Brumby’s weaving has journalists seething

  • This article and image first appeared on the ABC’s The Drum.

Dodging journalists’ questions is an art practised by most politicians, as they climb the slippery ladder to leadership.

Some, like Prime Minister Julia Gillard, do it with a disarming giggle, while others simply talk (and talk) until the pesky reporter has forgotten what they asked (read; Kevin Rudd).

But in the lead-up to November’s Victorian election, the Premier John Brumby has adopted a more blatant approach.

Increasingly, Mr Brumby will refuse to answer questions, referring them in their entirety to the relevant minister.

Melbourne’s Herald Sun this week ran a story critical of a planned new pokies venue, where children will be kept in a sound-proof room within view of the gaming floor.

On the same day, the state’s Auditor-General released a report which found no evidence the Government’s strategies to reduce problem gambling were working.

At his morning press event John Brumby was asked for a response.

“The Gaming Minister, I understand, will be commenting later today,” he weaved.

But do you think the strategies have been effective? the press pack persisted.

“Well again, Minister [Tony] Robinson will be out on this,” came the reply.

The media soldiered on; But do you have a view as Premier? Do you have a personal view? Would you want a “pokies creche” in your electorate? Etc.

“He’ll [the minister] be out later, and he’ll give you all of the information you need.”

On the face of it this may seem uncontroversial. After all, ministers are responsible for their portfolios and their advisers are more authoritative on specific policy areas.

And it should be noted that Mr Brumby is a highly accessible politician. He will ‘doorstop’ most days and always attends parliamentary Question Time.

But the duck-and-weave technique is being used inconsistently.

When Mr Brumby is making a ‘good news’ announcement, or fielding welcome questions, he’s more than happy to answer at length. It doesn’t matter if the relevant minister is standing beside him, the Premier takes charge.

Often, as with the recent release of the Government’s Climate Change White Paper, the relevant minister (in this case, Gavin Jennings) said only a few words at the tail end of a lengthy media conference.

And well-trained ministers normally preface their remarks with,”well just to back up what the Premier has said…”.

This inconsistency suggests the evasion of questions isn’t out of respect to the relevant minister’s autonomy or policy expertise, but motivated by other considerations.

On the eve of a close election, and with campaigning becoming increasingly presidential in nature, political considerations can’t be ruled out.

If John Brumby can minimise how often he appears under pressure and in ‘negative stories’ on the nightly news, it may be a win for his strategists.

But how does the public benefit?

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