When it comes to foreign policy, Pompeo’s penchant for undermining America’s credibility is top-notch
If even Israel cannot count on US help in a fight, what chance does any other US ally have? Trump’s America may defend its own most immediate and most obvious interests. But we are learning that Trump does not include American allies in that definition.
Right to Know Coalition is run out of News Corp’s Sydney headquarters at 2 Holt Street, Surry Hills, and all its material is authorised by News Corp’s corporate affairs, policy and government relations supremo, infamous former Daily Telegraph editor Campbell “Dead Fish” Reid (note the below).
News Corp only began to express concerns about “press freedom” under the Coalition Government when one of its journalists, Annika Smethurst, had her house raided by the Australian Federal Police in June, shortly after the last Federal election. Now, the “Right to Know Coalition” has sprung into action.
Independent Australia strongly supports press freedom. But it does not support a campaign led by a self-serving, amoral and deeply corrupt organisation. An organisation tightly in the grip of a foreign billionaire, Rupert Murdoch, who has so many unanswered questions about his own opaque behaviour.
So much for “your right to know”.
As for the effort to make NewsGuard compulsory, it was branded as “Orwellian” by MacDonald. “Brainwashing kids with pro-government or pro-elite or pro-status quo messaging sounds very sinister,” he said.
So, with some genuinely fake news floating around out there and apps like NewsGuard which are problematic in their own way, how can people consume news consciously?
“The best thing anyone can do is read as wide a variety of sources as possible and form their own conclusions,” MacDonald advised. “One thing the internet era has shown is that people are not stupid. And when they have a variety of information available, they will draw their own conclusions.”
and Alternative News5 hours ago
New App ‘NewsGuard’ Promises To Stop Fake News. Have A Look At Who Owns & Funds It
A new browser extension app called NewsGuard promises to give readers better insight into the credibility of news sites by providing…
Reason and reliability
All in all, we should feel confident that important science is solid (and peripheral science unvalidated) due to peer review, transparency, scrutiny and reproduction of results in science publication. Nevertheless in some fields where reproduction is rare or impossible – long term studies depending on complex statistical data – it is likely that scientific debate will continue.
But even in these fields, the endless scrutiny by other researchers, together with the proudly guarded reputations of authors and journals, means that even if it will never be perfect, the scientific method remains more reliable than all the others.
A first home buyer has lost a $41,000 deposit on a St Kilda apartment after the National Australia Bank walked away from the loan at the last minute due to the property’s size.
Fox News anchor Bret Baier’s seemingly bombshell reporting about the Clinton Foundation and a “likely” indictment regarding Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, which was based on two unknown sources, collapsed within days when the anchor admitted he’d made a “
The members of the investor class are programmed to destroy.
The more they have, the more they screw up.
By Loz Lawrey ABC radio grew my mind. I mean it. Each working day, throughout my career in the building industry, I listened exclusively to one of our public broadcaster’s fine radio stations as I toiled at my trade. While my body performed familiar routine activities on this physical plane, my mind travelled the world,…
A poll in 2012 showed that trust in the mainstream media is increasing, which should worry all of us who value truth, integrity and press freedom.
However, a recently released analysis by PunditFact revealed that out of every statement made by a Fox News host or guest, over half of them were completely false. What’s more, only 8% percent could even be considered “completely true.”
But for anyone who regularly tunes into the conservative news show, such revelation is nothing new. PunditFact only confirmed what many have been aware of for a while now: Fox News lies – like, a lot.
But keep in mind it’s not just Fox that tends to weave more tales than truth…
Why? Here are 10 disturbing things everyone needs to know about the global media giants who control our supply of information, wielding immense power over the people- and even over the government.
1. Mainstream media exists solely to make profit
What´s the purpose of the mainstream media? Saying that the press exists to inform, educate or entertain is like saying Apple corporation´s primary function is to make technology which will enrich our lives. Actually, the mass media industry is the same as any other in a capitalist society: it exists to make profit.Medialens, a British campaigning site which critiques mainstream (or corporate) journalism, quoted business journalist Marjorie Kelly as saying that all corporations, including those dealing with media, exist only to maximize returns to their shareholders. This is, she said, ´the law of the land…universally accepted as a kind of divine, unchallengeable truth´. Without pleasing shareholders and a board of directors, mass media enterprises simply would not exist. And once you understand this, you´ll never watch the news in the same way again.
2. Advertisers dictate content
So how does the pursuit of profit affect the news we consume? Media corporations make the vast majority (typically around 75%) of their profit from advertising, meaning it´s advertisers themselves that dictate content- not journalists, and certainly not consumers. Imagine you are editor of a successful newspaper or TV channel with high circulation or viewing figures. You attract revenue from big brands and multinational corporations such as BP, Monsanto and UAE airlines. How could you then tackle important topics such as climate change, GM food or disastrous oil spills in a way that is both honest to your audience and favorable to your clients? The simple answer is you can´t. This might explain why Andrew Ross Sorkin of the New York Times- sponsored by Goldman Sachs- is so keen to defend the crooked corporation. Andrew Marr, a political correspondent for the BBC, sums up the dilemma in his autobiography: ´The biggest question is whether advertising limits and reshapes the news agenda. It does, of course. It’s hard to make the sums add up when you are kicking the people who write the cheques.´ Enough said…
3. Billionaire tycoons & media monopolies threaten real journalism
The monopolization of the press (fewer individuals or organizations controlling increasing shares of the mass media) is growing year by year, and this is a grave danger to press ethics and diversity. Media mogul Rupert Murdoch´s neo-liberal personal politics are reflected in his 175 newspapers and endorsed by pundits (see Fox news) on the 123 TV channels he owns in the USA alone. Anyone who isn´t worried by this one man´s view of the world being consumed by millions of people across the globe- from the USA to the UK, New Zealand to Asia, Europe to Australia- isn´t thinking hard enough about the consequences. It´s a grotesquely all-encompassing monopoly, leaving no doubt that Murdoch is one of the most powerful men in the world. But as the News International phone hacking scandal showed, he´s certainly not the most honorable or ethical. Neither is Alexander Lebedev, a former KGB spy and politician who bought British newspaper The Independent in 2010. With Lebedev´s fingers in so many pies (the billionaire oligarch is into everything from investment banking to airlines), can we really expect news coverage from this once well-respected publication to continue in the same vein? Obviously not: the paper had always carried a banner on its front page declaring itself ´free from party political bias, free from proprietorial influence´, but interestingly this was dropped in September 2011.
4. Corporate press is in bed with the government
Aside from the obvious, one of the most disturbing facts to emerge from Murdoch´s News International phone hacking scandal (background information here ) was the exposure of shady connections between top government officials and press tycoons. During the scandal, and throughout the subsequent Levesoninquiry into British press ethics (or lack of them), we learned of secret meetings, threats by Murdoch to politicians who didn´t do as he wanted, and that Prime Minister David Cameron has a very close friendship with The Sun´s then editor-in-chief (and CEO of News International) Rebekah Brooks. How can journalists do their job of holding politicians to account when they are vacationing together or rubbing shoulders at private dinner parties? Clearly, they don´t intend to. But the support works both ways- Cameron´s government tried to help Murdoch´s son win a bid for BSkyB, while bizarrely, warmongering ex Prime Minister Tony Blair is godfather to Murdoch´s daughter Grace. As well as ensuring an overwhelming bias in news coverage and election campaigns, flooding newspapers with cheap and easy articles from unquestioned government sources, and gagging writers from criticizing those in power, these secret connections also account for much of the corporate media´s incessant peddling of the patriotism lie– especially in the lead-up to attacks on other countries. Here´s an interesting analysis of The New York Times´s coverage of the current Syria situation for example, demonstrating how corporate journalists are failing to reflect public feeling on the issue of a full-scale attack on Assad by the US and its allies.
5. Important stories are overshadowed by trivia
You could be forgiven for assuming that the most interesting part of Edward Snowden´s status as a whistleblower was his plane ride from Hong Kong to Russia, or his lengthy stint waiting in Moscow airport for someone- anyone– to offer him asylum. Because with the exception of The Guardian who published the leaks (read them in full here), the media has generally preferred not to focus on Snowden´s damning revelations about freedom and tyranny, but rather on banal trivia – his personality and background, whether his girlfriend misses him, whether he is actually a Chinese spy, and ahhh, didn´t he remind us all of Where´s Waldo as he flitted across the globe as a wanted fugitive? The same could be said of Bradley Manning´s gender re-assignment, which conveniently overshadowed the enormous injustice of his sentence. And what of Julian Assange? His profile on the globally-respected BBC is dedicated almost entirely to a subtle smearing of character, rather than detailing Wikileaks´s profound impact on our view of the world. In every case, the principal stories are forgotten as our attention, lost in a sea of trivia, is expertly diverted from the real issues at hand: those which invariably, the government wants us to forget.
6. Mainstream media doesn´t ask questions
´Check your sources, check your facts´ are golden rules in journalism 101, but you wouldn´t guess that from reading the mainstream press or watching corporate TV channels. At the time of writing, Obama is beating the war drums over Syria. Following accusations by the US and Britain that Assad was responsible for a nerve gas attack on his own civilians last month, most mainstream newspapers- like the afore-mentioned New York Times– have failed to demand evidence or call for restraint on a full-scale attack. But there are several good reasons why journalists should question the official story. Firstly, British right-wing newspaperThe Daily Mail actually ran a news piece back in January this year, publishing leaked emails from a British arms company showing the US was planning a false flag chemical attack on Syria´s civilians. They would then blame it on Assad to gain public support for a subsequent full-scale invasion. The article was hastily deleted but a cached version still exists. Other recent evidence lends support to the unthinkable. It has emerged that the chemicals used to make the nerve gas were indeed shipped from Britain, and German intelligence insists Assad was not responsible for the chemical attack. Meanwhile, a hacktivist has come forward with alleged evidence of US intelligence agencies´ involvement in the massacre (download it for yourself here ), with a growing body of evidence suggesting this vile plot was hatched by Western powers. Never overlook the corporate media´s ties to big business and big government before accepting what you are told- because if journalism is dead, you have a right and a duty to ask your own questions.
7. Corporate journalists hate real journalists
Michael Grunwald, senior national correspondent of Time, tweeted that he ´can´t wait to write a defense of the drone that takes out Julian Assange.´ Salon writer David Sirota rightly points out the irony of this: ´Here we have a reporter expressing excitement at the prospect of the government executing the publisher of information that became the basis for some of the most important journalism in the last decade.´ Sirota goes on to note various examples of what he calls the ´Journalists against Journalism club´, and gives several examples of how The Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald has been attacked by the corporate press for publishing Snowden´s leaks. The New York Times’ Andrew Ross Sorkin called for Greenwald’s arrest, while NBC’s David Gregory´s declared that Greenwald has ´aided and abetted Snowden´. As for the question of whether journalists can indeed be outspoken, Sirota accurately notes that it all depends on whether their opinions serve or challenge the status quo, and goes on to list the hypocrisy of Greenwald´s critics in depth: ´Grunwald has saber-rattling opinions that proudly support the government’s drone strikes and surveillance. Sorkin’s opinions promote Wall Street’s interests. (The Washington Post´s David) Broder had opinions that supported, among other things, the government’s corporate-serving “free” trade agenda. (The Washington Post´s Bob) Woodward has opinions backing an ever-bigger Pentagon budget that enriches defense contractors. (The Atlantic´s Jeffrey) Goldberg promotes the Military-Industrial Complex’s generally pro-war opinions. (The New York Times´s Thomas) Friedman is all of them combined, promoting both “free” trade and “suck on this” militarism. Because these voices loyally promote the unstated assumptions that serve the power structure and that dominate American politics, all of their particular opinions aren’t even typically portrayed as opinions; they are usually portrayed as noncontroversial objectivity.
8. Bad news sells, good news is censored, and celebrity gossip trumps important issues
It´s sad but true: bad news really does sell more newspapers. But why? Are we really so pessimistic? Do we relish the suffering of others? Are we secretly glad that something terrible happened to someone else, not us? Reading the corporate press as an alien visiting Earth you might assume so. Generally, news coverage is sensationalist and depressing as hell, with so many pages dedicated to murder, rape and pedophilia and yet none to the billions of good deeds and amazingly inspirational movements taking place every minute of every day all over the planet. But the reasons we consume bad news are perfectly logical. In times of harmony and peace, people simply don´t feel the need to educate themselves as much as they do in times of crises. That´s good news for anyone beginning to despair that humans are apathetic, hateful and dumb, and it could even be argued that this sobering and simple fact is a great incentive for the mass media industry to do something worthwhile. They could start offering the positive and hopeful angle for a change. They could use dark periods of increased public interest to convey a message of peace and justice. They could reflect humanity´s desire for solutions and our urgent concerns for the environment. They could act as the voice of a global population who has had enough of violence and lies to campaign for transparency, equality, freedom, truth, and real democracy. Would that sell newspapers? I think so. They could even hold a few politicians to account on behalf of the people, wouldn´t that be something? But for the foreseeable future, it´s likely the corporate press will just distract our attention with another picture of Rhianna´s butt, another rumor about Justin Bieber´s coke habit, or another article about Kim Kardashian (who is she again?) wearing perspex heels with swollen ankles while pregnant. Who cares about the missing $21 trillion, what was she thinking?
9. Whoever controls language controls the population
Have you read George Orwell´s classic novel 1984 yet? It´s become a clichéd reference in today´s dystopia, that´s true, but with good reason. There are many- too many- parallels between Orwell´s dark imaginary future and our current reality, but one important part of his vision concerned language. Orwell coined the word ´Newspeak´ to describe a simplistic version of the English language with the aim of limiting free thought on issues that would challenge the status quo (creativity, peace, and individualism for example). The concept of Newspeak includes what Orwell called ´DoubleThink´- how language is made ambiguous or even inverted to convey the opposite of what is true. In his book, the Ministry of War is known as the Ministry of Love, for example, while the Ministry of Truth deals with propaganda and entertainment. Sound familiar yet? Another book that delves into this topic deeper is Unspeak, a must-read for anyone interested in language and power and specifically how words are distorted for political ends. Terms such as ´peace keeping missiles´, ´extremists´ and ´no-fly zones´, weapons being referred to as ´assets´, or misleading business euphemisms such as ´downsizing´ for redundancy and ´sunset´ for termination- these, and hundreds of other examples, demonstrate how powerful language can be. In a world of growing corporate media monopolization, those who wield this power can manipulate words and therefore public reaction, to encourage compliance, uphold the status quo, or provoke fear.
10. Freedom of the press no longer exists
The only press that is currently free (at least for now) is the independent publication with no corporate advertisers, board of directors, shareholders or CEOs. Details of how the state has redefined journalism are noted here and are mentioned in #7, but the best recent example would be the government´s treatment of The Guardian over its publication of the Snowden leaks. As a side note, it´s possible this paper plays us as well as any other- The Guardian Media Group isn´t small fry, after all. But on the other hand- bearing in mind points 1 to 9- why should we find it hard to believe that after the NSA files were published, editor Alan Rusbridge was told by the powers that be ´you´ve had your fun, now return the files´, that government officials stormed his newsroom and smashed up hard drives, or that Greenwald´s partner David Miranda was detained for 9 hours in a London airport under the Terrorism Act as he delivered documents related to the columnist´s story? Journalism, Alan Rusbridge lamented, ´may be facing a kind of existential threat.´ As CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather wrote: ‘We have few princes and earls today, but we surely have their modern-day equivalents in the very wealthy who seek to manage the news, make unsavory facts disappear and elect representatives who are in service to their own economic and social agenda… The “free press” is no longer a check on power. It has instead become part of the power apparatus itself.’
Despite significant budgetary constraints, the Australian government announced in Tuesday’s budget that it will invest a further A$450 million in counter-terrorism strategies.
The arrest of several young Australians, who were allegedly planning attacks on Anzac Day and Mothers’ Day, seems to have convinced most Australians that these expensive counter-terrorism measures are essential for national security.
A public expenditure of around A$1.2 billion a year, we are told, is justified in order to prevent the sorts of terror attacks that have been perpetrated in Boston, Sydney, Paris and Copenhagen.
In order to thwart domestic terror attacks, therefore, the vast majority of this money will will be devoted to military deployment in Iraq, and funding for intelligence, surveillance, policing systems and information programs at home.
Questions have also been raised about the actual cost-benefit and effectiveness of many security measures, particularly around airport and aviation security. According to Professor Mark Stewart, full passenger body scans are expensive, time-consuming and of marginal security value, while hardened cockpit doors are of optimal cost-benefit.
There’s a reason for the “catch-all” approach of such measures. The cost of close surveillance of a single individual who may be at risk of committing a terrorist act is estimated at around A$8 million per year.
If security agencies were to conduct close scrutiny of the 200 individuals most likely to commit a terror act in Australia, the bill would be well over A$1.5 billion.
If the net were to widen far enough to include people such as Man Monis, a middle-aged Iranian refugee, who was not regarded as a high security risk ahead of perpetrating Sydney’s Martin Place siege earlier this year, then the cost would incalculable.
For that reason, if nothing else, western governments are investing in early intervention counter-radicalisation programs. The Australian government, specifically, is investing in programs that will generate and distribute “counter-narratives” which will be designed to halt the allure and propaganda of ISIS, al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and other Islamist terror groups.
While there are few details about these programs, it is most likely that they will be structured around advertising and social marketing models which target youth audiences.
The problem here, of course, is that the individuals who may be susceptible to the influence of radical and militant Islam are an extremely diverse group. The terrorist profiling which has been produced by security psychologists bears little resemblance to a group which includes Man Monis, Jake Bilardi (a bright but disturbed adolescent convert to Islam), the Chechen Tsarnaev brothers who attacked the Boston marathon, and the Kouachi brothers – second-generation Algerian migrants who attacked Charlie Hebdo.
This diversity is further confounded by the sorry story of young Australian women – such as Amira Karroum – who become radicalised as much through love and desire, as through religious devotion.
In fact, we cannot even say that these radicalised individuals are unquestionably devout, uneducated or poor, making any kind of conventional mass-media program unlikely to connect with a given target audience.
A focus on social media might have greater traction, particularly if designers are able to tag their counter-narratives to militant groups’ websites and Twitter feeds. Unfortunately, and as overseas experience has demonstrated, these sites and feeds are chameleon-like, changing their character, title and URLs as they are constantly closed down by site managers and security agencies.
Moreover, users and followers are themselves extremely adept at moving with the messages and creating their own support networks which continually escape scrutiny. The western adolescents, who have become increasingly wooed by the ISIS imagery and ideas, have appeared to enjoy the cat-and-mouse game as they explore and exploit the limits of public and government authority.
Thus, while security agencies and social marketers may lumber around the internet in search of susceptible adolescents, their target audiences have already moved on.
The greater problem, in fact, is the very nature of the radical Islamist appeal to young western Muslims. ISIS, in particular, has conjured a heroic and ultra-masculinist imagining. This imagining shapes their attack on western global domination into a dark and erotic politics of the body.
The potency of their appeal to receptive adolescents is extremely difficult for state authorities to understand, let alone counter. Paradoxically, this is partly because ISIS has enlisted much of the violent erotica which is a feature of western media culture – a fact the west simply won’t acknowledge.
Rather, western governments deny the parallel, invoking the rationalism and authority which they claim to be their point of difference and enmity.
This denial also affects the ways in which the Australian government is approaching the problem of radicalisation. While paying lip service to the idea of community engagement, there has been far less serious investment in this approach as a primary counter-terrorism strategy.
In particular, there has been far too little attention paid to the nature of adolescence and the ways in which ISIS and others conjure themselves in the imaginary of young people.
This is particularly important as these adolescents seek to consolidate themselves and their identity through their emerging adulthood. These growing pains are especially potent in a modern western world that fetishises freedom and choice as markers of adulthood and sexual maturity.
The internet opens those choices to even broader scales of possibility, including the possibility of self-realisation in radical ideas and an erotic violence which is inscribed by mortal risk.
ISIS provides adolescents and young adults with an identity that heroises this mortal risk. Like drug use, drag-racing or street violence, this heroic aggression proves an irresistible choice for some.
To this end, parents and family remain the critical factor for managing adolescents and their choices. If community engagement means anything, it is surely that there needs to be strong interaction and trust between families, religious bodies, education institutions and government agencies.
It seems essential that parents create a family culture in which young people feel safe enough to discuss their perturbations, politics, ideas and feelings. Where parents sense the radical or militant disaffection of their adolescents, there needs to be a safe space in which they can trust public authorities and systems to provide genuine support and assistance.
This needs to take place before the disaffection becomes amplified as criminal action.
Sadly, this trust is continually strained as security agencies seem to prefer arrest to negotiated family engagement and crime prevention. This is despite the quite simple fact that many adolescents drift away from radicalisation far more often than it evolves as militant action.
In short, governments need to focus their counter-terrorism strategies on strengthening community relations and trust. This is far more than simply controlling the hate speech of rogue Imams.
It’s about addressing the complexities of culture and encouraging a whole-of-society approach to managing our tensions and uncertainties.
In a bold move, Daesh (i.e. ISIL or ISIS) fighters moved Monday on Kirkuk and Erbil, two cities patrolled by the Iraqi Kurdistan paramilitary, the Peshmerga (those who stand before death).
Erbil is the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. Kirkuk is an oil city and is disputed among Turkmen, Arabs and Kurds. If Daesh, based in Syria’s al Raqqah and in Iraq’s Mosul, could capture Kirkuk, it would gain a major source of oil income.
Daesh fighters were repelled, and some number killed, by the oddest coalition you’d ever want to see. The Kurdistan Peshmerga took the lead in defending Kurdistan, but they were joined by Iraqi government security forces and by Shiite militiamen who came up from the south. These forces were given close air support by the US Air Force.
Kurdish commanders announced that they had regained control of Kirkuk and had chased away the Daesh fighters.
The Peshmerga were aided in a number of battles by the Arab Shiite militiamen, recalling their coalition at Amerli, last fall. They had also collaborated in Diyala Province more recently.
Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani visited the front and stressed that any force willing to fight alongside the Peshmerga against Daesh is welcome.
Daesh fighters also tried to take villages near Erbil, the captial of Iraqi Kurdistan. They were repelled with the additional help of US fighter jets. Dozens died in this fighting.
The cooperation achieved between the Shiite “popular forces” militias and the Peshmerga may not have been unprecedented, but it did refute observers who had predicted an Arab-Kurdish fight.
Kirkuk has an Arab population, including some Shiites, along with Turkmen Shiites– who contest Kurdish insistence on annexing it to Kurdistan. Barzani appears to have earlier been threatened by the Shiite paramilitaries’ approach. He warned that he would not let them come into Kirkuk.
His warning was in part a reply to the leader of the extremist Shiite militia, the League of the Righteous (Asa’ib Ahl al-Haqq), who had complained of the “Kurdishization” of Kirkuk. Hadi al-Ameri, head of the Badr Corps, another Shiite militia, also pledged to come into Kirkuk. The largely Shiite Iraqi army deserted its posts in Kirkuk last June, leaving the Peshmerga (who had conducted joint patrols with the army) in charge of the oil city. The Shiite militias appeared to wish to replace the Iraqi troops, laying down a marker on Arab interest in Kirkuk, which has de facto been annexed by Kurdistan.
As Daesh approached, Barzani abruptly changed his tune and welcomed the Shiite militias with open arms. (It is not impossible that Iran played a behind the scenes role in getting Barzani and the Shiites to make up. Iran supports both Iraqi Kurdistan and the Shiite militias.
This tension tells us two things. 1) The potential for further Kurdish-Shiite tension is there. And, 2), both sides are for the moment pragmatic enough to bury the hatchet in the breast of their common foe.
Tony Abbott’s tenure as Prime Minister is all but over. The division within the Liberal Party’s parliamentary ranks is clear, with 39 of its MPs yesterday voting in favour of a leadership spill. It is true that 61 voted against, but at least 32 and as many as 41 of those votes were ministers, parliamentary secretaries and party whips who Mr Abbott says were bound by the party’s convention to close ranks behind the leader.
In short form, the numbers indicate that about 60 per cent of Liberal backbenchers have no confidence in Mr Abbott’s ability to lead their party or this nation. That is a dire result. It will foster internal disruption and general uncertainty about the government’s direction, none of which is desirable at the best of times, let alone in the midst of preparations for a crucial budget.
Speculation about the leadership will persist as long as Mr Abbott remains, and that will enfeeble decision-making within the government and prove detrimental to business confidence. With Australia’s economic outlook weakening, and the government still unable to pass some of its budget measures from last year, the last thing the Coalition needed was more of the same.
Indeed, the last thing Australia needs is another 18 months, potentially, of the kind of dispiriting, inconsistent leadership that Mr Abbott has exhibited. His effort to recast the office of the Prime Minister as an elevated, independent branch of Parliament is arrogant and misguided. It is evident in the way he has made unilateral decisions about government policy without bothering to consult senior ministers, and it is evident in his twisted interpretation of the voting system. “We think,” he said yesterday (using the royal “we”), “that when you elect a government, when you elect a prime minister, you deserve to keep that government and that prime minister until you have a chance to change your mind.”
No, Mr Abbott, the people of Australia do not and never have voted directly for a prime minister. Australia does not have a presidential style of government. Leadership is vested by the party. You are in the Prime Minister’s office only by grace of your colleagues, a great many of whom, it is clear, are far from happy. Their discontent reflects that of their constituents; the polls indicate that if an election were held now the Coalition would be trounced.
Mr Abbott reportedly was shocked by the threat to his leadership, which only underscores how cocooned he has become. He apparently does not believe that he has a problem with the electorate. He is blithely carrying on with tired pleadings for unity among his MPs, and with empty expressions to voters that “we are not the Labor Party”. Yet, by casting the Liberals in terms of something it is not, Mr Abbott only underscores how hollow is his party’s policy platform. This is what The Age warned about in September 2013 just before the election; the Coalition’s “plan” for the nation was never fully formed, it was framed around three-word slogans and lacked substance.
Almost halfway through the term, and the Coalition’s narrative is still deficient. The position is redeemable, but only with a change of leader. Mr Abbott has squandered the trust of voters and many of his Coalition colleagues. His decision to pull the party room meeting forward by a day might have been intended to demonstrate unity before Parliament began sitting this week, but it looked panicked.
Worse was Mr Abbott’s political ploy in offering a South Australian senator the assurance that, contrary to what Treasurer Joe Hockey said late last year, Australian companies would get a chance to bid for a multibillion-dollar contract to build submarines.
There is deep-seated disappointment with this government. Mr Abbott has fumbled too many chances. His leadership is unsustainable and it is inevitable that Liberal MPs will need to resolve this by dumping him.
Governments must be open-minded and listening to win public support for reform, but the Abbott government has been neither
Are we really back there again? Ministers putting on their best serious face and declaring their leader is not electoral poison. Colleagues “backgrounding” the obvious fact that he is. A government paralysed by policies it cannot legislate and a backlog of big ideas but no political capital to push them through.
Yep, we are back there. But let’s forget this horribly familiar scenario for a second and imagine that a new prime minister dropped in from outer space and delivered the agenda-setting press club speech Tony Abbott has scheduled for 2 February.
In my view, he or she would probably raise at least some of the same things Abbott intends to. Australia does need to reduce spending over time. We do need to overhaul the tax system, since much of our budget dilemma is due to declining revenue. Our population is ageing and that fact does raise big policy questions. Our federal system is dysfunctional.
But Abbott has a major disadvantage compared with the imaginary alien leader. He has already squandered the most important commodity to achieve any change at all – trust. Voters have to believe a government is open-minded and listening before a major policy can be debated. The government has to actually BE open-minded and listening to win public support for reform. The Abbott government has been neither.
The consequences are clear in the response to the Productivity Commission review into workplace relations. The employment minister, Eric Abetz, is now reassuring everyone it will be fair and factual and listen to the views of “all parties”. But his government responded to allegations of corruption in some unions not by referring them to the police, but by launching a sweeping royal commission into all unions. It has happily ignored recommendations it doesn’t like from other evidence-based Productivity Commission inquiries (like the need to conduct proper cost benefit analyses before promising huge amounts of money to infrastructure projects). It has made its views on industrial laws abundantly clear. Of course the unions don’t trust the process. And it’s not clear the government will have the authority to convince the public to trust it either.
Abbott will use his speech to lay out his plan for the year. He’ll talk about the “families package” in the budget, taking money from his paid parental leave scheme and using it to pay for more flexible childcare subsidies. He’ll talk about the soon-to-be-released tax paper, which will open every can of worms – superannuation tax breaks, broadening or raising the GST and the prospect of personal income tax cuts. He’ll probably talk about the intergenerational report, also out soon, and all the challenges as the population ages.
But his government already ambushed Australian voters with previously-unmentioned health, education and welfare changes in last year’s budget which were decisively judged to be unfair.
And he and his ministers have spent the past year ignoring, defunding and sidelining groups that advocate for the poor, the sick, the disabled and disadvantaged.
The Australian Council of Social Service wrote to Abbott early last year proposing that he set up a welfare advisory body, similar to the business advisory group headed by Maurice Newman that was up and running within three months of the election. It still hasn’t received a response.
The government abolished the Social Inclusion Board, the National Housing Supply Council, the Prime Minister’s Council on Homelessness, the National Policy Commission on Indigenous Housing, the National Children and Family Roundtable, the Advisory Panel on Positive Ageing and the Immigration Health Advisory Group, citing “red tape”. It has cut $270m in funding to other community organisations over four years, including from groups that advocate for the homeless, refugees, youth and the disabled.
It has abolished the Climate Commission and rewritten funding agreements with community legal services to prevent them from advocating for changes to laws that affect their clients.
To political warriors, refusing to hear or offer assistance to those who might challenge your ideas and arguments probably seems an obvious course. But for a leader who really wants to have a debate, rather than just impose an outcome, it’s dumb. It leads to bad policies and an erosion of the confidence and trust that are necessary for lasting political success.
It also lets political opponents off the hook. Just as Abbott used former prime minister Julia Gillard’s carbon tax “lie” to delegitimise all she undertook and stood for, Bill Shorten is using the electorate’s disillusionment and suspicion of Tony Abbott and this government’s broken promises to undermine the prime minister’s standing on whatever new subject he touches.
Debating big, necessary questions – like tax, or workplace laws or federalism – and taking the result to the next election is the right thing for a government to do, if it is willing to listen to all sides of the argument.
But Coalition MPs are worried that their government will be fighting rather than debating, and on too many fronts, and in front of an electorate that has already stopped listening.
They can see that last year’s “reboot” was just spin. The prime minister has made it clear he thinks the problem is not the policy but the sales job – he just needs to “skite” more.
Some are despairing, and are increasingly willing to say so to any journalist who calls (anonymously of course). But they don’t know what comes next. If pressed they mutter something about how things have to get better soon, or after the budget, or by later this year.
This is not dissent fuelled by rival leadership contenders, and the two most likely alternatives – Julie Bishop and Malcolm Turnbull – are politically close. There is no plotting, although there are “what if it came to that?” conversations, and some careful bridge-building between former factional rivals in case the time does come.
Overwhelmingly, Liberal MPs are trying to send the prime minister a message because they are still willing him to restore the government’s fortunes, and his own.
They want him to know they are dismayed by the policy flip-flops, for example over the Medicare copayment. They remain resentful of the influence and control exercised by Abbott’s chief of staff, Peta Credlin, and the narrow sources of advice reaching the prime minister’s ears directly. They want him to outline a 2015 agenda he can actually deliver.
But to achieve any of it, he can’t “crash through”, he has to rebuild trust. And that requires an approach this government may really find alien.
The stronger terror assessment scenario painted by ASIO seems rather odd. Irvine chose to speculate publicly about the threat alert needing to be raised to the second-highest level, ostensibly however before giving any formal advice to the government.
Based on ongoing assessments, either a threat is likely to occur or it is not. If so, why the delay in advising the government? If not, why prematurely raise a “worst-case” scenario? Citizens remain stuck in terror limbo.
All the National Security precautions in the US didn’t stop 9/11 or the Boston marathon. Any incidents that have been interrupted in the US were by accident and an alert public. Australia has just experienced a near miss not at the hands of terrorists but at the hands of the AFP creating a dangerous moment during a drill at an airport. How would Abbott have explained that away?
Further, this drip-feed of vague warnings is being packaged by policymakers with a hyper-legislative insistence on introducing another round of “tough” terror laws. While some measures appear justifiable – such as up-to-date powers to suspend passports – many others do not. Some proposals remain decidedly inconsistent with past recommendations by watchdogs like the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor. We seem to be stuck on a rinse-and-repeat cycle to keep terrorising ourselves. The more immediate hazard is pointless overreaction and political exploitation of public fears. The build-up of these kind of tensions have had a track-record of leading into knee-jerk and totally counter-productive policy initiatives – like the unnecessary Iraq invasion of 2003. That had no clear national security benefit and contributed to much of this latest mess.
This type of “alert and alarm” scenario tends to lead in a couple of directions: it either creates wider public paranoia or greater public scepticism. Neither is particularly helpful for an effective, sustainable and clear-eyed counter-terrorism strategy.
In short, IS is a nasty piece of work, but it is not a global game-changer The instinct to “do something” and heroic calls to strong vigilant action might be good politics. However, such heavy-handedness is a careless and unhealthy national security stratagem. The good news is that the threat of foreign fighters is both manageable and marginal.Another bottom line is that these Australian foreign fighters do not represent the wider Islamic community – IS is keen to kill all Muslims who they deem to be “infidels”. (This makes many calls for “community” solutions by the overwhelming moderate Muslim majority in Australia overly simplistic and stupid. This is not a clash of civilisations as Andrew Bolt would have us believe. Australian citizens still have more chance of being killed by bee stings or car crashes than by a rare, albeit conceivable, home-grown terrorist attack.
Interestingly, former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger recently warned that traditional state-based threats remain a much more serious and long-term security headache.
” I consider Iran a bigger problem than ISIS. ISIS is a group of adventurers with a very aggressive ideology. But they have to conquer more and more territory before they can became a strategic, permanent reality.”
We are being scammed by Abbott who has quid pro quo arrangement with ASIO the AFP and security forces who will gain extra funding. Abbott get’s press to attack his negative standing in the polls.
We are being scammed at the expense of the Australian Muslim community and the increased possibility of further radicalization.