Is Australia run by compulsive liars? Part two: Abbott's astonishing 30 lies

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PM Pants on Fire (Image by John Graham / johngraham.alphalink.com.au)

The NSW premier’s resignation for lying to the corruption commission sharpens the focus of this series. Alan Austin looks at the record breaking dishonesty of Australia's PM.

A CONCEPT TO EMERGE from the week’s extraordinary events triggered by a certain bottle of wine is that lies can be a bad thing.

Well, who would have thought?

There appear to be two confusions over lies in Australian political discourse.

The first is over definitions. Refer article one.

The second is the oft-heard “all parties are the same; all politicians are liars”.

That’s not true.

Our definition of a lie is: a knowingly false statement by a politician, expressed with the intention to deceive.

These have been rare among Australian party leaders. And, until recently, confined to just the one party. But that may have to change.

This seems to be the tally among party leaders over the last 20 years:

There are two stand-outs in modern history.

Howard’s tawdry record was already a world-beater by 2004, according to veteran reporter Alan Ramsay:

'John Howard told a lie on May 2, 1995. Then he told more lies to reinforce the first lie. To protect himself from what he judged a serious threat to his last chance to be prime minister, Howard lied and went on lying. Now, three years later, he is telling still more lies to hide that first lie.'

Howard lied repeatedly to the electorate and to colleagues. It was a Liberal Senator who gave rise to the nickname ‘the lying rodent’.

But Tony Abbott – who openly admires Howard – has already set a record unsurpassed in Westminster parliamentary history and almost certainly unsurpassable.

But thirty?

Well, let’s check:

1. Anti-Hanson slush fund

In 1998, Abbott supported legal action against Pauline Hanson.

Less than 2 weeks later, he categorically denied so doing to the ABC, and later repeated the lie to the Sydney Morning Herald. When the reporter confronted him with his signed personal guarantee, he said:

“…misleading the ABC is not quite the same as misleading the Parliament as a political crime."

This was so brazen, it was widely said at the time he could kiss goodbye any ambitions to be prime minister”.

2. Electoral Commission re: donations

In 1998, the Australian Electoral Commission asked Abbott to disclose his donors, as required. To avoid doing so, he blatantly lied to the AEC, as revealed by Margo Kingston and others.

3. Meeting with Cardinal Pell

Asked in 2004 if he had met Cardinal Pell recently, Abbott told Tony Jones and the nation:

“Not that I can recall.”

He had met the cardinal just days before, as satirised brilliantly by the Chaser lads.

4. Climate change

Abbott’s statements include that scientific evidence for climate change is “absolute crap” and

“Climate change is real, humanity does make a contribution to it and we’ve got to take effective action against it.”

One of those must be untrue, as Crikey exposes.

5. Labor’s emissions scheme

Abbott said in a 2010 interview:

“Under Mr Rudd's scheme taxpayers will … pay a lot more, $120 billion over 10 years as opposed to $10 billion under our scheme.”

This was immediately challenged:

“Mr Abbott, you know that is not true …”

It wasn’t. And Abbott did know it.

6.  Trip to Afghanistan

Abbott lied to PM Gillard about his reasons for declining her offer to visit the troops together.

He confessed later that his false “jet-lag” excuse was because he was lost for words — as he also was soon after meeting the troops on his own:

7. Repeated claims about China’s CO2 emissions

Abbott told the Minerals Council and various others in 2011:

“By 2020 under current plans and current policies, China will have increased its emissions by 500 per cent.”

This was widely condemned as false.

8. Continually calling asylum seekers “illegal arrivals”

Probably the most entrenched lie in current politics. People arriving with no documents, or even false papers, have the legal status of asylum seekers under international law. They are not “illegals”.

9 & 10. BHP's Olympic Dam decision

Abbott claimed mine plans were shelved due to taxes. False. He also lied about reading BHP’s announcement.

Laurie Oakes’ withering analysis of this begins:

“Let’s not beat about the bush. To my mind, Tony Abbott tells lies.”

11. Australia could end up like Greece

Abbott endorsed David Murray’s ridiculous comment in October 2012 as “a timely warning”.

Completely false.

On the IAREM ranking of national economies: Greece is 55th, Australia is first.

12 & 13. Carbon tax impact

“As long as a carbon tax or an emissions trading scheme damages our economy, without reducing emissions because it’s not being copied anywhere else, we would be crazy to go down that path.”

~ Abbott at the National Press Club, January, 2013.

The Conversation found this false on two levels. It is not true the world is averse to carbon taxes. Nor that the carbon price damages the economy without reducing emissions.

14. Malcolm Turnbull and the internet

“Malcolm not only knows the internet, he virtually brought it to this country.”

Laughably false, as The Project enjoyed exposing:

15. Opening mines

“Just to get the regulatory approvals takes more than three years. Six years ago, it took less than 12 months.”

~ Abbott, June 2013

The Conversation found these “statements are incorrect.”

16. Prosperity

“The Howard/Costello Government … presided over what now seems like a golden age of prosperity — that’s been lost.”

~ Abbott in July 2013.

False. Australia was much wealthier in 2013 than in 2007 — despite the GFC.

Higher indicators include income per person, median wealth, pensions, superannuation, productivity and personal savings. Interest rates, inflation and taxes were all lower.

17. Broadband roll-out

“Malcolm (Turnbull) reckons that at the current rate of rollout it will take 80 years before the whole of Tasmania has broadband rolled out under this Government.”

~ Abbott, Sky News, July 2013.

Ridiculous nonsense. This was obviously not a "carefully scripted remark":

18. Election spending

“In every recent election, state and Federal, the Labor Party has massively outspent the Coalition and this election is going to be no exception.”

~ Press conference, August 2013.

The Conversation found

“Tony Abbott’s bald claim ... is false.” 

19. Continual lies about debt spiralling out of control

Abbott told the Press Club last September that Labor

“... has Australia’s gross debt skyrocketing towards $400 billion.”

Australia’s debt is low by global standards. The Abbott Government has raised the level of debt and abolished the debt ceiling.

20. Deals with the Greens

Before the 2013 election, Abbott said:

“I don’t do these sorts of deals with people. I mean, I wasn’t prepared to give the Independents, I wasn’t prepared to give the Greens what they wanted. Julia Gillard was.”

The opposite of the truth.

Abbott promised the Greens the same concessions in the 2010 post-election horse trading as did Gillard. They just couldn’t trust him to keep his word.

And in December, the debt ceiling was abolished in a deal with the Greens.

21. Daughters living at home

Kevin Rudd asked Abbott last September if his daughters would also be living in the Lodge.

“The short answer is yes, because they don't want to leave home until such time as they get married.”

Short and false.

Daughter Louise had already moved in with her boyfriend. Abbott knew that.

22. Cardinal Pell’s reputation

Asked in November about George Pell’s handling of child sex abuse claims, Abbott replied:

“... he has by repute been the first senior cleric in Australia to take this issue seriously.”

Plainly false. Many senior Catholics have been far more pro-active, including former Sydney bishop Geoffrey Robinson who quit in 2004 in disgust at non-action by Pell and others.

23. Worker entitlements

Liberal MP Dr Sharman Stone called Abbott – her own leader – a liar over several blatantly false allegations in February about workers’ benefits at SPC.

24. Productivity

“It’s good that Mr Rudd … committed the Government to a new effort to boost productivity … but he’s never actually taken the steps needed to convert aspiration into achievement.”


Productivity increased dramatically for four quarters in 2009. It then stalled briefly as the GFC took effect.

Since 2010, productivity has increased for a record 12 consecutive quarters to an all-time high.

 25, 26 & 27. Abolishing taxes

“Tax reform starts with abolishing the carbon tax and the mining tax, which have done so much to spook investors, threaten jobs and hurt every family’s cost of living.”

Three fibs in one sentence.

Investment in Australia was not impacted negatively. People employed rose every quarter since the tax was introduced. Inflation was below the rate for most of the Labor period prior to the carbon tax and below the rate for most of the last five Howard years.

28. End of the boom

“At the Press Club recently, Mr Rudd declared that the mining boom was over and that Australia needed to be ready for life afterwards.”

~ Abbott, July 2013.

False. Mr Rudd specifically affirmed that “the China resources boom is over”. There is a difference. Australia has other customers.

29. Tasmanian forests

Abbott said of Tasmania’s world heritage listed forests he wants logged:

“That 74,000 hectares is not pristine forest. It's forest which has been logged ... it's plantation timber that was actually planted to be logged."

The ABC factcheckers found this to be 'Not true'.

30. Immunisation

Abbott said child immunisation rates fell under the Labor Government.

The ABC factcheckers said this was 'Wrong'.

How this sorry record impacts Australia’s social fabric should be worth examining.

Coming soon: Is Australia run by compulsive liars? Part three: Will Shorten have to learn to lie like Howard and Abbott to get the top job? You can follow Alan Austin on Twitter @AlanTheAmazing.

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John Graham's art is available for purchase by emailing editor@independentaustralia.net. See a gallery of John's political art on his Cartoons and Caricatures Facebook page.

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