A case of self censorship. The Victorian political writer for The Age, Paul Austin, has had a big morning with coverage of the sacking of the Liberal Party bloggers who were campaigning against State Leader Ted Baillieu while working within the campaign unit at State Party headquarters. In two separate stories Austin details what Mr Baillieu calls the “treachery” of the sacked officers and gives extensive examples of the “vitriol” about Liberal Party people that was posted on a blog and distributed via email. There is no public access to the website itself but some extracts from it are available here.

There is, however, one startling omission from this extensive coverage in The Age and that is the commentary made on “He who stands for nothing” about Austin himself.

11 February 2008:

There is a simple rule in conservative politics; if it’s in the Age it’s probably bullshit. Nowhere is this rule more relevant than when it applies to the internal machinations of the Liberal Party. Most liberals and conservatives understand this and give the contemptible, socialist rag a wide berth; that is, except for Ted Baillieu, Petro Georgiou and that epitome of treachery John Malcolm Fraser. If fact, you only have to pick up a copy of the Age to see the latest Liberal Party communiqué from Ted Baillieu’s office usually under his pseudonym, Paul Austin…

Paul Austin’s latest contribution Baillieu scores a much-needed coup is a prime example of the Age strengthening the enemy of its enemy. By propping up an inept and gullible leader like Ted the Age can minimize the threat of someone electable taking the reins.

10 February 2008:

Less forgivable are Malcolm Fraser’s comments in today’s Age, clearly sanctioned by Red Ted, Petro, Judith Troeth et al. We know it was Petro’s idea, because it was leaked to Paul Austin (aka. Baillieu’s Bitch). You know, just as Red Ted’s private members’ bill and Judith Troeth’s opinion piece (written for her by Petro) were before. These people are so daft they actually think it’s the (ever dwindling) Age readership who swing elections.

30 January 2008:

You can tell a lot about a man by his friends and enemies. You can also tell a lot about a politician by whom he briefs in the press. Ted Baillieu’s good friend is Paul Austin and The Age is his first call when he needs to spread the word. Some of Ted’s ‘colleagues’ on Spring St refer laughingly behind his back to ‘Big Red Ted’s Big Red Phone’, whenever presented with another spoon-fed offering from Ted’s lapdog at the Spencer Street Soviet, Paul Austin…

Ted’s hotline to the Age is not the only throwback from the Cold War era. His and Austin’s views of the current political situation are similarly filtered though a prism of ideological prejudice. They see recent developments as a conflict between left and right; between what Ted calls small ‘l’ liberalism and the conservatism of Philip Davis or presumable Michael Kroger and Peter Costello. What they don’t realise is that this is not simply an ideological contest between the left and right but a broader battle between incompetence and competence; between those leading the party into electoral oblivion and those hungry for government and with the skills to make it happen.

Once you [Baillieu] are gone, your legacy will be discarded and no one will care. The only person that will bemoan your departure will be Paul Austin and, let’s face it, no one reads the Age anyway.

A sensible step back. A report at the weekend that the Rudd minders have taken a sensible step back from their belligerent attitude to the press. Cameramen on Friday were allowed to cover the great man being interviewed in a radio studio.

A graph to encourage Brendan. With Brendan Nelson down and all the pundits counting him out the following graph of the fickle nature of opinion polls in the United Kingdom might encourage his colleagues not to be too hasty in trying a new leader. Twice since the last British election the Conservatives have trailed Labour in the polls by so much that their chances of winning were being written off as hopeless. Both times within a year the same polls were showing them as certain winners.

Poncho a bee pest. The dreaded varoa mite is enemy number one for honey bees around the world and the bee keepers of Australia have just released new research “that will help protect Australia’s pollination-dependent plant industries and provide a pathway for the honeybee industry to deal with potentially devastating pest outbreaks.” That is very good news for people like me who are partial to the famous leatherwood variety from Tasmania but I am alarmed at news from Germany that tells of bees in the state of Baden-Württemburg dying by the hundreds of thousands in what Manfred Hederer, president of the German Professional Beekeeper’s Association, calls “an absolute bee emergency.” Germany’s beekeepers are pointing fingers at the recently-introduced pesticide clothianidin, marketed by chemical giant Bayer AG under the name Poncho, for the recent die-off. The United States Environmental Protection Agency’s fact sheet describes clothianidin as” highly toxic to honey bees”.

Tell that to the bees! The chemical, designed to attack the nervous systems of insects like a nerve gas, is not on the product list of the Australian Bayer subsidiary but is used in New Zealand.

The Daily Reality Check

Shock! Horror! SMH website leads with Burma! Meanwhile The Age remains true to its broadloid principles and buries the endangered 1.5 million well down the page.

The Pick of this Morning’s Political Coverage

The Pick of the Weekend’s Political Coverage

If you wait long enough all the good ideas come round again. So it was that yesterday we had the Labor budget spin masters putting out the story about increasing the tax on luxury cars. It made me quite nostalgic. How well I remember suggesting this Luxury Car Tax in the first place. I had just listened back then in the 1980s to the permanent advisers to Prime Minister Bob Hawke outlining their ideas for a policy speech. Good and sound ideas – and very green too if my memory serves me well – but a marked break from the “them and us” working-class/fat-cat division on which the Labor Party was founded. All very well and good, I argued, but what about a little symbolism to show we are still prepared to sock it to the rich? Got to give the workers something so they can say it serves the bastards right. And so the extra tax on posh cars was born. And now, 20 years on, Treasurer Wayne Swan is reportedly bringing it out again. Everything old is new again. Including symbolism.

What the world is reading on the net

That there is often a dichotomy between what editors think is important news and what their readers are interested in was shown again on Saturday morning when I surveyed major international internet news sites. In nine English language sites, all of them of a serious kind which publish a list of their most read stories, only at the UK’s The Independent did the tragedy in Burma rate on top as the most read. Yet three of the newspaper web sites, including that of The Independent, had Burma as the lead story with another three featuring it second so we cannot blame the editors for the apparent lack of interest in the worst natural disaster so far this year.

This is how the papers On Saturday morning covered events:

  • The Los Angeles Times leads its paper with the latest form guide on the presidential horse race showing that both Clinton and Obama are leading McCain. Burma is prominent but second. The readers have copped the tip and have the opinion poll on top with Burma coming in ninth out of 10.
  • The UN seeking $187M in aid for Burma cyclone survivors leads the USA Today website but a story about a beastly illegal immigrant who raped a 10 year old and got her pregnant attracted most readers with Burma not in the top 10.
  • The slow moving Papayon river is the setting for the UK’s The Independent splash on the deaths in Burma. The readers agreed with the importance of the story of the river delivering the dead. It was the most read in the last 24 hours,
  • The London Times has Burma on its second line of stories after an exclusive on the relationship between the present former British Prime Ministers. The subject no longer makes the top four most read on the internet. The interest in the Austrian incest case has lasted much longer – still the most read story for readers of the posh paper.
  • There’s a mess at Delhi international airport reports the Times of India prominently while the mess left by a Burmese cyclone is relegated to the website small print. Why are men going off s-x? – clearly is not out of sympathy for the Burmese neighbours. Burma doesn’t make the most read list in India’s leading serious daily.
  • At the Straits Times, published in Burma’s fellow Association of South East Asian Nations partner Singapore, aid for Burma is the featured story but for the readers s-x is again more interesting. The Myanmar junta seizing all aid shipments comes in fifth.
  • China is clearly getting in to the spirit of the Olympics and readers of The People’s Daily with more reading a story about the Olympic torch than anything else. Burma does not rate which is not surprising because if you only read this site you would be unaware of the extent of the devastation unless you made it down to the small print of the eighth story in the foreign news section. President Hu Jintao visiting Japan gets the attention you would expect of a man who runs the party that owns the paper.
  • That closeness to trouble is more important than the extent of the trouble is made clear by the news judgment at the Toronto Globe and Mail. A single death and 246 ill people on a Toronto bound train is given prominence over relief workers being angry that the Burmese military junta is stopping food and medical aid for the million or so desperate survivors of the cyclone. The readers placed the Burma story even lower down than the editors – the fifth most read today.
  • The Australian national daily The Australian led with a preview of the government to be brought down in Parliament next week with aid delays in Burma second. The readers shared the interest of the editors in the budget but put Burma down to number four on the most read list.

A perfect example in Singapore this morning of how people are more interested in events closer to themselves than things that happen further away. The death of a solitary soldier on a trip to Kuala Lumpur was the most read item on the website of the Straits Times. Of the other eight sites in the Crikey survey only the London Times and the UK Independent had a most read story from outside their own country.

Quote of the Day:

“It is easy for us to recognise the need to protect the rights of the majority. The real test of a society comes when we are asked to accord the same rights to minorities such as those in prison.” — Federal Human Rights Commissioner Graeme Innes commenting on the Corrective Services Amendment Bill soon to be introduced into Queensland parliament, which curtails the rights of prisoners to make complaints.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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