Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Micromanaging in the chaos

On Denton's 'Elders' last night, Bob Hawke reminded me of a recent post of mine when he said: "There are no great political leaders around." He also noted the depressingly obvious world situation of overpopulation/poverty/women's education, food shortages and climate change... and how our moral compass seems to be somewhat screwed as news of Paris Hilton becomes a priority over such issues.

But what I wanted to blog about was when he went into his 'political-voice' to make a point. Denton asked him about how one deals with being PM.

Well by making sure it’s not the work of one man. Look at the duration with Carter, President Carter. Insisted on supervising who was going to be using the White House tennis court. Come on. I mean it’s a question of prioritisation and delegation and if you haven’t got that capacity for prioritisation and delegation then you’ll be on the road to the bin.

Am I alone in thinking he may be giving a hint to Rudd? Everyone knows he's a micromanager. As John Lyons reported in The Australian in late June, Rudd's office is "chronically under-experienced... in a state of disarray, largely reflecting a leader who on the surface appears to always be in control, but is, in fact, becoming so locked into micromanaging that around him chaos is breaking out." He also noted that unlike Hawke, who was "surrounded by an A-team of political operators, all of whom could - and did- say no to Hawke on occasions", Rudd's advisers are yes men and two of the three are highly inexperienced (and increasingly rude, especially Harris and especially to female reporters - but he even has abused a leading Labor frontbencher). One article concluded:

The lack of experience around Rudd is becoming an issue.

Jordan's only experience before joining Rudd six years ago was to work for "a Queensland MP"; his official CV doesn't even identify that MP. Yesterday, Harris did not know who the MP was.

Harris's CV says that as well as working in Labor headquarters in the 2004 election campaign and briefly for Robert McClelland and Swan, he has worked "for other community-based campaigns".

One senior government staffer said: "You've got no idea of the level of paranoia in Rudd's office at the moment. Kevin doesn't know half of what's going on."

So besieged has the office become that it took several attempts to even receive confirmation that Jordan and Harris are 28. Their ages do not appear on their CVs.

Rudd's third adviser is...

his chief of staff, David Epstein. [But...] It's the ticking time bomb of the PM's office. Epstein is married to Sandra Eccles, who was promoted three months after the Rudd Government's election to run the Canberra office of lobbying firm Government Relations Australia.

Epstein admitted to The Australian this week that he was forced to call in a witness to a conversation with car giant Mitsubishi because of a possible conflict of interest with his wife's firm.

It adds yet another problem to an already troubled office. The Prime Minister has an angry public service, an increasingly alienated media, and a chief of staff who more than likely will have to call in more witnesses as his wife's clients chase what they're paying big money for: to influence the people in the Government who make the decisions.

But really, Lachlan Harris wins:

Another female journalist recalls talking to Harris on his landline when his mobile rang. He told whoever was calling: "I'm on the other line, let me just piss this other call off." The woman about to be pissed off listened with dismay. "He would have known I could hear," she says.

The Sun-Herald's Kerry-Anne Walsh also experienced the Harris blowtorch. Walsh tracked down several members of a family who disputed Rudd's story that Rudd and his mother had been evicted from a property and were forced to sleep in a car on the side of a road. The family named by Rudd was outraged. One of the daughters of the farmer alleged to have evicted the Rudds said of Kevin Rudd: "He's dragged our father's proud reputation through the mud time and time again."

Because the versions were so different, Walsh sent some questions to Rudd via Harris. The response from Harris was nuclear. According to a version in The Sydney Morning Herald, which Walsh has confirmed, Harris began "ranting like a lunatic", claimed Rudd would "hit the roof" and if the paper published, which it did, "we'll have 100 people ready to roll tomorrow morning to trash you and your paper".

The treatment of women by Rudd's office has now become an issue. One female reporter told how Harris walks into her office and goes straight past her to discuss a story she has written.

On one occasion she went and stood between the bureau chief and Harris and said: "Hey Lachlan, I wrote the story!"

That bit in bold is rather interesting I think. Reminds me of yesterday's post. Obviously threats are the go in the Rudd government.

Of course, this post in part began with how the media values celebrity news over serious issues, so one can't really embrace the media wholeheartedly, but still... those that are trying to report on political issues (even if they occasionally go for the dramatic angle - all too easy with such as Belinda Neal around!) should be treated with some respect. It's not wise for a government to get the media offside.