|Issue No 27||20 August 1999|
Piers in the Dark
When Peter Reith was rolled on the Oakdale entitlements by his Prime Minister and Cabinet this week he was less than gracious in defeat, giving credit to the Daily Telegraph rather than the workers and their union for their successful campaign.
The line was delivered at a dour Sydney doorstop where Reith also made some most mean-spirited remarks about Bill Kelty, exposing a deficiency in his character that could ultimately frustrate his leadership ambitions.
But back to Oakdale. Reith's spin is probably between half and quarter ways to the truth. The mainstream media did pick up on the plight of the Oakdale miners and as Liberals' polling was obviously showing, public opinion had swung firmly behind them.
A series of front-page stories in the Daily Telegraph humanising the injustice obviously helped. So too did the spirited advocacy of the miners cause by radio talkback king and miner's son, Allan Jones.
The combination of Telegraph front-page and 2UE inevitably shaped commercial television news values, which is where opinions are really changed. Honest miners ripped off by shifting Ministers on foreign junkets do tend to resonate with the punters.
But this would be to ignore it was a rival newspaper, the Sydney Morning Herald, that led the charge on workers entitlements, running a week-long series of major reports in the middle of the dispute when other media had lost interest.
And somewhere in the equation the miners, their union and other workers across the state deserve some credit for refusing to let the issue die when it had passed the mainstream media's one week attention threshold.
The series of protests, rallies and ultimate 24-hour coal stoppage kept the attention on the Oakdale miners, defying the cliches to humanise the victims and thus win the public relations war.
Regardless. In backing the Oakdale miners through to the end the Daily Telegraph has done a truly good thing. It has been a positive influence on a political debate that has the potential to have a very real impact on the lives of its audience.
For once, the Telegraph has remained faithful to the ideals of a workers' newspaper. The only tragedy is that this is the exception rather than the norm.
And where does Piers fit into all this? Leading the charge on behalf of the Oakdale miners? Not on your Nellie.
As Federal Cabinet was moving in to roll Reith, Piers was tapping out his tortuous prose to provide some sort of justification for ongoing government inaction on the issue.
"The unfortunate Oakdale miners", may have been ripped off, but Piers is more interested in accusing them of inflating the amount of entitlements they were owed.
Piers then backs in Reith's soft-option of a minimalist insurance fund to provide a safety net for retrenched workers - or at least keep them off the front page of the Telegraph.
He rejects the notion that the government should be more actively involved in protecting workers from the impact of economic restructuring because of "the loathing of centralised government that many Australians feel". Vintage Piers - government should not act because people (probably some of Piers' closest friends) don't like government.
But Piers saves the best for last, pre-empting the PM with the old Precedent Argument - the idea that you can't give justice to the Oakdale miners because then everyone would want it.
He then tries to wrap the predicted Howard cop-out into ideological pyjamas, with the strange conclusion that we needed less government intervention not more.
Less than 12 hours later, Howard had decided to intervene to restore the Oakdale entitlements and stop the damage to his "battler's friend" image. At the end of the day, he too accepted that Piers lines of reasoning were just too shaky to sustain.
And so he rolled his Minister, who could only give credit to the Telegraph's campaign. Even in victory, Piers was glorious in defeat.
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Last Modified: 15 Nov 2005