Why social media is in the doghouse for both the pollies and the public


Denis Muller, University of Melbourne

The Labor Party’s recent decision to ban its candidates from using their own social media accounts as publicity platforms at the next federal election may be a sign that society’s infatuation with social media as a source of news and information is cooling.

Good evidence for this emerged recently with the publication of the 2018 findings from the Edelman Trust Barometer. The annual study has surveyed more than 33,000 people across the globe about how much trust they have in institutions, including government, media, businesses and NGOs.

This year, there was a sharp increase in trust in journalism as a source of news and information, and a decline in trust in social media and search engines for this purpose. Globally, trust in journalism rose five points to 59%, while trust in social media and search engines fell two points to 51% – a gap of eight points.

In Australia, the level of trust in both was below the global average. But the 17 point gap between them was greater – 52% for journalism and 35% for social media and search engines.




Read more:
Social media is changing the face of politics – and it’s not good news


Consequences of poor social media savvy

Labor’s decision may also reflect a healthy distrust of its candidates’ judgement about how to use social media for political purposes.

Liberal Senator Jim Molan’s recent sharing of an anti-Islamic post by the British right-wing extremist group Britain First on his Facebook account showed how poor some individual judgements can be.

If ever there was a two-edged sword in politics, social media is it. It gives politicians a weapon with which to cut their way past traditional journalistic gatekeepers and reach the public directly, but it also exposes them to public scrutiny with a relentless intensity that previous generations of politicians never had to endure.

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This intensity comes from two sources: the 24/7 news cycle with the associated nonstop interaction between traditional journalism and social media, and the opportunity that digital technology gives everyone to jump instantaneously into public debate.

So Molan’s stupidity, for example, now attracts criticism from the other side of the world. Brendan Cox, the widower of a British politician, Jo Cox, who was murdered by a man yelling “Britain first”, has weighed in.

The interaction between traditional journalism and social media also means journalists can latch onto stories much more quickly because there are countless pairs of eyes and ears out there tipping them off.




Read more:
Social media can bring down politicians, but can it also make politics better?


The result of this scrutiny is that public figures can never be sure they are off-camera, as it were. This means there has been a significant reduction in their power to control the flow of information about themselves. They are liable to be “on the record” anywhere there is a mic or a smartphone – and may not even know it.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton is caught on a boom mic quipping about the plight of Pacific Island nations facing rising seas from climate change.

Politics then and now

On Sunday night, the ABC aired part one of the two-part documentary Bob Hawke: The Larrikin and the Leader. In it, Graham Richardson says of Hawke:

He did some appalling things when drunk … He was lucky that he went through an era where he couldn’t be pinged. We didn’t have the internet. We didn’t have mobile phones. Let’s face it, a Bob Hawke today behaving in the same manner would never become prime minister. He’d have been buried long before he got near the parliament.

Would we now think differently of a politician like Bob Hawke if some of his well-documented excesses had been captured and circulated on social media in this way?

Perhaps not. Hawke was of his time, an embodiment of the national mood and of what Australians imagine to be the national larrikin character. He might have thrived.

Hawke is still celebrated for his ability to scull a beer.

With Hawke, what you saw was what you got. So he had a built-in immunity to social media’s particular strength: its capacity to show people up as ridiculous, dishonest or hypocritical.

And his political opponent Malcolm Fraser was, in his later years, adept at using Twitter to criticise the government of one of his Liberal successors as Prime Minister, Tony Abbott.

Yet by exerting the iron discipline for which he was famous, saying exactly what he wanted to say and not a word more, Fraser avoided the pitfalls that the likes of Senator Molan stumble into.

Indeed, US President Donald Trump’s reputation for Twitter gaffes hasn’t hurt his popularity among his base, and is even lauded by some as a mark of authenticity.

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So it is likely that the politicians of the past would not have fared very differently from those of the present. The competent would have adapted and used social media to their advantage; the incompetent would have been shown up for what they are.




Read more:
Why social media may not be so good for democracy


Social platforms under fire

Social media has the potential to strengthen democratic life. It makes all public figures – including journalists – more accountable. But as we have seen, especially in the 2016 US presidential elections, it can also be used to weaken democratic life by amplifying the spread of false information.

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As a result, democracies everywhere are wrestling with the overarching problem of how to make the giant social media platforms, especially Facebook, accountable for how they use their publishing power.

The ConversationOut of all this, one trend seems clear: where news and information is concerned, society is no longer dazzled by the novelty of social media and is wakening to its weaknesses.

Denis Muller, Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Advancing Journalism, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Nationals president urges party: don’t act hastily on Joyce


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Nationals’ federal president, Larry Anthony, has appealed to the party to give Barnaby Joyce “time”, as Joyce’s future sits on a knife-edge.

Anthony, who flew to Canberra for talks on the crisis late Tuesday, said afterwards: “It’s been an extraordinarily difficult time for the National Party, and clearly for Barnaby Joyce and his family, and for the government.

“It’s important people think very carefully about making any significant decisions. You are never wise to make decisions in the heat of the moment. Barnaby should be given time.”

With speculation on Tuesday about whether he’d last the week, Joyce’s greatest protection in the short term remained the absence of a strong alternative. The atmosphere in Coalition ranks was fevered, with the pressure all the greater because Joyce is due to become acting prime minister next week, a prospect that appals many Liberals. No-one knows what the next media story might bring.

Joyce on Tuesday morning issued multiple apologies, as he desperately tried to contain the damage of his affair with former staffer Vikki Campion, who is expecting his child.

He was “deeply sorry” for the hurt he’d caused his wife and daughters, and “deeply sorry” Campion had been dragged into the controversy. The message to supporters and his electorate was that he was “deeply sorry” a personal issue had gone into the public arena.

Later there was a further apology in the Coalition partyroom, essentially for the trouble he’s caused.

“Every political career has a time of trial,” Joyce told the meeting, adding he was determined to work through his situation. He thanked colleagues for their solidarity.

To the extent there was solidarity, it was driven by necessity.

Angry Liberals are powerless – they have no say in who is Nationals leader.

A report that Malcolm Turnbull was ringing around senior Nationals was denied – Turnbull is said to have returned a call from a National who called him. A Liberal leader wading into a Nationals leadership matter would be as risky as jumping into crocodile waters.

The Nationals’ situation is perfectly described by the “rock-and-hard-place” cliché.

They have a diminished leader, discredited among their conservative base. But the alternatives are less than optimal for a small party that needs strong leadership to extract more for the bush than its numbers would justify.

Resources Minister Matt Canavan is a senator and so not an option. Darren Chester, whom Joyce dumped from cabinet in December, is a Victorian (and a social moderate) – if he were elevated, Bridget McKenzie would have to go from the deputyship because a party with its heartland further north couldn’t have two Victorians at the top.

That leaves Michael McCormack, from New South Wales, solid but not popular enough with his colleagues even to win the deputyship in recent ballots.

On anything to do with the Joyce issue Turnbull’s approach – in the partyroom, in parliament and in the media – is, figuratively, to hold his nose and point his finger at the culprit.

Turnbull on Tuesday again had to answer a batch of questions in parliament including about the definition of a “partner” for the purposes of the ministerial code.

That code bans “partners” working in ministerial offices. Joyce said on Tuesday that Campion was “without a shadow of doubt” his partner now but she wasn’t when she was on his staff.

“Partner is not defined in the relevant ministerial standards,” Turnbull said, directing attention to the definition used by the Department of Human Services.

The Human Services website says:

To determine if you’re a member of a couple … we’ll consider the following factors: financial aspects of your relationship; nature of your household; social aspects of your relationship; if you have a sexual relationship; nature of your commitment to each other.

Turnbull told parliament that “Centrelink considers a person to be in a de facto relationship from the time they commence living with another person as a member of a couple.”

The Joyce issue, however, has now gone beyond the detail of the arrangements made for Campion to move offices, and the like. As one journalist put it, it’s become “the vibe”. In many minds, a question of character.

Joyce’s present imbroglio is bringing out allegations of past tacky behaviour. A woman contacted the ABC on Tuesday recounting a strange incident that allegedly occurred at an early-evening cocktail party, hosted by the Collections Council (a peak body for galleries, libraries etc), in Parliament House in 2009 or 2010.

Joyce, then a senator, was one of the few politicians there. The woman, a senior academic and a director of the (now-defunct) council, says she chatted to him – he was charming and merry but not drunk. He gave her his card. When they parted “he grabbed my buttock and squeezed it,” the woman, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Conversation.

She said that before Tuesday she’d only related the incident to her family. A story in the Murdoch papers about alleged bottom-pinching elsewhere – totally denied by Joyce – prompted her to speak out. Joyce’s office said of her claim that it was “being asked to comment on an anonymous person who has never made a complaint”.

The ConversationJoyce, for all his campaigning strengths, has always been unpredictable, a potential time-bomb. He steadied and focused as he concentrated on pursuing the leadership and then in his earlier days in it. Now the time-bomb has exploded and the Nationals are in a deep funk, not knowing what to do.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The Barnaby Joyce affair highlights Australia’s weak regulation of ministerial staffers



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Barnaby Joyce has denied he breached ministerial standards with the employment of his partner, Vikki Campion.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

Yee-Fui Ng, RMIT University

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce continues to face questions about the employment of his former media adviser – now current partner – Vicki Campion. Campion left Joyce’s office last year to take another ministerial adviser position with Resources Minister Matthew Canavan, and then with Nationals whip Damian Drum.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has claimed Joyce did not breach the Statement of Ministerial Standards regarding employment of spouses and family members as Campion was not his partner at the time of her appointment. Joyce has also denied he breached the ministerial rules.




Read more:
Labor moves in on the Barnaby Joyce affair


What is the role of ministerial staffers?

Ministerial advisers are politically partisan staff who are personally appointed by ministers to work out of their private offices.

These advisers have become an integral part of the political landscape in the last 40 years. The number of Commonwealth ministerial staff increased from 155 in 1972 to 423 in 2015.

The advisers undertake a wide range of functions. Tony Nutt, a former senior ministerial staffer, said:

… a ministerial adviser deals with the press. A ministerial adviser handles the politics. A ministerial adviser talks to the union. All of that happens every day of the week, everywhere in Australia all the time. Including, frankly, the odd bit of, you know, ancient Spanish practices and a bit of bastardry on the way through. That’s all the nature of politics.

How do they fit in our system of government?

The modern Westminster ministerial advisory system is built on the 1853 Northcote-Trevelyan report in Britain.

In the 18th and early 19th century, it was difficult to be appointed to a UK government office unless you were an aristocrat with the right connections to a very small elite. The Northcote-Trevelyan report rejected appointment based on patronage. It argued this led to difficulties in getting a good supply of employees in the public service compared to other professions.

This report forms the basis of the Westminster public service today. Public servants are expected to be neutral and apolitical, and recruited and promoted on the basis of merit. The intention was very much to purge the system of patronage.

Ministerial advisers pose a challenge to the Westminster system as they are largely recruited on a partisan basis and are expected to be politically committed to the government of the day. This undermines the intentions of having ministerial advisers who are recruited on the basis of merit, rather than patronage.

How are ministerial staff appointed?

Australian ministerial advisers are employed under the Members of Parliament (Staff) Act as ministers’ personal staff.

The employing minister determines the employment terms and conditions of ministerial advisers; the prime minister can vary these. The law is sparse and does not stipulate any precise requirements in terms of staff appointments.

In practice, the appointment of ministerial advisers is based on a party-political network of patronage. The primary consideration is loyalty to the political party – not merit.

There have been notorious instances of the appointment of unsuitable staff. These include then deputy prime minister Jim Cairns’ appointment of his mistress, Junie Morosi, as his principal private secretary (although she was considered spectacularly unqualified for her position).




Read more:
Grattan on Friday: Is Barnaby’s baby a matter of ‘public interest’ or just of interest to the public?


Some prime ministers have instituted a centralised process to reduce the appointment of unsuitable candidates. However, my research has shown that some senior ministers are able to circumvent such a process due to their position within the party.

Also, these processes primarily seek to filter candidates based on political danger – rather than on merit considerations.

Is there a breach of the rules in Joyce’s case?

Turnbull’s Statement of Ministerial Standards provides that ministers’ close relatives and partners are banned from being appointed to positions in their ministerial or electorate offices. They also must not be employed in the offices of other members of the executive government without the prime minister’s express approval.

Joyce and Campion claim their relationship started after her appointment – so the government has argued this clause does not apply.

However, the ministerial standards also specify that ministers must declare any private interests held by them or members of their immediate family. And under the Statement of Standards for Ministerial Staff, ministerial advisers have to disclose – and take reasonable steps to avoid – any real or apparent conflicts of interest connected with their employment. Staff are required to provide their employing minister and the special minister of state with a statement of private interests.

Therefore, the relationship between Joyce and Campion should have been disclosed when it arose, as there might have been an apparent conflict of interest connected with Joyce’s ministerial position. It is then up to the prime minister to decide what is to happen following this.

But both the standards for ministers and for their advisers are not legislated. They are not enforceable in the courts or in parliament. Enforcement is handled completely within the executive, which has an incentive to bury embarrassing material wherever possible.

This means any breaches of the standards by ministers and their advisers would be handled behind closed doors, without any formal scrutiny by parliament or any external bodies.

The enforcement of ministerial and adviser standards has been patchy. Whether a minister resigns depends on the prime minister of the day and if there is media furore and public outrage over an issue.

Are the rules too lax?

The legislation governing the employment of advisers is sparse and limited to affirming ministers’ powers to employ their advisers. Beyond this, there is no legislative requirement for ministerial advisers to adhere to certain behavioural rules.

The weak appointment rules have allowed Campion to be shuffled around different offices without a formal appointment process.

Other Westminster countries have stricter restrictions on the employment of advisers, either through a cap on the number of advisers (as in the UK) or a cap on the total budget for advisers (as in Canada).

The UK has a cap of two advisers per minister. Australia has no such limits.

Australia has the weakest regulation of ministerial staff when compared to other similar Westminster democracies. Other countries have stricter regulations that both restrict the actions of advisers and increase transparency.

The ConversationAustralian ministerial staff are now very important players in our democracy, but ministers and advisers are weakly regulated within our system. The law has lagged behind, but now is the time for reform.

Yee-Fui Ng, Lecturer, Graduate School of Business and Law, RMIT University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Queensland Nationals Barry O’Sullivan’s advice on the Joyce affair: ‘don’t shoot your best horse’


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Outspoken Queensland Nationals senator Barry O’Sullivan has declared Barnaby Joyce a “once-in-a-generation type of politician” who remains a big asset to the Nationals despite the sharp grassroots reaction to his affair with his former staffer.

With some Nationals reeling from the backlash to the revelations amid speculation about Joyce’s future, O’Sullivan went on the front foot on Monday night.

“We’ve not seen any government that has done more for the bush than this one, with Barnaby Joyce as deputy prime minister,” he told The Conversation.

“I don’t want to lose one of the best politicians we’ve had in my lifetime. Are you going to shoot your best horse because he jumped the fence and was found in the neighbour’s paddock?”

O’Sullivan’s strong defence came as Malcolm Turnbull was forced in parliament to express his confidence in Joyce.

When Opposition Leader Bill Shorten asked Turnbull whether Joyce would be acting prime minister when Turnbull visits the US next week, and whether he still retained confidence in Joyce, Turnbull kept his answer as brief as possible.

“Yes in response to both questions,” he said.

Turnbull is known to be furious with Joyce, whose affair with Vikki Campion, now expecting his child, has dominated headlines and distracted the government since the story broke in the Daily Telegraph mid-last week.

Turnbull and his office struggled on Monday to avoid being ensnared, as questions were put about the movement of Campion, who was shifted to the office of Resources Minister Matt Canavan after her relationship with Joyce started to cause problems in his office. Later she took up a position in the office of then Nationals whip Damian Drum. She left government at the end of last year.

Under the ministerial code of conduct, a minister’s “close relatives and partners are not to be appointed to positions in their ministerial or electorate offices and must not be employed in the offices of other members of the executive government without the prime minister’s express approval”.

The opposition asked whether Turnbull or his office was involved in creating a new position last year in either Canavan’s or Drum’s office.

Turnbull said he was advised the Nationals were provided with a number of personal staff positions as a share of the government’s overall staffing pool. “The distribution of those staff members between Nationals’ offices is a matter for the National Party,” he said.

“I’m further advised that at no time did the Nationals fill all vacant staffing positions.”

The government is arguing that Turnbull was never officially informed that Campion was the partner of Joyce – who remained married to Natalie Joyce – and so the question of prime ministerial approval did not arise.

O’Sullivan said the Nationals base had expressed disappointment and frustration at Joyce’s behaviour.

“But no-one is challenging his ability to do the great job he has done,” O’Sullivan said. “Do we want to chip away at him until he’s gone?”

O’Sullivan, who said he was not personally close to Joyce, has a reputation as a straight talker. Last year he spearheaded the backbench Nationals move that led to the government capitulating to pressure for a royal commission into the banks, which commenced on Monday. He was critical of Joyce’s demotion of fellow Queenslander Keith Pitt in the December reshuffle.

Treasurer Scott Morrison told the ABC on Monday night: “There’s no-one I know in the parliament who is a stronger advocate for rural and regional Australia.

“While events regarding Barnaby’s private life … are disappointing, most importantly to his family and others, that doesn’t change the fact that Barnaby, over a long period of time in his public life, has dedicated himself to public service and the people he represents.”

The ConversationAsked about the code’s provision about partners not being employed without prime ministerial approval, Morrison said Joyce “can’t have two partners at the same time and he was obviously still married”.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Labor moves in on the Barnaby Joyce affair


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Labor Party, which started with a hands-off approach to the Barnaby Joyce affair, has now segued into making it a political issue, while trying to still argue that its “personal” aspect should be private.

The opposition is eyeing possible openings to exploit in the liaison between Joyce and his former staffer Vikki Campion – who is expecting his child – by pursuing questions about processes and taxpayers’ money, as well as harbouring the hope of dragging Malcolm Turnbull into the matter.

Deputy Labor leader Tanya Plibersek walked the fine line on Sunday.

“I don’t think [Joyce] needs to account for his personal behaviour, his relationships, to the public,” she told the ABC.

“The only area in which there is a genuine public interest is in the area of the expenditure of taxpayers’ funds, and there have been questions over the last couple of days about jobs that have been created for Vikki Campion, the expenditure of taxpayer funds on travel.

“I think those are areas where the prime minister and the deputy prime minister ought to be fully transparent,” she said.

Turnbull last week tried to keep away from the Joyce matter by saying it was private.

“These private matters are always very distressing for those involved, I don’t want to add to the public discussion about it. I’m very conscious of the distress this causes to others, in particular Natalie Joyce and her and Barnaby’s daughters. So it’s a private matter, a tough matter. I don’t have any more to say about it,” he said on Friday.

Pressed later, he said he was “not aware of any inappropriate expenditure of public funds”. But the issue of “public funds” is becoming murkier.

When the Joyce-Campion affair was creating problems in Joyce’s office, she was moved to the office of Resources Minister Matt Canavan. Later a place was found for her with Nationals then whip Damian Drum.

Questions are now being asked about the pay and arrangements in relation to these positions. On Friday, Turnbull was being quizzed about whether he’d counselled Joyce to remove Campion.

One can only imagine the Turnbull anger about the situation. He comes at it from a personal position of being very family-oriented and his sympathy is clearly with Natalie Joyce and the daughters. Also, with the government starting the year looking better, the last thing Turnbull wants is to have this becoming another distraction, let alone have any suggestion of a role in it.

Joyce by Saturday had publicly taken sole ownership, with a statement “that he had not discussed Ms Campion’s employment with the prime minister or his office.

“He confirmed that the Nationals were responsible for decisions relating to staffing in the offices of Nationals’ members. The Prime Minister’s Office has an administrative role in informing the Department of Finance.” Labor no doubt will be probing this “administrative role”.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, appearing on Sky on Sunday, was clearly uncomfortable. He maintained that “all of my advice is that everything was absolutely above board”, while also saying: “I am not aware of the specific staffing circumstances of every single one of my colleagues”.

The next few days will reveal whether there is anything to see, in terms of untoward arrangements or costs. Nationals sources point to the obvious implications for Joyce if there were any such revelation.

The big question – assuming there is no public money time bomb – is what this will do to Joyce’s leadership. There are mixed opinions.

He can point to the fact that in terms of retail politics, he has been highly popular, and led the party to a very good result at the election, in contrast to Turnbull’s below-par performance.

His position is protected (even more than Turnbull’s, in the Liberal Party, is protected) by the absence of an alternative leader. But the Nationals are at present an unhappy bunch.

There’s criticism of Joyce’s recent performance, including his handling of the Nationals’ part of the pre-Christmas reshuffle, which saw Victorian MP Darren Chester dumped from cabinet and assistant minister Keith Pitt ending up on the backbench.

There’s ruminating about how his new circumstances will play out in the wider Nationals’ constituency, which tends to be conservative and family-oriented. Will people have long memories or will they just move on when the fuss dies down?

Perhaps most relevant is whether Joyce will lose his political energy as he deals with new personal circumstances and some loss of respect.

With a bitter separation behind him, it won’t be easy.

Tony Windsor, Joyce’s old enemy in the seat of New England, is turning the knife, predicting in a tweet: “The Eagles are circling, don’t be surprised if Joyce resigns “for personal reasons” before the main story claims him … he will know it’s getting close to a one-way street to a job with Gina”.

The ConversationWith unfortunate if exquisite timing, Turnbull held a family fun day for Coalition MPs at the Lodge on Sunday. Unsurprisingly, there was no sign of his deputy prime minister.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/6jqa7-8776fa?from=site&skin=1&share=1&fonts=Helvetica&auto=0&download=0

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Grattan on Friday: Is Barnaby’s baby a matter of ‘public interest’ or just of interest to the public?


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

A few decades ago, then deputy prime minister Jim Cairns’ affair with staffer Junie Morosi rocked an already embattled Whitlam government.

Debate occurred about the reporting of that relationship – which Cairns at the time refused to admit was sexual – but the case for airing was pretty clear given Morosi’s role. She was a political player, through her enormous influence on her boss.

Now we have a controversy over whether it’s been in the public interest for the Daily Telegraph this week to out deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce’s liaison with his now-former staffer, Vikki Campion, who is expecting his child in April.

There’s one very significant difference between the Joyce-Campion and Cairns-Morosi affairs. No-one suggests Campion, who was deliberately transferred out of Joyce’s office nearly a year ago, was a political mover-and-shaker.

Has the upheaval in his personal life affected Joyce’s performance? No doubt to some extent. He’s reportedly been more distracted and difficult, though his citizenship imbroglio was a factor too.

Government and Labor MPs have backed Joyce’s claim that his personal life should be private. They’re driven partly by collective self-interest. Other MPs have had, or are having, affairs. But many MPs also feel, with some reason, that they have enough intrusion into their lives.

Those defending the publication advance a range of arguments, including that public figures must expect public lives. They say that if Joyce’s circumstances had been exposed earlier, voters in the New England byelection might have been harsher in their judgement. They accuse him of hypocrisy, on the grounds that his personal circumstances were at odds with his stand against same-sex marriage.

They also make the point that in time Joyce’s situation would have been obvious. Or as Daily Telegraph editor Chris Dore colourfully put it, “What would [journalists] have done when he started pushing a pram around Lake Burley Griffin or Parliament House?”

Personally, I think media publicity about the affair wouldn’t have made much difference in New England, which Joyce retained handsomely. His critics ensured the gossip was widely circulated locally, and most votes are driven by more directly political factors.

On the hypocrisy charge: Joyce acknowledged in his same sex-marriage speech that his marriage had collapsed. And in terms of logic, what you say about marriage equality is separate from what you do in your own heterosexual marriage. While Joyce has been a promoter of family values, it’s not been as a hardline crusader.

As for the story inevitably emerging in the fullness of time – that’s rather different from how it did emerge, with a front-page picture of the pregnant Campion.

The Joyce affair comes against a background of the public hating politicians and deeply distrusting the media, and as increasing scrutiny is on the personal behaviour of those, particularly men, in senior positions – in business, politics and, most dramatically, the entertainment world.

The story taps into a resentment among some in the community towards Canberra “insiders”, including journalists, who are thought to be keeping things from the “outsiders” – that is, the public.

The reality is exaggerated, in this age of blanket communications. The bones of the Joyce story were on the internet well before it hit the mainstream media.

Rob Stott, managing editor of Junkee, said on Crikey this week: “As news spreads more and more on social media, the time has long passed since the press gallery was able to hold back information that was being widely circulated in the community.”

But being taken up by the mainstream media gives a story much more impact and cache.

In this context, some journalists have felt the need to justify why they did not write the Joyce story, which had been swirling around Canberra for months. They’ve said it was a rumour that couldn’t readily be stood up in face of an unco-operative Joyce office – although that sounds like an excuse rather than an explanation.

But excuses are not required if you don’t believe the public interest demanded the front page expose.

Consider precisely what we are looking at here. A re-partnering, after an affair that started in a ministerial office, that has involved a painful family breakdown. This week’s coverage has made things even more difficult for Joyce’s wife and four daughters. The family’s anguish has been obvious in Natalie Joyce’s bitter public comments.

Gay Alcorn in Guardian Australia points out that Malcolm Turnbull could never have got away with the privacy Joyce sought to claim. Of course that’s true. But lines are drawn all the time. If it had been Joyce’s predecessor, the dour Warren Truss, in similar circumstances, would the treatment have been the same?

It should be stressed that although the 33-year-old Campion is much younger than the 50-year-old Joyce, there is no suggestion she’s a victim of a powerful boss. And they are now a couple – she won’t be a single mother.

The start of the affair while Campion was on Joyce’s staff has raised the question of whether there should be some prohibition on relationships between politicians and staffers.

This week the United States House of Representatives passed legislation banning sexual relationships between members of the house and staff who report to them. The measure has yet to go to the Senate.

The congressional action follows a raft of scandals in the US involving harassment, and the #MeToo movement.

In Canberra, crossbencher Cathy McGowan has seized on the Joyce affair to call for a conversation within the parliament “about a process to address personal relationships within the workplace”.

“There is a belief the parliament is behind community expectations and corporate practices,” said McGowan, known for her ear to the local ground. “The parliament is a place of work and good workplace practice includes clear expectations about behaviour.”

She pointed to the Congress example and what’s happened in the Australian corporate sector, including the AFL. McGowan said she was happy to begin a conversation ahead of potentially tabling a motion in parliament.

This is not a conversation the major parties want to have. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, asked about the US move, said: “Government has no business interfering in people’s personal lives and we wouldn’t want to cross the line so that the moral police were able to dictate what happens between consenting adults.”

The ConversationBut McGowan says the Joyce matter has highlighted “the need to talk about MPs as employers, our responsibilities to our staffs and how, if you make a mistake in the public arena, it can be managed in a respectful and effective way. There’s clearly an elephant in the room that needs to be discussed.”

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/6jqa7-8776fa?from=yiiadmin

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Turnbull and the Coalition begin the year on a positive polling note – but it’s still all about the economy



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Malcolm Turnbull makes a point in Question Time.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

The first Newspoll of 2018, conducted February 1-4 from a sample of 1,616, gave Labor a 52-48 lead, a one-point gain for the Coalition since the final Newspoll of 2017 in mid-December. Primary votes were 38% Coalition (up two), 37% Labor (steady), 10% Greens (steady) and 5% One Nation (down two).

While this Newspoll is Malcolm Turnbull’s 26th consecutive loss (four short of Tony Abbott’s streak), it is the Coalition’s best position since April 2017. This is the Coalition’s highest primary vote, and One Nation’s lowest Newspoll vote, since December 2016, before Newspoll started asking for One Nation as part of the party read-out.

As the Coalition’s primary vote gains have come at the expense of another right-wing party, the overall left/right balance is unchanged at 47-43. The two-party vote changes are exaggerated by Newspoll’s assumption, based on the 2016 election, that the Coalition will win only half of One Nation’s preferences.




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At the recent Queensland election, about 65% of One Nation preferences flowed to the LNP. It is likely that previous Newspolls, which had high One Nation votes, overstated Labor’s lead after preferences.

Turnbull’s approval rating bumped up to 37% (up five), and 50% were dissatisfied (down seven), for a net approval of -13, up 12 points. Bill Shorten’s net approval also improved six points to -18, and both leaders are at their highest net approval since August. Turnbull led Shorten by 45-31 as better prime minister (41-34 in December); this is Turnbull’s biggest margin since September.

Voters were given four options for best Liberal leader: Turnbull, Julie Bishop, Abbott and Peter Dutton. Turnbull had 30% support (up five since early December), Bishop 26% (down four), Abbott 13% (down three) and Dutton 7% (steady). Among Coalition voters, Turnbull had 48%, Bishop 19%, Abbott 16% and Dutton 6%. Abbott and Dutton performed best with One Nation voters.

Voters were given three choices for best Labor leader: Shorten, Tanya Plibersek and Anthony Albanese. Plibersek had 25% support, Albanese 24% and Shorten 22%. Among Labor voters, Shorten had 37%, Plibersek 27% and Albanese 23%. Plibersek was the clear favourite among Greens voters (43%).

Both leaders appear to have benefited from the lack of any major controversies over the summer holidays. Turnbull has done better, perhaps due to the absence of hard-right Coalition backbenchers from the media environment.

Shorten’s ratings as preferred Labor leader are so low because conservatives detest him for strongly opposing much that the Coalition is proposing or has done, while many on the left do not regard him as a genuine leftie. Turnbull is helped as best Liberal leader by Abbott and Dutton being more right-wing.




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The most important factor regarding the next federal election, due by early 2019, is likely to be the performance of the economy. Greg Jericho wrote in The Guardian recently that the strong employment growth in 2017 was consistent with the government being re-elected.

The government is inhibited by the continued low wages growth. If wages growth lifts this year, the Coalition would be far more likely to be re-elected. The strong US economy has benefited Donald Trump.

65% supported leaving Australia Day as it is, while just 29% supported referendums on Indigenous recognition and the republic proposed by Albanese.

The ConversationEssential will now appear fortnightly rather than weekly, so there was no Essential poll this week. You can read about last week’s Essential here.

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Tasmanian election likely to be close, while Labor continues to lead federally



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If the Greens hold the sole balance of power after the Tasmanian election, the next parliamentary term could be a messy business for Labor’s Rebecca White or the Liberals’ Will Hodgman.
AAP/The Conversation

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

On Sunday, Premier Will Hodgman called the Tasmanian election for March 3. Tasmania uses the Hare Clark system for its lower house, with five electorates, each with five members. The electorates use the same names and boundaries as the five federal Tasmanian electorates of Bass, Braddon, Franklin, Denison and Lyons. A quota for election is one-sixth of the vote, or 16.7%.

At the March 2014 election, the Liberals won in a landslide, with 15 of the 25 seats, while seven went to Labor and three to the Greens. The Liberals won 51.2% of the vote, to 27.3% for Labor and 13.8% for the Greens. The Liberals won four of the five Braddon seats, three each in Bass, Franklin and Lyons, and two in Denison.

With all polls showing a substantial swing against the Liberals, they are likely to lose their fourth Braddon seat and third Franklin seat. If the Liberals lost another seat, they would lose their majority.

Psephologist Kevin Bonham expects the pivot seat to be the Liberals’ third Lyons seat. If the Liberals lose this seat, they are likely to lose their majority. If they win it, they will probably retain their majority.

Other than the established parties, the populist Jacqui Lambie Network (JLN) has a realistic chance of winning seats – its main chance would be in Braddon.




Read more:
Tasmania the first test in an election-laden year


Both Hodgman and Labor leader Rebecca White have ruled out governing with the Greens’ support. A large bloc of Tasmanians detests the Greens, and the three previous governments that involved the Greens have had major problems. If Hodgman and White stick to their promise after the election, and the Greens hold the sole balance of power, the next parliamentary term could be messy.

In most polls, the Liberals are leading Labor. The people who detest the Greens have in the past swung towards the major party most likely to win a majority. If this behaviour is repeated at this election, the Liberals could get home. On the other hand, the unpopularity of the federal Coalition government should help Labor.

In December, White announced that a Labor government would remove poker machines from pubs and clubs within five years. I think this is good politics, as it differentiates Labor from the Liberals on an issue that neither major party had tackled in the past. I previously wrote that left-wing parties that differentiated themselves from conservative parties performed better in 2017 elections.

The Tasmanian upper house will not be up for election on March 3. The 15 upper house members have rotating six-year terms; every May, two or three electorates are up for election. Labor and left-wing independents currently have an upper house majority following a November byelection win by Labor.

The last three Tasmanian elections have been held on the same day as the South Australian election (March 17 this year). So, the election date is good news for people interested in elections, as it avoids a clash.

Xenophon’s party leading in Galaxy polls of three South Australian seats

There is no sign of any drop in support for Nick Xenophon’s SA-BEST. According to Galaxy polls conducted January 11-14 for the corporate sector, SA-BEST had 37% in Liberal-held Hartley, which Xenophon will contest, followed by the Liberals with 32% and Labor with 21%; Xenophon led 57-43 after preferences.

In Labor-held Mawson, SA-BEST had 38%, the Liberals 25% and Labor 22%. In Labor-held Hurtle Vale, SA-BEST had 33%, Labor 29% and the Liberals 23%.

Galaxy also polled the federal South Australian seat of Mayo, where SA-BEST member Rebekha Sharkie could be disqualified over the dual citizenship issue. Sharkie would easily retain by a 59-41 margin against the Liberals, from primary votes of 37% Sharkie, 33% Liberal and 18% Labor.

ReachTEL 52-48 to federal Labor

A ReachTEL poll for Sky News, conducted January 25 from a sample of presumably about 2,300, gave Labor a 52-48 lead by respondent-allocated preferences, a one-point gain for the Coalition since a late November ReachTEL.

Primary votes were 36% Labor (steady), 34% Coalition (up one), 10% Greens (steady) and 8% One Nation (down one). The remaining 12% very likely included some undecided voters who were prompted to show which way they lean. As usual, media sources have not given full primary votes. Bonham says this poll would be about 54-46 to Labor by 2016 preference flows.

Malcolm Turnbull’s ratings improved; 30% gave him a good rating (up six), 37% an average (up two) and 32% a poor rating (down eight). Bill Shorten’s ratings were 31% good (up one), 32% average (down four) and 36% poor (up three). Turnbull led Shorten by 54-46 as better prime minister, up from 52-48 in November. ReachTEL’s forced-choice “better prime minister” question usually gives opposition leaders better ratings than other polls.

I think Turnbull’s ratings have improved in parliament’s absence because the public is less exposed to the hard-right Coalition backbenchers.

By 44-32, voters opposed cutting the company tax rate for businesses with a turnover of more than A$50 million. By 39-20, voters thought trade deals were good for employment. However by 49-20, voters thought Labor should oppose the Trans Pacific Partnership if it did not protect jobs.

Essential 54-46 to Labor

In this week’s Essential, conducted January 26-28 from a sample of 1,028, Labor led by 54-46, a one-point gain for Labor since last fortnight.

Primary votes were 36% Labor (down two), 35% Coalition (down two), 10% Greens (up one) and 8% One Nation (up two). As noted last Friday, Essential will appear fortnightly instead of weekly this year.

Essential asked whether the Liberals or Labor would be better at handling various issues. Labor’s position improved on economic management (from Liberals by 15 in June 2017 to Liberals by ten), interest rates (Liberals by ten to Liberals by four) and political leadership (Liberals by eight to Labor by two). The Liberals improved on water supply (Labor by five to Liberals by one).




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Will elections in 2018 see 2017’s left-wing revival continue?


48% (up four since November) thought Australia’s political and economic system is fundamentally sound, but needs refining, while 32% (steady) thought it should be fundamentally changed, and 8% (down two) thought the system was already working well.

There were large, favourable changes in perceptions of how the economy and unemployment have performed over the last year, compared to February 2016. There was relatively little movement on other economic issues.

51% (down two since August) thought their income had fallen behind the cost of living, 28% stayed even (up three) and 14% gone up more (down one). Private health insurance continued to be very negatively perceived, with the questions last asked in September.

Essential asked whether sports were exciting or boring to watch. Tennis was easily the best with a net +13 rating, followed by swimming at a net +3 and AFL football at a net +2. Twenty20 cricket had a net -7 rating, rugby league and soccer both had a net -15, Test cricket a net -24, rugby union a net -32, and golf was at the bottom on a net -54.

Far-right Czech Republic president re-elected

In the a presidential election runoff held January 26-27 in the Czech Republic, the far-right incumbent, Miloš Zeman, defeated his opponent, Jiří Drahoš, by a 51.4-48.6 margin.

The ConversationAfter a generally good year for the left in 2017 elections, this was a bad start to 2018.

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

A reshuffle that’s come with plenty of pain and questionable gain



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Malcolm Turnbull pressed Attorney-General George Brandis to take the London high commissioner job.
AAP/Daniel Munoz

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

There is not a great deal to be said for Malcolm Turnbull’s reshuffle, and quite a lot to be said against it.

The immediate concentration has been on the angst it’s caused – and that is due to Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, who has the right to nominate his party’s ministers.

Joyce’s decision to axe Victorian National Darren Chester from his cabinet line-up in favour of a first-term Queenslander, David Littleproud, trashes the notion of merit and calls into question the Nationals leader’s judgement, to say nothing of his loyalty to colleagues.

A competent minister who came through as a measured voice for the Nationals when Joyce was away on his byelection trail, Chester has been unceremoniously pushed out on the ground that his retention would make for one Victorian National too many in the cabinet.

To an extent, Chester invited his own execution. He successfully advocated fellow Victorian Bridget McKenzie for deputy leader, believing – as he put it after his demotion – that “our party needs to connect more with younger voters, with female voters, and Bridget speaks in a way on issues that perhaps not all National Party members speak about”.

Joyce would have preferred Queensland senator and fellow cabinet member Matt Canavan as deputy, although sources say he didn’t canvass in the contest. Joyce and Canavan are close – Canavan previously was his chief-of-staff. Canavan is also deeply conservative on social issues, and he and Chester were on opposite sides of the marriage debate.

Only Joyce can know whether these factors counted against Chester as well as his being from Victoria – he’s certainly not going to admit they did.

If Joyce wanted to deal with his Victorian excess in a much less disruptive way he could have swapped Chester with Michael McCormack. McCormack is a member of the outer ministry and from New South Wales, as was Fiona Nash, the previous Nationals deputy who was turfed from parliament by the High Court. That would have retained the old state balances.

But Joyce felt he had a Queensland problem – the Nationals from the north have been vociferous about wanting to boost their presence in the higher reaches of the government.

The intention was to demote Chester to an assistant ministry, opening a vacancy for him by sacking Queenslander Keith Pitt, with whom Joyce doesn’t get on.

But Chester declined the assistant minister offer. Meanwhile, Pitt – who believed he should be promoted – was furious. When an assistant ministry was offered back to him, he said no. The position went to Damian Drum – a Victorian.

Littleproud, who holds the outback Queensland seat of Maranoa, is spoken well of as a future talent. But he’s been in Canberra for the parliamentary equivalent of five minutes, and has had no frontbench role before now.

A cabinet minister has not just their own portfolio to think about, but they need to be strong contributors across government, which requires time to acquire skills and knowledge. Disgruntled Nationals say Pitt would have been a more obvious choice if it hadn’t been for the serious personality clash between Joyce and him.

So Joyce can boast that he has delivered a Queensland National into cabinet, but the cost has been creating resentment in his ranks and a bad vibe around the reshuffle generally. Turnbull appeared dismayed, distancing himself from the decision, describing Chester as an “outstanding” minister, and regretting his loss.

It is not just the axing of Chester that is a problem in this reshuffle.

Turnbull pressed Attorney-General George Brandis to take the London high commissioner job, despite Brandis recently warning Turnbull that his departure would diminish the Liberal voice from Brisbane. As it happens, Brandis’ Liberal replacement in cabinet, John McVeigh, represents Groom, based on Toowoomba.

Losing Brandis from cabinet will also weaken the voice of the moderates at the senior level of the government.

It will likely mean there will be less of a check on Peter Dutton and his new home affairs super-portfolio.

Incoming attorney-general Christian Porter has plenty of qualifications for the job – he was attorney-general in Western Australia. But he will probably be less inclined to be a tough watchdog on home affairs and its highly assertive minister than Brandis would have been.

The move is a prestigious one for Porter. But for a man who has been seen as a possible future leadership contender, it is one that takes him into something of a political cul-de-sac. It is not a portfolio that gives its occupant the exposure or sort of experience useful for climbing the greasy pole.

Brandis’ replacement as Senate leader, Mathias Cormann, is one of the most competent ministers, and a skilled negotiator with the crossbench. He will do a good job.

Michaelia Cash, who has been under criticism for the way she and her office handled what was a political pursuit of Bill Shorten’s union past, has been given expanded responsibilities.

Several changes are deck-shuffling, or unremarkable steps up.

The ConversationAnd notably, the reshuffle has not increased the number of women in cabinet. All that’s happened on this front is one woman Nationals deputy has slid into the place of another.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Turnbull’s reshuffle undermined by Barnaby Joyce’s ousting of Darren Chester



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Malcolm Turnbull said he regretted having to drop Darren Chester from his frontbench line-up.
AAP/Daniel Munoz

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Prime Minister’s Malcolm Turnbull’s reshuffled cabinet has five new faces, but one of the Nationals’ best performers, Darren Chester, has been unceremoniously dumped by his party leader Barnaby Joyce.

Christian Porter replaces George Brandis – who quits parliament to become high commissioner to London – as attorney-general, in an extensive frontbench overhaul that Turnbull said focused on the dual themes of economic growth and jobs and national security. Porter is a former Western Australian attorney-general.

The new faces in cabinet are the Nationals’ freshly elected deputy Bridget McKenzie, Michael Keenan, Dan Tehan, John McVeigh, and David Littleproud.

McVeigh and Littleproud entered federal parliament only last year, and have leapt straight from the backbench, although McVeigh served as a minister in the Queensland parliament.

Joyce, who takes Chester’s infrastructure portfolio, told him he had to go from cabinet on geographic grounds. Both Chester and McKenzie – whom Chester strongly backed to become deputy over Joyce’s preferred candidate Matt Canavan – are from Victoria, a state in which the Nationals only have four federal MPs.

When quizzed at his news conference about Chester being dropped, Turnbull indicated it was Joyce’s call – the Nationals’ leader gets to choose the party’s ministers – saying pointedly: “Barnaby Joyce will no doubt be able to explain this directly”.

“Plainly the Nationals have a very large component of their partyroom that comes from Queensland and Barnaby was keen to see that reflected in their representatives in the cabinet,” Turnbull said.

Turnbull said Chester had been an “outstanding minister” and he regretted he was no longer on the frontbench.

Chester told a news conference he had been offered a position of assistant minister but he had declined it.

He made it clear he felt he had been treated badly. “I don’t think my loyalty to the leadership team has ever been questioned. I’ve gone above and beyond on many occasion to support the prime minister and the deputy prime minister, Barnaby Joyce,” he said.

Joyce has also sacked Keith Pitt, who is from Queensland, as an assistant minister.

The catapulting into cabinet of the inexperienced Littleproud, who is from the Queensland seat of Mananoa, to replace Chester, is likely to stir resentment among Nationals who have waited much longer for promotion.

McKenzie, who as deputy Nationals leader goes automatically into cabinet, will become minister for sport, rural health and regional communications.

Keenan, previously justice minister, moves to human services; Tehan goes from veterans’ affairs to social services, held before by Porter; McVeigh takes regional development; while Littleproud gets agriculture and water resources.

As earlier announced, Peter Dutton has a new mega portfolio of home affairs. Two junior ministers and an assistant minister will sit under him. Angus Taylor becomes minister for law enforcement and cyber security, and Alan Tudge will be minister for citizenship and multicultural affairs. Alex Hawke is assistant minister for home affairs.

Michaelia Cash, who has been employment and workplace relations minister, becomes minister for jobs and innovation, which includes the industry area.

Arthur Sinodinos, who has been industry minister, is being treated for cancer and asked not to be considered for the new ministry, while making it clear he hoped to return to a senior ministerial or other government role later.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann adds permanently to his responsibilities the post of special minister of state, which he has recently overseen in a temporary capacity.

Cormann, seen as very competent in negotiating with the Senate crossbenchers, also steps up into the Brandis’ role of Senate leader.

In changes in the outer ministry, Craig Laundy has been promoted to minister for small and family business, workplace and deregulation. This will include direct responsibility for workplace relations, recently a controversial area for Cash who, however, retains overall responsibility as the senior portfolio minister.

Turnbull said Cash, Laundy and Zed Seselja, who becomes assistant minister for science, jobs and innovation, “will work together to make sure we harness the jobs of the future through new industries and small business”.

Paul Fletcher stays as minister for urban infrastructure, with some expanded responsibilities.

Michael McCormack, a National, moves from small business to veterans’ affairs and defence personnel.

Backbencher Melissa Price is elevated to become assistant minister for the environment.

The Nationals’ David Gillespie moves to a newly created role of assistant minister for children and families.

Victorian National Damien Drum will be assistant minister to the deputy prime minister.

David Coleman becomes assistant minister for finance, while Luke Hartsuyker moves to become assistant minister for trade, tourism and investment.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said: “All that we can deduce from this reshuffle is that the civil war which is a fact of life in the Liberal Party has now infected the National Party. How else can you explain a competent minister like Darren Chester being demoted?

“What we have here is we have a prime minister and a deputy prime minister who are engaging in such hubris and arrogance that they are now just punishing the people they don’t like in their own party.”

The Conversation

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Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.