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VIC

Sep 21, 2010

Herald Sun beats up on bureaucrats, censors Murdoch comparison

The Herald Sun's decision to lead off with an attack on public service pay left the paper wide open to charges of hypocrisy.

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The Herald Sun worked up a double-page spread last Friday, which opened up as follows:

Huge bonuses for bureaucrats, a $50 million Grand Prix blowout and worsening ambulance delays were contained in hundreds of reports dumped in Parliament yesterday. About 20,000 pages of documents were tabled, including reports on stressed teachers getting more compensation and accusations of police cover-ups. Annual reports from Government departments showed bureaucrats swimming in millions of dollars of bonuses.

While the timing issue was a legitimate criticism, the decision to lead off with an attack on public service pay left the paper wide open to charges of hypocrisy. Indeed, I submitted the following comment to the paper’s website in response to the story:

It is a bit rich of the Herald Sun to attack “huge bonuses for bureaucrats” when the paper is published by News Corp whose executive chairman Rupert Murdoch was paid $US16.8m in 2009-10. And News Corp CEO Chase Carey received a $US10m sign-on fee just for starting the job. These things need to be kept in perspective and I trust this comment won’t be censored.

Sadly, the comment was never posted, so I followed up by submitting this expanded version for publication in the print edition:

It is a bit rich of the Herald Sun to attack “huge bonuses for bureaucrats” in last Friday’s coverage of the deluge of annual reports in state parliament. Public servants are massively underpaid compared with big business. For instance, the Herald Sun is published by News Corporation whose executive chairman Rupert Murdoch was paid $US16.8m in 2009-10. And News Corp CEO Chase Carey received a $US10m sign-on fee just for starting the job. These things need to be kept in perspective. Victoria has the best public service in Australia. If only our politicians were better.

Unsurprisingly, this letter wasn’t published either.

Amid 14 pages of Brownlow Medal coverage this morning, there was no room for the Herald Sun to cover a story that even The AFR’s chief political reporter David Crowe deemed worthy of attention today in a piece headlined “Vic rewarded less for achieving more”. It included the following statistic about national hospital performance payments:

Victoria achieved the biggest increase in the first stage of the agreement by increasing elective surgery admissions by about 21% from 2007 to 2009, surpassing a national performance of about 8 per cent.

Would Herald Sun readers really begrudge Victoria’s health bureaucrats pocketing a bonus based on such performance?

And when it comes to the public sector, the Brumby government has been leading the charge globally with its far-sighted Public Finance & Accountability Bill which is currently before the upper house.

If passed, this bill will enshrine greater transparency and a focus on planning and then reporting against benchmarks, rather than the tired old inputs reporting around dollars spent.

As part of this bill, all public sector annual reports must be tabled in Parliament by the end of October rather than the end of November. And it was John Brumby who ordered all reporting bodies to have their annual reports tabled by the end of September in this election year.

While a paper deluge on the last Parliamentary sitting day of a week doesn’t make life easy for deadline-driven journalists, the more important story is that the information is there on the public record in a timely manner.

For instance, I’m participating in the Intelligence Squared Debate tomorrow night at the Melbourne Town Hall arguing whether “Feminism has failed”.

As part of the research, we’ve been able to pull together this list tracking the latest figures on board gender diversity across the Victorian public sector.

No other state is so advanced in its 2009-10 public sector reporting and for this the Brumby government should be congratulated, not condemned, by an overly negative Murdoch press.

Stephen Mayne — Journalist and Founder

Stephen Mayne

Journalist and Founder

Stephen Mayne founded Crikey in February 2000, and has remained as a contributor since selling it in 2005. He’s currently a City of Melbourne councillor, shareholder advocate and broad campaigner for transparency and accountability across the media, business and political sectors.

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