It is clear to everyone with eyes that the Murdoch press, and especially The Australian, is currently campaigning actively for Howard. The editorials and opinion pages do not matter but the front page stories what is covered and how are having and will continue to have a big impact on the political debate. Indeed, it appears that there is a two-way alliance between Howard and The Australian. Howard ministers give the Australian exclusive stories and feeds them official leaks while the newspaper highlights things which are positive for Howard (or embarrassing for Rudd) and this is acts as a cue for Coalition leaders.
The latest example is not nearly as dramatic as some of the others in The Australian recent weeks (nor indeed is it untruthful as far as it goes) – but it is of interest all the same as additional evidence of media spin.
The story relates to ABS new release 6537.0 on Government benefits, taxes and household income. The Australian story has the slant that this new publication shows that the Howard Government is helping battlers. In fact, all that the article does is highlight a boring old story that we have all been aware of for a long time that Australia has a highly effective redistributive system.
What the Australian story fails to do is to look at the TREND in distribution of taxes and government benefits over time. Although changes in methodology make precise comparisons difficult, the ABS (Appendix 5) does reveal that between 1998/9 and 2003/4, the richest 1/5 of the population got an increased share of government benefits (such as health and education) and contributed a substantially reduced share of total taxes. People in the lowest income quintile also did well (indeed better than the top quintile). The losers were Australians in the second income quintile: in the five-years to 2003/4, they received a lower share of government benefits and had to pay a higher share of taxation!
The net gains made by the richest Australians and associated deterioration in the position of lower middle class Australians tells a more interesting story about the Governments impact on “Howard battlers” than the one highlighted in the front page of The Australian. This is not to deny in any way that Howard has been very generous with his family benefits for low-income families (and more recently with tax offsets) and deserves credit or it.
The power of spin!