Interesting blogging from someone else

Shock of the new – Peter Brent explains how winners like to write their own histories

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howard xxxx skull

It’s no secret that I enjoy Peter Brent’s frequent musings on modern Australian politics. He has an entertaining acerbic wit and dry sense of humour that he is renown for amongst fans of Aussie politics. He sometimes strays with his obsession about certain politicians that he seems to personally dislike but by and large his analysis of election results and polling is very good.

Here he muses about a recent speech my Michael Cooney, from Labor’s Chifley Research Centre

The full article can be found here on the Inside Story website (worth subscribing to) and is definitely worth a read, particularly if you’re interested in recent Labor history and the false image/myth created around John Howard’s electoral success (which Peter has repeatedly and correctly pointed out was due in part to favourable economic times and enormous middle-class welfare and high-spending high-taxing policies).

“A Labor think tank has given a timely warning about the seductive appeal of triumphs past, says Peter Brent … Last month in London, Michael Cooney, executive director of the Labor Party’s main think tank, the Chifley Research Centre, called for an end to what he termed “nostalgia for the new.” In a speech called “In the Shadow of Giants: the Paradox of Modernisation in the Second Generation,” he took particular aim at the obsession within his party with the Hawke and Keating governments of 1983–96, and the implication that this politically successful period can serve as a blueprint for Labor today. Cooney characterised nostalgia for that period – the belief that if only the spirit of those times could be recaptured, all would be well – as a one-dimensional view of the recent past. Beginning and ending with “microeconomic reform,” this account was constructed by the party’s enemies, he argued, with the chief aim of flaying modern Labor. Yet it’s also something many in the party have internalized.”

I really liked this point from Peter, which is an important lesson for political strategists and local campaign directors: “Trying to repeat the past is a recipe for dysfunction. Apart from anything else, any account of what happened is incomplete, selective or just plain wrong. History is often like that: the stories that develop through the years contain truths, yes, but also omissions, exaggerations and falsehoods. Random events sometimes alter the course of those tales, and as they are retold they are remoulded by ideological battles.”

Peter ends this episode with a positive note about Labor (as positive as his overt cynicism allows I suspect 🙂 … “the party will undoubtedly return to office one day. How it behaves when it once more controls the levers will indicate whether the current ailment is temporary or something more enduring.”

My opinion on this topic is obviously optimistic. Having just spent 5 years working in the ACT Labor office I have seen closely the positive outcomes from a hard-working team of representatives and supportive party members. Whenever Labor embraces its values and follows through with team-work it always improves outcomes in government and in the community. There are no silver bullets in politics and occasionally you are under heavy enemy fire, but the progressive side of politics must be united and focused on a better future to succeed. There are lots of good examples of the successes of good Labor policy and government in recent Australian history as well as in current governments in SA and the ACT. I’m sure federal Labor’s electoral success will return with a vengeance and I am confident that Bill Shorten will continue to score goals strengthening the Party for its next electoral test.

Anyway, enough about Labor, Peter’s latest post on the likelihood of the Queensland Premier losing his own seat at the next Queensland State election is a cracker! The answer to the question of “will he survive” is “probably no”!

Abbott and Newman

Another reason I love Mike Smith’s Blog – it’s real

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My close friends in the Labor Party know that I really like Mike Smith and his blog MikeSmithOnline.


One of the many reasons I like Mike and his blog is that he frequently shares a pearl of campaigning wisdom that, in real life, can take many years and many campaign dramas to learn. Mike was one of many fantastic presenters at the recent 2014 Campaign Management and Political Marketing Workshop which Stephen Mills and Jennifer Rayner organised at Sydney University in July (and which I am still yet to blog about properly – don’t worry, it’s still on my to-do list).

I remember former NSW General Secretary John Della Bosca explaining at a media event that, in real life, it actually takes about 10 years of on-the-job-training in many (both winning and losing) campaigns before a state or territory party branch can confidently say it has “trained up” a competent and professional “Campaign Organiser”. I believe he was correct, give or take a couple of years depending on the intelligence, aptitude and good humour of the trainee. The more experience you have, the less mistakes you will repeat, because some mistakes are inevitable in politics and public life.

Well here is a blog where ANYONE can read and learn some real-life campaigning truisms. And this one is a pearler: Always have a strategy or plan (before you act).

Briefly and wisely, Mike explains: “When candidates are frustrated, deadlines loom, issues are urgent or crises threaten, then it’s so easy to be stampeded into taking quick action – under-planned and under-evaluated action. There’s nearly always time to devise a strategy and plan its delivery.  There’s nearly always time to check whether ideas are truly good or merely appear so, whether they can deliver optimal outcomes, or whether a more considered approach can do better.

You must resist the pressure to start doing things before you have a plan. When you haven’t got the time to plan, you either need a plan in the bottom drawer ready to pull out – because you’ve already prepared a crisis management plan – or you need to find a way to defer the frustration, deadline, urgency or threat – even if it is just for an hour or two.”

It reminded me of another pearl of wisdom that I have often used (most recently in a 125-page ACT Labor Report about the 2012 ACT Election Campaign) which I love to share during training sessions. It’s a friendly warning to future campaign directors and candidates of the harsh judgement that they may be subjected to within the Labor Party, even when they win an election campaign.

To the many “armchair experts” we offer this advice from Theodore Roosevelt: “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing”. But for your own sake, at least base your decision on a rational strategy and plan!

And guess what? Occasionally a Campaign Director will make the wrong call! That’s the inevitable consequence of limited resources (time, money, people, information) and the inevitable chaos of a tough campaign. I’ve always quietly laughed at the CVs of professional “Campaign Consultants” (I understand there’s around 30,000 of them in the US) who proudly list all the “winning campaigns” they have worked on. Their CV’s and resumes rarely list “losing campaigns” or even “close calls where we were nipped in the final sprint to the finish”. Clearly they’re not choosing to fight many close or marginal contests. Science tells us if you regularly fight a close contest (i.e. polling around 50/50, give or take a margin of error) you will probably lose 50% of the time.

Anyway, never hang your head in shame if you lose or if you know you gave it your best shot and it still wasn’t enough to please the inevitable critics. Remember this: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the person who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if they fail, at least they fail while daring greatly. So that their place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” Theodore Roosevelt


Ben Raue at The Tally Room on the upcoming ACT Redistribution

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Ben Raue lives in Sydney and is the resident data analyst for GetUp. If you’re interested in Australian elections (and other elections) his blog The Tally Room is worth following on Twitter (as is Ben’s twitter account).

I’ve also just added Ben to my list of favourite Australian Political Blogs here.

Regarding the next ACT redistribution (which includes an expansion of the ACT Assembly from 17 to 25 seats) there has already been a few drafts circulated by “insiders” speculating about the size, shape and composition of the new five electorates.

As Ben correctly points out, the guiding principals that Elections ACT will use to manage the redistribution process are pretty clear. There is a growing consensus that the five electorates will be based on Tuggeranong, Woden/Weston, the Inner city (including the parliamentary triangle south of the lake that divides the city), Belconnen and Gungahlin. There have been approximate maps of such an arrangement previously distributed by former Greens candidate and Gungahlin Community Council President Alan Kerlin during the most recent redistribution process in the ACT in 2011.

Ben provided a rough map in a previous post here which gives an approximate shape for each likely electorate based on past booth locations.

ACT electorate booths

He’s also “taken the results by polling place of the 2012 results to produce my estimate of how many quotas each party would have polled in each of these five hypothetical electorates in 2012.” and produced the following table:

Seat Labor Liberal Greens Others
Belconnen 2.5227 1.8653 0.6105 1.0004
Central 2.4636 2.1197 0.9045 0.5118
North 2.4001 2.1628 0.7039 0.7324
Tuggeranong 2.1273 2.8835 0.3939 0.5950
West 2.4007 2.4501 0.5984 0.5494

Ben explains “Bear in mind that each electorate will need to have approximately 20% of the ACT population within it. The current legislation allows electorates to diverge from the average by up to 10% at the time of the redistribution, and by up to 5% of the estimated population at the time of the next election.”

Would there be any consequences if the size of electorates were allowed to differ greatly from average? Say by changing the margin at the date of the election from +/- 5% to +/-10%? This would certainly allow more long-term stability in the boundaries. Canberra is a very well-planned city were population projections can be fairly well predicted years in advance. However the Electoral Commissioner has previously argued that a tighter margin is fairer as it reduces the disparity in the value of votes between different electorates.

Antony Green also posted on this topic earlier this year.

other options? There was a radical proposal in 2011 to move the larger seven-member electorate to encompass both Belconnen and Gungahlin. Such a radical redistribution is unlikely and it’s probably unlikely two major town centres would be combined due to the fact it will make further radical redistributions almost inevitable.

Vale Robin Williams. He never shied away from jokes about sex, politics and religion.

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Today the world lost a great comedian who brought much joy and humour to millions of lives.

Robin Williams never shied away from taboo topics or important issues. He wasn’t without fault and often pointed them out himself.

Here he describes 10 years in US politics:

He also participated in many worthy causes:

this is one of my favourites – Robin Williams and Stevie Wonder helping recruit Young Democrats!

Singer Stevie Wonder(L) and comedian Robin William

And here he is talking about his first serious Broadway role… he was a great communicator who will be sorely missed.

Would you name your daughter after a Nintendo game? This is so cool! 🙂

Great story about one of his recent movies here:

Peter Brent (@Mumbletwits) casts a sceptical eye over opinion polls and the media’s obsession with them

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I like Peter Brent (and so does Malcolm Mackerras) even though I disagree with his obsessive criticism of Wayne Swan and Penny Wong, both of whom I admire greatly. For those minor faults though Peter has a world of wisdom to share about politics and political science. Despite his reluctance to be labelled a psephologist he does have a very good grasp of election numbers, “the vibe” and “common sense” when it comes to interpreting polls and election results.

As a party professional I have been privileged to have access and use of opinion polling and must admit that I have learnt to always treat it VERY carefully. Peter is correct in that it is often misinterpreted and misused, not just in the mainstream media. At a recent Campaign Management and Political Marketing Workshop at Sydney University one of the highlights was a presentation by Stephen Mills from UMR, in defence of opinion polls. I’ll share those insights in a future post!

Here are some highlights from Peter Brent’s latest work on opinion polls and pollsters (full text here at If-an-election-had-been-held-on-the-weekend) and if you haven’t subscribed to yet, seriously, what are you waiting for?

“Within the political class, Newspoll is the most watched and most influential. Published every second Tuesday in the Australian, the poll results are interpreted for readers by the paper’s political writers. It’s that interpretation – captured in headlines and opening paragraphs – that’s repeated, largely unquestioned, on ABC radio news bulletins and in other media across the country. No one holds a gun to their heads to force them to follow the Australian line, but something about the news-creation process means that they do. It’s probably just the path of least resistance.”

“The routine preface to the media reporting of survey results – “If an election had been held on the weekend…” – is terribly misleading. No poll can tell us what result an election last weekend, preceded by a campaign, would have thrown up. A pollster contacts a person and asks him or her to imagine there is an election today – and how would you vote? It’s a preposterously hypothetical and artificial exercise: a silly question eliciting silly answers.”

“Even after an over-hyped Malaysia Airlines–induced “boost” in satisfaction ratings, the most recent Newspoll had Tony Abbott on just 36 per cent satisfaction and the government trailing in voting intentions after preferences 46 to 54. At the equivalent time in his prime ministership, Kevin Rudd enjoyed 65 per cent satisfaction and the government led 54 to 46. John Howard was on 52 per cent satisfaction and the Coalition was in front 53 to 47. But Rudd didn’t even make it to the next election. Howard did, and scraped back, and then comfortably won two more. The Abbott government might be performing “badly” in the opinion polls but today’s numbers mean almost nothing. At the same time they mean a lot, because political players can’t ignore the way they influence what the media sees as the “narrative.”

“Abbott would be aware that if the polls continue as they are, speculation will arise about his prime ministership. His actions will increasingly be interpreted through the polls. On the Labor side, new rules have provided institutional ballast to the leadership, but they can be easily reversed. One day the forty-fourth parliament will end, and we’ll be starting a new one, most likely with a re-elected Coalition government. The mid-2014 polls will be long forgotten, and probably, with hindsight, judged laughably unreliable.”

If you have time after reading that article above by Peter you might also want to read the one in the link below. As I said on twitter when I shared it – I don’t agree with all of it but I’m still quite keen to read part 2! 🙂



Political Thriller to be filmed in Canberra Australia

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From the Canberra Times today:

A multimillion-dollar six-part fictional mini-series shot in Canberra, and peeling back the capital’s layers of power, is now in the development stage.

Based on The Mandarin Code and The Marmalade Files books by journalists Steve Lewis and Chris Uhlmann, the mini-series is in the hands of production company Matchbox Pictures, known for its work on The Slap and The Straits.

A statement from Foxtel confirmed it would be working with Matchbox Pictures with funding support from Screen Australia. Prime Minister Tony Abbott was expected to make the announcement while launching the book at Parliament House 10.30am Wednesday.

Chief Minister Katy Gallagher said it would be fantastic for Canberra.

“There’s nothing bad about this, it’s all great,” Ms Gallagher said.

“For anyone who loves the city it will be wonderful to watch.

“Just the exposure that [Canberra] will get through Screen Australia.

“What we all love about the city is going to be projected as part of this wonderful story by two local authors and respected journalists.”

Pene Lowe, owner of Hansel and Gretel cafe at Phillip featured in two key scenes in The Mandarin Code, was thrilled about the news and about her shop being included in the fictional storyline.

“We need to put up a little sign saying ‘spies corner’,” Ms Lowe said…

More here: