This week’s column for The New Daily.
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*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.
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.
But 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.
It’s been a month since I decided to launch a daily political newsletter in 2018. At the time I thought it might be something that I could get going after the Easter break.
But I’m thrilled to announce that Despatches will be launched on the first sitting day of this year – 5 February 2018.
This will be subscriber-only newsletter that I’ll produce on parliamentary sitting days. It will be available only to my financial supporters on Patreon. So far I have almost 60 supporters, and I’m aiming for 100 by launch date to make it viable.
Despatches will provide analysis of the day’s political developments as well as links to a selection of the day’s noteworthy political news and analysis. My aim will be to reach beyond the “what” of federal politics to give readers more insight into the “why”.
This used to be the old way of reporting politics, but has become less popular (and viable) in the 24-hour news cycle. By publishing only once a day, I’ll have time to produce the quality analysis that is lacking in the mainstream media.
Another thing that I’ll be doing differently to the “MSM” is finding out what my readers/supporters think are the important political and policy issues. I’ll be surveying supporters who contribute $5 a month or more on a semi-regular basis, and the first suggestion box is already open for comments.
I’m also going to provide additional incentives for higher level subscribers. This means I will write, publish and publicise blog posts on their chosen political or policy topic. These benefits are explained in more detail in the Rewards section of my Patreon page.
I’m well aware there’s a vast array of free political news and opinion available to you and all other readers. However this is the business model that will sustain quality writing and analysis for the future. If you’d like to support that future, please become one of my First 100 supporters and a subscriber to Despatches.
P.S. For those of you on Twitter, Despatches now has a Twitter account @DespatchesDaily.
The year is not quite at an end (there’s still two weeks left till Christmas!) but I’ve started to think about what I’ll be doing differently in 2018.
No this isn’t a post about New Year’s resolutions but about the changing nature of work. As many of you know, I work for myself and until now that work has depended mostly on writing for corporate/government clients. My political writing has been the work I do on the side.
I hope to flip that arrangement in 2018 by setting up a Patreon account. The logic behind Patreon is that if a large number of people agree to sponsor me with a small amount each month, the combined total will help to pay for necessities while I focus on researching and writing.
I’ve set a stretch target of $500 each month, and if I reach that target I’ll be writing a daily newsletter for sponsors during parliamentary sitting weeks. That will supplement the income I get from writing my weekly column for The New Daily (for which I remain eternally grateful). I also have a couple of book ideas, but these are very much embryonic at this stage.
I’m going to be blogging more, and I’ll be surveying my sponsors on a regular basis to find out what political and policy topics they think should get more scrutiny. Sponsors who pitch in $10 a month (or more) over 12 months will have the right to choose topics for my blog posts.
Yes it is weird to be asking friends and supporters for money, but I do hope that you will consider pitching in a couple of dollars each month to support me in this endeavour. I’m really looking forward to a change of pace and focus, as well as the ideas that sponsors may have for new blog posts and other projects.
Thank you all for the support you’ve already given me