There was no parallel in the newspapers, radio or TV to any of the following:
- The most excellent summaries here and here by Bushfire Bill;
- This piece by blogger-at-heart Greg Jericho, in which he discusses the public service implications of the reallocation of portfolios; or
- Crikey's health sub-site which canvassed a range of health professionals to see what former Health Minister Roxon did right/wrong and what they hope for from the new Minister.
- Peter Martin on Nick Sherry, whose resignation precipitated the whole reshuffle and was ignored by the credulous press gallery.
BB makes a convincing case that Emergency Management must be a Cabinet role, while Jericho is less convincing in his contrary view. Read them to know what good political analysis looks like, because it shows that scrutiny of public affairs can be well-written and entertaining. It shows that covering politics need not be sneering, facile or sanctimonious like it is in the mainstream media. Then, turn your eyes from these amateur diversions and look with pity and scorn upon the so-called professionals, who are paid to knock around Parliament House and report on this stuff for a living.
Nominally, the mainstream media claim that they cover politics in order to explain to we taxpayers, voters and consumers how our taxes are spent, what priorities public services are directed to place ahead of others, and to what extent our cries for more of this and less of that are heeded (or not) by those who rule us. That high-minded spirit animates reporting so rarely that we might safely say that journalists who love the tittle-tattle and horse-race aspects of politics are the norm, while those who explain politics effectively are so rare as to be almost freaky.
Let's take to the program that sets the news agenda more than any other: ABC Radio's AM program, always good for a bucket o' Walkleys, but almost always rubbish when it comes to political interviews. Here's Alexandra Kirk focusing on Kim Carr:
- Carr is a long-time factional operator in the Victorian ALP. Over the years, he's dished it out to people and he's copped some back. He's a grown-up and should be treated like one. No allowance should be made for any sulking on his part. If he really thinks he's hard done by, if all the emoluments of ministerial office aren't enough, he should get out of the ministry or even out of Parliament altogether (as a Senator, no byelection! Lots of Victorian ALP displaced by Brumby's folly hungry for a step up ...); and
- Carr is minister for manufacturing, and in a few weeks he's off to Detroit and Tokyo to discuss Australian vehicle manufacturing with those companies. Will those discussions be harder if he's a non-Cabinet minister? What about dealing with local manufacturers, like the no-marks who've run Bluescope Steel into the ground? So,
- Given that AM is so hard-hitting, and that Kirk is one of its experienced journalists, you'd expect her to focus on the politics and the policy ...
Kirk's line of questioning is, to be generous, juvenile: you got de-mo-ted, ner-nerny-ner-ner, are you pissed off? Are you still besties with Jules? Do you reckon you'll be better off if Kev comes back? Carr handled himself with considerable dignity, allowing himself a human moment of disappointment in amongst steadfast professionalism. Carr is doing a serious job as manufacturing minister, and there are questions to be asked about the extent to which traditional measures like subsidies or sweetheart deals with the relevant unions are actually going to do much into the foreseeable future. Kirk wallowed in the goss and left the hard stuff, and it isn't the first time she's done it. For serious political analysis, best to skip AM.
Serious journalists like Fairfax's Lenore Taylor and Phillip Coorey and Laura Tingle, and almost all TV correspondents, are back to the stale line that everything this government does is a pratfall. Take Michelle Grattan's silly effort (no link, can't be bothered) where she referred to McClelland's portfolio as a grab-bag - but then made light of the similarly incongruous portfolio of Mark Arbib, and nothing of Greg Combet's (if he's Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, and Minister for Industry, and that he's pretty much led the case for the carbon tax, why is someone else Minister for Energy? Why is the Minister for Energy wittering on about nuclear, an energy source currently used by 0% of Australian households and industry, rather than focusing on renewables or even questioning the need for a "grid" in the 21st century? Why is this sorry little blogpost the only place you can even read about that stuff?).
For desperately silly, however, you have to go to the national affairs correspondent for what was once regarded as the best newspaper printed in English. The paper for which Alfred Deakin and Keith Murdoch wrote. I refer - how have the mighty fallen - to The Age and Katharine Murphy:
AUSTRALIA ends the year with two governments. There's Julia Gillard's minority government. And there is the government in exile, led by Kevin Rudd.I thought the Coalition was the alternative government. Even if you do accept that Rudd is undermining Gillard, that's not the same thing as saying he's running an 'alternative government'. Between his first failed challenge and his second successful one in 1991, Paul Keating was not running an 'alternative government'. The Opposition aren't an 'alternative government' because they don't have any policies worth the name, and none that you can trust. Gillard is pretty much doing what Rudd promised but failed to deliver. What makes Rudd's castle-in-the-air an alternative government?
To confuse matters further, these competing regimes manifest their own divided states of being.Nobody's confused here but Katharine herself, and anyone who hasn't realised she's a dill.
Can Julia Gillard unite her divided states in 2012? Right now that looks impossible, because the Prime Minister who can scale Kosiuszko [sic] is the same PM who is standing on quicksand, sinking before our eyes.That second sentence shows the appalling imagery that only comes, as Orwell pointed out, from someone who isn't thinking about what they're saying. If you've scaled Mt Kosciuszko (sp.) you'll know that it's an easy stroll. Only in the movies do people sink completely in quicksand. Murphy is revelling in a return to the whole Gillard-as-stumblebum routine that the whole press gallery has returned to like so many dogs to their vomit, and no amount of policy or even parliamentary achievement is going to dissuade her from ground on which she feels secure.
This week's cabinet reshuffle was supposed to buy Gillard six months of clear air to do two things: lift Labor's primary vote above 30 per cent, and force Tony Abbott to tell his own story ...Clear air. What does that even mean? It's one of those meaningless terms of the politico-media complex, nothing to do with actual quantifiable atmospheric pollution. The government gets a focus on its policies and the absence of those from the Coalition when it actually does things like legislate a price on carbon rather than just talk about it, and force Abbott into pledges so silly that he gets only the pity that is his due. Action speaks louder than words and reshuffles are always temporary events that focus on a government's internals. Why have great polling when you can play the long game that wins votes and denies them to Stunt Man?
...the reshuffle was supposed to turn all of Bill Shorten's well-honed ruthlessness on Abbott in an area where the Coalition is vulnerable, industrial relations.Yes, Katharine, it did both those things. It just didn't do them before your deadline; if it had, you might have written a better story. Abbott has had a good run for two years and he's not going to be sunk in two days. Shorten and Combet are players of the long game and are wise to know what powder they have at their disposal before they embark on the process of keeping it dry.
It was supposed to turn Greg Combet's quick policy mind to the task of winning back the blue-collar manufacturing base ...
I noticed, as Katharine Murphy and the rest of the journosphere didn't, that Shorten's shadow minister Eric Abetz has been very, very quiet. If Abetz had the genuine assuredness his cocksure manner is designed to hide then he'd be all over Shorten this week, forcing the new boy to dance to his tune. Abetz has no tune to dance to and when Shorten is done with his swotting and the preliminaries, you can bet that one of the biggest guns in the Coalition front line is about to be taken out. Shorten's teeth-cutting will be on Abetz's hide. With the O'Farrell-like ascendancy of Will Hodgman in Tasmanian state politics, 2012 is shaping up as a year for Eric Abetz to forget before it's even begun. Eric's super is maxed out, his links to the far right and lack of links to business large or small will be no help at all, as is his record of failing to stop a single piece of Labor legislation in a hung parliament: bye bye Eric.
As for Combet, he's up against the hollowed-out husks of Greg Hunt and Sophie Mirabella. See, that's basic political reporting right there, and like the rest of the peanut gallery your old pal @murpharoo has missed the idea that the government has only to beat the opponents in front of them.
Murphy embarrasses herself by quoting Lachlan Harris, a man who has gone from obscurity to nowhere without any intervening period of achievement or demonstrating any sense: sneer ye not at bloggers so long as you quote Lachlan fucking Harris. Malcolm Farr should know better than to report Abbott cheered for half-witted platitudes, Burke jeered for failing to solve large intractable problem shock. Marius Benson just embarrasses himself with the whole of this shower of drivel.
Forget those jerks and accept that the mainstream media is in a tailspin out of which it lacks the sense, clout and skill to pull. The press gallery was embarrassed by its failure to pick Slipper taking the Speakership this year, and Gillard taking the Prime Ministership last year. Insider status means nothing, press gallery doyen(ne) status nothing, nothing at all.
Let's look at the government. We have some idea of what this government is about. We know that ministerial reshuffles involve compromise and bastardry at the best of times, let alone in a hung parliament. We're adults, so the shock-horror that people might be displeased while others are pleased is not a story in itself. Here's how the reshuffle should have been different in order to more closely align the government's activities to its goals:
- Garrett should have replaced Macklin. Macklin has achieved nothing in four years, not in policy substance or communication of same; adding Disability Reform, a large and significant reform, to her portfolio is just cruel. Garrett has both the plodding policy credibility and the promotional skill to do this really, really well.
- Energy should have gone to Combet.
- Ferguson should have combined Resources with Skills Training, giving him something significant to tackle rather than rehash Gorton Government platitudes about uranium ("perfectly safe").
- Ludwig should've been replaced by someone to take on the enfeebled Nationals.
- Mark Arbib should not be Minister for Sport and should have been offered the most pissant ministry available, which he might have rejected so that he could then sulk on the back bench and leak to Michelle Grattan and Malcolm Farr. Hopefully it will be obvious that an Assistant Treasurer who doesn't focus on policy detail or give a stuff about policy is a bad thing and he'll immolate over the coming year at some point.
- It's great that Childcare has a minister, and hopefully Kate Ellis will have better luck than Maxine McKew.
- It's a shame there's no assistant minister in Foreign Affairs so a young rising star can learn those ropes.
- Mark Dreyfus and Mike Kelly should've got something more substantial.
Update from before the above was posted: Preston Institute.