I made a comment here a couple of days ago which I believe expresses the frustrations of many about the chronic failure of the Labor government, both under Rudd and Gillard, to effectively prosecute the case for reform in just about every area:
The puzzle here, as in contemporary Australian politics more generally, lies in the evident inability of the federal Labor government to robustly and effectively defend and promote its own policies, and the equally evident unwillingness of the mainstream media to see its role as doing anything beyond “horse race” reportage.
Rudd was just an abysmal communicator as well as (apparently) a complete prick, but Julia Gillard clearly has the capacity to communicate effectively and engagingly. Yet invariably both she and her Ministers choose not to do so. It’s an observation Peter Lewis makes in an article at ABC Unleashed with specific reference to the Murray-Darling water debate, and that Niki Savva makes more generally in today’s Oz:
If politicians give journalists something interesting to report, and lead debates, then they will oblige by publishing it and broadcasting it. If politicians find new things to say about old issues, or say them in an interesting way, they will get run. As well as using the right tactics, they also need to muster the right arguments. They require a strategic approach, taking account of the pitfalls and dealing up front with them.
Politicians will not always like the way their remarks are reported. The reports could be negative, outrageously misinterpreted and downright unfair, but the Prime Minister, backed by her senior ministers, has to be out in the public arena leading and steering important debates.
Labor has largely allowed the public debate to go by default to the Opposition not only in the Murray-Darling water debate but on climate change, the current debate about the role of the independent Director of Military Prosecutions, and even the National Broadband Network, just to pick a few current examples.
I can’t help wondering why? Gillard is clearly no fool nor are her colleagues (well, some of them anyway), and there must be at least a few advisers with a bit of nouse. So why are they continuing Rudd’s “strategy” of failing to engage pro-actively in substantive public debate until it’s too late and the well of public opinion has been irretrievably poisoned on a given issue? It’s a sincere question, and I’d really like some help from Troppo readers because I’m truly mystified and have been for quite some time. Here are a few possibilities:
- There is some deeply cunning principle of spin-doctoring that dictates failing to defend one’s own policies and giving an ongoing free kick to your opponents.
- They really are trying to defend their policies, but they’re so bad at it that this is the best they can manage.
- They are so busy with actual policy implementation that they don’t have time to publicly defend and prosecute the policy agenda.
- They think it’s pointless to prosecute any particular policy agenda because they’re going to be forced to negotiate it with the Greens and Independents so that the final outcome may bear little resemblance to the initial policy proposal, so why bother risking antagonising potential losers when you can duck for cover, leave the public servants out front and refer the issue to a parliamentary committee?
- They think that the great unwashed in marginal seats are completely uninterested in substantive policy in any real sense, and why waste time on the self-appointed cognoscenti minority like political blog readers, ABC viewers and broadsheet newspaper readers?
- The Parliamentary Labor Party is now so full of career politicians whose entire experience is in the union movement or as party apparatchiks that they have neither knowledge of nor interest in anything beyond their own immediate political survival. They don’t in fact possess any substantive beliefs or policy aspirations at all, and therefore there is no issue worth defending unless opinion polls and focus groups suggest it’s worthwhile. Policy is for “policy wonks”.
Please explain, as Pauline H once famously put it.