Howard’s roads to absolute power

Imagine you are John Howard sitting at your political chess board. Your dominance is almost complete. Your backbenchers don’t speak out on anything any more – your popularity and political control is such that dissenters feel they have no choice but to fall in behind you and enjoy the spoils. Your opposition is punch drunk. It is divided over what to do, where to go and how to play to match you. The media is largely compliant – being so popular, and now in your third term, no-one is game to take you on or push you to answer questions, so you get away with dissembling, even lies. Your handpicked elite has now fully replaced that of the other lot, and the losers are dispirited and exhausted from constantly fighting to save some of what they gained before you came to office. Most Australians seem to trust that whatever you do it’ll be OK and they don’t need to know much about why. What next?

I got an inkling of what might be next in Canberra last week. Wave after wave of new policy spat forth – intervention in the Solomons, selling Telstra, getting ASIO through, pushing for cross media abolition, passing another detention law through the lower house which would keep some people in detention forever. Labor people tended to get drunk early and party, frenetically, all night. I even saw tears in the eyes of one of them. They have no time to get their balance or to regroup or to plan strategy. John Howard is rolling all over them. And the Senate? I’ll get to that beleaguered, frightened institution soon.

When Howard decided to stay on on June 3, many people thought he’d missed his “Menzies moment”, that magic phenomenon of leaving while you’re on top and handing your organisation to the next generation in good shape and untouched by leadership blood. Peter Costello certainly thought so, and told Howard to his face when Howard deigned to kill his hopes the day before the announcement. It can’t get better for you than this, Costello told him. You’ve won the war without a casualty, you’re loved by the people, your luck will run out, people will tire of you. Now is the time to hand me the prize.

But Howard is no Hawke, the old bloke addicted to the glamour but with nothing much more to contribute. Hawke got to the top the easy way. Howard did it very hard, and got very bruised and battered along the way. In a position as good as his, he wants more. Howard has a big agenda. A very big one.

Howard wants to go out on a high alright, but he wants the high to be higher than the one he’s already on. He wants to transform Australia so completely that the old Australia can never be revived. His vision is so radical that only a man in complete charge of the political agenda could even dream of it. And the cross media legislation – the one I’ve been writing about in such despair for a week now – is central to his plans.

Just days after he announced he’d stay leader for as long as the party wanted him Howard dropped a bombshell. He wanted a referendum to strip the Senate of its power to reject legislation, because it “has become a house of obstruction”. It had to be a joke, surely. Labor, the party of reform, had always wanted just such a thing, by tradition. It was conservatives, protectors of the status quo, which honoured the Senate. Now, the roles are reversed. Howard is the radical. Labor are the conservatives.

It is conventional wisdom that such a referendum would never succeed. You only have to look at the nightmare legislation Howard has tried to get through this term – including defining political protests as “terrorist acts” and imposing a virtual police state with his original ASIO laws – to know that the Senate has acted as a bulwark of our human and civil rights. It is a place for genuine debate on the merits and real community input because the government does not have the numbers to force everything through.

Howard, leading a party traditionally suspicious of big brother government, has become the champion of it. It is now Labor, not the Liberals, who champion privacy laws. It is now Labor which defends civil rights, since Howard and his followers successfully swept small ‘l’ liberalism from the federal party over the last two decades. It’s worth noting that the big media has, almost without exception, embraced Howard’s idea, arguing that in a fast moving world of global economics, a government must move swiftly. In other words, democracy must be subservient to economic growth, and unchecked government power is good for us.

Howard will decide later whether to put the proposal to a referendum at the next election. It’s a card in his hand, one of many he’s playing to put almost intolerable pressure on vulnerable Senators.

The next card is the escalating threat of a double dissolution. In a dd, the Democrats would be all but wiped out. As it is, Andrew Murray, Natasha, Lynette Allison and Andrew Bartlett are in for another five years, while only John Cherry and Aden Ridgeway would be up for reelection, along with ex Democrat Meg Lees. So you can see why the Party is in crisis, apparently threatening to split and cross the floor last week over cross media.

The Democrats are in no-man’s land. At a time when values are imperative, they drift between the Greens on the left and the centrist Labor party with no articulated difference from either except that they’re prepared to do deals, sometimes, and except that it’s their ex-leader Meg who’s doing all the dealings and getting all the publicity.

As I wrote last year during the Democrats leadership debacle, the missing market segment is now a small l liberal type party, espousing small business economic values and progressive social values ( The Democrats: Split on survival). A decent breakaway from the Liberal Party would have helped, but the liberal moderate Greg Barnes moved across just before the party disintegrated and it came to nought.

How can the Democrats hang on? I think Howard means to split them off as soon as possible, setting up a group of three – Lees, Murray and Ridgeway – which will amenable to deals on his legislative agenda. With them on board, he’d need only one of Shayne Murphy, Brian Harradine and Len Harris to win through, and that sounds pretty easy to me.

What could he offer the three ex-Dems? Lees seems to be already on board, and she’s got a party up and running called the Australian Progressive Alliance and managed by ex-Democrats. Howard would offer Liberal preferences, and more.

But would he really go to a double dissolution if the Senate stood firm? It doesn’t make sense to, on the numbers. Political analyst Malcolm Mackerras wrote in a recent AFR piece republished below that the Coalition, with a Senate vote of about 42 percent, would get 33 of the 76 seats. But it could conceivably win half the seats up for grabs at a normal half senate election, which would give the liberals half of the 76 Senate seats. He’d then need only one Senator to get his agenda through. Murray is the obvious candidate.

And what is his agenda? In my view he wants to smash the “social contract” in Australia to smithereens. He wants to establish Australia as a US style democracy where people fend for themselves and save for their needs, including health and education. He also wants the US model of a corporatist state run by government in partnership with big business, where politicians and businesspeople swap roles routinely and big business finances the conservative party. And he wants Australia to divorce itself from the multilateral system of international relations AND become part of the American world.

But Australia would be a different place from America. We do not have a bill of rights, which in the United States keeps the Government and its powers in check. Howard would be much freer than the American president to trample our human and civil rights. He’s already walked away from our multilateral human rights obligations, and stacked the High Court with judges antagonistic to incorporating our international human rights commitments into our constitution.

What he also has that President Bush doesn’t is a concentrated media, the most concentrated in the Western world. If he gets his cross media bill through in three months, as planned, Australia’s media will be under the effective control of Rupert Murdoch, who will own most of our newspapers, a TV network, our pay TV network, and, in cities where he cannot own both a newspaper and a TV station due to his already great share of the advertising market, the key news talk station. Kerry Packer could take Fairfax and keep the Nine Network if he wished, as well as keep his stake in Foxtel and his large stable of magazines. By coincidence (?) both men already effectively control three of our major sports – AFL, Rugby League and Cricket, and would now control the reporting of those sports, ensuring news coverage only in their commercial interest.

Thus two immensely wealthy, powerful businessmen, would set the news agenda in this country, and control much of Australia’s forms of MASS entertainment. Unlike the United States president, who faces a vast and diverse independent media, Howard could, in large measure, rule effectively free from media scrutiny or dissenting analysis on crucial issues. The big two and Howard want Australia run by big business to compete in a globalised world – with favoured treatment for them, of course. Murdoch, reaching a position of immense media power even in the US, wants a free trade agreement with the United States to enmesh the two countries militarily and economically. Faierfax, the only remaining skeptical commercial media voice, one without commercial conflicts of interest, would be gone. The ABC, bruised and battered by concerted government attack enthusiastically backed by the Murdoch press, would be cowed into acquiescence. It is no accident, in my view, that The Australian recently called for the abolition of Radio National, the only mainstream avenue for big ideas and intelligent dissent in Australia.

These ambitions would be very controversial – perhaps too controversial – if we had a free independent media, and if voices of dissent could be heard. In Howard’s ideal world, they would be heard hardly at all. It would be government by big business for big business, with a powerful state apparatus to watch the public and crush radical dissent.

I wouldn’t put it past Howard to achieve these goals. When Labor reigned supreme after many years of power, with its elites firmly in place, it ran out of puff. Why? Because it disconnected from the needs and aspirations of the Australian people, and became arrogant and complacent. Howard will not make the same mistake.

As he screws the batters economically he caters to their nationalistic desires for an Australia safe from boat people and other undesirable immigrants. He gets them on strident nationalism in this way, while making us a client state to the United States in other, much more important, ways. He runs a strong anti-drugs line and socially conservative social policy to ease their fears of a society too complex to comprehend. His proposal on joint custody appeals to many conservative voters, and is a core platform of One Nation. He is keeping the battlers happy with social policy, while hurting them economically.

Howard’s new media elite is also different from Keating’s. For all its faults, the Keating media elite remained critical of Labor, its double standards, and its various betrays of principle. It kept Labor accountable. In contrast, some of Howard’s most powerful media elite act as unabashed propagandists.

So Howard has all the cards. The Democrats are fighting for their survival and Labor is a headless chook. He can now sit back and decide, when the time is right, which of his many possible roads to Australia’s transformation and his absolute power in partnership with big business is most likely to succeed.

There are risks in all this, which I’ll write about tomorrow.


Howard flies constitutional kite

by Malcolm Mackerras, June 10, 2003, AFR

Over the past 30 years John Howard has always been the Liberal Party’s candidate for Bennelong at federal general elections. So what? Not much, except this. Over that same period of 30 years there have been 15 proposed constitutional reforms unsuccessfully placed before the Australian people.

For 15 questions, in which the people voted yes zero times and no 15 times, how did Howard vote? Answer: yes twice and no 13 times.

So Howard’s record is a smidgin more reformist than that of the Australian people but markedly more conservative than his fellow politicians. Suddenly this conservative politician takes the road to Damascus (sorry, a flight to Adelaide) and we witness a Alpine conversion with Howard proposing radical constitutional reform.

The proposal he outlined is a real stinker, so much so that I refuse to believe in his conversion. This proposal will get nowhere. It is a political stunt.

In his Adelaide speech Howard referred to the fact this very reform was recommended by an all-party committee of federal parliament in a 1959 report. True. However, he should have also pointed out that the report of that committee was republished by Robert Menzies and Garfield Barwick, speaking for the government of the day.

Why would the attitude of Menzies differ so markedly from that of Howard? I suggest a simple answer. The Menzies coalition Senate vote was 50.4 per cent in 1949, 49.7 per cent in 1951, 44.4 per cent in 1953 and 48.7 per cent in 1955. The Howard coalition Senate vote was 44 per cent in 1996, 37.7 per cent in 1998 and 41.8 per cent in 2001. I predict the vote will be 42 per cent in 2004. Consequently Menzies, with his high percentages, knew he could win a Senate majority at a double dissolution election. Indeed he did, in 1951. By contrast, Howard, with his much lower percentages, knows he can never win a Senate majority. Never believe his line that he cannot get such a win because the Hawke government rigged the system. That is rubbish. Howard cannot get a majority because his Senate vote is so low.

However, the coalition can win half the Senate places at a half-Senate election. Indeed the coalition did win half the Senate places both in 1996 and in 2001. The government’s weak situation at present is the consequence of its abysmal vote in 1998 when Alpine Hanson and its own GST promise were the cause of the decline. I confidently predict there will be a House of Representatives plus half-Senate election in November 2004 as a consequence of which 38 of the 76 senators will be coalition from July 2005. In other words, the coalition will have 50 per cent of the Senate seats for a 42 per cent vote twice occurring. Thereafter all it will need is to do a bit of bargaining and exercise patience and its economic reforms will all become reality.

In a double dissolution election a 42 per cent vote would give the coalition only 33 senators – five fewer. What, then, is the point of the double-dissolution talk and this constitutional reform stunt? Simple really. The purpose is to talk up the government’s Senate vote at the next half-Senate election.

Clearly there will never be a referendum on this outlandish proposal. The proposal would makes joint sittings such a regular feature that a bicameral parliament would become, in effect, a unicameral parliament. The government’s House of Representatives majority would always overwhelm the Senate.

Most constitutional reformers these days think there should be more limits on government power. This proposal moves the system is the opposite direction.

Meanwhile, while I am not as strongly opposed to Labor’s fixed-term proposal as I am to the Howard plan for Senate reform, I think Labor’s reform moves the system too much the other way. The present arrangements, in my opinion, strike exactly the right balance between the executive and the legislature, between the two houses of federal parliament and between the politicians and the people. It is extraordinary that our present arrangements, drawn up more than a century ago, can be quite so contemporary in the way they actually work.

Malcolm Mackerras teaches in the school of politics at the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra.

The perils of our US alliance

According to the British historian Eric Hobsbawm, “the policies that have recently prevailed in Washington seem to all outsiders so mad that it is difficult to understand what is really intended”.

Not so, at least in Australia.

Governments in continental Europe led by Gerhard Schroeder and Jacques Chirac may be examining the consequences of the Iraq war for future trans-Atlantic ties. German and French philosophers such as Jurgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida might be calling for a counterweight to US strategic preponderance. However, no such debate or reflection on the war has erupted in this country. Why not?

One explanation is that according to ideological vigilantes on the political right, it is not possible to criticise the policies of the Bush Administration without being “anti-American.” For commissars who make no distinction between the American state and American society – an old Stalinist convention – it isn’t possible to love Americans and despise the foreign policy that is enacted in their names. This is a replay of the racist slur that one could not criticise Jakarta’s behaviour in East Timor without being “anti-Indonesian”.

However, there is another more compelling reason why US foreign policy has not evoked the same concerns in Australia that are being expressed elsewhere in the West. The current state of the relationship between Canberra and Washington has produced a very different intellectual and policy climate to the one which prevails in much of Europe.

For dependent allies of the United States such as Australia, a misguided belief that “everything has changed” after 9/11 has led to a steady departure from strategic self-reliance, diplomatic independence and regional engagement. Instead, the closest possible partnership with Washington has been sought by Canberra in the belief that only trans-Pacific ties can provide a modicum of security in volatile and uncertain times. Prime Minister Howard argued that Australia’s participation in the war against Iraq was, in part, out of a duty to our alliance partner.

Little thought appears to have been given to the consequences of such an approach. And yet the weapons of mass destruction (WMD) fiasco is an early demonstration of the dangers of an increasingly vicarious foreign policy. Australian diplomacy is now firmly tied to a stridently unilateralist US Administration which, despite multilateral pretences, does not believe in an alliance system that involves genuine consultation.

Current Australian attitudes towards the United Nations, the Israel-Palestine conflict, the Anti Ballistic Missile treaty, strategic pre-emption and even France, to take only five recent examples, are indistinguishable from their American source. It may be good for alliance solidarity, but there are a number of dangers in this approach for Australia.

The first is Australia’s moral complicity in actions it can do little to influence, but for which there are significant consequences. The ethical value of Australia’s behaviour in Afghanistan and Iraq will be measured by the anticipated and predictable consequences of our actions. This extends well beyond the removal of two repressive and unpopular regimes, to include protecting individuals from avoidable harm and the welfare of people we have deprived of government, law and order, as well as basic services such as public health. Seemingly ambivalent about our role as an occupying power in Iraq, Australia has not fully discharged either its moral or legal responsibilities for nation re-building.

A second risk is guilt by association. As Australia’s foreign policy becomes indistinguishable from America’s, we should expect Washington’s enemies, especially in the Arab and Muslim worlds, to see matters in a similar light. But is it in our national interest to hitch our wagon so closely to the US if it means getting caught up in Washington’s blowback?

It is still unclear whether Australians were specifically targeted in Bali, whether they were mistaken for Americans or victims of a generic anti-Western attack. Policy convergence will ensure that in the future such distinctions will become superfluous. A more independent stance may not buy us immunity from anti-Western terrorist assaults, but we don’t need to consciously increase our vulnerability either.

A third problem arising from such a pro-US position is that we will be taken for granted in Washington. Countries which regularly express their fidelity to the United States lose leverage because concurrence can be assumed. Allies which play a little harder to get often win significant concessions, as Pakistan and a number of Central Asian states did after September 11. Canada, Turkey and Japan have remained close allies with the US even though they refused to join the “coalition of the willing” in Iraq.

Despite Canberra’s assiduous support for Washington over the last two years, the US will not deviate from pursuing its national interests just to reward a junior partner. Even in the current amicable climate there won’t be a free trade agreement between the two countries which requires US farmers to compete on a level playing field with their Australian counterparts.

Australia is earning a reputation as Washington’s stalking horse, even in countries such as Iran where it is far from clear that our interests and Washington’s coincide. It’s not only trade policies which diverge. Australia’s more sensible approach to the North Korea problem is having little if any effect on Pentagon planners. Elsewhere in North Asia Canberra never wants to be forced to choose sides in a dispute between the US and China over Taiwan. But can it avoid the issue?

Do we actually share America’s values, as Prime Minister Howard claims in his explanation of why Australia is targeted by Islamic militants? We are certainly the only ally in East Asia which publicly identifies culturally with the US. However, it is not clear that Australians would generally embrace the neo-conservatism and Christian fundamentalism which permeates the Bush Administration – even if John Howard, Peter Costello and Michael Jeffery do.

Nor are expressions of cultural affinity especially helpful to a policy of regional engagement. Australia’s intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq put us at odds with our closest neighbours in South East Asia (Indonesia and Malaysia) just as it did during the Gulf War in 1991, reinforcing a belief that we default strategically to the US in times of global crises. These days, regional engagement looks skin deep. We habitually notify the region of decisions we have taken after they have been cleared with Washington. We don’t consult them beforehand.

Has Australia’s closer relationship with the US since 2001 actually enhanced our security? At a time when the US itself has never been more militarily powerful, it has never felt less secure. This paradox brings little comfort to Australia.

Recent legislative responses to alleged terrorist threats which peel away long-established legal protections and civil liberties, do not suggest Australians are seeing the benefits of Washington’s security umbrella. Public opinion, particularly after the Bali attack in October 2002, seems divided on the virtues of the US alliance and periodically concerned by Washington’s aggressive behaviour. There are fears that the invasion of Iraq will encourage other ‘rogues’ such as Iran and North Korea to acquire or develop the only military technology likely to deter a US strike – nuclear weapons. Encouraging the proliferation of WMD is hardly in Australia’s interests.

President Clinton’s tardy response to the East Timor crisis in 1999 tapped into subliminal doubts within the Australian psyche that, despite regular down payments on insurance premiums since the 1950s, the US may be reluctant to pay out when we ultimately make a claim under ANZUS.

Washington disregarded institutions of global order and world common good such as the United Nations and international law, once they failed to legitimate an attack on Iraq. This is a regrettable but available option for states which can use their raw military power to achieve foreign policy objectives. Why not-so-powerful states such as Australia, which are disproportionately more dependent on the stabilising features of international society, should emulate such behaviour is not obvious. Small and medium powers have a greater interest in the protections afforded by national sovereignty and international law.

Whether Mr Downer is following the neo-conservative agenda in Washington with his emphasis on “outcomes” rather than “process” and his rejection of a “blind faith in principles of non-intervention, sovereignty and multilateralism,” remains to be seen. The ends rarely justify the means. It is to be hoped, therefore, that he hasn’t sacrificed strategic perceptions for ideological solidarity. The temptations of unipolarity are not for us.

“Sovereignty in our view is not absolute,” claims the foreign minister. “Acting for the benefit of humanity is more important,” unless the country in question is Indonesia and the humans are Acehnese or Papuans. Then there is no reluctance to “hide behind” a sovereignty which is absolutely more important.

Finally, an over-reliance on the personal chemistry between leaders can be intoxicating but is almost always a short-term benefit. As the Keating-Suharto friendship showed, jointly crafted institutional structures have greater longevity than transient political leaders. If President Bush loses in 2004 or Prime Minister Howard retires from political life some time soon, the current level of goodwill between the political elites of both countries may suddenly pass and relationships will need to be made anew.

Scott Burchill is a lecturer in international relations at Deakin University in Victoria

Governing for the big two: Can people power stop them?

Australia’s democracy is in grave danger and the people of Australia have three months to save it.

Last week the Senate agreed to allow small and regional media companies to own two of the three media types – newspapers, television and radio – in a city or region. At present, a company can own only one type, to ensure none has a monopoly on news and views and that media groups keep each other honest.

The idea is to have enough different media voices to ensure that owners do not abuse the enormous power of the media for their commercial or political purposes. It is also to give you, the people, a better chance to have your voices heard.

Labor, The Greens and the Democrats opposed the legislation outright, arguing there were already too few media outlets in Australia, which already has the most concentrated media ownership in the western world. But One Nation and three independent Senators agreed to pass it with one caveat – that media moguls not be allowed to own a newspaper and a TV station in a mainland capital city. This caveat, known as the “Harradine amendment” was designed to stop Rupert Murdoch and Kerry Packer controlling Australia’s media and exercising inordinate influence over news and debate, and therefore business, politics and sport in Australia.

Senator Harradine said: “Those who own or run media organisations are in a position of privilege and influence. They are members of an unelected elite which is not effectively accountable to the Australian people. It is our job as elected legislators to ensure not only that there are reasonable parameters set for the running of successful media businesses but, much more importantly, that these parameters serve the Australian people…The people do not want further concentration of power in the major players in the media.”

The government rejected this amendment, despite arguing that its reform plans were driven by the needs of regional players, not by Murdoch and Packer. It sent the legislation back to the House of Representatives, told the Senate to think again. When the Senate stood its ground, the government said that in three months it would again tell the Senate to back down.

Without public pressure, the Senate is almost certain to cave in. The government is putting overwhelming pressure on the Senate through calls to abolish its power of veto and threats to hold a double dissolution election. The Democrats are in crisis, as all bar one Democrats Senator would be wiped out at a double dissolution election on current figures. It is likely the Democrats will split on the legislation when it returns. The Government could also force some of the independents to change their vote by threatening that unless they pass the legislation without the Harradine amendment, it will put its original legislation – which has fewer safeguards for media diversity and no protection of local content on regional stations – to the people at a double dissolution election.

Do you want Rupert Murdoch and Kerry Packer to run Australia? That is the likely result if the Senate caves in. Murdoch – the world’s most powerful media mogul – already decides what’s fit to print in Adelaide, Brisbane and many regional cities, where he owns the only newspaper. In Melbourne and Sydney he dominates the newspaper market and he owns the only national daily, The Australian. Even with the Harradine amendment, he could add news talk radio stations to his assets; with it he could add a TV network, delivering him total almost control of the national news agenda.

Kerry Packer is Australia’s richest, most powerful businessman, and owns the dominant Nine TV network. The legislation would allow Packer to take over the Sydney Morning HeraldThe Age and the Australian Financial Review – newspapers owned by the Fairfax group. Fairfax is independently owned, and provides the only scrutiny of Murdoch and Packer apart from the ABC. Unlike the Murdoch and Packer outlets, which allow no adverse scrutiny of either of the big two and whose editors always bow to Murdoch’s line, Fairfax has a editorial charter of independence which stops the Fairfax board dictating to the editors what stories to run and what political line to take. Unlike the Murdoch and Packer media groups, Fairfax also has a code of ethics to which journalists and editors are bound, and a strict policy of immediately correcting all errors.

Without Fairfax and with competitors like Network Seven crushed by the Packer/Murdoch dominance, the ABC would be on its own, extremely vulnerable to concerted pressure from Murdoch, Packer and the Government to tow the line, or else. While the Packer and Murdoch media would be immune from scrutiny, the ABC would be scrutinised to death.

Murdoch and Packer behave as partners, not competitors. They share ownership of the Foxtel Pay TV network, and have previously done a deal to divide Australia’s media between them. There is little doubt a deal has been done now, but neither media mogul will tell the Australian people what they plan to do if the Senate passes the legislation.

Telstra is the wild card. The government wants to privatise Telstra, which is the other partner in Foxtel. A privatised Telstra could buy up the new Packer empire, leaving two global players – Murdoch and Telstra, as controllers of Australia’s media.

A Murdoch/Packer controlled media would see the pair run Australia in partnership with John Howard without media scrutiny. You would never know what’s going on between the three. The global big business agenda would be virtually unquestioned in the mainstream media.

For example, people concerned about the pending Free Trade Agreement with the United States, which could abolish foreign limitations on ownership of our assets, abolish Australian content rules for TV , and abolish quarantine laws to protect our agriculture industry from disease, could find they would not have their voice heard.

When the government tried in 1997 to deliver Fairfax to Packer a public and backbencher outcry and virulent opposition from the Murdoch press (which could not expand under the proposed new laws) , forced a backdown.

But this time, all media companies support the changes because there is something in it for everyone, including high takeover prices. This means that there has not been a vigorous debate in our media, and the public has been kept in the dark. Radio and the commercial networks have hardly touched the issue. Murdoch’s newspapers have become propaganda machines for the changes, and have not run pieces stating the case against. As a result, few Australians know what is going on.

For its part, the Government has avoided addressing the key question: Is it in the public interest, and the interests of our democracy, for Murdoch and Packer to gain even more media power. Instead, the government talks of “safeguards” in the legislation negotiated with the independents to gain their support. None of these safeguards prevent Murdoch buying a TV network and Packer buying Fairfax.

Do you want to decide who runs Australia, or do you want Rupert Murdoch and Kerry Packer to decide? The vast majority of Australians get their news from TV and newspapers. With the big two controlling both mediums, THEY will decide what is news, and THEY will decide what advertising to run and not run. No-one will be in a position to investigate their activities – across sport, entertainment, gaming, investing, and business. As we saw during the Iraq war debate, Rupert Murdoch’s papers around the world all ran a strong pro-war line, regardless of the individual interests of each country concerned. And now, in the United States, The United Kingdom and Australia, all three governments are trying to deregulate media laws to allow Rupert Murdoch to own even more media.

What rights would you have if you were wronged by the Murdoch or Packer media empires? None. Last week, the government rejected Senate amendments which would have required owners wishing to own both newspapers and TV to make apologies or offer a right of reply if they got something wrong, like the ABC and SBS already have to do.

How can you stay in control of the future of your nation? How can you keep your right to know and your right to be heard? The problem is that the message will not get through in our mainstream media, and many people in the media and in business fear standing up for democracy because they want to keep their jobs and get work with the big two.

This issue is of importance to all of us. All Australians need information and open, free, debate on issues that effect us all. That’s what democracy is all about.


Please send your comments and questions to Margo Kingston owns shares in Fairfax.

For more details on the consequences of the legislation passing the Senate, see The debate that dare not speak its name and Closing the door on your right to know.

For the closing speech on the legislation by Brian Harradine, the man who proposed the amendment to stop Packer and Murdoch owning newspapers and TV stations, see Brian Harradine: The voice of reason on media laws.

Brian Harradine: The voice of reason on media laws

Here are Brian Harradine’s remarks on the cross-media legislation on the last day of debate. Brian, who has been in the Senate longer than anyone else, is a wise man. He is also incorruptible. He has a deep and abiding commitment to the public interest on matters of core principle.

I have often disagreed with Brian, especially on family planning matters, as he does not believe in family planning on religious grounds. He is a strong Catholic, and besides family planning, he has a deep commitment to the welfare of indigenous Australians and refugees.

I came to respect and admire Brian during the Wik debate, where he was willing to compromise on many matters with the government to avoid a race election, which he knew would be disastrous for Australia and for Aboriginal Australians, while standing firm on the four “sticking points”. When the success of One Nation at the 1998 Queensland election forced Howard ro reconsider his threat to take Australia to a race election on Wik, he met Brian and an extraordinary agreement was reached.

Howard would claim that Brian blinked, and Brian would not demur. This made it easier for Howard to ease his backdown through his hard core constituencies. History has shown that through a complex web of technicalities, Brian saved the right to negotiate and the other three core rights for Aborigines. To have the capacity to avoid claiming victory after a great victory is the sign of a great man.

On issues he considers non-core, Brian will trade for the benefit of the people of Tasmania. On core issues, he stands firm.

I was in Canberra last week for the cross media debate, which had looked to be in a bag for the government and the big two – Murdoch and Packer. I wondered whether Brian would consider media diversity to be core to our democracy. To my relief, he did. Thank you, Brian. Australia owes you an enormous debt of gratitude.


26 June 2003

Senator HARRADINE (Tasmania) (11.23 p.m.)

The time is very late. I will seek leave to incorporate my speech in Hansard. It is really an appeal to the government, when this matter goes back to the House of Representatives, to reconsider and not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. The Broadcasting Services Amendment (Media Ownership) Bill 2002 has some very substantial reforms in it, and in itself it deserves to be supported with the amendments that I and other Senators have moved. The decision was overwhelming tonight – I think it was 36 to 29 – and that is a message that the people of Australia are giving the government in this matter. The people do not want further concentration of power in the major players in the media.

The speech reads as follows:

I am disappointed that the Government has not accepted the amended Broadcasting Services Amendment (Media Ownership) Bill 2002.

It seems that the Government is willing to risk sacrificing the whole bill and all the benefits the bill provides, just because it doesn’t like one or two of the amendments the Senate has made.

The Government has the chance to facilitate substantial reform of the Australian media industry by accepting this bill as amended.

I am aware of course that the amendments I moved last night have caused the Government some concern. My amendments, as senators would recall, prevent a media owner from owning a television station and a newspaper in the same mainland state capital city.

The Government has argued that because it cannot accept my amendment and therefore will reject the bill in the current form, and that we are playing into the hands of the big media players who will continue to do well under the current laws. It has argued that the losers will be the small to medium size media owners who will continue to be restricted by the current law.

Well the obvious answer to the Government is to support the amended bill. The bill will allow the small to medium sized media owners room to move and grow. The restrictions of my amendment only really impact on the big media owners. The big media moguls wouldn’t have won and the Government could rest easy.

So why doesn’t the Government pass the amended bill? Possibly because it is a bit more concerned about the effect it would have on the big media owners than they care to admit. Perhaps the real aim of this bill was to allow the big owners to get even bigger?

But let’s look at the large number of benefits this amended bill offers to reform the Australian media market place. These are the benefits that the Government wants to throw away. These are the benefits that the Government wants to reject rather than threaten the growth of the media moguls.

Benefits of the amended bill include:

* It allows newspapers to merge with radio;

* It allows television to merge with radio;

* It allows a media proprietor to own a newspaper in one city and a television licence in another city;

* It allows a media proprietor to own a number of television licences and a number of newspaper licences-as long as they are not in the same city;

* It allows regional media owners to own a television station and two radio stations in the same market, or a television station and a newspaper, or a newspaper and two radio stations;

* It protects the public by a ‘minimum voices’ rule so that cross-media mergers can only be approved if there are a minimum of five independently owned commercial media outlets in cities and a minimum of four in regional markets;

* It protects the public by ensuring that someone can only own one TV licence in a licence area;

* It establishes a requirement for an independent editorial board in a cross-media company, to protect editorial independence;

* It extends the two out of three rule to include small regional newspapers;

* It requires commercial TV operators to provide a minimum level of local news and information.

These are just some of the provisions of the amended bill – and the Government wants to throw them all away.

That’s not to say that I like all the provisions of this bill. But I was prepared to work with my colleagues and the Government to come to a compromise position. For example, I have voted to reduce foreign ownership restrictions – something I was not entirely comfortable with, but I think on balance is the correct decision.

But I have come to the decision that it is overwhelmingly in the public interest to ensure some basic restrictions on the ownership of television stations and newspapers in the same city.

I urge the Government not to reject this amended bill just because it does not allow for media moguls to create a cross-media company which could dominate a particular city’s media or which could be a dominant national force.


Brian Harradine also made these remarks on the night:

In Committee

Senator HARRADINE (Tasmania) (6.32 p.m.)

I will be very brief because I do not want to take up the time of the Senate; I know we are under a great deal of pressure. Senator Cherry asked me why I did not include the regionals in this area. The answer is simple: the major challenge is by the major media moguls and their being able to capture the television market and the newspaper market. I thought that was the key area in this debate on diversity.

I remind Senator Alston that 16 years ago I made a speech about the then broadcasting legislation. The minister will remember that, because he came in as a senator the year before, from memory. On that occasion I referred to a statement made by Mr Davidson in 1956, when he was the Postmaster-General, in which he talked about television licences. He said:

Television stations are in a position to exercise a constant and cumulative effect on public taste and standards of conduct, and, because of the influence they can bring to bear on the community, the business interests of licensees must at all times be subordinated to the overriding principle that the possession of a licence is, indeed, as the Royal Commission said, a public trust for the benefit of all members of our society.

And I said in my contribution to the second reading debate on 25 March 2003:

Those who own or run media organisations are in a position of privilege and influence. They are members of an unelected elite which is not effectively accountable to the Australian people. It is our job as elected legislators to ensure not only that there are reasonable parameters set for the running of successful media businesses but, much more importantly, that these parameters serve the Australian people.

That has been my view over a period of time, and Mr Davidson’s comments about the public trust issue have been seared into my mind ever since. I say to the minister that it is not me who is talking about this need to ensure diversity and to ensure that there is not less diversity; it is the Productivity Commission. I remind the Senate of what the Productivity Commission said – I have said it before and I will not say it again. Whether the major media moguls being able, under the bill, to buy the major newspapers, particularly in capital cities – and radio stations, as far as that is concerned – is in the public interest is a matter for prudential consideration.

I have looked at this issue and studied the reach of both the television industry organisations and the major newspapers, and I came to the decision that this bill needed amendment to ensure that there was no attack on the diversity that was mentioned as being absolutely essential by the Productivity Commission.

Disclosure: Margo Kingston owns shares in Fairfax.

Spin, anger, ethics: Your say

G’Day. It’s been spin, anger, the ABC and media ethics this week, and you’ve swamped me with so many emails I haven’t dealt with them all. So if I’ve missed a ripper please resend.

To end the week, your say on the big topics. I’ll start with a brilliant essay on the Howard/ABC power struggle from media professional Daniel Wright on Webdiary debut and yet another conservative masterpiece byDaniel Moye, this time on WMDs.

Daniel Wright, on debut

Disclosure: I am an Australian citizen currently a senior operational member of staff at a regional television station in New Zealand.

When I was in year seven at school I remember distinctly one day our teacher telling us how important it was to develop an interest in the news. He said the world was ours, in potential, and that one day it really would be ours. He told us that when that time came it was important for us to know where it had come from, so that we could know where we wanted it to go. He said that an interest in the news was vital to that knowledge, that it was important to understand what was happening in the world and what effects these events had. He then set a task for us to watch the news each night and read at least one newspaper each day and to note a minimum of three stories that mattered to us.

I hadn’t really thought of it before, but a lot of who I am today has probably come out of that assignment.

When I got to university I had to repeat very similar assignments for a couple of different classes. And so I entered the world of information choice. I could select which sources of information appealed to me and restrict my diet to those. I could devour everything and hope to make some sense of it. I could look to certain organisations and trust them to tell me the uncomfortable truths that I didn’t really want to know but needed to know about nonetheless.

For me trust is central to the issue. The more I limit my sources of information the more I am displaying trust in the information that they supply.

Of course as I grow older I realise how little there really is that can be trusted. This, in turn, means that I need to be able to secure information on the same events/topics from as many sources as possible in order that I need not trust any of them very much. Unfortunately, in the modern media world it is increasingly difficult to distinguish the number of “brands” from the number of “sources”.

And this is where independence becomes critical.

For many years the Democrats played a vital role in Australian politics. From the “Keep The Bastards Honest” days through to recent times, they exploited and campaigned on their independence from the major political parties and the opportunity this afforded to influence how far any government could go.

In a similar fashion, a genuine independent media source is vital to the Australian media at large. An independent media source can go about the business of journalism directly, without fear of business relationships or agendas getting in the way.

An independent media source is able to be the voice of the cynic in all of us, and to ask the questions we’d all like to have answered. Best of all, an independent media source is able to push for the answers to those questions without fear and without threat. An independent media source is essential to maintaining our lack of trust in general media and in the establishment.

Trust, as we all know, is a two sided coin, so here are the sides as I see them:

1) Mr Howard DOES NOT trust the ABC to give him unchecked support. Mr Howard DOES NOT trust the ABC to avoid the tough issues and questions. Mr Howard DOES NOT trust the ABC to knuckle down, make nice and leave him alone. Therefore Mr Howard chooses to do his best to cripple an organisation that he DOES NOT trust.

Mr Howard DOES trust big business to take care of him. Mr Howard DOES trust non-independent media to “fairly and without bias” present exclusively his view of the issues.

Mr Howard DOES trust free market economics to ensure that those he needs help from benefit from him being in office. Therefore Mr Howard does his best to make life easy for himself and his allies.


I would dearly love to see a revamped and re-funded ABC with the slogan “Keeping ALL The Bastards Honest!”.

Of course, the as yet unmentioned part of the issue is that of laziness. That’s right, laziness. See there are only two reasons that a person could not be up in arms over this issue; either they trust Mr Howard to resolve it for them, or they’re too lazy to do anything about it.

The biggest failing in representative democracy over the last ten years or so has possibly not been a failing of government, but rather a failing of the governed. You see, representative democracy only works if we’re represented and representation doesn’t take place on election day.

Representation is what happens on every other day. Election day is just the day that you pick the person you want to badger for the duration of the term of office.

The truth is that it makes no difference if you voted for your elected representative or not – They are still your representative. Make them represent you. Until we accept responsibility for our part in the day to day running of a democratic society, we’ll reap the rewards of misplaced trust and sheer bloody minded laziness.

If you’d like to have a shot at discerning some truth on a regular basis, I’d strongly recommend that you do your bit and make sure your elected representative knows that their job is on the line.

Margo: I love this one liner from Daniel Gardiner: “When will Alston complain about the pro-American bias shown by News Ltd?”Frederick Prins writes:

Something smells badly when we have a Prime Minister who took us to “war” (read illegal invasion) on the basis of false claims about weapons of mass destruction then has the gall to suggest that the ABC’s AM program reported it in an unbalanced way. We as a nation are “unbalanced” if we entertain this sort of crap, but looking back at our recent history we seem to enjoy the deceit this Government dishes out. The ABC belongs to us the taxpayers John, so call off your bully boy tactics and let them do their job! At least they tell the truth – something you and your Government wouldn’t know the meaning of.


Daniel Moye in Roseville, Sydney – official Webdiary conservative commentator

Given the ongoing debate about the intelligence presented to justify the War on Iraq, I thought I would provide a perspective that supports the War whilst at the same time supports inquiries into the pre-war rhetoric. I can relate to the furious attacks on the credibility of Bush, Blair and Howard and I am angry and disappointed too but for very different reasons.

The attempts by the Coalition of the Willing to bolster its case for War has done significant damage to the credibility of the case for an active confrontation and control of terrorist regimes and networks. By presenting faulty intelligence to justify their position it quite rightly begs questions about the whole approach to the War on Terror.

It is my opinion that by focusing on a very poll conscious strategy to convince a doubtful public, the Coalition of the Willing has created more hurdles for itself in what will be long-term struggle against oppressive regimes and terrorist networks. Conservative policy-makers throughout America, Australia and Britain ( and doubtlessly other democratic countries)

were quite rightly “woken up” by the September 11 attacks. The ideological challenge presented to pluralist democracies could know longer be ignored as the threat of an escalation of continued domestic attacks was starkly highlighted by those terrible planes and prompted questions like “if they can do that, can they do much worse?”

Leading Republican Congressman Christopher Shays, in an interview on BBC World program HardTalk ( a program I highly recommend), argued that the intelligence presented by Colin Powell at the UN and George W. Bush in his State of the Union Address were not the key reasons for his voting for going to War in Iraq.

What then are the reasons that shaped (and will continue to shape) conservative policy-makers in Washington, London and Canberra in going to War In Iraq?

Before going into the specifics, I will first present the broad challenge that shapes their thinking. The long-term national security of Western democracies is clearly in jeopardy if a confluence of events occur in the non-democratic world. If either failed states or totalitarian regimes hostile to the West either gain WMDs or proliferate them to terrorist networks then the risk of a far more devastating warfare will unfold.

They argue that containment policies that characterised much of the approach by the West in the Cold War are ineffective against this asymmetric challenge. It is ineffective because the battleground is literally everywhere and so unlike the Cold War where War game strategising against the Soviet Union or proxy warfare in third party countries is not an appropriate response.

As such, Conservative policy-makers have taken the view that rather than letting either oppressive regimes or terrorist networks choose the battleground that they will go after them whereever they are. The criteria they appear to be using is that any nation that either actively sponsors, gives shelter to or ‘turns a blind eye’ to terrorist activities effectively surrenders its sovereign rights. Obviously, they have prioritised where the threats are most dangerous – totalitarian countries that have access to or are actively seeking WMD or who are actively sponsoring terrorist activities.

After Afghanistan, why Iraq? If viewed through a post 9/11 prism what was previously a tolerable containment of Iraq had become intolerable. The Iraqi regime that invaded Quwait less than two years after a long war with Iran, that had already used WMDs and that had sought to launch a nuclear program was clearly a threat.

It is true that an on/off UN Inspection program coupled with active No-Fly zones over Southern and Northern Iraq had been moderately successful. It is also true that the link between AL-Qaeda and Iraq was unsubstantiated, but it is also true that Iraq was a prominent sponsor of Palestinian suicide bombers and their organisations.

Christopher Shays argued that the ‘old’ intelligence on Iraq was in fact the reason why he voted for war in Iraq.

This is very different to the emphasis placed by the leaders in the run up to war. By giving prominence to the intelligence highlighting the immediacy of the threat, Blair, Bush and Howard were arguing that the situation had changed. They should have argued that their standards had changed because of September 11. Clearly this argument is a far more complex argument to make and perhaps less politically saleable than the argument they presented.

I support the war and see the ongoing challenges facing the West, yet I also support a vigorous inquiry into the misleading intelligence presented to justify the War. Furthermore, the leaders should be accountable for their actions, and if their governments fall so be it – even though it might cause irreparable damage to the cause of fighting terrorism. And that is what makes me angry.

I appreciate the high standards that the Australian media (in particular Fairfax and the ABC) have demanded of our leaders. Furthermore, I believe that the cheerleading of the Murdoch press in fact helps reduce the merits of the conservative policy-makers and paradoxically helps the anti- war arguments by reducing the debates to a passionate brawl.

In further contributions I would like to provide some historical perspective on U.S. foreign policy and ask whether what Bush is doing is really new and radical. I’d also like to discuss the domestic challenges the War on Terror has for Australians.

PS: I have some thoughts about helping the poor old Labor party find some winning strategies but am still deciding if I really want to help them. I hope the negativity expressed in your articles does not pervade the rest of your life.

Margo: The rest of my life is great at the moment – touch wood – so much so that I did a tongue in cheeker on the latest Howard ABC outrage. See Good one John, but why stop at the ABC?




Shaun Cronin recommends US anti-spin site spincity. He writes:

“It’s time for an Australian version – it would need to be bi-partisan as politicians all over the spectrum are prone to telling lies. I’ve had a gutful of how passively most seem to accept being mislead by our leaders. My qualifications for a collaboration are simply a desire to see some accountability brought back into the political process.”

A reader recommends US site PRwatch. The blurb: “PR Watch offers investigative reporting on the public relations industry. We help the public recognize manipulative and misleading PR practices by exposing the activities of secretive, little known propaganda-for-hire firms that work to control political debates and public opinion.” The blokes who started this site, Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber, wrote the book Weapons of mass deception, available in Australian bookstores now.

He also recommends Medialens, which “looks at the so-called liberal press in the UK – Guardian, Independent, BBC et al, and how they may not be as unbiased/free of spin as they think”.

My secret cross media news hound recommends Media Giants Get Slapped, an analysis of the US House of Representatives’ great big NO (400 votes to 21!) to Bush’s plans to deliver more media power to Rupert Murdoch. An extract:

While the Bush White House continues to promote the big-media agenda as part of an overall strategy of reworking regulations to favor large corporate campaign givers — raising the prospect that the president might veto Congressional moves to prevent the FCC from implementing this rule change — veteran Capitol Hill observers say public opposition to the FCC rule changes has grown so powerful that even the president could change his tune. “If the White House is threatening a veto on this, they offer that at their own peril,” explained Andy Davis, an aide to US Sen. Ernest Hollings, the powerful South Carolina Democrat who is a key player behind the Senate effort to reverse the FCC’s June 2 decision to raise the television ownership cap from 35 percent to 45 percent. “This is an issue that has enormously broad bipartisan support. People are very passionate about this issue.


Harry Heidelberg – he’s back!

Last weekend I was in Berlin. On Saturday night I was riding the U-bahn (underground) approaching Postdamer Platz when my friend pointed to a video screen in the train and said, “That’s Rupert Murdoch, he’s also an Aussie”.

Technically he isn’t an Aussie but it did remind me that whereever you go Rupert Murdoch goes with you, even deep beneath the streets of Berlin. The birth of Murdoch’s sixth child was important enough to be flashed around the Berlin subway system. It’s quite extraordinary if you think about it all.

Loud groaning noises. We all know that from time immemorial the Murdoch press has been an agenda kind of outfit. They take a line and push it to the max. We know that Murdoch was in favour of the war in Iraq and we know the approach he has adopted to it. The macro picture is clear.

I’d like to know how all this works at the micro level. Not so much on Iraq but more generally when Murdoch strongly supports this policy or that. Surely it is more than nudges and winks. In parts of the world do public officials meet and actually have discussions with his people? Not only obviously on media policy but on other stuff. I’m not suggesting outright corruption but I’d be interested to know how it works at the micro level.

Margo: Any ex-Murdoch journos or deep-throat current employees want to have a go at that one? Confidentiality guaranteed.


Grant Long

Dizzy with spin was enlightening. It reminded me of an article by Jamie Peck I read whilst studying Tax/Welfare law, called “Workfare: a geopolitical etymology” (Environment and Planning; Society and Space, 1998, Vol 16 pp 133-161.)

Peck includes a document credited to Newt Gingrich called Language: A Key Mechanism of Control. Note the lack of subtlety in that title! Gingrich circulated it to state candidates, and it includes the following gems:

As you know, one of the key points in the GOPAC (a Republican Party political training arm) tapes is that ‘language matters’… As the tapes have been used in training sessions across the country and mailed to candidates we have heard the plaintive plea: “I wish I could speak like Newt”. That takes years of practice, but we believe that you could have a significant impact on your campaign and the way you communicate if we help a little. That is why we have created this list of words and phrases…

Read them. Memorize as many as possible. . .

Optimistic Positive Governing Words – these words can help give extra power to your message

opportunity, workfare, moral, dream, courage, freedom, crusade, pioneer, family, building, compete, pro-(issue), active, empower, duty, strength, care, hard work, tough, incentive, vision, passionate

Contrasting Words – apply these to the opponent, their record, proposals and their party

decay, welfare, failure, ideological, collapse, anti-(issue), patronage, stagnation, destroy, greed, sick, corrupt, liberal, status quo, bureaucracy, taxes, unionized, spend, devour, permissive, attitude, waste, red tape

As noted by Peck, the benefit if hindsight reveals the Gingrich was anticipating both the tenor and the terrain of political debate in the 1990s. I would only add that the notion of political debate in the current institutionalised democracy is laughable.

When have we ever seen two or more political opponents truly debate any issue? Any of our senior politicians would run a mile from any such forum as, spin spin spin, it is then out of their CONTROL and like John Safran’s altercation with Ray Martin, in the heat of battle they may reveal a persona to the public that is not likeable.

I am personally disgusted by the spin, but we need only look to this Gingrich to understand its popularity with our politicians.

Western democracy is at a nasty point at the moment. It is now the politics of winning,. Of holding the trophy high whilst your opponents lie in ruins all around. It is the politics of destruction not construction. Of division not vision.

It is this latter point that cuts more than any other. Where does this country want to be in 5, 10 or 50 years? I honestly believe that few politicians at present would care about such a question. To them it is a game. A win or lose game and every day that they win is a good day.

A uni lecturer (read – threatened species) once commented that conservative politics is characterised by intolerance. They are intolerant of dole bludgers (read – people who were retrenched last week as a result of macroeconomic reform), immigrants (read – queue jumpers), Indigenous people (read ungrateful alcoholics and petrol sniffers who can’t see the benefits bestowed upon them by our great culture), greenies (read – dole bludgers preventing Australia’s economic growth). We could now add to this list losers (read – any group, despite their size, that gets in the way of the dominant party’s ability to retain control).


Don Wigan

Ethics and integrity go to the heart of the matter of tackling the spin doctors and their slippery political bosses, but there is another issue – thoroughness. Sometimes just a little more research may take an issue that much further.

Recently Nine’s A Current Affair ran an excellent series on the failures of the public dentistry system in recent years. For low-income people and pensioners the average wait for dental surgery is three years. In my area (Warrnambool) the delay time average is 52 months (my wife’s still not near the top of the list after 3 years).

ACA finally got federal Minister of Health Kay Patterson on the program. Although they threw a lot of evidence at her about the problems and suffering and pointed out the uncaring government attitude, they allowed her to get away with obfuscating about it being ‘a matter for the States’. A bit more research could have put her over the barrel.

FACT: It was Commonwealth-funded until 1996. The Howard Government withdrew funding using the rationalisation that such cuts were needed to help cover the so-called ‘Beazley Black Hole’.

FACT: Ever since then Howard and Costello have boasted about how well they’ve managed the budget and the economy.

QUESTION: If both of these assertions are true, why cannot the Commonwealth commitment to public dental health be restored?

I’m not experienced in these TV interviews, but I’d have thought that this follow-up wouldn’t have allowed Patterson any escape and might have kept interest in the issue simmering to the point where maybe the shock jocks could have taken it up.


Margot Humphreys in Ontario, Canada

I read the Sydney Morning Herald online almost every work day (on coffee break!) and thanks to your explanation of ethics in Webdiary’s ethics now understand why I can read information on your site that never sees the light of day in North American media.

I live in Canada, which at least has public radio – CBC’s As It Happens workday program from 6:30 to 8:00 pm gets right to the issue by interviewing real people on site. The print media is another matter.

Most newspapers are now owned by Big Media, which tend to put the “proper” slant on news. The Ottawa Citizen lost its editor due to his refusal to submit to senior management’s take on news. I have passed on your newspaper’s online address to many, many people who wish to see a wider perspective on world events.

I read a quote from a major US media conglomerate executive yesterday that “The line between news and entertainment is blurring”.

Not in my world. And, I hope, not in yours or that of the Sydney Morning Herald.


Colin James in Wellington, New Zealand

Webdiary’s ethics echoes in one respect the value I have found since I persuaded the New Zealand Herald to run my email address at the bottom of my weekly political column. With very few exceptions, I have had reasoned emails and they have been valuable in opening perspectives I had not thought about or not thought adequately about, challenging my conclusions and introducing factual material I was unaware of.

I always reply and in formulating the replies I have to think again about, develop or defend my original analysis. All of that takes time but the time is worth the effort. This, of course, is not weblog – just an add-on to print, the equivalent of letters or faxes, though easier.

I always also take people seriously, though I do suggest to the few intemperate and angry emailers that I could respond more usefully if they couched their comments less aggressively. In all those cases so far I have had a surprised and moderate response to my response. I think that underlines the disconnect you write of between insiders like myself with ready access on first-name terms to all the top politicians, bureaucrats and chief executives and mistrustful citizens.

It will be interesting to see how the internet changes that disconnect. What I have found, which seems to come through in your work, is that there are a lot of intelligent people in the most unlikely of places with useful ideas that, because of the disconnect, have been no more than ideas.


REACTION TO Anger as an energy

Mike Lyvers

Luke Stegemann wrote: “It’s time to stop believing in the bullshit, whether it be political spin or the notion that harmony must be preserved at all costs.”

Okay, what about multicultural harmony? Must we preserve that at all costs too, or do we have the right to call bullshit on, say, cultural practices such as clitoridectomy, forced marriages, stonings of women who engage in premarital sex, execution of homosexuals, honor killings and the like? I say we certainly do have that right, but does Luke? I suspect he would reflexively label any such criticism as “racism.”

“It’s time to get angry, and use that anger as an energy. If the left (Howard’s opponents) are to be designated as feral why are we not deploying language in the same way, publicly designating the right (the Howard government and its supporters) as blood-sucking, voracious, criminal, myopic and irredeemably racist?”

Luke, your fellow travellers have been calling them those things for years now. Such ridiculous hyperbole only leads to a loss of credibility, and Howard wins again.

Margo: Luke clarifies: “I hope people will understand that I’m not advocating physical violence of any kind, but simply that the crude violence of language used against us be turned back upon those who use language to lie to us, belittle us, treat us with contempt. Language is a powerful weapon, and as Jack suggested, it can and should be thrown back in the faces of those who exploit it to entrench their power, their privilege, or to cover up their own evil.”


James Greaves in Eagle Vale, NSW

You introduced the responses from Luke Stegemann and Jack Robertson with the following preamble which I quote in part:

” I disagree with their calls to be angry, partly because when I get angry I lose effectiveness and tend to self-immolate…”

The two contributors were concerned more with the wider socio-political implications of public anger or the absence thereof. The anger you describe (which I can identify with) describes UNCONTROLLED anger: anger that you have temporarily allowed to take control of your being.

Such anger is indeed self-immobilising – especially if you bottle it up unexpressed and allow it to accumulate. However, there is another way to experience anger. You feel the sensation and give vent to it – but in a manner that is positively constructive – this is to say in a way calculated to bring about change.

It is called righteous indignation – the sort of anger you feel and express when someone tramples over your rights and sensitivities. Without it nobody would acknowledge your dignity as a person or that of people generally. Anger is “God’s fire for change”.

The difference between the two types of anger is that in the case of the latter you remain in control at all times. You choose how to express it and are empowered both by the expression and the consequences.

You also stated: “I prefer the energy of optimism, of working with other people, and of dispassionate strategising.” Nice work if you can get it, Margo. The trouble is that not all individuals (or groups) are open to gentle persuasion: not all situations amenable to resolution conflict by way of compromise.

There are times when it pays you to do your block. There are situations when to compromise means only to sacrifice the principles you hold dear, becoming nothing but a moral lump of quivering jelly and suffering the low self-esteem that invariably follows.

I agree with Luke. The wider socio-political implications of the apparent public passivity is an absence of widespread indignation against the lies and trespasses of government that only encourages such behaviour among members of our political elite.

Anger? Let us have more of it!

Margo: Webdiarist Sean Richardson recommends tompaine for an interview with Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity – it refers to St Thomas and the idea that it’s a sin not to be angry when you should be.


Roselyne Tight

Like you I don’t like getting angry, but it felt good reading Jack Robertson and Luke Stegemann’s angry statements. It felt good knowing others feel the same outrage and deep sense of resentment against this government. Perhaps writing about it, all of us, putting it down on paper or in print or on the internet and to send the lot to Canberra might help us release our anger and let them know how we feel.

I do write already about the refugees – specific cases to specific ministers – but to write a complete rejection and letting go like Jack Robertson’s shooting straight from the hip or mouth or pen would be a blessing!!!

The debate that dare not speak its name

Australia’s democracy survived by 37 votes to 32 tonight, when the Senate insisted that Rupert Murdoch and Kerry Packer not be permitted to overwhelmingly control Australia’s media.

Not that you’d have known it by watching the debate. Just about everyone was careful not to name the names, or the fear. It was put in terms of ‘the public interest”, or, as Brian Harradine, the grand old man of the Senate, put it, “to the heart of diversity and indeed of democracy”.

Everyone who’s anyone is scared to state the stark facts. The Labor Party is scared that the combined media power of Packer and Murdoch could destroy their chances of winning an election. Media players either fear for their jobs if they speak out or are trying to position themselves to be given senior roles in the new media landscape. Despite the almost incalculable importance of the Senate debate this week for Australia, no mainstream print media except the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age has run an opinion piece stating the case against the bill.

Yet the Labor Party, the Democrats and the Greens opposed it outright. Three of the the four independent Senators whose votes the Government needed wanted to pass the bill, either to allow cash strapped regional media players to bulk up by letting them own newspapers and television in the same market, or to scrape together a few extra bucks for the ABC.

But in the end, despite enormous pressure, all four independents had the courage and integrity to stop the Howard government so obscenely extending the media dominance of Kerry Packer and Rupert Murdoch into almost complete control.

Harradine’s amendment was simple. No proprietor would be permitted to own a television station and a newspaper in a mainland capital city. Without that amendment, Rupert Murdoch could have bought a television network, adding to his dominance of our print media. Kerry Packer could have added Fairfax to his Nine Network. These men are the wealthiest, most powerful and most feared men in Australian life. Their power is so great that successive Prime Ministers have sought to curry favour with one or both of them in the hope that with their help they can retain government. It is very rare for either main party to reject their demands.

The cross media bill, if passed, would have seen these two men control our two national dailies, two of our three commercial television stations, virtually all our business magazines and our two preeminent news internet sites. All other media players would be reduced to picking up the crumbs from their table, and none – not even the ABC – would dare to scrutinise their business activities or their media performance. The two men would control the news cycle and the news slant (when they so wished). Cross promotion and cross packaging of advertising could crush any other player and tie up news exclusives as a matter of routine.

No government could dare offend them. No business group could dare take them on. One of the world’s most powerful media moguls and Australia’s richest, most powerful man would run Australia.

The independents strongly urged communications minister, Senator Alston, to accept the bill with the Harradine amendment. It would allow foreign money to flow into our media and it would allow regional players to get bigger and more financially secure. They reminded Alston that he’d said that it was the regional players who were desperate for the bill, not the big two, who were already “entrenched”.

Senator Harradine noted that without his amendment, a TV proprietor with a potential audience reach of 70 percent (Kerry Packer” could sell to a newspaper group with 70 percent of the audience (Murdoch). Such reach and power “is totally unacceptable to the public interest.” He noted that the Government’s own Productivity Commission reported in 2000 that it had a strong preference for more, not fewer, media players, because of “the likelihood that a proprietor will influence the content and opinion” of his publications. This was a matter of “major concern”, the Commission said.

Yet Alston replied that the Harradine amendment “goes to the heart of the legislation”, and that without it the bill was dead. His only response to the fear of total dominance was that “those not interested in change pretend that diversity of numbers are the be all and end all of the game”.

The government has lost the game, for now,. But Packer and Murdoch are now desperately close to their goal, and each time the battlelines are drawn between the interests of the big two and the public interest there are an ever-diminishing number of Australians with a public voice or with any power who are prepared to take the risk of taking them on.

Indeed, we are now in the position that very few ordinary Australians were even aware what fate could await them tonight if the Harradine amendment had not passed.

But the respite could be brief. The government may set up the bill as another double dissolution trigger, meaning it could pass it in a joint sitting upon the reelection of John Howard. Or some of the independents, already shaky, could go weak at the knees.

One can’t help feeling that the end game is very, very near.

Anglofacism -v- the public broadcasters

Warning! Warning! Isn’t it interesting that Blair and Howard are trying to give Murdoch more power at the same time as they’re trying to destroy their public broadcasters, and that the Murdoch press in both countries is gleefully beating up on the same targets?

The BBC and the ABC are bodies largely independent of government by legislation, with legislated responsibilities, standards and review mechanisms. They are directly accountable to the people. Not to big business, not to big government, you understand, to the PEOPLE. They are bodies charged with acting in the public interest, not for private profit, to strive to make big business and big government accountable to the people. Their democratic role is to keep the powerful honest through fear that if they aren’t they’ll be caught out. Private media, by contrast, is virtually unaccountable to anyone except its owners.

Webdiarist James Woodcock found a sensational Guardian piece on what’s really going on here as we witness the rise of Anglofacism (thanks to Webdiarist Philip Gomes for the description).

Conrad Black’s right wing Telegraph newspaper in Britain is also onto the story of how Murdoch papers are beating Blair’s drum in his anti-BBC crusade. A taste of Murdoch papers step up war of words with BBC:

A concerted campaign by News International newspapers to castigate the BBC in its row with No 10 sparked accusations yesterday that Rupert Murdoch’s titles were being used to damage his biggest broadcasting rival.

Murdoch-owned newspapers such as The Times, Sun and News of the World have been significantly more zealous than other newspapers in backing No 10 over the BBC.

A source on The Times said yesterday there was “unease” among its journalists about the paper’s recent coverage of the dispute.

I again make the point: There are a large number of newspapers with different viewpoints and owners in the UK. There’s only Fairfax in capital city Australia to balance Murdoch’s dominance. Without an independent Fairfax, nothing like the Telegraph or Guardian pieces would ever be written in the mainstream press. As I keep repeating, the only real accountability is that different newspapers groups keep each other honest. With a partnership of Murdoch and Packer as owners, democracy is all over. Dismantling the ABC’s role as independent, dynamic, courageous scrutineers of government would be too easy. (See Closing the door on your right to know, written just before the Senate narrowly rejected the Howard cross media laws which he’ll send back to the Senate soon.)

By the way, the US Congress is set to say no to Bush’s attempt to give Murdoch more power over there (remember Murdoch is much more dominant here now than he would be in the United States AFTER the Bush changes became law). I’ve published today’s Australian Financial Review report on the US backlash to Murdoch power after the Guardian piece.

This BBC row is not about sources – it is about power

Downing Street and Rupert Murdoch want revenge on the corporation

by Jackie Ashley

Thursday July 24, 2003, The Guardian

What a difference a day makes. The daily skirmishes between the government and BBC have seen both sides at various points claiming victory. On Sunday, when the BBC confirmed Dr David Kelly had been “the source” for its claims about the mishandling of intelligence information, the government was bullish. Now, following reports that the Newsnight’s Susan Watts has a tape recording of her conversation with Dr Kelly, ministers are sounding less confident.

Yet the question now being asked is this: even if the BBC wins the battle (in other words is vindicated by the Hutton report), will it lose the war? Has the BBC, in defending Andrew Gilligan so robustly, brought about its own downfall?

For the word that recurs is “revenge”. Downing Street insiders, ministers and backbench MPs are saying privately that No 10 intends to wreak vengeance on the BBC, whatever Lord Hutton decides. Forget palm pilots or tape-recordings; the real agenda now is to humble and curb Britain’s public service broadcaster. This is not a row about journalistic standards. It is a fight about power.

No 10’s original excuse for its attack on the BBC was the Gilligan story. At first it looked as though Alastair Campbell had a genuine spasm of anger at a particular act of reporting; that this then bubbled through his irritation at the corporation’s handling of the war; and after that – well, things got out of hand. He lost it on Channel 4 News. To start with, the government seemed to have blundered into a fight and couldn’t find a way back. Now I am not so sure. I think it wanted this row all along. (Margo: As did Alston – he’s still running hard without a leg to stand on, and now Howard’s backed him all the way.)

There were so many moments in the story of the reporting of the government’s selling of the Iraq war when No 10 could have calmed things down. On every occasion, instead, they ratcheted it up again. Even now, in the gloomy pause after Dr Kelly’s death, while Blair is saying little in public, New Labour operators are charging around briefing in private, upping the odds. They want to get the governors. They want to get Greg Dyke. They want a new system of regulation. The licence fee is far too generous. Get the message, BBC? As Chris Smith pointed out in the Financial Times yesterday, any attempt to link recent events to the BBC’s future is little short of blackmail. (Margo: Just like Alston’s recent threat to defund the ABC after his ludicrous allegations of ABC bias on the Iraq war.)

The BBC prime crime has not been sloppy reporting or an anti-war agenda. Its crime is to have pointed the finger at gaping holes in the government’s case for going to war to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction. If Gilligan had reported a single source to the effect that WMD were a threat, and that Campbell et al should have been more bellicose, would this row have happened? Don’t be absurd. It is not the detail of language the government objects to; it is the whole story.

The BBC has done what good journalism ought to do: probing and questioning insistently – things that the government would rather not discuss. During the war it reported and commented about what was happening in the sand and cities of Iraq. It did not do what some US broadcasters – notably Fox – did, and act as a patriotic national cheerleader.

Fox, owned by Rupert Murdoch, is what Blair must have fantasised about having on his side. The network was raucously pro-administration, delivering to George Bush the rightwing commentaries and inspiring pictures he needed to help him conduct the war. How convenient it would be for any centreright, interventionist British leader to have his own, Union Jack-branded Fox.

If you doubt the influence of the Murdoch agenda on all this, look at any newsstand. The Murdoch papers have acted as the most amazingly disciplined attack force on behalf of the government, savaging the BBC in identical terms, from the Sun, to the Times, to the News of the World, using columnists, editorials and front-page splashes to pursue the cause. The attack on the BBC, orchestrated by No 10, has animated News International like nothing since its move to Wapping.

The stakes are almost as high. This time, with the communications bill soon to become law – even as amended – Murdoch has a chance of getting into terrestrial British TV. If he was able to curb the BBC in its funding and its journalism, shoving it into a narrow little box, from which timid establishment- style reporting and dreary documentaries were all that trickled out, he would be in business. He hates the BBC not because of the licence fee or its alleged liberal bias, but because it is popular and trusted. Everything his papers are now doing is designed to attack that popularity and trust. (Margo: Just like the Murdoch papers are doing to the ABC in Australia.)

Those papers have been intertwined with New Labour ever since it became clear that Blair would be in Downing Street. Blair wooed them, and from the first Murdoch, sensing a winner, responded.

Sun and Times journalists were courted and favoured with leaks, which they could promote as scoops; Murdoch editors were treated as visiting royalty when they were entertained at No 10 and Chequers. It is shameless, unabashed, and was driven both by Blair and by that high-minded socialist and critic of journalistic standards, Alastair Campbell.

Why do they do it? Because the deal is frank, and even on its own terms, honest. Murdoch wants media power and Blair wants reliable media support. So long as nobody takes journalistic principle or the public interest too seriously, then there is a deal to be done. (Margo: This is precisely the same arrangement Howard would have forged with Murdoch when they met just before S11.) One day, if Murdoch gets his way, he will be in a position of terrifying influence over any future government.

So this is a dangerous time for the BBC. In some ways it has been here before. In the wake of the Falklands war, when Alasdair Milne was director general, Margaret Thatcher berated him about BBC funding and journalism in terms almost identical to those we hear from Labour now. John Birt had his rows too.

But this is worse. Gavyn Davies and Greg Dyke have refused to play their allotted role as New Labour toadies. This is brave since they must know that they, and the BBC, have nowhere else to go. The Tories would privatise them like a shot. Now that the Conservative manifesto is likely to suggest slashing the licence fee, it is not hard to see a vengeful New Labour starting a Dutch auction, cutting and cutting. Then it will be curtains for the governors and the hunt will be on for a more reliable director general.

The excuse will be, no doubt, all those rubbishy game shows, pop quiz programmes and yoof channels. The assault will be muffled by high-minded essays by Peter Mandelson and Gerald Kaufman on the subject of journalistic standards – they both have PhDs in that – and numerous journalists who are miffed that they haven’t been given enough airtime will go along for the ride. But no one should be in any doubt that New Labour is now deliberately menacing the independence of one of the bastions of British pluralism. (Margo: Just like Howard’s media and think tank cheer squad is doing in Australia right now.) This is a moment when the BBC needs its friends. (Margo: Is Australian Labor game to go into bat for the ABC, and maybe even guarantee its independence and funding? They’d even have an unlikely ally in Howard’s good friend Don McDonald.)


Blow to Murdoch as Congress opposes TV change

by Luke Collins

24/07/2003, The Australian Financial Review

The US Congress appears likely to overturn at least some planned changes to US media ownership laws, particularly one that would help Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation by allowing the country’s biggest television networks to expand.

In a big reversal, top Republicans now concede they are unlikely to be able to stop the overturning of the Federal Communications Commission’s proposal to lift the national television audience cap from 35 per cent to 45 per cent. The Republican-controlled FCC approved that change 3 to 2 on party lines.

If the viewer limit is kept at 35 per cent, it would primarily affect News Corp and Viacom, which already breach the existing viewing limit and are banking on it being increased. They each hold waivers allowing their audience reach to be about 40 per cent pending a final decision.

On Tuesday, the House of Representatives voted to retain FCC changes that would ease cross-media restrictions. However, the issue of reversing the proposed change to the audience cap was not even challenged as Republican leaders knew they lacked the necessary support.

That raises the spectre of President George Bush using his legislative veto for the first time. The White House on Tuesday warned it was in favour of the FCC changes and some Republicans hope that threat will alone be enough to kill efforts to overturn the audience cap increase.

However, Mr Bush’s veto can be overridden by two-thirds of all voting members of the House and Senate and the broad bipartisan opposition to the FCC move indicates the veto could itself fail.

“If the White House is threatening a veto on this, they offer that at their own peril,” said Andy Davis, a spokesman for the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee, Ernest Hollings. “This is an issue that has enormously broad bipartisan support. People are very passionate about this issue.”

Republicans have been surprised by the level of opposition, particularly from fellow Republicans. It has also surprised media companies, which last week sent a major delegation to Washington to lobby politicians about deregulation.

That rising opposition prompted the Bush administration to last week raise the veto threat. On Tuesday it sent politicians a written statement reiterating that possibility.

“The administration believes that the new FCC media ownership rules more accurately reflect the changing media landscape and the current state of network station ownership, while still guarding against undue concentration in the marketplace,” the statement said.

The White House warned a veto could occur if “this provision or a provision like it with respect to any one of the other FCC rules is contained in the final legislation presented to the President”, referring to the provision to set the television audience cap at 35 per cent.

Closing the door on your right to know


Disclosure: The writer owns shares in Fairfax

If the Senate passes the cross-media ownership package this week, Australia’s richest and most powerful resident, Kerry Packer, could add the Fairfax papers and magazines to his television, gaming and investing empire. The most powerful Australian born man in the world, Rupert Murdoch, could add Network Ten or Seven to his global newspaper, film, and sporting empire and enlarge the already awesome power of his Australian newspapers.

What would follow from this?

1. Australian media would be so dominated by the two men that only the ABC could, if it dared, subject the empires of either to independent scrutiny. Murdoch and Packer are no longer arms-length competitors – they are partners of mutual convenience. Their media outlets do not investigate or independently report the activities of either man. They jointly own Foxtel, the only viable pay TV channel, and their sons got together to invest in One.Tel. You can be sure that they’ve already carved out the media between them, just as they did some years ago before the deal fell apart over Super League.

2. In Sydney and Melbourne a Packer takeover of Fairfax would destroy the sole remaining independent commercial mainstream media operator in the newspaper industry, and the only one with a charter of editorial independence which requires non-interference by executive management in the editorial decisions of the editors. All other media outlets, radio and television, feed off the scoops and investigations reported in newspapers, so the Packer and Murdoch empires would largely decide what news powerful people don’t want you to know will or won’t be revealed on radio and television as well as in their newspapers. A campaign on an issue by either the Packer or Murdoch media would be overwhelming, with virtually no possibility of a balancing media debate.

3. Kerry Packer would own Australia’s only business daily and just about every business magazine in the country. He is already feared by the business community because of his power, and has fingers in many business pies. There would thus be no effective scrutiny adverse to Packer’s business or political interests.

4. Packer and Murdoch would between them control all major internet-based Australian news, including this site. They would own Australia’s only two national newspapers.

5. Without Fairfax, the ABC could be left without a defender, and be further harassed by the Murdoch empire. Murdoch’s Australian has already called for the abolition of Radio National, Australia’s only quality ideas and documentary radio. The ABC could be targetted for massive attention by Packer and Murdoch to discourage any reporting adverse to their commercial or editorial interests.

6. In Sydney and Melbourne, the Murdoch/Packer control of the city’s newspapers and two of the three commercial stations would squeeze the other player so badly it might not survive. Cross promotions and cross packages would murder it on ad rates and public visibility. It would be even worse in Adelaide and Brisbane, which have only one daily paper, owned by Murdoch.

Australia already has the most concentrated media in the western world. The passage of this bill would end any semblance of a free and independent press. You choose – Packer, Murdoch, or a besieged ABC. Political parties would be at the mercy of the big two. Their power would decide the public discourse, and even what the news is and isn’t. The merger of big business and big media with no competitive counterpoint means the big business agenda will dominate the public agenda.

And remember, the commercial media industry is virtually unregulated. There’s no remedy if their coverage is biased, unbalanced, censors legitimate news, refuses to investigate legitimate news tips, or abuses its editorial power for commercial advantage. At a time when people are crying out for more power in the political process, and more say over their lives, this profoundly undemocratic bill would close them out of the loop even more completely.

Australia’s journalism union strongly opposes more concentration of media power. Just about every journalist in the country – including those working for the big two – agree wholeheartedly. There’s nothing worse for courageous journalism and journalist’s ability to insist on ethical standards than a further concentration in media ownership. The less scrutiny of the big two, the more they can get away with in their own newsrooms.

In the United States, where Murdoch has many competitors in the newspaper game, Republicans and Democrats have just combined to condemn the proposed lifting of cross-media rules. The extraordinary aspect of the debate here is that the government appears confident that the four independent Senators will ensure its passage. These four – Tasmanian independent Brian Harradine, ex-Labor Tasmanian independent Shayne Murphy, ex-Democrats leader Meg Lees, a South Australian, and Queensland One Nation Senator Len Harris – know better than most the dangers of too much power in too few media hands, because they know what it means to be frozen out of coverage on big media. Tiny players deliver more power to mega-players? What is going on? Is this naivety, or what?

The pathetic aspect of the dealings that communications minister Richard Alston has done with the four is how little they’ve got. It’s crumbs, that’s all, the odd gesture to ordinary people which a government which cared about them would deliver anyway, but sees the need only when they’ll further the interests of big media. Alston agreed to make it a condition of regional TV licences that they broadcast local news. Many have closed down their local news service, and the government should have imposed a condition long ago.

Then there’s the ABC. Meg Lees has got a commitment for cash to extend News Radio’s coverage in the regions. This is almost obscene – a taxpayer funded bribe to deliver more power and more profit to the big boys, after Alston refused point blank to increase ABC funding in the budget.

Let’s look at the mandate question. Shayne Murphy was elected as a Labor man, and Labor remains firmly opposed to more power for Packer and Murdoch. It’s taken enormous political courage to oppose this bill, and Labor fears the consequences if it gets through. Guess who’ll owe John Howard big time for the next little while?

Meg Lees was elected a Democrat, and the Democrats have always opposed cross-media reform which would deliver more media power to the big two. They too are showing enormous courage this time round in opposing the bill.

The really interesting one is Len Harris. As well as strongly opposing cross-media changes, One Nation is virulently opposed foreign ownership of Australian companies, yet Harris is supporting the removal of all media foreign ownership limits. This means Murdoch would be free to take over a television station and foreign companies would be free to buy media properties.

The first time I met Pauline Hanson was in the middle of the last big cross media debate, in Howard’s first term, when she asked me in a corridor encounter: “So how are you going with your work? I hope you’re still safe from Packer.” This was some time after I’d done an ABC panel discussion opposing a Packer takeover of Fairfax. (At that time, the government wasn’t proposing to abolish foreign ownership, so Murdoch could not have bought a TV station.) My book Off the rails: The Pauline Hanson trip records:


“Those remarks brought a flood of congratulatory letters from One Nation supporters and a call from the proudly redneck National Party member for the North Queensland seat of Kennedy, Bob Katter, praising my “courage’. One Nation’s internet propagandist Scott Balson called to say he was lobbying Hanson to speak out on behalf of Fairfax. Hanson’s adviser David Oldfield rang, the first time we had spoken, to run a draft press release by me.

Hanson’s 26 June press release on cross-media ownership aligned the free speech arguments for an independent Fairfax with the trouble at her public meetings. It was truly unnerving that the National Party and One Nation – whose constituencies would never see the small ‘l’ liberal Sydney and Melbourne-based Fairfax papers – joined the Democrats in their total opposition to Packer owning Fairfax and their support for a diversely owned free press.

With an unregulated industry, only competition between media groups keeps them honest. Yet despite the institutional democratic responsibilities of the media, both major parties in government had no qualms about a crunching of media ownership. Only the minor parties – the relatively powerless ones – gave a damn.”

Len Harris, it seems, has got a commitment to more community radio in exchange for his vote. How sad. This will be the most important vote he has cast since his election in 1998. The vote of a representative of Pauline Hanson’s ultra-nationalist little people to allow foreign takeovers of our media and a huge boost in the power of the powerful people Hansonites love to hate would be the strangest thing I’ve ever seen in federal politics.

Brian Harradine, however, has thrown a spanner in the works. He proposed an amendment last Friday which would ban anyone owning a newspaper and a TV station in the one capital city market. This clever amendment crystalises the terrible potential consequences of this bill, and the responses from the independents and the Government will be fascinating to hear. Today Alston avoided a question on Meet the Pressabout the possibility of Packer vastly increasing his media power by taking over Fairfax.

And guess what – neither Packer or Murdoch have said a word about their plans if the bill gets through. The Australian people have no idea what might befall them before our elected representatives deliver them this gift, and you can bet no journalist working for the big two is trying to uncover that information for us before the vote.

Stand by for frenzied last-minute lobbying on all sides. Debate is scheduled to begin on Tuesday.

PS: The Fairfax board supports the cross-media bill. Because of the Fairfax commitment to editorial independence, I am able to express these opinions. Would I be able to do so if Kerry Packer took over Fairfax?

Labor in transition

Imagine you’re Simon Crean, captain of a depressed, fractious, unfocused rabble which knows it can’t win the big game. Some players think you’re the main obstacle to success. What would you do?

Those of you who are leaders, at work or at home, know how bloody hard it is to forge a united, enthusiastic team at the best of times. Indeed, the jostling for who is recognised as leader, and why, is a big part of the challenge.

I read a management book recently called “Managing transitions – making the most of change”, by American William Bridges (Perseus Books, 1991) on the recommendation of a friend who’s one of those organisational behaviour gurus. It’s about companies in transition – merging, downsizing, radical overhaul – and the psychology of transition for employees and how leaders can make it work or cause it to fail. I reckon it’s got lots to say about the Labor Party, and how it might, or might not, emerge from its crisis of identity and crisis of confidence.

It’s also got a lot to say to people like me, and to judge by your emails many of you, who are struggling to deal with the new realities in Australia and the world. What’s the point of engaging with what’s happening around us when truth doesn’t matter, might is right, and ethics hold you back and cost you money? Dunno about you, but lots of my friends are about to do the downshifting, chill out thing, or are considering leaving the rat race to do something useful. Maybe it’s just the mid-life crisis transition.

Anyway, here’s my analysis of where Labor’s at in the transition process, and what Simon Crean might consider doing to lead Labor through it to become a credible alternative government.

Bridges begins by distinguishing change from transition. CHANGE is external and situational – Labor losing government in 1996. TRANSITION is internal, “the psychological process people go through to come to terms with the new situation”. Unless transition occurs, a new beginning is not possible. Leadership is about managing the transition to achieve the desired outcome, the return of a Labor government.

“Psychological transition depends on letting go of the old reality and the old identity you had before the change took place,” Bridges says. Once people in the group have let go, they and the organisation go into a NEUTRAL ZONE, “the no man’s land between the old reality and the new…a time when the old way is gone and the new doesn’t feel comfortable yet.”

When did Labor let go? I believe Kim Beazley’s leadership delayed Labor letting go of its fantasy that it was a government in waiting, not the opposition, for six years, and that the 2001 loss forced it out of denial.

Thirteen years of power convinced Labor that it, not the Conservatives, was the natural party of government in Australia. The leadership and the party believed that a sound technical job in opposition would see it back in power soon, as people quickly tired of yesterday’s man. The small target strategy is a natural one when you think you’ve got the right to run Australia. So MPs shut up, closed ranks, maintained discipline, and followed their leader, who followed his pollsters and his spinners. There was no concerted attempt to review its record in government, discuss its mistakes, adjust its philosophical framework and party structure, and rethink its policy agenda.

Denial nearly worked. Beazley got more votes than Howard in 1998, but lost the GST election. To lose an election fought on so controversial an issue should have woken Labor up. Howard might have played small target in 1996 to beat a deeply unpopular government voters were dying to kick out, but he fought and won a very big target election in 1998.

The second term was tragic for Labor and for Labor supporters. Having lost the GST election, it did a deal on business tax, under which it passed major concessions and the halving of the capital gains tax in exchange for a mere promise from Costello to clamp down on family trusts used by the wealthy to avoid tax, a promise predictably never fulfilled. It rolled over on Howard attempts to pump extra money into rich private schools and began the wrecking of Medicare by supporting the private health insurance rebate – thus ditching central tenets of Labor’s belief system to keep itself a small target. It decided to fight another GST election by promising “rollback” and refused to release any policies until the last minute, allowing Howard to spend spare funds to butter up his constituencies. It rushed to support Howard on the Tampa in fear of its hide and after September 11 got no fresh air when it released its minuscule new policy items during the campaign.

The damage done by Labor’s second term denial became clear on election night. After six years in opposition core supporters from the Left defected to the Greens and core supporters from the blue collar working class defected to Howard. Labor had cast aside a core belief – the universality of human rights – to win an election, and lost it anyway. Neither it or its supporters had any idea of what it stood for any more.

And who would lead these damaged, lost Labor souls? A former ACTU president and Keating government minister called Simon Crean, who as Beazley’s deputy was complicit in the small target strategy. Hard worker, decent bloke, cautious to the core, a mediator, a facilitator, without a scrap of charisma, a boring, grating speaker and bad orator. But let’s get the order right, please. Labor was in despair before Crean became leader. He got the shit sandwich, that’s all, at a time when Howard was in his element in a climate of international fear.

Crean had to pick up the pieces and try to manage the delayed grief of party members, MPs, Labor supporters who’d hung on, and those who’d defected, while working towards a new beginning. “When endings take place, people get angry, sad, frightened depressed, confused,” Bridges says. “They are the signs of grieving, the natural sequence of emotions people go through when they lose something that matters to them.You find them among families who have lost a member, and you find them in an organisation where an ending has taken place.”

We’ve seen all those emotions alright, in spades. We’ve seen the anger, white hot at times, from voters, party members, and MPs. The fall of Cunningham to the Greens last year epitomised the destruction that anger and frustration can wreak.

In some ways Crean did many of the right things to end the grieving and begin the transition. He forced fresh faces onto his frontbench. He started necessary structural reform in the party, against great odds. He released a reasoned, humanised alternative to Howard’s refugee policy, which satisfied no-one but got the issue off the frontburner. Then came Iraq, and despite his bumbling, he did a reasonable job in holding together a party which threatened to split on the issue.

But September 11 and the war debate had transformed politics, and Howard rode high on the short-term results. Crean faded to black in the polls. The war changed a lot of things. A triumphalist Howard vowed to stay on indefinitely. And Kim Beazley challenged for the leadership.

I see the Beazley challenge as the climactic finale to Labor’s grieving process. One aspect of grieving is to “bargain” away the pain of loss, which Bridges defines as “unrealistic attempts to get out of the situation or to make it go away; trying to strike a special deal; making big promises like they’ll ‘save you a bundle of money’ if you’ll only undo the damage”. Beazley, the man who’d told told Labor MPs to lay low and he’d win power back, no sweat – and failed twice – was now telling a despairing party that he was only he could slay the Howard dragon and that they’d just need to lie low again and it would be third time lucky.

Beazley and his supporters promised disaster if he wasn’t elected and salvation if he was. He became a snake oil salesman, promising to lead Labor to redemption without effort, shamelessly playing on the grief he’d delayed during his failed leadership. Bridges describes the anxiety of grief thus: “Silent or expressed; a realistic fear of an unknown and probably difficult future, or simply catastrophic fantasies.”

But caucus said no. Its decision is incredible to many, but I think it’s essential to Labor’s renewal. Simon Crean discovered plain speaking, and he named the problem – Labor’s crisis of identity and refusal to look the truth of that in the eye. And he named the solution – a bold, policy driven, reformist Labor agenda for the Australian people. He even wore a red tie to symbolise new pride in the “brand”. He buried the small target strategy. In short, he promised transformation. He promised to heal and renew Labor from within, asserting that it was self-belief through new policy and new solutions that would earn Labor the right to govern, not a popular leader and a good spin machine.

This is not an easy plan to sell. It needs 100 percent commitment from everyone on the team, and courage – lots of it – in a world dominated by Howard’s political correctness, with no guarantee of short term results. And he hasn’t sold it yet, not by a long shot. Still, he’s achieved one thing – Labor is now in the neutral zone.

“The neutral zone is both a dangerous and opportune place, and it is at the very core of the transition process. It’s the place and time when the old habits that are no longer adaptive to the situation are extinguished and new, better-adapted patterns of habit begin to take shape. It is the winter in which the old growth returns to the soil as decayed matter, while the next year’s growth begins to stir in the root underground. It is the night during which we are disengaged from yesterday’s concerns and prepared for tomorrow’s. It is the chaos from which the old form of things dissolves and from which the new form emerges. It is the seedbed of the new beginning that you seek … The gap between the old and the new is the time when innovation is most possible and when revitalisation begins”.’

Labor’s grief phase climaxed in full public glare, and this extraordinary catharsis, despite its downside in PR terms, is exactly what is needed to maximise the chances of renewal in the neutral zone. For a start, the factions disintegrated. The hard left voted for Beazley! Half the NSW Right voted for Crean! A caucus tradition of not saying publicly who you vote for was thrown out the window, with complete lists of who voted for whom published. Wives and mothers entered the fray, as did former leaders, party elders and union heavies. The scab’s been lifted and Labor, in all its frailty, in all its aspects, has exposed its despair to the Australian people.

On Monday and Tuesday at Aussies cafe in Parliament house Labor backbenchers, frontbenchers, and even failed challenger Beazley sat around pouring their hearts out to any journalist who wandered by. Crean supporters’ eyes shone, Beazley supporters looked sheepish or acted too friendly to Crean’s people. This party is very raw and very open.

It’s scary to be so open. American futurist Marilyn Ferguson describes the feeling like this: “It’s not so much that we’re afraid of change or so in love with the old ways, but it’s that place in between that we fear. It’s like being between trapezes. It’s Linus when his blanket is in the dryer. There’s nothing to hold on to.”

Says Bridges: “It is natural to feel somewhat frightened and confused in this no-man’s land. As the old patterns die in their minds and the new ones begin to take shape, people are assailed by self-doubt and misgivings about their leaders. Ambiguity increases, and so does the longing for answers. This is why people in the neutral zone are so prone to follow anyone who seems to know where he or she is going – which unfortunately includes troublemakers and people who are heading toward the exit.”

Crean has a delicate management task to manage the neutral zone, otherwise sabotage, new hatreds, and old weaknesses could lead to terminal chaos. He’s probably the best man for this job. He’s an eternal optimist who enjoys working hard. He’s a negotiator. He’s straight with people mostly, and he’s a good listener. He’s not vindictive. He’s done the right thing by not purging Beazley’s backers. They did him a favour, after all, and he needs to settle the party down as quickly as possible.

I’m assuming, of course, that Crean means what he says. If his pitch of a policy driven, front foot, innovative Labor Party was a mere sales pitch, he’s a goner. I’m confident he’s for real, partly because of Mark Latham’s role in Crean’s leadership defence and his subsequent elevation to the crucial job of manager of opposition business in the House of Representatives. Latham, you’ll recall, blew the whistle on Beazley’s small target strategy after the 1998 election and retired to the backbench to write columns and speeches on the Third Way. Latham is a high voltage performer and radical reformer and his appointment means Crean means business, risky business.

Using Bridge’s suggestions as a guide, here’s a few things Crean might consider to help his party members through the neutral zone.

1. He needs to find a metaphor for the journey Labor is embarking on. Any ideas?

2. Since Labor’s factional hierarchy has all but broken down, Crean could create new teams across the backbench, frontbench and among staffers to make internal party decisions, organise events, or contribute to policy.

3. He could consider taking party members and families on a retreat, to, in the words of Bridges, “try to rebuild a sense of identification with the group and connectedness with one another”.

4. Here’s a weird one – Crean could set up a “transition monitoring team”, a group of 7 to 12 people from a wide cross section of the federal party. It could review plans or communications before Crean announces them, and pass up the feedback from those on the coal face on how things are going.

If Crean is serious about renewal, he needs to use this time in the neutral zone not only to calm , reassure and reconnect the troops, but to encourage creativity and innovation. As Bridges says, “It is during the gap between the old and the new that the organisation’s systems of immunity are weak enough to let truly creative solutions emerge unhampered. Only when the old way of seeing things disappears are habit patterns broken, and a new way will emerge.”

To do this, Crean needs to let it be known that he’s open to new ideas – on party processes, policy, whatever. Suggestion campaigns and surveys are one way. The party could send backbenchers of talent to seminars or short courses on the latest in policy ideas in an area of interest to them, or on office management, leadership, political philosophy, grass roots campaigning, whatever. He could also let people test out their ideas, as an experiment, without fear of failure. His door must always be open to his backbenchers. They’ve put their necks on the line to give him another ago.


Crean has promised his people nothing less than a path through the wilderness. To set the scene for the transition from opposition to government, he must explain to his party and the Australian people his plan to achieve this, and how they can play a part.

John Howard took over a party in terminal decline before the 1996 election. He then made a series of “headland speeches” in which he sought to describe his party’s history, traditions and enduring values, and how those values operate in the modern world.

Crean must urgently start this process. He needs to exploreg the values which underpinned the creation of the Party, and trace their development and adaptation as the world changed. He must examine Labor’s achievements in government, where he thinks it made mistakes and what the party has learned from them.

He must place himself within the Labor tradition and describe why he joined the Labor Party, what he learnt from his father, and how he operated as ACTU leader and now Labor leader. He needs to explain how he would see his role as Prime Minister and the style of government he would create. In particular, he needs to announce radical new policy to ensure he will preside over an ethical, trustworthy Labor government.

He needs to set out Labor’s view of the role of government – what government should and shouldn’t do, and why, and what the duties of government are to the people of Australia. He needs to describe what he sees as the great challenges facing Australia, and the priorities he would set himself in office to meet them.

Crean does not have much time to firmly establish himself as the man who will lead Labor at the next election, or to start planting in the public’s mind the basics of new Labor’s style and substance. He must settle his own party and convince them he is the right man to lead them, while at the same time convincing the Australian people that he is a worthy candidate for Prime Minister. I’d like to see him deliver his speeches at forums such as the Sydney Institute, where he can take questions from the audience.

To me, Crean’s task is to build solid, substantial foundations for a Labor win, if not at this election, then the one after. To do that, he needs to instil confidence among the party’s MPs that they’re moving towards the light at the end of the tunnel, pride that their cause is just, and energy to work hard, together, in the common cause. If he does that, he’ll have proved he’s a great leader.

Crean’s new Labor: A chance to change

Crean’s a dud, his supporters are lemmings, Labor is ruined and John Howard will rule forever. When political commentators – left, right, progressive, conservative, pragmatic – agree, change is in the air.

I’m unnaturally optimistic about Labor. I think it’s a good thing that the leadership battle so very publicly aired and resolved the polls-versus-policy debate which has drained the party of energy and purpose since it lost in 1996. I think it would have been disastrous for Beazley to have won on a platform of personal popularity – that’s really last shot in the locker time for a political party. It’s amazing that cautious old Crean – in the most sustained bout of plain speaking in politics I’ve ever heard – pledged bold, big-target policy to produce outcomes for Australians. As he said on the 7.30 Report Monday night: “This wasn’t just a vote for me, it was a vote for my agenda because that is what is going to win us government.”

Some people in Labor and among the commentariat believe his policy fervour will fade into the usual Labor tinkering. I think they’re wrong. Caucus members have overcome fears about electoral catastrophe under Crean to stick with him. He can’t afford not to deliver his core election promise.

And what on earth does Crean have to lose by going for it? No-one thinks can win the next election anyway. Why not take the high-risk option, and at least lose with honour and lay the foundations for Labor’s renaissance in the next term? And you never know – maybe Australians will be heartily sick of Howard and co by the next election and just need to feel comfortable enough with the Labor alternative to give it a go.

Crean – having now earned the right to lead Labor – has embarked on a high risk strategy which ensures maximum policy momentum. Mark Latham’s promotion to manager of opposition business guarantees it. Mark is an aggressive ideas man who sometimes goes too far, and I see an effective good cop/bad cop team developing after Crean settles the party down. (Icing on the cake for Crean, and new Labor, would be Beazley as defence spokesman, adding weight and grunt in the vital area of international security – c’mon Beazley, give Labor a hand!)

For now, it’s low-key, earnest policy and government accountability in Question Time since Crean won. We’ve seen the government’s credibility on its Iraq WMD claims tested strongly – at last – by Crean and a rejuvenated Kevin Rudd. We’ve seen Crean lead the charge on the Murray Darling, exposing the fact that the Government has done nothing, and budgeted nothing, for this essential investment in our nation’s future. Crean is getting a lucky break from the Coalition in Question Time so far – there’s been no taunts or cruel remarks about him or the mess his party is in. It seems Howard and co have decided Crean is unelectable and they’re jolly glad Labor has kept him on because he’s their ticket to victory. I reckon they’ll get nasty when they realise Crean is making good use use of the clean air to get Labor’s traction back.

I believe political debate will be transformed by the outcome of this leadership struggle. An alternative policy agenda means Australians get to here much more about policy disputes and the values behind them. It forces the government to justify its policies in comparison with Labor’s, and to make the case for why they’ve prioritised certain areas for spending.

Not only that – on urgent matters, it forces the government to lift its game. Already Labor’s Murray-Darling promise has the government floundering in question time. This is a huge issue for farmers, greenies, and all Australians, and all of a sudden making a start on fixing it has gone way up the government’s agenda. Labor is doing Australia – not just its own prospects – a favour, and that creates electoral goodwill.

I think this change in political debate could also expose cracks in John Howard’s internal support base. Many Liberals disagree with Howard’s decimation of universities since he came to power, his contempt for protecting human and civil rights in Australia and internationally, and his servile approach to US relations. A forthright debate on competing policies will trigger a more assertive internal policy debate within the Liberals as well as within Labor.

As for Crean, to my surprise I found him inspiring on Monday’s night’s Australian story. He came across as someone who knew who he was and was comfortable with himself – a strong, centred man of substance. He seemed solid, unflappable, disciplined and optimistic, a man who would get off the canvas quickly if felled and resume with a smile. He came across to me as a safe choice to lead our country.

He also came across as a man of his word – a quality attested to over the years from business and union leaders who’ve dealt with him.

Crean proved a direct, intelligent, relaxed campaigner – indeed he excelled in adversity. It brought out the best in him, his agenda was relentlessly positive – a rarity in post-1996 Labor – and it’s hard to see how the Australian people could dislike or disrespect what they saw. I think they’ll be more interested in Simon now and will tune in more often now they know he will have something substantial to say to them. That’s not to say the polls won’t take a long time to turn – swinging voters will want sustained unity before they consider Labor seriously.

Simon will need a hell of a lot of goodwill from his colleagues to have a shot, but it’s easier to get that if they’ve got policy to contribute to, absorb and sell. A leader can’t get a party over the line if its true believers have given up. Against all the odds, Crean has given Labor’s grassroots hope.

To convert grassroots hope to mainstream respect requires Crean to rebuild trust in the Labor Party, and that’s not just about policy. It’s about, as Beazley said during the campaign, relating a narrative to the Australian people about where we are and what we could be, and the foundation of that is a set of values Labor believes in and promises to govern in accordance with. I’d like to see Crean make several speeches setting out core Labor values in the context of today’s world and its imperatives and constraints. In particular, he needs to modernise Labor’s idea of the role of government.

In this context, there’s a growing consensus across the political divide that rebuilding and reempowering local communities is a must, for all sorts of reasons. But how? Bottom-up government requires decentralisation of power, and strict, independent accountability mechanisms to avoid petty corruption and a triumph of self-interest. I discussed one idea for doing this in Let’s find our elders and give them a go.

Rebuilding trust is also about ethics. Howard and his government are very weak on this – I’d go as far as to say Howard’s government is amoral. The children overboard scandal, Howard’s big lie that he had not committed Australian troops to war on Iraq for months before the war, growing questions over the genuineness of his claim that WMDs were the reason for war, dissembling on why travellers weren’t informed that Bali was a terrorist target before the bombings, and the daily deconstruction of Ruddock’s image over the cash for visas scandal will, in the end, make the Coalition vulnerable on the issue of trust.

Besides making the Coalition accountable for these matters, Labor must at the same time propose and promise a different way. People think most politicians are corrupt, so what’s the upside of destroying Ruddock’s credibility when people don’t think you’ll be any better? I’d like to see Julia Gillard put forward positive policy in tandem with her accountability crusade. We need to know what Labor would do to stop political mates and political donations helping applicants for visas. A policy announcement would increase the pressure on Howard to respond to the scandal and get a few more voters thinking about whether Labor might be a more trustworthy government.

More generally, I’d like to see Crean set out a covenant with the Australian people. I’d like him to promise that, if elected Prime Minister, he would be honest with the Australian people and would always ask, in the words of HIH Royal Commissioner Neville Owen, “What is right?” when addressing policy issues. In other words, that he would see his role as leading Australia in the public interest, not as a mere dealmaker or mediator between competing interest groups. He’d promise to do what he believed was right to the limit of what was possible, and explain why in clear, non-partisan terms.

John Howard’s ministerial code of conduct, a key promise in his 1996 election win, quickly collapsed, partly because most ministers didn’t read it, let alone take it seriously. Crean could learn that lesson by sending each shadow minister to ethics training from the St James Ethics Centre, where they could confidentially discuss their financial affairs, seek guidance on how to handle conflicts of interest, and get a grounding in the responsibilities and duties of a minister.

Howard’s code also suffered from being too “black letter” in its formulation, opening the way for a vulture-like media to force its first resignation – that of assistant treasurer Jim Short – over a technical breach lacking any substance. Ethics are ideals to aspire to. Mistakes can and are made without bad intent. It is honourable to admit them quickly and move on. Crean could promise that in government, an independent person of honour and experience would be appointed to act as confidential adviser and mentor to ministers, ministerial staffers and backbenchers on ethical questions. He could even – if he was very, very brave – delegate to the independent person the power to decide whether or not a minister in breach of his ethical duties should resign, be counselled, apologise to the Australian people, or have a stint in the sin bin.

Rebuilding ethics in government, business and the professions is fundamental to Australia’s future. Howard’s government has no credibility to demand ethical behaviour from business and the professions given its record. Australians believe virtually noone with power can be trusted with it. A radical ethical government policy would set the foundation for a Labor government to assert the moral authority to lift standards across the nation. And for a government, a little bit of community trust is a big help in getting acceptance for new policy and in creating energy in ordinary people to hop in and do their bit for their society.

I’d like to see Crean experiment with portfolio titles and responsibilities in his reshuffle, to emphasise issues of trust and bottom-up government. For example, he could appoint a shadow minister for ethical government, with responsibility for putting together a comprehensive plan to nurture an ethical Labor government.

A shadow minister for community empowerment could be charged with developing structures to deliver government funds to communities, perhaps focused on the question of water. I’d like to see local governments focused on conserving, recycling and managing water through local plans, with strong incentives for performance, and for experimental policies. For example, a community which delivered significant reductions in water use could be rewarded with a federal rates rebate. This idea encourages each individual to do his or her bit, and to come up with ideas for water management to be used by others. It also encourages communities to settle strategy and reconcile competing interests between themselves.

Maybe it’s dumb to hope for better from Labor, but the way Crean won the leadership creates a glimmer that things are on the turn. Since a glimmer of hope is all you’ve got, don’t shut your eyes. Crean needs all the positive energy he can get right now. His email address is