The Puppet Masters

When I perused The Australian Independent Media this morning, this incisive (as usual) post by Kaye Lee caught my eye, and I’m delighted to reblog Ms Lee’s article at The Pub.

Before the time of Gough Whitlam, the public service was largely responsible for the formulation and co-ordination of policy and senior public servants made the important decisions. The Prime Minister had a single press secretary and ministers of the Crown relied on a very small staff to perform administrative and secretarial duties.

Whitlam created an office employing political staff to help strengthen an executive administration to formulate and implement policies. This continued under successive Prime Ministers with Howard overseeing an expansion of political staff in the Australian government to about 450 and the establishment of a government staff committee to take a tight reign over staff appointments.

As Nicholas Reece points out in the SMH:

TV programs such as The West Wing, In the Loop and The Hollowmen reflect the shift that has occurred in the balance of power in government from public servants to political staffers compared with the days of Yes Minister.

And amongst these staffers, Abbott’s Chief of Staff, Peta Credlin, has arguably achieved more power than any of her predecessors. She and her husband Brian Loughnane run the Star Chamber with an iron fist, deciding who gets what job, who may speak to the media and when, and dictating what people will be told, much to the chagrin of Coalition backbenchers like Senator MacDonald.

Reece goes on to say:

Credlin holds the ultimate backroom role in Australian politics. Despite her extraordinary power, she does not hold an elected position. She is not appointed by the cabinet, nor is she directly subject to the scrutiny of Parliament. And she does not do press conferences that would allow open questioning by journalists.

Unless of course, it’s to make the bizarre disclosure that Abbott “allowed” her to keep her IVF drugs in his office fridge. For a very private woman, that was a very private thing to share publicly.

Not only do we have unelected, unaccountable, often inexperienced, staffers dictating policy, we also are paying a fortune to media spin doctors for them to sell their wares.

In August 2012, the Australian reported that:

TAXPAYERS are spending about $150 million a year on an army of spin doctors to sell the Gillard government’s policies to voters.

Figures obtained by The Australian reveal there are about 1600 staff employed by federal government departments and agencies in media, communications, marketing and public affairs roles.

Opposition Senate leader Eric Abetz seized on the figures to accuse Labor of focusing on spin over substance and vowed to cut the numbers if in government.

Senator Abetz said he believed it would cost taxpayers an average of about $100,000 a year to keep each staff member in their job, once salary, entitlements and equipment were factored in. He said a Coalition government would cut the numbers.

“This is literally a battalion, if not an army, of spin doctors. What this highlights yet again is the government’s concentration on spin. They do get the initial message out very well, but the policy underpinning it and the administrative follow-up is always a shambles. Most Australians would agree that spin doctors are not necessarily a core business of a lot of these departments,” he said.

Unfortunately, those heartening words from Senator Abetz as he decried the waste, turned out to be…spin.

In March 2014, the Canberra Times reported that:

The federal government’s “army” of spin doctors and communications staff has grown to more than 1900, based on data supplied by departments and agencies.

An analysis of answers to questions on notice supplied to a Senate committee shows staffers in government media, communications and marketing operations have increased by several hundred in two years and could be costing taxpayers as much as $190 million a year.

Public Service Minister Eric Abetz said the government was conscious of the growth of its spin machine and hinted action was being considered. Responding to the latest figures, the minister said they showed “the approximate level of communications staffing that the Coalition inherited from the former government after the election”.

Of course – it is an example of Labor’s waste that the Coalition have had to employ more spin doctors.

And chief amongst these spin doctors is Mark Textor.

For the 2004 federal election campaign for John Howard, Textor was credited for the “who do you trust” campaign strategy refocusing key trust questions back on the then Opposition Leader’s economic competence – a line Tony Abbott recycled. In 2012 he was strategist and pollster for Campbell Newman’s Liberal National Party election campaign.

We also have “Tex” to thank for the catch cry quote: “We will stop the boats, stop the big new taxes, end the waste, and pay back the debt.”

So confident is Textor of his position, in November last year he felt it appropriate to tweet about Indonesian Foreign Affairs Minister Marty Natalegawa, whom he likened to a 1970s Pilipino [sic] porn star, also questioning his ethics.

Textor’s company profile says:

Mark’s direct clients have included governments, premiers and opposition leaders in six countries and the CEOs and Boards of major Australian and multi-national companies in a broad range of industries, including; mining, fast moving consumer goods (FMCG), pharmaceutical, retail, financial services, banking (“Big Four”), tobacco, renewable energies, oil, gas and farming sectors.

It’s a bit rich for a man who will say anything for money to be lecturing on ethics.

Australia’s Power Index acknowledged his skill with the focus group:

He’s a genius at transforming raw research into compelling communication – someone who presses people’s emotional buttons, identifies points of division, and boils complex issues down to their core.

This is the man who has sold the message of fear and division, and is praised for so doing.

As reported in the Guardian:

In Queensland, New South Wales and Western Australia, Crosby Textor declares it is paid to lobby on behalf of the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association.

APPEA is the peak industry group for the oil and gas industry and among other things, speaks on behalf of Australia’s booming coal seam gas industry.

Crosby Textor also carries out research for industry groups such as the Queensland Resources Council – the peak body for mining in the state.

Crosby Textor also lists on the lobby registers other clients including Research In Motion (the makers of BlackBerry), property developers, a plastics company, a recycling firm, a business making biofuels and a charity that aims to better protect cyclists.

How can we expect honesty and integrity from a government which is run by a woman who craves personal power without accountability and a man who has a vested interest in manipulating opinion and policy in favour of his clients?

549 thoughts on “The Puppet Masters

  1. Not so sure about Malaysia Airlines being the only airline to fly over the disputed area. I don’t know exactly where that area is but I do know that in May, on Singapore Airlines, we flew over Ukraine twice – once heading to Frankfurt and once coming from Zurich. According to the flight tracker, our path took us near, but not directly over, Donetsk -the only city I recognised from news stories. It made me wonder at the time. Makes me wonder a bit harder now.

  2. ” Lenore Taylor – there has been a complete and catastrophic failure of our political system.”
    Dear Leonore….As ye sow , so shall ye reap !

  3. I’m sorry, Roy. My only excuse was that listening to Abbott on the radio news going “Nyah nyah, up yours Labor, I’ve won” then seeing a vacuous pile of crap on the Age of a picture of a rainbow over Canberra with the caption “Gosh, it’s like Abbott’s government is blessed by the gods” made me want to write that terrible post.

  4. Roy Orbison

    Apparently it was a “No Fly Zone” but only up to a certain altitude , 30,000 ft (?) . The Malaysian plane was 1,000 ft above whatever the height was. As no doubt was yours. Not a comforting thought.

  5. Puffy congratulations on your new granddaughter.

    When selecting a photo to post on the internet remember that facial recognition software relies on measuring height of ears relative to bridge of nose and eye sockets – so if you don’t want you child and grand daughter tagged for life by google obscure their eyes – sunglasses will do fine

  6. jaycee

    Make it so

    Is direct and a ‘just do it’ phrase.

    Resulted in a ‘Continuous right of entry’ which breaks all the rules. i.e. made me ‘Resident’.

    The Pommie Civil Service takes a bit of tackling. On occasion players can ‘flash’ past who are ‘powerful’ – Robert Armstrong and Gus O’Donnell come to mind.

  7. terrible tragedy this morning re the Malaysia airlines plane.

    It looks like the Australian OM and some politicians are already covering themselves in glory ( not ) with rumors, allegations and just plain dumb commentary being put as fact.

    It is far far too early to blame anyone but that will not stop Russia getting the full work out.

    It seems Abbott is the only world leader so far to blame Putin and Russia but that is par for the course and the OM is in full swing.

    Cool heads need to prevail at this moment and the first consideration is for the victims( all the victims) and their families. The speculation can wait. Sadly that will not be the case as Abbott and the Australian OM once again cover themselves in glory.

    Whoever is guilty should face the full wrath of the world but until it is determined who in fact did attack the plane everyone, OM and pollies need to be very careful.

    It should be remembered that Russia is not the only one getting its hands dirty at the moment in that conflict and there are a number of other suspects.

  8. ” Lenore Taylor – there has been a complete and catastrophic failure of our political system.”

    And of our political reportage as well. If that had been undertaken with a modicum of responsibility, we wouldn’t be in this mess. But shhhh eh Lenore?

    Anyway, it’s not a complete and catastrophic failure. It’s pretty bad, but Australians did vote for it in a free and democratic system. The L/NP are being about as big a bunch of bastards as we expected them to be. It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. What is a surprise is that we weren’t being told about it prior to the election – in fact, that it wasn’t being shouted from the rooftops since early 2010.

    I meant to say earlier this week that the findings re cigarette sales were very revealing. Plain packaging works, in fact it was an astonishing success. I’ve yet to see anyone draw the logical conclusion from that – people are very suggestible, and if advertising is allowed free rein it can be a powerful force in altering people’s habits for the worse. It’s where the nexus of politics and political reportage is most stark, and it speaks volumes for the responsibility of media outlets – not just print but radio and TV as well – to be fair and honest in their reportage. If the message is corrupted, people’s decisions at the ballot box are corrupted also.

    It suggests to me that if there was a lot less actual reportage, especially of the he-said-she-said variety (shows like Q&A or The Drum, for instance), people would be able to make more considered choices about the parties that lead them. If, for instance, all the Rudd-Gillard stuff was just left as background instead of being forefronted wherever possible, people would have made choices about the ALP based more on policy than personality.

  9. Roy

    It was once the standard way.

    A refuell in Bankok, Russich and then directly up the Thames Valley.

    Heathrow these days has A/C coming in all directions

  10. From my control group. Muted response to the repeal, slow to get going, but only those who are angry about it showed up. More interest in the Hi-Vis vest in the Senate because, you know, that’s more of a personality thing. Apparently the real travesty is Ludlum, especially the way he spelt the word.

    I don’t like to suggest people are hooked on trivia, to the point of blocking out real policy issues, but srsly, what can you do with that?

  11. ” The Pommie Civil Service takes a bit of tackling. “…CTar1..I remember reading a Richard Church biography ; “The Voyage Home”, where after the 2nd w.war he joined an eccentric dept’ run by a Mr. Humbert Wolfe….It all sounded very “Yes Minister” but in an organised kind of way.

  12. jaycee

    With such a long history I imagine parts of the pomgolian Civil Service being a bit like Castle Gormenghast

  13. These high-vis gear is so prevalent now , that it is starting to become worn as a fashion statement…the only thing I remember that was fluro back in my younger days was socks!…you could get kids socks in a bright orange fluro colour…I remember because Potter had a pair and he couldn’t understand why he was the first caught in a game of “hidey”…all one did was to drop to the ground after the regulation count to ten and look through the underbrush for a flash of orange running around in the dark!…..poor little bastard!!…caught every time.

  14. jaycee
    Not high anger so much as complete and absolute disgust with too many Australians. We really are the dumbest of the dumb. We love to laugh at how stupid Americans are, but honestly, look at what this country elected. Who are the dummies?

  15. Aguirre
    Which is exactly why Macca chose to wear that hi-vis gear. It took the attention of the media away from the debate and got the focus back where they wanted it – on trivia.

  16. jaycee

    The Brtts are smarter on Govt Service. GO’D was 37 & had the home civil service in control.

    Economists rather than lawyers.

  17. jaycee

    The WW2 thing. My father made it home in 1947 – ships and stuff and Austria.

  18. I have to confess, Leone..that I too have taken to shelter behind the walls of ‘Fortress Jaycee” out here where I reside!…It just gets too stupid to be safe sometimes.
    F’rinstance…One of the councillors was telling me that a constituent was complaining to her of the headaches he was getting from the wind-turbines in the new development in the hills….she confessed that she was gobsmacked and didn’t quite know how to tell him that they hadn’t even yet been built!……OMG!

  19. Now for some fun and games – the reps have just knocked back the amendments to the MRRT repeal. It now goes back to the senate where so far it looks set for defeat.

    If Abbott really wants this to get through he might just have to go for an election. It wouldn’t be a great campaign theme though – ‘Please re-elect me so I can cut your income’.

  20. I think, they think, they have now got Palmer’s measure…..what a farce!..what a farce!

  21. jaycee, no port available but I gather lots of Russians going spare then. A back to London was required.

  22. The important points of Laura Tingle’s column today
    1. government searching overseas for new head of Treasury to replace Martin Parkinson
    2. danger of loss of institutional memory
    3. budget was rushed
    4. budget contained hoary old bureaucratic chestnuts that were politically unpalatable – wouldn’t have occurred if had followed good advice
    5. New Guinea will not accept any more asylum seekers ==> asylum seekers stuck at sea

    Plus predictions of ALP & coalition using carbon tax as political football

  23. gigilene I have visions of mature russian ladies playing handball in the approved costume

  24. billie11

    4. budget contained hoary old bureaucratic chestnuts that were politically unpalatable – wouldn’t have occurred if had followed good advice

    Slight correction. Would not have occured if they had not been such an indolent lazy bunch of bastards whose only policy work was to spend 4 years telling pet rocks aka journos they had hundreds of “fully costed policies ready to go” .
    When it came time to hand in their homework they had nothing.

  25. When it came time to hand in their homework they had nothing.

    Bloody dog!

  26. Stories I have heard out of Canberra suggest that JoHo is too stupid to recognise good advice when he gets it.
    But as you say, like Rudd, these fellas loll around dreaming of winning government assuming they can throw something together at the last minute and it will pass. They are following in the footsteps of a swot who had learnt her trade and raised the bar for good government – these fellas fail dismally and the grateful taxpayer will be punished mercilessly

  27. TLBD

    Forgot this link . But then you would already know this 🙂

    Danes are happiest in the world because of their DNA –

    The key to unbridled contentment appears to be Danish DNA. Researchers who looked at survey data from 131 countries found that the closer a nation was genetically to the Danes, the happier its people were. –

  28. KK…: ” Danes are happiest in the world because of their DNA -“….yeah!?…so how come so many in the old days pissed off to other Greenland, Scotland and Iceland?….change of climate , perhaps?…hmm?..hmm?

  29. Do any of you on here have the talent to unearth a moment from Ab Fab, where Patsy, in a drunken or drugged state keeps repeating in a monotone wtte..: “You can never have enough handbags and gloves and shoes ….(etc)”…I ask because my OH. said “the idiot” sounds just like that when he gives an interview.

  30. jaycee

    Obviously the Vikings were actually just the miserable sad sacks the happy folks sent away to make other people’s lives miserable whilst they got on with the mead drinking and partying 🙂

  31. Hockey has actually lost a bit of weight while he was on holidays. I think this job will end up making him sick …
    He’s certainly made US sick.

  32. KK. Ducky !!…I dips me lid!….she was right…that is him!!….a drongo till the end!..Brilliant!…good ol’ Patsy.

  33. Hi jaycee
    This morning you asked me about Cathy Jane Hogben. Hogben was not her maiden name. She married Myles Pearce the real estate guy but they are no longer together.

  34. 6 Pac !…Where you been hiding out?…you been in the “dog-house” or something..and been sleepin’ in the cab of your truck?

  35. BK. there was a family near named Hogben…one of the lads name was that is Scottish..but the Hogben..?…where would that be from…anyone know?…you Puffy?…you got some contacts in genealogy…

  36. An Old English name?

    Last name: Hogben
    Recorded in a number of spellings including Hogben, Hoggben, Hogbeen, Hogbin, and Higbin, this interesting surname is of medieval English origin. It is an example of the sizable group of early European surnames that were created in the 12th century onwards from the habitual use of nicknames. These nicknames were often cruel to modern thinking, as they included physical and mental disabilities, as well as resemblance to an animal or bird’s appearance or disposition, although they don’t seem to have bothered the recipients at the time. In this case the derivation is from the Middle English “huckbone”, meaning hip bone, and a nickname for someone with a deformed hip, who probably walked crookedly.

    Read more:

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