Sep 28, 2012

Tanner, Assange, Slipper and Labor: think globally, hacks locally

Lindsay Tanner's critique of Labor has much to recommend it, but the week saw some interesting twists on one of his themes.

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

While Lindsay Tanner and his publisher would be delighted with the fiery reception his barbs aimed at Labor and the deposers of Kevin Rudd received, and Tanner was altogether more light on with the solutions than with the problems, there are still some stubborn elements at the core of Tanner's analysis that won’t go away. Much of the "Labor has lost its way" critique (I’m putting my own hand up for blame on this) has been cast in pejorative terms, as a fault of Labor powerbrokers who have centralised control of -- and demonised -- genuine policy debate in the party while broader social trends hollowed it out. Tanner’s critique goes beyond the apparatchikisation of Labor, although it’s not especially novel. Many of the sentiments have been circulating on the margins of the party and within it for a while: Labor is a victim of its historical success in establishing a basic socio-economic framework of fairness in the Australian economy. "You can only establish Medicare once, you can only do occupational super once," he said on The Drum last night. Once Labor has succeeded in creating an Australia in which most working people have a strong chance at attaining affluence, where to for the party of the workers? At the same time, Tanner argues, Labor has also struggled with the externally-imposed challenges of globalisation, most obviously in relation to asylum seekers. Although, interestingly, it is no longer Labor that struggles with the issues of foreign investment -- that is now the cross to bear of anyone who leads the Coalition and has to deal with internationalist, business-focused Liberals and the xenophobic, populist, economic troglodytes of the Nationals. But as if to (kind of weirdly) counterpoint Tanner's argument about globalisation, Julia Gillard spent the week pitching Australia’s case for a UN Security Council spot (against those world powers Luxembourg and Finland -- haven't we had some ding-dong battles with them over the years, as sports commentators might observe). The Coalition sniped from the sidelines, unwilling to come out fully against a goal the Howard government had pursued, but anxious nonetheless to exploit the obvious question many voters would be asking about what a Security Council spot had to do with their travel time to work or their electricity bills. As the world’s 12th largest economy, and one of the few developed countries currently growing amidst a global slump, it’s appropriate that we shed the little Aussie battler self-image and start believing we have something of value to offer internationally. Indeed, that might have made a good line for Labor, although the party isn't really in the business these days of sending out good lines. Gillard wasn’t the only Australian pitching their case at the UN. Julian Assange spoke at an event hosted by the Ecuadorian mission, one advertised by various supporters as "an address to the UN" or even "an address to the UN General Assembly". But overstatement is a congenital problem for WikiLeaks; in his speech, which otherwise correctly attacked Barack Obama for trying to take credit for the Arab Spring, Assange twice appeared to try to take credit for the Arab Spring for WikiLeaks via the revelations contained in the diplomatic cables. It’s the sort of overstep that never does Assange’s cause any good, providing easy opportunities for his critics who normally have to make shit up about him. Nonetheless, Assange’s speech was a reminder that, however much it tries to blithely wriggle out of responsibility, the Australian government can’t escape the perception that it has abandoned one of its own citizens as part of the price of its vassal state relationship with Washington. Politics will return somewhat to normal next week, before Parliament resumes -- briefly -- the following week. That will be freighted with more significance than before given the Commonwealth has cut Peter Slipper free in the James Ashby case and, according to media reports this morning, settled with the staffer for $50,000 and an agreement about training regarding s-xual harassment in MPs’ offices. The latter, incidentally, is a valuable thing, and should be extended to all forms of bullying and harassment, of which there is plenty in MPs’ offices across the nation. But the effect is to leave Peter Slipper, who has hitherto fought a joint battle against Ashby with the Commonwealth, to defend the case by himself. Slipper doesn’t really have the option of settling with his accuser, not if he wants to keep to keep the Speakership through until August next year; it would be tremendously difficult for him to maintain the position unless the claims made by Ashby fail in court. Then again, Slipper steadfastly denies the claims, and may have no interest whatsoever in settling. Of course, he might figure than with less than a year til an election in which he'll lose his seat, bailing out now isn’t that bad an option.

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3 thoughts on “Tanner, Assange, Slipper and Labor: think globally, hacks locally

  1. zut alors

    Note Bob Carr’s par for the course cursory response to Assange’s speech with that tired old parrot-like ditty ie: The Australian Consul Has Had Sixty Points Of Contact With Mr Assange.
    Gee, Bob, perhaps it’s worth making a couple more because apparently Mr Assange doesn’t feel the love.

    Frankly, I couldn’t give a toss if Australia attains a seat on the Security Council, our vote will always be decided by Uncle Sam hence any contribution will be of nil value. Protecting Australian citizens is a noble cause and I’d prefer the government apply themselves to that instead of posturing and pretending to be statesmen at the UN.

  2. linda domaschenz

    So now for all to see,JA is public enemy NO 1 to the US and what does Carr do?
    Zilch, what poor little puppets we truly are.
    Even if they don’t want JA causing further embarrassment, he should at the least be given dimpomatic immunity to get to Ecuador.
    I realize not so simple legally, but how long is this fiasco going to drag on for?
    The aid worker in Libya is garnering more attention.

  3. Serenatopia

    The Commonwealth is under a legal obligation pursuant to the Legal Services Directions 2005, which are ironically administered by the Attorney-General’s Department, to pay legitimate claims without litigation (please refer to Appendix B paragraph 2(b)). Note 3 of the Model Litigant Rules in the Legal Services Directions state ‘the obligation to act as a model litigant may require more than acting honestly and in accordance with the laws and court rules. It also goes beyond the requirement for lawyers to act in accordance with their ethical obligations.’

    If the Commonwealth believes that a vexatious claim has been brought against it, then in accordance to the Legal Services Directions, it is incumbent on the Commonwealth to protect its interests (please refer to note 4).

    By virtue of settling the claim with Ashby, and the fact that this has happened as a result of the Commonwealth approaching him, the Commonwealth has acknowledged, to some extent, the genuineness and legitimacy of his claims.

    What is perturbing about all of this is that we have an Attorney-General, who is the first female in that role, who appears not to be across the legislation she is supposed to administer.

    What is more perturbing is the fact that she has endorsed the spending of over $700,000 on a case that should have been settled over a year ago.

    I think there is a name for such behaviour and it is called ‘maladministration’. I also believe that this is the very thing that whistleblowing is all about.

    Effectively, we have a case of ‘maladministration’ playing out before our eyes…and all that Roxon can do…is continue to blame the victim!

    One question remains- who makes the people that run our nation accountable?

    I also refer you to blog post:


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