By on Tuesday, December 24th, 2019
(QESP Editor’s Note: The following is a reprint of a December 12, 2019 in RMIT ABC Fact Check economics . The original, with links to related material, is available at https://theconversation.cmail20.com/t/r-l-jduiokl-ihihuyyuhh-o/)
RMIT ABC Fact Check economics and finance editor Josh Gordon
Updated Thu at 10:11am
It was a year of crippling drought, bushfires and a bitterly fought federal election campaign won by the Coalition against the expectations of pollsters, journalists and bookmakers.
Tax, the economy and the environment, along with a host of other issues, kept RMIT ABC Fact Check busy holding public figures to account across a year in which the spread of misleading information was as palpable as ever.
The 2019 Fact Check Golden Zombie award — for a “debunked claim which refuses to die” — goes to Energy Minister Angus Taylor for repeating his misleading assertion, from April, that the Coalition inherited from Labor a 755 million tonne greenhouse gas “emissions deficit” needed to reach Australia’s second Kyoto target, and, through the Government’s “hard work”, turned this around by 1.1 billion tonnes.
INFOGRAPHIC: Energy Minister Angus Taylor wins the Golden Zombie for 2019, for continuing to repeat this misleading claim about inheriting an emissions deficit from Labor long after it was debunked. (RMIT ABC Fact Check)
As Fact Check has pointed out — frequently — the so-called “emissions deficit” referred to by the Coalition was taken from an October 2012 report, and merely represented a forecast of the greenhouse gas emission reductions needed to hit Australia’s 2020 target at that time.
Soon after the Coalition came to office, in a report released in December 2013 which superseded the 2012 report, it became apparent that emissions under Labor’s carbon tax had been lower than expected.
Government officials also for the first time factored in a significant “carryover” from the overachievement of the first Kyoto target, covering the period 2008 to 2012.
Since then, emissions have been lower than anticipated as a result of high power prices, the states’ adoption of renewable energy and the closure of coal-fired power stations, including Victoria’s Hazelwood plant — all of which had little to do with “hard work” by the Coalition.
The link between fires, drought and climate change, Australia’s track record as a large coal producer and exporter, and the extent to which Australia is meeting its international obligations to cut greenhouse gas emissions continued to fuel debate during the year.Fact check: Adani mine
Labor frontbencher Joel Fitzgibbon says that a mine as big as Adani’s Carmichael mine was approved by the Queensland Government during the formal election campaign.
The controversial Adani coal project was the source of division and angst within Labor ranks.
Shortly after Labor’s shock election loss, Labor’s resources spokesman, Joel Fitzgibbon, suggested the focus on Adani was “crazy”, claiming a mine just as big had been approved by the Queensland Government in the Bowen Basin and “hardly got noticed”.
Fact Check found this claim doesn’t stack up, largely because the mine referred to by Mr Fitzgibbon — Olive Downs, near Moranbah, south-west of Mackay — was smaller.
Fact Check has also examined several claims relating to Australia’s track record tackling greenhouse gas emissions.
Liberal MP Katie Allen, for example, recently told ABC TV that the Coalition Government had “done a great job” reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
“They have fallen since 2005,” she said. “They are the lowest they have ever been.”Fact check: Carbon emissions
Liberal backbencher Katie Allen says that emissions in Australia have fallen since 2005, and that they’re the lowest they’ve ever been.
Fact Check found the first part of Ms Allen’s claim — that emissions had fallen since 2005 — to be misleading, and the second — that emissions are the lowest they have ever been — to be incorrect.
One of the issues that attracted most interest from our readers and viewers was a claim by Prime Minister Scott Morrison responding to Labor’s target, announced in the lead-up to the election, to lift electric vehicle sales to 50 per cent of new vehicles by 2030.
During the campaign, Mr Morrison said an electric vehicle won’t tow a trailer, won’t tow a boat, and “it’s not going to get you out to your favourite camping spot with your family”.
Fact Check found this claim to be “in need of a tune up”.
Electric vehicle technology is rapidly evolving, but already some models — the Tesla Model X, for example — can reach up to 500 kilometres, with ample towing capacity.Fact check: Electric vehicles
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said an electric vehicle “won’t tow your trailer” and is “not going to tow your boat”.
More recently Fact Check looked at the question of Australia’s level of “responsibility” for global carbon emissions.
Mr Morrison has often insisted Australia is responsible for just 1.3 per cent of global emissions, and by extension, can do little to influence the climate.
Fact Check’s analysis found the figure to be between 3.3 per cent and 4.4 per cent, after accounting for exports but also, for consistency, netting out imports of fossil fuels.
At the end of the year, the catastrophic bushfires in NSW set social media abuzz with claims funding for the state’s firefighters has been slashed.
Among those claiming a funding cut was NSW Opposition Leader Jodi McKay, who said Fire and Rescue NSW and the Rural Fire Service combined are facing a $40 million budget cut in 2019-20.
We found this “doesn’t stack up”, largely because unlike the previous year, the 2019-20 estimates do not include top-ups for natural disaster spending, which the fire agencies are almost certain to receive.
According to former Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce the one thing Australia can do to reduce the effects of drought is build the Bradfield Scheme, an ambitious plan from the 1930s that would divert northern flood waters inland.
Fact Check found this to be “pie in the sky”. The viability of the Bradfield Scheme has been dismissed many times by experts over the past 80 years on scientific, engineering and economic grounds.
When Mr Taylor and Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese clashed over whether Labor or the Liberal Party delivered the Snowy Scheme, Fact Check found the notion that any one side built the project to be exaggerated.Fact check: Snowy Mountains Scheme
Energy Minister Angus Taylor and Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese have engaged in a back-and-forth in Parliament over which party can take credit for the construction of the original Snowy Mountains Scheme.
In reality, no one government can claim credit for the scheme, which took decades to plan and complete.
According to the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services Inspector Andrew Sturgess, fire danger ratings in south-east Queensland had never been seen at such a high level so early in the year in recorded history.
After scrutinising daily records from the Bureau of Meteorology about bushfire danger stretching back to January 1950 for four south-east Queensland fire districts, Fact Check found this claim to be close to the mark.
And as usual the economy and taxation were key issues.
In the lead-up to the election, Fact Check scrutinised various claims from the Coalition that Labor’s plans to restrict negative gearing for new housing investors; cut capital gains tax breaks; and end franking credit cash refunds for shareholders who pay no tax; would mainly hit lower income earners.
In all cases Fact Check found these claims to be misleading.
Sluggish wages growth has also fuelled debate. In May, then opposition leader Bill Shorten said the price of everything was going up except wages.Fact check: Wages growth
During the election campaign, Bill Shorten said that everything is going up except your wages.
Fact Check found the claim did not stack up. Wages may have been growing at a slow pace, but pay packets have still generally been expanding at a rate outstripping inflation. That means real wages have risen.
Likewise, Fact Check found Treasurer Josh Frydenberg had made a fair call when he said the minimum wage had grown at a rate outstripping both inflation and average wages since the Coalition came to power, and that the real minimum wage had gone backwards under Labor.
The Coalition has for months insisted the outlook is “optimistic” and that the fundamentals for the economy remain strong. Labor, on the other hand, has argued the economy is floundering.
In August Fact Check found Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers had made a fair call when he said the economy was growing at the slowest pace since the global financial crisis.
During the year there was also discussion about Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers, with the Parliament debating a new law to allow refugees on Manus Island and Nauru to be brought to Australia temporarily for medical treatment.
Immigration Minister David Coleman, for example, claimed the controversial “medevac” bill required a “very, very low threshold” for bringing refugees and asylum seekers to Australia, with no requirement for people to be sick.Fact check: Medevac bill
David Coleman says the medevac bill “doesn’t even require people to be sick” to be transferred to Australia.
Fact Check found this was spin: under the now-defunct law two treating doctors would need to be of the opinion the transfer was necessary because treatment or further assessment could not be performed in the regional processing country.
The transfer could then be refused by the Immigration Minister if they “reasonably believed” it to be unnecessary.
That decision, in turn, could only be overruled if, after a further clinical assessment, the majority of an eight-member independent medical panel viewed the transfer as necessary.
Likewise, Fact Check scrutinised a claim by Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton that prominent Greens figures Richard Di Natale and Bob Brown, both of whom worked as medical doctors in the past, could be among those qualified to provide the medical advice used to justify a transfer of asylum seekers under the medevac legislation.Fact check: Medevac doctors
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said Richard Di Natale and Bob Brown could potentially act as medical advisers under the proposed legislation.
Fact Check found this claim was a “long bow”, given neither Mr Brown nor Senator Di Natale are currently registered medical practitioners.
Mr Morrison, Mr Dutton and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann also claimed Australians faced being “displaced” from hospital waiting lists by an influx of asylum seekers and refugees seeking medical treatment under the legislation.
Fact Check found this claim was baseless, with experts pointing out even if all refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus Island were sent to Australia for treatment, they could be accommodated by the health system without any material impact on hospital waiting lists.
The federal election was not the only time voters went to the polls. In March the NSW public voted to re-elect the Coalition Government, now led by Premier Gladys Berejiklian, for a third four-year term.
Fact Check found a claim by NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet comparing the current NSW unemployment rate to the rate under Labor a decade earlier during the middle of the global financial crisis was “cherrypicking”.
A claim by NSW Greens MLC David Shoebridge that homelessness in NSW had jumped by more than 30 per cent in five years was found to be close to the mark.
Another, made by then opposition leader Michael Daley that the Government had closed 15 more schools than they’d opened since 2011 was found be spin.
But it wasn’t all politics, tax and climate change.
One of the issues that prompted the biggest response from our audience stemmed from old fashioned interstate rivalry. Resources Minister Matt Canavan, who is from Queensland, declared Melbourne’s most divisive traffic rule — the hook turn — was a “stupid” way to manage traffic, claiming no other city “has adopted this confusing practice”.
As Fact Check found, a number of other cities use the hook turn, although not to the same extent as Melbourne.
And, according to the experts, hook turns are not such a stupid way to manage traffic after all, reducing congestion and improving safety.
Fact Check also took a dive into AFL history to test whether an August 9 match between Hawthorn and the Greater Western Sydney Giants at Canberra’s Manuka Oval was the only time it had snowed at an AFL game.
Nor did Fact Check shirk big theological questions, tackling a claim that the rules of Catholic confession are not in the Bible and can consequently be changed to support priests to report confessions of child sexual abuse to police.
Which side of politics fared best in terms of the claims selected by Fact Check in 2019?
Slightly under half, 48 per cent, of Labor Party claims (state and federal) scrutinised by Fact Check had broadly positive verdicts, while 38 per cent were broadly negative and 14 per cent were neutral.
When it came to Coalition claims, 40 per cent of verdicts were broadly positive, 47 per cent broadly negative and 13 per cent neutral.