I wonder how many were as dismayed as I was at the tenor of this Sunday’s Insiders
? With so many journalists in the carbon tax lockup, I suppose Barrie Cassidy was scraping the bottom of the barrel when he enlisted Niki Savva and Glenn Milne as panelists, but he must have known that this would result in unremitting negativity towards PM Gillard and her Government. Even the usually balanced Laura Tingle was drawn into negativity; she was no counter for the other two.
Why just two hours before one of the most important announcements in our nation’s history where all the details of the largest reform since the GST were to be provided, did Our ABC enable such negativity? These two panellists virtually canned a favourable outcome for the event and went on to can almost everything else the Government has been doing. According to this pair, the Government has done nothing right, the people have stopped listening, and selling anything to this skeptical public, let alone a complex carbon tax, will be nigh on impossible.
This morning as I listened to AM
, I wondered if Insiders
was just part of an affliction spreading in epidemic proportions through the ABC – the negativity syndrome.
Since the acerbic Lyndal Curtis seems to have moved to ABC 24
, Sabra Lane has taken over her role on AM of wielding the knife, but only towards those to whom she has a negative attitude.
I was appalled to hear not only the words she used, but her tone of voice as she interviewed Wayne Swan this morning. The transcript is in italics; my comments are in bold. The transcript is here
. SABRA LANE: Mr Swan, good morning. This is do or die for the Government. If you can't sell this, the Government will be tossed out at the next election, won't it? Note the words: “do or die” and “tossed out” and “won’t it?” Already the pattern is set. The knife is out. Yet she is addressing the Treasurer and Deputy PM. WAYNE SWAN: Well, Sabra it is not about the politics. It is about the policy. It is about doing the right thing by our environment but also the right thing by our national economy. This is a fundamental environmental and economic reform because what we've got to do is put a price on carbon pollution. The big polluters have gotten away with polluting our environment for free for far too long. SABRA LANE: But if you can't sell this, you're out? Sabra is not going to let this go, so she pushes the knife further with the impertinent “you’re out”. WAYNE SWAN: Well, Sabra as I've said before, what we are on about here is a fundamental reform. Look, Sabra what would I say to my children or grandchildren in 20 or 30 years time if we don't put a price on carbon now and they are living with the impact on the Great Barrier Reef, the Murray-Darling Basin, Kakadu and so on. Note how the rationale for the carbon tax is explained, but that is of no interest to Sabra – she has other negative fish to fry. SABRA LANE: There is mixed reaction in the papers this morning. The Herald Sun says working families will pay the price. Some families will be worse off, won't they? See how she goes straight to the negative, the ten percent who will be worse off. WAYNE SWAN: Well, what we've said is that nine out of ten households will receive additional assistance. No doubt about that. The average price impact will be covered for six million households. Some households will receive partial assistance and some households will receive no assistance, Sabra. SABRA LANE: How many households will be worse off? Presumably Sabra learned simple arithmetic at primary school and could calculate in a second that if nine out of ten households would be better off, one in ten might be worse off. But no, she wanted a number from the Treasurer. WAYNE SWAN: Well, in terms of no assistance, something like 700,000 households but six million households will be covered for the entire average price impact and there are something like nine million households in Australia. She got her number, but she wanted to drive the knife deeper by evoking the so-called ‘politics of envy’. SABRA LANE: Is your message to those families then, you're rich, you can afford it. WAYNE SWAN: No, my message is that we've got to do the right thing by the environment; we've got to do the right thing by our economy. We have got to put in place a range of assistance that is affordable over time and we've got to target our assistance to those who need it most.
Sabra, we're in the Labor Party. We absolutely believe in looking after people on low and middle incomes. This is a package I think which provides support to people on low and middle incomes, recognises the financial pressures that they are under and puts in place fundamental tax reform. Another million people are removed from the tax system altogether. This is a very, very big reform to our tax system in lifting the tax free threshold so high, up to $18,000. Not satisfied that it is only the better off that would not receive support and would therefore pay more, she gives the knife another twist, referring to that impeccable source of reliable information – ‘some newspapers’. SABRA LANE: Some newspapers say though that working families will be worse off. Do you agree? WAYNE SWAN: Well, certainly there was some people who will not be covered for the entire impact of these price rises but bear this in mind, the price rises are very modest, very modest, less than 1 per cent. The fact is that this price on carbon will be paid by the 500 largest polluters. Yes that will be passed on by some businesses and yes, there will be an impact on prices but that will be modest and what we've done through the assistance packages here is recognise that but also at the same time, put in place some fundamental tax reform. I notice Mr Abbott was going around yesterday promising tax cuts with no means of funding them whilst at the same time putting forward a policy which will cost households $720 per year.
The fact is, you can't run around the country claiming that you are concerned about cost of living pressures and have a policy which is going to increase the burden on households by $720 a year and not necessarily produce any impact on the environment. Now you can be certain that Sabra will ignore the reference to Tony Abbott’s $720 a year burden on every household, and overlook the fact that the Government’s increases in costs to the well off are modest. (I notice that Greg in his piece in Grog’s Gamut shows that in the worst case scenario of a family with dual income (50-50 split) of $200,000 and children 8-13 and 13-17 years will be out of pocket by $19.69 per week). SABRA LANE: Mr Swan, your scheme won't start for another 12 months. With all the tax changes that are tacked onto it, some families won't actually know whether they are ahead or not until they do their tax probably around August 2013, that is about the time of the next election. The point of this question is obscure. But she promotes the idea of ‘being ahead’, as if that was the whole idea of a carbon tax. Isn’t the idea of the carbon tax to save the environment, to give our successors a decent planet on which to live? WAYNE SWAN: Well, I think there will be a pretty thorough debate, Sabra, about all of these issues in the next 12 months and I think everybody in Australia will understand a very clear choice - fundamental tax reform here, additional assistance to families. That will be clearly outlined by the Government.
Mr Abbott is the one who has got the problem here because he is running around the place saying he will give tax cuts. He can't say how he will fund them. The fact is that Mr Abbott has a policy which is going to be much more costly for Australian families and not produce the environmental outcome that we all require. That should have given Sabra a cue for her interview with Tony Abbott. But as there was no joy there for Sabra, she tries another tack – small business. SABRA LANE: There is no leg up here for small businesses. They are the engine room for the country. They're going to cop it, aren't they? Note the words “leg up” and ‘cop it’. WAYNE SWAN: Well, small businesses are very important in our economy and that is one of the reasons why we increased the instant asset write-off in this package recognising that many small businesses will want to make additional investments in energy efficiency and the other reason that we've put in place the household assistance package because households will have the capacity when some cost increases are passed on, to pay for those cost increases. No joy for her there either, so she tries the ‘budget neutral’ story. SABRA LANE: This won't be budget neutral as you've promised. Suddenly now it is going to cost $4 billion. You will rake some of that back in cuts to the fuel excise rebate but where will you cut spending elsewhere to keep your promise that the budget will return to surplus in 2012/2013? Note ‘won't be budget neutral as you've promised’ and ‘rake’. WAYNE SWAN: Well, first of all Sabra, there is an up-front cost. There always is an up-front cost with these very big reforms … Sabra is determined to nail him on this one – note her impatience. SABRA LANE: Just one moment, just one moment there Mr Swan but you've promised for a long time that this would be budget neutral. Not that there would be an up-front cost. Sabra seems unable to reconcile an upfront cost with budget neutrality, even although she must know that budget neutrality is over the forward estimates, not year by year; this is too good a point to be obscured by fiscal facts. WAYNE SWAN: And it is broadly budget neutral over the forward estimates. Sabra, we budget over the forward estimates. When you put in place a very big change like this, then there are up-front costs but over the forward estimates, the costs are relatively modest and of course, we will account for all of that when we produce MYEFO (Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook) towards the end of the year. A relatively modest charge on the surplus as we go through the surplus years, we will bring the budget back to surplus in 2012/13 and our fiscal rules still apply. SABRA LANE: I think many economists will doubt that $4 billion equals budget neutral. They would really question that. Doesn't this become an issue of trust? What you say and do are again very different when you deliver the policy. The knife plunges deeper as ‘trust’ raises its ugly head. WAYNE SWAN: Absolutely not, Sabra. Our record of applying our fiscal rules is second to none. What we have produced here is first class economic and social policy, Sabra and I am really proud of it. It is Labor to the bootstraps. Sabra is getting desperate for a gotcha. So she switches to emissions mitigation. SABRA LANE: Hand on your heart, will this scheme definitely cut emissions by 5 per cent by 2020? Can you believe it: ‘hand on your heart’? WAYNE SWAN: There is no doubt that this scheme is very effective, very credible and will take 160 million tonnes out of the atmosphere. We can all be proud of that because what this is all about is to keep our economy growing strongly while we reduce carbon pollution in the atmosphere. Now more Sabra rudeness. SABRA LANE: But you haven't answered my question, will it cut emissions by 5 per cent? WAYNE SWAN: Well, that's the target that we are implementing and that is what all of the modelling shows. He answers her question but she’s still not satisfied, so she gives the knife another twist with: is it ‘yes or no’? SABRA LANE: Yes or no, will it cut emissions of 5 per cent? WAYNE SWAN: Of course we will meet our target in this scheme. That is why we have designed it. I hope Sabra remembers that simple fact. Only time stopped her attack. SABRA LANE: Mr Swan, thanks for your time...
It was not just the words; it was her pejorative tone of voice that made the words even more cutting. You can listen to it here
. Now for Sabra’s interview of the one who would-be PM. SABRA LANE: Tony Abbott, welcome. This scheme will get through Parliament and when it does and when people are compensated, aren't they going to think what was all the fuss about? So Abbott gets a ‘welcome’ and a Dorothy Dixer. TONY ABBOTT: I don't think you can assume it will get through the Parliament, Sabra. There are a lot of Labor members who are very unhappy, members in mining seats, steel-making seats, motor manufacturing seats. I think one of the reasons why the Prime Minister didn't want to announce this in a sitting week is because she didn't want to face the caucus.
Let's face it, this was a package designed by the Greens. It wasn't a package that was designed by Labor and it certainly wasn't a package that Labor members of Parliament had any real input to. SABRA LANE: You've said that you'll rescind this tax in government; will you roll back all the tax cuts and all the additional welfare payments too? No provocation here – just a simple question, for which she already knows the answer. TONY ABBOTT: Look, this is a bad tax and we are against it. We say that you can't fix it, you've just got to fight it. More of the same tired old slogans, which Sabra will not dare to challenge, but she feels she must persist a bit. SABRA LANE: Will you roll back the tax payments and the additional welfare payments? TONY ABBOTT: Well, look what I've said and I'm very happy to keep saying it is that under the Coalition, there will be a tax cut without a carbon tax. Under the Coalition there will be a fair go for pensioners, a fair go without a carbon tax. She's still looking for a gotcha. SABRA LANE: So you'll roll it all back? TONY ABBOTT: Well, as I said, we haven't seen the legislation. Feeling she’s being fobbed off, which she is, she tries again with a daring riposte. SABRA LANE: You're being very tricky. TONY ABBOTT: No, I'm not being tricky I am just telling you our position. Our position is that there will be a tax cut without a carbon tax and there'll be a fair go for pensioners because there won't be a carbon tax. She could hardly avoid asking the next question, but does so benignly. SABRA LANE: Well, how will you pay for all of that? TONY ABBOTT: Well, as I said many times before, Sabra, let me repeat it again on your program, in good time before the next election, we will announce our fiscal position and we will pay for tax cuts out of spending reductions and the thing is Sabra that a tax cut that is paid for by tax increase, it is not a cut. It is a con. These are mirage tax cuts. Not ready to challenge this deceptive nonsense, she tries another slap with a wet lettuce. Her knife is in its scabbard. SABRA LANE: Given that this tax package is dove-tailed with tax reform, your job of rolling it back has been made pretty difficult, hasn't it? TONY ABBOTT: Look, Sabra, it is myth to describe this as tax reform. This is the first time in a generation that marginal tax rates have been increased. The 15 per cent rate goes up to 19 per cent; the 30 per cent rate goes up to 33 per cent. Low and middle income earners face an increase in their marginal tax rates. That is not reform. This is a big tax retrospect-a-scope. That is what it is. Bob Hawke and Paul Keating would be appalled to see this done to the kind of tax reform that they supported. Unable to counter this Abbott-speak, she offers another wet lettuce statement that is not a question. SABRA LANE: But some economists say that lifting the tax free threshold is pretty significant. TONY ABBOTT: I have supported lifting the tax free threshold. What I haven't supported and wouldn't support is an increase in marginal tax rates. That is going backwards. That is reducing the work incentives for low and middle income earners. This is an attack on aspiration. This is an attack on the aspirational classes of our country. That's why it is not fair dinkum reform. So she tries another gentle statement. SABRA LANE: The Treasury modelling shows that the price impacts on families will be quite minimal. At the supermarkets milk will go up by about a cent, eggs two cents. TONY ABBOTT: Um, this tax is just going to go up and up and up Sabra. The carbon price is going to be $29 a tonne in 2020 and that is in 2010 dollars. The carbon price is going to be $131 a tonne in 2050 and that's in 2010 dollars. So look, this price is just going to go up and up and up and I don't think believe this Government. Even on the Government's own figuring, more than three million households are going to be worse off. A single income family with one child under five, on average weekly earnings, is going to be worse off and that's even on the Government's own modelling. SABRA LANE: You say that you don't trust these figures but they've come from Treasury, the same mob that modelled your GST. Note the word ‘mob’; she doesn’t have much regard for Treasury. TONY ABBOTT: As I said, I don't think people are going to believe this Government. I mean why is the Prime Minister any more believable now than she was six days before the last election when she said … SABRA LANE: But you don't trust the figures, they haven't … TONY ABBOTT: Let me finish Sabra, when she said six days before the last election there will be no carbon tax under the government I lead. She is willing to listen to Abbott’s slogans, but unwilling to challenge them or pursue them any further. SABRA LANE: You are going to travel the nation now, much like the Prime Minister, will you visit any steel mills, will you visit Whyalla? You said Whyalla would be wiped off the face of the Earth. Another Dorothy Dixer. TONY ABBOTT: Well, that was the Australian Workers Union and does anyone think for a second, Sabra, that there wouldn't be a steel package had I not been out there fighting for the steel industry, day after day after day. Does anyone not think that if the steel industry was safe the Government would have announced this straight away? No, no, no, I am very pleased to have helped bring about what is a better outcome for the steel industry but I think everyone in the steel industry understands, this is a stay of execution. It is not a permanently good deal. No challenge of the Abbott assertion by Sabra! So more wet lettuce. SABRA LANE: Well, Blue Scope and OneSteel both say that are pretty happy with the package. TONY ABBOTT: Well, let's wait and see what happens to employment at Whyalla and Port Kembla. SABRA LANE: So I take it you won't be visiting steel mills? What sort of a question is that? TONY ABBOTT: Oh look, I will be visiting the workers of this country and letting them know that this is a toxic tax. Let's put the boot on the other foot. Will Julia Gillard be going to Whyalla? Will Julia Gillard be going to Port Kembla? I tell you where she'll be going, she'll be going to university campuses, that's where she'll be going.
She won't be going to the factories and to the mines where the Australian workforce and where traditional Labor voters congregate. SABRA LANE: The Government will put its additional steel compensation package through Parliament. That will then put the heat on you. Will you pass it? Another pseudo-challenging question. TONY ABBOTT: Look, this is a bad deal for the steel industry. At best it is a stay of execution and as I said Sabra, look and see what happens to employment at Whyalla and Port Kembla and that's where we'll discover whether this really is a good package for the steel industry. SABRA LANE: Tony Abbott, thanks for your time. Again, listen to her tone of voice speaking with the would-be PM. You be the judge of who got the knife and who got the wet lettuce treatment. We can all be biased, but I came a way from these interviews infuriated at the negativity, rudeness and sharpness of Sabra’s interview with Wayne Swan and the limpness of her interview with Tony Abbott. Is this yet another sign of the negativity syndrome that seems to be spreading through Our ABC? What do you think?