Without much fanfare a few weeks ago Steve Lewis moved from being the Chief Political Correspondent of The Australian – a job which was the third rung down in that paper’s political writing pecking order after Editor-at-Large Paul Kelly, National Affairs Editor Mike Steketee and Political Editor Dennis Shanahan – and became the national political correspondent appearing in all the Murdoch tabloids. As such he is perhaps now in a position to be the most powerful political journalist in the country. If you want to get a story run in all the biggest selling papers in the country he is certainly the man to leak to.

To see that the Government appreciates the potential of this new order among political journalists you only have to look at this morning’s papers. The Sydney Daily Telegraph, the Melbourne Herald Sun, the Brisbane Courier Mail, the Adelaide Advertiser and the Hobart Mercury all carried versions of a Lewis “exclusive” saying that “Australia’s deadliest highway, the Pacific,” will receive a $1 billion election sweetener as John Howard moves to shore-up voter support in key NSW seats.

“The funding injection”, wrote Lewis, “will form part of a massive roads package – costing at least $5 billion – to be unveiled next week.”

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The Government spinners would have been delighted with the coverage in Sydney, where the page one splash proclaimed Howard’s $1bn plan to fix Pacific Highway, and happy enough as well with the versions in Brisbane and Hobart. The Melbourne Herald Sun, however, thought the effort of its new national political correspondent a little Sydneycentric and in need of a little local touching up by their own Ben Packham.

Its version of the exclusive, also carried in Adelaide, again ran on page one but under a vastly different headline: Politicians snub Victoria to tune of $6bn.

“Victoria has been given a $6 billion brush-off thanks to John Howard and Kevin Rudd both overlooking the state in big-spending election pledges,” said the dual by-lined Lewis-Packham story.

“The Prime Minister is to announce a big roads package next week, but Victoria will miss out. The $5 billion package will instead be used on the Pacific and Bruce highways, from Sydney to far north Queensland.”

If Victorians missed out on that batch of pork barreling yesterday, Prime Minister John Howard at least did a little to make up for it when his gravy train pulled up at a Community Morning Tea in the Surfside Centre at Ocean Grove, deep in Corangamite territory, which is as close as Victoria gets to having a marginal electorate.

“Over the past couple of weeks”, Mr Howard told the tea sippers, “there have been a number of announcements made that have greatly affected the Corangamite electorate, that have been of importance to the Corangamite electorate. There was the announcement made by the Treasurer last Friday of $14 million for the upgrade of Skill Stadium at Kardinia Park. And yesterday some $400,000 was announced towards after hours GP services at Lorne, Port Lonsdale and Winchelsea. And today, I am pleased to announce that some $240,000 will be made available for 8 Enviro Fund projects. And they include some $45,000 for the creation of wildlife corridors in the East Otways, $33,000 for the revegetation of Bells Beach Reserve and $14,000 for the protection of native vegetation at Lorne.”

And in a demonstration of even handedness, the South Australian based Finance Minister Senator Nick Minchin gave a little something to the two South Australian AFL sides lest they feel peeved at the previous announcement of $14 million going to Geelong.

Port Adelaide will get $2.5 million from the Federal Government to extend its Allan Scott Power Headquarters at Alberton Oval and the Adelaide Crows $2.5 million to redevelop the club’s base at AAMI Stadium, with both clubs aiming to improve “community access” to their facilities.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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