Monday, November 02, 2009

On politics - and the very confusing Mr Rudd

The PM has kept up his strange ways, with yet another appointment of a former opponent to a Government post, this time Peter Costello to the Future Fund. One story quotes a cabinet minister saying "Just once I'd like to end cabinet without giving a job to a bloody Tory." This was said about a different appointment, but the list is indeed long.

The Opposition Leader has laid the claim that "it does show the complete hypocrisy of Kevin Rudd on economic matters." He claimed Rudd has demonised the Howard-Costello team as an example of the neo-liberals who brought on the global financial crisis, and that Rudd also contends that Costello blew the proceeds of the mining boom and made no provision for long-term infrastructure and other productivity-based spending.

While it is not quite the same argument it does recall the occassion when the then NSW Education Minister Rodney Cavalier was asked about the BHP shares he disclosed in his register of parliamentary interests. Cavalier replied "there is nothing in the socialist scriptures which says that someone should impoverish themselves during the capitalist phase."

So to the point that Rudd may be critical of "extreme capitalism" and that Costello is identified with it, there may be no problem appointing him to a job that effectively requires such an extreme capitalist - acting only to maximise returns. The wider point made by Turnbull (and Keating) is really that Rudd and the ALP's criticism is really that Costello actually wasn't a good Treasurer and therefore he shouldn't be appointed.

The reality is that the Government has accepted and acknowledged that we had 11 plus years of good economic management under Howard/Costello, but that it could be better. The need for the PM to resort to the line that being attacked by both Turnbull and Keating means he must be getting it pretty right is the problem Alan Kohler has written about, though he comes to it from a different direction.

Kohler suggests that the Rudd appointments reveal that Rudd "has decided to admit that politics is an insincere, superficial theatrical performance by those involved – a Punch and Judy show that hides the serious machinery of government." The argument being that these people he has just appointed were only recently being accused of being incompetents of the first order by those who have appointed them.

Kohler, however, goes on to give a better diagnosis of the problem, and this is that;

What the opposition says is given equal coverage to what the government does. Even-handed media coverage is all very well, but the opposition’s response to a government action or policy is simply not as important as the action itself.

The result of equal reporting of both sides of the game is that the government is under-reported and the opposition is over-reported, which in turn leads to the business of government being overlooked and the theatre of politics dominating.

This is in reality fair comment. In particular the media seems to think its role in "holding Government to account" is merely to hold a megaphone up for oppositions, rather than detailed policy reviews of their own. This is never clearer than in election campaigns when policy announcements are met with stories about either what the party is hoping to achieve politically through the policy or how it will be received in the polls. There is scarcely any coverage of what the policy actually means as policy.

A fairly perfect example of that would be the ALP's NBN policy announced in early 2007. Media commentary was on the implications for the election, not on what delivery would entail. Two years later and that is still largely the media coverage.

I have a friend who says that main stream political reporting is now nothing more than "reporting on politics as a horse race, or as celebrity".

Of course, it is easy to blame the media as I (and Kohler) have done. he challenge is to figure out how to effect change. Maybe a blog dedicated to policy analysis not politics would be a good idea.

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