Truth, Lies and Consequences | Between the Lines


The Wrap with Richard Denniss

While I have no doubt that the votes cast in the recent referendum were validly counted, I have major doubts about the arguments and evidence on which many of those votes were based. Misinformation and lies have always played a role in elections, but new technology has made it so much easier to mislead a mass audience in record time.

Just as it only takes seconds to start a bushfire but can take weeks to put it out, the same asymmetry applies to lies. Countering misinformation takes far more time and effort than spreading it.

That’s why we need to introduce laws that require truth in political advertising. At the Commonwealth level we already require political parties to place an authorisation on their electoral advertisements, we already have laws that make it illegal to mislead people about the process of voting, and we already have laws to stop companies from telling lies to sell their product. It’s not a radical idea to have Commonwealth laws to require truth in political advertising, indeed they already exist in SA and the ACT, and in New Zealand, the advertising industry takes direct responsibility for ensuring the ads it runs are truthfully presented.

An exit poll conducted by the Australia Institute in the days after the Referendum found that 87% of Australians support the introduction of laws to require truth in political advertising before the next election, including 92% of those who voted Yes and 83% of No voters.

While Yes and No voters might disagree on who was doing the misleading, it’s important to focus on the fact that only 4% of voters are opposed to introducing new laws to help stamp it out (9% weren’t sure). Democracy works best when parliaments focus on things that everyone wants.

While public support is an obvious reason to introduce truth in political advertising laws before the next election, there’s also a less obvious reason that is just as important. The Albanese Government is reportedly in negotiations with the Liberal Party to make other changes to electoral laws which, according to multiple reports (Alan Kohler, New Daily, Mike Seccombe, The Saturday paper, Paul Karp, Guardian Australia), could include a big increase in taxpayer funding for the major parties while making it harder for new independent and minor party candidates to raise and spend money. While curbs on corporate donations, real-time disclosure of donations and disclosure of cash-for-access $10,000 dinners with ministers are all long overdue, there is a real risk that what Ross Gittins described as a “political duopoly” might rush through laws that double their public funding while dragging their feet on laws — such as truth in political advertising — that would constrain how they could spend it.

At the moment we have laws to stop food companies claiming that sugary foods are good for kids, but we have no laws to stop political parties wilfully lying in their electoral material. Australia has a very good electoral system. Truth in political advertising laws won’t solve all the problems our democracy faces, but they will help make it better.

Richard Denniss, Executive Director of the Australia Institute

The Big Stories

Stop Lies in Political Advertising

Our research found that 66% of people think that corruption is common at a federal government level.

As trust in government declines, it is more important now than ever that we have truth in political advertising laws, to help stop the blatant and systemic spreading of misinformation.

Help restore trust in our democracy, and add your name to our petition.

Greenwash Scheme Under Scrutiny

The Australia Institute has been shining the spotlight on Australia’s state-sponsored greenwash and dodgy carbon neutral claims for some time. Earlier this year we wrote to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission asking them to investigate whether the Australian Government’s carbon neutral certification scheme, Climate Active, was misleading consumers.

Carbon neutral petrol? Polly explains how the Government’s Climate Active scheme contributes to greenwashing.

Climate Active, which provides Government-endorsed carbon neutral ecolabels for companies that claim to be climate champions, has come under scrutiny for failing to check the integrity of emissions reduction efforts from the businesses it certifies.

We consider it a win that last week the government announced that Climate Active is up for reform and has said that businesses can no longer use the term ‘carbon neutral’.

While the proposed reforms – including ceasing the use of the term ‘carbon neutral’ – are a step in the right direction, the credibility of the scheme remains to be seen. There is no indication that a reformed Climate Active scheme will check the credibility of the offsets businesses use or whether the fossil fuel companies they certify are indeed ‘Climate Active’.

You can make a submission to the review of the Climate Active scheme here.

The Facts on Gas

It won’t surprise you to learn that the benefits of fracking in the Beetaloo have been somewhat inflated by government and industry. With a wave of gas mega-projects, including fracking in the Beetaloo Basin, Santos’s Barossa project and the Middle Arm petrochemical hub proposed for the NT, we hit the ground in the NT for a Politics in the Pub event to deliver the facts on gas.

With Dr Louise Woodward and Mark Ogge, at Gas. The Facts, we cut through the spin to address the real costs of gas – to our health, and to the economy.

Watch the recording here.

Can Markets Repair Nature?

How ‘Green Wall Street’ Crashed

In September 2022, Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek speculated that “one day Australia will house its own Green Wall Street: a trusted global financial hub, where the world comes to invest in environmental protection and restoration.”

This idea became the Government’s ‘Nature Repair Market’. While it sounded great on paper, there are significant issues with the proposal and the concept of markets repairing nature in general. Markets don’t tend to value nature. They value profits.

We published 3 submissions on the draft Nature Repair Market Bill that showed why the market wouldn’t help save nature, including a forensic analysis of a flawed PwC report that the Government had quoted extensively in their spruiking of the Nature Repair Market.

Richard explains how Green Wall Street crashed, and how we exposed the flawed and misleading arguments along the way. Or read our detailed account of how the Nature Repair Market failed here.

How ‘Green Wall Street’ Crashed: The Nature Repair Market explained by Richard Denniss

How to Have a Sustainable Halloween

The spooky season is here and the amount of waste Halloween generates each year is positively frightening. Nina Gbor, director of the Circular Economy & Waste Program at the Australia Institute, spoke to the Sydney Morning Herald to explain how you can have a sustainable Halloween.

Food Waste in Australia

What’s to blame for Australia’s astronomical food waste problem? Is it the major supermarkets profiting from use-by and best-before labelling dates? Or is it the cosmetic standards set by the big supermarkets for fruits and vegetables that garner massive profits for them? Perhaps it’s the consumers who demand these cosmetic standards that are at fault?

We discussed all this and more on a webinar with Nina in conversation with Oz Harvest’s founder & CEO, Ronni Khan and Paul West, Co-founder of Grow It Local.

Catch up below!

With US trip, PM Albanese flies into the light | International & Security Affairs with Emma Shortis

On election night in 2020, President-elect Biden reassured the American people that despite everything they had endured for the past four years, “I believe at our best, America is a beacon for the globe.”

Nearly three years into his presidency, Biden has dropped the caveat. Speaking to the American people from the Oval Office, reflecting on his visit to Ukraine, Biden said that he “felt something I’ve always believed more strongly than ever before: America is a beacon to the world, still, still.”

This week, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese flies directly into the light.

Emma Shortis, Senior Researcher in the International & Security Affairs program, wrote about how closely the Australian government adheres to Biden’s view of America as “the indispensable nation” and what that means for a world in crisis. Read on.

Minister Plibersek Responds to Maugean Skate Concerns

We know that salmon farming is threatening the survival of the endangered Maugean Skate. The Australian Government’s Conservation Advice confirms it.

Now, the licences for the marine farms operating in Macquarie Harbour are due to expire on 30 November 2023, but the Director of Tasmania’s Environmental Protection Authority has publicly said that he intends to renew all environmental licences, despite the original 2012 licenses being approved on the condition that they would not impact the skate.

Up until now, Minister Plibersek had been silent on formal requests by the Australia Institute for her to rethink the 2012 green light.

But this week The Australian reports Minister Plibersek is ‘seriously considering’ revoking salmon farm licenses. We echo our earlier correspondence to the Minister and urge the federal government to intervene and end marine farming in Tasmania’s Macquarie Harbour, which is threatening the endangered Maugean skate.

Now the Australia Institute, with Equity Generation Lawyers, has written to the Environment Protection Authority and Department of Natural Resources and the Environment with compelling scientific evidence and legal advice demonstrating clear grounds for the non-renewal of existing licences in Macquarie Harbour when they expire on 30 November 2023.

Protecting Whistleblowers | Politics in the Pub

By exposing human rights abuses, government wrongdoing and corporate misconduct, whistleblowers make Australia a better place. Yet too often in Australia whistleblowers are prosecuted rather than supported.

The Human Rights Law Centre is taking steps to remedy this, and a few months ago launched the Whistleblower Project, Australia’s first dedicated legal service to protect and empower whistleblowers who want to speak up about wrongdoing. They provide legal advice and representation to whistleblowers, as well as advocating for stronger legal protections and an end to the prosecution of whistleblowers. Our legal service is free and whistleblowers can contact us on a confidential basis.

At Politics in the Pub last week, we were joined by Kieran Pender, Senior lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre, Professor Peter Greste, Executive Director of the Alliance for Journalists’ Freedom and award winning journalist and author, Rawan Arraf, Executive Director of the Australian Centre for International Justice, to talk about what the state of whistleblowing and transparency in Australia right now.

If you missed it, catch up below!

Economics – The Musical | Judy Horacek Cartoon

All cartoons © Judy Horacek

‘Totally f***ed you over’: Australia’s reputation on climate | Polly Hemming on 7am

At a global summit in New York last month, you’d be forgiven for thinking Australia was a climate leader, after being praised for partnering with a small pacific nation facing the worst consequences of climate change.

Polly Hemming joined 7am to explain how Australia’s style of climate negotiating is distracting the world from our climate truths. Listen to the podcast episode, or read Polly’s piece in the Saturday Paper on Australia’s compromised climate negotiators.

Polly Hemming, on how Australia’s style of climate negotiating is distracting the world from our climate truths, via the 7am podcast

The Quote

When asked by Senator Larissa Waters whether he acknowledges the need for truth in political advertising laws, Senator the Hon Don Farrell said:

I do.

Senator Farrell, Minister for Trade and Tourism and Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate, went on to say that the South Australian model was a “good model” that “seemed to work very successfully in the last South Australian state election.”

The Win

‘World’s worst EV policy’ scrapped by High Court

Specifically penalising motorists for making the switch to a cleaner, less polluting car never made sense from a policy perspective, and now state based EV taxes have been struck out on legal grounds too!

Our research showed that these taxes were acting as a barrier to EV adoption and were dragging those states who were foolish enough to adopt them in the wrong direction.

Read more.

The Bin

We are already pushing our emissions reductions to go as fast as is possible.

This was the response from a Deputy Secretary from the Department of Climate Change, Energy the Environment and Water, when asked by Senator Larissa Waters asked whether the Department was re-evaluating its climate policy development given that 1.5 degrees of warming is approaching sooner than thought.

Despite Australia’s emissions *increasing* by four million tonnes in the last year, and new coal mines continuing to be approved, they said “it doesn’t change our approach to emissions reduction because, in essence, we are already pushing our emissions reductions to go as fast as is possible.”

Watch the video.

What’s On

Revenue Summit 2023 | Friday, 27 October, Canberra

We’re bringing together MPs, senators, professors, economists and taxation experts to discuss sensible revenue-raising options to meet Australia’s spending needs.

Get your ticket and secure a front-row seat to the national debate on revenue and tax reform.

Buy Tickets

Beers and Ideas – Economics in the Pub with Senator Barbara Pocock | Tuesday 31 October, Adelaide

South Australia, let’s talk tax!

Join South Australian Senator and the Greens’ Spokesperson for Finance, Employment and Public Sector, Senator Barbara Pocock AM, in conversation with The Australia Institute’s Senior Economist Matt Grudnoff and SA Director Noah Schultz-Byard at this special event.

Tasmanian Ocean Summit 2023 | Friday, 17 November, Triabunna

The Australia Institute is hosting the second Tasmanian Ocean Summit, on Friday 17 November 2023, at Spring Bay Mill, Triabunna. The Summit will bring together representatives from across Tasmania’s marine sectors, scientists, economists, management experts and Tasmanian Aboriginal communities.

Join us for a compelling program of speakers, panel discussions and opportunities for collaboration on the change we need to achieve a thriving ocean future for all.

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