The Politics    Thursday, September 26, 2019

Faking it

By Russell Marks

Prime Minister Scott Morrison addresses the United Nations General Assembly. © Mick Tsikas / AAP Image

The PM’s UN speech relies on alternative facts

A new occupation has emerged in the American media: the Donald Trump fact checker. Nearly every speech, tweet, post and accusation the US president makes is either exaggerated, lacking in crucial detail or simply and spectacularly wrong. His generic response to reports of these inaccuracies, or any that contradict his preferred narratives, is to attack whichever journalist, masthead or broadcaster that generated what he describes with an Orwellian flourish as “fake news”.

Australian prime minister Scott Morrison has been spending some time with Trump during his US visit, and if his speech to the United Nations General Assembly in New York overnight is anything to go by, he seems to have taken some lessons.

Morrison cited Australia’s ratification last month of a new maritime treaty with Timor-Leste as an example of Australia’s record of supporting the United Nations’ role as “the prime custodian” of the “international rules-based order”. The reality is that Australia refused to allow international courts to adjudicate maritime disputes, spied on Timor-Leste during treaty negotiations, and forced the tiny nation to pioneer the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea’s compulsory conciliation process.

But it was the lavish praise Morrison heaped on Australia – in the absence of anyone else willing to do so – for its response to “the great global environmental challenges” that caused observers to risk choking on their food.

We learnt that Australia is “committed to leading urgent action to combat plastic pollution choking our oceans”. But Australian governments have consistently ruled out doing just that. The only bans on plastic here are limited to those by some states and retailers on particular types of thin checkout bags. On average, each Australian continues to use 130 kilograms of plastic each year.

Morrison talked up Australia’s support for research into recycling and the recent COAG agreement – that Australia would ban waste exports “as soon as practicable” – but there’s no timeline and there’s no commitment to generate less waste before Australia pollutes.

Morrison described the Great Barrier Reef as “vibrant and resilient”, citing the UNESCO World Heritage Committee’s 2012 assessment of its “gold standard” management plan. But that assessment took place while Adani’s proposed Carmichael coalmine was still being assessed by Queensland’s then-premier Anna Bligh. Since then, Australia has lobbied hard to prevent UNESCO from listing the reef as “in danger”.

Morrison claimed that Australia “is responsible for just 1.3 per cent” of global carbon emissions. Even if that figure were accurate, it would suggest that Australians – who make up just one-third of a single per cent of the world’s population – are emitting more than four times their per-capita allowance. The reality is much more sobering. Australia mines 57 tonnes of CO2 potential per person each year, and is the world’s third-largest fossil-fuel exporter.

Finally, Morrison repeated Australia’s claim to be “exceeding” its emissions targets. That claim is taken seriously by nobody. Australia famously played hardball at the 1997 Kyoto summit, securing a target that would effectively allow it to increase its emissions by 28 per cent on 2000 levels, while everyone else agreed to reductions. Having met this target with emissions to spare, Australia now – just as famously – argues that it can use “carry-over credits” from Kyoto to say that it will reach its Paris targets by 2030.

Before the speech, Morrison told a press conference that media criticisms of Australia’s climate policy are “completely false and completely misleading”. He could have been using Trump’s autocue. In the same vein, Morrison then told the world overnight that “Australia is carrying its own weight and more”. That’s a lie, but only if we still expect facts to stand independently of those who assert them.

“[The minimum age of detention is] far too low and has a devasting impact on First Nations communities and families.”

Senator Patrick Dodson, who 30 years ago was one of the five commissioners who inquired into Aboriginal deaths in custody, calls out Australian governments’ collective failure to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14 years. The UN’s Committee on the Rights of the Child is expected to heavily criticise Australia for ignoring the many issues it raised in 2012 when it releases a new report in coming weeks.

“I think it’s dangerous.”

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton rings the alarm bells after the ACT’s parliament yesterday enacted new laws legalising personal use of cannabis.

Convicting a Newcastle priest
When former Anglican dean Graeme Lawrence was found guilty of child sexual abuse, his victim, Ben Giggins, made the unusual decision to request that the court name him publicly. Anne Manne on child abuse in the Newcastle Anglican diocese.


The total number of former Liberal, National or LNP Party parliamentarians (17), unsuccessful party candidates (6) and Liberal staffers (at least 28) the Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison governments have appointed to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal since 2013.

The Australian Energy Market Commission – first established by COAG during Howard’s prime ministership to advise the federal government – wants a power grid more suited to the renewables flooding the energy market.

The list

Minister for Resources and Northern Australia Matt Canavan has never been seen in the same room as a Yowie, although there have been several reported sightings of both of these lanky beasts in the Sunshine State recently. 

“Sea-level rises of up to a metre or more within decades are now inevitable. And while these will significantly affect cities and communities in low-lying areas, they will also threaten the viability of a wide range of coastal and estuarine environments, in particular vitally important mangroves and seagrass beds, and place even greater pressure upon coral reefs. These effects will be amplified by the likelihood of more violent storms and larger waves.”

“In a week when a royal commission into disability abuse and neglect began with a promise to ‘uncover uncomfortable truths’ in the disability sector, the revelations of National Disability Insurance Agency chair Helen Nugent’s working arrangements have raised eyebrows among people with disability and their advocates.”

Russell Marks

Russell Marks is a lawyer and an adjunct research fellow at La Trobe University. He is the author of Crime and Punishment: Offenders and Victims in a Broken Justice System (Black Inc., 2015). 

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