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New Progressive parties offer hope

Two new Progressive political parties offer hope for change in Australia’s political governance.

For too long the country has laboured under the influence of what can only be loosely described as Left and Right political philosophies. Those philosophies have never been rigidly fixed and — since the mid-’70s — have been shifting.

Today we have the Liberal Party of Australia reaffirming Margaret Thatcher’s dry economics of some decades ago while at the same time echoing the nutty and radical Tea Party faction of the USA’s Republican party and even beginning to resemble a neoFascist State with increasingly Draconian limitations on freedoms and a cacophony of dog whistling. It resembles a three-ring circus.

Then we have the Australian Labor Party, drifting further and further to the Right under the rudderless leadership of a limp lettuce leaf — to the dismay of its rusted-on Left wing who cry out for reform because they don’t have the wits to look around for an alternative.

On the ABC’s RN Breakfast show this morning former Liberal Prime Minister John Howard said for decades Australian voters had been divided about 40-40% Liberal and Labor, with the remaining 20% swinging in the breeze. This had recently changed, he said, to 30-30%, with a larger 40% of swinging voters. This 40% — some of which is taken up in a bewildering array of small and usually special interest parties — holds the keys to the outcome of future elections.

There is little hope that either Liberal or Labor are going to change any time soon.

Two new parties — Australian Progressive Party and Australian Progressives do offer hope for a significant change in Oz politics. While avoiding the term Centrist, they claim they will govern for all Australian interests. Appealing to most of that 40% will not be enough — they will have to get votes from the 60% Lib/Labor who are rusted on to their historical favourites.

And they are not the only new parties. There is the Pirate party, with a clear agenda and broad policies, but an unfortunate name choice that conjures up an image of the skull and crossbones and all that goes with that.

Two versions of the Australian Democrats are maneuvering. Australia’s greatest political tragedy, I think, because AusDems seems to be just what this country needs.

And, of course, there is the Greens. They also have a broad range of policies, much broader than most realise because most don’t take the trouble to look. Here is a list of references to the bigger political parties’ policies. The Greens probably suffer the most from a bad Press.

Indeed, the bad Press — the news media in general, commercial and public funded — is the real holder of the keys that unlock the minds of the 40% and the other hangers-on.

Without getting the news media on side, all of these new political parties stand little chance of immediate success — even if they do appeal to the disaffected inhabitants of social media, whose numbers are small.

Another problem to be overcome is recruitment. A few months ago I launched The Centre Party of Australia, initially named The Third Party as a working title. Recruitment was too slow, but I think I gave up too easily. I came to the conclusion (rightly or wrongly) that people no longer commit themselves to political parties — another sign of disaffection with existing parties.

The most active people who signed on wanted to organise the structure and the policies. That was interesting for a while, until you realise that without members — and lots of them — you are organising only to avoid washing the dishes or doing some gardening.

Water under the bridge, but a useful learning exercise. I firmly believe that the federal election of 2016 will be the best opportunity in a very long time* for any new political party to really smash through and grab dozens of seats. A solid grass roots organisation working in several dozen carefully chosen electorates will do the job. Cathy McGowan’s campaign for the Victorian federal seat of Indi provides the model. Incumbent Sophie Mirabella won the primaries by a long shot, but the campaigning of McGowan’s supporters won the preferences and the seat by a margin of about 435 votes.

* I say it’s the best opportunity because Liberal leader Tony Abbott’s ideological wrecking ball has only swung through the scenery once and there’s much more to come. I can’t see how he’ll pull the wool over the electorate’s eyes a second time (damn them to hell if he does). And Labor has allowed itself to be cuckolded to such an extent that many people I have come to know and thought were rusted on are beginning to see the light and are looking for a change.

Getting the news media on side remains the greatest challenge. It will take nothing less than an internal revolt — something like the protest staged by the editorial staff of The Australian in protest against owner Rupert Murdoch’s campaign directives against Gough Whitlam in the mid-’70s. And it’s not just the news media that needs to be tamed, woken up or pulled towards the centre. It’s the morning talk shows, the panel shows, the couch sessions and even the comedians — all capable of tearing a political party to pieces.

Now you see it . . .

Image courtesy of abc.net.au

Image courtesy of abc.net.au

In a foolish and ultimately self-incriminating move, Murdoch’s Sunday Telegraph has tried to protect federal government leader Tony Abbott from humiliation.

Mr Abbott is quite capable of humiliating himself. In fact, he usually does it on a daily basis, making protecting him a full-time, even futile, job.

In short, The Sunday Telegraph pulled a page from 22 December, 2013, containing a story in which Abbott ruled out the reintroduction of knights and dames. Following a commotion on social media, the page was restored to the online edition the following day.

The original story was written by Samantha Maiden, National Political Editor for Rupert Murdoch’s major metropolitan newspapers. It was not major news. It mainly quoted Abbott as saying he would not be following New Zealand’s lead by amending Australia’s top honour, the Order of Australia, to a knighthood or a dame.

However, the 22 December story suddenly became big news on the night of Tuesday, 25 March, 2014, when Abbott announced the reintroduction of knight and dame honours for “pre-eminent” Australians. They would apply automatically to Governors-General, to some who accepted public office, but probably not to those who sought public office, such as politicians.

Yesterday afternoon tweeters, myself included, began researching, found the 22 December article and began tweeting the link to our followers. Abbott’s back-flip, secrecy and obfuscation created quite a stir — although we should be accustomed to it by now. A few hours later, when I wanted to re-read certain parts, the story had disappeared from the web.

When Maiden was asked if she had an explanation, she replied there was no conspiracy. The following morning, she said the removal of the page had been “inadvertent”. There is no suggestion Maiden removed the web page. That would require online editing skills and probably a log-on password by an authorised online editor.

This is where the story becomes interesting and relevant (unlike almost any Opposition Point of Order during Question Time in the federal House of Representatives). It is not unusual for a politician to change their position on something. They generally have one position during an election campaign and a different one after the campaign, depending on whether or not their party won. It is not unusual for Abbott to change his position on everything. As I wrote earlier, he keeps his minders busy.

However, The Sunday Telegraph is not, or should not be, Abbott’s minder. The fact that it has taken this role upon itself is instructive.

It would have been better to leave the page in place and not draw attention to Abbott’s flip-flop by making the page disappear. It was a foolish move because anything that appears on the web is copied and cached in many other places. The fact that the page has reappeared after a storm of social media fuss proves that removing it was recognised as a mistake.

I say “removed” and I mean to imply deliberately removed because there is no way the page removal could have been “inadvertent”. It disappeared soon after tweeters began referring to Abbott’s obfuscation. It was deliberately removed in what turned out to be a futile bid to save Abbott embarrassment.

Abbott has been severely embarrassed by his reintroduction, without consulting his cabinet or the Australian people, of these imperial honours, which have been described by former Liberal Prime Minister John Howard, and others, as “anachronistic”. I have a list of seven Liberal MPs, so far, who are annoyed or bemused by Abbott’s honours.

On the day following Abbott’s announcement, Question Time was reduced to a farce, with several Opposition MPs kicked out for what Madam Speaker Bronwyn Bishop referred to as “a new tactic of an outburst of infectious laughter”. Abbott lost his temper at one point, leaning over the despatch box, glaring and yelling at Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, who had been humming Rule Britannia.

Abbott’s behaviour was the first evidence we have seen of the underlying bullying nature he exhibited through his university days. It was the proof I’d been expecting to see that he is, as I’ve written here before, probably not mature enough to responsibly exercise power.

He has now made at least three captain’s calls since 1 December, 2009 and they have all ended in near disaster for him. The first was his challenge to then Liberal Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull. He won that spill by a single vote. The second was his expensive Paid Parental Leave scheme, which offers new working mothers six months leave at full salary — partly paid for with a 1.5% tax on big employers. There is opposition in his party to the plan. The third and most recent was his reintroduction of some imperial honours, the last of which were abandoned in 1982.

Either Abbott has not accepted an Australian honour, such as the Order of Australia (AO), or not enough of his friends or staff have taken the trouble to prepare an application for one.

Here are some of the relevant tweets:



The following day:




One of the results of following the original link:


And if it inadvertently disappears again, read this cached copy.

Unexpectedly, News.com’s National Political Editor Malcolm Farr reported on Abbott’s humiliation.

And The Guardian Aus Political Editor Lenore Taylor did some straight reporting of the facts.

I originally posted this article on Truth in News Media.

[twitter-follow screen_name=’btckr’ show_count =’yes’]


Self-censorship the best way to go

Image from salon.com

Image from salon.com

Yesterday I decided to remove my story Media bias threatens democracy. The reason is quite simple: most of the comments below the story were also a threat to democracy.

Before you howl “censorship”, let’s look at what democracy consists of: 1) Freedom of speech. 2) The rule of law. 3) The presumption of innocence. There is more, of course.

I used censorship yesterday – no doubt about it. I will not apologise for it and I’d like to tell you why.

For two days after posting my story (ironically titled Media bias threatens democracy) I stewed over the irrelevant, legally dangerous and ultimately idiotic comments that were posted below. And not for the first time.

This happened in the same week that Migs, the site operator, posted a disclaimer warning that some form of censorship was now a possibility. Offences included:

3. Comments containing language or concepts that could be deemed offensive.
4. Comments that attack a person individually.
5. Comments posted with the clear intention of diverting or disrupting the topic.

In spite of the disclaimer, the bad habits that some posters have brought to this site continued. One dispute that rages on this fairly new site has a history going back two years, I believe.

At first I decided to remove (“Trash” is the WordPress term) those comments that were personal, inflammatory and off the topic anyway. I don’t believe that writers, journalists, citizen journos, the Fifth Estate, bloggers, whatever, go to the trouble of writing something they hope will be informative and interesting just so others can dump their crap on the end of it. I know I don’t.

Comments ought to be on topic, relevant, informative, helpful or correct misinformation if that’s necessary. I think that’s what readers expect. It’s not what we’re getting. I’m finding that the first three or four comments are relevant, then commenters begin wandering, get right off track, start arguing, become abusive and then downright insulting.

What we are seeing on this site is the sort of garbage that ultimately destroyed the freedom to comment on news stories appearing on Yahoo!7 and in other places.  Debates on internet freedom are often headlined Freedom of Speech! Our Democratic Rights Threatened and the like. When you think it through, what passes for internet freedom in some cases is little more than Fascism in disguise.

Some things that relate to 2) The Rule of Law are missing from Migs’ Disclaimer. He does not refer to “defamation”, “libel” or “sub judice”, but I will. The rule of sub judice (pronounced sub jood-i-kay and meaning the matter is undergoing trial, or is before the court) was seriously breached in a large number of the comments that appeared below my story. The comments were related to what I’ll call The Thomson Affair, and I don’t even know how that line of discussion got started.

The Thomson Affair is sub judice – it is before the court. The affair should not be discussed in public because such discussion could prejudice Mr Thomson’s legal rights, which include the right to the presumption of innocence and the right to a fair trial. If you want to preserve your right to freedom of speech, please respect Mr Thomson’s right to a fair trial, at least.

Claiming that the matter has been discussed elsewhere, or claiming you were unaware of sub judice (ignorance of the law) WILL NOT get you off the hook.

Comments on the Thomson Affair had nothing to do with the story I wrote as an introduction to remarks that were made in Parliament by the former Speaker, Mr Peter Slipper.

Mr Slipper’s remarks (http://bit.ly/XVAJq5) concerned the threat to democracy (and possibly your freedom of speech) posed by the lack of diversity and the concentration of ownership of news media in Australia. I can’t recall many comments that addressed Mr Slipper’s concerns.

Mr Slipper has been the victim of news media bias and there hasn’t been much public discussion about what happened to him and how it was allowed to happen – precisely because of news media bias and lack of diversity. That was the whole point of my writing and posting the story and it turned out to be a waste of time.

I don’t know to what degree the average Australian citizen is aware of the extent of news media bias in this country at present. I don’t know to what extent they care about such things because the news media, including the ABC, is not telling us. All we are hearing is that the federal Labor government is terrible and the Opposition Leader, Mr Abbott, is wonderful and will fix everything.

So I censored you yesterday. Boo hoo. I hope it served as a wake-up call – that was the purpose (that, and protecting Mr Thomson’s legal rights). A bit of shock and awe to get some of you thinking. It might not change anything because if some of you were thinking you would not be doing what you’re doing.

With the newspaper industry on its knees, the NBN under threat, the ABC taken over by Conservative interests and in danger of being sold off, with Tony Abbott and his Catholic DLP/Tea Party agenda possibly gaining office in September, there is a very real threat to your freedom.

At the same time you now have at your fingertips the greatest tool for democratic freedom and protest since the invention of the pitchfork. Please treat your new Social Media with the respect it deserves. Otherwise, you might find it has been taken away from you.

To reinforce what I am saying I will apply the principle that the CIA refers to as “extreme prejudice”. Any comments appearing below will be “trashed”, regardless. You will then be able to experience censorship and the loss of freedom for real. I hope you gain enlightenment from the experience.

In future, I will continue to censor whatever appears below anything I write. That shouldn’t be a problem for you – just keep it relevant and polite.

PS: If you are interested in learning more about the legalities of publishing you will find it here, in The News Manual, a textbook for journalists: