Journalists out of touch in deceptive election campaign

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    Journalists out of touch in deceptive election campaign

    The debasement of Australia’s political and media culture was on full show this past week: some politicians are prepared to say black is white in the sure knowledge many journalists will not call them out.
    As if to highlight the folly, the Standard & Poor’s agency last Thursday placed the nation’s AAA credit rating on negative watch.
    All week journalists from the national broadcaster and much of the print and commercial electronic media seemed to agree with Bill Shorten that Labor’s dishonest Medicare scare had shown up the Coalition for being out of touch with voters.
    Even Malcolm Turnbull kicked this along, saying on Tuesday that the government had left fertile ground for the scare in its 2014 budget. Yet S&P shows it is Labor, the Greens and their voters who are out of touch with reality.
    This is the price the nation is paying for a collapse in media business models and the triumph of US-style negative campaign politics.
    The 2014 budget recommended a small Medicare co-payment of exactly the kind Labor wanted to introduce under former prime minister Bob Hawke 25 years ago. It was the only budget since 2010 that sought to deal with the issue S&P is warning about.
    If Australia is to answer the challenge it will need to wind back much of the excessive government largesse built into the budget by John Howard and Peter Costello during the first round of the China boom between 2004 and 2007.
    Once upon a time national leaders could advocate for difficult policy changes that would make some voters worse off.
    Leaders in the press gallery once would press the cause of reform in the national interest.
    But now about half of all Australian voters receive more in government payments than they shell out in tax. Young journalists push the cause of higher welfare as though they were social workers.
    Nor are most media organisations doing the on-the-ground reporting work they did in previous decades. How did so few people pick the return of the One Nation vote in regional Queensland? And why was Pauline Hanson given celebrity status on so many television programs?
    Many senior journalists have had to admit they read this campaign wrongly. Even now none seems to have realised their oracle, pollster Textor Crosby, road-tested an almost identical positive campaign at the last Queensland election, when Campbell Newman lost government in 2015 after a 78 seats to seven landslide in 2012.
    Despite polling close to 50:50 for months and a trend moving in Shorten’s favour, many journalists were happy to accept the line from “Coalition sources” that the government was on track to hold its marginal seats.
    Time for some home truths for reporters, editors and news directors: every time a left wing journalist or Labor MP claims the budget has deteriorated more rapidly since the Coalition took power, remember this.
    Wayne Swan, who in his 2012 budget speech claimed to be announcing four surpluses, never faced falling revenue after the GFC. He was simply unable to contain spending growth, which was rising even faster than his booming China receipts. What he called revenue writedowns were actually rises of 6 per cent or more a year, but less than his overly optimistic forecasts of 8 per cent-plus a year.
    The Coalition faced real declining revenue because of the collapse of iron ore and coal prices in 2014-15. Don’t let commentators claim Turnbull’s problem is he sold out his progressive policies on gay marriage and global warming. The count shows he lost nearly a million votes on his right flank.
    It has been very likely since early last week that the Coalition would form a majority government on the back of pre-poll and postal votes lodged before the Medicare lie. Don’t let Labor spin you about this.
    Shorten is being allowed to frame the election as a triumph despite a likely loss by up to 10 seats. Don’t report Shorten’s spurious claims about an early election. He is using that claim to keep his own troops in line.
    News editors need to insist their journalists call out falsehoods in press conferences. Both Shorten and his Treasury spokesman Chris Bowen have previously advocated corporate tax cuts. They went to the election with higher deficits, higher spending and higher borrowing. How can reporters all last week have allowed Labor MPs to warn of imminent budget blocking tactics when only a week earlier Labor accepted $30 billion of so-called zombie cuts? Will reporters now let Labor get away with blocking savings it counted in its own election costings?
    Do reporters know the Medicare rebate freeze Shorten claims is the basis for his Medicare scare was introduced by Labor in its 2013 budget? Are reporters going to let Labor continue to claim the government, which has presided over the highest bulk-billing rates in the history of Medicare, has cut $57bn from health when Labor itself only committed $2bn more to health than the Coalition?
    Labor lost the election. Its primary vote, at 35.2 per cent, is its second lowest since World War II. Not only did it need a lie to save its primary, in truth it owes much of its position to Kevin Rudd, who in 2013 saved at least 15 seats that would have fallen under Julia Gillard.
    As Simon Benson pointed out in Friday’s Sydney Daily Telegraph, this election is analogous to John Howard’s narrow 1998 GST election win. Howard went on to win in 2001 and 2004. It is not similar to Julia Gillard’s 2010 election win when she and Abbott both secured 72 seats.
    Finally, don’t let reporters make themselves feel good by going to war with Pauline Hanson. As editor-in-chief of Queensland Newspapers when One Nation won 11 seats and 24 per cent of the vote at the 1998 state election, one thing I know from leaked Labor polling is that Hanson’s vote rises when she is subject to hostile, hectoring interviews like those by Maxine McKew and Ray Martin in the last week of that campaign. Her vote doubled over the course of the week.
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