4.7 Dominant themes in coverage

For articles between May and July 2011, we examined a selection of articles to identify a series of themes commonly used to frame arguments against the policy. We identified articles where there was a dominant theme around which the story was narrated.

Of the articles, which had a dominant theme, 73% framed the debate about the policy in terms of Australian economic issues. The strong economic framing of the debate was consistent across the publications. These articles were divided into those that were about loss of investment or jobs and those that focused on impact on prices.

43% of articles were focused on impact on investment and job market and 30% on the impact on the cost of living impacts, which in most cases meant the price of household items. In both of these the policy itself was mainly referred to as a ‘tax’.

As Figure 4.7.1 shows, the SMH, The Age, The Courier Mail and The Australian focused more on impact on investment and jobs while The Daily Telegraph and The Mercury highlighted the potential impact on prices.


‘Carbon tax slug double whammy’ was the headline on a news report in the Herald Sun on March 2, 2011. The story began:

“Consumers would be forced to pay more in GST, stamp duty, capital gains tax and even council rates under Julia Gillard’s scheme. Opposition finance spokesman Andrew Robb said a carbon tax would be a “tax on a tax” that would feed into the price of almost every consumer item and service. Mr. Robb said it could add thousands of dollars in unforeseen costs in building and furnishing a home. “It’s lifting the GST and a host of other taxes by stealth, “ Mr. Robb said.”

The story also briefly quoted Monash Professor Henry Ergas, as agreeing that a tax could cause other taxes to rise and PM Julia Gillard who accused the Opposition of a ‘scare campaign.’ It finished by again quoting Mr. Robb: “With a new home most of the materials are energy intensive. It would be carbon tax riddled and it could add many thousands of unforeseen costs that are not being compensated for.”

Nearly 14% of the articles analysed had the issue of Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s or the Federal Labor government’s alleged lack of integrity as their dominant theme. Nearly all of these focused on PM Julia Gillard’s pre-election ‘promise’ not to have a carbon tax.

The Daily Telegraph (26%) more strongly adopted this ‘lack of integrity’ theme than other newspapers. For example, on June 12, 2011, Piers Akerman published a column, ‘The science behind tricking the public’ which began:

“The mendacious Gillard government is continuing its drive to impose a punitive carbon dioxide tax on Australians while refused to address the key issues. Put aside if you can the lies that both the Prime Minister and her deputy Treasurer Wayne Swan, told the electorate before the election….”

The theme of another 11% of the articles analysed was that there was ‘no point’ in implementing the policy. Only 2% of articles framed the debate in terms of the relative merits of the Opposition Coalition’s policy position. Other minor themes included the cost of ‘carbon cops’ or compliance bureaucracy that would be needed to monitor the policy and the cost of the government’s advertising campaign.

Although at time of publication, we have not coded the arguments put forward in favour of the tax, we observed a low level of exploration of the environmental benefits of the policy. (A more detailed framing analysis will be conducted in later part of the project).

Figure 4.7.1: Breakdown of themes in articles in which there was a dominant frame, across 10 Australian newspapers from Feb. - Jul. 2011.
Newspaper Economy, jobs, investment Prices No integrity (Gillard) No point (policy) Abbott's policy is better Other
Herald Sun 61 37% 60 37% 24 15% 15 9% 4 2% 0 0%
The Mercury 20 33% 24 40% 7 12% 8 13% 1 2% 0 0%
The Sydney Morning Herald 82 45% 65 35% 23 13% 9 5% 5 3% 0 0%
The Advertiser 43 43% 31 31% 8 8% 18 18% 0 0% 0 0%
The Age 74 52% 32 22% 10 7% 25 17% 2 1% 0 0%
The Australian 206 50% 81 20% 67 16% 43 10% 9 2% 7 2%
The Courier Mail 66 52% 26 21% 13 10% 19 15% 2 2% 0 0%
The Daily Telegraph 29 25% 44 38% 30 26% 9 8% 0 0% 4 3%
The Northern Territory News 24 39% 26 43% 5 8% 5 8% 1 2% 0 0%
The West Australian 20 28% 37 51% 9 13% 4 6% 1 1% 1 1%
Total 625 43% 426 30% 196 14% 155 11% 25 2% 12 <1%

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