostly boring work of government done, media outlets found it much more interesting to continue Waiting for Kevin.


In terms of the media’s role in all this, it wasn’t the case, as Latika Bourke suggested on ABC News 24 towards the end of the evening, that the media “merely reported” the events of Waiting for Kevin.  That comment reflected either naivete or just self delusion.  People in the media know that politicians and political parties read newspapers, read Media Monitor reports on just how they are being represented. To have such a weight on the Waiting for Kevin play in these media reports for the past years just placed pressure to bear on the ALP that it could not ignore. If the media wasn’t a player and didn’t repeat the backgrounding and gossip provided by Rudd’s supporters, this would have played entirely differently.  Few journalists exemplify this more than the now triumphant Peter Hartcher. We wouldn’t have heard as much from Canberra, either. The media love a drama, a narrative, insider gossip. So Latika and anyone else suggesting that the media are just a reporter need to just stop trying to fool us and themselves.


It also wasn’t surprising neither to see certain press gallery journalists to blast people on Twitter for suggesting that the leadership business was purely media driven. Not surprising because such gatekeepers of The Knowledge seem to believe that outsiders don’t have much right to suggest that maybe policy and government work should be the chief focus of media outlets, rather than Waiting for Kevin.

What this means for the election is the next question. As I pointed out in my piece on Personality in the Western Sydney series, Rudd plays better in that area and his removal made no sense to most voters in the area – I even remember a conversation with a confused former Labor member turning up to a Greens meeting arguing that “we had voted for Rudd, not Gillard”.  Now Rudd is back, there is a sense of justice done that would be resonating. Even this morning, on my public transport and coffee trip, the “I like Rudd, good to see him back” feel was spilling out of conversations.  Rudd will be able to take the good, hard policy work completed by Gillard and explain it to voters in that smooth, hokey style of his (I still cringe at “cooking with gas”). He will probably also look at those important symbolic policies such as marriage equality and asylum seeker policy and seek to come up with a bit of massaging Kevin style, as to wring out the symbolic importance for the electorate.

In truth, though, we don’t quite know how this will all go – though there will be a lot of noise in the next couple of weeks.  There are many Gillard supporters in the population who will say in the next week that “they would never vote for Kevin” – but it remains to be seen whether they would switch to voting for Abbott. Or whether those people who championed Gillard’s position as a female leader of a political party will have a similar enthusiasm for Christine Milne.  If these Gillard supporters were truly interested in policy rather than personality, they would see that a Rudd Prime Ministership would not be significantly different to the Gillard one, except with more regard for symbolism.  What will help Rudd is that I can’t imagine there being much in the way of leaks and gossip working against him in the campaign. Gillard doesn’t seem to work that way.

And then there’s Tony.  In the world of popularity politics, the upcoming election will be a battle of Men with a Narrative. Rudd will bring back that “I’m an ordinary bloke from Queensland” schtick, while Tony will have his image prodded and stretched – whether he is robotically repeating “Stop the Boats” or being depicted in the Real Solutions pamphlet sitting on a aeroplane looking for all the world like somewhere between Don Draper and member of a Footy Show panel.

Though, after the pain that has been caused by the replacement of Prime Ministers mid term by governments, I can’t imagine that if Abbott wins the upcoming election, that we will see the Liberals undertaking what many in the Twittersphere are hoping for in his first term.


That wouldn’t stop many in the press gallery desperately looking at their phones, though.

Now we aren’t Waiting for Rudd anymore. I can’t see, however, that the Beckett style of repetitive conversations and trivia that marks our politics will go away.


AusOpinion Reblogged 12 – Assertions, the Greens and the Black Knight

The founder of AusOpinion was Paula Matthewson, aka Dragonista.  That didn’t stop me from doing my deconstruction thing on one of her anti – Green posts (and, FTR, Bandt didn’t need a preference deal with one of the majors to win…)
One of the chief weaknesses of political reporting and blogging in the leadup to the 2013 election is assertions.  Assertions that x will happen because of y – and the y is usually based on evidence that is part gutfeel and part reading media reports through an already constructed prism.  It would be good to try to negotiate a more objective path than what we see from our media, but this could well be an almost impossible task in 2013.  Disappointingly, the latest piece by Ausvotes’ own Paula Matthewson in the Guardian Comment is Free section is another example of this assertion opinion making. As usual in these kind of deconstructions of mine, her words are in italics.

Time is up for the Australian Greens

No matter how much Christine Milne claims otherwise, this election will not be about them or the independents. It will be a battle of giants

It WILL be a battle of giants. Based on… ? NO MATTER HOW MUCH. High modality assertion kicks off the piece, not allowing for any other possibility. I can’t say how many times we see this kind of high modality assertions in the way our politics is written about. It’s now also here.

Greens leader Christine Milne entered the federal election campaign last week in the party’s latest attempt at relevancy.

“Attempt” at relevancy.  This backhanded swipe at the Greens sets the tone of this piece, which is a touch disingenous, especially in light of the relevance the Greens have had in supporting the current minority Labor Government and having key legislation passed.  That’s a fair dose of relevancy.

In her first interview with Guardian Australia, Milne made several demands of the putative prime minister-elect, Tony Abbott, to secure the Greens’ cooperation with a new Coalition government. Pledging that her party’s role will be to “keep the bastards honest” and insisting that Abbott would need to produce acceptable spending initiatives, Milne resembled the Black Knight more than a serious alternative to the leaders of the “old parties”.

In framing the comments of Milne as “demands”, Matthewson is continuing her thesis that the Greens have no relevancy – so much so, she uses what has become another press gallery staple – the crude pop culture analogy. This time, it’s the Black Knight of Monty Python, which is trying to convince the readers that a party with 9 senators in the Senate and one MP in the HOR is somehow powerless and is having all its limbs cut off.  A bow so long it could play 10 double basses at once.  This does lead, though, to a theme to which Matthewson returns often – whether it’s been in Ausvotes, or on the King’s Tribune, that the Greens are doomed.

Like the feisty medieval soldier, Milne doesn’t seem to realise her party’s melee is over. The Greens will not play a major role in the September federal election, nor will they be significant force afterwards.

Will not.  Nor will they be. More Assertions – as we see, based on evidence so weak that they easily break under the weight of context – like much of what we see from our major media outlets.

Only 17% of voters think the performance of the Greens in federal parliament has been good, while the party’s primary vote has dropped from a peak of 11.8% at the 2010 election to around 9% now. Unless Adam Bandt can secure a preference deal with one of the major parties, the Greens poster boy in the house of representatives will be a one-term wonder.

Basing an assertion that the Greens are doomed on these figures is using another poor press gallery tactic – flimsy poll result driven analysis. The Essential report figures aren’t surprising, as the figures largely followed partisan political lines, where Labor and Liberal voters thinking the Greens don’t perform well in parliament. There’s a shock. Also, talking about one national poll figure doesn’t suggest much more than there’s been a small drop in support – hardly Black Knight territory. No accounting there for regional variation – again, like the blunt instrument poll analysis we see too often from the traditional media. To see that from an alternative media analyst like Matthewson is disappointing.

The party’s Senate vote is also estimated to have dropped, from 13.1% at the election to around 11% now, putting most of the Green Senate candidates – and the prospect of retaining the balance of power – at risk of being wiped out by closed shop preference deals between the major parties.

13.1% when? Where? This isn’t stated at this part of the article, and again one poll of 3,000 souls being used to prove the thesis that the Black Knight is nearly dead is superficial analysis, as is the blanket statement about “closed shop preference deals”. What does Matthewson mean here? That she knows the Labor and Liberal Parties will be preferencing each other for Senate votes for the first time in history? It is here that the piece verges into the field of the bizarre.

But like the Black Knight, the Greens aren’t giving up that easily. They’ve tried hard to insert themselves into this contest in an effort to stem the loss of votes.

Despite having not supported the poor metaphor of the Black Knight with substantial evidence, Matthewson doggedly sticks to it. As she does with the backhanded “minor party”…

The minor party wasted no time taking credit for the carbon price decision that history will judge as prime minister Gillard’s greatest misstep. They played hardball on asylum seekers to stake out the high moral ground. And after years of harassing farmers for their animal husbandry and environmental management practices, the Greens sought to join forces with the very same primary producers to “help” them resist the developers of rural coal seam gas deposits. Not one of these endeavours has delivered votes (as measured by the published opinion polls).

“History will judge” – more assertion based on something that won’t necessarily happen. It also frames carbon pricing as a mistake, rather than something that the Rudd Government had promised in 2007 and something that is being instituted in many different economies and countries. In this assertion, Matthewson is sounding more like a columnist in the Australian than as a detached, objective commentator. Carbon pricing shouldn’t have been something the Greens should not have used their BOP status to achieve.  As for the issue of asylum seekers, Matthewson is painting a party representing its promised party platform as sullied by “morals” – clearly, in the frame of this analysis, a messy and unfortunate barrier to the realpolitik of making asylum seekers someone else’s problem.

The words “harassing” and the snide placement of commas around help also reveals a partisan loading against the Greens in the tone of this article – where “insisting on certain safeguards” might have been more accurate in the former and genuine support in the case of CSG mining is more accurate in the latter.  To then go onto assert that opposing CSG has “not delivered votes” by showing a twitpic of the national Green vote is another News Ltd style trick of using general national numbers to prove something they cannot prove – support for the Greens in areas where CSG continues to be a real and present threat to farmers’ livelihoods. There hasn’t been polls around this issue – well, none Matthewson has provided – so her point here is unsupported.

Even Milne’s dramatic public announcement that she was calling off the formal arrangement between the Greens and Labor struck at the formation of minority government in 2010 – the political equivalent of being told “you’re dropped” – did nothing to gain new supporters. Since that election, half the votes lost by Labor have gone to the Coalition, while the rest have drifted to independents, others and don’t knows. None have shifted to the Greens.

“Did nothing” – more assertion based on no substantial evidence.  Moreover, there is nothing to suggest that Milne’s announcement was designed to attract more votes. Maybe it was there to show existing voters of the Greens that the Labor Party really hadn’t taken the agreement seriously. That idea is not entertained here – it would take away from the sledgehammer Matthewson is taking to the Greens in this piece.

Milne’s latest ploy will have equally little traction. Her claim that Abbott is not fit for leadership because of his stance on climate change is based on a mistaken assumption that voters planning to vote for Abbott care that he is, for all intents and purposes, a climate change skeptic. It ignores the fact that Abbott was elected Liberal leader over Malcolm Turnbull expressly to overturn the pro-emissions trading position Turnbull had imposed on the Liberal party. No one currently thinking of voting for the Coalition will change their vote to the Greens, or to Labor for that matter, because of Abbott’s climate change position. For him it’s a vote winner, not a vote loser.

“Will have”. More assertion. And there was more to Turnbull’s deposing than climate change, even if the vote did provide the trigger for Minchin and Turnbull’s other opponents. There’s also little evidence than Milne is trying to attract Liberal voters – though, it would be interesting to see Matthewson’s evidence that “no-one” is currently thinking of voting for the Greens instead of the Liberals due to climate change. No-one. More high modality assertion.

No matter how much Milne and the other Greens parliamentarians claim otherwise, this election will simply not be about them or the independents: it will predominantly be a battle of the giants. The election will be distinguished by voters returning to the major parties after what they consider to be a brief but torrid flirtation with the Greens and the current batch of independents.

“It will be”… “Brief and torrid flirtation”.  Not only more assertion, but a crude sexual analogy to boot.

While minority governments have been the norm at the state level for some time, voters are unfamiliar and unhappy with them at the national level. This disenchantment is manifest: only 28% believe the current minority government arrangement with the Greens and independents holding the balance of power has been good for Australia. And as we have seen in the published polls, only a third of that number are prepared to elect the Greens to a similar position this time around.

This year, the federal election is simply about Labor and the Coalition: the voters have already determined this by rejecting the non-major parties and the concept of minority government.

“The voters have…” Really, have they?

No matter how loudly the Greens demand to be taken seriously in the campaign, their reality is that their time is over. They can yell and posture as much as they wish, claiming they’re not finished yet, but they won’t be noticed or heard over the grunts and roars of the grappling giants.

“The reality is their time is over”.  “Yell and posture.” “Grappling giants.”   More press gallery style assertion and facile metaphors based on very little but gutfeel and in this case, desire. “The reality is” is one of these phrases used to belittle anyone who might want to argue with a position being taken. Makes them look like fantastists that aren’t “living in reality”.  It summarises the tone being taken here – to belittle and insult the Greens.

There are those who will point to Matthewson’s past and suggest that she has a long held loathing of the Greens and she can taste their destruction. Unfortunately, she has fuelled that perception with such a partisan, poorly supported opinion piece like this. Frankly, this piece looks more like a wish list rather than an objectively argued case about the Greens – which is a pity, considering the excellence of much of her work in the past two years.

It is fair to say that the Greens will have a tough time during this election campaign. They are always excluded from leaders’ debates and the media coverage dedicated to them is usually superficial and brief. They will also have disappointed some people who expected the world from them and received instead a poorly explained carbon pricing scheme and other actions like Denticare that have seemingly gone unnoticed. The Greens MPs sticking to their party’s asylum seeker policies has also been disappointing to people who prefer pragmatism over principle.

There’s little to suggest the Green vote will go up, that it will probably go down and it will be tough for the Greens to gain votes in various areas.  It is a poor form, however, to make bald “will happen” assertions throughout an analytical piece and worse still to make silly Monty Python in the gleeful manner shown in this piece.  I would have hoped that the new media would be more measured and less nakedly partisan than is shown here. That probably makes me Candide.


AusOpinion Reblogged 11 – Independent Citizen Journalism and September – Is It Possible?

There was a lot of hope out and about with the new news organisations in 2013 – the alternative to the Mainstream. I posed a question about the background and producers of this new media – this made me very unpopular amongst many in that sphere. 

We are now 4 months away from an election many of us dread – not necessarily because of the possibility of an Abbott Government, but more because this may well be the dumbest, most intelligence insulting election in living memory. Even more so than 2004, where the entire campaign seemed to be about Mark Latham’s history on Liverpool Council, that taxi driver incident and who “kept interest rates low”.  Four months of headless chickens, slowed down footage of Abbott, deep voices from the Liberals, female voices from Labor – you know the rest.  Those awful debates with asinine questions and answers as well as the ubiquitous worm.  Yes, can you feel the pain already?

The bulk of the election coverage on television and radio will almost certainly about the “bipartisan” element of the campaign, all but shutting out the alternative voices.  By alternative voices I mean the ones with credibility like the Greens, independents and other parties serious about serving people – not colour and light merchants like Bob Katter and Clive Palmer. It is little wonder, therefore, that there would be many in the community who will tune out or cry out for genuine alternatives. In that sense, this election should actually be interesting to cover – but outside the usual areas.

In that, I’m suggesting that there will be very interesting election campaigns going on in a variety of areas not often heard about in media outlets. People have heard of Lindsay ad nauseam – and we will see the news trucks zooming down the M4 and parking in the Panthers carpark. Again. We will also no doubt see Corangamite and Greenway until we are sick of them. None of these seats are particularly interesting however, because many people have said that they will have gone very early to the Liberal Party on September 14.  The seat of Werriwa in South West Sydney is the new bellwether seat, with McMahon west of Parramatta close behind. There will also be the New England, Batman and Richmond battles that we should be hearing more about. But I wonder whether we will hear about them from media outlets loath to venture away from their inner city offices without a damn good reason.

It is for this reason that so called “citizen journalism” should really take a lead in this election campaign.  For the first time, we have viable news hubs with solid reader numbers and reach that can report the news and views from areas that previously we have almost never heard from in previous elections. By people from those areas.  I put that expression in bold because if we haven’t learnt anything else from the last three years, there are writers from a variety of areas who are willing and able to write about their areas in a way that shows insight borne of living the issues first hand. This is not to say that they have the most valid or objective view of these issues, but that they offer a different perspective than that provided from journalists going out to a region for a day or two.

It for this reason I was encouraged to see the creation of Australians for Honest Politics and Independent Australia – two hubs that expressed an interest in publishing journalism from sources that we hadn’t seen.  In addition, we have seen that having a former journalist like Margo Kingston helps such projects in terms of publicity – insofar as Kingston has been able to attract funding from Macquarie University for her project. Certainly, I was also hoping that IA, for example, would follow through on this mission statement:

Independent Australia believes in a fully and truly independent Australia, a nation that determines its own future, a nation that protects its citizens, its environment and its future. A country that is fair and free. IA is also opposed to partisan politics and supports Independent politicians.

The problem that has developed for both of these projects in citizen journalism has been a reputation for partisan Labor Party support. This is especially the case for Independent Australia, which does not evince the air of independence with its tone or story choice.  The style of IA is to assert often, overuse of high modality phrases and not allowing for another point of view to creep in.  An example of this is its focus on issues like the Ashby / Slipper matter and in defending Craig Thomson. On the latter issue, IA has published 51 articles about it with its main writer, western Sydney Labor figure Peter Wicks choosing to frame the stories around the title “Jacksonville” – which he seems to believe gives him licence to including childish sets of jokes at the expense of Kathy Jackson.  It has also lead to some poorly composed work in that campaign, as is comprehensively addressed by Matthew Hatton. IA’s continuing focus on such matters makes it look like a Labor Party publication that is seeking to tell readers that the Liberal Party and fellow travellers are conspiring to bring down the ALP.  The publishing of the writing of Labor Party campaigners, former MPs and candidates also doesn’t help that reputation.

It is something that its editor, David Donovan, seems to admits to but doesn’t want to fix, as is evidenced here, in a very comprehensive piece about the rise of non mainstream blog sites by Gay Alcorn:

Donovan, 42, disputes the suggestion that the site risks preaching to the choir, limiting its influence to those who share its views.

“I’ve heard that before [and] there’s certainly some validity in saying that. We’re a progressive outfit. We’re not going to appeal to people who like reading The Australian, for example .

“Rather than looking at things through a false balance, we quite often take a view of what is the right and the just avenue to take, and we go down that path. In terms of the environment, we’re anti-nuclear. If we aren’t sure we’ll try to present very equally both sides of the story, but our motto is ‘Not Left or Right, but Right and Wrong’.”

In other words, IA is being characterised here as the polar opposite to the Australian, doing for Labor leaning readers what the Oz and the Daily Telegraph does for Liberal leaning readers. Denigrating opponents and presenting one side loudly and proudly. One that is interested in “right and wrong” – according to it.  It is a curious position for something that says it’s “Independent”.  IA hasn’t, as far as can be seen through their archives, featured very much about the activities of independent politicians, parties or political parties outside the ALP. Aside from a piece about the “Free Party” and caustic pieces about Clive Palmer, there’s been one article about the Greens – a generalised critique by someone outside the party.  Not even progressive in that sense.

This is not to say IA doesn’t serve a useful purpose.  There are some very good articles in it, especially about the environment, the opponents to wind farms as well as some good investigative pieces about the Liberal Party and the media. It isn’t, however, Independent.  Or a publication that is particularly persuasive in its political commentary.  It serves a good role, however, to fuel campaigners and give a rallying call to the fighters for the Labor cause over the next few months – they certainly need it.  IA, in order for it to gain a reputation for truly independent citizen journalism, needs to walk away from obsessions with minor matters and partisan shouting and get into the meat of the issues and politics and therefore become a reliable and respected source for more than just their crowd.  I suspect, however, that it won’t do that – Donovan is happy with the direction it has taken and that is fair enough. I just wish it was called something like “The Light on the Hill”, which would be a more accurate name.

In regards to No Fibs, Kingston’s project in its early days had the same issue as IA with the types of writers published – some of them in common with IA – Labor members and campaigners who write in a definite, high modality way, rather than a spread of people without partisan links.  This was especially seen in the work of well known Labor spruikers @geeksrulz and @vic_rollison for the site.  This is not to say that people with partisan links should not write anything – after all, I am a Greens member and campaigner.  There should be, however, a range of people writing for this particular citizen journalist site that write in a style that is less “my way or the highway” – or the “we are right, you are wrong” style that we see in conservative organs like The Australian and the Daily Telegraph – and their polar opposite IA.   We shall see if the project changes with the addition of university money, possibly attracting that wider range of citizen journalists interested in pursuing “no fibs” from all sides rather than just repeating the idea “Liberals tell fibs, here they are”.  I personally have a lot more hope for the success of that project to succeed at that role, due to the presence at No Fibs of people like Nancy Cato, Joan Evatt, Pascal Grosvenor and Tom Cummings (the latter being one of our better writers going around).  What that project also has in its favour is that Kingston herself seem less interested in controlling the work of the citizens – that should be the spirit of citizen journalism – it’s not old style, professionally rounded work. It’s journalism with flaws and problems because it’s done by enthusiasts who work in other fields but have a desire to speak for those people in the community who didn’t fit into a journalist’s preset expectations.

The role of these citizen journalists is crucial and needs forums and platforms – let’s hope we really do see things written about this election that surprises and enlightens us all. It will make for a nice change away from the horrible ads and facile 2 minute news reports.


AusOpinion Reblogged 10 – Safety Trampolines, One World Government and Giving People a Reason To Join A Party – The Whitlam Institute gives time for Thought

I went to an event that was a curious conversation about political philosophy in the context of a university organised event in Parramatta. Joe Hockey hasn’t changed much over the last two years. 

On this May Day that has passed, the University of Western Sydney’s Whitlam Institute organised a political forum called It’s My Party, as a part of the Behind the Lines exhibition that is being hosted at Parramatta’s Riverside Theatres. Labor’s John Faulkner, the Liberals’ Joe Hockey and the Greens’ Bob Brown were invited to outlay the underlying philosophies of their respective parties. The audience were then invited to ask questions about those philosophies afterwards.

Q and A without the mind numbing talking points, in other words.


John Faulkner gave an entertaining history of the ALP, saying that it wasn’t really one event, group or person that started the ALP, it was more a spontaneous growth of wildflowers across the country.  That underlined his main point about the ALP, that it is made up from a variety of people from a variety of backgrounds and will continue to have that diversity of people and views.  The other main strain from his speech was the concept of fairness that always underlines the main belief of the ALP – and its relationship to workers’ rights.

It was from this framework that he stated his bald condemnation of those that used the Labor Party for their own selfish ends, such as Eddie Obeid and Ian McDonald, showing that the ALP was under threat from such operatives and the need for vigilance as the party lived on.  It was a solid speech, encompassing the beliefs of the ALP in a manner that befitted the brief of the forum – that this was about the philosophies and histories of the parties.

We then had Joe Hockey come to the stage. He took a considerably different approach to Faulkner, not particularly focusing on the origins of the conservative  / liberalist past of the country, except a passing glib comment about the Australian Women’s National League being able to negotiate with Bob Menzies. Not mentioned was the UAP, nor the Menzies Liberalism of the 1940s – 70s. And certainly no Malcolm Fraser.


What was mentioned was Margaret Thatcher. Hockey quoted extensively from Thatcher when talking about the Australian Liberal Party, which was very illuminating. That is why Hockey’s speech focused heavily on the idea of the individual being provided with opportunities – that a nation should be able to provide anyone with the opportunity to be a success.  To this end, he provided a couple of searing images – that of people running in a race and the idea that we should not have a “safety net”, more a “safety trampoline”, propelling welfare recipients back to being productive members of society.

It maybe shouldn’t have surprised me to see this vision of a neoliberal, economy centred Liberal Party that has only existed in more recent times – Hockey became an MP when John Howard came to power in 1996. He is the classic example of how John Howard and his fellow travellers transformed the modern Federal Liberals to being a group focused on the idea of  having small government that is there to foster business growth, rather than a party supporting a variety institutions, groupings and individuals.

We then had Bob Brown talk about the ecological basis of the Greens – having people focus on the origins of the word ecology – protecting homes, neighbourhoods, communities rather than just the economy. This idea of an economically sensible Green party, dedicated to finding solutions to future problems before they become too expensive to fix was a core idea Brown propagated through his speech. Brown went through the history of the Green movement, discussing Jack Mundey’s Green bans and the founding of Die Grunen in Germany.

It was then that Brown brought out the photos of what the Greens are dedicated to protect. He also spoke of how Liberal and Labor Governments are working to stop protests in Tasmania in relation to logging in Bruny Island.  Brown also talked about his great post – parliamentary dream of a World Government. When Brown got out the photos, this was Joe Hockey’s reaction.



The other two didn’t show that kind of regard when Hockey spoke. Maybe Hockey was thinking about the dinner he’d had before the event, where diners could overhear the Federal candidate for Parramatta telling him about Tony Abbott’s great popularity in the area and the need for a new stadium for the successful Wanderers. Or maybe the quick getaway he was to make after the event.

It was then time for questions and answers. There were a range of interesting questions, as well as some partisan ones. There was a question from me about the matter of declining membership in all parties. John Faulkner’s answer was unsurprisingly blunt and revealing – and spawned the only article in the Sydney papers about the event the next day.  He presented a pessimistic view, saying that he believed the ALP didn’t offer a reason to join currently and that it needed to look for those reasons.  Brown answered with a similar answer to Faulkner in terms of giving people a reason to join.  Hockey’s answer, however, reflected the nature of Hockey’s style all night. He said the Liberal Party “didn’t have that problem”. This was news to those of us involved in Western Sydney politics that know of declining Liberal Party membership and the difficulties had in finding booth workers on election day for all parties. Hockey also cited the Peter King / Malcolm Turnbull preselection battle in Wentworth as an great example of “party engagement” – that having 10% of the seat joining the party for that battle was a great thing. I noted with interest that it wasn’t a Western Sydney example he cited.

The questions also took a interesting trip when a young member of the audience asked Hockey to define what “opportunities” he was talking about, in terms of society being able to provide them. His answer included the phrase “you tell me!”. Overall, however, despite having some partisan triviality and play fighting, it was unusual in terms of political forums, in that it was a discussion of ideas rather than petty point scoring.  Not one boat was mentioned, for example. It was also unusual because it featured a Green. It is a pity we will not see such a discussion conducted by the current leaders of the three parties. Instead, it will be the same empty dreck.


AusOpinion Reblogged 9 – The Old is New Again – The United Australia Party Reborn?

Remember the Palmer United Party? Better still, remember when Clive was aiming to revive the name for the Liberal Party before they were the Liberals? No. It was a thing…!

ANZAC Day saw a great many things – football, partisan voices continuing to whine about Leigh Sales, arguments about Catherine Deveny.  I deal with all that here, back at my blog, the Preston Institute. The most interesting part of it for me, however, was Lateline, where we saw the re-entry of Clive Palmer on the national stage.   It was here we saw a harkening back to the past, with an announcement that Palmer is wishing to reanimate the United Australia Party.

The United Australia Party brings an interesting note to this election, in that it brings the politics of Depression Era Australia to mind. The UAP was a party born of that time of great upheaval in Australia’s history, where we had many economic problems that needed immediate solutions, unlike the current age.  It was made up partially of Labor defectors unhappy at the radical economic policies of “Red” Ted Theodore (a hero of Bob Katter’s, but more on him later), who was wishing to rebuild Australia by expanding credit to small business and farmers. The defectors, led by Scullin cabinet minister Joe Lyons, the former Premier of Tasmania, were a more conservative bunch, preferring instead the orthodox austerity / reduction of government spending policy suggested by British consultant Otto Niemeyer.  This battle between government spending out of economic problems and government austerity may sound familiar, especially as Abbott, his party and their fellow travellers in the media tend to mendaciously talk of our economy as if we are still in the early 1930s.


Conservatives like Bob Menzies supported such austerity in those days too and hence the UAP was born from the combination of the forces. Thus we have the irony of the predecessor of the current Liberal Party being formed and led by a former Labor Premier and cabinet minister. A successful one, too – it stayed in power from 1932 until 1941 – and even with support from 2 independents in its later days (sound familiar?)  The history of the party and its activities is fascinating, especially when one considers that they needed the Country Party as supporters, even though the leader of the Country Party loathed the second leader of the UAP, Menzies, so much that he conducted  a staggering attack in parliament – which makes the current political stage sound positively stable. Which it is.  One can’t get many of our current journalists, who breathlessly declare that these are unstable times, to face that fact.

There’s something that rings a little odd here.  These are not financially straightened times, no matter what we are told by contextually challenged politicians and media outlets. We are nowhere near the Great Depression. Yet we have two politicians from Queensland seemingly wishing to reanimate 1930s politics in the current era – Clive Palmer and Bob Katter.

I remember Bob Katter’s appearance at the Sydney Writers’ Festival, where his love and admiration for old Labor, especially Ted Theodore, was the focus of his thought. It is little wonder, considering Theodore’s answer to the depression was extending Keynesian style credit to small businesses and farmers. Katter’s policies seem at this point to be a mixture of this kind of support for farmers and small regional businesses as well as strong whiff of protectionism, which was more Lyons’ bag.  This is where criticism of Katter’s attitude to marriage equality miss the mark. Katter himself has little to no interest in policies he sees as irrelevant social “fads”.  His obsessive focus is on first a Theodorean Agrarian Socialism, designed to funnel support to what he sees as the new growth areas of Australia. The second focus is to wean the economy from the globalised neoliberalism which ensures Australian businesses and manufacturers are disappearing. Hence his loud support for the AWU and its leader, Paul Howes, who has a similar focus on jobs in manufacturing and other industries covered by his union, no matter the possible environmental costs.


Palmer, however, seems to have less in common with the 1930s politics of which he is trying to exhume.  His policies, as he pointed out to Tony Jones, are pretty much Liberal National Party policies, with the exception of five things – Eschewing Lobby Groups; Welcoming Asylum Seekers by Flying them to Melbourne; Repealing the Carbon Tax retrospectively; Increasing Downstream Mining Processing in Australia; Distributing Wealth to the place that generated it.

These aren’t policies of a United Australia Party started in order to introduce a more conservative method of paying debt. Instead, it’s populism mixed with hard headed economic manipulation. The eschewing lobby groups platform smacks of the type of populist talk we often hear from the US – “I will go into Washington and tell the lobbyists and staffers to scoot”. It’s as impossible as running a government without a public service. The welcoming asylum seekers policy is also populist – it’s offering a simplistic solution to a complicated issue. A cynic would point out that Palmer and his fellow mine operators have been as one on the issue of asylum seekers – as well as the idea of setting up special economic zones where employees could be paid a lower wage. Like asylum seekers desperate for work. I am that kind of cynic.

The repealing the carbon tax and increasing the processing of ore here are also populist policies designed to appeal to people in areas outside Palmer’s Queensland. People wanting to keep jobs in the industrialised south would be attracted to Palmer’s simplistic plan – as would people living in WA and Qld who are sick of seeing things taken from their areas, just to see resources plunged into the “southern cities”.  In the last plan, Palmer’s thinking is closer to Katter than in other areas – though with different targets, I would imagine, for that money. I can’t see Palmer being overly interested in small business and farm credits – though I can imagine him, Tea Party style, wanting to try to appeal to that sector of the community.

So as much as Palmer claims he is starting a new party of which he would only be a mere member and is trying to evoke memories of past leaders like Lyons and Menzies, he is a shadow of that.  It’s more like if Citizen Kane, faced with the realisation that he can’t run for public office, thinking instead that it would be fun to run his own political party.

It is easy for people, however, to write off Clive Palmer on the basis of Lateline interviews, where Tony Jones often peppers a number of his interviews with a knowing smirk or arch comment.  He does come across in such interviews as a buffoonish character, very much in the mould of a politician before Lyons, et al – George Reid, leader of the Free Trade Party – a former NSW Premier and one of the first PMs of the Federated Australia (I thank @landcaretim for the comparison).


He, like Palmer, was lampooned for his appearance and flamboyant form of expression, but gained respect and traction in his time for his forthright views, personal appeal and canny political nous. Though, in terms of comparisons, we don’t really know how much of a Free Trader Palmer really is.

Palmer’s populism and cache as a rich, successful businessman may play well in certain regions and with voters tired of the cliches spun by Gillard and Abbott. He answers questions directly, unlike both of the leaders of the majors and may attract those voters who are seeking a change from the norm.  And unlike Katter, he will control his party structure and message delivery with more discipline. He and his party will be an interesting element in this election.