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Is there a media blackout on Labor’s achievements?

There were a couple of good speeches in Parliament today. One was the valedictory speech by the former speaker Harry Jenkins during which he called on Labor to unite, along with a sprinkling of other negatives towards the party, but they at no time overwhelmed what was an upbeat and positive speech. The media pounced on the negatives. From these little mutterings of negativity sprung the mandatory Labor bashing articles from the usual suspects like the ABC, the Herald Sun, and Perth Now to name but a few. Note that the latter two belong to the Murdoch media. Despite the headlines, it was a great speech. You can watch it here.

The Prime Minister also gave a speech. Her address to CEDA (the Committee for Economic Development of Australia), unfortunately, did not receive the same media attention as the speech by Harry Jenkins did. And why not? Simply, because it contained Labor’s achievements and such material isn’t newsworthy. Here is the transcript of the speech:

Welcome to Parliament House.

Thank you for coming here to build on CEDA’s stewardship of detailed and serious discussion about the state of the Australian economy and its future.

Your presence here this week is not only very important, it is very timely, so I’m particularly pleased to join you first up today.

Three weeks ago the National Accounts for the March quarter of this year were released.

They were solid – they showed our economy is growing and stable and strong – they were good news.

The National Accounts reflected the economy’s underlying stability and strength and our status as a leading nation – yes, in a mixed world environment and yes, with some complex transitions underway.

Solid growth at 2.5 per cent for the year.

Household savings at over 10 per cent.

New business investment still around fifty-year highs as a share of GDP, at 17.5 per cent.

Productivity growth now above trend at 2 per cent.

Net exports making their strongest contribution to growth in four years.

If I can speak candidly, the subsequent discussion has been marked by some strikingly misguided commentary.
I’m not talking here about criticism of the Government’s economic policies – not at all – I’m referring to glaring misstatements about the economy itself.

If “irrational exuberance” has an opposite it’s probably “unreasonable pessimism” and we’ve witnessed that in some quarters these past three weeks.

I want to address that in some detail this morning but first I want to be clear on why I think it’s worth doing.

Simply put, your presence here in Parliament House this week presents you with a special opportunity to bring to the national economic debate the “correction we have to have”.

You can bring to the national public discussion an understanding of the facts, an interrogation of the policy demands that the facts impose on us, an understanding that the benefits of long-term reform are felt precisely over that long-term, and crucially you can present a well-founded confidence in the Australian economy.

I know you will have rigorous and vigorous policy debate and I absolutely welcome critical discussion of the Government’s policy approach.

But I know you want to hear opinion based on facts.

So that’s what I’m asking you to do while you are here – get all the facts on the table, discuss the real policy challenges, and then challenge the negative economic sentiment that is around in some quarters.

Where have the pessimists gone wrong?

First, some reporting has neglected important specific facts about the quarterly figures.

Two particular features would have given Australians some interesting insights on where the economy is headed.

New dwelling investment over the year rose by 10.2 per cent – the strongest annual growth in ten years, further evidence that the non-resource sectors of the economy picking up.

Non-rural commodity export volumes were up 13.2 per cent over the year.

This ramp up largely drove the rise in export volumes – and it is a sign that the production phase of the mining boom we have spoken about for some time is now starting to come through.

These are important signs that the transitions we planned for in the Budget are now underway – yet they went barely remarked.

Second, the most irresponsible pessimists have tossed around the “r” word.

Something not so much sinister as silly, a claim I’m frankly somewhat reluctant to repeat, even in order to contradict it, lest I give it weight.

But consider this.

For the third time in just five years, one leading firm of economists predicted a 20 per cent chance that the Australian economy will actually shrink for two quarters in a row.

Another then quoted a 25 per cent chance that growth would halt completely.

Now as Jessica Irvine has pointed out in a column for News Ltd publications, even these sensationally pessimistic statements were still forecasting the most likely outcome is growth.

Or to put it another way, even these outlying forecasts are themselves statements that the glass is actually three quarters or four fifths full.

Yet the effect on confidence can only be negative and on all the facts, is clearly not justified.

One national daily reported on its front page that our economy had shrunk if you excluded net exports.

You might as well say Shakespeare hardly earned a penny in his life, except from the theatre.

And the assault on confidence in Western Australia was particularly sharp.

This arose from the national accounts reporting that final state demand their fell by 3.9 per cent in the March quarter.

Bear in mind, state demand excludes not only net exports but interstate trade.

You might as well say the economy is shrinking in your house when you exclude the money you earn at your office.

The Secretary of Treasury, Dr Parkinson, and his deputy Dr Gruen responded to this unambiguously in Senate hearings ten days ago. As Dr Gruen put it:

The idea that in the face of the largest investment boom we have ever seen, you ignore exports and focus on the piece of the economy that is demand by Western Australia … belongs in the comic books.

As Prime Minister, I am concerned that left unchecked, this kind of distorted coverage could continue to spread.

Australians woke last Wednesday morning to widespread news reports that markets expected the labour force figures for that day to show 10,000 jobs lost in May.

By lunchtime the ABS figures showed a small increase in jobs.

I don’t know if the Australian Communications and Media Authority would welcome a request for 11,100 corrections to be put to air but if anyone here wants to make that submission feel free to cite me in support.

We all acknowledge that forecasting is difficult – at any time.

But the continued pessimism is not being matched by the continued performance of our key economic indicators and low expectations can themselves become an economic problem.

Now, as I have said, many serious commentators have taken issue with the unreasonable pessimists.

Many of you here share their frustration.

Michael Pascoe in his Fairfax column was the most scathing but also I thought the most amusing, reporting on what he called “squawking”. This led, in his words, to squawk like:

“The national accounts suggest the economy would have contracted without a 1 percentage point boost from falling imports and rising exports…”

Michael went on to say:

It would have contracted if a meteor took out Melbourne and would have expanded if kangaroos started defecating gold.

Yes he is pretty good, isn’t he!

Now you came this morning for a discussion about the economic development of Australia, not an episode of Media Watch.

So it’s important that we be very clear about why it matters to get the public discussion right.

Dr Parkinson’s summary overall, in that same Senate hearing?

Trashing confidence for whatever reason is not in the national interest.

This is the first fundamental point. Confidence matters.

Not hope or optimism, but a well-founded positive sentiment based on the facts, recognising that our economy is growing and stable and strong.

In November 2008, in the wake of the collapse of Lehman Brothers, Reserve Bank Governor Glenn Stevens, warned about the need to go about business with a “quiet confidence” in our prospects.

His words:

Given the underlying strengths of the economy, about the biggest mistake we could make would be to talk ourselves into unnecessary economic weakness.

Still true.

Any irrational threat to economic confidence is a threat to jobs and growth.

The second reason to get the discussion right is that as economic decision-makers, we must be able to separate the signal from the noise.

We need to pick the real transitions as they are coming.

Growth in Asia, enduring for decades to come.

The peak of the mining investment boom.

The digital disruption and the clean energy future.

The pick-up in broader sources of growth beyond resources.

Critical for the economy right now – new sources of growth, sustaining economic diversity with a strong dollar.

Perhaps there’s no better example of the failure to separate signal from noise than the pessimists who say that the dollar rising is bad news and then say the dollar falling is bad news.

Last week a retail industry leader who’s spent years advocating for direct relief from the strong dollar and low-price imports did widespread media complaining that the falling dollar was bad for consumer confidence.

This actually happened.

I am sure the recent movements in the dollar will not go unremarked here, so I will say just a few things on that front.

The Australian dollar has been at historically high level for some time now and as you all know this has moderated in recent weeks.

Our high dollar reflects our strong fundamentals – solid growth, low unemployment, low debt, AAA credit ratings – but also the challenges that many other developed economies have faced in the aftermath of the GFC, the worst economic conditions in over 80 years.

More simply, the high value of the Australian dollar has been a combination of our strength and global weakness.

Our strength remains, and the good news is that the signs from America are becoming more positive for their growth.

Improvements in the US economy should be welcome – these support the global recovery and growth in the world’s largest economy provides significant opportunities for Australian exporters.

While the high dollar has provided benefits for consumers, it has meant significant challenges for some of our exporters.

As the Treasurer has said, a sustained depreciation of the Australian dollar in those circumstances would be a very good thing, to stimulate further growth in the non-mining sector – while the firms that have adjusted to the historically high dollar stand to benefit from its fall.

As a Government we recognise we need to be ready to seize the opportunities that the future will bring.

We need to make the right investments and deliver the right reforms.

Your theme this week, of “Australia adjusting”, neatly captures the elements of agency and change that are in play.

Your agenda demonstrates that CEDA, at least, is able to identify the real economic signals and to work up the agenda points for a serious discussion about what is to be done.

Productivity and structural reform: where Labor’s “five pillars” of skills and education, infrastructure, innovation, tax and regulatory reform are so vital – and form a discussion which connects to so many other key areas.

Education: as you put it, ensuring Australia’s future prosperity – nothing matters more and this week is vital for this reform.

Energy policy: a historic challenge to decouple economic growth from emissions growth.

International competitiveness: where the dollar’s recent easing hasn’t eased the demand that we plan for jobs and growth and do so through sustained economic diversity.

Innovation: where the jobs of the future depend so heavily on the ideas and the infrastructure of the future.

Health reform and funding models: the structural reforms already made to Commonwealth-State relations and the structural savings we’ve delivered in Commonwealth spending have begun a process which must continue to sustain public finances.

The big one, the Asian Century, a century of growth and change, of Asian middle-class demand for high value Australian services and goods.

Education and tourism, agriculture and advanced manufacturing, financial services, health services, digital media.

These are the real issues, the big picture, the things that matter. You are absolutely right to be discussing them here this week.

2013 is a big year for Australia.

Economic choices and political choices are before us all.

Choices with consequences, choices with purpose, choices which should be informed, informed by the facts.

The facts are these.

Labor – returning the Budget to balance faster than most of the developed world.
Our net debt – one-third Canada’s, one-fifth Germany’s and one-eighth the size of the United States.

Equivalent to a person with a $100 000 income each year having a $12 000 mortgage.

Our nation’s best ever credit rating.  Interest rates are low.  Inflation is contained.
The average tax to GDP ratio under Labor, well below the previous Coalition Government.

Since Labor came to power, the Australian economy has grown by 14 per cent.

And the bottom line of all bottom lines: under Labor, our nation has created more than 950,000 jobs.

You have a big program before you and I’m looking forward to our conversation because there is so much to discuss.

That speech has all the ingredients that qualify it for media exclusion, or, as the title suggests, a media blackout. Is it any wonder that the Government can’t get their message to the electorate?

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23 comments

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  1. John Ward

    Tony Abbott’s words should be remembered, “I will do anything to get the job, except sell my ARSE.”.

  2. Fed up

    Did I hear Tony Jones correct, when he said the audience was made up of people that wants to get rid of Gillard.

    The panel was mainly in that category. Every time some one attempted to say something positive, they were cut off.

    Will check, when I get up the nerve to watch it again. Really sickening tonight, from start to famish.

    They reminded me, of the crowds at the the Christians being fed to the lions.

  3. Fed up

    I suspect he sold his arse, a long time ago. Has nothing left to sell.

  4. cuppa

    Abbott’s brains or policies won’t get him in. He has to be carried in like an invalid by the one-party media.

  5. Colin Thai

    I’m pretty sure there is some kind of collusion going on with the push for Abbott by 80% of the media. It’s pretty embarrassing , and there is no way they are trying to hide it. I’ve seen movies and read books in my time where things like this situation happened, it always has been classed as fiction !!! Well this time I beg to differ, I think this is an attack on our principles as Australians. Things like this only seem to happen in the so called third world countries. Have a look at the world today, All the mess that it’s in, and really when you look at it THE GREED FROM governments, who are being pushed by the big multinationals. PUT THE PEOPLE DOWN. ok you may say I’m dreaming but I’m not the only one, thanking you……

  6. Mars Bar

    There have been media blackouts before.
    When Bob Hawke was leader of the ACTU and was very popular with potential to become the leader of the Labor party (which he did), the media simply did not print his name. They wrote “the leader of the ACTU said …” with no mention of the person’s name.
    Later when he was the PM, they wrote, ‘The PM said …’
    or ‘the Prime Minister, the Hon R.J.L. Hawke, said …’
    They never used his commonly used name of ‘Bob Hawke’ for ages.

    Hmmmph.
    and it is happening again, but this time the good bits are left out and the Liberal’s nonsense is printed as if it is fact.

  7. Mark McCallum

    I had to turn Q&A off it was so painfull to watch! A loaded panel….I didn’t now that Graeme Richardson was Liberal….who knew! I saw three anti Labor audience questions in a row, and could no longer suffer Brandis’ chuckles. I want my 3 cents a day back!

  8. Mark McCallum

    PS…I should’ve stuck it out…..apologies for not having the stamina anymore!! Did it get any better?

  9. Bob Evans

    Ive always thought Graeme Richardson had a grudge to bear, similar to Latham and wants to take as many cheap shots as he can. Ive never seen him say anything positive about Labor for years. Why they consistently get him on polling nights or Q&A, or for balance to the right, is beyond me.

  10. diannaart

    For some cathartic relief, I highly recommend Angry Aussie’s rant. I do not always agree with this dude but he does tell it straight. And this is one of his better calls.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lNvYKN2NClA&feature

    Just a warning if you are easily upset by expletives, then do not watch or listen.

  11. Min

    Bob, that’s it precisely – cheap shots with minimal by way of any substance.

    Cuppa.. love it, “He has to be carried in like an invalid by the one-party media.”, however sadly it’s true. This is one question that those of the right have never been able to answer, and this is why Tony Abbott deserves to be our next Prime Minister. As per Bob, all that they can muster is “cheap shots”.

  12. diannaart

    I second that Min:

    Cuppa’s line

    “He has to be carried in like an invalid by the one-party media.”

    Has to be the best ever.

  13. wantok

    Here’s an interesting article from the Guardian Australia – what a blessing to have an impartial observer – dealing with the very tight management of Tony Abbott’s media appearances. If he were not an aspirant Prime Minister we could say that he has a right to stay out of the reach of incisive media scrutiny and to avoid explaining his policy platform. But his is seeking the highest office in the land and for the Liberal Party’s “faceless” people to manage him so minutely is, to say the least, disturbing.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jun/24/tony-abbott-qanda-interview

  14. Anomander

    Luke Mansillo also runs a FB page “Keep Calm Abbott is not PM”. A nice aggregation of non-MSM stories from around the 5th estate.

  15. doctorrob54

    Abbott is a liar,he is a pretend christian,he sold his arse when he sold his soul,how could anyone give a glowing reference to a Paedophile ,described the scum as a guiding light and asset to his community.Why would he do this?.

  16. Pingback: Is there a media blackout on Labor’s achievements? | lmrh5

  17. Louise

    There has been a media blackout on positive achievements of the government for the last three years – and before. When have the positive benefits of the greatest investment in school physical infrastructure in this country ever been noted? Only the tiny 3% of problems have been reported.
    It doesn’t matter what the PM does, she is wrong. Parachute a very able indigenous woman into the Senate – wrong. Not parachute a woman into the House – wrong. Develop a regional solution to asylum seekers starting in a small way with Malaysia – wrong. Malaysia obviously isn’t part of the region (shows we need Gonski so people understand regional geography). Assist parents with school payments – wrong – can’t afford it. Reduce tax for low income taxpayers – wrong – and indeed few seem to know or understand this one. High Australian dollar – wrong. Lower Australian dollar – wrong.
    Provide two leadership spills to offer Kevin Rudd the chance to take over – wrong. Say that Kevin has had three opportunities (including the one where the PM was successful) to be leader and enough is enough – wrong.
    History will judge this as one of the great reformist and visionary governments – but too late to protect us from Tony Abbott and the harm he will cause to society and the economy.

  18. ydarcy

    Abbott wants to remember that Tony Windsor has it all on his phone

  19. andyrob65

    For gods sake #qanda you have died, just like the rest of Aunty IMO. Just tweeted this.

    @qanda #qanda you are a disgrace. I used to love watching you but you are just allowing MSM BS to be discussed now. SAD @ABCNews24 Policy?

    Why just discuss leadership. What ever happened to challenging the opposition on their alternative policies??

    This country is in a very SAD STATE of affairs.

    Richardson, Go live with Latham you ahole.

  20. Ian

    Yes Q&A was pretty sad last night. Two paid Murdoch hacks (Sloan, Richardson) and George Brandis (might as well be paid by Murdoch). The ALP guy tried vailantly but was a little out of his depth; the only person who really made any sense was Anne Summers. She had some devastating things to say about the treatment of Gillard.

  21. Mark McCallum

    Thanks Wantok for the link…gives us all hope that this sort of article in parts of the MSM may happen more often….. once we get through this week!

  22. J.Fraser

    I thought everyone noticed the malice aforethought when Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s coming speech was reported widely in the MSM as :

    “Prime Minister Julia Gillard is going to LASH economists at the CEDA later today”.

    I just keep pointing out these things whenever I can and watch the look on peoples faces when they realize that that is what is happening.

    The only thing Richardson got right is that people have turned off …. they are walking zombies.

    Some wake up by themselves and others need a hand, the thing is that it is unsustainable, eventually the numbers grow and people see it for themselves.

    Richardson got it wrong both ways.

    An 8 month campaign is a master stroke by Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

    And Prime Minister Julia Gillard winning the election means Richardson’s usefulness with Murdoch is over.

    And all Labor doors are closed to him.

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