"Just Because..." is a crap answer to a question when you are a kid, worse when you are an adult.

I have to get this off my chest, it has been sitting in the back of my mind agitating me since Friday – that special day when Barnaby Joyce finally took the hint and told us in his unique ‘retail politician’ way (or in punter parlance 'best bullshit artist' way) that he would be resigning as Leader of the Nationals on Monday.

Now with Joyce slinking off to the back-bench to lick his – self-inflicted – wounds, this of course started all the speculation as to who would take over as Nationals Leader and of course score the sweet reward of Deputy Prime Minister that comes from being a minor party propping up the Liberal Party. I kept flicking between both SKY and ABC as even though I am in a Nationals held electorate, like most, I am not totally familiar with who the contenders for the position are and considering this bloke (assume will be a bloke, coz, Australian conservative politics of course) will be our Deputy PM, best pay attention.

As I watched the trifecta of talking heads, Press Gallery, Media commentators and Political backroom 'boys', it struck me that Bridget McKenzie was not being touted as a Nationals Leadership contender?

Me being me, after getting cranky about Tanya Plibersek being totally ignored during a “leadership speculation” discussion on SKY a few weeks ago, this sort of fed into that crankiness I was feeling about female political leaders just not being taken seriously in this country, so of course, being a member of the “Twitter terrarium” (*waves* Hello to Peter Hartcher), I did what we do, a little rant on Twitter.

Now… Before we get off track, the above thread was in no way advocating Julie Bishop, Tanya Plibersek & Bridget McKenzie to be Leaders of their respective parties. In fact I cannot stand Julie Bishop and her becoming Prime Minister would be my political nightmare. Oddly, she seems to be the only woman in politics most of the media are kind to, I’m always hearing SKY telling me how wonderful she is. Not quite sure how they come up with that, but anyhow, I agree and think she is totally over-rated, but that is a rant for another day.

My point in the thread was, why are these deputies rarely included in ‘Leadership speculation’?

Of course I was hit back with a heap of tweeps telling me “She is a Senator”, hell it was even yelled at me:

"SHE'S. IN. THE. SENATE. #sheesh"

It would appear that I had done “an entire string of messages suggesting a conspiracy against women, based on an incorrect premise”.

Now, I’m not going to get into the ‘conspiracy’ business. That is not normally something I’m accused of as I’m a bit too operational and daggy to get into that stuff. Call me cranky, too talkative, swear too much, and of course, too nosey, hell, happy to put my hand up for that, but not so much Conspiracy theorist LOL! I’m not the Lone Ranger in thinking the Press Gallery, Media commentators and Political backroom 'boys' have a ‘woman’ problem. From Gillard’s terrible treatment to lack of women in Coalition and sitting at the big table in Cabinet, there is ‘obviously’ a problem. I was also not the only person pointing this out, Jenna Price wrote a very good piece in Fairfax “All this talk of leadership changes, and barely a whisper about women” raising the issue of:

“When it comes to Australian leadership, women are handmaids.”

Now… I’m not a journalist, an academic, an expert in anything. I’m just a punter, a middle-aged bird living out in the regions with an interest in politics, Netball, Women’s sport, Dogs on twitter… HEH! You get the idea 😜   Though I read voraciously, I’m also terribly nosey and ask too many questions, as the long suffering Paula Matthewson can attest to, who has kindly answered all sorts of odd political questions from me over years.

Given the above description of myself – just an interested punter - what I do take issue with is the “incorrect premise” accusation made in regard to my thread. As a Jill Dill out in the regions, you can only make decisions or have ‘feels’ based on what you hear, read or know from your own experience. Therefore given I was basing my tweet upon the following:

  • From questioning those who do know ‘stuff’, there is nothing in the Australian Constitution that stops a Senator from being a Deputy Prime Minister.
  • Due to Barnaby Joyce being on so-called Leave, Mathias Cormann was appointed Acting Prime Minister and he is a Senator.
  • Other minor Parties like the Greens for example, even though they have a MP in the Lower House, still have their Leader as a Senator.
  • In the speculation from the political talking heads, they often included Matt Canavan in their new Nats Leader lotto choices and he is a Senator.
  • In real life, a Deputy or Vice type role means that person in that role steps in as Leader when the boss is indisposed? They are normally in the running to take over that head honcho role if the boss resigns.

I’m happy to be proven wrong, hell, enjoy learning new information and strongly subscribe to the theory of “The only stupid question is the one you didn’t ask”, but, given the points I listed above as the basis I was coming from to pose my tweet, I think it is pretty unfair to say “asking why Bridget McKenzie is not being considered as Leader” is a false premise?

As I have since found, it most likely is, but you have to have better information to make that call and I didn’t and still don’t have it?

This raised a really big issue for me. I’d love a dollar for every person who came back at me saying “But she is a Senator”. Yet, no-one, not one person yet has been able to link me to any information where this is ‘law of the land’ that the Nationals Leader can’t be a Senator? I even trawled through the Nationals Constitution and could not see any ruling there stating that?

I did see a tweet from the Guardians Paul Karp showing a transcript where Michelle Landry said a Senator can’t put their hand up to lead the Nationals, but of course, no explanation as to ‘why’ this is the case?

As an aside, kudos to Paul Karp for informing the public correctly. He actually changed his piece in the Guardian to correctly say “Landry said” instead of asserting the rule as a fact. This is really important in my opinion.

We punters get the vast majority of political information – that we use to make voting decisions -  from media. Too often, waaaaaaay too often, the profession of wordsmiths will assert statements as fact, which we punters then assume is fact as well, when in fact, it is “so & so said…”. A politician making an assertion is NOT a fact. To report it as such, particularly without any context is misleading the public, even if that is not the intention of the journalist. For example:

“Stopped the Boats”:

This ridiculous phrase has been reported as fact so often it is beyond a travesty. Just last year in Senate Estimates it was shown to be incorrect:

Regardless of Senate Estimates revelations, the very fact that Journalists cannot independently verify that ‘stopped the boats’ statement due to the uber secrecy that surrounds Operation Sovereign Borders and Border Force in general it should therefore not be reported as ‘fact’. Yet, every political talking head states it over & over again, to the point that now punters will also state as fact “the government has stopped the boats”.

This action has now misled the entire population. It is all well and good for those on Twitter or the special few who actually follow Senate Estimates (wish I had time to, is a wealth of information) to think that myth has been busted, when out there in punterland, the urban myth stand. It should always be reported as “Minister so & so has stated his Government has stopped the boats…” or “The Government insists they have stopped the boats”. That at least would be honest, as to be frank, some politicians lie. Shocking I know… But at least Job Blow & Jill Dill at home are not accepting something as a fact, they can make their own mind up as to whether they trust the word of the Government or not?

“PM Malcolm Turnbull can’t put a vote to the floor for Same Sex Marriage”:

This one truly infuriated me, I even had locals telling me how they can’t stand the stupid plebiscite and even though they were supportive of Marriage Equality, they were sick to death of the issue and felt sorry – yes, felt sorry!! – for the PM that he couldn’t just do it as a vote in Parliament? In the genre of ‘context matters’, this line is beyond misleading. In reality, there was NOTHING stopping Malcolm Turnbull from putting it to a vote in Parliament. What held him back was his own weakness to stand by his own principles, lack of leadership in his own party and we suspect (but don’t know, coz it is a secret of course) that a plebiscite for Same Sex Marriage was included in the ‘Coalition Agreement’ he signed with Barnaby Joyce.

To sum up. In reality and legally, our PM had all the power he wished for to put Same Sex Marriage to Parliament for a vote. It was just “politically” that he couldn’t. There is a big difference between the two, yet, due to his inability to put to vote, punters were left with the impression that this was just the way it was and what had to be done. I can tell you now, sitting at the pub, chatting to other locals about the survey when it was out in the field, they were pretty filthy when you told them it was due to politics, not law, they were being forced into participating in a survey.

The average punter normally does assume what they are told in the News is true. This is why it is really important they are not misled by what is probably ‘technically’ correct statements, are in fact misleading. The words “The Government has stated…” or “Prime Minister Turnbull does not have enough support in his Cabinet to put Marriage Equality to a vote in Parliament” or… if as we suspect it is part of the ‘secret Coalition agreement’, then punters might have preferred to have been told “PM Malcolm Turnbull won’t put a vote to Parliament on Same Sex Marriage as it would appear that a ‘Plebiscite’ for this issue is part of the ‘secret Coalition agreement’”.

If we had been told that, not so sure there would have been as much sympathy for the Prime Minister out there in punter-land? Also, there might have been a few more like me, who are left wondering – or angry – as to why the whole nation had to be subjected to months of drama and then more importantly, our LGBTIQ citizens and their loved ones subjected to some seriously horrible invasive scrutiny and discrimination because of a ‘secret agreement’?

This ‘secret agreement’ has just held the nation to ransom yet again with the whole Barnaby Joyce saga.

“PM Malcolm Turnbull can’t sack Barnaby Joyce”:

In normal circumstance when a Minister has a number of allegations against them, they would be stood down while the allegations are investigated by the likes of Martin Parkinson, Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. In the case of Joyce, even though the allegations he had breached the Ministerial Code of Conduct were mounting, he was not stood down. No investigation, nothing, just the Prime Minister doing an extraordinary press conference announcing a ‘Bonk Ban’?

We then had media telling us that “PM Malcolm Turnbull can’t force Barnaby Joyce to resign it is a matter for the Nationals

So not true! Yes the Prime Minister could not sack Joyce as Leader of the Nationals, but he could sack him as a Minister. As Prime Minister, there was nothing stopping Malcolm Turnbull – Constitutionally – rocking up to the Governor-general, Peter Cosgrove and saying “Look mate, hate to do this coz it is gonna cause a shit-fight but, gotta take that Ministerial role off old mate Barnaby, sign this please…

What stopped the Prime Minister is again politics, not the law of the land. And… Again, we can only assume was the ‘secret Coalition agreement’. Punters are again left with the impression that there is some sort of law of the land stopping the PM from standing down or sacking Joyce as a Minister due to the style of reporting. When in fact, we should have been told more along the lines of “Due to what we assume is in the secret Coalition agreement, the PM is incapable of sacking Joyce as a Minister”.

Pretty sure punters would not take kindly to realising that the most powerful man in our land is stopped from doing his job, that we pay him handsomely for, due to a secret squirrel handshake with a minor party?

So back to my original issue…

"SHE'S. IN. THE. SENATE. #sheesh"

All the media stating, “As a Senator, Bridget McKenzie can’t stand for Leader of the Nationals”, should be supplying some context with that in my opinion. We know it is not because of the Constitution, we also know it is not because of the Nationals Constitution, therefore can only assume it is because of the ‘secret Coalition agreement’?

If this is the case, then it should be reported as such. As in “Even though other minor parties will appoint someone in the Senate as their Leader, the Nationals must appoint a Member of the Lower House as Leader and we assume this is due to the secret Coalition agreement” or… They could get one of the Nationals to confirm this? Could be an even shorter headline then of “Nationals confirm, it is in their secret Coalition agreement that Leader of the Nationals must be a Member of the Lower House”.

Hell, for all we know the whole “Must be a Senator to be Leader” is a clause the Nationals tossed in back in the day that just keeps rolling over each agreement due to some Nat in the Lower House worried about a challenger in the Senate and used his current bargaining power to lock his job in at the next election by locking out any Senate contenders? Who would know? It is secret of course LOL!

Either way, saying “Because she is in the Senate” is not an answer. That implies it is a ‘law of the land’ or a ‘legal’ thing and it isn’t? Not to mention, and this is just me and my ‘feels’, I hated it as a kid and I still hate it as an adult, but pretty much being told “Just because…” as an answer for something really pisses me off. When the “Just because…” is tossed out in relation to the person who could actually be in charge of this nation and myself as a citizen in the case of the PM being hit by a bus, well, I reckon I deserve a better answer?

The nation should not be held hostage to a secret agreement.

As a citizen, it is not my problem the Liberals can’t form a majority Government without being propped up by their little Nationals mates? And just calling themselves a ‘Coalition’ all the time, like that somehow makes it legitimate is semantics, I mean, considering they sign their secret agreement every time they win an election or Leadership changes, well, it is really a Minority Government propped up by the Nationals isn’t it?

This Coalition business is a lot like having your cake and eating too to me. It is accepted as cool when they don’t agree, but when out there campaigning for election, they are tight as… Well, no. Some minor party should not be castrating our Prime Minister, nor holding the nation hostage, just due to some agreement we never even had a say in that seems to trump our actual Constitution?

Worse, media just seem to accept this secret agreement as business as usual? Funny, I don’t remember them being so cool about secret agreements when Julia Gillard was negotiating with the Greens and Wilkie to form a minority government? In fact, from memory, were squealing for details before negotiations were even finalised? These agreements were transparent.

Considering what we have seen in this term of Government alone, the process of the Same Sex Marriage survey, Turnbull being incapable of sacking a Minister in his Government and now seeing that no Nationals Senators can be leaders of their own party, and therefore Deputy Prime Minister, and assuming (as that is all we can do coz ‘secret’) this is part of the Coalition agreement, well, what else is part of that agreement?

Government should be making decisions in the “National Interest”, not "The Nationals interest”, so this now begs the question as to what other Government decisions have been made to satisfy this secret agreement we are not privy to?

If you think about it, this situation is pretty crap in what we like to think is an open democratic society? Sure, the Liberals and Nationals can have an agreement to team up to make their chances of winning Government better, but, it should be made public and voters should be aware of what it is in it BEFORE they go to the polling booths. We really do deserve to know what we are voting for?

Then again, I’m just a punter, what would I know? I can only work with the information given to me by the Fourth Estate or from what I can track down myself from reputable sources on the interwebz? BUT considering any issue that is affected by what is written in the Coalition agreement can’t be verified by media – coz it is secret – and I can’t research it to read the document (as I can with constitutions) – coz it is secret – then don’t report that stuff as ‘fact’. It isn’t. To do so just misleads citizens. ALWAYS report it Paul Karp did “so & so has stated…” or “so & so asserts…” or better yet, to really inform the public “We can only assume that the secret coalition agreement states…”?

More people might start demanding to know exactly what is in this agreement, since it affect their lives, if they were aware of how far-reaching it is? Hell, it would appear that even Nationals themselves don’t really know what is in the agreement?

I don’t know about you, but, Politicians are supposed to represent their electorates/states, the ones fortunate enough to get the big gigs like Ministers, Deputy Prime Minister and Prime Minister are supposed to exert that authority and make decisions in the “National interest”, yet all we seem to be seeing is a lot of decision making in their own interests or to protect secret agreements we are not privy to? That is just not good enough!

What was it that our former Attorney-General told us in relation to ‘Big Brother’ Metadata retention concerns?

“Those with nothing to hide have nothing to fear”

Show us the Coalition agreement. We deserve to know how and why this Nation, Australia, is susceptible to being held to ransom by a few blokes (face it, mostly blokes) who no-one recognises in a minor party that not even 5% of the nation voted for? Do you really want to be held to ransom by a party that thinks this bloke who threatened violence against a segment of our society on social media is an upstanding member of their party?

Or… I could be making yet another assumption on a false premise?😉 There could be another very valid reason as to why a Senator in the Nationals can't be Leader and Acting PM? But hey? I Can only make assumptions on the information given to me and “Just Because…” doesn’t cut it!

PS. I did tweet Michelle Landry asking as to why a Senator can’t stand as Leader of the Nationals, I also emailed the Nationals asking that question as well to verify the reasoning. To this date, I’ve not received an answer. Will of course let you know if either deign to answer me 😉



Noely Neate
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Noely Neate
Talks too much on Twitter
Professional desk jockey
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