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Fairfax media has ramped up its campaign against the Government — now abandoning any pretence of unbiased reporting. Alan Austin reports.

Sample of some of Fairfax''''''''''''''''s headlines
Sample of some of Fairfax's headlines

THE FAIRFAX MEDIA GROUP has ramped up its campaign against the Gillard Government. It appears now to have abandoned any pretence of reporting fairly on its successes and failures.

It has also copied the Murdoch ploy of enlisting academics to its tawdry anti-Labor campaign.

Monday’s National Times featured a bizarre opinion piece by honorary associate at La Trobe University David Day.

The article was headlined triumphantly ‘Final nail in PM's coffin’ and sub-headed, just to make sure we understand:

‘Julia Gillard's lack of leadership has spurred on her inevitable demise’.

So what is the basis for the academic’s claim that a ‘demise’ is now ‘inevitable’?

Well, there are the polls, of course. The endless feedback loop of bad reporting leading to poor polling leading to more negative reporting leading to poor polling … and so on.

But does Day offer evidence of actual bad government? Well, there’s this:

' … her [Gillard’s] propensity for political stumbles have seen her repeatedly fall flat on her face. The September election date and the resignation of Nicola Roxon and Chris Evans were just the latest of them.'

Really? The careers of two ministers came to an end with plenty of advance warning to the PM, allowing her to determine the timing of their completion. Since when does this constitute evidence of a PM's 'propensity for political stumbles'?

John Howard asked for the resignations of retiring ministers David Kemp and Daryl Williams in 2004 in near identical circumstances. Was that evidence of the PM falling flat on his face? Or was it hailed as an opportunity for renewal, fresh perspectives and youthful energy?

David Day (image courtesy ABC)

Is Day aware the rate of ministerial sackings and resignations under Rudd/Gillard has been the lowest of any government in any Westminster nation since the 1820s?

Is there any evidence that the ministers left for anything other than admirable reasons? In Roxon's case, including wishing to parent a 7-year old daughter.

When asked these questions by email, Day responded thus:

'I was referring to the timing of the resignations. I agree with all you say [re ministerial resignations] but the timing gave the appearance of chaos. It was a poor political calculation and nothing was done to hose down the hooha in the press.'

This is further nonsense. It was never poor political calculation when John Howard did precisely the same. And just how can a government ‘hose down’ media 'hooha'? Arrest the lying journalists? Ban the mendacious mastheads?

What else could have been done by whom? Whose responsibility is it in a liberal democracy to report what governments are doing? Could the media release have been any clearer?

And why is calling the election date evidence of the PM's 'propensity for political stumbles'?

Every election year in living memory has had retailers, businesses, traders, investors, state governments, community organisations and others screaming for certainty and an end to the election date speculation. Now we have it. For whom is that disastrous — and why?

Day then criticises the Government for its failure to win support for its environmental initiatives:

'With the carbon price in place, the government should be earning kudos from the many Australians who care about the environment and are concerned about human-induced climate change.'

Again, whose job is it to report the substantial drop in emissions since last July? Positive reports in the mainstream media – brief, down page and rare – are simply drowned out by the constant prominent misreporting on the matter.

Day continues with a spurious attack on foreign policy unbecoming of a political history scholar:

'The Prime Minister has also disappointed many Australians with a foreign policy that is not discernibly different from that of John Howard. She kept the troops in Afghanistan and has thrown Australia open to American bases.'

Yes, some aspects of the previous foreign policy regime were continued — most specifically, concerning the U.S. alliance. But, actually, very few.

Labor’s foreign policy has been worlds away from the previous administration’s in signing strategic international treaties and accords. And in restoring relationships in the Asia-Pacific region. In these vital areas, there's just no comparison.

The serious damage done to relations with Australia’s neighbours during the Howard years have virtually all been reversed. Australian embassies are no longer targets for bombing; ambassadors are no longer expelled by friendly neighbours; Australians in nightclubs abroad are no longer being killed; false allegations are no longer levelled against neighbouring allies; official visits between friendly countries are no longer threatened; and millions of dollars of aid money is no longer illegally paid to Australia’s enemies in trade bribes.

Most disturbing is Day’s reference to Australia’s jobless.

The article claims:

'Julia Gillard has not shown sufficient commitment to protect Australian workers. She seems content to have unemployment at about 5 per cent, to have about 15 per cent of school-leavers without a job …'

Really? Where and when has employment been any better? Here in France, the jobless rate is above 10%. In the UK and the US it is above 7.7%. In the Euro area it is 11.7% — more than double Australia's rate.

In fact, as academics should well know, taking participation rate and unemployment rate together Australia has had a higher proportion of people in work during the Rudd/Gillard years than in any period in Australia's history. This, despite the devastating global financial crisis.

So why imply the opposite? That may be a dopey question to put to Australian journalists — but not to academics.

Finally, to dispel any doubt that Fairfax is driving the Coalition's election campaign, here's the opinion poll at the bottom of the article:

Poll: Do you think a leadership change will help Labor's chances of re-election?

(a) Yes, something has to change
(b) No, it's the Labor brand that's on the nose
(c) Not sure

Now, could there conceivably be any other answer to that question than those three?

First Murdoch. Now Fairfax. And now the universities? Such, it seems, is Australia’s doom.
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