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

an insider's judgement of Gillard Labor « Previous | |Next »
September 1, 2012

Shaun Carney has written his last article for The Sydney Morning Herald. He leaves Fairfax along with 1900 others leaving the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, the Canberra Times and the Australian Financial Review. The era of gatekeeper journalism is over.

Carney's final column is an assessment of the Gillard Government. So it offers us an opportunity to look at the press think of "savvy" insider political journalism in Australia that often has the appearance of being an echo chamber.


In Carney's judgement Labor is in an irrecoverable position under Gillard's leadership. In making this judgement he acknowledges the positives of the Gillard Government:

The government has done a lot of what it said it would do. It has put a price on carbon and repealed WorkChoices. It has met some of its pledges on health funding. It has put considerable amounts of money into universities and school education, and has introduced important reforms on the national curriculum and school accountability. It has pursued an activist stance on industry and innovation.
Its unfinished business includes a new funding model for schools and a national disability insurance scheme. Legislative success cannot be ruled out.

He adds that though legislative success is an important benchmark in a liberal democracy it cannot be the only one. That's true enough. So what else needs to be considered?

Carney says that:

Politics in a liberal democracy is about more than getting legislation through. In a political system with a three-year election cycle, sustaining public confidence, demonstrating authority and using politics to advance a nation's belief in itself is also vital.

His judgement is that this is where the Gillard government comes up short. No one would disagree with this. Why has it come up short? What has gone wrong? Why is the Gillard government on the nose?

The reason Carney says, is the Labor Party itself. His argument is this:

The caucus and the national union bosses who knifed Rudd in favour of Gillard, by their actions inadvertently set her up for failure.....The fundamental problem was the coup against Rudd. Behind that was a systemic problem within the ALP: the change of the rules that gave the leader the power to appoint frontbenchers, a right previously enjoyed by the caucus. The corollary of that decision was a change in attitude to the leader among caucus members. By taking away collective responsibility for ministerial appointments, the rule change encouraged backbenchers to adopt one of two courses: to plot to change the leader who was blocking their advancement or, alternately, to become uncritical suck-ups to the leader to try to get ahead.

This is okay as far as it goes. However, there is nothing at all about the difficulty of reform, the campaign waged against Gillard in the media by News Ltd, the Dutch disease, Abbott's successful strategy of opposing reforms that take Australia away towards a liberal-progressive future, the culture war, or the ever deepening partisan divide into friends and enemies. The failure of the Gillard Government to sustain public confidence, demonstrate authority and use politics to advance a nation's belief in itself is reduced by Carney to the internal workings of the ALP.

Therein lies the poverty of the political journalism in Australia--its remarkable blindness the context of politics and its single eyed focus on leadership. This is a political journalism that has failed, until just recently (eg., the Leigh Sales Abbott interview on the ABC's 7.30 programme) to call Abbott to account on his deceit, blatant dishonesty and lies about carbon pricing. The political journalists simply failed to do the basic fact check.

Don't journalists continually remind us that journalists in contrast to bloggers are the champions of facts, accuracy and truth? Yet the pack response by the journalists was to do nothing. They just talked in terms of the cleverness of Abbott's tactic of opposition based on political lies-- ie., the campaign had Gillard on the ropes. They then speculated about which Labor operatives---those national union bosses---would knife Gillard. Political journalism in Australia goes round and round in ever diminishing circles.

Political journalism in Australia has a serious problem. What are they going to do in the face of the political lies? Are they going to call it for what it is. Are they going to ignore the agitprop and stick to their insider journalism, being savvy, and endless leadership speculation ?

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 7:30 AM | | Comments (8)


it is sad to hear about the 1900 jobs gone from Fairfax. They have lost a lot of expertise and experience. Where will all the journalists who have taken redundancy go?

people confuse facts with opinions these days. They often say that everybody has their own opinions and facts. They even have their own truths.

The precious distinctions that journalists make between themselves and online writers are meaningless. They no longer report; they opine. Once upon a time they commanded attention because they were perceived to have access to sources denied to ordinary people. Now we all understand how partial those sources are and how much time and effort politicians (and other interest groups) spend manipulating the message that gets sent to the media.

In other words journalists have been captured by those they are supposed to be reporting on and seem literally incapable of independent analysis. At least many online writers analyse behaviour, not what they were told off the record, and actions are a more reliable basis for opinion than spin.

As an example of blinkered thinking I give you Carney's absurd explanation of instability in the ALP: it's all because they changed the rules. The rules are now similar to the Liberal Party's, where the leader has always had the right to appoint ministers. Yet somehow the Libs seem to have muddled through all right. This glaring flaw in Carney's theory does not seem even to have occurred to him, no doubt because he is repeating what he was told by one of his pet Labor sources instead of doing some actual original evidence-based thinking.

I wonder if there is not some thing to what Carney says.
If the change in rules makes Labor less grassroots and more top-down, or increases the power of factional bosses seeking the keys to the kingdom in the way Carney suggests, it suggests that is just another liberal party.
I think if it just increases the tendency to secrecy, as accountability to the rank and file and debates public rather than secretive are down graded, there is an argument.
The ALP is now interested in the enemies of the Australian people; as the secret FTA's indicate, dirty deals involving super trawlers, environmentally damaging agribusiness and toxic gas-fracking regimes are imposed on communities excluded from a decision making process that impacts on their lives.
While someone like Tanya Plibersek tries to retain the context of downstream costs for "the community" with dental care, the neoliberal wing desperately seeks to eliminate the notion of public interest and this is where the breakdown in trust and confidence seems to be emanating from.

is her arse getting bigger in the cartoons? or is everything else getting smaller?

The ALP does have problems with its power structure, factions, union bosses and internal democracy.

But its not the full story by any means for why the Gillard Government has failed to sustain public confidence, demonstrate authority and use politics to advance a nation's belief in itself.

Katherine Murphy who writes The Pulse blog for Fairfax is very optimistic about the future of journalism. She says:

We have to adapt, and we are all of us trying. Journalism's future is digital; this transformation is required to sustain our enterprise. If we don't look forward with purpose and creativity and determination, then the jig really is up.

She does acknowledge the problems in the turn to digital:
I understand all the downsides of digital: the equity problem - the readers we can't take with us from newspapers because they lack access to the devices they need. The quality problem - all the mind-numbing, click-baiting garbage hurled at readers on the ''verity'' that they aren't interested in quality. The commercial problem - how do we convince an audience to pay for material we've spent years giving away?

She says that she has no magic bullets for any of these problems and that she is not aware of anyone who does.

Her own view is:

we will make the transition best if we put quality first; and if we know who and what we are, and what value we can add.
Modern journalism should be about providing clarity in the clamour.

It is basically an affirmation of the core professional values of journalism.

GST's comment is right, because in person with even half a brain is in search of accurate information on which to base personal decisions.
Re Sue's comment, not sure if she is addressing this writer or the other Paul present at this thread.
His comments are born out for those of us closer to US politics via FB, for example.
There are reasons why political parties are now untrustworthy and these are to do with gobalisation and neoliberalism.
Australia is a defacto province or satrapy , not an independent nation anymore.
Once local politicians once welcomed participation, these days they thwart it because the "money markets" wont like it, lest it interfere with business as usual.
Carney's point is that the Labor response to its own internal participation and governance is to a response to globalisation, that parties are now forced to seek funding from big business and must develop policies and processes that accord with the desires of these or risk being definitively drummed completely out of the process.
As the Globalising agenda becomes entrenched, the politicians become increasingly willing to give deliberate offence to locals to stymie local participation, Gary has described these sorts of politicians as "managers of decline" rather than activist for a "national project" or social reform, so it's obvious the Tanya Plibersek and others have to pick their moment to advance what we would call the "public good".