Showing posts from August, 2012


One of the interesting points about Australian politics, as somebody who also observes a fair bit of the US variety, is that our major parties are all pretty similar. I don't even really mean that as a criticism. Labor, the Liberals and the Greens all agree on public provision of healthcare, quite significant welfare benefits and firm regulation in the context of a mostly free market.

This is almost always true of the parliamentary parties, except for when Joe Hockey or Doug Cameron go momentarily rogue. It's less universally but still mostly true of the parties more broadly, though the youth movements (particularly the Young Liberals) are sometimes more radical. I guess if you're a full-on libertarian that might annoy you, but for most people the political spectrum's broadly settled social-democratic nature is good and reassuring.

The effect of it is that there's not much reason to be a rusted-on voter for either side, outside of perceived inherent incompetence - …

Sales v Abbott, II

I might as well write down what I thought substantively about the Abbott interview. I've read Andrew Bolt doing a bit of digging this morning regarding the refugees/illegal entry point, and he actually convinced me. He convinced me in such a way that it's basically irrelevant: some UN documents he found described refugees as illegal arrivals. They then proceeded to say that receiving nations should basically ignore that 'illegal' status, so it's ultimately meaningless, but I guess you could say Abbott is technically correct when he describes refugees as illegal.

The bigger disaster was about BHP. Abbott says today that of course he had read BHP's documents and he thought Leigh Sales was referring to something else. You can look at the transcript and decide for yourself how plausible that is; the clincher for me is sentences like "you're not seriously telling me", which suggest that he basically thinks the carbon/mining tax is to blame because he th…

Hostile media

Your precise opinion on this probably depends on what you already think of Tony Abbott, but no matter how you slice it he had a tough time on 7.30 last night. It's worth watching the interview, or at least reading the transcript (which is what I did).

I don't get The Australian and of course it's all behind a paywall now so I can't check online, but I strongly suspect that today or in the next few days we'll get a new round of commentary on the ABC's groupthink and left-wing bias. The predictability of this does not make it wrong, only amusing.

In my opinion this interview and the response to it speak to a problem with the way we think about independence, balance and bias in the media.

I'm not very interested in slicing and dicing with definitions to determine whether Leigh Sales was showing bias in that interview. The real question should be slightly different. We can probably all agree that Sales was quite aggressive and unrelenting in the course of inter…


Made on the basis of observing media commentary in outlets and on Twitter: the public discourse about media regulation will never get off the ground if journalists get instantly defensive and snipe back at politicians whenever any criticism of the press is made. Sadly, because the discussion is worth having.


Couple of brief things.

This is true. There is a system, and you live within it. There is way too much dithering about motivation and perceived hypocrisy and so on; almost none of it is relevant to anything. It's not important whether such-and-such an idea was only electorally possible because of some kind of unholy alliance; it's important whether that idea is any good. That's not to say it isn't interesting to read an article about the alliances and the arrangements that make certain policies happen. But it's not relevant content for a political campaign or an argument against those policies; the content should be actual facts about the way an idea works and whether it is just.

A tangentially related issue is the annoying trope, particularly seen in US politics, of the right-wing "deceiving working-class people into voting against their own interests." As above, this is not really relevant except to the extent that it suggests that the opposition on the …

Freedom to offend

One person writes a series of statements about Aboriginal people. They are factually untrue. The statements themselves are offensive to some people. They are used in support of an argument which is also offensive to those people.

A few people write a series of statements about Aboriginal people. They're not really either true or false.  The statements are offensive to some people. They are not used in support of any argument or political position.

Imagine you are a lawmaker. Weigh those two scenarios. How do you treat them? Differently? The same?

But I deceive you. Because I have withheld the critical factor - not the subject of the statements, nor their truth, nor their offensiveness, nor their political value, but, uh, their authorship.


Twitter was all abuzz yesterday about the July edition of Melbourne Uni's Farrago because it contains an anonymous article complaining about the culture of the Herald Sun, as experienced by a intern there. There was a fair bit of back-and-forth about how we should judge people in media organisations, whether the intern's complaints were justified and whether she should have written anonymously. I'll get to my view on those questions a little further down.

The first observation I want to make, though, is that Farrago is really, really bad.

Australia and the US

I don't know how to feel about this.

On the one hand, I'm no massive fan of America and it's not very consistent with having a proper, sovereign national identity to just let another country use us as a staging ground for its imperial ambitions. On the other, America has bases in Germany and in lots of places which aren't obviously just cravenly giving in to US wishes.

And there are reasons to support the US alliance and help it achieve its goals in the Asia-Pacific. It's a good idea to have a situation in the region which prevents war from breaking out. US forces as a kind of containment might achieve that, though they might also just be antagonistic. More narrowly, it'd be nice to have US forces to hand if Australia faced a defence threat.