Scott Morrison lies. A lot.
“All politicians lie,” voters might say. But in fact most politicians, at least until recently, generally didn’t lie, but instead tried to avoid saying the truth — refusing to answer inconvenient questions, engaging in casuistry and hair-splitting over things they’d previously said, or simply sticking rigidly to the talking points their media training had taught them to mouth regardless of what was happening around them.
Scott Morrison does this, too, like all politicians and his predecessors as prime minister. But he also goes beyond this and lies openly and frequently, about matters large and small — Australia’s carbon emissions, or an inquiry in relation to a sexual assault within the ministerial wing in Parliament House, or simply whether he spoke to someone who refused to shake his hand.
And Morrison lies more when he is under political pressure. When Crikey began investigating the demonstrable lies of Scott Morrison in 2020 — not evasions, not casuistry, but lies — we rapidly found a large number. Many of them were uttered when Morrison was under pressure in the wake of his clumsy mishandling of the Black Summer bushfires at the start of that year.
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In mid-2020, when his, and the nation’s, political focus was on handling the pandemic and the recession, there was — the occasional bit of Commonwealth-state sniping apart — relative national unity. Labor sought to limit its opposition to the government to constructive criticism, and Morrison, relaxed in his role of national leader, stopped lying.
But this year so far has been a different story. With the collapse in the government’s fortunes under the twin pressures of Morrison’s inability to address gender and sexual assault issues and his bungling of the vaccine rollout, his level of lying — especially blatant lying — has increased, including a straightforward case of lying to Parliament, which used to be a capital offence in Australian politics.
This year has also given us the example of Donald Trump, who demonstrated that incessant and aggressive lying need have no direct political cost. Even in defeat, Trump secured an extraordinary, record level of support from US voters and retains the Republican party in his thrall, ousting one senior Republican for daring to criticise his lies about the 2020 election.
While not in Trump’s class of remorseless mendacity, Morrison has often lied about things he has no need to lie about — that he spoke with bushfire survivor Zoey Salucci-McDermott, or that Kevin Rudd traveled overseas during the pandemic. That’s in addition to more blatantly self-serving lies designed to prevent political embarrassment.
The Crikey dossier, published today, collates a number of statements over time from Morrison that are demonstrably untrue. Some were clearly intended to mislead, and Morrison must have known they were untrue when he uttered them. We’ve marked these clearly as “lies”. Other statements by Morrison were untrue, or turned out to be so, and Morrison should have known they were untrue or ill-founded at the time, but it’s harder to make the case that they were deliberately intended to mislead in a way beyond that which normal political discourse is designed to mislead. We’ve marked these as “falsehoods”. There are a great many of both, and most of them have been uttered while Morrison occupied the highest office in the land.
Politicians are, as a matter of long tradition, regarded as some of the least trustworthy people in the community. The most senior politician of all has repeatedly demonstrated that that lack of trust is entirely justified — to a degree far beyond any previous prime minister.