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It often irks me when people offer vocal support to our Prime Minister. It irked me far less back when he was Opposition Leader — I was as pleased as anyone when he defeated John Howard at the polls — but hating Howard is not a good enough reason to be wilfully ignorant of Rudd’s failings.

I often don’t see how people can offer him their unconditional support. Does no one read The Australian? Has no one read the multitude of articles outlining his and his government’s various flaws? Apparently not, because I keep hearing glowing praise about him. He apologised to the Stolen Generations! He single-handedly saved the economy from recession by paying half the population $900! He saves the environment, but not at the expense of economic growth! His idea of foreign policy is “being a good international citizen”! What’s not to like?

Yesterday, the reasons for some of these attitudes were revealed to me. The Australian published an article entitled “Rise of Rudd’s sentinels of spin”. It outlines the ways in which the dissemination of information has been centralised in the hands of the Prime Minister, and how the media is forced not to examine any decision too carefully. Perhaps it relies too strongly on unnamed sources, since the words of unnamed sources are difficult to verify, but there aren’t many journalists who’d like to destroy their careers by having their names associated with this exposé. The article itself even acknowledges this limitation:

It’s probably a measure of how tightly controlled the Rudd machine is that few journalists in the press gallery are willing to go on the record on the subject, afraid of alienating hard-earned contacts. Explains one reporter: “Our job is hard enough now, without making life even more difficult for ourselves.”

But The Australian is not alone in criticising “the Rudd machine”. ABC program Media Watch broadcast an item about how journalists are being prevented from asking questions at press conferences — such as by not being invited. Cameramen and government officials are welcome, sure. But journalists who might pester the government with their “pesky questions”? No.

Press conferences are scheduled at late notice and often in remote locations, making it virtually impossible to get experienced journalists to the scene. News outlets are having to rely on less experienced local journalists, or untrained cameramen, to ask the questions they want answered.

Even when sufficient time is allowed to get people there, the Government complicates the task in other ways. Both sources used the example of a press conference in Geraldton to illustrate this. Channel Ten was offered two seats on a plane to Geraldton: one for a sound technician, and one for a camera operator. No seat was offered for a reporter. Channel Ten asked if they could send a reporter instead of a sound technician. The Government refused. The kicker is, in the words of the camera operator:

There was at least one spare seat on the plane.

Room for a reporter, if the Government had allowed one.

So there was only one journalist at the entire conference, a local reporter for the ABC. The Prime Minister mocked him for being the only one to ask any questions. Laughter ensued. Finally, at the end of the conference, Rudd ignored the reporter’s question and strolled off the stage in the middle of it. Nice!

The purpose of this is to become unaccountable, by making it difficult to question the Government. People can ask all the questions they want, but rarely in a forum in which the Government will have to answer. Journalists are not being invited to press conferences. It’s being left to camera operators to ask questions, and these people have not been trained nor briefed on what to ask. Of course with a few days to work on an item, experienced journalists and analysts would be able to come in and offer commentary. But the Government also makes sure to maintain a frenetic pace of news generation, doing things so fast that there’s no time to review anything unless it appears more than once. Some things do, of course, but those tend to be things the Government can spin to its advantage, like the emissions trading scheme, or the global financial crisis. Even the alcopops tax could be made to look noble. Even this week’s expulsion of the Defence Minister from the ministry! Very rarely is the news bad for the Government.

All of this leaves the impression of a glorious government doing its job, helping its people, protecting us from the dangers of “irresponsibility”, and so on and so forth. And to at least some extent, this manipulation of public opinion must be working.

Last week, Newspoll indicated that 57% of people prefer Rudd for Prime Minister. Only 24% would prefer the Opposition Leader, and I guess the other 19% still hold out hope for a Costello comeback or something. 57% is an overwhelming majority for someone who rules through style, not substance.

The Rudd Government was referred to as a “PR state” in one of the articles I read, and it seemed like an apt descriptor so I borrowed it. Rudd’s philosophy, and his ministers’ philosophy, appears to be to make them out to be wonderful and to deride any opposition at every opportunity. Of course, all governments do this. But Rudd’s government does this and seemingly nothing else.

We can see this in Labor’s Plan for Cyber-Safety. All right, they’ve outlined their plan, and they’ve explained that it’s necessary to engineer a society of “responsible cyber-citizens”. Nowhere have they explained why. Greens senator Scott Ludlam tried to ask why, and the ministerial response was to imply that disagreeing with the Plan was tantamount to supporting child pornography. Also significantly, they are going to no great lengths to notify people of the Plan. The information is there if you know to look for it. But you have to know to look for it.

We can see this in regards to the emissions trading scheme. Essentially, the ETS is horribly broken. It will constrict Australia to a maximum 5% reduction in carbon emissions by 2020 because any savings will leave spare permits which can then by purchased by companies going over their quota. This wouldn’t be an irredeemable flaw if not for the pathetic target of 5%. The environmentalists, naturally, hate this scheme. The conservatives also hate it because for some reason they think it’ll destroy the economy. This makes the Government appear to be the responsible middle ground. They can cast the environmentalists as trying to destroy the economy, and they can cast the conservatives as trying to destroy the world. It’s lucky we have them to avoid destroying either, isn’t it?

We can also see this in regards to the recession we didn’t end up having after all. RBA governor Glenn Stevens is the one who oversees the entire Australian economy, and he identified four reasons why we’re not in a recession:

  1. The Howard Government didn’t allow us to indulge in the “financial excesses” which have ruined other economies;
  2. Our excellent trade relationship with China;
  3. The RBA’s interest rate cuts; and
  4. The Rudd Government’s stimulus package.

As we can see, only one of these is directly attributable to the Rudd Government. But in this speech to “the Labor faithful”, Rudd seems to have taken sole credit for the lack of a recession (article here):

You are now citizens of an Australian nation whose economy is the only advanced economy – the only one of the major advanced economies in the world – which has registered positive economic growth.

All the other major advanced economies are in recession.

The only one to register positive economic growth, the fastest economic growth, with the lowest debt and the lowest deficit.

That’s an achievement on the part of this Australian government.

Even more strangely considering his diplomatic background, he’s used the word “nation” where he meant “state”. Nations can’t have citizens nor economies, Rudd, because nations are groups of people who share a common culture. I know “state” is a less positive, inclusive word than “nation”, but you can’t just redefine words’ meanings like that.

Another criticism raised against him, this time by Christian Kerr, a “senior political reporter with The Australian”, is this:

He is debasing his own currency – and debasing the office of prime minister – with the trite repetition of slogans.

Surely we’re all aware of Rudd’s fascination with tired old phrases? Things like “working families”, or “fiscal conservative”, or “good international citizen”, or “responsible cyber-citizen”, or “future-proofing”, or any one of the dozens of tired old phrases Rudd likes to summarise his decision-making with.

Unfortunately this habit is not criticised because it’s annoying and ridiculous. No, it’s criticised because the Government risks driving the Australian people off “a cliff of cynicism”. I don’t see how being cynical is akin to plunging to one’s death off the edge of a cliff — I don’t feel dead! — but that particular comparison was drawn by a former Liberal consultant. Since the Liberals will regain power one day and govern us again, I guess they don’t want the Australian public to be cynical when they do.

So what have we learned from all these articles? We’ve learned that the Government wants to stop people asking difficult questions, that they implement stupid plans and refuse to justify them, that they suffer from an over-reliance on trite slogans, and that despite all of this 57% of people prefer Rudd for Prime Minister. I’m also aware that this entry is somewhat epic in length, so thank you if you read it all.

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4 Comments

  1. I think most governments are like that. I am constantly frustrated here with how the government is basically sugar coating everything and pretending like nothing is wrong when really everyone should be in a huge state of panic.

    It’s really scary, isn’t it?

    • True, our government is hardly unique in that respect. Rudd probably isn’t even as bad as my state government (whose slogan is quite literally, “It’s all part of the plan.”).

      I hate that governments are allowed to behave like this. It renders democracy in itself pointless. Of course people can be manipulated to vote in a certain way if they’re only presented with a certain point of view. But that’s not really democracy, is it? Our government isn’t so bad that we’re only presented with only one point of view, but I get nervous when they make moves in that direction (as they are now). It’s a slippery slope: if they stop journalists asking questions, and if they censor the Internet, where to next? Can we really trust them to stop there?

  2. You bring up a very interesting point. The positive stuff that you listed (the apology to the Lost Generation, etc.) is EVERYTHING I know about Rudd. Before I read this, he sounded like an angel to me — an amazing, nearly flawless leader.

    It is very worrying that they don’t have enough (or any) journalists at press conferences. So they’re just having them for show? This is such a shrewd way of making everything sound fine and dandy.

    As for us here, the problem is that a lot of newspaper companies have closed and some cities only have one left. This is the case for Seattle. What has happened since? The newspaper has gone downhill. Additionally, our local newspaper seems to have leaned even more towards the left because without competition, they don’t feel the need to compete for the attention of the conservatives in the city (however few there are). Without a doubt, I’m a liberal but it irks me sometimes because I feel like I’m in left-wing heaven. Everything I read is so one-sided. Liberal newspapers are treating Obama the same way that newspapers there are treating Rudd. Don’t get me wrong. I have such great respect for the man… I cried when he was elected and I’m STILL euphoric that he was elected instead of McCain. His election has brought about change to this country but I’m sure everything hasn’t been positive and perfect since he was elected… except I don’t know any negative things about him because when there aren’t positive things to report, the press obsesses about his dog choice, his wife’s clothes, etc.

    But I must also add that I’m not for muckraking either. I’d love to know what the government is up to… I’m all about transparency and seeing both sides but some journalists do take it too far.

    • I think I can relate on “left-wing heaven”, even if media here is not, overall, biased to the left. A one-sided depiction of anything makes me uncomfortable, even if I agree with the sole viewpoint being presented. I feel like anyone who refuses to acknowledge other points of view is betraying some insecurity in their own beliefs. Someone who is comfortable with what they believe won’t mind acknowledging others’ views, because they’ll know they can defend theirs if necessary. And that’s why it irritates me when people I agree with are one-sided — there’s no need to be insecure, those views are easily defensible!


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