Where lies the truth?

A former University of Canberra lecturer, Ian McAuley, recently highlighted the antics leading up to this month’s federal election.

He highlighted a marvellous essay - ‘On Bullshit‘ (2005) by US philosopher Harry G. Frankfurt. It presents a theory of bullshit and analyses its applications.

Frankfurt argues that bullshit is speech intended to persuade without regard for truth.

The liar cares about the truth and attempts to hide it – but the bullshitter doesn’t care about the truth, but rather only cares whether the listener is persuaded.

McAuley updates the theory to the present as follows, ‘Trump is the master at bullshit, but we have plenty of our own, particularly in the way many National Party politicians talk about climate change...the drivel of Coalition-aligned talkback radio hosts is virtually pure bullshit.

“And there are the ‘talking points’ – carefully-prepared, meaningless scripts for ministers from which they never depart.

“There are promises made without realistic time frames, and meaningless statements about ‘congestion-busting infrastructure’.”
McAuley then rails about the ‘children overboard’ fabrication and soon-broken election promises.

Interestingly, he identifies a softer form of bullshit, namely the increasing use of sophistry i.e. language that is logically correct, but which through emphasis, omission or framing, is designed to mislead.

He instances Shorten’s efforts to avoid guaranteeing a budget surplus should Labor win government.

To my mind, the run-of-the-mill Aussie is disillusioned, patronised and offended as politicians run around the country shaking hands and promising the world.

They know they’re being lied to, but don’t quite know how. The result is the following survey results, courtesy of Essential Media Communications.

Re-building Trust
Clearly this trust deficit isn’t going to disappear quickly, irrespective of which party wins power (I’m writing this is in early May).
I would like to suggest three ways of re-building trust in the incoming government.

1. Establish a Federal Integrity Commission. This must happen. It needs a wide enough remit so that even sniffs of corruption and unethical behaviour can be investigated.

2. A focus on practical, outcomes-based initiatives. The election debate has swamped us with macro-economic jargon. Not surprising when you consider that Treasury and Finance hold sway in the Canberra Bubble.
Let’s nag federal politicians about the need for practical initiatives that have been evaluated and costed, and that people can relate to. Urge them to shift from gobbledegook to announcements of real projects in fields such as housing affordability, waste recycling, food value-adding etc.

3. Depoliticise infrastructure projects. Our political leaders have been quite unethical in their promises on infrastructure projects. They’ve made a mockery of the evaluation work of Infrastructure Australia and its state equivalents.

A Federal Integrity Commission should establish a Code of Conduct to rein in election promises.

And lastly, the silent majority is culpable. We have switched off and allowed politicians to bullshit their way forward.

A sprinkling of journalists and independent politicians (viz. Windsor, Xenophon, McGowan, Hinch and Wilkie) have variously called them out. But we need more of them. So nurture them. And the next time a politician with a cameraman in tow seeks to shake your hand, take the time to talk about political bullshit.

It will make for riveting television.  

Equine clusters?
A practical, outcomes-based initiative (as above) would be for the three levels of government to collaborate with the private sector to develop equine clusters in particular rural areas.
Why? Well the equine industry is important and it’s ingrained in our economic and social fabric. For example, there are 9-10 race meetings every Saturday in regional Queensland!

An equine cluster program could involve the coordination of hard and soft infrastructure and Action Agendas to support investment and job creation in horse breeding, training, skills development, research, manufacture of feed supplements and veterinary products.
A Cockatoo member recently forwarded his analyses on the Newmarket and Lambourn equine clusters in the United Kingdom. Similar work in Australia could trigger the development of internationally-competitive equine clusters in places like Scone, Ballarat, Warrnambool, the Barossa, Toowoomba, Goulburn etc. Drop us an email to access these studies.

Youth development
A few years back I was helping Central Darling Shire explore opportunities to get city kids to their Shire as part of an experiential learning program.

Despite early promise it didn’t fly, but we’ve not given up. We’ve been talking to Australia’s oldest youth training/mentoring organisation about pitching for dedicated federal and state support for a national program of two-week Bush camps for students aged around 12-13 years.

The emphasis would be on students from state schools (rather than private schools), and the costs would be considerably below those currently charged.  

If you know of a small rural community with interesting environmental and historical features, and local stakeholders who would welcome an influx of children and associated jobs, please let us know.

A word of caution – there are stringent protocols about where and how such facilities operate. Full feasibility studies will be required. 

Rod Brown is a Canberra-based consultant and lobbyist specialising in industry/regional development, investment attraction and clusters, and accessing federal grants. He also runs the Cockatoo Network.
Phone: (02) 6231 7261 or 0412 922 559
Email: apdcockatoo[@]iprimus.com.au