31 August 2011

Richard Farmer on the Gillard Government

Regular readers will know I have a particular antipathy to the whole business of government spin, of the endless repetition of carefully crafted messages full of vacuous phrases like “moving forward”, in the apparent belief that once we have been exposed to them often enough we will begin to salivate like Pavlov’s dogs every time we hear them.  Perhaps some of these people have seen The Manchurian Candidate on too many times for their own good.

As I wrote in Spin undermines government resilience over a year ago, I don’t think these creatures do governments any good, and their pernicious influence helps to reduce the public service to a state of learned helplessness.

I also think that because their style is reactive and defensive, they let the Opposition set the agenda, and lure government into spending too much of its time talking to people who are simply not on its wavelength and never going to vote for them anyway.

I am tired of seeing politicians in hard hats and fluoro jackets on the nightly television news.  Like historian and former Keating speechwriter Don Watson on Monday night's Q&A, I wish they would put them all away and begin to speak to us like adults.

And I think that our political leaders should spend far more time in their offices going about the nation’s business and a vanishingly small amount of time performing stunts and chasing media opportunities.

I have written on this topic and tweeted about aspects of it often, but I don’t think I have yet managed to put the issue as succinctly or compellingly as Richard Farmer in yesterday’s edition of Crikey:

Taking the bait. What do you do when your tactics are completely failing and defeat is looming? Some people might decide to try something different but not the Australian Labor Party. Its response to medicine that makes things worse rather than better is to increase the dose.

The government of Julia Gillard is now a victim of its inability to stop playing politics in the way dictated by its opponents. The Prime Minister seems to believe she has to respond to the bully-boy tactics of Tony Abbott in kind. Insult is matched by insult; distortion by distortion; spin by spin. Running the country is reduced to a series of corny photo opportunities.

The topics for this unedifying national debate are chosen by the Liberals and Nationals. And if opinion polls mean anything at all then Labor is sick and getting sicker.

A radical change in approach is called for. It is time for Labor to become the serious ones that avoid the gimmickry of modern perpetual campaigning. Forget the 24-hour news cycle. Stop the farce of what they these day call "the doors" where members repeat the carefully crafted and meaningless attack or defence words of the day.

Actually answer Opposition questions in parliament as they deserve to be answered, with a brief yes or no normally, without the debating school rhetoric. Abolish Dorothy Dixers from your own side. Let Labor backbenchers actually think for themselves and seek information about things of interest to them rather than raise subjects some whiz-kid thinks will make for a telling grab on the nightly television news.

Let Tony Abbott bore everyone on his own.

Put away the funny hats and fluoro vests. Keep the Prime Minister in her office most of the time and let her out to give an occasional speech that actually says something. And instead of those door-stop interviews, schedule a formal press conference once a fortnight.