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article imageOp-Ed: Australian budget 2010- This is media coverage?

By Paul Wallis     May 11, 2010 in World
Australia may have the world’s best performing economy, but the performance of some key players leaves a lot to be desired. The most leaked budget in Australian history didn’t generate much warmth, but it did set off some pre written press releases.
The budget is controversial. It represents a range of policy moves. It also contains some big bombs. The new 40% tax on miners is loathed by the mining industry, and loved by some claimants to public benefits from this huge cash cow. The theory is that this will help bring Australia back to surplus in 3 years, well ahead of schedule.
This is where the performance of key players comes in, and where media coverage has been off the boil from day one. The mining tax is a good example. Exactly where that nice round figure of 40% came from has never received any scrutiny from any media coverage. Why 40%, not the former company tax rate of 30%? What’s so interesting about 40%? Answer, it provides a number which produces a revenue figure, based on mining profits. Whether it’s a brake on mining operations or a good business proposition remains debatable. Whether it will actually generate that sort of revenue is also debatable, because there's no indication Treasurer Swan was given any projections based on price rises or falls.
The Opposition is opposed to this tax, and may block it. The Liberals are calling the budget a “house of cards”, and they can help make it one. This is a simple call to their demographic, as much as a policy, a predictable drum to beat, but their PR is sticking to slogans like “house of cards”, not emphasizing the business issues, which would be more credible. It’s a macro, not a policy statement, at this point, and is taking up space in coverage which could be better used for actually saying something.
The mining industry, now that it’s stopped foaming at the mouth, has managed to articulate the actual ramifications of the tax as it sees them. That’s been done extraordinarily badly. Are there ramifications for jobs, exploration, the state economies, or not? Answer, we don’t know, yet. This is weeks later. The industry has failed to connect with the mainstream to get support, despite coverage by anything able to be plugged in to anything.
The response has also magically managed to fail to mention what the mining industry contributes to Australia, projections, capital issues, and the rest of the phone book. If the Mining Council of Australia wants a writer who doesn’t use crayons and ouija boards, give me a yell.
We’ll only cover what we feel like, so there
The sparkling standard of conversation so far is:
“A budget? How quaint. What’s in it?”
“Dunno. We’d rather bitch about it than make a coherent point.”
The basic idea of a surplus is a good one, not that you’d notice from commentaries. It does mean dealing with the big spending of the GFC, and reduces the impact of price increases across the board with tax cuts. That angle has been hideously undersold by the government in terms of visible benefits for the public. Add to this the typical “index everything” approach and it looks like a bit of minor bookkeeping, not a serious effort.
The superannuation industry is currently thrilled with one area of the budget, the progressive increase in employer superannuation contributions, which is worth billions. This is another interesting mix of issues, because about 25% of Australians are self employed, part timers, or otherwise outside the script. Where does that leave them? Answer, forget it, it’s not getting media coverage, like most of the budget issues.
(The superannuation tax I’ve been bitching about for years remains, actively undercutting super earnings which if allowed to simply accumulate could offset the need for employer contributions and encourage more employment. The “simple super” approach would also provide funds with more capital at the coal face, and cut out a layer of bureaucracy that costs the funds and contributors money.
Meanwhile the 30 year old refrain of people not having enough to retire continues like a cuckoo clock. This isn’t management, it’s maintaining a revenue system which operates exactly the same way the Pharaohs used their taxes. The lack of innovation and seeking alternative ways of raising government capital remains pristine, and as utterly useless as ever.)
Even more unusually, this budget didn’t get the full page spreads of the past. This is the first time that’s happened. A few sour little comments, someone from Woop Woop doesn’t like it, and that’s pretty much it. Only the ABC actually provided the traditional overview online. News Corp banner paper The Australian did in fact provide the traditional “Budget at a glance” article, with an actual analysis.
That’s interesting reading, because it’s about the only working description of the budget actually published outside the budget papers themselves. The PR people didn’t contribute to this article, unlike the rest of the coverage, and The Australian’s piece therefore makes sense, and doesn’t descend into PR based single-issue information.
Nobody else really mentioned the big upheaval in health, in which the Federal government will take over the state hospital systems. That’s a big budget issue, and the demand for revenue for this generally popular scheme is a working part of the 2010 budget. The Australian includes the actual figures for income tax cuts, which are rarely even mentioned in other reviews of the budget.
Which raises the question:
Who told PR they were running policy? These are without doubt the lamest budget analyses on record, bar none. There are so many holes in these bitchy-snitchy, substance-free responses to the budget and coverage you could float a tanker through them.
A five year old could have come up with a better response from the miners. The Liberal response has been almost a recital, no new points, and nothing constructive. Labor’s own sales pitches have been by Treasurer Swan and Prime Minister Rudd, not the broader support bases. That’s serious underselling, and it’s on media rails, doesn’t go far outside the Canberra/Sydney/Melbourne circuits.
Why does it take News Corp and the ABC to actually describe the budget in depth? Everyone in a coma? The Australian’s piece does prove you can cover a lot in one page. Reading about everyone’s little vested interest tantrums may be fun, but it’s not information. There are thousands of pages of this PR crap, and a total of less than 10, nationally, in hard information.
Whatever you’re doing, stop doing it, and start doing your jobs. This isn’t a public debate, it’s publicly documented evidence of failure to address major issues.
Earn your pay for once, bludgers, and get cracking.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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