The influence of newspaper media has been underlined by the collaboration of two rival national mastheads in support of a national summit to bring about economic reform.
The Australian and The Australian Financial Review have combined for the first time to back the one-day National Reform Summit, an event co-ordinated by the Menzies Research Centre, on August 26.
It will feature 80 leaders from major groups, including the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Council of Trade Unions, and the Australian Council of Social Service.
The event had its origins in informal talks in March between Menzies Research Centre chief executive Nick Cater and former Labor minister Craig Emerson, together with the editor-in-chief of The Australian Chris Mitchell and The Australian Financial Review editor-in-chief Michael Stutchbury.
The two rivals agreed to support the summit “to encourage a more bipartisan approach to fixing Australia’s problems”.
The summit will produce a series of statements and recommendations that both newspapers believe the nation and government should act upon, and these will be presented to the government.
Mr Emerson, who will help co-ordinate the event, said newspapers had a vital role to play in the summit.
“Newspapers can propagate a new sentiment, and that is one of co-operation and consensus building against a background of the last 20 years of rancour and division,” he said.
“Inevitably, there will be criticism at the summit, but to have major newspapers on board means that at least good news can be news.”
Mr Emerson believes the role of newspapers in this arena is unique and unrivalled.
“Newspapers can obviously go into greater detail. And a news story on television news, even in the unlikely event that it was aired… would be short,” he said.
“Newspapers can accept opinion pieces, editorialise, and do their own features on them; potentially that’s very powerful.”
Editor of The Australian Clive Mathieson recognises the influence of their newspaper, and wants to use this to improve the standard of living in Australia.
“Our newspaper, and The Australian Financial Review, they’re very influential. They set the news agenda, not just on daily basis… but we want to set the agenda beyond that, we want to help develop the best policies for the country,” he said.
Mr Mathieson wants The Australian to be a forum for debate that shapes the nation.
“We want to provide a platform for debate, encourage all voices to be heard. Our newspaper stands for certain things, and we will argue for those points of view,” he said.
Mr Stutchbury also wants the same thing for The Australian Financial Review.
“I think this is a classic sort of thing that a national masthead should be doing… We’re pro-economic growth, pro-opportunity, pro-market based opportunities, and we provide a forum to reflect those views and debate them,” he said.
He understands that the two papers are rival publications, however he recognised that this was an important issue on which to collaborate.
“Even though we’re rival publications and very competitive, in the area of economic policy there’s more common ground then there are differences,” he said.
“We’ve both identified there’s been a failure in the political system and, as a result, it seemed like this is a reason to really demonstrate what we’re calling on a political place to do.”
Mr Mathieson said the collaboration would not stop the two papers from competing with each other.
“This collaboration doesn’t mean that we’re not still fierce competitors, we’re just putting aside our differences for the betterment of the country,” he said.
Mr Stutchbury wants to provide a forum for politicians to recognise that, despite their differences, there is a common ground between them.
“Politicians haven’t been able to reach practical consensus to drive things forward, and we’re hoping to show that, beneath the surface, there is a lot of common ground,” he said.
Mr Stutchbury believes that the focus on policy reform has drained away over the past 10 to 15 years.
“In this era of this 24 news cycle and Twitter, politics has become more of a circus, and it’s failing to do what it’s supposed to do, that is come up with policies that are in the national interest, and promote widespread opportunities and prosperity,” he said.
At the summit, the groups will look at policy options in four areas: fiscal sustainability, tax reform, better productivity and workplace participation, and retirement income policy.
Mr Emerson said the collaboration would make it easier for the major political parties to embrace good reform. “It would make it harder for their opponents to profit politically from opposing that reform. It seeks to assist the parliament, not to condemn it,” he said.
For more news from The Newspaper Works, click here.