‘Question Time Ahead of Time’ has appeared on this blog for some months now. It was written as a way to inform the public about the issues of the day that were more than likely going to be the subject of questions from both the Opposition and the government. It was written in a way as a public service, so that you, the faithful readers did not have to go through the excruciating pain of parliament if you chose not to, but still wanted to keep abreast of the parliamentary discourse.
Sadly, this has become too predictable, too transparent. This does not apply to one side more than the other. Both sides of politics have been relentlessly consistent about the areas of policy and politics that they have chosen to prosecute during this, the 43rd parliament of Australia.
On the Opposition side, we’ve had, the carbon price, the Minerals Resource Rent Tax, asylum seekers and the Thomson and Slipper matters be the big focuses of Questions Without Notice since this particular preview piece started. We’ve also had in recent times, the new spending priorities of the Labor Government given significant attention during parliamentary sessions.
On the government side there has been a number of different issues canvassed, but they too have been regularly canvassed. These areas of policy have included the comparative strength of the economy, education reform, health, infrastructure, workplace relations, business and the environment.
Let this be a warning to our politicians that repetition is grating and plainly, just f-cking annoying. There has to be a better way and that has to involve variety. But this is just as much a fault of the 24-hour news cycle as it is about our politicians, where even in 24 hours of news there is generally less than a handful of issues covered in any real depth.
Politics is at quite the low ebb at the moment. Most of us get pretty frustrated from time-to-time about the way in which the major political parties are heading. We even get frustrated about certain issues that we wish the political party we most identify with would deal with in a way that we and the public overwhelmingly want. Essentially, we choose one of the two main parties, Liberal and National (Coalition) or the Australian Labor Party. Most of us don’t overwhelmingly agree with the platform of the party we vote for, whether that vote is delivered by first preference or flow of preferences.
This raises the question of the role that we play in the political process. Do we play a role entrenched in one of the political parties as a rank-and-file member? Do we seek committee or organisational representation within a party?
Or do we influence the political debate from the periphery? Is this influence from the outer limits of the political process at the ballot box? Or is it closer to the political discourse in the form of representing sectional interests trying to influence public policy?
Most importantly, what is best and most influential, change from within, or attempting to affect change just a little step away from political machinations?
This is a debate than will again be raised as a result of the public discussion entered into recently, particularly over the last week, but also for some months prior by the always intriguing and never dull Clive Palmer.
In recent times, the outspoken billionaire has both spoken strongly in favour of the Coalition stance on government taxes and then, more recently, strongly against the stance of both sides of politics on the charged issue of asylum seekers. Then there is the small matter today of a donation to Together Queensland to compensate workers sacked by the LNP administration.
Now, Clive Palmer isn’t one to be reliably taken on his word. He promised us he would run for Lilley, Wayne Swan’s seat, then elsewhere in Queensland but has since reneged on both counts, the latter supposedly over asylum seeker treatment by the Liberal and National Party at the federal level.
But let’s think the best of him and take him on his word that this is the legitimate reason he chose not to seek pre-selection for a parliamentary seat in Canberra. It’s not the first time he’s made a foray into the often ugly debate over some of the most vulnerable people on the planet.
But is it best for him to not at least attempt to seek a seat in the parliament where he could have influenced the debate from within? Admittedly his stance over asylum seekers would have probably provided somewhat of a stumbling block, a big hurdle to get over in winning the chance to represent the LNP in the electoral race.
Put that aside for a minute. If there were enough like-minded people that chose to get so heavily involved in the process, and it’s a sure bet there would be a number of people, socially liberal in nature, then change could be influenced from within.
Even if it were just one person, Clive Palmer, or a small number of people, like in the parliamentary debate on refugees and asylum seekers at present, then engaging in the t0-and-fro with an honesty, forthrightness and passion would begin to influence change from with. Yes, the progress might well be slow, but it starts people talking.
But there is a role for those at the ballot box. More importantly in some ways there is a role for those organisations that directly engage in the political goings on.
Because people at the ballot box generally vote for a number of issues that a political party stands on, it often becomes blurred, even completely obstructed as to just how far that endorsement of the policies of any one political party goes.
Voters can attempt to force change by writing letters to their local MP or Ministers, can protest or can show their opinions on any particular issue through polls on topical issues. But these fora are not the best way to get involved in the change process. They are helpful but will likely result in even slower change than people massing from directly within.
Then there is somewhat of a middle ground of influence. That middle ground exists in engaging in special interest groups which often have direct access to politicians, bureaucrats and government and can therefore have a greater impact on the evolution of political debate. In truth, lobbying groups are much closer to having a direct influence on government policy than the middle ground on the scale between everyday voters and actually being in the parliament.
It’s clear that the closer you are to the political process, the more impact you can have on change. Mr Palmer, despite some of his failings, everyone has them, would have been best to continue his fight to pursue change from within. He undoubtedly still will, behind closed doors within the LNP organisation and through the media, but not directly through attempting to get into parliament. His independent voice, if it continues, might help attract more like-minded people into the party organisation and that is a positive.
Change from the boundaries while not the best, will still result in the shifting of minds over time, though the depth of this shift and the time taken to achieve change from this perspective is likely much shallower and will take much longer to foment.
We must realise as voters that our selection at the ballot box will likely be misinterpreted by government as a full endorsement of their policies. It is not and all possible action must be taken to let government know just what we think about everything that our elected representatives do.
To not engage fully is to be a passive participant and an enabler for the occasional, sometimes often, horrific decision which can be made by governments.
Monday, after the early morning victory by Jamaican runner Usain Bolt and aside from the other action that has been and has continued to occur in England has been pretty much all about freedom of speech. The discussion about free speech today arose from a speech that Tony Abbott made to the right-wing think-tank, the Institute of Public Affairs. The Opposition Leader’s speech took on the topic of free speech from two separate, but linked directions.
In one instance it was about regulation of the media in general as far as government plans post-Finkelstein and Convergence Review. Those changes proposed in both inquiries would seek to place unwanted and unnecessary restrictions on our media in the future, stifling their ability to provide fearless criticism of dreadful governments of both political persuasions.
The second front in which freedom of speech was tackled was in relation to the recent Andrew Bolt racial villification case and the appropriateness or otherwise of having a Racial Discrimination Act with a very loose definition of wrongdoing. Section 18C of the Act was singled out for treatment. The broader narrative of the talk on free speech was also applied to the case of Andrew Bolt.
Among the proposals advocated for in the recent Finkelstein and Convergence Review’s are a News Media Council which would be a new regulatory body to oversee media outlets and an ownership test.
By far the most worrying recommendation and one that is reportedly being seriously considered is a public interest test on media stories. This would be an horrific encroachment of the government into regulating what kinds of stories a particular news outlet would be able to report on. No government should be able to determine what is news or otherwise, whether that be by direct government oversight or by legislation with an intent to limit the content journalists can put out. Access to a wide array of information from a variety of sources is extremely important.
As for a new regulatory body, well that too is problematic. Surely any new organisation proposed to oversee the media would have much more beefed up powers to punish certain perceived wrongs. This again is not a sensible move in seeking to make it difficult for a robust and diverse media to be frank and fearless in their reporting and commentary on particularly thorny issues.
An ownership test is just ridiculous. Anyone, from any background should be free to engage in journalism or commentary and equally should be freely available to criticism from others. Everyone should be free to take the entrepreneurial risk involved in establishing a news media company across all forms of communication. No government too should have the power to ever be able to say who can or cannot involve themselves in journalism and commentary because they might not be liked by that particular government for some reason or other.
But now to that more controversial aspect of Mr Abbott’s speech today and that was his announcement that an incoming Coalition Government would seek to repeal s18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.
This section of the Racial Discrimination Act deals with behaviour which is deemed to have offended, insulted, humiliated or intimidated someone based on their race, colour or national or ethnic origin.
This is likely to be an uncomfortable move for many with the Act in one way or another, despite the suspension of it during the Northern Territory intervention, having some level of bipartisan support or at least a political unwillingness of either side to touch it. That is until now.
But Mr Abbott did not advocate for there to be no law in the area of racial discrimination. Indeed he went on to say in his speech to the IPA that “any prohibitions on inciting hatred against or intimidation of particular racial groups should be akin to the ancient common law offences of incitement and causing fear.”
In advocating this stance the Opposition Leader did not say or imply that Andrew Bolt in writing the offending column he penned was right with what he said. Indeed Tony Abbott acknowledged that it was “almost certainly not his finest” and he also admitted “there may have been some factual errors.” Well it’s not a case of there possibly being factual errors in Bolt’s writing, there was, but as Mr Abbott has pointed out on numerous occasions, that is not the point.
Indeed with the Bolt case, you’ll find a number of people born early in the 20th century, even since then that have the wrong impression on various aspects of the indigenous issue, but should they all be subject to court action for holding fallacious views? No. Should they be corrected upon making such silly uninformed claims? Certainly, yes.
Just as someone should be free to say what they truly feel, providing it doesn’t incite hatred or cause fear, people who disagree with something should feel able to absolutely slam and demolish something which they disagree with and believe may have serious factual errors. Politics is about competing ideas. This is also something that the leader of the Opposition acknowledged.
Just as there is a case for only offences relating to incitement and causing fear, there is also a case for a much higher threshold test than the completely subjective one that exists under s18C of the current Racial Discrimination Act. This would be sensible middle ground whilst still allowing people to seek remedy within reason. Indeed it would be quite similar to the Abbott proposal today.
The most important thing is that our rights are at the very least not limited to unreasonable extremes and at absolute best, our freedom of speech is fully guaranteed save for when it causes incitement and fear.
That was free speech Monday.
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 Drum. All 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.
Bloggers of even middle of the road status beware, Ray Finkelstein QC and his media inquiry believe that we as a collective society are a flock of sheep who will follow opinion we read in a sheep like manner. The inquiry also assumes that what bloggers do is provide a news service. It seems, if the recommendation gets implemented by the Gillard Government, that bloggers will be subjected to the same purview as print and other media.
First it must be said just how incredibly stupid it is to classify what is written in any blog as a news service of any sort, no matter how factual the content. A blog is always formed of opinion which is gleaned from facts which are broadcast in different forms. It can too be the case, that blogs do not base arguments on facts in purveying arguments, but they can be easily found out.
The media inquiry headed by Ray Finkelstein QC recommended that bloggers whose site has more than 15 000 hits per annum be subjected to the News Media Council which would police all forms of information media, including television, print and online media. Aside from the fact that blogs are not utilised as a news service, 15000 hits would undoubtedly take in a wide array of political blogs, both amateur and professional.
One obvious question arises immediately and that is, how on earth will a media regulator know when a particular website reaches the threshold for monitoring of balanced commentary? Will they have the power to contact site administrators to determine when a blogger meets the policing requirements? Or will it be up to the individual author or site manager to self nominate? Either way, how stupid.
The onus would be on these bloggers, likely too this very website, to break from their respective market niche or ideological bent and provide “fair and balanced” commentary, again deviating back to providing basically a news service when all a blogger does and does best is become a polemicist.
Not only this but it would likely turn some bloggers into more bland and harder to read communicators if they were forced by some sort of but not really independent body to report rather than rant. Every blogger knows that it is much easier to communicate your point when you feel strongly about it.
I have little problem with the actual news provided by television, print and online news media being of a “fair and balanced” nature, based on reporting fact rather than opinion, but then, who is it that determines just what is fact and what is complete nonsense? Some part government, part privately appointed body? I think not.
It would be a very dangerous move for an already on the nose Gillard Government to act not just on the recommendation for a News Media Council but to couple that with the body being given the power to strip people of their opinion because their blog has a mid-range level of popularity. It is frightfully clear that those on the left do not believe the individual has the power to think for themselves and that goes along with their ideology but to tell people who may have a a somewhat popular blog that they cannot have an online opinion, well that just stinks.