Sorting fact from fiction — the year that was in fact checking – Fact Check
Fact Check has been busy in a year of misinformation and disinformation, investigating claims across the political spectrum and cutting through the spin.
Since the launch of RMIT ABC Fact Check, the team has published well over 100 fact checks and picked up a prize from the International Fact Checking Network: our check of Bob Katter’s claim about crocodile attacks and deaths — you know the one — was awarded the “most absurd fact checked”.
Most popular fact checks
So, what made waves with our readers this year?
Surprisingly, tax reform. With Labor promising to restrict negative gearing to new homes, this is shaping up to be a major election issue in 2019.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg claimed two-thirds of negative gearers had a taxable income under $80,000. That, however, was misleading.
We got another huge response when we checked an explosive claim by the now-independent senator Fraser Anning.
His statement, that more than half of Australia’s working-age Muslims were not in the workforce, was wrong.
But the biggest reader reaction came after former prime minister Tony Abbott said 400 white farmers had been murdered in South Africa over 12 months. We took a look and found that to be baseless.
Year of the woman
Battered by bullying allegations in a big year for #MeToo, the Liberal Party fought to shore up its credentials with women in 2018.
Yet, under Malcolm Turnbull the level of women in the parliamentary Liberal Party had barely changed since John Howard was first elected.
The claim that Prime Minister Scott Morrison had boosted female representation in cabinet was also overstated.
In fact, it is fair to say Australia has fallen in the world gender equality rankings.
And while the gender pay gap in Australia has shrunk under the Coalition, the Government’s attempt to take credit for this was overreach according to our research.
Fact checking women’s issues
- The claim: Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that the gender pay gap has “narrowed under the policies of our government”.
- The verdict: Mr Morrison’s claim is overreach — his number check out, but experts told Fact Check that no Government policy was responsible for the narrowing, and that economic events such as the mining boom which saw men’s wages rise faster relative to women, play a part.
- The claim: Former Liberal senator Judith Troethe said that the level of Liberal women in Parliament is lower now than it was when John Howard was first elected in 1996.
- The verdict: Ms Troethe’s claim is in the ballpark — there were indeed a greater number of Liberal women in Parliament in 1996, but the party held an extra 22 seats at the time. In percentage terms, the level has risen, but only slightly.
- The claim: Deputy Liberal Leader Josh Frydenberg said that Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s first cabinet has additional female representation.
- The verdict: Mr Frydenberg’s claim is overstated — in raw number and percentage terms, the cabinet has more women than the period directly preceding Malcolm Turnbull’s removal from office, but the claim ignores the fact that female representation in the current cabinet is not higher than earlier periods in Mr Turnbull’s time in office.
- The claim: Former president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Gillian Triggs, says that the position of women relative to men in Australia has regressed over the past six to eight years compared to the rest of the world.
- The verdict: Professor Triggs’s claim is fair — On the World Economic Forum‘s annual global gender gap index, Australia’s overall world ranking has worsened in the past six years and eight years, but Australia’s overall ranking needs to be seen in context.
The Canberra bubble
The year began with a dose of déjà vu, with several MPs dragged down over their citizenship status (unlike High Court Justices, who have a role in shaping the law and can in fact be dual citizens.)
Five MPs quit when the courts ruled Labor’s Katy Gallagher ineligible to sit in Parliament — a decision less “obvious and clear” than the Government hoped.
The result? Super Saturday’s five by-elections, fought on issues sure to reappear in 2019: tax cuts and cuts to services.
Mr Turnbull argued his government was spending record amounts on health. That was a fair call, but not enough to snatch victory in the byelections.
Later in the year, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten claimed the Government had cut $1.2 billion from aged care, but we found that was misleading.
And, having secured $144 billion of personal income tax cuts, the Government was keen to spruik its achievements to voters. But the Coalition, too, was misleading when it said these reforms were focused on women.
It’s the economy, mate
As ever, the major parties battled for the title of Australia’s best economic managers, and Fact Check was there to sort fact from fiction.
We found Mr Morrison’s claim that 2017 saw record jobs growth was oversimplified.
Meanwhile, Mr Turnbull was close to the mark when he said spending growth was at its lowest in 50 years.
Labor focused its attacks on fairness, with former treasurer Wayne Swan claiming the Government took five years to deliver the same wage growth that Labor managed in just one — that was in the ballpark.
And although the Government countered that wages had been growing steadily over the past decade, outstripping inflation, this was not the full story.
There was more to the story, too, when Labor’s Jim Chalmers claimed company profits were growing faster than wages.
And new Labor MP Ged Kearney tripped up when she repeated the fanciful claim that 700,000 workers had their penalty rates cut. We debunked this one in 2017, so it qualifies for “zombie” status (reserved for claims that just won’t die).
Checking the independents
The micro-parties and independents didn’t escape scrutiny either.
We found Victorian MP Cathy McGowan had jumped the gun when she claimed the Coalition had been unable to reach its target for gender parity on government boards.
Responding to the speech, Liberal MP Tim Wilson shed some light on Australia’s immigration history, though to say Harold Holt abolished the White Australia Policy was simplistic.
And Pauline Hanson weighed into the refugee debate claiming asylum seekers on Nauru were not genuine refugees. On that one, we found her to be wrong.
The state elections
We’re all warmed up for next year’s federal poll, having covered three state elections in 2018.
The pokies came under heavy fire in Tasmania, and when the state’s Treasurer jumped to their defence, he was wrong to say removing them from pubs and clubs would cost thousands of jobs.
Law and order dominated Victoria’s headlines for much of the year. But were robberies, burglaries and assaults all up under Labor? Yes, but by less than the Opposition claimed.
And in South Australia, Nick Xenophon highlighted the state’s brain drain: the number of young people there really had dropped to its lowest point in 36 years.
Beyond the bubble
We didn’t just probe political claims this year — plenty arose outside the Canberra bubble too.
Dusting off the history books, Fact Check busted the myth that Indigenous Australians were once classified under a flora and fauna act.
Meanwhile, the oft-repeated claim that two-thirds of Australia’s food production relies on bee pollination was overstated.
ACTU secretary Sally McManus gave a faithful account of the Pope’s stance on wage theft and eternal damnation.
As the population debate gathered steam, businessman Dick Smith claimed, incorrectly, that Australia had the fastest population growth in the developed world.
And is obesity on the rise while sugar consumption is down? That argument from Coca-Cola Amatil turned out to be spin.
That’s a wrap for us! Fact Check will be back in 2019, set for the election and ready to tackle the big questions.