The prime minister's office accidentally sent out its talking points. We fact checked them

How the government’s claims on Newstart, drought support, religious discrimination and other issues stack up

When parliament resumes in Canberra, the prime minister’s office sends MPs and senators a set of talking points so they can’t be caught out by curly questions on any topic.

On Monday the parliamentary sitting week began with the press gallery receiving the full set of notes from the PMO after it was sent to them by accident.

We’ve fact checked the document to see just how many untruths or misleading claims are in the brief.

Labor’s taxes

Claim: “Labor may have changed their leader but they haven’t changed their policies.”

Fact: Anthony Albanese has said all Labor policies are under review and it won’t be held to 2019 election policies unless it recommits to them before the next election.

Claim: “Labor is still the party of $387 billion of higher taxes.”

Fact: At the 2019 election Labor proposed about $157bn of new taxes or cuts to existing tax breaks over a decade, but the Coalition claim is inflated by counting $230bn of income tax cuts Labor at first opposed but then helped the government pass in full.


Claim: “About two-thirds of those granted Newstart get off the payment within 12 months.”

Fact: This statistic only refers to new recipients coming on to the payment in a given year. The average time a person spends on Newstart is three years, according to government data. At March 2019, 459,007 of the 686,328 people on Newstart had been on the payment for more than 12 months.

Claim: Newstart “is already increased twice a year, every year in line with CPI which is a widely accepted measure of changes to cost of living.”

Fact: Other payments like the aged pension are benchmarked to wages, which have increased more quickly. Newstart would be about $75 a week more if it had risen with wages since the mid-1990s.

Claim: “Welfare cost more than $172 billion in 2018-19, representing more than one in three dollars or 35% of all spending by the government.”

Fact: The largest part of the welfare spend is the aged pension. The budget papers show assistance to the aged was $67bn last financial year. Assistance for the unemployed and the sick, which includes Newstart, is about $10bn.


Claim: “The support package we announced last week will deliver nearly $100 million to drought-hit communities, which is on top of more than $7 billion in drought support funding already provided by the government.”

Fact: Most of the $7bn has not been spent. The bulk of the figure is attributable to the government’s $5bn Future Drought Fund, which was established with $3.9bn and will grow with earnings reinvested until the balance reaches $5bn, which is expected to be achieved in 2028-29.

Nothing has been spent from the $5bn fund yet – it starts making disbursements from 1 July next year, with $100m being paid each year to support Australian farmers and communities to become more prepared for, and resilient to, the effects of drought.

Claim: “The federal government has a national drought policy and it was outlined following the national drought summit the government convened last year.”

Fact: The National Farmers Federation and experts such as Prof Linda Botterill have suggested the current suite of policies do not constitute a national drought policy because they are ad hoc, not sufficiently evidence-based and do not include the states.

The NFF president, Fiona Simson, has said the question of how to deal with future droughts is “something that successive governments now have shirked – the task of actually putting in place policy that’s going to give people confidence not just when we’re in the grips of drought but when preparing for drought.”

Meeting our 2030 Paris targets

Claim: “We’re taking meaningful action to reduce global emissions with our $3.5 billion Climate Solutions Package that will deliver the 328 million tonnes of abatement needed to meet our 2030 Paris target.”

Fact: Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions are still rising and numerous experts and international bodies including the United Nations have warned it is not on track to meet the target of a 26-28% reduction by 2030.

The government is counting on a 367 megatonne abatement from carryover credits for beating the Kyoto targets – which could be a source of contention in international negotiations – as well as just under 100Mt of abatement from “technology solutions” – which aren’t specified in the roadmap – and emissions reduction from an electric vehicle strategy that it has not yet unveiled.

Religious discrimination bill

Claim: “The bill does not create a positive right to freedom of religion.”

Fact: While the core of the bill creates a freedom from discrimination, numerous clauses also give religious people new positive rights including: the ability to make religious statements that breach other discrimination laws or employer codes of conduct; and a right for medical practitioners to refuse to treat people on the grounds of religion.

Claim: The bill “does not prioritise freedom of religion over other rights.”

Fact: The bill overrides state and federal discrimination laws, ensuring that statements of religious belief receive greater protection than other protected attributes such as sex, race, age and disability. Statements of belief are protected if they “may reasonably be regarded” as in accordance with a person’s religious beliefs, but the statements of non-religious people must “arise directly” from the fact the person does not hold a religious belief to receive protection.

Claim: The bill “does not authorise or enable hate speech, harassment or vilification.”

Fact: While statements of religious belief that are “malicious, would harass, vilify or incite hatred or violence” would still be banned, the bill would override section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act and Tasmanian anti-discrimination law, which prohibit statements that “offend, insult or humiliate” people based on protected grounds.

Medevac legislation

Claim: “Processes for medical transfer already exist and are effective.”

Fact: Before medevac provisions were legislated, the home affairs department policy stated that requests for evacuation “will only be considered … where the person faces a life-threatening medical emergency that would otherwise result in their death or permanent, significant disability”. The policy, introduced in 2015, resulted in a sharp decrease in medical evacuations.

The Australian Human Rights Commission has told a parliamentary inquiry that since March 2018 the federal court ordered medical transfers in 96 cases and a further 220 people were transferred after threats of legal proceedings. Of the 536 people brought to Australia in 2018-19 approximately 60% were transferred due to actual or prospective litigation, which strongly indicates the previous regime was not sufficient to ensure proper care.

Claim: “It is a misconception that [medevac provisions] introduced ‘doctors’ into the medical transfer process. It did not. The department has consistently relied on clinical advice from doctors to form decisions on whether to bring a person to Australia for medical treatment.”

Fact: The medevac provisions created a specialist medical panel to approve transfers under advice from doctors rather than government officials. While doctors were consulted under previous procedures, there was no guarantee people would be transferred in line with their recommendations.

Claim: “The need for medical transfers to third countries, including Australia, reduced as medical capacity and treatment options became more readily available in Papua New Guinea and Nauru.”

Fact: Doctors responsible for medevac health assessments have found that of 581 people in detention they have audited 97% have significant physical health issues and 91% have serious mental health issues.

Asylum seekers arriving by plane

Claim: “In the last three years that Labor was in office, 6,900 permanent protection visas were granted by Labor to people who arrived by air.”

Fact: According to immigration department statistics, cited by the shadow immigration minister, Kristina Keneally, in her own fact check on Twitter, 4,548 protection visas were granted to asylum seekers who did not arrive by boat between 2010-11 and 2012-13.

Claim: “The numbers of those who do apply for protection are declining.”

Fact: According to an answer to a Senate question on notice by the home affairs department 4,037 people have arrived by plane and made a claim for protection in the 50 days from 1 July to 19 August, a rate of 80 people per day. The answer was later amended to clarify it was 4,037 until 31 August, a rate of 65 a day.


Paul Karp and Luke Henriques-Gomes

The GuardianTramp

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