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Nov 23, 2012

Tale of two Australias, one disconnected from reality

There's the Australia that exists in reality. Then there's the second Australia, created by the media and the public imagination. Which one do you live in?

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We live, it seems, in two Australias.

One exists in so-called “reality”, allegedly observable via evidence and facts. The other one exists in the mind of many in the media and the government’s critics in business.

The purported “real” Australia doesn’t look too bad. It has low unemployment, low inflation, remarkably low interest rates, a huge pipeline of business investment, low government debt and steady economic growth. Its government shepherded the country through the global financial crisis by protecting the banking sector and providing fiscal stimulus, and is now engaged in a dramatic fiscal contraction that has allowed the country’s central bank to cut interest rates. Its tax-cutting government has presided over a 1.5% fall in tax to GDP ratio. The world’s credit rating agencies are sufficiently impressed to have given Australia the best possible sovereign ratings, and its currency has, to the chagrin of its exporters, become a reserve currency valued by forex traders and central banks the world over.

The country is governed by a minority government that, in spite of predictions about how unworkable it would be, has produced a long succession of legislated reforms, albeit of the small-to-medium variety, but some big ones as well: a carbon price, further big improvements to its already world-leading superannuation system, an overhaul of health funding, and cuts to the absurdly generous middle-class welfare bequeathed to it by the previous government.

Its Prime Minister, initially clumsy and forced in the role, has over time grown into it, and now even appears competent on the world stage, with a close relationship with President Barack Obama. The country is the world’s 12th largest economy and one of the few developed economies still showing vigour.

All that stands in dire contrast to the Australia which, we’re told, is actually out there and which we can read and hear about in the media.

“The Australia portrayed in the pages of newspapers and on talkback radio increasingly bears no resemblance to reality …”

That Australia is an economic wasteland, on the way to joining Spain and Greece. It is labouring under a crushing public debt burden. Its pro-union industrial relations laws have slashed productivity and threaten to derail the country’s resources boom. A “sea of red tape” stifles innovation. The government has bungled relations with China and its name is mud in Washington because we’ve cut defence spending.

The country has a property bubble and its over-reliance on foreign borrowings that mean our banks will collapse when there’s another financial crisis, necessitating vast bailouts. It’s the government’s fault that mining companies all tried to invest in new projects at once, bidding up the cost of labour and other supplies.

Its carbon price (instituted because the Prime Minister, being a woman, was easily controlled by extreme environmentalist Bob Brown) has sent consumer prices through the roof, and all for nothing because climate change is a giant conspiracy, or even if it exists, Australia can’t do anything about it despite being a massive carbon exporter and the world’s most carbon-dependent major economy. The country’s “Communist” mining tax, despite raising no revenue, is deterring investment. Corrupt union officials oversee our biggest superannuation funds, even if those funds out-perform funds overseen by the big banks.

Indeed, the stain of union corruption is everywhere, for the Prime Minister herself is corrupt. Corrupt how, corrupt in what way, isn’t made clear despite acres of newsprint and investigative journalists working full-time for months on the “story” and even the ABC, criticised by its media watchdog program, goaded into action; but somehow, in some unspecified way, she acted corruptly just under two decades ago, and is now somehow stifling an investigation of it, including making files disappear (and then reappear, presumably just to throw people off the scent). But she has Questions To Answer.

And to distract from this corruption, the Prime Minister plays the gender card, claiming she’s a victim of a misogynist campaign, while her deputy engages in class war, trying to demonise successful entrepreneurs. Worse, she’s planning a Stalinist assault on free speech intended to censor her media critics.

The Australia portrayed in the pages of newspapers and on talkback radio increasingly bears no resemblance to reality; the “coverage” is an ever more lurid fantasy based on the arch-villainy of Julia Gillard, simultaneously weak and incompetent at governing but fiendishly clever and ruthless at covering up her crimes, while the country she leads goes to wrack and ruin, or at least it will When The Boom Ends or When The Next Global Crisis Occurs or When Financial Markets Lose Confidence. That’s if she lasts. Surely she’ll be gone within weeks. Some new revelation, some smoking gun, some crucial piece of evidence will destroy her prime ministership. Just you wait.

And we wonder where we’ll get quality journalism from when the internet finally destroys newspapers.

Bernard Keane — Politics Editor

Bernard Keane

Politics Editor

Bernard Keane is Crikey’s political editor. Before that he was Crikey’s Canberra press gallery correspondent, covering politics, national security and economics.

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57 thoughts on “Tale of two Australias, one disconnected from reality

  1. tonyfunnywalker

    Well said Bernard. Some of the articles in Fairfax and News toda are examples. Harcher goes in some way to recognise reality and then plots the demise of Gillard next week amongst the cross benches.

    By building a story on recall the press should be careful on recall or as in the UK they may land up in the same position as the BBC and ITV both of which published a lie by someone who had faulty recall. Blewett by his own admission is troubled by what was done in 1995.

    He may well suffer selective perception in support of his redemption with ” it wasn’t me it was her/him” or I was ” overseas at the time” the plea from another emminent person currently.

    The voters and consumers of Australia are not stupid they do read widely over the internet and the news summaries help to identify key issues.

    The internet will render journalism obselete – it is already impotent and is increasingly frustrated by its impotence as the Gillard Government is able to Kick Goals irrespective of the distractions.

    Regretably the ABC is reduced to the mire of the cesspit and as a taxpayer I am indignnant of the fact that they are not serving the people who pay them and as a National Broadcaster they need to have greater due dilligence than they currently adopting.

    To be goaded into the AWU affair by the Australian shows the weak editorial resolve of the ABC and where there is resolve as shown by 744ABC for example the Australian lampoons them.

    The Australian public is heartily sick of this media circus. Whereas once you bought a newspaper for the news and you discarded ( responsibly ) the suppliments ( form guide, Real Estate, etc).

    These days it is the suppliments that are retained and it is the newspaper is destined for the recycle bin.

    With growing redundancies and falling graduate job opportunities,journalism is guaranteeing its own demise and in some cases the sooner the better as the so called newspapers and TV news analysis programs are advertorials from the “spin doctoring” PR industry.

  2. David Goldstein

    Gee whiz Geomac, so you can’t justify Labor’s incompetence under Gillard anymore, so you start making idiotic comments. Troy Bramston’s opinion piece in The Australian today sets out Labor’s woes in better detail than anyone on Crikey.

    As for Gillard opposing gay marriage, she actively opposed it. Even Keane wrote on it here at http://www.crikey.com.au/2011/12/01/gay-marriage-gillard-deploys-her-troops-for-the-wrong-battle/

    As I mentioned, and as Bramston mentions in his article, there are more failures than gay marriage for Labor under Gillard.

    And why make excuses and start blaming Abbott? To give him credit, even though he wouldn’t allow a conscience vote on gay marriage, he did campaign for his sister in the recent local government elections, so he’s probably less homophobic than Gillard.

  3. Bill Williams

    Thank you Bernard for your so objective description of reality. It made me realise just how lucky we are that you don’t own Fairfax.

    The trouble with your Canberra-esque reporting style is that it is so limited by your mere mirroring of one side of a simplistic two party debate and world view. You write about Gillard and Labor with all the objectivity of a one-eyed sports fanatic. Your writing often reveals a very limited mental model that assumes that anybody who is critical of Gillard and Labor must, by definition, be pro-LNP.

    In terms of your view of the real Australia you seem to think that people who are in the business of producing tradeable goods and services that we can sold in international markets are just some biased marginal minority group. In your view, Labor seems to have done no wrong….and any stories of Labor wrong doing are just fabricated spin from a biased and hostile mainstream media who refuse to see St Julia as Australia’s answer to Joan of Arc.

    I have a suggestion for your professional development Bernard. There is no doubt that you can write well. I think that your problem may be a lack of contact with people who live in another real world than the one you must live in. Why don’t you spend some time in a community where most of the people you talk to are not members of a political party or journalists or economists or employees of government or non-government organisations. In fact cut all those people out of your life for a full month. Try to talk to some farmers and small business owners and tourism operators and education service exporters and tradespeople….preferably who don’t live in a capital city. Perhaps your view of the real world might become open to a separate reality….without the help of Carlos Castaneda.

    P.S. What could possibly possess you to suggest that this Labor government has installed “big improvements” to our superannuation? Paul Keating certainly doesn’t think so. And who says that having a currency valued by currency traders is any way beneficial in your “real world”?

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