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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

Image courtesy of

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,’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

Image from

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 ( 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:


Trial by media

Image source:

Image source:

In the heart of the nation’s capital, in the heart of its Parliament, we have the Canberra Press Gallery and, in its private alcove, the National Press Club. It appears to be the beating heart of the political news media bias that is driving at least half of the country nuts.

The National Press Club has a Facebook page and when you start looking around you don’t have to go far to see obvious signs of bias.

What’s obvious is a single announcement of guest appearances by the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, and, on the following day, the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott. Further down the page there’s a separate notice for the appearance of Mr Abbott. No sign of a separate notice for Ms Gillard, so that looks like favouritism.

What’s not so obvious is a complaint by Neil Spencer, on December 16, 2012. Mr Spencer questions the relatively poor coverage of the outcome of a court case which has become known as Ashbygate. The hearing created sensational front page news. The verdict was buried in the back pages.

Instead of replying directly to Mr Spencer’s post, the FB page administrator referred him to another story in The Daily Telegraph relating to action being taken against the former Speaker, Peter Slipper, by the Federal Police. The administrator makes the rather snide remark: “We thought you would appreciate this one.”

Clearly, the administrator is of the same mind as the Opposition Leader, Mr Abbott. In three separate and long-running attacks on the government Mr Abbott has chosen to ignore the rule of law, the assumption of innocence, and demand that the government leap into a guilty verdict that would advantage him politically and damage our legal and parliamentary process severely (see Lies, damned lies and sour grapes

Mr Spencer’s post, the administrator’s response, and my comment appear in full (so far January 18, 2013 12.45 pm) below.

Neil Spencer

To all you journalists please read the following:

I am very disillusioned with the media response to the Slipper/Ashby verdict. The whole issue is being played down by most media outlets. I don’t know why. Here is a story that any investigative journalist would love to get their teeth into. But yet there is this apprehension from the print media and on air media alike. The Daily Telegraph reported the verdict of the case on page 17 on 13th December. That in itself is an admission of reporting bias. [Right-wing News Limited commentator] Chris Kenny stated that [Prime Minister] Julia Gillard shouldn’t get involved in this muck raking. My god. After what she has been subjected to from the Opposition and, in particular Tony Abbott, she has every reason to ask Mr Abbott for a full explanation. The Australian people deserve a full explanation.

The Australian people deserve to have balanced reporting on all issues, especially those of a political nature. Is there not one journalist out there who is in the MSM who is prepared to investigate the story of possible conspiracy by Brough and other members of the LNP? Are they afraid there might be repercussions from their employer if they did so? If that is the case, then they are being accessories after the fact by assisting in concealing the truth. The employer would not be the type of employer that a professional journalist should be associated with. Regardless of the outcome of investigations our country will be the better for it.

I just don’t know how reputable journalists can be instructed on what they should or should not investigate. If a story comes to light then a journalist should find out the facts by investigating until such time as the story can go no further. Under the present climate of investigation a Watergate could be carried out in this country and the perpetrators would be able to get away with it. God help Australia.

Like · · December 16, 2012 at 8:28pm

National Press Club of Australia

We thought you would appreciate this one:

January 10 at 9:54am · Like

Barry Tucker

Neil Spencer raised a valid point. You didn’t address his complaint. Instead, you referred him to another Telegraph story about Federal Police charging Mr Slipper with fraud (their first attempt to charge him fell through, so they went back further in history to find another one).

Your failure to address Mr Spencer’s complaint is pathetic. Referring him to another story (in which Mr Slipper is a defendant and not proven guilty of anything) is even worse. It is worse because your actions in this matter amount to Trial by Media. Your actions tell me that you believe Mr Slipper is not entitled to natural justice, that in the view of the National Press Club he is guilty and must remain so, regardless of the outcome of the Ashby/Slipper court case and the comments and judgment of Justice Rares.
41 minutes ago · Edited · Like · 1

If there are any further developments, I will add to this article.


Further comment: The Daily Telegraph article that Neil Spencer was referred to was written by News Limited journalists Steve* Lewis and Patrick Lion. Steve Lewis was liaising with James Ashby before he filed his sexual harassment claim against Mr Slipper in the Federal Court. Mr Lewis was summonsed to appear before the court.

[*Steve Lewis was elected to his second term as vice president of the National Press Club in 2009. I did not know that when I wrote this story yesterday.]

The judge ruled that matters related to cab charge documents had nothing to do with the allegations of sexual harassment and were introduced in an attempt to damage Mr Slipper’s character in order to strengthen Mr Ashby’s claim.

The Lewis/Lion story acknowledges Mr Slipper’s court victory. It then refers to Mr Ashby’s allegations re the cabcharge dockets, which the judge has ruled are irrelevant:

The allegations are a major setback for the former speaker, who three weeks ago secured a victory when allegations of sexual harassment were thrown out in the Federal Court. His accuser, former adviser James Ashby, alleged he saw Mr Slipper signing blank Cabcharge dockets on visits to Sydney in early 2012. Those allegations are not the subject of the court action.

Note carefully the last sentence above. If Mr Ashby’s evidence re cabcharge documents has been ruled irrelevant, and “Those allegations are not the subject of the court action.” then what is the point of including the last two sentences in italic above?

In his judgment, Justice Steven Rares said Mr Lewis ”was motivated by the opportunity to obtain newsworthy stories”. He also noted there was ”nothing unusual in a symbiotic relationship between members of the media … and persons involved in politics”.

It may not be obvious to the casual reader, but it is clear to me that Mr Lewis, at least, is continuing his campaign to damage the former Speaker, Mr Slipper — a campaign that began with his liaison with Mr Ashby and is continuing in spite of the Federal Court dismissing the allegations of sexual harassment. Mr Ashby and one of his legal advisors are appealing the judge’s decision and comments on the case.

The judge also was of the opinion that Mr Ashby’s case against Mr Slipper was a conspiracy to bring down the federal Australian government. It has been pointed out by news media commentators and members of the fifth estate (the new, alternative, news media) that while Steve Lewis had his head down feeding stories back to his newspaper he somehow missed one of the biggest political scoops of the past decade.

A story about a conspiracy to bring down the government would not serve the agenda of Mr Lewis’ employer, News Limited, in the same way as a series of stories alleging sexual and other misconduct by Mr Slipper. That’s why this story is being referred to as Ashbygate.

[Additional information, January 19, 2013]

While News Limited media maintains its campaign against the federal government, the Fairfax owned press, notably The Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) and Melbourne’s The Age, have softened their approach since about the time of the Prime Minister’s so-called “misogyny speech” (see Pennies drop and the balance shifts

SMH columnist Richard Ackland in his column yesterday (January 18, 2013) said the investigative bloodhounds of the press have let “Tony Abbott and other leading Coalition ornaments off the hook”.

“There are still so many loose threads dangling off the James Ashby case it is amazing that those dedicated to holding politicians to account have let this one pass.”

Read Mr Ackland’s column here:

Veteran investigative reporter Margo Kingston (a former SMH journalist) also commented on the sudden lack of interest in the Ashbygate affair in her story for Independent Australia yesterday. See:

Are the actions of Mr Lewis in investigating and reporting the Ashby case as squeaky clean as Justice Rares seems to think they are? Here’s a view by The Global Mail’s Bernard Lagan:

A little word, a big effect

Image from

Image from

I sometimes pick up on some sloppy reporting, deliberate spin or bias in the mainstream news media (MSM). It always creates huge interest on Twitter because many people are aware of the decline in professional standards and bias throughout the MSM.

I refer to it occasionally. But I could make a full-time career of it, so widespread are the examples of biased, unbalanced and unprofessional reporting.

To some degree, a process of correcting a perception of Left-bias in Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) News and Current Affairs has been under way for some time (since the last Liberal government of former Prime Minister John Howard, in fact).

At the same time, Rupert Murdoch’s News Limited (at least 70% of Australia’s news media outlets) has been running a Right-wing Conservative agenda against the federal Labor government, which is probably related to mining taxes, environment/pollution control, news media regulation, construction of a National Broadband Network and control of Radio Australia (the ABC’s overseas broadcast network) Australia Network News (now operated by the ABC).

Now that you have the background, let’s look at a specific example I picked up yesterday afternoon. It was still being discussed on Twitter late this afternoon. But if I hadn’t referred to it I imagine it would have gone unnoticed.

On the ABC’s website, Simon Cullen (ABC Chief Political Correspondent) produced a report that referred to a story published earlier in the day by The Australian. The story referred to the latest Newspoll figures. Now, you need to know that The Australian has exclusive rights to publish the Newspoll results, that The Australian is 100% owned by News Limited, which also owns 50% of Newspoll.

Labor figures are quoted in three paragraphs, Newspoll chief Martin O’Shannessy gets two paras and Opposition front bencher Greg Hunt gets four. Two Labor politicians and one Opposition politician commented, with slightly more quotes. Let’s call that a draw because it’s hard to strike a perfect balance.

My attention was drawn to one little word in the third last paragraph. It doesn’t need to be there and the fact that it is there can be seen as an attempt to influence the reader. That is either careless or deliberate writing, or lazy clichéd writing, or amateurish sub-editing. Here are the last three pars; my comments continue below.

Despite recording a six-point bounce in Labor’s primary vote, Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s personal satisfaction rating increased only two points to 38 per cent.

That compares with Opposition Leader Tony Abbott’s personal satisfaction rating of 29 per cent.

More people are dissatisfied than satisfied with the performance of both leaders, with Ms Gillard recording a voter dissatisfaction rating of 49 per cent, while Tony Abbott is on 58 per cent.

The word that caught my attention was “only” in the first of the three pars above. “Only”, used in the context of the highly charged atmosphere of the relative popularity of the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, is a serious breach of professional ethics. It is a subtle attempt to influence the reader.

But it gets worse. Simon Cullen, the ABC’s Chief Political Correspondent, ought to know how the Newspoll works and what it measures. He has made the mistake of comparing the government’s popularity with the Prime Minister’s popularity. They are two distinctly different measurements. Mr Cullen seems to think if the government’s popularity is up by six points then the Prime Minister’s popularity should have risen by about the same amount. This is demonstrated by the use of “Despite” and “only”.

He does not emphasise the fact that the Prime Minister’s personal popularity has risen by another two points, continuing the upward trend that we began to see some months ago.

By separating the second par from the first, Mr Cullen (or the sub-editor) is separating the good news from the bad — avoiding a direct comparison of the two. Mr Cullen begrudgingly points out, by using “Despite” and “only”, that the PM’s rating is up two points, but he does not point out that the Opposition Leader remains stuck on his historically low rating of 29.

I could also take issue with the use of “while” in the third par. If I was subbing that par I’d rephrase it to avoid any accusation of bias, like this:

People remain dissatisfied with the performance of both leaders. Ms Gillard’s voter dissatisfaction is 49 per cent. Mr Abbott’s is 58 per cent.

How much of those dissatisfied ratings is due to policy debates we are not having and how much is due to sensationalist, sleazy and sloppy reporting, along with rampant bias, is something that keeps me awake at night.

Read Simon Cullen’s report here: