The Guardian 19 October, 2005

Culture and Life

by Rob Gowland

Liar, liar, pants on fire

Rob Gowland

When I was at school, we were taught that Hitler was the master of the technique of "the Big Lie". Hitler, we were told, believed that a diplomatic or political lie was more likely to be effective — more likely to be believed even — if the lie was outrageous.

Even if you were only half believed, a big lie would leave you ahead on points, whereas a lie that was close to the truth gained you very little. Hitler had supposedly polished this technique into an art form.

But on recent performance, I think Australia’s Prime Minister, John Howard, could run rings around Adolf. Howard not only lies on a grand scale, but he does it in colour with all the razzle-­dazzle of a skilfully crafted television campaign.

I am talking, of course, about the monumentally dishonest campaign to "sell" the Federal Government’s Industrial Relations "reforms".

Yes, there are lots of awards specifiying workers’ wages and conditions; but is that a bad thing? Howard wants to replace them with millions of individual contracts. Odd, the way his ads don’t mention that, or that only lawyers and employers could possibly benefit from such a "reform".

Hitler and his propaganda chief Goebbels would have been green with envy at the way Howard’s highly-paid spin doctors portray workers protected by awards as perplexed and bewildered, while workers who now have to stand up to their employer and negotiate their wages and conditions on their own bask in a glow of happiness and joy.

The resemblance to Nazi propaganda films is marked — and curiously startling. For the resemblance is not so much in style (the TV ads look decidedly modern in style) as in theme: a totally phony representation of happy and contented workers in the corporate state.

The coup de grace of Howard’s big lie performance, however, had to be that moment at his press conference when he was pressed to give a guarantee that no Australian worker would be worse off under his IR "reforms". Do you remember it?

He visibly stiffened, looked straight at the cameras and said — with a perfectly straight face — "My guarantee is my record"!

His record? The man who gave us the children overboard stunt, Johnny of the core promises and the GST that would never happen under him, that Johnny Howard has the colossal gall to offer his record as a guarantee to working people?

Clearly, Howard and his kind really do think people are mugs who can be sold anything, told anything and fooled whenever they feel like it. Their arrogant contempt for working people is shown by his government’s response to the widespread opposition to their IR "reforms".

Do they engage in serious debate with their union critics? Do they what? Of course not.

They engage a firm of commercial propagandists ("public relations" experts) to manufacture slickly packaged lies in large numbers, with which they will saturate our TV screens and hence — they cynically believe — our minds.

Whether the campaign succeeds or not, Howard has chalked up some sort of a record: he’s made himself a bigger liar than Hitler. And let’s face it, that took a bit of doing!

A fellow I know works at one of NSW’s big open-cut coal mines, owned by that big, friendly outfit BHP-Billiton.

From a working class family with a long tradition of militant trade unionism, he was gob-smacked to learn recently that a mine production operator at the mine had a second job: he was a copper (NSW Highway Patrol, in fact).

Now don’t get the wrong idea: he wasn’t an undercover police spy, or anything like that. That would be reasonably straightforward, by comparison.

No, this copper is apparently on leave from the police force to work at the mine, except that he has to don his uniform again for two days every month and book people for traffic infringements, presumably to retain his police promotion and pension entitlements.

What shocked my mate more than having a moonlighting copper on the payroll was the fact that his fellow workers at the mine seemed unaware that there was anything wrong with that.

Many of the workers in the Hunter have come off poverty-stricken dairy farms and other economically-blighted parts of rural NSW. They can’t believe their luck at getting highly paid work in mining.

They think BHP-Billiton are just great folks. They seem unaware that the good wages and conditions they enjoy are the result of years of hard slog and tough struggle by unionists, they weren’t offered out of the goodness of BHP-Billiton’s heart (long-time workers know the company doesn’t have such a thing).

So they don’t see anything wrong with having coppers on the payroll. They probably vote for Howard and will swallow the bilge his lying ads are spewing out — until their take-home pay is suddenly cut, when Howard’s new IR regime begins to remove allowances and loadings for working lousy shifts, and long hours in filthy, unsafe conditions.

When that happens, my mate and others like him will be there to help them to rethink Howard and Billiton, and also to question what a copper is really doing working in a coal mine.

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