A parliamentary highlight to come. We are assured of a bright and colourful start to next year’s federal parliamentary session. Sydney’s Daily Telegraph has seen to that.

It might have been stuck away on page four of Tuesday’s paper but the serjeant-at-arms of the House of Representatives, Robyn McClelland, will not have missed the blatantly open challenge to the authority of the Parliament to set the rules for media coverage of its affairs.

And one of those rules, as McClelland pointed out in a letter that provoked the Tele’s extraordinary response, is that images of proceedings in the parliamentary chamber “should be used only for the purposes of fair, accurate … reports … and not be used for … satire or ridicule”.

The letter to Paul Whittaker, the paper’s editor, said:

Published on the front page of the newspaper and online is an image of the Speaker, taken during proceedings of the House of Representatives; the image has been digitally altered. The modification of this image is in clear breach of the Guidelines for Still Photography in the Chamber and resolutions of 16 October 1991 and 1 May 1996 relating to the use of broadcast footage of chamber proceeedings …

McClelland went on to say she would refer the matter to parliament’s “media review” to “clarify restrictions” and threatened “sanctions” to be taken against the newspaper “such as suspension of parliament house passes or withdrawal of access to the press gallery in the chamber”.

A sensible editor might have just taken things quietly and avoided confrontation but that is not the Whittaker form. He dashed off this defiant editorial:

Having put Peter Slipper onto the Speaker’s chair, the Labor Party will find it difficult to avoid coming to the aid of his serjeant-at-arms when the House of Representatives returns from summer holidays. I can hardly wait.

We haven’t a clue really. Substitute treasurer for chancellor in this comment by Martin Wolf in theFinancial Times of London this morning about Britain’s financial update statement and you have a fair verdict on Wayne Swan’s effort of yesterday:

Perhaps the most important lesson is that we have barely a clue about what is going to happen to the economy. Similarly, while the chancellor thinks he knows how financial markets would respond to the slightest change in his plans, he does not.

Always look on the gloomy side of economic life. I know I’m as guilty as the next commentator but it’s interesting how the judgments being passed on the Swan economic update all seem to assume that he is being far too optimistic with the underlying assumptions that allowed him to predict that small return to a budget surplus in 2012-13. Yet unless you think that the officials in the Treasury downright cheat to give their boss an answer he wants — and I certainly don’t believe that — there is just as great a chance that the final growth in GDP, for example, will be higher than predicted as there is that it will be lower.

And now a reason for optimism. New private capital expenditure figures out today certainly give a reason for optimism. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that the trend volume estimate for total new capital expenditure rose 8.2% in the September quarter 2011 while the seasonally adjusted estimate rose 12.3%. That’s far higher than the median 8% growth forecast by the economic pundits.

Expansion in the mining industry really is going gang busters.

Peter Fray

72 hours only. 50% off a year of Crikey and The Atlantic.

Our two-for-one offer with The Atlantic was so popular we decided to bring it back.

But only for 72 hours.

Use the promo code ATLANTIC2020 and you’ll get 50% off a year of Crikey (usually $199) and a year of digital access to The Atlantic (usually $70). That’s BOTH for just $129.

Hurry. Ends midnight this Thursday.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

Claim Now