If you’re a reader of Fairfax newspapers, this is what you woke up to today:
‘It is time for Julia Gillard to stand aside as leader of the federal parliamentary Labor Party, as Prime Minister of Australia, so that vigorous, policy-driven democratic debate can flourish once again. Ms Gillard should do so in the interests of the Labor Party, in the interests of the nation and, most importantly, in the interests of democracy.’
You’d expect to read something this pompous from the likes of Andrew Bolt or Gerard Henderson, both of whom are known for their grandiose language and outrageous sentiment. But from The Age? Offered not as one journalist’s opinion, but as the endorsed view of the entire newspaper?
It gets worse.
Assuring us that the paper ‘does not advocate this lightly,’ the editorial went on to say:
‘The Age’s overriding concern is that, under Ms Gillard’s leadership, the Labor Party’s message about its future policies and vision for Australia is not getting through to the electorate. Our fear is that if there is no change in Labor leadership before the September 14 election, voters will be denied a proper contest of ideas and policies – and that would be a travesty for the democratic process.’ (my italics)
It’s not necessary to quote most of the rest. Voters are ‘distracted’ by Labor leadership tensions. The electorate is ‘despairing’ of internal party tensions. Australia deserves a government that can clearly lay out its plans and policies. Oh, and here I will quote:
‘Mr Abbott is being allowed to run almost entirely unchallenged with his preposterous claim that a Coalition government would “stop the boats”, in part by turning back the pathetic trail of rickety vessels laden with asylum seekers’
It’s all in the interests of democracy, you understand. It would be a terrible thing if the Coalition gained control of both Houses, and Labor was unable to step up in Opposition to hold them to account. For all these reasons, the editorial gravely tells us, Prime Minister Julia Gillard should resign.
The arrogance and blinding irony in this editorial are unbelievable.
The Age apparently wants its readers to see it as a victim, shaking its head sorrowfully. ‘We would give you substantial policy debate. We want to discuss real issues, and get to the heart of things. If only, if only, we could do that. It’s not our fault. It’s all because of Gillard. If she was gone, everything would be better’.
Back up a step or two there. I have a few questions for you, Fairfax. And for the rest of the media.
At what point did Gillard hold a gun to your metaphorical heads and force you to write endless, speculative op-eds about the Labor leadership?
At what point did Gillard, or any of her Ministers, refuse to talk about policy?
At what point did Gillard put you in a position where you were ‘unable’ to challenge Tony Abbott on – well, anything, really?
For that matter, since when has the Federal Government had any control over your editorial standards or content? (With the exception of the ABC – and even then, the government can’t prevent coverage of issues.)
If the Australian people aren’t informed about policy, media, whose fault is that? The answer is very simple: yours. Every time you choose to give space to yet another tired op-ed that attempts to convince your readers that a leadership challenge will happen any moment now, that’s one less article about policy, or legislation before the house, or even – heaven forbid – question why we’re still being polled about whether we’d prefer Malcolm Turnbull to Tony Abbott as leader.
Forget the op-eds for a moment. What about the interviews, especially on television? There’s your chance to get some real back-and-forth going on policy. Get some Labor politicians in the studio with you, and make them answer the hard questions. There’s your ‘ideas and policies’ right there.
Except that’s not what happens. It’s practically formulaic by now. The script goes something like this: interviewer asks a question about the leadership; Labor interviewee answers and then tries to move on to policy; interviewer persists in asking the same leadership questions, ignoring anything else the interviewee has to say.
Here’s a particularly egregious example – click through to 15:50 minutes. Craig Emerson, Minister for Trade, was Leigh Sales’ guest on ABC 730 last Thursday. Emerson did not avoid the initial questions about leadership. When he attempted to move on to talking about policy, however, Sales repeatedly interrupted him with what amounted to variations on the Rudd/Gillard theme. Even as this was occurring, Sales asked why Labor couldn’t get its message out.
Emerson, rightly, pointed out that he was trying to do so.
And it’s in this atmosphere that Fairfax publishes its faux-reluctant editorial, blaming the Prime Minister for ‘distracting’ the Australian people.
Breaking news, Fairfax: if we’re distracted, it’s not because of the Prime Minister. It’s because what we see and read, day after day, is what you and News Limited want to serve up to us.
Try this for an experiment. See if you can get through one interview without mentioning Kevin Rudd, or ‘leadership tensions’. See if you can actually write one op-ed that is entirely focused on policy. Contrary to what you’d have us believe, there’s plenty out there – at least on the Labor side. You might ask the Coalition about their lack of policy while you’re at it.
But – to coin an unmistakably Australian phrase – don’t come the raw prawn with us. Don’t claim you have nothing to write about. Don’t claim the Prime Minister possesses some sort of press-gagging superpower.
If the lack of policy debate in this country is what truly concerns you – then start one.
For the sake of the nation, indeed.
UPDATE: After the incredible amount of responses to this post (and the debates that are still going), I thought that a follow-up post was needed. We can start the policy debate.