13 May 2015

Have a go ya mugs

Coverage of the budget is always dreadful. The entire Australian media relies far too heavily upon the lines the Treasurer's office wants to push, it congeals around a consensus that is almost always wrong, and throws away what little journalism skill it has for the sake of ... for the sake of filling up airtime/adspace that nobody wants to buy.

1. The consensus on this budget

We get it, Joe:
  • No bold moves fiscally or policy-wise.
  • A bit of help for AussieFamilies™ in 2017 or something.
  • Please don't hate us.
  • We're doing the best that we can. Really. We're firing on all cylinders.
  • You should see the other guys.
You don't need more than 200 press gallery journalists to tell the exact same story with the exact same quotes. Three or four, tops, would do that 'job' more than adequately. Bussing numpties down from Sydney is just redundant, unless it freed up the increasingly sparse office for real journalists to get some work done.

2. Insiders outside

... Standing on the outside lookin' in
Room full of money and the born to win
No amount of work's gonna get me through the door ...

- Cold Chisel Standing on the outside
I watched the ABC's budget coverage, and how strange it was.

There is no point to being an "insider" if you are shunted outside on a cold Canberra night. The ABC have perfectly good studios embedded within Parliament House from which they could have done their talky-head bits, and in which technicians have already done the wiring-up and other preparation. If you reject the idea that the outsider thing was Uhlmann at his most absurd, the only other explanation is the sheer spite toward the national broadcaster by the Speaker.

Leigh Sales gave Chris Bowen too much rope and he was boring. She gave Hockey too much stick and made him look good. Her desk stuck in a corner was basically a pimped-up table from Aussie's.

She made less of a fool of herself, though, than Uhlmann. His reference to the voters and taxpayers of Australia as "the mob" was unfortunate, and revealing, which made it all the more unfortunate. His insistence that politicians must be taken at their word was stupid, and probably revelatory of his whole journalistic approach; even more unfortunate.

3. A year's worth of stories

Why even bother recounting the announceables when you never, ever follow up those stories: just because it was announced on budget night doesn't mean it will happen at all, or in the way the government intended. The budget should contain 90% of the following year's stories for a journalist covering politics and government, insulation against the very possibility of a "slow news day".

All of the points made well here should have been tracked by the press gallery before the budget. That would have been more important - for their own self-worth if nothing else - rather than dropseeking.

Journalists who sit around the budget lock-up interviewing one another should not be allowed out - or they should be cast into the cold darkness where they can hone their inanities with Sabra Lane and Annabel Crabb. They are a bit like motorsport drivers huffing petrol fumes: they might think they are taking in the very essence of their profession, but they're wrong about that too.

4. Ferals in the Senate

The idea that it is appropriate for the press gallery to refer to Senators outside Laborandthecoalition as 'ferals' is clear proof of journalistic failure. Why even bother going on about an $X increase here and a $Y cut there when they are mere offerings to the unknowable Senate, like Quinctilius Varus' legions heading off to the Teutoburg forest.

Start covering the Senate. Press gallery journalists have nothing better to do. It is functioning as the Constitution intended, as a House of Review, and the fact that a control-freak government can't negotiate with those it doesn't control should be a bigger issue than press gallery journalists seem to realise.

5. Re:hash

Joe Hockey's speech to the National Press Club was a waste of time. He stuck to his script. The journos were all hung over and less pertinent than usual. They should all have been strafed.

6. The undead

The idea that the government's nasty policies have been excised from the budget was stupid and wrong. When there is a busy news day - one that doesn't involve the press gallery at all, like a real disaster far from Canberra or a royal something - the government will disinter one of its many nasty proposals. That's how this government works. The easily diverted press gallery will miss this until some kind soul from an interest group points it out to them, and explains why it's bad.

This is what happened with Kevin Andrews' Poor Laws; it fell to ACOSS to point them out and explain why they were bad, while only Kevin Andrews could defend them. The fact that a man whose entire career has involved defending the indefensible - and failing - is now Minister for Defence should be more of a concern than it appears to be.

Being a product of this government, this budget is of course full of half-baked ideas and contradictions which journos have overlooked in their rush for a consensus (see 1. above). They will not keep poring through it, nor follow its fate through the Senate; instead, they will wait until the story is pointed out to them in social media, then run it as EXCLUSIVE. Media execs call this a 'business model'.

7. Savings

When the government cuts money to a thing, it does not announce the cuts as a cuts: it calls them "savings". Journalists who refer to these cuts as "savings" do not understand what they are reporting on (policies that affect people's lives) and have come to identify with the incumbent government to a greater extent than is healthy or wise.

Before the election Tony Abbott said "I don't want to be known as Mr Cut, Cut, Cut", and the press gallery immediately complied. They stopped referring to the very idea that he might cut into services that people need - and can't get other than through the kind of group-buying scheme that Australian government has been since its inception.

8. Our Taxes and Aid to Foreign Kiddies

In between budgets, traditional media run well-researched thinky pieces on how foreign aid is a useful tool of foreign policy, projects our influence abroad (especially when we need stuff from international bodies, like UN Security Council seats or big sporting events) and is generally good to do, reinforcing and magnifying the generosity of this country's private donors.

When the budget rolls around they forget all that: see "Savings" above.

Yesterday the press gallery quoted Julie Bishop as telling the Coalition party room that foreign aid would not be cut. Yet, the budget papers show aid to subsaharan Africa cut by 70%, aid to Indonesia cut by 40%, with no corresponding rises elsewhere to make Bishop's assurances true in any way. Nobody in the press gallery appeared to question this discrepancy, or even notice one existed.

9. Our Taxes and Aid to Australian Kiddies

Unmarried, childless people sometimes grumble that their taxes subsidise other people's children, and resent any increase in resources devoted to their fellow citizens. Their concern is misplaced.

The government has lavished additional funding and legislative powers to security agencies. Apparently those who breach our national security these days are not wily agents of foreign powers but unmarried, childless loners. The Bali Nine were UCLs until they developed a sense of community. So were the Bali bombers of 2002 and '05. You show me someone who's joining Da'esh or an outlaw motorcycle gang and I'll show you someone who doesn't qualify as a "busy mum", or otherwise as AussieFamilies™.

People in sporadic employment need childcare as much as those in more regular employment. Say what you will about the previous government, it would have at least taken seriously a policy response to these people. The people least likely to be securely employed, most likely to be unemployed or sporadically employed, are Indigenous. Their children are not catered for in Smirky Morrison's calculations. They should have been, and if you overlook those in need then you can't really begrudge them.

10. Our Taxes and Aid to Foreign Kiddies Imprisoned by Australia Outside Australia

I still think this is something that should have been discussed at budget time. Remember how Scott Morrison closed down the debate by stonewalling the press gallery? What makes you think he's not going to do that kid of crap in his current or future roles? Wake up press gallery, and stop sucking up to him. He doesn't respect you any more than I do.

11. Hole-heartedly

Joe Hockey has the look of a guy who is giving his current predicament his all, in return for a promise of political survival that Abbott is unable to honour. He reminds me of one of those doomed dancers in They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, it hardly matters how much he smiles and poses for selfies.

As Samantha Maiden points out, Hockey gets no credit for this budget but all the blame. To punch through the passive voice for a moment, this happens because people like Samantha Maiden don't and can't give him any credit: it goes against the narrative. Any journalist who notes the "optics" of a situation without being able to push through and question them is no journalist at all.

The press gallery is the hole in the heart of Australian democracy.

12. The opposite of leadership

Re Hockey above (and there are other examples), no greater love hath Tony Abbott than this: that he would lay down his friends for the sake of his life.

The government has no plan to stimulate the economy: they hope Australia's small businesses will light a path they cannot see, let alone build. The government has no generosity toward less fortunate people overseas: they take credit for our private donations, and by being niggardly show themselves as not our true representatives. They cut health funding, but insist we be impressed by a $20b mirage that funds nothing. What's good about this budget can't be trusted; what's bad about this budget (including what's hidden from us) will bite us, hard.

In all its coverage of the budget, the press gallery misses that and gives mendacious bunglers the benefit of a doubt that has almost disappeared.

13. How to tell when a Liberal government has run out of ideas

They spend big but tax less-than-big. If the people take the bribes it confirms the conservative notion of the people as ever more grasping and greedy. If they don't it leaves the incoming government in an economic hole, and the Coalition opposition can attack them for being in a bad situation.

When conservatives do this it shows they're out of ideas, like a cricket team that sends fielders to the boundary to limit a high-scoring batsman they can't get out. This is what Fraser did after 1978, what Howard did after 2000, and what Napthine did as soon as he became Victorian Premier.

When Coalition governments do this they place themselves utterly in the hands of Labor. If Labor haven't got their act together (as in 1980, 2001 and 2004), they are re-elected and hailed as geniuses. If Labor have their act together (as in March 1983, 2007, Victoria and Queensland 2014-15), conservatives not only lose but are bewildered.

Kim Beazley showed that caution is the risky strategy when boldness is required (so did Peter Costello, but anyway). Shorten is certainly very cautious.

14. Early election?

Journalists only run the early election story because they can only report on elections - or think they can. The years that drag on between elections full of complex governing which they can barely describe, let alone analyse. This story has become so discredited it is a joke, particularly when coupled with lavish use of anonymous sources.

15. When the history of this government is written

... this budget will have been its high point.


  1. Well said Andrew.
    I saw none of the coverage and have only just learnt that the ABC had set up on the frosty lawn outside Parliament. Why were they huddled in blankets like victims of some diaster? Was it a metaphor?

    I did not read any learned thoughts on the boodjay either apart from eavesdropping here and other places. I am not proud of my deliberate ignorance but a Hi Ho front page of politician dwarves heading off to work with their pick axes does not tell me much. Where was the Poison Apple?

    I did read somewhere on-line that the proposed de-regulation of university fees is still in the budget. Is that correct?

    You would not know anyway because the narrative is that this is an election budget.

    Actually I believe it is.

    Abbott likes close combat. Biff. Take That. Kazow. In my opinion ScoMo is his main opponent not Me-Too Bill. I think his plan is to lard the land with bacon fat: new utes for tradies, Tony's Tradies, he said it himself and then when the polls respond positively he will head to an election. Which he believes he will win. And probably will.

    If that happens the next budget will be the bitter stuff you encounter when the the sugar coating on the pill wears off.

    1. Anon...love your punching analogy for our p.m

      He's so combative it's just bloody hilarious

      You just want to knee him in the &^/$#$ and he would still probably enjoy it!

      How can they sell this guy as a winner for the next election...seriously.

      Yes it's an election budget when they've gone from one extreme to another within a year...so bloody obvious!

      Even Sinodinos came out and suggested they be more empathetic. ..gee wiz Uncle Arthur has left it a little too late!

  2. I see that the Bullshit rater is back. I wonder which one of the poor petals of propagandist pandering it is?

  3. I really wish Leigh Sales stopped interviewing people, or started interviewing people - either.

  4. Chris Uhlam is an elitist wanker...

    He believes in survival of the fittest via his twitter sccount

    Don't let the calm facade fool you dear viewers

  5. Andrew...speaking of running out of ideas

    I see our Human Rights Commissioner launched a lgbti Uni report this week

    Yeo...Tim is a gay libertarian. ..whatever that means

    Universities are the most liberal institutions in our society. ...tackling homophobia this way is a little silly

    Why doesn't he visit schools and conservative groups to compound homophobia? ?

    What a nasty joke this government was in putting such an unqualified man in human rights who was a freedom "bully" in his previous role

    It's absolutely obvious he's still having close links to the I.p.a and all their private lobbyists

    Bloody disgusting and so greedy.

  6. Greatly appreciate Mr Elder's many salient points in one of the most cogent, insightful and lucidly expressed commentaries I have read this century.

    That these lazy mainstream media stenographers/ barrackers are the "hole in the heart of Australian democracy" is irrefutable, saddening and unforgivable.

  7. i do not think Bill is cautious i think he measured, we do not want slogans and theatrics..he comes across as a very caring man who want the best for Australia and our people that s enough for me.

    BILL is far from me 2,, only couple of security policies, the rest he has opposed all things that hurt aus, like changes to
    medi - care the tampering with our HECS and supper , pensions,
    and much more has been opposed by mr shorten and alp

    why is it that the alp are always ask about costing the alp time in office aust achieved a AAA rating, and got through the GFC speak s for itself.unemployment was lower than now also.

  8. Old Barney Banana must be delighted that he was able to divert attention from Shorten's reply speech whipping up outrage by threatening two silky terriers.

    It saved Abbott from eating another raw onion I suppose.

  9. Question. ..media bias here if you can help?

    Is Andrew Heslop married to Patricia Karvelas??

  10. Truly, I would be lost without the belly laughs I get reading your stuff Andrew. Loved: "where they can hone their inanities with Sabra Lane and Annabel Crabb. They are a bit like motorsport drivers huffing petrol fumes: they might think they are taking in the very essence of their profession, but they're wrong about that too". Snort.

    Bur what the hell, why should all this budget nonsense matter? Abbott is much too busy exploiting other topics, diverting attention elsewhere, which the press gallery fail to notice!!!

    The favourite is the use of security and defence issues as a political ploy and diversion tactic. There is always a strong whiff of the dog whistle about it. Fear tactics have always been a favourite of the conservatives, who never left the facts get in the way of a good lie (think Tampa).

    We all know that the world is a complex place, and that security/defence are real issues. That said, this is a government prepared, in the most unethical way, to exploit theses topics.

    This is a politically perfect tactic, and the swine know that it is very hard for the opposition parties to pull the government up on this, without being vulnerable to accusations of being soft on security etc etc. AND THE MEDIA let them get away with it, time after time.

    Take the most recent example (extract from The Guardian):

    "In February News Corp reported that “almost all of the wannabe terrorists who have snuck out of Australia to join jihadist armies in Iraq and Syria were on the dole or some form of welfare payment” and that “most had continued to collect payments from Australian taxpayers while training with Islamic State to become terrorists intent on wanting to kill Australians”.

    Writing in the paper the same day, the prime minister said he was “appalled” that the majority of those Australians joining terrorist groups had benefited from the welfare system. The government vowed to cancel welfare payments under the counter-terrorism laws it had passed late last year.

    On 23 February, asked about reports that no foreign fighters had actually had their welfare payments cancelled, Abbott told parliament: “This is not correct. To the best of my knowledge and understanding, all of the foreign fighters who are currently overseas have had any welfare payments that they were receiving well and truly cancelled … the last thing we want to see is Australian taxpayers funding terrorism.”

    But in an answer provided this week to questions that were asked in a Senate estimates hearing the day after the prime minister’s answer to parliament – February 24 – the attorney general’s department said that as of 24 February, “it was established that no individual was in receipt of any welfare benefit payments and it was therefore unnecessary to use the welfare cancellation on security grounds provisions."

    BUT ONLY THE GUARDIAN REPORTED THIS STORY! Imagine if it had been Julia Gillard......the coverage would have been everwhere, "GILLARD LIES TO PARLIAMENT AND IN WRITING TO THE MEDIA". "Gillard lies to seek political advantage". etc etc etc.

    Abbott and company REPEATEDLY get away with scurrilous, unethical behaviour....while Kenny, Hartcher, Massola and Co are too busy rehashing the same old crap they have been writing for years (usually in the form of a "gotcha" moment, or a "leadershit" story.

    Woeful is too mild a word.

  11. PS: The people at SMH have much more important things to write about than actually analysing the budget.

    Bloody hell, it gets more and more pathetic. Stories about those Kardashians, whoever the fuck they are.

    Todays titles include: "Is this Hockeys Rudd moment" (an inconsequential load of tripe), "Sandilands gerbil bares teeth" (wtf?). "YOUR KIDDING: Angry (Anderson) over Knolls Origin performance", "Have Aliens arrived? Strange sight in Sky".

    Well may we say: FFS.