Why I was suddenly left in the cold after a series of tough opinion pieces about Anthony Albanese’s woes

When given the choice between a stuff up and a conspiracy one should always assume the former, right? Because that is what the famous saying tells us.  

That was my choice this week when I noticed that after a series of tough (but in my opinion fair) commentary pieces on the Albanese government’s woes, I had been removed from the all important email distribution list the Prime Minister’s media team sends to political journalists.

Could it be a conspiracy? 

I checked in with colleagues across other media organisations only to find all of them were still receiving the Prime Minister’s Office’s emails. Just not me. 

For those outside the Canberra bubble, the email distribution list gives journalists the heads up on press conferences, so-called ‘announceables’, state visits, media interviews, you name it. 

Without such information in advance, covering the government’s actions is that little bit harder, and reporting and commentating gets delayed. So it is not hard to become suspicious when you drop off the list after a period of being critical. 

I must admit I immediately assumed it was a conspiracy on the part of the PM’s office, so I got in touch with the head honcho of Albanese’s 11 person strong media unit to find out exactly what had happened. 

But I’m clearly too cynical by half. Just like politicians, you should always believe what their staff tell you. 

Eventually I was talked down, assured that it was a simple case of incompetence that saw me sent to the naughty corner, unable to receive any communications from a team with communications in their title. 

Peter Van Onselen was removed from the all important email distribution list the Prime Minister’s media team sends to political journalists after a series of tough opinion pieces on Anthony Albanese’s woes (above) 

To be fair, he didn’t word the failure as incompetence, that is my turn of phrase. But when you assume conspiracy, like I did, it’s better to assume stuff up, which amounts to the same thing. 

Apparently something had gone wrong with their technical systems because I have two email addresses that somehow contributed to me receiving nothing at all. 

It had absolutely nothing to do with the timing of recent criticisms of the PM and his ministers, I was told. 

When the explanation got a little more technical I had to concede defeat and accept the merits of what was being said. I struggle to turn my computer on each morning at the best of times, so the head honcho had me beat when the conversation turned to IT details as part of the explainer.   

The PMO’s distribution list often also includes sending out transcripts of interviews and media conferences ministers have done. In the past these transcripts haven’t always been accurate, but to be fair I am talking about what has happened in past prime ministerial offices, not in Albo’s. 

Missing words or figures ever so slightly changed here and there have been exposed in both mainstream media and social media after transcripts get uploaded onto official government websites. 

Occasionally the transcript reads ‘inaudible’ next to a difficult or poorly answered question. Even though the audio, when you go back and check it, sounds pretty clear. 

I have been unlucky in the past when I dropped off the distribution list while employed at other media organisations. Also when I was riding a PM harder than usual. 

It must just be an unlucky coincidence I guess, because you should always assume stuff up not conspiracy, right?

Treasurer Jim Chalmers' poorly received Budget and rising inflation have also been scrutinised

Treasurer Jim Chalmers’ poorly received Budget and rising inflation have also been scrutinised

Readers will be happy to know that I’m back on the list, both my emails are in fact, so I now get two copies of everything just in case one of the emails isn’t working. 

Is it too soon after complaining to ask to be taken back off the list? Probably. 

What has nothing to do with conspiracies or stuff ups is the reality that there are different tiers of access to what gets distributed by the government and opposition alike. Some journalists get more access than others. A longer lead time with the heads up on upcoming events, for example.

This game of providing better or worse access based on how compliant a journalist is has long been played by those running the country. Or perhaps more accurately, those working for those elected to run the country. 

Politicians like to have plausible deniability. They like to blame their staff so they don’t have to take the blame. 

Political staffers are considered to be an extension of the minister they serve, which means that they cannot be called before parliamentary committees to be scrutinised for their actions. 

But when a minister presides over a failure of government, those same political staffers often put their hands up to take the blame, saving the career of the minister. They inevitably pop up in another office shortly afterwards. Or take a plumb government appointment as a thank you for participating in the protection racket that is modern politics. 

It is a grubby business but someone has to do it because without politicians the country couldn’t run itself. Or could it… 

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