Opposition and crossbench MPs have attacked Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s arrogance and obfuscation after Crikey released a series outlining his long history of lies and falsehoods while in office.
Labor’s shadow minister for home affairs and immigration Kristina Keneally told Crikey that Morrison “hates accountability and scrutiny”.
“When he gets called out on his falsehoods and lies, his first instinct is to duck responsibility,” she said. “He never admits to getting it wrong, instead he prefers to double down on falsehoods.”
Our series, which we began publishing yesterday, documents the prime minister’s 27 lies and falsehoods told while in office. Morrison’s misleading statements cover a tremendously broad range — from foreign policy on Taiwan to the environment, and baseless attacks on media organisations.
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Greens leader Adam Bandt said the series highlighted the PM’s “arrogance”, warning that his lies on climate change and emissions reduction had the potential to harm Australia’s international reputation.
“Morrison’s lies about Australia’s emissions have become an international embarrassment, which is doing serious damage to our reputation with allies and trading partners alike,” Bandt told Crikey.
“Morrison peddles lies on climate change as he squanders Australia’s golden opportunity to become a renewable energy superpower.”
Former prime minister Kevin Rudd said Morrison, along with News Corp, was lying at the highest levels.
“PMs of both parties have sometimes used ambiguous language in difficult political/policy circumstances. But Morrison is first to systematically lie — right to people’s faces,” Rudd tweeted.
But documenting the PM’s lies also comes with a sense of frustration. Around the world, voters are jaded and inured to political lies. Faced with falsehoods, they simply shrug. By The Washington Post’s count, former US president Donald Trump made 30,573 false or misleading statements while in office, leaving Morrison deep in the shade. Still, 74 million Americans voted for Trump.
Nobody, meanwhile, has come up with an adequate mechanism to stop political deceit. Last year, the Australian Capital Territory passed laws cracking down on false political advertising. But there’s little that can be done when a political leader demonstrates a constant, systematic indifference to the truth.
Independent MP Zali Steggall said she was “shocked” at how few standards politicians faced for using parliamentary privilege to mislead people.
“The biggest fraud on the Australian people is when politicians are again and again able to mislead the Australian public without any consequences,” she told Crikey.
Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie said Morrison’s behaviour set the tone for Parliament. She urged him to front up to the Australian people if he got things wrong.
“There’s this attitude around parts of Parliament House that makes people act like it’s fine to tell lies and half-truths to the Australian people,” she said.
“Anyone who’s unlucky enough to sit through five minutes of estimates has heard the verbal gymnastics that senior public servants do to avoid answering questions. Australians are fed up with that sort of behaviour and I reckon it comes from the top,” she told Crikey.
But lies like this are about more than simply providing a “gotcha moment” that highlights a politician’s hypocrisy. Morrison is still favoured to win the next election. And as independent Senator Rex Patrick says, years of obfuscation and misdirection are a good reason why trust in politicians has eroded over the years.
“Australians deserve far better from their elected officials. There has been a complete collapse of ministerial responsibility and parliamentary accountability and this needs to change,” Patrick said.
The damage may be more than simply structural. As Bandt points out, Morrison’s misleading on climate change could have long-term future repercussions. And according to Patrick, we’re struggling with the consequences right now, as Australia’s vaccine rollout stalls.
“Not only is this lack of trust a bad outcome for democracy, it also leads us to problems in times of crisis like vaccine hesitancy,” he said.
Morrison’s office has not responded to repeated requests for comment.