13 May 2007

Headlines for Howard: Miracles And Revelations

Has YOUR ABC been successfully intimidated into acting like pro-Howard hacks? Yesterday they ran the headline: McKew needs 'miracle' to beat Howard in Bennelong. You had to read a full two paras into the story to discover the truth:
High-profile Labor candidate Maxine McKew says she will need a "miracle" to take Prime Minister John Howard's Sydney seat of Bennelong at the upcoming election.

The former ABC journalist was speaking after a poll in a Sydney newspaper today suggested she would win the seat if an election was held now.
McKew is actually two points clear of Howard, which is surely the real, newsworthy point here. McKew was just trying to stress that she remains the underdog, so I guess you could argue that the ABC journos were actually helping her. But even that (IMHO) would be a breach of journalistic ethics. The correct headline was: "McKew Leads Howard In Bennelong Poll".

Here's another interesting headline, from Fairfax this morning: PM's push to reveal violence in schools. "Reveal"?
THE Prime Minister, John Howard, will demand that schools make available to parents information about bullying rates and incidents of violence on their premises...

Tonight's speech is an attempt to win back the key election issue of education for the Coalition from the Opposition after both sides promised to shower money on it in last week's budget tussle.

It is designed to emphasise the Federal Government's commitment to parental choice and stress its belief that education is just as much about socialising and behavioural learning as it is about formal learning.
There are some good points hidden in there: Howard is trying to make school bullying an election issue, knowing full well that his elite private school supporters will be able to post better grades than their cash-strapped public school competitors. Maybe that's got something to do with the extra government funding these schools get, allowing them to hire better teachers? Maybe it's got something to do with the perpetually low wages paid to government teachers?

What's really happening is that Howard is trying to create a wedge issue to differentiate his education policy, which is currently a mad scramble to catch up with Rudd. I mean, who ever thought we would hear Howard, of all people, saying things like this:
"We want to provide teachers and principals with the necessary support for their essential work. School teachers are an important but undervalued profession. Teachers work hard in the interests of their students, and my Government's role is to provide further support in their crucial work shaping the lives of future generations."
But again, the SMH headline seems misleading to me: what's being "revealed" here is nothing any engaged parent would not already know about their kids' school. Don't get me wrong: I think school bullying is a hugely important issue. But the word "reveal" suggests Howard is trying to spotlight an issue that has been neglected for reasons beyond his control. The truth is quite the opposite.

After a decade of Howard government, there is indeed a stark difference between the manicured lawns of Alan Jones' Kings College and the paint peeling off the over-heated fibro shacks where my kids are headed. There's a difference between the topless convertibles in the private school teachers' carpark, and the rusting Commodores in the public school grounds. And the pupils' behaviour is an inevitable reflection of those Howard government priorities.

Howard is not "revealing" anything that has not been plain for all to see (who care to look) for a very long time. Let's keep an eye on those headlines, folks.