Sabotaging the country to win government

Have you noticed how, in a parliamentary democracy, an Opposition can – if it doesn’t actually care about damaging the country to do it – sabotage Government policies that may well otherwise have worked?

In the case of Government efforts to reduce unauthorised arrivals by boat, all their opponents have to do is constantly advertise to potential arrivals that, contrary to the reality they’ll find when they get here, it’s really “easy” to get into the country now, and they’ll be treated “like kings” when they do, “better than ordinary Australians” – that this Government is “soft” and we’re “an easy target”. (“People smugglers” probably have cuttings from News Ltd papers all over their office walls.) If there’s a message being sent overseas about Australia’s immigration policies being overly-favourable, that message isn’t being trumpeted by a Government that keeps trying to make their lives harder and more unpleasant, locking up children in detention just as its predecessor did – it’s being trumpeted by the Opposition and its media cheerleaders. And is very likely making the problem worse. (Within the parameters of the fact that there was a global surge in refugee numbers, and you’d expect with dramatically more people in the region seeking refuge the numbers arriving in Australia would increase even if no policies changed.)

So, yes, the constant advertising Australia as a target for “people smugglers” is less than helpful for the country, if the aim is to reduce arrivals by boat. But it’s very helpful for the Opposition, if the aim is to win government by blaming the Government for the arrivals by boat it and its cheerleaders in the media have actually done everything in their power to encourage.

And the carbon tax is another example. Businesses want some certainty – for the policy to work, they need to know that if they invest in developing renewable technologies they won’t have their efforts destroyed by the government suddenly changing its mind and reversing tack. Which is exactly what the Liberals are now promising to do if they win the next election. That promise itself makes it vastly more difficult for the policy to achieve its aim – of encouraging investment in renewable technologies to ultimately replace things like coal. But the coal industry has power now; if it plays its cards right with its representatives in Canberra, the Coalition, its competitors, the future renewable businesses, can be smothered before they ever have a chance to get themselves some representation.

Who’s going to seriously invest in renewables under the Government’s plan if the Coalition is just going to cancel it in two years? And so a plan that might well have worked, that might have created a sustainable, long-term industry for the benefit of all Australians, and reduced the risk of catastrophic climate change, is sabotaged purely for political gain.

Same with crime, where they’re always telling potential criminals that “this Government” is “soft on crime” so, you know, you might as well give it a shot… and if people are encouraged, by the (erroneous) belief that the courts are “soft”, to commit offences, and crime rates rise, then that’s good news for the Opposition! (Not such good news for the people of the State in question, but that’s apparently not what’s uppermost in their minds.)

I’m not suggesting Oppositions shouldn’t criticise Governments, of course. I’m simply noting that, in areas where it’s the message that affects the problem – where a policy is to deter behaviour (eg crime) or encourage behaviour (eg a market) – it’s important for the electorate to consider who exactly is making the problem worse.

And to consider that rewarding that behaviour by putting those people in Government, encourages the next lot to do everything in their power to sabotage the country to get their own way.

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40 responses to “Sabotaging the country to win government

  1. Catching up

    Could not agree more. Mr. Abbott and the Opposition has continually attempted to talk down the economy over the last couple of years. In the past, an Opposition would have been criticised severally for this behaviour. Mr. Abbott cannot destroy the government’s policies without causing harm to the present and future economy. Mr. Abbott as Opposition leader has a responsibility to act responsible.

  2. And to consider that rewarding that behaviour by putting those people in Government, encourages the next lot to do everything in their power to sabotage the country to get their own way.

    Yes, there’s an important point there. Let’s assume the Liberals under whoever win the next election and Labor are in opposition. What incentive is there for Labor to then do anything except exactly what Abbott and co. have been doing this term? That is, reflexively oppose everything and automatically gainsay whatever the government says. If that trend continues, the country will be ungovernable in a few years, regardless of who is in power.

    As much as Abbott counts John Howard as a political mentor, he doesn’t appear to understand that Howard achieved much of what he did with a Labor opposition that was willing to compromise (or perhaps, cave in). Abbott definitely shouldn’t count on having that same asset if he ever makes it to power because of the way he has been behaving since he took over the Liberal leadership. Having a “ferocious” opposition is only fun if you are that opposition…

  3. Splatterbottom

    You’ve hit the nail on the head here Jeremy. With free speech comes responsibility. In this case that responsibility is not to criticise the Greens/ALP coalition government. Obviously it is time to stop referring to the “Opposition”. Their job is now to support government policy and not point out any defects. If they keep to their tactic of opposing government policy they should be jailed along with any political commentators who provide a forum for their disgraceful views.

    The same goes for the media – no more critical inquiry from them! The press needs to realise that it’s true role is to be “part of the process of moving Australia into a much more secure future,” as Bob Clown rightly said yesterday. Any attempt to quote the Clown’s prior statements is evidence of a Vast Murdoch Conspiracy.

  4. Hey SB, Bob’s just giving the Murdoch media a little bit of “scrutiny”. Why so worried?

  5. “In this case that responsibility is not to criticise the Greens/ALP coalition government. Obviously it is time to stop referring to the “Opposition”. Their job is now to support government policy and not point out any defects.”

    I think you must’ve missed this paragraph:

    “I’m not suggesting Oppositions shouldn’t criticise Governments, of course. I’m simply noting that, in areas where it’s the message that affects the problem – where a policy is to deter behaviour (eg crime) or encourage behaviour (eg a market) – it’s important for the electorate to consider who exactly is making the problem worse. ”

    See? It’s perfectly valid to point out that the people encouraging people smugglers are the idiots in the Opposition and the media shouting, no matter what the Government does, that it’s “making it easier”. And telling outright lies about how “good” the detainees have it.

    This is an area where their “criticism” is not in good faith – it’s calculated to make the problem worse. And they can do that, by all means. No-one’s calling for them to “be jailed”.

    But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t remember what they’ve done, at the expense of the rest of us, when they ask us to vote for them.

  6. narcoticmusing

    And all this from a man that promised, regardless of who wins, he will provide a ‘nicer politic’. Nicer would mean, assess on merits and deal with it via democracy (ie parliament) not trial by media on everything regardless of its merit.

  7. Splatterbottom

    defixio: “Hey SB, Bob’s just giving the Murdoch media a little bit of “scrutiny”. Why so worried?”

    I am worried because I have great (but rapidly diminishing) respect for Brown. He is attacking newspapers for not being biased lackeys and blaming Murdoch for publishing an article he wrote rather than taking responsibility for the words he wrote in it. Seems to me he has lost the plot. He should forget about the Alinsky playbook.

    Jeremy my comment was a little bit tongue-in-cheek, but there is a similarity for your push for the opposition to shut up and Brown’s recent outburst I referred to. Limiting political speech because someone overseas may act in a particular way is insane, particularly where cause and effect are quite tenuous as in this case.

  8. “Brown’s recent outburst”? Do you mean this?

  9. Splatterbottom

    jeremy I mean the bit where he said the role of the press was to be “part of the process of moving Australia into a much more secure future.” Obviously Big Brother Bob doesn’t like different views being published.

    The fact is that the ABC and Fairfax exclusively parrot the alarmist agenda. They are the ones failing their readers. Seems Brown is distraught that not all media organisations are his poodles. He needs to better understand the idea of free speech.

  10. jordanrastrick

    Abbott’s too good a politician to doubt whether the ends justify the means. If the moderates in the opposition don’t waver, the Libs are going to stay brutally on message until the next election. No amount of criticism is going to change that; in the soundbite era an opposition that presents an alternative platform instead of just relentless criticism is just playing the game badly.

    It might all fall apart for them if people have enough time to notice the budget being back in surplus as promised, the mining tax and ETS not actually ending the world, etc. Howard recovered from greater unpopularity than this, and earned a reputation for being willing to take risks to reform. However backbenchers read too many polls these days and journalists swallow too much of their own cool aid, so it won’t be easy.

    If the Libs do get a landslide next election, I hope we get a weak ALP opposition for a couple of terms – it’d be nice not to descend to a point where governments are too terrified to reform anything.

  11. jordanrastrick

    SB, news ltd are just as off the planet these days as the Fairfax and the ABC. Surely as a centrist you recognize this.

  12. “Obviously Big Brother Bob doesn’t like different views being published.”

    That’s an absurd claim to make, SB.

    “If the Libs do get a landslide next election, I hope we get a weak ALP opposition for a couple of terms – it’d be nice not to descend to a point where governments are too terrified to reform anything.”

    Jordan, are you kidding? It’s definitely a problem that the ALP is too terrified to reform anything, but the Libs aren’t. And their “reforms”, with the sole exception of the ban on semiautomatic guns, consistently make the country much, much worse. The country is in no way better off if they go off “reforming” again.

  13. Splatterbottom

    Jeremy: “That’s an absurd claim to make”

    How do read is comment about the role of the media, then?

  14. That we should demand more honesty and balance from it.

  15. He is attacking newspapers for not being biased lackeys

    Actually, that’s the complete opposite of what he attacked News Ltd for.

    Seems Brown is distraught that not all media organisations are his poodles.

    No, he’s calling out The Australian’s anti-Greens bias, which they explicitly owned up to when they published an editorial calling for the party’s destruction. Surely you’re able to tell the difference.

  16. Splatterbottom

    Jeremy: “That we should demand more honesty and balance from it.”

    That is not what he said. What he actually said was “I’m being very much on the front foot here because I think the media, with some very good exceptions, can at times lose track of the fact that it’s part of the process of moving Australia into a much more secure future”

    That is something entirely different, more like “get with the program”, particularly given the context of reporting on climate matters. It sounds more like what you would expect from an old communist apparatchik. Maybe he was channelling Lee Rihannon.

    If Brown was concerned by balance he would attack the ABC and Fairfax for their one-sided coverage of the climate debate.

  17. He is attacking newspapers for not being biased lackeys

    Actually Brown is attacking (some) newspapers precisely because they are biased lackeys. Did you not see where the editor of that fine institution The Australian explicitly stated his paper’s desire to see the Greens “destroyed”? To call the media out for that kind of brazen one-eyed bias is not the same as calling for “no more critical inquiry”. This positing of the Greens as the big bad meanies is frankly all a bit precious.

  18. Much better to slide into government with no vision and no policies. That way you can’t be held to account.

    It pays electoral dividends in this country to be chock full one liners and feel no responsibility to apply the honesty test to the issues of the day. Particularly when you have large slabs of the commercial media cheering you on.

    No! The way to go is to be a policy free zone; become a jargon junkie and advocate for the Liarberal Parties big business backers wherever possible. Especially those under scrutiny such as the tobacco industry and the polluters.

  19. Splatterbottom

    I thought the funniest bit was with Uhlmann were Brown blamed the Murdoch press for taking him out of context when all they did was publish an article Brown wrote:

    CHRIS UHLMANN: Didn’t you say back in 2007 that we had to kick the coal habit?

    BOB BROWN: No, I did not. You’re looking at the Murdoch press, where I said back in 2007 we should look at coal exports with a view to phasing them out down the line.

    CHRIS UHLMANN: It wasn’t the Murdoch press, it was a comment piece that you wrote.

    Brown is so hung up with his Murdoch jihad that he can’t even remember what he said, and in fact blames the publisher who gave him space to publish his nonsense.

  20. mondo rock

    Lefty – say, hypothetically, that an opposition party does believe that the government is soft on crime, or that it’s boat-people policies are too lenient.

    How would the party express this view without falling foul of your rule above?

  21. Abbott as a failed catholic cleric, he may have had some bad experiences in that seminar——remember when he was looking for his “love child” what a TV drama that was.

  22. “How would the party express this view without falling foul of your rule above?”

    Honestly, would be a start. Not pretending, utterly wrongly, that detainees have it somehow “easy” in their compulsory imprisonment. Talking about the effectiveness of the policy without spinning it as an invitation.

    With crime – proposing specific policies and arguing about their effectiveness in reducing offending. Not spinning everything the courts do downwards.

    Of course, whether the party is doing it honestly or not can only be judged by voters, which is my point here: I think it’s fairly clear that the Liberals’ and News Ltd’s campaigning on these subjects is not honest. That they are forced to rely on misleading voters on sentencing (he only got 10 years… if you take out time served before sentence and assume he’ll get parole at the earliest opportunity); and tricking voters into thinking there’s something luxurious about immigration detention. Hopefully – since I’m fairly sure I’m right on those subjects – I can persuade more people as to the falsity of the conservatives’ campaign; and once that is established, then their sabotage can be seen for what it is. And they can be electorally punished for it (if lying wasn’t enough of a reason).

  23. “Brown is so hung up with his Murdoch jihad that he can’t even remember what he said, and in fact blames the publisher who gave him space to publish his nonsense.”

    SB. Nice try, but the quote Uhlmann found from Brown matched Brown’s description, not Uhlmann’s. (See commentary on the Pure Poison post.)

  24. Splatterbottom

    Jeremy, it is sweet that you are loyal enough to defend the indefensible, but this is really very simple.

    Uhlmann said: “Didn’t you say back in 2007 that we had to kick the coal habit?

    This was correct. See this Bob Brown article.

    Bob Brown then said: “No, I did not.

    This is untrue. Brown said: “Australia must urgently kick the coal habit

    Brown then had a little rant about the Murdoch press which looks stupid since Murdoch actually gave him the platform by publishing his ridiculous article.

    By going after Murdoch press in such an inept manner Brown is beclowning himself. It is rather sad. He should just stick to the issues.

  25. Well, there’s a gotcha then – Uhlmann did find an article four years old in which Brown had expressed a view that appears to have since been somewhat clarified, and Brown had apparently forgotten the precise words he’d written in that article. If anyone thought Brown had a photographic memory and could remember everything he’s ever written, even years later, then they will have been sorely disappointed to discover he’s human and fallible.

    Point is, as to the current debate, the current parliament, the Murdoch press have been shamelessly dishonest about the Greens (and not just recently), and it’s about time they were called on it by the Greens themselves, not just bloggers like me.

  26. Splatterbottom

    Jeremy, that is a pathetic rationalisation.

    It is perfectly legitimate to question a politician on the contents of an article he published in 2007.

    Instead of answering Uhlmann with something like “I don’t recall writing that” or “if I did say that my position has changed,” Brown reflexively blamed the Murdoch press. That isn’t Uhlmann playing gotcha, it is Brown being paranoid and delusional.

    Brown recently asserted that the media should not forget that it is “part of the process of moving Australia into a much more secure future.” That statement is deeply troubling. The media should not be the Green’s lapdog. It’s role is most definitely not to promote whatever it is that the Green’s think is a much more secure future for Australia. I hope that if the Greens ever get into power they don’t try to legislate obedience from the press.

    The major role of the media is to subject politicians to critical scrutiny. Bob better get used to it. Whining about the Murdoch press when he forgets what he wrote makes him look like a thin-skinned cry-baby. Telling the media their job is to get on board with his program makes him sound like a fascist.

  27. “It is perfectly legitimate to question a politician on the contents of an article he published in 2007.”

    Sure. And as a Greens voter, I’m not particularly bothered that Brown forgot his precise words four years later. It certainly won’t make me abandon the Greens and vote Labor.

    “That isn’t Uhlmann playing gotcha, it is Brown being paranoid and delusional.”

    My problems with Uhlmann in that interview were:
    – the ridiculously loaded questions filled with dodgy assumptions and assertions, and
    – his constantly interrupting Brown.

    “The media should not be the Green’s lapdog.”

    Who said it should?

    “The major role of the media is to subject politicians to critical scrutiny.”

    There’s little benefit to the community in the sort of “critical scrutiny” the Murdoch Press means – given it means outright lies, misrepresentations and silly personal smears instead of debating actual policies.

  28. Splatterbottom

    Jeremy: “as a Greens voter”

    No doubt Brown’s recent antics play well with the party faithful. Not so much with the rest of us.

    “I’m not particularly bothered that Brown forgot his precise words four years later.”

    Me neither. It was his paranoid reaction that concerns me.

    “Who said it should?”

    Bob was certainly hinting at that with the comment I quoted in the previous post.

  29. jordanrastrick

    Bob Brown’s reaction bother’s me, not because its entirely irrational – he was wrong on the Uhlmann question but is right about the Murdoch press bias in general – but because its strategically disastrous to respond to it like this, whether right or wrong.

    He’s let the pressure get under his skin and misjudged the right approach to take. Politicians can’t win wars against the media; its a fools crusade. If the Greens continue down this road they might, as SB says, solidify the allegiance of the party faithful, but they will do damage both to their own overall electoral success, and also to the coalition government which isn’t in a position to afford many political mistakes.

  30. Whats he sposed to do then?

    Put up with it?

    The media is shit and if no one in politics stands up and points this out it’ll continue to be shit. Well it probably will anyway but still.

  31. “..but because its strategically disastrous to respond to it like this, whether right or wrong.”

    Maybe the way he approached it was wrong, but consider that Obama has gotten quite a lift in polls since confronting and publically attacking Faux News for their outrageous lying and biased reporting, and his mockery has successfully portrayed Trump, Palin and the others in the loony right as the whack job conspiracy theorists that they are. The only people he has pissed off are the people who think he is a secret Muslim foreigner, and who would NEVER vote for an uppity “house nigger” like Obama anyway.

    Equally, Gillards comment that Abbott is “behaving like the love child of Sarah Palin and Donald Trump” is amusing, true and won’t alienate anyone who was planning on voting Labor. Sure it will piss off a lot of conservatives, but who cares? They are always going to vote Liberal anyway, and you can’t make everyone happy all the time. I don’t see Abbott worrying about offending progressive voters. They are not “his people” after all.

    If Brown had made the same kind of comment/accusations about media bias in a genuinely amused and dismissive way (which is exactly what that creep Uhlman deserves) it may have had a different reception among voters, and in any case, NO Liberal voter or “centrist” is going to vote Green, no matter what Bob does or says, so why court their approval?

    Boils like Uhlman news must be lanced, despite it being messy and painful to do so.

  32. Sorry that’s “Boils like Uhlman must be lanced”

  33. jordanrastrick

    My dad always had a theory that left wing politicians were just wasting their time going on Alan Jones, for similar reasons to the above. But its one thing to simply refuse to engage with a hostile segment of the media, to deny them the oxygen that fuels their fire. Its another entirely to come out on the counterattack.

    While I’d like to think your point stands Duncan, Obama is the most well resourced politician in the world, and Fox News are about as easy a target as media organisations come if you want to demonstrate bias. While The Greens, on the other hand, don’t have the time, money, expertise or experience to beat a paper like the Australian at their own game, and it shows. Senator Brown has always come across one of the most dignified politicians in Australia with any sort of major public profile. Now the impression is indeed of creeping paranoia and hysteria, because he’s swinging far too wildly with his counter punches. If he or his staff don’t have the capability to carefully cross check every single public statement he’s made, written or verbal, from the last decade, then he can’t afford to fight this battle in this fashion, because the journalists who have him in their sights certainly do have the time and the motivation to do so, and they will keep tripping him up.

  34. Splatterbottom

    This is not a matter of an informal quip by Brown. the statement in question was from a published piece which presumably had been thought out and was in accordance with Greens policy at the time. I don’t think Brown’s statement was so bad as to be either fundamentally different to current Greens policy or the views of many Australians. We should kick the coal habit as and when it is feasible to do so.

    The problem with the interview was Brown’s paranoid reaction to Uhlmann.

  35. Well yeah obviously he’s talking about phasing out coal over a long period of time, and so when the implication is lets do it immediately … he should have probably just said:

    “Kicking the coal habit implies some sort of cold turkey withdrawal period with all the associated pain and stress. I simply said we need to start planning for a phased decrease of our reliance on it by about, ohhh last year.”

    Anyway I hope he keeps it up. The entire trad media in australia are a joke.

  36. mondo rock

    I tend to agree with SB about this issue – Brown is on a hiding to nothing by attacking the Murdoch press and he should stop doing it.

    He’s right, of course, that the Murdoch press is biased against him but he needs to be incredibly careful if he wants to put that case to the public. The bully boys at News will do everything possible to deny and then obfuscate their bias.

    His efforts to date haven’t come close to landing a punch – to be honest it’s been amateurish and frankly cringe-inducing. Why would he even deny that he’d previosly said we need to “kick the coal habit”? It’s one of his better lines for crying out loud.

  37. Catching up

    Which question should we be asking?
    What will it cost us or what is the price our descendants will pay.
    Keep in mind, we have a choice, they do not.

    What I finding amazing over the last week there is a suggestion, that it is not prudent for politicians to challenge the media.

    Does anyone believe that Mr. Brown, the Greens, and Labor for that matter will be treated any better for shutting up and take what the media dishes out.

    Can some one tell what puts the media above everything else in society? Where did they get the right to be a law unto themselves?

    Where is the outcry that any organization can threaten our democracy by threatening to get even with those who dare to disagree with them?

    If the media take unto themselves the right to support one side in politics, and put in place a government that suits them, they must be held accountable. In other words, if they insist on playing politics, not just reporting politics, they must be open to questioning and scrutiny, as all other parties in politics are.

  38. Brown is on a hiding to nothing by attacking the Murdoch press and he should stop doing it.

    I disagree. The Greens have never had a fair hearing from News Ltd and weren’t about to get one either, so there was nothing to lose. I think it is perfectly reasonable to call them out on their obvious anti-Greens bias. It is shocking because politicians normally wouldn’t do that, but I think the people who believe this makes Brown look like a thin-skinned crybaby are the ones who already hate the Greens and wouldn’t ever vote for them anyway.

  39. jordanrastrick

    What I finding amazing over the last week there is a suggestion, that it is not prudent for politicians to challenge the media.

    Its certainly not prudent for them to do it carelessly.

    Does anyone believe that Mr. Brown, the Greens, and Labor for that matter will be treated any better for shutting up and take what the media dishes out.

    No, but it helps not to gift the journalists ammunition to use against you.

    Can some one tell what puts the media above everything else in society?

    Reality.

    Where did they get the right to be a law unto themselves?

    From the notion that free speech was a better option for societies then any of the alternatives.

    If you can suggest a workable check on the power and influence of newspapers where the cure isn’t worse than the disease, I’m sure governments the world over would love to here about it.

    Where is the outcry that any organization can threaten our democracy by threatening to get even with those who dare to disagree with them?

    In other newspapers, generally ones that people aren’t reading as much.

    If the media take unto themselves the right to support one side in politics, and put in place a government that suits them, they must be held accountable. In other words, if they insist on playing politics, not just reporting politics, they must be open to questioning and scrutiny, as all other parties in politics are.

    They are open to questioning and scrutiny; Senator Brown’s comments about the media haven’t been censored by anyone.

    The problem is, as I’ve said, his opponents have more resources and a larger audience than he does.

    I disagree. The Greens have never had a fair hearing from News Ltd and weren’t about to get one either, so there was nothing to lose. I think it is perfectly reasonable to call them out on their obvious anti-Greens bias. It is shocking because politicians normally wouldn’t do that, but I think the people who believe this makes Brown look like a thin-skinned crybaby are the ones who already hate the Greens and wouldn’t ever vote for them anyway.

    I’m certainly far from a dyed-in-the-wool Greens voter, but they were 1 on my upper house ballot in the NSW election, and if I’d been in another electorate they may have secured my lower house first preference as well.

    And I think Brown looks thin-skinned. I can hardly blame him; I’m certainly well aware of how tough it can be to live under a constant barrage of media criticism. But he’s not handling it well at the moment. If he wants to call out the media for their bias, he needs to be superhumanly accurate when doing so, because every word might get reported once if its right and will be dissected a thousand times over if its wrong.

  40. mondo rock

    think the people who believe this makes Brown look like a thin-skinned crybaby are the ones who already hate the Greens and wouldn’t ever vote for them anyway.

    Fair call Buns – but I think the opposite may also be true, i.e. Brown’s complaints will only resonate positively with those who already vote Green.

    It’s the reaction of the middle-ground that will determine the worth of Brown’s strategy.

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