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A Way to Look at the Individual Ingredients of Political Parties

Every so often a show comes along that breaks the mould. Excuse the cooking related pun but that is exactly what the show Kitchen Cabinet, hosted by Annabel Crabb and aired on ABC2 actually does. It takes your regular political interview and turns it on its head. It moves the political discourse away from the rough and tumble of our institutions and places it in the home’s, temporary or otherwise, of some of our political players. Far from just bringing out some of the personal stories of our politicians, the show, with its second season about to start, exposes the ingredients of the party politics cake.

Kitchen Cabinet will return to television screens next Wednesday, October 10th and promises to unearth some more individual truths from our politicians which will shed an important light on just how varied opinions can be within any given political party. There will of course be some who do not reveal as much or anything compared to other guests on the show, but for the most part individual thought processes will be discovered.

Failing that, the show will be responsible again for unearthing or at least bringing to a wider audience, stories about our politicians, their lives, what makes them tick as people. This has a lot to do with the relaxed location, the home or the flat or house in Canberra. What emerges, even from our media savvy politicians is at the very least is a much more relaxed and at ease communication style closer to a dinner chat than a political interview, when in reality it is still a political discussion.

What the broader viewing public often fail to see with our politicians is that behind party politics, which relies on falling into line behind a party-room decision, there are individuals, putting forward slightly different points of view.

Those views are of course discussed and debated, sometimes at length, behind closed doors, occasionally spilling out into public view through leaks from MP’s or journalists in the right place at the right time. Occasionally, individual views will spout forth out of the mouths of politicians directly in the media spotlight in public- think Barnaby Joyce as a most prescient example.

But for the most part, our politicians stick to “party discipline” and don’t reveal their position or at least won’t put a name to it, instead being referred to as ‘a disgruntled MP’ or ‘an inside source’.

From the advertisements for the show, we can already see that Bronwyn Bishop, long-time Liberal Party MP reveals she would not have brought in the controversial WorkChoices. What other stories of individual argument will we discover through the work of Annabel Crabb? Barnaby Joyce we know too, will also be a guest on the show and surely the serial “freelancer” will not disappoint.

In a way these candid discussions also show the lengths that politicians will go to, what they will put up with in order to wield political power for as long as possible. Politicians will, almost without fault, accept party decisions. That is just as much about accepting  and maintaining political power as it is about accepting the collective decision of a political machine that has discussed and debated an issue in an exhaustive manner.

Of course, save for the likes of Barnaby Joyce, we will not see frank and open discussions about current policy debates and that’s to be expected as the collective need for unity trumps almost all other views.

However, we can learn what individual members of parliament might think about a policy issue from the historical tidbits they offer up. We can reasonably, but not always accurately do so by linking a previous policy stance to an ideology and then extrapolate that to present issues. However, that can be blurred by the increasingly common practice of populism which has been known to overtake ideological linkages in recent years.

Kitchen Cabinet is certainly different and through that uniqueness will be illuminating as we seek to understand the politics of our nation and our individual parliamentary representatives. It might also help us to realise that just like us, surprisingly, our politicians are human.

How About We Let the Sport do the Talking?

The London 2012 Paralympic Games are here, they’re finally here. The biggest ever Paralympic Games have returned to land of their spiritual birthplace, England. Over 4000 athletes have converged on the Paralympic Village, ready to compete across 21 sports, some everyday sports and some  adapted especially for athletes with a disability. This Paralympic Games has also seen the most number of tickets sold for the entire event, with 2.4 of 2.5 million tickets snapped up by sports mad people from the United Kingdom and around the world.

The television coverage domestically has also promised to be huge. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the perennial broadcast partner for the Paralympic Games again won the right to broadcast the event from start to finish. The ABC coverage of this year’s Paralympics has been much talked about. With the advent of digital television and the subsequent new channels allowing for greater coverage of this important sporting exhibition, more coverage, much more was promised.

Across two channels, the ABC have begun broadcasting a total of nine and a half hours daily from the Paralympic Games. This is a big shift from years previous when a highlights show and some radio commentary were the stock standard fare and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation should be congratulated for committing to such widespread coverage and the fact that the exposure of the Games is heading in the right direction, up.

Aside from the opening ceremony, which was brilliantly- read minimally narrated and impressively broadcast to the Australian people, the televising of the actual sporting prowess of our Paralympic athletes began right as the competition started.

That broadcast was headed in the studio by Stephanie Brantz, no stranger to sports commentary, as well as being co-hosted by comedian Lawrence Mooney, actor Adam Zwar and Sam Pang. Guests joined the hosts throughout four and a half hours of coverage on the ABC’s digital television channel.

A number of the finest voices of ABC Grandstand and ABC Radio  were stationed at the sporting venues across London, ready to bring the action to a curious Australian audience to a magnitude never seen before in this country.

If there was a failure of the coverage last night, it was that there was too much talk and not enough action. The stars of the Paralympics are supposed to be the athletes who’ve put in massive effort over the years and overcome more adversity than most people will ever encounter.

Instead, for much of the night, we were made familiar with the comedic exploits in particular of Lawrence Mooney and Adam Zwar, but also Sam Pang, who’ve been in the United Kingdom for some time already. The chat was interweaved with numerous introductions to the Australian team and some of its members individually, but that would ideally have taken place while there was little or no sport on, say between 6 and 7pm last night.

Oh and another thing. The only thing “live” about most of the coverage last night and yes the website says it was supposed to be live, is that the commentators were broadcasting live from London. Very little of the sport appeared live amid all the chin-wagging back in the studio. At one point the swimming heats went from one of the later heats in one event, directly to the second heat of presumably the next event. I’m sorry, but to me live coverage means footage of the actual competition is beamed to our televisions instantaneously,  not people sitting around in a studio talking about the sports we want to see as viewers.

As an indication of just how wrong they got it with the coverage last night, Twitter was abuzz with comments lamenting the lack of athletic action being displayed on televisions around Australia. One person even remarked to me that they were so disappointed they felt that switching off after a while was the only answer.

So here’s a radical thought: more sport and less talk. We know the c0-hosts are funny or at least try to be. But they’re not why we as viewers are tuning in. We want to see sporting genius, we want to share the joy of stellar efforts in the pool, on the road, the track and the other arenas. If we wanted a laugh we’d go to their gigs. To steal a line from Elvis and alter it just a bit, a little less conversation, a little more sporting action please.

Hey Guys and Gals, Don’t Worry About Your ABC

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation is copping it from all parts of the political spectrum these days with regards “balance” as well as impartial reporting of news events, though much less the latter. But lately it’s been the left, the core constituency of the ABC that have been the loudest to decry the direction that the publicly funded news organisation is taking in relation to their approach to guest spots on the 6pm political panel show The DrumAll this has been happening while many on the right of the political spectrum still continue to amp up over what is still seen as a left wing bias of the entire news organisation.

The biggest complaint of recent months has been that the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA), particularly through regular guests Tim Wilson, Chris Berg and James Paterson appears more than any other think-tank on the daily political commentary show.

It is a simple fact that the IPA has appeared more than any other think-tank that exists in the Australian political landscape. IPA guests have taken up  42% of the appearances of representatives of these organisations for the of the period between June 2011 and June 2012 according to an investigation by Andrew Kos for Independent Australia here

The investigation found that the next highest appearance rate for think-tanks was the Centre for Independent Studies (CIS) at just under half the rate of the IPA (at 18%), followed by Per Capita with 16% of appearances and then the Centre for Policy Development responsible for 10% of the guest spots over the year examined.

So clearly the vast majority of think-tank appearances have been as a result of guests from the Institute of Public Affairs. An undeniable fact. But does this automatically translate into a right-wing bias on the part of our state-funded national broadcaster? Sorry, rhetorical question there. The answer is a clear ‘no’.

Sure the IPA and the other major right-wing policy body the CIS have dominated 60%, over half of thinky body spots on the show but to measure bias because of the higher appearance of one or two think-tanks over any other is a pretty ridiculous measure.

A much better way would be to measure based on political leanings of each individual guest, cumulative over each and every time that The Drum has aired.

Even without having done the raw numbers it is also an incontrovertible fact, that, like the IPA dominating the guest list, those that outwardly appear on the left of the political spectrum strongly outnumber those that identify with the right side of the political spectrum. You simply lose count of the times when two of the three panelists are of the left.

The very idea that you can have any form of political balance on a panel when a show, before it even starts has an uneven number of people as commentators, regardless of political affiliation is completely laughable.

The same goes for the other major free-to-air program in the realm of politics, Q&A and the Sunday program Insiders. With the formeryou have a regular panel of another uneven number, 5 guests where again people of the right side of politics are always strongly outnumbered. Sure, you’ll find your regular Q&A panel has a wider diversity of guests than The Drum, which usually leans toward those of the left that support Labor but there’s still not an overall balanced cross-section of views displayed due to the panel size and choices.

As for Insiders, again, like The Drum, you have 3 panelists, journalists from both Fairfax and News Ltd and the occasional freelance writer. Again too you have a political imbalance, always slanted to the left, partly because of the number of commentators on the show, partly because of the overwhelming number of writers who identify with the political ideology of the left.

So please, to my friends on the left, quit with the whingeing and whining about what you perceive as a right-wing political bias creeping into the political programs of your ABC. You have nothing to worry about, it’s still tilted nicely in your favour. You only need to start worrying if the number of guests representing your beliefs is tilted in the other direction. If balance is truly what you want, then call for an equal number of spots on each of the political shows. But I suspect that deep down you might just be complaining you don’t like what you’re hearing from a small number of people.

The fact that now everyone, left and right, are getting their knickers in a knot tends to indicate that maybe, just maybe, the ABC is heading toward less of a bias toward the left.

100 Days to Go, But What’s the Paralympics All About?

Today marks just 100 days until the event the world will be watching, no not those games starting with ‘O’ and ending in ‘pic’, but the widely known about and often reported on Paralympic Games- well, this is true in an ideal world anyway. From the 29th of August until the 9th of September the London 2012 Paralympic Games will take place in the shadow of the Olympic Games which will have ceased just a short period of time prior to the commencement of the Paralympics. 

Little is known or reported about the Paralympic Games, so what’s it all about?

THE COMPETITORS:

The Paralympic Games are open to competitors with a physical disability, including those who are visually impaired or deaf. The Paralympic Games have also included athletes with an intellectual impairment in both the 1996 and 2000 Paralympics, but these participants were excluded from both the 2004 and 2008 Paralympic Games after cheating on the part of the Spanish team particularly in the intellectually disabled basketball team. These athletes will return to the Paralympic Games in London for the first time since the Sydney 2000 Paralympics.

The London Paralympics will be the biggest to be held so far with approximately 4,200 athletes from 165 countries participating in the event and 16 of those nations will be competing for the first time in London.

THE SPORTS:

The 4,200 athletes participating will compete in a total of 21 different sports, with the majority of sports included in the Paralympics also featured as Olympic sports save for some modifications to cater for differing levels of impairment.

This year athletes will compete in:

  • Archery
  • Athletics
  • Boccia
  • Track and Road Cycling
  • Equestrian
  • Football
  • Goalball
  • Judo
  • Powerlifting
  • Rowing
  • Sailing
  • Shooting
  • Swimming
  • Table Tennis
  • Sitting Volleyball
  • Wheelchair Basketball
  • Wheelchair Fencing
  • Wheelchair Rugby
  • Wheelchair Tennis

The sports that are unique to the Paralympics are:

  • Boccia, which is similar to Bocce
  • Goalball which is similar to European Handball for visually impaired participants    
  • Powerlifting which is Weightlifting but performed different for participants with a higher level of physical impairment 
  • Sitting Volleyball which is similar to regular Indoor Volleyball, but performed seated on the court
  • Wheelchair Basketball which is similar to Basketball but undertaken in a wheelchair
  • Wheelchair Fencing which is like regular Fencing but for people in a wheelchair
  • Wheelchair Rugby which is also know as “Murderball” and involves similar play to the multiple forms of rugby but is performed indoors 
  • Wheelchair Tennis which is like Tennis but competitors play in a wheelchair

The Australian team is expected to do well, particularly, as has been the case historically, in swimming, athletics, wheelchair rugby and wheelchair basketball where medal prospects are traditionally very strong.

One of the best sports to watch is the swimming which sees people with a range of impairments competing in classifications with people who have similar abilities and compete in the same manner as those in the Olympics. It is amazing to see double arm amputees finish the race head first on the touch pads.

Wheelchair Rugby or “Murderball” is one of the most spectacular sports to observe that involves people in a wheelchair. This sport sees players with specially designed wheelchairs with heavy duty protection play in much the same way as rugby players but by “tackling” each other by careering into their opponents wheelchair when they are in possession of the ball. The objective, like in the rugby codes is to get the ball over a line.

Wheelchair Basketball is another brilliant sport and very similar in sheer physicality to Wheelchair Rugby and as mentioned previously is practically identical to everyday Basketball but with the added difficulty of shooting for baskets from a sitting position in a wheelchair.

BROADCASTING OF THE PARALYMPIC GAMES

The Paralympics will again be broadcast on television and radio by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation who have been a strong supporter of the Paralympics and broadcast over 120 hours of content from the previous Paralympics in Beijing in 2008. There will be some live coverage and some highlights packages as there has been previously.

Both the opening and closing ceremony will also be televised by the national broadcaster.

SO THERE’S THE BACKGROUND

So with just 100 days to go before the London 2012 Paralympic Games commence, you now have a bit of a background (presuming you didn’t prior to reading) of just what the Paralympics are about and why they are so amazing and hopefully a million more reasons to take an interest and watch or listen to some phenomenal sporting performances of the highest level.

Another Example of Getting Things Done Wrong

The Prime Minister often remarks, particularly in the parliament that her Labor Government are “getting things done” and the number of bills passed obviously does bear out this argument, although this does equal more regulation and “red tape” for business and the individual. It can also, by implication mean that policies and programs are being rushed and established processes not being followed correctly as has been alleged on a number of times over the period of both the Rudd and Gillard Government’s.

This argument is also borne out in the case of the Australia Network tender process which was deeply flawed, rushed, changed and awarded to the ABC in perpetuity despite recommendations to the contrary.

Today the Auditor-General released a report into the botched tender process which does not make for good reading for a government that is trying to gain a foothold to climb the gap that exists in the polls just under 18 months out from the next federal election.

The tender for the Australia Network was for a $223 million contract to broadcast news content overseas, an important form of what is termed “soft diplomacy”- in short, displaying through various media the Australian culture, values and policies which we think will make our nation an attractive place to continue to visit and conduct business with.

Initially, the process was under the purview of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and its minister at the time, Kevin Rudd, with departmental recommendations saying the government could extend the ABC contract or put the contract out to tender, with the department arguing to keep the contract with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs subsequently decided that the contract should be put to tender, with the winner of the contract granted a long contract to provide the news service.

The audit found that before the tender was awarded, that both the Prime Minister’s office and that of the Communications Minister, Senator Stephen Conroy were aware of which party would win the tender.

Then the weirdness escalated- the government began seeking advice as to whether the final nod of approval could be transferred to the Communications Minister from the DFAT Secretary Dennis Richardson and it was.

The tender then underwent significant changes and the leaks began in earnest. These leaks revealed that twice the tender board recommended Sky News be awarded the contract. They were not.

The Government walked away from the tender process after the leaks were reported in the press and then proceeded to award the contract permanently to the ABC which had previously been the broadcaster of the Australia Network.

This flawed process could legitimately be seen as both a symptom of a government in trouble politically and electorally, floundering in the polls and trying to rush to “get things done” and also as a result of a toxic relationship between Prime Minister Julia Gillard and former Minister for Foreign Affairs, Kevin Rudd, whose department should have had the final say on the award of the sizeable contract.

As a result, the government have had to pay compensation for a failure in managing a process and even managing internal relationships between MPs who should be seeking to achieve the same ends regardless of conflicts in personality. Not only that, but the ALP Government have added another failed process to the list of mistakes only adding to the poor perceptions of Prime Minister Gillard and her MP’s.

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