Guy Rundle decides to caste aspersions… #Auspol #Australia

Guy Rundle is a dude, a mensch.  Never met him, but his by-line is always an invitation to intelligent, incisive analysis with a fearsome background knowledge.  This, from his Quarterly Essay on Clive Palmer, nails it, imho –

But there is another, and more important, reason why the now sclerotic apparatus of Australian government is not challenged, and that is because both sides of parliamentary politics, together with the media networks that attend them, have more in common with each other than they do with their supporters outside the charmed circle. Over the past two decades the elite separation of political participants from the general public has become so marked as to constitute a historical breach. Before that breach, which took effect in the 1990s, there was significant traffic between the ranks of the general public and the political elite of the major parties, even if both were starting to fill up with political professionals. But in the past twenty years, the ranks of major-party parliamentary politics have started to close to those who have not dedicated their lives to it, from a very early age and overwhelmingly in the crucible of the universities. This is sometimes referred to as the “political class,” a phrase used by insider journalists trying to pretend they’re not a part of it. “Class” implies a group of some numerical size, which it isn’t. It’s a few thousand interconnected people, who draw others into their circle through a series of arcane political folkways and rituals, and thus replenish their number. It is, in other words, a political caste, sealed off from the general public, with the process of becoming a politician deliberately mystified to keep the amateurs out.

(Rundle, 2014: 68)

So, um, what is to be done?

Journalists as drips on the drip feed…

Journalism eh? But what is to be done, at a systemic level?

[Rob] Chalmers, although a Labor sympathiser, put all politicians through the ringer. He refused to socialise with them and was disdainful of the trend towards celebrity journalism and the insidious practice of reporters being ‘on the drip’ – getting stories from politicians and in return giving their sources favourable media coverage. He concentrated on policies and not the entrails of real or imagined personality differences, the prism through which much modern politics is reported.
(Walsh, 2013:41)


The political caste also includes the vast majority of the press gallery, who live in a symbiotic relationship with the eternal parliamentary party, entombed together in the ghastly forbidden city of Parliament House – a building designed to make public access to parliament as difficult as possible, in a style that reminds one of Ceausescu’s Bucharest “People’s Palace” or all of Pyongyang – recycling minor gossip as news, and trading publicity for a drip-feed of information.
(Rundle, 2014: 68)

Fwiw, we (Manchester Climate Monthly co-editor Arwa Aburawa and myself) didn’t play that game, though we were invited to, by people who then resented us for not being controllable. So it goes.

Rundle, G. 2014. Clivosaurus: The Politics of Clive Palmer. Quarterly Essay

Walsh, K. 2013. The stalking of Julia Gillard. Sydney: Allen & Unwin.

The next Australian Prime Minister… Josh Frydenberg?

Update: Mr Frydenberg has backflipped clumsily on a carbon price.  Oops

The soap opera that is the Australian Prime Ministership goes on.  In the 32 years between December 1975 and November 2007 we had four prime ministers (Fraser, Hawke, Keating, Howard).  In the five years between June 2010 and September 2015 we had five (Rudd, Gillard, Rudd, Abbott, Turnbull).  And Turnbull’s position looks precarious.  So, here’s some idle speculation…

The tipping point for Kevin Rudd came in April 2010, when he almost casually mentioned that action on climate change, which he had proclaimed ‘the great moral challenge of our generation’ would be put off for at least 3 years.  Voters decided he didn’t actually believe in anything, and his personal approval ratings plummeted.   Malcolm Turnbull’s willingness to throw his own beliefs overboard is putting him in the same position (see Kristina Keneally (ex-NSW premier, Labor) and Katherine Murphy, an erstwhile pro-Turnbull journo).  Turnbull overthrew Tony Abbott on the basis of 30 bad-for-Abbot Newspolls (a fortnightly opinion poll).   Turnbull has had 5 in a row now himself, and the vultures seem to be circling.  Barring an odd (miraculous) improvement, I think that, by the middle of 2017 at the latest, with Turnbull’s standing within and without the Liberal party in tatters, there will be a spill (i.e. an internal challenge).

[This assumes of course that the Liberal National Coalition hangs on to its one seat majority in the lower house – that no death, incapacity, scandal forces a bye-election in a winnable for Labour in a LNP seat.]

While Tony Abbott and Andrew Bolt might want Abbott to ‘do a Rudd’ and return to the prime ministership, Tony Abbott is no Kevin Rudd.  Rudd had had very high popularity with the voters for a long time (but became loathed by his own party – see multiple accounts by former colleagues, Gillard, Swann, Garrett etc).  Abbott was never popular with the public, neither as Opposition Leader nor as Prime Minister for two action-packed years from September 2013 to 2015. (Nor was he popular with his party. He won the 2009 spill by a single vote. One person spoiled their ballot and someone else is reported to have said ‘what have we done?’ after he won that tussle).

Who else?  It’s hard to see Peter Dutton or Scott Morrison getting the tap on the shoulder from the ‘faceless men’ (actually, the Liberal Party doesn’t work quite like Labor).  Surely Dutton knows he is too loathed??   Greg Hunt may fancy his chances, who knows. Julie Bishop?  Well, she’s certainly been a survivor, and loyal, but if she wanted the top job, would she have not gone for it by now?  Perhaps she destined to do a Peter Costello, though the analogy is faulty – Costello was much more upfront about his ambitions while Treasurer under John Howard.


Which us brings us to… Josh Frydenberg, the member for Kooyong (see footnote).  Writing in the Guardian, Katherine Murphy (seen by some as Malcolm Turnbull fan) says , “Josh Frydenberg is one of the brightest people in the parliament.”

(though the commenters are less sure, and one argues – “if Frydenberg is the best and brightest they are in serious trouble!”

Another writes

“Freydenberg is not one of the brightest people in the parliament! He may be one of the brightest people in the government but after his ridiculous rant about the Hazelwood closure among other things this is debatable, but then Daffy Duck would easily rank as the brightest person in the government given the performances over the past 3 years.

The brightest people in the parliament sit on the Opposition benches where the depth of talent makes all in government look like the clueless, tantrum throwing, toddlers that they are.

Australia desperately needs the brightest people in parliament which is why the government has to go, and much sooner rather than later.”

If he does have leadership ambitions, then his attack on renewable energy during and after the SA blackout of 28 September 2016 begins to make more sense.  He was throwing some red meat to the lads on the ‘right’ whose votes he would need if there were indeed a leadership contest.  Katherine Murphy has a slightly different take, citing the then upcoming ratification of the Paris Agreement on emissions reductions

“Turnbull and Frydenberg, and the renewables bull horn do make a bit more sense if we tumble to the fact the government has not yet ratified the Paris deal, and doubtless wants to be able to ratify the Paris deal with only the mildest tut-tut from the Quadrant corner, rather than the whole process triggering yet another bout of internal cage fighting within the Coalition about climate change and whether it’s happening or not.” (Murphy, 2016)

So the major thing that Frydenberg has in his favour is he doesn’t yet have a staggeringly bad image with the population at large (Dutton, Morrison, Abbott).  His path would presumably involve the Finkel review – first report due in December, final one in March 2017 or so –  going ‘well’,  and Frydenberg managing to finesse the issue of what to do about the gold-plated electricity grid and the impending changes pushed by the plummeting cost of renewables (both small and large-scale).  If Frydenberg can keep enough people on the right happy, without painting himself as (yet another) denier/delayer to the public, which is becoming a bit more antsy on climate change, then he would be in a very very good position.  This would mean there’d have to be a move before the review of the current Direct Action policy, which Turnbull memorably described as ‘bullshit’ shortly after Abbott toppled him in December 2009 (I did say this was a soap opera)…

What stands in his way?  Well, Turnbull, Abbott, Dutton and Morrison probably all want the job, obviously.  I like to believe that his being Jewish is not a factor (though I am sadly probably wrong on this).  Is he too young? He’s 45 at present, but there have been younger Prime Ministers – Chris Watson was 37 when he became Australia’s third leader in 1904.  Stanley Bruce was 39 when he became PM in 1923.  To skip forward to (relatively!) recent history, Malcolm Fraser took power aged 45 at the end of 1975, and Paul Keating was 47 when he took over from Bob Hawke in December 1991.  Most PMs are in their late 40s to mid 50s when they (first) take charge. We don’t do gerontocrats in Australia…

Cartoonists may be sharpening their caricatures, though David Pope of the Canberra Times already has him nailed…  Watch this space…


Murphy, K. 2016. With opponents inside and out, there’s no plain sailing for Malcolm Turnbull. Guardian Australia, 5 November.

On Kooyong –

Kooyong is regarded as a Liberal “leadership seat.” The three men who held it before Georgiou all went on to lead the Liberals or their predecessors–Andrew Peacock (leader of the Liberal Party 1983–85 and 1989–90), Sir Robert Menzies (founder of the Liberal Party and Prime Minister 1939–41 and 1949–66), and Sir John Latham (leader of the Nationalist Party, a direct ancestor of the Liberals, 1929–31).

Karoshing defeat

Faster faster

Faster is the master

Break faster

Eat eat eat

The speed, the speed is all you’ll ever need to…




Slow as you go. Slow food, slow violence. Slow down down

Escape velocity.


We cannot escape velocity, you , you yokel.  You too vocal local yokel, lacking in veracity.

True dat.

Lacking in Virilian voracity for speed,  break faster and faster.

Kill, kill pussycat

and the growing need for speed and novocaine

but slow down, you move too fast, you’ve got to make the moment….


Last time I listen to two radio stations at once. Simon and Cold Chisel gar

Funkel with my brain.

So much for multi-track multi-tasking in a multiverse

My fit bit ate my  playlist. I,my,…

Faster faster, it’s got a back beat you can lose it…


Losing it, losing bearings

Lost in the woods where the bearings shit.

Lost in the woods ain’t such a problem if you are an orang umaniac

You let the lobbyist change the rules and you

You cut down the fucking forest. It’s gonna be yuge.  We are going to make so

Much money.
You’ll love the smell of palm oil in the mourning

Cut down the fucking palm trees, as the raffish Raffles riffed,

A colonial irrigation of the shit of power;

Provide them with No Alternative

Quickly. Cut them to the quick

Quick silver and quicker gold

Their demise supplies no surprise, but you don’t have to surmise that your prize is bounteous

If you only look quickly.

If you look only quickly, you will not see the mutiny,

bounding skywards. Boundless piles of wreckage we call



Oh the dark satanic mills

The cotton picking mills

The treadmills

The anhedonic treadmills for the lucky few.

The prisoners on the wooden mill, walking walking but the e – energy

Deliberately wasted, to show that the masters could,

a conspicuous non-consumption of the under-serving.

to show that the Prisoners

were in fact just numbers, not men, did not m – matter.


The energy that made the turbines spin free, speeding us to heat death,

independent of a grid, as

Rocket Scientist Charlie Sheen discovered in 1996’s  ‘The Arrrival’.

And confronted the alien sent to terraform us.  “How is it immoral”,

he (played by the late Ron… Silver)  asked our Charlie, “to merely

Accelerate” (that word again!)

To throw accelerant on “a fire that humans had started,

Were fully aware of,

And were unwilling to stop?”  Well?  Well?  No, we’re not.


And in Japan, those firefly men with their dead social democratic karoshi bargain.

With robots coming to wipe their eyes and dry their arses

Or did I get that bit wrong?  That’s what

happens when you write lines of code too quick

A bugger in the system

It’s not a bug, it’s a design creature.
You need swift features in this game.

Which is still the game.  But not still, very very far from still.
See, the light at the end of the tunnel is travelling

At c.

Or the train is.

Blink and you’ll miss it, but it won’t miss you.

Neither will anything else.

Dump and deny journalism

Like pump and dump stocks, dump and deny journalism…. Hat-tip to former On Dit editor David Penberthy…

Over at News Ltd, David Penberthy of The Punch has another crack at Canberra-based political journalists. He reminds readers that in the past off-the-record was used for only one of two reasons: to protect whistle-blowers, a la the Watergate scandal, or to add texture to a story. ‘The type of stories we have seen about the Labor leadership could be described as dump-and-deny… we in the media should reflect on our complicity in this type of journalism…. It’s my view that we have not only damaged ourselves, but more gravely we have let down the public by feeding them stories which look thin, tendentious , convey deliberately misleading sentences to blur the origin of the information.’

(Walsh, 2013:205-6)

See also what EP Thomspon had to say about ‘leaks’ from government – and what sort of receptacle receives leaks… (hint: urinals)

There’s now (as ever?) a poisonous symbiosis between hacks and the political “class” (See Guy Rundle’s observations on political castes in his Quarterly Essay ‘Clivosaurus’.

Probably need to re-watch Season Five of The Wire…

First draft of history? Gaia help us all

It is way too easy, as a historian of the present, (cough cough) to get seduced by newspapers.  They’re detailed, not infected with the memoirist’s ability to fit the events into a convenient/coherent narrative – and in theory the journalist doesn’t have a dog in the fight.

Except, no.  If there ever was a golden age, it’s long long gone.  Nick Davies’ Flat Earth News’, Robert Manne’s ‘Bad News’  etc etc etc.  And also Kerry-Anne Walsh’s The Stalking of Julia Gillard.  See clip below

This is the way of modern newspapers and online reporting for media conglomerates. A creative sub-editor on the news desk plucks bits of copy out of stories from one or more journalists in their vast stable, maybe adding a dash of AAP copy. Combined with more than a splash of hyperbolic poetic licence, it is then poured into one glorious mishmash, often under one by-line, and transmitted to all the NewsLtd tabloids. The journalists under whose by-line the story appears may not have a clue about the final story because the news outlets need to feed the twenty-four-hour online story beast makes news gathering, accuracy and fact-checking an anachronism. Despairing politicians who claim they have been misquoted or verballed, or that stories are outrageously wrong or fabricated, are ignored.

(Walsh, 2013:105-6)

The lessons?  Remember what Nick Tomalin said of politicians – ‘they lie, they lie, they lie’.   And just because it is under a hack’s by-line, don’t mean they wrote it

Of professors, binge-writing, tortoises, hares, foxes and hedgehogs

So, there’s an Aesopian fable to be re-written, perhaps?  Not so much with tortoises and hares, but (Berlin’s) foxes and hedgehogs.  But actually, surely it’s possible to both a fox and a tortoise?  A fortoise?   Is it possible to argue this a fortiori?

Among university professors, for example, getting tenure is a major hurdle and milestone, and at most universities tenure depends heavily on having published some high-quality, original work. One researcher, Bob Boice, looked into the writing habits of young professors just starting out and tracked them to see how they fared. Not surprisingly, in a job where there is no real boss and no one sets schedules or tells you what to do, these young professors took a variety of approaches. Some would collect information until they were ready and then write a manuscript in a burst of intense energy, over perhaps a week or two, possibly including some long days and very late nights. Others plodded along at a steadier pace, trying to write a page or two every day. Others were in between. When Boice followed up on the group some years later, he found that their paths had diverged sharply. The page-a-day folks had done well and generally gotten tenure. The so-called ‘binge writers’ fared far less well, and many had had their careers cut short. The clear implication was that the best advice for young writers and aspiring professors is: Write every day. Use your self-control to form a daily habit, and you’ll produce more with less effort in the long run.
(Baumeister and Tierney, 2011:158-9)

Baumeister, R. and Tierney, J. 2011. Willpower: Rediscovering our greatest strength. London: Penguin.


Sexism and social movements….

‘Sexism isn’t the problem: anyone can talk when they want to,” declared one man. “It’s just that some of us have had more experience and can talk more easily in groups.”

“We all support women’s liberation,” chimed in another man.

Around the room, reactions spanned a wide range: resentment, distraction, passive interest, eagerness and anxiousness.

At last week’s meeting, one woman confronted the men with her frustration at their domination of the group. A couple of people had supported her, but most seemed unaware or remained passive. Defensive anger had surfaced in several of the men, despite their best intentions.

The woman who spoke out last week is absent tonight. The group has been dwindling in size since shortly after its founding last year. Many excited newcomers have attended one or two meetings and never returned. Others stuck it out for months before fading away. The group of some 30 members has shrunk to half of that; of the original 15 women, five remain.


A hypothetical situation – but a real problem, and all too familiar to those of us who have participated in progressive organizations.

And this quote is from  the first version of ‘Overcoming masculine Oppression in Mixed Groups’ by Bill Moyer, Bruce Kokopeli, Alan Tuttle, and George Lakey.  Published in… 1977. Oh, how very very far we have come.  Not.

Good burnout advice from Edward Abbey

“One final paragraph of advice: do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am – a reluctant enthusiast….a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much; I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound men and women with their hearts in a safe deposit box, and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this; You will outlive the bastards.”

(Hat-tip to a very good friend I will probably never meet)

And Edward Abbey, yes, I know.