I remember being at the national press club at about the time that Paul Keating had announced a further sell-down of the Commonwealth Bank. The trajectory was virtually the same as Telstra. From memory C1 was an initial float of 30% of the equity (ostensibly to ‘pay for’ the taking of equity in the Victorian State Bank). Keating was now announcing C2 the sale of another 19 odd percent on this occasion to dodgy the budget into looking a bit better by rearranging assets.
Keating was asked at the press club “”if you’re in for a penny, why aren’t you in for a pound ? Why not 100%?” Keating said that he wasn’t selling more of it because Australians needed a bank that was rolled gold safe that Australians needed the option of a Commonwealth Government guaranteed and majority owned bank. It stopped the press in their tracks at the time, but I remember making a mental note. I thought “hmmm odd argument. I haven’t heard that before. But given that it also locks Keating into not selling the rest of the Commonwealth Bank I guess he means it.”
Of course Keating went on to complete the privatisation with nary a murmur. No doubt Kerry O’Brien or someone quoted the words back to him, but I didn’t see it and it certainly wasn’t a big deal. it. If someone did quote his words back to him, that was for a a few embarrassing seconds. And then the moving finger, having writ, moved on. I never heard about it again.
I remember the chagrin on the ALP side when Dr Hewson’s ‘Fightback’ plan came with an appendix many pages long of nothing but Keating quotes saying not just that the GST was a good tax, but that the country was a two bit hic economy without it.
I guess I’d like to see the press push this kind of basic credibility thing much harder. Each time Keating argued something, (or perhaps just a couple of times every interview for a few months) his interviewer should say something like “well thanks for that argument Mr Keating but how do we know there’s any conviction in it. You might be just making it up like you were for the Commonwealth Bank and the GST.” But that would involve the media being actively non-partisan and probing, rather than passive just reporting everything on a ‘he said: she said’ basis.
Likewise right now John Howard’s ‘formula’ for responding to questions about the leadership is that he’ll stay for as long as his party wants him. Now it’s possible he gets a tap (or a thud) on the shoulder to end his reign, but it’s much more likely that he’ll go when he feels like it ie that he won’t stay for as long as his party wants him. I haven’t heard a single reporter even question his formula. And of course once he does go, the media will immediately segue into end-of-an-era nostalgia.