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Victoria has a passion for progressive policies and a professional interest in marketing and communications. Victoria writes about politics and the media and how the media covers politics (#mediafail). You will find her tweeting at @Vic_Rollison, researching political communications at the University of South Australia and ranting about the Tony Abbott wrecking ball. Look out for her Open Letters and hope you never receive one.

Watchdogs asleep in their kennels

Political journalists pride themselves on being watchdogs who prevent abuse of power. Watchdogs are supposed to bark when they smell something suspicious. So how do you explain the news media sleeping through the exposé of suspicious secret correspondence between powerful friends in the Liberal government and the big banks? Are the watchdogs getting old and no longer have a scent for a story? Or worse, have they been muzzled by the powerful interests they are supposed to be watching?

This story is fascinating because the red-meat delivered to journalists came from an unusual source:  – ACTU Secretary Sally McManus. On Tuesday afternoon 5 February 2019, the day after the Banking Royal Commission findings were handed down, the ACTU released letters they discovered through a Freedom of Information request.

These letters revealed a cosy friendship between the Liberal government and the big banks; so cosy the banks had a discussion with the Treasurer about how their possible misconduct would be investigated in a Royal Commission.

Recall on 30 November 2017 Prime Minister Turnbull and Treasurer Morrison announced plans for a Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry. The day before, on 29 November, the ACTU found Morrison received a letter marked DRAFT and ‘for discussion’ from then NAB chairman Ken Henry.

This letter laid out for Morrison the bank’s recommendations on the Royal Commission’s terms of reference, the type of person the Commissioner might be, how long the Commission would last, and assurances the banks were well behaved businesses, nothing to see here, move along.

The next morning, the day the Royal Commission was announced, an almost identical letter was sent to Morrison signed by the heads of the big four banks. Low and behold, the Banking Royal Commission was relatively short. McManus pointed out it was a year as compared to two years for the Abbott government’s Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption.

Of course there is no proof the Liberal government took advice from the banks in their design of the Banking Royal Commission. But the existence of the letters sent immediately before the Liberal government finally bowed to pressure from the Greens, Labor and their own backbench to hold a Banking Royal Commission, are highly suspicious. ACTU Secretary McManus said the letters were “another piece of evidence that the Morrison Government is protecting the big end of town.”

Social media audiences lapped the story up. In one week the ACTU’s video was viewed 210,000 times on Facebook and 73,000 times on Twitter. All this red meat, and the watchdogs slept through it. Two days after the social media release, the ACTU emailed union members asking them to share the video since they reported ‘Just one media outlet has covered this story – the ABC’. News.com.au and other News Ltd websites published the syndicated AAP video with a short caption, but never allocated a journalist to cover the story.

Where were the masthead watchdogs? Where was The Australian? Where was Fairfax? Or is Fairfax gone now? Where were the shock jocks and A Current Affair? Where was The Guardian? Where were the questions for Morrison about his correspondence with the banks? What could explain the media ignoring the ACTU’s investigation? In a week where journalists were barking for stories about the Banking Royal Commission, how was this story not a relevant contextual piece for how the Banking Royal Commission came to be? Asleep perhaps? Or muzzled by their owners who, as it turns out, also have a snug relationship with the powerful political class they’re supposed to be watching?

What makes this sleeping-dogs situation even stranger is the news media’s usual paranoia about news breaking without their input. Ever since the rise of social media, journalists have feared the threat of the audience finding news straight from the source and therefore bypassing the business model of the news media.

The ACTU’s decision to do their own journalism should be a worrying sign for the news industry. Freedom of Information requests are relatively easy to do. The ACTU showed any citizen journalist can place important information in the public’s hands by publishing it free-of-charge on the internet. Journalists chose to ignore this story, despite it being handed to them on a platter, but the ACTU reached a huge audience regardless.

There are plenty of journalists looking for work having lost their jobs in mainstream news rooms. Perhaps they will find homes in the media teams of political groups and organisations who have learned news stories don’t necessarily need to be mediated by traditional news media outlets; they can go direct.

If the old-school watchdogs are going to ignore red-meat, others will do their work for them. The public need the powerful to be held to account. If traditional journalists refuse to do it, someone else will fill the void.

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Playing the ref with a fake tax

The Liberals are playing the ref by tagging Labor’s dividend imputation policy a ‘retirement tax’. It is not surprising they see this as a productive strategy since the same thing worked with their carbon tax scare campaign.

Political journalists self-identify as watchdogs for democracy who hold the powerful to account by shining a light on the political system. This position places them between opposing political parties much like an umpire or referee neutrally enforces the rules of the game by calling out infringements.

But what happens when a team is infringing and the umpire fails to blow their whistle? Football fans know the loudest boo is reserved for bad umpiring. The rules are sacred. When they are flouted, the game is not fair, the cheaters prosper and sometimes it can even feel like the opposition has an extra player.

If rule-breaking becomes a winning strategy, umpiring business-as-usual needs an urgent review. Even with the best of intentions, if umpires are emboldening rule infringements or even encouraging blatant cheating, something urgent must be done to bring civility back to the game.

There is much discussion of journalism in crisis. Technological disruption, the rise of independent and social media and unprofitable business models are often cited as the problems. There is less analysis of how journalists’ media routines might be contributing to their own harm.

One of the most common routine formats which is supposed to represent balanced umpiring for reporting of politics is what media critic Jay Rosen refers to as ‘he said, she said journalism’. This style, however, turns journalists into stenographers rather than critical analysts of politics and is akin to an umpire ignoring the holding-the-ball rule while protecting their own credibility through the alibi of quotation marks.

Politicians take advantage of this media routine. They have learned they will get away with tucking the ball under their arm and striding boldly through the goal posts unencumbered by the whistle. The Liberal’s tagging of Labor’s dividend imputation policy as a ‘retirement tax’ is such an example of them successfully playing the ref.

By any definition, it is demonstrably false to depict Labor’s dividend imputation policy as a tax. No doubt journalists can see this for themselves. However, they have backed themselves into a corner by quoting directly Liberal government spokespeople and advertising which uses the phrase ‘retirement tax’. This coverage convinces the public Labor is introducing a new tax, thereby representing a distortion of reality.

The words ‘retirement tax’ are now in the public lexicon. The fake tax becomes a thing which is basically impossible for Labor to get rid of. The voting public rely on news media to tell them about politics. When the umpire fails to do their job, there are consequences not only for the health of democracy, but for the health of the journalistic profession. Who will ever trust the ump again?

It is not like journalists haven’t been here before and seen the damage for themselves. The Labor government’s Carbon Price was not a tax. Yet, from the very first day it was announced, the name of the policy was interchangeable with Tony Abbott’s tag of ‘carbon tax’. Using The Australian as an example, from the day Labor released the Carbon Price policy on 27 September 2010, the newspaper has referred to the carbon tax 7,735 times, as compared with the Carbon Price 2,260 times.

To add insult to injury, Gillard’s ‘failure’ to win this policy argument was then framed as her responsibility. For example, Ross Fitzgerald writing in The Weekend Australian on 30 July 2011 said the carbon tax debate was negative for Gillard because of her ‘flawed political judgment and poor communication skills’. By blaming the players for their poor result, the umpire maintains their self-perception as a neutral arbitrator of the rules and fails to see how their own actions have influenced, sometimes decisively, the terms of the debate.

In 2017, former Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s chief of staff, Peta Credlin, admitted the Carbon Price was not a carbon tax. She confessed the coalition ‘used that label to stir up brutal retail politics’. The players knew they were cheating. Why not if cheaters prosper? But what is the role of the umpire in brutal retail politics? According to The Australian’s Chris Kenny, ‘Scare campaigns are to politics what tough defence is to footy – an unavoidable part of the contest if you want to win’. When the umpires put down the whistle and see clear-as-day infringements as just par for the course, it is no wonder footy supporters are walking away from the game.

There is no such thing as Labor’s ‘retirement tax’. The Liberals are playing the ref by using journalists to pervert truth and in turn legitimise their misrepresentation. The Guardian’s Katharine Murphy said on ABC’s Insiders that Labor is ‘facing a battle to explain’ their dividend imputation policy. Labor have explained their policy numerous times. Of course it is up to journalists how they choose to frame such information. Murphy agrees that calling the policy a ‘retirement tax’ is clearly not an accurate description. Outlets who parrot this Liberal phrase are misrepresenting and constraining public debate about the policy, serving no one’s interests except the Liberals’.

Journalists are under no obligation to uncritically repeat and adopt false information from the Liberal government. Footy is a game, but politics is not. The public need journalists to blow the whistle in the interests of democracy. If they continue to fail to do this, they are forgetting the very reason they exist.

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#SolidaritySunday

They say a week is a long time in politics. Australia has just proven three weeks is an eternity. Although the days of the Liberal government seem to quickly be coming to an end, it’s still a shameful fiasco which reminds us that we’re just pawns in Liberal power games. That is why this post is a call to arms, a call to action, a call to the collective: a call for Solidarity Sunday.

So, what has happened in the last three weeks?

In a car-crash we couldn’t look away from, we saw Turnbull, Morrison and Dutton kick, scratch, claw and bite their way through a Morrison-orchestrated mud-wrestle. The Liberal Party was satisfyingly smeared with mud in the process, which was the major up-side. The major downside, however, has been watching Morrison simultaneously flooding the airwaves with vomit-inducing puff-piece-PR, while simultaneously invoking the-stuff-of-nightmares culture wars.

The Daily Telegraph has been running the charm-offensive, with ‘middle-Australia’ daggy dad photo ops and Howard-like-lowest-common-denominator waste-of-time media stunts, starting off on drought-stricken farms, moving to less than impressed toddlers, and of course the obligatory rugby-tackle-macho-press-conference. At the same time, this apparently happy-go-lucky larrikin Aussie bloke, who promised his happy-clappy religion wouldn’t interfere with his politics, has been proving me right when I said he most certainly was not a moderate. He’s gone turbo-charged-bigot by encouraging Australians to bully bisexual and trans teenagers. He’s asked a secular nation to pray that it rains. He’s brought up religious freedom again, to remind us that he didn’t want gay marriage, and he is willing to legislate to allow gay people to be discriminated against. Oh, and while this is going on, he’s also plagiarising his predecessor’s obsession with trade union bashing by calling for the deregistration of the CFMMEU, over a naughty word in a tweet. Morrison is literally trolling Australia.

These are just some of the lowlights of an extraordinarily bad start to Morrison’s term as PM, which includes the sick joke of making Abbott a ‘Special Envoy’ to Indigenous People, appointing an anti-wind-farm loony as Energy Minister, saying he wants to pull out of the Paris climate agreement, and of course standing by while Dutton heaps scandal on top of visas-for-rich-mates scandal, with no end to the potato-head-who-misled-parliament in sight. Just when we thought the Turnbull government couldn’t get any worse, Morrison popped up to show us that things can always get worse, and that when we said we wanted to see the back of the wet-lettuce-leaf-inept-Turnbull, we should have been careful what we wished for.

While this has all been going on, there have of course been other reasons to group-hug, to pull together, to show bravery in the face of adversity, to stand our ground: the Murdoch unravelling.

Again, the fireworks were fun, the popcorn was buttery, and the tweet stream as distracting as it’s ever been, but still, we face an uphill battle. This unravelling started with Chris Ulhmann’s on-air rant about Murdoch and shock-jock friends influencing the Libspill. Then Bruce Guthrie, ex Murdoch-editor jumped in and told us what we already knew: that Murdoch uses his media empire to campaign against his political rivals. Then, just to be sure, Kevin Rudd said – yep – totally true, the Murdoch media is run as a political party and is a ‘cancer eating at the heart of democracy’.

Amazing, isn’t it, how Murdoch can campaign against Labor every single day for my entire life, and suddenly when he decides a Liberal PM has to go, he’s crossed a line! Well, at least we’re talking about this now, and it’s all out in the open, so I can stop being called a conspiracy theorist.

The bad news, of course, is that Labor still has to deal with the fact that whether Murdoch wants puppet Turnbull, Morrison, Dutton or Abbott in the driver’s seat of his political arm, he most definitely does not want Bill Shorten. Now that the dust has settled, Murdoch’s minions are back obediently carrying out the core-business of ‘Killing-Bill’. That’s why all us tweeps need to protect our country, protect our collective interest, to stand together like a wall of ‘we will not be fucked with by the Liberal-Murdochracy’.

We need to defend ourselves against the oncoming anti-Labor onslaught that the Murdoch-media will heap onto us as we head into the next election, and we need to do this like never before. This could be Murdoch’s last chance at influencing an Australian election, so let’s make it his most disappointing result ever. Let’s kick Scott Morrison and his Liberal accomplices so far from office, they will never have a chance at screwing over our beautiful country ever again.

Who’s with me? #SolidaritySunday

We all know Rupert Murdoch runs the Liberal Party

We all know Rupert Murdoch runs the Liberal Party. Can we all agree it is time he stopped running the country too?

No matter who wins the ultimate cage fight victory, we all know who the real leader of the Liberal Party is. Whether Turnbull prevails to limp wet-lettuce-leaf-like to defeat at the next election, whether ScoMo blusters and lectures his way into high office, or whether the potato-man leaps triumphant from the boiling pot without being skinned, we know none of them hold any authority. No, the real leader all along is Rupert Murdoch. Always was.

Don’t believe me? Watch this rant by Chris Uhlmann who is being called brave by many other senior journalists who never had the guts to say the same. In a nutshell, Uhlmann has admitted that media commentators and journalists have become players in the political process, making themselves part of the story, and changing political outcomes because of it.

Uhlmann seemed fed up that powerful right-wing commentators have been helping Dutton to spill Turnbull’s job, suggesting that the game has gone too far. This reminds me of when I was a child. My sisters and I would be skylarking around, and my mother would say: this is going to end in tears. Uhlmann is crying because he doesn’t like the way Dutton’s media supporters are behaving, but that’s not to say Uhlmann isn’t a player too. He knows the game well. How else do you think he’s got where he is?

It’s lucky I don’t mind saying – I told you so – because I did tell you so. I’ve been talking about the disastrous impact of media ‘playing’ in the political arena for as long as I’ve been blogging. All the while, I’ve been criticised by the very few journalists who engage with me, for being a conspiracy theorist, for being ‘a broken’, for not knowing what I’m talking about.

There’s this idealism amongst media players about their role in society. They see themselves as the ‘Fourth Estate’, as watchdogs on democracy, holding the government and the opposition to account, all in the name of the public interest. We’ve been told that this leads them to be pure, objective observers of reality, and that they provide fair and balanced coverage of all things political, in order to help voters decide which leaders are worthy of our votes. This idealism tends to result in some fairly arrogant attitudes amongst journalists, such as believing they know better than the public, that they can see political events more clearly than us, and that they are un-biased in their analysis of news, unlike us ‘cheerleaders’ who take a side and can therefore not be trusted to have credible views on anything.

The clash between folk like me, who question whether journalists should be reporting leaked information from, say, disgruntled staffers in a Labor MPs office, when there is clearly a political motivation behind the leak, and the journalists who constantly claim everything is above board and there’s nothing to see here, move along, has become more and more toxic in recent weeks. I’ve been blocked by many senior political journalists for complaining they are inserting themselves into political games rather than being the objective and fair custodians of truth that they claim to be. I’ve complained that they, intentionally or not, bias their reporting towards ready-made narratives, without hearing, or seeking alternative explanations. I’ve complained that balance doesn’t mean ‘he said, she said’, it means investigating both sides of a story and giving the reader a fair assessment of the credibility of both claims. If one side says it’s raining, and the other says it’s not, it’s the job of a journalists to look out the window and tell us which is correct. I know it’s not always as easy as that, but at the very least, journalists could try.

I know there are good journalists out there, but there are also terrible journalists out there. Lot’s of them. Let’s get this straight. You are not a watchdog on democracy when you are a player in the political process. This whole situation has been made worse by the number of media players who have stepped straight out of political roles, and into the news media. There are media players who gleefully talk of vendetta journalism, like it’s totally normal that a journalist would campaign against political opponents (I’m looking at you Sharri Markson). Sharri, incidentally, doesn’t appreciate Uhlmann’s comments, what a huge surprise, and claims she can single-handily assure the public that News Corp has had nothing to do with Dutton’s campaign, because apparently she knows everything that is going on in that entire organisation, and the Daily Telegraph are pure news reporters who don’t play political games, and also there are fairies living in my bathroom cabinet.

The point is, the cat is now out of the bag, and we all knew it was there all along. So what? You don’t need to be writing a PhD thesis on this stuff, which I currently am, to understand why it’s dangerous for media players to be so tangled, twisted, intertwined and meddling in the political process. These people claim to be speaking the truth to power, when really they’re distorting the only version of political reality the voters can realistically access, using the voice of the powerful. This means that powerful people, like Rupert Murdoch, can, on a whim, decide to change the Prime Minister of Australia, and his media-playing-employees go about making that happen. It’s the stuff of dictatorships. It’s the stuff of corrupt, fascist, bullying regimes where the public are misinformed in order to control them. This is not small fry. This is our country, and Rupert Murdoch is pulling the strings.

I’ll finish on this. Jacinda Ardern, the young, optimistic, proactive, kind, authoritative and competent Prime Minister of New Zealand is paving a truly impressive progressive agenda for her country, and she is doing so with popular support from the public. New Zealand doesn’t have any Murdoch media. Enough said.

We need to talk about Mitchell

On Monday night, I had the pleasure of being one of the first ‘people’ to sit on the Q&A People’s Panel. I had a great time telling Matt Canavan that he has to break up with coal. The one thing I did not enjoy, however, was Mitchell.

Mitchell Walton, one of the other ‘people’ on the panel, is a certified troll. Here is some of his skin-crawl-inducing-work from his now defunct social media feeds:




You might think the point of this post is to call out the Q&A producers for having a person with such deplorable views (yes I chose that word on purpose) on the People’s Panel. But, I actually don’t think it’s the ABC’s job to sanitise the cross section of the community for the television audience. The reality is, there are Mitchells out there-a-plenty. And the scary part is I don’t think Mitchell is as ‘fringe’ or ‘extreme’ as you might think. Have you been on Twitter lately? Watched parliament? The Q&A producers chose Mitchell to represent the right wing of politics, and I think he did that in spades. Sorry to break it to you everyone: Australia is still a very bigoted country.

I got to meet Mitchell in the green room before the show, and he was a fairly nondescript person who showed absolutely no clue of the dark resentful mess that spews into his social media feed. He mostly stood quietly, so I can only presume he was hyping himself up to be as controversial as possible.

It was fairly clear from the outset that he was on the show to bring the bigotry. His video entry mentioned his dislike of paying tax – an amusing statement by an ex-police officer who has a school teacher wife, and I was relishing the opportunity to discuss the inherent contradiction in these positions. But, alas, tax fell by the wayside when it came to his A’s for the Q’s: he brought with him a cocktail of misogynistic and homophobic views in his bigotry handbag (see above tweets), but he chose racism as his priority insult.

His overarching narrative encapsulated the simplistic (and entirely incorrect) scapegoating of every problem in the country as being the fault of non-white immigrants. It didn’t matter when people like me made the point that the Australian economy relies on immigration for economic growth (even the Australian says that!), because Mitchell, I can assure you, is not changing his mind. He clearly doesn’t like black or brown people, and appeared to get a wicked thrill from accusing them of wrecking everything, at every opportunity.

Most of what Mitchell said was a mix between babble and uninformed resentment aimed at immigrants. He tied his argument in knots by trying to overlay overt racism with a patronising tone of conciliatory reasonableness, which meant his statements petered out into vague dog whistling. Sound familiar? Mitchell surely learned from the best of them: Donald Trump. Or maybe he had tutors closer to home – he voted for Australia’s very own Trumpet – Tony Abbott, and said he has considered voting for Pauline Hanson or Cory Bernardi.

And why do you think Mitchell applied to be on the panel? He never said, but I can guess he hoped to build a political following. Perhaps he wants to be a shock jock. I’m sure Sky News would have him. Or, perhaps more likely, he wants to run for parliament – maybe as a One Nation candidate, or side by side with Cory Bernardi. Why wouldn’t Mitchell aspire to lead a nation that has leaders like Matt Canavan, who happily nodded along in agreement whenever Mitchell spoke, and joined his racist chorus in saying:

“But now, today, I’m worried that most of our migration gets concentrated in our major cities and there is a certain ghettoisation in some aspects of this, where there is parts of cities that are different cultures. Now, I want to maintain one culture in this country. We should have… We’re multicultural, but we should have one Australian culture we get behind, and I think it would be a lot better if we could spread our migration patterns around the country, perhaps like we did do in the past”.

Don’t think for a moment that Canavan doesn’t know his right wing base. He knows he is speaking to hundreds of thousands of Mitchells when he says ‘ghettoisation’, ‘one Australian culture’, ‘we’re multicultural, but…’ These are lines straight out of the ‘how to win votes by being racist’ song book. So, the problem is not that the ABC allowed Mitchell a platform. Don’t shoot the messenger. The problem is that the country elects people like Canavan, Hanson and Bernardi, who further embolden the worst side of our country – the Mitchells – to believe their most bigoted ideas and their most offensive thoughts make for great campaign material.

As I said in response to the first question on the panel, we get the government we deserve. If we democratically choose to undermine the values and civility of our great nation by laying down with dogs, we deserve all the vile fleas we get.

The capitalism beast beneath the bed

One of my daughter’s favourite bedtime stories is The Beast Beneath the Bed. The little boy in the book is scared of the beast beneath his bed – his scratchy snarls and little growls echo in the dark. These are the sounds of the beast messing up his room at night while he’s asleep. The boy loses his temper when the beast crosses a line by gobbling up his teddy bear; he yells: ‘stop it now, you fiend, you’ve messed up all my precious things and I like to keep them neat’. He then realises the beast is just as scared of him as he is of the beast. Once the boy gets to know the beast, they agree to compromise and get along, and end up wishing each other good night as they live happily ever after. The moral is, they each had different priorities in life – the beast likes mess, the boy likes order – and if they could just both compromise and find a common ground, they could get along fine.

I thought of this book as I watched the delicious live telecast of the Banking Royal Commission on Friday. For many years, left-wingers like me have been worrying and fearful about the capitalism beast beneath the bed. We have been watching the messy damage the beast has left in our communities, but we’ve been finding it difficult to articulate what to do about it. We’ve been too scared to address the idea of a beast so big, and struggled to give it a name. But, now that we’ve finally had our chance to meet this beast, to put it on the stand and interrogate its intentions, we find it is just a tanned celebrity Financial Planner by the name of Sam Henderson who lives on the Northern Beaches, loves surfing, skiing and crossfit. Once we meet this Sam, and we look at the damage he has done, and why he has done it, we, as a community, can see how things must change if we are to safely live with this beast, side by side. Now that we understand what led this beast to eat our teddy bear, we can finally understand what it will take for us all the get along with capitalism.

Don’t get me wrong, the Sam Henderson capitalism beast is a messy little shit. And, he is representative of a lot of other messy little beasts throughout not just the banking industry, but no doubt any industry with the profit motive. So, basically all of them. What we learned from our little delve into the world of Sam is that, if a capitalist can make money out of something, they will do it, and they will make whatever mess it takes to do it, as long as there is nothing standing in their way.

I thought of the beast beneath the bed swinging across the room on the boy’s lampshade, and falling bump onto the floor, as I watched Sam be probed, in excruciating detail, about how he came to almost lose $500,000 of Donna McKenna’s super balance. The only reason Sam failed in this planned-financial-ruin is because Donna, who is a Fair Work Commissioner, was savvy enough to check the recommendations of this financial planning ‘Practice of the Year’ before signing on the dotted line and picked up the ‘error’ the messy Sam had made while racing to charge her big bucks for financial advice.

Sam’s mess included him having to admit he knew one of his employees impersonated Donna between 6 and 8 times to get her super account details from the fund she was in, while simultaneously claiming he didn’t know why his employee would do this. The mess included Sam admitting he advertised himself as having a Masters of Finance degree he had never actually graduated from. The mess also included Sam referring to the complaint Donna made about him to his professional body – Financial Planning Australia (FPA) – as ‘knit picking’. We saw evidence of Sam threatening the FPA that if they didn’t treat him well throughout the complaint process, he would make life hard for them with fellow-FPA-member colleagues.

Here lies the problem. Since when has it ever been a good idea for beasts to join together in a beastly fashion and investigate their own beastly mess? Taking a wider view, as I’ve said, Sam is just one of many beasts, in just one of many beastly capitalist industries. Now that we see the mess these beasts are making, and the failure of their bullied-self-funded-so-called-professional-beastly-bodies to clean up this mess, the little boys – the community – the society in which we live – must take back control of this capitalist beast. If they won’t behave, we need to set down some rules for us to live happily side by side. If they don’t follow these rules, they should be banished from our bedrooms.

The little boy compromises with the beast by making a special deal: he would ‘let him play with all his toys, if he promised not to steal’, and the beast agreed not to eat the boys shoes if he left him out some bread. So, as a community, represented by our government, we should agree with the beasts that we will let them keep making money by giving financial advice, let them keep eating their bread, if they agree to adhere to strict, legislated regulations which protect the community from their wilful disregard for our needs. Our needs include not being ripped off. Not having our teddy bears gobbled up. Not being screwed over in the role of consumer, and worker. Not having our lives made a mess by unconstrained-greed-from-messy-capitalist-beasts.

I’m so glad we’ve now met this beast, and we can urgently begin the process of legislating regulations to keep it in check. The only way the community can sleep well at night with a beast beneath the bed, is if that beast is forced to behave correctly. We live in a capitalist society, and whether people like it or not, this system is not about to change. The point is, we don’t have to be fearful of capitalism, and in fact we can get along with capitalism, once we name the beast, and rein in its mess. Now we understand how this mess is made, we’re in a much stronger position to do this. Bring on the regulations, properly and independently enforced. Let’s change the rules.

It’s the demographics, stupid

Why do the Greens exist? It depends who you ask.

Some say the purpose of the Greens is to pull Labor to the left. This strategy is justified by Greens voters as a way to ‘keep the bastards honest’, and is often coupled with misleading and unthinking statements such as ‘Labor and Liberals are just as bad as each other’.

I understand the theory here is that the more MPs Greens get into parliament, the more they can hold Labor to ransom on environmental policies and asylum seekers. But, when the reality of this position is that Greens block environmental policies such as Labor’s ETS because ‘it doesn’t go far enough’, yet then help the Liberals to pass pension cuts, I’m not sure how this is successful in practice.

When the Greens refuse to work constructively with the Gillard government to develop a regional solution to manage asylum seeker arrivals, because ‘it is not onshore processing’, only then to have Sarah Hanson-Young admit later that a policy like the Malaysian Solution, where asylum seekers are processed overseas before being flown to Australia, might be something the Greens would consider, it appears the Greens are less interested in working constructively with Labor to ensure policies are ‘left wing’, and instead are more interested in blocking Labor’s attempt to make progress.

The other problem with this ‘pull Labor’ theory is that it doesn’t pull Labor to be more left-wing. This is because most of the people who have left Labor to support the Greens, are from Labor’s left-flank. So, by losing numbers on the left, Labor’s right-flank is strengthened, which clearly won’t do anything to pull Labor to the left.

Others, like Ben Eltham in New Matilda, claim the Greens exist to govern in Coalition with Labor. This is a far preferable option for a Labor supporter like me, as rather than having the Greens constantly fighting against Labor, it would be to everyone’s betterment if Labor and Greens worked constructively as a team. However, the only hole in this theory is that, as far as I can tell, the Greens aren’t trying to steal seats off Liberals to make the Labor and Greens coalition unbeatable on the floor of the parliament. Instead, they are putting all their energy and resources into taking Labor’s inner-city seats.

Apart from a strong attempt at unseating Kelly O’Dwyer in the wealthy inner-city Victorian seat of Higgins, with the Greens candidate Jason Ball placing second in the 2016 election, the biggest recent campaigns from the Greens have been in Labor-held inner-city seats. Bandt took Melbourne from Labor after Lindsay Tanner retired in 2013, and in 2016, focused on taking the seats of Labor’s Tanya Plibersek in Sydney and Labor’s Anthony Albanese in Grayndler. So, if the Labor Greens coalition is going to happen, clearly the Greens want Labor to do the heavy lifting of winning seats off the government. Not really helping.

What about the Green elephant in the room that not many will admit is there? This, I would argue, is the real reason the Greens exist, as evidenced through their behaviour, and that is to replace Labor as the major party of the left. Bob Brown himself admitted to this when he said ‘we don’t want to keep the bastards honest, we want to replace them’. This week, former Queensland Greens candidate, Ben Pennings echoed Brown when he wrote ‘Rather than drag Labor slightly to the left, maybe it’s time for The Greens … to ‘cut out the middle man’ and replace them…?’.

Now the elephant has been identified, I want to talk about it. How exactly do the Greens plan to replace Labor as the major party of the left? Do they want to develop attractive progressive policies that address wealth inequality in order to persuade voters through real-life outcomes to make Australians better off? Judging by Greens leader Richard Di Natale’s cynical grab for conservative votes in Batman by calling Labor’s dividend imputation changes an ‘attack on so many people in this community’ the answer to this is no. Do they want to focus on local issues in each electorate, dependant on the varying needs and wants of the voters there, and do the hard yards work of incrementally improving their circumstances through the slog of parliamentary negotiation and legislative advancement? Not that I can see. Or, do they want to campaign with ‘stop Adani’ sloganeering and by framing the Liberal’s inhumane treatment of asylum seekers as the work of the Labor Party, without offering any alternative policy solutions to actually help solve these complex policy issues? I think you can answer that one. So, if they’re not doing the policy work to replace Labor, what exactly are the Greens doing to win Labor’s inner-city seats?

The Greens are waiting for inner city suburbs to gentrify to the point where working-class Labor voters no longer live there. It’s the demographics stupid. Let’s look at the Batman by election. A lot was written about the Bell Street divide, such as this New Daily article aptly titled ‘The hipster-proof fence’.

From thenewdaily.com.au

The map of booth results from the 2016 election shows clearly that the northern side of the Bell Street divide, furthest away from the city, are still committed to Labor. According to Real Estate.com, the Batman suburb of Reservoir in the north has a median house price of $825,000. A suburb on the southern, inner-city Greens side of divide, Northcote, comparatively has an average house price half a million higher at $1,325,000. That’s quite a wealth-divide.

So, do the Greens claim it is just a coincidence that their voters live in more expensive houses, on the richest side of the electorate? When commentators, ad nauseam, say Labor’s inner-city seats are ‘under threat from the Greens’, do they realise what they are really saying is: traditional Labor voters have been priced out of this electorate and the class who have moved in don’t align themselves with Labor working class values and are therefore not buying what Labor is selling?

I have always found it odd how offended people get when their privilege is pointed out to them, but the truth is, Greens voters, by and large, are in the privileged position of not needing, and therefore, not caring as much as Labor voters do about Labor’s policy priorities.

Where Labor campaigns to save Medicare, to raise the minimum wage and save penalty rates, to fund public schools and to make work more secure, Greens voters needs are met in these areas and therefore they aren’t turned on by this message.

Greens voters, by and large, are less likely to be living in public housing, less likely to be struggling to pay the rent, and are much less likely to have seen their manufacturing jobs disappear, and are more likely to be in white-collar professions where wage rises are negotiated without union involvement. How else do they afford million-dollar homes in gentrified inner-city seats? So, with these needs met, they look elsewhere for a political message to resonate and they find it in the party promising to focus on humanitarian issues and environmental protection.

There is nothing wrong with being privileged. I would far prefer rich inner-city voters chose Greens than Liberals. And there is obviously nothing wrong with caring a lot about asylum seeker policy and environmental problems like climate change. I’m a Labor supporter and I care deeply about these issues too. But, when Greens focus solely on these issues as an electoral strategy to divert progressives away from Labor, with a narrow view of political progress that excludes the most disadvantaged in society, people who couldn’t dream of affording to live in Northcote, are they really helping the progressive cause? Are they really helping to make Australia a more progressive country to live in by stealing gentrified seats from Labor? I don’t believe they are.

You often hear Greens voters say ‘Labor lost me with XYZ asylum seeker policy’. Perhaps what they’re really saying is ‘Labor lost me when I lost the need for Labor policies’. The sad part is that while Greens take Labor policies for granted, and battle to take Labor seats, even when Liberals are in government, trashing the environment and doing all manner of vindictive harm to asylum seekers, who is really winning? It sure isn’t Labor. And it’s not the Greens. So how did we end up here again?

The triple-pincers: showing their true colours

There is a line in the brilliant Anat Shenker-Osorio’s book Don’t Buy It which Labor should use as their mantra when developing policies and communicating them. Attributed to political advertising expert Ryan Clayton, Anat says:

‘a winning message is one that engages the base, persuades the middle, and provokes the opposition to reveal its true colors’.

Too often, Labor seems to be trying to appease voters by being all things to all people. But this usually results in beige policy, and bland messaging which doesn’t cut through, and doesn’t rouse support.

It’s obvious why Labor does this. It’s particularly obvious to me, who is half-way through a PhD researching the way media reports industrial relations disputes and Labor policy. Labor, understandably, are wary of the media’s reaction to their policy announcements. And they have every right to be.

The patterned response by the media is the same whenever Labor offers up a progressive policy. Let’s use the example of the mining tax (which incidentally was the topic of my honours thesis).

Step 1: Labor announces the policy.

Progressives take a look and are impressed, noting that it is tackling wealth inequality and the two-speed economy, sharing the wealth from the sale of minerals owned by the entire community with that community.

Step 2: The triple-pincer-movement of opposition to the mining tax erupts.

The Liberal Nationals, mining company owners and the mainstream media commence a campaign of hyperbole, threats, doom and gloom, telling voters the latest Labor Great Big Tax is going to ruin us all, jobs will be lost everywhere, food will be taken out of children’s mouths, and the economy will retaliate against the little guys who should get back in their box and stop expecting wealth to be shared.

At this point I should note that my research showed 75% of mining tax newspaper articles from the day the policy was released, to the day the campaign culminated in Rudd being ousted as PM, shared the same ‘economy will suffer from the mining tax’ narrative as the Liberals and mining executives. So maybe not every article, but a dominant majority.

Step 3: The triple-pincer-movement discreetly shifts the doom and gloom narrative from complaining about the mining tax, to claiming it is an electoral problem for Labor.

This is a very clever strategy that certain vested-interests in the media use, fed no doubt by media ‘liaison’ from fellow pincers, to generate public opposition against Labor policies.

Simply, the media reports there has been a ‘backlash’ against the policy, and that creates a backlash against the policy. In a subtle form of agenda setting, the media know the news audience takes more notice of an issue when it is costing Labor votes than they do when it’s just the mining executives complaining about having to pay tax.

Where else have I seen this strategy used recently? Oh yes – Labor’s dividend imputation changes. Of course with any taxation change, there will be ‘losers’. In this case, Labor announced on the same day as they launched the policy that 200,000 non-tax-paying shareholders would stop receiving dividend cash back from the government. Immediately, journalists raced to find evidence of ‘backlash’ against the policy by framing these 200,000 shareholders as victims of a Labor policy.

Immediately, Labor was framed as villainously engaged in a ‘$59b grab’ – you grab something you’re not entitled to – therefore Labor was in the wrong for grabbing money from poor shareholder victims. And these victims were given various soap-boxes to tell their sad tale of victimhood, as evidence of the backlash against villainous Labor.

Then the narrative quickly shifted, in time for elections on the weekend to ‘how dumb of Labor to release a policy which incurs backlash on the same week as a state election and a Federal by election’. Greens leader Richard Di Natale piled on, trying to ‘capitalise on the backlash Labor has received’ and it certainly didn’t end well for him. History will show Labor won the by election and lost the state election, albeit with a 1.5% swing towards. But I digress.

The point of the imaginary backlash, or the focus on a very small number of unhappy well-off-people in the great scheme of things, which is to be expected when inequality is finally being addressed, or the focus on just the downsides of the policy, and not the upsides, is that the media is bringing about a certain response to the policy, by manipulating their reporting in favour of that certain response to a policy.

Back to the mining tax. In fact, the policy was broadly popular. As this Essential poll shows, the Minerals Resource Rent Tax, after the pincer-movement-sky-is-falling campaign against it, and by the time the Liberal Party got their wish of using the promise to axe the tax to win an election, was supported by 52% of the population. Not exactly a mandated backlash then.

But there’s something even more important in this poll, which takes me back to Anat: ‘a winning message is one that engages the base, persuades the middle, and provokes the opposition to reveal its true colors’.

Look at the mining tax poll figures broken down by parties:

Approve of mining tax:
Labor voters: 76%
Greens voters: 79%
Liberal voters: 33%

Disapprove of mining tax:
Labor voters: 12%
Greens voters: 12%
Liberal voters: 55%

The base is clearly engaged. The middle is being happily persuaded; 33% of Liberal voters approve of the policy and therefore it can safely be assumed some of them might vote accordingly. Remember, Labor only needs a very small margin of people to stop voting Liberal and vote Labor in order to blitz the next election. A 3% swing would give Labor 14 additional seats. And the last bit – making the opposition reveals its true colours?

This is where Labor needs to embrace the obvious, predictable and reliable scare campaign that is thrown at them every time they introduce a Labor-values policy. And that includes the media. What do I mean by this? In the initial policy release, Labor should state in no uncertain terms that they expect the triple-pincer-movement – the Liberals, big business (the very rich) and their cheer squad in the media – to be enraged by the policy. Shorten did this nicely on the Today show, saying ‘I’m going to choose the battler over the top end of town’.

When the triple-pincer movement strikes, this just shows how the policy is the right thing to do. Because they would say that, wouldn’t they? The pincers don’t want to do something about inequality (show their true colours), and Labor do. The pincers always stick up the top end of town, and never the little guy (show their true colours), and Labor do. The media don’t report Labor policies in a fair and balanced way – and Labor should make this point clear.

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr says he is over the mainstream media, and I agree with him. There are thankfully growing opportunities for Labor to bypass the traditional news, to reach the voters directly, opportunities they are clearly embracing. But, while they still rely predominantly on the mainstream media to inform the public of new Labor policies, the best way to develop a winning message – to engage the base and persuade the middle, is to heap the mainstream media in with the other pincers, who show their true colours like clockwork every time.

We need to talk about Jean

This week, in response to Labor’s announcement that shareholders who pay no tax will no longer be getting cash back from the government, the Herald Sun introduced us to Jean.

Case Study 1: Jean is retired with a large self-managed super fund. She receives $29,810 in dividends from bank shares and $130,000 from other assets. As the fund is in the pension phase, and pays $0 tax. Jean is currently entitled to a $12,775 rebate. Under Labor, Jean would lose that.

Now, let’s just get something straight right up front. Jean only ever got this cash back in the first place because Howard and Costello wanted to sure up her vote in case she was tempted by racism to vote for Pauline Hanson. This is not a usual way for governments to manage shareholders and company tax – Australia is only one of four countries that offers such a scheme and the original dividend imputation policy designed by the Keating government had no such rort, I mean perk. I meant rort actually.

But, now that we know about Jean, who ‘would lose that’, I think this is the perfect time for us to talk about Jean. We should thank the Herald Sun for kicking off this healthy discussion.

Let’s start at the beginning. We knew the Liberals, in concert with their media arm, the Murdoch press, would launch a propaganda scare campaign against Labor’s very sensible, fiscally responsible, wealth-inequality battling policy to no longer give self-funded retirees cash they don’t need. How did we know? Because that’s what the Liberals and their media arm, the Murdoch press, exist to do. The sky is falling. Everyone is ruined. The economy will rise up like an angry god and smite us all for hurting those who have bestowed trickle-down wealth upon us. And so on and so forth.

I must admit, it’s a sad turn of events that the likes of Leigh Sales on ABC’s 730 is also playing this game, seeking out Lyle-we need those dividends to live-Essery, to show their sad sad faces on TV, to tell Labor how naughty and mean they are for hurting Jean and Lyle, who did nothing to deserve this. But that’s the thing. Jean and Lyle did do nothing to deserve this magical cash-back bribe from Howard and Costello, other than possibly considering voting for Pauline Hanson, and no one should be rewarded for that dirty idea.

But, now that the likes of Jean, and the ABC’s Lyle, are all over the media sharing their suffering, and being given a national audience to urge people not to even consider voting for the possibly-Communist Labor Party who want to spend Jean and Lyle’s cash-back on evil things like schools, healthcare, income tax cuts for workers who haven’t had a pay rise in years, and have the highest house prices and power bills of any generation ever, I have three questions:

1) Why am I meant to be sympathetic to Jean and her poor share portfolio, but I’m not being asked to be sympathetic to people with disabilities and the unemployed who are constantly being bullied and threatened by the Turnbull government who is working as hard as they can to pull their social safety net out from under them, leaving them destitute and possibly homeless? Could they possibly move in with Jean?

2) Related to the above, why is cutting welfare spending framed as a perfectly legitimate government policy, responsible in fact, in order to do the ‘heavy lifting’ job of ‘budget repair’ in response to a supposed ‘debt and deficit disaster’, but saving billions by not giving people with share portfolios most of us could never dream of owning, nor the tax accountants to minimise our tax to zero to help fund it, is apparently bad bad bad?

3) Why does Lyle get to tell his sad ‘my share portfolio might need to be rearranged’ story on TV, but we don’t get to hear the stories of workers who are locked out of their work for asking for a pay rise, or the people being villainised for being unemployed, or the families of children who attend underfunded schools, or the single-mother who can’t afford to take her child to the doctor because of Liberal cuts to Medicare? Why do the Liberals and the media, not just Murdoch-run, but Fairfax and the ABC as well, give Jean and Lyle a run, but don’t tell the other side of the story?

I would like to talk about this please. Because, the problem is not just this story. This same situation happens time and time again, political story after political story, the frame is always the same. I think Jean is just the wakeup call this country’s political landscape needs. What is the society we really want, and how are the Liberals, their media-arm and their rusted-on self-entitled Liberal voting Jeans and Lyle’s stopping us getting that? And if we’re really serious about doing something about wealth inequality, how are we going to get there with this tsunami of elite and powerful opposition against positive change? Answers can be posted below, cheers.

Barnaby Joyce: he doesn’t think properly

This is a guest post by Kay Rollison, my wonderful mother, who was so fired up about the Barnaby Joyce saga, she just couldn’t let it be until she had written about her ‘hierarchy of deeds’. Enjoy!

I know there’s already been a lot written about Barnaby Joyce from many perspectives. But I still think it’s worth distilling the whole affair into a sort of Maslow-esque taxonomy – Kay’s hierarchy of deeds. I’ll start with what is actually the least important and work up to the main game.

7.The Affair. In itself this is not really important, though it’s the only aspect of the whole saga that has attracted LNP – or was it Lucy Turnbull’s – attention with the bonk ban. Sex between senior and more junior staff in an office often creates tensions in the workplace, as it did in Joyce’s office, but sex is not the real issue here. Conflict of interest is. You can’t stop consenting adults having sex; outlawing it only makes it more fun. But you can at least try to eliminate the potential for conflict of interest by requiring staff to declare their involvement with each other, and prohibit a senior staff member from advantaging a junior partner in terms of work allocation, promotion or whatever. If you are ashamed of the liaison and don’t want it made public – like you already have a partner and kids – that’s tough, and maybe you should re-think the whole situation. But you only have to tell one person in confidence – in this case the Prime Minister, and refrain from advantaging your partner.

6. Hypocrisy. If you campaign on traditional ‘family values’ and oppose the equal rights of others in the community to marry, while all the time you are two-timing your family, then you deserve to be called out on it. Joyce’s comment that introducing the Gardasil vaccine might result in ‘an overwhelming backlash from people saying, “Don’t you dare put something out there that gives my 12-year-old daughter a licence to be promiscuous”’ didn’t help either.

5. Perks. Conflict of interest. See above. I won’t go into all the job moves, the non-jobs and the paid stress leave of Joyce’s partner. But people are entitled to know what was done for her. That Turnbull’s office didn’t know about it is beyond belief – why else were there crisis meetings about it before the New England by-election, as revealed by Sharri Markson. Turnbull’s assertion that they weren’t in a relationship so that the Ministerial Code wasn’t breached doesn’t pass either the Centrelink or the pub test. And his decision to kill the investigation into Joyce’s perks once he had resigned sounds pretty much like a deal: you go and I’ll stop the investigation. Though it may have been a National Party ultimatum after the new(ish) formal complaint of sexual harassment. Who knows? What a train wreck.

4. More conflicts of interest. The undeclared free apartment has raised questions about Joyce’s relationship with rich mates, and focussed attention on other potential conflicts of interest. These include moving the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority into his electorate at a cost to taxpayers of $25.6 million (meaning they would stay in his mate’s hotel) and the purchase of land adjacent to the inland railway route, Joyce’s pet project, which may or may not have raised the value of that land. Joyce denies any conflict of interest, but then he would, wouldn’t he. (Never mind that the railway won’t generate a commercial return.) When the conservative premier Tommy Bent did something similar in the early twentieth century, they called him for what it was: Bent by name and bent by nature. And who could forget Gina Rinehart’s $40,000 ‘award’ that Joyce had to give back?

3. The press cover-up. This comes higher in the hierarchy because a properly functioning press is a prerequisite for a properly functioning democracy, and we don’t have one. Since news of the affair was published in the Daily Telegraph, journalists from all sections of the mainstream media have fallen over themselves trying to justify why the story – which was clearly well known in Canberra – wasn’t reported before the New England by-election. The argument that it was a private matter simply doesn’t bear scrutiny; the hypocrisy and conflict of interest issues were there clear to see, and were matters of legitimate public interest. Accusing the public of being prurient for wanting to know such information is a pathetic reaction from people who couldn’t – or chose not to – do their jobs. Sharri Markson’s admission that the story wasn’t revealed as part of a vendetta against Joyce and was expected only to run for a couple of days is peculiar but revealing; did the Daily Telegraph really think people wouldn’t care about anything but the affair, news of which, if that was all there was to it, might indeed have quickly vanished without trace?

But it’s so much more than just an affair; it has legs and was off running as soon as it was revealed. People don’t care about the sex but do care about the rorts. Maybe the full story might have damaged Joyce’s chances at the by-election, or maybe it wouldn’t. But given that the LNP’s majority was at stake, it looks awfully like a cover-up, just in case. Politically motivated or just protecting other insiders? Bit of both maybe, but political coverup seems more likely. And the Murdoch press has form – lots of it.

2. The secret coalition agreement. This looks like a bit of a jump from the Barnaby Joyce affair. But there are significant connections. Turnbull had to sign it to get the Nationals to support him as Prime Minister. It apparently prevented him from sacking Joyce; only the Nationals could do that. It also apparently covers the allocation of portfolios, giving Joyce responsibility for water resources, then resources and Northern Australia (his friend Gina Rhinehart’s pet project), then infrastructure and transport. And it presumably has policy implications about what issues the government can or cannot tackle, and how they should do it. Turnbull’s weakness allowed Barnaby to do as he wanted – in matters large and small.

1. Bad policy. Allowing – and maybe even actively supporting – water theft in the Murray Darling Basin. Positive support for coal, opposition to renewables and inaction – or waste of money on Direct Action – on climate change. Pork barrelling in rural electorates. These policy disasters stem from the same sense of entitlement that Joyce showed in the conduct of his affair, but have much more significant results. They are the real legacy of Barnaby Joyce.

I’ll leave you with a comment from a local in Joyce’s electorate quoted by The Monthly:

“He’s a climate change denier, Barnaby Joyce, and I just find such people disturbing, and we lost him because he had sex with someone, I just find that also disturbing, we should be losing him because he doesn’t think properly.”

By Kay Rollison

Just a flesh wound

It was only meant to be a flesh wound, it wasn’t meant to end Barnaby’s career. That was his fault.

This is the basic message from the Daily Telegraph, where Sharri Markson revealed insider knowledge of the ‘crisis talks between the offices of the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister’ in the lead up to the New England by election, about how to hide Joyce’s affair with his media staffer.

If you’re confused about how it could be that Markson, who on October 20, before the New England by election, reported the rumours of Joyce’s affair as ‘vicious innuendo’, can now be admitting to knowledge of the crisis talks before the by election (why would there be crisis talks about rumours?), and can also be the very same journalist to win the ‘scoop’ of the front page story confirming the rumours, with a photo of the pregnant mistress who used to work at the Daily Telegraph, you’re not alone. But it gets even more-confusing still, while at the same time making perfect sense.

Markson’s ‘analysis’ of these crisis talks reads like an apology to Joyce, as if everything got a bit out of hand, and he was never meant to lose his position as Nationals leader, Deputy PM and Cabinet Minister, and that this kerfuffle was not to be blamed on the poor innocent Daily Tele – any damage done was Joyce’s fault for not handling the story well. Markson writes:

‘The government got through the by election without the secret exposed’ – because Markson chose not to expose the secret – and Joyce’s resignation today ‘is down to his (Joyce’s) serial mismanagement of what could have been a one – or two-day story – which is all it was ever intended to be, for there was no vendetta against Joyce or malice towards him by The Daily Telegraph’.

Read it twice if you need to. I know I did.

Now let’s unpack that layered statement, shall we? We know the government got through the by election without the secret exposed, which raises questions about the integrity of journalists across the nation, who are all defensively claiming to have the upmost honour in never reporting ‘vicious innuendo’, unless of course that vicious innuendo in some way damages a Labor government, and then it’s a ‘questions to answer’ pile on with no end in sight.

Next. Markson only ever intended for the story to be a one or two-day story. Let that sink in. Markson is admitting here, or even boasting, that the Daily Tele decides how long a story runs in the media, and that if they decide to press go (with the shot of the pregnant mistress), they can also decide to press stop. This one just got away from them. Not like usual. I shit you not.

We’re not finished yet. The reason it was only ever intended to be a one-or-two-days-at-the-most story, a flesh-wound and not a career-ending scandal, is because, low and behold, The Daily Telegraph, in all its personified wisdom has ‘no vendetta against’ or ‘malice towards’ Barnaby Joyce. The Deputy PM from the Liberal National Coalition is a mate of the Daily Telegraph, naturally, so, as Markson innocently explains, they weren’t out to get him – he just tripped and fell of his own accord.

Yes, that means exactly what you think it means. As we knew, but we never thought the Daily Telegraph would admit, the Murdoch press holds vendettas against individuals, and shows malice towards them in their editorial positions. Like Julia Gillard, for instance. Like Craig Thomson. Like Peter Slipper. Like Kevin Rudd, Bill Shorten, Dan Andrews, Annastacia Palaszczuk, Jay Weatherill, name any Labor politician from the last few decades and the story is the same: vendetta and malice by the truckload from the Murdoch media. And they’ve just admitted it.

You seriously couldn’t make this shit up. Sharri’s not making it up. Sharri, the journalist who ironically had to go ‘undercover’ to a journalism course at university in order to ‘expose’ the left-wing brainwashing of the media (ha!), who claimed not to know about Joyce’s affair, then did know, then apologised for knowing, and admitted she did know before after all, has laid it out very clearly. The Murdoch media is not interested in reporting about politics. They’re interested in playing politics. It’s just such a pity that so many Australians are still willing to be played.

The truth bomb that terrifies Turnbull

Image from: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-04-18/prime-minister-malcolm-turnbull/7333460

There is mass outrage today at the news that Turnbull has pressured the ABC to take down and censor parts of an article by Emma Alberici which analysed how little tax some of Australia’s largest companies pay. This story reeks of a scandalous government intervention in a publicly owned free press. But this isn’t the only story. In fact, it’s not the biggest story. If you look closely at exactly what was removed from the article before it was reposted, you can see what Turnbull was so desperate to censor. And you immediately see where this desperation comes from: a fear that his house of cards is about to come crashing down, blown up by a truth bomb. Because the line that was taken out of this article smashes not just Turnbull’s entire political ideology, his political career and his government’s hold on power; it also smashes the right wing narrative the world over. The stakes are that high.

This is the key line which the public no longer have access to:

There is no compelling evidence that giving the country’s biggest companies a tax cut sees that money passed on to workers in the form of higher wages.

The Guardian reports that ABC director of news, Gaven Morris, gave in to Turnbull’s pressure to change the article because ‘he believed it sounded too much like opinion’. In other words, Turnbull told Morris that Alberici’s statement of fact – that there is no compelling evidence that tax cuts trickle-down to workers – is not a fact, and is instead an opinion.

At this point, we could waste hours of outrage, sending Gaven Morris every ABC news article ever printed, with segments highlighted to show how opinion is inherent in any news article – whether it be opinion about what is important to report, how the report is framed, which ‘facts’ make it in and which are excluded, who is used as a source, what order those sources are used, who doesn’t get a chance to speak, and what prominence the story is given on the ABC news agenda. But, again, this is not the big story.

The big story is Turnbull’s fear of workers finally understanding the truth. Finally understanding how they’ve been lied to for generations. Why else would Turnbull go to such extraordinary lengths to get this so called ‘opinion’ removed, if he didn’t know how damaging this truth is to his neoliberal worldview?

The truth is, Emma Alberici is spot on. The truth is, there is no evidence that tax cuts either increase wages or create jobs. If there was such evidence, Turnbull would be able to point to it, instead of censoring an opposing view. The truth is, the lie that tax cuts increase wages and create jobs has been engineered as conventional wisdom by right wing governments and the compliant media for so long, that workers have fallen hook line and sinker for the lie and punched themselves in the face by turning against unions, the only ones giving them the power to stand up to the liars.

The truth is, Turnbull is terrified the lie is no longer believable. And it’s no longer believable because workers are waking up to the reality that their Point Piper millionaire PM, who uses tax havens to ensure wealth created through the labour of workers doesn’t come back to the community, who uses the power of government to make rules enabling other millionaires to steal wealth from workers, is actually lying to them. These lies benefit Turnbull individually – giving him political power and more money. These lies benefit all the Turnbull’s kind – the one-percenters whose wealth has grown exponentially as compared to the wealth of those whose productivity produces the wealth. Once these lies are exposed, once the game is up, there is no turning back.

I have long said that once workers realise wealth doesn’t trickle down, right wing governments will never be elected again. Turnbull knows this too. So, he can censor all he likes, but editing an ABC news article is akin to pissing in the ocean when the waves of change are building like a truth-tsunami. Bring it on.

Business owners should join unions and vote Labor

It is not just workers who should be backing unions and voting Labor. Small and medium business owners should too. Yes, I’m deadly serious. Let me explain.

There is a reason why business owners have traditionally despised unions and voted Liberal, and why many workers have been convinced to punch themselves in the face by doing the same. It’s because they’ve bought into two big lies told by liars – Liberals, big business, employer groups and their parrots in the media. The first lie is that corporate tax cuts create jobs, and the second is that pay rises are bad for the economy.

I call them big lies because they have big consequences for all of us; they clearly hurt workers, who haven’t had a pay rise in years, and also hurt the businesses who rely on their customers having money to spend. In turn, these lies hurt the economic prosperity of the entire country, reducing spending, gutting demand and discouraging investment. So, you can see why it’s time we understood just how corrosive these lies are, and worked to convince the lied-to to stop putting the liars in control of the economy.

The first lie is easy to refute. Corporate tax cuts do not create jobs, nor do they increase wages. I’ve explained here why this lie is codswallop. Sure, tax cuts could be spent on higher wages and hiring new staff, but could doesn’t mean they are. The best predictor of the future is the past, and judging by the past experience of companies receiving tax cuts, workers aren’t getting a pay rise from Turnbull’s latest round of cuts.

The reason why workers and business owners believe this lie is because they are lied to so regularly. Whenever they open a newspaper, they read statements like this from the AFR:

‘The Labor party and an increasingly determined Australian Council of Trade Union secretary Sally McManus are punting on winning hearts and minds through a return to interventionist wages policy. Pitted against them is a Coalition determined to do what it can to stoke investment, hiring, and pay packets through corporate tax cuts’.

You don’t even have to read between the lines here to see the clear implication is that villainous Labor and unions will hurt ‘investment, hiring and pay packets’ by intervening in the economy, whereas the heroic Coalition (liars) will ‘do what it can’ to improve all these things with a corporate tax cut. Lies!

The truth is, there is only one reason why the liars want, lobby for, and deliver through their political-arm-Liberal-Party, corporate tax cuts, and that is to increase their profits. Increased profits are great for them and their off-shored millions, but do nothing to increase employment or wages. Lies!

The second big lie – that pay rises cost jobs – was on display on Q and A Monday night, when spokesperson for the liars, James Pearson, CEO of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry said:

‘there’s something worse than having subdued wages growth, and that is not having a job at all’.

In other words, stop complaining that you haven’t had a pay rise in years – you’re lucky to have a job at all! This threat, that pay rises cost jobs, as I explain here, has been a clever little strategy for the liars as it has resulted both in productivity increases going unrewarded and also workers, through fear of job losses, turning against unions. Unions negotiate pay rises, and therefore in the lied-to-workers’ eyes, unions threaten their jobs.

These two big lies have therefore become a circular problem for the lied-to-workers, the business owners, and in turn, the economy. Workers have been so successfully turned against unions and the Labor Party – turned against themselves – that the labour movement is struggling to deliver pay rises for workers who fear losing their jobs if they are paid more, and in turn, businesses are struggling because their customers can’t afford what they’re selling. What an economic clusterfuck the liars have caused!

But wait, I hear you say. Businesses aren’t struggling – they have had huge profit increases year after year. So how can they be struggling if they’re making so much money? And yes, you’re right. Not ALL businesses are struggling.

At this point it’s important to differentiate between big business, and medium or small business. And, for medium and small businesses to see how the big business liars, who they keep voting for and helping to bash unions, are hurting them too.

Big businesses are making huge profits. That’s true. Big businesses also care most about corporate tax cuts, because they’re the ones who benefit from them most. Big business are the ones who most often get away with paying little to no tax because they can afford clever accountants with offshore tax schemes. Big business, often foreign owned, are more credible, but still not entirely credible, in claiming they can take their investment elsewhere if we don’t do what we’re told and vote for Liberals who will give them a tax cut. In reality, I can’t really see how Qantas is going to move offshore and still service Australian-based customers, or how BHP is going to mine Australian dirt in South Africa, or how huge banks and energy companies are going to gouge Australians of almost every cent they earn without investing their capital in the Australian economy. But either way, hugely profitable big businesses, who don’t pay their fair share of tax, who offshore most of their profits, who fund the employer groups and the Liberal Party in order to get the tax cuts they want, who own the newspapers which lie about tax cuts and pay rises, are, I admit, not the ones most hurt by low wages.

No, the ones hurt by low wages are the local small businesses, the medium sized employers, the Australian investors, who are suffering because their cash-strapped-customers can’t afford their products and services. It’s the owners of these businesses who are being hurt by the big liars, just as much as the workers missing out on pay rises.

Sure, small and medium businesses might not enjoy giving their staff pay rises, but they sure enjoy their customers earning more cash. Without pay rises, the self-employed painter sees his customers paint their homes every 10 years instead of every 5. Without pay rises, the café owner sees less coffee orders. Especially after paying their mortgages to hugely profitable banks and their power bill-shockers to privatised overseas owned electricity companies, workers without pay rises can’t afford to spend. This means small and medium business owners can’t afford to invest, and can’t afford to hire anyone, because there is not enough demand for the products and services they sell. As any good economist knows, capital investment comes from the promise of return on that investment. Return comes from demand. Demand is dependent on the customer’s ability to pay. When customers haven’t had a pay rise in years, they can’t afford to pay. So, bye bye revenue, bye bye potential returns, bye by investment, bye bye jobs and economic growth.

Remember this equation when you hear the Labor Party and unions opposing corporate tax cuts and calling for higher wages. Be warned, there might be a little voice in your head, put there by the liars, that makes you think Labor and unions are hurting the economy. But think of the small and medium businesses. Think of workers as customers, and understand why the economy relies on customers who can afford to spend. Call out the lies that are hurting all of us.

And next time you speak to a small and medium business owner, tell them they should join unions and vote Labor instead of supporting lying-employer-groups and voting for the liar-Liberal-Party. Tell them this story to explain why, if they really want to see their businesses succeed, this is the smartest thing to do. Unions and Labor governments are good for the economy, no matter what part in the economy you play. Spread the word.

How to ‘un-smash’ unions

Labor’s Mark Butler says unions are in ‘deep crisis’ thanks to Howard ‘smashing the power of organised labour’. Although the history books say that Howard’s WorkChoices policy was killed by the trade union movement and Kevin07, in reality, the biggest trick the Liberals and big business-devils ever played was convincing the world WorkChoices was dead, buried and cremated. Just when workers felt they were safe, protected by the Fair Work Act, the Liberals and big business were bringing in individual contracts and minimum rates by stealth, and finding loopholes to sabotage collective bargaining. How did they do it? By turning workers against unions. And wow, wasn’t it easy.

In my study of trade union narratives, I have looked at the way the media framed trade unions, from the shearer’s strike, the pig iron strike, the waterfront dispute, the Hawke Accord to WorkChoices. There is a consistent theme in the coverage: unions are framed as the villains – unreasonable and bad for the economy. Employers are framed as the heroes – reasonable and good for the economy, always given the benefit of the doubt. It is no wonder, since the public have been hearing this trope for their entire lives, that they believe it.

This narrative has been so successful at winning the culture wars that workers are cutting off their nose to spite their face by opposing unions, right when they need unions most. Take, for instance, the case of Turnbull cheered on by truck drivers when promising to rid them of the Transport Workers Union and Labor Party’s Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, a regulatory body which was designed to increase truck driver pay so they could drive more safely.

Think about it for a moment. These owner-operator truck drivers were outraged that a union, of which they weren’t members, was working in their interest for free. It was forcing monumentally-profitable supermarket chains to pay them enough that they didn’t have to break the speed limit all night to make a living. Since they were all being paid at least the same minimum amount, and truck drivers provide a service the supermarkets can’t forgo, they’d still have work. So, how is it in truck drivers’ interest to campaign against higher rates of pay? Contract workers, like these truck drivers, have been convinced that ‘being your own boss’ gives you ‘freedom’, when really the only freedom it gives is for employers to rip you off. The fantasy of the Liberal’s WorkChoices dream has come true, yet many workers vote for union-bashing Liberal governments again and again.

Unions need to ‘un-smash’ the movement by countering this dominant cultural narrative in two ways:

The first is to put workers back in the frame by taking themselves out of it. Let workers tell the media their story, rather than speaking on their behalf. Remind workers that a union is just a group of workers who have every right to a say in their working lives.

Unions need to tell the ‘workers are the union’ story to show they aren’t just another boss, an outside influence who meddles in workplaces and tells workers what to do, duping members into giving them money to extend their political power. A union is not forcing workers to do anything against their interest. Instead, a union gives workers the tools to organise better wages and conditions for themselves. Unions are not in fact run by ‘union bosses’; workers vote to control the action. Enterprise bargaining agreements result from worker consultation; everyone working together to solve workplace problems.

By framing unions as power-hungry political players, the media have detached ‘unions’ from ‘workers’. They have put unions in the political-establishment-bucket, where they are written off as acting against the interest of workers. Industrial disputes are framed as ‘boss’ versus ‘union boss’, suits doing back-room deals, leaving workers with no voice in the story. Media reports of train strikes are about the will of ‘militant power-hungry union bosses’ rather than stories of poor conditions for rail workers and unsafe travel for commuters.

To fix this, unions need to remind the public that workers are the true victim of stalled workplace negotiations; workers are forced to take the drastic measures of industrial action. Employers are the villains who have forced them there. Strikes happen because workers need them, not because union bosses want them.

The second thing unions need to do to ‘un-smash’ dominant cultural narratives is to kill the mistaken belief that union-won pay increases cost jobs, with the presumption that low wages are good for the economy.

Employers have been using the cover of the Global Financial Crisis to claim they can’t afford pay rises. This is not a believable excuse. Profits are up 40% in the last four years, yet workers are still waiting patiently, too patiently, to be rewarded by wage rises. Too often workers believe their only choice is unstable, casual, low wage work – better than no job at all. Part of the reason profits are so high is because productivity isn’t being rewarded, and wages do not cost what they should. Profit-takers are laughing all the way to off-shore-tax-haven-bank accounts, while workers are left with wages that are not keeping up with cost of living.

A solution to this problem used to be collective bargaining. But since most workers don’t bother to join their union, let alone consider collective action, the employers have them right where they want them – in a position where they feel too vulnerable to ask for a pay rise. And even if workers do ask, they can be easily rejected.

Then there is the double-whammy of the Liberal-stacked-laughingly-so-called ‘Fair Work Commission’ which has made industrial strike action virtually impossible. So, even when the brave few union members organise to push back against greedy, uncompromising employers, they are left with no option than to put up with bad conditions, or resign.

But this is not the end of the story. Employers are individually greedy in refusing pay rises, and are also collectively cutting off their nose to spite their face by reducing the spending power of their customers. With 60% of the economy reliant on consumer spending, you have to laugh so you don’t cry when groups like the Retailers Association bemoan low retail spending, in the same year as they’ve won their campaign to cut the pay of hundreds of thousands of workers earning penalty rates. Workers are consumers, and when they can’t afford to shop, they don’t shop. This is not rocket science.

Unions are in a position to tell this story – of how the wage rises they facilitate are good for the economy. How workers should be unafraid of wage rises and how employers are lying when they say they can’t afford to pay workers.

The media’s trade union narratives have helped the Liberals and big business turn workers against unions, which ultimately turns workers against themselves. Unions can help to un-smash the movement by telling new stories to explain how workers can improve their lives, and make the economy a more equal and profitable place to work, by joining their workmates in solidarity.

Train track media narratives

When a political event unfolds, you would expect that each media outlet, and each political journalist might report that event from a different angle. You would expect a diversity of opinion and commentary in the stories, depending on the subjective and independent analysis of the individual journalist. But, my research into the stories told by the media shows this is not how political journalists behave. Instead, a media narrative springs up immediately to explain the what, why, how, when and who, and this narrative is adopted as given by the rest of the pack, with very few, if any, journalists willing to look at the story from a different perspective. Simply put, it is much more common for the political media to all tell the same story, and democracy is the loser.

I wrote recently about the success Alice Workman from Buzzfeed had in questioning the facts behind the AFP’s raids on the AWU, and how her reporting blew a hole in the media’s usual ‘unions are corrupt’ narrative, simply by investigating how it came to be that the media arrived at the scene ahead of the police. This type of brave, swimming-against-the-narrative-tide reporting is the exception, not the rule, in the Australian political media. Usually, political stories follow a far more uniform pattern of characterising the ‘facts’ of events as a ‘given’, in what I call the ‘train track narrative’ – as if the train only has one option – following the other trains ahead of it, instead of weaving its own path.

The train track media narrative was exemplified this week by the media’s reporting of the ongoing parliamentary citizenship saga. There seem to be some train tracks which are particularly popular, used as templates in media reporting, like a train set to auto-pilot. For example, there is the ‘they’re just as bad as each-other’ template. It appeared to be a relief to most journalists last week when Labor finally had some citizenship problems of their own. David Feeney’s lost paperwork and five others who claim to have taken reasonable steps to renounce their citizenship, who didn’t receive a response to their correspondence in time to tick that box before the commencement of a new parliament, have been a gift to this template narrative.

As the results of the audit came in, immediately it was the Labor MPs under a cloud who were the focus of the media’s attention. Just to name a few, we had Katharine Murphy at the Guardian making the story all about Labor. The ABC also did their best to paint Labor as the losers in the story, framing Labor’s cross-bench-supported bid to send all un-confirmed citizenship cases to the High Court as a ‘failure’, right there in the headline. Adam Gartrell and James Massola for Fairfax wrote a similar story under the heading ‘More Labor referrals loom as Bill Shorten’s horror fortnight ends with infighting’. David Speers, in the Daily Telegraph, reported Turnbull’s week as ‘the best for this year’, while labelling Shorten’s week a ‘shocker’. And so on and so forth.

To a casual observer of this story, it would seem that Shorten’s Labor opposition were the only party in parliament last week who had any issues with citizenship uncovered in the audit and that Shorten was mismanaging those issues by refusing to sort them out via the High Court. This narrative, however, doesn’t reflect the true reality of the situation.

Let’s look at some of the big things missing from this ‘thank goodness Labor can now be bashed about citizenship problems too’ narrative. Not only is Turnbull facing a by-election this weekend over his own citizenship problems with John Alexander in Bennelong, a by-election which could undermine his government’s numbers on the floor of the parliament (you would think this was a huge story, remember Craig Thomson?), he also has more citizenship problems uncovered through his pathetic attempt at an audit which looked more like a rabble of scant paperwork and disorganisation by the Liberal Party, who clearly have never had a proper process to deal with the requirements of Section 44 of the Constitution.

A reminder at this point that the Liberals and Nationals are in GOVERNMENT. The political stakes are higher for government than opposition I would have thought. The audit showed there are at least four Liberal MPs who still haven’t lifted the cloud of citizenship-doubts through their statements, who need to be referred to ensure they met the requirements the same as everyone else.

Even if you want to leave Josh Frydenberg out because his mother was a Jewish refugee, which Labor have chosen to do (as sympathetic as we all feel towards Jewish refugees, I’m not sure what this element of the story has to do with Frydenberg fulfilling the requirements of the Australian Constitution), there are still four who definitely need to be referred, as argued by Labor and the cross benchers – including Julia Banks, Nola Marino, Jason Falinski and Alex Hawke.

Falinksi has been named in the Daily Telegraph today as being ‘snared’ in the saga – a fact that was obvious last week as soon as the audit was released. All four of these Liberals aren’t arguing that they’ve taken ‘reasonable steps’, as the Labor MPs are, but rather are claiming not to be dual citizens of their respective ancestors’ birth nations, ignoring the fact that S44 requires that dual citizenry AND rights to dual citizenry be denounced.

So have their rights been denounced or not? The High Court are the only ones who can decide this. But even a non-lawyer like me, whose only education in S44 has been to follow the citizenship drama since June, can see that these four have a problem, just by looking at the paperwork they’ve submitted through the audit. Anyone reading media stories, however, this week would think these four MPs were being unfairly targeted by mean-big-bad-bully-Labor, who apparently coerced the cross-benchers into believing their conspiracy against the Liberals for political point scoring. That’s how the ‘they’re just as bad as each other’ story was old last week.

The fact is, Turnbull is shit-scared to send these four Liberals to the High Court because he knows that they are on shaky ground, and if even one or two of them was forced to a by-election, his government’s wafer-thin majority is at risk. So, why do journalists not report from this angle – from the angle that Turnbull blocked a bid by Labor to check both their own and Liberal citizenship cases – to get it all sorted at once – when it is clear that Turnbull would only fight to block the referral if he himself had doubts about his MP’s eligibility? If he thinks they are fine, as the journalists seem to agree, why not let the High Court lift the cloud and everyone can move on, starting 2018 afresh?

The media narrative straight out of the blocks in reporting the citizenship dramas unfolding last week was to rush for the ‘Labor are now on the bad-guy scoreboard and just as bad as the Libs’. But it is Turnbull, not Labor, who has the most to lose, and it is Turnbull’s MPs, not Labor’s, who can’t claim to have taken reasonable steps to renounce their citizenship. This is the crux of the story.

It stuns and frustrates me in equal measure that the political journalists are so quick to all write the same story, that they misrepresent the truth of the citizenship saga, and fall into unquestioning line with each other, leaving the public in the dark about what is really going on. There are many sides to every story, and when journalists all choose to go along the same track, the lack of diverse opinion is not just a bad look for their professionalism, but is also detrimental to democracy. We all lose when journalists don’t do their jobs well.

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