I suggested yesterday there’d be an hysterical media reaction to the mention of congestion charging in the Tax Forum paper. I profess I had News Limited in mind when I wrote that, but “hysterical” was the wrong word; I should have used “stupid”. As in boneheaded, thick-as-two-short-planks numb skullery.

The really inspired effort was from Gemma Jones and Samantha Townsend in The Daily Telegraph. The dismal track record of Gemma Jones on covering the carbon pricing issue appears to suggest her entire purpose is to prosecute News Ltd’s war against Labor, the Greens and any action on climate change, uncontaminated by logic or evidence (eg: the shoe story.) But the sheer stupidity of this effort on congestion pricing today merits consideration …

“Workers struggling with a carbon tax are about to be hit with a second wave of Greens-inspired tax pain.

“Road congestion charges are being considered by the federal government as part of “environmental and social” tax reform. The details were released yesterday in a discussion paper ahead of an October tax forum.

“The tax debate was forced by independent MPs Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor …”

We’ll just put aside that workers aren’t struggling with any carbon tax because it’s a year off yet. But we don’t even get three paragraphs into the piece before it doesn’t make any sense. “Greens-inspired”? And yet the Forum was “forced by independent MPs”. Which is it, guys? Greens or Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor?

The best the story can do is note that Bob Brown “is invited”. Bob Brown’s power is so vast that, plainly, he can control the agenda of events he merely shows up to. Is there no limit to his sinister influence?

The Daily Tele then turn to a truckie for a response. Inexplicably, one online version of the piece runs with a photo of the “Andersen family” who “fear the government will impose a congestion tax” but they don’t feature in the actual piece. Why the Anderson family fears a congestion tax, indeed, whether they even know what one is, or for that matter whether they live anywhere with congestion, or even who they are, must remains a mystery. Instead, 43-year-old truckie Rob Baker from Wauchope complains “we are easy targets for the government.”

Well indeed, Rob. Thanks for your contribution. So… Wauchope… much congestion in Wauchope? About 8,000 people live in Wauchope. I reckon there’d be some pretty intense congestion at the local Woolies on a Saturday morning, but otherwise… not really a candidate for a congestion charge. Anyway, that’s not the point. The point is:

“It could lead to motorists being charged to use city roads.”

It could indeed. Imagine that — having to pay to drive on a road in a city. Although, oddly, people in Sydney already do that. Indeed, they already pay a congestion charge on the Harbour Bridge, where there’s a toll that varies by time of day. Maybe the Tele doesn’t know that that’s a congestion charge.

In fact, I’ll let the paper in on a dirty little secret — motorists pay for congestion no matter whether they’re directly charged for it or not. Congestion isn’t like climate change, with the costs safely off in the future, to be paid for by our kids. No, people in cities pay for congestion right now — they pay for it with their time. Hours spent stuck in traffic to and from work, and increasingly on Saturday morning moving kids around sports venues, hours wasted that could be spent with family and friends, or working productively.

Maybe the Tele thinks being stuck in a traffic jam in Sydney has no cost. Given the quality of this work, it wouldn’t appear to have any economic cost in these journalists’ cases. But for everyone else, it costs plenty, and it is forecast to cost the economy $20b a year by 2020. The point of congestion charging is to reduce the volume of traffic by giving people incentives to drive at other times of the day where possible, provide road space for people who value their time more highly than others, and provide revenue to build more roads and provide more public transport.

That’s why the biggest advocates for congestion pricing have never been the Greens, but economists. In fact, one of the earliest advocates of congestion charging was the Right’s favourite economist — and one of Rupert Murdoch’s personal favourites — Milton Friedman. He wanted to paint radioactive strips on the road and stick Geiger counters on cars. Fortunately, the mechanisms available for road pricing now are far cheaper and considerably safer to public health.

But the best part about the effort of Jones and Townsend was to claim that Wayne Swan had “ducked the issue” by saying the Government had no intention of introducing congestion charging and it was a matter for the states.

Wayne Swan can hardly “duck the issue” when he has no constitutional power to do anything regarding congestion pricing. It’s like Swan “ducking the issue” of whether your next-door neighbour is allowed to put an extension on. Where does the Tele think the Commonwealth — under the sinister and malign influence of Bob Brown, or is it Rob Oakeshott — is going to impose congestion pricing?

Maybe on the road loop around Parliament House? They’ve got constitutional authority to impose it there. And, hey, it gets pretty annoying having to queue up to drive into the Senate carpark entrance on a sitting day, so I reckon there’s a case for it. Or maybe on Defence bases across the country – although it might not raise too much revenue, and those bloody tanks could always drive around the e-tag towers. Hmmm.

The only governments with any capacity to implement road pricing are state and local governments. If you spliced the DNA of Milton Friedman and Bob Brown together and made the result Prime Minister, they couldn’t charge anyone a cent to drive anywhere except in the grounds of the Lodge.

No wonder The Tele is the least trusted newspaper in the country with this sort of garbage.

Update: Spotter’s badge to the reader who noted Rob from Wauchope claimed he would “be slugged with a carbon tax on fuel from 2014” which of course is plainly and verifiably wrong.