Lindsay Tanner’s book Sideshow continues to receive mixed reviews.
Lindsay Tanner’s book Sideshow continues to receive mixed reviews. Australia’s political class do not like it because it delegitimises their work, exposing modern politics as another form of celebrity-style entertainment. It is, in fact, one of the most significant books of the past decade, in many respects, a compendium to The Latham Diaries.
Among Tanner’s critics, the penultimate pager in this journal, the great Gerard Henderson, has been the most combative. No one is more tenacious in defending modern politics. Whether in his columns or correspondence, he is clinical in holding others to account.
Go to the Sydney Institute Media Watch Dog website to marvel at his work. He writes letters the way baseline specialists swing a racquet. It is like watching Nadal and Federer slug it out, stroke for stroke, neither man willing to give his opponent the last say. Gerard has racked up some of the longest letter-writing rallies in the history of Australian politics. They deserve a permanent home in our national museum of democracy.
As a lifelong barracker for the two-party system, Gerard could not let Tanner’s critique pass through to the ball boys. So he rushed the net in the Sydney Morning Herald last month:
In fact, the Coalition victory represented a significant dumbing down of Australian democracy. The NSW electorate was so disillusioned after 16 years of Labor government it simply wanted them gone. O’Farrell saw this as a chance for a small-target strategy, avoiding major policy announcements and any hint of reformism.
This was evident on the key issue of electricity privatisation. O’Farrell’s approach was opportunistic, using his numbers in the upper house to obstruct reform and maximise Labor’s internal tensions. How do we know this? Hendo said so in May last year:
Game, set and match Mr Tanner.
Two items for the next edition of Sideshow: Channel Nine News broadcasting a ‘photo’ of Osama bin Laden’s slain body and Jodie Minus of the Australian claiming that ‘former Treasurer Eric Roozendaal held onto [the seat of] Liverpool’ at the NSW election. She was minus accuracy — Roozendaal is a Member of the Legislative Council, not the Legislative Assembly.
Perhaps Eric has been house-swapping with the new Premier. The Sydney Institute website lists Barry O’Farrell as an MLC — a chamber from which, constitutionally, he cannot lead the government. Another Henderson letter is needed to correct the problem, in this case changing ‘C’ to ‘A’.
The Channel Nine mistake is more serious. On the biggest international story of the year it rushed in with a bogus photo of bin Laden which had been circulating for months on the internet. A simple check would have revealed its fraudulence. One of the problems with the modern media (sans Hendo) is a lack of accountability. Howlers such as this disappear into the ether, while those responsible apply for their next executive pay rise. If Nine’s news director Mark Calvert had decent professional standards he would have resigned, his career as dead as bin Laden’s.
Another Tanner critic is David Penberthy, opining in the Australian newspaper that:
Those who have worked with Rudd, as I did for several years, will know that he frequently uses unorthodox expressions, such as ‘programmatic specificity’ and ‘fair shake of the sauce bottle’. It is perhaps his only endearing quality — a quirky, bemusing style of language, mixing the colloquial with the technocratic. When he decides to quit parliament, an engaging career awaits him as a Spectator Australia columnist.
The real hokey is Penberthy. He typifies a debilitating feature of the sideshow syndrome: the commentator-cum-comedian. Unable to make a serious contribution to the public policy debate, he falls back on the cheap tricks of political ridicule and cornball humour. He is caught in no-man’s-land: not intelligent enough to write seriously about policy, not funny enough to cut the mustard as a comedy writer.
This is one of the reasons why Penberthy was ‘reallocated’ as editor of the Daily Telegraph and sent to the Siberian wastelands of the Punch website (as in Punch and Judy). His successor at the Tele, Garry Linnell, described him as callow, a boy-editor who needed to ‘grow up a little’. That’s the problem with politics on sideshow alley: the wide-mouthed clowns never stop turning.