By Craig Regan
There’s an old saying in political circles: Never have an enquiry unless you know the outcome. It’s rubbish of course, even if that’s the outcome most pollies would want.
So it wasn’t a surprise to see Defence Minister Stephen Smith up to his neck in mixed messages and furore last night following the release of the so-called Skype Sex Scandal report.
Smith’s refusing to apologise for criticising the way the head of the Australian Defence Force Academy treated the alleged victim.
On the face of media reports at the time, the academy chief’s actions looked insensitive. Smith acted as many in his position would have, but probably didn’t have the full facts.
He isn’t the first and won’t be the last Minister to go head-to-head with Defence and come off second best. Did he know how the enquiry would go? Of course not.
You can bet your house that Smith was praying for the PM to drop the Bob Carr option and parachute him into the Foreign Affairs job, not only because he wanted the gig but so he could be overseas when the findings became public.
Speaking of enquiries, the one certainty about the Finkelstein Report into regulating Australia’s media industry is that most of its recommendations - in their current form and converted to legislation - will never see the light of day.
As worthy as His Worship’s intentions might have been, the report handed to the Government by former Federal Court judge Ray Finkelstein last week had more holes than a parsimonious pensioner’s string shopping bag.
You have to question how “independent” a $2m a year media regulator with beefed-up powers of direction would be. The complaint systems we now have are feeble and choking in red tape but isn’t the solution simpler than a bigger stick?
Political payback theories aside, the original terms of reference seemed to be about making media organisations and their employees more accountable. The catalyst was the phone hacking scandal 20,000km away and any connection to Australia was tenuous, at best.
While making media organisations more accountable is a great idea, no sensible Government that supports a free press but already has lots on its plate wants to be picking a fight with people who buy newsprint by the container shipload.