Tuesday, October 26, 2010

On the QT: Speculation, gravitas and the honest truth

This morning on Sky News it was revealed that three weeks ago Greens’ Senator Sarah Hanson-Young had challenge Christine Milne for the Deputy Leadership position. This caused a brief, but rather humorous flurry on twitter under the title #greenspill.

The Australian ran a story under the (no longer there – but the url is) headline:

Challenge for Greens’ deputy leadership is revealed weeks after the event

Which I guess is a better headline than

Entire press gallery oblivious of news

Very quickly journalists were on Twitter demanding Bob Brown explain, or for Sarah Hanson-Young to “fess up”. Samantha Maiden tweeted:

imageWhen are Greens going to let the sunshine + act like a grown ups and just confirm what they know: that SHY challenged Milne

You can understand the press gallery’s annoyance – after all it took Brown all of an hour after the story was broken for him to give a press conference. (He really needs to work on his going to ground routine.)

Brown in his press conference confirmed that Hanson-Young had challenged and that he would have told the media three weeks ago in his post election press conference, except they didn’t ask him about it. This got them very snippy.

Little wonder. I can just imagine them all chatting to their editor:

So how come you guys didn’t know about this?

Well boss, get this – Bob Brown didn’t tell us.

What? The lying bastard, we’ll ruin him. What did he say when you asked him?

Err… well here’s the thing… err we didn’t ask him.

Oh…kay… …

First, let’s be honest, this “news” isn’t exactly a barbecue stopper – most people if you asked them who Hanson-Young was would ask if she’s related to Pauline, or did her dad hosted Young Talent Time. But this news does reveal a couple things. 

The first is that the press gallery appear to be completely without any decent Greens’ contacts. They didn’t need to know one of the 5 Senators and 1 MP – it was not exactly a state secret amongst the Greens’ members. For a party that is the third most powerful, you would think journalists might try and build up some relationships. (Here’s a tip – first don’t work for a news organisation whose editorial policy is that the Greens “should be destroyed at the ballot box.”). The only dopey reporting on Greens leadership challenges thus far has been limited to “speculation” that Lee Rhiannon will challenge Bob Brown for leadership went she comes in next July.

Yeah, that’s going to happen.

Most of the journalists today seemed shocked that a party would not reveal its internal goings on. They were shocked (shocked and appalled I tells ya!) that the Greens would adopt a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach, as though any other party is any different. The Libs and ALP only tell everything about leadership challenges because they know if they don’t some MP will text a journo the result (in fact they usually have done so a second after the vote is taken). How dare the Greens not take that approach!

At the moment there are only 6 Greens Senators and MPs; leaking and not getting caught is hard to do, and more to the point why would they do it? There is zero upside in the Greens leaking at the moment, and it also does not appear to be in the Greens culture.

The Greens might now be a grown up political party that has leadership spills and policy differences, but that doesn’t mean they have to play the media game the same way as the big two. After all were you to look at how the media has covered the internal goings on of the Liberal Party and ALP in just the last 12 months, why on earth would you want to go down that line?

Here’s the other thing. Not only did no journalist think to ask at the time about the deputy position (it was pretty easy, all they needed to do was ask “Was Senator Milne elected unopposed?”), none of them knew she was going to challenge. So for all the talk post fact that Hanson-Young is trying to destabilise the leadership or some such, she sure as hell didn’t go round it in a very active way. There was no backgrounding of journalists, no grumbling after the fact, nothing but some vague sense of rumblings apparently.

imageWhat this does reveals to us though is that someone did want this leaked now. Is it to put pressure on Milne or on Hanson-Young? Or was it just someone who expressed surprise to a journo that no one knew about the spill, and voila there was a story? (Sometimes story leaks are not of insidious intent).

I (like most others) have long believed the Greens test as a party will come when Brown steps down. Will the change-over be smooth?

The easy way is to view it through the ALP-LNP lens and think all leadership spills must involve carnage and dissent. Now, I don’t for one minute believe the Greens are all hold hands and peace-pipe smoking hippies, but that doesn't mean they are just the little ALP. There’s a reason you rub for the Greens and not for the ALP – one reason might be a disgust with the factions and all the internal fighting that accompanies the Labor Party. Hanson-Yong challenged, and yet as far as anyone can tell has done nothing to destabilise the party or Milne (or she has, but you would have to believe the media has just decided to not report it because they’re not interested in that sort of thing).

Will the Greens become like other parties, or will they continue to frustrate and befuddle journalists unused to politics being played by different rules? We watch and wait.


Bob Brown in his press conference however did at least stick to one script – namely coming out with a dopey economic policy. He came out against the Singapore Stock Exchange taking over the Australian Stock Exchange because of human rights:

The Singapore government put the phone down and hung Nguyen Van with no further compassion or consideration of Australia's opposition to the death penalty. Now the phone's ringing in the opposite direction to have the Singapore stock exchange - with a 15 per cent government interest, I might add - take over the Australian Stock Exchange in Sydney. We should tell them, 'nothing doing'.

It’s such statements that always hold me back from going fully over to the Greens’ side. Linking economics with the issue of the death penalty is going to count out a hell of a lot of countries – like say the United States. Such statements do nothing for their economic credibility – but there you go, they don’t play be the rules. Linking economics with human rights? Who does that anymore? Oh the Greens do.

At least they’re not like Joe Hockey who undid some of the very good work he did yesterday on banking regulations,by also coming out against the merger… or sort of. Here he was on AM (he really shouldn't go on AM, he is not at his best in the morning):

LYNDAL CURTIS: First of all, to the Stock Exchange. Do you have any qualms about the Australian Stock Exchange being taken over by its Singaporean counterpart?

JOE HOCKEY: Well, look, the Coalition has only preliminary information. We're… we've been offered, very generously, by the ASX, a full briefing, and we'll see that later in the week.image

But, this is a matter of Wayne Swan. And Wayne Swan needs to explain to the Australian people how it is in our national interest to have the Australian Stock Exchange purchased entirely by the Singapore Stock Exchange.

LYNDAL CURTIS: Do you think it's in the national interest? Do you think there are any national interest questions involved in a stock exchange being majority-owned?

JOE HOCKEY: Oh, well, there are. Of course there are, Lyndal. Look, I was the minister for financial services that gave the Stock Exchange the opportunity to become a listed company, and it was instrumental in assisting us to promote Australia as a regional financial centre, and that was in competition with Singapore.

So, in a sense, it is of great concern - unless it can be proven otherwise - that our major regional competitor is buying out our own stock exchange.

So it’s a great concern, but you know, he doesn't know what should be done but that said it’s a great concern… because err it is.

He then went back to his dopey line about Wayne Swan being ignored by the banks (now up to 31 one warnings). He explained what the government needed to have:

JOE HOCKEY: Well, Lyndal, on 31 occasions, now, Wayne Swan has warned the banks not to go beyond the Reserve Bank, and they ignore him. And they ignore him. Now, you need to have a government with gravitas. You need to have a Treasurer with gravitas.
This is a government that has no gravitas.

Ah, gravitas, so that’s it. No the banks don’t need more competition, they just need to be told what to do by someone with gravitas. It seems banks are very scared of gravitas. They must get very scared whenever Paul Kelly writes a column about them (that’s a joke for all you Insiders twitter followers)


And so  to Question Time. Well nothing much of any note happened other than someone must have given Harry Jenkins the evil eye, because he was in a right proper mood. He stomped on Julie Bishop – invoking the death stare, and he kicked out Scott Morrison (admittedly no one was all that disappointed about that).

On the Dorothy Dixer side, poor Andrew Leigh, easily the smartest economic brain in the parliament, was forced to parrot the following question:

Why is ongoing economic reform important, and what is the Government doing to boost national productivity?”

It would actually had been better if Leigh was able to answer his own question.

The Libs’ attack on the other hand were still on the dog-whistling-asylum-seeker boat. Julie Bishop asked Rudd a question about advice he had given Gillard on the East Timor processing centre – which seemed to anticipate the story on Channel Nine news that when he was PM, Rudd told Gillard that the East Timor processing centre “looks very much like the Pacific solution under another name”.  This is no big shock, and doesn't really matter because while it may “look like” the Pacific solution, it actually isn’t.

Gillard was also being asked to rule out any more defence establishments being used as detention centres. No PM worth his or her salt would ever be stupid enough to absolutely rule anything in or out, and she didn’t, saying the Government had no plans to establish any more.

The answer of the day was given by Peter Garrett in response to a pathetic dog-whistle question by Chris Pyne on the national curriculum.

Pyne, notionally one of the moderate liberal MPs (surely a category that needs to be put next to the Democrats in the history of Australian politics) asked about the draft curriculum having in it questions regarding the controversy of war memorials and also the meaning of Gallipoli. It seems according to the Liberal Party Australians didn’t fight WWI and WWII to defend freedom, but to defend unthinking nationalism.

Garrett dispatched Pyne’s long hop to the boundary, pointing out that the curriculum will actually help students learn about the Anzac tradition (as an aside if they have anything other than Gallipoli in the Primary School history curriculum they’ll be miles ahead of what I learned about the 20th century…)


The re-writing of history was also on display in a speech on the Afghanistan War tabled by Nick Minchin. Minchin was unable to give the speech himself for personal reasons, but in it he pointed out some interesting points about the Iraq War:image

The honest truth is that the US's decision to invade Iraq in 2003 when Afghanistan had not been resolved has clearly affected the campaign in Afghanistan in a very negative fashion.”

Rather than the US and the its allies focusing all their energies and resources on Afghanistan Iraq became, “a massive diversion”.

“Indeed I vividly recall as a member of the Howard cabinet being very disturbed in the period prior to this US invasion by the obvious and significant battle going on in the Bush administration between Colin Powell at state and Donald Rumsfeld at defence over the Iraq issue.

“I recall that my heart sank when Mr Howard informed us in the middle of a Cabinet meeting that the US had decided to invade Iraq”. But he says he knew that that decision having been made Australia had to support it.

“I regret that we were not able to be more successful in persuading the Bush administration to remain focused on Afghanistan rather than open up another front in Iraq.

The debacle that ensued in Iraq has made the vital campaign in Afghanistan more protracted and more difficult [which has] adversely affected public support for our engagement

Well that’s nice. It only took seven years and a John Howard autobiography for “the honest truth” to come out.

By that reckoning I guess the three weeks it took for the Greens is pretty good.


On a side note – just to let you know there won’t be an “On the QT” post tomorrow – I’m busy tomorrow night.


Agnes Mack said...

Can't help wondering where SHY's pre-emptive solo performance on asylum seeking kids and families being released into the community fits in. And as you say, it would be interestng to know the source of the story. Or more properly, non-story. It would be a pretty dismal party that didn't have a couple of leadership hopefuls/possibles in its ranks.

Andrew Elder said...

First, Julia Gillard becomes PM without asking permission from the press gallery, now this.

Every PM since Billy McMahon courted the press gallery assiduously, it was assumed you just had to do that in order to become PM. Not so - and they've been snippy at her ever since ("are you frustrated that you're not getting your message out?", "look at her earlobes", etc.).

This is why there's such an intense focus by pollies on interest rates - maybe the journosphere will all but ignore it, but that will be the story that people hear/see/read, and that's as much cut-through as you can hope for these days.

The Greens seem to have replaced the Democrats in having earnest types like Milne and Siewert plugging away on policy, and that should see them right for a while in terms of maintaining one-sixth of the Senate vote each time in each state. SHY doesn't seem to be like that and Lee Rhiannon isn't either; once the showponies have their heads it's all over (I'm looking at you NSD).

Good luck tomorrow night.

raucous said...

> Samantha Maiden's tweet "When are Greens going to..."

I like the way the journos imply it's the pollies fault they (the journos) didn't know what was going on.

> only took seven years and a John Howard autobiography for “the honest truth” to come out

Didn't come out in the apologia - sorry, I meant autobiography, did it?

Sonia said...

I think Joe should start relying on the if I didnt write it down dont believe it. NOt because he is more untrustworthy than any other politician but because he cant communicate it unless scripted. That should keep him out of trouble.
If any of the Canberra journos had bothered to give the Greens any decent coverage during the election they would certainly have some better connections. This really was a non event.
Deciding ecomonic matters on human rights should be interesting for ongoing dealings with China in the 'new paradigm'

Anonymous said...

Great summary of the day's events as aways.

datebiskot said...

I don't quite understand all the implications of Singapore's stock exchange taking over the ASX. I've seen a bit of nationalistic scare mongering, but since it seems to be going ahead, there has to be something in it for Australia? What purpose will it serve to allow this kind of merger?

Sam Bauers said...

The Greens didn't have a "spill". It was a routine election of party room positions. Same thing happened after the 2007 election and no one seemed to care back then that Rachel Siewert challenged Milne for the Deputy position.

Then again, "spills" are all the rage these days. Makes for good news fodder. It's no wonder the press weren't let in on the fun.

The culture of The Greens is that competition is encouraged in internal elections. It helps build candidate experience.

I'll reserve my judgements on individual Senators, but to Andrew Elder who called Lee Rhiannon a "show pony", you are seriously mistaken. She may not be working on policy that you like, but policy work is exactly what she is best at. If her time in NSW parliament is anything to go by, she's going to be formidable in the Senate.

Andrew Elder said...

Sam, I stand by it: http://andrewelder.blogspot.com/search?q=rhiannon

Patrick Bateman said...

I find it sad that you ridicule the notion of linking human rights to economic matters. Of course they *are* linked, whether you choose to acknowledge it or not. You can choose to strengthen unpleasant regimes by trading with them, or you can choose to take a more principled stance and - at a minimum - highlight issues of human rights. Lately the fashion appears to be to buy into the Chinese/SE Asian line that human rights are relative rather than universal.

Greg Jericho said...

Patrick, I certainly ridicule linking the ASX takeover with the death penalty. As to the broader linking of ecnomic policy with human rights, my observation was more that it is yet another example of how the Greens don't play by the same rules the majors do. (and seem to be doing very well by doing so!)

I don't generally agree with the linkage, but in some cases it may have merit. Not in the ASX case though (IMO)

Sam Bauers said...

Andrew, the post you link to on your own site says nothing about Rhiannon's competence or work ethic in regards to policy.

Sam Bauers said...

From the post...

"The only dopey reporting on Greens leadership challenges thus far has been limited to “speculation” that Lee Rhiannon will challenge Bob Brown for leadership went she comes in next July."

This will be dredged up again in June probably. The only reason I can think of that Rhiannon would want the leadership position would be if from there she could abolish it (and she couldn't). There are some very uninformed opinions about The Greens being run out there.

The most disturbing point about this current situation is that the journalists reporting clearly aren't connected on the inside of the party and so when they need an angle they are clearly just making shit up: Imagined factions; Leadership struggles; You name it.