Julia the Quiet Achiever

As PollBludger notes, the latest numbers present conflicting stories of the state of play in federal politics. Essential Research shows Labor and the Coalition still neck and neck as they were at the election and have been ever since. Nielsen on the other hand shows the Coalition opening up a big lead. They can’t both be right even taking into account error margins. But both certainly show Labor still being dragged down by the same States that voted against it at the election itself, namely NSW, Queensland and WA. You’d expect that Labor’s figures in NSW will eventually improve once Keneally’s mob get chucked out and voters discover that O’Farrell’s crew has no magic recipe for tackling the perennial problems of state governments any more effectively than Labor (although we might at least hope that the Coalition manages to avoid the stench of corruption and moral decay that has pervaded NSW Labor’s last days).

Queensland and WA might be a bit trickier for Labor. Gillard’s office would probably be slightly disappointed that the undeniably impressively effective handling of flood/cyclone relief by both federal and state Labor governments hasn’t been reflected in polling. Most likely things won’t improve for the ALP, however, at least until the Ruddian debris of the mining “super profits” tax is cleared away by enactment and implementation of the promised mining resource rent tax. Residents of those two States may then belatedly discover that the mining magnates were telling self-interested porkies. The sky won’t fall, Clive Palmer won’t turn up at a Salvation Army soup kitchen gaunt and emaciated and begging for a feed, and Gina Rinehart won’t be forced to hock her Channel 10 shares to pay the gas bill at the McMansion.

But much of this distorted public perception is driven by the media’s hackneyed model of journalism. As this excellent and optimistic critique by Phyllis Schaffer (hat-tip Margaret Simons) argues, the deficiencies of mainstream journalism are legion. We badly need:

  • More explanatory journalism that really unpacks issues and not just parrots pro and con viewpoints.
  • Stories that do a better job of asking the obvious questions that readers have – but somehow don’t always occur to journalists. I will tell you that as I’ve moved from being a story editor to just an everyday reader, I frequently fume when reading a story and wonder who edited it. Why is there so much missing information? Why didn’t the story even address the most basic of questions? I’m sure you do, too.
  • Stories that revisit paradigms that define conflict as “news,” that engage in scorecard journalism, that pretend at balance by only parroting extreme points of view.

Applying this critique to current public perceptions of the Gillard government’s performance since the election, let’s succinctly “unpack” it and separate media “scorecard” journalism from reality. The dominant media narrative appears to be that Gillard isn’t up to the job and is just hanging on by her fingernails. The reality?

  • Against many expectations, clinching a minority government deal with Greens and Independents that has to date proved durable and effective in delivering stable government;
  • Something like 54 substantial pieces of legislation enacted between the commencement of the new Parliament and Christmas, despite the government lacking a majority in either House;
  • The historic NBN/Telstra sale-enabling legislation enacted despite vitriolic opposition from the Coalition. This historic and major reform will not only deliver state-of-the-art fast broadband to almost the entire nation, but replace Telstra’s decrepit, neglected, failing copper terrestrial telephone network with a brand new, durable fibre optic one. One may reasonably argue about cost/benefit, and I certainly think an analysis should be done. But you can’t really take the Coalition seriously until it comes up with something resembling a coherent policy that delivers the outcomes I’ve just mentioned, not to mention abolishing the monopoly card the Howard government incompetently gave to Telstra that has allowed it to screw its retail competitors ever since;
  • A highly effective flood/cyclone response in Queensland, with military being moved in to do the heavy lifting and Centrelink and other federal agencies delivering financial relief to devastated residents, farmers and businesses;
  • Actually clinching the financial deal with Telstra and thereby securing the completion of the NBN;
  • And now an equally historic national hospital care/funding agreement that most experts have given a big tick. Of course it involves compromises, as every major reform does. However, as Alan Kohler argues, Gillard’s hospital reform package should serve as a model for reform of federal/state relations in a host of other areas as well. Critics argue that they haven’t tackled mental health and that the model for primary health care with Medicare Locals has only been sketched out at this stage, but that’s merely making the self-evident point that more reform is still needed. That has always been true of every government in every age.

If Gillard manages to steer flood levy legislation through Parliament in the next couple of weeks, as I suspect she will, a reasonable objective evaluation would score her substantive performance since the election at 9 out of 10. Salesmanship? 5.5 out of 10 if she’s lucky, but that’s partly the result of mindless “scorecard” journalism substituting for meaningful news and policy analysis. It might also be due to the fact that Gillard has understandably been preoccupied with actually achieving these impressive substantive outcomes rather than poncing around boasting about them. Maybe the Real Julia will eventually come to be seen as Julia the Quiet Achiever.

Also see Mr Denmore on essentially the same theme.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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derrida derider
derrida derider
10 years ago

Having seen her in action there is no doubt that, whatever other weaknesses she might have, Gillard is a superb negotiator – by turns charming, considerate and persuasive when she needs to be and tough and confrontational (yet always polite) when she needs to be. I fully expect her to navigate a good (at least, good politically) climate change package.

But there’s no doubt the govermnent is in a bind. It deperately needs to achieve things to project an air of effectiveness, but it is after all a minority government. The obvious course would be to focus on small-scale but achievable goals, but it seems to still want to do divisive large scale reform (good and bad).

Mr Denmore
Mr Denmore
10 years ago

Ken, I have made some very similar arguments about the media’s preference for duelling narratives over reader-friendly explanation over at The Failed Estate.

Victor Trumper
Victor Trumper
10 years ago

Why would Julia being going any better than at the last election when her advisors were so poor and contradictory in rationalisations.

In terms of polling one usually compares all 5 sample surveys and then examines if any are out of alignment.
Unfortunately we have only three polls.
In this instance one could argue Neilsen is and there is little reason why an increase in the support of the Opposition would have occurred during the period of its sample survey.

If Gillard was on the nose this would show up in both approval and preferred PM ratings and as yet it clearly hasn’t. Some people want to use online polls much to the exasperation of William Bowe.

Mumble has the best reading of what is going on and what should happen but that won’t happen until those ‘brilliant’ strategists are ditched.

paul walter
paul walter
10 years ago

Just thinking it makes a good sibling for the Quiggin “Adventures in Agnatology” (eg, Bullsh-t) thread also up at the moment.
My hope would be that rational rejection of Abbott’s obscurantism will reach critical mass within the opposition and the relatively more down to earth Bishop gets a shot, then perhaps we could return to debating issues and get away from nutter Abbott’s politics of ressentiment.

Jack Strocchi
10 years ago

Ken Parish said:

But much of this distorted public perception is driven by the media’s hackneyed model of journalism. As this excellent and optimistic critique by Phyllis Schaffer (hat-tip Margaret Simons) argues, the deficiencies of mainstream journalism are legion.
[snip]
If Gillard manages to steer flood levy legislation through Parliament in the next couple of weeks, as I suspect she will, a reasonable objective evaluation would score her substantive performance since the election at 9 out of 10.

C’mon Ken, handing out brownie points for the ALP doing the easy yards or for legislative acts of questionable value is just another example of how Club Troppo bends over backwards to tongue-bath the ALP and tongue-lash the L/NP.

The comparison of the Rudd/Gillard-ALP with the Howard-L/NP is stark. Howard-ALP actually made tough decisions, and, just as importantly, made them work with competent administration. The gun control laws, Wallis committee financial regulation, GST, various wars in Bouganville, Timor, Afghanistan & Iraq, the Pacific Solution, balanced budgets and, piece de la resistance – the NT Intervention. All demanded, all done and all dusted.

Rudd and Gillard talk big but dont do much. The good stuff they have done in the realm of crisis management (GFC and floods) would have been done on autopilot by the bureaucracy.

Giving money away to disaster victims has never been hard work for a politician since the year dot. Quite the opposite, they love acting like Florence Nightingale. No points for that.

The NBN is by no means a great nation building achievement or a done deal. It could well be a white elephant, especially if Telstra gets its greedy clumsy mits over it. Wireless mesh broadband, perhaps augmented by a few wired broadband trunk main-lined between cities, seems a cheaper and more flexible way to go.

Health administration reform grinds on, but Howard-L/NP was just as much a centralist as Gillard-ALP. More of the same.

On the debit side, Gillard-ALP is all at sea on border protection, has not made any serious progress in putting a tariff on carbon and could not sell a straw to a drowning man.

A “reasonably objective analysis evaluation would score her substantive performance since the election” at six out of ten.

More generally, the media-academia focus on party politics tends to ignore the fact that we are just a cork bobbing along great world-historical waves of change. The Australian economy is being propped up by NE Asia, which has made federal governments of both stripes look much better than they are:

cheap Asian capital to finance our deficit
skilled Asian labour to man our schools, factories and offices
high Asian demand for minerals to give us hard currency

Our politicians and business people are generally lacking in vision for the grand achievement. Its the techhies who are making the world over.

Patrick
Patrick
10 years ago

I must say 9 out of 10 seems quite high to me. But I am probably biased by my strong dislike of the NBN, the much-mooted carbon policy (which I doubt we will see), the rise in union activity, the lack of any coherent policy around infrastructure and the woeful dithering around asylum seeker policy.

observa
observa
10 years ago

Goldman nails the elephant in the room for them all-
http://blog.atimes.net/?p=1677
That’s really big picture stuff they’re all rowing upstream against and yet they have an inkling something’s gone horribly wrong. Kenneally is the classic with her “Fairness for Families Act” including price controls would you believe? Sweet jesus! The last refuge of leftist demagogues everywhere. With the shocking waste to date on Graduazzi Greening and the recent backflips on the worst excesses of it, it’s hard to see a CPRS getting up under the circumstances. Too much spent political capital for that now methinks.

Tel
Tel
10 years ago

You’d expect that Labor’s figures in NSW will eventually improve once Keneally’s mob get chucked out and voters discover that O’Farrell’s crew has no magic recipe for tackling the perennial problems of state governments any more effectively than Labor (although we might at least hope that the Coalition manages to avoid the stench of corruption and moral decay that has pervaded NSW Labor’s last days).

I’ve been thinking much the same, but “eventually” probably isn’t what Gillard is looking for. Let’s suppose Detective O’Farrell manages to find some small chip of evidence glinting amongst the scorched earth that Labor will no doubt hand him. With a few high profile prosecutions and a bit of sensible timing to get maybe one key conviction just before the next election — O’Farrell could paint himself a folk hero, without actually needing to fix anything. Nothing people love better when they are doing it hard than to get a sacrificial lamb and someone to blame things on.

Could be a long time before voters get around to asking what is being done out there, by which time, who knows, maybe could start to improve all by itself.

The historic NBN/Telstra sale-enabling legislation enacted despite vitriolic opposition from the Coalition. This historic and major reform will not only deliver state-of-the-art fast broadband to almost the entire nation, but replace Telstra’s decrepit, neglected, failing copper terrestrial telephone network with a brand new, durable fibre optic one.

I suspect they will discover that fiber optic still requires maintenance just like all infrastructure does. As for “failing” there’s still the battery backups to consider. As someone who has spent decades in the high tech industry I can tell you the moniker “bleeding edge” is apt. There are costs in this network no one even fully understands… yet.

One may reasonably argue about cost/benefit, and I certainly think an analysis should be done. But you can’t really take the Coalition seriously until it comes up with something resembling a coherent policy that delivers the outcomes I’ve just mentioned,

I dunno, how about a policy that delivers the product the market actually wants, at a cost people are willing to pay? Not quite the outcome you mentioned, but worth taking a little bit seriously. Conroy’s money is currently “off budget” but unless they figure out how to extract 40 billion out of a heavily saturated and price sensitive terrestrial comms market, his money will move to “on budget” in a very embarrassing way (yes that’s gonna matter if Labor still intend to balance out the deficit as they promised).

Let’s suppose there are 10 million potential customers for NBN, and the rate of return on the 40 billion investment dollars is 5%, that would imply an average of $200 per year per customer. If someone came to your door tomorrow offering to increase the price of your internet and phone line by $200 per year, would you jump at the offer? That price is only if everyone wants to pay the extra, but if there’s any opt-out available, the price for those who opt-in must be proportionally higher. Now double that rate of return to get anything the regular investment market will touch and throw in your choice of risk factor.

Please try to figure out where this money is going to come from. You think maintenance savings are going to cover the distance? On a system with batteries at every endpoint? I have a used laptop I’d like to sell you :-)

… not to mention abolishing the monopoly card the Howard government incompetently gave to Telstra that has allowed it to screw its retail competitors ever since;

By buying back the monopoly card (at a price of 12 billion) and handing it to some arbitrary new corporate entity? I think I’d need far better formal training in economics before I could appreciate the wisdom.

If Julia’s achievements are quiet enough, we will be able to hear the ticking.

paul walter
paul walter
10 years ago

No, some of you still dont get it.
It’s a choice between bad and worse. Dont you follow politics outside of Australia?
Do you really want the bunyip equivalent of Britain’s Cameron in charge?

conrad
conrad
10 years ago

“But I am probably biased by my strong dislike of the NBN, the much-mooted carbon policy (which I doubt we will see), the rise in union activity, the lack of any coherent policy around infrastructure and the woeful dithering around asylum seeker policy”

I don’t have any great opinion on the NBN (excluding that my current broadband is cheap and fine), I wouldn’t mind a carbon policy, and I don’t care about tiny rises in union activity (if there really has been). That leaves only 2 out of 5 points. But I still don’t see any great value in Gillard. I thought they did a good job with the flood levy, but that was one-off response. So it’s the 4th of your points I’m worried about, and the 5th of your points I think is more general, where I find it annoying that they’re happy to pick on the same old groups for popularity yet do nothing about it (schools, the unemployed, asylum seekers).

Of course, this is the wrong way to evaluate it. I agree with Paul — if it’s Gillard versus Abbott, that’s not exactly a great choice. Abbott will no doubt pick on the same old targets more, and the Libs also have no better policies than Labor (or, it appears, policies).

Patrick
Patrick
10 years ago

No NBN is at least a $43 bn cheaper policy, which is a start.

bobalot
bobalot
10 years ago

It’s $26 Billion to Taxpayers, Einstein.

Victor Trumper
Victor Trumper
10 years ago

Neilsen is now confirmed as a rogue