How politicians lie

By February 10, 2017Australian Politics

At a simple level, a liar is a person who tells lies. However there are lots of ways of telling lies.

These include:

  1. Bad Faith: Not acknowledging one’s ability to act. For instance: Instead of allowing a free vote in parliament, Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull maintained that it was important to have a plebiscite to decide if marriage equality should be adopted, so that any subsequent action by the parliament would have the ‘authority’ of the people. This wasn’t necessary when the marriage act was changed in 2004 by the Howard Government to prevent marriage equality. In addition, even if the plebiscite returned a positive vote for marriage equality, some members of parliament have stated that they will not vote for it anyway. That is bad faith and politicians have it in spades.
  1. Barefaced Lie: A lie that is obviously a lie to those hearing it. When asked by the ABC, Tony Abbott categorically denied supporting legal action against Pauline Hanson, but when the reporter showed him a guarantee he had signed, he simply brushed it aside saying that it was not as bad as misleading parliament. When Donald Trump stated that his inauguration crowd was 1.5 million, but it was only about 15% of that size he was indulging in a barefaced lie. Similarly, when Kellyanne Conway, a counselor to Trump, stated in three interviews that one element of the justification of Trump’s Muslim travel ban was the Bowling Green Massacre, she was indulging in a barefaced lie. She later retracted and said she misspoke and meant the arrest of two Iraqi refugees on charges of supplying money to al Qaeda in Iraq, but, misspeaking three times indicates she is either deluded or more likely, was lying. A massacre was planned in Bowling Green in 2012 and a man arrested, but he was a white supremacist.
  1. Bluffing: Pretending to have a capability that one does not possess, or the intention to do something that one has no intention of doing. In poker this is a common tactic to make opponents believe your hand is better than it is in reality. Through his lawyer, Clive Palmer stated that Queensland Nickel’s financial position is ‘worse than perilous’ and that Mineralogy’s (Palmer’s private company) ability to continue maintaining its assets was seriously at risk. The judge in this case seemed to think that this was part bluff. This bluff was with the aim of getting the Queensland government to furnish some kind of guarantee.
  1. Butler Lie: small lies used to terminate conversations or similar difficulties. For example, when Tony Abbott was asked by Julia Gillard (then PM), if he wished to visit Australian troops in Afghanistan, Abbott is reported to have stated that he was too jet-lagged to go. He later acknowledged that the jet-lag excuse was false and that he was simply lost for words. Abbott, being so inarticulate, is often lost for words, but when he is, he tends just to stare, so the jet-lag story was probably a butler lie.
  1. Cover Up: The denying of the commission of a crime or error. Scott Morrison, as a matter of course, refused to release detailed information on anything relating to the arrival or interception of asylum seeker boats from Indonesia. When allegations were made by a Somali asylum-seeker that he had been pepper-sprayed and had burnt himself when he fell on hot engine parts, the government and the Navy both denied this happened. When asked to release the video (the Navy videos all such operations), the government refused. That is a cover up of a possible crime.
  1. Deflecting: Avoiding the subject that the lie is about. Politicians are extremely good at this. When queried about the fact that Australia is not on track to meet its 2030 emissions target, Josh Frydenberg (unkindly referred to as Fraudenberg online) stated that “the Government’s policies, like the Emissions Reduction Fund are working to reduce Australia’s emissions at low cost, without driving up the price of electricity like Labor’s Carbon Tax did. That is archetypal lying by deflecting.
  1. Lying by omission: Deliberately holding back relevant facts to give a false impression. For instance, when Tony Abbott stated, at the Press Club in 2013, that “Australia’s gross debt [was] skyrocketing towards $400 billion”, he neglected to mention that our debt is low by global standards. Another example is when Malcolm Turnbull admitted he had donated $1.75 million to the Liberal Party to help fund its election campaign in 2016. He vehemently stated that it was his personal funds and that he could not be bought by anyone and that the Labor Party was a wholly owned subsidiary of the CFMEU (which gave $540,000 to the Labor Party). Turnbull neglected to mention that the Cormack Foundation Pty Ltd donated almost $3 million dollars to the Liberal Party in 2016. That is lying by omission.
  1. Exaggeration: This is when the basic statement is true, but the detail is exaggerated. For instance, when the Abbott opposition stated: “We are facing a budget emergency”; or “We are facing a debt and deficit disaster”, they were indulging in gross exaggeration, when Australia’s debt levels were among some of the lowest in the western world. We did face a structural deficit, but it was not an emergency. This was another lie repeated to garner votes from the gullible. Now, when the budget position is much worse as a proportion of GDP, there is seemingly no emergency; everything is under control. The Liberal Party can even consider giving a $50 billion tax break to big business.
  1. Fraud: Inducing a person to believe a lie in order to gain a financial or material benefit. You could argue that the lies told by Tony Abbott prior to the 2013 Federal election, when he stated there would be no cuts to the ABC, SBS, Health or Education, were designed to obtain a financial gain (the salary of the leader of the opposition is about $361,000 p.a., while that of the prime minister is $507,000 p.a.) by the garnering of more votes to give the coalition a majority, thereby making him Prime Minister.
  1. Lying in trade: This is also called false advertising. This is a form of fraud and consumer protection legislation has been enacted to combat it. Unfortunately politicians are not covered by this legislation. So, when Tony Abbott lied about not decreasing funding to the ABC, SBS, education, health and pensions, prior to the 2013 federal election, and then did the opposite afterwards, he was indulging in false advertising, in an attempt to garner more votes. Perhaps the most egregious example of this are the promises made during the 1996 federal election campaign by John Howard, who later cynically subdivided them into ‘core’ promises and ‘non-core’ promises. A ‘non-core’ promise is called a lie by the general public.
  1. Minimisation: the opposite of exaggeration, where the basic statement is true, but the detail is understated. For instance when air force spokespeople refer to collateral damage from a bombing raid, they are admitting that there was unintended damage, and from the use of the word damage, one could assume that it meant damage to buildings, vehicles, bridges etc. However, it quite often means the deaths of civilians. That is using words to lie by minimisation.
  1. Misleading and dissembling: the presentation of facts in a way that is literally true, but is designed to mislead. For instance: Tony Abbott stated, that “When I was a journalist, there were no metadata protections for journalists and if any agency… had wanted my metadata, they could have just gone and got it on authorisation”. He neglected to mention that he gave up journalism in 1990, four years before the first web browser appeared. Another example: Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions, which were falling under the Gillard government’s Carbon tax, are rising again under the Emission Reduction Fund, with an increase for the first half of 2016 of 0.8%. Josh Frydenberg, then Environment Minister said that: “These figures show that Australia’s emissions per capita and emissions per unit of GDP are now at their lowest level in 27 years.” The per capita rate or per unit GDP rate have nothing to do with the reductions required by the Paris agreement. This is lying by misleading.
  1. Pathological lie: A psychological disorder can lead to pathological lying, where the lying is habitual or compulsive, is easily detected and has no apparent benefit. Given his propensity for lying, commonly about trivial matters that can be easily shown to be a lie, it is more than likely that Donald Trump is a pathological liar. Many of his statements are so patently false and trivial, they indicate that a pathological affliction is present.
  1. Perjury: The act of lying under oath or affirmation in a court of law.
  1. Puffery: Exaggerated claim typically found in advertising. For instance: Eric Abetz stated he was “deeply concerned” about transparency and the rule of law regarding trade unions. However, he was not deeply concerned enough to extend that desire for transparency to political donations and the money laundering of donations from property developers (illegal in NSW) which were given to the federal Liberal Party, and then in part sent to the NSW Liberal Party.
  1. Weasel words: words or statements that are intentionally ambiguous or confusing. An example of this is after a 1991 television show, ‘Embassy’ upset the Malaysian government, the then Foreign Minister, Gareth Evans stated he “wanted to acknowledge fault where such acknowledgement is appropriate”. That is a classic piece of diplomatic drivel and gives the impression of an apology without actually apologising.



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