We can start the policy debate

In my last post, I took aim at The Age’s contention that it was ‘impossible’ to have a policy debate as long as Julia Gillard remained our Prime Minister. I stand by what I wrote then: as long as the media continues to give space to articles and op-eds which speculate about how long she will keep the top job or how hard it is to write about policy, the less actual scrutiny of policy and ideas there will be.

That said: to suggest for one moment that Rupert Murdoch or Gina Rinehart lurk in the background like megalomaniacal overlords, chuckling evilly as they manipulate the election in order to get the result they want, is patently ridiculous. There are any number of studies pointing to media bias in one form or another (or even that the media roughly evens out), and that’s clearly something that these organisations should acknowledge, and, possibly, correct. This does not prove conspiracy.

I grew up in a media household. My stepfather worked for both Fairfax (as Features Editor) and News Limited (in various roles, including editor-in-chief for the Gold Coast Bulletin). My brother now also works for News Limited. Over the years, no directives came down demanding that editorial content favour any given political party. No subtle discouragements filtered through to reporters that they should ‘go hard’ on one leader, while giving another a free pass. Was there bias? Almost certainly. Was it part of a greater agenda? No.

Attributing what’s going on in our media to conspiracy just avoids the real issue – which is how to make policy the focus of political coverage. It won’t happen by accusing News Limited of being a pawn in Murdoch’s nefarious schemes, or saying that Gina Rinehart’s interest in Fairfax is the ‘real’ reason The Age ran that editorial. It probably won’t even happen by demanding that the media start asking some real questions. The questions have to come from the rest of us in whatever way we can ask them.

Hit politicians’ websites. Write to them. Visit them when they’re on the rounds promoting something – their itineraries can usually be obtained, especially for backbenchers moving around their own electorates – and ask them face to face. Ask about the policies on their websites – or why they don’t have policies easily obtainable.

Get involved.

Heck, start a blog, write about what you want to know, and ping it straight at politicians. Most of them these days have Facebook or Twitter accounts. Make social media work. The most common criticism levelled at social media is that it’s no more than an echo chamber, out of touch with reality. To an extent, that’s true. You only have to spend a bit of time reading the #auspol timeline to realise just how much bandwidth is given over to partisan rubbish – and a staggering amount of truly vile sentiment. It makes ‘Ditch the Witch!’ look like a compliment.

That doesn’t mean these must be the only voices to be using social media, however – or even the dominant voices. Just as the mainstream media is not the only voice.

I wrote that if The Age isn’t writing about policy, they have no one to blame but themselves. The same is true for all of us. We shouldn’t wait to have our electoral choices spoon-fed to us.

If your reason for not voting Labor at the next election is ‘Julia Gillard knifed Kevin Rudd’ … if you take the dreadful, misogynist attacks against the Prime Minister as a reason to vote for her … if you spend your time arguing about whether Rudd or Gillard should be leader, rather than scrutinising policy from all sides … then you’re contributing to an already huge problem. You’re enabling a policy-free zone to proliferate.

We can do better than that. We can stop mindlessly marching to the beat being set for us. Ask yourself: who does it serve to have all the attention focused anywhere but policy?

It certainly doesn’t serve us – the people who will determine the outcome of the next election.

Perhaps Rudd will challenge Gillard tomorrow. Perhaps Gillard will step down, or be forced out. Turnbull might challenge Abbott (yes, I know, virtually impossible). But let’s be blunt: what matters, ultimately, are the policies each party takes to the election. I’m not for a moment suggesting that the leader doesn’t matter: of course they do. It’s why Keating challenged Hawke, and why Costello didn’t challenge Howard. But the leader isn’t the be-all and end-all of an election.

It’s time we all started remembering that. So here’s my proposal: let’s ask the questions that really matter.

Let’s ask the Coalition why most of their stated policies to date involve little more than reversing everything accomplished by the Rudd and Gillard governments. Let’s ask the Greens what they plan to do if the Coalition successfully repeals carbon pricing. Let’s ask the Independents what they would do if we end up with another minority government. And let’s ask Labor for more detail about the Gonski reforms, and how it plans to address shortfalls in project mining tax revenue.

It will be up to us on September 14 – but we shouldn’t wait until then. We should start now.


8 Responses to We can start the policy debate

  1. faithfulsceptic says:

    I suggest people have look at the behaviour of pollies, the press and some of the public, as reported by Anne Summers last August:

    Her Rights at Work (R-rated version)
    The Political Persecution of Australia’s First Female Prime Minister
    By Anne Summers AO Ph.D
    2012 Human Rights and Social Justice Lecture
    University of Newcastle
    31 August 2012

    Mr Sattler’s contemptible gaffe pales before the viciousness and contempt shown by members of the press.

    If this were Thailand, thee would be people in jail for their doings. I’m not suggesting that as a remedy, but I do believe there are people wh need to own up to their appalling behaviour.


  2. JenniferGJ says:

    Dear Conscience Vote

    Something is wrong with all mainstream media right now, not just the privately owned media. The journos seem to be in turmoil or unable to speak up, think straight… if the people of Australia vote against Independent, Green, Labor and other reform minded candidates then what is going to happen to the ABC and the SBS?

    I am listening now to an interview with Rob Oakeshott who said to the journalist on ABC news breakfast “Listen to me..”

    and last night on the ABC Leigh Sales kept interrupting Peter Garrett who politely kept his cool and finally did get to say what he intended – which answered the question she probably wanted answered if she had stopped to think first.

    and I have just been sent this. http://thehoopla.com.au/politics-dumbing-begun/

    WHAT on earth do we do to turn this tide around? I am watching the parliament and listening to what is being put through the House and the Senate. But how many Australians are doing that? And I know why I have formed the views I have – because I watch the full interviews with politicians and ministers. But who else is doing that?

  3. Barry Tucker says:

    I like your approach Kate. We have to ignore the MSM and bypass this roadblock. I have posted links to the policies of 8 main political parties here: bit.ly/14UDqvj

    And Labor has invited people to vote for or against policies here: http://bit.ly/10hX5nl

    It would be great if other parties would provide such an easy way to gather feedback on policy. Of course, a Yes or a No is not always the right answer. I hope the links I provided help.

  4. Ian says:

    Great article, thanks, but I take you to task about one point:

    “to suggest for one moment that Rupert Murdoch or Gina Rinehart lurk in the background like megalomaniacal overlords, chuckling evilly as they manipulate the election in order to get the result they want, is patently ridiculous. ”

    It is clear to me that Murdoch is doing exactly that. Rinehart I’m not sure about. Murdoch had a deal with Rudd (news ltd supported Rudd for PM), and that deal was broken when Gillard took over. Rudd was going to deliver him a deal for Sky, and FTTN. Both of these initiatives would ensure Murdoch continued to make money. Ever since Gillard took over and the deal was broken, new Ltd hacks have had it in for Gillard and have dumped on her at every opportunity. Their malice is borne out by the fact that Gillard supported the ABC over Sky, and FTTP for the NBN.

    Murdoch of course has a deal with Abbott as well. I don’t need to say that. But the reason News Ltd has been so pro-Rudd is that, if he took over, it wouldn’t matter who won the election, Abbott or Rudd, they would be beholden to the chairman.

    It’s not such a wacky theory – if you listened to Q&A last night with those thoughts in mind, it all made perfect sense.

  5. JenniferGJ says:

    I caught some of the PM’s talk to CEDA and thought of you. It would be good for everyone who aspires to journalism to listen carefully to the specific info mentioned and then concentrate on reporting facts, followed by analysis and commentary. In the 1970s I did what today might be called work experience over the school hols in Darwin at the ABC. What I learnt there, of the principles and practice of journalism, is hardly recognisable in a lot of media today. I am glad to continue getting your writings and I appreciate your stimulation of discussion.

  6. rosellajam says:

    Thanks Kate. It is so refreshing to read such a considered and sane piece of writing. We need this so badly now.

  7. […] 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. […]

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