Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Drum Piece –“Sorting fact from anecdote”

My Drum piece today is on a few things, but mainly the ongoing call that a wages break-out is imminent. Rather oddly this ongoing call occurs despite all evidence failing to support it. But such is the way of the work in this era where facts just seem to get in the way.

I also reference Dickens' Hard Times. It is not may favourite of his works though. My top 3 of his novels would be:

  1. David Copperfield
  2. Great Expectations
  3. Bleak House

I have a few on the shelf waiting to be read – Little Dorrit is the next most likely. The problem is that Dickens’ works are generally on the weighty side and I am finding it harder and harder to find the time to read the big tomes.

In other news, in Crikey today Derryn Hinch was giving his views on good journalism. His response contained this line:

I don’t read amateur blogs, I read the real blogs

“Real” obviously no longer means what it used to….

Monday, February 27, 2012

ALP Leadership Vote: Gillard 71–Rudd 31

So many media reports for so many months for so few votes.

All of that for 31 votes. Less than a third of the vote.

Back in September last year, Michelle Grattan wrote a report with the headline:

Rudd only nine votes short of top job: opposition

It began:

“SPECULATION about Prime Minister Julia Gillard's leadership has been re-ignited by claims Kevin Rudd canvassed with a Labor MP whether he would run for the job.”

All last year and this year so much speculation has been “reignited”, has been “mounted”.

Last week oh so many press gallery journalists took to Twitter with glee to tell everyone it wasn’t a beat up (or actually many chose to use “made up) such as SBS Karen Middleton:

“Hey you know I think there might be something in all this leadership talk. But then I could just be #makingitup”

As the blogger of the site “Things Bogans Like” tweeted in response:

“a great deal of replacing 'beating up' with 'making up' by journos today...”

It is almost churlish to single out Middleton, because there were many many other in the press gallery agreeing with her.

Sorry folks. It was media driven, not caucus driven.

How long has it been going? Well April last year The Daily Telegraph ran a story on Rudd “conducting a street walk with the member for the marginal seat of Banks, Daryl Melham”, which had this subtle headline:

Rudd's run for Labor revival

And yet the article by Simon Benson and Alison Rehn contained this line:

“Senior Labor sources maintain the caucus is unlikely to ever entertain putting him back into the leadership.”

Unfortunately those “senior Labor sources” (who have been shown to be spot on) were forgotten and replaced by othersenior Labor sources”.

But this was just the end of so much wind. In September last year a third candidate was being thrown around (though in the meantime we also had speculation about Peter Beattie coming back), and then the classic:

Coalition leader Tony Abbott prepares for Kevin Rudd

By the start of this year, the reporting went from predictions of a challenge happening sometime in the next 6 months to it a case that a challenge will happen – it must!. I said on Twitter at the start of February that it seemed like Gillard had entered “the killing zone” – and she had – there was absolutely no way “the story was going to go away”. It was a self-fulfilling proposition. Every press conference contained questions about leadership – she was being told in opinion pages that she had to bring things to a head – that if she didn’t call a spill it would be a sign of weakness – The “PM knows this farce cannot continue” type story.

And so a leadership vote was held and Rudd by all reports got one minister to change sides – Albanese and that happened on Saturday – ie not last year when “cracks were appearing”. Had there been any actual momentum building inside the caucus for a spill? Well Rudd got 31 votes, and given reports are that he had a bit over 20 votes back in 2010, we can quite clearly say the answer to that is no.

All this for 31 votes.

Once Gillard called the leadership ballot, it became so obvious that Rudd wasn’t going to win that the media needed a new narrative. This is the classic win-win for the media. Best of all for the press gallery, journos like Simon Benson, who has been the prime banger of the leadership-speculation drum, are now able to write:

THE outcome of today's leadership ballot no longer really matters. The damage has been done.

The spear throwers of the Labor Party have done their work well. They have mortally wounded not only Kevin Rudd but Julia Gillard as well.

And this apparently, was the point of it all.

Contempt is the emotion that most comes to mind.

And thus seamlessly the media shifts into the third-candidate story or the Rudd being drafted as leader story. Here’s hoping this time they wait to see if there are more than 31 votes for this option before shifting their reporting into overdrive.  

A nice little insight in to how many in the press gallery think came on Saturday just prior to Albanese holding his press conference to announce which side he was taking, the ABC’s Latika Bourke tweeted:

Very likely Anthony Albanese will back Kevin Rudd. #respill

The Australian’s Lanai Vasek replied:

I hope he does, for the sake of a very good yarn.

Yep – who gives a sh*t, so long as they can write a good story.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Drum piece and Employment Figures

My Drum piece from yesterday looked at banking costs. 

The latest unemployment figures came out today. I’m a bit flat out editing my book at the moment, so I’ll just fling a few graphs at you.

The seasonal rate dropped from 5.2% to 5.1% (or if you want to get really anal, from 5.2256864% to 5.0854746% a drop of 0.1402118% – though that is all a bit meaningless). The trend rate stayed flat at 5.2%

The actual employment number did rise:

“Employment increased 46,300 (0.4%) to 11,463,900. Full-time employment increased 12,300 persons to 8,063,100 and part-time employment increased 34,000 persons to 3,400,800.”

But a comparison of the trend and seasonal counts of employment are interesting:


The trend is flat (and has been for a while). The seasonal rate is jumping around a fair bit, but the Government (and everyone else who likes working) will be hoping this past months big seasonal boost keeps going.

One rarely looked at figure is the rate of employment as a percentage of the population. The trend measure of this shows that not all is rosy:


There has been a dip in the past 6 months reflected by the decline in the Participation Rate


So all in all, not boom time figures, but certainly not lousy, either.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Drum piece - Rates, jobs and speedboats: the economy explained

My Drum piece this week is on interest rates and some remarks by Andrew Robb that I found amusing.

Not much else to add today. My book is due with the publishers on 22 February, so life is currently a mess of stress and mess, as I come to grips with editing it all and locating those missing papers I have conveniently filed on my desk under a stack of other papers conveniently filed on my desk under a stack of other papers….

Not sure what I will be doing post 22 Feb at this stage. I haven’t had a break really from work or writing since January last year, so I suspect a week’s rest will be in order. If I make it to then.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Drum piece and a National Press Club rant

My Drum piece today is on the Oscars. I have been putting off getting back to writing about politics for a long as possible. I suppose I could have churned out something on the Australia Day stuff, but, meh.

Due to my book writing labours I’m not able to quickly get out a piece in a few hours on Tuesday afternoon, which is disappointing because I would have loved to have written about Abbott’s lame National Press Club speech, and the lamer response by the assorted journalists there and those watching.

Any one who had any thoughts that Abbott would “flick the switch to positive” found themselves to be much mistaken yesterday. Abbott read out a speech he must have given at least 50 times by now. It contained nothing new. Nothing. Not a thing.

Here’s the thing – why can’t the press gallery slaughter this chump? It’s not like they can use the excuse that they didn’t know what he was going to talk about. Nothing he said was new. Nothing.

The same sound bites that he uses – came out again and again. Here’s a taste:

Australia was a stronger society because we had a stronger economy. Between 1996 and 2007, real wages increased more than 20 per cent, real household wealth per person more than doubled, and there were more than two million new jobs.

Since then, real household wealth has declined, productivity has stagnated and 2011 was the first year since 1992 without a net increase in jobs.

Well shit me. You’d almost think there was no Global Financial Crisis, eh Tony?

No good government would ever spend more than a billion dollars putting pink batts into roofs and a billion dollars to take them out again. It wouldn’t spend $16 billion on over-priced school halls while the standards of academic achievement actually fell.

Only thing is of course it didn’t spend $16b on “over-priced school halls”; no report anywhere has suggest it did. But hey – let that one go through to the keeper. Academic achievement actually fell?? Actually what happened is the NAPLAN tests revealed that 

93 per cent of students are achieving at or above the minimum standard in reading, writing and numeracy, but that the best students were not doing as well as in previous years.

The NAPLAN report also found

'The line representing the trend is almost completely flat … This picture of no change applies equally to males and females as well as to students with a language background other than English and students with an English language background.''

Now firstly – that is according to NAPLAN, which is just one indicator – but “the best students not doing as well”, or “the trend is flat” does not mean “academic achievement actually fell”, actually. What it means, actually is that Abbott is making stuff up.

Through to the keeper.

Big savings could be made in the government’s $350 a throw set top box programme since Gerry Harvey can supply and install them for half the price.

Ah Gerry Harvey. Praise be the non-complaining business man. That no journalist in the room nailed Abbott to the wall on this bit of shite is just another one to add to the pile of indictments. The set-top box scheme was demanded by the Liberal Party – they were worried about pensioners and the like being left sitting in front of a TV that didn’t work. Harvey can do it for less? Well good, because here’s what he needs to do for $350, via the DBCDE website:

Fact: the $350 figure is an average cost for the assistance package per household, not just for a set top box. It also includes:

  • Administration costs for Centrelink to advise people if they are eligible, to set up appointments for installation, follow up phone calls and checks
  • A set top box which is accessible for the elderly and people with special needs. The Consumer Expert Group was consulted on the appropriate set top box for the Scheme.
  • Installation of the set top box and any re-wiring, antenna adjustment and demonstrations.
  • An in-home warranty.
  • Access to a free hotline for 12 months following installation.

As Conroy said at the time, if Harvey can do it for less, there’s a profit to be made Gerry, go to it. Now this little furphy has been around since May last year. Where are all the stories of rorts and waste? Sure there some good ole anecdotes, but are you telling me if I didn’t ask around I couldn’t find anyone who has some complaints with something they bought from Gerry Harvey? 

I keep wondering why journalists are so stymied by Abbott, but really the reason is clear – he’s a journalist. The guy was a leader writer for The Australian. He thinks in anecdotes. He thinks the one does actually represent the all. There’s a school with a poor BER spend? Why then $16b was wasted. Gerry Harvey says in an interview that he could do set-top boxes for less? Why then it must be true. Run with it! So when he spouts lines in the same manner that journalists would report them, well geez… what do journalists do… hmmm maybe ask if he is going to go positive?

Most in the press gallery are hamstrung because he thinks like they do. Paul Bongiorno actually had the temerity to stand apart and introduce some facts taking about the fact all credit agencies rate Australia AAA, that the cash rate is lower than when the Howard Govt was in office, and the response was “lower taxes, less waste yada yada yada”. It was a good effort by Bongiorno, but he had little support.

Take this from Abbott yesterday – again nothing new:

Finally, the coalition’s plan for a more prosperous future will try to ensure that our children and grandchildren look back appreciatively on the big decisions this generation has made.

We have a responsibility to ensure that our land is as productive as possible, that’s why we are looking at new dam sites especially in northern Australia which could become a food bowl to Asia.

Sounds wonderful. Geez, I wish it could be so, but here’s the thing – In February 2010, the Northern Australia Land and Water Taskforce released a report. This was a Taskforce that wanted to find good news. It had Bill Hefferrnan as its chairman. Here is a paragraph on ITS FIRST PAGE

The north is not a vacant land. It needs to be actively managed for resilience and sustainability, based on a contemporary and informed understanding of the complexities of the landscape and its people. Contrary to popular belief, water resources in the north are neither unlimited, nor wasted. Equally, the potential for northern Australia to become a ‘food bowl’ is not supported by evidence.

Now I was sitting at home, writing away on a chapter for my book incidentally about how journalists use social media, and I heard that statement by Abbott. I immediately thought, that old chestnut, hasn’t that been shown to be a pipe dream?

A 20 second search on Google found the report. I didn’t link to it, but I did link to this ABC article on it titled

Report kills northern food bowl dream

Now maybe Abbott has some new evidence he can tell us about that has come to light since 2010. We’re all ears Tony, ante up.

Who was in the gallery, either in the NPC or online was also thinking “that old chestnut”?

No one. Instead we had the likes of James Massola, who made the statement on Twitter after seeing some tweets by ALP MPs who were also watching Abbott’s speech:

seems like a few Labor MPs tweeting from the same script following the Abbott press club speech. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

When I challenged him that all I had seen was a couple MPs mention the figure related to spending as a proportion of GDP, he replied:

also 1 about taxes and small business. as i said, "not that there is anything wrong with that". it just stands out in tweetdeck

Well geez. Two tweets. Well done, ace. Good to see you’re using social media for all that it is worth.

Last month the NY Times public editor wrote a column that asked:

Should The Times Be a Truth Vigilante?

I’m looking for reader input on whether and when New York Times news reporters should challenge “facts” that are asserted by newsmakers they write about.

Well hell. You can only imagine the response.

But here’s the thing – who is being a truth vigilante here? All I see is journos repeating what Abbott said and then telling us that he cuts through, then they go looking for signs of how the ALP are reacting, of if Rudd’s about to challenge. Take Peter Hartcher’s oped on Abbott speech. It’s all bullshit blather about his tone, and how he’ll need to be positive and how yesterday was a start down this road:

He told us not only what he opposed but what he stood for. He was pro-immigration, pro-environment, pro-manufacturing, pro-social spending, pro-Aborigine, pro-infrastructure, pro-tax cuts and pro-productivity.

You gotta be kidding me.

We knew that all before yesterday.


What we also knew what that those statements are based on nothing. Pro-environment? What does that even mean?

Last year I wondered how Abbott could continue after he admitted to Kerry O’Brien that he stretched the truth during the cut and thrust of interviews.

I wondered how could a guy who admitted to lying when it suited him survive. But of course, he was only lying to journalists. Who the hell wouldn’t? Most people if you asked  them – would you lie to a journalist if that meant they would go easier on you? The answer would be a “Hell yes”. Most people would say anything to get rid of the journalist, most people don’t trust them, so why should it matter if Abbott lies to them? 

Where is the journalist who is sitting at his/her desk and is linking to reports and ABS data as Abbott speaks? Latika Bourke transcribes everything said at any press conf quite well. She is good to follow if you can’t watch it yourself. We don’t need two of her. Where is the person who has the knowledge of policies so that when Abbott (or Gillard, or Pyne or Swan or Hockey or Combet or Robb) says something in a press conf, he or she is known as the one to follow because he or she will find the evidence that either supports what they are saying, or the evidence to show its all bullshit?

No one in the media that I am aware of. 

For that you need to read blogs. Blogs written by folk who don’t give a damn that some Minister’s press secretary might freeze them out.

And if I’m wrong. C’mon journalists, send me the links with all the articles written today pointing out the dodgy statements, unsupported claims and pie in the sky bull that Abbott said yesterday.

Hit me with them.