July 14th 2001

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Articles from this issue:

COVER: Singapore's economic lessons for Australia

Canberra Observed: Electoral map shows uphill battle for Coalition

Falling fertility debate reignited

Dissenters highlight dangers in UN report

Cloning: how far will states ban go?

Keep the single selling desk for wheat

The Media

Straws in the Wind

Letter: Export figures disputed

Minister resists competition push

Mass destruction in the future

Manufacturing and the sinew of war

Is corporate cost cutting becoming lethal?

French applaud 35-hour week

Books: Colonial Consorts, by Marguerite Hancock

Books: The China Threat - How the People's Republic Targets America, Bill Gertz

Letter: Barley story wrong

Letter: Trade, US-style

Letter: Riddle solved

Books promotion page

The Media

by John Styles

News Weekly, July 14, 2001
Ah, the sensitivity of some political journalists.

"The latest Newspoll indicates there's a bit of confusion, I guess, or mixed feelings in the community, then, about the GST and particularly Labor's roll-back promises." That was ABC political correspondent Cathy Vanextel on June 29, delicately broaching what was, apparently, a fairly ticklish topic.

Waiting on the other side of the microphone to analyse this possibly portentous news item was Michelle Grattan of The Sydney Morning Herald.

Vanextel was referring to a Newspoll in The Australian that morning. With the first anniversary of the GST but two days away, the survey contained bad news for Kim Beazley and the Federal Labor Opposition.

Lacking the sensibility of Vanextel, The Australian's sub-editor had dispensed with such vague generalisations as "confusion" and "mixed feelings" and produced a headline that told it like it was: "Labor voters don't trust Beazley on GST".

The lead paragraph spelt out the dilemma for the ALP: "Four in every five Labor supporters do not trust Kim Beazley to seriously roll back the GST".

There was more.

Coalition voters, the poll found, "would prefer extra help for small business rather than the removal of GST from more foods or power bills." Aren't they, of course, some of the votes Mr Beazley is counting on to help Labor across the line in the Federal election expected later this year?

When you add to this Newspoll result the fact that recent surveys of voting intention have shown the Coalition slowly regaining support, the situation for Labor becomes decidedly more challenging than it has been for most of this year.

The Newspoll, of course, was not only bad news for Beazley. It also contradicted the line some members of the Canberra press gallery have been pushing about the electorate's certain and fervent embrace of Labor's GST roll-back in whatever form it happens to take.

As one frequent guest on the Radio National program once put it, "Howard's battlers" would grab any roll-back measures with both hands.

However, when Cathy Vanextel turned the Newspoll result over to her studio guests for comment, the SMH's Michelle Grattan found the opinion poll merely "interesting".

In response to Vanextel's delicate probing, Grattan said: "Six out of 10 people think that Labor will make minor changes and only about nine per cent think it would make major changes to the GST, which is a pretty realistic assessment of what roll-back's all about."

"Pretty realistic"? How easily the bar is lowered for Labor. How did that perceived roll-back reality of "minor changes" square with the hyperbolic rhetoric of Beazley and Crean over the last 12 months? Michelle Grattan did not say.

The Federal Government has claimed that small business criticism of the GST is the direct result of the complexity created by the amendments forced upon it by the Democrats. The Government points out that Labor's roll-back would exacerbate that situation.

Michelle Grattan acknowledged that small business concerns about the added complexity of roll-back "are coming through". She said: "That's clearly something the Labor Party will have to look at, partly to offset this argument about complication". See how easy it is. All they have to do is look at it and then they can "offset" it. No explanation was offered as to how that could possibly be achieved.

On ABC Radio's Media Report recently, poet Les Murray gave the Australian media a big serve.

Murray criticised what he called "the narrow band of permitted opinion" in Australia today. He said the Australian media was "not as bad as the worst in England, but we have the paradox that our quality press in Australia, I think, is the equivalent of the gutter press in England. It tends to be the most prejudiced and the most destructive."

Murray cited political prejudices which, he said, were a hangover from the 1970s. "There are a whole lot of required attitudes, and severe punishments if their attitudes are not followed ... There's a severe punishment, social punishment if you don't follow them."

Les Murray said the way Christianity was handled by the media served as an example:

"Christianity is out. It will not be given credence. It will be ridiculed. The only thing you'll ever hear about the Catholic church is perverted priests or domineering Vatican, with occasional sidelights like historical persecution of Jews.

"You know, nothing positive is allowed to be said on that topic. And what always amazes me is that none of these organisations seem to have the money or the will or something, to put up their own case.

"There should be a Catholic press, there should be a Methodist press for God's sake; there should be newspapers which are deliberately quirky and have all sorts of original ideas, because where are we going to get original ideas?"

Email: jdstyles@optushome.com.au

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