Missing in action? Bill Shorten's 'small target' strategy is his only option

That’s the title of my latest piece in The Guardian. Opening paras:

Throughout his first year as opposition leader, Bill Shorten has adopted a “small target” strategy, which has been the subject of considerable criticism. “Missing in action” has been among the kinder phrases used.

The criticism has only intensified with Shorten’s endorsement of the Abbott government’s commitment of troops to a new Iraq war, and Labor’s support for a slightly amended version of the government’s anti-terror laws, explicitly sold as reducing our freedom.

Much of this criticism misses the point, harking back to a largely imaginary past in which the big issues of the day were thrashed out in parliament, and particularly in the presentation of alternative policy platforms by party leaders.

In reality, some version of the small target strategy is effectively forced on the main opposition party by the way in which our political system and media now operate. This in turn means that serious criticism of government policy must come from elsewhere.

106 thoughts on “Missing in action? Bill Shorten's 'small target' strategy is his only option

  1. Val :
    Labor is being wedged, with the LNP on one side and the Greens on the other. In Australia generally (not in electorates where they are actually under threat from the Greens), the strategy of getting into bed with the LNP and joining with them in calling the Greens names, seems to me deeply misguided. It’s like saying we don’t want to be taken seriously as a political party any more, isn’t it? Or am I missing some major strategic point here?

    + The interests of the party are not the interests of the people within the party: a labor/greens alliance or even rapprochement marginalises labor-right policies and those who support them.

    + Liberal party is doomed medium-term: the people it currently has are not capable of growing the party structure and not attractive to people who might be able to.

  2. @Fran Barlow

    I personally would prefer it if the internal processes of the ALP were more democratic and made members feel more respected. For that matter, I’d prefer it if the the internal processes of the Coalition parties were more democratic and made members feel more respected. I’d say the same about political parties in general, and about most other kinds of organisation.

    Coming back to the ALP specifically, I’m confident that if its internal processes were more democratic it would make the members feel more comfortable. But it’s less clear to me that the party would get more votes as a result.

  3. @Collin Street

    How long is ‘medium-term’? Five years, fifteen, twenty-five? And whenever that medium-term is, what is it that you’re saying the Liberal Party is doomed to? Doomed to cease to exist, doomed never again to win elections, or what?

  4. @Ken Fabian

    Isn’t one of the lessons from Abbott’s success as opposition leader that being relentless works?

    Yes and no. Abbott was relentless but he had Murdoch and by extension, since they follow Murdoch, the non-Murdoch media including the ABC running his memes as if they were what politics was about. Had they simply ignored Abbott’s relentless door stops, photo ops, trolling (even without expressly attacking them) he could not have done what he did. Had they questioned him about matters of substance and insistently required answers, he’d have fallen apart because he had no material. Instead, Murdoch rode shotgun for Abbott in a way that he won’t for the ALP. Equally, the ABC is sucking its thumb in a corner so we can expect very little put of it.

    The ALP needs to revisit the long abandoned idea of running its own politics rather than being a mere artefact of media whimsy and let the chips fall where they may. They need to attack the regime, but unlike Abbott, they need some alternative material that their supporter base can build around outside of the Murdochracy.

    That may not work in the short run, but in the longer run, building a core based around an alternative vision for the country is foundational to becoming independent of the old media and positioning for their decline — which will happen. The truism hold too. Regardless of what the ALP says or does, if people perceive the ruling regime to have been a failure, they will dump it regardless of how ‘left’ the ALP looks — providing they appear reasonably coherent and disciplined — and with a solid and motivated core, they will.

    The LNP was able to engage their core because the murdochracy did their work for them, raising it to action, writing its slogans and suffocating all rival argument. That’s why their culture war, far from being a handicap, worked. The ALP needs to wage a counter-cultural war, but it must do the heavy lifting itself. That will be harder, but Murdoch is old and the old media is decaying before our eyes. I remain convinced that the LNP will not win the next election but the more important question is how the ALP can avoid a repeat of 2010-13 and more existentially, how they can arrest the long term decline in their supporter base.

  5. @Collin Street

    I really don’t know why Labor would not enter into a coalition agreement with the Greens. Of course, they would have to get rid of their right-wing apparatchiks and neocon economic advisers. Then, they would have to move a bit left and a bit green but not too far, too fast or it would spook the electorate. They could rely on the Greens for a green and humanitarian conscience and use the Greens (in a nice way) to test the waters for more radical policies.

    Once in government, making a Green Deputy PM and a Green Environment Minister would send a big message. It is clear that climate change, species extinctions and other green issues which are really existential concerns for civilization and humans will become glaring obvious emergencies very soon. An enormous number of votes will soon flow to parties who are in the right side of history on these issues.

    Committing totally to refusal of further privatisations would also get masses of votes. Privatisations are clearly very unpopular wth the majority of unemployed, working class and middle class. I don’t know why Labor don’t have the courage and vision to oppose the LNP on green issues in particlar . It is glaringly obvious that these will soon become central issues as modern civilization faces a crisis of survival in the face of extreme environmental damage.

    On humanitarian issues like the refugee issue, it would be very easy to demonstrate that the current policies are not only inhumane and against U.N. conventions and our signatory status to them but also they are actually extremely costly policies and that the humanitarian approach would be no more costly and might well be much less costly. We are paying shelling out huge amounts of money to damage and injure people (physically and psychologically) when we could pay equal or less to help them and indirectly ourselves.

    Refugees who flee terror and persecution are self-selecting peaceable people. We want self-selecting peaceable people. If total intake numbers get too high, reduce voluntary immigration. In particular, limit voluntary immigration of rich people who bring capital. They are self-selecting exploitative, acquisative and selfish people. We actually don’t want them. They would help perpetuate exploitative systems and incidentally vote LNP. Why in heck would a Labor Party with its head screwed on bring them in? It’s possible to be humanitarian to the needy while being a bit hard-nosed and machieavellian against the exploiters and right-wingers.

    You have to use a bit of machieavellianism against the machieavellians. Labor should try it some time. It might just get them government. Being Abbott’s Little Echo will never get Shorten anywhere IMO. Of course, it is just possible Abbott and Co. will make such a huge mess that Shorten will get government by default. ButShorten is a necon and US sycophant anyway. He won’t change anything substantive unless he totally transforms himself first… which seems highly unlikely.

  6. @J-D

    Coming back to the ALP specifically, I’m confident that if its internal processes were more democratic it would make the members feel more comfortable. But it’s less clear to me that the party would get more votes as a result.

    You impose too high a standard here. It can never be ‘clear’ of the extent to which a happy and respected membership will translate into support for a political party at elections. This is very much a ‘suck it and see’ proposition. It is intuitively reasonable to infer however that if members on the whole find their participation in a political party rewarding, that they are more likely to speak up for it in their workplaces, clubs, extended family gatherings, in the media and so forth. They are more likely to door-knock and phonebank and leaflet and staff polling booths and elicit new members who will do likewise. In marketing terms, word-of-mouth is far more effective than display advertising, which is what the Murdochracy does.

    It’s hard to imagine that this advocacy would not translate into more votes, and as we see, in most cases, a 3% 2PP swing wins the alternative party the election. An extra 120,000 votes spread evenly across the seats they conceded in 2013 would have comfortably saved their regime — not that it was worth saving.

  7. @Fran Barlow

    I do see the intuitive reasonability of what you’re saying. I can’t help having doubts, though.

    You say you belong to a party which has processes that respects its members and their views, and I guess you do advocate for it — do you have any feeling for how much success your advocacy has had in winning more votes for your party? After all, your party, with all its internally democratic processes and respect for its members and their views, still gets far fewer votes than either Labor or the Coalition, isn’t that right? So how do you explain that?

  8. Surely now we have the example of Melissa Parke to remind us what the ALP could be, no-one can really excuse Bill Shorten and the way the party is currently going?

  9. @Megan
    sorry Megan I’m a bit confused – I thought Melissa Parke is the only ALP member who spoke against the laws – and abstained from voting?

    The way the ALP works, as I understand it, she can’t vote against a decision of caucus, so abstaining was all she could do (unless she wants to leave the party, maybe you think she should but I guess that’s a big step).

    here’s the speech http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/oct/01/no-one-should-be-fooled-into-believing-security-is-as-simple-as-greater-surveillance-and-deeper-silence

  10. @Megan
    Megan I sent you a reply, which is in moderation, but my understanding is Melissa Parke spoke against the law and abstained from voting (as an ALP member she can’t vote against a decision of caucus)

    the speech is in the Guardian, I won’t link to it because I guess that’s what got me in moderation

  11. @Val

    Apologies, I heard the speech but Hansard doesn’t record the “ayes” when there’s less than five “noes”. I incorrectly inferred that because she didn’t vote against it (with Wilkie, Bandt and McGowan) she voted FOR it.

    I knew that ALP members can’t vote against the party. My basic point is that she has been ‘allowed’ by Shorten’s office to be a – quiet – voice of dissent. I consider that to be cynical. I understand the counter-argument but I don’t accept it. If I don’t believe in something I’ll vote against it.

    That’s why I could never be in the ALP!

  12. @Val

    There was a piece in “The Saturday Paper” about this. It was particularly dealing with Parke’s ‘opposition’ to the inhumane treatment of refugees, but the point is the same:

    Parke plays a different role, as Labor navigates an awkward environment in which its options for criticising the government are circumscribed by its desire to be part of Team Australia.

    She provides an alibi for Labor to avoid a loss of votes to the Greens as it joins the government in backing tougher terror laws and military action in the Middle East and continues to offer bipartisan support for offshore processing of asylum seekers. Some Coalition MPs argue Bernardi plays a similar role in placating those Liberal supporters who were disappointed that Abbott abandoned the 18C changes.

    As Labor leader Bill Shorten stresses that he is “working very well together” with Abbott on national security, it doesn’t hurt to have at least one opposition MP putting an alternative view.

    Some also feared that, by reopening the debate, Parke was risking exposing Labor to attack over whether it was strong enough to manage the electorally sensitive issue.

    But Parke is not a loose cannon and her recent statements have been carefully worded. Even dissent in modern Labor is often tightly scripted. Although Dastyari’s remarks on refugee policy earlier this year were reported as pitting him against Shorten, his speech had in fact been vetted by the party’s leadership.

    I would love to view her position as a beacon of hope, but I only see it as a cynical exercise in buffing the ALP turd.

  13. @Val

    I am not sure whether you are discussing the same issue that Fran Barlow and I were just discussing and I hope you don’t mind if I ask you for clarification. Is it your view that the ALP would improve its chances of gaining votes and winning elections if Bill Shorten and the party generally followed the example of Melissa Parke?

  14. @j-d

    I do see the intuitive reasonability of what you’re saying. I can’t help having doubts, though.

    Anyone who wants to act without doubt ought to stay well clear of making any decisions in life. Politics, participation in collaborations with others generally, sports … doubt lurks everywhere.

    You say you belong to a party which has processes that respects its members and their views, and I guess you do advocate for it — do you have any feeling for how much success your advocacy has had in winning more votes for your party? After all, your party, with all its internally democratic processes and respect for its members and their views, still gets far fewer votes than either Labor or the Coalition, isn’t that right? So how do you explain that?

    Good internal processes are bedrock. They sustain you and make it more likely that your organisation will make the most if its human and material resources. You’re less likely to make mistakes, more likely to identify and rectify them before you pay a high cost, and likely to be able to learn from them. You are more likely to find workable solutions to problems and then to be able to improve them.

    None of this is a guarantee of success, but it is the most credible path.

    Our party faces enormous cultural obstacles. In my estimation, most people are creatures of habit. We get used to doing things a certain way, being relaxed about some risks and inordinately fearful of others, stating with what we know (or think we know) — the ‘strong priors’ — in part because these behaviours have, it typically seems to us, to have delivered at worst a viable existence and a modicum of satisfaction. We also have a kind of sunk cost emotional investment in not being shown to have been radically mistaken over the years we have spent working out what we should and shouldn’t believe. If you are forced to conclude that your judgements have been sharply wrong, then substituting new judgements or trusting others is by definition, scary. One sees an analog of this in people who have separated from a longterm life partner. They are wary of new relationships.

    The bulk of the populace has grown up believing that only two variants of rule are possible here: the ALP or the Liberals. This dichotomy issues from every portal of mainstream discourse, and our party is lambasted as, at best, a party of naive and eccentric political fringe-dwellers who would turn every verity upside down and expose hardworking folk to open ended risk of ruin in pursuit of social justice and environmental integrity.

    Our means to refute these and worse claims is quite limited. We have nothing like the resources of the majors, who are tied heavily to established business interests and in any event, our party, at Federal level, is little more than 20 years old. We have grown from a party defined publicly by a single popular leader attracting a handful of the vote away from the Democrats, to a party with a solid 10% and a seat in the HoR. Sadly, the structure of the parliamentary seat allocation favours geographically concentrated parties, as a comparison between us and the Nationals shows.

    Over time (a decade or two) I can see us threatening the duopoly, but people don’t toss aside their parties frivolously. They may be unhappy with them and like what they hear from us, but there is safety, reinforced by the mass media, in staying with one of the majors.

  15. Well, that was a depressing read. White flags anyone?

    ‘The first problem faced by an opposition leader who might wish to break away from the small target strategy is that of media invisibility’

    Not all oppositions, or rather, not all political parties are created equal in this regard, some being more invisible than others. No prizes for guessing. The only prog pols who ever get past the 1% gatekeepers like Rupert unscathed are traitors like Blair and malleable narcissists like Kevin. Was Abbott ignored in the way Shorten is? Was he as an opposition target as vanishingly small?

    No, he was bigger than Ben Hur. He got out there and told some of the biggest whoppers in our history, with a smile on his dial because he knew there was no risk, he knew who would benefit from his deceit, and they knew he knew too. He knew that the media (i.e. Murdoch and the agenda he sets for the rest of them now that the ABC is neutered) would cover his back, before and after the election. Now try to imagine the treatment a Gillard would have received for such a comprehensive volte-face on virtually every front.

    In the event, it was the ALP which was really the small target party… which leads to the consideration that perhaps it’s not so much being in opposition that dictates such a cautious approach, rather it’s necessary even in government if you have policies which do not align with the interests of the ownership class.

    It seems Harper in Canada and Key in NZ also enjoyed more coverage in opposition (and less criticism in govt) than their progressive peers… why would that be? Could it be that The Owners, the interests of finance and capital through control of the MSM, while happy enough to carry on the kabuki pretence of political even-handedness, can’t help but give greater love to their buffed, besuited servants in the political class, rather than the earnest, bearded, cardigan-wearing hand-wringers they have to endure in order to extend the pretence of genuine democratic choice? (Actually, no-one answers to that description any more, you’d probably be flat out finding one even at a local party gathering. Now they all look just like Libs, but in slightly less expensive threads)

    But it isn’t just the amount of coverage either, it’s the nature of it. Contrast the firm-jawed Seriousness with which elite-friendly conservative angles are covered even in the SMH nowadays, to the barely-suppressed tittering reserved for people/environment-friendly progressive concerns.. when they’re covered at all of course.

    Let’s face it, in the eternal contest between capital and labour, capital has won. It owns the ground upon which politics is now conducted and writes the rules, even (or especially) the unwritten ones. I don’t think accepting that situation belongs on the agenda of any genuinely progressive party; even if corruption is somehow avoided, policy deformity is inevitable. It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees, and who knows after a while you might even be able to stand up again.

    ‘The biggest problem though is the general unpopularity of politicians’

    And why are they unpopular? For me, the whole rationale/ethos behind the concept of the ‘small target strategy’ is partly to blame. People don’t like being lied to, or not told the whole truth, or led carefully away from issues deemed ‘controversial’ or ‘divisive’.. even if it is professedly being done for the ‘right reasons’ i.e., not frightening the right-wing horses. ‘Blunt’ appears to be dead, but does it have to take ‘honest’ with it as well?

    At some point, I don’t know, after Abbott’s third term maybe, an uncomfortable truth will have to be faced (or kicked down the road for another fews years, more likely). A small target ‘strategy’ is actually not a strategy at all. It is simply a tactic, employed at each critical juncture as it arises because in the short term it appears the ‘sensible’ thing to do (hard-headed, decisive, macho even) It is not a sign of long term nous but chronic weakness on a day to day level and while it might demonstrably ‘work’ in increments, over time it is an albatross, as voters look back over years of inertia and me-tooism.

    Tactical prudence if employed as a default in this way will translate into strategic disaster… it already has.

  16. Van Badham’s column in the Guardian today almost seems a riposte to yours John:

    ‘In a media environment where Labor faced 30 aggressively pro-Abbott front-page tabloid headlines in the last election, Labor is disarming a necessary arsenal for a true electoral fight by clinging to policy positions that appear to speak to mainstream interests but which powerfully disengage a huge number of people who could, would and truthfully want to argue the Labor alternative’


  17. @J-D
    Well yes I suppose I am – I’m suggesting that the ALP could argue genuinely more left positions from the LNP if they did it intelligently and thoughtfully as Melissa Parke did in her speech. I believe it is possible to argue a left position and take people with you, if you do it properly, and the ALP should do it – I’ve been saying that for years eg on asylum seekers, even though I no longer support the ALP and in general vote Green or other more left parties/Independents.

    However Megan is suggesting that Parke is being ‘allowed’ to do this as a sop to the left (particularly those in the ALP I suppose) and I fear there could be something in that. It’s a bit like ‘Labor for refugees’ has been allowed to exist even though they seem to make no difference to ALP policy.

    Still I think Parke made her case well.

  18. I think the ALP need to stop thinking that they will return to power at the next election without doing anything, or that the media will suddenly become kind to them. They need to stand up and differentiate themselves from Abbott right now. They should develop three three word slogans to keep on repeating and to use against every Abbott government failing. What about

    A fair society
    Action on carbon
    Protecting the environment

    They can then develop policies under these headings as the next two years unfold, and as Abbott fails more and more. Repetition of these slogans and remorseless arguing for policies under them will break through media bias in the end (IMHO)

  19. @Val

    The two statements

    ‘It is possible for party A to pursue strategy X’


    ‘Party A would be likely to improve its performance in attracting votes and winning elections by pursuing strategy X’

    are not equivalent.

    If you are asserting merely that it would be possible for the ALP to pursue a different strategy, I’m sure you’re right. But if you’re also asserting that this different strategy would be likely to win it more votes and more elections, I would like to know what makes you think that.

  20. @J-D
    There’s some evidence that Australians in general would prefer a fairer society (I’ve written about this on my blog) but are worried that’s it’s not practical. Recent polls (sorry don’t have time to link at present) also suggest increasing support for environmental measures.
    Therefore I believe that if Labor could present a coherent, practical and well argued case for such measures – without political spin and in-fighting – they could bring people with them and increase their support.

    It may not be possible for them to do that because too many on the right of Labor seem to be allied with capitalist big business. I gather even Greg Combet, whom I previously admired, seems to be going down this path, although I don’t know the full details.

  21. I think Calyptorhynchus @69 has the right idea. Labor needs to agree on a positive purpose for the next Federal Labor government and to vigorously articulate that purpose, and to develop and articulate policies that are rooted in that purpose. If Labor has its own clearly defined, positive and proactive purpose that it believes in, it can then clearly present an alternative to the Coalition. It would also then be in a better position to define its relationship with the Greens and other progressive political actors.

  22. @Val

    I reckon that’s about right. Labor could do it if they wanted to but most of their professional politicians and apparatchiks are now bought off by big business. They identify as part of the wealthy and ruling class. They do not identify with workers or middle class people.

  23. Calyptorhynchus’s three word program @ 69 would be perfect if we had the luxury of time for the ALP to catch up with reality. To explain the depth of the problem within the ALP in relationship to global warming and the environment in general let me introduce you to Luke Foley, the NSW Shadow Minister for Environment and Climate Change as well as Shadow Minister for Planning & Infrastructure who, when asked to support a Green’s bill aimed at replacing all coal and gas-fired power stations by 2030, said that it would cripple the Hunter’s coal industry and was ‘‘not a serious policy proposal’’.

    In the meantime real policy leadership, at least in NSW, is being conducted by Greenpeace who have solidly backed front line action against the ex-Tinkler mine at Maule’s Creek, near Narrabri, where activists recenlty closed at all five of Whitehaven’s mine operations for many very expensive hours. You can look it up yourself @ ‘Front Line Action on Coal’.

    Ever since Greenpeace adopted a type of corporate structure I’ve been chary at the absence of real, accountable democratic structures. Similar complaints were made decades ago about the ACF, which is now much more democratic, and about TWS as well, which went through major ructions in adopting a new, democratic process for choosing leadership. I’ve always held to the view that anyone who advocates democracy ought to practice it. However, especially in light of the ALP’s dismal failure at inner reform, I now accept that any organization that provides leadership, even if it doesn’t conform to any ideal type of inner democratic governance, is better than what the ALP offers.

    Seriously, the NSW Shadow Minister for Environment and Climate Change, a career NSW ‘left’ parliamentarian, appears ready to die in a ditch to preserve the Hunter coal industry. A true blue blood of the working class, for sure.

    In the meantime, up on Cliff’s farm, where a loose coalition of greenies, Greens, Greenpeace staffers, Aboriginal people, war veterans, farmers and assorted bushies has been putting up stalwart resistance to clearing the last great white box woodland in NSW, there has not been a visit from a single sitting member, preselected member or notable functionary of the ALP in the last two years.

    And the readers here think that the ALP will provide leadership on climate change. No sir. It’s become a DIY project where participants look to environmentalists from South America, Japan and the US, all of whom have visited camp Wando and participated in direct actions against coal, as well as members of the Greens, who need to visit more often. Attempts by unions and the ALP to direct the movement, which will happen, when they’ve been well absent, will be treated with justifiable scorn.

    Seriously, I couldn’t even give my second preference next year to the ALP. No effin’ way.

  24. Bill Shorten needs training in how to carry off a speech, whether it is a sentence or a long oratory. He needs to project emotion without it sounding rehearsed, and to keep it simple. He needs to drop the expression, “this is a government that”, and to simply bell the cat as “Abbott’s cabinet”, or something with Abbott’s name front and centre.

    When it comes to the looming war, instead of obsequiously agreeing with everything Abbott come up with, Shorten could and should have been examining and attacking the weaknesses in whatever policy Abbott has come up with, not letting it slide through uncontested in the public arena. As a perfectly reasonable example, the ALP should be demanding that the Abbott guvm’nt explain exactly how they plan to defeat ISIL without the use of ground forces, demand that Abbott present a coherent strategy to discern who is an ISIL fighter and who is simply a local citizen, because at some point we have to be capable of doing that. How are we going to build the intelligence info necessary to hoover up the ISIL fighters who conceal themselves among the towns’s peoples? Shorten should be rattling the cage and making Abbott’s crew sweat out their strategy into the public debate, forcing the government to defend itself.

    We all know that Murdoch won’t give the ALP an even break; however, going small target simply allows Murdoch’s rags to perpetuate old mythology and old mistakes that the ALP once made, rather than forcing Murdoch’s rags onto more current ALP-initiated debates in the public arena. At the moment, Abbott is being portrayed as the second coming of Jesus, if you believe Murdoch’s rags. When it comes to the next election, noone is going to vote for the ALP (and Bill Shorten) because they were nice to the government.

  25. @Donald Oats

    “Sincerity is everything, if he can fake that he’s got it made.”

    On IS/ISIL/ISIS/FSA or whatever we’re calling that CIA outfit today, the one big problem with your prescription is that ALP/Shorten actually is 100% behind the non-strategy of the gummit – it has been dictated to Australia by our puppeteers and the 2 CEOs of our faux-democratic duopoly were selected for us precisely because of their ability to do that bidding. They both, as a team, perform the role of protecting the “1%” from us.

  26. Shorten is starting to look like a repeat of Kim Beazley circa 2001 (and didn’t the strategy work brilliantly for him?).

  27. “… this ISIS organization, also known as ISIL, was created by the United States, Saudi Arabic and Israel for the specific purpose of enacting regime change in Syria,” said Mark Dankof in an interview with Press TV on Thursday.

    “There needs to be a set of congressional hearings –honest ones which we are never going to see—that actually expose how this ISIS organization was created, who provided the funding, who provided the logistics, and why it is that this organization entered Syria and later Iraq principally to the auspices of two American allies; Turkey, a NATO member, and Jordan,” he added.

    Dankof characterized ISIL as “a foreign mercenary army” that has been “deliberately introduced into Syria” by the United States and its allies for the “nefarious purpose” of “regime change in Syria”… ” – Press TV.

    So who are the US and Australia going to be bombing? We (the citizens of US and Australia) don’t know where and who these bombs are actually landing on. We don’t know which M.E. groups our governments have clandestinely created and we don’t know who they are targetting now. We really don’t know anything of what our governments are up to. Can we trust them after the WMD deception and all the genuine revalations from Wikileaks, Snowden etc.? I think not. We cannot simply buy this current narrative. The fact that oppositions are in lock-step with governments just makes it more suspicious IMO. The absolute unanimity, the lack of critical assessment, the one-sided propaganda makes it like more orchestrated and manipulative than ever to the discerning mind.

  28. @Ikonoclast

    The fact that you quote Mark Dankof makes it look as if you think Mark Dankof is worth quoting. How reliable a source do you think he is on this subject? Do you know on what he has based the statements you quote? Are you inclined to accept them as an accurate representation of the facts in this case, or at least probably largely accurate? Why or why not?

  29. @Val

    It seems plausible to me to suppose that Australians in general would prefer a fairer society but are worried that it’s not practical, as you write. But if that’s true, what would happen to a political party that engaged in more vigorous advocacy of measures to make society fairer? Would it experience an increase in its support from voters because what it’s advocating is what people prefer? Or would it experience a decrease in its support from voters because people regard what it’s advocating as impractical? I don’t think this is so easy to judge. It would be easy for you or for me to think of measures that we don’t think are impractical, but what I’m discussing here is not how you or I might judge these things, but how significant numbers of voters would be likely to judge them.

  30. @Ikonoclast

    Mark Dankof was a delegate to the Texas Republican Convention, standing for the Constitution Party. By his own reckoning, he stands for the constitution and authentic Christian values. I am calling him a paleo-conservative (which would bracket him with Pat Robertson).

    This is his big issue which makes him a magnet for hardcore anti-semites on the internet, whatever his personal views on jewishness may be.

    As far as I can tell, he has no direct evidence for his claim that Mossad did 9/11 and yet he does retail the claim that Jews were tipped off beforehand.

    I wouldn’t be citing this fellow, Ikono.

  31. @Fran Barlow

    When you write that the Greens ‘have nothing like the resources of the majors, who are tied heavily to established business interests’, that makes it look as if you are suggesting that one major reason that Labor and the Coalition (each) get far more votes than the Greens is that each of them has access to a level of funding that is provided by established business interests and no other source. I’m not absolutely sure you mean that, but it does seem plausible. If it’s true, though, doesn’t it mean that any party which receives major funding from established business interests can expect a drastic loss of funding and a correspondingly drastic loss of votes if it adopts new policies or strategies that established business interests don’t like?

  32. Historically, it’s by no means easy for a party other than Labor and the main non-Labor party/coalition to establish a substantial, enduring presence in Australian politics. Superior resources and institutional advantages are part of the explanation for this, but demography, geography and political culture are also significant factors. Even the Greens took longer to establish themselves as a serious presence in Australian politics than our sister parties in other advanced capitalist democracies.

  33. Agree with Calyptorhynchus’s urge to simplify and clarify. However I would say numbers two and three are really the same issue – environment, which can again be packed into another – security.

    I think an entire political philosophy for a new party could be boiled down to three concepts –


    Fairness would encompass:

    a restructure of our antiquated democratic processes, making much greater use of the internet referenda to canvass genuine voter intent (not ‘representative’ polls) conducted on dedicated open source software by a government agency responsible to Senate for transparency and integrity of results… an attempt to return our ‘representative’ democracy to its roots in ‘assembly’, with a view to voter preferences of critical mass being central to debate and decision in the chamber

    the presentation to the citizenry of a range of options to rein in and thereby re-establish the reputation and usefulness of banking and finance, with nationalisation a last resort should sensible reforms such as no bailouts/TBTF, Tobin tax, making illegal the use of offshore havens, etc be resisted – sweet reason is useless so a gun to the head it will have to be. The aim is to wrest the profits of our productivity back from a thieving overclass, and bring our Gini coefficient into respectable territory. We should accept that there will always be winners (whether the game is played fairly or not), but they must accept that we the majority define the boundaries of the fields they can play in.

    Sovereignty would involve an explicit statement of the primacy of Australian citizen preference in making important decisions which touch upon our sovereignty. So that the Alliance with the US cannot force us, via our weak and/or corrupt politicians and parties, into wars we should avoid, or indeed into trade agreements which if passed would empower private corporations to frack our backyards or sue us for decisions we make in the best interests of the health and well-being of Australians now and into the future. If we say no en masse, it shouldn’t happen.

    Security, which would cover much more ground than that word might indicate; involving not just military, police and intelligence to counter physical threat, but much greater emphasis on the causes of terror and conflict (including our own past behaviour) and a stated preference for prevention rather than cure… this all requiring of course a distancing from the US. But security should also cover making the environment safe and productive for future generations of Australians, and crucially must focus on preparing the infrastructure in education needed to produce populations capable of coping with change we can’t really begin to imagine just yet.

    Citizens armed with a government issued ID which permits them to return to ancient Athens i.e. to vote on issues rather than for people seems to me necessary to avoid the losses we face – freedom, security, prosperity, and hope. Issues can’t change their mind, or be bribed or intimidated.

  34. @J-D

    J-D, you can gish-gallop till the cows come home. It doesn’t impress me.

    It’s another point of view separate from the standard Western propaganda. “In 2007, the Canadian weekly Maclean’s, while noting that “most of Press TV’s news reports are factually accurate,” alleged that Press TV also publishes “intentional errors.” – Wikepedia. Of course, Murdoch and other Western press also publish intentional errors. Do you call them out? I wonder.

    Are you inclined to accept standard western media claims at face value? Do you think Western governments are to be trusted after the deliberate WMD fabrication? Do you know for certain who they are bombing now? I could gish-gallop on but it’s a tedious and unimaginative way to conduct even a blog debate.

  35. @Fran Barlow

    In the quote I mentioned, he simply calls for a congressional inquiry into events. There is considerable evidence that the US is complicit in running mercenaries and weapons into Syria for the opposition(s) maybe the FSA (Free Syria Army). I don’t subscribe to his conspiracy theories in other arenas (like the 9/11 conspiracy). Whether the US (and Saudis) directly created ISIL or accidently and indirectly created them I am not sure. I suspect it is the latter. But the whole murky history of US and CIA actions with respect to the M.E. and North Africa would have to be unravelled and exposed for anyone to be sure.

    These days to just dare to criticise any Israeli policy gets people branded anti-semite by the rapid ultra right-wing part of the Jewish press. Dankof might or might not be anti-semite I do not know. I am not in the habit of quoting him I might add. The quote I did use was reasonable.

    Who or what do you think created ISIL? No doubt it was a complex of forces but I suspect the US, in the entirety of its actions in the M.E. can take a good part of the “credit”.

  36. @Ikonoclast

    The world is full of people putting forward different and mutually contradictory points of view (on this issue and on many, many others). However, you chose to quote one particular point of view from one particular individual on this particular subject. All I’m doing is asking why. If you choose to make this particular contribution to this discussion and then choose to offer no justification for it, I am going to conclude that the most probable reason is that you have no justification for it.

    You have chosen, for whatever reason, not to answer the questions I asked you. I choose to answer the questions you asked me.

    ‘Do you call them out?’ you asked me — meaning, do I ‘call out’ Murdoch and other Western press on their publication of intentional errors. As background, I add that I wasn’t ‘calling out’ Mark Dankof for intentional error — I have never heard of Mark Dankof before today and still have no reason to think he’s making intentional errors. The direct answer to your question, however, is that I cannot recall any occasion on which I have attempted to draw the occasion of any of the Western press to any of their intentional errors. Mind you, although I can remember reading things in the press that I knew were inaccurate, I can’t recall ever reading anything in the press that I had good reason to think was an intentional error. I do recall one occasion when I drew the attention of the ABC to an error (presumably unintentional) in one of their reports, and a correction was added to the relevant Web page. Having answered your question, I still don’t see how it’s relevant.

    ‘Are you inclined to accept standard western media claims at face value?’ you ask. I’m not sure exactly what you mean by ‘standard western media claims’, but if you mean to ask whether I regard everything I read in newspapers, hear on the radio, or see on the television as reliably accurate, the answer is that I don’t. It depends on the nature of the report. If there’s something specific you’d like to know my assessment of, I’m more than happy to provide it.

    ‘Do you think Western governments are to be trusted after the deliberate WMD fabrication?’ you ask. Once again it depends on the issue. I don’t automatically assume that whatever they tell me is true, but then I don’t automatically assume that whatever anybody tells me is true.

    ‘Do you know for certain who they [Western governments] are bombing now?’ No, I don’t. Do you?

    If you think my way of approaching this discussion is tedious and unimaginative, what would you suggest as an alternative?

  37. @Ikonoclast

    When you write ‘In the quote I mentioned, he simply calls for a congressional inquiry into events’, your statement is demonstrated to be false by the evidence you yourself have provided.

    You quoted Mark Dankof as saying, among other things, the following: ‘… this ISIS organization, also known as ISIL, was created by the United States, Saudi Arabic and Israel for the specific purpose of enacting regime change in Syria’ and also as characterising ‘ISIL as “a foreign mercenary army” that has been “deliberately introduced into Syria” by the United States and its allies for the “nefarious purpose” of “regime change in Syria”‘. According to the text you quoted, Mark Dankof did not ‘simply’ ask for a congressional inquiry into whether these things are true; he affirmed that they are true.

    I can think of three typical reasons why people quote statements in this way, although I suppose your own reason may perhaps be none of these three but rather some other reason I haven’t thought of.

    1. Sometimes people quote a report like this to other people because they want to ask ‘Do you think this is right?’ In this instance, you might be looking for other people’s evaluations of what Mark Dankof has said.

    2. Sometimes people quote a report like this to other people because they want to show how unreliable some sources are and what implausible reports they retail. In this instance, you might (theoretically; but I’m guessing not so in fact) be trying to illustrate what kind of rubbish is being repeated by some people, of whom Mark Dankof is an example.

    3. Sometimes people quote a report like this to other people because they think the statements being made are accurate (or, at least, probably largely accurate) and they quote somebody else making them as evidence in support of their own position. If that’s what you’re doing, it seems to me to be only fair to ask why you regard Mark Dankof’s word as having evidential value.

    A quick search of the Web reveals this example of Mark Dankof’s political views:

    ‘The root of the crisis involves what Matthias Chang has referred to as the Anglo-American-Zionist-Military Industrial Complex, which has overextended its reach in the world by using illegitimate military means and political/cultural subversion of individual countries to reach three (3) ultimate goals: 1) The establishment of a world banking system which is committed to the Nixon-Saudi petrodollar of August of 1971 as the global reserve currency of the planet and the only currency to be utilized for all international oil transactions; 2) The establishment of a world government ultimately based in Jerusalem which will have its foundations in this global banking system, even as it is run by the appointed agents of Zionist and Jewish power who control establishment banking, media, and government in all of the individual nation-states globally who have been subverted and brought into this oppressive mechanism; and 3) the achievement of Eretz Yisrael (Greater Israel) in the Middle East, where the Zionist entity will control all of the territory between the Nile River and the Tigris/Euphrates River with a United Jerusalem as the seat of a Globalist Empire which oversees world banking, individual governments, multi-national corporations, world technologies, and the military/intelligence apparatuses of formerly sovereign nation-states. All of this provided the foundational assumptions of World Zionism and the United Nations Monetary and Financial Conference at Bretton Woods in 1944.’

    I personally find that enough to form my own judgement of how much value should be placed on what Mark Dankof has to say about international affairs, but I don’t ask anybody else to accept my judgement. I urge them to seek out and evaluate evidence for themselves. In a discussion like this I never expect anybody to take my word for anything: I am always happy to be questioned about the basis for any conclusion I put forward.

  38. @Ikonoclast

    Who or what do you think created ISIL? No doubt it was a complex of forces but I suspect the US, in the entirety of its actions in the M.E. can take a good part of the “credit”.

    I don’t disagree with attributing a good part of the responsibility for the emergence of ISIL to the US. The US, over several decades, helped author the circumstances in which Islamism in its various iterations was awakened. This really goes back to 1979 and their use of Islamists to unsettle Soviet Central Asia. Equally, their client, Israel had a hand in laying the foundations for Islamic Jihad (in order to subvert the legitimacy of the PLO. And of course the carte blanche they gave to the Saudis, for a time also the Taliban, and their ouster of the Ba’athists in Iraq and the enormous outpouring of religio-ethnic nationalism there all created fertile ground for a group like ISIL.

    Finally, the ramping up under Petraeus of the Sunni fundamentalist ‘Sons of Iraq’ movement to fight Al Qaeda in Iraq on the basis of a pay off by the subsequent Iraqi regime backfired when the pay off never happened. Once Syria began decomposing, in part one suspects through US/Israeli subversion, there was now a place for disaffected Sunni fundamentalists to acquire weapons and assistance, largely through Arab regimes that in turn have been US clients, like the UAE and the Saudis.

    So while the US didn’t create ISIL, they certainly shaped the conflicts and facts on the ground in ways that strongly predisposed such organisations emerging. From their POV, this is not a mistake. People who are a nuisance to them and their allies are being attacked by people they are free to attack. Syria is weakened (which empowers their ally, Israel), and the US can continue to bankroll the US arms industry and regiment their populace. From a boss class POV what’s not to like?

    If ISIL runs amok and kills tens of thousands of people, the US won’t be remotely bothered by that. All grist to their propaganda mill. The only real losers are working humanity, about which the US and the west more generally could scarcely care less.

  39. @J-D

    As usual, you don’t want to talk about the substantive issues. It’s clear that the US, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar have funded the so-called moderate Syrian opposition(s) and also in the case of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar donors they have directly funded ISIS.

    “There is evidence that, as the US magazine The Atlantic puts it, “Qatar’s military and economic largesse has made its way to Jabhat al-Nusra”, an al-Qaida group operating in Syria. Less than two weeks ago, Germany’s development minister, Gerd Mueller, was slapped down after pointing the finger at Qatar for funding Islamic State (Isis).

    While there is no evidence to suggest Qatar’s regime is directly funding Isis, powerful private individuals within the state certainly are, and arms intended for other jihadi groups are likely to have fallen into their hands. According to a secret memo signed by Hillary Clinton, released by Wikileaks, Qatar has the worst record of counter-terrorism cooperation with the US.” – Guardian.

    From the report – “To really combat terror, end support for Saudi Arabia” – Beta Guardian.

  40. J-D, in a democracy that allows businesses to donate to political parties, it is only natural for the larger businesses to donate to both major parties–in the case of Australia; this is because no matter which of the two parties is voted into office, the implied threat of not donating (to one of the parties) in the future is how businesses can exert their muscle. In other words, we fund you while you play nice when in power, or…

    This is what we know of as BAU: business as usual.

  41. @Ikonoclast

    The statement

    ‘Powerful private individuals in Qatar are directly funding ISIS’

    and the statement

    ‘ISIL is a foreign mercenary army deliberately introduced into Syria by the United States and its allies’

    are not equivalent.

  42. @Donald Oats

    That sounds plausible; so in such a case, how would you expect events to unfold in the hypothetical scenario where a major party acts in a way that antagonises those major business donors?

  43. @J-D

    How would you expect events to unfold in a hypothetical scenario where you debated instead of metadebating?

  44. @Ikonoclast

    I’d like to answer your question, but unfortunately that would require operating at a level of abstraction that I find myself incapable of. I don’t know the answer. Do you have any ideas about what might be expected in the scenario you’re hypothesising?

  45. @jungney

    True, but…

    I’m reminded of a speech given by Chris Hedges in 2012 in which he said:

    …Stop asking yourself whether its practical. It’s never practical. Turn off your television. Nothing you do in the eyes of the corporate media is ever going to be a success. You’re always going to be deemed a failure. And listen to the people around you and not the pollution pouring out over the airwaves.

    I was in Leipzig on November 9, 1989, with the leaders of the East German opposition, and they said, “Maybe within a year there will be free passage back and forth across the Berlin Wall.” Within a few hours the Berlin Wall, at least as impediment to human traffic, did not exist. No one knows how movements work. No one knows at what point that spark ignites a conflagration.

    It can happen at any moment and ‘they’ know it, that’s why they’re always so paranoid and terrified of us.

  46. @Megan

    If nobody knows which spark will ignite a conflagration, then also nobody knows what — or who — will be burned up in that conflagration. The possibility of incalculable effects includes incalculable loss as well as incalculable gain.

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