The Budget
goodies had been placed across the morning papers – and then Todd Russell and
Brant Webb walked out of Beaconsfield Mine and clocked off.

Peter
Costello tried at his 8:45am doorstop outside the Ministerial Entrance to
Parliament House. We got a bit about money for the Murray and a Budget for families – but
even he began with Beaconsfield.

Everybody
then rushed into the Prime Minister’s courtyard for a nine o’clocker from John Howard.

“I know
that I speak for all Australians in expressing relief and joy and gratitude
that Brant Webb and Todd Russell have been brought to the surface,” was how he
began. “They appear to be in remarkable health and we ought to give thanks to
everybody responsible for this great achievement. It has been a triumph of
Australian mateship, the way in which the whole community worked together.”

Community. Everybody
got a guernsey: “I want to pay tribute to all the elements of the community,
the mayor, the churches, the Australian Workers’ Union and all the other people in the
community who worked so hard.”

And the PM
didn’t even mention the Budget.

In Canberra – and around the country – politicians’
spin doctors, editors and news directors will be in a frenzy.

First, the
pols. Beaconsfield is the story of the day. And the PM and the
Treasurer know that. But on a day that’s all about distributing largesse, it
probably helps for them to be generous.

Howard and
Costello’s comments on the rescue – and the death of Larry Knight, who will be
buried this afternoon – show they are in touch with ordinary Australians. They
will run and run all day and be featured on the 6:00 pm news. And then, the pollies hope,
the focus will swing back to the Treasurer when he rises to his feet this
evening.

The editors
and news directors have other problems. Electronic media will be Beaconsfield today. The Budget will just be a
footnote. They’ll want to know if Webb and Russell will be well enough to
attend Knight’s funeral. That will provide the image of the day. Then, this
evening, they can switch to the scheduled Budget coverage.

The prints
will still run their Budget supplements – but will they be lift-outs or
wrap-arounds. Overseas newspapers are appearing with pictures of the rescue on
their front pages. What, editors are asking, will Australians rather see
tomorrow? A cocky Cossie smirking in the chamber or two heroes? What about all
their expensive graphics and case studies and human interest Budget yarns?

They should
perhaps relax. It’s not really their problem. People will be tuning in and
papers will sell tomorrow, no matter what the lead is. The problem is the
politicians.

Budget
coverage will appear as usual, but it will be overshadowed. That makes the
selling of the Budget – the days after the Budget – even more significant.

And that
makes the Prime Ministers’ departure on Friday for his lengthy, gratuitous trip
to Washington and New
York, Canada,
London and Ireland
– and maybe Indonesia
– even more questionable politics.

Peter Fray

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