May 20, 2014 | Graham

Pants on fire

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He’s most famous for his LAW tax cuts which were actually legislated before the election and then withdrawn after it.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.


Posted by Graham at 7:14 am | Comments (4) |
Filed under: Uncategorized


  1. Well Graham, your piece is self evident, and I for one greatly admired John Hewson for his honesty! Albeit, I never voted for him or his tax reform!
    With his defeat, and replacement by honest John Howard, we were assured by that gentleman, that the GST was dead in the water and would never ever be introduced!
    Later we found out, that never ever was only good for a single term of parliament? And there have been plenty of non core promises ever since, none of which evoked the outpouring of tea party type hate, we saw, when Julia Gillard, Gave into the Greens, and introduced a carbon tax. For mine she could have placed a million dollars a ton on carbon pollution, always providing she also introduced a cap, which could just be current levels? Meaning no sane person would ever have to pay this tax, yet we would have done what was required and put a price on carbon. The pain if any would come later, as the cap was lowered, say around 1% biannually? And, given I had my druthers, there could be tax breaks applied for provable reduction claims?
    Honest John Howard’s GST was reintroduced against the express wishes of a surveyed 87% of the surveyed sample!
    John Howard claimed he would answer to the electorate, but clearly didn’t? Thanks to things like Tampa, and more Labor back flipping, and 9/11?
    At least until 2007, when even his own electorate rejected him and work choices!
    Kim Beasley, who claimed he would roll back the GST, whimped out and rolled over and begged for a tummy rub, and then wondered why he and Labor lost, even though they/he won 51% of the popular vote!
    This is where he and Labor distinguished themselves from John Howard and the Coalition!
    One had the courage of conviction and flip flop elitist Kim just didn’t, nor did the vociferous Labor premiers, who to a generic man, called the GST as the most unfair granny killing tax of all time!
    As did the keep the bar stewards honest Democrats, lead by Meg Lees, who assured the extinction of a once major third party, by rolling over and agreeing to most of the GST!
    All while the former most passionately recalcitrant Labor Premiers, were like veritable vultures circling the corpse of a fair go, in their attempt to maximize the share of the granny killing GST.
    John Hewson, speaking recently on the Drum, suggested the GST could be applied to all goods and services, including health; and said, that simple change would raise GST revenue, to somewhere between 130-150 billions.
    And then went on to expand, with a suggestion that pensioners could be compensated with a virtual doubling of the pension.
    I never voted for John Hewson, but admire both his inherent honesty, and equally inherent sense of fair play immensely.
    One would wonder what he makes of current governments, and the way the pain is shared?
    15% for the most vulnerable working poor, and around 3% for the much better off!?
    I for one, would have preferred John Hewson’s much more pragmatic model, given it would very equally shared any pain, all while completely fixing any structural deficit; and, without necessarily frightening the daylights out of the rating agencies, who are the ones who give us our triple rating!
    Nothing Tony Abbott has done thus far has reassured those agencies, with his confected alarm at a budget emergency?
    Which to my way of thinking, is nothing more than a tea party type opportunity, to rip into the poor and their improved entitlements/economy stimulating discretionary spending?
    Tony Abbott has slipped too far in the polls to make a comeback?
    But then, the man he claims to admire the most, honest John Howard, made a comeback worthy of Lazarus, with a triple bypass!
    Alan B. Goulding.

    Comment by Alan B. Goulding — May 20, 2014 @ 10:31 am

  2. tell you what Graham I think Mr Abbott has gone a long way towards disabusing those Pensioners who were silly enough to vote for him.
    They will discover why when the bills come in,rates and others

    Comment by John Ryan — May 21, 2014 @ 11:47 pm

  3. Alan, I get tired of people describing the introduction of the GST as a broken promise. After Hewson’s campaign it is probably the second most honest of modern history. Howard changed his mind and took it to an election. He won that election, albeit by the skin of his teeth. And we’re all better off for it. In fact you just recently gave us a long disquisition on why we should increase the GST threefold.

    Comment by Graham — May 22, 2014 @ 8:12 am

  4. Yes graham and you’re right!
    However, I wasn’t arguing against the GST per se, just the patent dishonesty, in its “forced” introduction.
    When it was introduced pensioners’ losses of $900.00 per, i.e., were offset with $450.00 per of compensation!
    That said, we really are now left with just two real choices!
    Broaden the base of the GST to include everything, which would allow pensions to be virtually doubled!
    The extra 39 billions in pensioners hands, would percolate through and around the economy, providing as much as 270 billion worth of economic stimulation, if you include the usual multipliers?
    Not very long after he introduced his GST, and at a then Telstra address, John Howard was asked why he preferred a GST?
    He replied, well it was either that or a transactions tax, and a transaction tax, was thought to be regressive!
    With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, the transactions tax would have been a far better option than Mr Howard’s GST.
    Particularly when you consider how much derivatives have figured in the GFC; and or, the onset of high frequency trading, or market skewing short selling.
    I think all these them/us arguments and funding shortfalls, could be solved by replacing all current tax collection methodologies and all that convoluted complexity, with a single, stand alone, unavoidable expenditure tax.
    In a 1.6 trillion dollar economy, or that part of the economic iceberg we can see, an expenditure tax of 18% would raise some 380 billions.
    This very simplicity, would also allow quite significant government downsizing; and or, all business/tax payers to pocket current tax compliance costs!
    Which for corporations, averages some 7%, of the bottom line!
    Which in effect would equate to an actual tax impost of just 11% if you also factor in the inherent 7% of the bottom line, averaged savings!
    If you then factor in the removal of all other tax imposts, PAYE, PAYG, Payroll tax, the GST, fuel excise and so on, Australia would be the lowest taxing country, and furthermore, those currently avoiding a fair share of a combined tax responsibility, would be no longer able to; including the 95% of corporate Australia, which have off-shored their operations, simply to avoid tax!
    Which is at least a hundred billion, if you include sharp practice like sending the same sum of money through half a dozen Subsidiaries, to create a false impression of economic activity, or non real, albeit, legally invoiced costs?
    None of which can be disputed, virtue of the fact, the ATO, treats each of the subsidiaries as quite separate entities!
    If we applied an expenditure tax to all money movement, but particularly that that is transferred or remitted offshore, we will even up the tax treatment of the traditional retailer, and any and all offshore entities. And all those simply transferring large sums to tax havens, to hide it from the tax man, which will have just the opposite effect!
    We are not too far away from a cashless economy, and with its introduction, the end of the black economy?
    With my preferred reform in place, it just would not matter how many assets you had or where you lived!
    Everyone would pay according to their means and actual spending!
    Nothing could be fairer or more equitable.
    And given the repeal of all other taxes, the average household income would rise by around 20% estimated?
    Meaning, a 15% non contributory super would become almost immediately affordable for most households, which would put current super levels completely in the shade.
    And apart from that, the other advantage of this unavoidable simplicity, is the tax rate alone can be marginally varied, region by region as and where necessary, to alone control all inflation or stagnation!
    Meaning, the interest rate could be progressively lowered to even much lower, set and forget historical rates, to quite massively boost the non mining economy.
    If we were smart, we would use the huge boost in super savings, to underwrite a quite massive roll-out of cheaper than coal, thorium power stations, rapid rail, and nuclear powered very fast, roll on roll off ferries.
    None of the power generating units, need be connected to the great white elephant of a national grid, but rather, right alongside new industrial estates, to more than halve current energy charges.
    And then having created both the lowest (real) tax system, and rolled out the lowest energy costs, into perpetuity. Try not to get knocked down in the rush of energy dependent high tech manufacturers, seeking to relocate here; and all manner of entrepreneurs/seriously cashed up self funded retirees.
    All seeking safety in things like thirty year self terminating government guaranteed infrastructure bonds! Something else we could be doing to garner foreign capital, but not foreign owners!
    All of which would end the destiny of demography; and grow the economy/jobs, and our smarts as a globally competing community!
    And a far better plan than the the same old same old, unimaginative austerity, or worse, ideologically relapsing to simply trying to advantage the most advantaged!?
    A plan which as already evidenced elsewhere, just creates even greater problems, and even more self defeating economic slow downs.
    There is however, a debt problem that needs to be addressed with urgent alacrity, and that debt is trillions of domestic and foreign debt!
    And I submit, this is the only plan on the table, to just begin to address that!?
    Alan B. Goulding.

    Comment by Alan B. Goulding — May 22, 2014 @ 11:36 am

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