Election 2013 Live Blog

September 7, 2013

11:00 pm That’s it, folks, I’m out. Senate results are still up in the air, of course, as are a few seats – including Indi and Kennedy.

Right now Arthur Sinodinos is informing Labor and the Senate that they have no choice but to roll over and repeal carbon pricing because there is not a ‘mandate’. Given that his own Coalition flatly refused to do that on the Emissions Trading Scheme, I find the hypocrisy truly staggering.

See you next time, folks. Thanks for sticking with me.

10:12 pm Tony Abbott claims victory, making a point of letting the party faithful know that Labor’s vote is at its lowest level in 100 years. He says that he knows voters will punish those who take them for granted. One wonders if those words will come back to haunt him.

As he says his government will be judged by its deeds not its words, Abbott walks back from any hint that the Budget will be in surplus before the end of the next Parliament. There are huge cheers in the room as he goes over his campaign talking points – repeal ‘carbon tax’, stop the boats, build roads. The mining tax doesn’t get a look in.

9:50 pm Kevin Rudd concedes defeat, saying he wishes Tony Abbott well. He thanks each losing ALP member for their service, along with members of his former ministerial and campaign team. It’s an exceptionally gracious speech.

Oddly, this doesn’t sound like a concession speech. Nor did it sound like an announcement that Rudd will step down as Opposition Leader – right up until now. He just confirmed he will not contest for the leadership. Cue the frenzied speculation.

And cue the backlash. For goodness’ sake, former Prime Minister Julia Gillard – arguably, the person with best cause to be viciously angry at Rudd – was able to be gracious and congratulate Rudd and his team. Pity the voters who are so vocal in her defence can’t take a leaf out of her book.

9:24 pm The knives are out. Jason Clare says Rudd should resign as Opposition Leader, Combet blames him for pretty much everything (possibly including the extinction of the dinosaurs), and even Kate Ellis is talking about ‘putting the disunity behind us’. Tanya Plibersek gave her own party ‘0/10 for governing ourselves’.

Ah, loyalty.

On another note … think about this, folks. Barnaby and Palmer in the House. Together. At Question Time.

It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

8:20 pmLooks like the Coalition will also control the Senate.

7:45 pmMal Brough has won the seat of Fisher. Well done, that electorate – your new Federal representative is an admitted liar and a perjurer.

7:10 pm Only about 5% of the vote counted on the east coast. At this stage, Rudd looks to hold Griffith, Mike Kelly the bellwether seat of Eden-Monaro, Bob Katter Kennedy, and Wilkie Denison. Palmer looks as though he may take Fairfax.

Contrary to initial exit polls, Sophie Mirabella looks to win Indi comfortably.

The ABC’s Antony Green has called the election for the Coalition.

7:00 pm Seems there’s something not quite right with the ABC’s vote calculator this year. So far, Antony Green has rejected the numbers on over five seats, saying they cannot possibly be correct.

6:40 pm There’s 0.6% of the vote counted in some seats, and already the commentary is handing them over. Makes you wonder why you vote, really.

Amusingly, when the initial tiny swing was towards Labor, it was summarily dismissed.

And no one can cope with the fact that the Palmer United Party is polling significantly – ahead of the Greens in Hunter, for example.

6:00 pm Polling places on the east coast have just closed (with the exception of those in Caulfield North – getting an early train home, are you? Must be nice to be so cavalier about being available for people to vote as you are supposed to be until 6:00 pm. Let the counting – and the drinking – begin.

5:10 pm Getting reports from voters in Elsternwick that two polling places are already closed – 50 minutes early. The places in question were in Caulfield North. Door locked, banners pulled down, lights off.

4:40 pm The language from the media is getting more and more ridiculous. ‘Pools of Labor blood on the floor’ is among the milder epithets. Michael Kroger, self-described Liberal Party powerbroker, has called the election. Guess who he says has won?

Exit polls are flying thick and fast. Sophie Mirabella defeated in Indi! Kevin Rudd defeated in Griffith! Kevin Rudd landslide in Griffith! Clive Palmer actually gets votes!

And there’s still just under 90 minutes to go. Imagine the frenzy when the counting actually starts.

It’s not too late to pop out to the bottleshop …

3:10 pm It occurs to me that too many in both politics and the media view achieving government as a reward. It’s not. It’s a responsibility. You’re there to serve the people, not gratify your ego.

And on a similar note, some informal vox pops down at the local voting booth, supermarket and liquor store (yes, I’ve laid in supplies) reveal a disturbing ‘what’s in it for me’ trend among voters, too. Their primary complaint against either major party is that there’s nothing in the election promises for them, in terms of money.

When did we become such a selfish lot of bastards? Why is it such a hard thing to see that a benefit to someone in dire need (such as Disability Care) actually helps us all?

Finally – if you’re looking at the major parties and thinking, ‘Well, Kevin’s had a turn, now it’s Tony’s’? You need to take a step back and realise you’re not policing the slide in the playground.

1.00 pm I have to say, I admire the restraint of all those Labor candidates who are being fronted by media and told they’ve lost the election. Some of the reporters are so smugly patronising when they ask the candidates how they feel. It honestly would not surprise me if someone hauled off and said they felt like jamming an exit poll into an unmentionable part of some journalistic anatomy.

Meanwhile, some media actually seem surprised that people are reporting having voted for the Palmer United Party. What’s the matter, kids – doesn’t your worldview take in the idea that people don’t want to settle for a nice, neat, two-party system?

12.00 midday Heard a lot of whingeing from people complaining that they have to vote. Begin rant:

On average, you spend ten minutes a year voting – including council, state and federal elections. Ten. Minutes. You spend longer standing in line waiting for your coffee in the mornings.

And what do you get for giving up that time? The chance to actually participate in how your nation is governed. And don’t give me that nonsense about, ‘oh, but it doesn’t make any difference’. It does. Every vote counted makes a difference. That’s what turns a safe seat into a marginal one. That’s what causes upsets like Prime Minister Howard losing his seat in 2007.

And – if you are someone who looks at the major parties and thinks, ‘a plague on both your houses’ – every first preference vote cast for a minor party is money in their campaign warchest for the next election. That’s how a party like the Democrats, and later the Greens, went from being a curiosity to a force in politics.

You get a vote. You get a say. You have opportunities that people in other countries can – and do – die for.

Also, you get a sausage. So stop whining, already.

11.30 am Having done my democratic duty, I can report that the sausages at Kingsbury Primary School at top-notch. As for the egg-and-bacon wraps … well, I’d post a picture but they were too delicious for me to stop eating long enough to get out my phone.

10:10 am Good morning, all. The polls have been open on the east coast for two hours, and just opening now in Western Australia. (Hellooooo, over there!) I see that the ABC – with its panel of infallible psychics – has already called the election for the Coalition, so I guess we can all just stay home.

Or. Not

Vote early, but vote late, but get out there and vote. Yr obdt. correspondent will be venturing out to investigate the state of the sausage sizzle at the local polling booth soon.

The perks of voting.

The perks of voting.


Election Eve Round-up

September 6, 2013

With under 24 hours to go, pretty much all that can be said about this election has been said. The media know this; they’ve run out of new questions. They’re reduced to repeatedly asking Prime Minister Kevin Rudd if he’ll stay in Parliament after his apparently inevitable defeat, and how long before Abbott repeals the ‘carbon tax’. Oh, and how Margie will like living in the Lodge.

Of course, what they are not asking – and for the most part, have not asked – is how the Coalition can justify handing out middle and upper class welfare dollars to those who least need it, while cutting funds for vital public transport infrastructure and for indigenous legal aid. They’re not asking how the Greens plan to force a majority government of either stripe to go along with their policies. And – with the notable exception of the Wikileaks Party debacle – they’ve ignored the minor parties altogether.

Instead, the News Ltd media this morning gave us a full-page photo of Abbott in close-up with the Australian flag behind him. The headline? ‘IT’S TONY’S TIME’.

Nope. No bias there. It has to be said, though, that it’s one of the Murdoch empire’s milder headlines. At least they managed not to Godwin themselves.

One notable exception in the lacklustre media coverage was the revelation last night that the Coalition had a hitherto unannounced policy for an opt-out internet filter. Broken by the ABC’s Latika Bourke and ZDNet’s Josh Thomas, the news sent the Shadow Communications Spokesperson, Malcolm Turnbull, into frantic damage control. Turnbull’s attempt to quash the story failed miserably when the policy was discovered on the Liberal Party’s website, Taylor published the audio evidence, and Bourke pointed out that Paul Fletcher (Turnbull’s junior) had walked her through the policy in detail. On The Project, Joe Hockey was blindsided. By 8.00 pm, the official line coming from the Coalition was that the policy – which was an old memo, never adopted – had been published in error by an unnamed staffer. An alternative version also popped up, stating that the policy had been ‘badly worded’.

Whatever the truth, the news was clearly damning. Whether that makes any difference to the vote, however, is another story. Arguably, the Coalition were never likely to attract many ‘net voters’, anyway – but at least it made the news.

Barring another such policy explosion, there’ll be little more coming from either major party before the polls open. With such a short time to go, however, there’s still time to read up on the parties, their policies, and some notable commentators in the independent media.

On the mythical beast that is the Coalition’s ‘costings’, Greg Jericho has a ripper of a piece over at The Guardian. Jericho points out what virtually no one in the major media has bothered to mention; what was released yesterday was not costings. It was a short document with few numbers, no detail and none of the bottom-line working-out that should be made available, presented to journalists ten minutes before the media conference. And we’re all supposed to take it on faith that the Coalition got everything right.

For in-depth analysis of the parties and group tickets, particularly in Victoria, Cate Speaks is your go-to blogger. If you can think of a party contesting this election, Cate’s put them under the microscope and turned the magnification up high.

Another very good site for summary and analysis, particularly of Senate candidates, is Butterfly’s Wings. Merinnan also looks into each party’s preferences, and where an above-the-line vote is likely to end up.

Over at the ABC, Antony Green’s Election Guide will take you around the country and show you every electorate in detail. (Okay, so it’s not independent media, but it’s an indispensable guide).

And for the policies themselves, here are the links to the websites, in alphabetical order. If I’ve forgotten anyone, please comment and provide a link, and I’ll update this post.

Animal Justice Party

Australia First

Australian Christian Party

Australian Democrats

Australian Greens

Australian Labor Party

Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party

Australian Sex Party

Australian Voice Party

Bank Reform Party

Building Australia Party

Bullet Train for Australia

Christian Democratic Party

Citizens Electoral Council

Country Alliance

Democratic Labor Party

Drug Law Reform Party

Family First

Fishing and Lifestyle Party

Help End Marijuana Prohibition (HEMP) Party

Katter’s Australian Party

Liberal Party

Liberal Democratic Party

No Carbon Tax Climate Skeptics

One Nation

Outdoor Recreation Party

Palmer United Party

Pirate Party of Australia

Republican Party of Australia

Rise Up Australia Party

Save the Planet

Secular Party

Senator Online

Shooters and Fishers Party

Smokers Rights Party

Socialist Equality Party

Stable Population Party

Stop CSG Party

Wikileaks Party

Finally, there’s Below the Line, which I cannot recommend highly enough. It provides a simple, user-friendly way for everyone to tackle those ridiculously long Senate ballot papers. In this election, with so many minor parties and with the looming prospect of both Houses being held by one party, voting below the line is more important than ever.

So that’s it, folks. Please, take some time, read up on the policies and some of the excellent analysis that is out there. Your vote is more than important – it’s crucial.

Tomorrow I’ll be live blogging and tweeting from early in the day. Please ‘call in’ with sausage sizzle reviews, dodgy tactics and dirty tricks (photos gratefully accepted), exit polls and anything else you see happening around town.

It’s all up to us now. Let’s do it.

UPDATE:

How could I forget the most crucial website of all? The Election Sausage Sizzle Map, for all your sausage, cake stall and school fete needs on Election Day – all those small, but necessary things that sustain us all. Where would we be without them?

Sausage sizzlers of the nation, I salute you. And I’ll have mine with onions and tomato sauce, thanks.


Mythbusting the Vote

August 19, 2013

It’s less than three weeks to the Federal Election on September 7, so let’s take a step back from the campaigns to look at actual voting. In every election, there are misconceptions, half-truth and outright lies peddled by various groups, all designed to do one thing: convince you that your vote is only worth what they say it is.

That’s the first lie. Let’s bust the rest.

MYTH 1: I live in a safe seat. My vote won’t make any difference.

Political parties just love this one. The more they can convince voters that any given seat will remain in the hands of the current holder, the less work they have to do to keep those voters happy – and that gives them more time and money to campaign in marginal seats they might be in danger of losing. Prime Ministers and senior Ministers tend to hold ‘safe’ seats. Politicians tapped to be future leaders often move to a safe seat held by a party member who might be about to retire. It’s all very organised and stable.

Except when it isn’t. Safe seats may well be anything but. Usually, a seat would be considered safe if, at the previous election, the candidate won with 60% or more of the vote. At the 2007 election, however, a shock result saw Prime Minister John Howard lose his seat in a massive swing to Labor novice Maxine McKew. Howard became only the second sitting Prime Minister in Australia’s history to lose his seat (the first being Stanley Bruce in 1929). And in this year’s election, there are seats held with margins of over 12% that are considered ‘in play’.

When it comes to your vote, then, questions of ‘safe’ and ‘marginal’ are somewhat less meaningful than perhaps they used to be. It’s possible to overturn a safe seat with only a handful of votes. One of those could be yours.

MYTH 2: It doesn’t matter how I number my House of Representatives ballot, as long as I mark the party I want as number one.

This is a common mistake. The green House of Reps ballot requires you to number all boxes, and often people feel that they only need to focus on which candidate they designate as their first preference. As a result, they simply number the remaining positions straight down the paper.

Preferences determine the outcome of most marginal seats. That could mean a result that at first seems unlikely. For example, a Greens candidate ahead in first preference votes could well be defeated after second preferences were counted, if most of those preferences were for one of the major parties. The way you organise your preferences ensures you have the greatest possible influence on the outcome.

MYTH 3: A vote for a minor party or Independent is just a waste.

Oh dear. Another great piece of misinformation from the major parties – and one you’re likely to hear as you front up at the polling booth. The argument goes like this:

1. Minor parties/Independents don’t get elected.
2. You want to make sure your vote counts, don’t you?
3. You should cast your vote for a party that will get elected.

It’s all based on that first premise – which is rubbish. You only have to look at the Parliament just gone to see that. In the Lower House, we had four Independents and a Greens MP. In the Senate, there were 9 Greens, 1 DLP and 1 Independent. The make-up of that Parliament meant that the government of the day was required to be far more open to negotiation than previous, two-party situations.

There’s no clearer illustration that a vote for minor parties or Independents can be extremely effective.

MYTH 4: Electing someone from a minor party or an Independent will lead to a Parliament that doesn’t work.

You’ve heard this one from the Coalition, both in and out of Parliament’s chambers. Peppered with wonderfully ridiculous terms like ‘shambolic’, ‘unworkable’, ‘held hostage’, the Opposition did its level best to paint the 43rd Parliament, and particularly the minority government under Labor, as utterly useless.

Of course, it’s nonsense. That Parliament passed hundreds of pieces of legislation, including major reforms such as the National Disability Insurance Scheme, the National Broadband Network, carbon pricing, and the Better Schools program. Additionally, it implemented a number of reforms to the way Parliaments conduct their business – streamlining Question Time, briefing minor party and Independent MPs and giving them access to Treasury for costings being only a few.

As for the notion that the Parliament was ‘held hostage’ – again, this is entirely down to a Coalition attempt to damage the Labor government. The idea there was to convince voters that Labor was somehow so beholden to the Greens that it would betray its own base just to hang onto power.

The minority government worked, whether people (or the Coalition) liked it or not. There’s no reason to think that another minority government would be any different.

Oh, and since Liberal leader Tony Abbott never bothers to remind voters – any Coalition government has also been a minority government, comprising the Liberal Party, the National Party, the Country Liberal Party, and the Liberal National Party. Those governments functioned – and, presumably, Mr Abbott thinks any future Coalition minority governments would do so again.

MYTH 5: It doesn’t make any difference if I vote above or below the line in the Senate, so I might as well save myself some time.

Oh, where to start with this one?

How can I put this simply? IT MATTERS.

Now, it can be an utter pain to fill in every little box, making sure that you haven’t doubled up or skipped a number. If you live in Victoria, this election is likely to be particularly onerous for you. But don’t be tempted to simply stick a number above the line and be done with it.

Why? Because once you do that, you’ve given your vote away to that party. And while you may think that party represents your views, what about those to whom it’s directed preferences? Do you even know who those parties or individuals are, for that matter?

It’s not too hard to find out the preferences for each Senate ticket – all the information is clearly available on the Australian Electoral Commission website. And there are a few unpleasant surprises when you do look. For a start, some tickets in Victoria didn’t even lodge their preferences with the AEC – so you have no way of knowing what would happen if you did simply hand over your vote.

Then there’s the issue of the Wikileaks Party. Broadly considered sympathetic to Left-leaning parties, the WLP was expected to direct preferences to the Greens – and, allegedly, had indicated that it would do so. Instead, it preferenced the extreme Right-wing Australia First Party in New South Wales; and in Western Australia, preferenced the National Party above the Greens.

WLP supporters demanded an explanation, and were told that the NSW preferences came about as the result of an ‘administrative error’.

There are no clearer illustrations of the need to know where your preferred party directs its preferences, and of the need to vote below the line in the Senate. To put it bluntly, it’s the only way your vote can be truly representative.

Thankfully, there are some very clever people out there at Below the Line. They’ve collected the ballot positions and full tickets for all seats and both Houses, and are in the process of setting up their ballot editors. You can find out who’s running in your electorate or State, organise your voting preferences with these editors and print those out on a sheet to take with you into the polling booth. Yes, you still have to write down a lot of numbers, but the majority of the work is already done.

CONCLUSION: So there you have it. Five myths, all easily busted. If you’re skeptical about politicians when they talk about policy, then it’s worth extending that to anything they say about voting. The vote is your power – don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.


Indecent, Inhumane, Unhappy – the Coalition’s asylum seeker policy

August 16, 2013

First there was Labor’s Papua New Guinea Solution. Then there was the Coalition’s ‘Pacific Solution 2.0’. Both were harsh, and both rightly attracted criticism from asylum seeker advocates, human rights organisations and the public. Now the Coalition’s one-upped itself, with today’s announcement targeting the approximately 30,000 asylum seekers currently in detention – or, as Liberal leader Tony Abbott called them, the ‘old arrivals’.

Here’s a sample of the preamble to this policy announcement:

‘Illegal arrivals … if you can’t stop the boats, you’re not capable of governing this country … stop the boats … stop the boats … 30,000 who have come illegally by boat … we’ve always said people who come illegally by boat will not be granted permanent residency … those who come illegally by boat will get Temporary Protection Visas … come illegally … people who are here illegally by boat’.

That was in less than three minutes.

Of course, none of that was news to anyone who’s ever heard Abbott blow this particular dogwhistle. The Coalition runs on the theory that a lie repeated often enough will be accepted as truth. Asylum seekers who come by boat are not ‘illegal’. They are referred to in both international treaties and our Department of Immigration and Citizenship as ‘irregular’ or ‘unauthorised’ maritime arrivals:

‘The preferred terms for boat arrivals as used by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) are ‘unauthorised boat arrivals’ or ‘irregular maritime arrivals’ and, as noted above, people arriving by such means who then claim asylum are entitled to do so.’

Not that this has ever deterred the Coalition from pushing their lie. And yes, it is a lie. Coalition members, including Abbott, have been repeatedly informed of the truth, and deliberately choose not to speak it.

To return to today’s announcement …

The Coalition apparently decided that putting in place new policies to deal with further arrivals wasn’t enough. It announced retroactive strategies aimed at clearing out what it described as a ‘legacy backlog’ of asylum seekers waiting in detention centres for their claims to be processed. Kicking off with a paraphrase of former Prime Minister John Howard’s infamous slogan – ‘This is our country and we determine who comes here‘ – Abbott described what would happen to those 30,000 people (who, he asserted, were hoping for a Labor victory so that they could settle here permanently).

Their claims will be ‘fast-tracked’, under a ‘triage’ system. What that boils down to is that after a fast pass, anyone who might not be granted refugee status would be quickly processed, have their claim looked over and then ‘put on a removal pathway’. This includes anyone in community detention; if, during ‘triage’, they appear likely to be denied refugee status, they would be immediately returned to detention centres.

After that, ‘likely’ claims would be processed. Anyone finally granted refugee status would be given a Temporary Protection Visa for up to three years, assessed on a case by case basis. For the entirety of that time, TPV holders who were granted a welfare payment would be required to be in a Work for the Dole program. They would also be denied family reunion.

When their TPV expired, their refugee claims would be assessed again and if a Coalition government decided they no longer had any fear of persecution, they would be deported.

Almost as an aside, the Coalition’s Immigration spokesperson, Scott Morrison added that anyone even suspected of throwing away identifying documents would automatically be denied refugee status. ‘They won’t just go to the back of the queue,’ he said. ‘They won’t be in the queue at all.’

The final part of this ‘streamlined’ process would be the abolition of the Refugee Review Tribunal. Abbott noted that under the current system, 80% of those initially denied refugee status had their cases overturned on appeal. ‘That’s why Australians are questioning whether this a fair system,’ he said.

In response to questions, Abbott said he was confident that this plan, together with Operation Sovereign Borders, would see the number of boats drop to three per year by ‘well into’ his first term, certainly by 2016. He described this as ‘the happy situation that was brought about by the Howard government’.

Happy.

There is nothing, nothing happy about this.

This is a system designed to do only one thing; kick as many people as possible out of Australia. It’s not intercepting a boat and processing asylum seeker claims offshore, or even settling people offshore. It’s targeting people who are already here.

And why? Purely so that the Coalition can say it’s ‘fixed the boat problem’. Not only will they stop the boats, they’ll punish those who already got here by boat. Asylum seekers would be entirely at the mercy of a system for which there is no independent oversight, no independent review, no recourse to even the most basic of rights.

DIAC would not have to prove that someone deliberately destroyed documents; it would be enough to be suspicious.

The ‘fast-track’ process (which Abbott likened to the system under Howard) virtually guarantees that grievous mistakes will be made, potentially sending people back into situations that would endanger their lives – but neatly avoiding the accusation that we are breaking our non-refoulement obligations, because after all, it was a mistake. Oops.

Remember Cornelia Rau? OrVivian Solon?? They were just the high-profile ‘mistakes’ under Howard’s plan.

Even if someone is found to be a refugee, they would have no opportunity to build any kind of life here in Australia. Assuming they would qualify for welfare, they would need to work for the pittance they’d receive. (Funny thing – if you have to work for it, it’s hardly welfare.) It sets up a whole new lower class who would be dependent on relatives or charity organisations just to survive.

Perhaps they could serve in Abbott’s Green Army.

The Coalition knows what it’s doing. Morrison said, ‘We want to end the process where “no” becomes “yes” under an appeal’.

You read that right. The Coalition doesn’t want there to be any chance that a decision made by DIAC might be found to be wrong.

Morrison added, ‘The UNHCR says you don’t have to have both judicial and administrative processes’. The Coalition wants to go back to a pure administrative system; ‘it works better for us,’ said Morrison. ‘We’re not obliged to give [asylum seekers] the same rights as we are our citizens’.

There you have it. And while it’s possible there could be more inhumane asylum seeker policies, short of actually locking people up in the equivalent of Abu Ghraib, it’s hard to see how.

And yet Scott Morrison says the Coalition will deal with people ‘in accord with basic human decency’.

And yet Tony Abbott says the Coalition will ‘discharge its humanitarian obligations’.

This plan is neither ‘decent’ or ‘humane’. And for Abbott to describe it as bringing about a ‘happy situation’?

Words fail me.


Election 2013 – the real date

August 4, 2013

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd visited Governor-General Quentin Bryce today to request that she issue writs for an election of the House of Representatives and half the Senate.

The date will be September 7, and the campaign begins tomorrow.

There’s really only one thing to say now …


The return of Rudd – so now what?

June 27, 2013

Last night everything came to a head – the constant speculation, the outrageous op-eds, and the inevitable cries of ‘What the hell is going on here?’ from the Australian people. Faced with a petition calling for a Special Caucus meeting to decide the Labor leadership, Prime Minister Julia Gillard called a spill for 7pm. In an exclusive interview with Sky News’ David Speers, she invited ‘challengers’, and insisted that the loser leave politics at the next election.

Of course, she didn’t utter the name ‘Kevin Rudd’, but there was only ever one contender. This was to be nothing less than a final showdown. And – unlike the bungled attempt by Simon Crean in March this year – Rudd stepped up. His style could not have been more different. The Prime Minister gave a quiet, exclusive interview. Rudd held a press conference in the Caucus Room, effectively sending a message that he already held the high ground, and was reaching out to all viewers.

As the time wore down, rumours and leaks were everywhere. Rudd had the numbers. Gillard had the numbers. This person was switching allegiances. Nothing new, really – but then there was a bombshell. Bill Shorten, widely regarded as the ‘kingmaker’ of the Labor Party, head of the National Right and instrumental in removing Rudd in 2010, announced that he would be supporting Rudd. He brought around seven votes with him, and from there the tide turned. Water Minister Tony Burke, Foreign Minister Bob Carr and Finance Minister Penny Wong, both stalwart Gillard supporters, also decided to support Rudd.

The result: 57-45. Kevin Rudd was sworn in – again – as Prime Minister this morning.

For some, this was something for which they’d been waiting since 2010. For others, it was nothing less than a coup – and here I confess myself entirely bemused. Gillard supporters – themselves the beneficiaries of a leadership challenge that toppled a sitting Prime Minister – cried foul. Turnabout, it seems, is not fair play when it comes to Gillard being ousted.

It’s worth taking a look at those who changed their votes, however. Why would they abandon Gillard, after supporting her for so long? The answer is simple, and brutal: this was never about anything but winning the upcoming election – or at least, minimising the damage if the Coalition takes government.

Sounds venal, doesn’t it? Self-serving? Grasping?

Of course it is.

Remember those polls? Even the best said that under Gillard, Labor faced decimation at the ballot box. The Coalition would likely hold both Houses by majority, rendering the Greens ineffective in the Senate and Independents like Andrew Wilkie entirely powerless. Labor stood to lose Queensland and Western Australia in the Senate, as well as key seats formerly considered safe. At worst, Labor would cease to have any discernible effect as a political party for a very long time.

Then there were all those other polls, that showed Rudd was by far preferred leader, and might even make a fight out of the election. And finally, internal polling that confirmed the worst fears of everyone in the party. Under those circumstances, any politician is going to think long and hard about not only their own future, but that of their party.

Carr said on Lateline last night that ‘suddenly the next election has become very contestable. … Our achievements … were at risk from an Abbott government’. Wong said it was ‘a difficult decision’, made ‘in the best interests of the Labor party’, to make the next election a real contest.

And what about Shorten, the so-called power behind the throne? As he made his announcement, the Minister looked anything but happy. On his face was the look of a man swallowing a bitter pill. He knew he’d be the target of everything from criticism to outright hatred for changing sides, even making the point himself that his political career would probably suffer, possibly even end altogether. He may well have sacrificed himself for the party. That’s not something any politician does lightly.

Anthony Albanese was elected and sworn in as Deputy Prime Minister, beating Simon Crean 61-38. That Crean ran at all was remarkable. If he expected to be rewarded for his attempt to bring on a spill, he was sadly mistaken. Albanese has shown himself throughout to be someone who works entirely for the party, and stayed loyal to the leader. His appointment will go far to heal breaches, after almost half the front bench resigned their portfolios last night. Likewise the unanimous election of Penny Wong as Senate Leader. The other key position, Treasurer, has fallen to Chris Bowen.

As I write, Prime Minister Rudd makes his first speech to the House, acknowledging former Prime Minister Gillard and lauding her accomplishments. Opposition Leader Tony Abbott delivered a speech almost identical to the one he made when Gillard first took office, changing little other than gender references. There was even a reference to the ‘faceless men’, backed up a few minutes later by Immigration Shadow Scott Morrison, who referred to Shorten as ‘the Kingslayer’. Back to normal.

Abbott squashed any talk of a no confidence motion, but the electioneering has already started. He’s called for an immediate election (earliest possible date: August 3), recycling the accusation that the Australian people have – again – been cheated of their right to elect their Prime Minister. This is, of course, utter nonsense. Abbott knows full well that we elect our government, not our government’s leader. Of course, any given leader may sway our vote, but once the party is in power (or Opposition, for that matter), that leader can be changed at any time. That’s how a party-based Parliamentary system works.

So now what?

Rudd faces a choice: keep the September 14 election date, and use the time to establish himself as leader of a party capable of bringing the fight to the Coalition; bring the election date forward, and go immediately into full campaign mode; or push the date back to its latest possible time, hold more sitting weeks and consolidate legislation.

As Prime Minister, he gains an incumbent’s advantage; right up until the election period officially starts, he can still act in an executive fashion. He has the time to show how his policies will differ sufficiently from both the Coalition and his predecessor to justify his re-election. This will particularly centre on issues of climate change, asylum seekers and marriage equality (to which Rudd is a recent convert).

Any option has dangers. Rudd’s popularity may well wane with time, leaving Labor’s election chances in the doldrums. Long election campaigns always test the patience of the electorate, and in this case, the Coalition is likely to run an almost entirely negative strategy aimed at destroying Rudd. They have plenty of ammunition – some of the comments from Gillard’s supporters during the 2012 leadership challenges were positive gifts to the Opposition.

Bringing on an earlier election, however, has its own risks. Rudd and his new Ministry need to clearly show themselves as a cohesive team. The new Ministers only have a short time to establish their credentials as things stand, which allows the Coalition to argue that their side (populated by many of former Prime Minister John Howard’s cabinet) has the necessary experience.

I suspect Rudd will leave the election date at September 14. It’s the best compromise. It won’t be an easy three months, though; the Opposition will be relentless, and the government needs to push its message through the debris of last night’s challenge. Rudd will continue his tactic of stumping for local members. In fact, he’ll be all over the media – pressers, interviews, QandA, various current affairs programs. He’ll face innumerable questions about the leadership challenge, as will those who changed their votes to support him.

It remains to be seen if the media will finally stop asking those questions, since now – in the words of The Age – they can have a debate about policy and ideas. (Sarcasm definitely intended).

And for the rest of us? There’s no doubt Labor has a new spring in its collective step. We may well actually see a contest in September, not a fait accompli that delivers us at least three years of rubber-stamp government.

Regardless of whether you support Rudd, Gillard, Abbott, the Greens or anyone else, that has to be a good result.


The media should not be the message

February 2, 2013

Sometimes I despair of our media, I really do.

Today Attorney-General Nicola Roxon and Tertiary Education Minister Chris Evans announced their resignations from the Ministry and the Parliament. Evans will stay on until a replacement can be found for him, and Roxon will step down at the next election. Both said they’d discussed their plans with the Prime Minister a year ago, and decided that their family obligations (and in the case of Evans, the long commute from Perth) were the major factors in their decisions. They stressed their decisions were not due to a lack of confidence. The Prime Minister added that she’d decided to make the announcement now, after the election date was set and before Parliament sits again next Tuesday.

Cue the wild speculation. Cue the hyperbole. Cue a mainstream media frenzy, hurriedly written scream-sheet stories, and any number of pundits dragged from their Saturday brunches to give us their ‘expert’ analysis.

This is probably my favourite headline: Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s Campaign In Disarray As Chris Evans Resigns And Robert McLelland May Vacate His Seat. Really, all it needs are four or five exclamation marks.

The campaign – you know, the one that hasn’t commenced, except in the minds of headline writers – is ‘stuttering’. The resignations are ‘shock’. The carefully chosen photo of the PM blowing her nose is captioned as ‘an emotional PM’. The government is ‘in chaos’. It’s triggered a ‘major reshuffle in Cabinet’ (affecting four out of over thirty Ministers is major, it seems). These resignations are a vote of no confidence in Labor. No less than seven – count ’em, seven – Labor Parliamentarians are about to resign. Oh, and these resignations are ‘really’ about punishing Kevin Rudd’s supporters. (The niggling detail that Roxon was one of Rudd’s most vicious critics when he challenged for the Prime Ministership last year seems to have escaped some reporters.)

Never mind that seven Liberal Parliamentarians have also announced their intention to resign. Most of them gave similar reasons – family commitments, felt they’d served their electorate well but wanted to move on, etc. Judi Moylan is one of those. She’s well known for crossing the floor on asylum seeker issues to oppose the Coalition’s draconian measures, and being a vocal critic of the Pacific Solution. Strangely, no reporter’s suggested that she was ‘invited’ to resign because of this.

And how about Mal Washer? He’s gone head to head with Abbott himself. His was one of the loudest voices arguing that Abbott should not have the right to veto the abortifacient drug RU486, and opposed Abbott’s proposal to make teens’ medical records accessible to parents. Again, no one has ever speculated on whether he’s being pushed.

I guess ‘personal reasons’ only apply to Coalition members when leaving Parliament. No Labor politician would do that – there must be a hidden (or not-so-hidden) agenda. At least as far as our media is concerned.

One reporter even helpfully suggested to Shadow Education spokesperson Christopher Pyne, in a media conference today, that it was a case of ‘rats leaving a sinking ship’. Well done, that journalist. Your cheque from Peta Credlin is in the mail.

Parliamentarians leaving before an election is nothing new, and the degree to which their departure might cause problems for their party varies. For example, before 2007’s election, 16 Coalition members resigned – including two who were under scrutiny for links to a convicted fraudster and for failing to make proper financial disclosures. Arguably, for Roxon and Evans to go now serves the government well; it allows time for the new appointees to settle into their roles and prove themselves. Not that you’d hear that from the media.

Then there’s the matter of the election date announcement. Senator George Brandis, Shadow Attorney-General, all but called the Prime Minister a liar in his appearance on Lateline, suggesting that had an ulterior motive. How curious, he said, that this happened just the day before former Labor, now Independent MP Craig Thomson was arrested and charged with fraud. Not that he’s saying anything, oh no, but isn’t it curious?

Pyne took up that theme today, but – as usual – went one step further. The PM had announced the election when she did simply so that she could avoid a by-election in Thomson’s electorate, he asserted.

For reasons passing understanding, these statements went entirely unchallenged.

For a start, it’s a ridiculous notion. If Thomson is convicted of fraud and sentenced to 12 months or more in jail, he will have to step down, and that will trigger a by-election. Announcing the date of the national poll does nothing to change that, and any political journalist would know it. So why did no one go after him?

Secondly, this is the third time in as many days that the Coalition has either implied or outright said that the PM is lying. There is no Parliamentary privilege here to protect them, yet they’re getting away with it. There’s not even a token ‘Mr Pyne, are you really accusing the PM or lying’ soft question.

And while we’re at it, what about the media and the circumstances surrounding Thomson’s arrest? Very interesting, those. Someone tipped off the media that the arrest was about to take place, and as a result some very tasty footage of Thomson being escorted out of his office by no less than six burly detectives was obtained. Remember, this man was arrested on suspicion of fraud – he was not considered violent, or known to be armed. But oh, what a lovely circus that was. And of course, no one employed by a news organisation who was there is going to ask questions about just where they got their information. Even though they should.

I know it’s an old and tired drum, but I’m going to keep beating it. News media exists for a number of reasons – but feeding soft questions to politicians and letting them get away with rehearsed answers that amount to mere noise is not one of them. We have a right to expect that if a politician makes unsubstantiated accusations, investigative reporters will uncover the truth and present it without fear or favour. We have a right to expect that a news organisation will attempt to be objective – or at least not show outright partisanship in its reportage. Op-ed columns (or more commonly, these days, blogs) are almost always going to display some leaning towards left or right, but there’s no excuse for the Daily Telegraph article mentioned above. That’s not news. It’s a Coalition media release dressed up in respectable clothing.

So often, mainstream organisations direct sneers towards independent and citizen media. This usually takes the form of accusations that bloggers, etc., are (a) not bound by journalistic ethics, (b) not properly trained (and therefore don’t know what they’re writing about), or (c) biased.

Insert obvious declaration of self-interest here. I’m not going to pretend that such accusations don’t infuriate me, and that’s at least partly because some blogs are little more than mouthpieces for a party line. But the rise of independent media isn’t just about having access to the internet, especially where politics is concerned. It’s born of frustration.

When the media people pay for is blatantly partisan … when the reporters appear to be either too lazy to ask hard questions or too oblivious to realise they’re being managed … when they don’t seem able to do even a little research into the claims of politicians … sooner or later, we’ll start to speak up for ourselves.

Maybe we don’t have access to the politicians (and I hereby invite any politician who’d like to be interviewed by independent media to step right up, leave your email address in the comments; I’d love to sit down with you), but we can ask the questions. We can challenge the message and demand answers instead of evasions and slogans. We can be aware that we have the power to shape the message, and the responsibility to do so in a way that relies on facts, not spin or outright fabrication.

In other words, we can be what the mainstream media should be – Marshall McLuhan’s watchdog of the mind.

Here’s an idea. Let’s replace the Canberra press gallery with independent media for the first sitting of 2013, and see what they produce. Let’s hold independent media to the standards of mainstream media, and judge the questions asked in pressers accordingly.

I think the results would be … interesting.

Even better, though, would be a situation where independent and mainstream media co-existed to call all politicians to account, to inform the public of the facts and to safeguard against the political desire to change not only what we think, but how we think.


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