As trust in politicians and governments continues to erode in Australia, if anything our elected representatives are ramping up their attack on voter trust by lying more flagrantly and more often.

That politicians lie will come as no surprise to voters — apart from anything else, they constantly insist that their opponents are lying. The period of Tony Abbott’s leadership of the opposition saw systematic lying about the impact of the Gillard government’s carbon pricing scheme. But — whether it’s the effect of Liar-In-Chief Donald Trump on political standards worldwide or not — our federal politicians (and governments in particular) are setting new standards in lying. This is a list of the more recent efforts at blatant deception of voters:

  • In April 2017 Malcolm Turnbull claimed that “the Adani coal mine will create tens of thousands of jobs”. Not even Adani ever made this claim — it initially said the mine and associated rail project would create 10,000 jobs but its expert witness in court proceedings later revealed in 2015 that the actual number was 1464 direct and indirect jobs.
  • Turnbull similarly continues to claim that free trade agreements, and the newly-revived Trans Pacific Partnership, will produce “thousands of jobs”. Even modelling peddled by the government about the TPP last week confirmed it would produce less than 0.05% additional economic growth per year for Australia. The Productivity Commission says any benefits from “free” trade agreements are “modest” and in 2013 warned such agreements could actually harm Australian companies and the national interest. 
  • In the 2016 election campaign, Labor relied heavily in its final stages on perhaps the biggest lie told in recent Australian political history, that the government intended to privatise Medicare, based on its consideration of the possible outsourcing of the hopelessly antiquated Medicare payments system — and nothing to do with care or service delivery. The lie played a big role in Labor’s late campaign surge that almost won an unlikely victory.
  • In 2016, both before and after the election, Malcolm Turnbull and the relevant minister Michaelia Cash consistently lied about the benefits of the Australian Building and Construction Commission, insisting construction costs were 30% higher than they should have been, when in fact they had fallen in recent years following the abolition of the original ABCC, and in Turnbull’s case simply fabricating a claim that a new ABCC would create a 20% rise in productivity.
  • In the latter stages of 2017 as the citizenship issue felled minor party politicians, Labor insisted its internal citizenship vetting procedures were watertight, releasing a letter from national secretary Noah Carroll about how “a candidate will not be nominated by the ALP without being cleared.” While the High Court’s blacker-than-black letter law interpretation of the constitution will potentially catch out even MPs who formally renounced foreign citizenship before nominating, no vetting appeared to have been done for Victorian powerbroker David Feeney, who is currently before the High Court with a dog-ate-my-homework excuse for not being able to show he had renounced foreign citizenship.
  • In 2016, the government blamed South Australia’s renewable energy for a blackout caused by a huge storm in that state, despite Turnbull’s own department saying there was no link. Turnbull later had to parse his words to say he hadn’t explicitly blamed renewables, despite criticising renewables while commenting on the blackout, but Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce directly blamed them.
  • The Coalition launched a scare campaign in early 2016 over Labor’s negative gearing and capital gains tax changes, warning they would wreck the housing market and the entire economy. Recently we learnt that Treasury had clearly advised the government that Labor’s policy would have minimal impact on house prices.
  • Last year Malcolm Turnbull was revealed to have lied about the nature of his deal with the Obama and Trump administrations to take asylum seekers from Australia’s offshore processing centres, after initially claiming that it had nothing to do with Australia agreeing to take refugees from Central America. A leaked transcript of a call with Donald Trump showed Turnbull referring to “our end of the bargain” on taking people from the US.
  • Both Turnbull and Julie Bishop were caught out denying that Turnbull had launched a ferocious, expletive-riddled verbal attack on then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott in 2014, but the attack was confirmed. In a similar vein, in 2015, Bill Shorten admitted he had publicly lied about meeting with Kevin Rudd ahead of the latter’s final and successful effort to oust Julia Gillard in 2013.

What kind of political environment is created when major party politicians, up to the Prime Minister himself, so persistently lie about major policy issues?

Peter Fray

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