For the millionth time, Mr Abbott, stop exaggerating

This week, the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Peter Dutton, suggested Fairfax and ABC were running a “jihad” against the government.


The Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, meanwhile suggested ISIS were worse than the Nazis because “The Nazis did terrible evil but they had sufficient sense of shame to try and hide it. These people boast about their evil”.

Welcome to political debate, Australia 2015 style.

You can debate whether Mr Abbott was suggesting ISIS were worse or just different to the Nazis but either way it displays a pretty ignorant view of history.

The Nazis are known for a lot of things but a sense of shame is not one of them. If they were somewhat reticent to advertise their extermination camps it wasn’t due to any shame on their behalf, but more that it suited their purposes to be able to convince not only the broader German public, but also the Jews within Europe that being sent to a camp like Auschwitz was not a death sentence.

Regardless of the level of ignorance required to think he was making a valid point, as a general rule all politicians should steer clear of Nazi comparisons – and certainly ones that involve the construction of sentences that include the words “the Nazis did terrible evil, but…”.

And yet, that is what counts as political debate in this country right now.

Criticism of a government by a media organisation is akin to a jihad, and to justify bombing ISIS, the Prime Minister feels the need to suggest they are in any way worse than a regime which murdered over 6 million Jews.

When a case needs to be made on any issue, the first response is to take a big swig from the hyperbole bottle.

The Opposition isn’t averse to it, either.

The ALP currently is running the line that the recently signed free trade agreement with China will lead to a mass influx of cheap Chinese labour.

As policy analyst for the Migration Council of Australia, Henry Sherrell, has shown, the reality is that the measures in the CHAFTA are relatively standard and unlikely to lead to any significant increase in Chinese labour.

But it’s not surprising the ALP has taken such a hyperbolic stance given the government has also been guilty of exaggeration with regards to the benefits of the very same agreement.

While the government would have you believe that the CHAFTA will lead to a boom in prosperity for the nation, as the productivity commission noted when it investigated such bilateral trade agreements, the benefits are wildly overstated, difficult to quantify and indeed they can even harm trade overall.

But, really who would bother with facts in politics anymore?

This week, for example Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey announced that the government was no longer intending to introduce a levy on bank deposits.

The policy had been instigated by the ALP in the last days of the Rudd government. At the time and during the 2013 election campaign, Joe Hockey loudly criticized the measures. But then earlier this year, the Treasurer had a change of heart and came out in favour of the policy and indeed included the revenue to be raised through the measurer in his budget in May – hardly a rash decision.

But no, now it is not just a bad measure, there is “no fair way of implementing it” despite it being recommended by the Treasury, the Reserve Bank and the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority.

Now the Treasurer, rather than being in favour of it now is challenging the ALP to also dump it!

Mr Hockey knew he had been forced into a massive backflip by the Prime Minister and others within cabinet, because at the press conference on Tuesday to announce the decision, he came armed with a slew of quotes he had made criticising the levy.

Not surprisingly these quotes all came from 2013 and 2014 but neglected to include those made this year when he had changed his mind.

The one aspect on which neither side wishes to practise any hyperbole is to their chances in next weekend’s Canning by-election. Both sides are desperate to downplay their hopes  – up to the point of suggesting they aren’t trying all that hard compared to the other side which they would have you believe is going all out to win.

Most polling suggests the government will hold onto the seat – it would be an absolute catastrophe for Tony Abbott should it be lost.

His leadership would have as much credibility as his historical analogies.

In anticipation of such a result – or at the very best a narrow win – some within the government have been backgrounding journalists that Joe Hockey is mostly to blame for the government’s current woes and that it is he who should be the fall guy. Most commentary is accompanied by suggestions that Scott Morrison is the one who should replace him.

This is unlikely for two reasons.

Firstly, Hockey and Abbott are joined at the hip. Any failures by Hockey as Treasurer are directly linked to Abbott’s own economic and political leadership. That Hockey could be dumped without Abbott being politically destroyed is hard to fathom, especially as it is unlikely Hockey would go quietly.

And secondly, Scott Morrison doesn’t want to be merely the Treasurer – he wants to be the Prime Minister.

And that’s no hyperbole.

Greg Jericho is an economics and politics blogger and writes for The Guardian and The Drum.