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Herald Sun beats up on bureaucrats, censors Murdoch comparison

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.

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  • 1
    David
    Posted Tuesday, 21 September 2010 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    Stephen unlike your good self, not to as a followup, pick up the phone and call the HS editor and ask what he is afraid of that he will not print your perfectly legitimate correspondence. Surely not fearful of engaging you in a conversation about News Ltd bonus payments?
    Go get him :-)

  • 2
    Meski
    Posted Tuesday, 21 September 2010 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    I suspect any letter you might write to a Rupert Murdoch paper, Stephen would get killed on sight. And one that detracts from the story-line they are pushing? LOL.

  • 3
    Meski
    Posted Tuesday, 21 September 2010 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

    damn, there was meant to be a comma after Stephen.

    I suspect any letter you might write to a Rupert Murdoch paper, Stephen, would get killed on sight.

  • 4
    John Bennetts
    Posted Wednesday, 22 September 2010 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    The corporations are expected, nay, required, to disclose continually, to obtain shareholder approval of annual report and executive remuneration, etc. These requirements tend to be manipulated and disregarded with impunity. I cannot remember the last time a CEO of a public company did time for fibbing about his company’s performance or prospects. Rupert certainly could do with a bit of scrutiny in this regard but is far from alone.

    The Government’s own businesses (departments, state-owned corporations, statutory bodies and so forth) also are bound to report. By comparison with those above, their reports are typically examples of clarity, disclosure, truth and punctuality.

    Unless one considers that the main need for bonuses is to promote excellence in lying, dissembling and avoidance of the truth, this spat about bonuses is difficult to justify.

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