Media more shallow than politicians

Only today I yet again had cause to link political decline to simpleton journalists.

This time the obvious candidate is the ABC’s Queensland commentator, Chris O’Brien, turning out two stories that are so shot through with ignorance, and an absence of a single clear thought, the ABC should feel cheated to have paid O’Brien this week.

Chris O'Brien

The first of these stories is a piece that all but alleges malfeasance by the Queensland electorate for voting out Bligh, and then Newman.

The headline? Analysis: Queensland election: Revolving door government set to expand to 93 seats.

What does revolving door really mean? The implication is that no history is attached to voting, and no issues were deciding factors. It’s just a two party game, and electors should just pick their sides and stick to them.

Has O’Brien forgotten that the Bligh government voted out in 2012 was the last of an unbroken ALP ascendancy since 1998? That any group of ministers in power for 14 years grows arrogant, constrained by too many sweetheart deals, and sleight of hand economics? That it was a vote against Bligh, not for Newman?

Has O’Brien forgotten the buffoonish arrogance of Newman’s ministry? Its incompetence in resurrecting the rotting corpse of Reaganomics because there wasn’t any spark of policy expertise in the entire front bench? Has he forgotten its reckless class war, fought principally against unions and public servants? Has he forgotten Newman’s attempt to declare permanent martial law on unions with his association laws? Has he forgotten that the vote was against Newman, and not for Palaszczuk?

Or maybe O’Brien never knew this in the first place.

That the unicameral Queensland Parliament has been expanded to 93 seats is of interest only if O’Brien could explain the naked claim that the expansion would favour the ALP.

What do voters in Queensland really want? Well, Mr O’Brien, pretty much the same as voters anywhere else in the country: job security, predictability about taxes and where they are spent, safety, good education, and excellent medical services. Maybe some protection from mercenary corporations and the contemporary white shoe brigade, too.

It is true that Queensland deserves some satirical send-ups for having electorates that actually vote for One Nation candidates. And yet, no one seems to mind that the Abbott wing of the Liberal Party is aligned with a Republican administration’s policies that include support for neo-Nazis. If One Nation voters can be painted as ignorant rednecks, journalists who give the Liberals a free pass for moving to the lunar right ought to cop some name-calling too: ignorant, arrogant, self-righteous twits? Well paid propagandists incapable of critical analysis?

‘Not picking and settling on a government in Queensland has confused legislation and interrupted planning for major projects, with trains a classic example,’ says O’Brien, in a feat of functional illiteracy.

Legislation cannot be confused, though O’Brien and Queensland politicians undoubtedly have been. Planning may have been interrupted, but it’s probably closer to the truth that we have witnessed incompetence from ministerial level down to senior public servants. How does that stack up to, say, the online census, the management of offshore concentration camps, national education reforms, or energy policy? Same-same, really, isn’t it? Are they ‘classic’ examples too? Or is that word just a lame cliché the sub-editor was too lazy to remove?

What’s that? The ABC doesn’t have sub-editors anymore? Budget cuts, eh?

O’Brien is a bit light-on in evaluating the intellectual credentials of candidates, but I guess he still wants his pals in the corridors of power to talk to him. So no credible analysis at all is attempted or delivered. Instead we get the kind of breathless speculation you’d expect from a teenager—if you could find any interested in pedestrian politics that seem entirely devoid of relevance to them. Yet, I would imagine, capturing the younger vote might well decide the election, given that most elections are fought and lost or won in only a handful of urban and semi-rural electorates. Never mind. O’Brien just wants things to be predictable. Not good, right, honest, or just.

The second piece is packaged as reportage, starting with a nonsense headline: ‘Queensland election: LNP unveils payroll tax threshold plan to create 500,000 jobs’. Over ten years. That’s the same trickle-down economics, ‘microeconomic reform’ song the Liberals have been singing since the 1980s: cut taxes on the wealthy, and they will employ more people. Sounds good doesn’t it? Except that there has been no evidence that it works in practice.

A serious analysis of payroll tax ought to ask what are the real economic drivers of employment. In almost all cases that would be a lift in demand. Demand is driven by spending power, meaning well paid employees, and rich people re-investing money in productive enterprises rather than in property and offshore tax havens.

Cutting payroll tax will save businesses some money, but won’t actually lead to an employment boom if other economic fundamentals aren’t right. Like a strong, growing middle class with spending power. Not a shrinking middle class with a burgeoning underclass of gig economy, hand-to-mouth families.

With national unemployment relatively static at around the six per cent mark, and real wage growth dead in the water, what would drive consumer spending?

One simple answer has always been for the Commonwealth and States to lead the way in employment. The problem there has always been about finding productive roles for new public servants, and balancing the fine line between swelling the public sector and boosting consumption to drive demand to boost private sector employment growth, and private sector wages growth at least in line with productivity.

That’s the basis on which O’Brien should have analysed the LNPs tired old payroll tax plan. And its entire ‘trickle-down’ mentality.

This goes back to O’Brien’s intellectual failure in the first article: this isn’t about revolving door governments, but disgust with uniformly mediocre political talent that simply has not developed a vision and action plan to suit Queensland’s needs, rather than copying bad policies from the UK and USA.

Maybe we will never again see an Australia Reconstructed plan, based on actual thought and analysis of world best practice in economic management matched to Australian circumstances and needs. But that work, in the 1980s, sustained us right through the global financial crisis.

Ever since then we seem to have no politicians with any intellectual spark. Worse, we seem to have lost journalists willing to probe, question, and analyse how we came to be in this situation, and how we might get out of it. Instead we have journalists just as dense as our politicians.

Case in point? ‘Mr Nicholls later visited a quarry in the marginal LNP seat of Lockyer — a target of the One Nation party — which only narrowly made it under a rail bridge at the town of Grantham,’ writes O’Brien.

Is it Mr Nicholls, the quarry, the seat of Lockyer, or One Nation that only narrowly made it? And what did it narrowly make under the rail bridge? An economic policy worthy of that description? Or just a comfort stop, leaving behind the substance of what passes for policy?

With journalism like that, our governments could actually be comprised of foreigners, acting against the nation’s best interests, and we’d never know. Oh! Wait …
 

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