Monday, February 20, 2012


My partner keeps telling me to act from the best of principles. She believes that if your heart is pure, and you intend no ill, everything will be for the best. You need to operate with a clear conscience.

This is something that this column explores. But only right at the very end.


There are certainly a few things I'd like to know. Sadly, I'm not omniscient. In fact, and probably rather like most people, I'm aware there's a great deal I don't know and even more that will remain unknowable to me. So let’s begin with the facts.

From childhood we are taught to draw simple, causal linkages. If you put your hand in boiling water, it gets burnt. If you overthrow someone as prime minister, they will seek revenge. These are simple equations, which can be expressed mathematically. For example, (R + G) > H, or if you prefer, Kevin Rudd plus Julia Gillard is greater than John Howard. As long as we are aware of the values of each of the algebraic notations, these sorts of formulations can provide a useful guide to life.

That one above certainly worked like a dream all the way through 2007. Unfortunately, one of the compounds (R + G) proved to be unstable. This meant the entire formula had to be thrown out.

And that was when the people got to make a choice. Labor was offering a new product to the electorate, in this case G > A. As it turned out, by the time of the vote, not enough of the electorate had made up their minds what the right answer was, So voters returned a new, highly improbable result; G = A. Now even without a higher degree in maths or turning quickly to check the answers in the back of the book, everyone could understand this is self-evidently ridiculous. The algebra doesn’t compute. This is where journalists come in.

 Journalists are paid to probe and describe events (the formulae) we see around us. It's no wonder that such time and effort is being expended investigating this combustible situation. The focus has turned relentlessly on Gillard for a couple of reasons. She is more important. She's the Prime Minister. And, finally (but most importantly) what had earlier appeared to be a simple integer (G) actually turns out to be quite a complex little formula of its own. Hence the focus on her past.

No one doubts that Tony Abbott (A) is also an interesting story. He is, quite possibly, just as unstable as Gillard. More importantly, everyone is aware that there are a whole host of calculations that he is trying to foist onto the electorate that don't appear to add up.  The opposition can't say, for example, how they'll raise enough money to fill the empty, gaping black hole in their own accounts. Bad enough to begin with, the breach is quickly becoming an horrific yawing fissure and it gets worse every time the government actually manages to impose a new revenue-raising measure that the coalition wants to deny itself. Mythical answers won’t do it for much longer.

And how about Joe Hockey’s ridiculous answer when pressed on why he came up with a way to explain his figure of a missing $70 billion – billion – in the opposition accounts. He tried to suggest he’d given different numbers to different colleagues so he could work out who was leaking! Really? If this is correct, what does it say about the poisoned personal relationships within the coalition? And if it’s false, how are we expected to believe the opposition is ready to govern? The supposed ‘answer’ is worse than what is, quite probably, the truth: Hockey was busted.

Labor can see these inconsistencies clearly but (and in their view unfortunately) the media aren’t probing these issues. That's because of the continuing disaster that is Gillard's leadership. Because this has been erected on such a rickety framework it's only natural for people to stare at it waiting for the inevitable collapse. She can wave her arms all she wants, pointing out Abbott's problems, but our eyes will always return to the spectacle of her own disintegration. And that's why the journalists are circling like vultures around their prey.

Just because nothing is actually happening doesn't mean the story is make-believe. The problem is that at the moment Rudd’s desperate efforts to harness support have failed. He cannot rely on more than a third of the caucus to vote for him. If he launched a challenge he probably wouldn't even get that. This is why he continues whittling away at his “leader", a person he has absolutely no respect for.

Gillard's strategy has been to wait for him to challenge. Only then – and only if she didn’t have the numbers – would she finally be prepared to flick the job in a hospital pass to someone else. Anyone but Rudd. That’s why he needs the numbers now, to win the first challenge. If he doesn’t win on the first attempt he won’t get a second go, because Gillard will be gone and events will have taken on a momentum of their own.

And this explains why the papers have been full of nothing else. The lobbying is intense, but it's all just talk. No events have occurred for journalists to report but that doesn't mean nothing is actually happening. It's your choice. There are two alternatives: accept and understand these limitations or, alternately, to put aside the desire for more knowledge, shoot the messenger, and wrap yourself in the certainty of superstition.

The problem is both sides are attempting to use the media. Rudd supporters want to whip up the feeling of chaos surrounding Gillard. Journalists are accurately reporting this. More than that, though, they are probing to find out what's really happening beneath the surface. But this doesn't mean we don’t have to think for ourselves.

That means asking questions. Think back to the night Rudd fell. Gillard's hissy fit on the Wednesday was supposedly brought on by a story fed to Peter Hartcher in the Sydney Morning Herald. The news that she was in Rudd’s office demanding he vacate his office it was broken by the ABC’s Chris Ulhmann. Both are brilliant journalists but the question remains. Who gave them the drops that inevitably precipated the future chain of events?

It’s up to us to attempt to work out who might have benefited from those stories. Who’s interests did they serve? Almost certainly not Rudd. Once we start asking the right questions we come closer to understanding the backdrop to the coup. Then we can make judgements about the people involved.


  1. Good analysis Nick - but I htought you were omniscient ! But the current shaninigans is a bit of a lottery - like a Lotto draw except there are only two coloured balls named "him" and "her" and they keep spinning around so who knows which will come through the tube first to be declared Prime Ministerial Winner.

    1. Lotto! Absolutely!
      But I suspect the sad reality is that we won't have a winner out of the two balls in play at the moment.

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