Yet the witches chorus of Murdoch hacks, talkback quacks and business lobby flaks has convinced a blissfully ignorant and disengaged Australian population that the economy is descending into a fiery hell of the Gillard government's own making. Every initiative is quickly woven into a bogus, manufactured and hysterical narrative about policy incompetence that virtually everyone in the MSM (and the government itself much of the time) tacitly accepts as the truth.
For those who pay more than a modicum of attention to what is going on outside the echo chamber that constitutes the Murdoch press, commercial television and radio and parts of the ABC - and all you need to do that are Google alerts and a couple of RSS feeds - much of the developed world economy is in the crapper. Washington has run out of IOUs and the political experiment that was the single European currency is coming apart under the pressure of economic reality. Yet Australia is thriving. Insofar has we have problems - a suddenly savings conscious consumer and an overly strong currency - these are only so in comparison with the extraordinary period of leverage-driven consumption that went before.
So amid this endlessly echoing cacophony, hearing voices of reason from outside our own self-generated din provides refreshing reassurance that one is not insane. Among them in recent weeks was a bewildered sounding editorial in that pillar of the globalist neo-liberal establishment The Economist which asked how a country so magnificently endowed could conceivably blow it by descending into the sort of partisan-for-the-sake-of-it carping and negativity that has brought Washington to a standstill . This noise is amplified by a cynical media whose he-said-she said parroting of deceitful scaremongering - usually for the sake of ratings points and ad dollars - just reinforces the ignorance of their readership.
"Many Australians do not seem to appreciate that they live in an unusually successful country," The Economist said. "Accustomed to unbroken economic expansion—many are too young to remember recession—they are inclined to complain about house prices, 5% unemployment or the problems that a high exchange rate causes manufacturing and several other industries. Some Australians talk big but actually think small, and politicians may be the worst offenders. They are often reluctant to get out in front in policymaking—on climate change, for instance—preferring to follow what bigger countries do."The Economist reserved special condemnation for Tony Abbott's importation of the Tea Party's tactics of wilful obstructionism and contrarianism. While Abbott's media cheerleaders say this has always been the role of the Opposition, his tactics aren't about providing an alternative viewpoint but mindless wrecking for the sake of making government impossible. And his results are impressive, with a public debate now at the point where detestable shockjocks ritually urge violence against our elected representatives. And no-one bats an eyelid. No-one, of course, apart from people watching from overseas and wondering how a country with such good fortune and so much potential could sink into such a stinking morass of its own making; people such as the influential Bloomberg business news columnist William Pesek:
"The politics of pessimism is a tried-and-true formula," Pesek writes. "Blame those in power for every conceivable ill, employing plenty of hyperbole and lots of volume. It's a sure way to dominate the news cycle. As 2011 unfolds, though, something feels different, more apocalyptic. Politicians, radio shock jocks, TV pundits and editorialists are tripping over themselves to call Julia Gillard the worst prime minister Australia has ever seen, today's economic climate the most dismal and tomorrow's outlook the most disheartening in history."Pesek notes that Australia does have some challenges - like needing to invest more in infrastructure and education and working out what to do with the squillions from the mining boom. But, as he says, these are good problems to have at a time when much of Europe is heading for default and political paralysis in Washington is threatening a total shutdown of the government. While Australia has a rolled gold opportunity to use its prosperity to build a sustainable future, the country's politicians - living in fear of a media that does not look beyond the next deadline - are prisoners of a negative news cycle.
"Australia's obstacles are far less dire, though you wouldn't know it," Pesek writes. "The country needs an honest and transparent debate about harnessing the mining boom, but it's getting a petty brawl between Gillard and Abbott. Anything Gillard proposes, Abbott derides as economic suicide. (Meanwhile, having successfully killed the resource super profits tax), Australia's business community figures it can dump Gillard. Her sin is making an effort to lead. She is pushing something that's inevitable globally as temperatures and sea levels rise: a tax on carbon emissions. The knives are out and the punditocracy is telling Australians they will be homeless if Gillard gets her way. It would be silly if it weren't so pernicious."Pesek has it right. The media and public discourse in this country has reached a point where people are not being trusted with the truth. Indeed, the media for the most part is not interested in pursuing the truth because manufactured conflict is proving a good business model.
Ultimately, journalism at its best is built on three pillars - trust, truth and objectivity. The latter attribute is the one that is least understood. It doesn't mean employing fake equivalence or 'balance' - as in ensuring every argument from every vested interest is given equal weight. It does mean providing context for readers, testing the veracity of politicians' claims (what are the chances of the coal industry shutting down overnight?) and providing points of comparison and contrast with what is happening elsewhere. It means supplying perspective.
And couldn't we do with some of that right now?