Monday, June 22, 2009

Milne Watch 4 - Worst of the Worst

All that is wrong with national political reporting in Australia could be summed up in two words: Glenn Milne. While there are people who periodically write worse columns, Glenn Milne is the exemplar of the three worst traits that pervade the scene:
  1. Uncritically passing off whatever they have been told by a MP/minister/political staffer as their own thoughts;
  2. An inability to think about any issue in terms other than its immediate tactical advantage to whomever it was they last spoke to;
  3. Absurdly self-righteous commentary about others that are completely unwarranted in light of their own conduct.
The 2007 column about a pissed Kevin Rudd going to the Scores strip club in NYC being in the public interest as it "went to the heart of questions of character" had been the high/low point of this genre of political reportage thus far. But as "Ute-gate" unravels and the questions surrounding the forged e-mail are investigated, we should record these two Milne contributions from 22 June as - we would hope - an epitaph for a style of reporting national affairs, and the time to clean out the stables at News Limited in particular (Insiders needs a look at as well).

Exhibit A

MALCOLM Turnbull has told close colleagues the prime ministerial adviser at the centre of the ute affair admitted to him he was troubled and had not been able to sleep.

According to colleagues briefed on the Opposition Leader's version of his conversation with Andrew Charlton at last week's press gallery Midwinter Ball, it was Charlton -- not Turnbull -- who raised his own role.

The two men were seated next to each other at the ball. After talking about a mutual friend, Turnbull says he gave the generic career advice as "one old man to one young man; always tell the truth".

According to Turnbull's version of events it was Charlton who admitted to worrying about the advice he had given Kevin Rudd.

Charlton was "clearly anxious and stressed" but concluded he had given the Prime Minister the correct advice on OzCar.

Exhibit B

This would be a good time for Kevin Rudd to uphold the standards he expects of others, writes Glenn Milne

LET'S strip this down to its bare basics, shall we?

In a supposedly mature democracy in the 21st century, the leader of an opposition political party uses a newspaper report referring to a leaked email to raise questions about the behaviour of the government and on that basis calls for the resignation of the prime minister of the day.

The same prime minister responds by immediately ordering a police investigation into the opposition leader and the journalist who wrote the story using the full force and authority of the office of the attorney-general and the commissioner of the national police.

And where did this take place -- Tehran, Cairo, Singapore, perhaps? No, in Canberra last week, the capital of Australia, the country whose same Prime Minister is in the middle of a global campaign to secure a seat on the UN Security Council, the ultimate guardian of international human rights. And who at home campaigned during the most recent election campaign for more protection for public service whistleblowers and journalists.

At the same time, the Treasurer in the same government repeatedly refuses a public invitation to explicitly submit either himself or his department to a parallel investigation by the national Auditor-General into the same issue.

Let's take stock here; these are at root seriously worrying developments in the conduct of both our politics and the process of our democracy.

Especially in light of Kevin Rudd's own behaviour. Who can ever forget the basis on which Rudd eventually convinced his own colleagues that he had what it took to lead them? I speak here, of course, of his assiduous demolition of the Howard-led Coalition over its behaviour during the AWB "wheat for weapons" scandal.

During that time Rudd relied repeatedly on information leaked to newspapers to attack Alexander Downer, then foreign minister. And to call for his resignation.

The government of the day did eventually order an inquiry into the issue -- the Cole commission -- but it was into its own behaviour and that of AWB, not Rudd's.

Downer at the time was under enormous pressure and often -- and unconvincingly -- used the defence that he hadn't read relevant emails involving the role of his department. Much as Wayne Swan is now saying he didn't necessarily read the emails sent to his home fax by Treasury officials, Godwin Grech and Andrew Thomas, regarding John Grant Motors.

And while we're at it, what happened to the accepted legal convention that once a police investigation is on foot, politicians should cease making public comments about the case? Rudd whistled up his Attorney-General Robert McClelland to authorise a made-to-order police inquiry (and knowing McClelland to be a thoroughly decent man, I'm sure he's uncomfortable with all this) on Saturday.

Yet there was the Prime Minister, fresh from reconciling himself with God at St John's Church in Canberra yesterday, and here is what he had to say before again calling on the Opposition Leader to resign: "I believe (Malcolm) Turnbull has a fundamental case to answer here. This email is something he and the Liberal Party have boasted of now, for some time."

Well, under Australian law -- assuming that still applies -- the conclusion of whether or not Turnbull has a case to answer is now surely one for the commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions to reach based on the evidence provided to him by the Australian Federal Police.

And it's not only in the area of police inquires that decent process and standards are going by the board, sacrificed to the government's attempts to defend Swan. It also goes to public service standards and threats to public servants themselves.

Its hard to top the observation of blogger Possum in Crikey today (written before the whole story unravelled in Parliament):

The political analysis at The Australian has been sliding down a notch or two in the quality stakes recently – but honestly, you’d have to be a lead poisoned crackhead to believe that horseshit.


Huge said...

Milne does have a point, though, Terry, about the consequences of Rudd's tendency to use the cops to stifle dissent. Of course, it's about the only good point he's ever made, and I'm not sure he's the first to have made it ... :-)

Terry Flew said...

If the treasurer has someone forging emails in order to bring him down, I'd think that warrants investigation. It looks like there were some in Defence doing the same to their Minister, and it is certainly unethical conduct, and illegal in the case of email forgery.

Also, Malcolm Turnbull's big mouth has given Rudd plenty of plan to launch a strike of this nature. Threatening staffers at a social function ain't smart however you look at it.

I'm less concerned with Rudd, Swan and Turnbull than with Milne, and his complete and consistent abrogation of his professional obligations to the public as a well-paid journalist.

I think Rupert Murdoch is cool for an oldie said...

"lead poisoned crackhead to believe that horseshit". Hmmmm Murdoch knows his Australian audience well.....