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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

How's the ALP travelling? « Previous | |Next »
November 28, 2005

I watched Question Time in the House of Representatives today.The questions about the complex workplaces changes were quickly displaced as an angry Labor called a biased Speaker into account, and dissented from his consistent onesided rulings in favour of the Government.

It was good political theatre done to defend the importance of Parliament as a way of holding the executive accountable. That is the significance of Question Time.The ALP is right to defend the Speaker's undermining of the substance of Question Time.

Labor looked good, very good. This is another example of the recent change in political climate that has resulted from the marshalling of opposition to the industrial relations legislation that the Senate is currently debating. The ALP tacticians have managed to link parliamentary tactics and public opinion, and bring them together into a whole. It is a good, solid achievement.

An editorial in The Canberra Times sounds a note of a warning:

Meanwhile, Labor has almost no profile in developing debates, whether over the centrist trends in primary and secondary education or a shift to a college model in university education, and appears to have no policy whatever (and certainly no critique of Government policy) in Aboriginal affairs. It has made almost no running--- presumably from its own shame and embarrassment ---over immigration scandals, and seems to have dropped Tony Abbott and health care from much in the way of scrutiny, allowing a somewhat bruised minister a lot of time for recovery. It appears to have junked playing any significant sort of role in the welfare-to-work debate, presumably because it is more preoccupied with the industrial relations debate. In the process it is losing important opportunities to point out how the two proposals are linked. Or about how the questions in many minds about potential losers in the industrial relations changes will redouble once it is clear how many new unskilled and untrained people may be entering the system. Likewise, it has shied entirely away from the security debate, and, apparently, from debate about Australian defence directions. Labor, bluntly, is doing very little to hold the Government to account. Nor, while it is ignoring that function, could it claim to be doing much by way of developing new policy and directions, or of selling any sort of ideal or vision of the party.

It's true, unfortunately. The ALP has been consistently outgunned in the strategic, deliberation and cunnning strategy departments by Howard since 1996.

Will this happen again? It is a long way to the next election isn't it. As each year passes the neo-liberal mode of governance deepens. That mode of governance is not going to be rolled back.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 5:41 PM | | Comments (10)


Far be it from me to defend the ALP, but I think the Canberra Times editorial is a bit unfair.

Whilst there is some substance in their criticisms, and Labor undoubtedly has been giving priority to the workplace relations stuff, they have also been trying to highlight the gross unfairness of the so called welfare-to-work measures (as have many others I might say).

Just today, Labor (and the minor parties in the Senate) tabled their minority report which was quite scathing of the government's welfare measures and the lies and false assumptions underpinning key parts of it. Unfortunately, this got buried beneath the attention focused on workplace and terror laws. Perhaps it may get attention next week after these other measures have (sadly) been passed by the Senate.

whilst I think Labor's position on some aspects of immigration and indigenous issues is weak, they have also been bashing away at some of the government's weaknesses in these areas.

Part of why this may not be apparent is that the mainstream media is not very good at highlighting more than a couple of issues, which makes it very hard for any political party to be seen to be effective on more than a couple of issues at any one time.

Any ideas on how to get around this gratefully received.

I'm inclined to agree. This phrase 'Labor, bluntly, is doing very little to hold the Government to account' is far too harsh given Howard's control of the parliament.

The Canberra Press Gallery in general is hard on the ALP at the moment. Would you agree?

However, there is a lot of substance to the Canberra Times editorial on the environment. Where's that gone as an issue? What is being said about the Murray-Darling Basin, the Great Barrier Reef, Tasmanian forests, or urban recycling of water in the capital cities.

There is some substance to health and education; and on these two fields in relation to indigenous concerns given the removal of ATSIC and the emphasis on practical outcomes.

I did see the ALP grinding away in Senate estimates in relation to housing and mutual obligation and I noticed that little was written about it by the Canberra Press Gallery.

The quick and dirty answer to the problem you pose is more media diversity, isn't it. That cannot mean media reform as in new newspapers or a fourth free-to-air channel anymore, given the economics.

Realistically, it can only mean the internet can't it. What does that mean?

More and better informed blogs locked into the Canberra world? One's that fill the void left by the filters of the Canberra Press Gallery.

I'm not sure that the Blogtalk DownUnder conference you spoke at earlier in the year addressed this kind of problem. Did it?

Gary, the internet means receiving information from primary sources, not from journalists or editors. Andrew Bartlett is a good example of that. By reading Andrew's blog I am getting a window into the Senate and some of the details of Australians civics.

Sadly, he is the only politician doing it. I know several former staffers, such as yourself, are publishing to the internet, and the discourse is greater for it. But we need actual politicians side-stepping the media and interacting with us directly - and that includes the PM and Premiers.

The blogtalk conference didn't directly address this, although greater diversity of ways to get the information out there is important.

On indigenous stuff, whilst I think Labor's position on ATSIC was pretty poor, they have been doing some good stuff at Estimates which has got no coverage at all that I'm aware of in the mainstream media, but did get a good run in the National Indigenous Times a couple of issues back - until I read this, I wasn't aware of the information and I'm on the same Senate Committee and try to cover indigenous affairs, so I can only imagine that not many other people know about it either. Given the national scandal of indigenous affairs, the government's failure to deliver on the basics of their own overblown rhetoric is a disgrace, but sadly this stuff just isn't seen as 'newsworthy'.

However, whilst more media diversity would help, it is also human nature to only give focus to a few issues at a time. Even if there had been some coverage of what was being done in Estimates, it would only be one or two pieces, so it wouldn't 'cut through', even for those who actually follow politics closely, which is only 1 or 2 per cent of people.

As I said, any ideas how to overcome this gratefully received - I don't have many.

Perhaps more issue-specific mechanisms for delivering information might help - more specialised reporting of facts rather than rhetoric and stunts, delivered into people's Inboxes, and then spread around e-networks?


Who are the other former staffers currently blogging? What are their weblogs? I wasn't aware of any.

I think that Webdiary does a good job. Margo opens the door to independent journalism and she provides a online space for politicians to publish their speeches.

It is not just human nature. The anti-terrorism, IR and Welfare-to-Work are big neo-liberal reforms.And the IR bill is so complex that most of us have no understanding of the detail. That is where the sting is.

Pity about the BlogTalk conference. It was a good opportunity missed. As I'm in a different place to you in the politica/'media, I see the problem more in terms of nurturing more of a policy culture that stands betweens the instiotutions of Parliament and the Canberra media.

So I am going to bring together my weblogs and new writing around public policy into a portal and then add additional writings. It becomes an entry into a particular set of issues.

The National Indigenous Times, would be an excellent example of what needs to be created across the onl;ne political /media landscape . That would mean that we don't bother to read the Canberra Press Gallery on this--we go to the NIT portal. Why bother reading the commentary of those who know more about politics than policy and don't really care about gaining an understanding of policy issues because it is too hard?

We do not have enough of these policy/politics portals. We need more diverse portals here around different sets of issues. The issues have their own contitutencies.

Once again that is not what you specifically require. But one answer is along the lines of more intermediate online links that lead us to the information networks/portals.

For instance you do not have a set links to indigenous issues (the NIT) so I, as a citizen, have to hunt around and construct them for myself. it is very time consuming. You know a lot of the indigenous institutions and so can provide an opening to them for me as a part of the citizen commentariat.

Gary, I believe Nicholas Gruen (troppo) and Andrew Norton (catalaxy) are both former staffers/advisors. IIRC Ken Parish did a stint in the NT Assembly as well.

Politicians publishing through Webdiary shows lack of nouce on their part. They are the "primary" source, so why send it through someone else. Andrew is publishing directly to potential voters. I can see a day when the citizen commenteriat creates their political bona-fides, and name recognition, through blogging/online-publishing and then moves into politics.

Of course. My mind went blank on that.

Politicians do publish direct--their speeches are online on their personal website, on the websites of their parties, and in Hansard. But I agree it's not enough. Weblogs are more personal.

The speeches need to be plucked from there and placed out into a public conversation about specific issues as they are but one voice amongst many. That is what Margo Kingston is doing with her independent journalism. Full marks to her.

What she is doing is helping to resolve the problem Andrew identified: issues and information being lost in behind the closed world of Parliament. It is closed due to the filters of the Canberra media--only some issues enter the media flows, and these are mostly the politics of an issue.

So politicians live in a world of distorting mirrors. Weblogs help break out of that and there should be more. But many politicians--and staffers---are not capable of doing this kind of writing.

Gary, Posting pictures of your dog is just as valid as 3000 word political essays. Andrew Leigh posts pictures of his dog - livejournal style - and it doesnt stop his site being one of the more interesting ones around. Accessibility is the key, I am sure all politicians and staffer can humanise themselves, and offer opinions, no matter how clumsy their internetability.

fair enough. I'm sure they can.

I'm just trying to give a reason why they don't do it and why not too much can be expected in the future from them.

Remember you are asking for individual voices from people required to conform to the requirement of the political party. You are asking them to stick their neck out.

Only the mavericks, independents and Democrats do that.