An ex-employee of the NSW Cabinet Office once told me that the daily routine of he and his colleagues went something like this:
- Arrive at office.
- Read The Daily Telegraph.
- Prepare briefing papers for Premier and relevant Ministers on the issues raised in each article in The Daily Telegraph.
He assured me this was no exaggeration. According to this public servant, the Carr Government’s daily plan consists of little more than responding to and dealing with anything that appears in the Telegraph.
By its actions, the Government gives the Telegraph enormous power to set and shape the agenda in NSW. The Telegraph has always wielded this power with glee, but seems to have stepped up a gear this year.
This year’s official “Telegraph campaigns” have ranged from saving the ADI site in Western Sydney to helping “Captain Commuter” Rebecca Turner score a fare-free day on CityRail.
This past week has again demonstrated just how powerful the Tele is. The unlikely subject was Christmas fairy lights in central Sydney: the Telegraph suddenly decided that Lord Mayor Clover Moore hadn’t put up enough Christmas flim-flam on the city streets. My own recollection is that Sydney has never really gone all out at Christmas in the style of London or New York. We’re a more laidback city, and it’s normally just a big tree in Martin Place and some lights on the Town Hall.
But the Telegraph decided that Clover was “the Grinch who stole Christmas”, and accused her of being motivated by some kind of fanatical political correctness. The Tele’s reporter put someone else’s “politically correct” quote in her mouth. He also ignored the fact that the City of Sydney is apparently spending more on Christmas decorations this year than in the past.
Christmas is certainly not under threat. Even if it was, the real villain is commercialisation and the indifferent attitude of mall owners. Nevertheless, the reporter went out and manufactured a bit of hue and cry, got talkback radio onto the case, and suddenly an absurd little story became the “Big Issue of the Week” in Macquarie Street.
Carr and Brogden immediately held press conferences and backed the Tele’s line, as they always do. Since then, we’ve seen Carr constantly talking about Christmas. The other day, he even sang “Jingle Bells” on the evening news. It was silly stuff.
The recent P-Plate campaign, highlighting the unnecessary deaths of young drivers, has followed a similar trajectory. Story after story. Outrage, big headlines, big photos, emotive pleas from “ordinary people”. As a result, a pressing and serious issue that the Government had been trying to put on the backburner is now being fastracked through the consultative and legislative process.
I respect the media and the role they play in the political process. My criticism isn’t really of the Telegraph, although I think their ongoing campaign to undermine Clover Moore is blatantly biased and unfair.
What worries me is the Carr Government’s spineless pandering to the Tele and talkback brigade. Why isn’t the Premier guided by good policy and progressive Labor ideals, rather than the whim and wiles of the Telegraph’s editorial team?
It’s no way to run a Government, as has plainly become clear in the Carr Government’s many emerging failures - most of which result from its chronic “short-termism”. As an historian, Carr should know that today’s headline is tomorrow’s fish and chip wrapping. He should follow Clover’s admirable example: She continues to run her own race rather than let the Tele’s insidious carping wear her down.
If the Premier was prepared to be guided by enduring principles rather than today’s Tele front-page screamer, this State would be a much better place - trains might run on time and Carr might actually leave the lasting legacy he craves.
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