Productivity Commission Report More Important than Joe Hockey Biography

Stone the crows, could somebody explain the difference between politics and policy to Anthony Albanese.

Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese had a piece in The Australian on Saturday bemoaning the decline of political coverage in the papers. “In my 18 years in parliament I have never see fewer journalists covering the political beat in Canberra,” he wrote.[i]

The idea of less political coverage seems unlikely to the Crows. Perhaps there are fewer people from the papers than there once were – but the ABC employs a vast virtual gallery, a regiment of reporters and a corps of commentators across the country telling us how they feel about events on the Hill. Some of them even report the news.

But even if Mr Albanese is correct, his count only matters if you think the stuff of public life is the incessant rumour mongering and number counting that shapes coverage of Capital Hill. The Crows certainly don’t.

From 2010 to last year the Parliamentary Press Gallery was obsessed with the Labor leadership – ignoring the more important story, that whoever was in the Lodge the deficit would keep growing. Of course the structural problems in the budget was covered. [ii] It just didn’t intrigue journalists who think leadership support and opinion polls are the only numbers that matter.  The gallery was at it again last week – with stories on the Liberal Party leadership. [iii]

But while the gallery counts the numbers and repeats what is whispered in the corridors of power the policy press gets on with it.

The distinction between the two is not defined by delivery. Social media mavens confuse opinion for analysis, argument for information in ways no print editor would ever allow. And when it comes to structuring coverage to suit a target, psychographic Fairfax in print is much the same as The Guardian online.  At the other end of the spectrum policy writers prosper in all media.

The Crows would fly forever if they had a feather for every time they have heard about the terrific National Times and how we have never had anything to equal it. [iv]

But in truth we are in a golden age of policy coverage in all media. While the gallery banged on about the Joe Hockey biography last week the big policy yarn was the Productivity Commission childcare report. [v] And the Crows just caw at anybody who says the name of the next Liberal leader stops more BBQs than childcare.

Mr Albanese may yearn for the day when MPs were not only the stars of the political play but also shaped the policy debate, because they had command of policy resources journalists need to interpret economy.

The Internet ended that forever, and in the process eroded the main media monopoly over the policy debate. Another Crows project, Campus Morning mail competes against The Australian and Australian Financial Review for policy stories in higher education every day.[vi] The project is possible because production barriers are gone, because the Internet allows access to the vast public information resources of government and because policy participants and expert commentators no longer need the gallery to make their case.

Laura Tingle made the point on the weekend in a, presumably unintentional, self-critical piece on the Ukraine air disaster. She suggested the reason cabinet’s national security committee did good work, whichever party is in power, is because it formulates policy “away from the media glare.”  She went on to analyse policy through the prism of the polls, discussing at length what the government’s performance will mean for Prime Minister Abbott’s standing. [vii]

The “media glare” Laura Tingle mentions is not the stare of the foreign policy press, in print and on-line, but the gallery which assumes that all human experience occurs to fuel to the fires that only burn in parliament house

If Mr Albanese is looking for a BBQ stopper – this week it was childcare, not what an MP dropped to a journalist in the gallery.


Stephen4 @hotkey


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[i] Anthony Albanese, “Newspapers’ troubles are also bad news for a robust democracy,” The Australian July 26

[ii] Jacob Greber, “Media has ‘distorted’ take on economy: PM,” Australian Financial Review, June 24

[iii] Tom Iggulden, “Hockey for PM,” ABC TV Lateline, July 24

[iv] Miriam Steffens, “National Times set for online relaunch,” The Age June 13 2009

[v] Productivity Commission, Childcare and early childhood learning: draft report, July 22 @ , recovered on July 26, Patricia Karvelas, “Abbott’s get out of jail free card on PPL,” The Australian, July 26, Jennifer Hewett, “The costly day to day of day care,” Australian Financial Review, July 24

[vi] Campus Morning Mail @ recovered on July 25

[vii] Laura Tingle, “Unscripted Abbott flourishes in troubled times,” Australian Financial Review, July 26