On The Australian’s campaign trail …
In 2001, a Newspoll conducted for The Australian 4-6 May, just 35% of
respondents intended to vote for the Coalition. In the same poll,
conducted post-Budget 2001, the Coalition vote had jumped to 40%.
Labor, by contrast, had dropped from 45 percent to 41 in the same
period.

In 2004, the Government has spent twice as much to buy the election,
and yet it has suffered a two per cent drop in primary vote. Meanwhile
Labor has recorded a 2 percent increase; the first since the Latham
bounce plateaued in Newspolls (during March).

And yet, The Australian is still selling the curious notion that this
Budget is “an extremely skilful” bribe, giving credit to the Treasurer
and Prime Minister where none is due. They explain the widening gulf
between their commentary and reality by hearkening back to the 1993
budget. In that year Keating scored just 39% of an unimpressed
electorate in The Australian’s post-budget Newspoll, but went on to win
the 1993 election by landslide.

The Australian’s editors avoid, perhaps intentionally, two critical
facts. Firstly, in 1993, Hewson proposed the most radical economic
overhaul that anyone has ever taken to a Federal election, custom made
for a vintage Keating scare campaign.

Secondly, this budget dwarfs any Budget that any federal incumbent has
ever produced (not even Keating would have been so craven to start
posting $1,200.00 cheques to swinging voters three months out from an
election).

Dennis Shanahan compounds the Australians sly misrepresentation today
by observing that “Howard’s prime ministerial rating has steadily risen
from 43per cent in mid-March to 50per cent last weekend.”
Shanahan assiduously avoids the fact that Budget has barely moved that
rating from the 48-49 percent he was scoring since April, nor has it
had any statistically significant impact on his satisfaction.

The implication, too uncomfortable for Shanahan employers to print, is
that the only impact that this Budget has had is to marginally improve
Labor’s fortunes.

Further alluding to News Ltd barely concealed attempt to re-elect
Howard is the Murdoch papers’ reporting of Latham’s commitment to pass
the Government’s tax cuts and family payments. Invariably, we are told
that Latham has “locked” himself into the massive tax cuts for the
rich, thereby imperilling other spending priorities and tax relief for
the poor.

That is entirely inaccurate. Latham has only committed to allow the
changes through the Senate. He has stated that the tax-cuts are the
first plank of a “broader and fairer” package. He has made clear that
Labor has “no plans” to roll back the cuts once in government.

At no time has Latham stated categorically that the tax-cuts are off
limits. They will certainly be larger, he says, but nothing stops Labor
from redistributing the largesse down the brackets with an entirely
more comprehensive package. Indeed, the statements by Jenny Macklin and
David Cox have suggested that may well be the case.

If and when Labor does re-direct the higher income tax cuts elsewhere
in its package, mentally prepare yourself for the News Ltd cries of
“backflip” and “blunder”, thereby doing its best to amplify an
impression volatility and incompetence.

The fact is, the News Ltd hacks have had it in for the ALP ever since
Latham dared violated Murdoch’s key dogmatic tenets and on Iraq and
suggest withdrawal. Like their compadres at Fox News and the
conservative British Tabloids, The Australian’s editorial staff are
doing their best to ensure Rupert’s political fellow-travellers get due
return for toeing the family line.

It is becoming increasingly evident that, “bang-for -buck”, this budget
has been a dismal failure. Post-budget, Labor is resurgent having
uttered only vague promise and happily avoided a tax-cut bidding war.

Barring some monumental gaffe by Latham, Howard’s May profligacy will
not save him from the chop come August, but rather confirm his place in
history as an unprincipled has-been. The Australian would do well to
avoid that label themselves by reporting the news.

Peter Fray

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