Mythbusting

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.

Conclusion: BUSTED.

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.

Conclusion: BUSTED.

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.

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12 Responses to Mythbusting

  1. Rockstar Philosopher says:

    On myth #1 which party got anything close to the ALP’s number of seats? This idea that the coalition should be considered one party is just showing up the idea that they’re being intellectually dishonest; the coalition is so you can tell the city one thing and the bush the other to get votes without looking like you have an inconsistent message.

    • This is exactly right. Too often the Coalition is reported as ‘the Liberals’, which is – as you said – intellectually dishonest.

      Coalitions are, of course, a perfectly legitimate way to gain seats – but we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that they are a collective.

  2. htomfields says:

    Recent efforts to reduce the carbon content in fuels and to improve their energy efficiency can certainly help to reduce the amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere. However, large-scale carbon sequestration will definitely be required to achieve the U.S. national goal of reducing green house gas emissions from 1530 million tons of carbon equivalent (tce) in 2002 to 1255 million tce in 2012.

    http://www.inl.gov/research/co2-sequestration/

    • The problem with carbon sequestration is two-fold: firstly, the dearth of research funding in Australia means that finding ways to make sequestration work with our geology is necessarily constrained; and secondly, that sequestration is at best a stopgap measure.

      There seems to be an insistence in much of the political arena as treating climate change as a ‘one solution’ situation. What is needed is a multi-faceted approach; renewable fuels, CO2 sequestration, carbon pricing, and energy efficiency.

      That doesn’t make for great headlines, though. It’s much more attention-grabbing to tout one particular approach as ‘the fix’.

  3. Michelle Hallett says:

    I don’t think it’s just Labor that is moving to the right, I think there are unions that are doing so too and many union members. I think it’s a trend in Australia, left largely belongs to the middle class intellectuals. This is just my feeling and I haven’t researched it. Wish I had the time. If anyone disagrees, I’d be interested to hear their thoughts

    • I think you have a good point there. Since the MUA waterfront dispute in 1998, the unions have become ever more wary of resorting to their traditional methods. This is partly due to the workplace relations laws, which still make it illegal to set up secondary boycotts or strike except under very limited conditions; but the union are now policing themselves, forcing out their traditional driving forces.

      Of course, the idea that the Left belongs to the latte-sipping, Chardonnay-swilling middle class intelligentsia is a favourite propaganda tactic. So-called ‘Leftist’ thinking in Australia was very much a creature of the working classes, but there was always an element from the universities on hand to explain a basic concern with working conditions and human rights in terms of particular political theories.

      These days I think there is deliberate obscuration going on – the ‘university Socialists’ are loud and make for good media, while the union men and women are too ‘normal’ for sensational reporting. After all, why take a photo of a wharfie when you can grab the front page with a picture of a long-haired radical yelling at the police?

  4. Fergie says:

    With Myth 2: I got some interesting reactions from people at work simply by going to the ATO website, and showing them Abbott’s “win” in the 2 party preferred vote. Anyone who claims a “clear win” because they had 4000 more votes than their opponent out of over 11 million has their head jammed squarely where the sun don’t shine. I don’t know any mathematician that would be able to call a clear trend out of that. Not to mention that was only with 90% of the vote counted.

    As to Myth 4: I know exactly what you mean about our right leaning Labor party. The only clear difference is that the Libs are more shrill about their objections, and more unappologetic about their stance. That’s really the only way to tell the difference. Labor can still feel ashamed of itself when properly chastised. I think it must be getting awfully crowded over in the right camp. Thank god for Wilkie and the Greens, and this wonderful hung parliament.

    Something else of note. My opinion of Bob Brown kicked up a notch today when he basically said that the Libs should consider talking with the cross bench and himself, as they are in a position to pass legislation while in opposition. The numbers are there if they get the greens and the independents on board. The clever bastard is putting himself in a position to pick and choose the policies that he likes from both parties, and get them put through. Now wouldn’t that be interesting? :o)

    • Re Myth 2: The AEC is now reporting that Labor have won the two-party preferred vote. šŸ™‚

      Re Myth 4: It’s one of the most frustrating things to watch. Labor has moved further to the right with every new leader, and you’re right, there is a sense of shame that goes along with it. They can’t wholeheartedly commit to these essentially conservative positions, because the ghosts of the great Labor leaders are looking over their shoulders the whole time.

      And re Bob Brown: I think it says something about our system of politics when a pragmatic, open-minded statement aimed at trying to form a workable Parliament can be successfully spun as ‘cracks in the Labor-Greens alliance’ – and when that spin is taken up uncritically by the media and repeated ad nauseam.

  5. Loki Carbis says:

    Regarding Myth #1, the Busted case only gets stronger if you look at Crook’s actual remarks: he’s publically objected to his seat being counted in the coalition’s tally even before Decision Day.

    • Crook is the most interesting of these characters, I think. He’s shied away from the media to an incredible extent. He’s barely talked to the other crossbenchers – it wasn’t until they came out and said the Independents needed to know his decision before they could make theirs that he bothered to declare for the Coalition (and then only in the same qualified way as the others).

      He has virtually no profile – his website is peculiarly self-effacing, and he behaves as though he is entirely uninterested in any aspect of politics except that which affects his region. One comment in his bio suggests that he will prove very difficult to recruit, however; a nasty little dig at those ‘in Canberra’ who have forgotten all about regional needs.

  6. Catherine McLean says:

    Regarding Myth #3, Ms Bryce was actually scheduled to be in Melbourne on the 7th (indeed, I’d heard she *was* in Melbourne and had to fly back to Canberra).

    She was intending to visit the Walter & Eliza Hall Institute in Melbourne on the afternoon of the 7th, and this was expected right up until late on the 6th, if not later – I understand that the events co-ordinator only got the call on Tuesday morning saying that Ms Bryce would be unable to make it.

    Sounds to me as though the announcement may have been *expected* on Tuesday, but that it wasn’t until the last minute that anyone felt with any degree of certainty that it really *was* going to happen then.

    Busted, indeed.

    • I think that’s exactly the point. Katter, Oakeshott and Windsor made it clear that they would decide on Tuesday. It’s only reasonable to expect that the Governor-General would cancel her travel plans to be available – after 17 days, she would be aware at how much everyone wanted a final result.

      Thanks for the info about her movements. This ties in with what we knew from the media – that the Indepedents walked into Parliament House on Tuesday morning making it clear that they would have a decision that day.

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