Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Spectre of Democracy

All you need to know that is wrong with The Australian is in this picture:


Yes my friends, mark this day down as the date the “democracy” was viewed as a pejorative by The Australian.

It’s a terrible thing democracy, and Paul Kelly, that old man of gravitas, is right to suggest we should limit it. Hell the very last thing we would ever want is for an elected government be able to do what a majority of those who voted for it in an election want it to do…

The issue of course is gay marriage. Kelly and Dennis Shanahan are truly frightened by it, and have been writing hard in the last week or so on how if The Greens get their way, why you’ll be seeing Steve and Steve walking down the aisle destroying everything that is right and good about Australia!

Err except it won’t.

The issue involved a Bill in the federal parliament which will (look you best sit down, the shock may cause you to hurt yourself if you’re standing up) mean if the ACT or Northern Territory Government that have been elected democratically pass some legislation that the Federal Government doesn't like, they will have to pass a law through parliament to have it struck down.

Yep. I know what you’re thinking: “Here comes the groom, here comes the groom…”

At the moment any ACT or NT legislation can be struck down by the “Commonwealth Executive” – ie no need for a vote, if the Federal Govt doesn’t like it, it’s gone. What does the proposed Bill do? Well let’s let The Oz tell us:

The bill, put forward by Greens leader Bob Brown, would abolish the right of commonwealth ministers to have a veto over territory laws, but retain the right of veto through approval of both houses of parliament.

I know. The horror.

On Sunday Andrew Robb on Insiders, reflecting nicely Kelly’s and Shanahan’s stance, described the issue thusly:

imageANDREW ROBB: Obviously, I mean I think it betrays a lack of conviction. You know that's why she has not established in six months any authority and that's why I think she's increasingly looking out of her depth because Bob Brown has dominated the agenda since the election.

And again we've got this whole spectre of, you know, gay marriage. And it's a 250th order issue. People cannot understand you know why the hell is it, Parliament dominated by these sorts of issues

Yep “a spectre”. Wow, I hope you’re all able to get some sleep with this evil thing threatening to haunt our homes and lives….

Today Kelly got out his quill and set forth on making some points, and in the process completely confused and contradicted himself.

If the ACT had the constitutional power to legislate for same-sex marriage then it would do so. Such a law would almost certainly be unconstitutional and Attorney-General Robert McClelland has been at pains to ensure that existing ACT laws do not infringe on the national government's marriage power under the Constitution.

So if they had constitutional power to do something it would be unconstitutional… The fact is the ACT already have the constitutional power to legislate anything they like except if it unconstitutional, so this Bill won’t change that at all.

The ACT lacks many privileges of the states guaranteed by the Constitution. The ACT has no claim to statehood. It never will be a state. Its constitutionally inferior status is enshrined for good reason.

Does Kelly give us any “good reasons”? That’d be no. He then follows up with this doozy:

It means that while Australian citizens living in the ACT should be accorded the same political rights as other citizens, this does not gainsay the more limited nature of the ACT as a self-governing entity whose originating purpose as a territory still remains.

So Kelly in one sentence tells us that people who live in the ACT lack “many privileges of the states  guaranteed by the Constitution”, and then a few sentences later he says that those citizens “should be accorded the same political rights as other citizens”. Yeah, logic is not Kelly’s strong point today. To top it all off in the very same sentence he then says the ACT Government which represents those people who “should be accorded the same political rights as other citizens” should have a more limited nature than the Governments of other states!


Kelly then again points out that his whole article is pointless:

[Simon] Crean points out the ACT cannot legislate for euthanasia (because of the famous 1997 Andrews bill) and civil unions laws are already on the ACT books courtesy of the McClelland sanctioned 2009 law.

But no, you see there is badness afoot:

But this arrangement is not good for Australia.

Does Kelly say why? Of course not, except for this gormless final paragraph:

It is entirely appropriate and prudent the national government retain this executive power, given the ACT is the home of the national institutions. The one certainty is that its removal will be regretted at some stage down the track because in terms of improving our national governance this step is a negative, not a plus.

Except as Kelly would know (well you would hope) the national institutions are taken care of by the National Capital Authority. What is the NCA?

The National Capital Authority (NCA) is established under the Australian Capital Territory (Planning and Land Management) Act 1988 (the Act).

The Act establishes the NCA, prescribes its powers and functions and makes it subject to general ministerial direction. The Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government, the Hon. Simon Crean MP administers the Act.

The statutory functions of the NCA comprehensively establish the Australian Government's continuing interest in the strategic planning, promotion, development and enhancement of Canberra as the National Capital.

The functions of the NCA provide an enduring framework to secure the planning and development of Canberra as the capital; to accommodate the Seat of Government and associated national and cultural requirements; to provide national public places for all Australians to visit and enjoy; to enhance the unique character and symbolic meaning of the capital; and to develop appreciation of the capital as a reflection of our democracy and national life.

So don’t worry Paul, gay marriage won’t cause the destruction of the national institutions.

And who is going to “regret” the removal Kelly? I do love the passive voice – that case where the journalist is unable to actually name who will do something that they themselves believe.

If Kelly is against gay marriage, he should just state so and argue why that is a right position to hold, not hide behind some furphy that he is worried about the governance of the ACT – let alone the evils of democracy posing risk for “the nation”.


Today there was big news on the carbon price debate. Tony Windsor had yesterday gone on Lateline and said he couldn't commit to a carbon tax. The Oz ran big with it, so too the ABC.


How’s this for a shocking line:

He says people in his electorate are telling him that they want a productive debate, rather than one dominated by politics.

"They want it a little bit more advanced than the word 'lie' and the word 'tax," he said.

"I think they want to find out what could happen, what sort of contribution we should be making, what are the advantages in regional Australia for instance in terms of renewable energy?"

He says he would like the same, and says he needs plenty more information about the implicit price of carbon and how Australia's efforts sit globally before the Government can win his vote.

"There's a lot of ifs and coulds... I haven't ruled anything in or out, because there isn't anything," he said.

Oh dear, he’s not ruling anything in or out!! He wants more information!!!

Little wonder Andrew Bolt was able to write “Windsor Blinks”. What a massive turnaround from when Windsor fronted up with Gillard, Oakeshott, the Greens and Gillard to announce the carbon price framework.

Err, except actually it’s not. Here’s what Windsor said back then to the full contingent of the Canberra Press Gallery:

WINDSOR: Your question if I can remember it Lenore relates to the proposal. This is very much the start of a process in my view. I know that you were trying to get some information from Greg there a moment ago in terms of the transport issue. There’s a lot discussion to take place, on this issue, what we have established today is a framework to attempt to work within. Now that doesn’t mean that the game is over. In my view, and one of the reasons I wanted to be involved in this Committee, was we wanted Professor Garnaut to look at the international stage as to what was happening, either with or without the emissions trading schemes, what is happening globally, and also for the Productivity Commission to look at some of these competitive aspects and the impacts of various prices and different systems on our nation. And so I see this and please don’t construe through my presences here that I will be actually supporting any scheme. I’m more than happy to be involved in a process within this framework, but there is a whole range of unanswered questions that all of us have to deal with until we reach conclusion. I’m pleased about the way in which agriculture and land use management, landscape management and some of those issues are being addressed both in the committee and in the boarder community and I will be one of the interests that I will be looking at as well.

JOURNALIST: Just to clarify that, because people are saying that by next year we will have a starting point, are you saying that it’s possible by next year we might not have a starting point?

WINDSOR: I think that all options are on the table. This is a framework to work within. We’ve made progress. Obviously, there would have to be there would have to be an agreement in both houses of Parliament of a model that we all agree with. We haven’t seen that model yet and I’m sure there would be arguments and issues raised. Nothing’s settled in my view, I can only speak for myself. I think that the globe, and this is a personal view, should be looking at doing something in relation to climate change. Whether Australia doing something in the context of the globe will be sufficient to have any meaningful effect, my vote will not only be determined on what the committee does, but also in terms of the information and feedback from the globe as to what it’s doing.

In other words, since the announcement of the framework, during  which time Windsor has been subject to abuse and death threats, and in which the ALP has been slapped in the polls, Windsor’s position is… err exactly the same.

Look I don’t expect journalists to be able to remember every little thing. There are a lot of things said by a lot of politicians. And sure, people forget that someone said something six years ago, and is now saying something totally opposite, but if journalists or their editors don’t realise that something said today is the same as what that person said less than two weeks ago during the biggest press conference held this year, then I ask you – what the hell is the point of reading anything they write?


This morning while reading The Oz, I got a bit of a shock when I perused the editorial. It was on the carbon price debate – no surprise there, it is the big issue of the times – at the end of the piece however I came across this rather fun line about a carbon tax:

Unlike the GST, which at least simplified the tax system and could be sold as real reform, the carbon tax is hard to grasp conceptually.

Excuse me? A carbon tax is not a “real reform”? Now look, normally I wouldn't like to quibble, but only two weeks ago this was written in another editorial of The Oz about the announcement of the “carbon tax”:

Broken promise or not, Ms Gillard is finally underway on a major reform.

I guess “major reform” is not “real reform”

Today’s editorial also had this:

the carbon tax is hard to grasp conceptually… Unlike Mr Howard, whose passion for the GST was overt, Ms Gillard does not look at ease with the detail.

Except, as I have pointed out last week in parliament a number of times the PM simply and clearly explained how a carbon price will work. But I guess journalists having to remember what was said in Parliament would be just as hard as remembering what was said in a press conference.

And as for actually reporting what the PM said, or even better, giving their readers a guide through the apparent “complexities” of the issue? No, they wouldn’t do that, because hell, why would you want to gain insight on policy from reading a newspaper?


Jez said...

Inconsistency, thy name is Murdoch. Or Lenore. Or Dolt. Or Piers. Or Glenn. Or something like that...

Steve Szetey said...

Lack of research is an issue that most newspapers are guilty of. It's just that it's more obvious with The Australian.

I did have an issue with the first part of this sentence though ...

"Unlike the GST, which at least simplified the tax system and could be sold as real reform, the carbon tax is hard to grasp conceptually."

As a tax accountant I laugh to think that someone actually believes the introduction of the GST somehow simplifies the tax system. All it did was change one complex tax that some businesses hated (Sales Tax) to a complex tax that all businesses hate (GST). Simple.

And to be honest the word reform is misused in this context. Oxford dictionary defines reform as "make changes in something (especially an institution or practice) in order to improve it". I think they key word here is "improve", not something that the introduction of the GST did.

paddy said...

Thanks for the copious belly laughs Greg.
One of the most memorable "here's your behind sir" moments I can remember *anyone* handing out to Mr P.Kelly.
Beautifully delivered and richly deserved.
Pure bliss.

Geoff said...

Just please keep writing this stuff. Kelly and others shouldn't be able to peddle such drivel without somebody pointing it out.

Sir Ian Crisp said...

Mr Windsor’s fecund imagination was at play when he announced that he had received a death threat. A person rang him and called him a “f***ing dog” and ended the call by saying “I hope you die you bastard”. That is not a death threat. If the caller said: “I am going to kill you”, then that would be a death threat. If I said to someone “drop dead”, that would not be construed as a death threat.

For the final word on the matter let’s feed the anonymous caller’s words through the cynical argot filter of contemporary thinking by applying the O’Shane test. If calling the police “f***ing pigs” is acceptable I am sure that “f***ing dog” would be considered just as harmless and “I hope you die you bastard” would be considered robust debate.

Mick O'Mara said...

Hi Greg. I enjoy your blog. My guess is that there was a lot of adverse comments received by the Oz re Paul Kelly's article. No comments were published. I put one in querying Kelly's concept of democracy. Got zapped of course as the Oz picks what it wants. However to publish no comments probably means they didn't get any thing favourable.

sldr360 said...

for the sake of your health. Give up reading The Australian.

i di in 1975 and heave felt better ever since.

DaveB said...

Australian journalists' emails are lastname followed by the first letter of their name

I'm sure you can work out the rest if you want to send Mr P Kelly a little more personal feedback.

As a gay Canberran it is heartening to hear just how much my existence is a threat to the nation. And now the world!

Greg Jericho said...

Steve, that is a very good point.

Anonymous said...

Lateline reported tonight on CATA (Consumers and Taxpayers Association) which is co-ordinating an anti-carbon tax rally on the lawns of Parliament House on Wednesday 23rd March 2011 at High Noon.

There is provision on the website to send a message to the PM. So far they have not removed supportive messages. So why not send a positive message and also support the Government in the various Polls on the site.

adamjacobryant said...

Thanks Grog
I sometimes kinda almost feel lazy reading your blog which I know in advance I am more than likely to agree with. But it is just nice to know that there other people approaching these issues with some sanity.

Absolutely, heaven forbid that a journo might try to provide some clarity about climate change or otherwise. Much more fun of course to report the "controversy". I think the worst offender is Uhlmann actually. I would rather he grill her about maybe some details of her plan, or some assumptions that will be made. Or maybe about the veracity of the (not much made of) claim that 30 countries already have a scheme in place. Instead we get him asking her to respond to what she thinks of the poll. And to rule stuff in and out (my absolute biggest dislike of gotcha journalism-he thinks its a scoop that she won't answer his question).


L said...

sldr360, it's been hard enough trying to get Grog to kick his Andrew Bolt habit. Getting him to stop reading the Australian as well would be like trying to convince a crackhead who's also a smoker to go through each hell of withdrawal at the same time. Personally I think he gets off on the anger.

On Kelly: I've had him down as a fatuous blowhard ever since he came out in support of invading Iraq 10 years ago, which coincidentally was about the time I started reading the Australian. Like a lot of the rest of the recent output of the Australian pseudointellectual right his argument in this article can be summed up as "this thing supported by the Greens is bad because I don't like them". Even if you smoothed out all of the internal contradictions it still wouldn't make any sense.

adamjacobbryant said...

I feel mean singling out Chris Uhlmann by the way. Its just with the flagship program of the ABC I would really hope for the absolutely highest of quality in probing journalism. I don't think we have got this for the last 3 nights. At all.

I think that I will give him the benefit of the doubt that perhaps he thinks the opposition's opposition to everything so negative and ludicrous that he can't think of any intelligent way to editorialise it, but that being with the ABC he is obliged to maintain a balanced position, and therefore can't bring himself to do anymore than just repeat what Abbot said.

Tez said...

Top class again. Any chance of getting a gig on the opinion pages of a major metropolitan daily?

Anonymous said...

Grog -- as usual, you cut through the layers of crap and unearth the ... well ... crap contained therein.

Little wonder people are no longer reading newspapers.

The tragedy is they have moved to SKY News and ABC24 as a replacement (who get their ill-informed views from the OZ).


Keep up the good work!


Doug said...

Thanks Greg for your usual thorough research and lucid conclusions. You are my surrogate Oz reader - I started reading it in Yr 10 in 1968, when Mungo used to have a column on the editorial page. I stopped when Adrian Deamer was sacked and have only read it since if The Age or SMH are sold out at the weekend, and even then the highlight is the recipes in the Weekend Magazine.

I get really annoyed the way political insiders like Kelly pontificate as though that right is exclusive to so-called outsiders, which they pretend to be but clearly are not. Ditto Shanahan, Jones and the other Nuts and Bolts.

Re Uhlmann's efforts on the reincarnated Uhlmann Report, hosted by Leigh Sales, I recommend this piece:

I attended a Media Skills course conducted by Paul Lyneham in 1997, at which he reminded us that the media reports "change through conflict". If the two major parties agreed on introducing an ETS by means of a temporary fixed price for carbon, the media would barely be interested. It is the conflict, not the issue, which is of interest and which sells consumers to their advertisers.

Moneypenny said...

As a now long-time territorian, when I read Paul Kelly's article I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. The logical contortions are quite impressive. No amount of gravitas can hide them, either.

But oh so depressing to be told that self-governing territorians are basically to be treated as more incapacitated, incompetent, or untrustworthy than any other jurisdiction.

Extinguishing individual acts of political self-determination by executive decree is pretty offensive - in other places revolutions have been caused by such things (not that I am advocating that; just saying).

Since when did liberal democracy turn into Liberal democracy?

timbog74 said...

Democracy is only allowed if you agree with Paul Kelly and the Liberal Party? Got it. I suppose as a tertiary educated, 3rd generation Canberra public servant, my values are so wildly out of step with the rest of Australia that I don't really deserve to have my elected representatives make laws on my behalf. Good to know.

aidan said...

I guess “major reform” is not “real reform”

And they accuse bloggers of just making shit up.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Greg, I'm not sure this is the appropriate place to put this but i was wondering if you saw this article? It's just too bad Australian tv/media doesn't have Canada's "no lying" laws

Anonymous said...

Simple to avoid confusion - The Australian is not a news paper, it is an advocacy arm of the conservative section of the Liberal Party of Australia.
Armed with this knowledge all "journalistic errors/failings" become clear and no longer contradictory with the clear intelligence of some of the writers.

Anonymous said...

Regulators Reject Proposal That Would Bring Fox-Style News to Canada

Too bad Australian tv/media doesn't have Canada's "no lying" laws

Mark Heydon said...

I must disagree with the comment that the Australian is the "advocacy arm of the conservative section of the Liberal Party of Australia."

I think you'll find that the Liberal Party is the political arm of the Australian.

index.php said...

What I find most annoying about those articles in The Australian is that they have a comment box there at the bottom (not all articles they put up have comment boxes, so you assume that the ones which do are actually willing to accept them) but then you write a comment and 4 days later, the comment list is still completely blank.

I find it very hard to believe that nobody commented on that Paul Kelly article, so the only conclusion is they're simply putting every single comment in the trash...

Sometimes I don't know why I bother. I actually don't!

will barr said...

greg - a brilliant post deconstructing the kelly article (the other half just as good of cvourse!).

Anonymous said...

Farcanal. And we silly taxpayers pay your salary??

Anonymous said...

Your blog is a simple minded reflection of a third generation public servant... And your chicken shit disclaimer about it being your viewpoint and yours only is a joke - I would fire your arse as soon as possible if you were in the private sector reporting to me. Oh, but you would never survive there anyway. That's where us regular taxpayers work to meet our forced obligations to pay tax to keep useless sacks of meat like you employed on projects that offer little value to society...

The thing that sickens me the most is your moral high handedness. Typical left leaning labour or greens voters always assume everyone else is evil and do not deserve an opinion. A totalitarian viewpoint consistend with left leaning politics throughout history.

Andrew Bolt is right to question everything you stand for.

Dermott Banana said...

Regarding the lack of democracy in the ACT, I have always thought it disgusting - we could have the costs and burdens of self-government, but no way could we be entrusted to make our own decisions!
It's a pity Australians are so apathetic when it comes to such issues.
As for Paul Kelly, liked him as a Swan, love him as a songwriter, but as a newspaperman, leaves quite a bit to be desired.

PB said...

Anonymous said "I would fire your arse as soon as possible" followed by "(you have) A totalitarian viewpoint consistend (sic) with left leaning politics throughout history."

Wow. Whenever I read stuff like that it makes me think that the Internet was a mistake. It gives voice to the real crazies. It's breathtaking how he starts by saying he would immediately sack you, then accuses *you* of totalitarianism. I wonder if these people ever look at what they say and spot the contradiction. No of course they don't.

Greg Jericho said...

Nice line Dermott about Paul Kelly (damn I wish I had thought of it!)

Anonymous said...

Hey PB - you can be a smart arse as much as you like with the (sic) for a typo. I assume you have never made an error in a post? Good on you. You are awesome.

I double checked my facts on the meaning of the word totalitarian. Forgive me for not having an Oxford Dictionary handy, but here is the definition from


of or pertaining to a centralized government that does not tolerate parties of differing opinion and that exercises dictatorial control over many aspects of life.
exercising control over the freedom, will, or thought of others; authoritarian; autocratic.

It usually is most commonly used to describe a government. I would suspect, from what I read here, that Greg would like to have more control over our lives to make better decisions that the public can't be trusted to make...

I didn't realise that firing someone was a form of totalitarianism? Greg is free to think however he likes. As his hypothetical employer, I would be free to fire him too - I have no desire to alter his free will or thought.

My point, if you focused on meaning and not spelling, was that typically Greg's viewpoint is that his is the only correct viewpoint and others are silly, imbecilic ravings. A typical left viewpoint - consistend (sorry, consistent) with most left leaning governments throughout history.

As a public servant, Greg is an employee of the government. In my opinion, he should keep his opinions on this stuff to himself - this blog only serves to confirm the bias I believe that exists in the public service, the pinnacle of which you can obviously see anytime the ABC puts anything to air except for Mrs Marples . (Did I get that right? My wife watches it, not me - she loves the fact Mrs Marples is a knitter).

Robbo said...

Greg, Greg, Greg, such pompous lack of real world understanding wrapped up in a prize ego.
And that's you, not Andrew Bolt, Paul Kelly nor anyone else you foolishly take aim it. Try getting a real job, champ.