Christian Kerr writes:

Medicare will be “dramatically expanded to allow more mentally ill
people to see psychologists on referral from the family doctor as part of a
$1.5 billion plan to tackle the nation’s mental health crisis”, a lead story in
yesterday’s Australian
by Steve Lewis and Patricia Karvelas said.

And on it went: “Signalling a major shift in the Government’s health
priorities, John Howard will unveil the mental health blueprint for tackling
disorders such as depression and schizophrenia…” Plenty of quotes from Health
Minister Tony Abbott. And plenty of details like: “The package – which was
finalised yesterday and will be presented to the next Council of Australian
Governments meeting in June – enables Medicare-funded access to psychologists
and mental health nurses to be broadened.”

But there was no comment from the Opposition. Isn’t that Journalism 101?
Or is that still the standard price of a drop – spoon feeding from Government
press secs? You get the story if you don’t run any comment from the ALP.

If we’re going to play pedants, leaking a Cabinet decision like this is
illegal. But what’s really distressing is The Australian‘s record here. This is
the national broadsheet we’re talking about. Much is made of its Canberra bureau. Yet this seems to be an
emerging pattern of behaviour: it gets the drop from the Government, gets the
yarn – and doesn’t run any comment from the ALP.

This is a particularly egregious example. There is a massive credibility
gap in The Australian‘s story. This Government has been in power for ten years.
It’s been very clear that mental health services have been in crisis for a
longer. The Australian has had to omit the obvious question – why hasn’t the
Commonwealth acted earlier?

The PM was out beating up on the states on the subject yesterday
afternoon on the back of the story. So is that all The Australian is – a point in the PR
plan?

It seems so. Look at today’s pre-school education story.
It’s not as big a yarn as the mental health story, but the modus operandi is just
the same. Get the drop – and ignore the Opposition.

Not only is it getting a little obvious. Not only does it let the
readers down. Not only does it negate the purpose of journalism. It does
nothing for one of the nation’s punchiest papers in the long run. One day there
will be a Labor government – one day. How much will The Australian‘s Canberra bureau deliver then? Their
relations with the ALP will be poor. They’ll need spoon feeding. They won’t be
able to get stories on their own. Unless, of course, an incredibly cynical
decision has been made – that the national broadsheet will get the drop no
matter who’s in power simply because it is the national broadsheet.

Peter Fray

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