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A government in opposition and the media who put them there

In June 2013, the Age newspaper printed an editorial calling for Prime Minister Julia Gillard to stand aside “for the good of the nation“.

The editorial said the leadership debate was preventing Labor’s message about its future policies and vision for Australia getting through to the public. It said Mr Rudd was a flawed leader and it was not convinced he was a changed man, but that opinion polls suggested his return would make the election a genuine contest.

Editor-in-chief Andrew Holden said the newspaper was motivated by concern about the quality of public debate in the lead-up to the election.

“Our concern here really is around the election debate and a proper scrutiny of the policies of the Coalition, and whether we’re going to get that in the coming election campaign if the electorate really has just tuned out and isn’t listening to the Prime Minister,” he said.

Let’s just back up here.

It was the media who engaged in the constant leadership speculation. Had they chosen instead to analyse and report on policies then “the quality of public debate” may have had a chance of progressing to an informed discussion.

Instead they fixated on gossip and polls. That was NOT Julia Gillard’s fault. It was their decision. The Age even conceded that “it has respect for the Prime Minister, and hopes the reforms she has implemented will remain in place,” whilst demanding that she step down in favour of a “flawed leader.”

Media is the sword arm of democracy. They are supposed to act as watchdog to protect public interest against malpractice and create public awareness. By any standard, they failed in their obligation to do so prior to the last election, creating the impression of a dysfunctional government despite the very admirable record of progressive legislation that benefitted society.

Those of us who are more interested in policy than politics watched in incredulity as a complicit media installed Tony Abbott – a man bereft of vision, a man who would “sell his ass” for the job, a man who, by his own admission, is a weathervane whose words cannot be trusted. He didn’t even last two years before his own party decided he was unfit for the job, something that was patently obvious to anyone who had followed his political career. He was the Steven Bradbury of the Liberal Party, as Minchin schemed to get rid of Turnbull who sold Hockey the dump. NO-ONE thought Abbott would be a chance.

If anyone is to blame for the state we now find ourselves in – saddled with a government who has no credible policies, who refuses to listen to experts because their “common sense” knows better, whose thinly disguised mission to make the rich richer is daily being exposed – it is our media and their fixation with the trivial.

Even here at the AIMN, the article with by far the greatest number of views was about Frances Abbott’s dodgy scholarship, so I suppose it is understandable for commercial enterprises to provide the news people want to read which is, all too often, the salacious side of politics rather than the substance of policy.

In our justifiable outrage about the rorts and the perks, the cronyism and corruption, we breed anger and polarisation as accusations can be made against so many of our elected representatives from all sides of politics. But in so doing, we make it so much harder to focus on the far greater challenges facing our country and the world let alone achieve bipartisan support for a course of action.

We now have a government whose sole purpose is to oppose anything Labor says or does, a government in opposition. They have spent the majority of their term undoing the previous government’s achievements and running scare campaigns.

The Opposition have led the way, announcing policies that have modelling to back them up. The government is floundering, referring to discredited reports to counter Labor’s proposals but offering none of their own. “Wait for the budget” we are told.

Surprisingly, we didn’t have to “wait for the budget” to be told that they were reinstating some of the funding they had ripped out of ASIC or that they would “build” the submarines in South Australia.

If the Daily Telegraph is any indication of what may be included in the budget, and it usually is, it looks like the unemployed will be in the firing line again – Tuesday’s story headlined “Booze drugs dole rort … dole grubs shirking work”, an article which made many incorrect claims as pointed out by welfare leaders.

They also reported that Australia’s “welfare bill” will rise to $190bn by 2020, with the implication that the total amount, and the increase, is due to unemployment benefits.

In fact unemployment benefits represent around 7% of that “welfare” figure and are falling as a percentage of gross domestic product, whereas pension payments represent 40% and are rising, and family and childcare payments represent 25%.

The Press Council Standards of Practice states that “a newspaper has a right to take sides on any issue, but it does not have the right to resort to distortion or dishonesty to advocate a cause.” They also must “Ensure that factual material in news reports and elsewhere is accurate and not misleading.”

We know the Murdoch Press does not comply with this. Murdoch revels in his self-proclaimed power to determine the outcome of elections.

Well bring it on Rupert. Online media has thrown out a challenge and most mainstream media recognise they must compete. People are realising how they have been conned. More and more articles are saying hang on, where’s your evidence for that? Increasingly people are turning to online sources for independent appraisal.

Perhaps we needed this government to shake people out of their lethargy.

Could it be that people are starting to question whether Miranda Devine and Ray Hadley and Gerard Henderson may not know quite as much as the experts?

Veritatem dies aperit.


21 comments

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  1. townsvilleblog

    We should be rope-able about this issue which was exposed by the ABC last December and has not been acted upon by this LNP government. They could have quite easily legislated to at least close the loop holes that these people us, but no, not in the interest of the common good, not in the national interest, no. Some of these companies donate heavily to the Liberal Party so, they have ignored it hoping it would go away http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-12-17/almost-600-companies-did-not-pay-tax-in-2013-14/7036324 and you say?

  2. Kaye Lee

    The Greens have a plan to enforce a minimum income tax liability of 35% of total income for individuals with income above $300,000.

    “Last year, 56 people who earned a collective $129m paid no tax, not a single cent, but spent $47m on tax advice,” Di Natale says.

    When it comes to corporate tax avoidance by lending itself money at exorbitant interest rates, Labor’s thin capitalisation laws sought to address that by averaging the debt across the whole company.

    Personally I would prefer to see a financial transaction tax that makes it harder for them to shift funds around.

  3. Wayne Turner

    If ONLY we could vote out all of the MSM forever.

  4. Harry.V.Dirchy

    The Press Council is a shining example of self regulation – why it doesn’t work. I think it should be law that any of those front page mis-truths that have to have a correction or retraction made should be done on the same page and in the same font/size it was first published.

  5. Margaret McMillan

    I hope you’re right Kaye, and that the media will lift its game. I have to read sites like this, as anything else is too depressing. It is so important to get rid of this government, and I quake when I think what will happen to the country if we don’t.
    Like others, I have noticed that the ABC is now almost over run by the IPA, who are turning out to have been salted into everything the government controls. This morning I read that Chris Berg could well be their disability commissioner, as the poor chap has apparently missed out on pre-selection for a safe seat.
    I have to say that Shorten is impressive lately. He’s still not a magic speaker, but those sound policies just keep on coming. Do the Murdoch readers even know about this?

  6. brickbob

    Do i think Ms Gillard was a good PM,? bloody oath i do, in fact she was the best we have ever had, but the filthy gutter press tore her to bits, andi still hav’nt forgiven them.””””

  7. paul walter

    She had her flaws, but compared to what followed she wasn’t too bad.

  8. Kaye Lee

    People talk about the mistakes Gillard made but personally I don’t see it.

    There is criticism for her knifing of Rudd but those who had to deal with him said it was impossible and it is up to the caucus to decide who leads them (or at least it was then). Policies are more important than who is proposing them.

    There was the carbon tax non-lie. Gillard was always committed to pricing carbon – the mechanism was dictated by a hung parliament and it was a fixed price ETS for a finite period followed by a market determined ETS. Perhaps she was remiss on not controlling the rhetoric but the introduction of carbon pricing was a good thing.

    She was criticised for putting single parents onto Newstart once their child reached a certain age. What was ignored was that there was a two-tier system. Howard had introduced that change but only for people who applied after a certain date which led to some people with teenagers receiving the single parenting payment while others with kids in infants school did not. Gillard put everyone on the same rules.

    She was also criticised for reducing the promised increase in tertiary education funding to help pay for the Gonski reforms. Under Labor, higher education spending increased from $6.85 billion to $8.97 billion. The Parliamentary Library’s Budget Review of Labor’s final budget in 2013-14 says total investment in higher education “continues to grow, just at a slower rate than the sector was hoping for”. They also increased student numbers.

    Faced with a growing deficit and looking for ways to fund the proposed Gonski school reforms, Labor announced an “efficiency dividend” for universities, moved to end the discounts applied for paying fees upfront and for the voluntary repayment of fees, and converted lump sum payments for students to income contingent loans.

    There was also criticism for allowing the mining companies to basically dictate the format of the mining tax. Whilst I see some justification for that, surely it is better to negotiate an agreement with industry that gives them short term leeway but at least starts the process for Australians to gain some benefit from the mining and sale of the resources they own. Perhaps redistributing the income from the tax was premature but the benefits went to low income earners, families and pensioners thus creating an economic stimulus as all the money is recycled through the economy.

    If those were her worst mistakes then BRING HER BACK.

  9. paul walter

    I thought her timidity on Israel, along with the likes of Paul Howes, Michael Danby, Mark Arbib, et al, was a tendency carried over to an endorsement of the worst of US international politics and the War on Terrierism, also lack of imagination involving refugee policy, were her main weaknesses.

    I still can’t forgive her for her betrayal of Julian Assange.

    However, unlike some, I think she did fairly well on the rest, apart from the dreadfully-timed single parent decison.

    Compared to Abbott and Turnbull, she was a saint.

  10. Garth

    If any journalists want to wring hands about the decline of traditional media you need look no further than Rupert Murdoch. He has screwed you as much as the readership. If the public were getting what they thought was informed and unbiased coverage from the papers I would guess they wouldn’t be in decline as fast as they are. Of course, there would still be a move away from these forms of media but I don’t think it would be the rush we are seeing now.

  11. Sam

    They’ve already started ramping it up, for the upcoming election. The last couple of days has been poor journalism even for Murdoch’s exceedingly low standards.

  12. gorgeousdunny1

    I think that was probably the worst moment in The Age’s long independent history.

    To demand that the PM resign, not because of any impropriety by her or her ministry, not because of poor government (it introduced some of the most visionary reforms of any government since the Hawke-Keating days) not because parliament was unworkable (when record volumes of legislation had been passed despite a minority in both houses) nor because of poor economic performance (Triple A credit ratings, record low unemployment).

    And to do this for the most superficial of reasons that the opinion polls were abysmal. To justify that The Age claimed that this prevented rational discussion of its political policy. It is true that the hysteria of News Ltd and talk radio had led to a personal hatred of Ms Gillard, totally unjustified by any evidence. But to give in to demagogue tactics and mob rule is to forfeit the opportunity for free discussion. Specifically, the situation did not prevent the examination of the Abbott opposition’s lack of virtually any coherent policy. The Press Gallery and the mainstream media simply failed to do their job.

    Individuals also faltered at the time. Two of my favoured analysts, Mike Carlton and Mr Denmore, fell in with this line that it would be better to hand over to Rudd to prevent a rout. It was never about getting a free discussion and we never got it.

    Like a Greek Tragedy, we are still reaping the harvest from that folly. We have rewarded greed and dishonesty and punished the less well off.

  13. Max Gross

    Howard lowered the bar into the gutter. Abbott broke the bar, shat in the gutter and crawled into the sewer, taking Australia with him. And there it remains as Turnbull doggy-paddles about wearing a Saville Row life jacket.

  14. Keitha Granville

    Julia was the best PM we have had for quite some time – she wasn’t perfect, is there anybody who is ? But she was real. And she was honest. Oh for someone like that now.
    Yes Julia, I DO miss you very much

  15. Michael Taylor

    Keitha, I used to work for her. I admit she wasn’t bad. Not bad at all. Damn good, actually.

  16. Douglas Evans

    To Garth and Sam I say don’t bother with the Murdoch Press. Why bother? Do yourself a favor and read the Guardian and Bernard Keane in Crikey. The Guardian has been ripping Turnbull et al to shreds for weeks. Why bother with Rupert’s sinking mastheads?

    With regards Gillard: She was plainly seriously damaged from the beginning by the circumstances of her gaining the job as PM. The Howard Coalition government was always going to lose that last election. Labor could have gone to the election under Gillard or even Tanner and still won but in a major act of stupidity they chose Rudd. Difficult to blame them. Rudd had everyone (outside of those who actually knew him well) fooled.

    When the crisis of confidence in Rudd reached a sufficient level of urgency Gillard was made an offer she couldn’t refuse. If she had refused the Party in its time of (perceived) need she knew the chance would not come again. As PM she showed herself to be an able negotiator and there were significant reforms. Gonski and the NDIS come to mind. But there were significant shortcomings. If we are to lay her government’s achievements at her feet that is where its failings belong also.

    Top of the list was her government’s chaotic and disgracefully unprincipled handling of the asylum seekers non-crisis. Any one inclined to gloss this over should listen to what Labor MPs Anna Burke and Melissa Parke have had to say in recent times.

    Next was Gillard’s intransigence on marriage equality.

    Next was her intransigence over climate change. There has been significant re-writing of history around this matter. She perhaps along with Tanner persuaded or supported Rudd in his backflip/climb down from global warming as the moral issue of our times, beginning the slide in public perception of this government. In her statements in the run-up to the election she made it clear (despite KLs protestations) that there would be no significant action on climate change. What she promised (foolishly as it turned out) was no ETS and a People’s Convention to determine what future government policy should be. She was plainly trying to boot the ball well down the road. She was forced to a revision of her position by the hung Parliament. The truly useful bits of the climate legislation that eventuated, ARENA, CEFC etc were won by Oakeshott, Windsor and Bandt as compensation for a carbon pricing mechanism that Labor felt was gentle enough to be unlikely to upset the miners and generators.

    Next I would add Paul Walters’ reservations around Israel and Assange.

    What links all of these? The triumph of pragmatism over principle. The perception that what plays well in the marginals should be allowed to determine policy direction. When a progressive position played well with the electorate overall Gillard was there. Think Gonski and the NDIS. When a bit of courage was required to explain difficult and complex problems to an increasingly suspicious electorate she wimped it. Under extremely difficult circumstances Gillard showed herself to be a competent manager but a somewhat weak leader.

  17. Douglas Evans

    Perhaps it would be fair to qualify the last sentence of my previous comment by noting that:
    The PM job is no easy gig for anyone.
    The circumstances forced on Julia Gillard during her stint as PM were extremely difficult, faced as she was by a talentless but loud Opposition led by a feral bovver boy with no idea beyond tearing down the government by whatever means were available.
    She faced an overheated MSM largely motivated by the perception of advantage to itself and its political cronies should they be able to aid the destruction of this government.
    She faced continual white-anting from within her Parliamentary group.
    To be a strong leader under such circumstances is perhaps more than we could reasonably expect. Arguably we never saw what she was really capable of because of all this. Nevertheless the historical record, however produced, unarguably contains a number of large black marks alongside the gold stars on her legacy. Keating and Hawke showed that they understood when to seek concensus and when to argue a case, to lead. Gillard never got to showed she understood this difference.

  18. cornlegend

    Keitha Granville
    “Julia was the best PM we have had for quite some time”
    Michael Taylor
    “Keitha, I used to work for her. I admit she wasn’t bad. Not bad at all. Damn good, actually”
    AGREE

    Douglas Evans
    A view from a wilted Green

  19. Douglas Evans

    cornlegend

    Wilted certainly, Green certainly. The first a function of age (almost time for the compost bin). The second a function of conviction based on rational thought.

    Cheers

  20. gorgeousdunny1

    Thanks for those insights, Douglas, especially the second one which tempered the rather harsh earlier conclusion.

    I’m in the pro-Gillard camp, but I think you make some excellent points in listing her flaws or limits. I think that, especially on the way up, she was indeed a pragmatic, which almost seemed out of character for someone from the left. That was Tanner’s stated reservation he had about her. I’d agree that, if not retreating from climate change, she was at least looking for a way of carrying the country with her.

    Her two political heroes were Nye Bevan and Don Dunstan. Neither of these shirked major public reforms. She did learn from Dunstan especially his earlier period in the 60s (where he lost in 68 despite 55% of the vote) that it was not enough just to bring in reforms. You had to spend a fair bit of time persuading the public that such change was necessary or beneficial. Dunstan did that consistently in his next premiership and never looked back despite big opposition from big business. The summit idea wasn’t going to work without goodwill and there was none. In an unusual irony the sabotaged election campaign ultimately led to a better outcome, having to depend on the independents, especially the two country-based ones.

    If the circumstances had been better (she was all but drafted into the leadership before she was ready) and she hadn’t been white-anted from the beginning we might have seen a bit of the boldness you mentioned. As it was, with the media obsessed with the Rudd undermining and the Abbott stunts, it wasn’t always easy to find an audience. She might have done more with pokies reform if Rudd’s lackeys hadn’t been running a 5th column winning over clubs and nervous caucus backbenchers alike. But as Tony Windsor said, getting a workable agreement on the Murray-Darling Basin water flow is one that had eluded all governments prior. And that was by no means a populist one since they had to smoothe over Barnaby’s attempts at rabble-rousing.

    I thought that mostly the government was pretty effective. But walking a tightrope and being constantly undermined might have detracted from all the political skills needed. With Keating and Hawke, a lot of their work was in persuasion. There wasn’t much of that at all in the Gillard government. More a focus on getting as much done as they could in a limited time.

  21. cmshowell

    “…people are starting to question whether Miranda Devine and Ray Hadley and Gerard Henderson may not know quite as much as the experts”

    The term ‘ignorant futtocks’ comes to mind…

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