Wednesday, February 20, 2013


It is really hard to describe what I do, either now particularly or more generally over the last few years.

Somehow or other it boils down to being something about communications - at least I find I hang out with a lot of communication people now.  That includes both those who are crafted a message and those who are trying to report it.

In a conversation with one such person last night we were discussing a common issue of how people charged with "doing something" - be it informing a community, formulating a policy or organising a workplace - think of "communications" as the piece at the end of the process.  Kind of like that stage in the car production line where the paint is sprayed on.

But really that's like thinking that what the car looks like is determined by the coat of paint, rather than all the elements of styling including the trim.  And the styling itself is part of the design of the performance of the car - be that the old "safe but boxy" of Volvo's of old, the modern SUV, the family sedan or the sleek sports car.

If we think about how we get anything done in this world it is by our ability to influence others.  Communication is the core activity of achieving that.

It probably doesn't help that all those not actively engaged in communications think in terms of the sender-receiver, message-medium model.

To be truly successful communication needs to be an integral part of the design, not just a decoration at the end.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A labour party

Last night in her address to the AWU conference Julia Gillard outlined in a very short statement what it is that the party she leads stands for.

At the relevant point she said;

The watch-words of this year; the watch-words of our Labor cause; the watch-words of this nation’s future: jobs, opportunity, fairness, being stronger, being smarter. Making sure that the next generation enjoys a better life than we do. Getting work pumping through the work troughs and the factories and the offices now. Creating the economy that will give back prosperity to the next generation of Australians and beyond. That is our mission, that is our cause in 2013 and beyond 2013.

I come here to this union’s gathering as a Labor leader. I’m not the leader of a party called the progressive party. I’m not the leader of a party called the moderate party. I’m not the leader of a party even called the socialist democratic party. I’m a leader of the party called the Labor Party deliberately because that is what we come from. That is what we believe in and that is who we are.

I gather there has already been on-line commentary suggesting that the PM said the party wasn't a "progressive" party. Clearly that is not the case. 

What she did was distinguished the party from just any old progressive party by tieing it very clearly to the interests of labour versus capital.  Useful for those who want to consider deeply the question of "what the ALP stands for."

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Observation on politics, and on the observation of politics

An interesting piece by Deborah Snow in this morning's SMH outlines the tawdry career of Ian McDonald.  It notes a speech by John Faulkner that goes as far to suggest the McDonald had long been a "plant" in the left. 

The better and real story is the question of how people arrive in politics.  At the first entry to politics a decision ismade about what course to follow.  For some like Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott that even amounted to a genuine choice of party - as there were aspects of both that appealed to them.

For others it comes down to where in a chameleon like space you can position yourself to get into a position of influence.  If in the 60s and 70s you wanted a position of power on a left dominated campus the easiest choice was to clothe yourself in the language of the radical left.  It is not a hard language to learn, and its strength has never been its consistency.

This appears to be the path chosen by Ian McDonald.  From there it was a path of patronage against a backdrop of a NSW left that was divided between so-called hard and soft left - where in the end it was your loyalty rather than your beliefs that mattered.

Rodney Cavalier has long emphasised how the union block votes, made bigger through the union consolidations, are the biggest pieces in this game.  Their role in the rise of Ian McDonald is laid out in the article.

Do not think ill of the individual union leaders involved (thoughI am starting to suspect that Arthur Gietzelt's purported role as an unreformed communist inside the ALP has yet more chapters to unfold), this is the system.

It is nice to see discussion in the party talking about the end of block voting and factional tieing in the Parliamentary party, but the issues in NSW did not come from the Parliamentary party.

Anhow, the observation I make here is that the McDonald's of this world - and they appear in all sides of politics - emerge from an environment in which one's choice of politics can be determined by where you can get ahead, not by what you believe.

The juxstoposition of this is in another SMH item by Peter Hartcher.  Hartcher tries to run a line about Gillard Government strategy, saying;

In short, Labor is seeking an old-fashioned, populist, left-wing fight based on envy and resentment. The usual shorthand is "class warfare".

This is where you get to when those who observe politics only perceive it as a contest for power not a choice of approach.  The divide between the two major camps has always been about the difference between the capitalists and the workers.  The fusion that became the very first Liberal Party at the start of the twentieth-century started its life as the "anti-socialist" party, and right the way through to the seventies that side of politics was distinguished by how much of a centralised planned state they were prepared to accomodate to keep socialism at bay. 

Through the 80s and 90s that rhetoric did change as the weaknesses of that approach to a planned economy were revealed.  The "left" more broadly has struggled to reframe its agenda in the wake of that change.  The dominant ideology - despite even the catastrophe of the free-market inspired Global Financial Crisis - is now of free markets not planned economies.  The grand story of the history of the left iks not "envy and resentment", it is about equity and fairness.

To suggest that the approach of Gillard's team is different to Rudd is extraordinary in the extreme.  It was Rudd who penned essays for The Monthly railing against free market ideology.

And the lesson of Hawke and Keating is not that Labor should shun its historic role, but that Labor needs to understand the changing workplace and exactly who are "the workers."  The "sole-employer, self-employed small-business voter" of which Paul Keating spoke is not a capitalist, they are just workers in different employment relations.

The true genius of John Howard was his ability to defy"public choice theory" - that is the need to appeal to the self-interest of the median voter.  The Howard "aspirationals" are people who would like to imagine they are something other than they are, they are the same people of whom Keating spoke.  But they vote Liberal not because it is in their interests, but because it is in the interests of the people they aspire to be.  What they don't understand is that the policies they then vote for are the policies that make it harder for them to achieve their ambitions.

Labor's challenge is not to walk away from the historic role of the left, its challenge is to explain how its commitment to equity and fairness best represents all those in society affected by the established power relationships.

Finally as a last observation on observations it is a great pity that in her column Lenore Taylor didn't note that Tony Abbott's street walk in Eden-Monaro was a relaunch of a policy from October 2012.  I wonder which was of more interest to people in a mostly rural electorate, CCTV cameras on city streets or the announcement a week earlier of faster speeds forv the NBN fixed wireless and satellite services?