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Political spin 101

May 8, 2010

Laurie Oakes has done an interesting piece of investigative journalism that has revealed the incredibly active spinning machine that is the government:

A controversial feature of Swan’s Budget speech last year was the absence of any mention of the deficit – either the figure or the “D” word itself.

To try to establish whether this was due to spin or a stuff-up I applied under the Freedom of Information Act for all instructions or requests from Swan’s office on what should be included or excluded.

The result gives a rare insight into the mechanics and politics of drafting a Budget speech.

There was, for example, a month out from Budget day, the first email from Swan’s deputy chief of staff, Jim Chalmers, to Dennis Glover, a speechwriter brought in to provide some literary flair.

Chalmers requested from Glover and other involved in the drafting the “full horror story” of the GFC around the world, followed by a description of its impact on Australian jobs and revenue – with “lots of empathy and honesty and expectations management”. You can bet that “expectations management” will be important this year as well.

The speech went through a series of drafts. Eleven days from delivery Chalmers was asking a Treasury official to “make the global recession language a bit more dramatic”.

A week out Rudd started making suggestions. From then on, the Treasury computer’s Budget Speech folder included a new section labelled “KR version”. The word “deficit” disappeared between the second-last draft and the final version.

On the day before the Budget, with the speech about to go off to the printers, Chalmers emailed a Treasury officer saying: “Jason, can you please also check we have said ‘deficit’ at least once, somewhere?”

But by then, like everyone else involved in the Budget preparation, Jason was probably dog-tired.

If only they put that much effort into running the country.

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