Being a political adviser carries responsibility to give sound advice, follow correct process and respect the role of public servants, which doesn’t always occur.
A good adviser ensures clear communication, cuts through layers of bureaucracy and troubleshoots issues. An outcome that’s good for the politician should happily be one that’s good for the public as well.
Having worked on each side of the political triangle as a journalist, pubic servant and ministerial adviser, I’ve seen good and bad across all three.
In the past week I’ve seen two bad examples of political advising from both sides of the party divide in Queensland.
Perhaps it’s a shallow talent pool, maybe the silly season lived up to its title, possibly B graders were filling in or they might have just been bad days.
The first example was on 29 December when the Courier Mail published an exclusive interview with Opposition leader Deb Frecklington in which she tried to differentiate herself from Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.
“I can have a tough day but then I’ll get a call from one of my kids and you’ve got to deal with whatever’s going on in their lives. She, on the other hand, has had a complete makeover – all the makeup, the designer labels, it’s too much, when there are bigger issues to focus on,” Ms Frecklington said.
It was widely seen as a barely disguised swipe at the Premier over her image and lack of children.
“She has deliberately changed her image – the whole ‘Princess Palaszczuk’ is pretty obvious – but I haven’t changed mine. I have no choice but to remain grounded, because of (husband) Jason and the girls,” said Ms Frecklington, mother to Isabella, 21, Lucy, 19, and Elke 17.
Public relations expert and Griffith University lecturer Paul Williams blamed the Opposition leader’s media adviser.
“The real issue is the quality of media advice the LNP leader herself is receiving and accepting,” Mr Williams wrote.
“As a teacher of political public relations I would fail any student who submitted that pitch if only for making the client (Frecklington) the story.
“Indeed, if I were Frecklington, my first task next week would be to sack the PR officer responsible.”
A bit harsh but it’s valid to say there was a failure in Ms Frecklington’s office.
The interview was planned and several advisers would have been involved in discussing the narrative, however Ms Frecklington herself had the final say and chose the path she travelled.
The second example of poor advising occurred today and seems trivial in comparison but reflects a wider malaise.
This was the introduction to a Queensland Government media statement about the New Year release of 30-year-old Cabinet records:
1989 Cabinet minutes released today show Queensland under three different Premiers, with the Sunshine State emerging from darkness into an era of decent, stable government following the historic election of the Wayne Goss Government.
It’s juvenile or sinister, depending on your perspective; it’s something you would expect from a totalitarian regime. The phrase “emerging from darkness” is exaggerated, partisan and subjective.
I question why the Minister responsible for State Archives, Mick de Brenni, would even be involved with this media announcement and why his political adviser thought this was a good idea. It should have been issued by the Department.
Historical Cabinet records are released every year to assist research; it’s a public service accepted by both sides of politics in most jurisdictions.
Governments are custodians of the public record, not historians, and should leave the commentary to others.
Too many political offices are staffed by university graduates who are still playing student politics. The battle for hearts and minds between the Young Liberals and their opponents from Young Labor, green organisations and unions is being played out at higher levels and good public policy is the loser.
- Earlier story: Kasparov ignites journalism debate