Scotty from marketing: A fact check

Trump is notorious for his lies, but it is time that a fact check was applied to Scotty from Marketing, too. Without it I doubt  we can elevate the political debate from its present populism.

Populism relies upon the dumbing down of political debate by distorting the truth and even outright lies. This is the basis of Trump’s appeal, and he is of course notorious for his many thousands of falsehoods as documented by the Washington Post in its Fact Check.

Our Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, thankfully is not in the same league as Trump when it comes to distorting the truth, but in my experience – going back to Menzies – I think Morrison indulges in more populist distortions than any previous prime minister. As an example, I will cite some of the claims made in just one page of Morrison’s most recent major speech last week, outlining the Government’s manufacturing strategy.

Essential services guarantee

Yet again, Morrison reassured us that his government would “rebuild our economy for the future … while honouring our guarantee to the essential services that Australians rely on – the schools, hospitals, Medicare, aged care, disability services”.

Morrison regularly repeats this guarantee, but talk is one thing and delivery is another. The fact is that all these services – and some others like tertiary education – have been seriously underfunded over the life of this Coalition Government. Aged care and mental health are only the two most recent examples of the problems that emerge when services are under-funded and poorly regulated.

But so long as the Government is determined to cap tax revenue at a lower level relative to GDP than any other developed country, how can they believe they can adequately meet their guarantee for the provision of essential services?

Lower taxes

Morrison claimed as a virtue that “Australians are keeping more of what they earn … But there is still more to be done and there will be more next week”.

Again, I think this statement is misleading. The underlying premise is that taxation is an imposition, whereas many of us consider that taxation is the price we willingly pay to live in a civilised society.

Furthermore, the evidence shows that as our society becomes richer, our demand for publicly consumed services, such as health and education, tends to rise faster than the demand for privately financed goods and services, such as food and transport. Accordingly, we should expect that the share of taxation to finance these publicly funded services will rise relative to our national income over time, and a believable revenue target would allow for this.

The so-called national energy plan

Morrison described the Government’s plan “to deliver reliable, scalable, lower cost, lower emissions technologies” as being “a plan driven not by taxes but by technology”.

Frankly, a more accurate description of the Government’s plan is that instead of it being driven by prices which create the incentives to adopt the most efficient technologies, the Government is risking other peoples’ money to pick what it hopes will be winners.

Furthermore, there is no reason to believe that the Government’s plan will result in lower costs. Gas is already a more expensive source of energy than renewables, and the Government’s determination to push ahead and develop the Narrabri gas field will mean using a much more expensive source of gas than the sources presently available.

More training places

Morrison alleged that “our $1 billion JobTrainer program with the states and territories is boosting the number of training places in this year alone by 340,000 places”.

Taken at face value, as Morrison said ‘that’s good news”. But again, I think this statement is misleading. What really matters is how many people are accessing training, not the number of places, and unfortunately we find that the number of people currently in training has fallen from 1,542,800 in 2012 (the last year of the Labor Government) to only 1,150,7oo in 2019 (the most recent year for the data). This represents a fall of 25% in the number of people accessing vocational education and training under this government.

Conclusion

I suggest that these quotes from just one page of the Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s most recent speech provide ample evidence of how he deliberately distorts the truth.

A common reaction is that all politicians seek to mislead and that none can be trusted. However, I think Morrison is in a different league. In addition, he has suspended the normal parliamentary scrutiny, with the risk of even greater populism becoming the norm. It is therefore important that the media and others call out the government when it seeks to mislead.

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Michael Keating is a former Secretary of the Departments of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Finance and Employment, and Industrial Relations.  He is presently a visiting fellow at the Australian National University. 

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