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Booming economy is the main event

<em>Illustration: John Shakespeare</em>

Illustration: John Shakespeare

Harold Macmillan, the former British prime minister, was once asked what had troubled him most in office.

''Events, old boy, events,'' he replied. Macmillan's big event was the Profumo scandal of 1963, in which his secretary for war lied about bonking the luscious Christine Keeler, mistress of a Soviet naval attache.

The Gillard government is similarly plagued. We have had the Kevin Rudd Event, the Craig Thomson Event and now the Peter Slipper Event, to name the top three. All of them pretty much of Labor's own making.

But here's a novel idea. Beneath these alarums and excursions there is a competent government struggling to get out.

It brought us through the global financial crisis by keeping its head when all around were losing theirs. (Britain went into double-dip recession just this week.)

The economy is humming along, with inflation, unemployment and interest rates at historic lows. Remember the hollow boast of Messrs Howard and Costello that interest rates would always be lower under the Coalition. In fact, that dithering duo managed to get home mortgage rates up to 13 per cent at their worst, twice what they are today. This month's Reserve Bank cash rate is 4.25 per cent, and likely to come down another notch next Tuesday.

Sure, some sectors of the economy are doing it tough. But it's because economies evolve. Farriers, ostlers and postilions were doomed when Gottlieb Daimler invented the automobile and Henry Ford built his T-model on a production line.

The department stores that once studded the Sydney CBD are long gone. Grace Bros, Anthony Horderns, Farmers, McDowells, Waltons, Bebarfalds and Mark Foys vanished with the rise of the suburban shopping mall and the likes of Harvey Norman. Now, in his turn, the writing is on the wall for Gerry Harvey because Tim Berners-Lee created the internet and Jeff Bezos came up with Amazon.com. It's called progress. Ain't the government's fault.

But wait, there's more. For years now, Tony Abbott et al have been shouting that Labor will never manage a budget surplus. Ho hum. Wayne Swan will deliver one next month. We also have a resources tax that will share the common wealth of the Commonwealth more fairly, and a carbon tax that will actually put more money into the kick of most Australians and small business while meeting our international obligation to deal with climate change.

Yes, and Labor has also made big leaps in education funding, aged and disability care, mental health and dental health. It is building the national broadband network, which will bring benefits we cannot yet imagine.

The truly amazing thing is how lousy the government is at selling these successes. Hopeless, just hopeless. Events get in the way every time.

FOR A master class in how to connect with the voters, every minister from Julia Gillard down should be made to watch repeat after repeat of Bob Brown's performance on the ABC's Q&A last Monday.

He was nothing short of brilliant, a conviction politician at the top of his game. Eloquent, lucid, logical and serene, he could have charmed the birds from the trees.

You didn't have to agree with him to be impressed by his sincerity. Even the Tory provocateurs in the audience were met with courtesy and humour.

I have been a Bob Brown fan since that splendid event in October 2003, when he interjected during George Bush's address to a joint sitting of Parliament. Dubya, you will remember, was oozing flattery from every pore. Brown spoke up for the two Australians, Mamdouh Habib and David Hicks, illegally banged away in Guantanamo Bay.

''I call on you to support the rule of law. Treat them like Americans,'' he called. ''If you do, the world will respect you.''

The sycophants went nuts. Brown was elbowed and jostled by Coalition MPs. Abbott moved that he be ejected. George Brandis, the Queensland Tory, utterly lost both his head and the argument by babbling that ''contemporary Green politics [bears] chilling and striking comparison with the political techniques of the Nazis and the fascists''.

My other Brown moment happened when he came to a radio interview a few years ago. Most politicians, certainly party chieftains, front up in a government limo with a retinue of flunkeys. The leader of the Greens arrived in a taxi by himself. Afterwards, he asked the way to the nearest railway station to catch a train back to town. A man who practises what he preaches, I thought.

Parliament and the nation will be the poorer without his noble presence in public life.

JOURNALISM can be a dangerous business. Not so much in this country, where the hazards are largely cirrhosis of the liver, the odd angry litigant and terminal cynicism. And, for the less fortunate among us, there are the perils of working for Rupert Murdoch. (His appearance at Britain's Leveson inquiry this week was a hoot. Never tells his editors what to think, never pushes his corporate interests in his papers, etc.)

Overseas though, it's a different story. In the past year alone, more than 100 journalists and other media workers have been killed around the world while doing their jobs. Many died reporting war or civil strife.

In February, Marie Colvin of Britain's The Sunday Times and a French freelance photographer, Remi Ochlik, were killed in the shelling of the city of Homs in Syria by the forces of the evil Bashar al-Assad. In our own Asia-Pacific region, 32 have died in the past year.

Other journalists have been murdered to get them out of the way; at least 53 in Russia alone since 1992, according to the CPJ, the Committee to Protect Journalists worldwide. Countless more are behind bars in the prisons of dictators for the crime of reporting the news.

Which is why we hold the Press Freedom Dinner in Sydney each year. It's a rollicking affair, but the serious money raised goes to support the families of media professionals dead or jailed. This year's bash is next Friday at the Four Seasons Hotel, with the ABC's Sarah Ferguson as guest speaker.

Goodies up for auction include a dinner cooked for you by the delicious Annabel Crabb, or a gourmet evening with Tony Jones (aka Mr Sarah Ferguson) at Tetsuya's. All welcome. If you'd like to know more, google Press Freedom Dinner 2012.

smhcarlton@gmail.com

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