Aided and abetted by The Australian’s Peter van Onselen, opposition Treasury spokesman Joe Hockey again has made a goose of himself.

Last month he did the same when he claimed that foreigners might sell Australian government debt, at a time when they were buying with their ears pinned back and driving down market yields to multiyear lows. This morning he claimed the government was rushing sale of the spare spectrum that will be available once the conversion of free-to-air TV to digital broadcasting is complete.

Opposition Treasury spokesman Joe Hockey has accused the government of rushing the sale of digital spectrum in order to meet its 2012-13 target of a budget surplus, and some broadcasters say the auction is too soon after the planned convergence review.

“They’re rushing the sale to get it in the 2012-13 budget,” Mr Hockey said. “They need the sale billions in their desperate bid to try to achieve a surplus.”

The convergence to digital spectrum has already been delayed, but the government is refusing to delay the auction beyond 2012-13.”

Ah, it’s digital conversion (from analogue to digital broadcasting), not convergence. Convergence is the move by various forms of media into one giant pool, such as the internet (and IPTV) and digital broadcasting gradually merging with social media, web-enabled TV sets and smartphones and other devices.

So was that Joe or Peter mistaking conversion for convergence? In any case, the moans from the FTA broadcasters (Ten is the now the house FTA Network for News Ltd with Lachlan Murdoch a shareholder and interim CEO) are not aimed at anything but delaying the auctioning of a public asset (for which they paid zilch when it was allocated decades ago).

And why do they want a delay? Simply to keep out the likes of Telstra, Vodafone, Optus and anyone else who might want the spectrum for new mobile services that might involve competition for Seven, Ten and Nine.

And remember that the Seven Media Group, controlled by Kerry Stokes’ has a 4G mobile network called Vivid, which started in Perth and is going national. It would love for nothing the spectrum on which Seven is currently broadcasting its analogue signal — or as cheaply as possible. Failing that it would love to see potential new competitors (or existing competitors) face delays in getting the new spectrum.

The spectrum sale was always down to occur after the digital conversion was finished towards the end of next year and early 2013. That will allow the existing spectrum being used by the networks to be restacked in time for the sale. Hockey again has taken a reasonably well-known possibility and turned it into something else.

Meanwhile the story by van Onselen ended with these paragraphs:

The government has denied opposition claims reported in The Australian yesterday that it is raiding the Future Fund, set up by Peter Costello for public service superannuation entitlements, and says the decision to sell $250 million in assets was taken by the Future Fund independently of government.

It emerged late yesterday that the $250m is not included in the 2012-13 budget year — as The Australian was initially told by the government — but in the 2011-12 year, when a $22bn deficit is forecast.

“The Future Fund makes clear in its own reports that any impact from the sale of non-financial assets to the budget would occur in 2011-12, not in 2012-13,” Finance Minister Penny Wong said.

The timing of these non-financial assets sales is a matter for the fund, and regardless of when these sales occur, any funds raised are kept by the fund.

So the story by van Onselen in Monday’s paper is wrong as are the comments of the Opposition, especially Mathias Cormann? So who got it wrong, the opposition, The Australian or the federal government, or all three?

Was the spectrum sale story (for that is what it is) rushed out by Hockey and van Onselen today to divert attention from the wrong Future Fund story on Monday? Is that what you call a convergence of opposition furphies?

Peter Fray

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