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Jun 27, 2014

Fairfax gets it wrong on climate

Clive Palmer has saved the carbon price, said Fairfax! Except no, he hasn't. How did Fairfax get it so wrong?

Fairfax got it wrong on climate change policy this week, leading to a series of messy and confusing stories. Did the company’s relentless downsizing play a part in the problem?

This is how Fairfax reported Clive Palmer’s climate announcement with Al Gore, made on Wednesday evening (this is page 1 of Thursday’s Age):

The story ran with this:

“Clive Palmer has thrown into chaos Tony Abbott’s plan to abolish the carbon tax, demanding the Prime Minister instead create an emissions trading scheme that would swing into action when Australia’s major trading partners adopt similar measures.”

Thursday’s SMH ran an editorial welcoming Palmer’s new approach to climate change, and even claiming it as an SMH idea:

The problem? This is not what Clive Palmer said at all. Fairfax got it wrong.

As Crikey told you in this story posted at 6.33pm on Wednesday, ie. 12 hours before The Age and the SMH dropped on your doormat, Palmer actually promised to vote down the carbon tax. In a separate promise, he said he would try to establish an ETS to take its place, but this would be attached to another bill (which may never pass Parliament). Palmer never said the carbon tax repeal was conditional on the ETS getting up. His senators are now poised to pass the carbon tax repeal bill — with no replacement ETS in sight.

So Fairfax’s “carbon tax blow to PM” was nothing of the sort. These stories gave the misleading impression that Palmer would insist on some form of a carbon price in exchange for repealing the carbon tax. It’s an inconvenient truth SMH columnist Michael Pascoe alluded to yesterday:

“The most likely translation is that today’s Sydney Morning Herald editorial is incorrect — Palmer’s willingness to axe the carbon tax is not contingent on the adoption of an ETS with the carbon price set at zero.”

The Age did partially wake up to what actually happened in time for today’s edition. The editorial is headed “Palmer’s climate con leaves us in the cold,” and argues that Palmer’s announcement was a “Trojan horse”. But The Age still seems to think that Palmer will succeed in having his empty ETS (ie with a carbon price of zero) established. Why? The bill would have to get through the Coalition-dominated lower house — and we’ll leave it to Fairfax to explain how that’s going to happen.

The misleading original story was written by Fairfax journos James Massola, Mark Kenny and Heath Aston. None have extensive experience writing in depth on the complicated, challenging area of Australian climate change policy. The Fairfax journalists who would have got the story right — most notably Lenore Taylor — have left (she’s at The Guardian). Fairfax staffers Ben Cubby and Adam Morton are both across climate policy, but have shifted to other roles at the company.

The moral of the story? News organisations who lose experienced policy reporters will see their coverage decline, leaving readers the poorer. And Fairfax’s early deadlines may not have helped on this occasion.

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13 thoughts on “Fairfax gets it wrong on climate

  1. Roger Clifton

    Mind you, if the media does spread around the idea of the carbon pricing scheme with zero as the price, it does have distinct advantages. Having zero penalty to all those carbon sinners out there, none of them could find grounds to complain that the burden is so great that they must be exempt. They must fess up.

    Thus measured, the carbon content of any export could be asserted when an importing nation uses its right to apply a carbon tariff. The risk of exposure would motivate manufacturers to reduce their carbon content.

    In the long run, if everybody has to declare how much carbon they are releasing, the accounting procedures would be set in place for a future move to replace carbon with a the non-carbon energy. At least we and they would know how much was needed and where.

    Of course, if they don’t fess up, they could be put in jail for zero days. Who would bother to defend them? To those of us who see the captains of industry as being above the law, such convictions would be satisfying.

  2. Rohan

    You might want to reconsider that crowing tone.

    Sounding an awful lot like another masthead that loves to bash Fairfax and congratulate itself..

  3. Dion Giles

    What has happened to the story that every cent saved in the removal of the carbon tax will be returned to electricity customers. In other words, was the Coalition of the Lying dinkum in its declaration that the carbon tax was a crushing burden on the users of electricity?

  4. MarilynJS

    Dion, the media all ignored the fact that the public weren’t paying the carbon tax, the polluters were and we were being compensated.

    Of great importance now though is that Palmer saved all the green furniture because I have frankly always thought it was silly to let people pay to keep polluting rather than going into competition building clean power and shutting them down.

  5. bushby jane

    Noticed the difference in reporting this in The Age from other news sources, forgave them. At the same time Bernard I thought got it wrong about the Greens’ policy on fuel excise, forgave him too.

  6. The Pav

    Palmer has saved Abbotts bacon

    He allows the repeal of the Carbon Tax but blocks the rubbish Direct Action Policy which was only a fig leaf.

    Having to keep the RET which is working and the finance Corp which is profitable is no great hardsship.

    Just wondering what payoff Palmer is getting?

  7. AR

    Granny SMH must be very unquiet in her grave over what a rag it has become.

  8. David Hand

    This wrong story that Fairfax published is nevertheless in the middle of the road on the relentless anti- Tony Abbott editorial line they and Crikey love to run.

    Let’s face it. The facts about Palmer don’t matter when you invent yet another opportunity to attack Tony Abbott.

    The Australian’s coverage was far more insightful. Why would anyone think Palmer would vote to keep the carbon tax?

    Maybe those on a crusade to destroy the Abbott government?

  9. CML

    @bushby jane – I agree with you. Perhaps we all wanted the Fairfax reports to be correct?
    Let’s just hope we can get it sorted in 2016, when barring a miracle, the rAbbott and his motley crew should be consigned to the rabbit warren of fraud and corruption in the big business world. A few Labor initiated Royal Commissions when they are elected should do the trick!

  10. fractious

    “News organisations who lose experienced policy reporters will see their coverage decline, leaving readers the poorer”

    Which is only part of the story. Fairfax has been headed (deliberately as far as I can see) downstream for some years now in an attempt to cut “costs” (IOW half decent journalists and the time it takes to both investigate and report on an issue properly) while simultaneously devoting more time and money to advertorials and “lifestyle” articles. Half decent journos are not only made redundant but choose to leave, thus accelerating the rate at which Fairfax sinks into the swamp. You would think the mandarins at Fairfax would have learned something from the past decade of decline, but as the last year of hacking and slashing demonstrates, they haven’t.

    I gave up with Fairfax when the local version of the Guardian appeared, and I suspect I’m not alone.