Truth the first casualty in the War Against Coal

Advocacy is core business for think tanks, but when does advocacy become propaganda? When the think tank is the grandly named Australia Institute, is one answer.

The latest episode in False and Misleading from the “Institute” is the claim that the Queensland government receives more in motor vehicle registration and traffic fines than it does in coal royalties.

They’ve been making variations on this claim for at least 2 years. The first variation appeared in New Matilda, on June 17, 2016 saying that in 2015/16:

… And the winner was….

Car rego by $1.632 billion to 1.594 billion! Well done, drivers. Better luck next year, miners.

But the figure is wrong. Alert readers will realise that no one knew what the real figures were on June 17 because there were still 13 days left in the financial year – these were just budget estimates.

When the final figures were compiled coal royalties were actually $1.705 billion and rego $1.633.

But the AI couldn’t let go the comparison, so they’ve continued to develop it even as the inaccuracies have escalated.

The 2015/2016 financial year was a bit of a cherry-pick, with coal prices near their most recent bottom. In 2016/17 coal royalties roared ahead and were $3.405 billion, and the estimated actual for 2017/18 is $3.768.

Motor vehicle registration is a steady accumulator, increasing to 1.681 in 2016/17 and 1.755 estimated actual for 2017/18.

As the ratio has moved against it the AI has adjusted its claim by rolling in vehicle related expenses like speeding fines with Director Richard Dennis telling ABC’s Steve Austin “the Queensland government collects more revenue from car registrations and speeding fines than it does from the royalties from the coal in Queensland” (2:13:50). But as the table shows, there is no factual basis even for this bulked-up assertion, even using the most generous version of the story and including the stamp duty on registration along with the registration and every fine the state of Queensland collects.

Why do they like this lie? I guess they think most people don’t realise how substantial a contributor to state revenue car related expenses can be, so this is one way of making it sound like coal royalties don’t matter that much.

The truth is that after sales of goods and services, and payroll tax, coal royalties are the largest contributor of state generated revenue.

The AI set the benchmark on misrepresentation 4 years ago when it claimed that mining is supported by state governments to the tune of $17.6 billion (over 6 years, so the stretch is in on this figure as well, before looking at the facts).

The claim relied on counting capital expenditure on infrastructure, like railways, ports and dams, as subsidies that benefit coal mines, without taking into account that these assets generate an income from the miners. In other words they treat assets as though they were not only liabilities, but expenses.

The Australia Institute is a malicious meme factory, run by Green extremists, where the main product is not facts, but factoids designed to interact with confirmation bias and motivated thinking to infect mainstream media and metastasise.

I’ve put up a thousand dollars if they can prove their royalties claim, the AIP could do with the dough, and a financing model worked of the lies of your competitors is an attractive proposition to me, particularly with a crowd as mendacious as this one.

Alas, it’s a funding model unlikely to garner much money for lack of a willing counterparty.

But perhaps the ACCC should have a look at whether institutions which use false claims to raise donations should be subject to the Trade Practices Act’s penalties against false and misleading conduct.

And the mainstream media should at least do some basic fact checking before putting their claims to air. And, as this is very difficult in the context of a live interview, consider whether they should give them air time at all.