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Turnbull's final fantasies: Why they matter

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Malcolm Turnbull on #QandA last Thursday (Screenshot via YouTube).

Malcolm Turnbull’s much-anticipated Q&A interview last week was riddled with untruths. But who knew? Alan Austin shows why this is important.

LAST THURSDAY'S bare-all interview with ex-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was significant in one curious respect. Turnbull made at least seven seriously false assertions about Australia’s economy. Most of them he repeated. And most were not only untrue but pretty much the antithesis of truth.

But here’s the thing. No-one batted an eyelid. No murmurs of dissent from the audience and not a flicker of concern from host Tony Jones. In fact, one inquisitor – who said he voted against Turnbull – conceded “the economy is ticking along nicely".

All efforts by the alternative media over the last five years to report Australia’s economy accurately have thus apparently failed. The most blatant falsehoods seem widely accepted as self-evidently true.

For the record, these are the main deceptions:

1. “I lay claim to creating a million jobs when I was Prime Minister.”

This is easily disproven. Total jobs, according to Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), in July 2018, were 12,586,083 million. When he started as PM in September 2015, the total was 11,792,300 million. 

That is an increase of 793,783. Not bad. But well short of a million.

2. “Record jobs growth. The strongest, in fact, in our nation’s history.”

No, it isn’t. Through the entire Coalition period before Turnbull was axed, the workforce grew by 1,118,618. That was over 59 months, which works out at an increase relative to population growth of 1.21% each year.

That’s also not bad. But nowhere near any record. It is just below Paul Keating’s rate over his 51 months. It is well shy of Bob Hawke’s rate of 1.30% per annum in 105 months. And nowhere near John Howard’s impressive 1.33% over his 140-month tenure.

3. “Of course, the creation was all done by people in business.

No, it wasn’t. Public service jobs actually increased under Turnbull.

The ABS file on direct public sector jobs shows the total numbers of government employees and the change each year, thus:

Year

Total government

employees

Change over

previous year

2010-11

1,894,600

 

2011-12

1,889,200

- 5,400

2012-13

1,897,400

+8,200

2013-14

1,908,200

+10,800

2014-15

1,900,100

-8,100

2015-16

1,928,100

+28,000

2016-17

1,957,700

+29,600

2017-18

1,987,000

+29,30

4. “Strong economic growth.”

The latest annual GDP growth numbers show Australia managing just 3.4%. Given the current global boom, this is actually quite ordinary.

Israel, Malaysia, Thailand and Hungary are above 4%. Poland, Indonesia, Turkey and Chile are above 5%. China, Vietnam, the Philippines and Cambodia are above 6%. Iceland is at 7.2%, India is at 8.2% and Ireland is at 9.0%.

Australia now ranks 91st in the world on GDP growth and 12th in the OECD. For several quarters during the Rudd era, Australia had the OECD’s highest GDP growth. Thanks to Turnbull and his colleagues, those days are now gone.

5. “... Reduced personal income tax.

Verifying this is tricky because of all the variables, including wage rises, increases in the workforce and changing tax rates. But the Tax Office’s annual report is our friend.

Total income tax collected from individual taxpayers was $193,863 million in 2016-17. Now, if the tax rates remained the same, we would expect this to go up 2.85% to account for the increase in jobs. Plus, another 2.1% increase to account for wage growth. Barring any taxation rate changes, we would expect the total income tax collected in 2017-18 to have risen to $203,575 million.

But it didn’t. In fact, it was up much more to $206,993 million. That is no reduction.

We also see that the tax on individuals other than PAYE taxpayers – that is, those who live off professional fees, profits and dividends — has gone up only 2.32%.

Perhaps this what Turnbull meant. Income taxes for the masses have gone up substantially. But taxes on his constituency have been reduced.

6. “Record investment in infrastructure

This is blatantly false. The handiest measure of total infrastructure is ABS file: 'Construction Activity: Chain Volume Measures'.

Engineering construction work done in both private and public is valued, thus:

Financial year

Engineering construction

$billions

2008-09

87.00

2009-10

87.00

2010-11

96.23

2011-12

130.98

2012-13

141.57

2013-14

136.07

2014-15

113.63

2015-16

95.48

2016-17

86.99

2017-18

105.47

Clearly, the record years for infrastructure investment were 2011-12 and 2012-13. The next year, 2013-14, wasn’t too shabby. But it has been downhill since then.

Turnbull’s first full year as PM, 2016-17, was the lowest in more than ten years.

7.  “The economy is ... the envy of the developed world.”

Absolute nonsense! Yes, Australia was the envy of the entire world between 2009 and 2013. Not now.

On almost every ranking available – corporate profits excepted – Australia has tumbled from near the top of OECD and world rankings to well down the lists.

Since the 2013 election, these are just some of the collapses in OECD rankings:

  • unemployment: down from 6th to 16th;
  • the volume of exports of goods and services: down from 6th to 18th;
  • gross national savings: down from 9th to 18th;
  • annual GDP growth: down from 6th to 12th;
  • government spending as a percentage of GDP: down from 5th to 8th;
  • gross domestic product per capita: down from 5th to 7th;
  • Gini coefficient (equality of wealth distribution): down from 2nd to 5th; and
  • value of the Australian dollar down from 92 U.S. cents to 72 cents.

Since 2013, Australia’s gross government debt has ballooned from 30.7% of GDP to 41.9% — an increase of 11.2%. That is the highest of all 36 OECD economies.

Finally, the share of Australia’s wealth held by the top ten per cent has increased substantially under Turnbull. The average for Labor’s last three years – 2011 to 2013 – was 50.0% exactly. It is now at an all-time high of 52.7%.

This is why these falsehoods matter. As long as voters are kept in the dark, the predators can go on robbing them blind.

You can follow Alan Austin on Twitter @AlanAustin001.

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