The Australian media and week one of the "campaign"

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The "election campaign" is off to a great start for the Coalition, writes Alan Austin, with the establishment media managing to spin every issue in their favour.

Murdoch, Fairfax and the ABC lead Coalition campaign

THE "ELECTION CAMPAIGN" is off to a ripping start for the Federal Coalition.

Virtually all the issues arising in the first week were substantially favourable to the Government and awkward for the Opposition. Nevertheless, the mainstream media – comprising Murdoch, Fairfax and the ABC – has managed to twist them all to the definite advantage of the Coalition.

First, there was the timing of the election.

Most election years in living memory have been marred by constant speculation as to the date. Bad for business, bad for investors, bad for political parties, and bad for anyone who just wants certainty.

All that has been avoided this year. So are thanks due to the PM for providing stability for once? Not from the media. They ripped into her mercilessly, describing the announcement as foolishness, a hopeless failure of political judgment, a mystery, stupid, pathetic, suicidal and bizarre.

Then there was Mr Abbott’s ludicrous claim on Thursday of last week that
"...the rest of the world was not going anywhere near carbon taxes or emission trading schemes.”

Just breathtakingly false.

In light of the recent OECD report Taxing Energy Use and statements by President Obama and other leaders, it is not just untrue but an offensive dissing of their determined efforts. Most leaders, in fact, regard achievements in establishing carbon taxes as among their most important.

In most of the world, such an offensive falsehood would be immediate grounds for sacking. If a party leader had said that in Europe, the mainstream media would be reporting on the leader’s demise and analysing how a once great party could possibly have allowed into the top job someone who was either (a) a liar, or (b) monumentally stupid, or both.

So, what was the reaction of Australia’s mainstream media? Absolute silence. No reports whatsoever. It is as though it was never said.

Then there was the further stupid comment by Christopher Pyne, likening Australia now to the last days of Hitler’s regime. Australia’s Government, he said,
“...is starting to resemble a scene from Downfall."

Pyne was reflecting on the announced retirements from Parliament of two Labor frontbenchers. These departures and the resulting ministerial reshuffle, he claimed, were evidence of an implosion.

Pyne added:
“We don't have a great need to reshuffle our frontbench because we’re very happy with the job they’re doing.”

Perhaps so. Perhaps true this week. It may be true this year. But in recent history?

The two ministers to retire are: Nicola Roxon after 14 years, 11 on the front bench; and Chris Evans after 20 years in the Senate, with 14 years on the front bench. These announcements follow former minister Robert McClelland, now a backbencher, announcing his retirement.

Since Labor was elected in 2007, Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon was sacked after an improper association with a businesswoman and for using his position to assist his brother. Kevin Rudd was replaced by Ms Gillard as PM in 2010. These are the only two to have left for direct performance-related reasons.

Ministers to have left for other reasons are Bob Debus, Lindsay Tanner, Nick Sherry, and Mark Arbib.

That’s nine ministers gone. In five years and two months.

Contrast this with departures from the ministry during the first two terms of the Howard Government, between 1996 and 2001.

Assistant Treasurer Jim Short and Small Business Minister Geoff Prosser were sacked for failing to declare financial interests in portfolio areas. Three ministers were removed for misuse of travel allowances — John Sharp, Peter McGauran and David Jull. Resources Minister Warwick Parer was sacked over share holdings and false declarations. Peter Reith departed after serious breaches relating to a parliamentary Telecard and other matters.

Aged Care Minister Bronwyn Bishop lost her ministry over abuses of elderly citizens. Health Minister Michael Wooldridge left after a series of breaches of ministerial responsibility including the 1998 ‘scan scam’ and his defamation of AMA president Kerryn Phelps.

Other members of Howard’s first ministry to retire or be removed included Ian McLachlan, Judi Moylan, Warwick Smith, Andrew Thomson and Alex Somlyay.

Other members of Howard’s second ministry to go included Tim Fischer, Jocelyn Newman, John Moore, John Fahey, Bruce Scott and John Herron.

The numbers contrast significantly.

In two terms, Labor lost nine ministers, only two over performance matters. The first two Howard terms saw 20 ministerial departures, at least nine for serious failures in ethics or competence.

The rate of departure under Mr Rudd and Ms Gillard is, by world standards, extraordinarily low. According to those whose business it is to study these things, it is rare for any Westminster government to have had so few ministerial sackings. Only New Zealand’s Savage Government in the 1930s comes close.

Where was the analysis of this in Australia’s media? There was none whatsoever. Just prominent headlines attacking the Government:

'Government unravelling like Hitler's regime: Pyne' – The Age
'Pyne likens Government disarray to Hitler film' – ABC News
'Labor woes like Hitler film Downfall, says Coalition frontbencher ChristopherPyne' – The Telegraph
'Pyne compares Labor to Hitler's Downfall' – Sydney Morning Herald

Most of them had a smiling face of Pyne, the great statesman. None called for his sacking. Later reports on calls for Pyne to retract were also used to emphasise Government dysfunction.

Fortunately, Australia has an expanding alternative online media where voters may read what is really happening. But will this be enough to enable the Government to have a fair go in the campaign?

Probably not.

Such, it seems, is Australia’s doom.

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