Budget spin enters Fantasyland
Comment By Barry Tucker 5 April, 2014
The Budget spin of Australian federal Treasurer Joe Hockey has
entered the world of fantasy. It’s a world where fantastic imagination,
lies, obfuscation, bull-dust, half-truth and distortion gets mixed in a
muddle — all designed to blind-side the voters.
Sometimes it blind-sides the news media. Sometimes some of the news
media get sick of the deception, get sick of being played for fools —
and let rip.
This is a story about such an occasion. Some mistakes were made along the way.
Let’s begin with this meme, circulated on Twitter on Thursday, April 3, 2014. It’s WRONG! Well, half wrong. The reference to “Treasury Analysis” is wrong.
Treasurer Hockey issued a “Briefing Note”. His note was supposedly
based on Treasury modelling. The online news magazine Crikey.com pointed
out how some news media portrayed the briefing note as a “Treasury
Crikey said the briefing was written by Hockey’s media adviser, former The Australian Financial Review journalist Gemma Daley.
When I followed a link accompanying the meme above I found the Crikey story. It was written by Bernard Keane and Glenn Dyer.
They went ballistic over Hockey’s references to Treasury numbers and forecast revenues and expenditures:
“… Joe Hockey is treating us as complete idiots.”
“Hockey would like us to see him as a budgetary innocent who has
found himself in the middle of a fiscal minefield planted by Labor.”
“And if Hockey seriously expects us to believe his latest argument, he must have nothing but contempt for us.”
The two journalists then proceeded to pull the Treasurer’s Briefing Note to pieces.
He may not have written it but, as the issuing Minister, Hockey’s responsible for it.
This is not the way Canberra-based journalists normally deal with
material issued by government ministers. The ministers know that and no
doubt they count on it.
What Hockey is doing is softening up the public, mainly low income
taxpayers, for a tough May Budget and he’s trying to blame spending by
the previous Labor government for that.
Basic Liberal party ideology is to sell public assets, slash welfare
and enrich the middle to upper class and big business — their key
supporters. Late this week, on the eve of the re-run West Australian
election of Senators, Hockey had the gall to tell the public his Budget
was NOT ideological. He chose the friendly Andrew Bolt’s radio show to
sell the line that his tough Budget was necessary to provide for future
Hockey’s Briefing Note was not widely reported on, as far as I can
tell. It came on the heels of a meeting with State Premiers during which
Hockey hammered out his demands that they sell public assets to pay for
the projects that the “Infrastructure Minister” government leader Tony
Abbott wants to take credit for. He offered a sweetener of 15% of
something as an inducement.
So public assets will be sold to build infrastructure (the “roads of
the 21st Century” that Abbott has promised as his monument), plus 15%
from Treasury (taxpayer’s cash) and no doubt the roads will be
public/private ventures that will have tolls. All very nice for Abbott’s
corporate mates, but it does little for cities that are crying out for
more mass transit and light rail.
One journalist who ignored Hockey’s briefing was The Guardian
online’s Political Editor Lenore Taylor. Taylor told me if she reported
on every pre-Budget positioning she would not have time for anything
Others were easily sucked in, like the ABC’s The World Today
presenter Eleanor Hall and Canberra correspondent Alexandra Kirk, under
the website headline: The full story … Hockey and Labor positioning
ahead of budget ‘hard decisions’. Hilarious!
Hockey: As we approach the Budget, more and more evidence emerges of what was left behind by our predecessors.
Kirk: Mr Hockey’s used the Treasury modelling
to argue that without a change in policy direction, spending is
projected to outstrip revenue in every year for the next decade, meaning
the Budget would be in deficit for a 16-year stretch.
Hockey: Sixteen years. Sixteen years of deficits
without a recession, without any significant downturn, is the legacy of
Labor. And unless we take immediate remedial action in the Budget, then
Australia will never have a surplus. The fact is we have to address this
and address this fast.
Kirk then spoke to Labor’s Treasury spokesperson, Andrew Leigh, who said the Budget position was to a large extent of Joe Hockey’s own making.
Leigh: Joe Hockey should not be allowed to try and
fool the Australian people into the state of the books when he took
over. That was clearly set down under the Charter of Budget Honesty and
the pre-election Economic and Fiscal Outlook. And it clearly said,
Budget back in surplus in 2016-17.
Then came economist Chris Richardson, of Deloitte Access. He said
there was a Budget problem that needs to be fixed, but it doesn’t need
to be fixed tomorrow.
There’s more from all parties in the ABC interview.
Rupert Murdoch’s The Australian, reported on the Briefing Note on April 1. Unfortunately that story is behind the paywall.
The URL in the Google search result says the story is “premium content”. Ha!
It’s based on a Briefing Note that Hockey was pushing into
journalists’ hands. The story must contain some terribly perceptive and
erudite comments from a Murdoch propaganda hack.
Much kudos goes to the two Crikey journalists who had the decency,
the integrity, the knowledge and the insight to treat Hockey’s Briefing
Note with the contempt it deserves.