I was disappointed by Laura Tingle on Friday. Tingle is one of the few journalists writing from the Canberra Press Gallery that we usually can depend upon to be consistently rigorous in research, forensic in analysis and objective in reporting.

There was however a piece of information missing from her Canberra Observed column that surprised me.

Tingle was commenting on the poor prospects for long-term policy debates due to distractions such as the obsession with “process” or insider stories rather than “outcomes” stories.

She held aloft as an example the case of Jillian Broadbent AO, the esteemed business woman who chaired an expert panel looking into investment for clean energy.

An eminent panel headed by Jillian Broadbent reported to the government this week on the structural problems of getting investment in clean energy.

Broadbent is a member of the Reserve Bank board (appointed by the Howard government), and a director of ASX Ltd and Woolworths. Such an obvious Labor stooge, in fact, that the Coalition accused her of engaging in “partisan activity and partisan criticism” simply for observing that the Coalition “haven’t been very interested in speaking to me, despite my preparedness to brief them”.

Anyone trying to contribute to the current public policy debate, as opposed to anticipating where political fortunes might go next, is smeared in the process.

Any reasonable reader would conclude from this analysis that the Coalition had snubbed and smeared an experienced and independent business leader simply because she wanted to brief them on clean energy investment.

However, Broadbent has an important and relevant role that Tingle did not include in her column. Broadbent is in fact Chair of the Government’s $10bn Clean Energy Finance Corporation, an entity that the Coalition has vowed to scrap on the attainment of government. So why would the Coalition agree to a briefing from the head of such an organisation?

Broadbent chaired the expert review in her capacity as chair of CEFC. In fact, it is called the Chair’s Review in the media release which announced it:

The establishment of the Chair’s Review is intended to assist the Government in framing the enabling legislation, associated instruments and determining what operational issues can be left to the CEFC’s Board after the corporation has been established. Following consideration of the Chair’s Review, the Government will introduce legislation for the establishment of the Corporation in sufficient time to allow the CEFC to fully develop its systems and products before it commences operations from 2013-14.

Amongst other things, the Chair’s Review ultimately recommended ways to prevent, or at least make extremely difficult, the Coalition’s scrapping of the CEFC. It’s hardly surprising then that the Coalition would be disinclined to receive a briefing from Broadbent.

So, in reality, that which was depicted by Tingle as the smearing and snubbing of a dispassionate expert was in fact pragmatic politics.

Politically, there was nothing for the Coalition to gain from meeting with Broadbent. Any such meeting would have sent mixed messages and could have been beaten up by the media as hypocrisy or potential wavering on the part of the Opposition.

By agreeing to chair a government entity, Ms Broadbent has, in fact, “taken a side” and opened herself to reasonable criticism of being partisan. Other business leaders who’ve taken on government-appointed roles have suffered the same fate; although I hasten to add, not all have been tarred with the partisan brush.

None of this was mentioned by Tingle yesterday. In fact the additional contextual information would have diminished the impact of the example she was making of the Coalition’s treatment of Broadbent.

I raised this omission with Tingle on Twitter. She said I was being deliberately obtuse and missing her broader point. In fact, I agree with Tingle’s broader point – that political inside gossip and smears attract more attention and divert resources from considered reporting of political outcomes. It was the selective information used to illustrate a point that troubled me.

The prickly nature of our Twitter exchange prevented me from asking Tingle why she did omit the fact that Broadbent is chair of the CEFC.

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Join the conversation! 10 Comments

  1. Oh dear, Dragonista – since when has The Opposition so edited itself that it shies away from sending mixed messages on its policies and to the electorate!!!

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  2. “By agreeing to chair a government entity, Ms Broadbent has, in fact, ‘taken a side’ and opened herself to reasonable criticism of being partisan”.

    Really? This is a very partisan mindset. It borders on being immature. Any right-thinking commentator should be opposed to the politicisation of public administration.

    Do we really want a political system in which the pool of people who are willing to chair public corporations or commissions will be limited to the band of hacks and hangers-on who are affiliated with the governing party of the day?

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    • Phillip I share your preference for apolitical government appointments. But after 23 years living and working in Canberra, I know full well that this is not what happens in practice – under either colour of government.

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  3. How do we know that Broadbent is not being neutral and letting evidence decide? How do we know it is not the Coalition, Labor or your partisan stripe that brings you to this conclusion?

    You’ve looked at it from a Coalition PR POV, now try a Broadbent POV.

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    • Sennexx, I’m pretty confident that Broadbent IS letting the evidence decide. Her little dig at the Opposition not wanting to meet with her was unfortunate though, because it gives the Tories ammunition to call her partisan. I haven’t necessarily looked at it from the Coalition POV, but pointed out a missing piece of relevant info in Tingle’s piece.

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  4. I wouldn’t get so hot and sweaty @Dragonista. I think it is also pretty public knowledge that she holds that role. In the public records of note.

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  5. You’ve gone the other way: Broadbent is not just another public servant. If she gave up the CEFC role tomorrow she would still be worthy of the kind of respect Tingle demonstrates and Abbott doesn’t. Given that Tingle was right about you missing the wider point, why not concede she was right?

    Considering that Abbott met with Monckton he could get over himself and demonstrate the courage to meet with intelligent and well-informed people who might challenge his views from time to time. The idea that Abbott demonstrates strength by only meeting people who agree with him might well be consistent with PR strategy but it’s inadequate for anyone who wants to be PM.

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    • Andrew, I suspect that in your rush to denounce my PR background you unwittingly missed MY point.

      The Coalition refused a briefing from the government-appointed head of an entity which they plan to scrap, not an eminent business leader (which Jillian Broadbent clearly is) independently chairing a review. Tingle’s piece suggested the latter, which was not an accurate depiction of the situation.

      Tingle wrote that Broadbent was accused of engaging in “partisan activity and partisan criticism” simply for observing that the Coalition “haven’t been very interested in speaking to me”. This suggests a particularly high level of pettiness on the Opposition’s part. I’m not suggesting the Opposition isn’t capable of that level of pettiness, but Broadbent was in fact accused of being partisan for her Government-appointed role and for playing politics by divulging the Opposition had refused to meet her. Not pettiness on this occasion but political consistency on the part of the Opposition.

      Whether, from a policy perspective, Abbott should have met with Broadbent is an entirely different matter, and I’m not saying that he shouldn’t have.

      I don’t dispute Tingle’s argument that insider gossip and the politics of smear “sells” more papers and diverts the resources that should be used to write more considered stories on political outcomes.

      I do however dispute the validity of the example Tingle used, because not all of the relevant details were divulged. If a different, accurate example had been used, I would have had no quibble with Tingle’s piece at all.

      I have done no more than demand the same level of accuracy from journalists than you do on a regular basis.

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  6. “Why would the coalition agree to a briefing?” Because they might learn something, and that would never never do.

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About Drag0nista

Political blogger and columnist on the interwebs. Former Liberal staffer and industry lobbyist. Studying the entrails of federal politics since 1989. Otherwise known as Paula Matthewson.

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