An old teacher once told me, ‘Myths spread. After a while, people treat them as real facts. As time goes on, they become history.’
I’m not a fan of that idea. It might be fun to speculate about the possibility that there are alien spaceships held in a not-so-secret hangar in the middle of the Nevada desert, or that the Illuminati/New World Order/Elders of Zion control the world; but myths can also do damage if they go unchallenged.
This is especially true of political myths. Weapons of Mass Delusion, anyone?
So, with apologies to the Discovery Channel, Adam Savage, Jamie Hyneman and the rest of the crew, here’s a little mythbusting about the recent election and our new government.
Myth No. 1: The Coalition won more seats at the election.
This is one of the arguments that the Coalition used – and is still using – to bolster its claims that it was the only legitimate choice for government. It won 73 seats, Labor only had 72. Unfortunately for them, it’s based on some creative tallying.
The final shake-down of seats saw Labor and the Liberal/National/CLP/NLP Coalition tied at 72 seats each. To get the extra seat, the Coalition assumed from the start that Tony Crook, the Western Australian National, was part of their alliance. This simply isn’t true.
Although Crook eventually declared that he would support a Coalition bid for government, he made it clear that once government was formed, he would act as a cross-bencher. In other words, he’s no different to Bandt, Wilkie, Windsor, Katter and Oakeshott. Each of them made a decision to support a particular party to form government – which extends to promising to pass the Budget and not to pass ‘frivolous’ no-confidence motions.
If the Coalition is going to insist that Crook must be counted in their final tally, then so too must the other five MPs. That leaves us at Labor – 76, Coalition – 74. If it acknowledges that Crook is a cross-bencher, the tally is 72 all. Either way, claims of a ‘right to form government’ made on the basis of seats won fails to favour the Coalition.
Myth No. 2: The Coalition won more of the primary vote, so it effectively won the election.
The vagaries of Australia’s preferential voting system render this statement meaningless. We do not operate on a ‘first-past-the-post’ basis, as the UK does. Where there are multiple candidates, those with the lowest number of votes are eliminated, and their second preferences distributed among those remaining. And so on.
The primary vote is interesting, and statistically significant, but it doesn’t determine who wins. In fact, Kim Beazley’s Labor won both the primary and two-party preferred votes in 1998, but lost the election because the Coalition won more seats. It happens. It’s a quirk of the system – but that’s all.
Myth No. 3: The Independents made up their mind ages ago, but Gillard gave them extra time to grandstand and screw over the Coalition.
This accusation surfaced yesterday, and is based on the fact that Governor-General Quentin Bryce was in residence at Yarralumla on Tuesday. What was she waiting for? How did she know to be around? She must have been tipped off – and the only way that could happen was if Gillard already knew she’d won.
What can I say? This one belongs in the wingnut file along with ‘we never landed on the Moon’ and ‘missiles hit the Twin Towers’. If there was anyone in Australia who didn’t know that Tuesday September 7 was Decision Day, they had to have been living under a rock. Oakeshott, Windsor and Katter had all said repeatedly that they would make the announcement. It would have been remarkable if the Governor-General hadn’t been on stand-by.
No conspiracy required here – just common sense.
Conclusion: BUSTED, MOCKED AND LAUGHED OUT OF THE BUILDING.
Myth No. 4: Australia is now being run by a Labor-Greens ‘rainbow’ alliance and will be the most Socialist government we have ever known.
Where to start with this one?
Well, firstly, there is no ‘alliance’. The agreement between Labor and Adam Bandt – which is freely available for anyone to read – extends to Supply and no-confidence motions only. Labor gave certain undertakings in order to secure this agreement, primarily in the area of parliamentary reform. At no point did the two parties agree to a formal Coalition, such as that which exists between the Liberal and National parties.
The Greens are under no obligation to vote with the government – and the government are under no obligation to support the Greens, should they put up bills that conflict with Labor’s policy agenda.
As for the argument that this will be the most Left-leaning government in Australian history? I pause for howls of derisive laughter. Labor has been moving to the Right for decades. It may have done away with WorkChoices, but it hasn’t done much else that could be considered even remotely ‘Left’ – it hasn’t restored power to the unions, significantly expanded public health care, implemented protectionist agricultural policies or re-instituted free education. In fact, it’s difficult to tell sometimes which is more Right-wing – Labor or the Coalition.
Having the Greens in close proximity to the government might well prove to be beneficial for the country. If nothing else, they have the ability to mitigate some of the more damaging conservative trends in contemporary politics. ‘Socialism’, however, is the boogeyman word. It elicits a response from many Australians worthy of Pavlov’s dogs. Rational thought ceases, and people salivate in fear at the thought that the ‘Reds’ are coming to take away our hard-earned middle-class prosperity. It doesn’t matter that generally, those who rant most loudly against Socialism don’t know what it is – they just know it’s ‘bad’. To quote The Princess Bride: ‘that word … I do not think it means what you think it means’.
Those banging the drum would do well to read Glen Worthington’s Research Note on Socialism. They might be surprised to learn just how much of Australian social policy has been shaped by Socialist ideas.
Conclusion: THOROUGHLY BUSTED.
Myth No. 5: ‘As sure as night follows day’, we will have a carbon tax from this new government.
Abbott trotted this one out during the campaign – sometimes several times a day. He seemed to think he was blowing the whistle on a secret conspiracy within the Labor Party and the Greens to dupe the Australian public into voting for them. Then, as soon as they were elected – WHAM! Unexpected carbon tax! Bankruptcy for all! We’ll have to huddle together in our Snuggies because we won’t be able to afford to heat our homes anymore.
His strategists should probably have bothered to do their research. Neither party ever any attempt to hide proposals for a price on carbon – whether an Emissions Trading Scheme or a carbon tax. One quick visit to their respective websites, or tuning in to a media conference, could have told them that. Sure, Gillard weaselled around with the ‘citizens’ assembly’ idea, but she never made any secret of the fact that Labor wanted a price on carbon.
Conclusion: TRUE, BUT WE KNEW THAT ANYWAY.
So there we are. That wasn’t terribly painful, was it? What’s worse, perhaps, is that it wasn’t terribly hard to find the answers – yet somehow, we hear those myths repeated every day. We’ve come to expect it from our politicians – even in this ‘kinder, gentler polity’ that Abbott promised us – but there’s no excuse for these myths to be mindless quoted in the media, and allowed to go unchallenged.
I’m hoping mythbusting won’t have to become a regular feature of The Conscience Vote; on the other hand, I think there’ll be quite a bit of mythmaking going on in the next few years.
If you notice a myth, or something you suspect is a myth, being repeated as fact – challenge it. Do some research. Let me know, and I’ll publish it here.
Above all – don’t let an unquestioned myth become history.