The recent Australian mining industry campaign (not shown above) certainly looks impressive. The soulful, worried faces of mums and dads, average looking, average people. It seems so believable and important. Even if the statistics are the result of heavy-handed play with definitions as basic as “tax”.
But the argument being talked up by the sector’s in-house lobbyist, Tony Abbot, just doesn’t stand up to economic analysis even at the most superficial level. It also uses one of the most effective techniques for political or social unrest – fear.
What is really sad about this campaign is that it is evidence that Australians – by and large – are not able to critically engage with the media they consume. And Abbot knows it.
Probably what is most disturbing is that intelligent people will swallow it – hook, line and sinker. Some people will exercise cognitive dissonance because they see an opportunity to discredit a government that they already dislike. People who should know better.
Ian Verrender, in today’s Sydney Morning Herald, comments that it’s a piece propaganda “so brazen it boggles the mind.” He notes the irony that it’s coming largely from the man who “engineered a plan to deliver control of Rio Tinto and Australian resource projects to the Chinese government.”
The strategy is the same as usual – it doesn’t matter that the facts are all wrong, as long as they can place a seed of doubt for those inclined – even just temporarily.
That’s why both himself, Rio Tinto and BHP are working in overdrive to convince Australian voters of some patent untruths.
They suggest that the Australian dollar has already fallen as a result of the proposed tax.
Wouldn’t there perhaps be other factors here? Like that the European economy is falling apart? Like that China is moving to cool its economy and hence import fewer resources? Like that currencies pretty much everywhere have fallen recently?
Comparatively, Australia’s minor dip is a drop in the ocean. Yes, our dollar fallen a little. A little. But as the result of this proposed tax on a handful of billion-dollar companies? Hardly.
But didn’t the resources sector save Australia from global financial crisis? The propaganda campaign makes this claim. It doesn’t support it with any evidence, though, because it can’t. There is none.
As respected economics columnist Ross Gittins, “the opposite is true.” Actually, the resources sector contracted more than most.
In fact, if our economy had behaved like the resources sector during the GFC, our “unemployment rate would have increased from 4.6 per cent to 19 per cent within six months.”
Gittins also says it would have to have been “miraculous” for the sector to have been our economy’s salvation in its darkest hour. After all, it’s “less than 7 per cent of GDP… and 1.6% total employment.”
Gittins sounds angry. His conclusion for this full-scale paid propaganda is greed. And greed is “why we are hearing so much nonsense from them.”
On the part of Abbot, his strategy is a clear, albeit very grubby one. After all, any government that proposes changes to a tax right before an election is tender prey. It doesn’t matter whether Abbot agrees with the tax or disagrees with it, embedding fear and uncertainty in the minds of voters (no matter how baseless or fabricated the evidence) is his opportunity to be elected. And there’s nothing new here.
It is even quite possible that if he won election on the basis of overhauling this great big tax, once installed into government, he may well introduce it anyway, as the current system is shambolic and unfair. It’s an improvement. On the other hand, if the position of Prime Minister did not available to him, I see a well-paid career as an executive in BHP or Rio Tinto. No doubt he would be retrospectively well-remunerated for all the unpaid unauditable work he has been putting in from the inside.
But obviously, Rio is highly trustworthy. And so is BHP. Because big businesses are, aren’t they. They are the pinnacles of virtue. Especially ones that operate in places like Guinea, Brazil and Madagascar.
We should believe them when they say the tax will hit us hard. They are right. If you just change the definition of “us” to “CEO salaries”, then yes, it will affect “us”.
I have nothing against democratic systems of government in which people choose their leaders, no matter who they are. My preference is simply for Leaders. Those who can tell the truth, have integrity, compassion, imagination, and vision. And that is certainly not big business. And that’s not anyone so eager to advance capitalism that they are prepared to extinguish democracy to do it.
But hey, it’s only temporarily. The truth will come out when nobody cares and most people will have forgotten. Fate accompli!