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The more things change, the more they stay the same

My first opinion piece on The Political Sword blog was written about 10 years ago and dealt with truth in political advertising. The piece discussed advertising that demonstrated alleged reckless behaviour when promoting products can be banned by an industry regulator. There was an instance quoted of advertising for a Nissan vehicle that showed the car being driven at a speed in excess of the speed limit (together with appropriate squealing tyre noise and engine revving) was banned even though Nissan claimed that during the filming of the advertisement, the car was driven appropriately with the sound effects added and the film sped up. The contrast was made with politicians that could promise the world with no intention of delivering, assassinate the character of their political opponents or just mislead with absolutely no consequences. The point was there was no regulation around political advertising in most of Australia in 2013 – and there still isn’t.

All sides of politics are guilty of exaggeration and deceit in advertising. For example, when Abbott was in opposition his claim that the Gillard Government’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme process was ‘a carbon tax’ was inaccurate at best and a lie at worst. Gillard didn’t help on this occasion by likening it to a carbon tax after claiming there would never be carbon tax legislated by her government. The ALP advertised at one stage while in opposition that the Coalition was going to axe Medicare, also an exaggeration at best. The advertising was rightly called Mediscare by the Coalition government who claimed there was no plans to axe Medicare (although they did introduce a co-payment for a while).

Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party is a serial offender. His billboards and TV advertising prior to the last couple of elections claiming he would ‘Make Australia great again’ convinced some, although not enough to make a difference to the election result except maybe in Victoria where one UAP member became a Senator. Prior to the last election I did email Palmer’s party asking why Australia wasn’t great and how would his party rectify that if elected to majority government. I’m still waiting for a response. Clearly they had no actual plan to address their advertised claims. Palmer also advertised incorrect claims at the last Queensland election the Palaszczuk Government would introduce a tax on the assets of those who have died, two years later, they haven’t.

Some of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party claims over the years have also been absolute fabrications. Immigrants in general (and specifically from the middle east or Asia depending on the mood of the times) have not come and taken all our jobs. In fact, immigrants have assisted the economy of our country greatly and there are a lot of immigrants doing the service jobs such as cleaning, caring and food preparation that most ‘dinky-di Aussies’ won’t do, regardless of the need for the work to be done. Hanson knows as well as anyone that her political party will never be a majority in a parliament so she consistently creates advertising claims that never have to be substantiated.

In the 1970’s the Australian Democrats was formed from two smaller parties that comprised predominately disaffected conservative party members. By 1980, they held the balance of power in the Senate under the advertised promise to ‘Keep the bastards honest’. Arguably they did what it said on the box for a number of years by reducing some of the proposed excesses of both ALP and Coalition governments and placing an emphasis on the environment before it was fashionable, using the balance of power to ensure amendment of legislation to cater the the needs of the broader community. Sooner or later however, in the eyes of many, the Australian Democrats became one of the many groups of ‘bastards’ in Parliament when they assisted John Howard’s Coalition Government in the introduction of the GST. Certainly they carved out exemptions for some basic items however they left us with an ungainly tax on almost everything that is difficult to understand or manage. Economists also claim the GST disadvantages the less well off as they spend more each week on essentials such as food and shelter as a percentage of their income.

In recent years, the Greens have had the balance of power in the Senate. Despite their core advertising of being committed to a greener environment they objectively failed to assist the Rudd Government introduce an Emissions Trading Scheme in 2008 (apparently 50% of something isn’t as good as 100% of nothing). To the Greens credit, they did manage to frustrate some of the proposed excesses of the Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison (ATM) Government, especially when these respective Prime Ministers were responsible for acting like ATMs to their favoured allies or seeking votes in some electorates.

More recently the Greens have been holding up the passing pf legislation for the creation of a fund to finance the construction of affordable housing across the nation – another issue the Greens have been advertising they support for years. In July they issued six demands on the Albanese Government as well as state and territory leaders. All the requirements (rent caps, limiting rent increases and so on) fall under state and territory legislation. So I asked one of their elected Senators how a majority Greens Federal Government in 2023 would implement their list of demands – maybe in an alternate universe somewhere. After all, the advertised claim is it is would be an easy matter for Albanese to implement the list should he have the will to do so. To their credit, someone in the Senator’s office did respond however the response reinforced the Greens belief that their demands were necessary rather than addressing the questions raised which indicates there has been no thought on how it would be done. However some will believe the advertising and wonder why Albanese doesn’t fix the problem with a stroke of a pen.

Which brings us to the ethical dilemma here. Advertising in politics isn’t regulated. If you or I had a big enough urge to make a political statement and the money to do so, nothing is stopping us forming a political party and telling the government (whoever is in power) how to do their job, what is wrong with the country or make aspersions on the character of other politicians or groups of people who live here on billboards, in the newspapers, on radio and TV. And while there is correctly an expectation that you or I have a right to say how the country should be run, morally we don’t have the right to make aspersions on others without evidence or generalise that particular groups of people are out to fundamentally change our individual lifestyle as Hanson has done. Neither should we be able to make meaningless claims that the country is no longer great or a government is going to introduce a tax as Palmer has done. And despite the advertising, clearly the Greens have no insight on how the housing crisis would be fixed with the stroke of a pen. No one should be able to make accusations and advertise their claims without evidence or any sort of factual basis to support them.

Standards are important, especially standards of honesty and decency. Politics is supposed to be a contest of ideas and ways to improve the country articulated and advertised by those aspiring to be our leaders, not a bear pit where anything goes. If politicians can’t self-regulate, we should regulate for them. South Australia has had ‘truth in political advertising’ laws since 1985. Maybe the rest of the country should catch up.


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  1. Fred

    Truth in political advertising is a laudable concept. I’m struggling to see how it would be enforced if enshrined in legislation as a) the time taken in legal system to prosecute may well exceed the “electioneering” time and b) what would the appropriate penalties be and how applied. (On one extreme, there may be justification for the reintroduction of capital punishment in the cases of Howard/Abbott/Morrison, but some might see it as a bit harsh.) Curtailing their enormously generous retirement benefits by say 10% for every lie might make them sit up and take notice.

  2. Keitha Granville

    I don’t understand why we can’t have a system whereby the elected government must set about doing all the things it promised pre-election, and before the NEXT one we have a checklist of what was achieved, and more importantly what wasn’t. Perhaps they would be inclined to be a little more careful with the truth.

    Re the Greens – indeed, surely making a start on solving a problem is better than asking for the sky and not supporting when you don’t get it. The Voice is the same – it’s a start.

  3. Patricia

    For Fred: Neither Turnbull or Morrison receive or will receive a parliamentary pension. But I vote for shackling any politician who lies to the stocks and letting the people throw rotten fruit at them.

  4. andyfiftysix

    you can try to make all sorts of rules and regulations but the inscrutable will find a way to weasle in again.

    Then you have the born stupid voter who votes for pauline when its plain to see its her ticket to money she could never dream of earning anywere else.

    Keitha, beware what you wish for. Remember thats what tony abbott based his exploits on.

    As for the greens being blamed for wanting it all, labor chose to have nothing, dont repeat the media mantra. I dont think the greens demands were all that outrageous anyway. In the middle of a climate catastrophe, we can chose to act in haste or do nothing, and as you can see, doing nothing hasnt stopped climate change one bit.

    As for the voice, the conservative koombaya over the weekend, the two protagonists, price and mundine showed their true stripes, no,no,no to anything. While fuctheduck abbott said it was the battle for the country……what an absolute duckfucer. Seriously, Abbott could have been the total nut inquisitor sentencing people to death in the dark ages.

  5. B Sullivan

    The Greens did not fail to assist the Rudd government in introducing an emission trading scheme. They refused to collaborate with the Rudd government’s attempt to con the people of Australia that they were serious about taking action on climate change. The scientific assessment at the time was that the scheme would be hopelessly ineffective. It wasn’t a case of 50% isn’t as good as 100% or nothing. It was utterly inadequate. It was only rated marginally better than the coalition’s almost equal policy of inaction. The Rudd government failed to support the Greens’ superior effective policy, because as he clearly demonstrated when he threw in the towel on climate change action when faced with the opposition of the feeble intellect of Tony Abbott, Rudd didn’t really give a toss about our greatest moral challenge at all. Absolutely no effort whatsoever was made to negotiate with the Greens. Instead the Greens were scapegoated with the blame for Labor’s refusal to take action. A policy of inaction which Labor still maintains to this day.

    The Labor party is more concerned about appeasing the five percent of the voters who live in the regions and can expect to be represented by at least ten members in parliament than addressing the concerns of the 15% of the voters scattered across all the electorates who vote for the Greens yet are lucky if they have even one representative to prick the conscience of parliament. And under Albanese, who shamelessly claims a mandate with barely twice as many voters as the Greens, we must surely have the most undemocratically represented majority government in Labor’s history.

  6. B Sullivan

    Keitha Granville,

    Making a start to solve a problem is not the same as pretending you will have solved a problem if you just pretend to make a start. Which is Labor’s standard policy on practically everything. Never mind where we are going. Never mind even where we want to go. Just make a start and give ourselves a tick. Job done. Nothing more to worry about. It didn’t work. It was never going to work. But what the hell, at least it was a start. Better than doing nothing.

    But not better than doing the right thing.

    The Greens did not ask for the sky. They asked just for what is necessary to adequately and effectively solve a problem. What is Labor’s objection to that? How can anyone seriously object to that? And yet so many people are invested in that unreasonable objection.

  7. leefe

    I find myself in the strange position of agreeing with Sully, most especially withh regard to Rudd’s Emissions Trading Scheme. The process installed by Gillard’s government – achieved through in-depth negotiation with the Greens – was far superior; it actually worked, which is more than can be said about any policy enacted in that area before or since.

    The housing issue I am less certain about. I just wish governments (state and federal) would return to the concept of public housing rather than being constantly terrified of bursting the property bubble. The problem of homelessness is far more important than thhe endless profits of those who’ve managed to get on the property investment ladder.

  8. Terence Mills

    It’s very much in the past now but, as regards Rudd’s CPRS, according to the Department of the Environment and Energy :

    “Australia’s annual emissions are now projected by to climb to 540 million tonnes in 2020 and to keep rising to 563 million tonnes by 2030. By contrast, under the CPRS Australia’s emissions would have been reduced to 459 million tonnes in 2020.That is 81 million tonnes lower than now projected, or more than all of the fugitive emissions from the Australian coal mining, and oil and gas production industries combined.”

    The Greens need to consider carefully their rationale for joining the coalition and One Nation when they seek to defeat Labor policies on climate and, more recently, housing. The respective motivations for blocking employed by the coalition are a long way from being those of the Greens but the result is the same : no action.

    On community and social housing the Greens should ask the coalition if they actually support Green’s policy on freezing rents. The answer is a resounding ‘not on your life’, the coalition motivation is solely to frustrate Labor policy.

  9. 2353NM

    @B Sullivan –
    “The scientific assessment at the time was that the scheme would be hopelessly ineffective. It wasn’t a case of 50% isn’t as good as 100% or nothing. It was utterly inadequate”

    @leefe –
    “I find myself in the strange position of agreeing with Sully, most especially withh regard to Rudd’s Emissions Trading Scheme. The process installed by Gillard’s government – achieved through in-depth negotiation with the Greens – was far superior; it actually worked, which is more than can be said about any policy enacted in that area before or since.”

    It really doesn’t matter in 2023 if Rudd’s ETS was good bad or indifferent. The reality is that it probably would have been altered over the years. The Greens and ALP would have probably made it more effective over time, the Coalition probably would have made it less effective – although if the scheme was implemented and shown to be good policy before a Coalition government was elected, who knows if the pro-coal members of the Coalition and media would have got a foothold, let alone a seat at the Coalition government’s cabinet table.

    The point is you have to start somewhere. If after the process is shown to be working to some extent after it is bedded in (and in the case of Abbott’s scare campaign on Gillard’s CPRS – a demonstration that Whyalla still exists and steaks don’t have to cost $100), that is the time to have a discussion on how effective it is and amend the scheme if there is a desire to do so. Waiting for the perfect scheme is akin to doing nothing – which usually has dire results as Australia’s emissions since 2009 demonstrate.

    Its the same with the housing discussion that is currently going on. Is the plan perfect – probably not, could it be tweaked to make it better – almost definitely; but is it better than doing nothing waiting for nirvana to somehow occur. At times you have to take what you can get and run with it – there is always the potential to do more later on when it is no longer political.

  10. Max Gross

    Are you suggesting that a LABOR federal government is incapable of working with the coast-to-coast LABOR state governments to alleviate homelessness, improve housing affordability and regulate outrageous rental increases?

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