Friday, August 7, 2009

John Della Bosca Denies Holding The Knife

It’s hard to believe that there is still speculation about the leadership of the Labor Party in News South Wales. Or to be more specific, it’s not so surprising that the Party might be considering its options at a time when it continues to register very poorly in the polls, but what is surprising is that anybody actually cares anymore. The front page story of the Sydney Morning Herald which boldly claims that Health Minister John Della Bosca is poised to challenge Nathan Rees as Premier makes for spectacular headlines, but even if it is true, would it really make any difference to the disappointed, disenfranchised and, to be blunt, disinterested people of New South Wales?

The level of distrust inspired by this government is such that it makes no difference what they say about anything. Nobody believes them. Theirs is a history of making announcements which are later modified, delayed, or simply abandoned. Those projects which they do claim to see through are plagued with problems, such as railway lines which cannot accommodate the new trains, which are running late anyway, or hospitals with operating theatres that are the wrong size.

The lack of faith between the people of New South Wales and their government is such that changing the leader would make no difference. It would still be the same ship driven by a different captain, but the iceberg has already struck and the ship is already sinking. It’s only a matter of time until it goes down, and thanks to fixed four year terms we know that the time will come in March 2011. Changing the leader now would not achieve anything except the creation of yet another ex-premier.

Of course, John Della Bosca denies completely the suggestion that he is aiming to challenge Nathan Rees. He has been categorical in his denial. He has denied seeking an avenue to move from the upper house to the lower house. He has denied seeking legal advice on the possibility of leading from the upper house. He has denied every aspect of the allegations published today. His denial is so comprehensive that should he actually become leader he will branded a liar.

Of course, that may not be an obstacle in politics. After all, as I have already pointed out, nobody believes anything they say anyway. Although it made front page of the Herald, I am not even convinced that anyone is paying attention anymore, because we have heard it all before. Did anybody believe Brutus when he denied sharpening a knife for Caesar? Besides, I don’t believe John Della Bosca ruled out being drafted to the position in the event that Nathan Rees should for any reason decide to voluntarily step aside.

And in politics, people tend to volunteer to go only when they are told.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Teach The Children

Yesterday I suggested that there is a whole range of issues thrown up by the alleged terrorist plot to attack Holsworthy Army Barracks. Among them have been the hotly discussed issues of base security and the use of unarmed civilian security guards, or access controllers as they have been designated in the double speak of the Australian Defence Force. Another issue is the security leak from within the joint police and security agency operation which resulted in newspaper headlines about the dawn arrests before they actually occurred, potentially putting lives at risk by alerting the accused. Thankfully, that was not the result, but the lapse itself remains a point of significant concern.

There is another issue which is connected with all of these events, and which has wider implications for us all. In the wake of the arrests, a man called Ibrahim Khayre has spoken about his nephew Yacqub who is one of the accused. Ibrahim is the closest thing that Yacqub has to a father, and he has explained to the Daily Telegraph that young Yacqub was brought to Australia from Somalia as a toddler along with other family members to rescue them form the violence and disaster which was occurring in that country. As a boy he was apparently well behaved, until his grandfather died when he became disturbed, and something of a rebel.

This is where Ibrahim says the authorities have let him, and all of us, down. He claims that when he tried to intervene in the affairs of the teenage Yacqub he was stopped by the welfare authorities and the police who protected his right to move out from home and have nothing to do with his family. He claims that Yacqub was given welfare payments and accommodation, allowing him to live independently. Ibrahim has said, “They don’t let us parents look after our kids. They told us, ‘Leave him alone. He is free.’”

This highlights a difficulty in our society where parents can find themselves damned if they do and damned if they don’t. If a parent tries to intervene in the life of a wayward teenager who has decided that they don’t like living at home anymore, they can very easily be treated as the bad guy. If they give up and stop trying to put their kids back on the straight and narrow, they are still treated as the bad guy. How many times have we seen examples of teenagers leaving home because they don’t like to be “told what to do”, only to fall in with a bad crowd, get involved in drugs, teenage pregnancy, crime, or all of the above? The state helps them to do it by giving them the right to thumb their noses at their parents, providing them with welfare money and accommodation, and then when it all goes wrong the authorities point the finger and ask “where are the parents?”

Now, it appears home grown terrorism can be added to the list of possible miscreant behaviors which might be pursued by disaffected youth who have been told by the Authorities that they do not have to listen to their parents. Of course, not all parents are good, and we have seen plenty of evidence of that, and there does need to be a safety net for those children. But the vast majority of parents are doing the best they can for their kids, including trying to keep them out of trouble, even though the government keeps on trying to get in the way.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Making Arrests Is More Important Than Making Headlines

Yesterday’s startling news of a thwarted (alleged) terrorist plot to stage an assault on Holsworthy army barracks has thrown up a broad range of big questions. The initial reaction of shock at the idea that such a thing could be contemplated, was followed by admiration for the investigating agencies and their officers, which in turn gave way to disbelief that it is apparently possible for pretty much anyone to just wander into a major military facility and wander around. Now, an equally alarming concern has arisen with the revelation that what was initially seen as a great journalistic scoop was in fact a massive breach of security.

It appears that the early edition of the Australian, the newspaper which broke the story, was literally on the streets of Melbourne hours before the raids actually occurred. According to Simon Overland, the Victorian Police Commissioner, a law enforcement officer actually purchased a copy of the paper, with its sensational front page headline, at 1.30am. Presumably, dozens of delivery drivers were carting bundles of the paper around even earlier than that. It was delivered to the Australian Federal Police headquarters by 2.00am, and Commissioner Overland’s own operations centre had the paper at 3.00am.

Now, it is obviously good journalism to get the story first. It is also good journalism to have confidential sources who can provide accurate information. It is good journalism to have a sound relationship with the authorities, especially the police, in which a healthy level of trust exists. But it is equally obvious that publishing sensitive information prematurely can potentially have devastating consequences. In a situation such as this, with a police operation against suspected violent terrorists in progress, it can cost lives.

The Australian insists that the early edition of the paper was held back for exactly that reason. They claim that the paper was not available at 1.30am, but that it was only released when safe to do so. But the evidence described by Commissioner Overland seems to indicate otherwise. It would seem that somehow, somewhere, something went wrong with the timetable and the newspaper got out well before it should have.

From the point of view of the Police Commissioner of course, the question is from where did the Australian get their information in the first place? His concern is that a police officer may have been responsible for the leak. If so, it constitutes an illegal act which carries a jail term, and represents a tremendous embarrassment in the course of what has otherwise been a very successful operation. It highlights the pitfalls of any relationship between police and the media which might become too cosy. While it is obvious what the benefit is for the media outlet in such a relationship, the benefit for the police is more dubious, and the potential risk is obvious.

That’s why any media outlet which enjoys a relationship of trust must recognize that making arrests is more important than making headlines. At the same time, you have to wonder why any police officer would take such a risk.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Politics Of Deception

The man at the centre of the so called “utegate” scandal, Treasury official Godwin Grech, has made front page news once again, this time with his admission that it was he who manufactured the infamous fake email. He still insists that there really was an email, which nobody else ever saw, and which nobody has ever been able to find, but that because it had gone missing he made up a replacement. He also admits that after a period of some months between the alleged original email and the creation of his replacement his recollection of the exact wording may be faulty, yet he insists that the tone and intent of the message is accurate.

As Mr. Grech is currently accommodated in a psychiatric facility it is probably safe to assume that his state of mind may not be at its best. The feeble attempts to defend his actions seem to indicate a lack of awareness of the seriousness of the matter, although he does admit to an “error of judgment”. However the fact is that material purported to be physical evidence has been manufactured, and subsequently used in attempt to discredit a Prime Minister to such an extent that he would be forced to resign. The scale of the potential impact could not be more enormous.

Liberal party members have defended Malcolm Turnbull by claiming that he was duped by the deception, and he too is a victim of the “utegate” affair, despite his obvious role as an instigator of much of the drama which unfolded. Some have claimed that it was Godwin Grech who sought the meeting at which the offending email was discussed, and that Mr. Grech actually put forward questions for the opposition to use in the Parliament. Even if that is true, Mr. Turnbull can not escape responsibility for enthusiastically embracing the plot to bring down a Prime Minister.

On the one hand the role of Godwin Grech must be examined, and the question asked as to why a public servant might be seeking to serve an opposition political party rather than the public. But on the other hand, it should also be asked why a political party should not only embrace such an approach but apparently encourage it. While we should suspect that various forms of subterfuge are not uncommon in politics, it is disappointing to think that the brightest brains of the Liberal Party have found themselves caught out by becoming embroiled in such duplicitous activity.

To cap it all off, the Auditor General’s investigation has now cleared both the Prime Minister and the Treasurer of any misconduct of any kind in relation to the Ozcar scheme, and the used car dealer John Grant. The only evidence of any kind which was ever produced was a fabrication which was created by the same man who was at the source of the allegations in the first place. That man now appears to be in a fragile state of mind, and his motivation is uncertain.

The bottom line however is that while Malcolm Turnbull may have been the victim of deception, many will say that the deception itself is enough to indicate that Mr. Turnbull’s judgment has been found so deficient that he should not be leader. Even so, he will not be replaced at this time because yet another leadership change for the Liveral Party now would actually be more damaging than keeping him on. At least for now.

Monday, August 3, 2009

A Media Feeding Frenzy… On Itself

Although I am reluctant to join the increasing crowd of members of the media who devote their space in the media to discussion of other members of the media, there are signs that something of note is occurring in the way the community interacts with the media. Much is being made of the suspension until further notice of the Kyle and Jackie O show on 2DAY FM following the on air stunt gone wrong last week which saw a 14 year old girl reveal that she had been raped at 12. In retrospect I’m sure it is clear to everybody that this is something which should never have happened. But the fact is that at some stage, the presenters, producers and management of that station thought it was a good idea to hook up a teenage girl to a lie detector and quiz her about her sex life. Now that it has turned into a debacle, questions are being asked, but until then it was just another radio shenanigan which was supposed to be entertaining.

There have been other recent incidents which have become the subject of the media discussing the media, such as the Chaser’s War On Everything skit at the expense of dying children, and today criticism of the 60 Minutes program for allegedly exploiting a man with a serious gambling problem for the sake of ratings. Not so long ago acres of news print were dedicated to the remarks of Gordon Ramsay, a television chef, about Tracey Grimshaw, a television presenter. There is incessant media coverage of the antics of media celebrities, and frequent examples of one media outlet attempting to discredit another. It seems that the media, having nothing else worth reporting, has begun to feed on itself. The news has become the news.

At the same time, there is genuine public outrage about the conduct of many of the media personalities and outlets involved in these events. Vile Kyle is not the only one by any stretch, but he is a good example of a phenomenon where radio stations exploit the very people they are supposed to serve, that is members of their audience, by subjecting them to stunts which belittle, demean and denigrate them, all in the name of so called entertainment. Presenters are paid, and in some case paid incredibly well, to be provocative, shocking and just plain nasty. It makes no difference if they are polite and pleasant in private life, because in their public personas they are richly rewarded for various forms of bad behavior.

But there are signs that the audience has had enough. The public backlash against Gordon Ramsay was genuine, even though it was played for all it was worth by Channel 9. Ratings for so called reality TV shows which subject their participants to humiliation are falling, while programs with a more palatable approach are successful. And of course, that is the important point. In the end, media outlets will only succeed by responding to the needs of the audience. It is up to all of us as consumers of media to reward those outlets who give us the decent programs we expect, and turn away from the others. If people stop watching or listening, it is only a matter of time until the proprietors of those outlets drop the programs and presenters who are no longer attracting the audience.

All that will remain then will be to put an end to this increasing propensity for the media to report on the media, and return to its proper function of informing and entertaining an audience by reporting the news and telling stories that reflect what life is about in the outside world.

(And yes, I am aware of the irony of writing this piece!)