Thursday, November 06, 2008

Swan's shemozzle

I'll fill you in on the reasons later, but Lenore Taylor in the Australian summarises well what happened, and how it felt:

"POLITELY asking Wayne Swan what the inflation forecasts are didn't sound like a question to stop a press conference.

But when the Treasurer took almost 1 1/2 minutes to answer, fumbling through notes and looking around to his staff for assistance, it reduced the room to dumbfounded, foot-shuffling silence.

As his obvious discomfort grew, time seemed to stall in the small room used for important government press conferences. The Treasurer's staff -- probably aware rushing to his aid would only make the situation worse -- started studying their shoes almost as soon as the question was left hanging in the silence.

Eighty long, quiet seconds later even seasoned reporters were looking around for a way to end his agony. Finally someone asked the Treasurer another question and as he answered he managed to find the inflation figures that had eluded him.

At least when then deputy Labor leader Brian Howe walked into a cupboard while trying to get out of a press conference in 1991, the embarrassment was mercifully brief...

It's likely that, in preparing to deliver the bad economic news of the mid-year economic forecasts, the Treasurer had been focusing on other things. After all, once the global economic crisis began in earnest, the Rudd Government's "war against inflation", declared earlier this year, petered out as confidence grew that the inflation genie was going to pop itself back into the bottle.

That, for the record, is pretty much what the new Treasury forecasts did show when Swan finally found them. Inflation is now forecast to be 3 1/2 per cent this year, falling to 3per cent next year and 2 1/2 per cent in the two years thereafter.

That finally puts it back in the Reserve Bank's target zone. But both the bank and the Government are concentrating on far more pressing problems. It just goes to prove that perceptions of both the magnitude of problems and the passage of time are relative.

The race that stopped the nation on Tuesday took more than twice as long as Swan's desperate search for the inflation answer yesterday. Yet, compared with the uncomfortable aftermath to the question that stopped the press conference, the Melbourne Cup seemed to fly by in a wink."