Smarter than the average pundit…

The pundits last week told us that despite…

  • managing to get the NDIS funding through by causing Abbott to reverse his opposition to levies,
  • the humiliation that Hockey went through in being overruled by Abbott,
  • the signing up of the previously intractable states of Victoria and Queensland to the NDIS scheme,
  • getting a levy, unloved by the voting public, off the Labor electoral platform,
  • depriving, by corollary, Abbott of a sure-fire vote winner, and
  • securing funding for the disabled on a sustainable basis – all in one week,

… Julia Gillard “lost the politics”.

Oh Really?

The explanation had something to do with Abbott’s accepting the Hobson’s Choice she offered him as “allowing Abbott to set the agenda”.

But whose agenda was it? Gillard started the week off with:

  • an unpopular issue,
  • no funding.

By the end of that same week she had:

  • eliminated the issue,
  • secured the funding.

It seems that even when she and her government score such an obvious win, they lose.

I’m sure that if Abbott hadn’t caved in she would have “lost” because the (inevitable) polls on a levy would have shown it was unpopular with voters.

In that magical place called PunditWorld, her only option was to do nothing about the NDIS at all, and then they could have accused her of abandoning the disabled to “another unfunded Labor promise.” That’s the line Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey were running at the start of the week, for what it was worth.

If given the option of adjudicating on whether a Gillard political move is “cold and calculating” or “crazy-brave”, the commentators seem to prefer picking the latter. They give her little credit for the ability to calculate politically. And when they do they call it “grubby”.

But remember: Abbott did cave in. And in politics, pundit-style, making the other guy cave in is what it’s all about.


So, Gillard can’t calculate politically?

Let’s briefly examine some of her supposed lack of political talent.

Remember… we are now nearly three years into the first Gillard government. I emphasize the word “government“.

In 2010, with less seats after the election than the Coalition, and only a very slightly higher 2PP vote, with conservative independents as her sole raw materials:

  • In 17 days, Gillard managed to forge a government that has not only – against all predictions – survived for a full 3-year term, but has,
  • Prospered, gazetting nearly 500 pieces of legislation on subjects as diverse as the Mining Tax, Carbon Pricing, Tobacco Plain Packaging, &etc.
  • Has survived scores of Suspension Of Standing Orders debates,
  • Has stared down attempts to run plebiscites and “No Confidence” motions on the quality of her government.
  • From a hesitant start in the Foreign Affairs field, has forged epoch-making agreements and alliances with China and won a seat on the UN Security Council.
  • Presided over low unemployment by world standards.
  • Seen interest rates at the lowest they have been in five decades.
  • Scored consistent triple triple-A ratings for the Australian economy, from the three main ratings organizations.
  • In the meantime Gillard has stared down two challenges to her leadership from Kevin Rudd, winning one by the largest majority caucus vote in history, and the other due to a humiliating forfeit by the challenger. On both occasions she allowed him and his supporters to over-reach their meagre political resources and then chopped him off at the knees.
  • During that time she has had to endure endless disloyal leaks, some of them from the Cabinet itself. The leakers, plotters and Rudd supporters have now joined the usurper on the back bench, in obscurity and disgrace.
  • The journalists who constantly predicted her party-room demise have been proven wrong, and a handy gaggle of them have since been retrenched or sacked.

Given the circumstances, and indeed in almost any circumstances, the Gillard government – if objectively judged by longevity, outcomes in policy and legislative substance – has been a political success.

If politics is about getting into office and staying there, and while there doing worthwhile things, then the Gillard government outplayed both the Coalition and the pundits by a country mile.

If politics – in its purest and most cynical form – is about consistently rubbing your critics’ noses into the mud generated by your political manoeuvres, then there are a lot of grubby faces out there.

The Gillard government owes its very existence, right from the start, to politics played, and played well.

Yet, last week, Fairfax’s quiet assassin, Mark Kenny, found it possible to write:

“… how will people shorthand the Gillard era once the fog of war has cleared? Perhaps this: good at policy/bad at politics.”

Later that very same day, in discussing Abbott’s IR policy launch he declared, approvingly:

” It is smart politics, but timid reform.

As such, it is probably an effective strategy for neutralising his IR problem.”

Kenny didn’t discuss the Abbott IR policy seriously, except to distil it into a loose collection of escape clauses that “neutralise” his “IR problem”.

Does anyone else see a disconnect between Kenny’s mind and reality here, or is it just me?


Key to the assertion that the Gillard government is “bad” on politics – not “patchy”, not “imperfect”, not “up and down”, but “bad” – is the pundit’s world view.

The pundit’s world view states that, like a hammer eyeing-off a nail, everything looks like politics. Further, that politics is the only thing that counts. Further, that they alone are uniquely able to judge the nuances of politics, to see beyond the daily grind, revealing true context.

The trick is to get their reading and viewing publisc to accept these assertions as not only valid, but as the only valid considerations possible. Only then do we achieve Pundit Nirvana: in PunditWorld a government that is “bad at politics” is not fit to govern.

It’s all about the “look” of things.

The model for political discussion seems to be Reality TV, along with its kitschy, shallow values, its phoney dramas and sugar-coated emotions. Political discussion is no more sophisticated than that, following the tried and true path of circular logic, barrow pushing by vested interests, insider information and ersatz sensationalism.

We are constantly bombarded with pundits’ opinions as to how issues will play among the pundits, expressed in terms of a grammar that only those with The Savvy understand.

These opinions are then laundered through public opinion polls produced by the major media organizations, and thence back again to the pundits as allegedly valid data presented patronizingly as “the will of the people”.

It’s a beautiful closed loop that requires only trite discussion of policy, drawing principally on personality, populism and proprietorship of the mass media.

What Kenny (I think unwittingly) concedes is that we are seeing a death struggle played out between the media and the Gillard government. It’s either the government or themselves who will survive, but not both.


Despite the towering edifice of the mass media we are seeing, frankly, the commentocracy’s last throw of the dice. They may never be able to muster the strength to run a similar partisan campaign in the future.

  • Their viewers and circulation are tanking.
  • Their ranks are thinning with thousands of retrenchments having occurred, with more to come.
  • Their political bias outright offends half their readership.
  • The other half views them as being in the same stormwater drain as used car salesmen, financial advisers and grubby politicians (the same politicians they have worked so hard to depict as grubby).
  • Their business models are failing, remaining only as the playthings of their over-paid management and indulgent proprietorship.
  • Their formats are shrinking in size and relevance along with their credibility.
  • Their news is out of date by the time their anachronistic means of production – both linear, and slow – manages to publish it.

Wrong on just about everything from leadership challenges, to successful legislation (and all the politicking that goes into it), to the government’s longevity in office, the media have staked on all what amounts to their own vanity, and the spiteful churlishness that arises from it. They are surrounded by chaos in their own world and, like a man with a chronically bad back, can’t understand why everybody shouldn’t feel as miserable as they are.

Julia Gillard has not played their game and they’re out to get her for it. They define her success as success at that game, one where they fancy themselves as umpire, linesman, ball-boy and coach, as well as authors of the rules of play.

Passengers in their various Titanics, they foolishly believe they’ll be first into the lifeboats, flashing their “Senior Commentator” and “Pundit Class” tickets to get on board without wet feet.

They should ask their thousands of retrenched colleagues about life after the mainstream. They’ll find out the mainstream quickly becomes a backwater: a cold creek, empty of promise but full of competition.

Perhaps then they can tell us who’s good at politics and who’s not.

This time they think they’ve got it all set: the polls are consistently disappointing for Labor, the media speaks with a united voice against her, and her opponent is criticised only in trivial terms, enough to make it appear there is some “balance” at play, but no more. The demise of Julia Gillard is all arranged.

But with her tendency to politically outwit and successfully second guess her opponents, allegedly losing every confected battle but still somehow achieving her desired outcomes, the pundits and their paymasters may yet be due for another big disappointment.

It’s a fight to the death we’re seeing, between group-thinking, insular hacks and one of the great political achievers of our time.


1,801 thoughts on “Smarter than the average pundit…

  1. Fiona

    Feed me, throw a frisbee for me and let me curl up at your feet and I’m yours!

  2. This is an important article. Apologies if linked previously.

    The Paranoid Case For ABC Bias
    by Katherine Wilson New Matilda

    In his Overland lecture, Marr talked about those brutal campaigns that intimidated ABC journalists and editors in the Howard-government era. He described how then-Communications Minister Richard Alston’s office cooked-up “public complaints” against the ABC ….


    I fear a return of this scenario under Abbott, championed on by the likes of Flint. In his lecture, Marr pointed out that journalistic bias can be born of considered fairness. But understanding balance beyond Flint et al’s simplistic notions of “equal time” and “he-said-she-said” requires Australian editors to consider balance not as an empirical calculus, but a continuing process towards a broader ideal of truth and justice.

  3. A recent tweet of mine (re-tweets up to 34)…

    Mark @markjs1
    Tony Abbott has multi Billionaire, Gina Rhinehart as his No1 fan ..Julia Gillard has Downs syndrome sufferer, Sophie, as hers. #auspol #NDIS

    Got this lovely response…

    Tansy England @dream_tansy
    @markjs1 @BridgetOFlynn And Gina only loves Tony Abbott for what he can do for her, while Sophie only loves #auspol #rayofsunshine

  4. [You might find Melbourne too cold at the moment.]

    It’s a bit chilly in Canberra at the moment as well.

  5. Been chatting to my parents this afternoon. They reminded me that as Pensioners, their standard of living has increased dramatically since Labor have been in power. They cannot understand why the Electorate are going to vote for the odious Abbott his cronies. But sadly now believe that is what awaits this nation. 😦

  6. I try to allow plenty of time for travelling to avoid nasty surprises, but sometimes it’s just not practical/possible.

    I was recently in Tasmania on holiday when the airline decided to change my flights, they notified me by email to my home telling me. I arrived at the airport in time for my original flight to be told that I and my family had been moved to a different flight…………………. 7 f*cking hours earlier. End result was we waited 2 hours to be ferried from Hobart to Brisbane where we waited a further 2 1/2 hours for a flight to Canberra our original destination.

    Getting to the airport with plenty of time does one no good when the airline decides to put you on a flight that leaves 7 hours before the one you are book on.

  7. Virgin has pissed me off many times by cancelling their direct BNE-CBR 11:30 flight so you end up sitting in Brisbane airport until 1:30.

  8. CTar1
    Yes, but they seemed so surprised that I was a bit peeved that they had both cancelled the flight but then put me on an earlier one and presumed to have done their bit by sending me an email when they had my home number, my mobile number and my work number. You would think that they would use my mobile, but not Virgin, they couldn’t be that competent they would rather make a half arsed attempt, move my family to a flight that we had no way of making and wash their hands of it.
    The begrudgingly got us on a flight to Brisbane (we should have fallen on our knees in thanks) and then another to Canberra………. who were we to complain that we were going to be travelling 11 f*cking hours instead of a few, ungrateful sods all of us. Then they had the gall to send me a survey asking me how I enjoyed travelling with them……….. well I supposed after flying across half the nation I had the experience to tell them.
    When the head office received my letter explaining my displeasure and cancelling our velocity membership and intention to never fly with them again they couldn’t understand why we were upset afterall they had sent us an email…………… wangkers, amateurs and the only airline that I have experienced that is worse than them is air papua.

  9. HaveaChat

    I’d be very angry with that if I had a pack in trail.

    The 11;30 Monday cancellations are just done late enough that I’m already in a taxi from Graceville to the airport.

  10. CTar1

    The hard thing was to keep calm and convince the family that everything was okay, we were still going to get home and not to worry, then to try to make it sound like a bit of an adventure to be heading to Brisbane 😉

    If they had put us on a later flight it wouldn’t have been any different to a couple of other airline mishaps but to put us on a flight leaving 7 hours before the one booked on was the height of imbecilic.

    Still over it now and we are already talking about another holiday in Tasmania and they are especially keen on going back to MONA, as am I.

  11. gigilene

    Agreed. If he had put his energies into supporting team Labor during the past three years, how different things would be. 😦

  12. Quite a number of companies have been reporting unexpected sales and profitability in direct contrast to guidances given just six months ago.
    Are they hopeless managers too, Tone?

  13. HaveAChat

    On your next trip to Tassie I highly recommend taking the car across on the Spirit of Tas. Its great fun, and now that Hume hwy is dual all the way, (almost-last section of fwy to open in a couple of months), its an easy drive. You drive off the boat at about 7am, head down the Bass hwy about 15-20 mins toward Deloraine, and stop for BIG breakfast at the Bakery Cafe just outside Elizabeth town… its awesome! sets you up for sightseeing all day!

    Eliminates the airline crap! Virgin recently cancelled completely its direct flights b/w Cbr-Hbt, NOT what Tassie needed after a bad summer of bushfires, they need all the tourism $ they can get.

    Taking your own car also allows you to buy more of Tassie’s fantastic crafts, no hassle with luggage llimits

    Anyone who says Tassie is not the place to go in Winter is a woos! There’s heaps to do and its great open fire weather..

    TourismTas should hire me to shill for them!

  14. Eating times can be a bit flexible here due to work commitments but I’ve just finished a really decent Beef Bolignaise with multi-colour bow-tie pasta and lots of cheese.


  15. Chris Uhlmann has posted a article on the Drum with his usual side remarks. Maybe some good writers could slip over to the site and give him a bit of stick.

  16. And I asked
    Does family loyalty=women family members do all care of children, elderly & infirm relatives? No gov’t help?

    Which lead to an interesting Twitter conversation with a expat Singaporean woman. The power of social media.

  17. Three lessons learnt by Groklaw in their first ten years that can be applied to any fight against the forces of evil:

    1.) Education is never a waste,
    2.) All of us together are smarter and more powerful than any one of us alone, and
    3) FUD withers in sunlight. It only works when people lack accurate information.

  18. Abbott will convert our country from climate change leader to climate change pariha in very quick time.
    Labor has the world’s best Treasurer, the Coalition would have the world’s worst environmentalist.

  19. It would make a great cartoon to have Gina as a cuckoo in the nest with Abbott, Hockey and Robb as little blue chicks.

  20. I think the bar-staff are caught in traffic tonight, and there will be a bit of a delay, In the meantime I am going to crack open a few six-packs to keep us going. Just put your money on the bar, and if it is enough I might even be able to rustle a couple of reds and whites. The hard stuff will have to wait.

  21. Hi everyone,

    Home earlier than expected – this thread will be closing at 6pm and The Raffle will commence.

  22. Those ‘serious interviews’ that Abbott has started doing on ABC24 today, with journalists like Michael Rowland and Bev SurnameICan’tRemember, on ABC24 Breakfast, plus Lyndal Curtis this afternoon, are proving to be simply Abbott using the occasion as another platform to retail his talking points, which appear set in concrete.

    Yet again he said that ‘His’ NBN will be $60Billion cheaper than Labor’s. Which is complete and utter shite!

    1. Labor’s NBN would not cost $90Billion to implement, as Abbott is implying and which figure has been repudiated by the author of the Report Abbott is basing the oft-repeated assertion on.

    2. Abbott’s NBN would only be about a Billion cheaper than Labor’s and infinitely inferior.

    3. Plus, I heard a long interview on my local ABC station yesterday with the Liberal candidate for Dobell, and she said repeatedly that the Liberal Party were committed to building the NBN for all families and businesses in the electorate in exactly the same manner as Labor.

    See how the Liberal line differs according to the audience and is completely contradictory from one Liberal to the next? Plus has absolutely no internal logic or consistency to it.

    But what does Abbott care? He gets to say repeatedly, like hammering a nail into the electorate’s head, that ‘His NBN’ is $60Billion cheaper than Labor’s.

    And journalists, to craven or pressed for time, to challenge him, just keep letting him get away with saying it.

  23. C@tmomma

    Labor MPs need to get their opponent’s comments that are made publicly and compare and contrast them with Abbott’s comments. Labor need to make advertisements highlighting these contradictory statements. Cant wat for the msm to call them out. They are not going to do it

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