The Bureau of Statistics misleads Australians on the economy

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Cartoon by Mark David/@mdavidcartoons

The Australian Bureau of Statistics has now echoed misleading economic claims that advance the Morrison Government's position, writes Alan Austin.

THE MESSAGE is being blasted from all quarters. It is coming from the Parliament, large foreign corporations, the most influential radio stations, television and print outlets, at least one federal department head and countless posts on social media.

They are proclaiming loudly and jubilantly that Australia has the best economy in the world.

And now the taxpayer-funded Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) is being quoted as affirming this exciting news, which could help to ensure the re-election of the Morrison Government at the next Election.

The message is totally false. It is a fabrication intended to deceive credulous voters. But, who can possibly disbelieve it when independent authorities appear to be confirming it, including the hallowed ABS?

The deception seems to be working. A Facebook post appeared last week declaring ‘Australia’s bureau of stats have us at number [one]' economy in the world.

The central message was declared by Treasurer Josh Frydenberg on 2 June 2021 in a widely-shared tweet:

That strong visual message was bolstered by another highly misleading graph in May’s Budget Paper No. 1 at page 38, prepared by taxpayer-funded Federal Treasury:

Budget 2021 graph G7 growth A.jpg

Also on 2 June, the global consultancy firm Deloitte ran a similar deceptive chart. This was amplified by the taxpayer-funded ABC News which ran Deloitte’s graph (found below).

Deloitte GDP 28 countries June 2021 C.jpg

The message is reinforced constantly by the media. Sky News gleefully quoted Frydenberg’s tweet, declaring:

‘GDP growth shows Australia is “leading the world” in economic recovery.’

The Australian Financial Review was only slightly more subtle, asserting that:

‘The secret to Australia’s world-leading V-shaped rebound is the strength of the balance sheets of business and households.’

The reality, of course, is that Australia’s economic growth is nowhere near "continuing to lead the world". 

Australia’s current GDP annual growth ranks equal 19th out of the 66 global economies to have reported March data, 12th among the 45 highly developed countries and equal eighth in the OECD. Australia’s economy overall currently ranks outside the world’s top 20.

The ABS reinforced the false claim that Australia is the global leader with the following graph published on 2 June.

ABS GDP growth 8 June 2021 E.jpg

The chart shows comparisons between Australia and eight other nations, and the European Union. It omits countries with which Australia should be compared in order to gain a fair picture.

These include Taiwan, Singapore, and Hong Kong in the Asia Pacific region, for starters.

Independent Australia asked the ABS:

‘How were those eight countries chosen? Why choose four countries in Western Europe and two in North America, when those two regions were most heavily impacted by the pandemic? Why not choose eight countries spared the devastation of the pandemic, as was Australia?’

A spokesperson responded:

Selection was based on OECD countries available at the time of compiling national accounts. A set of well known comparable OECD countries were chosen from the Asia Pacific and Europe regions ... The point of the article was to highlight the link between mobility and economic growth. This required a mix of more impacted countries and less impacted.

That isn't a particularly convincing response. The problem remains that Australia is depicted as leading the world when it isn't.

Further questions were put to the ABS chief, Dr David Gruen:

1. Who authorised and accepts responsibility for this graph – which is now being used to claim the ABS says Australia’s economy is leading the world? Is it Michael Smedes as Head of National Accounts or you as Australian Statistician? Or was it authorised outside the ABS?


2. Why were eight countries chosen which conveyed the impression that Australia is still first in the world on GDP growth? Why not choose eight which reflect Australia’s actual ranking – which is equal 19th in the world ..?


3. Were you aware that the Government would use your graph to bolster its false claim that Australia has the world’s leading economy? Why did you not take steps to prevent this?


4. Noting the graph is similar to those used mendaciously by Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, did anyone in the Treasurer’s office participate in the decision to run your graph?


5. Noting your graph is also similar to the one used by Treasury, did Dr Steven Kennedy or anyone in Treasury direct you to run or in any other way participate in preparing and publishing your graph?


The "answer" to these, attributable to Jacqui Jones, General Manager, Macroeconomic Statistics Division, was:

‘The ABS is Australia's official statistical organisation and produces and disseminates independent official statistics. The graph was authorised and produced by the ABS.  It compares growth between December quarter 2019 and March quarter 2021, not an annual GDP growth ranking.’

The specific questions remain unanswered.

The ABS didn’t highlight global rankings when Australia actually did lead the developed world on economic growth. If they had, with data from the equivalent period during the global financial crisis, 2008-09, it would have shown this:

ABS GDP 10 2007-09 E.jpg

The only metric on which Australia is almost certainly leading the world today is the percentage of voters receptive to the blatant mistruths from their Government and its enablers.

Alan Austin’s defamation matter is nearly over. You can read the latest update here and contribute to the crowd-funding campaign HEREAlan Austin is an Independent Australia columnist and freelance journalist. You can follow him on Twitter @alanaustin001.

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