Banquet of the Chooks: MYEFO budget leaks gobbled up in media feeding frenzy

by | Dec 15, 2021 | Economy & Markets

They sure were feeding the chooks last night. Rupert Murdoch’s The Australian went live with its “exclusive” story at midnight: “Covid-19, NDIS, in $50bn blow to mid-year budget”. Michael West takes a light look at the Morrison government’s media and marketing tactics.

The words “expected to reveal” have been prolific from the scribes of the Canberra Bubble this week. Blaming the Budget blowout squarely on disabled people like its News Corp peers, Nine Entertainment’s AFR went live around the same time last night, around midnight, with its “The $26bn NDIS blowout taking the gloss off MYEFO bottom line”.

The actual MYEFO, the mid-year Budget update would not be released until tomorrow.

Yet the two major henhouses of the corporate media had been fed: News Corporation and Nine Entertainment. The economic narrative from the government has been set: the cost of looking after Australia’s disabled, and Covid, are the culprits for Australia’s debt-heavy economic outlook.

Clucking of the breakfast chooks

Morning TV and radio, along with the rest of the press, are now following up these amazing, investigative, independent, fair and balanced scoops. 

Covid as culprit? Fair enough. The disabled? Well, the foundering NDIS is privatisation, another failed execution of poor government policy.

Nine’s AFR kicked off its page one “exclusive” this morning from the usual “a source”: “Thursday’s federal budget update is expected to reveal a blowout of about $26 billion over the next four years due to the spiralling costs of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, taking the gloss off expectations about how quickly federal finances can recover.

Ironically, both page one “drops” were branded “Exclusive”. In reality, both came straight out of the offices of the Prime Minister and Treasurer.

Chooks doing somersaults

The chooks have been running wild all week as the PR yard-hands of the PM’s office have been scattering about the tasty morsels. Just a day earlier, The Australian had been glowing with another MYEFO drop: “$7bn new deal to drive jobs”. Until last night, the mid-year Budget fairytale from the government had been “economy in strong rebound”.

Good old Deloitte, which coincidentally makes hundreds of millions of dollars a year in fees from the government, had been roped in to burnish the government’s economic credentials as usual.

A couple of days earlier, Deloitte had led with its chin, predicting – as the headline in the Guardian put it – “Australia to improve budget bottom line thanks to rapid vaccine uptake, Deloitte predicts”. The other chooks ran the same line. Given the government was globally one of the greatest ditherers on vaccine roll-out, this was a beauty.

Chook whispers

No matter that the Deloitte prediction was for record budget deficits of $240bn over the next four years. The headline, the angle to focus on, was that, thanks to the Government’s brilliant management of the economy, the Budget was better than expected.

As The New Daily had been fed two days prior: “Mr Frydenberg is expected to reveal a better-than-expected economic picture on Thursday. Deloitte Access Economics projects MYEFO’s budget deficit to be potentially $100 billion smaller than feared.”

In just two days, MYEFO has gone from “better than expected” to a budget which has been sabotaged by the disabled. What had changed? PR, that’s what had changed. As the AFR’s chief political correspondent Phil Coorey puts it this morning: ““People are underestimating spending pressures,” counselled a source”. We could have a stab at the “counselling source” but who are these mysterious “underestimating people”?

There was some clarity on this: “… sources cautioned it (MYEFO) would not be as rosy as the $103 billion improvement estimated by Deloitte Access Economics in its Budget Monitor released on Monday”. Stab in the dark here … but the “people” underestimating the scintillating economic outlook were the Canberra Bubble people who had reproduced the press release from the Deloitte people a couple of days earlier.

There are people everywhere.

The other narratives carefully seeded in the pastures of mainstream media ahead of MYEFO, deliberate propaganda noises designed to drown out the reality of record debts and deficits, corporate hand-outs, Brobdingnagian pork barrelling and the whirr of the government’s printing presses, are tax cuts, migrants and small business loans.

Murdoch’s Sky News – whose parent NXE Australia has been secretly whisked off to Delaware this year, again paying no tax on its $2.7bn income, according to this week’s ATO corporate transparency data – was running the “migrants are good for the economy” line. This was no accident or feat of tenacious investigative journalism either. The gullible xenophobes in the Sky audience are largely anti-immigration but one of the greatest challenges for Treasurer Josh Frydenberg is now pressure on wages. So Sky is suddenly calling for, you got it, immigration.

Immigration and tourist workers dried up during Covid and small business is mired in a labour crisis; where to find workers, how to retain them on low wages. So the natural spot for the MYEFO migration “drop” was Sky, which dutifully ran its, “Migrants to power economy in MYEFO update” advertorial.

Big business has done its bit, tipping in political party donations to help keep the government in office doing as it’s told. But big business doesn’t vote, small business does, they are the Liberal heartland.

Clucking for privatisation

So it was also that The Australian front page two days earlier had led with the Canberra Bubble drop “$7bn new deal to drive jobs”. None of the customary News Corp derision about other people coming to Australia right now. Better them than to have to pay more for Aussie workers.

All in the space of two days; MYEFO fabulous to MYEFO not so fabulous because of disabled people.

You can bet, when the morning shows and talk-back stations cover the mid-year Budget today they won’t be dwelling on the fact that, like the failed JobActive scheme, the NDIS is now a feeding trough for fee-takers, middle people and main-chancers who have put the cost of the scheme through the ceiling.

Just as JobActive privatised the service of finding jobs, NDIS has privatised services to the disabled. It is the middlemen and middlewomen who – thanks to poor government policy of privatisation and outsourcing  – now have to get a feed too, a billion-dollar feed, and more.

Michael West established michaelwest.com.au to focus on journalism of high public interest, particularly the rising power of corporations over democracy. Formerly a journalist and editor at Fairfax newspapers and a columnist at News Corp, West was appointed Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Sydney’s School of Social and Political Sciences.

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