Like the last parliament this one looks as though it will be diverted to arguments about who lied, and who didn’t.
But as the old joke goes:
“How do you know when a politician is lying?” “Their lips are moving.”
Unduly cynical, but the fact that it is an old joke shows politicians lying is not something just invented in the last two elections.
At the moment the spotlight is focussed on the Liberal Party, with Joe Hockey admitting on Q & A last night to a number of lies. Bad luck for Joe. If he hadn’t been part of the winning team at the last election it would most probably have been Chris Bowen having to admit to the same thing.
While I wouldn’t say that most politicians are honest, I would say that when it comes to elections there is an arms race on dishonesty, and the price of being too honest is that you can lose to the one who lies more.
The best case in point was Paul Keating in 1993 who beat one of the most honest men ever to run a political party in Australia, John Hewson.
He campaigned against Hewson’s Fightback package, the best, most comprehensive and most transparent election package ever taken to an election on the basis of a number of dishonest assertions.
He’s most famous for his LAW tax cuts which were actually legislated before the election and then withdrawn after it. I can’t think of a more blatant lie.
Then there was his whole campaign theme – Jobs not GST. Not only has history shown this to be an empty claim, but Keating, as a champion of indirect taxes must have known it was empty.
By buying Keating at that election electors taught politicians of all stripes a lesson – there are no votes in honesty. It is now a bit rich for those same electors to complain that politicians have taken that lesson to heart.
The problem is compounded by the fact that we are not very good at picking liars anyway, and the young are worse than the more mature.
Research at the University of the Sunshine Coast found that people over 35 were better than those younger at spotting liars, but even the best had a 20% fail rate.
According to the ABC report:
The research, which was initially aimed at finding out whether people with autism are worse at spotting deception, was very popular and attracted 800 participants, 10% of whom were on the autism spectrum.
And while it found that those with autism aren’t as good at reading facial expressions, they are no worse than the average person at detecting a lie.
Neither were women any better than men.
The participants were set two tasks, one in which someone was lying about not liking a meal and another in which a woman was trying to hide the fact she was having an affair.
While most people did well spotting the first lie, the more complex emotional terrain of the second resulted in 50% of those under 35 flunking the test.
Factors which made it difficult to pick a liar were the reputation and prestige of the liar themselves. Even people in occupations where discerning truth is presumably a prerequisite, such as policemen and judges, were no better than average.
So not only do we reward liars in politics, but most of us aren’t very good at working out which are the liars in the first place.
While on the subject one might also ponder why it is that the older a voter is, the more likely they are to vote Liberal at the moment.