Will the media rise to the marathon election challenge?
Julia Gillard said some fascinating things to the National Press Club in Canberra this week.
Weekly travel times to work in capital cities has increased by up to an hour and a half a week in the past decade.
Australia has risen from the 15th largest economy in the world in the late 2000s to be 12th today.
Individually, we are on average wealthier than Britons, Japanese, Italians and Belgians.
Orthodox economics cannot explain why the Australian dollar remains high in the face of falling interest rates and declining terms of trade.
Australian households have moved from saving nothing before the Global Financial Crisis to now saving 10 percent of household income.
She spoke about how the Government was trying to re-engineer the business of economic management in these strange days.
Then she announced the election date.
The speech set the context for what amounted to a plea by the Prime Minister to the media to talk about facts and policy and not gossip and personalities, at least until the election campaign proper.
She was rewarded in the subsequent Q&A sessions by a press gallery whose questions started with a focus on facts but soon veered into trivia such as who she spoke to before making her decision (surprise, pretty much the same circle of people as every other Prime Minister in living memory, as it turned out) and penetrating observations such as a declaration that she had announced a 227-day campaign. Which in fact was the opposite of what she had repeatedly said was her intention.
The groans of exasperation from the non-media audience were palpable.
The reporting in the first 24 hours since the announcement was equally disheartening.
Every Government thinks the Opposition gets away with being policy-light, with the exception of the Keating Government that went into the 1993 election having been gifted a comprehensive policy program centred on the GST by the John Hewson-led Opposition. Tony Abbott, having been an adviser to Hewson, would no doubt have a vivid memory of how that turned out.
Nonetheless, for anyone who bothers to look, there is an enormous amount of information published by the Opposition about their policy agenda. Sure, there are no detailed costings, but, honestly, how many in the media would independently analyse that information even if it was released?
What they have done is provide details about the issues they will deal with as priorities, the principles they will bring to these issues, and even their alternative vision of government. Across most portfolio areas, the Opposition has had plenty to say that can be analysed and questioned.
Don’t hold your breath waiting for the mainstream media to get around to doing it though. Nor for them to report the policy actions of the Government.
The disconnect between the concerns and interests of the Australian community and the press gallery crystallised last year in the reaction to the now famous misogyny speech by the Prime Minister. It was followed by weeks of introspection, self analysis and hand wringing from an embarrassed media.
But what’s changed? Politics is still reported as a horse race or personality contest, and Australians continue to turn to the online world to vent their spleen and frustration.
Maybe the problem is that the media is so diminished that it is actually incapable of doing that job anymore.
So, here’s an early election prediction. The media will not rise to the challenge. It will happily throw the switch to campaign mode, drive us all insane by being reflexively inane, and, worse, moan about it as though it’s someone else’s fault.
Please try to prove me wrong.
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