Insiders ignorance?

By July 3, 2022Media

Sunday morning’s Australian Broadcasting Corporation political journalist panel show ‘Insiders’1  was unusual in that it was hosted by Patricia Karvelas2. It is usually hosted by the answer interrupter David Speers. It was also unusual in that it did not have a Murdoch or Sevenwest hack on the panel. On the panel were Narelda Jacobs (Channel 10), Shane Wright (Sydney Morning Herald/The Age) and Sarah Martin (The Guardian). In addition, Karvelas did not interview a politician from either of the major parties, but the newly minted independent senator from the Australian Capital Territory, David Pocock3.

In the recent federal election, Pocock effectively unseated the appalling religious nutter Zed Seselja4. Indeed, it is the first time that there has not been a Liberal member from the ACT in either the Senate or House of Representatives since the ACT had representation in federal parliament5.

During the interview with Pocock, Patricia Karvelas moved the topic onto an integrity commission [at 24.59]2, something the Coalition government under Scott Morrison’s prime ministership promised but failed to deliver. Each of the states and territories has its own integrity commission. They share the following:

  • They each have jurisdiction over the public but not the private sector (although the extent of jurisdiction across the public sector varies);
  • All, with the exception of the Qld Crime and Corruption Commission, have investigative, preventative and educational functions;
  • They all possess coercive powers similar to those of Royal Commissions; and
  • Each is overseen by a Parliamentary committee6.

None of them can convict anyone of a crime, and the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption is the only one that can make a finding of “corrupt conduct”7. All the various integrity commissions do is refer anyone suspected of criminal behaviour for prosecution, because they do not prosecute anyone themselves7.

So, for Karvelas to ask the question: “There has been a suggestion that the integrity commission should be empowered to sack politicians if necessary through a code of conduct and a structure around that. Is that something you support?”[at 25.37]2 is just silly. It was an extraordinarily ignorant question. Pocock answered correctly when he said: “I think people want an integrity commission that can hold politicians to account, [and] that can expose corruption. I’ve got real concerns about an unelected body being able to dismiss elected representatives. I wouldn’t support that. What I would support is an integrity commission that can actually shine a light on what’s happening and then voters can make their decisions…” The last phrase of the answer was inaudible as Karvelas interrupted [at 26.19] with the following, even sillier question: “And why do you think it is important not to allow such a body to sack politicians? I mean, they might be accused of some very, very, very horrendous things. Why do you think they shouldn’t be allowed to do it? To this, Pocock replied: “I’m not a lawyer, but I’m guessing there would be some constitutional hurdles with that one, but can certainly look more into it. It wouldn’t be an elected body; it’s an independent commission, and I think being able to shine a light on corruption, to deal with it and refer it to the police where needed.”2

Given the Constitution clearly lays out what could make a politician ineligible to sit in the houses of parliament, the concept of an investigative body sacking someone because they have been accused of some “very, very, very horrendous things” is ludicrous. Karvelas doesn’t seem to understand the concept of the presumption of innocence, nor does she seem to understand what Section 44 of the constitution states. It states, in part, that any person who “Is attainted of treason, or has been convicted and is under sentence, or subject to be sentenced, for any offence punishable under the law of the Commonwealth or of a State by imprisonment for one year or longer … shall be incapable of being chosen or of sitting as a senator or a member of the House of Representatives.”8

So even under an extreme case where a politician had been found to have indulged in corrupt conduct, much of which is not criminal in nature (although it should be), to try to prevent such a corrupt person sitting in parliament would likely be unconstitutional, as any criminal whose punishment amounts to less than one year of imprisonment is eligible to sit in parliament. While I don’t pretend to be a constitutional scholar, I have some experience in interpreting legislation for my organisation such that I can, on occasion, spot bullshit like this from Karvelas.

I cannot know what was going through Karvelas’ mind when she asked these questions. However there seem to be two options. The first is that she does not understand the concept of the presumption of innocence, nor Section 44 of the Constitution. If this is the case then she is ignorant. The second is that she does understand both of these concepts but was trying to catch out a newbie to the Senate. To be either this ignorant or this underhanded is equally reprehensible in an experienced journalist.

Sources

  1. https://iview.abc.net.au/show/insiders
  2. https://iview.abc.net.au/video/NC2209V023S00
  3. https://www.davidpocock.com.au
  4. https://blotreport.com/2021/10/04/the-pious-zed-seselja/
  5. https://www.canberratimes.com.au/story/7778889/aec-declares-win-for-pocock-in-act-senate-race/
  6. https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/National_Integrity_Commission/IntegrityCommissionSen/Report/c03
  7. https://australiainstitute.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Briefing-paper-Different-breeds-of-watchdog.pdf
  8. https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Joint/Electoral_Matters/Inquiry_into_matters_relating_to_Section_44_of_the_Constitution/Report_1/section?id=committees%2Freportjnt%2F024156%2F25954

7 Comments

  • Warren says:

    Spot on BA. I sent your blog to David Pocock/his team.

  • Arthur Baker says:

    I agree that interviewers’ interruptions are annoying, but whose fault is that? Years ago, politicians developed this habit (which goes well beyond annoying, into exasperating and even infuriating) of waffling on and not answering the question. And they started doing media training precisely to achieve that. This problem became so endemic that journalists really had to start interrupting, because airtime-slots are limited in duration, especially when live-to-air, and if all they get out of the bozo they’re interviewing is a recital of today’s talking-point mantra or some deliberately concocted avoidance strategy, the interview isn’t even worth conducting at all. The all-time nadir of this tendency, of course, was the human leaf-blower Scott Morrison.

    The fundamental blame for this lies with politicians, not journalists. Politicians may not be specifically familiar with the linguistic concept of the Gricean cooperative principle of conversational communication (1), but they do know that interruptions are widely regarded as ruder than waffling, so they know that on balance they can get away with waffling, and that the journalist, forced to interrupt in an attempt to get a straight answer, will come out of it with lower public approval.

    I make no comment on what Pocock said, nor the quality of Karvelas’s questions and background knowledge, because I haven’t yet watched the interview. Here, I’m addressing merely the lamentable state of the conversational relationship between journalists and politicians, the blame for which has to be sheeted home largely to the latter.

    (1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cooperative_principle

    • admin says:

      Arthur,
      Yep. As you say, the human leaf blower was the worst word-salad exponent I think I have seen, and I can understand why journalists interrupt when the waffle starts. Karvelas did it almost sparingly compared to Speers. While I wasn’t annoyed with the interruptions from Karvelas, Speers seemingly cannot help himself. While politicians have been schooled in endlessly drivelling their talking points, it seems that many journalists need to do some schooling too, because the Speers method is simply irritating. The questions Karvelas asked were related verbatim in the article, as were Pocock’s answers (minus all the ums and ahs).

      • Arthur Baker says:

        “The questions Karvelas asked were related verbatim in the article, as were Pocock’s answers (minus all the ums and ahs).”

        Well obviously I know that. I usually prefer to suspend comment until I’ve seen the whole interview and assessed any other contextual remarks which may be relevant.

  • Mark Dougall says:

    I watched the program. I too thought it was a silly question. It was very well, and politely, handled by David Pocock. He seems to be one of the least like a politician politicians I have ever seen. Extremely decent, very considered and intelligent. The ACT has a good one there, and so do the rest of us.

    • Arthur Baker says:

      Let’s hope he stays polite, decent, considered and intelligent, Mark. There’s been a distinct lack of those four qualities in the 8.7 year Coalition clownshow which ended on 21 May. Besides, Labor 26 + Greens 12 + Pocock 1 = 39. I make that a Senate majority, if he chooses to support any of Mr Albanese’s House of Reps initiatives.

    • admin says:

      Mark,
      He will have a lot to learn as anyone would who has been chucked in the deep end. I think he is smart enough to do so. From what I have heard, he is also a decent bloke, which is always a good start for a politician, because it is not the case for so many of them.

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