There’s a moment in Lindsay Tanner’s Sideshow when he refers — merely in passing, without making anything of it — to the fact that politicians now frequently give speeches that have already been reported. The practice of giving press journalists previews or whole advance copies of speeches to ensure additional coverage is now a venerable Gallery tradition.
Frequently, the only coverage a speech gets is the morning before it is given. The politician concerned could very well have simply not bothered to give the speech, but merely sent out copies to selected journalists.
So when Wayne Swan rose at the Press Club at 12.30 today to discuss carbon pricing, the guts of his speech, including some key quotes and some highlights from Treasury modelling on the impact on economic growth of a carbon price, had already been revealed. Indeed, there’d already been a debate in response to it, with both Christine Milne and Tony Windsor complaining that the modelling should have been made available to the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee first. The Opposition demanded that all the modelling be released at once.
That’s a fair call by the Opposition, actually. If the modelling is good enough for Wayne Swan to cherry pick from, it’s good enough to be released in full so we can see the context and assumptions that underlie Treasury’s conclusions. However, apparently the modelling isn’t actually finished, according to Greg Combet.
How convenient. Perhaps the “completed” modelling can be the basis for another trip to the Press Club in July.
Swan’s effort today follows that of Combet in April, when he spoke at the Press Club for apparently the sole purposes of being able to use the phrase “millions will get compensation” (carefully leaked the night before, naturally) and to suggest the starting carbon price would be $20 a tonne (some journalists at The Australian still seemed to think this was news last week — presumably they don’t read The West Australian).
The context for all this of course is that when the CPRS was being developed and introduced into Parliament by the Rudd Government, nary a word was said in its defence by Labor — certainly not by the Prime Minister or the Treasurer, and rarely by the relevant Minister, Senator Wong. Senator Wong showed last week she was capable of communicating effectively and clearly when provoked; in defence of the CPRS, she was nothing more than a strained collection of “can I say”, “we got the balance right” and steely look that said nothing short of dynamite was going to blast her off her entirely anodyne talking points.
Meantime, climate denialists, rentseekers, whingers and Labor’s opponents in the media were running lie after lie, unchallenged except by the occasional NGO.
This time around, even without a policy to defend, Labor has been rather more active in communicating about its carbon pricing plan. And Swan’s argument that a carbon price is a key reform of the significance of those of the Hawke-Keating years is a valid one, particularly if the Government embraces the sort of framework advanced by Ross Garnaut last week.
Still, there remains no evidence of any planning or strategy behind Labor’s communication about the carbon price. Today’s revelations that a carbon price would have a miniscule impact on long-term economic growth (“revelations” in the sense that the bleeding obvious has been comprehensively proven and detailed down to two decimal points) have thus been partially overshadowed by complaints from the Government’s partners in the carbon price process, and during a week mostly given over to asylum seekers and live cattle exports and, better for the Government, the belated discovery that Tony Abbott used to be an enthusiastic advocate of a carbon tax (we told them so).
Like the Rudd Government, this Government gives the impression it knows all the rituals and incantations about communicating effectively but doesn’t understand their purpose or how they work.