Watching our Treasurer, Wayne Swan, deliver the highlights and low points of his2009 Budget was reminiscent of the Warner Bros. cartoon character Elmer Fudd, caught in a spotlight of his own making. Nervous, with small beads of sweat, our senior financial officer sounded neither confident nor sincere. Lacking was the force and rhetorical skills of treasurers’ past — Costello, Keating and Howard.
Without the inside knowledge of the who, what, where and why of computer-modeling and the secret financial information the Treasury holds close to it’s chest, citizens can only but trust what they are being told. And trust was something missing on Tuesday evening. Trust is something that has been dying over the past twelve months as the Rudd government’s spin machine becomes more cheeky, and the shifty workings of it’s spin doctors are gradually exposed by a more inquisitive media.
Citizens cannot be expected to understand complex economic detail and the art of economic management, but they can spot silly arguments and Loony-Tunes evasion of the bleeding obvious. So you would image in these stressful times of world financial upheaval, spin would be out and truth would triumph. Not so.
Welcome to BUDGET 09.
Apart from the pre-budget leaks (they are something like pre-budget drinks, where your guests get softened-up), there was the most skillful bit of media manipulation — Wayne Swan’s YouTube stunt. Silly trusting folks (a.k.a. citizens) might have thought that this little video showing the day in the life of a national-living-treasurer, at work during his preparation of the budget, was just a toss to the YouTube viewing, younger set.
But no, this was skillfully executed underhand spin, designed to get the treasurer (looking fresh and chirpy) onto the Monday evening news. The YouTube video has only received 3292 viewers on YouTube while the extracts, fed to the TV news and current affairs outlets, would have caught millions of viewers. Well spun, spinners!
Unfortunately, what is now happening with discerning readers and viewers is that their attention is being diverted to “find the spin”, rather than paying attention to what is being stated. After 30 minutes of Wayne Swan endeavoring to capture our imagination and support, the spin-coaching efforts of his media minders killed the message, and the messenger. You can only listen to so much waffle on “nation building” , “financial responsibility”, and the wondrous feats of team Rudd’s Magic Pudding Club.
The near $59 billion deficit will, presuming an interest rate of 7%, need something like $4 to $5 billion to service. The $300 billion loan debts will need something like $20 to $25 billion to service, EACH YEAR. That figure looks very close to the amount that Peter Costello managed to structure into his last budget as a surplus.
“It’s not what you say, but the way that you say it” goes the line. Like when Kevin Rudd announced that his government would spend $2.7 billion on putting insulating batts into private homes. He said it would create 4000 jobs. What he didn’t say was that it would work out at $675,000 per job.
As Wayne Swan was telling the Australian Parliament, and the Australian people, that the $59 billion deficit, and the $300 billion borrowing debt that the government intended, was a “temporary stimulus measure” there appeared a strange apparition on my 42 inch Sony HD screen. There was Elmer Fudd, in the bath, pulling out the plug. The bath water (the nation’s treasure), was gurgling down the plug-hole, and all Elmer could say was that it was “only temporary” and the bath would be full again by 2015.
Gosh! Where’s Bugs Bunny when you need him!