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Who is dysfunctional?

It’s hard to find a single political journalist in Australia who doesn’t trot out the same tired old line they’ve been using for three years to describe the Labor government, and now the former Labor government. Dysfunctional. The narrative between 2010 and September 2013 went something like this: The Gillard/Rudd government is dysfunctional so they must be voted out. And since the election, the line is: The Gillard/Rudd government was dysfunctional so they were voted out. But hang on a minute folks. Let’s scrutinise this narrative for just a moment. First by looking at this favourite word. Dysfunctional.

There are a couple of definitions of dysfunction that are relevant in this context. The first is the meaning no doubt justified by the journalists as true by evidence of the backgrounding by members of the Labor Party against Gillard and sometimes Rudd.

Dysfunction: characterized by a breakdown of normal or beneficial relationships between members of the group.

It would be entirely naïve of me to argue that Gillard and Rudd’s relationship was anything but dysfunctional, and damaging to the government’s reputation. However, when you look at a second definition for dysfunction, the journalists’ entire narrative falls apart through lack of facts and entirely contradictory evidence.

Dysfunction: unable to function normally.

The Gillard government, even whilst being white-anted by Rudd, even with its ability to govern precariously balanced on the knife-edge of minority government, even with the Abbott Opposition doing its best to push them off the knife-edge, and even with the media running with Peta Credlin’s ‘Labor bad bad bad, chaos, chaos, disunity, dysfunction’ circus, was anything but dysfunctional. If you don’t believe me, how do you explain all the fantastic progressive policies that the Abbott government is now busy undoing? The National Broadband Network. The proper one. Education reforms. Paid Parental Leave. The National Disability Insurance Scheme. The Mining Tax. The Carbon Price. Environmental reforms. I could go on and on. All in all Gillard’s government successfully passed over 300 pieces of legislation whilst in government, without Abbott’s Opposition blocking any of them. This record made Gillard’s government, as outlined in this analysis by the Guardian’s Nick Evershed, the most productive in Australia’s history. This is fact. A fact that the political journalists in this country continue to conveniently ignore, whilst also implicitly defending their ineptitude in reporting this success while it was happening. Hang on, no, not ineptitude. I’ve got a better word. Dysfunction.

The mainstream media in Australia was so obsessed with the Rudd and Gillard relationship, and still are, that they are completely dysfunctional in doing their jobs – reporting on what is actually happening. And now that their dysfunction has supported the Abbott government, ironically the most dysfunctional government Australia has ever seen, in winning power, they’re keeping up their pretence that the Gillard/Rudd governments were dysfunctional to explain how this mess came about. But I’m not buying it. Because it’s crap. The ‘dysfunction’ narrative is crap, and doesn’t stand up to any scrutiny, let alone the scrutiny of hindsight.

On the subject of hindsight, it is very interesting and telling to compare the media’s portrayal of the Gillard/Rudd government, with governments from the past. I was a child and a teenager through the Hawke and Keating years. I remember thinking that all Prime Ministers were amazing, inspirational, intelligent and working in the best interest of Australians, until I grew up and understood politics properly, during the Howard years. But after watching the Keating interviews on the ABC recently, I realised that the sometimes very bitter division between Hawke and Keating over who was best fit to be leader, was not completely dissimilar to the ‘leadership tensions’ reported for the last three years between Gillard and Rudd. Throughout the Hawke and Keating years, there was absolutely no doubt that Australia was going through the most profound economic reforms the country had seen in years. People have a lot to say about the Hawke and Keating years, but dysfunction is never one of the words they use. No doubt some journalists will, like a broken record, blame the pressures of the 24-hour news cycle on this inconsistency, but I’m not buying this either. Because it’s crap. And I’m correcting the record.


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  1. Dan Rowden

    It would be entirely naïve of me to argue that Gillard and Rudd’s relationship was anything but dysfunctional, and damaging to the government’s reputation. However, when you look at a second definition for dysfunction, the journalists’ entire narrative falls apart through lack of facts and entirely contradictory evidence.

    So, we’re holding journalists to account on the basis of your personal choice of definition?

  2. PeterF

    It’s a good place to start.

  3. cassilva48

    Looking at history the greatest menace to man’s freedom has been through the election or take over by the ‘dysfunctional’ in society. It is the dysfunctional that have controlled the so-called functionals in society. So bitching and moaning about Tony’s personality defects won’t change a thing. He has the support of power brokers that control from a distance and who will continue to stroke his dysfunctional ego at the expense of society. The only hope of change would have to come from his inner circle, and I can’t see Hockey, et al, having the balls to challenge his authority, as did Rudd and Gillard. I did not see these challenges as disharmonious but as a spirit of competitiveness – a “I’ll keep the bastard honest”, or “no tall poppy” syndrome in my house!


  4. Wendy

    Dan, is that the best you can do? Forget the over 300 pieces of passed legislation, in spite of Mr Negative. Just three words for you – triple A rating.

  5. Dan Rowden


    Your response looks awfully like a non sequiter. Victoria ruins her entire premise by allowing a viable definition of dysfunctional. You can’t do that, then turn around and say to journalists, “Well, that definition is probably suitable for your purposes but you can’t have that one because I want to apply the one that doesn’t work”. She unwittingly destroyed her entire argument.

  6. John Fraser


    @Victoria R

    No shortage of people thinking "SlicK" Abbott is talking in a dysfunctional style while he is telling people how dysfunctional the Labor government was.

    It subliminally reinforces what he is saying.

    I would say that "Slick" Abbott's confession with Pell lasted about 1 millisecond because Pell was in a hurry to teach "Slick" Abbott how to appeal to the fear in everyone's deeper being, tricks, he no doubt learned while short changing everyone who came into his sphere.

    Here in Queensland , where the Murdoch paper has a monopoly, the online front page has been running with the hillbilly story of incest that Fairfax Media reported (and moved on from) last weekend anything but what "Slick" Abbott is up to.

    When it comes to Murdoch's paper doing "Slick' Abbott's bidding to "take politics off the front page" the Queensland paper is a loyal (cringing) follower.

  7. OzFenric

    Victoria – I am not at all certain about the validity of your first definition. It makes no logical sense with the etymology of the word, nor can I find it in any dictionary definition; “dysfunction” is not an appropriate term to describe a breakdown of communication or relations. Fundamentally, “dysfunction” is a malfunction – a corruption of a process to provide a different outcome.

    The Coalition used the term to artificially conflate the leadership tensions in the Labor party with a lack of ability to govern. There is little evidence that the one affected the other. There may have been problems with Rudd’s governing style – this in itself could feasibly be called a “dysfunction”. The 2013 election showed us further examples of dysfunction – again driven by Rudd’s governing style. But during Gillard’s leadership – the time when the “dysfunction” meme was used – the Rudd style of governing was no longer in play.

    By adopting the “dysfunction” concept, the media has allowed the term to be unwarrantedly redefined. In doing so they implicitly accept the underlying lie that the conflict between Rudd and Gillard was preventing the government from doing its job.

    The second part of your article is far more pertinent. The Gillard government in particular was one of the most *functional* governments in history – despite the Rudd camp’s white-anting.

    The Abbott Coalition’s genius was in defining the terms of the narrative, which they did in all sorts of ways. The “carbon tax”; the “dysfunctional government”; the promise. The Labor government’s greatest failure was in allowing the Coalition to get away with setting the terms of the discussion and seating these tropes into the minds of the populace. And the greatest complicity of the media was to aid and abet this redefinition of the battleground by not only using these terms when Coalition members spoke them, but adopting them for their own use. The first time an editorial started to talk about Labor’s dysfunction, that paper instantly stopped being neutral, if it ever had been, because by use of the term “dysfunction” you are claiming that the government is failing in its job.

  8. helenmarg

    great as usual Victoria thank you. The MSM so called Journalists are not improving.We cannot have this lot in power for 2 years 9 mths can we .

  9. Dan Rowden


    I disagree, Dan. Victoria is entitled to run her own opinion, even if you disagree with it.

    Of course she’s entitled. Nothing I said implies otherwise. I’m also entitled to mine. Anyone who gives a damn about logic will see the error of Victoria’s point. She should have left the first definition of “dysfunctional” out of her piece because it’s self defeating. The rest of what she says is, of course, entirely correct and sound.

  10. alan s

    dan – it wouldn’t matter what victoria wrote, would it? – the fault is there if you choose to find it – as for dysfunction, i can clearly see abbott’s speech as a clear indication & when it comes to the media in regard to this democracy, they should be known as the defendants

  11. Juanita Hardy (@Pikiran2ku)

    Surely, Dan Rowden, the point is that any dysfunctionality was confined to the relationship between Gillard and Rudd. It did not affect the government, which, as Victoria pointed out, was supremely successful and productive. The press, however, managed to successfully translate this limited element of dysfunctionaltiy (and one which no doubt occurs in every government everywhere) into a narrative that encompassed the entire government.

  12. cassilva48

    OZ FENRIC: I’m totally singing in your choir.

  13. Michael Taylor

    I disagree, Dan. Victoria is entitled to run her own opinion, even if you disagree with it.

  14. John Fraser


    Somehow I was able to read past the semantics of "dysfunctional"and work within the confines of the entire article.

    Best take another look at how "Slick"Abbott makes use of the word/term "dysfunctional" as opposed to someone who is attacking him.

  15. Dan Rowden


    dan – it wouldn’t matter what victoria wrote, would it? – the fault is there if you choose to find it

    Yes, it would, in fact, matter what Victoria wrote. If you can’t see the error of logic in her piece then it won’t matter how many times I point it out. It spoils an otherwise sound critique.


    I totally agree with what you’re saying, which is why I said that the second part of Victoria’s piece is correct and sound. But you can’t hand someone a get out of jail free card – which is what she did with the first part of her piece that I quoted – then say it isn’t valid.

    To be honest, I’m not sure the distinction between the Labor Party being internally dysfunctional and the Government, per se, being dysfunctional is one that matters on a practical level. It got the Government thrown out of office. The Labor Party knows full well that most of the electorate is insufficiently politically engaged to give a flying shit about the difference. The Coalition knows this too. The truth is the Coalition handed Labor a massive lesson in contemporary Australian politics.

  16. Kaye Lee

    Luckily we have wonderful journalists like Miranda Devine (feted at a soiree at Kirribilli House for services rendered) to remind us

    “THE sneering foulness of the Left is bubbling up like overflow from an unblocked sewer at the realisation the Abbott government is here to stay.” (Nov 5)

    I wonder if she read today’s paper.

    “TONY Abbott has failed to reach the lofty heights of his political mentor during his opening months in power, with the popularity of the new government sliding backwards compared to the soaring honeymoon of John Howard.”

    You KNOW Tony’s in trouble when the Telegraph starts bagging him

  17. Victoria Rollison

    Thank you Juanita. Spot on. Dan has again missed the point spectacularly. The point is that no matter the dysfunction of the Rudd Gillard relationship, the government was extremely successful.

  18. diannaart

    I quite like Victoria’s definition; no-one could claim that the Gillard/Rudd relationship was functional at any point in the past 6 years and I do believe that Gillard could write a world’s best treatise titled: “Governing on a Knife-Edge”. Labor did something the unimpeded Liberals are unable to do – govern for Australia.

    Of course, expecting any journalism from the Murdoch stable is, er, whistling in the wind, however we now have the Guardian and even the ABC and Fairfax lob a few rounds when they feel safe enough.

  19. Keith

    Labor really passed some great legislation which didn’t get across to the electorate; PM Gillard was accused of being a liar; a very unfair call I believe; and the leadership challenges were seen as being dysfunctional.
    However, in a political sense we had not really encountered dysfunctional until the Abbott gang were elected. If you perceive lying, cheating and manipulation to be on a continuum, then perhaps PM Gillard may or may not be on the continuum depending on your politics. With Abbott I believe any objective person would see him right at the end of the negative end of the bar.

  20. Keith

    Sorry, I should have added to my last post, the former Labor Government is looking better each day; the converse is true for guess who?

  21. Joe Banks

    Victoria, it’s the old media perception again. To me, it’s what the media DO NOT see that worries me the most. The following is part of a comment I put on Carol Taylor’s article this morning:
    For the past few years the media has followed, interviewed and commented on Tony Abbott as if he was an ordinary person, with no perception whatsoever of his flawed and dangerous personality. There was never any suggestion from the MSM that Australia’s future PM might be an odd-ball and a dangerous odd-ball at that. So the caravan of media coverage of political events played a game of destroying a legitimate government only to be replaced by a leader with a defective personality. I couldn’t believe it was happening at the time and I still can’t believe it has actually happened. The question still remains in my mind – what was it, exactly, that the MSM could NOT see about this man’s defective behaviour and personality. The journalists and commentators that we read, see and hear every day in this country are educated, intelligent and supposedly experienced people. What was it they could NOT see about this potential prime minister. Even today there are only a handful of journalists who seemed to be ‘enlightened’ about the type of prime minister this country has ended up with. Even today, there are still very few journalists who are beginning to grasp what has happened but most are still reporting events as if they are just everyday happenings with a touch of humour… One can only conclude that these journalists are seeing the world through a ‘veil of illusion’. They are simply not seeing the ‘true reality’.

  22. kathysutherland2013

    According to the free dictionary (free “dysfunctional” refers to “abnormal or impaired functioning.” In my opinion, this aptly describes not only the Gillard/Rudd relationship, but also the relationships within the leadership group of the PLP.

    That word certainly cannot be used to describe the achievements of the Gillard government. That government, despite its dysfunctional people skills) was responsible for some awesome reforms (many of which are rapidly being overturned by the Abbott government.

    The Abbott government, in my opinion, is a dysfunctional one because it is not functioning in any coherent way. It’s lurching from crisis to crisis, it’s ignoring expert advice, it’s not thinking about the Australian people and it’s certainly not looking to the future…

  23. Rob

    With one hand held behind her back Gillard was able to achieve incredible sweeping positive visionary reforms.

    And after four years of constant hounding there was leadership issues. It’s like poking a wall with a stick saying, “Is that a crack? Is that a crack Is that a crack? I can see a crack!”.

    I shall never forgive the Murdoch press for what it has done to our system of politics and the damage to our public discourse. Even that “dysfunction” was over stated purely to create havoc and instability.

  24. Dan Rowden


    Thank you Juanita. Spot on. Dan has again missed the point spectacularly. The point is that no matter the dysfunction of the Rudd Gillard relationship, the government was extremely successful.

    I could hardly miss a point that’s been made more times than I’ve had hot dinners. But hey, if you want to engage in literary ad nauseum, that’s your beeswax. The only point being spectacularly missed here is mine.

    It would be entirely naïve of me to argue that Gillard and Rudd’s relationship was anything but dysfunctional, and damaging to the government’s reputation. However, when you look at a second definition for dysfunction, the journalists’ entire narrative falls apart through lack of facts and entirely contradictory evidence.

    If you can’t see how that stuffs your entire point then, well, that’s ok I guess.

  25. Kaye Lee

    The dysfunction was overstated, which is exactly the point that Victoria is making. It was a “look over there cause we’ve got nothing” tactic.

    If you barrack for a team does it give you the right to choose who will be captain? There were obvious problems with the Rudd style of leadership. I wish I could believe that Gillard’s leadership challenge was not prompted by that most insidious bible, the polls. It has all been handled badly by powerbrokers using the media to chop off their own heads on the basis of what a thousand people say in answer to contrived questions with limited scope to answer (provided they have a landline and have a big enough beef to want dinner to go cold on a Saturday night).

    The point is what was achieved. And even further, what was envisioned. Yes the NBN had hiccoughs – looks like Malcolm’s version will too. Go figure. The point is they had the guts to start the ball rolling in so many things, even if they didn’t get it just right.

    Instead of refining these groundbreaking reforms, instead of making these things even better, we have brought in the proverbial wrecking ball. Instead of reading all the reports and studies that have already been done, we are trashing them all and hiring mates as consultants at many times the price. Instead of using the vast experience of public servants we sack them and give our mates the gig for a few months which is insufficient time to sit down let alone consult and review – unless you already have the answer sheet. We have more reviews and inquiries and audits going than you can poke a stick at. Why did Sussan Ley engage Price Waterhouse Coopers to do a review of childcare, and at what cost, when the Productivity Commission are already doing just that and from a far broader frame of reference?

    This government is actively engaged in information manipulation. By going to the private sector for “independent analysis” they are paying for opinions they want to hear. Check out the people they have appointed/employed/engaged – to everything.

    Somehow the Rudd/Gillard thing seems so insignificant.

  26. lawrencewinder

    Bloody good article.
    Labor were never dysfunctional it was a projection of the sociopaths that are now exhibiting their true worth

  27. Victoria Rollison

    Dan, if the media was reporting only on the relationship between Rudd and Gillard, their ‘dysfunction’ narrative would have been accurate. But the point you’re missing is that the media were not reporting on the Rudd/Gillard relationship. They were reporting on the activity of the Labor government, and calling this government dysfunctional when it clearly was not. I’m not sure why you choose to always play devil’s advocate with my posts, and I don’t know how I can be any clearer than I have been. Interesting that everyone else who commented seems to understand my argument, except you.

  28. Gooky74

    Victoria, I don’t think he wants to admit/understand. He’s just a dick!

  29. cowper133

    The media ran a very successful campaign, picking up on the LNP mantra of a dysfunctional government. A child actually said to me recently, “If you hear something said a hundred times, you come to believe it, it’s called brainwashing!” Out of the mouths of babes! The whole Abbott phenomena was and is almost surreal. Here is a man with obvious flaws, that scream loudly that he was not/ is not fit to govern, which the media completely ignored. Now he is in office due in no small part to their efforts so they have to go on with the same old line about the ALP in order to avoid any recriminations about the part they played! Luckily they did not fool everyone, especially people like Victoria, who has the ability to cut through the crap and draw attention to the real issues at stake. Keep it up!

  30. Dan Rowden


    Please explain what it is you think I don’t understand. Did you even read my comments? Like, the part where I said:

    She should have left the first definition of “dysfunctional” out of her piece because it’s self defeating. The rest of what she says is, of course, entirely correct and sound.

    But yeah, despite having said that I’m apparently not getting her point. Sigh.

  31. Fed up

    Maybe Dan is correct. This government is not dysfunctional, and are continuing as planned. It is their intention to bulldoze all that that Labor passed, way back to Howard. That they do believe that Labor governments are illegitimate, therefore, had no right to exist.

    This government might not be dysfunctional, as they intended to put in place, a system that relies completely of the free markets, with no input or control by government. That do believe in the survival of the fittest, and all can, and will stand on their own feet.

    Yesd, maybe as government that is not dysfunctional but is into the greatest social engineering this country has seen.

    This could be why, in spite of the uproar around them, they are ful of confidence, and give the impression they are on track.

    I suspect, this is the case, and one should never under estimate the skills of this mob..

    They do know what they do, and are extremely functional at bringing about the country they want.

    What they do not seem to know, or even maybe care, is the results that they are bringing about. That they will send this country’s economy and social fabric into free fall.

    Yes, whether a asylum seeker, low income earner or worker, you will paid th4e price, for what they concern they are entitled to.

    We seen yesterday, the NDIS launch sites now renamed trial centres. What is that code for, one wonders.

    They have been very productive in the pieces of legislation already, rescinded. The bulldozer has been very active. Therefor, one could say, they are functional. In fact, if ones tries to decipher their promises, or more correctly slogans and aspiration likes, they are on track.

    What we will see, is a very dysfunctional, and low productivity country, as the results of their labor.

    What we need to do, is avoid giving them labels, and attempting to work out at what they are about, and focus on what they are doing. Do not ever underestimate their ability to cause great harm.

    Yes Dan, they might not meet either meaning of the word dysfunctional within them selves, but whay the create will be, meeting both meanings.

  32. Fed up

    Yes, Gillard achieved so much, that Abbott can only focus his intention to erase all, that he has no time or even desire, to deal with the day to day running of the country,

    There obsession is so great, leading to narrow visions, that sees only one aim..Erase all that is Labor, unions and workers.

  33. Dan Rowden

    Fed up,

    Yes Dan, they might not meet either meaning of the word dysfunctional within them selves, but whay the create will be, meeting both meanings.

    I didn’t make any point at all about this current Government. Mind you, it’s a stretch to suggest it’s “dysfunctional”. A Government isn’t dysfunctional merely because you think everything it’s doing is bad. The actions of the current Government are to be expected. Coalition Government’s always set out to unravel the good work of the previous Labor Government. It’s what they do. Howard was perhaps more subtle about it, but he certainly sought to unravel much of Keating’s legacy and even some of Whitlam’s. This is a dynamic that the electorate always forgets about when they get it into their heads to change to a conservative administration. Sadly, by the time they realise it’s happening it’s too damned late.

    It’s hard to say at this stage just how much of Gillard’s legacy will be destroyed by Abbott, but, given his personal political philosophy I think it’s going to get pretty ugly.

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