Smile, you’re on candidate camera

August 26, 2013

Paul Sheehan

Sydney Morning Herald columnist

<i>Illustration: Simon Bosch</i>

Illustration: Simon Bosch


Critics of the federal government say it has achieved little in six years, but it has achieved much. Yet in the 2013 election campaign it is not talking about this central, defining achievement – the extension, expansion and reinvigoration of union power – even though a large section of the electorate, the unions and the public service, supports this shift in the balance of economic power and will vote for Labor or the Greens.

The silence about this achievement is part of a much larger pattern. The government is not running on its record. The Prime Minister is not focused on his achievements. He is running a campaign built on fabrications and future glory. He has been caught lying, without compunction, on multiple occasions. This is not even the most insidious mischief.

Then there are the outright lies by Rudd, which he keeps repeating even after they have been discredited. 

The government has manipulated the official statistics. It has compromised the reputation of the Treasury. An example of the endless spin cycle is the manipulation of the unemployment rate, a basic measure of the economy and thus, indirectly, a measure of the government’s performance. The official rate is 5.7 per cent. It has been trending up for a year, from 5.2 per cent, a 10 per cent rise in 12 months. The real unemployment rate is higher, about 6.2 per cent according to a study by Andrew Baker of the Centre for Independent Studies.

Baker found that more than 100,000 job-seekers had been moved out of the unemployment ranks by shifting them into training schemes. ”An astonishing 360,000 unemployed people are classified as non-job-seekers,” Baker wrote in his centre’s monograph. ”The number [in training schemes has] skyrocketed from 62,500 in 2009 to 150,000 in 2012 … People on welfare who are not required to look for work will stay on welfare longer.” He estimates that if the unemployed who are classified as ”non-job-seekers” was included in the unemployment baseline number, the rate would be 6.2 per cent.


Even the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) finds something is amiss with Australia’s unemployment data, noting recently: ”The non job-seeker population is so large that it needs more analysis and attention.”

Not good, considering that when Rudd came to power in 2007 the official, uncooked, unemployment rate was 4.5 per cent. Despite a resources boom and $300 billion in government deficit spending, the unemployment rate has risen about 37 per cent under Labor.

Manipulating the unemployment rate is a subtle lie. There are unsubtle lies, also funded by taxpayers. The government has spent $30 million in the run-up to the election on a saturation ad campaign stating that boat people who destroy their documents will never be settled permanently in Australia. It is a fantasy. Since Rudd announced that boat people will be sent to Papua New Guinea and never see Australia, his ploy has collapsed. Three thousand boat people have arrived since then and most are being warehoused in Australia. Based on Labor’s policies, they will spend years in the Australian legal system at an average cost to taxpayers of roughly $200,000 a person. Madness.

Then there are the outright lies by Rudd, which he keeps repeating even after they have been discredited: the Coalition does not have a secret plan to increase the GST. Tony Abbott did not strip $1 billion out of the hospital system. The opposition does not have a $70 billion deficit in its costings. The Liberals did not do a secret deal with News Corporation over the national broadband network. Those arriving by people smugglers’ boats will not be sent to Papua New Guinea and never reach Australia. Millionaires will not be the primary beneficiaries of Tony Abbott’s paid parental leave scheme. The price of Vegemite is not going up 50¢ a jar.

And the woman in the Labor TV ads saying she does not trust Abbott is not a concerned citizen. She is a professional actress working off a script, another cog in the giant spin cycle. Unfortunately for Rudd and Labor, the millions of dollars spent on that TV campaign has been more than offset by a real civilian making a real protest about Rudd’s conduct and character. A classic ordinary Australian, Brisbane make-up artist Lily Fontana, used her Facebook account to make a spontaneous personal observation which emphatically confirmed the hundreds of media reports about Rudd’s private personality.

If you missed her words it is worth reading them because they are so telling and they have gone viral: ”Just finished doing Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott for the leadership forum at Broncos Leagues Club. One of them was absolutely lovely, engaged in genuine conversation with me, acknowledge that I had a job to do and was very appreciative. The other did the exact opposite! Oh boy, I have ever [sic] had anyone treat me so badly whilst trying to do my job. Political opinions aside … from one human being to another … Mr Abbott, you win hands down.”

Embarrassed by the attention her comments received, Fontana removed them from Facebook, but not before another make-up artist, Abigael Johnston, added this: ”I second that Lily. I have had a very similar experience.” These are real political civilians, not paid actors.

Call it blowback, call it karma, but in Australia’s longest-running election campaign, Julia Gillard and then Rudd both sought to make Tony Abbott’s character the central issue and both saw their own reputations wilt instead. Rudd, with his distinct combination of owlish face, preachy persona, punctilious speech and negative tactics, is in danger of becoming what politicians most dread, a joke.

Twitter: @Paul_Sheehan_

The Sydney Morning Herald 

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