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Not fit to Govern or Nicola Roxon’s bucket list

It usually takes years for members of a bad government to “fess up” to the failings and dysfunction  within their  administration and under the cover of the smokescreen of Labor’s  new and wacky way of selecting their leader a few admissions have slipped under the radar things like Stephen Conroy admitting that their NBN  roll out was an utter farce, with no ability to meet anywhere near the  targets that were so loudly trumpeted. Its an admission that has largely gone unnoticed. However I very much doubt that the bucketing delivered by Nicola Roxon  in the John Button lecture will be as invisible and as that is the topic for to day I will now provide some highlights for discussion:

1) Labor must always focus on the fact that good policy improves people’s lives and that is why the party exists.

If this is always at the front of our minds and the top priority in decision-making, we will be less easily diverted by polls, personalities and punch-ups.

This must be a constant focus. In government, a Labor party needs to choose a few big areas and focus on them, taking people with them.

A government needs to take time to explain the problem, work on a range of solutions, build coalitions to campaign for them, understand the opposing arguments so as to improve its own and measure their validity. It must allow enough time and sufficiently foreshadow the change so local MPs, branch members and citizens can be part of the campaign for change. And take time to get all the technical detail right.

2) Governments as a whole, and the prime minister in particular, need to keep their focus high level – spending time and energy on the things that really matter.

If you can’t describe what you are doing in general terms, and its purpose, then either the policy isn’t right, or you’ve descended into detail most people don’t need and probably don’t want to know.

The art as a minister should be to be across the detail and be sufficiently trusted by colleagues to manage and explain the policy detail when needed, but to allow the PM to focus only on the big picture. The Cabinet should be used to sign off only on purpose, direction and broad structure, but not excessive detail.

In our first term of Government we struggled with this. There were some contentious issues and policy problems that ran for months, in some cases years, without there seeming to be a way to bring contentious issues to a head. There was no avenue for ministers to bring genuinely difficult issues, where there were legitimately tricky calls to be made, to Cabinet for a real discussion. Health and climate change were the two longest running “non-discussions” for the first term of Government, with some other contentious policies getting only cursory cabinet approval at the last minute. There was a reticence by the Prime Minister for big strategic calls to be made by Cabinet, or sufficiently in advance to prepare properly.

3) Good leaders are good delegators.

If they don’t delegate, they and their governments ultimately drown in less important matters.

Having seen it up close, I have a huge amount of sympathy for just how much work a PM has to do. The sheer weight of government and the crushing level of personal demands are far more intense and all encompassing than most people can imagine. Kevin and Julia fully devoted themselves day and night to this task. For all their issues, no one could fault either of them for heroic work ethics and sheer determination to do everything humanly possible in the job.

But the prime minister is still only one person.

We can’t let the system slide, if it hasn’t already, to expect this person to have superhuman powers. Our increasingly presidential-style campaigning doesn’t help this. I hope any new Labor leader will not continue this pretence – it will ultimately be a great benefit to the Party and protection for them.

4) Labor needs to welcome debate, not fear it.

A progressive party needs to be able to argue over issues and not see it through the prism of internal politics.

Both internally and externally Labor, in the time I’ve been involved, has become more afraid of real debate. For a progressive party that prides itself on constantly renewing its social purpose, this is not good news.

Of course, a shallow and manipulative media can make debate or dissent difficult, sometimes nigh on impossible, but we need to push past that and learn to welcome a contest of ideas.

5) Be polite and be persuasive. Or I could call this “Keep yourself nice”.

(I know I’ll be accused of being “nanny Nicola” here, but it is an age-old rule that needs to be re-imposed.) If you don’t do this, you lose ground for no political purpose. You waste time apologizing and you lose arguments for no good reason.

And this is not a tip just for the sake of nice manners. It fundamentally affects political outcomes too.

When Kevin was flashed across the TVs icily ignoring Kristina Keneally in health reform negotiations, it cost us an awful lot to recover from and actually gave NSW the upper hand for the first time. Disparagingly calling her “Bambi” behind closed doors was pretty silly when she was whip-smart and went on to run rings around us at the final COAG negotiating table. As a result, Kevin conceded more to NSW in hospital beds at the expense of money set aside for mental health. As was predictable, mental health became a thorn in our side later on, and in the 2010 campaign was the major health issue that weakened our otherwise great story.

The Garden Island announcement during the 2013 campaign underscored that this lesson had not been learned and we lost a day or two of the campaign needlessly.

6)Always ask what you can do for the party (and the nation) not what it can do for you (with apologies to JFK).

If you don’t ask this question first, you’ve lost your focus and purpose and the public will mark you down fast.

There were plenty examples of people putting their individual interests ahead of the team’s, particularly in ministerial ballots and appointments. Reports of able MPs declining particular portfolios, perhaps because it didn’t suit their long term personal plans, is a sign of this going off the rails. The only correct answer if a PM calls and offers you a particular ministry is surely “Yes, Prime Minister”.

Of course it is natural to have ambitions, and to be disappointed if they are thwarted, but the focus must always be on the team.

7)Good governments run best with good diaries – so boring, but universally true.

This is not just about housekeeping, as it seems, but you actually can get better policy, get more done and protect against foreseeable problems if you plan a diary and run to plan. You can only get to an end game if you have planned where you want to go.

The machinery of Government is enormous. And it can be put to enormous good. But it is a slow moving beast – no matter how bold or impatient a government may be. If plans and projects are set, parameters identified and clear instructions given, with regular and consistent oversight, the work produced can be excellent. Thousands of people can work more effectively around you if direction is set early, timetables stuck to, and materials are read.

But if political direction chops and changes, if the questions being asked constantly move, if deadlines come and go without meaning, it is very inefficient, and ultimately dispiriting. It’s politically confused too.

Kevin had a terrible habit of attending meetings not having read detailed papers that he had commissioned at the last meeting – often very complex ones, at very short notice. For example, I remember a meeting only days before Christmas 2009 when a total rewrite of a health policy was demanded. Despite many, many hours of work into the night, I do not believe that paper was ever – even to do this day – read by the prime minister, let alone read over a Christmas holiday he had already ruined for others.

8) Choose good people – as leaders, as MPs and as staff.

In every walk of life, successful organisations need a pool of talented people, and politics is no different.

This seems pretty basic. And on this front, I have to say I am very optimistic about our future. We get this right more often than we get it wrong. Having a strong choice of two capable politicians in the recent leadership ballot is just one measure of this. And I reckon Bill Shorten and Tanya Plibersek are as close to “the dream team” as you can get.

9)Accept you are not always right, and cannot always fix everything. It’s easier with this as your starting point.

If the public is promised a messiah, they’re inevitably going to be disappointed.

Political messages do need to be clear. They don’t have cut-through if they are not. In the beginning, Kevin was brilliant at this. It’s why he was so successful at the 2007 election. He talked straight and people understood and liked him.

The curse, of course, is that the problems you are trying to solve and the policies needed to do so are often complex. So we came unstuck when the solutions were necessarily more subtle or convoluted than the cut-through message initially delivered.

“The buck stops with me”, “the biggest moral challenge of our time” are examples that made sense and garnered interest and support, but they come with big risks, as the realities of government can make this cut-through language a dead weight or burden. It’s always more convincing to say you’ll “fix” something, when “improve” is a more accurate statement.

In 2007, Kevin was great at cut-through, then struggled at follow through.

10) And lastly,never forget polling is only a snapshot, not a predictor.

Otherwise we resign ourselves to a static life – and a progressive party will never win without new ideas, and new ideas take time to be absorbed.

Over-analysed, published opinion polls are having a corrosive effect on Australian politics. Their meaning and value have been given enormous weight, way, way above their real value. This is perhaps exacerbated by the advent of online media as these polls, paid for by old print media, are often among the few exclusives they have – so they are inflated by the same media who commission them.

But apart from that, we have allowed the polls, and the way journalists interpret them, to have too much influence. Polls can tell us what the current state of play is, but not what might happen.

What a poll can never tell us is what the results may be after a six month concerted effort to turn an argument around. They are unable to show what might change with persistence.


So, perhaps there is one remaining question you may have about my perspective on this time in government. And it is a biggie.

After all these tips for good and bad behavior for the future, do I believe we behaved properly in removing Kevin as PM in 2010?

While I think the Labor caucus made the right decision, we handled it very poorly.

I think we had all the right reasons to act, but I think we were clumsy and short sighted in the way we did it. We didn’t explain the dysfunctional decision-making and lack of strategy I’ve focused on a lot tonight. We didn’t talk about his rudeness, or contempt for staff and disrespect for public servants (a measure of this was public servants saving up briefs to send to the PM’s office as soon as Kevin went overseas because they got quicker and more thoughtful responses from Julia as acting PM).

Removing Kevin was an act of political bastardry, for sure. But this act of political bastardy was made possible only because Kevin had been such a bastard himself to so many people.


So I hope my take on events might be worth something to the next generation. I hope they will have learned from this period, and will not repeat its mistakes.

The new Labor team will need to lift itself above the personality politics, stop seeing things as “Kevin legacies” or “Julia legacies”, and just see them proudly as “Labor legacies”. This will better honour our forbears like John Button.

I really hope that readers have taken the time to read the whole speech , but even if you have not done so I hope that my highlights give you the gist  of Roxon’s argument here,namely that the labor Government was very much a dysfunctional one that was in the thrall of   Kevin Rudd, in its first term because of his inability to properly delegate and trust his ministers  and his utter inability  properly run the government and its instruments and after he had been removed for those sins he was then allowed to foment dissent and disloyalty that undermined   his successor, who herself had many flaws. Its a far from pretty picture if you ask this humble scribe. and rather like the curates egg the last Labor government was “good in parts” according to Roxon . The judgement of the people was however that those good parts were considerably smaller than the unpalatable aspects of Labor’s six years in office.  On balance when we look at Labor’s CV I find it very hard to see any reason to believe that they were ever “fit to Govern”  on the whole they provided a perfect example of the promise far exceeding the delivery and had their lack of fitness to govern been less concealed by Rudd’s admittedly slick campaign in 2007 they would have never won office.

The Coalition have for some time been espousing the very reasonable adage that in government one should under promise and over deliver which is a very good starting point in any democracy and until Labor and its minions likewise realise that is the way to political nirvana they will not be in any way fit to govern again.  You see in the real world good government is about 90% good governance and sound administration and 10% good ideas, by my reckoning Labor scored well below 50% over all….

Cheers Comrades

One of the few acts by labor taht I broardly endorsed was the plain packaging of cigarettes thanks to Nicola Roxon

One of the few acts by Labor that I broadly endorsed was the plain packaging of cigarettes thanks to Nicola Roxon

Careful what you wish for, because you may well be unlucky enough to get your wish


To the Labor True Believers  the resurrection of Brother Number One is their last and only chance to0 have some hope that all is not all lost, Heck I’ve even had one  of them tell me that Labor can win   and boy did I have a giggle about that. As has been predicted by others with in the Labor party the visceral hatred of Brother Number One is the reason that experienced ministers are refusing to serve in any ministry in a government led by Brother Number One. As today’s Age tells us:

An hour before Mr Rudd’s lunchtime media conference on Friday, discussions were still being held with former communications minister Stephen Conroy about rejoining the team.

The ministry was not announced at that time and Mr Rudd is still trying to coax Senator Conroy to serve in his cabinet.

Mr Rudd also wanted Mr Combet in his cabinet, but Mr Combet issued a statement on Saturday saying he would not re-contest his federal seat of Charlton.

‘‘My reasons are personal and are not attributable to the change in the leadership of the Labor Party this week, although this has provided a catalyst for my decision,” he said.

A Labor source close to the ministerial negotiations said the Prime Minister had found it “extremely difficult” to fill his frontbench and the wider ministry.

“It has been a mess,” the source said.

“He’s had a knock-back or two; let’s put it that way. The talent pool has shrunk, and those who are left don’t all want to work with Kevin.”

Another senior Labor operative said: “You have had resignations and retirements. That is before you get to balancing representations in the ministry across the states, the factions and genders.

“And then there’s the rewarding of supporters. But it hasn’t gone to plan.”

One Labor MP said emotions were still high following Wednesday’s axing of Ms Gillard, which was another factor leading to complications in forming the new ministry.

“It’s pretty raw right now,” the MP said. “The consensus is that we did the right thing in going back to Kevin, but so many of us are feeling quite low about how it all happened.

“Not everyone wants a ministry when we’re so close to an election and we’re worried about our own seats.”
The Prime Minister’s office offered no comment.

What good is it to win the leadership if all that you can put together as your ministry is the “Z” team I look forward to a ministry that is full of political nobodies and back bench seat warmers.I love the fact that no one wants the immigration chalice that Brother Number One personally poisoned 2007. Combet’s resignation makes it eight ministers who have pulled the pin on their political careers . Its high face about a party that has been laid low by the ineptitude of is current and previous leaders. If the Bard was still writing his plays I can’t help thinking that he would make the events of federal politics into a cracking comedy.

Cheers Comrades


Another Day in Labor

poem ditty by GD

Kevvie in his kevlar suit
laughing ‘cos it’s all a hoot
Simon Crean gets the boot,
another day in Labor

Stephen Conroy’s face is red
his underpants are on his head
the censorship is all shot dead,
another Labor failure

the deficit is on the loose
Swan is looking like a goose
spending all with no excuse,
another a drunken sailor

the rusted-ons believe in Rudd
to save them from this bath in mud
but really he’s another dud,
not a Labor saviour

the voters wait with bated breath
to hear about a Labor death
but Joolia is such a pest,
it’s six months more hard Labor!

Gillard is definitely not drunk… or Conroy’s zombie hordes shuffle in time to the beat of his drum

Earlier I have been suggesting that the whole Push by Conroy to reshape the media landscape was a convenient smokescreen intended to  distract attention form the leadership woes of Julia Gillard and now this morning  we have Peter Harcher of the Age making precisely the same claim but with the added flavour of his contacts within the Labor party.

But there is another explanation, too. ”Conroy’s view has been that the media stuff isn’t the worst thing in the world, and it’ll distract from leadership speculation and get us through to the end of next week,” says a senior Labor figure. ”Gillard’s entire world is an inside game,” of how to hold the leadership against any Kevin Rudd recrudescence.

The end of next week? That’s the last time Parliament sits before the budget, the last time the caucus will be together in one place, the last time there will be a venue and opportunity for any leadership challenge before the budget.

But Rudd is resolutely sticking to his pledge that he will not challenge again. This is frustrating some of his more determined supporters, but he is proving immovable.

Without any challenge, the onus for change rests with the senior Labor members who, until now, have been Gillard supporters. A delegation to tell her to resign, like the one that gave the same message to Bob Hawke in 1991, is widely mooted. Messy, unpleasant, and, so far, no volunteers.

Amazingly those who are in the Gillard Glee Club seem to be in absolute denial about any thing as Machiavellian in this rather  crude stupid  and unseemly push for “media”  reform. Instead focusing on shooting the messenger  who has been telling them that this “reform” will not get through the parliament and that it was never intended to in the first instance.  There is only one thing that Gillard is focused on an that her personally remaining in the Lodge until  September 14 and as I have said its all a smokescreen, and example of the old bait and switch and sadly there are far too many of the left who are letting their despair at the prospect of an Abbott  victory cloud their political judgement about the machinations of the regime that they would see endure into another term even though it is everyday shuffling more and more zombie like towards a horrid end.
Cheers Comrades
You can't start a fire, you can't start a fire without a sparkThis gun's for hire even if we're just dancing in the dark

You can’t start a fire, you can’t start a fire without a spark
This gun’s for hire even if we’re just dancing in the dark

Who You Gonna Vote For?

Who you gonna vote for? It’s a fair question given that Our Dear Leader has already set the election date an astounding seven months hence. No doubt rusted-ons on both sides have already decided. However, swinging voters now have some time to make up their minds.

Admittedly, Labor, after five years, has made a few stuff-ups. That’s if you redefine ‘few’ to mean ‘everything’. As the Macquarie Dictionary has already redefined ‘misogyny’ to mean whatever Ms Gillard wants, I’m sure this won’t be a problem.

Iain’s previous post detailed a litany of errors, foul-ups and corruption, but he left one piece of proposed legislation off the list. Perhaps he was being generous.

That proposed legislation? It’s that abhorrent submission by soon to retire, nascent and now failed, Attorney-General Nicola Roxon. It’s her stalled, though by no means halted, odious ‘anti-discrimination bill’.

Until the chairman of the ABC, and former judge, Jim Spigelman and former High Court judge Ian Callinan, and various religious groups and almost all of the media objected, Roxon was adamant that her bill was worthy.

Unfortunately, her noxious bill has not been defeated. As Janet Albrechsten explains:

Roxon’s assault on free speech has not been completely defeated. There is, for example, still the matter of the bill making a mockery of the presumption of innocence and the burden of proof

What is it with Labor wanting to control our behaviour? Especially when they are younger than half the population and have never held a job outside of politics or the union hierarchy. What gives them the right to determine or define our moral code?

Now that Roxon has admitted over-stepping the mark, can we look forward to Greg Combet admitting that the carbon tax is based on a scam? Or Stephen Conroy, of the ‘crying Conroys’ admitting that his ‘back of an envelope’ vision of an NBN is not only unnecessary, but financially out of control and way behind schedule?

However, it is good to see that Labor’s PR department are working as hard as ever:

So who you gonna vote for?

The Pale Pachyderm on life support???

The Pale Pachyderm in trouble?

Surely it stands to reason for the NBN not to be a Pale Pachyderm the people have to actually want its service Yet the report in today’s Oz we are told that only one person in ten who have had the chance to sign up for a super fast service have actually chose to do so. This is probably what there is now all this talk of making the NBN something that you must opt out of rather than it being something that people have to actively sign on to.

“The Western Australian government is concerned about the sluggish take-up rates during the NBN test phase in Tasmania,” Commerce Minister Bill Marmion said.

A stoush also looms between the federal and NSW governments over the NBN rollout.

NSW is staring down threats by Communications Minister Stephen Conroy to use federal powers to force people on to the NBN if the states and territories do not mandate connections.

In a bid to improve on the lacklustre broadband take-up rates, the Tasmanian government has switched to an “opt-out” model that automatically connects homes and businesses unless they actively refuse.

After reports that Senator Conroy had said the government would consider mandating it through federal parliament, NSW Commerce Minister Paul Lynch maintained that NSW “has no plans to legislate an opt-out model for National Broadband Network connection”.

“We are continuing to work with the commonwealth and other jurisdictions about rollout of the NBN,” Mr Lynch said.

Constitutional law expert George Williams sounded a note of caution over Senator Conroy’s threat to use federal law, saying the government might face demands for compensation after such a move.

“The problem for them is that at the federal level if there’s any acquisition of property involved, they would need to provide just terms as a consequence,” Professor Williams said, adding that detail on Senator Conroy’s threat was scant.

The Government’s scheme is unravelling and it appears that the only way it has even the slightest hope of getting enough subscribers is to force people to take up the scheme. But there is one more thing that occurs to me and that is the minor problem that a FO system needs a power source in the home to work, so unlike the current copper system your home phone will not work when there has been a power failure which can be a big problem if you live in an area similar to mine where the power often goes out. You may end up sitting in the dark and unable to contact your energy supplier because the FO translator has no power…

As I have suggested before most people don’t need super hi-speed internet and if the only way that the government can get enough subscribers to the NBN service is to force them to sign up then there has to be  a very serious problem with the business case for the  huge expenditure from the public purse isn’t there???
Cheers Comrades

Super high speed Broadband and turning the dishwasher on by computer

Where I live we had to wait for a very long time to get broadband and now the bets that we can get is adsl1 but the reality is that it is entirely adequate for what we want to do on the internet (yes including the time I spend Blogging 😉 ) My children can play games. My wife can check out what she is interested in on Ebay We can pay our bills on line it gives us enough functionality to do anything we want to do. Rather like the old adage that many hoarders will be familiar with  that  “the amount of Junk expands to fill the available space” seems to me to apply to things like internet capability. Now while some people are told that they will want to be able to do things like down load feature movies most of us would only consider doing so if it is cost effective to do so. The Price of DVD’s has declined so much that rather than using up bandwidth to buy a copy of a film we are more inclined to just building up our collections as we please. What I am saying here is that we have to be realistic about the cost benefit analysis of any big nation wide infrastructure roll out like the NBN under Labor.
I just about fell out of my chair with laughter when Stephen Conroy seriously suggested in the debate yesterday that we need to spend 43 Billion bucks just so that some computer could turn on people’s dishwashers! or so that some people could have doctor’s consultations over the net. In the first instance who really wants to add another level of complexity to their domestic infrastructure to enable such control? and in the second what is the point if actual treatment can’t be delivered over the net anyway?
I think that such things are the stuff of a Sci-Fi utopian story but the reality is that the more complicated you make something the more chances there are that some part of it will fail so instead of a the Utopia that the likes of Stephen Conroy is dreaming of we end up with a dystopia where everyone has all of these flash toys that just don’t work properly most of the time.

So while Labor want to offer Australia a Rolls Royce in every garage the Coalition has a more modest but far more realistic Ford proposition that will do everything that we actually need when it comes to broadband and at a cost to the public purse that is much more modest and affordable.

Mr Abbott said the government had bungled the roll-out of so many programs he did not believe it could deliver the NBN for $43bn.

Opposition finance spokesman Andrew Robb said the NBN was an example of Labor’s “tax, spend and borrow” approach to government. Rather than create a government monopoly and a “stodgy and cumbersome bureaucracy”, the Coalition was prepared to back the private sector. “We will embrace fierce competition, not stifle it,” he said. “There is a better way.”

Under the Coalition’s plan, 97 per cent of households will have services with speeds of up to 100 megabits per second — and a minimum of 12 megabits — by 2016 through a mixture of HFC cable, DSL and fixed wireless services. It would spend $2.75bn to create a nationwide competitive fibre-optic “backbone” by 2017, expecting it to attract $750 million extra in private-sector funding.

It would also spend $750m on existing fixed broadband services to increase the number of households that could receive a DSL service, and up to $1bn on new fixed wireless networks in rural areas. Up to $700m would support provision of improved satellite services to cover the remaining 3 per cent of the population.

We live on a vast island with relatively few people and frankly when it comes to flash toys like super high speed broadband we have to be realistic about what we can actually afford because I don’t think that I am alone in thinking that I have no confidence that Labor can deliver on the NBN without it costing much more than they claim and that they are sure to have over estimated the number of people who will be willing to pay 43 billion  to have their dishwasher turned on and off by the bloody  computer.

Cheers Comrades

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