Mates : mindless reporting on faceless men 1

Why was the Australian Labor government apparently unable to defend itself in the recent federal election? Why can’t  NSW’s Labor government fix Sydney’s decaying public transport system?

Why is it that the Labor leadership falls to individuals with such slight personal accomplishments?

How does someone as deeply unattractive as Mark Arbib not only get into parliament and become a Minister but also appears to decide who stays as Prime Minister?

And why have journalists often failed to ask these questions?

Former state Labor Minister, Rod Cavalier, may have  the answers. His new book, Power Crisis, is about what he calls the self-destruction of the NSW Labor Party.

It’s been a long time coming. I worked for the Labor Party in 1983 federal elections, running a disinformation campaign, which exploited commercial radio news ‘ cupidity, disorganization and willingness to lie about sources. I was lucky enough to be sacked immediately after the elections because I had laughed in the face of a party power broker about his links with organised crime. He became a Minister. I found a job in the Northern Territory.

But I don’t blame the current state of NSW Labor on criminality, although I am sure it continues to flourish, just around the corner from police headquarters. I think it has more to do with leaders appointed primarily because of their obedience to factions and a state public service paralysed by generations of political appointments.  The people selected to fill these highly paid and powerful jobs are drawn from a shrinking party membership. They often form family dynasties, strengthened and renewed by marriage, contributing to a new political class.

Take the case of the McLeay family. There’s the porn fancying former minister, Paul McLeay, his wife, Cassandra who was a former senior advisor to the Premier, his mum who was on the NSW Industrial Commission and his dad, Leo McLeay who got the plum job of Speaker of parliament. Perhaps the Labor Party made all of these appointments because of a galaxy of talent found in a single family.

Perhaps not.

In Power Crisis, Cavalier analysed how machine politics decided the bitter dispute over the privatisation of power generation. In doing so, he revealed  details of the manipulations of Labor’s political class. The Liberals call these people “the faceless men”; a  term popular in the Cold War, favoured by Menzies. But they aren’t faceless at all. It’s just that their realpolitik priorities are usually ignored by political reporters engaged by the parliamentary Punch and Judy show.

Cavalier said this process has been largely un-reported by the NSW Press Gallery, drip fed by a steady stream of press releases, and gulled by the promise of promotion to these growing ministerial staffs. In an interview this week, Cavalier (Click here for audio) said state political reporters saw politics from a Macquarie Street perspective.

Neither newspapers nor the broadcast media have the staff, the researchers, the fact checkers or the sub-editors to ensure stories had a semblance of accuracy.

He lamented the passing of the specialist industrial reporters who in the seventies understood and reported on the Labor movement.

If they were still around when the boys from Macquarie Street fell so badly for the government line, you would have heard the old industrial flacks yelling down the phones to the newsrooms, “The stories are nonsense”…(Their language might have enjoyed a sprinkling of salt).

Cavalier3 by Alan Knight


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