Mining magnate Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest has scored an extraordinary PR coup by enlisting two of the nation’s top journalists to turn a two-year-old story — his vision for an alternate resource super profits tax — into front-page news hyping him as an infrastructure visionary.

Both The Australian and The Australian Financial Review splashed with their front-page scoops on the deal that “may have saved” Kevin Rudd as prime minister …

It was widely reported across all media in June 2010 that Forrest and Rudd had thrashed out a six-point plan to salvage the RSPT before the PM was replaced by Julia Gillard.

The Australian and The West Australian, for example, reported the plan in detail. Forrest talked at length about his ill-fated RSPT vision with the ABC’s Monica AttardThe West‘s stories included the killer detail, not included in today’s yarns, that Treasury analysis had found Forrest would have paid zero or almost zero tax under his plan.

“This was run two years ago — everyone had it then,” a bewildered senior journalist at The West told Crikey this morning. “I’m angry because they’re trying to say they’ve revealed something. We had all this year’s ago … It’s poor journalism.”

The journalist says Twiggy was talking up the “infrastructure” element of his six-party plan two years.

“But we found it so boring, and such a blatant attempt to get cash out of Canberra, we barely mentioned it,” they said.

The key difference between today’s stories — written by The Oz‘s Paul Kelly and The Australian Financial Review‘s Jennifer Hewett — and those written in 2010 is Forrest’s claim that his plan for capital write-offs would have led to increased infrastructure spending on roads, schools and hospitals. No evidence is provided to support this bold claim.

The talks that were originally reported in 2010 were now rebadged in Hewett’s lede as an agreement between Rudd and Forrest to “transform the resource super profits tax into a radical proposal to revolutionise the delivery of infrastructure in Australia”. As Hewett outlines:

“Forrest said that on Fortescue’s estimates, the plan would have led to at least $200 billion a year going into national infrastructure every five years, which would have been a great deal for the country.”

She reports further under the additional inside story “Opportunity lost to build Australia”:

“[Forrest] believes that the capital expenditure to be written off under the agreement would also have included infrastructure even beyond the resources sector, including roads, schools and hospitals.”

Kelly also repeated the infrastructure line in The Oz:

“Mr Forrest said the agreement would have transformed the politics of the tax because it provided a sweeping new infrastructure blueprint that Fortescue calculated was worth $200 billion in infrastructure investment over five years.”

Hewett told Crikey today she did not think her paper had gone overboard in its coverage.

“The details of his [Forrest’s] infrastructure plan were not revealed in 2010,” she said. “Some details were put out there then but he didn’t talk about them much.”

The Coalition has now seized on the bonus Rudd resurrection angle, and The Oz has dutifully reported its soundbite on the matter with the lede: “Tony Abbott says Julia Gillard’s explanation for her knifing of Kevin Rudd is unravelling, following fresh revelations from Fortescue Metals chairman Andrew Forrest about the mining tax.”

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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