The editorials: biggest newspapers back Coalition
The three biggest-selling metropolitan dailies in Australia - in descending order, Melbourne’s Herald-Sun, Sydney’s Daily Telegraph and Brisbane’s Courier Mail - have used today’s traditional election-eve editorials to urge their readers to back the Coalition and turf out the Gillard Labor Government. The national broadsheet The Australian has also backed the Coalition, as has The West Australian.
The Adelaide Advertiser has broken ranks with its fellow News Limited dailies and backed Labor, as did Australia’s biggest-selling newspaper, The Sunday Telegraph, in its editorial last week. The two biggest Fairfax papers - The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age - have also backed the ALP. However the Fairfax papers have fewer readers in the swinging seats which decide governments so their final say on the vote has less influence.
The election eve editorial is a long-standing but controversial feature of newspapers, with the rationale going that if it’s good enough for voters to be forced to make up their minds on polling day, newspapers which devote their very existence to chronicling the events of the day should also put up their hand and offer a balanced and thoughtful take as to their allegiance. But many readers regard editorials as an impertinence and as confirmation of bias.
Having written two myself as editor of The Daily Telegraph - one urging the dumping of the Iemma Labor Government in 2007, the other supporting the election of the Rudd Labor Government in 2007 - I’ve seen first-hand how fired up the readers can get. (In case you’re wondering, we mainly backed Rudd because John Howard was running on a promise to quit within six months if re-elected, which didn’t really strike us as a fifth-term vision. Plus our readers were pissed off by Workchoices. And Kevin Rudd said we’d get broadband and an ETS - yeah, I’m not saying I’m not gullible.)
To his credit, the only editor who is mad enough today to offer himself up to the wrath of the readers - and believe me it’s only the stroppy ones who write in - is the Tele’s Garry Linnell who will be blogging from 11am at www.dailytelegraph.com.au in defence of his argument.
You can read the Tele’s editorial here. It is the most direct and energetic of today’s editorials, and was clearly written by Linnell, and is fuelled by a sense of disgust at the performance of the NSW Labor Party and its role in Canberra.
“After two years and 10 months in office, and five weeks of campaigning and assaulting our senses with tens of millions of dollars of advertising and slogans, we’re still not sure what Labor stands for any more. Labor is in a sick state. It needs to heal itself and only a stint in opposition can give it the opportunity to rediscover its moral compass.”
The Herald-Sun was qualified in its support for the Coalition, saying there was a stronger argument for Labor’s removal than the Coalition’s elevation.
“Simply, Ms Gillard and Mr Abbott are not ready to assume the mantle of great leaders. But each is a fighter. The task of Ms Gillard to forge a reliable government from the divisions caused by the removal of Kevin Rudd is immense,” the editorial said.
“Labor would likely stagger forward. There is no shine from Ben Chifley’s light on the hill to guide it. Australians deserve so much better than has been presented to it by both sides and the choice is not easy. Without any great enthusiasm, we believe Mr Abbott and the coalition are best placed to lead Australia.”
Unsurprisingly, Brisbane’s Courier-Mail brings a touch of State of Origin to its call for a Coalition victory.
“The reason the Rudd/Gillard Government lost its way is that it believed fervently in the former and, in the process, squandered the trust and goodwill it received from Queensland voters in 2007, when it promised to confront contemporary issues more aggressively than the Howard government. That trust was not given lightly: Queensland has only decided Labor deserves its major two-party preferred vote three times since World War II. There is not nearly enough reason for us to recommend the state do so a fourth time. This has turned out to be a bad Government and it has taken too long for those who run it to realise it.”
The Australian says in its editorial that it now regrets its decision to recommend a Labor vote in 2007 and says that the Rudd Government has been a serious disappointment.
“Famous second innings victories are sometimes built on dismal first innings scores. This time, however, the captain has been sacked before he reached the pavilion, and his successor is seeking a mandate for a government that, by her own admission, had lost its way. The electorate’s inclination to give governments a second chance is being tested to its limits. One thing is abundantly clear, however: Kevin Rudd’s big-government experiment was a disaster… Mr Abbott’s journey from a competent but mildly eccentric politician into an alternative prime minister is extraordinary. Over the course of a five-week campaign, he has become a substantial political figure and is the Liberal Party’s best candidate for prime minister to emerge this century.”
The two Fairfax papers in Melbourne and Sydney went the other way, with The Age (sorry about the lack of a link but they still hadn’t posted it as of 1am this morning) having this to say:
“The Age believes the government should be returned, because of this successful economic stewardship and so that it can resume the project of adapting Australia to meet the challenges of the 21st century. In undertaking to build a national broadband network transformational project whose importance the opposition seems unable to understand, the government has shown that the vision of 2007 was never entirely extinguished. That vision must now be broadened, emphasising not only infrastructure but internationally competitive higher education and strategic population growth, if Australia is to be well positioned by 2013 and beyond.”
The SMH urged its readers to separate state issues from federal issues and give Labor a second go - while saying it should definitely be punted at the state level at next year’s NSW poll
“Even though this election should be decided on national issues, it is understandable that many voters in places such as Sydney’s west are angry and feel betrayed. There is little doubt NSW Labor will be shown the door next year, as it should. But for all the above, we believe Labor at a federal level deserves another chance. Why? First, it did successfully get us through the global financial crisis; the nation is not suffering from the crippling economic malaise – the loss of confidence and jobs – still found in the United States and throughout Europe. Second, Labor does have a plan – properly costed – to reduce national debt and get the federal budget back in surplus; its economic policy settings seem about right. Third, it has promised to build the national broadband network.”
The Tiser struck a similar note in Adelaide, lauding Gillard’s work on education.
“Ms Gillard has advantages which go beyond incumbency. Her stewardship of the schools building program has, despite warranted criticism, been determined and competent. Such an enormous injection of cash into the economy was always going to be difficult to handle. As Education Minister, she showed refreshing intent to drive education reforms in the face of strong opposition. Elsewhere, Labor has not received the recognition it deserves for steering the economy through the global financial crisis and while its broadband policy is expensive it is equally expansive. For South Australian voters, Labor’s policy to return water to the River Murray is markedly superior. As important as that may be for us, a federal election naturally has much wider implications. Choosing a leader today will be difficult. As close as it will be, Ms Gillard and Labor should be given a second chance.”
In an ominous side for Labor, The West Australian believes that the Coalition could end up with 12 of the 15 seats in the state - which with expected swings against Labor in Queensland and NSW would make things pretty dire for the Government. The West’s editorial emphasises the damage done by the mining tax in urging voters to ditch Labor.
That’s the summary. One final thing about editorials - it’s a myth that nobody reads them. Whether they heed them or not is another thing. But they are definitely read - all the research I have ever seen shows that between 10 and 20 per cent of people will look at them, possibly more on polling day. So for all the pessimism about the newspaper readership, on the latest figures about half a million people will read today’s pieces.
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