When Is A Shift Not A Shift?

A frontpage report in the Financial Review this morning invited readers to believe that union support for Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s leadership was “shifting”.

A closer read showed that a meeting at the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) on Tuesday discussed the Labor leadership but the union leaders remained supportive of Gillard, although conscious that “time is running out”.

Union and political figures have been at pains during the day to dispute the accuracy of the report. They have adamantly denied suggestions of a “shift”.

Perhaps the most reliable take-out from the Financial Review report is the claim that union leaders were concerned about the advent of an Abbott government. Their attitude to the leadership is reflected in their desire to avoid an early election that could result from any attempt to remove Gillard.

Media critics have been quick to jump on the report as further evidence of the media’s preoccupation with leadership at the expense of policy. Others see it as evidence of a shift to the right under the Financial Review’s new editor, Michael Stutchbury.

However, it seems clear that another decision on the Labor leadership is likely over the next few months. What isn’t clear is whether the obstacles to a Rudd revival can be overcome. Moreover, it isn’t clear whether the party has the capacity to change leaders without destroying the government and precipitating an election. [Read more…]

Gillard And Her Caucus: Sink Or Swim Together

The Labor caucus has bound itself to Julia Gillard. It is impossible to imagine a Rudd revival.

Julia GillardWhilst disquiet will arise again if Gillard stumbles, it is equally difficult to imagine a so-called third candidate emerging.

The caucus and Gillard will sink or swim together.

The 71-31 vote in favour of Gillard is a handy reminder of the culture and prerogatives of the parliamentary party room.

“You need to target the right constituency,” Mark Latham said on television this morning, arguing that Rudd lost votes by campaigning in the media instead of concentrating on the caucus.

The message to the electorate is also stark and direct. Forget Kevin Rudd, he’s not coming back. June 2010 was then. Now it’s Gillard or Abbott. Make your choice. [Read more…]

Will Labor Keep Marching Off The Cliff?

I was leaning on the counter of a well-known department store at 5.20pm last night when I became aware of Kevin Rudd’s face on about 50 television sets along one wall.

Kevin RuddThe strap with “Rudd Resigns” suddenly jumped out at me and I involuntarily blurted the news to the young salesman opposite.

His instant, unsolicited response?

“I hoped it was going to be her.”

And therein lies the dilemma that only the ALP’s wilfully blind will not concede.

Julia Gillard may treat the other 102 caucus members respectfully, as Wayne Swan claimed last night. She may smile at them and make them feel consulted. She may master her brief and get on well with the public servants in Canberra. She may navigate the hung parliament with skill.

But in the broader community she is electoral poison: disliked, distrusted and dismissed.

That is why Kevin Rudd is on a plane flying home to Australia today. He is the anti-Gillard. If she was any good, he wouldn’t even matter. [Read more…]

The Labor Leadership: A Time Of Peril And Opportunity

I blame John Gorton and Malcolm Fraser. I was a young schoolboy in 1971 when their brawling inside the decaying coalition government awakened me to politics.

Rudd-GillardTheir struggle culminated in a leadership challenge. William McMahon fought Gorton to a draw, so Gorton plucked a casting ballot out of thin air to vote himself out of the prime ministership. The ridiculous and treacherous McMahon became prime minister, and the Liberals compensated Gorton by making him deputy leader. I was hooked. Who wouldn’t be?

Since then, one of life’s little pleasures has been the surprisingly regular parade of state and federal leadership challenges.

These contests are politics in the open, raw, visceral and unadorned. Electorate, party, factional and personal factors come together. Interests compete. The noble and brave collide with the base and cowardly. Policy meets electoral reality. Conviction and ambition take a good look at each other. Purity withers and survival usually wins.

It is the individual us writ large. [Read more…]

Poker Machine Doublespeak

It was a day for doublespeak yesterday as Gillard Government functionaries came out in force to promote their leader’s “problem gambling policy”.

Andrew Wilkie and Julia GillardThey all denied Andrew Wilkie had been stabbed in the back.

“We don’t have the numbers to deliver the package he has asked for,” said Health Minister Plibersek, overlooking the inconvenient truth that Gillard signed up to the policy in exchange for Wilkie backing her into government.

Communications Minister Conroy confusingly explained it thus: “It’s a minority government – it wasn’t about promising something we couldn’t keep.”

Of course not. Black is white. [Read more…]

The Iowa Caucuses: A Model Of Participatory Democracy?

At first glance, today’s Iowa caucuses look like a model of participatory democracy. In 1,774 precinct meetings all around this Midwestern state, the process of choosing a Republican Party candidate to do battle with Barack Obama on November 6 will commence.

IowaRepublicans are hoping for a turnout of around 100,000 people. Anything significantly less will be a disappointment, anything more a sign of enthusiasm and commitment to making Obama a one-term president.

Over the coming months, till June if no winner emerges earlier, caucuses and primary elections are scheduled to take place in each of the other 49 states. Voters need simply register as Republicans or Democrats in order to choose candidates for the presidency, both houses of Congress, state legislatures, and a host of other state and local positions.

It certainly looks like democracy flourishing. It looks like people power in action. [Read more…]

Eight Observations About How I Use Twitter


I joined Twitter in April 2008 – thanks @RicRaftis. Like most people, I didn’t know what to do with it and for several months I barely went near it. When I did, I tweeted about technology and the internet.

TwitterThen I started tweeting about Australian and American politics. Later in the year, I began tweeting Question Time, political speeches, press conferences and other media appearances by politicians.

At the time, as far as I knew, no-one else was doing this. Most media people were yet to discover Twitter. Politicians were all but unseen. I often felt I was talking to myself.

Around this time, I began to make contact with people besides PR, marketing and internet types. Bloggers with an interest in politics were flocking to Twitter, as were many others.

The big moment came in March 2009 when I tweeted the Queensland election results. I simply sat at my desk at home with the Queensland Electoral Commission website open and the ABC’s Queensland television feed streaming online. Hundreds of new followers came my way that night and I ended up on commercial radio commenting on the results. It opened my eyes to Twitter’s potential.

I decided I needed a consistent approach so I stopped tweeting about technology and internet issues and made politics my focus. I noticed that Twitter was driving traffic to my main website, AustralianPolitics.com.

By mid-2009, my current approach to Twitter was firmly established. Each night when I sat down to read the next morning’s newspapers online, a ritual I’d followed for years, I would tweet links and occasional comments to articles I thought were worth reading for one reason or another. I was curating content. [Read more…]

Confusion, Timidity And Capitulation On Asylum Seekers

Late on Friday, twenty minutes after Republicans in the United States Senate agreed to a compromise proposal on a payroll tax extension, Air Force One lifted off to take US President Barack Obama to Hawaii for Christmas.

Asylum seekersIt was a near-miss. The president’s family had gone on ahead and Obama remained alone in the White House with the family’s dog for most of the week, sweating on a political deal with his strident opponents in the Congress.

Here, Julia Gillard went on holidays a week ago, leaving her deputy, Wayne Swan, and Immigration Minister Chris Bowen to slug it out with an equally strident Opposition on the perennial issue of asylum seekers.

Unlike Obama, Swan and Bowen left town on Friday with no hint of an agreement. The discussions were “cordial”, both sides agreed. Further talks are anticipated, but the Opposition made it clear the initiative must come from the Government.

On Christmas Eve, a boat carrying 116 passengers was intercepted off Christmas Island. It was the 69th boat to enter Australian territorial waters this year. The previous 68 carried 4,457 passengers. [Read more…]

A Lot To Account For In Politicians’ Pay

An article of mine appeared in today’s edition of the Sydney Morning Herald.

It comments on the changes announced yesterday by the Remuneration Tribunal, increasing politicians’ pay, but abolishing the gold pass and restricting non-salary benefits such as travel entitlements.

The Remuneration Tribunal’s report can be downloaded here. (5mb PDF)

The article appears on The National Times.

Selling The Carbon Tax: Less Is More

Julia Gillard should have stayed in bed this week, for all the good her carbon tax campaigning did.

In fact, she ought to just shut up about the carbon tax and get on with something else.

This week smacks of the same hopeless political strategy that Rudd and Gillard have fallen for before, the strategy that says you have to run around the country like a maniac and never shut up.

It’s also the strategy that gives Tony Abbott a daily free kick as the media treat the circus like an election campaign and give him equal time.

Take Gillard’s appearance at the National Press Club yesterday. Her speech on climate change was quite good, but it was overshadowed by the personal development lecture from the Unley High school girl.

Last night’s television pictures duly centred on Gillard’s teary moment and her injunction to the press gallery to “stop writing crap”. Forget about any coverage of the economic imperatives of the carbon tax.

That argument was left to Paul Keating who, in 20 minutes on Lateline, managed to put the case better than any minister in the Government has managed for years. In that inimitable style of his, Keating positioned the tax as a necessary response to a transformative need in the economy. As an advocate, he shamed the Government with his easy command of striking political imagery. [Read more…]