How do I subscribe to Despatches?

How do I subscribe to Despatches?

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In the interests of transparency, political private lives should be public*

In the interests of transparency, political private lives should be public*

*This post was initially published in Despatches, a daily newsletter written exclusively for my Patreon supporters. A few of those supporters have asked that it be made more broadly available to add to the public discussion. You too can receive Despatches every parliamentary sitting day for as little as $1 a month.

Wednesday’s front page expose of Barnaby Joyce’s messy personal life is the latest example of a journalist or media outlet choosing not to stick to the generally unstated tradition that politicians’ personal lives are off limits when it comes to reporting political matters.

The stated exception to this practice is if the relationship is “in the public interest”. Laurie Oakes would have invoked a justification along these lines when he went public with the relationship between former Democrats leader Cheryl Kernot and senior Labor minister Gareth Evans. 

Let’s be clear why this tradition exists – it’s not necessarily because journalists particularly respect the private lives of politicians and their families (although it should be stressed that some really do).

But it’s also because any wholesale public scrutiny of the interconnected personal lives within Canberra’s parliament house would potentially uncover many other relationships between politicians, staff and also members of the media.

No, I’m not suggesting that our parliament is the modern equivalent of a roman orgy, or that the media runs exclusively on pillow talk. I am suggesting that undisclosed relationships between journalists (or commentators) and politicians or their staff can be an unseen influence on what or how that journalist reports. And voters deserve to know about that influence so they can take it into account.

I’ve been interested to hear and read today that some journalists have claimed the Barnaby Affair (sorry) couldn’t be reported because the rumour could not be substantiated. However that doesn’t seem to stop the some elements of the media reporting unsubstantiated information in the form of anonymous leaks.

As for any politician involved in an extra-marital relationship, I’ve written before that it’s in the public interest to know this because it goes to their character. It may also go to their state of mind; we now know that Joyce has been under considerable stress for many months as a result of his marriage breakdown. 

That stress may have contributed to the Deputy PM’s poor (let alone juvenile) decision to dump well-performing Darren Chester from the Cabinet. [Some of Joyce’s colleagues have made similar comments to the media. And this subsequent article claims senior staff left Joyce’s office because of the relationship with his staffer.]

Yes, yes, I know – marriages break down, and relationships can and do form in close working quarters. None of that is new, and in most cases it should not be newsworthy. But when this happens to a politician, voters deserve to know. It’s in the interests of greater transparency in our political system and better public understanding of what influences the political news they consume.

Perhaps there’s even an argument that our polity would benefit from voters having a greater appreciation that politicians’ lives are as complex and challenging as their constituents’ lives – with conventional or unconventional families (as we saw with Labor’s Susan Lamb today), tidy or messy personal lives, and a broad range of lived experiences.

Don’t believe Abbott and Kelly – Electric cars are part of the battery revolution

Don’t believe Abbott and Kelly – Electric cars are part of the battery revolution

There’s one week to go until Parliament resumes for 2018 and the Abbott camp has wasted no time laying landmines for Malcolm Turnbull before the Liberal Party room has its first party room meeting next week.

The Australian has a front page story today quoting Craig Kelly, Abbott’s go-to sock puppet on energy issues, who claims electric vehicles will create more greenhouse gas emissions in Australia than conventional petrol-driven cars.

Kelly’s claim is based on the assumption that Australians will charge their EVs with electricity from the national grid, which is predominantly generated from fossil fuels.

If Kelly truly believes this, he is sadly out of date for someone who claims to be one of the Coalition’s energy experts. More likely he is simply ignoring what is going on overseas (and increasingly in Australia) where EVs are a big part of the battery revolution.

Electric vehicles use a battery similar to the ones people are installing in their homes to store the electricity generated by their rooftop solar panels during the day so they can access it during the night or on cloudy days.

EV producer Tesla was one of the first companies to produce batteries like the ones in its cars as home solar storage units. This was probably a logical extension of the realisation that EV owners who keep their cars at home during the day were essentially storing any excess solar energy in their electric vehicles. So why not make that energy accessible for use by the house as well as the car?

Australians love their rooftop solar systems and are installing them in record numbers. The rooftop solar boom will be followed by the household battery revolution. Firstly those who can afford the (still expensive) batteries will install them, and then as demand increases the cost will go down, meaning even more households will increase their use of renewable energy with rooftop solar-battery combo.

solar parking.jpgBut what about the cars that don’t stay at home? By installing solar panels on the buildings or in the parking lots where EVs are parked during the day, cars can be recharged with renewable energy while drivers are at work. These types of installations are already happening in Australia.

So don’t believe the bullshit being peddled by the Abbott camp today on EVs. It’s inaccurate, deliberately misleading, and nothing more than another attempt to wedge Turnbull on renewable energy.