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Tag Archives: Rudd

Forging the Wrong Leaders

rabbott-e1423656056322

 

“We are not the Labor party.”  Amongst the leadership tensions of the past few weeks in the ruling Coalition government, Prime Minister Tony Abbott appears to have adopted this as a mantra of sorts, an incantation to ward off the attacks of his foes both inside and outside of his own party. A return to the internecine warfare of 2010 and 2013, he argues, would make the Liberal party as bad as their predecessors. He speaks as if there is something qualitatively different between the parties and the way they go about their operation, as if the Liberal and Labor parties have entirely different and incompatible DNAs.

Whilst the spill motion may have failed, the simple fact that the motion was raised shows that this is manifestly untrue.

Labor has not been slow to join in the chorus of jibes, directly quoting back invective initially directed at Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd by Abbott and his fellows. There is no shortage of material to use. Tony Abbott, Joe Hockey, Christopher Pyne and others were incessant in their criticism of Labor’s leadership woes, all at the instigation of the consummate attack dog who now finds the tables turned. The rich irony is that leadership battles are only unpalatable because Tony Abbott made them so. They are not new to Australian politics.

Admittedly, leadership changes at the Federal level are rarer than in State politics. Additionally, many Prime Ministers step down “gracefully” before the inevitable push.  It is not until Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard – and the unedifying return to Rudd – that replacement of a sitting Prime Minister by force became somewhat common. However, the attempt by Liberal backbenchers to push a spill motion and depose Tony Abbott shows that leadership battles are not restricted to one side of politics. They are caused by something deeper – a malaise in politics.

“To lose one Prime Minister may be regarded as a misfortune. To lose two looks like carelessness.” (With apologies to Oscar Wilde.)

Deposing (or attempting to depose) a sitting, first-term Prime Minister is, admittedly rare – at least, until recent years. So how is it that we’ve come to this?

Kevin Rudd came to power in 2007 with a sweeping majority and the hopes and aspirations of Australians behind him. Less than three years later he was pushed from office, a broken, tearful man. What forces wrought the triumphant visionary of Kevin 07 into the chaotic, vindictive morass he became?

The issue at the heart of Kevin Rudd’s downfall was his inability to govern. Rudd was a great communicator, an idealist, a visionary and a fantastic politician for elections. In government, however, he proved lacking in the skills and attributes required of a Prime Minister. This came about, essentially, because elections and governments require very distinct skill-sets. What makes a great leader during an election campaign does not make a wonderful leader in power. Unfortunately, the reverse is also often true: great leaders may be let down by their inability to win elections.

Our modern democracy revolves around elections. They are the fixed points at which the people can have their say. It has been argued that Australia is a democracy for a month or so every three years, after which it becomes an effective oligarchy. There is some truth to this.

Increasingly, however, the three years between elections are conducted with an unremitting focus on the next election. Oppositions have this easy: they spend their years in the political wilderness with nothing but the next election to think about. Government is a harder job. Making decisions in the greater good, aware that every action will have detractors, will be attacked by the opposition and by the media, requires courage. Making decisions aimed solely at bolstering the government’s reputation at the next election is easier.

During elections, enormous sums of money are spent on revealing and promoting policy, on attacking political opponents, and on strategising the message. How much do you reveal? How long can you keep your best offerings hidden, in order to best capture public approval whilst restricting the other party’s opportunity to respond? All is done with an eye on the prize – the all-important twelve hours when the electoral booths are open.

Elections are replete with unreasonable expectations, with impossible promises, and unfortunately often, dirty tactics. Throw a partisan media into the mixture and an election becomes so much froth and noise, a lot of the detail can be obscured.

But then the election is over. The winning party is expected to segue into governing. Suddenly there is no money for advertising. The messaging takes a back seat: governing is a long game. In governing, there is limited value to continuing to attack the other side. Even a party which had the media’s partisan support during the election can find, all too soon, that it becomes hostile. Sudden attention is paid to detail. Promises were made during the campaign, but when it comes to execution, any number of headwinds interfere: from the quality of the public service to unexpected financial setbacks. Changing circumstances require flexibility, but promises and public expectations are not flexible.
In the public’s view, the choice has been made. The election is over: it is time to make good on the promises. And woe betide a party that cannot deliver on its promises, the next time elections come around.

Promises are the currency of elections

Campaigning requires a particular skillset of a political party and its leaders. Leaders must bring inspiration and vision. An election from opposition can be carried on criticism of the government, but only insofar as plans can be proposed to address the identified shortcomings. Attacking your opponents will get you only so far; a party needs to explain what it would do differently. The universal truth of electoral campaigns is promises.
Kevin Rudd was a great campaigner. He brought vision and grand plans. His rhetoric inspired the young and the old alike in an idea of what Australia could be. He promised changes that would be difficult, but he made them sound easy, and he had obvious commitment to his cause. Kevin 07 was a whirlwind of hope, and with a strong team behind him, he made his promises sound convincing.

Unfortunately, Kevin Rudd proved to be terrible at governing. The essential qualities of a government leader are the ability to negotiate, persistence to follow-through on projects, focus on detail, delegation and empowerment of your team, and detailed planning. These were not Kevin Rudd’s strengths. In eternal search for polling approval, Rudd lacked the ability to push projects through to completion against critical media campaigns and public resistance. His inability to delegate power and responsibility was also a detriment. In an election, the leader’s visibility and personality are critical to success. But Australia is too large and complex for a single leader, however frenetic, to manage. Kevin Rudd and his centralisation became a bottleneck, and Labor was unable to effectively execute on its promises.

Kevin Rudd was a great “wartime leader” but a mediocre peacetime one. When he was deposed in favour of Julia Gillard, the priority was to regain some momentum on the projects that had stalled. Fulfilling at least some of the promises that won the 2007 election would go some way to address the electors’ buyer’s remorse. Such was Gillard’s success in a short period of time that she won Labor another term of office.

Gillard was amazing at the things that Rudd was not. Negotiation and persistence were the hallmarks of the Gillard administration. With Gillard’s direct intervention and follow-through, outstanding issues got resolved. Promises made at the previous election, sabotaged by poor planning and policy backdowns, were resolved in short order – perhaps with suboptimal outcomes, but enough to get them off the table.

Gillard was a very successful peacetime leader and history will likely judge her kindly. However, she was let down in the face of Tony Abbott’s incessant campaigning by a poor communication style. Gillard was not seen as a great campaigner. A last-minute return to the Great Campaigner, Kevin Rudd, in late 2013 was insufficient to address the extended election campaign Tony Abbott had run from the moment he ascended to the Liberal leadership.

Uncomfortable parallels

Tony Abbott was also a great campaigner. His approach was different to Rudd’s; he brought no grand plans or vision to the table. Instead his approach was to sow discontent wherever possible, and his pitch was for a return to the Good Old Days of prosperity under Howard. His messaging was consistent and strident and believable. With no grand plans to propose, details of execution were not required. Tony Abbott ran a three-year election campaign leading up to his election in 2013. The primary promise of Tony Abbott’s Coalition was to “Not be Labor” – a message he is still pushing today, over a year after taking government.

Abbott’s success on the campaign trail has not carried through to success as Prime Minister. Tony Abbott and his cabinet repeatedly point to their grand successes – the mining tax, the “carbon tax”, and three free trade agreements. Regardless of whether you consider these outcomes to be successes, unstated are the Attacks on Everyone of the 2014 budget, the ideological attack on industrial relations, the Captain’s Picks, or the reliance of the Coalition on a model of Australia’s prosperity (mining and export) that is rapidly coming to an end. Not described is the government’s lack of a plan for developing the country into a nation of the 21st century – nor the failure of the government to progress its plans to forge the country into the preeminent example of a 20th century country. Not mentioned is the changing circumstance which is the belated acceptance of the rest of the world that Climate Change is an existential issue demanding action.

Like Rudd, Abbott is also a centraliser. The inability to entrust his Ministers with management of their own offices, let alone their own portfolios, has led to internal dissatisfaction – just like Kevin Rudd. The inability of the Abbott government – with its hard right-wing policies and its head-kicker parliamentary supremos – leads to an inability to negotiate in good faith with their political opponents, which leads to legislation languishing in the Senate. In turn, this leads to further deterioration of the budget. This government seems to know only one way to respond to a budget problem, but this approach does not have the approval of the people the government is elected to serve, nor the Senate which protects them.

The skills and attributes that brought Tony Abbott to government are not the skills and attributes needed to effectively govern this country. This is the malaise of our democracy. The focus on winning government means that leaders are forged who can win elections but not lead the country.

The enormous political cost of changing from Rudd to Gillard, and back to Rudd, led to Rudd introducing new rules to the Labor party around leadership contention. This was good politics. It is not, necessarily, good government, if it serves to protect the interests of an incompetent or unsatisfactory Prime Minister. Such rules, ironically, would serve to protect Tony Abbott, and a similar set of requirements have been proposed for the Coalition that would further endanger Australia’s ability to unseat a leader who can campaign but not govern.

Where to from here?

History shows us that Tony Abbott is unlikely to survive as Prime Minister to the next election – unless the Coalition follows Labor’s lead and institutes new rules to prevent the unseating of a Prime Minister. If Tony Abbott is unseated, perhaps as a result of another poor Captain’s Call or a further string of poor polls and State election results, who would be expected to replace him? And would Abbott be replaced by a good governor – or a great campaigner?

Amongst the ideologues and right-wing extremists, the climate deniers and the silver spoon born-to-rule set, who on the Coalition’s side can be the great governor Australia needs? Malcolm Turnbull looks like the most likely candidate for the top job (despite the particular loathing which some of his Coalition colleagues reserve for him). Can Malcolm Turnbull the Despised become the negotiator, the facilitator, and the project lead that the Coalition so desperately needs?

 

“There Will Be No Comment Whatsoever, But Let Me Just Say This…”

Image from smh.com.au

Image from smh.com.au

 

“If people coming here by boat are “illegal” and need to be locked up indefinitely, then when our navy entered Indonesia waters, were they also “illegal” and at risk of being arrested and locked up indefinitely?”

Comment on Facebook

Ok, it’s totally over the top to suggest that the Indonesian Navy will attempt to intercept and detain Australian boats who are breaching their sovereignty. I mean, if a boat “accidentally strayed” into our territorial waters, we’d just ignore it wouldn’t we, unless it was full of people who may want to live here. An armed ship from another country, on the other hand, wouldn’t need permission and we’d all be relaxed and comfortable with that.

No, the Facebook comment was a silly as Kevin Rudd when he said that there would be Konfrontasi:

KEVIN RUDD: If the ambassador of the Republic of Indonesia in Australia says that the policy of the government of Indonesia is not one which would faintly support the policy put forward by Mr Abbott, and secondly if Mr Abbott as prime minister then seeks to do that, you end up with a pretty robust diplomatic conflict and I become a little uncertain as to where that heads.

As Paul Kelly said in The Australian at the time:

Rudd’s reference to past conflicts and invoking Konfrontasi during the 1960s, when Australian forces were involved against Indonesia, is extraordinary. Making these remarks just days before Rudd’s anticipated visit to Indonesia for talks with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is even more extraordinary.

Even when he clarified his remarks, Rudd still said that while he was referring to “diplomatic conflict” he was always wary about where diplomatic conflicts could lead.

He said that confrontation with Indonesia evolved over a “set of words” and “turned into something else”.

Yep, it sure looks like Rudd was playing politics and not giving an accurate prediction of what might happen when you allegedly have a PM who approaches things with all the sensitivity of the proverbial bull in the china shop.

Now, I know that some of you think that there’s a bit of a contradiction between Abbott standing in front of a board with the number of boat arrivals prior to the election and deciding that releasing information afterwards would “help the people smugglers”.

There is a clear difference. But unfortunately, it’s an “operational matter” and therefore can’t be released. The Abbott Government have a clear unequivocal policy of not commenting on “operational matters”. Operational matters include anything our navy has done and any questions a journalist may ask.

Operational matters does not include denials of any accusations. Operational matters only include things that have happened, not things that haven’t happened. So, if for example, the navy is accused of firing warning shots, we can be told that it DIDN’T happen. Examples of this include asylum seekers not being ill-treated, shots not being fired and boats not arriving for a couple of weeks in the monsoon season. Another example is when we wish something hadn’t happened – like when our “assets” accidentally stray into Indonesia. It’s ok to comment on that by either saying that it didn’t happen, or later on, we wish that it hadn’t happened, which is practically the same thing. However, if someone suggests that a boat slipped through unnoticed, that’s an operational matter because it DID happen and, therefore, can’t be commented on.

Now that doesn’t mean that one should presume that every time the government refuses to comment that the thing in question has occurred. Sometimes, Scott Morrison genuinely won’t have the answer.

Examples of questions to which Scott Morrison has no answer:

  1. “What is your strategy if the current policy fails to stop the boats?”
  2. “Why did you disband the advisory group of doctors?”
  3. “Are the allegations that glasses, prosthetics, hearing aids and medications have been confiscated from asylum seekers in detention?”
  4. “How much profit does SERCO make from asylum seekers? And is anyone on the Audit Committee connected with SERCO?”
  5. “How do you reconcile your treatment of asylum seekers with your Christian values?”
  6. “What is the justification for boarding boats in international waters before they’ve actually entered Australia’s territorial waters?”
  7. “How many politicians dye their hair?”
  8. “Is Christopher Pyne considering plastic surgery, and if not, why not?”

Scott Morrison should not, of course, be expected to answer these questions.

Neither should he be expected to answer any questions which will jeopardise our attempts to stop the boats. And, of course, any question which demonstrates a failure of policy by the government would do just that.

So, there’ll be absolutely no comment from the Government about the boats arriving or anything connected to “Operation Sovereign Borders” (that’s ours, not Indonesia’s). Apart from telling us when no boats arrive, of course. Or when the navy gets lost and ends up in Indonesia.* If they don’t say that boats have arrived, however, we can’t presume that there have been boats arriving – that would be speculating about “operational matters” which would be counter-productive.

Best not to think about it, and just accept that Abbott and Co have it all under control.

*This is probably – like the spying incident – Abbott taking the blame for something that’s Labor’s fault. Obviously, the GPS tracking system was purchased by Kevin Rudd from the $2 shop and this explains why it didn’t work.

Cage Match: Abbott the Destroyer and “Hulk” Hockey vs The Rest of the World

 

From a very young age, I was always cynical about the wrestling on TV. It seemed to me that it was so obviously contrived.

I mean, you’d have the tag matches where some wrestler with a name like Dead Eye Vampire would be winning, but he’d continue pounding his defenceless opponent, Mighty Freaky, while ignoring the opponent’s partner who’d entered the ring after a tag that Dead Eye somehow missed seeing. Cries of “Look behind you” were ignored, in the style of a pantomime. How could anyone not realise that the tag had taken place and that a new opponent was moving in from behing?

Ridiculous!

But the past few months have made me wonder. It seems that the Liberal Party are behaving exactly like they’re performing for the Late Night Wrestling. Actually, make that the past four years, but recent events just clinch it.

We have the Liberal Party doing as much as it can to stir up the viewers. Appointments of ex-politicians like Nick Minchin, Peter Costello, and Sophie Mirabella are one thing, but appointing Tim Wilson to the Human Rights Commission is a move clearly designed to get the audience stamping their feet and booing.

Their manager lurks in the background pulling the strings, while the members of Team Liberal and Team National shout out provocations like the referee sucks, and everyone is biased against us. The ABC, for example.

Queen Zodiac even stirred up some of his own supporters by claiming that he didn’t say what the video clearly showed him saying. (Don’t blame me, I used a site called “Pro Wrestling Name Generator”. I typed in Christopher Pyne, and that’s what it came up with. Honestly!) Then, he told everyone that they were stupid and didn’t understand what he said.

More boos!

“Hulk” Hockey called on GMH to put up or shut up! They promptly shut up shop and left. He then proceeds to claim that everything he does is because of Irksome Pounder (Rudd) and Garrulous Doom (Gillard)

And Team Liberal and Team National keep jumping in the ring to put the boot into Irksome and Garrulous.

But here’s the thing that reminds me of the wrestling.

They seem oblivious to the fact that these two are no longer in the ring, that there are new opponents circling. Sure, there’s been a little bit of trash talk with Bill Shorten’s name, but that’s not what the public want to see.

They don’t want Abbott and company to bang on about how good they are and how bad their opponents were. They don’t want a repeat of last week’s match with an invisible opponent. They want the fresh bout with the new opponent, Major Souljacker (Shorten).

Actually, I suspect what the public really want is for the Government to start behaving like a government, and to stop the theatre. If Souljacker starts to sneak up, I doubt there’ll be many calls of “Look behind you”!

doommajor irksome

The Cassandra Effect, Abbott and Boiling a Frog. Dr Who?

abbott

Image courtesy of actu.org.au

I step out of the phone box. I look around. Picking up a paper, I see the date September 16th, 2009. Either the time travel has worked or this newsstand is selling very old newspapers. Rudd is enormously popular. There is a headline that the latest polling has Labor ahead 60.5 to 39.5 two party preferred. It’s not too late. I need to warn people. Perhaps we can stop this happening.

I make my way to the pub opposite Trades Hall. I stick my head in. “I’ve come from the future to warn you all.” A couple of people look up, but most people go on drinking. “I come from the Year 2013 and Tony Abbott is PRIME MINISTER.” A couple of people look up and laugh.

“Have another drink,” shouts somebody. There is more laughter.

Obviously, this is not an effective way to communicate. I go to the bar and order a scotch. One of the men smiles and says, “Good one!”

I shake my head. “I know it must seem incredible, but it’s all true.”

“So just four years after Labor save us from the GFC, we elect the Liberals. And not just the Liberals, Tony Abbott?”

“Yes,” I say, gulping my drink quickly.

“Fascinating, so why do we elect him?”

“Because the economy’s a mess and the borders are weak,” I repeat the Abbott mantras.

“Oh, inflation get’s out of control and interest rates soar?”

“No.”

“Unemployment goes through the roof.”

“No, um, it’s lower than it is now, I think.”

“We’re invaded by a foreign power?”

“No, there a lot of asylum seeker boats. Well, a few anyway.”

“That’s no reason to vote out a government.”

“Well, it happens. Shortly after Rudd is returned to the Leadership.”

“Returned?”

“Yes, Julia Gillard replaces him, because he becomes very unpopular after Abbott becomes Leader of the Liberals and the Senate block the ETS.”

“So why does he become unpopular if it’s Abbott that blocks the ETS?”

“Um, I don’t know. Anyway, all this is unimportant, I’m here to try and stop it happening!”

“Sort of like Arnie!” I look blank. “In The Terminator,” he explains.

“Sort of.” I remember the instructions for boiling a frog. If you do it slowly, the frog doesn’t notice.

“Ok, so what’s he like? As PM.”

I can tell that he’s humouring me, but I continue. “Well, one of his first acts is to abolish the Ministry for Climate Change.”

“I suppose that he incorporates it into one of the other departments like Science.”

“Oh, there’s no Ministry for Science, that becomes part of Industry.”

He smiles, “Next you’ll be saying he gets rid of all the women in the Cabinet.”

“He does. Well, Julie Bishop’s still there. She’s in charge of Foreign Affairs.”

“I see,” he smirks.

“It’s all true. And Abbott takes over as the Minister for Women’s Affairs.”

“You’re from the future, you say?”

“Yep.”

“And I suppose that you’ve got some explanation for how you got here?”

“Yes, Dr Who lent me his TARDIS. How else?”

“Ah,” he says, “at last you’re telling me something I can believe.”

“There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception.” – Aldous Huxley

There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.

Donald Rumsfeld

“When you understand,” Brandy says, “that what you’re telling is just a story. It isn’t happening anymore. When you realize the story you’re telling is just words, when you can just crumble up and throw your past in the trashcan,” Brandy says, “then we’ll figure out who you’re going to be.”

Chuck Palahniuk, Invisible Monsters

When John Howard contested the 2007 election, he stood on his interest rate record. The Interest rates had been – on average – lower than when Labor was in office. After Labor’s election, interest rates didn’t climb as had been predicted by the Liberals, so the mantra changed. We were told that interest rates would be even lower if we didn’t have a Labor Government.

At some point, this changed again. Low interest rates become a sign that the economy was in crisis. They were a sign of the weakness in the Australian economy. Which, to some extent, is true. As to how much that weakness is the result of Government policy and how much a result of the high Australian dollar is a matter that can be debated, but the fact remains that the Reserve Bank increases interest rates to slow down an overheating economy and reduces them to stimulate a flagging economy. Depending on what else is happening, a fall, rise or no movement at all may be a cause for concern or celebration.

However, while politics has always been a matter of trying to talk up your achievements and imply that your opponent is not as good as you, we’ve usually relied on the media as some sort of arbiter, pointing out obvious exaggerations, educating us on the expectations, and informing us so that we can make informed decisions. We don’t expect them to simply re-write press releases.

Interpreting history is always political. Part of the difficulty is that we only have one result and it’s always possible to make an argument that it was the best – or worst – result possible. Just as the Liberals argue that things would have been better if they’d been in charge of the economy, it’s possible for me to argue that the Melbourne Football Club would have been better off if they’d appointed me as coach last year. All right, my lack of any qualifications would have been controversial, but it’s hard to argue that they’d have been worse off! Whatever the reality, all we have is what happened, and it’s always easy to make a case for the thing that wasn’t done, using some ideal “if only” scenario.

“If only Rudd hadn’t spent all that money in 2008, we wouldn’t be in debt now. They claimed we were about to be hit by the worst recession in eighty years and the economy actually grew. If the Liberals had been in charge they wouldn’t have spent any money on insulation and school halls or given handouts of $900, and the economy would have grown twice as fast and we could have put more into cancer research leading to world peace and a Nobel Prize for every Australian.”

And, of course, we’re going to hear various theories about replacing Rudd with Gillard, and then back again. It’s perfectly reasonable to argue that Rudd saved the Labor Party from a complete wipe-out. But it’s just as reasonable to argue that if the party had stuck with Gillard, they’d have been more credible and, while Rudd was losing support from his initial surge, Gillard would have slowly increased as we got closer to the election. It’s possible to argue that Labor should have waited as long as possible in the hope that we go to war with Syria – always a boost for a Government. Whatever your point of view, we’ll never know if you’re right and there is no way you can prove it, and we’ll never know for sure.

So tempting and all as it is to pontificate about what Labor should have done, perhaps it’s time to start thinking about the future. What’s the way forward? What should the Labor Party do NOW?

More importantly, what should you do now?

Let’s All Buy Fairfax Shares and Stop publishing Amanda Vanstone

Amanda Vanstone (image from theage.com.au)

Amanda Vanstone (image from theage.com.au)

I always try to consider the possibility that I may be wrong. In 1975, I was one of the few students to say that Malcolm Fraser believed the sacking the Whitlam Government was the “right thing to do”. When someone said that it was part of his “born to rule” mentality, I tried to argue that it wasn’t that simple, that Fraser genuinely believed that the country was being destroyed by Whitlam. Of course, the “country” that Fraser believed in was different from Whitlam’s idea of Australia. Many of Whitlam’s initiatives survived Fraser. It’s possible to argue that the best survived while the worst disappeared, but I suspect that’s a little simplistic. (Ironically, these days Fraser seems to have more in common with many of the people who protested against him than he does with the Liberal party.)

So every time time the media do something like their “Kick this Mob Out” front page, I try to imagine what I’d do if I had that sort of power. The first thing that occurs to me is that I wouldn’t be as bloody obvious. Fairfax, for example, claims to be neutral while using a disproportionate number of regular columnists from the right: Amanda Vanstone (she DOES have sex appeal), Paul Sheehan, the “feisty” Nicole Flint (I presume that’s ok to say?) and Peter Costello. I can’t think of a regular left leaning writer to counter these, although I’m sure that someone will point out that Wayne Swan wrote a number of articles or that some “the market isn’t ALWAYS perfect” economist writes every second Shrove Tuesday.

I like to think that if I was controlling the media, I’d give both sides a “fair go” – I’m Australian, after all – with the arguments themselves promoting the correct course of action. I’d employ Andrew Bolt – on an exclusive contract – and make him remove any part of his argument that was emotive or abusive. (All right, that would reduce his column to “I’m Andrew Bolt and I think blah, blah for reasons I can’t tell you, but I would give him a front page where he could legitimately complain about his lack of free speech!)

And I guess it’s that notion of a “fair go” that’s been so lacking in the Murdoch Press. Everything that has happened has been portrayed as the Government’s fault. Pink Batts catch fire due to dodgy insulation, blame the Rudd Government. Someone thinks the builders charged too much for a school building, blame the Rudd Government. The Liberals refuse to back a reduction in company tax, blame the Gillard Government. High Court decision goes against them, blame the Gillard Government. Ford shuts down, blame the Gillard Government and the Carbon Tax. Boat capsizes and people drown, blame the people smugglers or the “queue jumpers” themselves? No, blame the Gillard AND Rudd Governments.

Compare this to some of the events under Howard. The inability to find the WMDs – “Our intelligence was misleading”! The closure of Ansett – “Rescuing Ansett will be our first priority after the election”. Children overboard – “The doctored picture was confusing.” Just about anything Howard or a minister didn’t know about – “Nobody passed that on to me.” The AWB bribes – “We heard rumours, so we went and asked AWB are you illegally bribing people and they said no, so what more could we do?”

I’m sure that if Labor had been in power, they’d have been blamed for all these things and quite possibly the September 11th attack would have been something they should have forseen.

So what’s the answer?

Should we all band together and purchase Fairfax? I’m sure there must be enough people out there prepared to buy up $500 worth of shares that we’d at least make Gina increase her holdings when we announced our takeover bid. Then we could sell them at a profit. But it probably wouldn’t be enough to counter Murdoch.

Should we just continue to complain in the hope that this raises the awareness of people who didn’t realize that a front-page headline saying “We Need Tony” was an opinion and not merely a presentation of some objective fact?

Or should we just hope that newspapers really are becoming less relevant – that Murdoch and Rinehart are wasting their money in a foolish power display – and that social media and smaller independent internet sites will be the way of the future – “Crikey” – for example? With the downsizing and centralization of news organization, there’s bound to be plenty of unemployed journalists out there.

Whatever, I’m going to conclude by giving both sides a “fair go”. When casting your vote this Saturday, this is what each of the two major parties would like you to think about:

Labor

”If you’ve got doubts about that, don’t vote for him. If you’re worried about funding to your local hospital, because he has cut a billion dollars worth of funding to hospitals before, then don’t vote for him,” Mr Rudd told Channel Nine on Monday.”If you’ve got doubts about what happens to the future of your schools given he’s going to take $8 billion out of the Better Schools plan then don’t vote for him. If you’re uncertain about what Mr Abbott’s putting out there, then I think listen to your instincts and don’t vote for him.”

Liberal

“If you want to know who to vote for, I’m the guy with the not bad looking daughters,” said Mr Abbott.

There now. No-one can accuse me of lacking balance!

[polldaddy poll=7372037]

Careless whispers nothing to dance about

In my years of being old enough to know what an election campaign is, I cannot recall one so inundated with media tales of what unnamed persons have to say.

The number of stories quoting unnamed Party sources, primarily on Labor’s side of the political coin has been nothing short of staggering – nameless “ministers”, “senior party officials”, “party heavyweights”,  “senior sources”, “powerbrokers”, “spokespersons” and the rest of that particular journalistic nomenclature.

It’s been incredible.  For my part, I’ve been deeply cynical and skeptical about it.  It was much easier to believe that a biased media was just making stuff up.  Mind you, in truth, there’s no way to show they are.

Then came the Gillard leadership spill of June 2013, about which there had been whispers aplenty.

On top of that, we’ve come to learn that Kevin Rudd has a weaker bladder than Julian Assange.  The journalists were seemingly vindicated.

But that leaves me, as a Labor supporter, with a terrible reality to face: Labor personnel are actively undermining their own party.  It beggars belief but it seems to be the only alternative to media mendacity.

Has the relationship between Labor and journalists become too cozy, too personal, too endowed with self-interest and ambition to be tolerable?  Or is Labor just politically inept?

Of course, the relationship between politicians and the media is a complex and important one, but I can’t help but think it’s become something corrosive to our political culture and especially dangerous to Labor.

Generally speaking, Journalists are supposed to report the news, not be part of it.

Brisbane’s Courier Mail ran a story today posing the question of whether it would have been better for Labor to have gone into the election campaign with Julia Gillard.

whispers

Courier Mail Website

Now, the story is pure, tabloid schlock, and goes so far as to use a manipulative photo taken from the funeral of Joan Child (Australia’s first female Federal Speaker), presumably just so they could slip in the Slipper.

It’s not the first time that the Courier Mail, or News Limited generally, have disrespected this sombre occasion in their opinion pieces.  But the interesting and pertinent thing about the story is that it contains multiple quotes from unnamed Ministers and “powerbrokers”.

Just two months since the Labor Party dramatically switched its leader, some senior members of the Government are now complaining that Ms Gillard would have performed better than Mr Rudd.

 

The minister said Ms Gillard would have slowly improved Labor’s vote, while under Mr Rudd it soared and then plummeted.

 

“One of the questions that will be asked is would Gillard have met Rudd on the way down? In the end, we’ll never know,” the source said.

 

“She made mistakes, no doubt, and she made mistakes under pressure. But she was much cooler under pressure and she coped with a greater intensity.”

If based on recent history, we’re forced to accept that these quotes are real, one has to wonder out loud: what the hell is going on?

Why would senior Party figures be speaking to members of the Murdoch press in such a fashion at a time when Labor is busily pushing the idea that News Limited is out to get them?

Why would they be saying things to journalists that they know will result in damaging “news” stories?  Are they mad?  I simply cannot fathom it.

I invite readers to offer their speculations and theories.  Heaven knows I could use a theory that doesn’t have me catching flies, mouth agape.

Politics is even more boring than I thought! (I just watched the debate…)

The trouble with the debate – and politics in general – is that people were asked complicated questions, and the “winner” was the person who could come up with the most CONVINCING answer in a couple minutes.

We’ve gone from “Interest Rates will always be lower under a Coalition Government” to “The Budget bottom line will always be better under a Coalition Government”. No facts or figures, no evidence, just a quick, slick statement.

Still, it’s a little longer than the normal three-word statement. Abbott was wooden and Rudd came across as a man who was about as interesting as your accountant explaining the joys of double entry bookkeeping.

Every now and then, Abbott would smirk as though he remembered what his coach told him about not using this gesture or remembering to look at the camera. So, who won? And in terms of it, who cares?

Yes, yes, I’m sure we all care because this will determine who runs Australia and all that. (Let’s just say Rupert Murdoch is being ignored for the purpose of this blog.) But I can’t help but think about something I read on job interviews.

If you were picking the 100 metre relay team for the next Olympics, would you take them to the track and get them to run, or take them into a room and ask them questions to see if they answered them like other sprinters?

And that’s the whole thing with an election campaign. People are expected to have answers, rather than intelligent questions. We judge people on hand gestures and body language, rather than an amazing grasp on what needs to be done. We pick our future based on flimsy things.

When the buzzer goes off, a speaker has to round off their answer and finish. And no-one is allowed to say, “Well, this something we should stop pretending that this a problem where ANYONE has an answer. Let’s all sit down and take this one out of the political arena…”

Yeah, I’ll keep watching too. I know I should stop and do something worthwhile. I know that politicians will only occasionally make an actual difference once or twice in a generation, but it’s like watching a domestic argument; you know you shouldn’t stare, but sometimes you just can’t help it!

Accurate predictions for election result, Melbourne Cup and the stock market

Image by thevarguy.com

Image by thevarguy.com

More than 90% of everything is predictable; most predictions are wrong.

How do I reconcile those two things. Well, quite simply, people don’t bother to make predictions about the predictable things, and if they do, the prediction won’t get much oxygen. If I predict that Monday will be followed by Tuesday, then no-one’s really going to be interested. Nor, when I tell people that this years Melbourne Cup will be run on the first Tuesday in November and won be a jockey riding a horse, is anyone likely to contact me for my amazing prognostications.

To raise interest, predictions have to be outrageous and unexpected, which is why they’re so often wrong. If I predict that Turnbull will challenge Abbott for the leadership, then people will want to know when and what basis I have for my belief. Unless, of course, I say something like next Thursday week at 3pm. And happen to be right.

Philip Tetlock did a study on expert prediction, and, apart from finding that they were little better than a monkey with a dartboard, he concluded that he could divide them into “foxes” and “hedgehogs”. The “hedgehogs” were good at one thing, and they knew they were right. Their predictions tended to be specific and clear. (“The GFC is far from over – the market will crash again in 2011, 2012 at the latest.”) The “foxes” were able to consider a number of things and couched their predictions in generalities and qualifers. They could take into account a number of possible scenarios, using “if/then” phrases.

An example of a “hedgehog” would be someone like Andrew Bolt or Tim Flannery. (Some of Flannery’s statements are far too specific and don’t help in the attempt to educate the general public on the difference between weather and climate.) I can’t think of a good example of a “fox” because generally they don’t get much air time. They don’t make for good headlines, so who wants to talk to them?Might as well talk to me about my prediction for the Melbourne Cup. (“Don’t forget I told you that it would be on a Tuesday and won by a horse.”)

The only trouble is that the “foxes” are the ones who actually frame the discussion in terms of intelligent questions. And they have more success in their actual predictions than the “hedgehogs”. The interesting thing is that success doesn’t seem to matter. People who get things wrong over and over again are still asked for their thoughts in the media.

How is this possible? Well, it’s easy to explain away why you were wrong. You can say that your timing was out, but that what you predict will still happen. (“I know I said 2012 for the stock market crash, but because of the way Obama has propped up the economy, he’s delayed the inevitable.”) Or you can cling to the part of your prediction that was correct. (“I know that I said that the Cup would be won by an imported horse, well, the winner’s sire was imported, so I was on the right track.”)

So, I’m tempted to go out on a limb here and to be a “hedgehog” and say that Labor has this election in the bag now. Rudd’s return will throw Abbott out of stride, and the pressure will get to him, leading to some Liberals speculating privately about whether it’s too late to go back to Turnbull. Of course, I don’t actually believe that, but it’d sound more impressive than what I actually think will happen. I think Abbott may well be rattled. He’s been cruising to a victory, but the latest polls make it close. And, just like a sporting team that’s given up a large lead, they often try to hang on, change their strategy and end up choking, there’s a genuine possibility that Abbott will repeat his: “Of course, I read the report” fiasco.

But I’m more circumspect than that. I’m going to predict – with certainity – that what happens now is uncertain. There are so many variables going into the election that only a “hedgehog” would try to call it. Rudd has taken the wind out of the sails of the simplistic “Juliar” campaigners. No-one will accuse him of lying, in spite of his promise not to challenge. But he does come with his own baggage. And if you go on any social media, you’ll be able to find disaffected Gillard supporters who swear that they won’t vote Labor now. What happens when it becomes a choice between Rudd and Abbott, or when they actually consider voting for the Opposition candidate in their electorate is anyone’s guess. If the Liberals actually start trying to articulate their policies, will it turn voters off? If they try to attack Rudd, in the same way they attacked Gillard, will it just make them look negative? Will Katter’s party affect how the Liberals go in Queensland? Will Palmer have any effect? Could it be another hung Parliament with Abbott having to negotiate with Katter?

Like I said, only a “hedgehog” would be definite about the coming months.

As for the Melbourne Cup, that’s easy – take Bart’s horse and the French one with your grandmother’s tip for the trifecta!

 

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