The first Crikey Reads, Lies and Falsehoods: The Morrison Government and the New Culture of Deceit was born in the lockdown winter of 2021, and mashed out fireside in the Blue Mountains. Crikey had already published an extensive series on Scott Morrison’s lying, but a short book gave us the opportunity to explore it more in depth, and make clearer the comparisons between Morrison and Boris Johnson and Donald Trump, as well as the political trends across the West that seemed tailor-made for a new breed of politicians who felt no shame about constantly lying.
The result was unexpectedly popular — Lies and Falsehoods sold out within days and online sales surged while we waited for the next print run to arrive. It was still going strong into early 2022 as the federal election loomed.
Now, thankfully, it’s something of a dead letter. The long dossier of Scott Morrison’s lies belongs in the history books. Public perceptions of Morrison’s character — which tended to drift toward visceral loathing of him among many voters who would normally vote Liberal — played a crucial part in the massive defeat his government suffered on May 21. Perhaps to an extent, Lies and Falsehoods had a small role in shaping those perceptions.
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Certainly, after Crikey began routinely calling out Morrison’s lies, parts of the media lifted their game. During the election campaign, Morrison got away with far fewer blatant lies and falsehoods than he had in 2019. Journalists would keep at him on single issues and single questions, pressing him and arguing with him. In one case, the then prime minister was forced to reluctantly concede that the lie he had put forward earlier in the media conference — on the availability of gender reassignment surgery for minors — was wrong. It was a highlight in an otherwise generally poor performance by the media during the campaign.
The removal of Morrison, however, doesn’t remove the systemic issues that created the environment for him — the polarisation, the tribalism, the economic uncertainty, the toxic role of malignant actors like News Corp, the sense of alienation engendered by governments that are perceived as no longer working in the public interest but for vested interests.
Such factors are still at work in the United States, where the return of Trump to the presidency remains a real possibility. Fortunately, those forces are less pronounced here, but the hyper-partisanship on display on social media and the tendency to conspiracy theorising by anyone disgruntled about a powerful institutional is a reminder that our current level of public debate is founded on decidedly shaky supports.
Lies and Falsehoods ended with a plea for re-engagement with an old-fashioned kind of community politics, represented best by the Voices Of campaigns. Much more than the removal of Morrison, the success of community independents in the 2022 election represents a vindication of the possibilities of community politics and grassroots engagement that undermine the efficacy of political deception broadcast by compliant media. The fact that several successful community independents were futilely demonised and smeared by News Corp was an elegant demonstration that we can fight back against large-scale lying and the systems that enable it. But it’s a process, not an event, and one election is just the start.