Monday, September 27, 2010

Spartacus no more

Last week, at the end of the Media 140 conference where I was blogging, the day ended with panellist Jason Wilson asking “Who is Grog’s Gamut?!”. In response a handful of people stood up and announced “I’m Grog’s Gamut!” “No, I’m Grog’s Gamut!”. It was a response that had been organised in advance by a some friends (including Wilson) as a bit of a joke because throughout the day the name “Grog’s Gamut” had been mentioned a few times – to the point where Osman Faruqi was tweeting that he had been having a drink every time it was mentioned and that he was pretty well on his ear.

Well no longer do we need to ask the question. Today James Massola of The Australian has taken it upon himself to out me. Apparently knowing I am Greg Jericho is “in the public interest” because the head of the ABC, Mark Scott, mentioned in a speech that my blog post attacking journalists’ coverage of the campaign (and specifically the lack of policy) was mentioned at an ABC executive meeting:

The first example is through blogs and the Twitter traffic. Halfway through the campaign, the ABC Executive met on a Monday morning and discussed the weekend blog by the Canberra public servant, writing under the tag Grog's Gamut. It was a lacerating critique of the journalists following the candidates, their obsession with transient matters, the political scandal of the day. He met a chorus of praise and support, triggering a barrage of criticism of campaign coverage.

So because the head of the ABC took notice of something I wrote anonymously about journalism, I need to be named. I guess the lesson here is if you want to blog anonymously, don’t do it effectively.  

Whatever you think of Massola’s decision to out me (and it was certainly not my decision or preference), I will just say he has known who I was since last November. Why he has decided to reveal my name now, given Scott’s speech was delivered on the 2 September, is for to him to say. No doubt he has his reasons and thinks them valid.

The justification for the story actually came from the media editor (yes it is bizarre that I am someone whom the national daily needs to justify outing):

IF you are a public servant and blogging and tweeting, sometimes airing a partisan political line, do you deserve anonymity? No.

Journalists and editors grant anonymity to sources and whistleblowers but Grog's Gamut, or as we know now, Greg Jericho, is an active participant in the public debate via Twitter and his blog. The ABC's managing director Mark Scott cited "Grog's Gamut" criticism of media's election coverage at an ABC news meeting and as a result "we adjusted our strategy".

Fair enough. But if you are influencing the public debate, particularly as a public servant, it is the public's right to know who you are. It is the media's duty to report it.

Take that however you want to.

Now to Massola’s article.

Firstly the headline:

Controversial political blogger unmasked as a federal public servant

Well my unmasking as a public servant actually happened a while ago – in fact Massola did it when he wrote about me on August 7:

Hobby writers keep pros on their toes

A FUNNY thing happened in the political blogosphere last week. The mainstream media got down to some serious self-analysis after a critical post by a Canberra public servant who blogs under the name of Grogs Gamut.

But oh well, he didn’t write the headline, so I’ll let that pass through to the keeper.

He writes:

Mr Jericho, who was the subject of intrigue at the Media 140 conference in Canberra last Thursday as an "embedded" but anonymous blogger, wore a nametag that gave his first name but not his last.

He knows this because he sat down by coincidence at my table at the conference late in the afternoon. I noticed him, and as he knew my name I sent a private message to him on Twitter letting him know that I was at the table. He did not talk to me on the day, in fact he left before the session ended, which was a pity because we have chatted a fair bit on Twitter and I was interested to meet him. Stupidly I know, but given he had known my name for 10 months, I was not concerned that he would out me.

As for others at the conference, I didn’t out myself at all to any journalists – a few people asked at the post event drinks (by which time all the journalists had left) if I was Grog’s Gamut, I said I was. Strangely none of them gave a stuff what my real name was.

Here’s the fun bit of Massola’s article:

At the height of the insulation scandal that engulfed Peter Garrett, he defended his former minister, writing "Garrett was demoted for no good reason" and that ". . . Garrett has been demoted, despite no-one in the media or the opposition actually being able to explain just exactly with any level of intelligence what he did wrong, he was deemed to have 'bungled'."

Yep I certainly believed that, and still do. How did I come to that view? By reading the newspapers, and then also reading the publicly released reports into the insulation scheme, and then coming to an opinion. It’s just an opinion that differs with that of The Australian’s. I never had any access to anything from the areas that handled the insulation program. I knew as much (or as little) about it as anyone who reads the media.

He also quotes:

In comparison, Mr Jericho wrote that opposition climate spokesman Greg Hunt "could write a PhD thesis on environmental political cowardice."

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott is "the master of spin" and, on the Rooty Hill leader's forum, "because it wasn't a debate Abbott was able to get away with an inordinate amount of bullshit".

Yep two more opinions. I am disappointed by Hunt, I was a big fan of his prior to dumping his support for the carbon price – I would have liked to see him do as Turnbull did and cross the floor; I actually think his long term career would have been better served by him doing so. And yes, I thought the Rooty Hill format was a joke, because by going last (as did Julia Gillard in Brisbane) he had no need to worry about getting picked up on anything. The format is loaded in the advantage of the person going second. 

But here’s the thing: if the Libs had got over the line I would have turned up and kept doing my job as I always have done it (including as I did under Howard) – apolitically. Massola cites the APS Values:

"the APS is apolitical, performing its functions in an impartial and professional manner".

Damn straight it is. And so am I – when I am performing its functions.

Here’s what the Public Service Commission says about political views:

Participating in political activities

It is quite acceptable for APS employees to participate in political activities as part of normal community affairs.

APS employees may become members of or hold office in any political party.

APS employees, whether or not they are members of political parties, are expected to separate their personal views on policy issues from the performance of their official duties. This is an important part of professionalism and impartiality as an APS employee.

Where an APS employee is involved in publicly promoting party or other views on certain issues, and where their duties are directly concerned with advising on or directing the implementation or administration of government policy on those issues, there is potential for conflicts of interest.

  • Well I’d say tweeting and blogging about Tony Abbott at a community forum at Rooty Hill is fairly well smack in the middle of “normal community affairs”.
  • I am not a member of any political party.
  • I do separate my personal views.
  • Once again I have never written about any policy or program that I am directly concerned with advising on or directing the implementation thereof (or even indirectly for that matter).

Massola then has this little analogy:

The revelation of Mr Jericho's identity is the latest in a string of anonymous authors who have been unmasked, from Belle Du Jour, author of the Diary of a London Call Girl -- who was revealed to be Brooke Magnanti -- through to writer Helen Demidenko, author of The Hand that Signed the Paper, subsequently revealed to be Helen Darville (now Dale) and The Australian's own Christian Kerr, who outed himself as "Hillary Bray" while a contributor to Crikey.

Nice: I’m being compared to a prostitute. Here’s the thing – Belle Du Jour was writing about her experience and inside knowledge, so too Kerr when he was Hillary Bray. I have not. I have never offered up any information other than that which is publicly known. Helen Demidenko by contrast was pretending to be someone she was not in order for her work to appear more authentic. Had I been saying I was a political insider, or staffer then the analogy would be correct. It is not.

At least Mossala did quote me saying:

Asked if he was concerned that his partisan political views were not appropriate to his role in the public service, Mr Jericho said: "I never write about anything I do at my work, either on my blog or on twitter. So I thought it easiest -- given that I did not want to have continue saying something was my opinion -- to go under my pseudonym.

"I've worked in the public service under a Liberal government and a Labor government, overseeing programs and policy. I really have no care about who I am working for -- it's purely the policy or the program that is paramount. I've never had any difficulty working for either side. My supervisors have never had any problem. And when I'm writing at home after dinner, I comment on issues that have nothing to do with my work."

Look I know there’s been a fair bit of heat directed at Massola on Twitter. But I’m not here to pick a fight with him. I wish he hadn’t written the piece, but he has, and no, he ain’t getting a Christmas card. Throughout the last 12 months that I have been on Twitter I have often had arguments with journalists. I would like to think I have never been abusive. I have only been blocked by one journalist (I made a snarky comment one Saturday morning that was retweeted by one of her followers), and yet I have never attacked that journalist on this blog – and in fact have even defended her in comments.

I know many journalists on Twitter will think Massola did the right thing. Some, less publically, will not. Debate away if you must. My only bugbear is it would have been nice if he had provided some links to the blog (that is standard courtesy online).

So now everyone (or at least those small few who care) knows who I am. So is the public interest served? Do my words carry more or less weight than they did yesterday? I don’t think so. 

I started this blog back in 2008. I chose the name Grog because it was my nickname back in my days at uni in the early 90s (not due to my drinking ability, but due to my illegible handwriting which made “Greg” look more like “Grog” in a note I wrote to a friend). I had been using “Grog”when posting on Poll Bludger. I was actually quoted once by Samantha Maiden in The Oz in 2007 in response to a bad Newspoll where she quoted a few comments made on Poll Bludger by nervous lefties – my comment was actually to tell everyone to calm down and not worry – unfortunately it’s not online anymore.

When I decided to start my own blog I thought it sensible to keep my online name as I would be writing about politics much as I did on Poll Bludger – generally online people keep the same name across different blogs. Also, as a public servant I didn’t want to have to keep making it clear that these views are my own, that I do this as a hobby etc etc. 

That said I have never viewed being “Grog” as a free pass to write about anything I wanted to. As said above I never write about my area of policy (at the moment film) except in a very peripheral sense – ie movies I like and the odd promotion of upcoming Australian films that I think looks interesting. I have never written anything which I have gleaned through work. All information I use comes from the media or press releases or public reports. This is pretty clear from anyone who regularly reads this blog – you never find “breaking” or “inside” news here – you find opinion and analysis.

I also have never used advertising – despite quite a few friends who work online saying I’m mad not to. My view was even if I only was to make pocket money from writing partisan political commentary, I would be wrong to do so. I wrote a piece for The Drum, but that was purely on media coverage and made no political comment other than a wish for deeper policy from both sides. Ironically the blog post which got all the coverage included me praising the Liberal Party on its disability policy (though I still don’t know if my daughter would have qualified)!

I chose Grog’s Gamut as a title of the blog because that was the title of some pieces of stream of consciousness guff I wrote for my boarding-college paper during my time at uni. And if this blog continues I’ll keep using the title and name .

So what now? Well we’ll see. I’ll keep you posted. I hope I can keep blogging even if it is just on sport, films, books and the media (geez, there’s some ample material). Maybe the media can’t cope with a blog that gets about 1,000 readers a day. Personally I think they can. As The Australian's Matthew Franklin can attest, if any journalist ever thinks I have wronged them, I will acknowledge any oversight or make a correction.

And despite my obvious dislike of much of what is written in The Australian, the best wrap I have ever received was featured on its website. George Megolagenis in his last blog before going on leave responded to a comment from a reader wishing him well and suggesting that he should read my blog. George responded:

George Megalogenis
Fri 10 Sep 10 (05:35pm)

Grog had a pretty good campaign I thought.

For a blogger like me, that’s about as good as it gets. And I’ll take it.

I stated doing this blog because having finished my PhD (you can read all 315 brilliant pages here – Massola has, poor fool!), and then shifting to working as a public servant, I craved an outlet to write something other than work related material (fun though that can be – seriously!). People who are writers need to write or they go insane, I count myself as one of those people. And so each night after finishing cleaning the dishes at around 6:30pm and before saying goodnight to my eldest daughter at around 8:30pm, I sit down and write this blog. I could have written fiction, but I found writing on current events easier and less stressful (well I once did).

blog countWhen I started back in 2008 I was lucky to get more than 20 hits. I recall getting excited to get over 25 consistently. The only people who read me were my family and a few friends. I didn’t care, I just loved to write, and got a kick out of my wife, Dad or sister telling me she/he had liked what I had written.  Now I get around 1000 hits a day. It is nothing major in the grand scheme of things, but it is nice to know that what I write is liked by enough people that they keep coming back for no other reason than they like what I write.

No one reads this blog because of who I am. Grog’s Gamut is a nobody – you don’t read me because I worked for so and so, or because I obviously have the ear of someone important, or because some newspaper tells you I am a must read. And guess what, I still am a nobody – I have never worked for so and so, and I still don’t have someone's ear. Though I guess at least The Australian thinks I’m worth reading…

And so that’s it. The ‘big’ secret is now out. Is this the end for me as a blogger and as a public servant? I hope not. I like my job, do it diligently, do it well (in my opinion), and I don’t believe I have contravened the APS code of conduct – if I did I wouldn't have started the blog in the first place. I did not stay anonymous because I thought I was doing anything wrong, just that I seriously did not think it mattered.

But if to keep doing my job means I have to stop blogging and tweeting, well then I’ll do that; this is just a hobby after all. I guess I’ll have to try my hand at fiction. I would be sad if it comes to that, but that is life.

So there you are. Don’t you all feel so much more informed? I must say it’s much more interesting than writing about that horrid old hard to understand policy…

UPDATE: The Oz has now linked to my blog. Also just to clear up some of the comments, James Massola did contact me (via Twitter) to tell me he was going to reveal my identity. The quotes in his piece are from the interview I had with him.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

“Our” The King’s Speech

We here in Australia love to claim anything that has passed by these shores for even the briefest of moments as “our”. At times it can be downright cringing (actually it pretty much always is – can you recall the “our Tom” with Tom Cruise?). One film that is to be released later this year and which will almost certainly be up for a number of Oscars is likely to be the next candidate for “ourdome”. But at least this one will have some justification.

The film “The King’s Speech” is about the speech impediment (a terrible stutter) of King George VI (Colin Firth), and how he overcame this with the help of an Australian speech therapist (played by Geoffrey Rush). One of the film’s producers is Australian Emile Sherman – who has also produced such film as Opal Farmer, Disgrace and Candy. It is not an official “co-production” (a term which would mean it would be said to have been a UK and Australian production) and thus I am pretty sure for the Oscars it will be classed as a UK film. But no matter, if it wins Best Picture, Sherman will be up on the stage collecting the gong.

As it also stars Geoffrey Rush – a definite early chance for Best Supporting Actor – has Guy Pearce playing King Edward VIII and also features Derek Jacobi whom I once saw perform in the Cairns Theatre, I think we can declare the film to be true blue dinky die Aussie.

It looks great. Rush is in his brilliant character acting mode. Has there been a better Australian actor – for that matter has there been a better character actor period? Look at a selection of Rush’s credits:

  • Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole (2010) (voice) .... Ezylryb
  • The King's Speech (2010) .... Lionel Logue
  • Bran Nue Dae (2009) .... Father Benedictus
  • Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007) .... Sir Francis Walsingham
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (2007) .... Barbossa
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006) (uncredited) .... Barbossa
  • Candy (2006) .... Casper
  • Munich (2005) .... Ephraim
  • "Kath & Kim" .... Geoff (1 episode, 2004)
        - Sitting on a Pile (2004) TV episode .... Geoff
  • The Life & Death of Peter Sellers (2004) .... Peter Sellers
  • Harvie Krumpet (2003) (voice) .... Narrator
  • Intolerable Cruelty (2003) .... Donovan Donaly
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) .... Barbossa
  • Finding Nemo (2003) (voice) .... Nigel
  • Ned Kelly (2003) .... Superintendent Francis Hare
  • Swimming Upstream (2003) .... Harold Fingleton
  • The Banger Sisters (2002) .... Harry Plummer
  • Frida (2002) .... Leon Trotsky
  • Lantana (2001) .... John Knox
  • The Tailor of Panama (2001) .... Harold 'Harry' Pendel
  • The Magic Pudding (2000) (voice) .... Bunyip Bluegum
  • Quills (2000) .... The Marquis de Sade
  • House on Haunted Hill (1999) .... Stephen H. Price
  • Mystery Men (1999) .... Casanova Frankenstein
  • Shakespeare in Love (1998) .... Philip Henslowe
  • Elizabeth (1998) .... Sir Francis Walsingham
  • Les misérables (1998) .... Javert
  • A Little Bit of Soul (1998) .... Godfrey Usher
  • Oscar and Lucinda (1997) (voice) .... Narrator
  • Children of the Revolution (1996) .... Welch
  • Shine (1996)…. David Helfgott (adult)

    The guy can do anything – from heavy drama to humour to action to Kath n’n’ Kim. He stole Pirates of the Caribbean from under the nose of Johnny Depp, was the only one able to keep pace with Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth, and he also comes back and supports the Aussie film industry with performances – his work in Bran Nue Dae was a joy. You hire Rush, you know your film is going to be better than if he was not in it.

    Colin Firth, after losing out last year for Best Actor to Jeff Bridges, must be a huge chance to walk home with the golden statue next year.

    However, as Guardian blogger Xan Brooks notes, films can sometimes get early Oscar buzz and then die when they make no money (such as happened last year to Bright Star). But I think this one will keep its buzz – if only because Bright Star was a bit of a women’s picture, and they always have a tougher time cutting through at Oscar time unless they star Meryl Streep.

    The preview came out this weekend, it certainly is on my “to watch” list. Enjoy:

  • Same old faces

    This morning, unusually, I missed Meet the Press, Laurie Oakes interview on Sunday Today and most of Insiders. I didn’t really care. Yes I would have like to have caught Gillard’s interview on Meet the Press, but when I had run my eye over the line-up from Oakes’ interview and the interviewee on Insiders I let out a big sigh. Same old faces again.

    When you watch a lot of politics programs, you quickly realise we’re a small parliament, with an even smaller number of MP and Senators who get put up by their parties to talk. It means we end up hearing the same things said again on different channels but with little knew insight gained. The ABC’s QANDA is a show I rarely miss, and yet geez it gets boring when you see the same MP’s rocking up. This year on QANDA Tanya Plibersek and Malcolm Turnbull have each been on four time, Christopher Pyne, Tony Burke, Sarah Hansen-Young and Christine Milne all have sat at the big desk three times.

    There are of course some that are onl yon once or twice - but when the program features just one of the often seen polticians (such as the above six), it makes the show feel like it is a repeat – which means every other week has that feel.

    The Lateline Friday night wrap up is even worse. It’s a why bother watch proposition. Every single position on every single issue is known in advance; nothing new is said; no debate ever achieves insight or a shift in either side’s position. If you feel like you’ve seen Michael Kroger and Paul Howes a bit, you’re right – 5 times this year they’ve appeared going head to head on Friday night on Lateline. Pick any issue – climate change, immigration, tax, leadership, whatever – I could probably write the script for what they will say (ok, I wouldn’t have been able to predict Kroger saying “I have you can’t stop the leaks how can you stop the boats” but maybe if I was drunk and had hit myself in the head with a baseball bat I could get close to coming up with something almost as stupid).

    The same goes for Scott Morrison and Tony Burke who have partaken of the Friday night recapfest on Lateline 5 and 4 times respectively this year – and that’s not including the times they have each been interviewed on other nights by either Tony Jones or Leigh Sales.

    Blogger “Mr Denmore” picked this point up last week in an excellent blog post.

    The problem with the familiar faces is it is just a case of the parties ensuring those MPs they want to get the limelight do. So we saw Christopher Pyne who was looking at a very marginal seat being pushed on to everything on TV this year (not to mention his copious radio spots).

    It won’t change. I can’t ever see backbenchers getting much of a go – after all one must learn one’s place in the food chain. But really, what’s the point of it all? Did we learn anything from hearing Pyne go against Albanese today on Laurie Oakes? Sure I guess they both hold positions that are quite important at the moment given the changes to parliamentary procedures being proposed, but they basically said everything they’ve said in every interview they've had in the last couple of days.

    The point is that if you really want to be a political junkie you don’t actually need to watch much before you realise you’ve heard it all before – politicians on message “debating” with another politician on message.

    Do we need politicans on QANDA if they never go off mesaage? Are two politicans really the best people to sum up the week's events on Lateline? And do we have to ever see Paul Howes' and Michael Kroger's mugs ever again on our screens?

    I enjoy Lateline when they get George Megolagenis and Laura Tingle on to discuss the events (twice I think this year), because at least I know they won't just automatically take the opposite view that occurs with the Morrison-Burke or Kroger-Howes recaps.

    Yes our poltical system is adversarial in nature, but geez, does our media have to be so boring about it by getting two people who will argue white is black if it will differentiate them from the other? Why not get on some others - one of the Chaser guys perhaps - tell them they don't even need to be funny, in fact don't be - just be insightful (actually, no be funny - be like John Stewart!). Rhys Muldoon follows politics pretty intensely - and he is obviously comfortable on camera - give him a gig. Surely LL isn't concerned about ratings, so why not get some poeple who are not well known to have a say - just make sure they know what they are talking about and are not just going to toe the party line. Getting for example Janet Albrechsten and David Marr on QANDA is nice if you like a fight, but not if you are after insight (and after all we have heard the fight before - many, many times).

    How about a QANDA rule - 2 times a year maximum?

    And I don't mean to bag Lateline - which I think is probably the best daily current affairs progam on TV - I mearly suggest they think outside the box a bit. Politcians get their chance to say their bit everyday - why give them another chance to resay it in the guise of a recap?

    I realise it must be hard to get poeple to come on a Friday night, but how great would it be to see the lineup and think "Now that is worth watching; I might hear something new."

    That is my only advice to QANDA and LL - if you know what the participants are going to say before they even get to the studio, then don't invite them to come in and say it.

    Insiders Sunday MTP QANDA Friday LL Total
    Christopher Pyne 2 1 3 3 3 12
    Julie Gillard 3 4 2 1 10
    Scott Morrison 1 1 2 5 9
    Tony Abbott 4 2 1 2 9
    Tony Burke 1 3 4 8
    Wayne Swan 3 2 3 8
    Paul Howes 1 1 5 7
    Julie Bishop 2 1 2 2 7
    Chris Bowen 1 2 3 6
    Craig Emerson 1 3 2 6
    Tanya Plibersek 1 4 1 6
    Lindsay Tanner 1 1 2 1 1 6
    Joe Hockey 2 1 1 2 6
    Nicola Roxon 2 2 2 6
    Michael Kroger 5 5
    Anthony Albanese 2 2 1 5
    George Brandis 1 3 4
    Andrew Robb 1 1 1 1 4
    Malcolm Turnbull 4 4
    Kevin Rudd 1 1 1 1 4
    Bob Brown 1 3 4
    Christine Milne 3 3
    Sarah Hansen Young 3 3
    Barnaby Joyce 1 2 3
    Bill Shorten 1 2 3
    Penny Wong 1 2 3
    Simon Crean 1 2 3
    Stephen Smith 1 1 1 3
    Maxine McKew 1 1 2
    Nick Minchin 2 2
    Peter Dutton 2 2
    Peter Garrett 2 2
    Sophie Mirrabella 2 2
    Stephen Conroy 1 1 2
    Warren Truss 1 1 2
    Martin Fergusen 1 1 2
    Greg Hunt 1 1
    Brendan O'Connor 1 1
    Chris Evans 1 1
    Corey Bernardi 1 1
    Helen Coonan 1 1
    Kelly O'Dwyer 1 1
    Scott Ludlam 1 1
    Eric Abetz 1 1
    Jenny Macklin 1 1
    Mike Kelly 1 1

    Friday, September 24, 2010

    Liberal politicalol Cats

    Well Fridays are often the time for on line fun and laughs – a day when people start sending around dopey things on email like pictures of cats doing stupid things as part of “Friday funnies” –  and so it was with the Liberal Party today.

    The laughs had actually started last night (well they did for all those who like seeing Abbott trip up) when Tony Windsor let rip a few missiles Abbott’s way regarding his going back on his word over allowing the speaker to be paired:

    "A lot of what we were trying to do as independents during that period after the election was assess whether anybody really wanted to be in government in a hung Parliament, and whether they could be trusted to be there for the period of the Parliament," he said.

    "I think Tony Abbott has just reinforced our decision that he couldn't be trusted.lolcat

    "I actually gained a much higher personal regard for him during that period of a fortnight and I thought he was serious about some of the things that he was saying to us privately and publicly.

    "To say that this is against the Constitution I think anybody would say that's just a blatant excuse for going back on your word."

    Geez. Now that is straight talking

    He then went on Lateline and kept it up:

    TONY JONES: You're disappointed. Are you angry about it? I mean, it does put a rather large hole in the reforms that already ruled out your colleague Rob Oakeshott from being Speaker.

    TONY WINDSOR: Well I wouldn't say I'm angry. I'm disappointed.

    I think one of the things we were trying to assess right throughout this was trust in individuals, and I said at the time that I'd gained a greater regard for Tony Abbott through the discussions that we'd had.

    But I think it's taken a bit of a backward step again, having gone down this pathway.

    TONY JONES: Does this actually change your mind about the nature of the negotiations you were having with Tony Abbott? You've said there's a question over whether they were actually in good faith?

    TONY WINDSOR: Well I think it goes to the issue of trust and stability. And one of the things we were looking for - well, I was looking for in terms of the fortnight after the election was who was actually interested in stability and who could we trust to go the distance, in a sense.

    Tony Abbott didn't win the prize, in a sense, but I think it's gone to that issue of trust and in some ways I think it's vindicated what we did for those who are out there suggesting we should have done something else.

    TONY JONES: It's interesting to hear you say that because Tony Abbott himself said very recently that he'd be working to woo the independents back onto his side and he was actually hoping that some time in the not-too-distant future he might be able to achieve that and that you'd flip over and basically allow him to put a coalition government together.

    You'd think that's now less likely to happen than you might have imagined?

    TONY WINDSOR: Well, his early warning signs aren't good. If that's a love note coming towards us, I must pick it up and read it the other way. I don't see that as being terribly constructive, what's happened today.

    TONY JONES: Do you think he's deliberately antagonising you at this point?

    TONY WINDSOR: Oh, no, I wouldn't say that. I think he's just made a mistake.

    A mistake? Hell even Bob Katter was pissed:

    "I think he has established a most unfortunate reputation for himself," he said.

    "I think he is going in there with an adversarial attitude and is not seeing the bigger picture and I think that he's making a very bad political judgement there. The people are also sick and tired of this sort of approach.

    "I have told a number of high-ranking Liberals in the Parliament that I don't think their cause is best served by simply making trouble at this early stage."

    After the election, all Abbott had to do was convince three guy who represent pretty conservative electorates where the easiest thing for them to do would be to support Abbott as PM, and yet he failed to do that. Since his best chance now is to get them to swap sides, the first thing he has needed to do is show them some respect; and yet again he has failed to do that – and has in fact seemingly gone out of his way to piss them off, even though he will need their support for any Private Members Bills he would like to get passed – such as the Wild Rivers Legislation.

    The laughs kept up a piece by Peter van Onselen in The Oz:

    Leader fails the honour test in Speaker backflip

    "HE wants to blow the place up. He'll either be a terrorist or go kamikaze - we'll see."

    That is how one of Tony Abbott's frontbenchers summed up his decision to walk away from an agreed parliamentary reform to pair the Speaker's vote.

    Firstly I have to say the who “terrorist or go kamikaze” thing is a bit odd – given that the standard terrorist move is to be a suicide bomber, there maybe a bit of tautology their, and also I’m not sure if the speaker is trying to suggest going the terrorist route is a good outcome. But look either way, that a member of his front bench is saying this is not a sign of great stability.

    It’s the type of thing you start hearing just before people start idly wondering about counting the numbers.

    Now I can’t see Abbott being knocked off yet – Turnbull’s lack of party strength keeps him safe (because let’s be honest Hockey has lost all credibility for the leadership), but given his complete success at alienating the Independents, a few Lib MPs might start thinking that Abbott has peaked – getting close does not mean you win next time.

    That might really start thinking this when they look at how he handled the Deputy Speaker issue today.

    In the early afternoon Chris Uhlmann an ABC24 broke that the ALP had approached Lib MP Alex Somlyay to be Deputy Speaker and that he would be paired with the Speaker – ie he would not vote.

    Well soon after out came this release:

    Media Statement from Alex Somlyay


    I can confirm that I have been approached by the Gillard Government, through the Leader of the House, the Hon Anthony Albanese, to stand as their nominee for the position of Deputy Speaker on the basis that I would support the Government on no confidence motions and supply bills.

    I have declined this approach.

    I have been a proud member of the Liberal Party Room for 21 years and my commitment to serve the Liberal-National Party remains strong.

    After discussions with both the Labor Party and my own leader, the Hon Tony Abbott MHR, I confirm that I will be contesting the nomination for the position of Deputy Speaker in the Coalition Party Room on Monday.

    I support the Coalition’s decision to reject any pairing arrangements for the Speaker and Deputy Speaker positions on the basis that such pairing is inconsistent with the Constitution. image

    So a nice win for Abbott, you’d think…well it was for about an hour.

    Then came this:

    Federal Government sources say Mr Somlyay has agreed to back Labor in terms of supply and confidence if he is elected deputy speaker of the House of Representatives.

    But Mr Somlyay has rejected the other element of Labor's proposal - a guarantee on pairing votes.

    Earlier, a statement issued in Mr Somlyay's name indicated the Liberal MP had rejected the entire deal.

    But Mr Somlyay's office now says the statement was issued by the office of Opposition Leader Tony Abbott.

    So it seems Abbott’s office had jumped the gun, putting out a statement in Somlyay’s name and unfortunately getting the facts wrong – ir hoping their version of the facts would indeed become true.

    Instead it appears that Somlyay will support the ALP in no-confidence motions and supply, meaning (given Katter had also said he would actually do this – cheers Possum for reminding me of this) on such votes the ALP would have 77 votes and the LNP would have 72 – a pretty handy majority. And yet (as Possum also noted on twitter) on any other piece of legislation the vote will be… well who the hell knows? So pretty stable… but not really. Interesting, indeed.

    But though he is not going to be a pair on all pieces of legislation Somlyay’s decision is a big slap in the face to Abbott. Why do it? well Somlyay was a Turnbull man, is retiring at the next election and was the Opposition Whip, but was dumped from that position by Abbott for Warren Entsch.

    What Somlyay has shown is that the media should not be so focussed on the possibility of the ALP being “1 by-election” away from defeat, but instead should be looking at any LNP MPs who are to retire at the next election and thus have little to lose, and may be prepared to use their vote to either display their discontent, or because they want to get some goodies for their electorate that may be up for barter from an ALP desperate for any vote.

    Perhaps as well Somlyay (who reportedly had been wooed by the ALP for 9 days) was having a look at Entsch’s work this morning and thought, geez if they’re going to be this useless, I might as well half jump ship.

    Entsch came out on ABC radio and said that not only were the Libs not going to allow a pairing of the speaker, the traditional pairing arrangements for Ministers and MPs was off the table:

    WARREN ENTSCH: It will depend on the circumstance. I mean there are issues such as national interest etc etc will be taken into consideration. But to just expect it’s going to happen so that somebody can have an overseas jaunt is highly unlikely.

    ALEXANDRA KIRK: Now clearly some ministers need to go overseas in order to do their job for example like the Foreign Minister, the Defence Minister, the Immigration Minister. They are not overseas jaunts.

    WARREN ENTSCH: Well it depends on, some would argue differently in some of the cases. And of course each one needs to be assessed on its merit. And there are a lot of times when we are not sitting.

    The pairing is done for many reasons – someone may be overseas, someone may be sick, someone may have a meeting, heck – someone may want to go to their kid’s school concert. Now you could I guess take the view that they should bloody well have to turn up to every vote. But the reality is pairing is  asensible arrangement, and if the Libs are going to play silly buggers with it, then they are really moving into holding breath til they get their way mode. Christopher Pyne had to quickly come out and put the kybosh on the implications of Entsch’s statements – such as the Libs could deny Tanya Plibersek a pair when she goes on maternity leave.

    But even though they won’t be that stupid (I think) Pyne did still say:

    “We're not going to be in the business of providing pairs willy-nilly,"

    It’s one of those statements though that sounds nice and tough from Pyne, but in reality it’s just a lot of talk. Are they seriously suggesting they’ll not allow a Minister a pair because he is overseas on a conference or at an international event? If so, I guess they’re applying the Albert Field  model of parliamentary democracy, and it will be interesting to see how it is reported.

    Joe Hockey meanwhile was providing some laughs (and hell I won’t even get to his hilarious attempt at economics over on The Punch) by thinking more of Mal Colston – the ALP Senator who in 1996 acted as Deputy Speaker for Howard in the Senate, giving the LNP the majority (including Harradine):

    JOE HOCKEY: You probably don't remember Mal Colston, but I do.

    SAMANTHA HAWLEY: The shadow treasurer Joe Hockey points to the bitter fallout from Mal Colston's defection from the Labor Party in 1996 to act as deputy president and support Howard government bills. He was dubbed the "quisling Quasimodo from Queensland".

    JOE HOCKEY: And I think everyone should be mindful of that. So I think people have long memories.

    Which just shows that Joe fails logic and history as well as economics. First, is Hockey suggesting Howard and the Libs should not have encouraged Colston to jump ship? Curious – I’d like to see some quotes from him back then suggesting that (Joe was elected in 96). Or is Joe just suggesting it’s only ok when and ALP Senator does it but not when a Lib MP does it?

    Also Colston resigned from the ALP – Somlyay is doing no such thing.

    And thirdly, comparing anyone to Colston is a very dangerous thing to do given he would soon after be charged with 28 counts of defrauding the public. Joe would be a hell of lot better calming down and shutting up, because his comparison is just funny – and not in a nice way. But then Friday funnies don’t always bring out the laughs.


    UPDATE: So it seems Somlyay has had a “change of heart”, saying, “Now that the vote of the deputy speaker has become the focus of attention, I am no longer interested in the position.” If you believe that is why he has withdrawn then please email me, because I have a bridge in Sydney I’d like to sell you. So Abbott shows he still has some sort of control of his party. But I tell you this, Julie Gillard will not be worrying about any of her MP’s crossing the floor. Yes the ALP has “the pledge”, but I tell you this, all that crap about the Liberal Party being a broad church where crossing the floor is part of its traditional, will be shown for the bunkum it is. Any Libs who threatens to do so will I bet be getting a call from Bill Heffernan. Reg Withers may have been the “toe cutter” back in the 1970s, but “the devil” certainly is his kindred spirit. 

    Tuesday, September 21, 2010

    A Slanty Poll for Slanty Coverage

    Election coverage gets thumbs up

    A poll released today by Essential Media on the media’s election coverage performance has shown that almost two thirds of voters gave the media a positive assessment.

    The poll definitively refutes the views by a number of media critics during the recent election. Of the voters polled, 32 percent believed the media’s coverage was good, compared to only 23 percent who rated the coverage as poor.

    The editor of the owned Australian Morning Herald, Mr Rupert Shill said that the poll greatly vindicated the paper’s stance taken throughout the campaign.

    “It is clear from this poll result that voters highly valued our coverage.

    “That this polls shows he largest critics of the media were from Greens supporters confirms that we catered for the overwhelming majority of the electorate, and that in the main our critics are left wing newsletter writers or anonymous bloggers,” Mr Shill said.

    “We provided a proper balance between rigorous analysis of every Government proposal, and thorough discussion of Tony Abbott’s ability to become Prime Minister.

    “We also were able to appeal to the less engaged voter with water-cooler stories such as the size of Julia Gillard’s earlobes and how her lack of a handbag might suggest to some that she is a barren shrew.”

    The poll, believed to be the largest of its type conducted on the election coverage, may also provide pointers for how the media will report on the coming parliament.

    “I don’t think there’s any doubt that this poll has told us to keep doing what we have always been doing,” Mr Shill said.

    “People have told us we have got the right mix – between critically analysing the waste and debt of the Government and our ongoing campaign to destroy the Greens”.

    The poll also supports the response by Prime Minister Gillard, who recently described the coverage by the media as “fair and balanced”.


    Election Coverage Slammed

    A poll released today by Essential Media has shown voters have roundly condemned the roundly the media’s coverage of the recent federal election.

    The poll found that nearly two thirds of voters regard the coverage negatively – with almost a quarter describing it as poor. The most common response was that of 40 percent of those polled who could do no more than describe the largely bungled media coverage as “average”.

    In a result that vindicates the many critics of the media in recent weeks, 14 percent of those polled described the coverage as “very poor”, compared to the mere 9 percent who were able to describe it as “very good”.

    The poll result was not a surprise for respected media commentator Mr Nev. R. Pleezed.

    “Without a doubt this has been the worst election campaign coverage ever by the Australia media,” he said.

    “There was an overwhelming preponderance to focus on trivial matters and to use the front page of major dailies for opinion and bias. This poll demonstrates that the voters are utterly sick of this way of reporting”.

    Mr Pleezed believes a number of incidents led to the media’s low satisfaction rating.

    “The media campaign very quickly became more about what Laurie Oakes wanted it to be about than policy. The major newspapers followed suit by focussing on Julia Gillard’s earlobes and whether or not she has a handbag.

    “Worst of all the reporters on the media bus never covered policy issues, and instead seemed more concerned about whether Mark Latham was having sugar with his coffee.”

    Mr Pleezed, believed the buzz phrase of the campaign from journalists was not “policy” but “distraction”.

    “They were so concerned with distractions that they themselves were distracted by what they were supposed to be doing – informing the voters”.

    The high numbers of Greens’ voters who rated the performance of the media as poor also gives some insight into why the failed coverage was so poorly regarded.

    “Greens voters are the most engaged,” Mr Pleezed noted, “this result shows the media targeted its coverage on shallow issues that could be covered in a quick 1-2 minutes on the nightly news.”

    The editor of the leading broadsheet, the Australian Morning Herald, Mr Rupert Shill said however the poll vindicated his belief that critics of the media are by and large “left wing newsletter writers or anonymous bloggers”.


    Boy isn’t it fun to slant the facts?

    The truth of course may be somewhat in between.

    The poll which was conducted by Essential Media asks more questions than it answers.

    Firstly though let’s look at the results.

     Q. Overall, how would you rate the media (newspapers, TV, radio, internet) for their reporting of Federal politics  – thinking about their coverage both before and after the election?

    Total Vote Labor Vote Lib/Nat Vote Greens

    Total good 32% 35% 37% 20%
    Total poor 23% 23% 18% 37%
    Very good 7% 8% 7% 2%
    Good 25% 27% 30% 18%
    Average 40% 37% 43% 37%
    Poor 9% 7% 9% 13%
    Very poor 14% 16% 9% 24%
    Don’t know 6% 5% 2% 6%

    Personally I think having 23 percent say the coverage is poor and a whopping 40 percent believe it was “average” is a pretty solid indictment of the coverage. Yes you could class “average” as a positive, but answer me this: when a coach or commentator says “Joe Bloggs had an average game on the weekend”, do you think that is a positive? Do you think if Joe Bloggs keeps having “average” games his spot in the side will be secure?

    No of course not.

    It is not a huge slap at the media, but it certainly is not pop the champagne time and slap ourselves on the back in the news rooms. At best “average” can be translated as “needs improvement”.

    Of course what needs improvement is not just media but the system. I have often said the media – especially those on the bus – are handicapped by the system. The parties giving them policy a minute before the press conference, Abbott answering 10 questions, neither side telling you where they will be going the next day. It is all a crock and needs to be called as such, and the media needs to grow a pair and say “enough”.

    Laurie Oakes had marvellous fun getting stuck into Mark Latham and his own network, would that he also got stuck into the parties for how they handle policy. It would not have taken too many 6 o'clock news bulletins of Oakes suggesting that “today by giving journalists 1 minute advance notice of policy, Mr Abbott/ Ms Gillard has yet again displayed s/he is afraid of policy questions, and also not up the the task of being able to say anything other than sound bites” for there to be some changes.

    On the poll itself, well it is pretty much meaningless.

    What is “good” or “poor” reporting? Those polled were asked about newspaper, TV, internet and radio, but we have no idea whether they got their news from once source more than another. Were the TV watchers the most or least satisfied?

    How engaged were those polled? Were those most engage, the most satisfied?

    For myself, I would have rated the reporting “poor”, but that is because I was after pretty much only policy. But others may like Julia Gillard earlobe stories. Does that make either of us wrong? Nope it’s just our opinion.

    And also there was lots of reporting – and I would rate that aspect positively – ABC24 and Sky News were everywhere, and most media outlets’ websites were updated quickly (Fairfax being the major exception). So if you value breadth of reporting you would rate the performance as “good”, but perhaps if you prefer depth you would perhaps go with poor.

    Either way I wouldn’t get too excited by this poll.

    I’ll just leave by saying any that journalist who thinks that 23 percent of people saying your coverage is “poor” is a good result, better ask themselves how they covered the Orgill report’s finding of 2.7% complaints about the BER.


    The RBA today released the minutes of its previous meeting, and the market got in a bit of a tizz:

    Trading Day No Change Increase to 4.75%
    10-Sep 76% 24%
    13-Sep 76% 24%
    14-Sep 76% 24%
    15-Sep 76% 24%
    16-Sep 83% 17%
    17-Sep 81% 19%
    20-Sep 71% 29%
    21-Sep 60% 40%

    As you can see, the chances of a rate rise are no being seriously factored into the futures market. Sadly for Bob Ellis who kept predicting a rate rise during the election campaign, the rise will come too late to destroy Gillard;’ chances of becoming PM.

    The reason for this up tick in belief of a rate rise is in the following words:

    While policy had to be alert to these risks, members considered that if the central scenario came to pass it was likely that higher interest rates would be required, at some point, to ensure that inflation remained consistent with the medium-term target.

    That’s central bank speak for – hey you there taking out a home loan thinking interest rates are going to stay where they are – you might want to redo your budget.

    So why the increase? Well obviously it’s that damn debt and stimulus.

    Err no:

    …the capital expenditure survey for the June quarter showed a significant upgrading of investment intentions from what was already a positive outlook. Members discussed the factors underpinning this increase, including high commodity prices, strong corporate profitability and above-average levels of capacity utilisation.

    Members expected that the boost to investment in the resources sector would stimulate activity elsewhere in the economy, even though there was a significant imported component in the planned LNG projects.

    Business surveys reported that conditions remained at, or above, average levels, though confidence had softened a little. The main area of weakness continued to be commercial construction, where funding constraints remained an issue. Business credit had remained broadly flat over recent months, though lending to small business had increased.

    Those bloody poor, going broke, getting ready to move to East Africa, miners. If only we had a tax of some sort that could help calm the mining boom just a little so that inflation wouldn’t start to heat up to the point we would need a rate rise.

    And the stimulus?

    Public demand continued to contribute to GDP growth in the June quarter, though by significantly less than in earlier quarters, and it was expected to subtract from growth over the next few quarters as stimulus projects were gradually completed.

    Huh – subtract from growth? How does that fit in with Joe Hockey’s narrative? (here's a hint – it doesn’t).

    Here’s another thing to ponder – how many times did the minutes refer to Australian Government debt or deficit? That’s right – zero.

    The next rate rise is not about debt, it’s about boom.

    We wait to see if the reporting of this fact is “average”.


    On a side issue, on Thursday I will be blogging at the Media140 conference . It has a stellar line up and you will be able to follow proceedings on Twitter via the hashtag #media140.