As will have been noted by the politically perspicacious who peruse this publication - and particularly this page - Australia has entered an unprecedented era. As far as federal politics are concerned, we're now living in a one-party state.Even though that one party is actually made of two - the Liberals and the Nationals. Plus, didn't your beloved Labor promise to keep Howard and the Coalition accountable? Or was that only Latham? No, it's also Beazley.
The minority parties are helpless in the face of John Howard's juggernaut. The Nationals are an anachronism, the Democrats have disappeared, One Nation has been absorbed, the Greens have been marginalised and, like them, the independents have lost their leverage.And who's fault is that the Democrats imploded, the Unity Party didn't run, almost nobody wants socialism/communism/anarchy/fascism, One Nation is still a joke and most independents can't do anything on a federal scale on their own, which is why they often get elected to local parliament and not federal? Hmm, let me see - it's the fault of those parties. And even if, under some strained Adamsian effort to get the blame laid at Howard's feet, maybe it's his fault for making us all vote him in - four times in a row.
In command of the Reps and the Senate and totally dominating his own party, Howard can call the shots and, more specifically, decide who to shoot. And we're well aware of who'll be targeted by his firing squad.We are? Keep in mind that the Liberal Party can get rid of Howard if things do get as bad as a typical Paul McGeough Iraq doomsday story - two senators stop voting with the party, and all of a sudden Howard doesn't have control of the senate anymore. Of course, according to Adams, this would be democracy. Too many people fairly voted in, of course not.
While the situation is wildly applauded by Howard's followers (among whom must be numbered a clear majority of my fellow pundits, the US administration and the big end of town) there are a few recalcitrants, some odd ingrates, who think one-party politics is inherently unhealthy. So what is to be done?Because the media is so blatantly pro-Howard, of course! Adams obviously didn't read the Sydney Morning Herald the Monday after the election. Actually, I'm pretty sure he's never read the Sydney Morning Herald, or if he has, it's been with glasses tinted so heavily he'll need laser surgery.
There'll be little opposition from Her Majesty's Opposition, currently in the depressive cycle of its manic depression.For once, Adams gets something right. Labor is not really an opposition to anything but its own vote at the moment.
Who, then, will provide the Howard Government with healthy criticism?Too many left-wing hacks like Adams, Alan Ramsey and Mike Carlton will provide needless abuse masquerading as factually based content. But that doesn't count.
You won't get much checking and balancing from the forthcoming Senate. Negotiations over legislation will disappear, along with those useful, aggravating Senate committees. Any hope of spirited investigative work -- as in the Senate's inquiry into a "certain maritime incident" -- are dashed. And it's increasingly unlikely we'll see any crusading from the High Court. With Howard's next appointment that august body will be as stacked as a Labor branch. Or George W. Bush's Supreme Court.Negotiations from the left about how we can more effectively ruin the economy will not waste the Senate's time any more. This is a good thing. And how did Bush stack the Supreme Court, exactly? Just because there's enough conservatives to make sure the law isn't subverted by liberal judges with an reformist agenda.
Protests from Yarralumla? The glory days of governor-general William Deane already seem as remote in history as Agincourt. The universities? In a process that began during former Labor education minister John Dawkins's days, they've progressively lost their role as the prime movers in public debate. Staff and students alike increasingly behave themselves and the faculties turn into factories for local and foreign kids intent on degrees rather than dissent.The universities are actually feeding grounds for student activists of the left-wing. Students of universities, schools and government-owned institutes like TAFE are lectured on politics without being taught critical thinking, and only now are the teachers realising their mistake - the "mistake" of not teaching kids to be left-wing enough.
The ABC? Not bloody likely. Even without further attacks by the Howard Government, the organisation is in intensive care. The budget cuts are biting deeply and there's nothing like short-term contracts to encourage self-censorship.The ABC's continuous anti-Government stance is well-known, plus take a look here: you'll see they're quite popular in the grand scheme of things. But would Adams prefer that this was a Government TV station in the way that Cubans, the Chinese and pre-2003 Iraq knew it?
There's a prevailing delusion that the unmediated world of the internet is creating a vibrant, electronic democracy -- a parallel universe that will reshape political dynamics and counterbalance mainstream media. The other day I asked Bob Carr if he'd noticed the net changing Australian politics and his emphatic response was, "no, not at all". Despite the strident blogs, the exuberant conspiracy theorists and the new tribalisms of the web, it's hard to see solid evidence of significant impact. Yet.Of course, the standard dig at a blog - it's a tried and tested mainstream media action. Just because they never do their research is no reason to be jealous (and I know I don't do enough research, but there are whole newsrooms who appear to do not much more). Although with the internet, you do get a better range of opinions than say, 80% of the Australian media (or 95% of the SMH).
A few pundits such as Greg Barns -- and on one wistful occasion, myself -- fantasise that the real pressure on Howard will come from his own side of politics. Particularly from his back benches.Who's Greg Barns? According to the line The Age gave him when they ran the aforementioned (by Adams) column of nonsense last week, "Greg Barns is a former Howard Government adviser, member of the Australian Democrats and author of What's wrong with the Liberal Party?" And this guy qualifies as a pundit when the best he can come up with is what I've already discussed in this post about senators crossing floors, and liberal Liberals who will, erm, cross the floor. Even though they didn't before, they apparently will now on the same issues because the Government needs them more? Great punditry - I've done the same with 1/10th of the knowledge.
It's unlikely to come from his front bench, given that Peter Costello seems to have surrendered. Having previously demonstrated his durability, the PM has, thanks to the last election, achieved immortality.John Howard is immortal? He's been a great Prime Minister, but not even in the Liberal Party has he achieved immortality. And why does Adams, all of a sudden, believe that Costello's not interested in the top job anymore? Then again, he has a habit of being wrong.
However, it's dimly possible that among the Coalition's also-rans, there will be courageous individuals and cliques who'll organise protests, even minor mutinies. One would like that. It would be a good thing....and would what that achieve exactly? And how has something which you have "wistfully fantasised about" only once somehow become "dimly possible" in such a short space of time? We've all seen Phillip Adams's imagination running wild, however he can't seem to fathom why people would vote for the guy who would make them richer. Heh.
But everything from the pre-selection process to Howard's stern discipline makes it unlikely. And already the whips are cracking.What on earth is that meant to mean? Liberal's whips? Howard's whips? Normally Adams doesn't make sense because of his apparent hatred of logic and fact, but here he's just incoherent.
Over the decades Australia's seen a number of occasions on which a state or federal government has seemed unassailable. Think of Menzies, Kennett and Bjelke-Petersen at their respective heights. In each case, they governed with Labor in disarray.Is Adams trying to say that horrible Labor oppositions lead to long Liberal terms, or is he just stating what only a two-bit commentator of lawn bowls couldn't see? All political reigns come to an end somewhere along the line, and even faster in a democracy like Australia's. As for what this means for Howard - his time will end eventually - he's a politician.
"Governments need to have both shepherds and butchers," wrote Voltaire and, in these circumstances, it's the role of journalism to keep the knives sharp. It is the media's task to keep the bastards honest and in Australia's new situation, the newspapers and television networks have an opportunity, a responsibility to distinguish themselves.No, it's the media's task to report on news accurately and fairly, while providing comment in opinion sections. According to the AJA's code of ethics: "Report and interpret honestly, striving for accuracy, fairness and disclosure of all essential facts. Do not suppress relevant available facts, or give distorting emphasis." That's the first point of many Adams would do well to read, but then calling him a journalist is a bit of a stretch.
There will be much more for A Current Affair or Today Tonight to do than focus on quack medicines or celebrity twaddle -- while the big newspapers will need to lift their game.A Current Affair has almost never reported on the serious political issues, and Today Tonight has done it even less. There's an obese criminal with ADHD who ran away from home to steal diet pills from unlicensed immigrant builders who no longer get financial support from the government made every four days, and so A Current Affair must report on it.
TV may have the audience but, at least for the time being, the printed page still has the influence. Given that neither Howard nor Kim Beazley have much in the way of personality, it seems appropriate to take the focus off political personalities and get into the guts of what's really going on. Every journalist, pundit, leader writer and editor must be forensic on the issues -- on policy, legislation and accountability. That, in the final analysis, is what newspapers are for.Wow, some common sense. However, I'll attempt to hold Adams to his own statement. He's barely shown any sense of wide research since I've started reading his columns.
Arthur Miller defined a good newspaper as "a nation talking to itself". Given that Howard is now as firmly in control as Berlusconi, Putin, Bush or Blair, we'll have to talk quite loudly. And hope that the public is listening.Here's the problem though: the media, to generalise a little, dislikes Howard. 63% of people approve of Howard. If you can find me two journalists who approve of Howard, I'll have no problems finding one that doesn't. So when the media does what you want them to do, then they'll have to get rid of their bias to be "good".
(Cross-posted to The House Of Wheels. For those who are interested, previous fiskings of Phillip Adams can be found here and here.)