Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The occasional if; too many buts.

But. What does it mean? Why do we use it? What purpose does it serve us? Dictionaries will give us a variety of synonyms: although, however, nevertheless, on the other hand, yet…

But…in practical terms, what does it do in the context of a sentence?

In basic terms, the word “but” when used as a conjunction, negates everything in the sentence that came before it.

For example, “I really like you, but you have bad breath”. What do you, the listener, remember? You remember that you had bad breath. Or “I’m sorry, but you’re fired.” Do you remember that your boss is sorry, or that you’re now unemployed?

It’s a classic way of making yourself feel better while still saying what you feel you have to say, even though it’s not what you believe.

Footballer Andrew Johns made the following apology after being busted for something thuggish that footballers do (I’ve lost track)…you’ll get the drift:

"For me personally, it’s put my family through enormous anguish and
embarrassment, and has once again, and for that I can’t say ‘sorry’
enough. But the police did investigate the situation at the time, the
allegation, and there were no charges laid. But there has been a lot
of pain and embarrassment to a lot of people."

Count the buts: Yep, two of them. Break it down, and he’s what this apology sounds like, in order of importance:

1. Pain and embarrassment that I got busted. Please pity me.
2. The cops said I’m innocent.
3. More embarrassment: I’d better apologise.

Remember Troy Buswell, WA politician and notorious chair-sniffer and adulterer? He’s had some experience with apologies, and he uses the “I’m sorry, but…” technique.

Wendy Francis, former Queensland Family First candidate was responsible for tweeting some homophobic garbage comparing gay marriage with child abuse. Her apology, which we posted on her website, said

“I treat every person with personal respect. But we all have the right
to stand firmly on principles.”

What message do we take away from that? It sounds as though Ms Francis treats every person with personal respect only after she has measured them against her rigid set of principles…none of which addresses the original tweet.

So common is the but-infested syntax that even the PM herself has uses it to excess. In just one radio interview during the 2010 election campaign, the PM butted nine times, but none of those times were during an apology. When someone says “I am flat out but I’m feeling good, full of energy,” it doesn’t have quite the same impact on the meaning of the sentence.

(See how I did that again, with the ‘but’? It’s a great trick if you are aware of it.)

Today, Scott Morrison “apologised” for his stance on Federal Government funding of travel expenses of Christmas Island asylum seekers to travel to Sydney to attend the funerals of those killed in December’s boat tragedy.

I’m not convinced though.

This morning, Morrison told 2GB “the timing of my comments over the last 24 hours was insensitive and was inappropriate.” Did you catch what he didn’t say? He didn’t say his comments were insensitive, just that the timing was insensitive.

It gets worse. He confirmed it.

“I know probably more than anyone how strongly people feel about this
issue, how angry they get about the costs that are involved, and I
share that anger and I want to see that changed, but there is a time
and place.”

So there’s the word. But. What is Mr Morrison really saying there? Only the words after the b-word matter. He’s saying that he still believes what he said was right; it’s just become politically inconvenient and he wishes it hadn’t.

I don’t believe Mr Morrison is sorry for what he said. He believes that what he said is right and justified. His leader, Tony Abbott, has congratulated him for manning up and apologising. I suppose it’s a step up for Tony, from the silent shake-and-bake from last week, but it’s a very shallow step.

And Joe Hockey? He’s put his bicycle into reverse too. He’s now saying that Morrison questioning why funerals weren’t held on Christmas Island was an appropriate question. Perhaps it was…but (Oops, I did it again.) Morrison was only concerned about the location in terms of how it related to costs, and what it could get him in political terms.

And in the end, what did it get Morrison and the Libs? Another great pain in the butt.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


This is not so much a blog as it is an incredulous rant.

Just what is going on with the Libs? Let’s look at the last week:

• Tony Abbott struck dumb on camera.

• Julie Bishop openly defied her leader on foreign aid.

• Andrew Robb took up swimming – and ran interference for Abbott.

• Scott Morrison spat an unpopular dummy on asylum seek funerals.

• Joe Hockey openly defied Morrison.

• Christopher Pyne was all over the Good Weekend magazine.

My Twitter feed is alive with “the spill is on”, but I’m not going to believe that until I see it from @latikambourke.

We can only guess why Tony Abbott resp0nded like a block of flats when questioned about his comment in Afghanistan. It wasn’t Shit Happens that created the media storm; it was his reaction. Its last week’s news, but continues to bounce off walls above water coolers in offices all over.
Meanwhile, the Australian, which leaps tall buildings in a single bound rather than saying negative things about the Libs, ran Greg Sheridan’s piece smacking Julie Bishop for being, well, herself. “She has produced not a single sentence of substance or originality while in the portfolio.”

I disagree. She warned Abbott and Andrew Robb that she would not be “a party to a One Nation policy platform.” That’s a statement with substance, surely?

Speaking of Andrew Robb, with his new 1500m/day swimming regime, he seems to be preparing for something bigger than being Tony’s mate. The Herald-Sun is reporting that Rob wants Joe Hockey’s job, although the conversation between Shadows was not recent and predictably less blunt than the Hun portrays it.

But it’s Scott Morrison who has had quite the day, jamming both feet into his mouth at once with his heartless comments regarding the government’s decision to fly the relatives of deceased asylum seekers to Sydney for their funerals.

“Any other Australian who would have wanted to go to the funeral of someone close to them, they would have paid for themselves to get on a plane and go there,” Mr Morrison said.

That statement speaks for itself, but in case it doesn’t have a large enough microphone, Joe Hockey chose to illuminate it by differentiating himself and his values from those displayed by Mr Morrison. Hockey is Twitter’s Hero of the Day for openly defying Morrison with words of gentle reason:

“It is perfectly appropriate for the Department of Immigration and the Australian Federal Police to make the arrangements that they have. I think it is unfortunate that Mr Morrison would choose to politicise these arrangements.”

As off-the-charts harsh as Morrison’s comments were, Joe Hockey’s contradiction of Morrison’s position just bumps the story higher up the bulletin, and adds credence to the rumour that a Libspill’s a-coming.
And where is Tony while Morrison and Hockey and Robb and Bishop are fighting over exactly where to put the French Onion Dip and Jatz at LibDrinks tonight?

The Leader of the Opposition was asking the Government why they chose to pay for the 20-odd grieving relatives of the Christmas Island disaster to attend funerals in Sydney. Nice look, Tony. Do you need someone to explain the concept of compassion to you? Yes, it even applies to people who might not be (a) Christian, (b) white and (c) arrived unexpectedly on a boat, pleading for refuge. I liked him better when he was speechless.

And then there was Christopher Pyne, with his smug mug plastered all over the cover of something slightly glossy. Pointless.

So let me just recap the state of the Lib’s senior ministers:

Abbott – Prone to temporary bouts of speechlessness
Bishop - Prone to frequent bouts of stupidity
Robb – Ambitious, would probably take any promotion that’s offered
Morrison – Spawn of the devil
Hockey – Liberal’s one redeeming feature
Turnbull – riding a bus somewhere and tweeting like Tony Burke
Pyne - Pointless

And yet, both the Libs and Abbott are gaining ground, if you believe the latest Neilson poll.

Perhaps we should prepare some spill-related hashtags in advance?

Sunday, February 13, 2011


It’s no wonder that rusted on ALP supporters are disappointed in the achievements of the Rudd/Gillard administrations.  Between the twin pillars of over-consulting and under-communicating, the government might just be too busy to do anything else.

Rewind to 2010: there was the small matter of the Spillard, followed by an election.  With benefit of hindsight, it appears that the ALP waltzed into an election they called, completely unprepared to stand on their own record. Casual election watchers tuned in to see the incumbent government, led by an inexperienced and unpopular Prime Minister, campaign seemingly without a record of achievement.  

Somehow they forgot that Australia merely grazed the boundaries of the GFC. It’s the monument that shadows the Prime Ministership of Kevin Rudd, and should’ve been the diamond in the campaign crown. We were, for those grey months at the pit of the GFC, the envy of the developed world.

So successful was Australia’s defiance of the GFC that many punters – and at least one former PM – have denied its existence in this country, writing it off as a northern hemisphere blip. It wasn’t; the threat was real. Australia’s escape from the GFC can be attributed to a combination of many factors: a honking great surplus (thank you, Mr Howard), our relationship with China, our banking system, sustained population growth, overpriced housing and…drumroll…buckets of stimulus. Maybe too much stimulus, but in this case, I'd rather see too much than too little.

We had a lot in our favour, but had those advantages been mismanaged, we could’ve been in just as deep as other similar countries. Let’s be honest: The Rudd government steered us safely around the edges of the GFC. Isn’t that something to put on the resume?

So how is it that the ALP failed to take that message out during the federal election campaign last year? The ALP didn’t just fail to sell the message, it failed to get it noticed at all. Now, the mere mention of the government’s measures to address the GFC is met with choruses of “But you squandered our precious, life-giving surplus with BER and Pink Batts" from the right.

That’s a cracker of a comeback, but it’s not insurmountable. Brad Orgill’s report on the BER School Stimulus Programme scored it as a success. When gauging the worth of any project, you must look at how the results stack up beside the objectives. In the case of the BER, it was an economic stimulus programme first and foremost. It did support around 120,000 jobs, it did pump over $10b into an economy under threat. Was is a success? Yes.

Why weren’t the ALP spokesfolk screaming this from podiums and press releases?

Surely not because the Coalition can point to some BER school projects where funds were wasted, quality was questionable or need was overlooked? Yeah, it sounds really bad when you say it like that. It’s true though. Implementation of the BER was not perfect, and it was worst of all in NSW, where the ALP government struggles to run a chook raffle, much less the state.

Factor in that about one-third of BER funds, around $5.4b, have yet to be used.  It seems that the GFC is over, so it’s unlikely that the Government is holding those funds for further stimulus. I for one, would like to know how they’re going to be used. Please?

The other stimulus bogey-man is the Home Insulation Programme. It’s hard to be up-beat about a scheme that is linked to 4 deaths. Much smaller than the BER in funding terms at just $2.5b, we’re now looking at around an extra half a billion to clean up the mess. The official report concluded that the scheme was too expensive, poorly regulated, and had damaged the reputations of the industry and the public service. I can’t disagree with any of those things…and yet the truth remains that the scheme was designed first and foremost as economic stimulus. Take the emotion out of the assessment, and you see a scheme that created up to 10,000 jobs during the worst months of the financial crisis.

Obviously I’m not suggesting we take a Shit Happens approach to the shortcomings of the Home Insulation Programme, or that we allow those 4 deaths to be diminished in any way. I am suggesting that we shine a light on it, and learn from it.

In a decision I can see only as bizarre, the official report by the auditor-general made no recommendations as the scheme had already been closed down.  

That’s not good enough. Why hasn’t the Government taken it upon themselves to incorporate the lessons from the Home Insulation Programme into the processes used in all Government projects. Why aren’t we talking more about improving risk management, demanding better documentation, and implementing a requirement that such programmes only involve industries where workforce, standards and materials are regulated?  Such a decision would be more in keeping with the ALP’s ideological origins. And if any of that has happened, why is it a secret?

It’s almost impossible to prove that the ALP’s stimulus measures saved Australia from economic ruin. How can you prove that jobs were saved when they weren’t actually lost? How can you say we were saved from the GFC when we didn’t actually have the GFC?  It’s like that old Sesame Street sketch:

     Bert: "Hey, you've got a banana in your ear!"
     Ernie: "I know, I'm keeping the alligators away."
     Bert: "But there aren't any alligators on Sesame Street!"
     Ernie: "I know. it's working!"

The fact remains that Australia did avoid the worst if the GFC, and while the surplus  and our trading relationship with China gave us a headstart, the credit must go to the government of the day. Why did the ALP forget to mention that during the campaign? It's just bananas. 

Friday, February 11, 2011

Before A Fall

What is so hard about saying you’re wrong? We all do it: dig our heels in and support our version of truth far longer than we probably should. But lately, it’s become an epidemic of self-righteous indignation.

More Shit

Was it just this week that Tony Abbott stood in quivering silence for over a minute while Channel 7’s cameras rolled?  Shit Happens is an unresolved issue which Tony could have diffused on the spot with a simple admission that his choice of words in Afghanistan was something he regrets, and that he meant no disrespect. Shit Happens may still have been an issue, but it wouldn’t have been the potential career-limiter it is now.

Shit Happens came just a week or so after Donation-gate, in which a plea for donations to the Liberal Party appeared at the end of a letter to Liberal Faithful in which Tony himself called for action to block the Government’s proposed Flood Levy. Again – just say “damn, that shouldn’t be there”, get it the page fixed and move on.

In Abbott’s case, there is  a pattern of conspicuous defiance, followed by the inevitable written statement, and then 24 hours of intensely frustrating spin from Andrew Robb. It keeps the issue – and Abbott’s reluctance to own it – in the headlines far longer than it should be there.

Denial – Not Just A River In Egypt

While it’s very possible that these lapses may well cost Abbott the leadership of the Opposition and another tilt at the lodge, it’s nothing compared to the goings-on this morning.

Tahrir Square
, Egyptions watched in amazement, disbelief and anger as President-For-Now Hozni Mubarek defied the will of millions and refused to step down. He just won’t admit that his country doesn’t want him in the Palace any more.  US President Barack Obama is having emergency meetings with his Security Advisors. Amnesty International and various unions are convening public displays of solidarity in Australia’s capital cities. British Foreign Secretary William Hague tweeted:

Egypt has made the Peace Process more urgent – everyone should be concerned.”

Egyptian diplomat and Nobel Peace Price recipient Mohamed ElBaradei tweeted:

                Egypt will explode. Atmy must save the country now.”

But Murbarek won’t budge. Egypt has become the most real of all reality shows, and Mr President, it’s time to go.

Mr Stubborn

Mubarek’s big non-announcement? Channel Seven’s Sunrise called it wrong. They weren’t the only ones: NBC got it wrong too. There’s rumblings now that the US Intelligence community got it wrong. Nevertheless, Sunrise had Mubarek resigning.  Kochie tweeted:

“Historic Day in Egypt as Facebook generation ousts Mubarek. He even acknowledged the voice of Youth in his decision. Peaceful overthrow.”

Don’t look now, Kochie, but Mubarek is still there. Actually, Kochie probably knows that because the weight of the Twitterverse corrected him.

But Kochie, following the lead of so many before him, dipped more than his toe into the torrent of denial, and nineteen minutes later, tweeted the following:

“People chill out. We took speech live. It is historic. He is stepping down. Will not contest September. My point is it’s driven by youth.”

And eleven minutes after that:

“The point of Egypt is the Facebook generation have forced change. No burning of US flags or waving of Korans. They want Western lifestyle.”

There are many many points being made by the events in Egypt, and Kochie’s point may well be one of them, but it wasn’t the point of this morning’s speech by a leader in the process of being removed from power. Did the world’s media really cover the speech live just to confirm that nothing has changed? Quite possibly, but that’s not how Kochie’s tweet reads. I’ll admit that I’m not a Sunrise viewer, so I don’t know how it looked on air. Based on Twitter alone, I’ll say this:

Abbott, Mubarek and Kochie: Horses' Patootes

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Only the Depth Varies

Despite surprisingly widespread support from media "names", social media plebs and voters alike, Tony Abbott must  be feeling increasingly insecure. Suddenly "shit happens" is a trending topic of conversations everywhere, although not on Twitter, which apparently censors its trending topic lists on a variety of criteria, including 'foul language'. But love him or hate him, Abbott has made himself the very centre of this latest media circus. It was the one thing he wanted to avoid.

Shit Happened

My husband is a retired LtCol, and he tells me that there are unspoken rules around communication, particularly involving military officials from another country.
It's okay for the blokes to say "shit happens" to eachother; it's even okay for "the brass" to say "shit happens" to eachother. It's not okay for a civilian to say "shit happens" to a group of senior officers, especially when discussing operations in which Aussies are dying. For us, "shit happens" is a paper cut. For these guys, it's different by a factor of infinity.

It's also unstatesmanlike. Yes, it was a blokey environment, and yes, Tony likes to get blokey with the blokes, but was it appropriate? Tony Abbott wants us to accept him as a credible alternative Prime Minister - literally, Australia's ultimate statesman. "Shit happens" is  not good out-loud language for a PM. Imagine the furore if Julia Gillard's already strangled vocals had produced "shit happens" in the presence of senior military officials.

As for his motives,  no-one really thinks that Mr Abbott was being dismissive of a soldier's death or deliberately disrespectful to his family; it was a poor choice of words. Again, this is not something I want in a potential Prime Minister.

And Cantwell Agreed

Now that a more complete picture is emerging, we can look at Major General Cantwell's nodding agreement that shit does in fact happen. Again, no-one is arguing the unargueable: of course shit happens, and when it happens in war, it's nasty and people die.

I'm hearing a lot of chatter that Cantwell's agreement with Mr Abbott makes it okay, as though this expression has been blessed by the Uniform and is now somehow immune from criticism.

Let me suggest why Cantwell reacted with agreement: it's because he is a senior military officer in command of Australian troops. It is simply not done for an officer in his position to argue with or contradict a VIP civilian in front of the cameras. In any case, what could he have said? "No, Sir! Shit is not an option, Sir!" Any response other than quiet agreement would looked like a senior military officer humiliating a senior politician.

Enter Channel Seven

And who's Mark Riley anyway? If you don't watch Seven, you probably don't know. He's an experienced journalist and member of the Canberra press corps, but he's always had a bit of a "loose cannon" aura. He doesn't suffer from the earnest, respected tag that so many of the press corps have: Michelle Grattan, Laurie Oakes, even Latika Bourke have gravitas, and Riley does not. It's not surprising that Riley would be at the pointy end of this ship of fools. He even does political comedy for the morning gigglefest that is Sunrise.

So, let's look at Riley's behaviour on shithappensgate.  Yes, it looked like ambush journalism. Today Tonight would be proud. If there had been a door, Riley's foot would have been wedged there. What we've only learned today is that Abbott's team - and presumably Abbott himself - knew what was coming. So no, not exactly the ambush we saw on tellie. We must assume Seven chose to make it look that way.
There's no doubt that Riley pushed the question, and no doubt that Seven initially edited out Cantwell's agreement. We should also consider Riley's motives. Was he trying to make Abbott look bad, or was he trying to get a story. He's employed to get the story that will get the ratings. Mission accomplished.

I have questions, though:
  •         Why has it taken Seven 3 months to access the footage via FOI? If it was pool footage, and unclassified, what was the delay? Who was restricting access to it and why?
  •         How did Riley come by this story?

Oh Tony

I think its fair to say that Tony Abbott is neither a media whore, nor a media darling. Media is just not his strong point. Knowing that, his staffers agreed to a one-on-one with an adversarial journalist in the courtyard at Parliament House on the first sitting day of the year. It was a day that was already sodden with emotion.  Clearly, Abbott knew the moment he saw the footage on Riley's laptop that this was bad for him. Actually, he knew over two hours earlier, as Abbott's office had even been briefed by Riley as to the subject of the interview, and had a transcript of the "incriminating" footage. Abbott's office named the time and place for the interview. Nevertheless, The Leader of the Opposition was unprepared. You could see the wheels spinning out of control, right up to when they stopped.

"...Out of context" stutters Abbott.  Riley invites Abbott to clarify the context. Clarification was not forthcoming. Nor was anything else. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Zero. Shake & Bake. Not just for the 24 seconds shown on Channel 7, either: the raw footage shows the quivering went on for a little over 70 seconds. That's an eternity. Conservatively, it's about 200 words that weren't spoken.

I can't help but reflect on those months last year when Abbott repeatedly walked out of press conferences before they were finished. Was yesterday's dear-in-the-headlights tremors because Abbott was been counselled by media boffins not to walk out on journos asking questions?

Don't bother answering; it doesn't matter.

And the Damage Done

But why didn't Tony just explain the context, clarify the comment, apologise if anyone was offended? That's all it would've taken to curtail the media circus he was so determined to avoid.

Instead, Tony just stood there, grinding his teeth. He may have been summoning all his self-control to stop himself from snotting Riley;  commentators and tweeters alike have said that they admire his restraint. But why do we admire restraint in a grown adult? The man who wants to be our Prime Minister was able to stifle his desire to thump someone on national television. Does that really deserve our applause and admiration?

Maybe I'm wrong, and Abbott does deserve our admiration. We could all see the effort it cost him to stay in control. Again - is that what we want in a PM? The wicket gets sticky and he shakes with speechless, impotent rage? Again, I use the word "unstatesmanlike".  For as much stress Abbott appears to be under now; it will triple if he makes it to the Lodge. Remember, Abbott's team agreed to this interview. He'll cop this, and so much more on a daily basis if he is PM, and usually without the benefit of two hours' notice.

Another hallmark of leadership is "manning up", and unfortunately, this latest incident is just another one in a series for Abbott. A leader takes responsibility for his actions and those of his team. Now I'm not offended by "shit happens", but the deceased soldier's father is. He's had overnight to stew on it because Abbott failed to address the issue. Last week, Abbott was suggesting, via his website, that instead of donating to flood victims, donate to a political party: His. Last year, he said his decision not to visit our troops in a bipartisan grip-n-grin in Afghanistan with the PM was because of the dangers of jet lag. Prior to that, there was the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, unless it wasn't gospel, written down words. And there was, of course, Bernie Banton. This is a pattern.

Media, Social & Otherwise

Less than a week after mocking Julia Gillard for being "wooden" during her dealings with flood survivors, Liberal party faithful are defending Abbott for ... being wooden. On the same day that those same Lib supporters are hurling insults at Julia Gillard about her emotional display in parliament, they're also urging their leader to vent his emotion by decking a journalist.

I have a theory: is it just because we're basically good people who hate to see anyone suffer? There's no doubt that watching the Abbott footage was uncomfortable. It was excruciating. Perhaps our inner-child-minds only see that Riley made Abbott feel bad. Poor Tony suffered, and as compassionate humans, perhaps we responded to that with sympathy for the victim.

Or maybe it was just that we accept "shit happens" as part of our Aussie lexicon, and it's our failure, along with Abbott's, that context isn't a factor when we chose our words. If that's the case, we must do better.

And why are so many established media types backing Abbott on this? Is Riley, or even the Seven Network, so unpopular that newscaff types will back Abbott to make Riley and Seven look bad? Notably, Oakes and Hinch seems to be missing the Seven-bashing gene.

Shit Magnet

In Tony Abbott's case, shit doesn't just happen. He's either a shit magnet or shit generator. I'm not sure which. In any case, he seems to be teflon coated.

And that should be the story.