Friday, December 10, 2004

Politics: How to read a biased opinion piece

Posted by AmishThrasher at 10:32 am
The Age:
Carpe Diem, baby...
For this post, I've decided to analyse the opinion piece "How the left-leaning media hurt Labor", which appeared in The Age on December 9, 2004. It was written by Peter Murphy.

Most jounalists take a lot of pride in being objective, and more importantly, it's important that they be seen to be objective. In any politial discussion, there are usually competing viewpoints at stake, and presenting your side of the debate to the media can be a great help in ensuring that your view becomes the one accepted by society. In a manner similar to how people at a football game claim the umpire is biased against their team, so to a common tactic (especially when the media doesn't completely agree with your viewpoint or present it exclusively) is to call 'bias'; to say that the media is biased against your side in the debate. And it's a tactic used by both the right, and the left, of politics. The aim of this essay by Murphy, and the essay it's building upon (one by Liberal Party conservative faction leader Tony Abbott) is to attempt to either:

a) Get journalists to self-censor facts which disagree with the right wing point of view, or:
b) To create a perception in the minds of readers that the media has an inherrant left-wing bias, and therefore have readers write off any facts published in the media which disagree with the conservative right wing position written off as 'left wing bias'.

To do this, Murphy begins by pointing out a key premise and two conclusions that are crucial to his main argument.

P9: Tony Abbott is half right ("The other election losers", on this page on Tuesday) when he says the media in Australia lean to the left.

C3: But what he doesn't say is that this left-leaning media bias is hurting the Labor Party.

C2: And this fact disguises a harsher truth: media bias is irrelevant to electoral outcomes.

As I'll show later, these are very big, and largely unsupported calls by Murphy.

P1: Look at the presidential election in the United States. The media were massively anti-George Bush, but he won comfortably.

We're at the first real premise of this opinion essay, and already Murphy is making massive judgement calls: that "The media were massively anti-George Bush". Note that Murphy doesn't back up this statement with any quotes, statistis, or evidence. In fact, anyone even vaguely familiar with American culture could strongly argue the opposite: that - especially since September 11th - the American media has been (at the very least) unusually lenient on Bush, and at times outright supportive of Bush.

First off, few would argue that Fox News Channel and American talkback radio are anything but biased towards Bush. Fox News presenter and talkback show host Sean Hannity, and talkback show host Rush Limbaugh openly and repeatedly admit their right-wing bias. But we'll set that aside for a moment: what about American broadcast TV, and major newspapers?

A major faux pas in American society is criticising the armed forces while America is at war. And, like the Australian Governor General, America's President is the Commander-in-Chief of the American armed forces. From 9/11 onwards, George W. Bush has had the benefit of being a "wartime president"; any criticism of Bush - especially on foreign policy - is percieved as being a criticism of the United States' Armed Forces. As a result of this, the American media outside Fox News and talkback radio has been more lenient towards, or even interested in showing support towards, George W Bush than they would have been towards - for instance - Bill Clinton. This has led to a situation where Bush and key members of his staff have often been able to make comments completely unchallenged by the media. So the assertion that Murphy makes about the media being strongly anti-Bush is quite doubtful.

What I don't doubt -and few would doubt - is that Bush won comfortably. Sure, it wasn't as comfortable as Bush would have liked - he polled over 80% after 9/11 and (as I've posted on this blog) fell behind Kerry and under 50% at points in the campaign. But the implication of the way Murphy makes the point suggests that Bush won in spite of a biased, anti-Bush media. Whether this was really the case is doubtful. Murphy goes on to write...

P2: Eighty per cent of US counties are now Republican.

As I said, few would deny that Bush won comfortably. And while this make be technically true, it overstates how strongly Bush won. 80% of US counties may have voted for Bush, but that does not translate into 80% support. For example, large parts of New York City and Los Angeles are governed by one county. The Democrats generally poll best on the west coast and in the North-Eastern states, particularly in big cities and major urban centres LA and New York. In contrast to this, Bush had his strongest support in rural, regional, and southern areas. This is like saying that the National Party in Australia has strong support because the people in x% of local government areas voted national, which would be technically true: however, the only state where more people live outside its capital city than in it is Queensland, so while a large number of rural cities and shires voted National, the National Party vote is a drop in the ocean compared for the vote for the Liberals and the ALP.

P3: The way Bush campaigned explains what happened.

Even if we take Murphy's point about widespread pro-Kerry media bias seriously - and it is not backed up by evidence - Murphy makes an argument to the best explanation: that Bush's campaign style is the best explanation why he won. But he does this without looking at other socio-political factors that played in Bush's favor. Similarly, Murphy focuses in on one particular, specific aspect of Bush's campaign:

P4: Bush didn't try to influence journalists.

P5: They[, the journalists,] were for John Kerry.

A major unstated presmise here is that media bias rests with the journalists, rather than with editors, or directors and owners of media companies. Murphy doesn't present any supporting evidence for this fairly controversial claim. Nor does he discuss what the bias of owners and editors was. This is critically important: the owners of media companies are reponcible for hiring editors. Even if we assume that the owners have no political interest other than profit maximization - a dubious claim at best given previous public statements by media proprietors like James Packer and Rupert Murdoch in favor of a conservative view of politics - it seems amazing that they wouldn't hire whatever editors will deliver the best advertising revenues (and therefore the best circulation or ratings).

In the United States, as I noted earlier, there is a culture that is against criticizing the armed forces, or a wartime president. In such an environment, would an advertiser risk advertising with a news outlet that faces a backlash for criticising a wartime president? Would there be a backlash against a media outlet that criticizes the president, meaning decreased ratings or circulation for that media outlet? If that's the case, the media proprietor would have to have very strong anti-Bush convictions to maintain an editor who would run content that leads to such a backlash. This is a very important aspect of media bias that Murphy has outright ignored: after all, it's the editors - and not the journalists - who ultimately determine what stories are run, and media bias would ultimately reside here.

Which leads us to an even more controversial, fundemental, and ultimately unsupported premise: that the journalists were 'for Kerry'. That, first, journalists personally supported Kerry. That jounralists who personally support Kerry are automatically hacks, who just copy and paste Kerry campaign press releases and speeches, or are flacks who try to curry favor with Kerry. That journalists are unaware of personal opinion and don't attempt to counter-balance it. That journalists cannot be pressured, openly or latently, by editing staff with opposing views. That journalists are incapable of being objective. That jounralists who note the tide of public opinion are incapable of writing pieces that play to it if it opposes what they personally believe. Quite an implicit accusation!

Murphy presents no evidence for this having been the case.

Murphy also asserts that the Bush campaign didn't try to influence journalists. Again, no evidence for this fact. And it poses a very big question: what was the point of the past 4 years worth of media conferences and press releases if not to try to influence what the media wrote? Any article that quotes a statement from Bush has been influenced by it (i.e. if the statement hadn't been made or released, it couldn't have been quoted - thus in quoting it, it has influenced the content of the article). Murphy does not state how those press releases, or spin-doctors that were present in "Spin Alley" after the presidential debates (for example) were anything but an attempt to influence news stories.

And that's not even going into The Swift Boat Veterans.

So even if we take this to be true - and (as I've shown) there are some absolutely massive assumptions that Murphy has made with no evidence whatsoever - was this the decisive difference between the campaign style of Bush and Kerry? Is this the best explanation of why Bush won over Kerry? Why is this more important than other socio-political factors at play during the election?

P6: Instead, he went to rallies, looked into the camera, and spoke directly to voters.

Bush speaking to voters was mediated through the media. This meant that people in the media consciously chose to quote Bush in newspapers, prenet his 60 second soundbytes on the news, and sometimes show his speeches live to air. Murphy does not show how the media chosing to do so does not amount to the media favoring Bush. Did the media critically analyse these speeces? If the media didn't critically analyse how objectiely true Bush's statements were, how does this not amount to bias on behalf of the media?

P7: By contrast, Kerry's speeches were echoes of the day's news stories.


C 1: Kerry won the hearts of journalists, but Bush won the popular vote.

This is Murphy's first conclusion. And while it is supported to a reasobly good degree by his premises, Murphy's premises are often unsupported and weak. At best. While Bush did win the vote, Murphy provides absolutely no evidence to back up his premises that Kerry won the hearts of journalists - in other words, that the media were biased in favor of John Kerry.

P8: The same is true in Australia.

Here Murphy tries to carry his first conclusion to the second argument. He does this by what is known as an 'analogical inference'. An analogical inference is where you point out some qualities that are shared by two things, and then point out an aditional quality that one has, and infer from that the other thing shares that quality. So an example of an analogical inference would be to say that cats and dogs (2 things) share the qualities that they are both animals, both generally walk on 4 legs, and both are popular house pets. Cats have the additional quality of having fur, and therefore dogs do to.

The problem is that the additional quality may be something that both objects don't share. I would be wrong if I said that cats have the additional quality of being feline, and so therefore dogs are also felines. I would also be wrong if I said that dogs and grass share the characteristic of being green (they don't). These are important point to keep in mind in an argument like this.

Now it is true that there are many things that America and Australia have in common, and there are many things about the Australian elections and the Presidential elections in the United States that were in common. But there are also fundemental differences. For instance, while in Australia Howard pointed out the positive aspects of the Australian economy as it stands at the moment, and the 'low' interest rates, Bush is presiding over a weakening American economy. Other fundemental differences between the Australian and American elections include the voting system (preferential in Australia), or the fact that Australia runs a Westminster system where the executive branch of government (aside from the Governor General) resides in Parliament, while in the United States the legislature is separate from the executive branch.

P9: Mark Latham was the media's candidate.

Was he? Murphy provides no evidence for this, but he did point out that he agrees with Abbott's asserion that the Australian media has a left wing bias.

The best evidence for this in Abbott's article:

"An August survey by the RMIT journalism department showed that 55 per cent of journalists described themselves as "left" or "small-l liberal" and only 9 per cent described themselves as "right" or "conservative". Earlier research by Queensland University journalism school professor John Hennington found that "political journalists leaned left rather than right by a factor of more than four to one", with 58 per cent of press gallery journalists describing their voting intentions as Labor and only 9 per cent Liberal."

Note that there is no citation for this work. What methodology did the RMIT sample use? Where did they obtain their sample? How? Who funded it? Note there is no systematic content analysis that is mentioned here, and thus no mention of how this bias effects the end prduct. Were 'left', 'small l liberal', 'right', and 'conservative' the only 4 categories on offer? Could a journalist who liked the Costello camp of the Liberal Party but not the Howard-Abbott camp have put themselves down as a 'small l liberal'? And unless I am mistaken, 55 + 9 = 64; so what of the other 36%? Was there a distinction made between political journalists and other journalists? Is there competing research?

More importantly, what are these journalists writing about? Is this just a survey of political writers, or does it include - for instance - sports reporters? Certainly, objectivity is a lot less of a concern for a Labor-voting football commentator than it is for a political analyst. These are just some of the problems with the way this citation is set out.

Beyond that, as I stated earlier, there are serious flaws with equating journalists personal opinion with media bias.

P10: John Howard won the election - and the Senate.

This premise is unproblematic.

The unstated conclusion here is that Mark Latham won the hearts of journalists, while Howard won the popular vote, like Kerry and Bush in America. But - as I pointed out - even that premise is problematic. What we have here is an analogical inference based on a very weak analysis of what happend in the US Presidential election.

C2: The brutal fact is that media gatekeepers matter less and less in elections.

Beyond the loaded term 'media gatekeeper', an assumption is made - again - that journalists are the gatekeepers to the media. With very weak support. And if journalists are increasingly irrelevant, are the opinions of editors or media owners relevant? Another question for Murphy is if journalists are really so irrelevant, then why are you trying to push them into writing pro-right wing articles?

Here's anothe question for Murphy: if journalists are irrelevant, what can be done to make them relevant again? The answer Murphy seems to be presenting is to make them more right-wing. More keen to walk in ideological lock-step with the government, and more willing to attack challengers to the existing administration. But is having journalists walking in ideological lock-step with an already secrative government really that good for society?

P11: In the internet age, people prefer information to opinion.

This assertion is based on what? Is there a survey or study of whether people prefer information or opinion? And what does the internet have to do with it? And what about informed opinion?

If anything, the internet has seen the proliferation of opinion sites like this blog.

And if people don't prefer opinion pieces, why bother writing one? Especially one with as many claims that are not backed up by solid facts as this one by Murphy?

P12: They make their own judgements.

P13: They smell a rat when opinion is wrapped up as news.

Which journalist has been doing biased journalism? Murphy refuses to name a name here. Luckily for us, Tony Abbott does, and writes "Alan Ramsey thundered in The Sydney Morning Herald that the public had allowed itself to be conned. 'I was wrong in thinking enough voters just might see through the confidence trickery of John Howard, master illusionist and toad of a human being,' said Ramsey, who then declared: 'I apologise for nothing.' " The problem is that Ramsey's piece was clearly marked as being an opinion piece, and not news. In fact, if you don't believe me, you can see a list of Alan Ramsey's opinion pieces here: . Ramsey's work no more masquerades as News than did Abbott's piece, or Murphy's piece.

For anyone who has read a Ramsey essay and thinks it's news, I'll give you a little hint: the page has "OPINION" in big, bold letters at the top of it. Just like the one right-wing editorialist (who unsurprisingly didn't get criticised by Abbott or Murphy), Andrew Bolt, has.

P14: There's a self-perpetuating ideological industry devoted to "children overboard" or "Bush's missing WMD", but its electoral effect has been close to zero.

Did Labor make John Howard's blatant lies to the Australian public about refugees throwing children overboard, or Saddam having weapons of mass destruction an election issue? The fact Latham didn't go on the offensive against Howard during the campaign, and didn't respond to Howard's smear campaign and interest rates attack have been cited as key reasons why the ALP lost the election.

The original article can be found here:

Look, Peter Murphy is welcome to his opinion. But an opinion is only as good as it is backed up by evidence, and evidence is something that is very much lacking in Murphy's piece.

Monday, December 06, 2004


Posted by AmishThrasher at 11:37 am
Too many tissues
In the past few days, I've added some new posts (scroll down to see them). One is Peter Beattie's comments on Federal Labor, which are interesting to read (for those with an interest in Australian politics), and the other is a post on the Amish, and how this blog came to be called "The Amish Blog". I noticed there's people who came to this site by searching for the music industry - if that's you, there's still some articles on the front page (so scroll down), and also check the archives (there's a lot of articles in the oldest archives). As always, if you have any comments about anything I've written or quoted here, feel free to add a comment.

Anyway, I've decided to type up a new post just to fill everyone in on what I've been up to lately. i put a picture of a tissue box at the start of this post because, unfortunately, I had the flu through most of last week. That said, I've been back at work from friday onwards, and am feeling a lot better now. Speaking of work, there's the Christmas Party next week, and we've got KK gifts to get.

Unfortunately, I ain't going to Falls this year, so I'll need to make new plans for new years. I was planning on going to Falls originally, but unfortunately we didn't get around to getting tickets, and apparently they've sold out. So I'll organize something else over the next few days, and I'm happy to take suggestions.

Finally, results come through today apparently, so I'll see how I went. Speaking of which, I'll post some essays from this year on the blog when I get around to it.

Friday, December 03, 2004

My first and last post about the Amish

Posted by AmishThrasher at 1:43 pm
Amish people
Amish people:
Look closely and you can see an amish thrasher in the barn.
Like most websites, I have a counter. One of the perks of having a counter from Bravenet is that it lets me see how you guys got here: was it someone who typed '' straight into the browser (in other words, someone who I've pestered into coming here - to which I say thanks!) or did you get here by clicking a link from another site - say, a search engine.

The reason I'm typing up this post is because I've had some people coming here doing research about the Amish; literally looking for a blog by an Amish person, or a blog about the Amish. Well, for the record I'm not a Mennonite with a Mac, and this blog doesn't have a whole heap to do with the Amish. The reason for this blog getting it's title is because, for most websites which ask for a 'nickname', I use (some variation of) Amish Roadkill or Amish Thrasher.

A question I've had a number of times is 'why'? The answer is - mostly - because it's sort of funny in an ironic way. And (in both cases) there's also a double meaning).

Take 'Amish Roadkill' - the idea of someone whose religion is generally against technology being killed by it. The message of it is that technology is unavoidable. The double meaning is also a fairly obscure pro-wrestling reference. A few years ago, there was a pro wrestling fad, and (for better or worse), given I have cable TV, I watched. There was a federation around at the time called ECW, or Extreme Championship Wrestling (which has since gone out of business). At one stage, they had a wrestler named Amish, and a wrestler named Roadkill, and while I'm usually at work when wrestling is on TV these days, the nickname does have a slight tribute built in.

'Amish Thrasher' also has 3 meanings. A thresher is a piece of farm equiptment that takes wheat, and separates the grains from the stalks. You'll note at the link that "The thrashing machine, or, in modern spelling, threshing machine, was a machine invented by Scottish mechanical engineer Andrew Meikle for use in agriculture". Like I said in my heading, I started this blog about a year ago to deal with music, and this blog is like Amish_Roadkill's thrasher - it 'thrashes' out the good in the music industry - and the truth - from the bad. The second meaning is related to thrash metal, which I started listening to in high school. A 'thrasher' is someone who plays - or listens to - thrash metal. In a sense, this blog is thrashing the music industry for thrash; that, linked to the idea of a mennonite who plays thrash metal. And the third meaning is related to the thrasher bird. "Their common name describes the behaviour of these birds when searching for food on the ground: they use their long bills to 'thrash' through dirt or dead leaves". Whether you preffer the metaphor of this blog being a piece of amish farm equiptment that sorts good from bad, or being like a bird from 'Amish country' (near Pennsylvania, USA) that sorts food from dirt and leaves, it's one description of what I wanted to do with this blog.

Here's some pictures of a thrasher (or thresher):

An Amish Thrasher.

A Curve Billed Thrasher from Lancaster County (Amish Country).

Dave Mustaine: Thrasher.

So for anyone who asked where the name comes from, now you know.

But don't worry, if you came here looking for information about the Amish, I will help you out. But this is probably the first, and last, post that will deal with the Amish. First, a quick piece of background info:

The Amish are a denomination of Anabaptists related to the Mennonites, most of whom are noted for their avoidance of modern devices such as automobiles and electricity.

Next, a little history on the amish:

As Mennonites, the Amish are descendants of the Anabaptist followers of Menno Simons (c. 1496–1561). Simons was a Dutch Roman Catholic priest, who was converted in 1536 and baptized by Obbe Philips. The Amish movement takes its name from Jacob Amman (c. 1656–c. 1730), a Swiss Mennonite. Amman felt that the Mennonites were drifting from close adherence to the teachings of Simons and the 1632 Mennonite Dordrecht Confession of Faith. Much of the laxity was in the area of shunning excluded members, also called the ban. The ban meant believers would terminate contact with a non-conforming member of the Mennonite society. Amman insisted upon this practice, even to the point of a spouse refusing to sleep or eat with the banned member until he/she repented of his/her behavior. This strict literalism brought about a division of the Mennonites in Switzerland in 1693, and led to the establishment of the Amish branch of Mennonites. Some Amish began to migrate to the United States in the 18th century and many settled in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Other groups settled in or spread to Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, and even into Canada. During the 1860s, conferences were held in Wayne County, Ohio concerning how the Amish should deal with the pressures of modern society. The Amish eventually split into several divisions, partly a result of the decisions of these conferences.

And here's some more info on the amish (and their lifestyle and beliefs):

The avoidance of items such as automobiles and electricity is largely misunderstood. The Amish do not view all technology as evil. Technologies can be petitioned for acceptance into the Amish lifestyle. Twice a year the church leaders meet to review items for admittance.

Electricity, for instance, is viewed as a connection to the "English" (the outside world). The use of electricity also could lead to the use of household appliances that would complicate the Amish tradition of a simple life. However, in certain Amish groups electricity can be used in very specific situations. In some groups, for example, it has to be produced without access to outside power lines. Twelve-volt batteries are acceptable to these groups. Electric generators can only be used for welding, recharging batteries, and powering milk stirrers. The reasoning behind the twelve-volt system is that it limits what an individual can do with the electricity and acts as a preventive measure against potential abuses. Most twelve-volt power sources can't generate enough current to power worldly modern appliances such as televisions, light bulbs, and hair dryers.

Most Amish families speak a version of German known as Pennsylvania German at home. The commonly-used term "Pennsylvania Dutch" comes from a corruption of "Deutsch", the German-language word for "German".

Dress code for some groups includes prohibitions against buttons, allowing only pins to keep clothing closed; other groups allow members to sew buttons onto clothing. The Amish are noted for the quality of their quilts and for their farming efficiency.

The Amish do not believe that a child can be meaningfully baptized. Amish children are expected to follow the will of their parents in all issues, but at the age of sixteen they come of age and may lead a lifestyle of their own choice. In fact, in some communities they are permitted to try out the "English" lifestyle of the outside world for a few years (the period of rumspringa (running-around), as shown in the film The Devil's Playground), so that they can make an informed choice to be baptized and join the church for life. Some 10% choose not to join the church but live the rest of their lives in the society at large.

One must be careful when trying to understand the Amish lifestyle. Each community may be slightly or even drastically different from another community. When describing details on dress codes, lifestyles, etc., a careful writer will note the specific community being discussed. Most so-called facts regarding the Amish actually do not apply to all Amish communities.

The Amish as a whole are beginning to feel the pressures of the modern world. Child labor laws, for example, are seriously threatening their long-established ways of life. Amish children are taught at an early age (by modern 21st century standards) to work hard. Amish parents will supervise the children in new tasks to ensure that they learn to do it effectively and safely. Unlike many a supervisor at a modern factory, Amish parents know if a child is competent and safety conscious. The modern child labor laws conflict with allowing the Amish parents to decide whether or not their children are competent in hazardous tasks.

Like the Mennonites, they also shun insurance, seeing misfortune as "God's will". When accidents do strike they rely on their church and community for support.

Finally, a comment on 'Amish country' (I made a reference to it earlier):

The Amish reside in close-knit communities in 22 states of the United States as well as Ontario, Canada. The largest concentrations of Amish in the United States are in Holmes County, Ohio and Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. By state, the largest Amish population is in Ohio, and the second largest in Pennsylvania. There are an estimated 100,000 Amish in the United States in all groups, and another 1500 in Ontario, Canada

Finally, if you want to find out more about the amish people and their religion, go here:

Politics: The problem with the ALP

Posted by AmishThrasher at 1:05 pm
Federal Labor
Houston, we have a problem
Last night, I was up fairly late and ended up watching Lateline (on the Australian ABC), where they had an interview with Queensland's Premier, Peter Beattie. Amongst all the talk of Labor's woes that has flooded the media lately, I found this the best description of the problems with federal Labor, and what needs to be done about it. I't's included in my blog because I agree with Beattie's assessment. I've highlighted the important parts in bold; like always, the original interview transcript is in italics, and my comments aren't.

MAXINE MCKEW: Premier, are you sick of a losing Labor Party when it comes to federal elections?

PETER BEATTIE: Look, I think everyone in the Labor Party would like to win - that's natural. I'm concerned that amongst our ordinary rank and file, there's, I think, a concern about where we are. Wherever I go, I find a lot of people worried about the federal party - despair in some quarters - so look, of course, I'd love to see the federal Labor Party in office. It means that we can work better in areas like education, health, you name it.

So look, I am worried about it, yes.

MAXINE MCKEW: What's it going to take to turn the tide, do you think?

PETER BEATTIE: Look, I think there are three fundamentals that win elections - firstly, good candidates, and I think we need to do better in that area. I'm talking about ordinary candidates. We had some good candidates, but I have to tell you, we had some duds as well.

MAXINE MCKEW: Do you want to name them?

PETER BEATTIE: No, I don't - no, I don't want to do that, Max, but I think it's important that if the party is serious, that at a National Executive level and at a parliamentary level, there needs to be a clear discussion about who's going to get what. We can't factionally divide the seats up, it's got to be on the basis of talent. So that's the first problem.

The second problem is we've got to have good policy, and the third one is you've got to have a good campaign.

On the third one -- and I'll come back to the second one in a minute - I think we can learn something from the conservatives. When we were in the wilderness up here, when I was party secretary, we spent some time looking at what the National and Liberal Party did in terms of campaigning techniques. I think their campaigning on interest rates and so on hurt us. I think we can learn something from that.

The second one about policy - I think we've got to spell out policy early, particularly when it comes to economic management. At a State level, we always run that. That's the first and primary strategy we run - economic policy, a strategy for growth, and then we get on to the key policies of education, health, environment, you name it.

MAXINE MCKEW: Tell me this: when you saw mid campaign or realised mid campaign that in fact Labor was not responding to the attacks by the Government about Labor's interest rate record, were you bewildered that there was no response?

PETER BEATTIE: Well, the sort of response that came wasn't good enough. I don't think you can let an argument like that go. Australians, particularly in a State like Queensland, where home ownership is so important - well, it is everywhere - but people are buying homes here, we've got such growth in the housing sector. Interest rates are a killer. You can't let that argument go. It was wrong to let it go. The Liberal Party campaigns were very effective. We should have responded in kind with them and we should have highlighted the Hawke-Keating record. I mean, frankly... we should be very proud of what Hawke and Keating did, and we didn't do that, and that's a problem. We should highlight our economic credentials. If you don't, you lose. That was a major mistake.

MAXINE MCKEW: Did you try and get that message through?

PETER BEATTIE: Oh, look, I don't get involved in federal campaigns. State leaders get their nose whacked out of joint real quick if they do. I'm always happy to give advice if asked, but that's a matter for the federal party, that's a matter for the tactics, but that was a bad tactic.

MAXINE MCKEW: Tell me this: when Labor won, of course, in Queensland in 1989 - as you know more than most, because you were one of the key reformers - it was the result of a decade-long piece of work at the organisational level, the search for quality candidates - you referred to that. Do you see any evidence that that kind of hard work has begun in terms of the federal caucus?

PETER BEATTIE: No, I don't, and I think that's a real problem. I think we should face up to some very serious issues. The other day, for example - and I'm going to be really blunt about this, because I love the Labor Party and I want it to win - the other day, we had a shadow Cabinet meeting, for example, and then the guts of that Cabinet meeting appeared in every newspaper. I mean, I've never seen such disloyalty in my life. If they were in my Caucus or Cabinet, I'd shoot the lot of 'em.

It doesn't matter who the leader is, you can't operate like that.

There was supposed to be a peace shadow Cabinet meeting and then we find the guts of it revealed in every newspaper. I mean, that sort of disloyalty is just outrageous. I can't see how any leader - it wouldn't matter who the leader was - if you don't have loyalty, if you don't get some sort of semblance of unity, then you've got no chance.

MAXINE MCKEW: What would you say that disloyalty is symptomatic of, though?

PETER BEATTIE: Well, clearly, there is - I mean, people are going around in circles at the moment and I think we've got to find some direction. My view is very simple. I think we should stop navel gazing about what went wrong. I think there's clear indications of what went wrong - the campaign didn't focus on issues that were going to win and we didn't respond to the interest rate issue.

I think that the Caucus leadership should meet with the National Executive leadership, they should work out a strategy about getting good candidates, nut out some clear policy directions and start selling them. That's what's got to happen. Once you start doing positive things and you're heading forward, then people will get behind that team. If you simply sit around trying to work out what went wrong in an election we lost badly, then that in itself will kill us. That's what's happening at the moment.

MAXINE MCKEW: I just want to refer to another leak, and Mark Latham has in part denied this, but he was certainly apparently reported as having told Labor's National Executive last week that State issues were a factor in the October poll.

PETER BEATTIE: Well, I'm used to everything being my fault, so I'm not particularly worried about that, and I understand there was no reference particularly to Queensland. But look, I think we've got to stop the name blaming or the game blaming. At the end of it all, that doesn't achieve anything.

The fact is we lost.

The result in Queensland was not a good one. I'm embarrassed by the Queensland result because we delivered four coalition senators which give control of the Senate to the Howard Government - four and two Labor. Now, at the end of it, we've all got to work together. The important thing is there's got to be some sort of circuit breaker here. I have been around the Labor Party a long time.

There's got to be some circuit-breakers. There's got to be a leadership issue in the sense of the leader of the party federally and the leader of the organisation have got to sit down with both areas and sort through where we go. That's got to be used as a circuit-breaker. If we don't do that, then you're going to find this behaviour continuing. Somebody has got to say to them - look, I don't want to be the Prime Minister, I have no interest in a federal seat. I only want the Labor Party to win. I have no interest in this other than the Labor Party. I just say to them - sooner or later, someone's got to bang some heads together, there's got to be some senior people in the party that sit down, support Mark, support the National Executive.

If they're not going to support Mark, well then get rid of him. I don't know who else is better, to be frank. But if they're going to get behind the federal leader, for God's sake, get behind him, otherwise they're just going to die the death of a thousand cuts and we'll lose more seats and I won't see a Labor Government in my lifetime. I despair about where we are.

MAXINE MCKEW: I have to cut straight to the obvious question. Is Mark Latham electable?

PETER BEATTIE: Well, at moment (Mark Latham is) not (electable), because there's so much disloyalty going on, no-one could get elected. Bob Hawke couldn't get elected at the moment - and he was our most successful leader - with that sort of disloyalty going on in his own team. Look, Mark's the federal leader; I'm happy to support Mark, but people have got to say to themselves bluntly, "Look, do we support Mark or don't we?" Let's have none of this nonsense of, "Look, we'll support him for 6 months or 12 months and then slowly erode him and cut his throat."

I mean, the reality is we either support him, we make that decision before Christmas. If we're going to support him, we support him to the election.
You can't just simply say, "Look, we'll give him a few months, see how he goes and then we'll knock him off." I mean, they either support him or they don't. If they don't want to support him, then get someone else. But sooner or later, you've got to face up to the reality that unless they're behind the leader, then we're dead.

Disunity is death. There's no point saying it, we've actually got to get some people who mean it.

I think this is the most important point that Beattie raised. The truth is the media love conflict, whether it be at the Hawthorn or Richmond Football Club, or in the ALP. It makes for interesting news, it sells newspapers, and it gets ratings. And as long as there is infighting, it will be the media's media focus when it looks at federal Labor. The longer this conflict goes on, the less time and space - both in the party room and the media - is spent on attacking the Liberals, and promoting (and developing) Labor policies. And that is highly damaging to the party.

So the choice then is clear: decide NOW to stick by Latham until the next election, or get someone else. And the longer Labor stay in the netherworld between, the less likely they are to win the next election. And that may mean getting everyone involved and locking them in a room until they decide one way or another. If you really want a leadership spill, speak now, or forever (or at least until after the next election) hold your piece.

MAXINE MCKEW: You're suggesting a circuit-breaker. What kind of a circuit-breaker could cut through all of this?

PETER BEATTIE: I think the federal president of the party - that's the organisational wing - should get the national organisation together, the National Executive. Maybe they should have a day out - a day out with the National Executive and the leadership of the parliamentary Caucus, and actually work out what they're going to do, get a strategy mapped out. I don't see any strategy. We've got to map out where we're going to go, that is, when are we going to endorse candidates, the timing, let's talk about getting some good candidates up, let's be fair about it, make sure we get some talent.

Let's also then work out what the key policy directions are going to be. I know people say, "Well, let's go to the conferences." Look, I've been going to Labor Party conferences for a long time. We all know that there are deals done about policy areas well before the conference. Let's work out the key policy areas, let's work out what we're going to do, and get some positive things out there. If we don't do some positive things about our own policies within the next few months, then we might as well forget about it. People will give us away.

The Labor Party is a party of heart and soul. It's a party of passion. It believes in things. Policy is the key to our winning, policy is the key to good government.

MAXINE MCKEW: But Premier, as you know, it's going to be very, very difficult to get to that point. I mean, you've got so many competing views at the moment of what Labor should be. You referred to the party president. The incoming president is Barry Jones. He takes the view that the party should move to the left. Others say the party should move to right. You've got Mark Latham, for instance, saying the party has to appeal to the new middle class of contractors and franchisees.

How do you get a consensus among all of that?

PETER BEATTIE: You know what, you go out and talk to the person in the street out there, the average Australian, Max, and they couldn't care less whether the Labor Party was left, right or up its own gizzards. All they want is a party that is an alternative government, that actually stands for some very fundamental policies in areas like education, health, jobs, the future of Australia. I mean, we don't have, frankly, a real vision for Australia, and that's the problem, and that applies to both sides of politics. The government that will be formed after the next federal election will be the one that has a plan and a strategy for the future of this country. People can argue about this left-right stuff. I mean, you know, that's sort of old hat.

People hate it.

It would be better - for the NSW Left for instance - to get at least some of what they want - and to have a voice in government - than to have more say in a divided and ineffective opposition. And if the infighting continues, that is exactly the situation that they will end up in.

Anyone who wants to go out and talk about that is talking to their own navel. They're not talking to Australians. Australians want policies that are going to give their kids a chance, going to give their kids a future, that are going to give the nation a future. People want to get out and create jobs. Australians are amongst the most positive people on this planet, and they want a government that will actually give them some leadership. They want an opposition that will do the same, that's not running around more interested in its own careers than it is in the future of a movement, the Labor Party movement, or as an alternative government. We've got to stop being self-interested and be interested in Australia.

MAXINE MCKEW: But as you know, Mark Latham articulated a very clear vision about the ladder of opportunity.

PETER BEATTIE: Yeah, and I actually share that view. I totally agree with that. That's a view that Smart State is all about Queensland. I share that view passionately, but it's more than that, and that's why now, they're back revisiting some of the policies. Well, let's start thinking about them. Let's do something revolutionary. Let's go back to the fundamentals, and that is, start spelling out policy well before the election campaign. One of reasons we got done is that people didn't know where we stood on economic issues. We could have killed the interest rate argument or the ad the Liberals ran if we'd have actually had the courage to talk about our track record.

Look at what the Hawke Government has done for Australia. Talk about what Hawke and Keating did, then people can understand that we have credibility. I mean, to us, economic fundamentals are crucial to a good government. We practise it here, we're obsessed about it in the Labor Party in Queensland, and I know my other State colleagues are the same. That's what we've got to do, and we shouldn't be ashamed of our history.

MAXINE MCKEW: Premier, you mentioned the problem of dud candidates. Tell me this - why would good-quality candidates be attracted to the Labor Party at the moment, given what is so deeply unattractive, if you like, when people look at, say, the organisational structure of the party, particularly how faction-ridden it is?

PETER BEATTIE: Well, they wouldn't be, and you're quite right, but the fact is if you start talking about good policies, you talk about a vision for Australia's future and have a plan, a plan mapped out to deliver that, then you will attract people. Ordinary Australians will give up something to make sure that they can serve their nation in building a future for their kids. That's what's important. Look, I know the Labor Party's got its factions and all the rest of it. Factions can be positive if the leaders of the factions stop thinking about their own little nest and think about the Labor Party as a whole.

Now, in Queensland, frankly, 25 years ago, we were a basket case. We had factions that worried about themselves. Now, our factions here are very positive. They actually put the party first. Our factions here work in a constructive way with the government. I don't have a problem with them. I don't always agree with them, and sometimes they know that, and I don't miss 'em when they do, and they don't miss me - we have a very frank relationship. But the factions in Queensland are not a problem. They don't cause any grief for my government.

Factions federally can be positive if there is a direction and the leaders start thinking about themselves and stop running off championing some cause which, again, is only known to themselves and not known to mainstream Australia.

MAXINE MCKEW: Premier, this sounds very much like a call to arms, you know, for something like - if I could say this - a coalition of the willing to get together to create a modern Labor Party?

PETER BEATTIE: Well, let me tell you a little secret which I'll share with everybody. When I became leader of the party, which was February 1996, Paul Keating had one month to go. John Howard became Prime Minister in March 1996. For the whole time that I've been Labor Leader, with the exception of that month, John Howard was been Prime Minister of this country, and every election I wanted us to win. Every election, we have either gone very close or we've missed out by a reasonable margin.

Now, a lot of people in the Labor Party are like me. We actually want to win. Now, the ordinary rank-and-file person wants inspiration and leadership. They're passionate about policy. And it is up to the leaders of the party federally, both at an organisational level and a parliamentary level, to get off their bums and give the rank and file of this party and ordinary Australians a chance of government, an alternative government that stands for something.

They can't sit running around in their limousines thinking, "I'm right, Jack."

The facts of life are they've got to think of who they represent, and that's what's important, and I think the leadership of both the parliamentary party and the organisational wing have got to sit down and work it out, and they've got to have some very sober thinking. While I read in the paper and every other Labor person reads in the paper that you sit down with a lot of Labor people, the alternative government, the alternative shadow ministry, and they're so disloyal to one another - we all just shake our heads and say, "We're going nowhere." I mean, if they can't get loyalty to themselves, they should just get lost - go away. If you can't be loyal and you can't be part of a team, then give it away. You're not doing yourself or anyone else a service of any kind.

MAXINE MCKEW: So when are you going to run for a federal seat?

PETER BEATTIE: (Laughs) Listen, there's no better job in this nation than being Premier of Queensland, Max, I've got to tell you.

There's no better job, and no-one - look, I'm not interested in federal politics, but the reality is, your question about candidates is a good one. They're not going to get good candidates while they're running around having a brawl. When they finally get together and head in the one direction, then people will want to run for the party, and I'm talking about ordinary party members.

This is a very important point right here. In an environment where there is factional inflighting, and you are just as likely to be attacked from opponents in your own party, you will not get strong conviction politicians. The true believers who simply want Labor to win the next election won't put their hands up, because they know they will get shot down. Instead, you will get factional hacks, flacks, and lackies. And you won't get high profile people; you won't get any high profile left-leaning people like Peter Garrett, or successful state leaders like Peter Beattie, in that environment; the bigger the name, the bigger the target. And the problem is that those people who don't want to sign up are the very people Labor will need to win the next election.

And the problem is that loyal, conviction politicians will get blocked. Take for example Julia Gilliard - the main reason why she isn't the Shadow Treasurer is because she committed the 'sin' of being loyal to her leader. The media stories that questioned her 'suitability' were primarily planted by those attacking Latham, and succeeded in blocking a talented debater (who could probably win a debate against Costello) from rising further.

MAXINE MCKEW: How much time does Mark Latham have, then?

PETER BEATTIE: Well, that's up to the party. I mean, I frankly think this has got to be fixed before Christmas if they're serious. It's December 2. They should fix this before Christmas. There should be some crisis meetings and some honesty.

If they're going to keep lying to one another and knock Mark off some time next year, then you're going to find people will shake their heads. Let me tell you a little lesson that I have learned about the Labor Party in the 30 years I've been in it - if you can't give loyalty, you won't get it. Those people who've got aspirations behind the scenes by not giving Mark loyalty will never get it from anyone else. So even if you change the leader to someone who was undermining Mark, they'd get the same disloyalty.

Factional flacks and leaders: pay attention!

You've got to have a circuit-breaker, and that's the only way forward, otherwise we're going to have the most one-sided election in Australia come next time around, and that election will be won by the Liberal Party and the National Party I mean, Peter Costello, who we targeted, is running around now grinning like a Cheshire cat looking to be the next Prime Minister. I mean, we targeted him, that misfired. All we did was in fact give him a leg-up. We've got to stop that, we've got to think about positive policies and be clear about where we're going, otherwise we won't be going anywhere.

MAXINE MCKEW: Premier, do you have any other alternatives in mind yourself? I mean, what about fellow Queenslander Kevin Rudd?

PETER BEATTIE: Oh, look, we've got talented people there; there's no doubt about that. I'm not going to get into who should be the leader, Max - that's a matter for the Caucus. I'd resent anyone in my Caucus interfering from outside, and I won't … they've got to make their mind up. They're either with Mark or they're against him.

Let's stop mucking about.

MAXINE MCKEW: Premier, for that, thank you very much indeed for joining us tonight.

PETER BEATTIE: It's a pleasure. Thanks, Max.


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