28 June 2009


Sooner or later the Liberals will have to replace many of the MPs who survived the 2007 election with those who have something to contribute to the future. I have mentioned that there is plenty of dead wood there, but the great state of Victoria is, however unwittingly, doing its bit to show us what the future of the Liberal Party will look like: a reprise of the immediate past.

The only Federal Liberal MPs to have entered Parliament since the 2007 election, Jamie Briggs and Scott Ryan, were ex-staffers. We now face a prospect where "renewal" means replacing a sitting MP with a staffer.

First, there was the winnable seat with the proud name of Deakin in Melbourne's outer eastern suburbs, once held by a nice-but-dim man named Phil Barresi. Labor won the seat in 2007 and you have to fancy their chances there again - not because of anything to do with Canberra silliness over utes or even big-picture issues surrounding economic management - but because the Liberals preselected Barresi again. His only real competition was another former MP who was even sillier than Barresi.

Then, there was the preselection that won all the headlines: Kooyong, where a staffer won.

Now there are vacancies in Aston (Chris Pearce, whose behaviour during the Apology signalled his lack of both commitment to and suitability for high office), Wannon (David Hawker, the guy who replaced Malcolm Fraser and achieved nothing other than the attainment of titles) and Higgins. In each case, staffers are touted as frontrunners, a dreary prospect of perpetuating a situation where these would-be MPs:

  • see themselves as relay stations for Liberal policy - and Howard-era policy at that - rather than shapers of it;

  • have so absorbed the disunity-is-death theme that they fail to realise that paralysis and lack of moral courage are toxic too;

  • do not and cannot look at the issues facing this country without the excruciating question of What Would Howard Do (WWHD)?

  • the disconnect between the voter revulsion surrounding Parliamentary theatre and those who are awestruck practitioners of it will widen;

  • think that every issue which cannot have Howard rubrics applied to it is too hard or infra dig; and

  • perpetuate this myth that Experience with the Media is essential to operating in Canberra, rather than learned on the job by a reasonably intelligent person.

It is an indictment on the Victorian Liberals that these jewels are not placed into better hands. The fact that only staffers can handle the toxic swamp, and that eminent Victorians who've been sounded out at various Clubs for their interest have laughingly scorned their advances. Why is it that only staffers are getting sucked into this vacuum? Is it any less of a vacuum for their being there?

27 June 2009

Power failure

Here is a post in favour of renewable energy that doesn't really address environmental issues, but rather the business and political impacts of the current non-policies of this country.

(I believe that human pollution leads to a rise in global temperatures and that rising temperatures affect our environment dramatically, and for the worse. I take that as a given in what follows and am not interested in hair-splitting and water-muddying that might indicate otherwise: I have always been offended by pumping filth into the sky, and its climate impact just makes this worse. Like most people I'm not a scientist, so I'm ill-equipped to wage a scientific discussion anyway: but from a risk perspective it's better to act against carbon pollution than to accept fud as an excuse for doing nothing.)

The Federal government sent a whole lot of solar-power installers to the wall after it was first elected. People had been encouraged by small-scale incentives from then-Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull, invested in solar power and waited for the Rudd government to be even more environmentally-friendly than the Howard government ... only to be horribly let down and financially disadvantaged.

Surely, those from coalmining and -burning companies should have seen that as a stay of execution rather than a win.

Renewable energy was raised at the 2020 Summit and we were promised a clear response to that: nothing yet. Again, we were promised a response after Garnaut: still nothing, a bit of faffing about 5% in the face of climate-driven deterioration of the Antarctic and the Great Barrier Reef.

Then, finally, we were promised that something would happen once the US put legislation in place. For sure! Well, that legislation has just passed the House, it may well pass the Senate and is hardly likely to be vetoed by President Obama in its current form. Time to get a move on people.

At this rate the Rudd government will be the first Australian government to go to a major international conference without a clearly-defined national interest. This isn't to say that Australia should dictate terms but it never goes empty-handed:

  • When Billy Hughes went to the Treaty of Versailles negotiations in 1919, he had a clear agenda for what Australia wanted (and didn't want).

  • When Crazy Herb Evatt went to the UN conference in San Francisco, he acted from a clear national interest.

  • Same with ANZUS, the Colombo Plan, you name it; throw in your own idea of an important international treaty and the same thing applies.

  • Even at Kyoto, then-Environment Minister Robert Hill had some idea what Australia's national interest was, only to have Howard pull it out from under him (you should've resigned Robert; might not've had a cushy pad in Manhattan but at least you'd have some pride and moderates would have something to work with. Oh well.).

I dread to imagine if Rudd had been PM nine decades earlier, with all the concessions given to stablehands, farriers, saddlers and Cobb & Co with the rise of motor vehicles, and handing New Guinea off to the Japanese at Versailles.

When Rudd and Penny Wong go to Copenhagen, they'll be going empty-handed (or to use dramatic wording from another age, "naked into the conference chamber" - but that's too gruesome an image so I'll just go on). Australia's policy and negotiating position would seem to be: I've got no idea, have you?

We can't be sure what the outcomes of Copenhagen might be (even less as we're not in a position to influence them), but the sheer poverty of dithering and trying to please everyone is illustrated by emerging trends which stand to leave Australia far worse off than we are already, but which we would normally expect to put to good use and be much, much better off in all sorts of ways:

  • This article suggests that China will rely increasingly on solar power. Three cheers for UNSW for providing the education to Zhengrong Shi, but is it too much to expect that Australia and Australians could have gotten more out of the prospect of a solar-powered China?

  • One of the little-reported aspects of the February fires in Victoria was the deployment of the army and other resources to fires that had broken out near Victoria's coalfields. If those coalfields had ignited it would not only have denied that state its entire power source but created a vast underground fire that would have rendered much of the state, including much of Melbourne, uninhabitable - and warmed our part of the planet considerably.

  • This one talks about baseload power - but surely it is a nineteenth-century idea that power has to be generated remotely on a massive scale and piped across distance, further dispersing energy wastefully, to multiple undifferentiated users (especially as coal-fired power plants expend something like half their energy cooling themselves). Coal-fired power stations will decline in output over time and other forms of energy such as solar must take up that slack - whether or not you use old-fashioned terms like "baseload".

Solar power should be installed on all new buildings to cater for at least 25% of that building's anticipated usage - never mind the feds, it should be part of local government building permits. This instance of missed opportunity is telling:
Brilliant Australian-listed Dyesol, which makes third generation photovoltaic cells, had to go to Wales and partner with giant manufacturer Corus to commercialise its power-generating "Colourcoat" steel panels. (One wonders how colorbond maker Bluescope Steel missed this opportunity.)

Because Bluescope, presumably, is a typical large Australian company which thinks that the only incentives in business are those created or limited by public policy. Its lobbyists are the sorts of clowns who were either Howard government staffers, or who were so conditioned by the environment of the Howard government that they've internalised that way of thinking, to the commercial detriment of their employer.
Mighell says the supply and installation of PV panels is a "massive opportunity" for his members.

"Show me another industry with the potential for growth for blue-collar workers. There could be 20,000 jobs in the solar industry, if we get our act together."

When old-school union boofheads start to make sense, the impossibility of further dithering or pissant responses like the current ETS become clear.

I believe that Malcolm Turnbull is keen on some form of policy response and is being hamstrung by the same people who persuaded Howard that climate change was a crock, outlined by Guy Pearse and others. They see a number of advantages in keeping up appearances, the poor lambs:

  • The "clear air" of policy differentiation from Labor, which"as I've said is a recipe for failure, and what could be clearer for the air than reducing pollution?

  • The idea that those companies will provide money and other resources to aid the Coalition, just like they did in '96: with decreasing corporate profits and the polls the way they are, large-scale listed companies are going to donate the same to each major party at best. The Coalition can suck up to them all they like, but when they put their hands out for donations these guys will simply not be there. They can cheer from the sidelines and talk doom-and-gloom about an ETS, but if the Coalition is going to win in 2010 it needs the sort of support that the banks gave Menzies in 1948-49. I can't see that happening, can you?

Hopefully the Liberals will get tired of being made to look out-of-touch and foolish for the sake of people who cannot - and can't have any serious intention to - fulfill their pathetic man-on-horseback rescue fantasies. It may take a landslide to do that - but even then my experience (confirmed by recent history nationally and across different states) shows you can bet there'll be a muffled voice from under the rubble saying "let's not be too hasty".

Rudd doesn't have that excuse for dithering - he doesn't have any excuse at all. Let's see Peter Garrett escape from his cage and really sell a policy like he once sold tickets and albums. Rudd could and should use this as our escape hatch from the current global financial crisis rather than dither - the risk of forcing carbon industries into the arms of the Liberals isn't that great, and who thinks they'd make best use of any opportunity?

26 June 2009

What was the point of the Nationals?

Apparently Australia has no clearly defined international reputation in terms of food. What, the, was the point of having the Nationals hogging the Trade portfolio in government for eleven years?

As an urban-dweller who'd never vote National I was a bit miffed that the Coalition government turned determinedly away from future-oriented exports in hi-tech, the arts or education - but I assumed that for all their rhetoric they would produce a cracker of an export sector for Australian agriculture.

Sadly, no. Australian food exports have concentrated on bulk commodities rather than specific food types, causing the confusion referred to in the above article. People don't buy bulk commodities, they buy particular products.

One example where Australians have been badly served is with the rise of "New Zealand lamb". It's being marketed as a cut above, the best lamb you can get: but I've been to New Zealand and eaten lamb there - it's no better or worse than the lamb here. Yet, so far behind are we in marketing terms that "Australian lamb" risks becoming like "Dutch champagne" or "Welsh whiskey" - near enough but not good enough. Tim Fischer is using his Vatican post to be close to the FAO (thereby implying that the Ambassador to Italy isn't holding her own) - but to what end? How many people buy food on the FAO's recommendation, and is the FAO in the business of favouring one country's produce over another's?

After all that bellyaching, all that cash poured into nothing farms, you'd think that there would be a better attempt at marketing to Australia's strengths and exporting stuff that meets and exceeds those. If this was a Labor blog, there would be a lot of sunny bullshit here about what marvellous things the Rudd government is doing - but there's nothing to speak of really.

This was a good start, recognising agriculture as food - but it's gone now. Oh well. Glad I'm not a farmer. Perhaps recognising agriculture as food and selling it on that basis might be a better way of doing things - better than whinging to city people and politicians, anyway.

25 June 2009

Speaking the same language

It's my own fault, I suppose, but not entirely.

First I read this article in The Australian about how Asian languages were all too hard and that there's quite enough cultural richness in French or German for anyone, thank you very much, which is pretty much the philosophy of language education when I was at school (back then it was Japanese that we were all supposed to be learning). The article was prompted by the recent Wesley report on Asia literacy within Australia, which Slattery seems to regard as beside the point.

I studied Indonesian and loved it. Scraped through, am no expert and still haven't been there, but the language was a revelation. No pictographic characters to learn, a simple grammatical structure and consistent spelling, whose phonetics lend themselves both to simple people speaking clearly as well as cheeky word-games. I realise the language has subtleties and poetry that I never got around to, but I still believe it is a great start in learning a language: in refracting back on English in new ways, in getting an insight into a new culture that viewing pictures cannot convey (learning a language is active learning, more than just reciting dates or knowing what Borobudur looks like).

Foolishly, I wrote a letter to The Australian trying to explain this. Note the heading: it's as though you and I should forget about English and jump on this trendy bandwagon called Asian languages. It's lazy sub-editing, part of a lazy Manichean mentality infecting that organisation. You can complain that sub-editing has been under increasing pressure over recent years, having gone from a sinecure to facing the blowtorch of cost-cutting and technological change in a short period of time: but if that's what you get from sub-editing you can't romanticise it too much. Perhaps I should have known better, but too much of that would let them off the hook.

Thankfully for the wider issue, well-informed and elegantly-written pieces by Jamie Mackie and Katherine Davidsen address the issue, but in terms set by Slattery's article and other treatment by The Australian. The release of the Wesley report, at around the same time as the Defence White Paper and the Prime Minister's proposed regional economic organisation, should have been treated as serious policy by a serious newspaper with a serious foreign editor. Instead, there was Slattery's re-hashed article and some guy who complained about ANU's French program. While this coverage was better than the yeah-whatever treatment it received from The Daily Fairfax, it's still inadequate. The Australian likes to complain about Our Educational Standards but I'd respect Kevin Donnelly a lot more if he at least engaged with some of the ideas that Wesley raises.

As far as Wesley's Key Principle 5, bold action is called for:

  • Australian university graduates should be able to sign up for a year's teacher training in any one of the designated countries to teach English, and perhaps whatever it was they graduated in if required by the host country.

  • One year of teaching post-training should reduce the student's FEE-HELP debt by a third.

  • An equivalent number of graduates from designated countries should be invited here to do a year's teacher training.

  • There would be thousands of Australians teaching English throughout Asia, and thousands of Asian-language teachers available to schools here.

This suggestion is the Colombo Plan on steroids. Over time the engagement between Australia and Asian countries would be deep, wide and regarded highly. Australian employers would have a choice of motivated employees with Asian experience, which would eventually work its way into decision-making in various important spheres of life. It promises much for the future of Australia and many other countries; anyone who whinges about the immigration aspects of it is simply not serious about an interesting and prosperous future for this country.

24 June 2009

Seven thoughts about Iran

A number of assumptions have been bandied about regarding the current predicament of Iran, and I don't find them convincing:

  1. That Mousavi wants a US-style democracy, and is prepared to enter into a Faustian bargain with the US to get into office.

  2. That there is much demand for Mousavi outside Tehran, i.e. the blood on the streets of Tehran is part of a national movement. It could be that Ahmedinejad might have won regional areas fair and square (just as support for Bush in the Ozarks or Texas outweighed Democrat support in major cities like New York).

  3. That there is much that the US can actually do to destabilise the Iranian regime. Iran is much, much more complex than Iraq. US intelligence on the ground in Iran is non-existent. Anything Obama did would be clumsy and counterproductive, apart from his Cairo speech which is playing on the minds of those on both sides in Iran. Who would the US send to help democracy along, anyway? The Marines? Chicago community organisers, or Democratic machine operatives?

  4. It is one thing for people to support the Iranian protesters; it is quite another for governments to step in. The governments of the US and other countries have to work with whomever the Iranians elect. Politicians scorn those in their profession who lack political power, regardless of party or voting system; I'd argue that Ahmedinejad is so compromised that he'd be laughed at in Washington, Beijing or wherever else he showed his face. This has implications for the regime's attempts to project itself onto the world stage, and address its economic problems.

  5. The idea that things will go back to normal in Iran as happened with China after 1989 is not sustainable. Despotic regimes are not stable, they are brittle and this one has been weakened. Whether it takes weeks or years, the fissures here are deep and real. The fact that the demographics are against the old mullahs is significant, as they have not renewed their revolution so that people who weren't involved in the original movement nonetheless give it their allegiance. Compare them with Castro, whose talk about revolution means that he only claims credit for the things he wants to claim credit for, and for the rest he urges people to join his struggle rather than struggle against him.

  6. From reading the US media it seems that the people who believe that Ahmedinejad lost in 2009 are the same people who believe that George W. Bush won the 2000 election. Just sayin'.

  7. The three overtly Muslim regimes in the world today are Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. The mullahs think they can hold Iran together like the Saudis do their country, but the Saudis are better both at making money, keeping their economy going and keeping on the right side of the Americans. This leaves Pakistan; nobody, not Mousavi or anyone else, wants their country to dissolve into warring fiefdoms as seems to be happening in Pakistan, and if that's what democracy means in a Muslim context then nobody would wish that upon themselves. I don't believe that Mousavi wants a US-style democracy, and is prepared to enter into a Faustian bargain with the US to get into office: but I'm starting to repeat myself so I'll stop here.

23 June 2009

Turnbull isn't finished

The smartest guy in the class has been brought down a peg, though.

The fact that Rudd is trying a little too hard in going after him, allowing his nerd act to slip and reveal the snarling beast beneath (does anyone still wonder why that hostie burst into tears?) was and is an error.

If this had happened last week, Costello would have smirked and sneered, and still wouldn't have stepped up. He has never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity, and this would have been no different.

Wayne Swan has gotten away with murder, and it would be really interesting to catch the Member for Hunter in his cups right about now.

It could have been so different: the smartest political operator to come out of Queensland since Red Ted, eviscreated after two budgets because of a bit of parish-pump politics. If Rudd had been Malcolm Fraser, Swan would be out on his ear and Lindsay Tanner would be Treasurer now - imagine how different the narrative would be then, Turnbull having seen off two Cabinet ministers and Costello in the space of a month ...

... but it didn't happen like that, did it. Turnbull overreached himself in going after Rudd ...

... and yet when the story first broke, and Godwin Grech became something other than a Maltese badminton champion, Rudd was rattled. This is not a man who bluffs well. John Hewson always said that Keating had a glass jaw, but he never managed to hit it; Rudd clearly has a glass jaw, but it is intact and set hard against Turnbull now, while Turnbull is left pondering what is nobler in the mind. This is a storm in a teacup, and no real issue will wait long upon this nonsense.

Its only significance is that it is a real setback for Turnbull, and thus a real test. When he took on Costello over tax in 2005, when he lost to Nelson in '07, the sense of inevitability surrounding him was not diminished as it is now: that a force of nature might just be piss and wind, that a little red tape might have brought down a giant.

What Turnbull is learning now are the sorts of lessons that other politicians learn at lower levels, for much lower stakes, usually far from the public eye. Had Turnbull come to politics direct from the law (and had Julie Bishop stood up worthy of a deputy), they could have orchestrated a week's worth of teasing questions to Rudd and Swan - particularly Swan - all build-up and no denoument, until they were both nervous wrecks and no AFP investigation could dispel the perception of some sort of underhandedness.

Swan's slipped the noose this time, and no amount of coursing and baying will bring him back within range. Swan is a smart bloke, but a) he's a political fixer from way back and b) hubris has brought down better men than he. I doubt that he'll want to repeat this treatment any time soon, but it's now established that Swan is vulnerable and can be got - at a time when the Chris Bowens of this world are not yet ready to step into his shoes.

Will Turnbull learn from this? If so, what will he learn - other than that others are less than he? Will he be a bit more strategic and bring out snarly Rudd more often? Turnbull and Rudd are both centrists, closer in policy terms and personality than any leaders since Hawke and Peacock: things got nasty between those two, such that Howard provided clear air (i.e. he took the Liberals backwards in the polls, and far enough to the right that he could be monstered by Joh) for policy debate. So it will prove with Rudd and Turnbull - but first Turnbull must get off the mat and show a bit of contrition, that way when Rudd goes him it is Rudd who'll look the bastard.

Right now, Liberal conservatives undermining Turnbull are courting a perception of niceness in calling for "clear air" (i.e. give Labor a 20-point lead and they'll be patronising toward the Liberals rather than snarly). The air is always clearest in the places where nobody wants to go with you: when you're all at sea, when you're stumbling around the desert, when you're in the middle of nowhere, just take a moment to breathe in all that clear air, mm hmm.

Rudd has no long-standing popular base, not even in Queensland, so the way to bring him down is to make him look rattled at a time of crisis and puncture the image of nerdy competence - and take out a cabinet minister now and then. Such a scenario may seem a million miles from the abyss that the MSM would have you believe Turnbull has stumbled into - but is it really?

If Turnbull gets over himself it will be a mighty achievement, no less than Hawke's in the early '80s. If he can do that, what can't he do with the Murray-Darling, tax reform, and all those other issues that Rudd hasn't yet addressed and may never? If, if, if.

21 June 2009

Double-fault at Kooyong

The Victorian Liberals apparently held "the largest preselection vote in the party's history ... under a new, more democratic system", and they botched the result.

They elected notorious flim-flam man Josh Frydenberg, sucked in!
... Liberal Party sources said Mr Frydenberg wanted to re-establish Kooyong as a fund-raising powerhouse.

Whose funds, Melissa? To what ends, Melissa? Keep a close eye on the flim-flam man and make sure he doesn't leak any state secrets to loony News Ltd columnists, or something.

20 June 2009

I resemble that accusation

Christian Kerr took time out this week to criticise blogs, or rather to put words to his unease, and that of his employer more broadly, toward this medium. His piece is here. Breaking the traditions of blogs, such as they are, I have left it a few days to consider the whole issue of blogs and the MSM as presented by Christian and bounced off a few others.
And we have no political bloggers who break stories.

The biggest story in Australian politics last week was broken on this website. Christian himself, and many of his colleagues, have spent years applying all the journalistic arts to get this story, as I pointed out. Christian's employer has incurred thousands upon thousands of dollars in expenses claims in the pursuit of a story that foundered upon a webpage.

The "breaking" of a story is old-school journalism and pretty much irrelevant in an age where all news outlets can publish the same story within a few minutes, rather than have to wait a whole day while the wounds to circulation, influence, revenue and yes ego that came from having been "scooped".

The process by which governments will "leak" details of a budget for weeks in advance of it being delivered is hardly an exercise in fearless investigative journalism, more a stale and courtly ritual with knowing winks and God-knows-what compromises required of journalists to "earn" first dibs on the story. By contrast, neither Bob Woodward nor Carl Bernstein was the first journalist to report on the Watergate break-in in 1972: don't bother digging for the one who was first, it doesn't matter.
What we have on our political blogs is analysis. And talk. Endless talk.

Pretty much all you get from Christian, really. Christian is not a fearless scoop-hound; he is a theatre reviewer for Australia's best-subsidised and most boring theatre.
Some of the analysis [from blogs] is excellent ... blogger William Bowe passes on a poll or throws out a fact to a baying pack of readers.

Some of their responses can be good. At times, though -- Newspolls can bring this mob out -- much of their reactions consists of conspiracy theorising that that would bring a blush to the cheeks of the authors of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

If you want to see baying, accompany Christian to a press conference; and the reference to the dreaded Protocols puts his perilously close to an offence under Godwin's Law.

Let's go with it though: if Christian was a sketchwriter for the nineteenth -century Russian Duma and the Tsarist secret police slipped him proof copies of that tome, do you really think Christian would have turned it down? Would Milney? Would Annabel Crabb or Michelle Grattan ("Tsar must take hard line with Zionists")?
Some are sharp. Sometimes. Others are the online equivalent of soapbox speakers.

Just like News Ltd or any other mainstream media outlet really, except that the web and the rise of blogs shows you don't need a multi-billion-dollar apparatus or "exclusive access" to be entertaining and informative.
Then there is the group that provides the cyberworld's answer to the sad sacks you see on the street holding intense conversations with no one in particular.

How dare you talk about David Pemberthy in that dismissive manner? Seriously though, I thought I was doing that at first and perhaps I was - but with about a thousand or so different readers coming back at different frequencies, I'm at least as widely read as any of those fearless scoop-hounds of yore.
But Australian blogs instead obsess about the mainstream media and their reporting.

Their tone is disconcerting.

Aww, is it blossom?

This is the first time in Australian media history that the sheer inadequacy of Australian political reporting has been exposed; in the olden days it was sustained by boozy newsroom assertions about "the punters" and what they wanted/needed/was good for them. The sort of people who can express dissatisfaction with MSM are those who consume it avidly, and who have the analytical skills that suggest a demographic to which MSM advertisers yearn. Sloppy MSM analysis turns off the very readers and consumers who are vital for their future.
We always hear about "community" ... insular little communities ... Lord of the Flies islands online.

You don't "always hear" that or anything like it here, and don't have to work too hard to escape nastiness or groupthink online. However, in the journosphere it is endemic. There is no escaping either of these inhibitors to effective journalism at News Ltd, the Federal Parliamentary Press Gallery, or both.
Disagree with the group-think of the tribe and they will chase you over a cliff. In this environment there is not only no room for news, but no tolerance of new ideas.

Pot, kettle: the press gallery is designed to create a "journosphere" that ensures that all ideas are received, that stupid policy can become clever politics with an alchemy called spin, in an environment where information is controlled and deadlines fixed to ensure that all stories follow the same "line". News Ltd would be broke within a week if AP cut its feed off.

And don't whinge about a "24-hour news cycle" when you refuse to run a story that is spoon-fed to you "after deadline" (whose deadline? Certainly not mine pal), or just before a long weekend, or at a time when there is another story that you and your so-called competitors are fixated on. Fair shake of the sauce-bottle and see you at the Holy Grail!
If someone wants to claim the first scalp of the Australian political blogosphere, perhaps they should dig deeper.

Too late - hundreds of such "scalps" can be found in skips behind Fairfax offices in Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne. David Penberthy has clearly taken the attitude that if you can't beat bloggers, join 'em, with his fancy-lah-di-dah site (well, more fancy than this) - and now that you mention it, he does appear to have less hair than he did as a mainstream journalist.

Another example of such "scalps" can be found in the UK, where thousands of pages of documents on MPs' expenses has been put online and "citizen journalists" can peruse them at will. Readers take different opinions and and apply experiences and expertise that is simply unavailable among the ranks of journalists. This is real news, real analysis, valuable information: compare this with the high point of "news news", the 1970s: "scoops" such as Watergate, the Pentagon Papers, or the various "funny money" scandals of the Whitlam government were sat on, ignored, or doled out by non-analysing drones of journos placed under "deadline pressure", at the whim of the politics of their "proprietors", in their own sweet time.

It may be of satisfaction to some that Christian has scored an own goal, or been smacked in the face with his own boomerang. What such logic betrays is projection through insecurity; by going from Crikey to News Ltd, to walk in a dead man's shoes and be compared unfavourably to Annabel bloody Crabb. Christian Kerr has more smarts under his toenails than Crabb has or can muster; it's tragic that he won't rise to the challenge but is, like Penberthy, sinking into flatulent Mark Day-isms. Christian may have actually joined a sinking ship. Time for Hillary to bray again, Christian; better a bray than a drone, right?

Update: Perhaps this explains the Kerr/News barrage - a pre-emptive strike against any news blogger who might pose a threat. The Times is, after all, a sister paper of the Oz, so any budding NightJack out there can expect to be outed and gutted by those heirs to the Surry Hills razor gangs. News Ltd faces the same fate that Cobb & Co faced with the rise of motorised transport, but it seems they won't go quietly.

16 June 2009

The bubble and the babble

Over the past 36 hours two memes have died - Peter Costello and Des Moran. Two feared operators who have mellowed in recent years but whose enemies have increased, both in number and intensity as the very mellowness and predictability of these old warhorses made them easier marks.

This is not to compare Costello with a petty criminal, but to explore the half-witted way that that the media covers both the worlds of organised crime and organised politics, where information and methods are hidden and revealed for the tactical and strategic benefit of various players.

For a decade and a half, journalistic careers have been built on speculation that Costello might challenge John Hewson, Alexander Downer, John Howard, Brendan Nelson, Malcolm Turnbull; nothing whatsoever came of it. All of it was sheer wind, all of it. Every single journalist and "senior source" who participated in this, every reader/viewer who took it in, all of them were wasting their time and effort. All of the effort that Glenn Milne and Annabel Crabb spent in brown-nosing Costello in the hope of some "insider knowledge" has been utterly, utterly wasted. Any claim they might have to be "Canberra insiders" is now bogus - if they didn't know Costello was going, what do they know about anything? Why bother reading their output, or anything else sold by the organisations that employ them? How stupid does this guy, and everyone he's quoted look - not merely mistaken, but flat-out too-dumb-to-run-anything, too-dumb-to-trust stupid.

Yeah, Costello achieved less than he might have - but that can be said of anyone really, after it's all said and done there's usually more said than done. The issue here is that so, so much was said, to the exclusion of so, so much else.

Pick an issue, any issue you like: the fate of refugees, individually or severally; climate change; corporate regulation; infrastructure; any issue at all arising out of the period 1996-2007. Consider that the issue you've picked has been starved of attention, of analysis, of other options simply because some journalists and their employers decided that chasing wisps of Canberra fog was more important than your issue.

The standard counter is that the news that's covered is that news that sells, with the clear implication that news editors have an uncanny and unerring knack both for what's important and what's lucrative. Plummeting circulation data shows this to be wrong on both counts. Anyone claiming (and implying) that sales/viewing/other indicators of popularity rose on the basis of a Costello Challenge piece is lying.

Costello said that he was looking for a post-political career, and so it has proven. Costello hated it when Malcolm Turnbull put a rocket up him over tax in 2005, so four years later he returned the favour over the leadership, until the Victorian Division of the Liberal Party complained that it was incurring collateral damage and somehow forced an end to this latest piece of self-indulgence. He was never that interesting and everyone who thought he was has finally been proven wrong. Now that Fairfax is reorganising their Canberra bureaux, those who have most column inches on this matter should, in any well-run organisation concerned for its future, have the most to fear from outplacement (farewell, Annabel).

This piece, and pieces by Shaun Carney and Peter Hartcher, show that the best political reporting is done far from Canberra.

In recent days those who parsed and slavered over every non-announcement from Costello have distinguished themselves by missing the point with Kevin Rudd's fake ockerisms. Silliness and poor reporting actively discourages people taking an interest in public policy, and when that policy so intrudes in their lives that they take an interest they don't know where to start. The fact that political reporting isn't entertaining, well-written or constructive is important, but it pales beside the sheer awful damage that this counterproductive profession does, ironically, in the name of informing the citizenry.

15 June 2009

Who is my neighbour?

Just as Richard Nixon was the only American politician who could visit Communist China without being red-baited by Richard Nixon, so too Binyamin Netanyahu is the only Israeli politician who could even mention Palestine without being accused of caving in, treason or worse by Netanyahu.

(Yes, the above link connects to a News Ltd report. Here at the Politically Homeless Institute, we have no truck with Fairfax and their desperately silly Middle East reporter, who couldn't handle the fact that Peter Costello never became Prime Minister and is so far out of his depth on this issue it is pathetic.)

Netanyahu left his words until after the election in Iran, the main sponsors of Hamas and Hezbollah; had he done so beforehand he might have skewed the result (or made the currently stated result more legitimate than it is). He spoke at a time when Iran is paralysed politically, but also when the shit-sandwich fed to him by Obama is still stuck to his teeth. Having tried to define Palestine out of existence, by making war against what used to be the PLO and then corralling Palestinians, his next step has been to define what sort of Palestine might be an acceptable neighbour.
BENJAMIN Netanyahu threw down the gauntlet to the US last night

Rubbish. What he did was cave, with a few lines to mollify the far right of his coalition.
The hawkish Prime Minister insisted that Israel would never give up a united Jerusalem as its capital ...

That depends what you mean by Jerusalem, really. Colonisation by urban sprawl won't impress anyone - not those impressed by modern-day realpolitik nor scholars of ancient texts.
... established Jewish settlements in the West Bank would continue to expand - despite explicit objections from Washington.

Like hell they will.

Settlements outside Israel are subject to the laws of those countries. If sovereign countries decide to limit or abolish settlements, they do so. It is only possible in theory that Israel would invade a neighbouring country in order to facilitate building work, then stay to protect it; in practice it would not be on and Israel would be a clear belligerent. This is a sop to his rightwing buddies, what sounds like sabre-rattling from an empty scabbard. You can see that in the weaselly failure to define what a Palestinian "entity" might be - mind you, no more "weaselly" than the attitude of Zionist groups toward the British mandate in yes, Palestine, between last century's two world wars.
Mr Netanyahu tried to advance elements of his economic peace plan - whereby the Palestinians would receive investment in return for limited sovereignty - while still conceding to US insistence on the creation of an independent Palestinian country.

The right-wing Israeli leader said the moderate Palestinian leadership in the West Bank must agree to recognise Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people, as well as fight the Islamic hardliners Hamas, who now control Gaza, in return for the resumption of peace talks.

"The key condition is that the Palestinians recognise in a clear and public manner that Israel is the state of the Jewish people," he told dignitaries in an auditorium at Bar Ilan University in Tel Aviv.

See, he's trying to define its economy (vassal state) while offering the truly miserable enticement of Bantustan status and "peace talks". That won't be good enough for anyone except the auditorium-stuffing at Bar Ilan. This is a position begging to be bargained away.
"If we have the guarantees on demilitarisation, and if the Palestinians recognise Israel as a state of the Jewish people, then we arrive at a solution based on a demilitarised Palestinian state alongside Israel," Mr Netanyahu said.

"Each will have its flag, each will have its anthem. The Palestinian territory will be without arms, will not control airspace, will not be able to have arms enter."

He said that "effective security safeguards" would have to be in place, without specifying what they might be.

Palestine is demilitarised already. Hamas terrorists* who fire rockets into Israel aren't militarised in the sense that the armed forces of a recognised state are, and there is no incentive for a Palestinian government to formally institute a military structure. In the same way, there is no incentive for Netanyahu to define how much "effective security safeguards" might be enough.
"Many a worthy person has told us that withdrawal is the key to peace between us and the Palestinians. But the fact is that every withdrawal has been accompanied by rockets and suicide attacks". He said that the Palestinians had to drop the right of return for hundreds of thousands of refugees to their homes inside Israel.

The fact is that every withdrawal to date has not left the Palestinians any better off, and has perpetuated a kind of cat-and-mouse game on Israel's part that disgraces that nation and sullies its credibility on commitments going forward. The fact is also that the "right of return" requires the dispossessed to recognise the state of Israel, which a two-state solution will facilitate. Any refugee who returns to their home and refuses to obey the laws of Israel deserves the punishment under that law.
He said last night that he would not agree to US demands for a total freeze on the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

"I do not wish to build new settlements or to confiscate lands to that end, but we have to allow the residents of the settlements to live normal lives," he said.

You don't do the allowing, and you don't define what "normal lives" are either. A combination of Israelis displaced by refugees combined with West Bank settlers deciding they don't want to live in Palestine creates a social dislocation issue for Israel that no government can survive without very skillful management and an economic boom, neither of which are evident in Netanyahu's government.

That will have to change, though. Netanyahu has to stand up for an Israel that deserves recognition as a proper state, rather than a front for a bunch of gamblers. Palestine has its work cut out too, and now that Iran is in a tizz politically this is the perfect time for both states to live independently of its toxic reach. For each state to respect the boundaries of the other would be a huge start to an initiative that could be enormously productive - but is it realistic?

Never mind what's fair, or even what's in everybody's best interests - could it work? Do we dare hope for better in Israel-Palestine? I hope for better in Iran too, but not just yet if it means more than just a two-state solution but respectful neighbours with countries/economies that work far beyond the trappings of flags and anthems.

* Yeah, should've put out a Loaded Terms Alert there, oh well.

09 June 2009

Shuffle in an echo chamber

I assumed that Fitzgibbon would be big enough to a) hire a smart and experienced person to advise him on big-picture defence issues, and b) would overcome the smalltown mentality that affects many politicians, who see Canberra as just a bigger stage on which to play petty parish-pump politics. We at PoHo Institute were wrong on both counts. Now that he's been kicked in the teeth - and his brother can't be far behind given NIB's performance - the political vacuum that is Labor Newcastle will only suck even harder.

The joint that gave public life such giants as Milton Orkopoulos and Matt Charlton is ripe for an independent politician; someone like Tony Windsor, who can take a one-party town and not so much drag them to the "other side" as get people to look at politics differently. Chances are it will be a disaffected Labor person, who'll use their party to make a name and then step forward when Sussex Street try and do them.

Yeah, I think Faulkner will probably be the best Defence Minister since George Pearce too, but this blog isn't meant to be an echo chamber like the Press Gallery. Here's what I wanted to see explored by those supposedly in the know:

  • First McKew and now Ellis - why is childcare policy shunted to childless women?You'd know Rudd was taking this area seriously if he'd put Mark Arbib in there, rather than the relatively nebulous Government Service Delivery (isn't that what the Finance Minister is for, rather than the sort of abstruse economic commentator role Tanner is playing?)

  • What is Rudd trying to say about infrastructure by putting Maxine McKew in as Parliamentary Secretary to the shambolic and snarling Anthony Albanese? Isn't her job duplicating that of Mark Arbib (isn't everyone's)?

  • Aren't Arbib and Albanese from different factions in NSW Labor, and can the boasting of post-factionalism be believed? It reminded me of Murdoch editors proclaiming their independence.

  • Why did Bob Debus go to all that bother in switching Parliaments just to give it away in the first term? Would Labor really not have won that seat in '07 with someone else?

  • Merit? Muppets like Jason Clare and Richard Marles, merit? Really? Not Julie Owens or Janelle Saffin or Annette Hurley or Kate Lundy or Steve Georganas, or the scarily impressive Melissa Parke?

  • Mark Dreyfus: use him or lose him?

  • Should Bob McMullin, Laurie Ferguson, Jennie George and Kelvin Thomson just give it away? What about the non-jobs for Gary Gray and Warren Snowdon?

  • Robert McClelland: why?

  • Penny Wong: punt her now and get someone effective in time for Copenhagen? An opportunity missed.

  • Chris Bowen: neatly skewered, if too briefly, by Kerry O'Brien tonight as a lightweight. Get over yourself you smug git and do some work. Who do you think you are, Peter Costello?

  • Greg Combet: stretched too far to achieve anything? Can't Mike Kelly or Dreyfus step up into one of these roles?

03 June 2009

Piss off Alby

Alby Schultz was a NSW MP who made himself look good and did bugger-all for anyone else, undermining a NSW Premier of his own party without having the necessary guts, brains and character to step forward and show how it's done. Now he's a Federal MP, and no better. The old bludger has been siphoning the public purse for 21 years now and it's high time he left.

I meant what I said earlier about getting rid of duds, and included Schultz then - every Prime Minister has had to shirtfront their party in order to win and Turnbull should target him. Politicians love a morals crusade, and keeping Alby Schultz hanging around makes it that much harder. Seriously, think of the problems that beset our nation - economically, environmentally, whatever - if we all went around grabbing people who taunted us, we'd be stuffed. Alby Schultz is not a leader of our community and should not be a representative. He just can't help us, he can't help himself.

Piss off, Alby.

As a State MP he'd pooh-pooh every one of the many reform ideas that the Greiner and Fahey governments put up. The cosseted fug of protections and demarcations and penalties that Labor put in place in NSW, which enabled mediocrities like Schultz to thrive and which has caused the massive infrastructure problems that the state now faces, was the status quo that he sought to preserve. He was against the Olympics because a dollar spent in Homebush was a dollar not spent on road culverts, footy grounds and subsidies in his electorate. He thought that anyone with more than the rudimentary education he had was overeducated. He sniped and backgrounded and whinged, and would start screaming when ministers were reluctant to hand over large slabs of public largesse to his electorate. When it came time to ask him to contribute ideas or do some work, all he could offer was: bugger the rest of you, I'm looking out for myself.

Piss off, Alby.

Having helped the NSW Liberals out of office he shuffled off to Canberra, hoping to repeat his triumph there, but John Howard could see him coming and kept him in his box. In a fit of pique at one point he went to the press and told Howard to step down, saying he was too old (ya srsly) and encouraging Costello to challenge him. It was probably the most important thing Alby Schultz ever said, did or achieved, and it had precisely no effect whatsoever.

Piss off Alby.

He began shrieking when a State seat within his Federal one was being contested by a woman, a spring chicken in her fifties, one with achievements and energy and an intellect that he found enormously threatening (why? Did he want to reserve the State seat for himself so that he could make sure the Libs never got back into office ever again?). He allows the far right to stack his branches so that anyone in that area who wants to make a contribution is so repulsed that they have to build their own political platform to take him on, and to use the office that he occupies to benefit people other than Alby Schultz. The reason why he hates the Nationals is because they are bigger bludgers than he is: he once used to boast that he was a financial member of both Coalition parties, and it reflects poorly on the Liberal Party that their standards were so low as to preselect him.

Piss off, Alby.

He always had a temper on him and he's now degenerated to the point where he can't even control that. You know it's a sad situation when you're a foil for an unctuous outburst from Wilson Tuckey. Even sadder was the sheer waste of public resources and time after he went the sook on Andrew Stoner, who like most public servants has done more for the community than Alby Schultz has, will or can. It's hard to have any sympathy for Chris Pearce, who is no less of a limpet than Schultz, but I think I can manage it just this once.

Piss off, Alby.

He is on the old-school parliamentary pension, which maxes out after 18 years. The area he represents is hardly flush with pelf from the Treasury as you'd find from active and engaged local members. He's never been one for the hard work of public policy, and nor is he much of a campaigner or a fundraiser for any contest where his own damn name isn't on the ballot. Any journalist who quotes him is perpetrating a fraud, the very idea that this man might say something the nation might need to hear is sheer rubbish. The Alby Schultz story: from obscurity to decline without any intervening period of achievement. It's time to ...

Piss off, Alby.