The Herald Sun, the Federal
Parliamentary Library and Labor’s Kelvin Thompson all have egg on their
faces this morning after they conspired to produce one of the worst page one beat-ups
we’ve seen this year. The headline in yesterday’s Hun screamed “$10bn
petrol tax steal” and the Michael Harvey splash began as follows:

Motorists have pumped more than $10 billion in
GST petrol revenue into government coffers, independent analysis has
revealed. That is twice as much as the tax take promised when the GST
came in six years ago. The supposed trade-off – cutting excise on
petrol – has cost the Federal Government only $4.6 billion in lost
revenue since July 1, 2000.

Alas, John Howard set the record straight in Question Time yesterday and the Herald Sun
was forced to carry a rebuttal on its opinion pages from the PM today
along with a mealy mouthed “we were wrong” news story buried on page
16, although neither appears to be online.

Having promised
motorists would not be worse off due to the GST, surely it was
implausible to think the government could get away with a $5.4 billion
tax windfall over just six years when petrol prices are at record highs
and the budget is enjoying booming revenues.

Check out page 22 of yesterday’s Hansard to see how the PM gently but firmly gave the Herald Sun and its beat-up co-conspirators a cuffing as follows:

The claim being made is false. It is false because in the calculations
no allowance has been made for the two discretionary reductions in fuel
excise that were made in 2000 and 2001. There was a reduction in excise
of 6.7c per litre on the introduction of the GST and there was a
further reduction of 1.5c in March 2001, which produces a combined
reduction of 8.2c a litre. In addition to that, the abolition of fuel
excise indexation in March 2001 has resulted in cumulative savings in
relation to excise of something in the order of $1.4 billion.

Is it just a coincidence that the News Ltd’s biggest selling paper
produced its most ill-informed attack on the Howard Government on the
same day its spokesman Greg Baxter was all over the media attacking the
government for its proposed media ownership reforms?

Having fawned over Herald Sun editor Peter Blunden at
his recent tenth anniversary dinner, the PM was careful in the way he
delivered the kicking. However, it appears the first public shots have
been fired in
the emerging war over which mogul the government most supports.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey