20 June, 2010

Dear Canberra Press Gallery,

Look, I know you’re bored.  I know Kevin Rudd isn’t the kind of prime minister who whacks himself in the eye with a cricket ball, or confesses infidelity, or tells the opposition leader “I’m going to do you slowly,” or makes a fawning goose of himself in front of royalty, or goes out of his way to be seen cheering any kind of sporting event.  He is, as you rather dismissively put it when he became opposition leader, a policy wonk.  And what a drag it is to have a prime minister who is interested in policy! 

So I know that’s rather boring for you, but this is the beat you chose, so could you try reporting about things that are actually happening, rather than the things you wish were happening?

I know you don’t know what to make of the Resources Super Profits Tax.  Nobody likes taxes, but they don’t like big business much either.  It’s hard for you to figure out an angle when you’re not sure which side Mr and Mrs Suburban would take.  They’re not sure themselves since it’s so hard to get good information from a media that would rather report gossip about leadership challenges.  See how the cycle feeds itself?

Greg Rudd, Kevin’s brother, wrote an article in The Australian last week that wasn’t all that flattering of his brother, but also let us in on how you work:
During the bitter Hawke-Keating leadership contest I was pulled aside by one of the senior members of the Canberra press gallery, who said: "Mate, save your energy. We've decided we want a regime change. With Hawke we have to chase stories. With Keating the stories will come to us."
In blood sport, honesty is bad policy

And when the stories don’t come to you, you just create them.  It’s so much easier to write about personality clashes and the soap opera of leadership than it is about policy, and you’ve had quite a few this term.  Turnbull was out to roll Nelson from the start, and Turnbull himself floated the idea of challenging his own leadership when the party wouldn’t back his policy.  You tried for years to get Peter Costello to roll John Howard, even though Costello had made it clear he didn’t have the bottle for it.  You’ve actually been pretty spoiled for personality stories of late but once in a while, you will have to fall back on writing about things that the government is doing, instead of asking backbenchers if they would support a hypothetical leadership challenge from someone who has shown no interest in launching such a challenge.  I know it’s hard to make that interesting in the age of Australian Idol, Dancing with the Stars and Masterchef, where the story is the personal sniping and not the substance of what’s being done, but once again, this is the beat you chose.  If you don’t like writing about policy, then you can always put in for a transfer to the entertainment section and see if you can give Richard Wilkins and Angela Bishop a run for their money. 

Let me help you out:
The proposed super profits tax is basically a HECS for industry.  The Higher Education Contributions Scheme accepts that a university education is unaffordable for most people up front.  So instead, students pay much lower fees, but once their post-study income hits a certain level – a level which they probably couldn’t have achieved without their degree – they then pay more tax to pay off the benefit they received earlier.  Aside from the hypocrisy that HECS was designed and maintained by people who got their degrees for free through the 70s and 80s, no-one can really argue against it because it’s a pretty fair system.  Similarly, the mining industry receives all kinds of subsidies, tax credits and the like, in order to set up their businesses, and to carry them through hard times.  So when times are good, and only after their profits hit an extraordinary level, the RSPT would see them pay a higher proportion back to the country that has given them such opportunity. 

See?  Wasn’t so hard, was it?  So there’s your angle for this week and now you can go back to asking who’s going to eat who on Masterchef and wondering if Jessica Watson has a boyfriend. 

PS:  If a hypothetical challenger decided you weren’t performing well, what would be your response?


  1. Thank you. Eloquently written.

  2. great post bill, best explaination for the tax I have seen.. perhaps you need to send it to Kevin and his ad agency so he can get out there and sell it a bit better

  3. Thank you.

    You make a good point. I can't remember who said this, but I read a comment a couple of weeks ago that said the problem with the Rudd government is not their policies, it's just that they couldn't sell a cold beer in the middle of the Simpson desert.

  4. Along these lines of creating news rather than reporting it, how about Peter Hartchers pieces in the SMH? He opens with "she is at risk of being called a puppet prime minister". This has to be a case of trying to create a perception, because I am not aware of any commentary, reporting or even rumour that has implied that Julie Gillard is weak, spineless, unopinionated, passive or any other relevant adjective. Nor has anyone stated that she is more of a factional creature than other PMs. As far as I can tell, Hartcher is trying to create a thread out of nothing.

    Did anyone else notice this or am I being paranoid?

  5. Didn't see the piece, but I'm inclined to agree. Yes, the factions put her there and she's not unambitious but she was happy to let it happen naturally. She did the factions a favour by asking for the spill.