March 2, 2012 at 5:48 am Leave a comment

Just when we might have thought it was ok to breathe slowly again and settle down, Julia Gillard’s new cabinet announcement a few hours ago probably has put many of us back on our backsides! What a couple of weeks it has been for political groupie like me!

It’s not that Bob Carr will not do a good job – indeed, he may well be outstanding;  it’s not that Stephen Smith has missed out again (last time, one K Rudd pipped him at the post and doubtless he has a right to feel aggrieved); it’s not even that Bob Carr appeared from left field, it’s the fact that the media pack, having picked it earlier this week, were so effectively put off by Ms Gillard and the party machine that everyone believed Carr was not the answer.

Indeed, Ms Gillard’s words during the week in Parliament and elsewhere have given Tony Abbott another opportunity to question her truthfulness. I am sure Julia will argue the line that nothing was settled until last evening (which is Mr Carr’s story too), and thus she wasn’t lying. In fact it seems that she withdrew her first offer to Carr because her cabinet colleagues arced up against it. However, at some point it seems perhaps she had a stiff whiskey and decided that she was going to stamp her authority, or as Annabel Crabb puts it

“the Prime Minister has put her foot down, and kept it down. Rather than just talking about being authoritative, she’s just gone ahead and been it, which tends to be more convincing on the whole.”

Before I move on to the  nub of my article, I cannot help but note that although Ms Gillard said there would be no recriminations and payback, two of K Rudd’s  most prominent supporters, Robert McClelland and Kim Carr, have suffered demotions,  with McClelland (who until December was Attorney General, a very senior position), removed to the back benches to languish with Kevin. Julia says she has appointed on the basis of talent, so that must make them both feel much better: it’s not because they championed Kevin, it’s just that they must be talentless!!  McClelland says he is going to consider his future (always a euphemism for thinking about resigning), and this is the calculated risk  Julia has taken: if he resigns and there is a by-election and Labor loses the seat, the slimline majority is back to one.

But I digress! The factor that has taken my interest most about the whole leadership challenge is the role of the media. Much has been made of the ‘destabilising’ which went on both in the 2010 election and during the months since. ‘Leaks’ have occurred throughout, but for a leak to be effective, firstly, obviously, there must be a ‘leaker’, but then there must be willing ears to hear the leak and then promulgate it to a wider audience.

We can speculate about who has been leaking (and many have have suggested Keven Rudd certainly has, but he is unlikely to be alone), and we have to speculate about who exactly the people are to whom they leaked. What I think we can safely say is that of course they were journalists. On 17 February, in an article in the ABC’s website “the Drum”  Barrie Cassidy said  he knew of one instance recently when Rudd ‘backgrounded’ 4 journos in his office, but he doesn’t name the journalists. Read the article here. 

So, for me the issue is the ethical stance of those journalists. There has long been a code of ethics for journalists which requires them to keep their sources anonymous as appropriate.  But this sort of action is seems slightly different. Here, journos are told things either  ‘off the record’ or ‘unattributed’ , and then the leaker may indeed give a quote to the same journalists that the leak is wrong, or he knows nothing about it. Micheal Gawenda, on The Drum Opinion. explains it well and I really recommend reading the article. His summary of how things are in political reporting is, sadly, dispiriting:

“the rules of engagement in Canberra no longer serve our interests. They encourage and support dishonesty from politicians and timidity and yes, dishonesty from reporters and commentators. The rules of engagement protect ‘insiders’ and keep the rest of us, we poor punters with no access to ‘secrets’ more or less in the dark about what’s really going on.”

Thankfully there are good journalists still around who retain independence and insight (and sometimes a sense of humour, as one of my personal favourites, Annabel Crabb, does). I guess my best advice is both find out on whom you believe you can rely, and try to read more than one source.

Entry filed under: Politics and Government. Tags: , , , , , , .

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