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Lying in Public Life: The Scott Morrison Formula

He has some gall. Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison, a person who finds the truth a creature best beaten, shunned and ignored, is now moving into what looks like campaign mode. At COP26 in Glasgow, he sold the world a climate change model that kept company with countries where fumes linger stubbornly, and the fossil fuels burn bravely. He made sure to do it the “Australian Way”, ensuring that emission reduction targets would not so much be met as thoroughly “beaten” without the need for taxes. He spoke of technology unproven and made assumptions unfounded.

Prior to heading to Glasgow, Morrison, having done his bit of crossdressing on the climate change front, was coy. He refused to reveal the modelling that went into the fabulous predictions of net-neutral utopia. But on his return, and after any sense of jet lag had been overcome, he was happy to promote the scanty details of an enterprise verging on a hoax.

Such efforts have become the stock and trade of a man habitually committed to the advertising message. At best, it is simple dissimulation; at worse – and here, we find ourselves on difficult territory – it is mendacious. Little wonder, then, that critics have been coming out of late with a sort of adamant righteousness against the Australian prime minister’s relationship with lying.

French President Emmanuel Macron has led the pack, letting the world know that he did not think Morrison was a liar; he knew he was. Deceived about Australia’s intentions regarding the now rescinded AU$90 billion submarine contract between the Naval Group and Canberra, Macron singled out Morrison in an impromptu interview with Australian journalists at the G20 summit in Rome. The conduct of the Australian government had been “detrimental to the reputation of your country and your Prime Minister.”

Showing that this was not secret men’s business, former Australian Prime Minister and victim of a palace coup that saw Morrison come to power, suggested much the same thing. Australia’s incumbent, claimed Malcolm Turnbull, had a reputation for being habitually dishonest. His conduct regarding the submarine deal with France had enhanced “his reputation for being untrustworthy.”

Morrison’s response has been all shrugs. It’s politics, and in the political jungle, the thin skinned will not outlast those with thick hides. “People take sledges at me all the time.” This gave him ample opportunity to lie about ever having told a lie. “Have you ever told a lie in public life? inquired Melbourne radio host Neil Mitchell. “I don’t believe I have no, no,” came the reply.

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, as is often the case, preferred to be honest about such instances of mendacity. “If you ask me a personal question about my life, I don’t have to give you a straight answer. If you ask me something that’s none of your business, I’m going to tell you what you want to hear to get out of my face.”

Fairness and due process for a figure such as Morrison demands an understanding about the role of lies in politics. The recent fixation about his less than fond association with the truth is a reminder of the effort by the Washington Post to count the fibs of US President Donald Trump. In January 2021, its “fact checker” unit found no less than 30,573 “false or misleading claims” over the course of four years. “On Nov. 2 alone, the day before the 2020 vote, Trump made 503 false or misleading claims as he barnstormed across the country in a desperate effort to win reelection.” Can the frail truth survive in a thriving economy of lies?

Devotees of the anti-lie cult have taken a near fundamentalist line on the issue. The great sixteenth century French essayist Michel de Montaigne regarded lying as “an accursed vice. We are men, and we have relations with one another only by speech.” Lying and obstinacy were those faults that needed correction in a child. “They grow with a child’s growth, and once the tongue has got the knack of lying, it is difficult to imagine how impossible it is to correct it.”

Lying in politics is much a statement of fact as rising obesity levels in industrialised states. As that keen student of totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt, pondered, factual truth is ever at the mercy of the lie made in the name of political power. “Facts and events are infinitely more fragile things than axioms, discoveries, theories, which are produced by the human mind.” In his unsurpassed essay “Politics and the English Language”, George Orwell also reminds us with severity that political language itself “is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

Such conduct is inherent between political leaders, so much so that international relations theorist John Mearsheimer found little literature in his field on it. His own contribution was to come up with seven different types of lying, including fear mongering, inter-state lies, nationalist myths and strategic cover-ups. Ever contrarian, Mearsheimer sees instances of lying – notably between the leaders of countries – as less frequent than commonly assumed. Leaders are more likely to lie to their constituents than their counterparts, which is hardly reassuring to fans of Montaigne.

The standard of politics and public life is low and finding distinguished figures who fail to deceive their electorates is a task doomed. Political endeavour remains the featherbed of mendacious undertakings. But to make such a fuss about being a liar in politics is exactly the sort of thing that is unlikely to affect Morrison. He is seemingly immune, his armour a prophylactic against veracity.

 

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34 comments

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  1. Kerri

    I have seen 3 cartoons today centred on Morrison’s lies.
    Perhaps Mike Carlton is right.
    The tag of liar is beginning to stick.

  2. Phil Pryor

    A filthy, lazy, lying, cheating, rorting, rigging, backstabbing bastard is not desirable as a neighbour, advisor, relative, but, as a so-called leader is a disgrace, a vomitous, vile, vicious, vulture. Australia as been permanently and seriously set back by this ugly Morrison carbuncle of an excuse for a rumour that he is even a human. Extreme superstitious religious rot deadens the mind, ruins the outlook, poisons the past, resent and future, with sheer lying stupidity taking over from the chance at least of sense, decency, investigation, honesty. We have never ever had such repetitious clarity on this, a lying, lazy lout jobbed in to serve greed and profiteering.

  3. paul walter

    Am shell shocked..all I can say is that there must be a personality disorder in play.

    I think there is definitely a proto fascism that threatens civilised life and he is a battering ram for it.

  4. Gus

    The tide is turning Scummo; Canute had to move his chair.
    Part time Philosopher: ex Cairns News
    And here is the focus. Every nation (if it is a nation) and without exception has its own natural and spiritual aristocracy. This distinct group is not necessarily the king or the state or the nobility with position and title or whatever. But there are times in history when the events of the times will select for that particular group and cause them to stand and be recognized across all classes. Even centuries later in the pages of history written by their enemies they can be identified and seen for exactly who they are: the strongest bloodstock of the nation, the most based in their culture, law and traditions – especially their faith, the most resilient and determined against the foes of their nation, the most adaptable and canny. If their nation is defeated in war and their foes take possession by right of conquest – they are going to be the most ungovernable and hostile to the new regime.
    These people are the natural aristocracy of the nation, any nation.

  5. David Stakes

    A personality disorder, an Autism of sorts.

  6. Jack Cade

    James O’Brien, a MOR broadcaster on LBC, had a session on Friday morning on whether the UK was a corrupt country. He could easily have been discussing Australia, because the issues raised and descriptions of the corruption perpetrated by the appalling Gang in power and the traducing of law enforcement are almost identical to what is going on here.
    The only difference between the clown THEY call Prime Minister and the liar from the shire is that the latter believes – honestly believes – that he has an invisible friend – and I don’t mean Rupert – who persuaded Queensland to grant him continuation of power. Boris doesnt need such support; he went to Eton, like almost all of his Tory predecessors. That’s enough.

  7. GL

    On another note from the carnival of the insane:

    https://www.smh.com.au/national/victoria/thousands-take-to-melbourne-s-cbd-to-protest-new-pandemic-laws-vaccine-mandate-20211113-p598lu.html

    Bloody hell, who opened the asylum doors and let this lot out? Kelly is not far short of being certifiable.

    Scummo’s middle ground is easy: Lie…lie…lie. Then lie and keep right on lying.

    https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/campaigning-pm-believes-he-s-found-a-miraculous-middle-ground-20211112-p5989l.html

  8. Michael Taylor

    I wonder if he lies in private life, too.

  9. leefe

    David Stakes:

    Leave off the armchair diagnosis, for you know not of what you speak. Autistic people mostly make lousy liars and are renowned for being too honest rather than the opposite.
    Morriscum is possibly narcissistic, probably sociopathic, and most definitely an arrogant, greedy bullshitter who will do and say anything too get – and keep – what he wants.

  10. Brad Black

    “He is seemingly immune …” He hasn’t looked so immune to the liar tag lately. And if there’s one thing the ‘quiet Australians’ don’t like it’s a ‘bullshit artist’ and, despite his un Australian politics, he’s Australian enough to know that.

  11. GL

    Michael,

    He does lie in private because he doesn’t want anyone to see that he has to use the Super King Donald Sized Zigzag Bed for People With Charlatan’s Spine.

  12. New England Cocky

    @ Paul Walter: I am glad that now somebody else has come to my conclusion independently. Proto-fascism? No, straight out fascism, just like the Israelis in Palestine only in Australia it is Liarbral Party members & corporate supporters against Australian voters to determine who sits on the Money Benches in feral Parliament.

  13. paul walter

    Thanks, NEC.

    Michael Taylor, I don’t know whether he lies at home or not, but one thing for sure, so long since he told the truth that he wouldn’t know it if he had and probably never did anyway. One day this MUST come back to bite him. The latest event alone should have been more than enough, but vast chunks of people here seem to thicker than bricks, although complicity may relate to our giant real estate Ponzi scheme and its incipient entrapment.

    Jack Cade, think also of the USA.
    Neo lib globalisation has turned domestic politics in most countries into nothing more than diversionary shopfront sock puppetry..

  14. Henry Rodrigues

    GL… Thanks for the cartoon link. That cartoon says more than a million words. After that unedifying image, there is nothing more to add. Thanks once more.

  15. Joe Carli

    So…basically..we are in agreeance then that Morrison is a liar…now..having got over THAT little hurdle, perhaps we can move on to more imperative issues…hmm?

  16. Arnd

    leefe,

    thanks for your reply to David Stakes!

  17. Joe Carli

    I have to compliment you, leefe…your astute armchair diagnosis of the symptoms of Morrison’s (?) phsychosis and personality faults is heads and shoulders above Mr. Stakes’ clumsy attempt..

  18. Arnd

    Joe Carli,

    I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: Morrison is not a liar. Morrison is a bullshitter!

    Hugely important difference!

    If Morrison were a liar, communicating the truth would be an effective antidote to his destructive domination of public policy.

    But he is a bullshitter. Trying to nail his lies with the hard truth is like trying to nail jelly to a wall – ain’t gonna hold!

    And, unfortunately, Scotty is a better, and more accomplished and convincing, and/or more naturally talented bullshitter than those around him, even if only by a small margin. Which means that he likely will be more successful than his opponents at persuading (fooling) a sufficiently large proportion of constituents of the merits of voting for him.

    This, I believe, is a crucial insight into the MO of Scotty (and BoJo, and Trump, et al) which seems so far largely to have escaped his (their) opponents. Which goes a long way towards explaining the pointless inefficiency of their hapless hand wringing!

  19. Joe Carli

    Arnd…I dips me lid!….and here was I being born and bred in the land that perfected the fine art of bullshitting…I have even..and I bow my head in contrition to the confession..sackcloth and ashes will follow..applied such “good oil” to some of my own posts…and here we are stood up and made known by an East-Germanic import…who has through dilligent application and attention to both the native language and habits of..I presume..fellow tradies in the building game..shown us up in what ought to have been the obvious…OF COURSE!…: Morrison the bullshit artist!…so much more accurate than just a liar..anyone can lie, but that is just an avoidance of a truth…bullshitting takes the truth and moves it to another platform and a new direction can be struck from such bullshit!

    Again, Arnd…: I dips me lid!

    Come to think on it..I did once post an article on the fine art of bullshitting here on the AIM..: https://theaimn.com/jim-a-character-study/

  20. Jack Cade

    Arnd and Joe Carli

    I must demur. In my estimation ‘bullshitting’ is harmless and transparent, and the happy clapper could NEVER be deemed to be either. He and his god-bothering ilk are poisonous. Bullshitters are generally just risible and annoying at worst.

  21. Arnd

    Great little story, Joe! (And I’ve said it before, and I say it again: you’re better wordsmith than I!)

    Your characterisation of Jim is clear evidence that you do understand the likes of Morrison. Including the fact that, like Bruce with Jim, there really is no point in us getting angry with Morrison. Bullshitting is what he does, and that’s all there is to it. Which is fine in a pub. But less so in federal politics.

    I’m also repeating myself (again!) by saying how any TV appearance of Scotty relentlessly bloviating invariably reminds me of watching the last few minutes of Breakfast at Tiffany’s (I never yet watched the whole movie), where one character says of Holly Golightly that “She is a fraud – a genuine fraud!”.

    Morrison is a genuine (artless, ingenue) bullshitter – which is what makes him so convincing to many. Especially since most every other creature that ever decided to so much as dip its toes into the fetid pond of politics does accept that rationing truth is necessary part and parcel of politics. Merely being aware of that fact makes others look fidgety and shifty when contrasted with a guileless bullshitter like Morrison.

  22. Arnd

    Jack, of course, bullshitters who, like Morrison, have manoeuvred themselves into positions of influence and power, are poisonous!

    Still, that doesn’t change the diagnosis of the problem. It is, in my view, hugely important to understand that Morrison is not some kind of scheming liar who seeks to trap Australians in carefully laid plans to deceive.

    To do so would require a depth of understanding of the human condition that is entirely beyond Scotty.

    Scotty is chancer. One of many. What distinguishes him from the less prominent chancers around him is that the claptrap that he happens to promulgate, happens to connect. And if only a little better than the claptrap served up by others.

    Don’t fall into the trap of assuming that because the effect of Scotty selling crap is momentous, that therefore Scotty must be momentous. He isn’t!

    Scotty is banal! Excruciatingly banal! Hannah Arendt did expand on the Banality of Evil in her report on Eichmann in Jerusalem. Take note.

    Read Lance Morrow’s reminder about Hanlon’s Razor – “Never attribute to malice that which is sufficiently explained by stupidity [and/or banality]” – and how “immense, yet pissant doofusness” can easily result in the creation of massive mess, in his Times piece It’s the stupidity, stupid.

  23. Joe Carli

    Arnd…
    Story…what story??…and I won’t go into this debate about lying / bullshitting any further as there are those more agile in mind than I to talk on such matters…But…

    Breakfast at Tiffany’s…..yes..like yourself, I have never watched the movie through…the confected “Japanaise” of Mickey Rooney put paid to any further interest in the movie for me…but the opening scene with Audrey Hepburn in that Givenchy gown and the bun in the bag outside Tiffany’s…AND that song..well…that’s what great moments in movie art are made of…a bit like poetry, really in that there are only small moments perhaps in a whole poem or film or even book where the true gem of artistic creation shines..that moment universal of human ingenuity that communicates the abstract or absurd from a mullock of words or sounds to cohere into a delight supreme!…witness the St Crispin’s Day speech in “Henry V”…to go to the upper end and even that moment in “Dirty Harry” where Clint Eastwood gives his “. . . do you feel lucky..punk!” growling..

    But that opening scene with Hepburn makes the film for me..ah!..I could give a whole talk on art and its recent demise…perhaps I will one day…watch this space…

  24. Roswell

    I’ve never trusted a liar. In my line of work I found that people who lie generally had something to hide.

  25. margcal

    I’m becoming more and more convinced that Morrison is not a liar (in your usual sense of the word) but someone who quite literally cannot tell the difference between truth and falsehood, fact and fiction. Thus I would put him in a different category of ‘liar’ to, for example, Howard and Abbott.

    For that reason, I would also argue that, although eligible, he is not so much a contender for the title of Australia’s worst PM so much as he is, without competition, Australia’s most dangerous PM.

  26. Roswell

    margcal, I thought the same about Howard.

    I found myself asking; “Is a person lying when he actually believes that he’s telling the truth?”

    In simple terms, they believe their own bullshit.

  27. LOVO

    I don’t think Morrison lies all the time, you know. I think he only lies when he opens his mouth.
    One wonders if’n the smirk-a-meter went to 11 when he said he didn’t. 😋
    He’d be in a spot of bother if his pants caught fire, ay………as he doesn’t hold a hose, mate. 😂

  28. Terence Mills

    In Aesop’s fable of the Boy Who Cried Wolf it is the moral of the story that applies to Morrison and that is : liars will not be rewarded – even if they tell the truth, no one believes them.

  29. ajogrady

    I want my country back!
    I want to be proud to call Australia my country and my home again. Where truth and justice prevail. Where ethics and honesty are valued.
    Where honour and morals are held in high esteem.
    Where trust is something nurtured and respected not dismissed for a photo op.
    Where dignity and respectfulness prevails and shaming is a disgrace.
    Where expectations are met not avoided .
    Where “the greater good” is preeminent and not bizarre or the exception.
    Where consideration and regard for others is not a choice.
    Where humility and servility is considered strength.
    Where empathy and compassion are paramount. Where facts are important and fiction is left for fairytales and the L/NP to fabricate stories, especially ones intended to deceive.
    I reject the LNP’s and Main Stream Medias lies, distortions, corruption, arrogance, deceitfulness, law of the jungle dog eat dog, survival of the fittest world. Australia was built on an egalitarian “fair go” for all. Its strength was that it gave opportunity and security to all Audtralians. Under the divisive L/NP, who gleefully pick winners and losers, a “fair go” has gone and is just used as a slogan that has no truth or meaning to it anymore.

  30. New England Cocky

    @ajogrady: Sounds like a list of campaign aspirations. I support those.

  31. GL

    Terence,

    Scummo and his ilk don’t particularly care if their lies are called out, the main sleaze media is there to help deflect and distract. They’re too busy loading their offshore bank accounts with every cent they can lay their corrupt grubby mitts on and trying to figure ways to stay in power (the voter id bill is a good start) for years. So what’s a few thousand lies in the scheme of things.

  32. Kathryn

    The tragic thing about rusted-on, Murdoch-manipulated, dumbed-down LNP supporters is that they KNOW how corrupt the LNP is, they are aware of how callously inhumane the cruel sociopaths that line the cabinet of the LNP are, they KNOW how short-sighted and totally inept the incompetent and bone-idle LNP are, an appalling government led by a lazy, self-serving and treacherous sociopath who “can’t hold a hose” nor can do one positive thing to benefit the lives of anyone except himself and his billionaire donors in the coal-mining and gas fracking industries; they KNOW – or should know – that Morrison betrayed so many of his own colleagues to rise to ignominious power (including Michael Towke and Malcolm Turnbull); they KNOW how devious, disingenuous, self-serving and mean-spirited the conniving political parasites in the L/NP are; they KNOW that the LNP is thoroughly ROTTEN from the top down and malignantly corrupt from the inside out – THEY. JUST. DON’T. CARE !!!

    This tragedy was made clearly evident at the LAST election when, despite all the dysfunctional chaos, the non-stop lies, the unspeakable and rising level of self-serving corruption, blatant nepotism and callous disregard for our most vulnerable citizens, the deaf, blind and dumbed down sycophants to the absolute WORST government in living memory, were willing to vote these monstrous psychopaths back into power! Will it happen again? Considering the undemocratic fascists in the LNP have now parachuted right-wing sycophants into influential seats on the Board of OUR taxpayer-funded ABC and into seats on panel shows to ensure that just about EVERY form of media in this country is monopolised, manipulated and controlled by the LNP, if it wasn’t for The Guardian, Crikey and other responsible forms of media, Australians would only get to hear the twisted, biased views of the LNP, their hate-filled, misogynistic and callous rhetoric targeting anyone and everyone with an opposing view and the vacuous, empty, contemptuous slogans churned out by Morrison, the worst, most corrupt, non-achieving and undemocratic PM in our history!

    KICK THE LNP TO THE GUTTER AT THE NEXT FEDERAL ELECITON BECAUSE THAT IS WHERE THEY REALLY BELONG!

  33. LambsFry Simplex.

    A little surprised by Joe Carli’s comment re Morrison’s lying and not moving on to more serious issues. Many of these have events have eventuate BECAUSE he is a pathological liar.

    Most of us tell lies also, but it is not on at an exalted position such as PM…supposed to be statesmanlike, above that sort of thing and exclusively preoccupied with the welfare of the nation rather than the pursuit of unworthy hidden agendas and covers-up that necessitate in the wake of the exposure of such schemes.

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