Journalists love to think they’re smart. After all, they know things. And then they tell you. They are supposed to know more than you – it goes with the job.

Sometimes this isn’t true.

Welcome to the stage, Malcolm Farr

Malcolm Farr likes to think he’s smart. Sometimes he is. But that’s becoming less frequent.

Take yesterday, for example:

This was not good. There’s so much wrong in just those few words.

As some of his audience soon told him.

David Walker, well done. You nailed it.

Competition is awesome

It’s been almost 30 years since the airline industry in Australia was deregulated.

A lot has changed, but prices are our focus today.

In 1991, a year into deregulation, a fare from Melbourne to Canberra was about $185. In 1991 dollarydoos.

On Qantas, if you want to be in Canberra tomorrow morning, it will cost around $1000 because you have left it to the last minute. Not smart. Airlines do this for two reasons;

  1. Urgency at the last minute means airlines can charge more than they can at slower times (you know, supply and demand).
  2. Airlines want to discourage last-minute flying because it makes it harder for them to forward plan.

If you planned your life just a little bit better, you could be in Canberra this week for just over $200. In 2018 dollarydoos.

Wow! That’s cheap!

As the 1991 BITRE report noted, since deregulation:

… extensive discounting has become a feature of domestic aviation in 1991, and the traveller has been educated to shop around for cheap air fares, many people who would normally travel by land have chosen to travel by air [page 63].

Yes, if you shop around (and plan ahead) you get a better fair. And air travel was so cheap in 1991 that it was able to compete with cars.

Shocking, but true.

But there’s more.


In 1991, average weekly earnings were about $30,000 year, so flying Melbourne-Canberra took about two days’ work:

In 2018, full-time adult earnings are about $1650 a week, so the airfare is paid for in about five hours.

So even forgetting cost in raw dollars (which are only symbolic really), the amount of time it takes you to pay for the fare has dramatically decreased. That’s awesome.

Why this matters

It is diabolical that a journalist doesn’t understand these basic facts about the time-value of money or of the benefits of competition.

It is frightening that these are the type of people invited into our lives to tell us about the world when even simple concepts are beyond their comprehension.

But let’s give Farr the benefit of the doubt.

Let’s assume he made a mistake …  in which case, what made him think that every snarky thought he had required a snarky tweet so easily shown to be stupid?

This matters. Because people like Farr lament the quality of politics and are constantly throwing barbs at everyone. Maybe politics would be better if the quality of journalists were better, or they didn’t rush so quickly to judgment.



Feature image: Qantas.