What lies ahead?

Ian Robinson / 15 August 2014

When I was at secondary school, my English class studied a collection of essays, one of which analysed the methods of Nazi propaganda in the Thirties. There were, I recall, three components of this: an element of truth; gross exaggeration; and constant repetition. I have been starkly reminded of this trilogy by the recent behaviour of Tony Abbott and his opposition colleagues.

The elements of truth the opposition are exploiting are, first, that the Prime Minister did make a commitment before the last election not to introduce a tax on carbon; and second, that she has indeed put forward a proposal for a price on carbon as an interim measure before a future carbon trading scheme is introduced a few years down the track. No-one disputes either of these facts.

Abbott’s exaggerations of these basic facts are gross and wilful distortions of the real situation.

Firstly, a broken commitment is not “lie”. They are clearly two distinct things and one would hope that the leader of an opposition would know the moral difference. To keep calling what Julia Gillard said a “lie” is to misuse language, disfigure the debate and debase politics.

The Tuesday papers featured stories about Victorian Liberal Premier Ted Baillieu breaking a pre-election promise on teachers’ salaries. Is Tony Abbott going to attack Ted Baillieu for “lying” too?

Although in general it is not commendable to break commitments, it is not even clear that this is what has happened here. The Prime Minister’s promise was premised on her leading a majority government after the election. This didn’t happen, so it could be argued that this pre-election commitment was thereby null and void. Gillard ended up running a minority government and she therefore had to work out a compromise with the other stake-holders.

Perhaps in hindsight she should have made this clearer at the time by saying “a majority government lead by me”, but at the time no-one was really taking seriously the possibility of a hung parliament and shared government was not on the agenda. However, it should have been obvious to anybody who thought about it that “majority government” was implied in her statement, because, logically, one cannot make firm commitments on behalf of a possible future minority government, since one does not have the unfettered power to carry them out.

So, ironically, Tony Abbott calling what Julia Gillard said a “lie” may itself be an example of what Adolf Hitler called a “big lie”, that is a lie so “colossal” that it has a “certain force of credibility” because the populace “would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously” (Mein Kampf, vol. I, ch. X).

Secondly, a price on carbon is not “a great big new tax on everybody”. It is precisely a tax on the carbon polluters, and who could argue with that? It is true that the polluters will try to pass the cost on to consumers, but the government have said they will use money collected to ameliorate the effects of this on the community.

Moreover, to the extent that there may be price increases, this is not necessarily a bad thing. The increases will only be to those prices which arise out of environmentally damaging carbon-emitting processes. Part of the plan is to make the use of such carbon-emitting technologies more expensive and thus discourage people from using them. There is no magic cost-free way of making a transition from a society based on a wasteful and polluting carbon-emitting technology to a society based on more planet-friendly practices. We all have to pay our share to save the environment and the human race.

For the repetitions, just watch the TV and listen to the radio! Every time an opposition politician gets the opportunity, they reiterate the deceptive “lie” claim and the warped “tax” claim over and over again. This happens with such predictable regularity it cannot be mere co-incidence. There is clearly a conscious, concerted and calculated propaganda campaign of Goebbelesque proportions under way. Who in the Liberal Party dreamt this up? At what Shadow Cabinet meeting was it agreed to, at whose suggestion?

By exaggerating a promise that might not have even been broken into a “lie to the Australian people”, and by exaggerating a charge on carbon polluters into a “huge tax on everyone”, and by repeating these exaggerations ad infinitum and ad nauseam, Tony Abbott and the opposition risk lowering the level of political debate in contemporary Australia to that of Germany in the Thirties.

One trusts that the Australian people are sophisticated enough to see through this vicious and cynical grab for public support.

No-one is claiming Tony Abbott is a Nazi, but one has to ask why he, and the party he leads, are so doggedly using such discredited Nazi propaganda techniques?

March 2011

All the more reason.