Wednesday 20 July 2011

The Australian | Editorial

Regime change is best left to Labor's factional bosses

By shooting the messenger for having the impertinence to speak truth to power, the Rudd and Gillard governments have unwittingly paid The Australian and other News Limited newspapers such as The Daily Telegraph the highest compliment.

While the Fairfax press and public broadcasters seem inured to wasteful spending of taxpayers' money, we have adopted a more traditional approach to journalism - providing scrutiny of government to ensure the public is well served. If a government which has struggled with policy implementation is feeling the heat, it indicates that some journalists at least are doing their job and that newspapers like ours are fulfilling their public duty by holding politicians to account. We do not seek praise from politicians, and they should not expect it from us, except when the electorate is being well served.

ABC listeners and readers of the Fairfax press would have been taken aback by the news last year that Environment Minister Peter Garrett had been demoted. Only 2GB listeners or readers of News Limited papers were informed initially about how Mr Garrett had mismanaged the home-insulation program, with wasteful and dangerous consequences. It was the same story with the BER school halls program, where The Australian was criticised by other media for exposing that the government was failing to obtain value for money because its service-delivery processes were substandard. The final report this month from the inquiry headed by investment banker Brad Orgill revealed more than $1 billion was wasted in NSW and Victorian public schools alone, leading Mr Orgill to recommend a Productivity Commission inquiry into construction.

Sadly, the reprehensible and illegal behaviour of journalists in Britain now is being used, opportunistically, by our competitors and some politicians such as Communications Minister Stephen Conroy to besmirch Murdoch publications and journalists in Australia. Senator Conroy claims News Limited papers cannot be trusted because they are pushing for "regime change". Apart from demonstrably being false, this accusation is strange coming from a factional boss who helped tear down his own prime minister just a year ago. For the record, The Australian has stated repeatedly and clearly in this editorial space that the Gillard government has the right to occupy the Treasury benches as long as it can command a majority on the floor of parliament. We have also rejected calls for an early election, suggesting the government should run its full term. But, as we said here on September 16 last year: "A legitimate government does not mean an unscrutinised government."

That scrutiny extends to Senator Conroy's oversight of the NBN. As the minister in charge of the most expensive public infrastructure project undertaken in Australia, he can expect the most extensive scrutiny. We revealed that, before they were appointed, the top two NBN executives had failed to reveal (and the minister failed to inquire about) an ongoing corruption investigation at their previous employer. In response, Senator Conroy accused us of "an absolute smear campaign". Despite subsequent inquiries uncovering misleading information and forcing a series of corrections, we have received no apology from the minister.

The same minister now claims this paper and The Daily Telegraph are seeking to force a snap election. His evidence? The newspaper, along with other News Limited dailies, has dared to publish opinion polls that show, among other things, that the public supports Coalition calls for an early election. Similar polls have been run in the Fairfax press, yet for some reason Senator Conroy makes no such charge against them.

The servility and lack of curiosity in the public broadcasters, much of the Canberra press gallery and the Fairfax press probably helps to create a culture of comfort within the government that heightens their sensitivity to robust reporting. There is not much we can do about that. Politicians like Senator Conroy have sought to ingratiate themselves to us when the going is good. But when we relay something of the government's failures to the public, instead of addressing the problems some ministers in the Rudd and Gillard governments have attempted to intimidate the media. Not content with his plan to filter the internet, Senator Conroy seems to yearn for a filter on newspapers. It is a sorry time in national affairs when a struggling minister can use compliant arms of the media to launch facile tirades at the only media prepared to hold the government to account.

The public appreciates facts, is thirsty for them, and is always capable of making up its own mind. On these matters, neither the rantings of ministers nor our ripostes will be the last word. Rather, through the news stands and the ballot box, the people will decide.

Author | Source | The Australian, July 20th

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