This piece on Tony Abbott’s approach to the transition appeared in today’s Brisbane Times.
Here is a piece that was published today in The Conversation. Over coming weeks, I’ll monitor the Coalition’s transition to government and consider the implications for the Australian Public Service as it seeks to establish effective relationships with the new Abbott ministry and adapt to the needs and priorities of the new government.
It’s not often I find myself agreeing with former Labor leader, Mark Latham. But his article ‘It’s not a freakshow out there’ in the Weekend Australian Financial Review (2-3 March 2013) really struck a chord. Latham’s critique of the national (read Canberra/Melbourne/Sydney) media’s crude stereotyping of Western Sydney and its inhabitants ahead of Julia Gillard’s week-long visit to the region, reminded me of my experience as a child of Queensland, born the year Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen began his 19 year reign as Premier.
For those of you who haven’t read the Latham piece, I recommend it. He recounts the derision implicit to reporting of the Prime Minister’s impending visit: television footage of dilapidated public housing stock; newspaper cartoons depicting the region as a mix of convicts and ‘westies’ – as ‘bogans’ apparently are known there. For Latham “stereotyping is usually a product of ignorance. This is a front-line problem for the quality of public debate in Australia. From where I sit, Australia’s political class occupies a parallel universe.”
Without doubt the best line of the article is this: “Already in the analysis of this year’s federal election we [the people of Western Sydney] have become the bearded lady along the sideshow alley of Australian politics”. He goes on to document the diversity of Western Sydney; the rising affluence of people like himself who grew up in the post-war suburbs of the city’s West, now home to more than two million Australians, many of whom, Latham argues, benefitted directly from Labor’s economic reforms of the 1980s and 1990s – which he describes as “the greatest achievement in Labor history”. The perverse consequence, he argues, is that “Western Sydney has become a place for the true believers, a place with less poverty and more opportunity. But now, inexorably, it’s a tougher place for sustaining the public’s belief in a thing called Labor”.
Latham’s observations about wealth creation, economic aspiration and transformation amongst Labor’s former base make for interesting reading, as does his analysis of how “Labor has lost Western Sydney”, while the region has “lost Labor in that it no longer supports the working class template of government regulation, subsidisation and state-led development”.
What caught my attention on Saturday though, was how Latham nailed the narrow, self-referential commentary that purports to be coverage of ‘national’ politics. The people of Western Sydney no doubt resent the way they are being depicted this week with the media spotlight upon them, but it is eerily familiar to those of us who have worn the ‘Queensland is different’ badge our whole lives and endured the patronising sneers of journalists and other talking heads waxing lyrical from a studio far away.
There’ll be more of it to come as the 2013 campaign drags on, but it would be heartening to see and read more authentic accounts of what is going on in the nation’s most marginal and contested electorates and to get a feel for the issues beneath the shallow veneer of the TV news.
Latham has offered it from his own region, even if it comes with a few ‘get squares’ along the way. Here’s hoping a few Queensland commentators join the debate and resist the temptation to ‘feed the beast’ when it comes to whacky stories from north of the Tweed.