Taking the bait. What do you do when your tactics are completely failing and defeat is looming? Some people might decide to try something different but not the Australian Labor Party. Its response to medicine that makes things worse rather than better is to increase the dose.

The government of Julia Gillard is now a victim of its inability to stop playing politics in the way dictated by its opponents. The Prime Minister seems to believe she has to respond to the bully-boy tactics of Tony Abbott in kind. Insult is matched by insult; distortion by distortion; spin by spin. Running the country is reduced to a series of corny photo opportunities

The topics for this unedifying national debate are chosen by the Liberals and Nationals. And if opinion polls mean anything at all then Labor is sick and getting sicker.

A radical change in approach is called for. It is time for Labor to become the serious ones that avoid the gimmickry of modern perpetual campaigning. Forget the 24-hour news cycle. Stop the farce of what they these day call “the doors” where members repeat the carefully crafted and meaningless attack or defence words of the day.

Actually answer Opposition questions in parliament as they deserve to be answered, with a brief yes or no normally, without the debating school rhetoric. Abolish Dorothy Dixers from your own side. Let Labor backbenchers actually think for themselves and seek information about things of interest to them rather than raise subjects some whiz-kid thinks will make for a telling grab on the nightly television news.

Let Tony Abbott bore everyone on his own.

Put away the funny hats and fluoro vests. Keep the Prime Minister in her office most of the time and let her out to give an occasional speech that actually says something. And instead of those door-stop interviews, schedule a formal press conference once a fortnight.

An inappropriate oration. The national conference of the Institute of Public Administration is the kind of occasion I have in mind for prime ministerial appearances. Julia Gillard was the guest of honour there last Friday to deliver the keynote Robert Garran Memorial Oration.

It was a perfect opportunity for her to reflect seriously on the way Australia is governed but instead the assembled academics and public servants were treated to a speech that was more appropriate to a Labor Party electoral rally.  Instead of recruiting yet more press secretaries, this government needs some thinking staffers who can craft prime ministerial views into something worth listening to. Unless, of course, there are no such views for a speech writer to work with.

The Crikey Indicator. To put into context those opinion polls that look so disastrous for Labor, here is the latest view of the market as summarised by the Crikey election indicator:

Form an Australian branch! Swiss politics now has an Anti PowerPoint Party. Matthias Poehm, the party’s founder, has his eye on October’s election for his campaign to outlaw PowerPoint presentations. He claims that €350 billion could be saved globally each year by ditching the scourge of public speaking.

ANZ to Japan? If I was a share buyer, whenever I read of an Australian company about to expand its operations to another country I would get extremely nervous. So many times the move offshore has been a way of destroying shareholder value. Even though I am not a shareholder in anything, I do get extremely nervous when the company of which I read is a bank for banks that get things terribly wrong and ends up costing taxpayers their money along with that of their owners.

The cause of my apprehension was the Financial Review piece yesterday suggesting that the ANZ has eyes of the purchase of a bank in Japan. I cannot help remembering the total stuff-up that was made of the last international expansion into India by the ANZ with the purchase of National and Grindlays.

I can but hope that our banking regulators are being especially vigilant.

The Gillard mansion. Bob Hawke used to talk of his house’s Murdoch wing and its Packer pool and other assorted additions that came as a result of successful defamation actions and if I am any kind of judge, Julia Gillard will not have to worry about financing a new residence when she ceases to be Prime Minister. The column by Glenn Milne in The Australian yesterday and some related pieces in the blog of Andrew Bolt should be sufficient to cover the cost of a comfortable retirement mansion.

The Oz was at least quick off the mark to remove the offending column from its website (although I am sure there will be cached copies of it somewhere if you cannot find a hard copy of the actual paper) and will use that as an argument to mitigate damages. And this morning there was a tiny version of the same apology on the editorial page.

Blogger Bolt was not so quick. He put the apology on his site but kept displaying the offending words that The Oz declared to be “untrue”. But I notice that he did remove from the blog the edited version of the statutory declaration that the pack of Gillard haters were spruiking as being the evidence that would bring down the government.

Peter Fray

Get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for $12.

Without subscribers, Crikey can’t do what it does. Fortunately, our support base is growing.

Every day, Crikey aims to bring new and challenging insights into politics, business, national affairs, media and society. We lift up the rocks that other news media largely ignore. Without your support, more of those rocks – and the secrets beneath them — will remain lodged in the dirt.

Join today and get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for just $12.


Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey