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Leading article Australia

Back of an envelope

1 December 2012

9:00 AM

1 December 2012

9:00 AM

At the end of a frantic year, with the government rushing out one ill-prepared scheme after another, the mandarins of Canberra must have several shoeboxes crammed full of all the back-of-an-envelope scribblings.

‘Envelope planning’ is now all the rage in Canberra. Invented by Kevin Rudd and Stephen Conroy in an airport lounge, envelope planning allows politicians to embark on massive, costly projects, such as the NBN, without the wearisome detail of where the money will come from and whether or not it will work.

Julia Gillard is a huge fan; so fond of the back of envelopes that she purportedly scribbled her famous ‘misogyny’ speech on one. Better yet, her royal commission has all the — forgive the pun — hallmarks of having been hastily prepared on the back of an envelope. Indeed, in cabinet only the Friday before announcing this legal leviathan she had flatly ruled it out. So much for forward planning.

The back-of-an-envelope approach means the PM gets all the credit for ridding the world of dodgy individuals without actually putting in the hard yards. Naturally, having wildly raised victim expectations she is leaving it up to others to now dampen them back down.

Scribbling away, her spin doctors are presumably working out how best to link the young seminarian Tony Abbott to the royal commission next year, preferably around election time, in order to complete the tawdry triumvirate of class, gender and religious warfare on the opposition leader.

Nicola Roxon has also perfected the back-of-an-envelope act with her new anti-discrimination law, a reform that involves scrapping five perfectly good laws in favour of one bad one. Perhaps the Attorney-General only had one of those fiddly little C6 envelopes to hand, so this was the best she could do.

The result of this change will mean only one thing. Businesses will be far choosier regarding whom they employ, ensuring that those who most need a potential employer to give them an opportunity in life will be denied it.

Stephen Conroy’s postponed media regulations and Tony Burke’s Murray-Darling Plan both fulfil the back-of-an-envelope format.

Peter Garrett, who probably wrote most of his Midnight Oil lyrics in a similar fashion, has resurrected the art with his ‘education reforms’ released during this final week of parliament. Lacking detail or any idea of funding, at a mere 1,400 words this long-awaited response to Gonski could literally fit onto the back of an envelope or two.

Unsurprisingly, what we learn from the never-ending AWU scandal is that Julia Gillard as a ‘young and naïve’ lawyer also relied on back-of-the-envelope scribblings rather than normal professional, accountable behaviour. The slap-dash pattern for this government was established a long time ago.

Voters keen to fix up the mess of such ill-thought-out schemes need not despair. Next year, they too will get their chance to do a quick scribble of their own. On the front of a ballot paper.

A chorus of outrage

The Prime Minister’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Tom Bentley, hopefully still pays close attention to his ex-boss, former Blair cabinet minister David Blunkett.

Mr Blunkett, who is blind, was one of the most controversial ministers of his era. Not so much for his hardline policies as for his colourful personal life.

The exposure of Mr Blunkett’s secret lover led to a classic News of the World scandal complete with invasive paternity questions, and eventually his resignation. Other scandals followed, as Mr Blunkett became a popular prey for the unrelenting red-tops.

If there were anyone in Britain keen, in the wake of the Leveson inquiry, to see a harsh regulatory body imposed upon the notorious British press, it would, you might assume, be Mr Blunkett. But you’d be wrong.

‘Despite my own harrowing experience,’ he wrote last week, ‘I cannot join the chorus of outrage demanding tougher state controls, for we should be extremely cautious about any extension of political power over the press.’

‘Newspapers can sometimes get it wrong or indulge in nasty, even criminal, practices, but freedom of the press is one of the true bulwarks of democracy.’

This week, in the midst of a media-fuelled scandal that may yet finish her own career, Ms Gillard postponed similar plans to introduce Finkelstein-inspired press reform. For how long remains to be seen, with our own chorus of outrage‚ encouraged by the likes of Rob Oakeshott, who fatuously insists: ‘It is in journalists’ best interests, as much as in the nation’s best interests, that media reform passes the parliament.’

There are none so blind.

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