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Dan Andrews – and Murdoch crying wolf

Rupert Murdoch has done incalculable harm to the democratic experiment throughout the AUKUS nations and beyond. In Victoria, his propaganda campaigns have made him the magnate who cried wolf. The state’s integrity infrastructure is in perilous condition but Newscorp’s constant invective against Labor governments, and Premier Dan Andrew’s government in particular, has made it more difficult to fix.

In the recent spate of Australian elections, it appears that extravagant campaigns by Murdoch media were having diminished impact on the centre/left vote. Scott Morrison’s government received the thumping it had earned. Dan Andrews’ resounding win and NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet’s loss were the opposite of the outcomes Murdoch’s tools had fought to achieve.

Since, News Corp editors have not steered their platforms away from the hysteria that pervades their framing of news stories and opinion pages. The Voice to Parliament, for example, continues to receive breathless, distorted coverage aiming to deny Prime Minister Albanese the “win.”

For Victoria, the Murdoch news has become particularly toxic. The constant demonising of the Andrews’ government pandemic management was out of step with majority opinion and Murdoch’s fanning up of dissent made Victorians’ lives harder over those long months of lockdowns. The attacks on Dan Andrews in the lead-up to the November election reminded the radicalised right base of how much they loathed Andrews, but reinforced the majority’s utter disdain for Murdoch and his Dog Line of brimstone-breathing pundits.

The Victorian Liberal Party – the local political arm of the Murdoch project – has collapsed into chaos. Their echoes of News Corp messaging are treated with equal disdain. Radical right figures spouting Murdoch-ready messaging seem unelectable in this relatively progressive state; the more moderate old guard is struggling to keep them from destroying the edifice.

The media hysteria that has distorted every act by the Andrews government over the 2020s has now had the unexpected effect of inoculating that government from effective condemnation for genuine problems.

Despite mounting pressure over the first quarter of 2023 over integrity questions, Labor’s lead only appears to be growing, and Andrews’ personal approval has been barely touched. It remains to be seen whether IBAC’s special Daintree Report will have more of an impact. Victoria’s government integrity framework is in dire need of reform, but too many centre/left voters believe the news on the topic is just another Murdoch hit job.

The original strong design of the Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission (IBAC) was nobbled by the Liberal government that implemented an anodyne version in 2011. The body was effectively designed to fail.

The model was improved in 2015 by the Andrews government broadening the definition of corruption to include misconduct in public office. Those reforms, however, were inadequate to allow it to do its job effectively. The situation has worsened since.

There are three main crises for IBAC. One is that it, like the Ombudsman, remains dramatically underfunded: this is a method that governments’ use to shackle bodies that monitor their performance.

The second is that its jurisdiction requires a criminal offence to be involved. This means that “grey corruption” of the kind discussed in the Daintree Report is not covered. The majority of Australians have come to believe that pork-barrelling and other ways of using taxpayer funds to achieve electoral advantage are indeed a form of corruption that must be addressed. This is in line with Transparency International’s benchmark definition of corruption.

The third is the secrecy with which IBAC is forced to operate. The purpose of an integrity body is to discover, investigate and expose corruption. Without public hearings and reports, its work is crippled.

IBAC can only conduct public hearings in “exceptional circumstances.” Integrity experts argue that the test should be that public hearings take place when it is in the public interest. It is crucial that politicians and public servants know that they are being scrutinised and will be held to account. Hearings are not begun lightly: they are instituted after lengthy, in-camera investigation.

The definition of “exceptional circumstances” is vague and invites well-funded subjects of inquiry to contest the designation through repeated court hearings. That process then gives the well-funded an advantage, seeing the details of the investigation being conducted.

Victorians were unable to know the findings of several secret IBAC investigations before the November election because of another defect in the body’s legislation: the process granting a form of natural justice to those who will have adverse findings from the investigation. Contrasted to the streamlined version in NSW, the Victorian process is much more onerous and can end in the courts, already bogged down by Covid19 pressures.

Problematic also are the centralisation of power in the Andrews government and the army of ministerial aides whose allegiance is to Andrews and the party rather than the public interest. The public service is discouraged from giving frank and fearless advice, experiencing harassment from ministerial aides.

We saw in the May 2022 federal election that the rule of law is important to Australians. The processes of government must be pressured towards integrity by appropriate adherence to norms, systems and by scrutiny. Not only is there the likelihood of poor decision-making and the waste of taxpayer money in the short-term, but also the risk of the degradation of democracy itself in a government antagonistic to the inherent competition. We must strengthen our systems to protect against future governments’ wrongdoing as much as current risks.

Pesutto’s Liberal opposition is a threadbare bunch. The fact that Pesutto was unable to distance the party from Moira Deeming’s extremism when announcing her ouster – including having been an office-bearer in an organisation fighting for complete abortion bans – reinforces that his relatively moderate faction is under siege. As such, they pose little threat to Labor in the medium term.

Both Murdoch and the Victorian Liberal opposition supported the extremist conspiracy networks emerging on Melbourne’s streets to brawl with police over the pandemic. The politicians’ and media’s overblown critiques of the Andrews’ government and its pandemic handling became blurred with frightening figures bringing gallows to “freedom” rallies.

A discredited media and opposition are a problem for Victoria’s democracy if they cannot hold the government to account when necessary. Dan Andrews and his government must not scoff at calls to strengthen integrity measures just because the opposition is weak. The state deserves a great deal better.

 

This was first published at Pearls and Irritations

 

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9 comments

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  1. Clakka

    Excellent article Lucy Hamilton.

    With the designed disempowerment of the Public Service, Federally and within all States, we are held to the whims of largely the ‘sales’ and “lip-service” of self-aggrandising politicians affected by lobbyists and donors. Many politicians love the formula, because they don’t have to be bothered with frank and fearless advice, they can in the alternative pursue a path to celebrity via either fame or infamy. Such hubris erodes gravitas and is the utter enemy of good governance and effective diplomacy.

    The scourge of this formula embedded by idiots in the MSM, and the salivating political pretenders has been the hallmark of the world-wide neoliberal / neocon / neo-religious populist wrecking ball.

    Due to the machinations of the moderne politicians, the wise old heads, academics and talented technicians and administrators have left the Public Service in droves. In most cases they have little alternative but to shrivel to indigence, or forsake conscience and relocate to the gleaming corporate towers of consultancies, where they can earn a living, whilst, without fear, implement the edicts of their Boards and shareholders.

    From there, of course, the politicians can by sleight of hand and mouth obtain a cannily crafted brief, render it to govt letterhead, return it, and in turn receive guided ideologies, and fully independent advice from the ‘best’ in the land, along with an invoice bulging with gleaming-tower on-costs and extraordinary profit margins. The advantages to politicians being it can all be covered-off under “commercial-in-confidence”, they can take it or leave it, or just pick the eyes out of it and claim it as their own.

    A joy ride on a merry-go-round, that of course, relies on ministers to implant their most feckless toadies as heads of departments and their conga-line of decision makers.

    Dan’s model is a tad different, instead, he centralises and accumulates a personal advisory, an internal band of 100 henchpeople, who can address the lesser mortals of ministers, their aides, and of course the public service. Just to keep cabinet and caucus informed, of course – hmmmm.

    Yikes! IBAC doesn’t stand a chance. After being neutered by the moronic Vic Liberals, and given some eye-shadow by Dan, it should be completely scrapped and remade, modelled on, say, the NSW ICAC. Can’t speak for the Fed ICAC yet, we’ll just have to wait and see. In the meantime I’m enjoying the Royal Commissions and Parliamentary inquiries slaying the grubby-fingered despots of the recent past.

    We may have dealt with gerrymanders (the demographic type, that is), but there’s still so much to do to facilitate the (one vote one value) people leading and the leaders following – leaks, martial alignments, industrialised donations and lobbying, land trafficking, resources trafficking, privacy incursions, abdication of the fourth estate and of course, hubris, celebrity and stupidity.

    We don’t do gallows any more, so I guess it’s round the rugged rocks of parliamentary supremacy, and all its vicissitudes.

  2. GL

    Rupert expects that ALL state and federal leaders, no matter what their political leanings, to fall to their knees in supplication and worship at the altar of Murdoch and when they spurn him…watch out for the now almost yawn inspiring wrath of Rupert.

  3. New England Cocky

    Well done Lucy. I stand with Dan Andrews.

    Perhaps inspection of the antics of Barnaby ”Beetrooter” Joyce, the NOtional$ representative in New England, would provide some insight into the blatant corruption of the conservative side of politics. Beetrooter fails the pub test as a suitable candidate for any other political party except the NOtional$ where adultery, alcoholism, and misogyny are acceptable performance indicators for the women i Tamworth that still allow their spouses/partners to vote for them at Feral elections.

    However real the alcoholism and adultery confession, remember this person is being paid from the public purse to promote his personal agenda around the Pilliga Scrub CSG fields, where it is reported that his two ”grazing properties” occur over extensive CSG deposits.

    So why was the Northern Inland Railway so important? To move the CSG from below Beetrooter’s ”grazing properties” to the export port at Gladestone Qld, on a railway built without proper costings, planning or management at public expense.

  4. Andrew Smith

    It’s not healthy having a government in power too long, one understands that Andrews will probably step down at some point that may change the culture…..

    However, when the opposition consists of the Liberals, IPA and NewsCorp etc. media, singularly obsessed about short term point scoring and stunts in the media for their ageing constituents via imported sociocultural ‘values’ vs. addressing actual issues and having (genuine grass roots branch upwards) grounded policies to promote, the Libs will not be advancing.

    Of all places for NewsCorp etc. and related players or influencers to try to implant a form of US FoxNews, GOP, Koch ‘freedom rallies’ etc. type politics or agitprop masquerading as ‘Liberal’, Victoria’s ‘persuadables’ are probably not going to be very receptive, especially when the same voters are gaslit and criticised with Victorians as a whole during Covid?

    These sustained long term campaigns of NewsCorp are nothing new if looking at the family DNA, i.e. Keith Murdoch senior, a very minor media mogul (as opposed to hagiographies claiming otherwise) employed by the then Baillieu family’s Weekly Times, he tried to use WWI correspondent Charles Bean to white ant General Sir John Monash and have him replaced as Australia’s western front commander by Billy Hughes (understated whiff of anti-semitism by all, but apportioned to Bean).

    These Australians’ vendetta towards Monash was stymied because British leadership including King George viewed Monash as one of the most competent allied officers on the western front, hence knighthood awarded on frontline, and his battle tactics (amongst others) helped inform Guderian’s German battle tactics in WWII.

    This attitude still goes on in US, UK & locally (not EU, NZ or Canada), as offshore writers have said out loud, why does Murdoch seem to have this resentment to others in or around power, or not, while still ‘holding his chair’?

    It’s as though he is still looking for approval, not helped by never attending one of the better Melbourne schools (he attended Geelong GS, where Melbourne families sent kids when problems at home, expelled or not accepted by top tier schools), of course not connected to his antipathy towards Monash a Melbourne legend, who attracted 300 thousand Victorians to his memorial service, that’s about a million in real terms.

    Back to Andrew’s Labor government, it’s also chicken or the egg, i.e. if the Libs were more together, less reliant upon NewsCorp etc. political agitprop and tactics, there maybe more bipartisanship, electoral opportunities for the Liberals and then the Labour government would not be so inward looking and centralised; it takes two to tango?

  5. Lucy Hamilton

    Terrific comments as usual,
    That’s a really grim image, Clakka.

    I have been supportive of Dan too.

    I have spent a number of years dwelling on and writing about the outrage that was the corruption of the LNP. I have been delighted to see so many of their governments and people removed. Also saddened to see the intractable regions that keep voting for clusterforks like Barnaby Joyce.

    That said, Dan needs to get his act together. Dismissing the dire need for integrity reform so flippantly is going to stain his legacy.

  6. Terence Mills

    I believe that we are seeing the end of days for the Murdoch media empire : the business model that drove sales of the likes of the News of the World for years is spent.

    The truth matters. Lies have consequences,” said Justin Nelson, a lawyer for Dominion vote counting machines after a momentous defamation award of $A1.2billion. Murdoch’s Fox perpetuated a lie for profit as they have always done and now they are being held to account.

    They are incapable of being fair and balanced and even had to dump that slogan.

    When the old codger dies I wouldn’t be surprised to see the family sell off the business if there is anything of value left to sell. In fact, if I were one of them I would be dumping my shares now !

  7. Clakka

    Yes Lucy,

    My spray is a rather grim image, a deliberate pastiche wrought from exposure to narratives and images fed to ordinary punters to inflame biases and prejudice. Ordinary punters who may not have sufficient skills or time to navigate beyond the panto to get at the the real meaning and consequences of policy and legislation, and the alternatives.

    We are all expected to fall into line with the rules set by politicians, yet starkly, politicians run a show of exceptionalism, designed by them via act or omission, to gull those outside their bubble. For example, requirements to tell the truth in their political discourse. Whilst we may consider that they must work together diligently across the aisle in the innumerable committees and in the processes of administration, the ludicrousness of the rot and school-yard drivel they bring to play whist campaigning and in parliamentary question time comes to mind.

    It seems to me that attracting to politics, folk of high skill and solid ethics is somewhat defeated by the exceptionalism within the bubble. It may be that folks, at one time, may have entered politics with good intent, but increasingly, it appears that they can fall foul to primal urges brought on by the theatre of brutality. Accordingly, the wellspring of able and willing talent seems to be affected not only Federally, but right through State and Local government, with only those who can withstand the brutality rising to the top. A process of centralisation which I would have thought is the antithesis of democracy.

    That said, as a Victorian, I too support Dan. Thank goodness he has a good head on his shoulders. However, his centralisation of power establishes a precedent that in a future could see the likes of the current Vic opposition in the chair utilising that method – a dangerous situation. Further, I am impressed by Albanese’s skilful political method, giving ministers their voice, returning to broad community enquiry, accords and consensus style approach. In these tough times, difficult to wrangle, but essential to obtaining better results and ever important confidence.

    Nevertheless, there remain many structural gaps that facilitate loose play for this inclined to game the political system. They are sending other democracies such as USA and Britain down the gurgler, such that Americans really struggle with the concept of truth, so it’s about time the gaps were attended to in Oz. I can hardly imaging what we would talk about then.

  8. andyfiftysix

    lets look at the system as is , not as we wish it to be. The liberals are not getting close to power anytime soon. Deeming is doing a great job trashing vic libs. Dutton is doing an increadible job of steady as she goes, “we are still in power” stunts. How fortunate, nobody gives a fig leaf what they say.
    Whilst Andrews is removing level crossings and being generous in certain areas (even if it feels like token generosity), people will still vote for him, faults and all. Compare That with signing off on a multibillion dollar freeway just before an election they knew was going to go against then.

    Compare that with selling off the SEC and anything else not tied down since Kennett days. We like doers, not seat warmers or blatant retards.

    You want an alternative? I say yes, i will look at an alternative so long as its not regressive liberal of old type stupid ideas. I dont think it will happen for a long long time now.

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