06 November 2013

Swine without pearls

Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.

- Matthew 7:6 (KJV)

It seems another age if not another country now, but we had a government that held together a seemingly fragile majority and had to argue every point it made, all the time. It released mountains of information under the assumption that everybody was as policy-wonky as they were, or if not that they would be impressed with all that forethought and detail and careful planning. In every policy there was something you could hate, something to love or at least grudgingly appreciate; something to talk about anyway.

The bloke who'd gone before (and who came again after) demanded heaps of information and turned them into press releases - and often less than that.

The bloke who'd come after him sneered at all that hard work and promised to sack thousands of public servants who had made that possible. The press gallery joined with that bloke and ignored all the detail, asking about polls or clothing or sex or anything, really, other than the policy at hand. If journalists were forced to address policy at all, in the short interludes between polls, all they'd ask is how it would play rather than how it might work.

On 30 January this year - this year - then-PM Julia Gillard gave a speech at the National Press Club. True, it won't ring down the ages but it was chock-full of policy and political goodness. At the time, Laurie Oakes and his pals at the SMH reported on only two aspects of it: the fact that Gillard announced an election date, and that she wore glasses. Later that, year, at the Sydney Writers' Festival, Annabel Crabb called this process "bringing the intelligence" (i.e. there is no intelligence in a laboriously crafted speech across the gamut of government policy, but top-of-the-head blather about polls is apparently where the intelligence is).

The press gallery now have the gall to complain that the government isn't what they hoped. Far from providing the infinite jest of pie-eating and bicycle-riding, this government has cut off the supply of information. For weeks they told us how shrewd this was, revelling in being treated like absolute mugs and patsies; now they're getting bored.

Why is The Sydney Morning Herald quoting Laurie Oakes? It has a Political and International Editor and a Chief Political Correspondent, both of whom are hopelessly compromised by years of inability to report on how we are governed. Both advocated for a lightweight opposition to relieve them of an imperfect government that dealt with them in a cursory manner. Both talked up Tony Abbott's humiliating traipse around our neighbourhood as though it were a triumph, on the assumption that their feeble opinions counted for anything. Oakes is as guilty as they are of letting scrutiny of the Coalition slip by, and now that they have nothing to do but scrutinise them they have nothing to go on.

They can't compare the brochure-ware of the Coalition's "plan" to actual outcomes, because there are no outcomes - and if they were, neither Oakes nor Hartcher nor Kenny would be able to tell in the absence of a press release. Their investigative journalism skills have withered to the point where no information on this government is available unless it comes from a minister's mouth, and even then ...

The Oakes comments was meant to be a shot across the bows, but the man once dubbed The Sphere of Influence has no firepower behind him at all. His main employer is broke and relies utterly on this government's good favour to save being wound up by the creditors who own it.
"You can’t thumb your nose at the voters’ right to know and you can’t arrogantly say ‘we’ll let the voters be misinformed and we won’t help journalists get it right'. That’s just a disgusting attitude."
You'd have to be a mug not to see it coming, whether you've been in Canberra 50 years or 50 minutes. They faked it to the media until they made it.
He highlighted Assistant Infrastructure Minister Jamie Briggs and NSW Labor MP Ed Husic as potential leaders of their respective parties.
Husic spent three years lying to journalists about Kevin Rudd's strength of support, who in turn spent three years lying about his effectiveness at leading a government. Little Jimmy Briggs lies to journalists about social cohesion in Inverbrackie and university research; and given he is up against Max Moore-Wilton he is either lying about this, or he is writing cheques that his political clout can't cash. Both men are watching Abbott stonewalling the media and learning this lesson: they actually think it's clever when you start blocking information flow. After a while they start to wake up but there's nothing they can or will do about it.

The Coalition went through two years of distress and disorientation at the prospect of charting a post-Howard course through the uncertainties of the twenty-first century. For the past four years they decided to have a Howard Restoration anyway, and have not been seriously challenged on the inadequacy of their policy offerings since Abbott became leader. This is why Bianca Hall is wrong to state this:
But two months since the election, it's increasingly becoming apparent that a "no-surprises" government is coming at the cost of open government.
Two months be damned. This was obvious for four years at least. Abbott lulled gullible journalists into thinking that "no surprises" meant "plenty of warts-and-all information", and that a government led by a former press secretary was all about open government. When he needed journos to be on-side he gave them little information, and now that he doesn't what do they expect? Hall and Oakes have nothing to declare but their own gullibility. Why are we listening to these people? What fools are employing them?
Since winning office, Abbott has fronted the nation's media just eight times. Calls to his office, and to his ministers, frequently go unanswered or unreturned.
Given the inane questions that come from "the nation's media", Abbott could have fronted them eighty-eight times and we'd scarcely be better informed. Hall's assumption that scrutiny can only come from journalists asking questions is not just naive, it is nowhere supported by actual behaviour and practice.
... Morrison has also moved the weekly asylum seeker briefings to Sydney, his home city, making it harder for the Canberra press gallery, which is responsible for covering federal politics, to attend. As a consequence, the number of journalists attending has dwindled - as has the information provided.
There are plenty of people in Sydney who understand asylum-seeker issues very well, and who would go to these sessions if only the media organisations were smart enough to engage them. Truculent press gallery journalists who insist that they dare not leave Canberra incase some politics breaks out clearly do not know what their jobs are. Those who manage them lack the wit and force to make them go where the political news actually is. If you can send journalists all over the country to do picfacs a school here or a building site there, all to be brushed off with answers more inane than their questions, then it beggars belief that a trip to Sydney to watch a media poppet come over all stern is beyond their job description.

Reading Hall is like listening to someone insisting that babies are brought by storks long after the facts of human reproduction have been patiently explained to them, and becoming increasingly hysterical that only the storks can relieve our fertility crisis. It's stupid and pathetic, but it's a systemic problem that Hall is too well trained to see or get past: the entire credibility of those media organisations represented in the press gallery depends upon the Abbott government being nothing less than a shining exemplar of good and wise and fair government, not just slightly better than Gillard-Rudd but one for the ages. Anything less - petty rorts, banal scandals and simple fuck-ups will mean the end of the press gallery as a credible source of information on how this country is governed.

If Laurie Oakes' only story is how he can't get a story, and to complain about his own ineptitude to his employer's rival, then where does that leave any member of the press gallery, or any journalist for that matter?

This was a particularly good article from an uneven writer enjoying a recent purple patch. Ignore her attempt to seek support in Hall's article when the reverse is more the case, and pretend that silly third-last paragraph isn't there - the wider point that "we" need political news more than ever is dead right.

People who are employed to do a job can't claim that it's clever that they can't do their jobs. Everyone enjoys a bit of a respite from work now and then, but if you spend too long with too little to do you can start to get antsy - particularly if your employer is not faring well financially. There's a word for people who can't seem to be able to do their jobs: redundant.

The other thing about the control over information is that you never know what people will like. John Howard's supreme achievement as Prime Minister was being able to mobilise the population toward a gun control more strict than the US, but which didn't strangle sporting shooters or farmers - a policy that was never part of pre-election policy, one that had no business plan, but which showed infinitely more political leadership than the bombast of "we will decide who comes to this country" and all that expensive Textor claptrap. Rudd, like all Canberra smarties (including Abbott) thought he could dump climate change without realising that reversing lukewarm support doesn't mean lukewarm opposition, but oblivion. Gillard's payrise for aged care workers was negated by withdrawing welfare from single parents. Hundreds of Coalition politicians, and thousands of staffers, lobbyists and party members, are placing their hopes and futures in the hands of a small number of people focused on matters other than their own best interests: any gloating from such people belies their sheer terror at their vulnerability.

The flipside of absolute power is that you have to be absolutely right about everything all the time. If you're the "Queen of No" you might be farting through silk these days, but when it turns nobody will cut you any slack or forgive you your trespasses. If you accept that there are things you can't control then you start to realise how silly the insistence on absolute control is - but then if you're in this PM's office you don't realise that at all, and that's where the fun begins. That's where you stop the sad-sack act of Oakes and the reverse-Credlin of Bianca Hall, railing at those who don't return your calls for showing you up.

There are those who realise there are ways and means around this government; there's no sign of it now but it is technically possible such people might have stumbled into the press gallery by mistake. And once you realise that, the presence or absence of pearls in your press gallery sty won't be an issue - and the bacon that you save may well be your own.

30 comments:

  1. I seem to recall Judith Sloan saying on Q and A she was jealous of her colleagues that wrote the same old propaganda for such a long period of time.

    There has to be serious ramifications for the next generation to follow the leader and play the same dumb game

    Paul Howes has to be the most narcissistic and idiotic man during the marriage equality press conference.

    We did this for opportunistic reasons and the labour party shouldnt exclude or discriminate blah blah blah blah

    This is the kind of tactic that feeds the great unwashed...

    Give us a break !!!

    The American conservative middle class look smarter than we do to accept this b.s

    I hope these diplomats start laughing in the P.M's face soon to wake him up from his self deluded status

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  2. Great observation - even if Abbott fronted the media we still wouldn't be any wiser.

    Reading this made me wonder - don't journalists understand their role in our democracy? They can never be partial observers, stop trying.


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  3. Once again you have said it all Andrew.
    I was pleased though that Laurie Oakes lashed out. I think his name still carries weight!
    It would have been a far more compelling criticism though if Oakes had admitted that the media had carried Abbott to Canberra in a sedan chair.
    Still journalists are now feeling excluded which may lead to sharper questioning.
    You are right about the unsophisticated level of questions. Joe Hockey looked completely unruffled at the end of his 'round' with Leigh Sales last night.

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    1. Leigh Sales has had enough time to shine but is just not good enough to chair 730 Report. She exhibits nastiness & shamelessly displays her own opinions in the tone of her "questions" (more like statements). And as for Canb Press Gallery well to call them journalists is fanciful and to see and hear them gathering around govt ministers is like watching social columnists hanging around the red carpet. Your article is absolutely spot on in my opinion & Aust doesnt have good journos in MSM & hasnt since JHoward PM tenure. And democracies not only neef a gr8 opposition but also great journalists askjng intelligent fact seeking hard hitting questions of the Govt of the day. In terms of JHiward & hus firearms legislation it may have had some imoact fir a short time on creating a difference in Aust not being like USA but some people made millions of dollars out of the buy back programme which in turn funded their own intetests in building and expanding upon the sale if firearms. And we all know lots of oney = big influence

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  4. I have just read a piece on this subject by Dragonista at King's Tribune.
    This part made me cross.
    According to Dragonista each limitation of information 'seems logical in isolation .....
    ....But taken together these actions describe a government that is an opaque and silent edifice'.
    She cites with approval that secrecy surrounding boat arrivals deprived people smugglers of information.
    As far as I am concerned secrecy operating at any level should be condemned by political commentators. But it is not operating in 'isolation', it is now the political strategy of this government to keep us all in the dark.

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    1. Seems logical to them, not us. People who craft those strategies have no idea what good governance, or government, is.

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    2. Alas you are correct Andrew. We are now seeing politics stripped of principle and ethics. The government came into being by brutal destabilization aided by a complicit and supine media. It has no raison d'ĂȘtre as far as I can tell and is led by a man who is an immature acolyte of generally older and powerful men: Jesuit scholars, B A Santamaria, George Pell, John Howard. That boyish charm of his seems to captivate people. Tony being Tony stuff. How he must have laid it on for the journalists. He was one of them, of course. Now after all the wooing he has slammed the door shut and they are so cross. But that is a good thing for the rest of us.

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    3. The secrecy surrounding boat arrivals has never been intended to deny people smugglers of information, its sole purpose id to deny Australians information and the sooner we realise that the better. And it seems thje msm could be emerging from their self-induced coma and seeking information from foreign government sources.

      Andrew I disagree that this government has no idea what good governance or government is. They know very well what they are, but have absolutely no interest in providing either. Unfortunately, I don't think there is one honest uncorrupt member of the government. They have all been fatally tainted by Liesalot and his overlords Murdoch, the IPA and the mining lobby.

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  5. "It would have been a far more compelling criticism though if Oakes had admitted that the media had carried Abbott to Canberra in a sedan chair."

    Spot on. They were over-complicit with the election of the LNP idiots. Too late to whinge about it now. They need to get off their arses and start doing some real investigative and inquiring journalism. As Julia Gillard said, "Stop writing crap!"

    Maybe th

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  6. Bushfire Bill7/11/13 9:57 am

    Oakes said what he said to Fairfax for two reasons:

    1. Fairfax is playing the "jilted lover" because their big guns didn't score an invite to Kirribilli. I guess The Age shouldn't have editorialized for a Labor vote (or was it the SMH..? They're literally interchangeable nowadays). Fairfax is looking for anti-Abbott fodder anywhere it can find it.

    2. He couldn't say what he said on Nine, or in the Daily Telegraph. Things might change re. Nine, though, because it seems Rupert's trying to siphon big sport onto Foxtel. That won't make the FTA networks happy at all.

    Watch this space.

    Fairfax have tried to be a mini-me, imitating News but it's gotten them nowhere.

    Half their readership switched off when they went in gung-ho against Labor.

    Hartcher is a fool and is best ignored (Abbott's ignoring him, that's for sure... remember Hartcher's instructions to Abbott for changing the Rorts scandal into a political triumph? Dead before it went to press). Kenny is a contract killer, and they stay in the background.

    So who did Abbott invite? Henderson and - wait for it - Sheehan! The two resident idiots at Fairfax. What a slap in the face to loyal Roger Corbett!

    Murdoch always takes more than he gives. He likes to invest, but to make a profit afterwards. That's business. He'll take and take until he's bled the polity dry. It's what happens when organized crime takes over City Hall. Just look at the UK and the US.

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    1. Bill,

      1. Here's a quote from The SMH's Chief Poliutical Correspondent: "[the govt] must go back to voters just as it is getting to the hard and painful things required to rebuild the budget and get the country back on the rails". Doesn't sound very anti-Abbott to me. Looks more like the editor of the SMH was asleep when that went out.

      2. It does not do to tell your own bosses that you can't do your job, and that those stopping you from doing it are geniuses. They start to wonder why they are paying you at all, let alone so, so much.

      I think this election is a last hurrah for Murdoch. His whole premise as that Abbott will be better than Gillard and Rudd, whereas I think he'll be much, much less. The Kirribilli Diners don't have much future either - Sheehan and Akerman are on their last go-round, Albrechtsen is close to having to rely on the kindness of strangers, and Switzer can't win preselection or much else. A sad little circle-jerk convening just as the descent begins.

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    2. Fairfax says and does some infuriating things at times, but for impartiality I'd still place it at the top of the news media in Australia, with News Limited and Their ABC at the bottom.

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    3. Andrew, I disagree that Murdoch thinks for a nano second that the current government is a patch on the Rudd/Gillard government. In fact I feel he knew very well what an appalling government it would be, but doesn't give a toss because he knows Liesalot is every bit as corrupt as he is and as completely uninterested in the well being of this country as Murdoch.

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    4. VoterBentleigh10/11/13 8:57 am

      You raise two good points Anon (9/11/13 10:34pm & 10:55pm).

      (1) Murdoch does not think the Coalition will be a better government for the people, but he is unconcerned. Murdoch's world view does not incorporate the common good, but only what will be of benefit to himself. Consequently, he thinks the Coalition government will be better than the ALP but purely in terms of his interests, no one else's. It remains to be seen whether this will eventuate; Abbott may fail to deliver. Remember that Abbott considers his interests are paramount, too.

      (2) The majority of the population have a completely different view of good governance and government compared with the new Government. The latter's idea of good governance is to maintain authoritarian control and to obliterate criticism. Their idea of good government is to have as little as possible and those who “fall by the wayside” as a result will somehow be assisted by their “charity”. So their view of the world is completely different from others like ourselves.

      You have correctly assessed the PM and this is how he has got to be where he is, because while some electors either have the same world view of government and governance as the Coalition, many have been misled into thinking that the Coalition have their interests at heart. The problem for Abbott however is that while he can control how the public see him at home through his cronies within the media, he is going to have much more difficulty doing this abroad. This can be seen with the Indonesian relationship.

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  7. It is truly baffling how the media can be surprised at the way the new government is acting. Abbott played them like string instruments for years to get into power, they gratefully played along because it made their jobs so much easier to fill column inches with spectacle. But all that's finished now, and the press gallery are left confused and anxious, like jilted lovers. So utterly predictable.

    But for all the vulnerability of the cash-strapped legacy media, they could just as easily turn on Abbott and things could get very tough for him indeed. The press gallery realised that Gillard was no friend of theirs, that she wasn't playing the game, and they were in turn relentless in their demolition of her. If there's so much as a sniff in the wind that headkicking the new (soon enough to be old) government fills the vacuum left by the absence of Labor leadershit stories, it's over for Abbott. And their usual cheerleaders (Bolt, Ackerman etc) will find it's so much harder to defend a struggling government than joining gleefully in the attack.

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  8. You're right to tell us to avoid that third last para from Drag0nista – referring to Howard's respect for the community on the day he admitted his dissembling about a carbon tax in 2006/7.
    But you're also right about your main point – that you'd have to be a mug to have been taken in by Abbott.
    Scrutiny of the government may come, but it will require some initiative and perhaps even investigation. Kate McClymont is the only one the SMH can spare for investigation nowadays, and she's spending most of her time investigating what ICAC has already discovered for her.

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  9. To be fair to Abbott all leaders from Howard on have treated the press with contempt. Rudd used them for his endless destabilisation, and they didn't notice. Gillard barely gave them the time of day until their senseless din over non issues got a bit loud. Abbott has just extended the practice, refusing to even give them the time.

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  10. BRILLIANT

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  11. Given the inane questions that come from "the nation's media", Abbott could have fronted them eighty-eight times and we'd scarcely be better informed.

    That sums up the Press Gallery perfectly.Not only are their questions inane. But even when Abbott goes so far as to make patently false assertions or blatant lies, they are allowed to pass safely through to the keeper.

    At the height of the attempts to smear Gillard over the AWU Slater Gordon stuff from 1995... she held a press conference and answered every question put to her for over an hour. She finally terminated after nobody had responded to her invitation for any more questions.

    The next day the usual papers were full of " ...Still unanswered questions..." assertions. Well if there were, why the fuck didn't they ask them? They can't even do a hatchet job competently.

    in the Latham Diaries now some eight years old he had quite a bit to say about the Press Gallery, most of it unkind. He singled out Grattan and Oakes as having been there far too long and lost so much relevance because of it. Your piece on some time back on Grattan reinforced that view. She cannot seem to see anything beyond the prism of Parliament House. And it hasn't changed since she joined The Conversation.

    Back in the 70s, Mungo McCallum made the daring break from The Australian to the shoestring Nation Review. It was a revelation. Although always entertaining, his move into a near-underground rag marked a completely uninhibited style that we'd not known. Nation Review held on against the tide and probably one of the key factors was Mungo's reports.

    Alas, we could never see a breakout like that from Grattan. There have been some who have managed it such as Mike Seccombe at the Global Mail. One of my great memories of him (and it may have been due to an astute ABC cameraman) during Insiders.

    Hockey was being interviewed by Cassidy and not travelling too well. The panel were visible in the background, even though the interview was one-to-one. Hockey in his usual fashion would make bold claims which would not past muster even with Cassidy's gentle probing. Hockey would get more indignant as his claims were shown to be less credible, the background showed Seccombe killing himself laughing at the way Hockey tied himself in knots.t almost shouting to assert his view.

    It really doesn't take a lot more than that to do the job. But none have been prepared to do it for over four years now. Oakes is especially culpable and not excused just because he has occasionally dissed Abbott.

    There was plenty to write about. The first minority parliament since Curtin during the War, and several exceptional independents and an exceptional PM and economic team at least game enough to look at the bigger issues.

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    1. Bravo GD & Andrew (as usual)

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  12. Thank Andrew for your articles.

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  13. he will talk to whom he want to talk to,, the others will just have to start telling people about his policies to put him on the outer, other than that they cannot make him talk to them,. I often wonder does he go to the office every day,, , those complaining now helped put him there, labor had so many wonderful policies they where placed on face book sites and tiwtter,,. How sad, when we do get back will take years to get us back to a good financial position to do things like the dental scheme for example. Hockey raved on about the budget deficit with help of some media, and now it seems it will be blown out further and who is tellling the public ?, may be wrong but have not heard a big to do about this or anything , when interest rates go up and the people are out of work then we will see the people will have to notice for themselves , so perhaps we don't need junos any more,?? do we?. where are the tv stations they could put helicopters up over christmas island? to see what happening , what has happened to investigative stuff.
    time will bring abbott down, but how patient will be have to be before things are wrecked like the barrier reef and Tasmania re logging? people are very lazy now hide behind twitter , my age group did silent peaceful rallies we didn't just sit around and complain but where are our civic leaders s seems they are scared of the libs,? sigh

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  14. VoterBentleigh7/11/13 10:00 pm

    You are quite right that many in the the press are not doing themselves any favours by refusing to admit that they were totally wrong in their analyses of Tony Abbott and the Coalition.

    With regard to Bianca Hall's comments on Ted Baillieu's loss of the leadership: his problems were twofold. One was Geoff Shaw, as it was over the Member for Frankston that everything came to a head and Baillieu was dumped, but one can only suppose what went on there. The other was not so much to do with Baillieu not fronting the press, as Hall claims, as the fact that it was clear that, after instituting a few key promises from the election, the Baillieu Government seemed to have no idea what they were doing and appeared to be doing nothing. This did not apply just to Baillieu himself, but to his Ministers and backbenchers.

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  15. Just imagine the rubbish commentary we will get when parliament sits again. It is going to sit again, right? o.O

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  16. Giving it some thought, one can come to the conclusion that the reason the nations political parties, the MSM. and a large section of the voting public seem unable to make positive decisions, seem uncertain about national direction on a number of isues and the mainstream media and it's political cohorts are somewhat dumbstruck in regards analytical policies is because of a widespread infection of ther "Peter Principle"!
    Not just the odd individual, but a wide swathe of society has reached it's intellectual and rational limit when it comes to appreciating the global situation in regards a number of important issues that need immediate and rational analysis and positive action.....collectively, we just don't have the mojo anymore!
    It could be the physical implementation of what is called "Plato's Doubt"...I will cut and paste from an article on the ABC. religion by Damon Young ..


    " Plato's fear of myths is actually terror at existence; the fear that there
    actually is no ultimate story to tell. And dread, perhaps, that the human mind
    has no necessary grasp of any of it; that its grip on things is always
    provisional, situated, and often superficial; that, as Hume noted, our ideas are
    more a procession of relations than a system of perfect truths."

    Indeed...a worry!

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  17. I think they have all become so lazy they have forgotten they actually have to go and find stories and report them instead of relying on press releases.

    There is no need for so many journos to be based in Canberra yet every paper has 6 or so people there.

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  18. I think journalists are feeling very vulnerable which is understandable when their industry is going through tumultuous change. Revenue has fallen, staff has been cut to the bone, sub-editing jobs have gone off-shore, the collegial atmosphere of the newsroom must be no more. The pathway for journalists is to become media stars. Some political journalists have become players who dine at the top table. The rest follow the herd in scrambling for crumbs. There is an opening out there for a smart young unknown to do what journalists are meant to do, to conduct himself or herself without fear or favour. I believe many people in this country would rejoice if they saw such a reporter in action. Asking the right questions. Demanding answers. That is what we want. Not the same piece of analysis regurgitated over and over again. News sells newspapers. Always has and always will. Put highly paid commentary of dubious quality back on the opinion pages where it belongs.

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  19. Further to my post above about journalists not asking hard and persistent questions, I have been very pleasantly surprised to read a transcript of an exchange between Scott Morrison and Olivier Laughland about the presence of unaccompanied minors on Manus. Laughland refused to be fobbed off.

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  20. Andrew - I am coming at you with a cattle prod. I am longing to read your take on Abbott falling face first in the Nasi Goreng.

    The complexities here have been largely ignored by the media here. TA is both victim and villain I think.

    How are we going to be placed when Indonesia is one of the world's powerhouse economies in the not too distant future?

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  21. George Megalogenis ‏@GMegalogenis 18 Dec
    @simon_as_twit The fence allows me to see hypocrites everywhere. By the way, the Tim appointment has annoyed key Libs. @JohnBirmingham
    View conversation

    Andrew...who exactly would these Libs be that have upset this appointment?

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