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Newsrooms tell the truth about the economy — after the election

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Cartoon by Mark David / @MDavidCartoons

Now the Coalition has been safely returned to power, some journalists are free to report what is actually happening. Alan Austin reports.

SUDDENLY, as though Spring has arrived in the wintery world of Australia’s mainstream media, there is a flourishing of insightful articles accurately reporting Australia’s economy. Ah, the wonders of seasonal renewal!

Readers are now being told unemployment is rising, wages are tanking, economic growth is slowing, the Coalition has doubled the debt, the so-called “budget in the black” is just a hope and that most other indicators signal trouble ahead.

Okay, maybe that’s not a springtide message. But at least it is more candid and honest than the pre-election narrative. Virtually in lockstep, the mainstream media censored negative economic news lest it disturb the crucial lie — that the Coalition manages the economy better than Labor.

Before the election, The Australian editorial claimed:

‘The Coalition offers prudent fiscal consolidation and debt reduction, a mechanism to reduce tax and control spending, a plan to ease cost-of-living pressures on families ...’

After the election, a columnist in the same newspaper admitted:

Unemployment rose during the recent election campaign and underemployment is a serious drag on the economy, which is expected to get worse. This week’s gross domestic product numbers revealed anaemic growth ...

 

Throw in the cut to interest rates on Tuesday, with signals that further rate cuts are likely and let’s ask ourselves how the twice re-elected Coalition Government has done since its “jobs and growth” pitch.

 

Poorly is the only appropriate answer.

It is as though proprietors and editors have decided it is now safe to throw a sop to the bleeding hearts and snowflakes among their scribes who feel – and maybe even express internally – shame or guilt at the systematic deception of their readers over recent months.

After all, what harm can it do? There will be plenty of time before the next election to resume the campaign of disinformation in order to ensure the deluded masses still believe in Coalition competence.

Before the election, the Australian Financial Review asserted

‘that a returned Coalition government with a clear parliamentary majority would be in Australia’s best interests. The Coalition does at least grasp that Australia needs a growth policy in order to lift incomes and sustainably pay for the services government provides.’

After the election, it ran clear evidence to the contrary. A piece titled ‘The economy faces “real challenges”' admitted that first-quarter growth was feeble:

‘... pulling down the annual growth rate to 1.8 per cent, the slowest annual pace since 2009.’

It also reported – accurately – that:

‘Last month the RBA slashed its economic growth and consumption forecasts citing weaker housing market conditions and income growth which it said were "likely to continue to drag on spending”.’

One writer in the post-poll burst of truthfulness actually gets right the cause of the demise of Australia’s once-great economy:

‘Why is the immediate outlook for the economy so weak and uncertain? Not primarily because of any great threat from abroad – though a flare-up in Donald Trump’s trade war with China could certainly make things worse – but primarily because of one big and well-known problem inside our economy: five years of weak growth in wages.’

That is from Ross Gittins in the Sydney Morning Herald. His is a blunt assessment of the reverses in wages, productivity and household incomes over the last five years.

The latest growth report, he claims,

‘laughs at Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s claim in the April budget – and Scott Morrison’s claim in the election campaign – to have returned the economy to “strong growth”, which will roll on for a decade without missing a beat.’

This is in stark contrast to Gittins’ colleague Shane Wright, who, before the election, gave the Coalition a big tick on wages:

‘Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said there were positive signs for wages in some sectors such as education and health, adding that growth had picked up from a year ago. "In real terms, after taking into account inflation, wages are growing at nearly twice the historical average," he said.’

Wright’s piece made no attempt to rebut the obvious falsehoods. It concluded on the upbeat note that

‘consumer sentiment, released on Tuesday, showed optimists marginally outnumbering pessimists in May.’

So nothing to worry about. Nothing to see here. 

The truth, of course, is in Gittens’ analysis. The current Government’s record on wages is the worst in Australia’s post-war history and close to the worst in the developed world. But that must not be whispered before the election.

Even Rupert Murdoch’s daily business news outlet, The Australian Business Review, has shifted its focus substantially. Never was there mention before the poll of the damage inflicted by Coalition decisions and seldom any economic analysis at all. Dominant themes were external threats and the dire dangers of Labor.

Actual headlines before the election:

After the poll, in contrast, many articles have analysed the poor economic outcomes and the risks of more to come.

Actual headlines after the election:

The exception to this pattern of flipping to honesty straight after the poll is ABC News. No discernable difference here. Before the election, the economy was discussed on the Coalition’s terms with little effective critique of the disastrous policy settings. No change after.

Let’s see how long this blossoming of truth and light inside the newsrooms lasts. When is the next state election?

You can follow Alan Austin on Twitter @AlanAustin001.

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