In the spirit of the return of Media Watch and with the election campaign dust now settling, now seems like as good a time as any to review the performance of the Queensland media’s election coverage.

At its best it was average. At it worst it was abysmal, and one story paints the overall picture – the coverage of Premier Beattie’s Tugun by-pass announcement two days out from the poll.

Beattie has painted the announcement as him needing to be honest and open with electors in the area before they cast their vote – a principled move that might cost us votes but I don’t care I have to do the right thing, Beattie declared hand on heart.

Codswallop. Smarmy, mawkish, insincere Beattie political spin at its worst and by and large the parliamentary press gallery have bought it hook, line, sinker, bait, tackle, fishing rod and basket. (Is this gallery the most gullible in Australia?)

This is a middling political scandal, an abuse of Westminster traditions and a blatant politicization of the public service (if that process is not already complete) that has been all but entirely ignored by most outlets.

Beattie’s announcement came complete with maps and documents from the Main Road’s Department, as well as letters putting the owners of 14 houses on notice that their properties would be resumed. All of this two days out from an election, with the Government supposedly in caretaker mode.

Facts are Labor’s internal polling showed that ex-Minister, full-time good-time girl and Member for Currumbin Merri Rose was in diabolical trouble. The traffic nightmares caused by the lack of a by-pass has been a festering issue in her electorate for years, and Beattie simply brought forward the announcement in an effort to save one of his own and entrench Labor’s hold on the Gold Coast. Nothing more, nothing less.

The sheer volume of work that goes into a major and contentious infrastructure like this can not be completed in days. My best information is that this decision had been in the pipeline for months and that it was brought forward in what was a blatant political exercise to save a Labor candidate.

The Director-General and senior departmental figures involved should have told Beattie or the Minister who made the request for the paperwork and letters to go out just before the election to take a long walk off a short pier.

They did not and should be sacked and otherwise held account for their failure to uphold the responsibility that goes with their position. Bureaucrats work for the people who pay their wages – the people of Queensland – not the Labor Party.

This is an abuse of Westminster process and conventions that would have done the old ‘Hillbilly Dictator’ Joh Bjelke-Petersen proud at the height of his pre-Fitzgerald Inquiry excesses.

Coalition leader Lawrence Springborg was outraged, made his feelings known to some of the bureaucrats involved and has referred the issue to the Crime and Misconduct Commission, even though chances are it is the spirit and not the letter of our system that has been breached here.

And the media’s response? Apart from a couple of minor exceptions, it has done nothing but parrot unquestioningly the Beattie line. Spencer Jolly at Channel Nine gave Springborg a good run with his reaction on the Friday night before the election, The Courier-Mail did likewise on Saturday morning and that’s about it.

Sadly, the ABC is now the most lame, inane, bland and timid outlet in the State and even though it had the perfect vehicle, Stateline, on which to pursue the issue, ignored it all together and ran nothing but footage of the leaders debate, a predictable and cliché-ridden review of the final week and a panel discussion.

Just some of the questions the local journo’s might have asked: Why not simply announce the project and leave the departmental material and details for later? When was work in the department’s completed? Why not announce it then? Why suddenly bring it on two days out from the poll? Who requested that the departmental material be released? Did the bureaucrats express any reluctance about in effect supporting the announcement during an election campaign? What pressure was applied to them to comply?

Given Beattie’s pious blatherings about standards and principles, this ought to be a major issue.

The CMC and the Opposition together might yet make something of it, but that will come happen inspite of the media, and not through any effort on its behalf.

Bjelke-Petersen would love to have had compliant, unimaginative media chooks.

Peter Fray

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