Friday, 15 July 2011
By ANDY BENOIT
It’s a February afternoon in Indianapolis. The former Auburn quarterback and Heisman winner Cam Newton is under his first N.F.L. microscope. On live national television, in front of some 200 reporters at Podium C in the N.F.L. scouting combine media center, Newton is fielding (fending off) rapid-fire questions about expectations for the N.F.L., his character, his level of “football focus,” his baggage.
Each of his answers manages to hit the same key points: football is the top priority; he’s just looking to take care of business; he’s eager to learn; has something to prove – you get the idea.
Fourteen minutes and roughly 100 photogenic smiles later, an N.F.L. public relations staffer ends the interrogation. As Newton exits the room, a gangly middle-aged man with short brown hair turns to those around him and sums up the news conference in one sentence: “Newton did exactly what he needed to do: say nothing, really well.”
With that, Greg Cosell has fast-forwarded through the laborious post-press conference chatter and arrived at the same conclusion that all the reporters-turned-psychologists in the room are still 10 or 15 minutes away from reaching. This leaves only Cam Newton The Football Player to discuss, which is why Cosell is now orating and attracting a small audience. “The running plays at Auburn are irrelevant, completely irrelevant,” he answers one person in a matter-of-fact tone that’s somehow both humble and haughty. “To me, an apt comparison might be Josh Freeman, only in that case, we get into slight differences in terms of mechanics and arm strength.”
Though known – and accurately so – as a scouting convention, the combine is also like a week-long N.F.L. conference. Every front office executive and coach is around, and because of that, so is every licensed player agent, personal trainer and accredited member of the news media. The combine scene is the Super Bowl scene minus the hoopla. It’s the purest annual football-centric gathering in America. Which makes it Shangri-La for Cosell.
After 15 minutes, Cosell still has a small audience. By now, he has covered all his baseline beliefs about N.F.L. quarterbacking: arm strength matters; decision-making is a major factor – in the presnap phase as much as the post-snap phase; mobility is no big deal unless you’re talking about pocket mobility, in which case it’s critical because it pertains to the element that most distinguishes big-time quarterbacks from average quarterbacks: the ability to make throws with bodies around you. Cosell will sermonize about any position. Every word he utters is like an N.F.L. play call: deliberately selected, deriving from thorough research and carrying a distinct intention. Hyperbole and presumption are nowhere to be found. “It’s not about Newton’s production in college, it’s about how certain attributes can be expected to translate to the pro game,” he says.
Any first-time combine attendee will inevitably notice Cosell at some point and wonder, Who is this guy? This year, he could be seen in the Lucas Oil Stadium lobby chatting for hours with George Whitfield Jr., Newton’s personal quarterback coach. Every time Cosell entered the media work room, he was approached by multiple writers and broadcasters, including the combine godfather Gil Brandt. A television crew stopped and interviewed him. During the skill position player drills, he was spotted visiting with Falcons General Manager Thomas Dimitroff, Saints Coach Sean Payton, Ravens Coach John Harbaugh and renowned coordinators like the Bengals’ Mike Zimmer and the Lions’ Scott Linehan, to name a few. These heavy-hitters were absorbing his every word.
“Greg is just a brilliant man when it comes to” the strategic and personnel facets of the league, Raiders offensive coordinator Al Saunders said. “Tremendous insight, a tremendous knowledge of personnel, a great command of the intricacies of the game from a strategic standpoint.”
“For a guy who isn’t a coach, isn’t a general manager, and was never a player,” the NFL.com senior writer Vic Carucci said, “the depth of his knowledge and his ability to explain it is as strong as anything I’ve come across. And I like to think I’ve been around some of the brightest football people in the modern era.”
The business card answer to Who is this guy? says “Greg Cosell: senior producer, NFL Films.” But business cards also say things like “Grigori Rasputin: religious counselor” or “Karl Rove: political consultant.” In other words, titles can be understating.
To N.F.L. insiders, Cosell is a treasure trove of information. Pro football writers and broadcasters regularly hit him up privately for analysis. General managers ask for his assessment of draft prospects. Coaches are curious about his methods of breaking down film. “I got to know Greg from taking trips down to NFL Films over the last 15 or 20 years,” Sports Illustrated’s Peter King said. “He was always sort of the wizard behind the curtain. I always respected his opinion because you could tell he watches every game. He watches all the players. And it isn’t about who has the best stats, it’s about the best players.”
Cosell, a 55-year-old father of two girls, grew up as the only child in a middle class apartment in Flushing, about 10 minutes from Shea Stadium. He was all-city in basketball and baseball at Francis Lewis High School and was known by many as the nephew of the iconic broadcaster Howard Cosell.
“When you grow up in a family and there’s a famous person, to you that’s just your family,” he says. “When Howard was in his prime, I didn’t see him very often simply because the nature of his business took him on the road. Our families lived far enough away from one another that we didn’t necessarily get together on a regular basis. So he was doing his thing, I was a junior high or high school student, then college student, doing my thing.”
In ’75, that thing was playing basketball and majoring in American history and political science at Amherst College. After graduating, Cosell moved to Michigan to teach. After one year, he left and, with no concrete plan, resumed his initial journey into the real world. One of the many applications he filled out was for a job at NFL Films; in ’79 he interviewed with the founder Ed Sabol at the company’s Mt. Laurel, N.J., headquarters and was quickly hired as a producer.
After Cosell spent four years learning the art of television, Ed’s son and freshly minted NFL Films president Steve Sabol approached him with the radical idea of doing a show that presented football in an in-depth X-and-O format. “I played sports and I always thought the games,” Cosell says. “It just came naturally to me. I think Steve Sabol recognized the way I was.”
The two discussed logistics for a show. As Cosell explains, “the general consensus was fans would not go for this.” Fortunately, Sabol, an art major at Colorado College and aficionado of all things football, did not subscribe to conventional wisdom. He saw a matchup show as an opportunity to create pregame content for ABC’s “Monday Night Football.” At the time, NFL Films did not have access to coach’s tape, which was (and still is) game footage that captures the action through camera angles showing all 22 players on the field. So Sabol sent camera crews to games of coming Monday night participants and instructed them to film the action through wide angles.
ESPN broadcast the first episode of “Monday Night Matchup” on Sept. 3, 1984. Chris Berman was the host; Sabol and the former Giants head coach Allie Sherman served as analysts. The show’s in-depth breakdowns resonated with a cult of hardcore fans and paved the way for many of the strategic breakdowns that are now hallmarks of N.F.L. broadcasts (think Madden’s telestrator).
When ESPN decided to produce its own pregame show for “Monday Night Football” in ’94, Cosell’s show became “Edge NFL Matchup,” moving to its still-standing Sunday morning slot and covering the entire league. Just as significant in ’94 was the N.F.L.’s decision to make NFL Films the dubbing center for all coach’s tape. This gave “Matchup” – and its ever-curious producer – access to the “all-22″ camera angles, something the league does not allow any outsiders to have.
“I’d already worked for NFL Films for 14, 15 years, and I really thought I knew and understood football,” Cosell says. “When you put the coaching tape on, you find out real fast that you really don’t know very much.”
The revealing camera angles heightened his thirst for X’s and O’s to a level bordering on obsession. “I loved it. I always thought that football was the ultimate schematic chess match sport. So therefore, my immediate response to football was not ‘knock the other guy in the dirt’, I saw it as an intellectual and academic exercise. Seeing 22 moving parts on every play in a finite area. And how do you move those pieces around most effectively? And what happens if one guy doesn’t do what he’s supposed to do?”
When discussing things like this, it’s not uncommon for Cosell to interrupt himself and say, “No, I’m serious.” It’s a reflexive reaction to the smiles that leak from the faces of his amused listeners. Forgive those listeners – they’re not accustomed to having someone speak to them with such directness and enthusiasm. And they’re not used to hearing colorful expressions verbalized as if they’re century-old axioms. It’s hard not to smile.
“Greg is a creative wordsmith with a rare capacity to phrase old clichés in new ways,” Steve Sabol said. “Because of his extensive tape and film study, he understands the latest trends and tactics, but he imparts his vast knowledge with concision and brevity.”
It’s this passion and knowledge that has earned Cosell the respect of his peers – something that isn’t easy for a television producer whose job centers on the nuances of football and whose peers are former players.
“When you go to NFL Films and you sit in and watch how they do their work at ‘NFL Matchup,’ ” King said, “it’d be easy for Ron Jaworski, who knows everything, and Merril Hoge, who knows everything, to basically look down their nose at Greg and say, ‘What do you know?’ But they know“ he’s credible.
“You can just tell in how they just treat him and how they look at him and how they talk to him. Former players who are really good at analyzing games look at Greg as a peer, not as an assistant.”
And not just former players. When he was the defensive coordinator for the Giants, Broncos Coach John Fox would occasionally make the short trip from Rutherford, N.J., to Mt. Laurel. “I would talk to Greg at the combine and different places,” Fox said. “I have great respect for him because he works hard at what he does. He’s approached it more from the coaching aspect and the design of what’s happened on the field.”
Al Saunders, who has known Cosell for over 20 years, said: “He might be one of the premier resources of football knowledge in the country. His insight and knowledge of the people and the game itself is unparalleled.” Asked if he would go so far as to say that Cosell could be an N.F.L. general manager, Saunders said: “Without question. And he would be a tremendously successful one.”
“I bumped into Greg years ago at the combine,” Rams General Manager Billy Devaney said. “There was a bunch of us just around talking football. Greg was there and every once in a while he’d jump in. I didn’t know him before then. We all were arguing, just a bunch of us talking football and players and position value and so forth, and every once in a while this guy would pipe in. And I’d find myself thinking, ‘Hmm, yeah that makes sense, that’s pretty good.’ When he started talking that night, you could tell immediately that he was an intelligent guy and really passionate about that stuff.”
Asked if Cosell could be a G.M., Devaney said, “Absolutely. There’s no question. Especially on the pro side, he spends most of his time – well, I shouldn’t say ‘most of his time’ because he’s up on the college stuff, too. He could easily be a college or pro director tomorrow for some team. And because of his work ethic and intelligence, he certainly has the ability to advance beyond that.”
It’s not just Cosell’s knowledge that impresses people, it’s his ability to articulate it, and as viewers of “Matchup” see every Sunday, his ability to use the eye in the sky to diagram it. The USA Today N.F.L. reporter Jim Corbett said: “Howard Cosell was known for telling like it is. I think Greg Cosell should be known league-wide as peerless for showing it like it is.”
It’s more than a little curious that someone who works in television can gain widespread acclaim throughout the N.F.L. yet remain unknown to a vast majority of fans. “Greg’s somebody who probably deserves more exposure than he gets for his knowledge of the game,” the former N.F.L. general manager and current CBS league insider Charley Casserly said.
The longtime 49ers beat reporter Matt Maiocco said: “He’s one of the few guys who, when I hear he’s coming up on the radio, I’ll sit in my car and listen. His insight is just off the charts.”
Cosell’s radio appearances are fairly frequent – he’s a regular on Sirius and several shows in the Philadelphia area – and he has provided content for Sporting News and Comcast Sports over the years. But the typical sports bar patron, upon hearing his name, would probably respond with something like, You mean Howard – Howard Cosell.
“I think that Greg’s been very comfortable being the background guy,” says Carucci, echoing the sentiment of many others who were asked about Cosell. “I don’t know that he’s wanted to be in front of the camera.”
But in talking to Cosell, one senses that he’s willing – maybe even eager – for that opportunity. Problem is, he doesn’t know how to scream from the rooftops. Or bang his fists on tables and rhapsodize. Or share insider secrets that others would gladly trumpet as “breaking news.” And much of his value is dependent upon that one golden resource. “I’m very fortunate, I’m able to see the coaching tape,” he acknowledges. “Because I see the tape, I have information that other people don’t have. I’m just fortunate.”
King, who has established himself as one of the industry’s household names, thanks in part to his on-air reporting during prime-time telecasts, says putting Cosell in front of the camera “will require someone taking a leap of faith; somebody will have to really believe in him and trust him.” Expert analysis requires an expert, and most people think of experts as former players and coaches. As an on-air talent, it’s often not what you know, but what you’ve done. In this case, an understated business card can be a deal-breaker.
It’s just after 7:30 p.m. when Cosell checks his watch for the umpteenth time. Unaccustomed to leaving the office “early” on an October Thursday night, he’s nervous about forgetting the time. On this night, he and the author David Plaut are speaking at a New Jersey community center about “Games That Changed the Game,” a book they wrote with Ron Jaworski about the history of prominent N.F.L. strategies.
This week’s “Matchup” show is all but complete. But still, there are a few tapes that haven’t been watched. On the screen is the Bucs-Falcons from Week 9.
“Now see, this is terrible,” Cosell says, pausing the tape. “This is terrible. He’s literally running to get tackled. See how he stops his feet and braces for contact?”
Cosell rewinds the tape and lets it roll. Bucs running back LeGarrette Blount takes a handoff, runs off the outside hip of left tackle Donald Penn and, 2 yards later, is wrapped up by Falcons linebacker Curtis Lofton. Cosell rewinds again and lets it roll. Then again. And again. Somewhere around the fourth or fifth take, it becomes apparent to the untrained eye that Blount is indeed planting his feet just before Lofton makes contact. Equally as revealing was how Blount failed to hit several holes with proper timing and authority earlier in the tape. If reporters could see these subtle flaws, they wouldn’t be championing the undrafted Blount as a rookie of the year candidate.
A few plays later, Cosell points out that Blount, before running his route into the flat, fails to properly deliver an effective chip block on a blitzing linebacker. It’s suggested to Cosell that this play proves Blount is an awful pass blocker. “Perhaps,” he says. “But keep in mind, we don’t know how Blount is taught to execute this particular assignment or even what his exact assignment really is. Only the player and his coach know that. So maybe he has a reason for his actions here.”
This is the type of thinking that kills a story line. Gone is the freedom to simply declare that LeGarrette Blount stinks. Still, it’s suggested to Cosell – in a slightly firmer tone – that a fair assumption would be that a veteran like, say, former Bucs running back Warrick Dunn would not have failed on this type of chip-blocking assignment…right?
“I don’t know that,” he replies. “I’m not seeing Warrick Dunn on the tape right now.”
Andy Benoit is the founder of NFLTouchdown.com and provides N.F.L. analysis for CBSSports.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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Thursday, 14 July 2011
CBS News reports: “A U.S. senator has urged an investigation into whether Rupert Murdoch’s U.K. newspapers, in the spotlight of a phone hacking and bribery scandal, had violated U.S. law.
“Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., called for the investigation after a report surfaced Monday that 9/11 victims may have been targeted by one of Murdoch’s papers, The Sun tabloid. The Mirror, a British competitor of The Sun, first reported the story.” In the U.S., Murdoch properties include Fox television networks, The Wall Street Journal and the New York Post.
KEVIN ZEESE, kbzeese at gmail.com
Zeese is attorney and spokesperson for the government accountability group Protect Our Elections, which is “urging the FBI and the SEC [Securities and Exchange Commission] to launch parallel criminal and civil investigations into Rupert Murdoch’s media empire in the United States for possible prosecution under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal in the United Kingdom.”
Zeese wrote a letter Monday to the FBI and SEC describing the extent of the phone hacking as “staggering” and pointed to recent revelations by News Corp executives that its employees have engaged in “widespread obstruction of justice, bribery and destruction of evidence.”
“It is clear that News Corp has violated the [Foreign Corrupt Practices] Act on an industrial scale,” the letter said. “Rupert Murdoch moved to the U.S. and became an American citizen in 1985 in order to take advantage of our laws yet his company under his leadership has blatantly violated American law by bribing foreign officials in order to increase revenues.” Zeese appeared on the program Democracy Now this morning:
ANTONY LOEWENSTEIN, [16 hours ahead of U.S. ET] antloew at gmail.com, http://twitter.com/#!/antloewenstein
Loewenstein is an independent journalist and author in Sydney, Australia. He recently appeared on Al-Jazeera English, stating that in his native Australia, Murdoch “Controls 70 percent of the print press. … There’s virtually no transparency between Murdoch’s empire and the political elite. … On a weekly basis, the Murdoch tabloids in Australia and around the world publish information that is ethically suspect.”
Background: Noted financial investigative reporter David Cay Johnston writes: “Over the past four years Murdoch’s U.S.-based News Corp. has made money on income taxes. Having earned $10.4 billion in profits, News Corp. would have been expected to pay $3.6 billion at the 35 percent corporate tax rate. Instead, it actually collected $4.8 billion in income tax refunds, all or nearly all from the U.S. government.” *
See FAIR blog: “Could Hack Scandal Spell Trouble for Murdoch’s U.S. TV Licenses?” and “Fox Media Show Skips Murdoch Scandal”
Also: Billy Bragg’s brand new song “Never Buy The Sun”
* Correction: “How I misread News Corp’s taxes” by David Cay Johnston
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by cyenne - Thomas Cummings
Let’s be very clear about this. The single biggest, loudest and most aggressive opponent to poker machine reform in this country is ClubsNSW. Every other dissenting voice is simply doing their bidding as they pull the strings and direct the play.
So who are the puppets in this ensemble? Who does ClubsNSW have lined up to fight their fight for them?
The first puppet on the stage is, of course, ClubsAustralia. I’ll come back to this a little later on but for now, let me just say that ClubsAustralia are nothing more than a front for ClubsNSW. They are an umbrella organisation that ties together all the Clubs associations around the country (and in New Zealand too, for that matter) and drives matters of national interest… and ClubsNSW is pulling all the strings.
Following on from ClubsAustralia are, of course, the Clubs associations from around Australia. ClubsVIC, ClubsACT, ClubsNT, ClubsQLD, ClubsSA, ClubsTasmania and yes, even ClubsWA (where they have no pokies) and ClubsNZ, are all represented by ClubsAustralia… meaning that ClubsNSW has them all in its pocket. Never mind that different states have very different demographics, rules and positions when it comes to poker machines; they’re all toeing the ClubsNSW line.
The next puppet is the Australian Hotels Association (AHA). Long-time rivals of ClubsNSW, who vehemently resisted the introduction of poker machines into pubs in NSW, the AHA have joined forces with ClubsAustralia in opposing the current proposed poker machine reforms. A deal with the devil, you might say, but not surprising given that ClubsNSW, as the puppet-master, wields an obscenely large amount of power behind the scenes. The AHA are doing what they’re told, providing a unified front while actually contributing little but their name.
And of course, this puppet show wouldn’t be the same without the Sydney shock jocks, led by the quintessential modern-day Punch, Alan Jones. It’s almost amusing to see Jones, who loves pulling the strings himself, having his opinions fed to him by the Clubs association he holds in such high regard. “This fool in Tasmania Andrew Wilkie!” (whack!) “These ridiculous poker machine laws!” (whack!) “This dope Wilkie!” (whack!) And, as ever, he has an entranced audience eager to yell “Behind you!” every time someone dares support the reforms, so he can spin around and whack them with his big stick. Slapstick comedy indeed.
Who else? Ah, now we come to the big guns. The NSW Coalition have thrown their support behind the ClubsAustralia “It’s Un-Australian” campaign, opposing the reforms and rejecting everything they contain. This is no surprise, as the Coalition were in ClubsNSW’s pocket long before the election that swept them into power. As I’ve written about before, in October 2010 the NSW Coalition signed a Memorandum of Understanding with ClubsNSW. Barry O’Farrell, Andrew Stoner and George Souris all signed off on a list of demands from ClubsNSW that included: no additional casinos; no change to existing conditions such as maximum bets, reel spin speeds, ATMs in venues and feeding cash into machines; and fewer limitations on clubs with regard to new games and new technology. In other words, the NSW Coalition agreed to do what ClubsNSW said. Careful guys, your strings are showing.
While we’re speaking of the Coalition, there’s an even bigger puppet just around the corner. The Federal Opposition have also pledged to support the “It’s Un-Australian” campaign, with Federal Puppet for Reform Rejection Steve Ciobo whacking anything remotely resembling a gambling reform with his stick. Punch would be proud.
But it doesn’t stop there. The most recent puppet to hit the stage is the NRL, who have publicly declared their support and have taken to the stage to join in the whack-fest. David Gallop, Steve Mortimer, Phil Gould… they’ve all put on their jester outfits and wildly decried the reforms. They’ll kill our clubs! they cry. They’ll kill our game! Personally, I find it extremely revealing that Gould’s recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald was originally titled “Why Our Game Needs Pokies Cash”, but was changed several hours later to “Why Gallop Is Right On This One.” You can’t have it both ways Phil. Either the NRL needs poker machine revenue to survive, in which case the game should have died years ago; or it doesn’t, in which case you have no reason to oppose the reforms.
That’s a long, long line of puppets landing a lot of blows and making a lot of noise… and almost all of it is coming from NSW. Which brings me back to my original point about ClubsAustralia, and how ClubsNSW are pulling their strings.
Peter Newell, the Chairman of ClubsAustralia, is also Chairman of ClubsNSW.
Anthony Ball, CEO of ClubsAustralia, is also CEO of ClubsNSW.
Josh Landis, Executive Manager (Policy & Government) of ClubsAustralia, holds the same position with ClubsNSW. He is actually in charge of the day to day operations of ClubsAustralia.
Jeremy Bath, Media Relations Manager of ClubsAustralia, is also the Media Relations Manager with ClubsNSW.
Carissa Simons, Senior Media Officer with ClubsAustralia, is also the Senior Media Officer with ClubsNSW.
Anita Balalovski, Media Officer with ClubsAustralia, is also a Media Officer with ClubsNSW.
That’s a whole lot of people holding down two jobs.
Then there’s the website. Until recently, ClubsAustralia didn’t have a website. If you googled “ClubsAustralia” the first match was the ClubsNSW website. I’ve been talking about this for months, and it seems that the good folk at ClubsNSW have finally paid attention. ClubsAustralia have their own website now, it’s been online for a couple of months. Guess who registered the domain name?
What’s more, the official contact email address for the domain is the ClubsNSW email address of Greg O’Brien, who just happens to be the ClubsNSW Privacy Officer.
It’s a sad indictment on the industry that a single organisation, supposedly created with altruistic intent and operating behind the veneer of respectability that not-for-profit status implies, can pull so many strings, seemingly at will, to get what it wants. This is not about helping problem gamblers; it’s not even about protecting the rights of members. It’s about power, and lots of it.
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Ross Gittins explains how Julia Gillard's carbon tax will not reduce the average person's disposable income.
Almost two-thirds of Australia's economists say the government's carbon pricing package is good economic policy, while even more oppose the Coalition's plan.
A new study by the Economic Society of Australia, released today, found 60 per cent of economists believed the move to put a price on carbon from mid-2012 and to use the funds to benefit households, industry and clean energy was sound economic policy.
But one-quarter of the 140 economists surveyed disagreed with the assessment.
Tony Abbott will take a 'strong and effective' industrial relations policy to the next election.
A vast majority of economists say Tony Abbott's climate plans aren't sound economic policy. Photo: Graham Tidy
Almost 85 per cent said they did not think the Coalition's alternative "direct action'' plan was a sound economic proposal to reduce carbon emissions.
Comment: Abbott's climate plan fails the test
An associated survey of 500 economists looked at current issues such as middle-class welfare, the mining tax and the financial handling of infrastructure projects.
It found 70 per cent of respondents supported a super profits tax on miners, and there was strong support for a more generous disabilities scheme, the abolition of the baby bonus and first-home owners grant and the introduction of a road-user charge to tackle traffic congestion.
Society president, Professor Bruce Chapman from the Crawford School of Economics and Government at the Australian National University, said there was good and bad news for the government and opposition.
There was strong support for the economic stimulus that protected Australia from the global financial crisis, he said.
But three-quarters of economists agreed that major infrastructure, such as the national broadband network, should have been subject to an independent cost-benefit study before it was approved.
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Tuesday, 12 July 2011
Malcolm Farnsworth publishes AustralianPolitics.com. He tweets about politics as @mfarnsworth.
Edward Gough Whitlam is 95 years old today.
Whilst it is 35 years since Australia's 21st prime minister was dismissed by the governor-general, his political career contains lessons and his unbounded spirit is missed.
The present Labor Government is already nine months older than the Whitlam government was on November 11, 1975. Yet, if it fell today, its record would pale by comparison. The reservoir of good-will would be low and few would hanker for Rudd or Gillard.
Whitlam, however, is loved by his party and many in the community. Affection and loyalty walk arm in arm with him through the pages of history. He is a living lesson in political leadership.
Forty years ago, Whitlam was the opposition Labor leader who spoke to a generation of people who had known nothing other than the Coalition in power in Canberra. Menzies was long gone and the government of William McMahon was a joke. Only the most rabidly partisan would deny it. The Liberals had disposed of their former leader, John Gorton, and opted for an overweeningly ambitious replacement who wasn't up to the job.
As a teenager awakening to the world of politics, I was one of those who saw in Whitlam a man for his times. There was a clear sense of a political class in decay. There was the deceit and chaos of Vietnam. There was the conscription lottery. Most of all, there was neglect in so many areas: in education, health, the cities, the law, the electoral system. Whitlam spoke of these issues and offered solutions.
Socially, Australia was stricken by inaction and knee-jerk conservatism. Books were banned. Films were censored. An inward-looking narrowness prevailed, even as the outside world was rent with dissent and the promise of change. In so many ways, Whitlam championed the outsiders, be they Aborigines, women, the elderly, the young, or the poor.
It was an era when the Democratic Labor Party preferenced the Coalition and controlled the balance of power in the Senate. These grumpy old DLP men had either walked out or been expelled from the ALP during the calamitous split of the 1950s. They wailed against change in all its forms. Often, they appeared to be against modernity itself.
I remember the fear campaigns. Then, as now, they were whipped up by the conservatives and their urgers in the media. They were ridiculous but insidious. I was one of those school kids who witnessed a teacher drawing red communist arrows descending on Australia from the north. I recall the oleaginous Phillip Lynch describing anti-war protesters as "political bikies pack-raping democracy". I remember the DLP advertisements insisting that Whitlam would "flood this country with pornography". In time, I grew to despise these people for their backwardness, their insularity, and their instinctive reaction against change and reform.
Into this strode Whitlam. For a young mind, it was an exhilarating time. Whitlam revelled in ideas. There were policies galore to snare your imagination. His expansive view of the world was matched with a detailed program at home.
Abroad, there could be a historic diplomatic recognition of China, a policy of anti-colonialism in PNG, a more independent approach to the ANZUS alliance, or opposition to racial policies in South Africa. At home, the focus might be on better sewerage for the suburbs, a legal aid program, fault-free divorce, or anti-discrimination laws.
Lindsay Tanner has outlined these policies in more detail in his superb essay in the current issue of The Monthly. He shows that the breadth and scope of Whitlam's foreign and domestic program was unparalleled.
At the personal level, thanks to Whitlam extending the franchise to 18-year-olds, I voted in two elections that would otherwise have been denied me. When I attended university, the abolition of fees eased the burden on my horticulturalist father.
I know women who still thank Whitlam for giving them the chance of an adult education. For many, these policies were the only means of finding a path to an independent life. Similarly, a friend recalls the revolutionary impact of the establishment of a bulk-billing medical centre in his suburb.
In the ferment of ideas, Whitlam is a modern political giant. Despite the myths and misrepresentations that still abound – the "worse than Whitlam" canard - the policies of his government are remarkably entrenched in Australian life.
One great symbol of Whitlam's impact is Medibank. We know it now as Medicare, but let it never be forgotten that its Coalition naysayers only surrendered their opposition on behalf of vested interests fully 30 years after Whitlam adopted the policy. Medibank was dragged through two rejections in the Senate, a double dissolution election and another Senate rejection before the historic Joint Sitting passed it into law in 1974. Even then, the hostile Senate and the subsequent Fraser government continued to neuter it.
Throughout these political hostilities, Whitlam never wavered in his defence of his program. Not for him a cowardly retreat on a major plank of his platform when it encountered resistance from powerful pressure groups.
One of Whitlam's greatest achievements took place before he became prime minister. He took a sclerotic party, restructured it against all manner of internal opponents, breaking down their power and repeatedly risking his leadership. He survived a leadership challenge and an attempt by his internal enemies to expel him from the party. Sometimes you have to "crash through or crash", he claimed.
Whitlam gave the party a policy platform and he took that platform to the people and persistently argued his case. At his peak, he was a ferocious, bold and innovative campaigner who terrified his opponents. His ability to win by-elections is without parallel.
None of this is to understate Whitlam's deficiencies. In office, his model of governance needed an overhaul. The Overseas Loans Affair demonstrated indiscipline, naivety and stupidity. His ministry was less than ideal, containing some men who had spent the best years of their political lives on the wrong side of the speaker's chair.
It can't be denied that Whitlam's personal style grated with some. It may have been self-deprecation when he described himself as "the greatest foreign minister this country has ever had", but, like other leaders, a perception of arrogance cost him dearly at various times.
Nevertheless, Whitlam led a government of ideas and initiative. It was an exciting time to watch a government that wasn't a victim of the arid professionalisation of politics that has overtaken us now.
Arguments about which former leaders would survive in the contemporary political and media climate are futile, but it's worth pointing out that Australia has never seen a government attacked so vehemently by a hostile Senate as Whitlam's was from the moment it took office. More legislation was rejected in those three years between 1972 and 1975 than in the entire history of the federation to that point. By comparison, Rudd and Gillard have had it easy, minority government notwithstanding.
But what is so attractive about Whitlam politically is his life-long devotion to a range of ideas and to the means of bringing those ideas to fruition. Long before he entered parliament, he looked to the constitutional impediments to a Labor program, campaigning for the 1944 referendums, which aimed to expand Commonwealth powers.
Long after he left formal politics, Whitlam never gave up arguing for parliamentary and electoral reform. Well into his 80s, for example, he continued to argue the case for democratisation of state upper houses.
The consistency and long-held basis of his political views meant no-one ever accused Whitlam of being a policy-free zone, or of lacking core beliefs. A long paper trail of writings and speeches on all manner of issues proved the opposite.
We are all creatures of our memories and experiences. For me, Whitlam was integral to my political education. He was elected to office on the day I turned 17. He was gone three weeks before I turned 20. The events of the Dismissal are etched in my being. They taught me lessons about human behaviour and power that are as relevant now as ever.
For others, the crucial times may have been with Fraser, Hawke, Keating, Howard or Rudd. There will be many who had their political awakening with Rudd's demise and the ascent of our first woman prime minister. Each period is unique in its own way. History doesn't repeat, not really.
For me, on this Whitlam anniversary, my memory and experience is of a political leader with an indomitable spirit, a thirst for learning, and a clear-sighted view of his goals. Whilst Whitlam has never been reluctant to proclaim and defend his record, nor has he been one to dwell in the past. In the very best sense of the phrase, he has always been moving forward.
In November 1977, I attended an ALP election rally at the Moorabbin football ground in Melbourne. In their hearts, the crowd knew that Whitlam would lose and that this was his last hurrah, but they chanted "We want Gough" with a full-throated loyalty – and love – for the man who had brought hope and optimism to their political experience.
It was a chant that rolled across that football ground from people who knew commitment, conviction and belief when they saw it. It was a chant that told of a political leader who wasn't going to persuade everybody but who damn well knew how to persuade them.
A third of a century later, which of our current political leaders would dare hope for that?
Happy 95th birthday, Gough. Only five more to the big one.
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By cerisebloodThe NRL has decided to weigh in on the proposed poker machine legislation, announcing Steve Mortimer will star in a game day campaign against the proposal to make pokies players register for a card and set daily bet limits.
The decision to get involved is one aimed at appeasing Australia’s licensed clubs (who profit so highly from pokies) as NRL CEO David Gallop explained.
“Last year, clubs ran 1,130 junior rugby league clubs, and donated $40 million to help fund the purchase of football jumpers, shorts, socks, trophies, insurance, medical kits, referee outfits and ground development,” he said.
The breakdown of Mr. Gallop’s $40 million, according to the “It’s un-Australian” website, is $25 million to NRL clubs and $15 million to junior development. Surely that should be reversed?
Mr. Mortimer, meanwhile, is not just willing to put his face on a campaign, he’s put his two cents in as well saying: “This technology on the poker machines will strip rugby league and other junior sports of hundreds of millions of dollars of support the clubs have always provided.
“Our sport would never recover from that sort of blow.”
Phil Gould has weighed in on the issue a number of times too, most recently in his Sun Herald column on Sunday June 5, 2011.
“The poker-machine taxes and newly proposed legislations are a huge problem… If you are a rugby league fan, let me tell you this government is well on the way to destroying the club and hospitality industry, your club, and game of rugby league at all levels in the Sydney metropolitan area,” he wrote.
These are a series of pretty big statements from Mortimer and Gould, although the largest would be the Bulldog saying, “Our sport would never recover,” and the Panther saying the current government is going to destroy “your club, and game of rugby league at all levels in the Sydney metropolitan area.”
So far the game has survived over 100 years, two world wars, the great depression, a decade in which only one team won the premiership (seriously, it’s held up as a golden era but wouldn’t every non-St George supporter have thought of it as the dark ages?) the Super League war and more scandals of the sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll persuasion than could ever be counted.
But it will be Julia Gillard’s government that finally destroys the game (probably because she’s an AFL supporter) and right on the verge of signing a TV rights deal that is supposed to fetch upwards of $1 billion.
Of course said billion dollars has just been put that little further out of reach because when two of the game’s most prominent people make predictions of a pokie tax destroying the game, it significantly undermines the NRL’s bargaining power.
Australian TV stations aren’t going to pay top dollar for a game that’s so desperate for funding it isn’t going to survive a change in poker machine legislation.
The reality is rugby league isn’t going to die by people putting less money through the pokies because the game has various streams of revenue that have evolved with the times.
Legend goes the South Sydney Rabbitohs got their club name because the players used to sell rabbit meat to the people of South Sydney to supplement their incomes – in fact, depending on which version of history you read, the rabbits may have been alive and the player would kill it fresh for the customer.
From 1960 to 1995, the NSWRL (and ARL for one season) was sponsored by cigarette companies – firstly as the W. D. and H. O. Wills Cup and then the Winfield Cup from 1982 and, of course, these days it’s the media rights which bring in the big bucks.
So let’s assume the billion dollar deal does get done and all of a sudden the NRL are in a situation where their operating budget has doubled.
Perhaps they could use some of that sexy new money to do what they encourage so many of their athletes do when their long and lucrative career has run its course – give something back.
In fact, they don’t need to give back per se, just stop putting their hand out for money from the clubs and instead use the money from the media rights deal to fund the $40 million the clubs have contributed until this point, giving the clubs $40 million a year to help restructure.
And restructuring is all the clubs need – in the media release in which ClubsAustralia complain about what the pokie reforms are going to do to their bottom line they also crow about how they have supported rugby league for nearly 100 years.
Since pokies were only legalised in NSW in 1956, clubs must have had other streams of revenue for the first 50 years they supported the game?
Membership fees, club restaurants, live entertainment and alcohol contribute a bucket-load towards a clubs’ bottom line, and if a reduction in poker machine gambling is going to send a club under, it’s probably not in a position to be giving money to an NRL club.
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When he worked at The Times, Robert Fisk witnessed the curious working practices of the paper's proprietor, Rupert Murdoch. Despite their jocular exchanges, the writer knew he couldn't stay...
He is a caliph, I suppose, almost of the Middle Eastern variety.
You hear all these awful things about Arab dictators and then, when you meet them, they are charm itself. Hafez al-Assad once held my hand in his for a long time with a paternal smile. Surely he can't be that bad, I almost said to myself – this was long before the 1982 Hama massacres. King Hussein would call me "Sir", along with most other journalists. These potentates, in public, would often joke with their ministers. Mistakes could be forgiven.
The "Hitler Diaries" were Murdoch's own mistake, after refusing to countenance his own "expert's" change of heart over the documents hours before The Times and The Sunday Times began printing them. Months later, I was passing by the paper's London office on my way back to Beirut when the foreign editor, Ivan Barnes, held up the Reuters wire copy from Bonn. "Aha!" he thundered. "The diaries are forgeries!" The West German government had proved that they must have been written long after the Führer's death.
So Barnes dispatched me to editor Charles Douglas-Home's office with the Reuters story and I marched in only to find Charlie entertaining Murdoch. "They say they're forgeries, Charlie," I announced, trying not to glance at Murdoch. But I did when he reacted. "Well, there you go," the mogul reflected with a giggle. "Nothing ventured, nothing gained." Much mirth. The man's insouciance was almost catching. Great Story. It only had one problem. It wasn't true.
Oddly, he never appeared the ogre of evil, darkness and poison that he's been made out to be these past few days. Maybe it's because his editors and sub-editors and reporters repeatedly second-guessed what Murdoch would say. Murdoch was owner of The Times when I covered the blood-soaked Israeli invasion and occupation of Lebanon in 1982. Not a line was removed from my reports, however critical they were of Israel. After the invasion, Douglas-Home and Murdoch were invited by the Israelis to take a military helicopter trip into Lebanon. The Israelis tried to rubbish my reporting; Douglas-Home said he stood up for me. On the flight back to London, Douglas-Home and Murdoch sat together. "I knew Rupert was interested in what I was writing," he told me later. "He sort of waited for me to tell him what it was, although he didn't demand it. I didn't show it to him."
But things changed. Before he was editor, Douglas-Home would write for the Arabic-language Al-Majella magazine, often deeply critical of Israel. Now his Times editorials took an optimistic view of the Israeli invasion. He stated that "there is now no worthy Palestinian to whom the world can talk" and – for heaven's sake – that "perhaps at last the Palestinians on the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip will stop hoping that stage-strutters like Mr Arafat can rescue them miraculously from doing business with the Israelis."
All of which, of course, was official Israeli government policy at the time.
Then, in the spring of 1983, another change. I had, with Douglas-Home's full agreement, spent months investigating the death of seven Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners of the Israelis in Sidon. It was obvious, I concluded, that the men had been murdered – the grave-digger even told me that their corpses had been brought to him, hands tied behind their backs, showing marks of bruising. But now Douglas-Home couldn't see how we would be "justified" in running a report "so long after the event".
In other words, the very system of investigative journalism – of fact-checking and months of interviews – became self-defeating. When we got the facts, too much time had passed to print them. I asked the Israelis if they would carry out a military inquiry and, anxious to show how humanitarian they were, they duly told us there would be an official investigation. The Israeli "inquiry" was, I suspected, a fiction. But it was enough to "justify" publishing my long and detailed report. Once the Israelis could look like good guys, Douglas-Home's concerns evaporated.
When he died, of cancer, it was announced that his deputy, Charles Wilson, would edit the paper. Murdoch said that Wilson was "Charlie's choice" and I thought, so, all well and good – until I was chatting to Charlie's widow and she told me that it was the first time she had heard that Wilson's editorship had been her late husband's decision. We all knew Murdoch had signed up to all manner of guarantees of editorial independence, oversight and promises of goodwill when he bought The Times – and had then fired his first editor, Harold Evans. He would deal with the trade unionists later.
Charles Wilson – who much later became, briefly, the editor of The Independent – was a tough, friendly man who could show great kindness, as well as harshness, to his staff. He was kind to me, too. But once, when I was visiting Wilson in London, Murdoch walked into his office. "Hallo, Robert!" Murdoch greeted me, before holding a jocular conversation with Wilson. And, after he had left, Wilson said to me in a hushed voice: "See how he called you by your first name?" This was laughable. It was like the Assad smile or the King Hussein "Sir". It meant nothing. Murdoch was joking with his ministers and courtiers.
A warning sign. Still in west Beirut, where dozens of Westerners were being kidnapped, I opened The Times to discover that a pro-Israeli writer was claiming on our centre page that all journalists in west Beirut, clearly intimidated by "terrorism", could be regarded only as "bloodsuckers". Was the paper claiming that I, too, was a bloodsucker? In all this time, Murdoch had expressed exclusively pro-Israeli views, and had accepted a "Man of the Year" award from a prominent Jewish-American organisation. The Times editorials became more and more pro-Israeli, their use of the word "terrorist" ever more promiscuous.
The end came for me when I flew to Dubai in 1988 after the USS Vincennes had shot down an Iranian passenger airliner over the Gulf. Within 24 hours, I had spoken to the British air traffic controllers at Dubai, discovered that US ships had routinely been threatening British Airways airliners, and that the crew of the Vincennes appeared to have panicked. The foreign desk told me the report was up for the page-one splash. I warned them that American "leaks" that the IranAir pilot was trying to suicide-crash his aircraft on to the Vincennes were rubbish. They agreed.
Next day, my report appeared with all criticism of the Americans deleted, with all my sources ignored. The Times even carried an editorial suggesting the pilot was indeed a suicider. A subsequent US official report and accounts by US naval officers subsequently proved my dispatch correct. Except that Times readers were not allowed to see it. This was when I first made contact with The Independent. I didn't believe in The Times any more – certainly not in Rupert Murdoch.
Months later, a senior night editor who had been on duty on the night my Vincennes report arrived, recalled in a letter that he had promoted my dispatch as the splash, but that Wilson had said: "There's nothing in it. There's not a fact in it. I wouldn't even run this gibberish." Wilson, the night editor said, called it "bollocks" and "waffle". The night editor's diary for that day finished: "Shambles, chaos on Gulf story. [George] Brock [Wilson's foreign editor] rewrites Fisk."
The good news: a few months later, I was Middle East correspondent for The Independent. The bad news: I don't believe Murdoch personally interfered in any of the above events. He didn't need to. He had turned The Times into a tame, pro-Tory, pro-Israeli paper shorn of all editorial independence. If I hadn't been living in the Middle East, of course, it might have taken me longer to grasp all this.
But I worked in a region where almost every Arab journalist knows the importance of self-censorship – or direct censorship – and where kings and dictators do not need to give orders. They have satraps and ministers and senior police officers – and "democratic" governments – who know their wishes, their likes and dislikes. And they do what they believe their master wants. Of course, they all told me this was not true and went on to assert that their king/president was always right.
These past two weeks, I have been thinking of what it was like to work for Murdoch, what was wrong about it, about the use of power by proxy. For Murdoch could never be blamed. Murdoch was more caliph than ever, no more responsible for an editorial or a "news" story than a president of Syria is for a massacre – the latter would be carried out on the orders of governors who could always be tried or sacked or sent off as adviser to a prime minister – and the leader would invariably anoint his son as his successor. Think of Hafez and Bashar Assad or Hosni and Gamal Mubarak or Rupert and James. In the Middle East, Arab journalists knew what their masters wanted, and helped to create a journalistic desert without the water of freedom, an utterly skewed version of reality. So, too, within the Murdoch empire.
In the sterile world of the Murdochs, new technology was used to deprive the people of their freedom of speech and privacy. In the Arab world, surviving potentates had no problem in appointing tame prime ministers. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
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Steven Long demolishes Abbott's policies on Climate Change action and his critique of the Labor policy.
Stephen Long reported this story on Sunday, July 10, 2011 17:50:00
ELEANOR HALL: Now back to our economics correspondent Stephen Long.
Stephen we heard earlier that the Coalition leader Tony Abbott is not letting up on his fight against this carbon tax, but is Nathan Fabian right when he says this will be very difficult to roll back once it's in place?
STEPHEN LONG: I think he is because once big business and global businesses have made investment decisions on the basis of this, if it's overturned it will damage Australia's reputation internationally and I don't know of a government in Australia's history and very few governments overseas that have overturned a major policy in this way.
ELEANOR HALL: Tony Abbott's got some of his lines already in place though. This afternoon he said this was all economic pain for no environmental gain. Is he right?
STEPHEN LONG: No. In short, no. If the Treasury estimates are right and of course that's a caveat but they look credible, you're going to have a situation where the increase in cost of living is relatively modest and the revenue that the carbon price generates will more than offset that for a large number of households.
On the Treasury's modelling you're looking at more than four million households - and bear in mind there's less than nine million households in Australia - who will receive more than the cost, about 20 per cent more than the cost out of their purse and about six million who will be left roughly the same.
So he's not right but there's an issue with the tax thresholds, which I know you're aware of, which means that he'll have a very strong line of argument to sell to the public that this is going to be a tax increase.
ELEANOR HALL: Well the Government says no-one will pay more tax, are they both right?
STEPHEN LONG: I think that they're right that... I think that the Government's right that no-one is going to pay more tax but the problem for the Government is that they are actually lifting two tax thresholds and Tony Abbott will be able to point to the fact that the 15 per cent tax threshold has gone up to 19 per cent and the 30 cents in the dollar tax threshold which cuts in at $37,000 in income, goes up to 32-and-a-half per cent.
So they are lifting tax thresholds, but they are increasing the tax free threshold where no-one pays tax from $6,000 to $18,000 initially, then $19,400. Now, that effectively means a massive tax windfall for everybody right across the income spectrum from those low levels up.
Low income earners lose the low income tax offset but everyone else is substantially better off. And unless they increase those tax thresholds, the tax system would become ridiculously regressive. The average tax levels will lower but the problem is Tony Abbott will be able to turn around and say they've lifted tax rates.
ELEANOR HALL: And Tony Abbott is still saying that he'll deliver a tax cut without a carbon tax but can he deliver that and still keep his promises on a budget in surplus and direct action on climate change?
STEPHEN LONG: It sounds like magic pudding economics and it probably is - $30 billion in compensation for polluters to encourage them to move away from polluting industries, plus tax cuts.
Now they're relying on this $50 billion figure that they came up with before the last election, which has had holes picked in it by Treasury and is not seen by many economists as credible. So no I don't think that they can but it will be an effective line of political argument.
ELEANOR HALL: Well of course as Sabra pointed out earlier the Government's policy is not revenue neutral and Joe Hockey says that the Government's policy locks in a structural deficit in the budget.
Just going on the analysis that the Government did release today, he's right, isn't he? This package does hit the budget bottom line in every year except, fortuitously, the election year of 2013.
STEPHEN LONG: It certainly the case that it's negative for the budget. It isn't revenue neutral, it's going to cost money and so they will have to find revenue measures from elsewhere to make up for the additional cost to the budget bottom line if they want to achieve the surpluses that they've rested their political capital on.
ELEANOR HALL: So Joe Hockey's also warning this package will deliver a complex new regulatory system that will create sovereign risks for Australia. Is that a bit of hyperbole or is he right on that too?
STEPHEN LONG: Other people would call it governance. I don't see how you can introduce a regulatory system... you can introduce a carbon pricing system without regulation. You'll need the regulation and they're setting up independent authorities at arm's length to deal with some of it. That sounds like good governance to me.
ELEANOR HALL: Stephen Long our economics correspondent thank you.
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Sunday, 10 July 2011
The News of the World hacking scandal is like the Super Bowl of media criticism or something.
I talked to the CBC about News of the World and News Corporation last night. I can’t embed it, but you can watch that interview here.
This morning (um, at 5 a.m. Seattle time), I talked to Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez about the scandal:
My main takeaway: I sure do blink a lot on TV.
(edited to embed the full segment from Democracy Now)
Accountability, News Corp. Style. Those with responsibility escape it
A Young Rupert Murdoch in Britain, Via the BBC Archives. Adam Curtis pulls fascinating archival footage that shows the tycoon on his way up
News of the World and U.S. Media Culture. I don’t think it would happen here, but…
News Corp. and Murdoch Swamped By Hacking Scandal News. Revelations come fast and furious in the twenty-four hours after a Guardian bombshell.
Why News Corp. Can’t Cover the U.S. Business Story. It is the story.
Murdoch’s Hacking Scandal Gets Much Worse. The Guardian shows News Corporation at an all-time low (and that’s saying something)
Murdoch’s Hacking Scandal. Two stories cover the political, police, and press angles on the News Corp. coverup
The News Corp. Coverup. Memory-impaired execs, payments to key figures, and Keystone Kops
Anybody There? Why the UK’s phone-hacking scandal met media silence
A Times Must-Read on the News Corp. Hacking Scandal
Journalism Scandal at News Corp. A peek into Murdoch’s news culture.
Audit Notes: News Corporation Hacking Scandal Edition
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Julia Gillard is absolutely correct not to recall Parliament next week. There are two reasons why.
First, she is avoiding unnecessary bloodshed, because I would personally stab in the eye, in a fearlessly bipartisan manner, any single MP stepping up for another week of what we're presently enduring in the House of Representatives.
Second, the reality is that Parliament House is not the part of this equation that she needs to worry about.
Unless something goes wildly off the rails (and you can never entirely dismiss this possibility, especially with a Government for whom the announcement "We've pretty much reached a deal; there are just a couple of tiny details left to settle" bear an ominous sense of deja vu), this carbon scheme will pass through both houses of Parliament.
How do we know that? Because Julia Gillard and Greg Combet have spent several months in an enclosed space with the crucial people who might have voted against it, making sure they won't. And all the questions from the Opposition in the world about what all this is going to mean for people with whipper-snippers won't make a lick of difference to that.
In that sense, there is a disconnect between the Parliament and the people, who - tired, confused, disengaged and suspicious after four years of carbon debate which has involved each major party adopting serially inconsistent positions - have understandably mixed feelings about all this.
It's not exactly a coincidence that the commercial networks greeted Ms Gillard's offer of her live "statement to the nation" on Sunday night with all the enthusiasm they might feel for, say, a return series of Warnie. TV networks spend a lot of time and money figuring out what people want to watch on TV. The PM going in to round 962 of a debate they never really got their heads round in the first place is not high on the list. That, quite precisely, is the Prime Minister's challenge here. And that's why she is right to get out of Canberra next week.
It's a very difficult "sell", for a bunch of reasons, not restricted to those mentioned above. One of the biggest difficulties is one of the Prime Minister's own making; her decision during the election campaign to "rule out a tax on carbon". Now, in fairness what she is actually introducing is a trading scheme preceded by a period in which the price of carbon is fixed. Which you pretty much need to do if you want to establish a trading scheme; if you start it without setting a price then what you get is a bunch of people standing around blinking at each other confusedly. But having promised that there wouldn't be a carbon tax at all, and having then decided to have a temporary one, the PM now weathers all the opprobrium. It's kind a pity for her that of the forest of mind-scrambling detail available in the carbon debate, she chose to mislead the public on one of the only aspects that could be comfortably printed on a bumper-sticker.
But that's politics. You make your decisions, and you take your lumps, as Kim Beazley used to say. And the interesting thing about Julia Gillard's broken promise is that she didn't break her word in order to get out of doing something hard, as is so often the case with campaign pledges. She is breaking her word in order to do something hard - something unpopular and difficult and, according to some, Quixotic. That is an unusual thing.
All this thrashing about, hysteria, and industry groups claiming they're going to be ruined is not especially unusual, by the way. It's what happens when a government tries to do something difficult and unpopular. And what the Opposition is doing now is identical to what Ms Gillard and her colleagues did to the Howard government on the GST.
So: Let the PM wear out her shoe leather. Let her set forth on the hardest - and most important - task a leader can ever undertake, which is to make an argument powerful and convincing enough to bring people along despite their deeply-held reservations. That's what prime ministers are meant to do.
Annabel Crabb is ABC Online's chief political writer.
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