Writing in The Australian (5/1/05), Scott Davies, a former senior ALP adviser, confirms that Mark Latham chose “evergreening” to draw attention away from his party’s unconscionable delay in approving the free trade agreement (FTA) with the US, and the fact that the party was so divided. Mark Latham admitted as much in his diaries.
It was possible to mount an argument against this or indeed any FTA on economic and public benefit grounds, but these were thought too complicated to raise in an election. (I would not agree with them - but they are arguable.)
What Latham wanted was to knock the gloss off Howard’s signing the FTA with the world’s super power. Hence the "danger" of evergreening. Davies says an industry representative put it this way:
… It's a bit like saying we don't want sharks in Lake Burley Griffin; we will do all we can to protect the public from these sharks and, by the way, what has the Howard Government done to protect you from these sharks and why won't they pass our anti-shark amendments?
Latham achieved his objective beyond his wildest dreams .The absolutely appalling fact is that most in the media went along with this. I wrote about this in Malice in Media Land in 2005. This goes to the very state of investigative journalism in Australia today.
Max Suich argues that while journalists in Australia now have more freedom to determine what goes into the media than ever before, they have “blown” the opportunity to fulfill their primary function after informing the people that it is “to persuasively scrutinise the centres of power and build their authority through credibility”.
Instead, he says, they have taken the easier path of “opinion dressed up as fact-based comment”.
The fact is our journalists too often ignore important issues such as electoral fraud. Or they treat important issues as a game rather than doing the hard work necessary to undertake the serious scrutiny that is warranted.
When, in August 2004, Mark Latham finally persuaded a highly divided Labor Party to support the FTA with the US, he put two conditions.
One was that local content rules protecting Australian programming, hitherto determined by the ABA, be entrenched in legislation. This was in case the ABA, on a whim, suddenly decided to reduce them - which they could not do any way as the ABA was required to go to public consultation first. That is expressly stated in the Broadcasting Services Act. The only aspect to be so entrenched by legislation was the wholly cosmetic transmission quota, not the crucial drama and other sub quotas. Moreover, there was already a fast track process for parliament to overrule the ABA.
The second condition was ostensibly to protect the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS). So that generic drugs could enter Australia, Mr Latham insisted that the lodging of a “bodgy” patent application attract enormous fines. Realising legislation along these lines was never feasible, he later changed his target to penalise any vexatious litigation instituted to prevent generic drugs entering Australia. The stated object of this condition was to ensure Australians could still buy cheap drugs on the PBS. But the price of any drug under the PBS is determined by the government.
All of this was clearly a transparent attempt at a distraction to hide and justify the reason for the delay. Apart from the editorial writers in The Australian and The Australian Financial Review, most journalists seemed unable or unwilling to examine the issues, some openly offering the excuse that it was all too complicated.
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