May 2, 2011

Tanner fights the devil of fragmentation, and maybe the ghosts of the Hawke-Keating years

Lindsay Tanner's concerns about the dumbing down of democracy reflect fundamental changes in our media driven by the internet.

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

Many will surely see in Lindsay Tanner’s Sideshow what they want to see. Critics of the Press Gallery have taken to Twitter to explain how its 200 pages vindicate their belief in how out of touch and irrelevant the Gallery is. Working journalists are likely to see an attempt by Tanner to, as he himself put it, “blame the umpire” and duck responsibility for the dumbing down of politics that everyone, in one way or another, agrees has happened in recent years. Current and former politicians, whatever they may say in public, are likely to agree with him and lament their own incapacity to utter the same condemnation.

In promoting the book, Tanner has taken flak for a couple of things – not offering any solutions to the problems he details, and refusing to comment on current politics. It’s legitimate for journalists to ask Tanner to comment on current policy issues of course, but it’s now equally legitimate for Tanner to decline to answer on the basis that he’s now a private citizen. His book, after all, is no policy opus, but deals with politics itself. And he does muse on some solutions at the end of the book – more of that later — but his main concern, he says, is to identify the symptoms of a growing and significant problem.

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6 thoughts on “Tanner fights the devil of fragmentation, and maybe the ghosts of the Hawke-Keating years

  1. Gavin Moodie

    Thanx. I agree that social media and the net generally offer an opportunity for political participation and exchange that the parties haven’t yet accepted, let alone developed. I’m not sure that even the Greens have seen the net’s potential yet. Were the Democrats still a force the net would have been ideal to support their participatory democracy.

    I think there may be a mistake in this (overly long and complicated) sentence –

    ‘While Laurie Oakes might cavil at the assumption television’s political coverage is automatically less substantial than that of newspapers (who was the harshest critic of the Mark Latham stunt during the election, after all, than Oakes himself?), on a simple level of resourcing of course Latham is stating the obvious. ‘

    Isn’t it Tanner stating the obvious?

  2. CarlitosM

    “His decision not to contest last year thereby spared him the fate of enduring a campaign diametrically opposed to his approach to politics. Rather, he seems more like a leftover from an earlier, better era…”

    Meh! Another f^#%ng dinosaur that was still a part of the machine, did very little in opposition and SFA while in government. A part of the problem and most certainly NOT a part of the solution.

    Tanner: Just another bolding stupid white man whitewashing his lame history, now in retirement… Yawn!

  3. Kersebleptes


    It couldn’t be anything to do with you and your Gallery mates, now could it Bernard?

    It must be everyone else…

  4. charlto.honk

    There was a very important book written a few years back by the sociologist Dean Jaensch entitled ‘The Hawke-Keating Hijack.’ It details the process whereby those politicians, once elected, were able to bypass the internal democracy of the ALP (such as it was) and devise the policies that best suited themselves and their immediate circle. They ignored the party members to whom they owed their seats in Parliament, of course.

    This could be called skilful politics. It could also be called fraud. But the major reforms of the Hawke-Keating years, particularly economic deregulation and the floating of the dollar must be put down to that hijack, and the fact that John Howard complained that his policies had all been pinched only emphasised the fact that it left the Australian 2 party system bankrupt. Today we have the situation variously described as Tweedledum and Tweedledee, Laborial, and Lib-Lab Alliance: two essentially identical parties, but with one appealing to the centre plus those on lower-than avetrage incomes, and the other appealing to the centre while operating in the interest of those on above average incomes.

    History’s jury, thinking in longer terms than the next electoral cycle, is still out on the H-K Hijack. But whatever else it did, it destroyed Australian manufacturing, and with it a few other things as well, such as much of our independent defence capability. (Australia could have been the Sweden of SE Asia. Instead, it is the Mexico.)

    ALP members have quit that party in droves, leaving it in a terminal condition. But with its plethora of local branches and cumbersome tiers of councils and executives, it was none the less probably the best expression of Australian grass-roots democracy we have yet seen. The Internet as a discussion, decision-making and political pressure forum may possibly replace it, but has not to date.

  5. freecountry

    Well thanks, Tanner, for settling the question of who’s to blame. Like many, I always mistook you for a scholar and a gentleman but in hindsight it was obvious your main contribution all along was to say virtually nothing and say it rather well, with a certain above-it-all sophistication. Two hundred pages mostly on blame (none of it yours of course) and not a word on responsibility. Perhaps, like many, you thought they were the same thing, but your predecessors whom you underestimate did not make that mistake.

  6. Bernard Keane

    Thanks Gavin – I’m mortified. Have corrected now. Cheers.

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