Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Election 2013: Day 10 (or, I’m 70% confident there’s a preference for bias)

One of the more interesting things is to watch where candidates campaign. In 2007 in the last week Kevin Rudd surprised many when he turned up in Cairns which is in the seat of Leichardt. The sitting member, Warren Entsch was retiring and the ALP thought it had a chance to win. And win it did – with a 14% swing to take the seat.

In 2010 Entsch came back and he re-took the seat with an 8% swing and he currently holds it with a 4.6% margin.

It is the 6th most marginal LNP seat in QLD, but you would think a longshot for the ALP to pick up. And yet today Kevin Rudd was back in Cairns

This doesn’t necessarily mean that the ALP thinks it is a chance to win it; it is as likely that they know they have to go for everything they can possibly get.

It’s only in the last week that the real focus on where the candidates campaign takes on full meaning. But it is something to keep an eye on.


Today Kevin Rudd was in Far North Queensland spruiking skills. He’s been on the skills and training kick all week. Today the big announcement was:

$209.8 million for 137 new Trade Training Centres.

The selling point was that

This investment is part of our positive plan to ensure all Australian students are given every opportunity to secure high-skill, high wage jobs beyond the China mining investment boom.Election 2013 live- Tony Abbott says sex appeal comments were ‘a bit exuberant’ – politics live blog - as it happened - World news -

It’s a good policy, but it got no traction because the big “news” of the day was all about preference deals.

One aspect about this policy is that in 2007 Rudd promised 2,650 of these trade trainings centres over the next 10 years (ie till 2018 – as it started in 2008) to be in every secondary school.

At present we have around 250 completed. But the policy has changed a bit. Now the trade centres are more like “hubs” where one centre will service a number of nearby schools.

The latest information from the Department (which came out today) on the centres is:

More than $1.4 billion has now been approved for 510 projects benefitting over
1290 schools.  Over 60% of these schools are located in regional Australia and of the 29 schools  identified in RSD priority locations, 26 have now been approved to benefit under the Program.

Of the previously announced projects, over 70% have already been built – this is a
great achievement considering the first funding round only opened in March 2008.

At the 2010 election the LNP promised to scrap them.,

No idea what they’re going to do this time round; they weren’t saying today, they were just complaining it was all going too slow. 


Tony Abbott this morning announced via his party’s newspaper that the Liberal Party would not preference the Greens in any seats.

The statement was initially:

I have directed the Liberal Party to preference the Greens below Labor in all 150 House of Representatives seats.

By the time of his press conference though it became:

I have today instructed the Liberal Party organisation right around Australia that we should put the Greens last.

Geez, they’ve couldn’t even keep a consistent message for a whole morning.

The preference deal won’t matter much. In the seat of Melbourne and maybe Denison in Tasmania.

Preference deals only matter if the Greens are going to finish above the LNP. Other than that it’s all show.

And that show is about telling voters the LNP won’t ever work with the Greens and that they don’t want a minority government.

Again, there’s no basis in reality here – the Greens would never side with the LNP over the ALP in a hung parliament. Abbott continues to say he won’t make any deals and that if it is a hung parliament there should be another election.

He then followed this announcement saying:

“This is my captain's call and I say to Mr Rudd be man enough to do the same.”

Geez, ain’t it good that men are back running the country again?

Kevin Rudd had to respond to this sideshow of an issue, and given it was Julia Gillard who organised the deals with the independents, he was only too happy to run a mile from it saying,

We’ll be not entering into any coalition agreements, we won't be having any negotiated agreements, we won't have any deals with any independent or minor party.

But he also said he would try to work with whatever parliament was elected. And so both sides should.

Elections are not the cheapest of things going around, and we elect a parliament in the belief that an effort will be made to form a government. If neither leader is prepared to do that then their party should dump them at that point and put in a leader who will find a way.

Tony Abbott had nothing else to announce today other than in Wyatt Roy’s marginal seat of Longman, where he announced $250,000 for the Caboolture netball association.

So a bit of pork for the marginal seat.

Tomorrow it is Tasmania again for Mr Abbott where we’ll see if he adds to his “Tasmanian Special Economic Zone” policy he first talked about last week.


Tony Abbott also went on 2SM radio talking to John Laws:

He noted of same sex marriage that:

“Well, we have to be conscious of the fact that we are all the product of the society, of the culture, of the circumstances that have shaped us and I’m not saying that our culture and our traditions are perfect.

But we have to respect them and my idea is to build on the strength of our society and I support by and large evolutionary change.

I’m not someone who wants to see radical changes based on the fashion of the moment.

Now I’ll give him a slight benefit of the doubt and say when he was talking about “fashion of the moment” he was talking more in general terms, than of same sex marriage.

But the thing is same sex marriage is actually an example of evolutionary change. It’s not radical at all. Numerous states in America allow it, Britain, New Zealand, Canada, Spain, France and others nations do as well. A majority of Australians support it.

If the move to same sex marriage is not evolutionary, then no change is.


Last Friday I noted that while news.corp tabloids were unsubtle in their bias, The Oz was no less dodgy when it came to reporting the state of affairs.

On that day the front page made very idiotic use of the unemployment data to suggest QLD’s employment situation was a hell of a lot better than it is, and also to label Rudd as wrong.

This morning because I was working on various things, I hadn’t got round to reading The Oz, until I was alerted by a blogger from @ConusBusiness to another economics' crime on The Oz’s front page.

Conus Business’s blog post on it is excellent, and largely I will be reiterating and elaborating what they have noted.

Now yesterday I noted that in the PEFO, Treasury had released a graph showing its confidence intervals for its Real GDP growth projections. I noted that this was a great idea because it showed just how difficult it was to predict things years in advance.

I naively thought it would give journalists a bit more knowledge so that their reporting would be more accurate and more aware of the context of Treasury predictions.

Of course I forgot to put in the caveat that this does not apply to those writing for The Oz.

The Treasury also had another graph that showed the confidence intervals for nominal GDP. Nominal GDP is more crucial for the budget because it affects revenue (because you pay tax in a nominal amount, not adjusted for inflation).

Here’s the graph:


For those who prefer words to graphs, this is how the PEFO explained the graph:

The average annualised nominal GDP growth over the two years 2011-12 to 2013-14 is expected to be a little over 3 per cent, with the 70 per cent confidence interval over the two years from 1¾ to 4½ per cent (Chart B).

So the darker grey area is the 70% confidence interval. Treasury is 70% confident that nominal GDP from 2011-12 to 2013-14 will be between 1.75% and 4.5%.  When we look at the next three years (the 2011-12 to 2014-15 part) the range goes from 1.75% to 5.25%.

Fairly straight forward.

But when you need to come up with a front page story that suggests growth is in danger of tanking and that the budget truly is in “an emergency”, well then you have to be a bit less even handed.Oz fibs on economics yet again

So here’s how David Uren and David Crowe explained it on the front page of The Oz

“It says there is a 70 per cent chance that nominal gross domestic product growth – which is the value of all goods and services produced – could be as little as 1.75 per cent a year for the next three years against a central forecast of 3.5 per cent.”

Now that is just as dodgy as it gets.

If you look at the graph you can see the confidence levels are the same amount above the 3.5% central forecast as below.

There is not a 70% chance of nominal GDP growth for the next three years being as little at 1.75%. There is a 70% chance of nominal GDP growth for the next three years being between 1.75% and 5.25%.

I guess they didn’t believe their readers would like to know that there is a bit of an upside to the confidence interval as well.

Because everything in their article focuses only on the lowest level of growth occurring.

As the ConusBusiness folk note, saying there is a 70% chance of nominal GDP growing as low as 1.75% is as disingenuous as looking at the figures and saying Treasury believes there is a 90% chance nominal GDP will grow by as much as 6.25%.

Now you might think, oh well they played fast and loose with the confidence intervals. Big deal. It’s just a small part of their article.

The problem is they use the 70% chance figure to justify the entire thrust of their article. Here’s the lede paragraph:

TREASURY has sounded a dire warning that the budget could be in far worse shape than the government's economic statement suggests, with revenue possibly falling much lower and spending rising higher.

OK. Dire warnings. They need to provide something to support that. So what do they write?

“The document suggests revenue could easily be $30 billion a year less than the budget forecasts, while spending could be rising 50 per cent faster across the next decade than dictated by the government's budget strategy.”

Now the spending aspect is right – I noted it yesterday as well when I pointed out that while the Govt aims to keep spending growth at 2% in real terms, since 2008-09 it has grown by 3.7% (which is actually more than 50% higher, I really missed my chance to go for a headline).

But how do they come up with “revenue could easily be $30 billion a year less than the budget forecasts” line? Well they use the 70% figure:

“It said every percentage point error in the nominal GDP would raise the deficit by $6bn, mostly because of lower tax revenue. This suggests there is a 70 per cent chance that the deficit could be as much as $30bn a year worse than Treasury's forecast.”

How do they come up with $30 billion?

Well 3.5% (the central predicted growth figure) is 1.75 percentage points higher than 1.75%. So we do some “maths” and have 1.75 times $6 billion and then times 3 years to get $30 billion.

What a load of bullshit.

Because you could just as easily write:

“It said every percentage point error in the nominal GDP would lower the deficit by $6bn, mostly because of higher tax revenue. This suggests there is a 70 per cent chance that the deficit could be as much as $30bn a year better than Treasury's forecast.”

Both examples are terrible reporting. And yet oddly Uren and Crowe chose the version that aligns with the Liberal Party’s view of the budget situation. And that version ended up on The Oz’s front page.

I know. The shock.

I don’t know either David Uren or David Crowe personally, but I have chatted quite a lot with David Crowe on Twitter. He was a fine journalist when he worked for the AFR, and I thought him an excellent hire by The Oz. But his name was on last Friday’s piece of biased crud, and it is there again today on this one.

Crowe likes to take to Twitter and talk about his pride in the mainstream media. I would suggest embarrassment is the more appropriate feeling he should have for these two efforts. 


But hey, both Davids should not feel too bad. After all they didn’t write this:

Election 2013- Reporter Lauren Novak joins Opposition Leader Tony Abbott on a morning run through Brisbane -


And everyone can take a moment and be glad that so long as Mark Latham is around, there’ll always be someone in the world who is a bigger tool than they are:

Sex appeal controversy- Tony Abbott had beer goggles on, says Mark Latham -


daybee said...

confidence intervals are hard for journos. Chris Uhlmann's 7.30 report description was a beauty: "CHRIS UHLMANN: But the other difference in Treasury's look at the books are its added extras. One describes the confidence spread attached to its predictions. That shows the chance of Treasury being 90 per cent right about the growth in national income is two percentage points either side of its forecast."

Greg Jericho said...

Oh dear.

Anonymous said...

Hi Greg
I have to say that I can't always decipher the graphs etc but I do get the conclusions. I just want you to know that, no matter if you only get a couple of comments each day, I really appreciate your blog. Pls keep it coming, even if only just for selfish me.
Doug, Canberra

Greg Jericho said...

Thanks Doug.