We really must talk about Murdoch’s tame economists

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In Australia, to bludgeon his readers and viewers into believing the opposite of the truth, Murdoch has a battery of  high profile economists fudging the numbers, says Alan Austin.

More of Captain Murdoch's weoponry: his economist arsenal. (Image from The Week Magazine (5/4/12) © David Follett 2011 www.watermarkltd.com).

THE WEAPONRY in Rupert Murdoch’s global arsenal includes paying corrupt police, illegal phone-tapping, fabricating malicious stories, lying to official inquiries and a range of other criminal activities.

In Australia, to bludgeon his readers and viewers into believing the opposite of the truth, Murdoch deploys other heavy artillery, including a battery of credentialled economists.

Fairfax does the same. But Murdoch’s economists are more numerous, are arguably better writers and, by virtue of their broader reach, have greater influence.

How do they manipulate their readers? Through six strategies.

First. They repeat impressive-sounding propositions that they do not bolster with evidence. They do not because they cannot. Day in day out, week in week out, year in year out.

Oliver Marc Hartwich in The Australian this month:

'Australia's public finances are in a state of such obvious disrepair that no one would dream of awarding any prizes for sound fiscal management to an Australian treasurer today.'

And yet the accolades keep coming.

Judith Sloan and Henry Ergas in The Australian this month:

'… it is beyond dispute that there was far-reaching waste in programs such as school halls and pink batts, with the latter also involving the tragic loss of young lives.'

The opposite is true. Independent audits found minimal waste. The CSIRO found the rate of injuries and deaths fell to a quarter of the rate in the insulation industry during the Howard years. The pink batts were in fact extraordinarily successful.

But repetition in an authoritative tone has driven home the ‘truth’ to many.

Second. They ignore global context.

For decades now, Australia has been part of the international economy. By pretending it isn’t, misinformation is conveyed without actually lying.

Henry Ergas

Professor Ergas in June:

'And until Labor's growth blockers are well and truly gone, an enduring return to the fiscal strength of the Howard years will remain a dream.'

Growth blockers? Strength of the Howard years?

It is technically true that growth has been lower under Labor than under the previous Coalition Government. But when assessed in context, the dream run has truly been under Labor.

Consider economic growth in these 13 comparable countries in calendar 2006:

  • Australia  3.1%

  • Austria  3.8%

  • Denmark  3.1%

  • Germany  4.3%

  • Hungary  3.8%

  • Iceland  3.3%

  • Ireland  3.4%

  • Italy  3.0%

  • Netherlands  3.3%

  • Norway  3.3%

  • South Korea  4.6%

  • Spain  3.9%

  • Switzerland  3.5%


Average 3.57%. Australia was below average.

These are the members of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development with 2006 growth between 3.0% and 4.6%.

Where are they now — growth during calendar 2012?

  • Australia  3.1%

  • Austria  0.7%

  • Denmark  -0.9%

  • Germany  0.0%

  • Hungary  -2.7%

  • Iceland  1.4%

  • Ireland  -1.0%

  • Italy  -2.8%

  • Netherlands  -1.5%

  • Norway  1.9%

  • South Korea  1.5%

  • Spain  -1.9%

  • Switzerland  1.4%


The average, excluding Australia’s aberrant number, is negative 0.33%. Australia is now in a class of its own.


You won’t see this analysis in The Australian.

Third. They deny the global financial crisis impacted Australia.

Oliver Marc Hartwich in The Australian this month:

'One of the great myths about the GFC is that stimulus "saved Australia". But is this actually the case? The answer, clearly demonstrated in these pages over recent weeks, is a resounding no. China's stimulus, the Reserve Bank slashing interest rates, and the formidable inherited fiscal position were what actually put Australia in good stead.'

No, that has not been demonstrated. It has been asserted with no evidence. Because the actual evidence proves the opposite.

The data shows compellingly that other nations with strong trade with China were not saved. Other countries which slashed interest rates suffered badly. And economies with a fiscal position even more formidable still went backwards.

The only nation to emerge relatively unscathed was the only one which deployed stimulus spending big enough and fast enough.

Fourth. The sneaky rhetorical question which also avoids actual fibs.

Henry Ergas in June:

'And do events prove that the carbon tax, also the world's highest, is damaging our competitiveness for no environmental benefit?'

Does independent data show there has been substantial environmental benefit post carbon tax?

Was the reduction in emissions during 2012-13 more than ten times the reduction in the previous 12-month period?

Was power generation down by 4.3 terawatt hours, equivalent to 2.2%, and were CO2 emissions down by 12.2 million tonnes, equivalent to 6.9%?

Fifth. They make things up.

Henry Ergas in June:

'… the Howard government ran structural budget surpluses every year averaging 1.4 per cent of GDP; while every year it has been in office, Labor has run structural deficits averaging 2.8 per cent of GDP.'


'… literally all the structural deficits were incurred on Labor's watch.'

Both untrue. Accurate data shows the average budget surplus for the eleven years of the Howard Government was 0.79%. The average budget deficit during the five years under Labor has been -2.38%.

A Treasury paper in May showed clearly that Australia’s structural deficit problem began in the Howard years:

'The estimates suggest that the structural budget balance deteriorated from the mid-2000s, with the point estimate of the structural budget balance falling into deficit just prior to the GFC.'

Sixth. If you can’t say something destructive about Labor, don’t say anything.

Hence we find no economic analysis of lower overall taxes. No measurement of the vast increase in the nation’s infrastructure. No exploration of the recent impressive rise in productivity. No appraisal of how the disadvantaged are faring better than ever.

And absolutely never any research into how Australia’s global ranking lifted during the Whitlam administration, fell under Fraser, rose through the Hawke/Keating period, slipped back badly during the dismal Howard years, but rocketed to the top with Rudd and Gillard.

Read the previous stories in this series:


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