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. CTar,

    Yes well, it took us a bit of time too – I think your DD is 29; I was 30 when we started trying, and it took nearly a year. No IVF, fortunately.

    I don’t think a highly stressful job helps much either.

    I also had (and still have) a much older OH, which is another “risk” factor – not so in your daughter’s case, I think.

  2. CTar,

    From the way you speak and write about her, your daughter is indeed a bit of gold. I wish her, and you, and all of you, the very best.

  3. Fiona

    I don’t think a highly stressful job helps much either.

    The Pom is still traveling well. Still a possible ‘call- out’ for Castllar or Hampshire.

    Things not dire. Although now ‘cash’ is required . Partner ship offer.

  4. CTar1..I sometimes feel one needs an Enigma machine to de-cypher your posts !!…were you ever employed as a “bag-man” for the Home Office?

  5. ” …and please let my wrist be better in the morning..”

    What you need , Fiona, is some of the old “Rawleigh’s salve”…or some of that “emu ointment”…….quote ; “It done me best!”

  6. Yeah, ok, I saw the Abbott interview. Eventually, on the website. He didn’t do too badly in his stumbling, bumbling way. He had answers, sort of, for everything, and even if they were stupid answers they were still answers, so he’ll survive that all right. But you have to wonder, on what will likely be the best day he’ll have in this entire term, when the one thing he staked his political term on has come to pass, why did he look so under siege? Things aren’t going to get any better for him, and if he can’t enjoy this he might as well give up.

    What’s really needed after an interview like that is a couple of hard-heads, practical political types, to sit there and analyse it. What happens is that the interview is done, Ferguson moves straight to another story, the caravan moves on. If his answers are properly analysed, right after he gives them, he’d be forced to do a much better job in these interviews. I’d be happy with that for any of her guests, really. It’s what current affairs should be about.

    Anyway,he’s got nothing to offer us, and only excuses when it comes to his party’s economic performance, human rights breaches and so forth. “Friends can disagree” – really? Is that his considered opinion on Sri Lanka? It’s a complete load of nothing.

  7. All Abbott ever had was ‘axe the tax’ and ‘stop the boats’. The boats are now a forbidden topic and the tax has gone. What does he do now? He has nothing.

  8. Friends cannot disagree about the Sri Lankan atrocities. Not too hard a point to make for an interviewer.

    What Tony meant to say was: “Sri Lanka is someone we really need to keep up our STOP THE BOATS phantasm so there is no way I’m going to criticize him.”

    Just imagine if Sarah had posed that one to him.

  9. I liked the bit where he said that despite Whyalla still thriving he was right to say it would be wiped off the map. Because, you know, that was a real fear so it’s ok even if it’s completely wrong. And also the bit where, despite the Coalition throwing a whole lot of new taxes and charges our way, the $550 saving claim still stands because Treasury modelled that before all the cuts and charges. And all the bits where he claimed that turning our backs on refugees actually saves their lives, because any death other than drowning is obviously a compassionate one, even if it involves torture in the country they were trying to flee from.

  10. Just caught a glimpse of Grunt on LateLine on my way to the TdF. Looked like the smug bastard he is. Had it on mute.

  11. jaycee – ‘Home Office’ not even in the works, I got to tell them what to do.

    70 Whitehall (cabinet office was home).

  12. Puffy, best wishes for the babe and her parents and yourself. Hope you will be her flying lessons in the future.

  13. PA

    veel geluk voor jou en de kleindochter! Hartelijk gefelicteerd!

    Too much European. Still working on ‘et’ and ‘an’.

  14. The senate has just adjourned. The MRRT has just been repealed with PUP amendments to keep the low income supplement and other handouts. Another hole blown in Hojo’s budget.

  15. CTar—Let Google translate be your friend—I just said what others have already said, really.

  16. Who cares about Hokey? A most unattractive person and a tyrant to family & staff. And let’s face it, he could stand to lose another 10-20Kg.

    “The Age of Entitlement is finished” he bloviated yet somehow did not end the very many ways the ultra rich dodge tax!

    A clown.

  17. As long as HoJo remains relatively healthy he is a threat to Tony’s leadership. The more the merrier.

  18. Hey, PuffyTMD, what a nice thing to happen today for you and yours. Here’s to the littlest dragon!
    *raises mug of seriously mulled wine to keep out the evening chill*

  19. Thank you for your posts and toasts. I am waiting for more news on my little dragonette. I know her Mum, who is England-born of Phillipine immigrant parents, is quite small (tiny feet!) but feisty. I have high hopes for a real fire-breathing dragon. 🙂

  20. Malaysian airlines are having a bloody bad run.

    Malaysian jet crashes in Ukraine

    21:58: There were 154 Dutch passengers on board the plane, says Huib Gorter from Malaysian Airlines. Also 27 Australians, 23 Malaysians, 11 from Indonesia, six from the UK, four Germans, four Belgians, three from the Philippines and one Canadian. More nationalities have yet to be counted.

  21. Pardon me for raising this, but oh woe is Abbott. This weekend the country was supposed to be dancing in the streets saying how clever and wonderful he was for getting rid of “that woman’s” taxes, but now since the plane’s been shot down, it’s rather taken the wind out of his sails.

    (Sorry for sounding insensitive, just woke up grumpy because the news on the clock radio was all gloaty about it).

  22. Interesting day in parliament today. The MRRT repeal passed the senate late last night, but the senate voted on amendments by PUP to keep the spending on the Schoolkids Bonus, low income supplement and other stuff linked to it. So – the amended legislation goes back to the reps today where, of course, it will be voted down. As Palmer knew it would be when he talked up his amendments.

    And – there has been nothing said about the huge conflict of interest involved in the voting to repeal the carbon price and the MRRT. Palmer, mining billionaire, gained a great deal from those repeals. His senators should have abstained from voting, but they did not. They voted as they were instructed by Palmer, voted for their partry leader’s personal financial gain.

    Why no MSM outcry about this? Where is the High Court challenge?

  23. I’m afraid Malaysian Airlines is toast.

    Two crashes – over 500 people lost – puts the hex on the company.

    Other airlines skirted well around this troubled area. The Great Circle line (shortest distance between two points on the globe, and hence the shortest flight route) runs right along the north-eastern border between the Ukraine and Russia.

    Simply put, it appears that Malaysian Airlines took a gamble: that their planes would not be shot down by some errant missile freak in charge of a sophisticated weapons system, just to show off how big his balls were.

    Other airlines keep well clear of this area. Malaysian Airlines chose not to.

    One reason the airline would have taken this gamble would have been to save money on fuel. The charge will inevitably be made that Malaysian Airlines gambled their passengers’ lives so they could offer cheap tickets, and hence increase profits and/or retain market share.

    Their judgement may have been out of kilter after MH-370. They are reportedly doing it tough financially as an airline. But there is little doubt they made a very bad call in choosing the most direct route between the two cities… right over the top of a war zone, above amateurs with air-to-air missiles, who like to shoot down aircraft in the name of something or other.

    Malaysian Airlines is doomed. Rotten luck for them, but doomed just the same. They made some bad choices.

    We can also add another chapter to the sorry list of passenger aircraft being shot out of the sky by over-eager military types. It DOES happen. It’s not all that rare. It may well have happened to MH-370 as well.

  24. Agree – such a blatant conflict of interest. The world’s gone mad …. A bit down today! Better get myself into gear – not quite sure how.

  25. Good morning Dawn Patrollers as we wake up to the horrible news of the apparent shooting down over Ukraine of a Malaysian Airlines plane with 295 on board. 27 Australians on board.

    Mark Kenny – it’s time Hockey did less threatening and more talking.
    And the escalation of the asymmetric conflict in Gaza continues in a big way. Would this ground attack qualify as “occupation”?
    Israel’s bloody apartheid and why we should be outraged.
    The carbon tax is gone. We have nothing. Now what?
    Lenore Taylor – there has been a complete and catastrophic failure of our political system.
    Michelle Grattan – Abbott’s carbon tax victory leaves a tart taste.
    Australia is in a climate coma. A good read.
    John Connor – it’s a nadir of post-truth politics.
    Tory Sheppard – axing the tax is our massive mistake.

  26. Section 2 . . .

    Obituary – Australia’s carbon price.
    The worlds media respond to the repeal of carbon pricing. And they are far from complimentary!
    Abbot axed the tax – and what’s left of his credibility.
    Laura Tingle bemoans the current state of politics.
    Barry Everingham on Kevin Andrews and his ilk. Nice types!,6681
    Now it’s the mining tax and associated benefits that will oscillate between the Hoses.
    Your superannuation is Abbott’s next battleground.
    The fate of the 153 AS somewhere at sea goes back to the High Court today.
    And it looks like India won’t play ball with Abbott over the return of these people.

  27. Section 3 . . .

    Now Abbott and Brandis are criminalising journalism.
    An opp-ed from Scott Ludlam – the parliament must have the right to decide whether or not we go to war.
    If Michaelia Cash represents the best they’ve got it’s no wonder there aren’t too many women in the Ministry.
    Peter Wicks – what truly excites our Coalition Senators.
    George Williams – it’s time to fix a silence at the heart of our Constitution.
    Fighting the ATO? It pays to be rich.
    Aussie athletes given the green light to get on the turps at the Commonwealth Games.
    This little lady has been trouble since day one. I used to work in the same management team as her father but didn’t know it at the time.
    F*** off Murdoch!

  28. God it’s sickening listening to Uhlmann’s “confected confronting” interviews with his “wannabe lover” , Tony…..where his voice drops to a dulcet sort of “foxy” tease…..I bet one day Uhlmann, in a face to face with the samewill try to snatch a kiss at the end!’s sickening!

  29. ” One reason the airline would have taken this gamble would have been to save money on fuel”…a disastrous example of applying a capital based gamble over a social based solution….they lost…now pay!

  30. What miserable, parochial sods we are, from the PM down. There were more than 200 people on that aircraft, among them were 27 Australians. Right now something like 200 families from around the world are in deep shock, trying to deal with their sudden loss. Do we care? Absolutely not. All our focus is on how many Australians were lost. We don’t care about or mention the other 200 passengers or the crew becuse – well – they were not ‘like us’ and so, I suppose, don’t count.

    This morning The Idiot saiid this –

    PM Abbott: "This would be the grimmest of grim mornings for the families and the loved ones of Australians on that plane.” @TheTodayShow— Mamamia (@Mamamia) July 17, 2014

    What about the families and loved ones of the others on that plane Tony? Don’t they deserve a few words of comfort from a prime minister? This is an international tragedy, it should not be seen or reported only from the narrow perpective of how many Australians were lost.

  31. And from the Land of the Free –

    Intercepted calls indicate Russian separatists shot the plane down. As yet unproven.
    Pastoral care Florida style.
    Elizabeth Warren blasts the Repugs for taking the US back to 1914.
    Senator Todd “Legitimate Rape” Aiken digs a bigger hole.
    NBC reporter pulled from Gaza apparently for telling the truth.

  32. CTar1..: ” Home Office’ not even in the works, I got to tell them what to do. “….YES MINISTER!!!”….seriously, ;C..that sounds like fun!

  33. leonetwo

    Contrast with what Obama said on the BBC

    “It is a tragedy for all the families, wherever they call home” .

  34. BK. …That Hogben story…I knew a family named Hogben once…not a common name I should think…any info on their; where they lived in Adelaide?

  35. ” What miserable, parochial sods we are, from the PM down. “…Leone…I’m detecting a certain amount of high anger coming from you these last couple of weeks…I hope you are not letting all the political nonsense get to you too much..take a deep breath of fresh air and keep those anger angels from getting the upper hand….I’s a damn difficult thing!

  36. BB / kk

    I’m afraid Malaysian Airlines is toast.

    Yep. Ratsh%t not insured. Govt guarantee only


  37. Time for a bit of fun. A great road sign on the way up a mountain to a ski-field

  38. jaycee

    seriously, ;C..that sounds like fun!

    I had a UK immigration problem once. The guy who owned a nearby office dealt with it in 30 seconds on the phone.

    No Ministers involved. A Robert Armstrong command ‘Make it so’.

  39. I think getting political mileage out of a tragedy is not a good look. Nobody here, or in many other places, likes Abbott but this is not the time or the place. I think we are better than that.

  40. ” ‘Make it so’.”…gotta lurve the English language…: a request and command in three little words!

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