When a politician spins, nobody wins
Are you getting better at distinguishing between political spin and substance? You probably are given the growing number of Federal Government examples!
How can you distinguish between spin and substance? Well, it’s fairly simple when you can spot the obvious signs.
First up, you have the grandiose statement. Some examples include: “we are going to have a tough petrol cop on the beat, ensuring that motorists are not paying a cent more than they have to at the bowser”, “the greatest moral challenge” and “building the education revolution”.
Talk of a tough petrol cop is about giving us confidence that the petrol cop will be there to lock up the crooks. That’s what we expect cops to do. Not paying a cent more for petrol is supposed to give us confidence that we’re no longer going to be ripped off. That plays on our suspicions of a petrol price rip off.
Reference to the greatest challenge means we need to act fast so don’t hold us up. A call to arms and a sense of urgency is intended to show leadership and, perhaps, even vision.
As for a revolution, well, old communists will probably remember what that really means.
Big statements make for big vote-winning promises. It’s a bit like the big-talking used car salesperson trying to sell you an old used car or when a dodgy franchisor is trying to sell you a dud franchise. Big claims, slick sales pitch and that “don’t worry about anything, just leave it to me” approach.
The problem is that big statements are usually needed to sell the particular dodgy car, franchise or government promise. The big statements are there to deflect from the inherent weaknesses or limitations of the government promise.
After the grandiose statements comes the predictably big price tag for the promise. A big price tag is supposed to assure us that the promise has been properly funded and that the promise will be carried out by the Government. Again, it’s about promoting confidence in the promise being made by the Government.
Finally, there needs to be a reality check on the promise being made. Will implementing the promise actually make a difference and will the promise be carried out cost effectively?
The reality check is the challenging and pointy end as the government will deploy its spin doctors to keep repeating the mantra that the `promise is great, is able to be achieved and will make a real difference.’ Anyone questioning that mantra will be criticised by the Government and its spin doctors.
Sadly, there may only be a few questioning the mantra as anyone questioning the government is likely to miss out on government consultancies or appointments. Then there are those who don’t question the mantra because of a conflict of interest arising from being a recipient of government funding or holding a government or business consultancy.
So, the government may even “get away” with the spin. That’s at least until the promise is not carried out, doesn’t achieve anything tangible or is just some kind of financial or other disaster.
Here it’s useful to look at a couple of examples of spin.
Take the so-called tough petrol cop on the beat we were promised by Wayne Swan. Selling the idea of an ACCC Petrol Commissioner without any new powers to rein in the oil companies, and major retailers on petrol prices was always going to be tough. There was already an ACCC with commissioners. What was a new ACCC Petrol Commissioner with no new powers going to do that the ACCC and the other existing Commissioners were not already doing?
Sounds like a gimmick. Then when a Petrol Commissioner is appointed all you generally hear from him is that there is nothing wrong with petrol prices. Well, if you accept that there is nothing wrong with petrol prices, then why do we need a Petrol Commissioner?
Of course, oil companies and the major retailers like Coles and Woolworths will play different games at different times. So what the Federal Government should have done is given the Petrol Commissioner new specific powers. That’s the difference between spin and substance and the difference between a gimmick and real competition law reform.
Appointing a Petrol Commissioner wasn’t enough for the Federal Government. While the ACCC has long had one Deputy Chair, the Government decided to appoint another one in May 2008. This second Deputy Chair was to have responsibility for small business issues.
The only problem is that a second Deputy Chair came at a considerable cost to the taxpayer and again this new appointment was not given any new legislative powers to deal with small business issues. Now we were to have two ACCC Deputy Chairs and you had to wonder why.
Sounds like another gimmick. That’ especially so when you hear that the South Australian State Labor Government has, to its credit, been trying to establish a new Small Business Commissioner with the ability to assist small businesses in a real and meaningful way when they have disputes with larger businesses.
The South Australian Small Business Commissioner will also be able to go to court to seek financial penalties for breaches of mandatory industry codes of conduct under the South Australian Fair Trading Act. Importantly, the South Australian Commissioner will also be able to issue infringement notices for breaches of such codes. These are real powers with real benefits for small businesses – that’s substance!
The second Deputy Chair at the ACCC could have been given the same powers being proposed for the South Australian Small Business Commissioner. It’s not too late for the Federal Government to give the second Deputy Chair those new powers.
In the absence of giving the appointees any new powers, it’s inevitable that appointing a Petrol Commissioner or a second Deputy Chair at the ACCC sounds more like political spin than substance.
With no shortage of examples of political spin we are certainly getting better at spotting the spin. Let’s hope that the political spin doesn’t spin totally out of control as that’s a sure way for the Federal Government to lose the next election!
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