How should fact checkers check facts?

Fri, 14 Mar 2014  |  

Here's a simple question.

The Treasurer Mr Hockey makes a claim that "Of the 17 top surveyed IMF countries, Labor left us with the fastest growth in spending of anyone in the world... and they left us with the third highest growth in debt of anyone in the top 17".

You are asked to check this for its factual basis, not an easy job, but it is important to see whether the Treasurer is telling porkies or if he is correct.

A fair enough strating point is to go to the Treasurer's office and ask, what is the source of this claim?

When the source is provided, any reasonable fact checker should query the veracity of the information in that document to see whether the Treasurer is right or not or whether he is being a little bit cheeky and used a flawed report for his claims.

It would be wrong to blindly take the source as given, without question or consideration. To take that as the correct source might be making in error in the same way it would be wrong to use The Australian as a source for any impartial facts on Australia's industrial relations system.

A fact checker should, of course, also be a little more forensic and judge whether the information in the source document fits with the claim being made.

In the case of the ABC fact check on Mr Hockey's claim on debt and deficit, the ABC FCU took the Treasurer's Office reference to the IMF document as the definitive source of the claim that Labor left the Coalition with the fastest growth in spending and third highest growth in government debt among the countries compared. The ABC FCU said Mr Hockey's claim was "correct'.

What they didn't do was make a judgment call on the IMF document.

Importantly, the claim from Mr Hockey which the ABC FCU said was "correct" was based on a start date of 2012. The starting point ignores the fact that Labor delivered a Federal Budget and countless other policy changes between 1 January 2013 and when the writs were issued for the election in August 2013.

Even the drover's dog would see the starting point is wrong when judging what Labor left the Coalition.

There are no doubt similar concerns for the other 16 countries in the comparison – in the US for example, the fiscal cliff, debt ceiling debates and even Fed policy actions from 1 January 2013 would have impacted on the scenario for fiscal policy in what should have been the base year 2013. What was its growth in spending and debt from 2013 to 2018?

As I also pointed out, , the comparison that the ABC FCU and the IMF based its data on was the MYEFO document which included a fiscally explosive cocktail of policy decisions taken by the Abbott government in its first three months and parameter changes from Treasury – hardly the stuff anyone reasonable could serious sheet home to Labor.

I don't know whether Mr Hockey's claims are true or not and neither does the ABC FCU, at least based on their work on this issue.

Some smart person with a lot of time and a robust data base could no doubt work it out, but to say Mr Hockey is correct based on a document he gave the ABC FCU, it is a bit too cheap and easy.

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Is the Aussie economy slowdown good or bad news for you?

Mon, 04 Mar 2019

This article first appeared on the Yahoo Finance web site at this link: 


Is the Aussie economy slowdown good or bad news for you?

Your economic well-being is undergoing some significant changes at the moment. Whether that is good or bad news depends on your home ownership status and intentions to buy, and the amount of money you have in invested in shares either directly or indirectly in your superannuation fund.

To the stock market first

Having been beaten down late last year, the Australian stock market has staged a powerful pick up. Compared with the low point in December, the ASX200 has risen over 12 per cent in two months. This is, quite clearly, great news for your superannuation balance and for your wealth if you own any shares directly.

The change in sentiment about interest rates and a solid profit reporting season has underpinned this jump in share prices and with US and local interest rates set to remain low or be lowered in the months ahead, share prices should continue to do well.

Falling house prices met with dismay and joy

From the perspective of personal finances, the news on falling house prices has been greeted with both dismay and joy. Home owners in Sydney Melbourne, Perth and Darwin and reeling under the weight of wealth destruction with prices down by between 10 and 25 per cent.

In Sydney, for example, that house that was valued at $1 million back in the middle of 2017 is now worth around $870,000, a drop of $130,000 in less than two years.


2019-20 budget will be 'problematic': here's why

Wed, 20 Feb 2019

This article first appeared on the Yahoo Finance website at this link: 


2019-20 budget will be 'problematic': here's why

Word has it that the framing of the budget, due to be handed down by Treasurer Josh Frydenberg the day after April fools day (and around 6 weeks before the election), is more problematic than usual.

Problematic because there is some mixed news on the economy that will threaten the current forecast of a return to budget surplus in 2019-20.

Housing has gone into near free-fall, both in terms of prices and new dwelling approvals. This is bad news for GDP growth.  The unexpected severity of the housing slump is the key point that will see Treasury revise its forecasts for GDP growth, inflation and wages lower when the budget is handed down.

It will be impossible for Treasury to ignore the recent run of hard data, including the weakness in consumer spending and a generally downbeat tone in the recent economic news when it sets the economic parameters that will underpin its estimates of tax revenue and government spending and therefore whether the budget is in surplus or deficit.