Queensland ~ Always a Very Interesting Place

February 1, 2015

by Dr Mark Hayes

Whose ‘water’ let him down badly on the probable outcome of the Queensland election, and begins to explain why below.

I freely admit it.

I got the Queensland election outcome wrong, and even my ‘water’ let me down.

I was expecting a significant swing to the ALP, of the order of about 9% – 11% two party preferred state wide, with some ‘traditional’ Labor seats returning to the fold, possibly some interesting tussles over local issues such as coal seam gas and new coal mines planned for agricultural land, but with the LNP returned, minus Campbell Newman, with a much reduced, but workable, majority, so it could implement its Strong Choices neo-liberal revolution.

I was expecting the usual faux contrition from LNP heavyweights about ‘listening more to the people’, and ‘we’ll do better in the future’, but also resolution to press ahead with Strong Choices.

But none of the mainstream polls or analysts got the election result anywhere near right either.

The first indication something was seriously afoot surfaced on Channel 9’s Galaxy Exit Poll, promoted by an apparently stunned Shane Doherty about 4.15pm. He didn’t Tweet any details, but what he’d seen was enough to get me to watch commercial TV news at 5.00pm. Hadn’t watched commercial TV news for anything for many years, but this was serious…

Wow!

And then, of course, the ABC fired up from South Bank at 6.00pm, with an enthusiastic Matt Wordsworth welcoming viewers from outside, and walking in to the Election Night set in the foyer, all the while explaining what was going to happen, and this viewer willing him not to trip or walk into something or somebody as he did so. Brave man doing this kind of lengthy walking welcome Live on national television too.

Then it was On, with the redoubtable Antony Green and his large touch screen, Wayne Swann and Tim Nichols having at each other, and Jessica Van Vonderen, calmness and control personified, anchoring the gig. What’s an Election Night Special without Kerry O’Brian anchoring, one might have wondered beforehand, but Jess and Co didn’t need him or his gravitas.

As entirely expected, the ABC and ABC Queensland in particular, demonstrated yet again how to do this kind of broadcast properly. And a Shout Out too to the bunch of QUT Journalism students tucked away to one side monitoring social media on the night and feeding their efforts into ABC Radio’s parallel broadcast.

The usual padding, palaver, sober projections generated on SFA votes counted, Antony Green gesturing and tapping on his large screen as he explained trends and bellwether seats, and what not.

Then the Serious Data started to come in, and by about 7.30pm, Channel 9’s Galaxy Exit Poll seemed to be vindicated, and Antony Green’s machines started behaving like the computer on Apollo 11’s Lunar Lander as Neil Armstrong neared touchdown, both being broadcast live. The ABC TV producer must have been feeling like Buzz Aldrin, trying to make sense of ‘dose blinkin’ lights, machines goin’ pHut, and calling on the backroom geeks to fix it fast.

Mr Green’s data, based on Electoral Commission feeds, was being crunched in his machines according to pre-programmed expectations, and they just weren’t coping with the numbers pouring in.

Something unprecedented, beyond extraordinary, was in play, and Mr Green and his machines, as well as Wayne Swann, increasingly buoyant then delighted, and Tim Nichols, digging himself further into disbelief and then denial, struggled to respond and make sense of it all. At moments, the machines just gave up and sulked, leaving Mr Green and his laptop to press ahead and very capably wing it.

You can look up the data on Mr Green’s Elections Site, and check out some early good analysis too, from New Matilda’s Ben Eltham and this brief comment from UQ’s Professor John Quiggin, and this audio comment from Professor Brian Costar. The Guardian has a good collated and curated wrap page too.

Where I’m pretty sure I got it wrong was in underestimating the depths of loathing in Queensland at the all but explicit neo-liberal imposition of Strong Choices by the arrogant and hubristic Newman Government, especially in its first two years, and the authoritarian, pugnacious, methods they used to try to force their Grand Future upon the state. Voters clearly saw through the bullshit post-modernist rubbish about 99 year asset leases as being only asset leases.

LNP Gaven Courier-Mail Bikies Back Labor

LNP Posters at a Gaven Polling Booth, Gold Coast.

And the Courier-Mail has some serious credibility questions to answer about how and why some of its recent front pages, linking the ALP to bikie gangs, were plastered literally for tens of meters along fences outside many polling places as part of LNP propaganda calculated to scare voters into only voting 1 (for them) when Queensland has optional preferential voting.

What I also think has been overlooked and neglected has been the role of what’s been dismissed as ‘electronic graffiti’, social media, a crucial component of Professor John Keane’s conception of monitory democracy, something I know scholars at QUT’s Creative Industries Faculty have been closely studying during the campaign.

Citizen journalism site, No Fibs, has been doing an excellent job of curating and aggregating social media feeds and commentary throughout the campaign. Well worth a good burrow around.

To their credit, though, the Courier-Mail re-published this excellent profile of Annastacia Palaszczuk, a name every journalist had better know how to spell and pronounce properly ‘cos she’ll be a major player for a long time to come. The ABC also has a profile of Ms Palaszczuk too.

This election outcome deserves some very careful thought and analysis indeed, and not just for the fairly immediate Federal implications.

More in due course.


Welcome to a Liquid Modern Queensland & Why Tony Fitzgerald’s in Despair

January 29, 2015

by Dr Mark Hayes

Who, in his spare time, likes nothing better than grappling with some obscure and erudite tome of often European-origin high social theory and really does know where and how Habermas got it wrong. On his groaning shelves awaiting some grappling are Axel Honneth’s Freedom’s Right The Social Foundations of Democratic Life, Frank Lovett’s A General Theory of Domination and Justice, and John Keane’s Democracy and Media Decadence. He’s also a fan of Zygmunt Bauman’s Liquid Modernity theory too.

Once upon a time, Dr Hayes worked for the ABC’s then weeknight state based current affairs programme, The 7.30 Report, and helped report on, among many other stories and issues, the Fitzgerald Inquiry and its immediate aftermath.

He’s been having something of a Déjà vu rush for months but merging it with some High Theory.

Do not rejoice in his defeat, you men. For though the world has stood up and stopped the bastard, the bitch that bore him is in heat again.

Bertolt Brecht

Some noteworthy Updates (access the usual sources for the minute by minute cut and thrusts, which really don’t matter now unless somebody significant goes completely buggo or drops dead from exhaustion). ~

Professor Brian Costar casts an experienced Oracle’s eye over Queensland from the remove of Melbourne, and I think he’s pretty well on the money as far as my water’s telling me. Though a deeper understanding of Liquid Modernity and what it means for Queensland 25+ years after Joh and all that would assist him and others too, IMHO.

And Dr

And Jason Wilson draws a parallel between the recent Greek election result and Queensland’s looming neo-liberal ‘everything privatized’ Strong Choices paradise, arguing that people don’t like austerity even when they’re told it’s good for them.

Here’s a good wrap on mainstream media coverage of the election campaign, from Griffith Uni’s Professor Anne Tiernan, on ABC RN’s Media Report.

Read on…

Originally Posted on Thursday afternoon, January 29, 2015 ~

It’s almost gratuitous to be writing this Post after watching Tony Fitzgerald’s interview on ABC TV’s 7.30 on Wednesday evening.

Watch it, or watch it again if you saw it, read the transcript, and if you really understand what he was warning about in the Queensland context you should be very, very worried indeed.

He appears to have added to his commentary on Thursday, January 29, too.

Not so, Premier Campbell Newman said, responding to pesky reporter’s questions:

Mr Newman attempted to turn Mr Fitzgerald’s words into an attack on the Labor Party.

“Well, look,” he said, clearing his throat.

“I was asked about Mr Fitzgerald during [Friday’s] debate and I reflected that I had the utmost respect for him in the past, but I reject those comments.

“And I say to you the real issue of transparency that continues to actually haunt this campaign for the Labor Party is the lack of transparency and accountability when it comes to policies, costings and a vision for the future of this state.”

Mr Newman was asked if he still respected Mr Fitzgerald but he would not elaborate, again shifting focus to his opposition.

“I have had the greatest respect for him in the past, but I reject his comments,” he said.

“And I point to the lack of transparency and openness and accountability we have seen from the Labor Party from their failure to deliver a proper, comprehensive vision for this state.  We have such a vision, the Labor Party do not.”

So there you have it. Nothing to see here. We’ve moved beyond all that now. You’re living in the past. Move along now. The ALP etc and so forth… Little wonder many people have stopped listening to them.

But we need to be reminded, in some detail, about the Newman Government’s activities, and New Matilda’s Ben Eltham helps out on that rather well. As does Greg Jericho, running his skeptical economist’s eye over the state of the Queensland economy (this is a Must Read, IMHO, and meshes with what I touch on below too).

Ok, Ok, We haven’t had many laughs at all during this election, but Mr First Dog has explained the whole thing, so we can all rest easy knowing what’s really going on.

But I’ll also plough on, trying to add some further insights or depth to contextualize the matter.

Read the Fitzgerald Report

If you haven’t read the Fitzgerald Report, you really should. (4 Meg PDF) If only to see what many Queenslanders are on about when we mention that crucial period in our history.

It’s a masterpiece of its kind, still setting the standards about how a Commission of Inquiry should go about its work, gather, analyze and evaluate its evidence, and produce a document still being discussed and debated almost 26 years after its release. And not just by various commentators and journalists, many of whom were in primary school, or even younger, if not even born, when the Inquiry was in session. (Makes me feel old, it does, fronting journalism classes with students who look blankly at me when I mention the Fitzgerald Inquiry.)

Serious scholars in many fields still reference and interrogate the Fitzgerald Report as an exemplar of its kind, excoriating in the many instances of police and official corruption it uncovered, but, far more importantly, making governance recommendations to eradicate the political and administrative failings which provided fertile grounds for corruption to flourish.

The Fitzgerald Report is also a gripping read, not the least because, as one of the innovations Mr Fitzgerald pioneered, he seconded The Age’s reporter, Margaret Simons, from the media bench inside the Inquiry offices to help write the Report, smoothing the turgid legalese into almost flowing and certainly readily understandable prose.

Do Not Forget Queensland History

To get a feeling for the background and context of the Fitzgerald Inquiry, start with Matthew Condon’s two books, Three Crooked Kings and then Jacks and Jokers, with the eagerly awaited third book in the trilogy due later in 2015. Mr Condon’s interviews on his two books give ample sense of the territory traversed (on Three Crooked Kings and Jacks and Jokers). (And, though I lived through the years covered by Jacks and Jokers, and was steeped in Queensland affairs, or thought I was, reading Jacks and Jokers scared the living daylights out of me as I recalled what I experienced, and thought I knew was going on at the time. It was far, far worse.)

You can still watch Chris Masters’ 4 Corners exposé The Moonlight State, which, in the apt description of eminent investigative journalist, Evan Whitton, ‘detonated’ on Monday evening, 11 May, 1987, and, together with steady exposés by The Courier-Mail’s Phil Dickie, and years of growing unease that ‘things weren’t right’ in the Sunshine State, coalesced into provoking Acting Premier and Police Minister, Bill Gunn, into mounting a Commission of Inquiry into, initially at least, the 4 Corners and Courier-Mail claims, headed by almost unknown legal identity, Tony Fitzgerald. Interestingly, one of the 50 signatories to the Open Letter calling on all Queensland Political Parties to agree to some basic principles of accountability, endorsed by Mr Fitzgerald, was Greg Chamberlin, the editor of The Courier-Mail between 1987 and 1991.

The day after the Fitzgerald Report was handed to then Queensland Premier, Mike Ahern, and Deputy Premier, Bill Gunn, on July 3, 1989, and we were sitting around in the ABC’s Toowong television newsroom basking in what would be acknowledged as our previous night’s award winning national coverage of the release wondering, ‘What’s Next?’, I remarked to Quentin Dempster that ‘We’d better revisit that Report and read it like the next bunch of bent coppers, dodgy politicians, and greedy businessmen are already reading it’.

He didn’t quite get what I was on about because, no doubt he was, as we all were, exhausted after our efforts over eighteen months of often genuinely dramatic daily reportage culminating in the previous evening’s nationally broadcast effort, and fair enough too. Then we had to keep reporting on the fallout from the Inquiry’s release, including a State election.

My point to Quentin was the very high probability that, as usually happens, almost immediately after a major Inquiry or Report is delivered, and its recommendations begin to be implemented, ‘Lock, Stock and Barrel’, as Premier Ahern strongly asserted would occur, the ‘forces of darkness’ would pick the report to pieces, looking for ‘ways to get around this’.

If we were to continue to do our jobs effectively, as public service broadcasters and journalists generally, we had to remain ever vigilant to attempts at push back, erosion, watering down, deflecting, and getting around the Fitzgerald Inquiry’s recommendations.

On the Separation of the Powers

One important way to do that was sort of what Quentin and I often did when he had a major political interview lined up, which was to role play or rehearse the interview, with me playing the interviewee, and him interrogating me in role ~ we were so across the major players, so ‘into them’, that I could convincingly respond to his questions like Mike Ahern, Liberal leader, Angus Innes, or ALP leader Wayne Goss would almost certainly do. Quentin had also honed his interviewing skills from years of court, parliament, and inquiry reporting experience, watching lawyers having at each other and at witnesses, and from studying cross-examination texts also studied by lawyers.

On September 25, 1989, Mike Ahern was ousted by dissident National Party MPs led by his Police Minister, Russell Cooper, that afternoon, Quentin came back to the newsroom having secured an interview with Mr Cooper which was scheduled to go Live in Queensland and the rest of the eastern states from 7.30pm, and we repaired to his desk to role play that night’s interview. Nobody came near us when we were doing these role plays, knowing we were both concentrating and focused.

Roll News closers in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Hobart, roll to record elsewhere, Roll The 7.30 Report Opening Titles, which we could see in the Brisbane control room coming back at us via satellite feeds as ours went out, local host’s welcomes, and common-junct to Brisbane.

“Good evening and thanks for joining us, Mr Cooper,” Quentin began.

“What do you understand by the separation of the powers?”

“I beg your pardon,” Mr Cooper replied.

“What do you understand by the separation of powers in the Westminster system of government?”

Russell Cooper, newly installed Queensland Premier, didn’t have a clue.

In the control room, those of us watching struggled not to crack up laughing, or picked our bottom jaws up off the floor where they’d fallen in utter disbelief.

Here was the new Queensland Premier committing political suicide live on national television.

Quentin had hit me upstairs earlier with that straightforward opening question and, because we’d both almost memorized key Fitzgerald Inquiry evidence and incidents, and he’d been there when Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen had completely fumbled the same question, so we’d both assumed that a new Queensland Premier would also have at least some idea about the meaning and purpose of that most fundamental principle of Westminster style governance. I’d fairly adequately responded to Quentin’s role played opening question, so we’d assumed Mr Cooper would be able to do so too.

Imagine then, my Déjà vu hit while watching 7.30 on October 31, 2013, when questions were raised about how well the Newman Government understood the separation of powers doctrine, including a clip from Police State, an ABC docu-drama on the Fitzgerald Inquiry featuring Gerry Connelly as Sir Joh being interrogated on that memorable point.

Never Forget & Remain Vigilant

I was, and remain, haunted by a closing line from Bertolt Brecht’s play, The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, an allegory of the rise of Hitler set in 1930s Chicago gangland: “Do not rejoice in his defeat, you men. For though the world has stood up and stopped the bastard, the bitch that bore him is in heat again”.

Brecht, no doubt, was directly concerned about the probable rise of future fascist demagogues, and his warning can just as effectively be deployed to any kind of dominator from whatever extreme of the political or ideological spectrum. More generally, Brecht can be interpreted as warning how indefatigable the forces of domination are, and thence how alert folk of goodwill have to be to their incessant efforts at corruption and control, and be ever prepared to resist them.

That was exactly what Mr Fitzgerald was on about when he endorsed the Open Letter on good governance earlier in January, 2015.

He explained his view to Leigh Sales ~

LEIGH SALES: And why did you feel the need to remind politicians what good governance is and what public expectations are?

TONY FITZGERALD: Well, I think, really, public expectations have dropped off those requirements because politicians have ignored them for so long. They’re really requirements of what we call representative democracy, which is a system in which a parliament is elected to represent the people and to govern on behalf of the people. Whereas the political parties of today see it rather as a contest in which whichever one wins does pretty much what it likes. And so I suppose if we’re ever going to get back to the proper representative democracy, it will have to come through pressure from the public to force the parties to acknowledge these requirements and it seemed appropriate in the present circumstances to start that pressure going forward.

We had to re-read the Fitzgerald Inquiry recommendations, I’d said to Quentin 26 years ago, as if we were figuring out how to get around, over, through, or under them, so we’d at least be mentally prepared to detect how ‘the forces of darkness’ would be responding to this major assault on their domination.

Beginning to Really Understand Domination

I’m using ‘domination’ in its technical Hegelian, Weberian, critical theoretical, and republican senses, and I’m very well aware of how each body of theory deals with or nuances this central political and sociological concept. (I hasten to add that American republican thought, as contributed to by Philip Pettit, and his followers, and as the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy makes very clear indeed, has almost nothing whatsoever to do with current practical GoP or Tea Party nonsense. It’s indeed a major obstacle that when one encounters ‘American republican thought’ one is initially repelled because it might refer to the ‘Collected Wisdom of Sarah Palin’ or similar. Prof Pettit’s 2014 Alan Saunders Memorial Lecture was a masterly discourse on some key elements of genuine and highly relevant American republican thought. For a shorter taste, go here too.)

The American republican theorist, Frank Lovett, for example, describes people as being dominated when ‘… to the extent that they are dependent on a social relationship in which some other person or group wields arbitrary power over them’ (2010: 119 passim.). Coming from a critical theoretical direction, highly informed by Weber’s lengthy discourse on domination as well as general Marxism’s many approaches to the same issue, I would argue that domination amounts to ‘socially unnecessary constraints on human freedom and the pursuit of human potentials for emancipation and enlightenment’.

In other words, when closely and carefully considering some social phenomenon or trajectory of governance, ask the question, excoriatingly, ‘Do we really, really need this behavior, belief, law, or policy if the point of the exercise is maximizing human potentials for emancipation?’

Yes; as Frank Lovett from his American republican position, and recent critical theorists from their much more Western European perspectives are both respectively very well aware, as am I, the foregoing is decidedly problematic and contestable, particularly when grounded in specific countries, societies, and locations.

And we can bring in Jürgen Habermas at this point by referencing his theory of communicative action to set out the broad terrains and ways in which we ought to wage our debates if we want to do so to arrive at a sustainable and workable outcome. Though he only touches on the matter very briefly in his voluminous and very dense writings, and therein lies a significant weakness in his theory, the clear implication is that Habermas would accept that our discourses about Things That Really Matter must be conducted nonviolently if they are to have sustainable outcomes (see, for example, Between Facts and Norms, Pp. 382 passim.).

The Fitzgerald Strategy & Its Unraveling

Looking back over Mr Fitzgerald’s Inquiry strategy, it’s clear that while the Inquiry was triggered by media exposures of alleged, and then conclusively proven, police corruption involving so-called massage parlors, much of his Inquiry’s later efforts, and most Recommendations, were aimed at permanently reforming Queensland governance, starting with the notorious gerrymander, and tunneling into how the State was run to clean out nepotism, backroom political deals and influence, and other corrosive activities. Ripping apart the political environment in which corruption could corrosively flourish.

Leaping ahead a generation, Mr Fitzgerald has periodically railed against the Newman Government’s apparent watering down of the principles and even institutions put in place and largely operative intact since 1989. If one carefully traces Mr Fitzgerald’s criticisms of the Newman Government from just after it was elected in March, 2012, a clear pattern emerges of growing alarm at the trajectory this government has taken, culminating on Wednesday evening, January 28.

Starting with a speech at the Queensland State Library on March 30, 2012, criticizing the appointment of former Howard Government treasurer, Peter Costello, to chair the Commission of Audit, which produced the real Newman Government’s policies leading to Strong Choices.

And then a piece on ABC’s The Drum, co-authored with his former Counsel Assisting, Gary Crooke QC, on February 3, 2014.

Then in his Submission to the Newman Government’s review of the Crime and Misconduct Commission, one of his Inquiry’s lasting legacies.

In June, 2014, former Chief Magistrate, Tim Carmody, was appointed Chief Justice, an appointment of which Mr Fitzgerald said, “People whose ambition exceeds their ability aren’t all that unusual,”

“However, it’s deeply troubling that the megalomaniacs currently holding power in Queensland are prepared to damage even fundamental institutions like the Supreme Court and cast doubt on fundamental principles like the independence of the judiciary,” Mr Fitzgerald said.

At the end of June, Mr Fitzgerald went even further, adding News Corporation’s The Courier-Mail to his criticism.

“Queensland is extremely vulnerable to the misuse and abuse of power,” he said in a statement.

“There are almost no constitutional limits on the power of the state’s single house of parliament.

“Unless there is an effective parliamentary opposition to advocate alternative policies, criticise government errors, denounce excesses of power and reflect, inform and influence public opinion, the checks and balances needed for democracy are entirely missing.”

Then on January 8, 2015, The Australia Institute, with advice from Tony Fitzgerald, wrote to all political parties contesting the Queensland election calling on them to agree to some fundamental principles of good governance. The letter, signed by 50 prominent Australians is here (PDF).

By Thursday, January 22, all parties except the LNP had responded.

The Brisbane Times reported that Mr Fitzgerald was again critical of the LNP:

“It’s disappointing that the LNP apparently continues to yearn for the Bjelke-Petersen era of ethics-free government,” he said.

“The LNP’s failure to commit to these basic and surely uncontroversial principles of good governance, or even to explain why it won’t is capable of only two interpretations.

“It either intends to continue to act inconsistently with good governance, or it considers that the public is not entitled to know how it plans to govern, if elected,” Mr Fitzgerald said.

On Friday, January 23, Mr Fitzgerald wrote on ABC’s The Drum that:

“During its brief term in power, the present government treated the community with contempt.

From behind a populist facade, it engaged in rampant nepotism, sacked, stacked and otherwise reduced the effectiveness of parliamentary committees, subverted and weakened the state’s anti-corruption commission, made unprecedented attacks on the courts and the judiciary, appointed a totally unsuitable Chief Justice, reverted to selecting male judges almost exclusively and, from a position of lofty ignorance, dismissed its critics for their effrontery,” Mr Fitzgerald wrote.

The same day, Gary Crooke, QC, also weighed into what was really a one-sided debate, because the LNP weren’t participating, but he generally savaged the standard of political ethics generally, including ‘pay for access’ to politicians, in which both the ALP and the LNP were indulging.

No More Envelopes of Cash

Five days earlier ABC’s 7.30 programme raised much more serious questions about political donations in Queensland, including deploying file vision from a stunt I participated in while reporting on the Fitzgerald Inquiry.

In December, 1988, while under interrogation at the Inquiry, Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen explained how people just mysteriously arrived in his 15th floor George Street Executive Building office with envelopes of cash which was, apparently, laundered through a company called Kaldeal Pty Ltd so Sir Joh could directly fund National Party candidates of his choosing. The then weeknight state based The 7.30 Report ~ Oh! How that’s missed in Queensland right now ~ decided to try doing the same thing, so reporter Anna Reynolds and I got $10,000 cash from the ABC Credit Union and, closely shadowed by an extremely nervous Credit Union employee, put the cash in a briefcase, got one of our actors doing our re-enactments of Inquiry evidence, wired him up with a radio mic, and filmed him trying to get into the Executive Building from across the street. He got no further than the foyer.

This was, and remains, one of the darker aspects of contemporary political activity, though it isn’t done in the crude ways revealed at the Fitzgerald Inquiry, though the ‘bags’ or ‘envelopes of cash’ have gone into popular folklore. It’s almost done in the open, in broad daylight, or at least brightly lit convention centers and pay for attendance dinners.

Nothing should further need to be said by me, but rather from Mr Fitzgerald:

LEIGH SALES: We had a story on this program last week about both the LNP and the Labor Party in Queensland accepting cash for access to senior figures.

TONY FITZGERALD: Yes.

LEIGH SALES: What do you make of that practice?

TONY FITZGERALD: The main thing I make of it in relation to that recent – those recent events is that neither of the major parties seems to understand the meaning of the commitments they gave. That was – I think the third commitment was that people were not to get special access, etc. and I suppose if you pay money and are allowed a visit, you got special access. So I think it’s extraordinary.

LEIGH SALES: But the parties – the major parties all did agree and sign up to those four principles that we’ve talked about. But how are they actually enforced or how are parties to be held accountable for that?

TONY FITZGERALD: Two different questions. I think to be enforced, they can’t be legally enforced. To be held accountable, they can be held politically accountable. And that’s what I’ve really been urging people to think about in this forthcoming election. I don’t care how people vote; it’s not up to me. But I think it’s terribly important that people take into account not just specific issues – who’s going to get a bridge? Who’s going to get a tunnel and so on and so forth, but who’s going to behave properly? I’d like to see it happen this time, but if not this time, the next time, and if not the next time, the time after, so that we finally get to a situation where we’ve got a parliament that that’s acting on behalf of the people and not on behalf of their own constituents and supporters and rent seekers and chancers of all sorts who tie themselves onto them – the camp followers, if you like.

Serious questions continue to be raised about political donations in Queensland, but they won’t be satisfactorily answered. Too many vested interests have too much at stake to seriously embark on even adequate disclosure, let alone needed reform. Hence, Mr Newman can make claims about the ALP allegedly receiving tainted cash from bikie gangs laundered through unions, and all the ALP can do is vigorously deny it.

Unpacking the Looming Liquid Modern Queensland

Rather, I will now look at the looming Liquid Modern Queensland, which, I am very confident, but with dread shared with Mr Fitzgerald, will emerge once the election fallout starts to settle.

Not that Mr Fitzgerald and his many agreeing commentators use anything like these highfalutin’ terms or descriptions, even in their voluminous scholarly writings. Many are lawyers or legal scholars, so they go for the constitutional or regulatory intricacies of administrative or corruption regulation and control. And Mr Fitzgerald’s reported comments at the launch of the most recent of these tomes (and a well worth reading and considering one it is too) also bear attention.

Indeed, I would argue that the Abbott Government is actually Australia’s first fully formed Liquid Modern Government, but they took many of their operative cues from the Newman Government elected 18 months earlier. Or, perhaps, wily tacticians deep within the then Federal Opposition and their many backers, seized on the unexpected massive majority in Queensland to experiment here before fully deploying their own plans federally. This would fit with a Shock Doctrine scenario too.

Here I also depart from, though not necessarily disagree with, Dr Mark Bahnisch’s very perceptive observations in The Guardian, and The Monthly, probably the most insightful deeper reflective observations during the election campaign, truth be told. He summarized several of his points on Late Night Live on Wednesday evening, including speculating on the probability that Queensland was used as a test bed for later policies from the Abbott Government.

Dr Bahnisch, in part drawing on another insightful essay by Griffith Review’s Professor Julianne Schultz from 2008, maintains that, yes, Queensland is different, but by no means in the tediously clichéd ways deployed by southern observers. You know the ones ~ XXXX is Queensland’s beer ‘cos we can’t spell ‘beer’, pilots flying north warn passengers to set their watches back an hour and their heads back 20 years, and so on (yawn).

Queensland is different because we’re disruptive, in all sorts of ways, as Prof Schultz catalogues.

Welcome to The Future as The Present Already

And we’re going to get even more so once we go fully Liquid Modern.

Knowing I am doing violence to Zygmunt Bauman’s erudite and subtle arguments in Liquid Modernity and several subsequent books, often written as co-authored lengthy exchanges with various interlocutors, I would summarize the concept thus:

The formerly solid, firm, quite readily definable and identifiable concepts, ideas, principles, and even institutions which, over centuries and with monumental, terrible, setbacks ~ I’m writing this the day after the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz ~ have built up what we can call and understand as Modernity have gone fluid, slippery, and liquid.

The Modernist principles of good governance, for example, are those advocated by Tony Fitzgerald, grounded and ideally practiced in our peculiar polity of a Westminster derived democratic pluralist society.

It is the confluence of two very broad ideologies, bodies of thought and practice which contribute to Liquid Modernity.

Really understanding either of these is tricky and difficult, as many writers have their own approaches to them, from eagerly endorsing and promoting, to excoriatingly critical and condemning.

Postmodernist Neoliberalism = Liquid Modenity

A Liquid Modern government folds and deploys attempted, often against resistance, neo-liberalism and neo-liberal principles but uses postmodernist methods to achieve and implement them.

By no means am I arguing the details of Liquid Modernity, at least as I’m sketching it out here, go uncontested, and that gives one some optimism at times. Witness the Abbott Government’s continuing grief over its 2014 budget, and the implications of that had it been fully passed, and the probably of a major swing against the Newman Government this weekend.

An important feature of the neo-liberal playbook too is the Noble Lie, which I’ve mentioned in earlier posts too. Essentially, because neo-liberal principles and goals are correct, informed by the science of economics and the inexorable logic of the free market ~ did I just hear loud guffaws from most reputable economists including those with Nobel Prizes like Paul Krugman ~ nevertheless implementing them will be difficult because politics is messy, ideologically loaded, contested, and worse. Politics also involves people who just don’t understand the rectitude and rigor of neo-liberal thought. So neo-liberals have to firstly attain, keep, and indeed extend political power in order to implement their correct policies, and thence they have to Nobly Lie about what their real policies are and involve for societies in which they are to be implemented. Quite acceptable from their point of view, and this detachment or disengagement of strong truth claims and ethics in the interests of getting and keeping power conveniently meshes with applied postmodernism.

The Real Abbott & Newman (Seeney, Nichols, whoever’s left standing) Government Policies

I touched on this in my last Post too:

Just as the Abbott Government’s real policies are contained in the Recommendations of the National Commission of Audit, and therein lies the basis of much of the angst and grief, much self-created, being endured by the Abbott Government as it tries to implement at least the less politically toxic parts of those Recommendations, the Newman Government’s real policies are contained in the Costello-chaired Commission of Audit Recommendations.

From these, we got Strong Choices, the Newman Government’s Plan for Queensland, the central part of which are asset sales, err, sorry, 99 year asset leases, which will get Queensland out of debt, restore our AAA credit rating, and fund a future of prosperity and security, and everything.

A point which has been neglected in the campaign, but which bears close interrogation in all the hyperbole about all those jobs being, to be, will be, created, is what the Newman Government regards as ‘real jobs’.

Back on January 8, 2015, which seems almost like ancient history such is the excitement we’ve been having since, Brisbane Times’ Amy Remeikis and others reported Mr Newman as saying: “Real jobs are created in the real economy, in businesses and particularly in small businesses, they are not created by government authorities and Comcos”..

“They are created by business conditions that are conducive and situations where there are long-term plans to support those businesses. That is how you get job creation in Australia and indeed any western free market democracy,” Mr Newman said.

Huh? So people employed in government or state owned or operated workplaces, like public schools, public hospitals, the police force, or even the public service, minus the 14,000 or so Mr Newman sacked during his first year in office, are not working in the ‘real economy’ doing ‘real jobs’. So what the hell are they doing?

From a neo-liberal position, the only ‘Real Jobs’ are those in private enterprise, ideally with ‘flexible’ pay and conditions individually negotiated between employee and employer with no or minimal interference in the free labour market by governments. Feel a Productivity Commission Inquiry into labour market ‘reforms’ coming on?

Doing Postmodern Politics ~ Go Juggle Smoke

The postmodernist methods appear in the often severe difficulty one has in nailing down just what LNP politicians are actually saying when their ‘facts’ and information from which they derive their ‘facts’ are constantly shifting. This goes well beyond the usual complex arrays of spin, dissembles, selective cherry picking of data, we all know and loathe in the daily spin cycles. It’s admittedly initially weird to suggest neo-liberals embrace and deploy postmodernism to further their agendas when many of them are active ‘culture warriors’, railing against ‘Cultural Marxism’ at almost every turn. But they are.

Professor John Keane’s conception of ‘monitory democracy’ intervenes here because, in our highly interconnected world, information literate and capable citizens can and do closely monitor politics, governments, and their truth claims, and are quite capable of finding reliable information, and disseminating it widely. So, if Treasurer Joe Hockey rails about there being a ‘budget emergency’ requiring urgent expenditure surgery, if not near austerity, citizens of our monitory democracy can access the World Bank or the OECD or even the Treasury Department, look up relevant, current data ourselves, make sense of it, draw on reliable commentary likewise, and, at the least, call Mr Hockey out on blogs and social media to greater accountability. Not that he’ll listen much, because he knows he’s correct, doesn’t he.

This is a development on what the Howard Government endorsed when it attempted a version of postmodern conservatism, as described by Australian scholars, Geoff Boucher and Matthew Sharpe in The Times Will Suit Them though, by the time the book was published, Howard had lost the 2007 election.

A Dead, Buried. Cremated Corpse Arises

Of course, Work Choices was straight out of the neo-liberal prescription list for the ‘reform’ of Australian employment conditions, ‘reform’ always now deeply positively encoded to mean ‘better’, ‘improvement’, ‘fixing a problem’, rather than its formerly more neutral dictionary meaning: “The action or process of making changes in an institution, organization, or aspect of social or political life, so as to remove errors, abuses, or other hindrances to proper performance” (OED; emphasis added). And Work Choices seems to be shambling back to life in some reconstructed or resurrected form, even getting past the stake through its heart, next to the sliver bullet holes, coffin scattered with garlic, drenched in sanctified waters.

Depends on how one defines or decides what is a “… hindrance to proper performance” and what that “proper performance should be”. See above bald summary of neo-liberalism.

Because, in postmodernism, there are no ‘absolute’ verifiable, ‘facts’ (i.e., postmodernism has a very weak teleology at best), all ‘facts’ being social creations, postmodernist politics can be described as ‘fact free’, which is not to say there are no facts, because to do so would finally be to embrace nihilism, which is untenable, but rather that “I will decide what the facts are, and I will develop and deploy policy on the basis of what I have decided the ‘facts’ are”. (They don’t quite argue that phenomena like the laws of gravity are socially created and thence contested, but some of the applied implications of strongly verifiable phenomena, such as climate change, are, so one can then see how neo-liberal, even neo-conservative, climate change deniers actually deploy loathed postmodernist methods to try to at least cast doubt on the very strong sciences of climate change.)

The neo-liberalism kicks in when those proposing or arguing for alternative ‘facts’ find their employment status, funding, or regulatory existence being ‘reviewed’, ‘looked at’, ‘reformed’, or just shut down through defunding due to other ‘government priorities’.

Sounds familiar once one reflects back over all those promises made before the Queensland and the Federal elections which have now been abandoned, amended, run through Commissions of Audit which found, Shock Horror!, state and then federal budgets are disaster areas needing fundamental and deep seated ‘reforms’. This is the Shock Doctrine, meaning, find, create, exploit, or concoct a ‘crisis’ ~ Budget Emergency anybody? ~ which can only be fixed by rigorous application of neo-liberal policies and prescriptions. Chaos is the only alternative. (Seen any LNP ads in the last few days?)

I’ll leave this discussion at this point, but will re-visit it during 2015 as I am very well aware I have glossed many issues which really need and deserve much deeper interrogation.

To conclude, my usually most reliable election guide, my water, tells me that the LNP Newman Government, quite possibly minus Newman himself if the latest polls are accurate, will be returned with a very reduced majority, but still a workable one to exercise the mandate they have been given by the Queensland people to continue implementing its Strong Choices.

We’ve also been told what will be done to electorates which vote “incorrectly” too.

Welcome to the truly Liquid Modern Queensland.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.


The Looming Queensland Revolution ~ Welcome to A Future

January 26, 2015

by Dr Mark Hayes

Who still hasn’t seen or heard any campaign ads on TV or radio, actively avoids them, and whose most reliable election guide has for years been ‘his water’.

Some brief UpDates ~ Tuesday, January 27 ~

That George Harrison ear worm ~ Sue You Sue Me Blues ~ got worse overnight, and it really is lawyers at ten paces now. This could be a very interesting distraction, with fallout well after the election too, because it sort-of folds into the ALP union laundered bikie gang cash stash caper (more below).

One angle to that I didn’t mention below was how some bikies tried to donate to the LNP, surely in the interests of spreading their largesse, you understand. The LNP reportedly knocked them back.

While not reaching for a lawyer, independent Nicklin MLA, Peter Wellington, who knows a lot about how the game is played, and about hung parliaments too, is referring Campbell Newman to the Queensland Electoral Commission over the LNP’s threat not to look after electorates that vote “incorrectly”.

John Birmingham’s gone out of his tree in defence of Mr Strong Choices, who, he declares, really does love us but is hurting because enough of us don’t seem to love him. Calm down, Birmo. It won’t be that bad for Muscles, will it? I’m sort of reminded of one of my less favorite Eastern European communist dictators, Nicolae Ceaușescu, who, apparently, when overlooking a seething crowd of angry Romanians, remarked to his fawning entourage, “See! My people really do love me”. A short while later, he and his equally loathsome wife, ended up against the wall.

If you’re really desperate to follow all the action, try Brisbane Times’ rolling updates, The Courier-Mail (might be paywalled after several visits though), and they’ve gone to an Oracle who ponders why the LNP’s  campaign seems to have come unglued.

Dr Mark Branisch reckons that, despite what my water is telling me, and Antony Green’s always erudite psephology is telling him, Labor might still be able to win. The key, he suggests, might lie in preference swaps or deals, new candidates, and retiring MLAs relinquishing their personal recognition and incumbency dividends.

UQ’s Dr John Harrison detects the calming hands of Crosby Textor behind the LNP’s Operation Boring strategy, which they momentarily dumped last week, as I cataloged below. By Australia Day, Mr Newman reversed tack so sharply he seriously annoyed the press pack by refusing to answer any questions except about Strong Choices, jobs, and jobs and Strong Choices.

And the citizen journalism site, No Fibs really is doing an excellent curating and aggregating service, pulling together heaps of material from mainstream and social media, including some delicious pictures and tweets.

Read on for some of the excitement, fear, loathing, and weirdness up to sunset, January 26, 2015 ~

(Apologies for no pictures but I’ll get them up soon.)

I have a feeling in my water about this election.

The LNP will win, and that’s stating the bloody obvious given the massive swing needed to unseat them. And when the LNP Government is triumphantly restored to its rightful place, Queensland will be in for a revolution.

Apologies in advance, but I’ll explain my thinking in a later piece.

For a bit of a taste, though, check out Dr Mark Bahnisch’s very perceptive pieces in The Guardian and The Monthly. With a brief, more recent, commentary on his new Blog too.

Just as the Abbott Government’s real policies are contained in the Recommendations of the National Commission of Audit, and therein lies the basis of much of the angst and grief, much self-created, being endured by the Abbott Government as it tries to implement at least the less politically toxic parts of those Recommendations, the Newman Government’s real policies are contained in the Costello-chaired Commission of Audit Recommendations.

From these, we got Strong Choices, the Newman Government’s Plan for Queensland, the central part of which are asset sales, err, sorry, 99 year asset leases, which will get Queensland out of debt, restore our AAA credit rating, and fund a future of prosperity and security, and everything.

Real and UnReal Jobs Lost & Found, Sort-Of

A point which has been neglected in the campaign, but which bears close interrogation in all the hyperbole about all jobs being, to be, will be, created, is what the Newman Government regards as ‘real jobs’.

Back on January 8, 2015, which seems almost like ancient history such is the excitement we’ve been having since, Brisbane Times’ Amy Remeikis and others reported Mr Newman as saying: “Real jobs are created in the real economy, in businesses and particularly in small businesses, they are not created by government authorities and Comcos”..

“They are created by business conditions that are conducive and situations where there are long-term plans to support those businesses. That is how you get job creation in Australia and indeed any western free market democracy,” Mr Newman said.

Huh? So people employed in government or state owned or operated workplaces, like public schools, public hospitals, the police force, or even the public service, minus the 14,000 or so Mr Newman sacked during his first year in office, are not working in the ‘real economy’ doing ‘real jobs’. So what the hell are they doing?

There are always some curmudgeons, and these include UQ’s Professor John Quiggin (the story is from the Queensland Country Life newspaper, reprinting a Brisbane Times piece from January 12, so these dissident ideas are getting around regional Queensland). QUT’s Dr Mark McGovern is also highly skeptical of both the LNP and ALP’s plans for the Queensland economy too.

And no; I’m not channeling Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen on the night the National Party won government in its own right in October, 1983, who had ‘some wonderful news for Queensland’.

We all know how that eventually ended, don’t we, for Sir Joh and the National Party, and the echoes and ricochets from the Fitzgerald Inquiry are still bouncing around Queensland governance.

How these echoes and ricochets are hitting the campaign in its last week deserves closer attention, which I’ll give in my next piece.

Working through some ‘conventional wisdom’ first.

The ABC’s indefatigable Antony Green has crunched the numbers, reviewed his history, and here’s his always thoroughly forensic overview. And he’s added his “bellwether” Electorates, the ones he reckons bear close watching.

“The odds on the LNP being re-elected are overwhelming, but it is a realistic possibility that the Government will be returned without its Premier,” Mr Green concludes.

Vote Incorrectly, your MLA has no Strong Plan, so No Government Goodies

And Premier Newman explicitly warned that any electorate voting incorrectly would not get any of the promised goodies he’s been spruiking, and which would be funded from asset sales, er, sorry, asset leases. He was speaking in Toowoomba: “”I think it is quite reasonable for me to say that if an LNP candidate or member who has put forward a strong plan is not elected, it is quite reasonable for me to say that whoever then is the MP might have [a] completely different set of priorities,” he said.

Unpack that if you dare. We assume, then, that if Mr Newman’s electorate of Ashgrove votes “incorrectly”, the $18 million of goodies he’s promised them will evaporate and Ms Jones will deliver bugger all because she ‘might have [a] completely different set of priorities’.

Perhaps Mr Newman was issuing a threat to voters to “vote correctly or else” ~ to the victors the spoils ~ or explaining a basic ‘mandate theory’ of politics ~ those who voted for the winning party get to do what they like (within particular social tolerances) to those who didn’t. Or perhaps he was just being unusually brutally honest.

If you desperately want minute by minute reportage of the first Leader’s Debate on Friday evening, January 23, try The Brisbane Times or The Guardian. Depending on who you take seriously, the debate was a tedious tie, with neither side really knocking the other down, or a resounding win for Mr Newman.

Some brief weirdness, with added crocodiles, comes later.

The citizen journalism site, No Fibs, continues its very helpful collation and aggregation of election reportage, and the ABC continues to collate its election stories on the entry page to the 2015 Queensland Election.

Play around with Mr Green’s calculator and you’ll see the ALP has to get a 11.5% swing on a two party preferred basis to equal the LNP, and that would result in a hung parliament with deals being done between both major parties, minority parties, and independents to either form government or just to get legislation through on a piece by piece basis. That also assumes nobody drops dead, has to resign due to illness or scandal, or stalks off in a snit to join the cross benchers. Recall the grief a single disaffected Liberal caused the Napthine Government in Victoria in its final year.

Both the LNP and ALP have solemnly asserted they’re not going to do deals with minority parties in the event of a hug parliament, though nobody seriously believes them. The LNP has gone further, warning voters of the dire consequences of a hug parliament. So too has business, which is hardly surprising. And the Courier-Mail helpfully profiled possible independents and balance of power holders as a ‘motley crew’.

Engineering & Plotting for a Hanging

All these solemn warnings about ‘not wanting to govern with independent’s help’, ‘refusing to do deals with cross benchers’, and so on, invoked, in my mind anyway, a dastardly voter conspiracy being hatched, like climate change deniers ascribe to climate scientists, with hordes of voters all getting together in the modern equivalent of smoke filled hotel back rooms, attics, or basements, On Line chat rooms, Blogs, e-mail Lists, and the like, preference whispering their votes in key seats in sufficient and sufficiently targeted numbers to seriously make a difference, such as engineering a hung parliament.

Given the complexity of the Australian Senate voting system, that’s entirely possible, witness the 2013 outcome. But not in Queensland, though there have, apparently, been meetings between some minor parties and the preference whisperer.

Now, my friends know I like a good conspiracy theory, but it had better be a really good one, which is deeply based in verifiable data, internally consistent, convincingly set out and told, but with just sufficient weirdness to throw a dissonant note or spin on what’s pretty obvious, like who really fired the fatal shots in Dealey Plaza, Oswald from the sixth floor, a Mafia or CIA sniper on the grassy knoll, a secret service agent’s dropped or fumbled loaded rifle from the following vehicle, or a combination. My favorite conspiracy theory remains Alternative 3, because it ticks all the boxes for a really good one, and its appeal is renewed because of climate change. Now, about those alleged Moon landings…

But sufficient hordes of voters across sufficient key electorates to, together and with malice aforethought, plot, scheme, and actually vote to achieve a hung parliament as the 2015 election outcome, that’s an evolving conspiracy theory which just does not cut it, at least to my standards.

So, my water tells me, ‘Forget about a hung parliament’. The swing to Labor and enough minor parties to result in a hung parliament is too great, even allowing for significant voter unease with the Newman Government. But the LNP and Campbell Newman are sufficiently worried to urge voters to Just Vote 1 for LNP candidates in Queensland’s optional preferential voting system, which the ABC’s Antony Green explains in his usual forensically clarifying way. With the explicit threat from Premier Newman of not getting any goodies if an electorate votes incorrectly.

Climate Change is not a ‘Quasi-Religious Belief’

Before we leave conspiracy theories, but there’s more coming, promise, Deputy Premier Seeney absolutely, positively, did not describe climate change as a ‘quasi-religious belief’. “Allan Sutherland, of the Moreton Bay Regional Council north of Brisbane, stated Mr Seeney made the comment during a discussion about the council’s regional plan in October. The meeting was also attended by four council officials,” the ABC’s Mark Willacy and Mark Solomons, reported. “”I did not say that. What I’ve said to the Mayor of the Moreton Bay Regional Council is that he should stop playing politics with this issue and try and find a resolution that protects the property values of the 7,500 people who have objected to his town plan,” Mr Seeney said.

The council had inserted clauses in its development plan, which made reference to the risks of sea level rise amplified by climate change for coastal properties and developments, which Mr Seeney, who’s also Development Minister, insisted be removed. The Insurance Council of Australia has been warning about this for years, and coastal local government authorities likewise, because they could face very significant liabilities for approving developments later rendered uninhabitable or worthless decades hence.

I am not aware, and nobody else seems aware either, of any really interesting ructions or local campaigns which, like Indi in northern Victoria in 2013, produced the most interesting outcome of that Federal election when independent, Ms Cathy McGowan, narrowly unseated Sophie Mirabella with a 9.2% swing in a usually safe rural Liberal seat following a fascinating grassroots campaign well reported on citizen journalism site No Fibs.

I’ve been looking for any stirrings in rural seats affected by coal seam gas exploration, such as Beaudesert, Dalrymple, Mulgrave, Nanango, Warrego, and Condamine, but so far, nothing of any concern to sitting members, though Mulgrave is marginal ALP and Dalrymple is safe Katter’s Australia Party. Though the ABC is reporting some stirrings in Nanango over the extension of the New Ackland coal mine, about which Alan Jones has been ranting (more below too).

Warrego, a very safe LNP seat has Mark O’Brien, who polled well as an Independent in 2012 now standing for the ALP against Ann Leahy, the former and retiring LNP MP, Howard Hobbs’, electorate secretary.

None of these seats will change hands though Mulgrave, held by ALP shadow treasurer, Curtis Pitt, deserves watching. The ALP narrowly won on KAP preferences, and Mr Pitt is facing former KAP member Dr Damien Byrnes, now standing as an independent.

I’ll get to just why there seems to be no significant stirrings over CSG later too.

While I approach opinion polls with a highly informed skepticism, knowing how they are assembled and then interpreted, often badly, sometimes in ways that would get a sociology honors student failed in Stats 101 (I know, I was once one who nearly did fail Stats 101), this close to election day, I’m seeing them come home for the LNP.

Crikey’s Poll Bludger aggregates and interrogates the polls as they are released and a consistent pattern, one well understood, is emerging a week out from polling day ~ the advantage of incumbency. Even in Campbell Newman’s seat of Ashgrove, polls are showing the ALP’s Kate Jones won’t necessarily be a shoe in regicide.

Weirdness & Crocodiles on the Campaign Trail

Wouldn’t be a Queensland election campaign without some weirdness, would it.

Election campaigns are, by definition, weird, and being on the campaign trail with one of the leaders is, depending on your perspective, a version of Purgatory (at least you know when the torment will end), or a Magical Mystery Tour because the minders and managers never tell you where we’re all going next or what we’re doing when we get there except it will be Amazing Scenes, including Politicians Saying And Looking At Things and Politicians Meeting Carefully Vetted Real People. The Guardian’s Bridie Jabour reported on A Day On The Trail With Annastacia Palaszczuk, including crocodiles. And in the interests of balance, Joshua Robertson tagged along with Campbell Newman. Different locations and itineraries, pretty much the same control and management to prevent Something From Happening.

But then there’s Alan Jones

Alan Jones has been on 4BC railing against the Newman Government, focusing on alleged lies about the expansion of the New Acland Coal Mine in the Darling Downs. Crikey had an interesting analysis of Jones’ likely impact (paywalled, but take out a guest subscription, or actually subscribe; I do). The Brisbane Times folded Jones’ intervention with that of former LNP Stafford MLA and junior minister, Dr Chris Davis, to suggest that both are feeding into voter’s unease with the Newman Government for its arrogance and intolerance of opposition, despite the government’s pursuit of Operation Boring for much of 2014.

In case one has been hiding under a rock for a decade or so, The Guardian’s Bridie Jabour helps out by probing Jones’ recognition factor in Rockhampton and Brisbane, and QUT’s Dr Jason Sternberg adds his not inconsiderable wisdom as a media scholar to her analysis.

I haven’t heard anything of Jones on 4BC because I never listen to commercial radio and have a profound objection to being treated like an idiot and shouted at, but in the course of other research, have caught up with some of his extraordinary rants against CSG and mining companies muscling their legal ways into farming communities. The superficially unlikely alliance between Lock the Gates’ Drew Hutton and Jones, well remembered and, in many quarters, loathed, because of his misogynistic attacks on Julia Gillard, is not so unlikely when it is probed more deeply.

Imagine our shock, dear devoted Radio National listeners, when Mr Jones appeared on RN Breakfast on Friday morning, January 23, to be put mercilessly to The Question by guest presenter, Hamish McDonald, about why he’s gone all Greenie and is sinking his fangs into LNP Premier Newman.

Gonna Sing Those Sue Me Sue You Blues

But then things got a bit serious later that damp and drizzling Friday Brisbane morning, Newman and Deputy Premier, Jeff Seeney reached for their lawyers and commenced defamation action against Jones and 4BC for the horrible, dastardly, contumelious, and grievously untrue things Jones had been saying about them on 4BC. By week’s end, more politicians, including Health Minister Lawrence Springborg, and at least one senior public servant, Director-General of the Premier’s Department, Jon Grayson, were reportedly also joining the defamation action against Jones. The ABC helpfully published Mr Newman’s and Mr Seeney’s Statement of Claim.

At least the LNP is funding the action, and not the Queensland taxpayer, though we’d be paying for any senior public servant’s action.

Given that only a tiny fraction of defamation actions ever lodged with the courts gets anywhere near a stern and unsmiling judge, most lapse, a few quietly settled out of court, this one almost certainly won’t provide ‘entertainment’ several months, more likely years, later. Even if Clive Palmer’s offer to fund Jones’ legal fees is taken up. The point is to shut Jones up, otherwise Jones could be held in contempt of court because the matter is now legally afoot.

But reaching for your lawyer, even if the point is really to shut one of your high profile critics up for the duration of an election campaign, and then let the matter quietly lapse, brings not a few risks.

While reaching for his lawyers, Mr Newman really should, in the interests of consistency, come for the Queensland Police Union’s Ian Leavers, who accused him of lying over funding for alcohol free or Safe Night Out precincts. All a misunderstanding, Mr Newman eventually explained.

And another target really should be lawyer, Richard Carew, who accused Newman of lying about renewal of sand mining leases on Stradbroke Island, and the publisher of those aspersions, Fairfax’s Brisbane Times, too.

And Mr Newman and co had also better come for Dr Chris Davis too.

I’m starting to get an ear worm of George Harrison’s song, Sue Me Sue You Blues. (Ok; taken out of context. Harrison was reacting to a plagiarism suit for My Sweet Lord.)

But here’s the kind of Sue Me Sue You Blues of which the LNP and Mr Newman would probably approve.

Anybody looking for any weirdness out in Lockyer, should look at the contest between the LNP’s incumbent, Ian Rickuss, and the KAP’s David Neuendorf, not because the LNP will lose this seat, but because KAP did surprisingly well in 2012, though its preferences largely went to the LNP. You won’t get any weirdness out of Pauline Hanson.

Lockyer is also momentarily interesting because of some stirrings of opposition to CSG exploration and mining, including a visit there late in 2014 by Alan Jones on behalf of Lock the Gates.

The Impertinence of Some Reporters

Some serious weirdness occurred in the southern Gold Coast seat of Mermaid Beach, held by the LNP’s Ray Stevens on 26%. He’s also an assistant minister and Leader of the House, so he’s no lightweight. When he was bailed up by a journalist from the Independent Australia, he went buggo, and the video, helpfully shot by a campaign worker, quickly went viral. One was reminded of the great 1960s comedy singer of the same name. But Brisbane Times’ Amy Remeikis reckoned that Mr Stevens, MLA, was on to something, at least being honest with a pesky reporter asking questions about his business interests.

I mean, really, with his extremely comfortable margin, why should Mr Stevens have to put himself through all this campaigning nonsense, including being asked questions by an impertinent journalist from some flakey On Line waste of electrons. “It’s pretty funny though, I’ve got to say, a bit odd and perhaps a lot of people out there will set the video to some music,” Newman said while flying back to Brisbane from Cairns. Try the original Ray Stevens’ Guitarzan.

Yeah. A real hoot what those LNP Gold Coast politicians get up to at times.

Further north on the Glitter Strip, LNP MLA for Broadwater, Verity Barton, had to admit she’d lost her driver’s license twice for not paying tolls, and is facing community objection to a cruise ship terminal and residential development off the Broadwater, as John-Paul Langbroek, LNP Education Minister and neighboring Surfers Paradise MLA had reinforced at a community forum.

Who’s Best at Catching Crocodiles

Meanwhile, as The Guardian’s Bridie Jabour carefully reported, “In the campaign universe of forced small talk, smiling and nodding for the cameras and never, ever letting your guard down, the fact that you do not want children eaten by crocodiles is a perfectly reasonable thing to make sure you publicly state your position on”. Quite so too.

But if you were still undecided, particularly in Queensland’s crocodile country, vote LNP because they’ve caught more crocks than the ALP ~ 110 since March, 2012, versus 13 up to March 2012 ~ so there. The LNP’s Strong Policies even take crocodiles into account.

That’s real crocodiles, mind, big bitey wriggly ones, lurking in rivers and creeks, and not bikie gangs.

The Bikie Gangs & The ALP

At the Friday, January 23, Leader’s Debate, Mr Newman, almost as a throwaway line, suggested that the ALP was going soft on outlaw bikie gangs and had promised to repeal the anti-bikie laws because it was receiving donations from gangs.

“We know criminal motorcycle gangs are backing you, how do you know they’ve made no donations to the CFMEU?” Mr Newman asked. “Have you got clean money?”

Opposition leader, Annastacia Palaszczuk, vigorously denied the claim, and asked about the LNP’s donations from mining companies.

The Australian’s Michael McKenna, very helpfully explained from whence, and how much, the LNP was probably getting in donations.

But Premier Newman kept repeating the claim of bikie money sloshing around the ALP on Saturday, January 24, and, when pressed, told reporters to ‘Google it’.

“You’ve got a smartphone there right now, try it, try Googling CFMEU bikie links and see what comes up. There’s a report when I looked at that by an ABC journalist reporting on a senior Victorian police officer talking about the infiltration of the CFMEU and the linkages between the bikies,” he said.

This might well be the story to which Mr Newman was referring to.

In evidence to the Heydon Union Governance and Corruption Royal Commission in Victoria on September 18, 2014, Victoria’s Assistant Police Commissioner, Stephen Fontana, said ‘that police have begun several investigations into allegations of violence, intimidation and debt collection carried out by outlaw bikie gang members for the [CFMEU]’, the ABC reported the next day.

Because I always exhort my students to Go to The Source when reporting on something, you, and Mr Newman too, should go to the Royal Commission into Union Governance and Corruption, look up the tranche of evidence on the CFMEU and see what you can find. Or work through the documents and evidence produced by a search on ‘Fontana’ at the Commission.

Sooo… Because the ALP receives donations from unions, including the CFMEU, and some CFMEU members, in Victoria, might also be involved with or associated with, or might have once met with, or been seen with a bike gang member at some time, and the bikie gang member might also have been an entirely law abiding tradie of some kind, as not a few bikies also are, Mr Newman was quite right to say, “We know criminal motorcycle gangs are backing [the ALP], how do you know they’ve made no donations to the CFMEU?”

Let’s try that again… Because the ALP receives donations from unions, and some unions might have, in the past, received donations or support from then entirely legally operating bikie gangs (allowing that several gangs and their members were engaged in illegal activities and other activities most law abiding folks would find questionable or distasteful to say the least, and the police already had sufficient powers to come for them before VLADD was introduced), the ALP was in receipt of dirty bikie money. Or might have been in the past. Or could still be.

‘Thar also be dragons, ya’ll see, me hearties!’ And yes, Mr Newman did pop by to where there’ll be pirates, and lots of Strong Jobs too, earlier in the week.

By then, several carefully targeted Google searches, including by people, like me, who really do know what we’re doing when interrogating On Line search engines and then evaluating the credibility of the results, came up with nothing except major re-postings and updates of the story.

The Courier-Mail helpfully investigated the matter and the LNP found a video of the ETU’s Peter Simpson telling a rally that unions had received bikie donations and support during the infamous waterfront dispute in the 1990s.

The newspaper reported that “Mr Newman denied he was doing the same thing to Labor Leader Annastacia Palaszczuk that former Premier Anna Bligh did to him during the 2012 election campaign when she made allegations against him she eventually had to drop after being unable to offer any evidence”.

‘“I hear Queenslanders saying this. They say this to me all the time. They see that the bikies, the criminal gangs are backing Labor. They’ve seen that and everyone knows the Labor Party are very heavily funded by unions,” Mr Newman said.

“They are saying that the Labor party are the ones that need to explain what’s going on there.

“At the end of the day, those are the questions that Queenslanders are asking and at the election in less than a week, Queenslanders will be the ones that make the decision on this one.”

Mr Newman was unapologetic for his stance, denying voters would see it as a conspiracy theory’, the Courier-Mail reported.

The ABC comprehensively updated the issue on Sunday afternoon, January 25.

By Australia Day, Mr Newman was quite forcefully telling pesky reporters that he had nothing more to say about the ALP and its alleged union laundered bikie gang cash stash and was only on about Strong Choices, much to the exasperation of Brisbane Times’ Amy Remeikis and The Courier-Mail’s Sarah Vogler, as well as The Guardian’s Joshua Robertson. But one reporter actually counted up how many Strongs Mr Newman used, like The Guardian’s Bridie Jabour counted on January 13, 2015, and the total looks even more Strong (28 or 32 by the look of it).

This is really seriously heavy duty stuff we’re talking about here ~ a major political party and its leader alleging his opponents are receiving donations from criminals laundered through at least one major union, itself under Royal Commission investigation for its own allegedly seriously dubious, even illegal, activities in some of Australia’s biggest industries.

And Mr Newman’s back on his Strong State Strong Choices Strong bloody Everything mantra like a monk chanting holy writ.

The Sparkies Hate Buddhists

The Electrical Trades Union issued a terse statement on Sunday afternoon, January 25, asserting that, among other sources, they had not received any monies from NASA, bikies, or Buddhists.

Fair enough too ~ no dough from Soul Pattinson, Ackland Coal, Newcrest Mining, or criminals, but what do the ETU have against Buddhists, eh!? No screaming headlines about the ETU hating Buddhists, which was bitterly disappointing to miss seeing on Australia Day morning.

This New Learning Amazes Me

All this, frankly, reminded me of how Monty Python reasoned their ways through deciding whether or not a woman caught by some villagers was a witch.

If only it all wasn’t so very serious.


Few Weird Scenes Yet ~ Queensland Election Week Two

January 13, 2015

by Dr Mark Hayes

Who is still a native Queenslander but hates the stultifying summer humidity and heat which envelops much of the place. ‘You break into a sweat when you change your mind, and feel your brain’s being squeezed into a moist oven or wrapped in a hot, wet towel,’ he growls. Like following election campaigns.

And some Breaking News ~ Tuesday afternoon, January 13 ~ scroll down to the bottom  :)

And here’s a seriously meaty read from Griffith University’s Dr Mark Bahnisch in the Guardian. And on The Monthly too. Very productive fellow  :)

And so pleased the Guardian‘s Bridie Jabour is counting those ‘Strongs’ Mr Newman keeps using.

————————————–

Elections are rituals.

Like going to church, any organized mass spectator sport, or just about anything in our homogenized, processed, controlled, Liquid Modern society.

To relive all the excitement, fear, loathing, and recriminations from the 2012 election, visit the Australian Parliament’s Library analysis. A real Déjà vu hit that read is.

All the players know the rules and mostly play by them ~ the leaders, candidates, party workers, mainstream media, the somber political commentators (modern day Delphic oracles), and even voters. We all know how to behave during elections.

All this, of course, in the incessant 24/7 multi-media news cycle and, in the interests of fairness and balance, as well as not annoying any consumers hyper-sensitive to bias, real or imagined, feeds into and reinforces a major reason why so many people have turned away from or even ignore the “He Said, but She Said” style of mainstream news reporting. It’s damn boring a lot of the time.

Given the size of the swing, and the state of the parties, after the 2012 election, the ABC, required by law to adhere to strict reporting rules, is in an interesting position. Here’s how the ABC evaluated its coverage of the 2013 Federal election (1.5 Meg PDF). This February, 2014, Guardian story also traverses the ways the ABC covers elections and what the data shows.

It’s important when studying the data to bear in mind it’s largely quantitative and not qualitative. Candidates and parties get a certain amount of ‘share of voices’ time in minutes and seconds based on their results at the previous election, and ABC reporters try hard to keep to those figures (which can dive them nuts if a party or candidate takes a ‘vow of silence’ and refuses to appear on the ABC). ‘Share of voices’ data does not evaluate the ‘quality’ of what a party or candidate says, how impactful, effective, or stupid they might sound or appear when responding to reasonable questions. I’ll look into this some more too.

Meanwhile, the ABC has fired up its Vote Compass machine, so take the tour and see what it tells you about your voting behavior.Vote Compass Abc The ABC’s Matt Wordsworth explains what this thing is and how it works.

One of the most important rules for the media and the contenders is the confected uncertainty. That every election is on a knife edge, too close to call, still anybody’s to win, the government’s to lose, voters still making up their minds, and there I go reinforcing the narrative and deploying the cliches.

Like I wrote last week, and was gratified that some commentators also picked up several of the same points, which either means I have my dibs deep in the zeitgeist or it’s all so bloody obvious ~

Calm yourselves. The LNP will win.

Don’t believe me? Listen to Antony Green on ABC Radio National Breakfast on Monday morning, January 12.

And then things get really interesting.

Read the rest of this entry »


An open letter to Sharri Markson

October 17, 2014

The Australian‘s media editor, Sharri Markson, caused a storm this week when her newspaper published an “undercover” expose of alleged left-wing bias in two of the nation’s premier journalism programs at the University of Sydney (USYD and the University of Technology in Sydney (UTS)

sharri

Ms Markson relaxing after a hard day of study From http://www.bullshit-blog.com/sharri-markson-undercover-university/

Apparently she’s planning a follow-up and today emailed a selected number of journalism academics and others to seek their views about journalism education.

Sharri Markson's email. Oops, it leaked.

Sharri Markson’s email. Oops, it leaked.

Our correspondent, Martin Hirst, was not on the list even though he’s been a journalism academic for 20 years and is a well-known critic of News Corporation.

However, in to ensure Ms Markson gets the widest possible cross-section of views he sent her the following email.
Dr Hirst is not confident that his views will make it into Monday’s Australian, so in the interests of transparency he’s agreed to share them with us.

Dear Sharri,
Thanks for your interest in a wide range of views about journalism education in Australia.

I realise you have not actually requested my views, but I thought I’d share them with you anyway in the interests of ensuring that you do indeed get a wide range of views.

BTW: I did tweet a question at you a couple of days ago about your consideration of the MEAA Code of Ethics in your undercover story.You were busy and might have missed it; please consider sending me an answer.

In the meantime here’s my responses to your questions

What do you think about media studies and its love of critical theory, post modernism and even post Marxist critical theory?

MH: There is actually a broad range of theoretical approaches in media studies, not all of them revolve around critical theory, post modernism or post Marxist critical theory and of course, media studies and journalism studies are distinct disciplines that do have some overlaps.

Many journalism programs also operate alongside PR and other communication disciplines and we encourage students to take courses in these subjects as well. We also encourage them to take studies in non-communication disciplines in history, politics, psychology, sociology etc, even sports science in some places. We do this because – like you — we value the breadth of knowledge and we know that the news industry needs people with some content expertise, not just a ‘journalism only’ degree.

Views among journalism educators in Australia range right across the theoretical spectrum from highly normative approaches that continue to value objectivity and fourth estate theories of the press; there are even libertarians among us and then there’s those of us who think that critical theory is useful (careful how you define “critical theory” it has a 100 year history and many variations).

For instance: do you mean Habermas theory of the bourgeois public sphere or McChesney’s approach to media regulation in America, or British cultural studies; do you mean Frederick Jameson’s postmodernity, or David Harvey’s “condition of postmodernity” or Zygmunt Bauman’s “liquid modernity”?

Postmodernism and cultural studies are not overly influential in journalism education, the “media wars” of the 1990s were the highpoint of postmodernism in media theory and since then things have actually changed.

If you check out the websites of the various journalism courses in Australia you will see that there is a great deal of variety in approaches taken. Some of us are indeed critical theorists and even Marxists (though out of the 100+ who teach journalism in the higher ed system I think you could count them all on one hand).

I am really the only one who frequently puts up a hand to say “Yes, I’m a Marxist.” I am in a tiny minority. I am pretty sure that Wendy, Jenna, Margaret, Matthew and Penny (along with just about all of the JERAA’s membership) would tell you that they are explicitly not Marxists. Chomsky’s not even a Marxist.

The approach that some of us use — among others — is what you might call a “political economy” approach (it is not the same as Marxism, though it is a materialist worldview) and it involves an examination of economics and social relations; in other words an examination of historical reality, similar in many ways to the methods of journalism.

Political economy examines the news industry and the practices of journalism from a grounded position of asking “what is going on in the world and how do we explain it?” Again, you would be familiar with this approach from journalism – it is what journalists also do; ask questions, seek verification and try to approximate the truth using several sources and methods of triangulation.

Political economy is also related to sociology – my PhD is in this field and so too are those of many other journalism academics.
At the same time I also use the work of an American academic (now deceased) called John C. Merrill.

Merrill is interesting in many ways — he has written extensively on the “dialectic” in journalism — as he see’s it the struggle between “freedom” and “responsibility” and how journalists cope with that. Dialectics is not a purely Marxist concept, it goes all the way back to Heraclitus and the idea of “flux”, you would know this as “nobody steps into the same river twice”.

Merrill was a very conservative libertarian and thus would actually share some political opinions with your ultimate boss, Mr Murdoch. He would also probably be a member of the IPA today. So you can see, despite my Marxism, I am not sectarian.

On the other hand, to balance this out, quite a few journalism educators are not very theoretical at all and would rather teach the inverted pyramid than critical theory. Where you might find consensus among us is that a balance of theory and practice is important; most would also say practice should probably outweigh theory in a journalism course and in most of them it does.

Does it [critical theory] have a place in journalism education or is it ruining it?

Of course critical theory (of many stripes) and other theoretical approaches have a place in journalism education and, far from ruining it, actually improve it. I have been involved in journalism education since 1993 and I think it has got better in that time because those of us who came into teaching straight from the newsroom (and if you care to check that is just about everyone of us who is teaching journalism today, despite your newspaper’s constant dismissal of this fact without checking) have gained qualifications in teaching (for example I have a Grad Cert in adult education) and also have postgrad qualifications (I gained my MA in Australian Studies while working as a daily journalist and my PhD while working as a lecturer).

Theory and practice go together and in a professional course of study, consider nursing for example – as journalism in a university setting is — it is vital that both be central to the curriculum. As academics we are obliged to consider theory and practice, it is the role of a university to do both and challenging orthodoxy is part of that.

We challenge the orthodoxy of thinking within the journalism and news business as well. One orthodoxy that we challenge is the perception fostered by your newspaper (among others, but mainly you) is the whole “those who can do/those who can’t teach” dichotomy that is constantly thrown at us like rotten fruit. It is a false proposition and no more than populist nonsense, so why do you continue to spout it?

Is it because it suits your ideological agenda, because it is not supported by the facts? We (journalism educators) are not “failed” journalists as your editor continues to shout about.

Has there been a shift away from the practical side?

No, there has not been a shift away from the practical side of journalism in our courses. Practical and applied journalism are central to the journalism education project and embedded deeply in our curricula. There is, of course, variation between schools, but in general all of us take great pride in being practical.

If you look at unit and subject offerings across the country you will see a strong emphasis on “learning by doing” which is a key pedagogy in journalism education. Nearly all of us run online publishing outlets for student work (I am doing a research project on this at the moment and looking at the application of what the Americans call a “teaching hospital” approach to journalism education; you are welcome to contact me to talk about this).

My own pedagogy — which I’ve used very successfully for 20 years — is “the classroom is a newsroom / the newsroom is a classroom”.

This is simple really – we simulate the newsroom environment in our classrooms to teach the practical aspects of journalism — students do a range of tasks from compiling stories as in-class exercises from materials we give them (e.g. Media releases, etc) which would be a common first-year approach; then in more advanced units in second and third year students would be given real assignments; i.e.. “Get out of the classroom and find a real story to cover”.

We teach interviewing, research skills, how to do an FOI, how to keep contact books, writing the inverted pyramid, writing features, writing for online, audio and video editing, radio presentation and even on-air broadcast techniques for television.

There are hundreds of examples up and down the country of journalism students writing of the student press or their local paper, running community radio stations, doing current affairs programs for community TV, and having their own online outlets.
Then of course there’s the internships and work experience at all the major news companies across the nation and some of the newer start-ups too.

So it is wrong to say that there’s been a shift away from the practical side.
However, we do have a strong emphasis on law and ethics and you might argue this is theory, but it is equally about practice – we teach this through case studies and visits to actual courtrooms too.

Should journalism training return to a focus on the practical side rather than the theoretical?

There is no conflict here Sharri, see previous answer. In my view we get it about right, there’s always room for improvement and there is change constantly. Like the news business itself, we both (journalists and journalism educators) have to adapt to change because it’s right in front of us.

I hope you find my comments useful; I’d be happy to talk if you want to clarify anything.
You can look up my publications list from here. And you will notice I’ve actually written a couple of very practical textbooks among journal articles etc that you might dismiss as “critical” or even “Marxist” theory.

Best wishes
Martin


BHS update

October 8, 2014

http://theculturetrip.com/asia/china/articles/zhu-yu-china-s-baby-eating-shock-artist-goes-hyperreal

Zhu Yu claims it was a real foetus stolen from a hospital
Part of the shock value?

http://www.academia.edu/875348/Violent_Capital_Zhu_Yu_on_File

http://says.com/my/news/this-photo-of-a-man-eating-a-dead-baby-s-fetus

http://eastiseverywhere.tumblr.com/post/81385801603/zhu-yu-eating-people-china-shanghai

http://books.google.com.au/books?id=mRmppyhh9W0C&pg=PA169&lpg=PA169&dq=zhu+yu+eating+fetus&source=bl&ots=2sWENDQxix&sig=n2m_g-VLLawnn6nJzlwGpKFFhfc&hl=en&sa=X&ei=3b80VNWxCcn48QWbsoKABw&ved=0CDMQ6AEwCDgK#v=onepage&q=zhu%20yu%20eating%20fetus&f=false

http://transgressivechineseart.wordpress.com/tewlt4/


EXCLUSIVE or ‘EXCUSIVE’? The Australian’s war against logic

January 12, 2014

I gave up my subscription to The Australian just over a year ago. It was the one resolution from New Year 2012-13 that I made and kept.

I drafted a post on it at the time, but decided not to bother publishing it, thereby depriving Murdoch of oxygen. This is what I wrote on 30 December 2012:

It’s not about the money. By my back of the envelope calculations every six-day delivery plus digital access subscription is actually losing money for News Limited. At $8.95 a week for the newspaper and the paywalled online content I was actually paying less than the price for home delivery alone and each daily paper was costing me less than the advertised cover price. Besides, I can afford it, so cost was not a factor.

What finally prompted me to stop my sub was the fact that I am increasingly agitated by the tone of The Australian’s coverage of politics and the shrill and incessant screaming directed at anything slightly left of the paper’s far-right conservatism.

For The Australian’s coterie of conservative commentators everything proposed by the Gillard Labor government represents a threat to civilisation and only the gathering forces of the libertarian right can overcome the descent into socialist Hell that the Gillard regime represents.

That this scenario is the product of fevered imaginations in the ranks of The Australian’s editorial leadership does not matter. Even the most debatable and opinion-laden piece of reportorial dross is labelled ‘Exclusive’ on the front page of the national daily and the paper’s columnists are uniformly opposed to anything progressive or ‘liberal’.

I am sick of it and I’m sure that my mental state is also polluted by the junk that is published relentlessly in pursuit of Murdoch’s regime-change agenda.

The Australian is not a newspaper in the sense of reporting items of public interest with a veneer of objectivity, it is nothing more than a cheer squad for Tony Abbott’s Liberal party.

Well, we all know what happened in 2013. The Australian and its stablemates The Herald Sun in Melbourne and The Daily Telegraph in Sydney, waged incessant war on Gillard and Rudd and the Labor Party and slavishly praised the Abbott-led coalition right up until the 7 September election date.

Since then, The Australian has championed all the causes, crusades and bullying, braying arrogance of the Abbott government.

All this hard work has not gone unrewarded. Several things have happened recently that make me think that the hotline between News Limited’s increasingly shrill coterie of senior shills and the government’s spinmeisters is always busy.

The two phenomena I wish to comment on today are evidence of this special relationship between the world’s greatest newspaper and the prime minister we had to have.

It’s simple really; the pay-off for The Australian’s loyalty and aggression has been inside information and news tips to feed the front page beast and a handsome payday for a coterie of eccentric, but suitably rightwing commentators who were being warehoused in the News Limited corridors until they could be dusted off for a suitable public purpose.

The elusive, EXCLUSIVE excusive

An “exclusive” in the newspaper world was always something that a reporter could be proud of and that an editor would get juicy over because it had the potential to increase sales and generate ‘buzz’ about the paper and the story. For a journalist, an exclusive meant free drinks at the bar, a pat on the back and a chance of promotion.

But, today at The Australian the EXCLUSIVE has become devalued to the point of worthlessness and over-used to the point of terminal boredom and cynicism on the part of the reader. More disturbingly it has morphed into what I am calling the EXCUSIVE, a story that provides political cover and excuses for the actions of the Abbott government. The Australian is now a mouthpiece and a megaphone for pro-Abbott propaganda.

Let me tender a few exhibits as evidence:

THE AUSTRALIAN, Thursday January 9, 2014

The front page of the 9 January paper had seven separate stories; six of them were badged EXCLUSIVE.

The lead “Labor, Greens end the affair” was written by Tasmania correspondent, Matthew Denholm. The exclusive was based on several “understands”:

The Australian understands the Tasmanian ALP is preparing to sever its four-year power-sharing alliance with the Greens…

While final decisions on the details of the Tasmanian split are yet to be made, The Australian understands a consensus has emerged in Labor ranks…

There is ongoing debate about whether, how and when to dump the two Greens minister — Australia’s first — from state cabinet, but The Australian understands this is the most likely outcome in the next few weeks.

There is not one source quoted in the eleven pars of this story on page one. It continues on page four for another nine pars before there is a quote from a living, breathing human being, if you can call a paraphrase with one word in “quotation” marks a quote quote unquote:

She [Lara Giddings, not the cat’s mother] became a staunch defender of it and her Greens ministers, and in March last year said she would “absolutely” have Greens back in cabinet after the next election.

That’s 20 pars into the story before a source is supplied and then it’s a source negative to the intent of the story. But it is also at least 10 months old.

The first recent quote comes in par 22, and it’s another long paraphrase with only two pretty inconsequential words in quote marks:

Yesterday, Ms Giddings refused to say whether Labor would rule out future power-sharing with the Greens, instead confirming a decision would be made in “coming weeks”.

The full Giddings quote is then repeated two pars further down:

“You can wait and see what we have got to say over the coming weeks and months as we head to the election and where we are heading as the Labor Party,” she said.

You might think that by now, the plucky Mr Denholm would give up, but no for that is not the way at the nation’s finest broadsheet. When you don’t have a story and the on-the-record statement from the key source hoses down your speculation. Don’t give up, make it up.

Matthew ploughs ahead with the main theme of the story, despite the fact that he has got no on the record response from sources that back up his understandings.

A complete reversal by Giddings-led Labor follows similar stances against deals with the Greens taken by the party’s leadership in other states and territories.

Hang on. What “complete reversal”. All the paper has is a coy wait and see from Lara Giddings.

This EXCLUSIVE is a beat-up and it wouldn’t pass muster in my first year journalism tutorials. We insist on two real live interviews in most news stories our students write for us and normally we expect to see a strong supporting quote in the first four pars, not buried in the spill-over to page four. The headline might more honestly have been “Giddings says ‘wait and see’ on possible split with Greens”

If Matthew were in my class I would suggest he rewrite this as a story about Lara Giddings saying any decision on a split with the Greens is still weeks or months away. In other words, it is a non-story.

Why then is it on the front page as the lead in The Australian?

You’d have to ask Chris Mitchell for the real answer, but here’s one I made up earlier.

The story fits the ongoing narrative running through News Limited newspapers that the Greens are really communists in disguise, are bad for the country, are crackpots and fuckwits and part of the reason that Labor is so unpopular. Any EXCUSIVE that promotes the party line and has a bash at both Labor and the Greens has a deserved place on the front page.

The front page of The Australian is the front line in Murdoch’s war on logic.

My favourite front page EXCUSIVE in this particular edition of The Australian was a story about the tow-back of asylum-seeker boats to Indonesia. You might recall (by way of background) that Immigration Minister Scott Morrison and other senior Liberals, including Abbott, are maintaining a horrible secrecy on this issue and most of our information is courtesy of reporters in Jakarta, not Canberra.

Navy now ‘towing’ back the boats

EXCLUSIVE

Brendan Nicholson, Defence editor

The lead par on this story is a statement of the bleeding obvious:

The Abbott government is implementing a radical policy of towing asylum boats back to Indonesian waters.

Yeah, we know that Brendan, it was on the news last night and all over the web all day yesterday. An exclusive is supposed to be new and a story that nobody else has got hold of yet.

The cat is out of the bag on the exclusivity of this story in the long second par:

The Jakarta Post reported yesterday that…

After noting (without comment) that Morrison is refusing to speak, we are exclusively told in The Australian that “last night” an asylum-seeker spoke to “the Seven Network” about the tow-back. I didn’t see that interview, but I did see it on the ABC and the SBS.

There goes the EXCLUSIVE and the story tips over into being an EXCUSIVE again.

In this case the excusing is inserted by republishing a quote from Tony Abbott from his visit to Jakarta in October last year when he flatly denied that towing back boats would be Coalition policy.

During his first visit to Indonesia as Prime Minister, in October [2013], Tony Abbott told a media conference in Jakarta: “Can I just scotch this idea that the Coalition’s policy is or ever has been tow-backs.”

The faithful stenographic chimp who occupies the chair reserved for the ‘Defence Editor’, dutifully repeats the lies as a way of hosing down the seriousness of this story:

During the election campaign, Mr Morrison said the Coalition never had a policy of towing boats back to Indonesia. He said that position had been misrepresented in the media over a long period.

You see, weasel words and dissembling are enough to convince The Australian that it is right. The coalition policy is “turnaround, not strictly tow-backs” according to Abbott, so that is how it is reported in the Murdoch press.

This is not an exclusive in any sense of the word. All the information contained in the story was already on the public record. What is EXCLUSIVE to this story is the EXCUSIVE pro-government spin imparted by the paper itself.

Four more EXCLUSIVEs appeared between pages two and five of The Australian on 9 January, some of them might be legitimate — ie stories that are first reported in the paper and not elsewhere, but at least one of them is exclusive because no one else would touch it. It is another EXCUSIVE based on the prejudices of The Australian, rather than any merit.

In this context EXCUSIVE is about campaigning in the dog whistle political style of The Australian — attacking targets in the sights of the Abbott government as a way of currying favour and displaying fealty to the Liberal conservative social agenda.

Uni defends audience with Assad

EXCLUSIVE

Christian Kerr

This is a follow-up story to other coverage of the visit to Syria and audience with Bashar al-Assad in Damascus by a group claiming some connection with the Australian Wikileaks party.

For the record, I think the visit was a stupid and disgusting mistake on behalf of those who went. It lends legitimacy to the Assad regime and also to claims that the Syrian opposition is mostly made up of al Qaida-style extremists.

I have publicly disagreed with Tim Anderson before about this and a year ago defriended him on Facebook after he continually posted pro-Assad comments and images to his timeline. I am a strong supporter of the Syrian opposition, but do not countenance jihadist sentiment. I support the secular revolutionaries and those who wish to bring down the Assad regime, rather than those who wish to establish a caliphate in the region.

Anyway, back to the story. The Australian had been pestering the University of Sydney (Anderson’s employer) to dissociate itself from his visit to Damascus and to condemn or even sanction him for his actions.

Despite this pressure, the university stood by Anderson on the grounds of academic freedom and it was right to do so. This is reported in the first par of Christian Kerr’s story, but it is just not good enough, as he goes on to explain (at great length)

The University of Sydney has defended as an exercise in academic freedom the visit of senior lecturer Tim Anderson to Syria as part of a delegation that met dictator Bashar al-Assad.

But the comments have not satisfied Education Minister Christopher Pyne or a group of federal MPs who wrote to the university earlier this week expressing concerns…

Then we move back into the murky territory of who understands what — can you hear the whistle boys and girls? This is Kerr’s stock-in-trade and a tried and true modus operandi at The Australian. Ethical Martini understands that this method is used because the stenographic chimps can learn it by rote and apply the formula to any story and any situation.

The Australian understands there is concern among the university’s top governing body, the senate, that Dr Anderson’s visit will compound concerns caused by the boycott of Israeli institutions and academics by its Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies.

This is the real nub. The Australian has been campaigning for months against the BDS campaign boycott being implemented by the CPCS because the paper is pro-Israel and pro-Zionist thanks to Murdoch’s business interests in the country, including possible covert hacking and spying on competitors in the pay-TV industry. [See Neil Chenoweth’s exposure for the full story]

This brings us nicely to the appointment of Donelly and Wiltshire to head up a review of the national school curriculum. Both of these neanderthal hacks are favourites of Murdoch and Mitchell. They frequently opine in The Australian on education and other issues and they are both reliably rightwing to the point that they walk with a limp.

I have plenty more to say on that, but it is Sunday afternoon and I’m going off for a massage.

Tomorrow I am having surgery on my hand and I won’t be typing for a while, so this is the last post, so to speak, for at least two weeks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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