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.