Archive for July, 2010
However, the ABC is reporting National Alliance party spokesperson Stephen Pokawin has denied the newspaper’s report. All Pokawin would confirm was that the party’s leadership would be the main topic of discussion at the convention with Polye ready to make a bid for the top job. Pokawin, who is the National Alliance Party’s general secretary, says the party constitution Somare from contesting the leadership for a third time, having won elections for the National Alliance in 2002 and again in 2007. Somare was also the country’s first PM in 1975 and won again in 1982. The next election is due in 2012.
Somare’s recent actions show little sign of a man wanting to step aside any time soon. Last week he chose eight new Government ministers after three key figures including deputy Puka Temu left to form a new party on Monday. Their aim was to move a vote of no confidence and form a new government. Polye was promoted to take Temu’s job and with his help Somare hung on to defeat the no confidence motion 64-45 to remain Prime Minister.
Badly shaken by the vote, Somare adjourned the parliament for four months on Wednesday. The Speaker Jeffrey Nape adjourned the house until mid November despite the opposition’s claim it had enough votes to stop the adjournment. Nape, an ally of Somare refused to count the “no” votes and called for the adjournment. The decision caused an uproar in the parliament with cries of “dictatorship”. This angered Somare so much he rose across the floor and pointed at Opposition member Sam Basil shouting “Bai mi kilim yu autsait” which translated meant “I will kill you outside”. Somare was restrained by his son Arthur.
With Michael Somare now 74 years old, many see Arthur as his logical groomed successor. The National editorialised that Arthur is the most senior MP from the Mamose (a region which covers Sepik, Madang and Morobe). The National said the son lives in the shadow of his famous father and won’t emerge till “the shadow moves on”. But the National also acknowledges this outcome would case “much disgruntlement, particularly from the Mamose faction that feels it is past time power were not centralised in the Sepik or with the Somare family.”
New Deputy Don Polye, meanwhile, draws his support from the Central Highlands in the province of Enga. It appears Polye reneged on a deal with long standing deputy Puka Temu for them to both walk out on Somare’s Government. Polye was rewarded with the deputy role, a role The Australian’s Asia-Pacific editor Rowan Callick believes will cement Somare in power till the 2012 election.
New Opposition leader Puka Temu is not so sure. This is the second time in two years Somare has adjourned parliament for several months to stop a no confidence vote and Temu has had enough. He is calling for Somare to quit now for the good of Papua New Guinea. “They call him the ‘father of the nation’ but he and his family are destroying the nation,” he said. “They break laws, they treat parliament like a joke. Is this what PNG wants? No, they want an end to this.” Temu said they would continue lobbying ministers and MPs who remain on the fence. “We have 45, all we need is 55,” he said.
In rushing to condemn Gillard, no seems to have listened to what she said. Here is an excerpt of the speech:
“Global temperatures are rising. 2009 has been ranked the fifth warmest year on record globally and finished off the hottest decade in recorded history. The temperatures are largely driven by pollution created by carbon emissions. Climate change has a particular environmental and economic impact on Australia. 2009 was the second hottest year in Australia and ended our hottest decade. Each decade since the 1940s has been warmer than the last. With climate change, the number of droughts could increase by up to 40 per cent in eastern Australia, and up to 80 per cent in south-western Australia within the next six decades. Without action to reduce our pollution, irrigated agricultural production in the Murray-Darling Basin is projected to fall by over 90 per cent by 2100. About 85 per cent of Australians live in coastal regions. Just under 250,000 residential buildings, worth up to $63 billion, will be at risk from sea inundation if the sea-level were to rise by 1.1 metres. Coastal industries, such as the tourism industry, will also face increasing challenges with climate change.”
I agree with every word of that, and as Julia Gillard realises, many other people do too. Probably even a majority. Certainly all of the above commentators would (except Bolt). But the point is undermined by public hypocrisy. The majority does not yet appreciate “there is not a switch to flick or one single behaviour to change.” What Gillard won’t do yet is spell out what we can flick and all the behaviours that must change.
Her predecessor Kevin Rudd won the 2007 election, partly on his promises to act on climate change. He came close. We would now have a Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme on the books if not for the poor decision making of the five Greens in the Upper House who could not join Judith Troeth and Sue Boyce in their courageous departure from party line. It would have been a flawed ETS, possibly even counter-productive. Nevertheless, getting it on the books would have been a great start to getting it right. It also meant the 2010 election would have been a contest of ideas between Rudd and Turnbull rather than the race to the bottom it has become under Gillard and Abbott.
I do not blame Julia Gillard for circling the horses as she attempts to win the election. I suspect that like Garrett’s fateful 2007 joke “she’ll change everything when she gets in” but for now she is moral powerless at the moment as a leader. She also knows meaningful action on climate change is impossible without a consensus. She might get that if she wins the election by a handsome majority (and if that Kingston poll is replicated widely she will get it too).
But even if she wins, consensus on climate change is out of the question with Tony Abbott as Opposition leader. It also needs an advocating (or at least understanding) media that accepts the inevitability of action to stop climate change. The mainstream Australian media has made no such concession. With their quotidian needs for conflict, they handle platforms to contrarians who prefer to focus on the immediate cost and its impacts, rather than the virtues of the long-term solution and its impacts.
Gillard explained what she meant by consensus. “I do not mean that government can take no action until every member of the community is fully convinced,” she said. Her solution is a Climate Change Commission. Those that think climate change is a communist plot will detest the new CCC with a passion. The same people will equally loathe the Citizens’ Assembly, with its name a whiff of the French Revolution. The media will attack both as toothless tigers redolent of the apparent pointlessness of the 2008 Summit.
But the Summit wasn’t pointless and neither will be these two new bodies. Deliberate democracy may not change votes but it should help push the effect of making the denialists look like flat-earthers. The remaining devil will be in the policy detail which can be ironed out over time. Gillard remains committed to a CPRS and if she wins she will be dealing with the Greens who win have the balance of power after July 2012 (the Senate election is as important as the Lower House one if not more so but is ignored by the media because it lacks the one-on-one drama). Let us hope by then the Greens wake up to the need to grab whatever power you can get and not repeat their mistake of 2009.
Until a proposal becomes the law of the land, we remain headed towards the final act climax of the Tragedy of the Commons. Australia’s electricity generation is projected to grow by nearly 50 per cent between now and 2030 to meet growing demand. Each of us takes a little much out of the garden, knowing all the while its stock is not being replenished. People can be educated out of their selfishness, by being bought or commanded to change. Maybe the CCC or the Citizens Assembly will help. But as long as there is an adversarial nature to our politics and our media, nothing will be done until we move into disaster recovery.
I certainly have no idea what television will look like in 20 years but I suspect whatever medium it transforms into it, its content would still include 7 x 24 news with some kind of local slant. The ABC “News 24” stationed launched today despite the grumblings of Sky News Australia’s owners (and there is no reason in time it cannot become the Al Jazeera of the Asia Pacific, especially if it can nail overseas broadcasting.
There are plenty of misgivings of course, and Sky’s is not the limit. As far back as the 1840s Henry David Thoreau noted our inventions are pretty toys which distract attention from serious things. At time, the US was rapidly linking itself up by magnetic telegraph to Britain and also internally from Maine to Texas.
But as Thoreau reminded us the first news on these newfangled tubes may well have been that Princess Adelaide had the whooping while Maine and Texas, may have nothing important to communicate to each other.
Thoreau was right to sound his warning about the blandness of news into the “broad flapping American ear” but completely wrong in his guess – Maine and Texas had plenty of important things to communicate as they shared in the national imagining of a greater America. The ABC News 24 channel can fulfil a similar role here.
Visionary Managing-Director Mark Scott has no doubts about its raison d’etre. He told his own reporters there should be a 24/7 news channel on Australian free-to-air television and the public broadcaster ABC was ideal to run it “given our history, given our experience, given our resources given our integrity, given our independence.” He says News 24 will ensure the ABC’s future in broadcasting.
Others are not so sure. Jason Wilson said the public is entitled to be sceptical about its long-term expansion. He said the broadcaster is already overstretched and no new resources have been allocated for the channel. It means the station must reuse content for other media, poach staff from other departments and expect the journalists to work longer hours.
Wilson wonders whether ABC are straying too far from “core business” and should be looking at more innovative ways of delivering content in the post-broadcast age. “There’s no convincing case for creating yet another one-size-fits-all continuous news broadcaster when cheap, plentiful bandwidth will allow for the distribution of a plethora of niche, on-demand or streaming audiovisual content,” Wilson said.
As usual Wilson makes astute points. However this long tail approach leaves the audience feeling fragmented which leads to yearning for a more centralised delivery. ABC has a role in providing informed news across Australia. When the national broadcaster was set up in 1932, the newspapers at the time (led by Keith Murdoch) fiercely resisted moves for its radio station to include news. But by the end of World War II, it was increasingly clear the ABC had a mandate to produce despite Murdoch’s best efforts in his wartime role of Director-General of Information.
Keith’s son Rupert is still making his displeasure known about public broadcasting unfairly impinging on his turf, but that to me seems more of a reason to treasure the ABC. But taxpayers should not be expected to pay additional dollars for this new service. Working harder, repurposing content and shifting staff are all reasonable demands when the money is not there up front. For now, ABC News 24 may have to “fake it till it makes it” but with broad public trust and time on its side, the oily rag can one day turn into a silk coat. I welcome its addition to the public sphere.
The signs are there, that a rate rise is on the way. In the March quarter the headline rate was 2.9 percent with the all groups CPI rising 0.9 percent following a 0.5 percent rise the previous quarter. Hikes in the price of pharmaceuticals, vegetables, electricity and fuel were the main reasons for the March quarter increase. The Board said CPI inflation was expected to rise to a little above 3 per cent in the June quarter figures partly due to the effects of higher taxes on tobacco. “The important question for the Board at its next meeting would be whether the new information materially changed the medium-term outlook for inflation,” they said.
Higher taxing cigarettes or not, several senior Government will be anxious smoking a few coffin nails which waiting for the CPI headline figure on Wednesday. The RBA have held interest rates at 4.5 percent for the last two months – still very low by Australian standards, but even a 0.25 percent rise is a bad look in the middle of a tight election campaign. In doorstops Opposition leader Tony Abbott has been hammering home the point of “upward pressure on interest rates” and while he blames government borrowing rather than new excises, an August rate rise would play into his campaign themes.
The cash rate has gone up seven times in the past year but this was after a historical low of 3.0 percent during the height of the Global Financial Crisis in 2009. However rates are still 2 percent lower than when Labor took office in November 2007 and also slightly lower than most of the period between 2001-2005 when the Howard Government dined out on the “low interest rates” they said their policies were responsible for.
Their promises were finally exposed as fiction as rates rose prior to the last election and they continued to do so when Labor took power. Playing politics with interest rates ignores the fact that the Reserve Bank Board is an entity independent of Government control. At a luncheon in Sydney today Glenn Stevens reminded the audience about that fact when the Board decision would not be swayed by the election campaign. He also said the CPI figure would not be the only decision factor. As today’s RBB minutes noted, the health of the European banking sector has a significant impact on financial markets and global confidence which could lead to an “updated reading on domestic prices”.
Neither major party likes to draw attention to this fact because it shows how little control Governments have over the wider economy. Ken Henry (himself an RBA board member) and the Treasury did a terrific job to keep Australia out of recession during the GFC but the economy and the interest rate was not immune from its devastating impacts. Rising interest rates means the economy is in good shape. Politicians and their media cohorts should be reminded of that fact whenever they play games with rate rises. Lower interest rates means either the China boom has ended or the European sovereign debt crisis has spiralled out of control. Either way, a $40 a month saving on the monthly mortgage won’t mean much if there is no job to pay for it. The media needs to tell this story fully instead of falling for phony political lines about “upward pressure”.
The announcement comes just days after the Fijian dictator, who has ruled since 2006, claimed the country would probably not be “ready” for elections in 2014. It also comes less than a month after strict new laws further inhibited Fiji’s media from honestly reporting on what is happening there. On 29 June the military backed regime introduced its new “Media Industry Development Decree 2010” which brought in a new set of strict rules governing Fiji’s media. The laws strengthen already tough laws governing the media, military intimidation of reporters, censors in newsrooms and the deportation of foreign-born newspaper executives.
One of those executives was Russell Hunter who was the former managing-director of the Fiji Sun before he was deported in 2007. Hunter called the laws draconian and an erosion of freedom and basic human rights. The laws give the media authority the right to demand the name of confidential sources if the story relates to government corruption. Journalists could be fined $50,000 and jailed for two years for work deemed against the “public interest or order”. The most well-known provision is the 10 percent limit on foreign ownership as it directly affects the News Ltd owned Fiji Times, which is the country’s oldest and largest newspaper.
The Fijian Government has now given News Ltd three months to sell the paper or be forcibly shut down. It also casts huge doubts over the viability of foreign investment in the country at the very time it is most needed. News Limited boss John Hartigan said the laws eroded the “basic tenets of democracy” in Fiji. “This illegal government has retrospectively withdrawn permission for foreign media investment in Fiji, which is not only grossly unfair but will inevitably be enormously damaging to Fiji’s reputation as an attractive investment opportunity,” he said.
In response, the Fijian media regulator said the country’s media needs to be a part of the regime not an opponent. Former Canberra-based academic Satendra Nandan, chair of the Media Industry Development Authority, said action needed to be taken against newspapers such as The Fiji Times, which had acted against the Bainimarama government. Nandan told The Australian the Times’ coverage of the scrapping of the judiciary and constitution last year was “abusive and scurrilous”. “The Fiji Times took a strong stand against the current government and the abrogation of the constitution and they didn’t consider the national interest,” Nandan said.
The New Zealand Herald says the media laws are part of an ongoing removal of Fijians’ rights including quashing the constitution, removing dissent and empty promises on a new election. With 60 percent of Fiji’s tourist income coming from New Zealand and Australia, the Herald rightly suggest the time is now right to reconsider holiday plans in Fiji. “Tourists might like to say that Fijian businesses and jobs should not be penalised for the sins of the regime,” the paper said. “But they are undermining their own country’s diplomatic efforts.”
Those in marginal seats will be the subject of extraordinary promises. There will be endless and persuasive marketing. Most of it will be on television where the masses still congregate but increasingly more is migrating to the social web where there is less control (though with imagination and humour as Old Spice proved it can be a very successful strategy). Both the Government and the Opposition will spend vast amounts of money in the hope of convincing the small number of swinging or disaffected voters their candidate ought to be elected.
The parties shill to a small number because they know the rest don’t matter. Seats with large majorities won’t change hands regardless of who wins. There are other external factors parties cannot control. The donkey vote is real and top placement on the ballot can be the margin of victory in a tight race. So too is happiness unrelated to politics which can make a person punish or reward the incumbent. And ultimately it is a secret ballot. As the Sex Party notes, it doesn’t matter who you say you vote for when it gets to the unpredictability of what actually happens when it’s just you and a pen in the voting booth.
Predicting elections is not entirely impossible, of course. If it was, pollsters would go out of business. Good polls are usually right to within 3 percent and the current polls, and the bookmakers predict a narrow win for Julia Gillard and the Labor party. That margin of error means an Abbott win is not out of the question with a targeted marginal seat strategy.
It doesn’t matter who wins, it is what they do in parliament that counts with the ugly sausage-making of changing and making of laws. In the US, Obama is proving a master at this by making left-liberals and conservatives alike hate him for being “always willing to cut a deal and grab for half the loaf.”
Both the parties here will also be willing to go for half the loaf. Gillard will obviously want more of the left of the loaf than Abbott – but only by a matter of a few crumbs. When the new Prime Minister took Labor to the right with her revised immigration policy, almost 70 percent of voters approved. Gillard may personally want looser immigration rules, gay marriage and bigger taxes on mining companies. But while the majority of the people she needs the vote of do not, she is not going to step far ahead. Otherwise, she knows she’s toast.
It is not just a conservative electorate Gillard must deal with, there is also a hyper-sensitive media. If her Government was to step too far to the left, it would be demonised by soapboxes in the press and talkback radio. Television is too simple to need shock jocks or op-eds; it rules by allowing only eight minute blocks squeezed between advertisements where everything is reduced to pious homilies like “moving forward” and “working families” and “great big new tax”.
That leaves the untamed frontier of the Internet. Research shows that the brands that dominate the web are the same ones that dominate other media channels. So in Australia most people get their online news from News Ltd, Channel Nine, the ABC and Fairfax. The big portals such as Google are complicating the picture but like the big newspapers in the 1890s, they are finding they can make more money by being impartial.
The radicals are still out there on newsletters, blogs and social media. But with no trust or brand awareness, they will be far away from the networks of power. Journalists (or perhaps more truthfully, their editors) who decide who is in the news and the politicians they talk to in front of the camera, mic or pen, collude to set a narrow agenda that keeps most topics firmly off the agenda, Facebook and Twitter notwithstanding.
As I’ve written before, I believe this collusion of cosy mutual interest is the biggest threat to the health of democracy. However I’ve been glibly attacking this threat without ever explaining what democracy means. The Gettysburg Address is a half decent stab at it with its notion of “government of the people, by the people, for the people.”
While “the people” might have been an identifiable concept in Lincoln’s time (and I have my doubts), it does not make much sense 150 years later. There is no such thing as the people, there are just people. And a government of people by people and for people is too amorphous and tricky to manage. Every person is placid and contrary, irascible and content, malleable and intractable, driven and bored. It’s hard enough to please one person, a democracy that tries to please everyone is doomed to fail.
Yet it must so try. Democracy is indeed the worst form of government apart from all the others. As rotten and stinking as it is, there is nothing better waiting in the wings to take its place. So if it can’t be replaced, it’s got to be fixed.
There is a role for journalism here, or rather many roles. There needs to be more muck-rakers hunting down corruption, more fourth estate reporting on and commenting on the goings on of government, parliament and the courts, and more lobbying on behalf of those with legitimate grievances by asking questions to those who have the power to affect these grievances.
The problem for journalism is that most journalists are employed by corporate media. The single biggest threat to democracy is the corporation itself with its profit motive subsuming all other motives to the fatal detriment of the body politic. That means large numbers of lobbyists, PR flacks and lawyers working only to make more money for their company. People who don’t see society, only consumers.
Neither Julia Gillard nor Tony Abbott will be willing to address this problem, nor indeed even admit this is the problem. And if they were somehow foolish enough to stray off-message and be honest about it or even allude to it, the media would be there to gleefully humiliate them as someone who made a terrible “gaffe”.
Nevertheless until corporate greed is made to serve the public good, then democracy will continue to become as bad as all the other systems Churchill didn’t like. And “the people” will continue to treat both politicians and the media that serve them, with contempt.
Bernard Keane on the probability of a content-free election campaign.
Stilgherrian on how the media will report it.
Guy Beres on the dumbing down of Federal politics.
Mark Bahnisch on the parties’ opening salvoes.
Gary Sauer-Thompson on the importance of Queensland and NSW.
In the first incident, Australian Immigration Minister Chris Evans’ apparently off the record incendiary remarks at a Sydney speech were noted by a journalist and spilled into the public record today. In a second incident, NSW politician Barry O’Farrell accidentally sent a journalist a Twitter open reply that was meant to be an off the record Twitter Direct Message. Both incidents cast an unsavoury light on the closely bound relationships that govern both journalists and their political sources. Occasionally their relationships get both into trouble and lead to a public loss of trust of politicians and journalists alike.
Evans’ troubles began when he was invited to be the keynote speaker at a University of NSW-Harvard University conference on immigration. The event was publicly advertised and listed on wire agency AAP’s diary with television cameras invited to capture his latest comments on the debate over asylum seekers. However on arrival Evans wanted to change the rules. He said he would do a quick media “doorstop” on arrival and then asked for a closed session where he could speak frankly to academics about the issues. The term “doorstop” is illuminating because it prevents a door from opening too widely. Evans knew he could give a brief and uninformative response before dealing with the meat of the issue without prying journalists around.
The problem was that 2UE journalist Matt de Groot was late arriving to the venue and knew nothing about the change of plan. He was ushered into the room where he heard an expansive Evans talk honestly about the asylum debate which he said was killing the Government. Evans also admitted that radio talkback shock jocks were deliberately promoting misinformation about the debate to stoke up a xenophobic reaction in their listeners.
At the end of the debate, de Groot approached Evans’ media adviser with the intention of getting the Minister to speak on these matters. The adviser was horrified and told de Groot the speech would not look good for the minister if reported and was off the record anyway. De Groot insisted he would report what he heard. Evans’ minders told the journalist if he did so, he would be acting unethically.
De Groot took the “publish and be damned” path but as expected, it was Evans who was mostly damned today. It was almost enough to feel sorry for Evans that he be punished for plain speaking but given that politicians are content to play the game with journalists, he has only himself to blame when the rules break down. Crikey’s editorial today put it best: “The moment your government promises a ‘frank, open, honest national conversation on the issues of border protection and asylum seekers’ then they must tell it like it is to everyone, not just a select group of officials.”
The O’Farrell slip-up was a different category error though it also involved a 2UE reporter and a senior politician. It throws light on the symbiotic relationship between journalists and their sources. NSW Opposition leader Barry O’Farrell was attempting to send a Direct Message to the Canberra Press Gallery journalist Latika Bourke. “Deeply off the record – I think the timetable & struggle to get candidates reflects internal poll – pre & post the ranga.” Translated, it meant the Liberals were struggling to attract quality candidates to stand for the forthcoming Federal Election and the ascension of Julia Gillard (the “ranga”) to the role of Prime Minister has made no difference.
But to O’Farrell’s horror the message was not as deeply off the record as he would have liked – he accidentally chose the Twitter reply option rather than DM making the message immediately visible to any of his 3,548 followers online at the time. O’Farrell quickly realised his error and deleted the offending tweet. But by then it was too late having been re-tweeted at least nine times and captured as a screenprint by Tally Room blogger Ben Raue.
The media immediately seized on the mistake which in time honoured fashion was renamed a “gaffe”. The Australian chose to highlight the unflattering nickname of Gillard as the ranga, (from “orangutan” referring to Gillard’s red hair) though any number of commentators have gotten away with this moniker using humour as a cloak – with Gillard herself often seeing the funny side.
But again no one picked up on why O’Farrell should decide to illuminate the journalist Bourke in this manner. The familiar tone suggested they had done this before. Forget the “ranga”, why is it that the Liberals preselection woes are “deeply off the record”? Politicians use the “off the record” tag to get damaging material off their chest without suffering the consequences. Journalists, ever protective of their access to senior politicians, collude in this game and it is the general public who suffer. As Wendy Bacon and Chris Nash wrote in 1999 “journalists should commit themselves to confidentiality only in the pursuit of the public right to information and generally should seek to place as much information on the record in ways that are verifiable.”