Let me start off with a confession: I like French cars. So much so that I have been a regular poster on Aussiefrogs.com.au
for a number of years. I could bore you silly with the differences between a 2009 and a 2012 Peugeot. But I won’t.
Like most internet forums I have seen, and heard about, there is an ‘off-topic’ area on Aussiefrogs
that a certain level of membership will allow you to access. Aussiefrogs
calls their off-topic thread ‘The Toad Pond’.
Someone recently posed there the question of the future of interest rates under the new Federal Government. After a number of comments from others, I made a comment that the last time the ‘official interest rate’ fell under a Coalition Government was in 2001.
The reality is that official interest rates are controlled by the Reserve Bank of Australia Board. But both sides of politics have claimed in the past (and probably will in the future) that ‘Interest rates will always be lower under a [insert party name here] Government’, while suggesting the media should call out both political parties for blatantly misleading statements.
In The Toad Pond I then pined for a return of some truth in political reporting – if not politics itself. Following my comment there came a number of good-natured ones suggesting that my request for a tad of truth in politics was an impossible dream (as well as questioning my grasp of reality).
The Reserve Bank of Australia’s
website states: The Governor and the Treasurer have agreed that the appropriate target for monetary policy in Australia is to achieve an inflation rate of 2–3 per cent, on average, over the cycle. This is a rate of inflation sufficiently low that it does not materially distort economic decisions in the community. Seeking to achieve this rate, on average, provides discipline for monetary policy decision-making, and serves as an anchor for private-sector inflation expectations.
Clearly, while the government of the day’s policy affects to some extent the monetary policy of the RBA, so does the world economy and other factors that will, in the view of the RBA Board, have a good or bad effect on the Australian economy. Effectively, ‘monetary policy’ is a tool used by the RBA to maintain inflation within the two to three per cent target band, and it changes its policy to achieve that result.
Financial institutions determine their interest rates in some shape of form using the ‘official rate’ from the RBA: products such as home loans are deemed to be newsworthy and usually track fairly closely to the current RBA determination. Business loans and instruments such as credit cards, which don’t really generate as many headlines, are not as volatile. While it might be nice for the Government’s Treasurer to stand in front of the press and suggest that he and the Government he is a member of have produced a fantastic result, in reality they had little to do with it. The recent policy of some banks to set rates independently of RBA decisions bears this out. So I ponder:
Why are politicians allowed to claim credit for decisions they had little input into?
How is it they are able to make such misleading statements as well?
And how did they get away with the recent bout of election advertising that promised the world if we voted for whomever?
It has long been understood in Australia that there is some legislation that deals with truth in advertising. Clearly, claims that official interest rates will always be lower if a certain party is in power are incorrect because the RBA sets the ‘official interest rate’, not the government of the day.
If we look at the ACCC website, we find a number of organisations that determine if advertising is basically truthful, and that a number of these organisations publish their results. The ACCC states
that: Honest advertising practices are not just good for business – they are required by law. The Australian Consumer Law contains a number of rules that businesses must follow when advertising and selling products and services …
A number of industry groups regulate advertising within their specific area of expertise, with assistance or oversight from the ACCC. In the case of vehicle manufacturers/importers, that industry body is the Federal Chamber of Automotive (FCAI) Industries. One of the issues FCAI monitor is the impression of ‘dangerous driving’ as reported on the Car Advice website recently when people complained about the lack of truth
in a Nissan advertisement, where: … the ad shows a man driving through the streets as his seemingly pregnant wife is in the passenger seat appearing to be in labor. When the couple arrives at a hospital, the man looks at his watch and proclaims a “personal best”, then the woman lifts her jumper to reveal a pillow playing the part of the baby bump. Reported by Mumbrella, the ASB investigated the ad following complaints that is [sic] displayed dangerous and illegal behaviour and promoted unsafe driving.
Apparently the Nissan advertisement was filmed at slow speed and ‘sped up’ using a faster frame speed and the addition of ‘suitable’ noises. There are two versions of the ad: the second was missing a number of tyre-screeching and engine revving sounds that the first advertisement contained.
In May 2012: The Federal Government instituted an enquiry to investigate concerns that some ads promote dangerous driving. The inquiry comes in the wake of several car ads falling foul of the advertising watchdog, including an ad for Volvo V60 that this month was ruled to give an impression of ''reckless speed'' and ''unsafe driving''.
Volvo agreed to pull the ad from television after the Advertising Standards Board ruled it should be modified or withdrawn. Last month a Suzuki ad was changed after the ASB determined it promoted reckless driving.
Numerous examples of regulation are available: from protecting people from medicines that have no clinical proof of actually doing what they are claimed to do, to the colours and descriptions of foodstuffs, to claims that are unsubstantiated – such as sugar-filled cereals being ‘good for you’. While opinions may vary on the justification for regulation that can ban advertising that:
- can be construed as dangerous driving,
- suggests a medical benefit from taking tablets when there is no proof
- promotes consumption of food with dubious health claims,
there is here an underlying theme: protecting society from harm. Why isn’t the act of a political leader offering obvious falsehoods, such as ‘interest rates will always be lower’, also considered ‘illegal’ - given the regulatory theme of protecting society from harm?
Because it isn’t.
The Australian Electoral Commission’s Backgrounder
on political advertising states that politicians or potential politicians can advertise whatever they like, provided they do not mislead or deceive us on how to cast a valid vote.
So, the situation is that Nissan, Volvo, Kelloggs or any other company advertising in Australia must remain within the bounds of truth, or someone will complain to the appropriate advertising standards agency. But if you are a politician, the content of your advertising is not regulated, provided you don’t suggest to people they ‘vote early and vote often’ or imply they don’t vote (because ‘it only encourages them’). Even worse, the politicians voted on this law, with an obvious double standard entrenched in its legislation.
Our politicians can tell us that they will ‘stop the boats’, ‘rectify a budget emergency’ (which has suddenly disappeared since 13 September) or anything else they like without any fear of exposure, legal consequences or, sadly, examination by a complacent media. Why is it that society needs to be protected from ‘perceptions of dangerous driving’ when most drivers are well aware of the implications of the act while society is deemed to be quite able to determine the accuracy of arcane claims by politicians, such as ‘interest rates will always be lower’, without any requirement that the claim has any fact to it at all?
What is the real problem here:
- that the Electoral Act doesn’t regulate the content of political advertising, or
- that society, as demonstrated by a number of people in ‘The Toad Pond’, understands, accepts and is comfortable with the suggestion that politicians cannot be believed?
I’m not sure. The people are not ‘storming the barricades’ to eliminate such an obvious double standard. What do you think?