THE LAST GASP: It’s a date

Julia Gillard draws the battle lines for a showdown at the polls, the Coalition falls for the budget surplus trap and Linc's shares soar after a 'fat finger' calculator debacle.

The Last Gasp is a wry take on the week’s news, every week. This week, Julia Gillard sets a date for her goodbye party, the Coalition’s budget battle brings a bit of dj vu, and Linc Energy benefits from somebody’s wildly irresponsible calculation.

And then a step to the right

We’re off and racing, so to speak. Except instead of the entertainment associated with a traditional racing contest, the Australian public is faced with the dark horrors of the longest federal election campaign of all time. And should it follow the form set in Canberra late last year, everybody loses. Prime Minister Julia Gillard shocked the nation midweek when she set a date for this year’s ballot, long before anyone had remotely been expecting it. Reaction to the move was mixed; some saw it as a great way to avoid months of public guesstimating, while others saw it as a cunning attempt to give opposition leader Tony Abbott just enough rope to hang himself. The Jewish community was among those most upset, with the date of the vote, September 14, coinciding with this year’s Yom Kippur, the faith’s holiest day. Conversely, the happiest person in Australia right now is Tim Mathieson, who finally has an idea of when he can start booking that long-awaited extended holiday.

In the know

A week after placing Nova Perris at the top of Labor’s Northern Territory Senate ticket on her own volition, it was logical to assume that Gillard would be keen to show she wasn’t the total Lone Ranger that her predecessor Kevin Rudd was before he was quickly dealt with by the ALP caucus. Then, suddenly, she called an election without telling most of her cabinet. Or even the Governor General. The Labor inner circle was quick to send out assurances that it was not at all put off by the move, but Gillard didn’t seem to care anyway, insisting that, like the Perris call, this was a Prime Minister’s decision alone. Spare a thought for senior ALP ministers though, who have a right to feel a little left out given their reputation for secrecy. If history has taught us anything, it’s that if one group in Canberra that can be trusted, it’s the federal Labor cabinet.

I feel like we’ve had this conversation before

Future ‘by default’ prime minister Tony Abbott began the week by setting out part of the coalition’s policy platform for the upcoming election. The dress rehearsal outlined how a Liberal National government would tackle the mining tax, carbon price and red tape, but neglected to mention returning the budget to surplus, something the opposition had been expected to go pretty hard on, given the amount of attention it has been drawing to it of late. And how badly the government buggered it up. To clear up any confusion, Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey said the Opposition would be sticking to its plan to deliver a surplus in its first year of government, despite what would appear to be insurmountable odds. Abbott made public appearances later the same day, where he seemed not as keen to place a hard target on the primes. And for a while, at least, it seemed like the opposition may have been going a bit cold on the surplus pledge. At which point you could have been forgiven for thinking the whole thing seemed oddly familiar.

The price is wrong, Sir

The heavy cost cutting that has plagued the print media sector is slowly spreading to its broadcast cousin, with television stations Nine Entertainment and Seven Network unveiling a raft of cost-cutting measures this week. Somebody got their hands on an email from Nine boss David Gyngell which said the company had to make the cuts to stay tough in a difficult environment, while Seven has taken the axe to two of its popular programs. Both The Price is Right and Today Tonight have been given the chop, the latter of which will have the greatest impact on the nation’s psyche. No Today Tonight? Whatever will we do? Celebrate, I guess. Despite the cancellation, at this point it appears Seven is simply taking stories pre-prepared for TT and attempting to pass them off as actual news in a bid to fill its extended six o’clock bulletin. Which is kind of worse, to be honest. At least when you watched TT, you were expecting crap. Now they’re trying to sneak it up on you.

The missing Linc

The events surrounding Linc Energy’s sudden and inexplicit share price surge really occurred last week, but it wasn’t until the weekend that what had actually transpired became clear – stupidly clear. The story started rather innocuously, when Linc released a statement showing two independent experts had found there was a significant chance shale oil reserves existed at the group‘s Arckaringa Basin site in South Australia. The best estimate came in at over 200 million barrels, with the key words there being ‘chance’ and ‘estimate’. The market barely batted an eyelid when the release first came out, but it’s what happened the next day that had investors frothing at the mouth. A variety of media reports suggested that Linc was sitting on a potential $200 trillion – no, that’s not a typo – in crude, sending its share price into orbit. The number, of course, has no foundation, and most likely originated, according to Linc at least, from some hack pulling the number from god knows where. The miner, to its credit, clarified the situation as soon as it could, appearing in the morning papers the day after the spike holding their hands in the air and saying ‘Whoah up, guys’. As you could imagine, the whole thing calmed down after that everything returned to normal. Oh, what was that? The stock rose another 8 per cent the next day despite the clarification? Screw this, I’m out.

Quick misses

– A suburban cinema in Melbourne has pulled all advertising from global burger giant McDonalds from its features, because if there’s anything that‘s not tolerated in the cinema industry, it’s junk food.

– Australia and Germany signed a bilateral agreement this week, because if there’s one thing this nation was missing, it’s stronger ties with Germany.

– In the wake of the damage caused by the recent Queensland floods, the Greens have called on the federal government to create a permanent disaster fund. The money would be kept aside and used only in the event of complete national disasters, such as the unlikely event that the Greens win more seats in the lower house come September.

– And finally, Facebook posted a sharp decline in fourth-quarter profit this week, hurt by a drop in young girls posting pictures of themselves pulling stupid face in the bathroom mirror.

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