NEWS AND VIEWS
Tuesday, 28 August 2007
What is a Labor Promise Worth?
Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd today gave us a reminder about one very important aspect of Labor Party election promises: a future Labor Government will not have the power to keep any of them. The fate of all Labor's legislation will require approval by a Senate where it certainly will not have a majority and where it is even possible that a Coalition Opposition will have the numbers in its own right.
Mr Rudd raised the uncertain legislative future that would confront him as a Prime Minister when giving details of the changes made to planned new industrial relations laws. If he gained office, Mr Rudd told a press conference, his government would have a mandate for its industrial laws and would expect the Senate to pass them.
The comment marks an early start for the mandate debate. Normally Australian politicians don't talk about such things until after they have won an election but I suppose it is in keeping with the style of Mr Rudd to act as if he is the Prime Minister already.
Not that mandate pleas normally account for much. Should there be a Liberal-National Opposition in the Senate it will act no differently to the Labor one of the last 11 years and ignore the whole idea of a Government being entitled to enact a law just because it promised to do so before an election. The concept of a mandate in practice exists only in the mind of Government ministers.
This is what makes the current debate about Labor's industrial relations plans rather pointless. What changes are finally made will depend on the composition of the Senate after 1 July 2008.
The business community would never forgive the Liberal and National parties if they used the "Labor has a mandate" excuse to get rid of the Work Choices system. What Labor finally settles for will depend on who makes up the collection of minor parties and independents.
It will be a wonderful environment for lobbyists!
Reflections on an Ethical Problem for Journalists
As a journalist, when an acquaintance rings you up and says he has heard x,y and z is going to happen, you don't immediately hit the keyboard to report to your readers that x,y and z is, according to your acquaintance, about to happen. You take the information in the spirit it is normally offered to you as a journalist - as something that is worth checking out. What you end up writing depends on your further inquiries and your own judgment of it ending up being true.
When the acquaintance is the Treasurer of your country and he tells you over dinner he is prepared to challenge the leader of his party in an attempt to become Prime Minister, there is not much checking you can do. You either believe what you have been told or use your judgment and decide that you have heard the wine talking rather than what will actually happen. If your acquaintance gets someone to ring you the next morning to ask you not to write what you were told the night before it is a great help in making the judgment that it was the wine not the truth.
The three journalists who, when dining with Peter Costello, were told of his plan to retreat to the backbench if his challenge for the leadership was unsuccessful, acted, in my mind, quite properly when they kept silent about the threat. They judged, correctly, that it was not going to happen and it did not happen.
Now whether, with the passage of time, the three journalists should have broken their silence and reported their dinner time conversation with Peter Costello because of subsequent events, is another issue. I guess I am in the camp of the great American journalist Jimmy Breslin who answered a question from a group of journalism students at Columbia University many years ago in the following way: