ALAN AUSTIN. How many seats will the Coalition win when the truth is actually told?

Australia’s election results are routinely distorted by fake news about the economy. Alan Austin explores what this might mean in seats won and lost.

THE LOWER HOUSE result in the 2019 Election was barely changed from the 2016 outcome. With electorates up from 150 to 151, Labor lost one seat, the Coalition gained one and Independents gained one. No change to the Greens or any other minor party.

So what might have happened if voters were actually well-informed about the marked deterioration of the economy since 2013 and the real policies Labor and the Greens had formulated? These have been systematically falsified by the mainstream media over the last three years and, indeed, over the last three decades.

There is broad consensus that economic management is electorally critical. As Christopher Pyne said twice on Q&A recently,

“Every election in Australia is decided on the economy.”

What he meant, of course, was “perceptions of the economy”.

Seasoned ABC TV presenter Barrie Cassidy conducted a revealing interview with Treasurer Josh Frydenberg on Insiders the morning after last month’s election (19 May). In a rare moment, Cassidy challenged one of the Coalition’s favourite falsehoods. But the Treasurer won out.


FRYDENBERG: He [Prime Minister Scott Morrison] sold our economic plan to the Australian people, a plan that resonated with them …

CASSIDY: And maybe when you told people that Labor was introducing a retirees’ tax, they believed you?

FRYDENBERG: Well, it was true.

CASSIDY: No, it’s not.

FRYDENBERG: There was a $57 billion …

CASSIDY: Explain to me what a retirees’ tax is.

FRYDENBERG A retirees’ tax was a change to the franking credits system …

CASSIDY: That’s not a tax.

FRYDENBERG: It was a tax because these people had based their retirement on receiving a, a cash refund in the event that their marginal tax rate was below 30 …

CASSIDY: So Labor was proposing to take away a concession. Where’s the tax?

FRYDENBERG: The tax was on all those one million-plus retirees, Barry, who have done nothing wrong …

CASSIDY: They are taking away a concession and you call it “a retirees’ tax” …

This exchange concluded with this compilation of falsehoods, after which the defeated Cassidy changed the subject and Frydenberg said:

‘The choice was very clear around the tax claims. We were lowering taxes while guaranteeing essential services, infrastructure spending at record levels, creating new apprentices, paying back Labor’s debt. And Bill Shorten and Labor were promising $387 billion of higher taxes.’


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Several points to note here. Frydenberg almost certainly knew his assertions were false. He also knew he could brazen his way through because Cassidy would eventually back off, which he did. Chances any other reporter would follow it up were negligible. In fact, the other three political reporters on Insiders that day – from ABC Radio, The Age and The Australian – all applauded the Coalition’s tactics. Coalition MPs now know there are no negative consequences for lying. Only gains.

The major falsehoods

The principal falsehoods disseminated by the Coalition and the mainstream media include:

  • the Coalition has now returned the Budget to surplus;
  • the Coalition has fixed Labor’s debt;
  • jobs and growth have advanced under the Coalition;
  • the Coalition has lifted infrastructure spending to record levels;
  • taxes are always higher under Labor;
  • Labor planned a new tax on all retirees;
  • Labor planned to reintroduce death taxes;
  • house prices will soar under Labor;
  • house prices will collapse under Labor; and
  • the Coalition always manages the economy better.

The actual data shows each of these is quite false. Most are the opposite of the truth.

On the issue of “Labor’s debt” to which the Treasurer referred, we now have the data on debt as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) for most developed countries to the end of 2018.

The first chart, below, shows the level of gross debt carried by all 36 wealthy, developed member countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in 2013, when Labor lost office. Australia’s debt to GDP was a very modest 16.8%, the third lowest, behind only Estonia and Chile.

Incidentally, those three countries also had the lowest debt – in the same order – back in 2007. So, while they increased their borrowings through the global financial crisis (GFC), all three remained best-performed in the OECD.

The second graph shows the debt repaid or added during the boom following the end of the GFC in 2013. Of the 36 OECD members, a solid majority of 22 reduced their debt to GDP. Another 12 increased it by less than 10% of GDP. Only two countries blew out their debt by more than 10% – Australia and Chile.

Clearly, Australia has gone from one of three best OECD members on debt management in 2013, to one of the two worst today. Yet most media outlets stated or implied that Australia’s current debt was still Labor’s fault.

Areas of serious deterioration

Australia’s jobless ranking tumbled from ninth in 2013 [World Bank figures], to 13th in 2016 and a lowly 18th on the latest numbers.

Australia’s economic growth now ranks 15th in the OECD — down from top six through the Labor years, first in 2009. Another 14 areas of severe reversals are summarised, with links to the data, here.

Australia’s overall economic management has collapsed from best in the world in 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2013 to 13th in 2016 and 21st-ranked last year.

Political impact of the falsehoods

So, an intriguing question arises. What may have been the election outcome if voters understood these economic realities?

The Coalition currently holds 77 seats in the House of Representatives — a majority of just three. A total of 38 Coalition seats are held by a margin of less than 10%.

If just 5% of all voters realised they were being lied to and switched sides, 15 seats would change from the Coalition to the reformist parties (all other things being equal). That would give Labor/Greens 84 and the Coalition 62.

If 9% of voters realised they were being duped and switched, 35 seats would change. That would give Labor/Greens 104 and the Coalition 43.

That is pretty much what their economic record deserves.

You can follow Alan Austin on Twitter @AlanAustin001


Alan Austin is a freelance journalist with interests in news media, religious affairs and economic and social issues.

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8 Responses to ALAN AUSTIN. How many seats will the Coalition win when the truth is actually told?

  1. Avatar Charles Lowe says:

    We have two huge problems.

    Mainstream media is one.

    Adequate truth marketing is the second. And the second is going to have to help resolve the first.

    The Labor Leadership team has got its strategic work cut out for it – and there are no signs to date it’s going to be able to cut any mustard.

  2. Avatar Jocelyn Pixley says:

    Labor did offer policies to restore economic activity and, quite rightly, it could hardly say a recession is upon us, pre-election. GW Bush did that and was blamed for “ruining confidence”. The point is the RBA, which also felt constrained pre-election, told it as it is straight afterwards, with the ABS data also showing things are bad, proving Morrison was all lies. However, Albanese appears not to be defending the best of Labor’s policies. That I think is a huge mistake.

  3. Avatar Greg Keough says:

    Thanks Alan,
    You have nailed the primary reason for the election result and demonstrated that unless some significant change occurs future elections will continue to be decided by the best liars and the most subjective news sources.
    Many of us who have an interest in our future and actively maintain some interest in politics and issues that affect us and our nation possibly think that most voters also stay abreast of matters when in fact too few people do so and their only exposure to information that will inform their decision on election day is what they see on news headlines and billboards in the short period before they vote. I was astonished when a poll conducted soon after Scott Morrison’s elevation to PM showed that a low percentage of people knew of him, or that he was the nation’s Treasurer!

    If Australia is to maintain the current system of compulsory voting for all eligible citizens then it is imperative that they are fully informed of the facts in order to see governments elected based on facts, not bullshit or lies.

    Our most important need to bring about change is to legislate to require the media, politicians, political parties and anyone making a political statement to be accurate and subject to penalties and published ‘admission of inaccurate information’, as determined by the AEC or other authority.

    Given that the people whom we need to pass ‘honesty in electioneering’ legislation into law are the very people who use spin, exaggeration and deliberate lies to maintain/further their positions of power and generous remuneration, how in hell can it be achieved?

  4. Avatar Rae Walker says:

    But surely a requirement for the setting of political perceptions is the widespread and consistent repetition of specific statements. The so-called hammering of specific messages. Austin’s article is a good foundation for such statements about Liberal lying about economic matters – not only during the election campaign. The Liberal government is systematically deceiving the electorate about the economy and causes a lot of harm to communities (voters). Their words about economic matters can never taken as truthful and they can never be trusted. Not all politicians lie about the economy.

    • Avatar Alan Austin says:

      That is true, Rae.
      “Not all politicians lie about the economy.”
      Indeed, not all politicians lie about anything.
      One of the failures of the mainstream media over the last two decades has been to refuse to call out the liars.
      I wonder why …

  5. Greg Bailey Greg Bailey says:

    An excellent presentation, Alan. But even if this data was made available to the average voter–if such a thing exists–they would find it too difficult to digest and would allow their prejudicial opinions to override the facts. Such opinions are: governments should always run surpluses, the private sector is more efficient than the government, and the LNP are always better economic managers than Labor.

    Belief is more important to many people than critical thinking and parties that try and present a rational set of policies–Labor 2019 and Liberal under Hewson in 1993–are pilloried. The main stream media only ask how much such policies will cost (in the short term) and take minimum consideration of long-term benefits.

    I don’t know how this wilful ignorance can be turned around. I tried to point out figures similar to this to a member of the Liberal Party at pre-poll voting, but he was simply not prepared to consider the facts. The point is: even if the facts are fairly presented, and modes of interpretation of these facts are agreed upon, the level of abstraction is too distant for the average voter from their own experience and their own prejudices, the categories by which they tend to assess everything.

  6. Avatar John Doyle says:

    Alan, perhaps if you have the ear of someone in politics who is connected to the economic discussion? You could ask him/her this question; “Can you spend a Budget surplus?” I’ll bet they do not know the correct answer. Yet they[Labor too] rabbit on about getting the economy into the black with budget surpluses. Labor were worse neoliberals in this recent election saying they would have bigger surpluses!! It shows they are clueless but they getaway with it because we too are clueless. Just the same the perception has real consequences. For example a budget surplus will drive the economy into recession. The only time it doesn’t is when there is a boom on, like with housing in the Howard – Costello years. and we are still paying for that spree. A budget surplus drives the economy backwards, which I hope you get?

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