How do you know when a politician is lying? Their lips are moving. I’ve heard this joke more times than I can count.
I’m studying politics and after telling people this, I usually wait for the automatic response of “Oh, so you want to be a politician?” with a snarky tone. Politicians are usually seen as untrustworthy people, self-serving and deceitful, I get it. We’ve had 5 Prime Ministers in the past 7 years due to backstabbing, and politicians are ranked 23rd on the list of trusted professions in Australia. This says something deeply troubling about the current political climate. Although it’s a generalisation to say all politicians are liars, there’s proof to show that a vast majority of us believe that they are.
Dishonesty is a bad thing, we’re taught from a young age that we should never tell lies and we don’t, right? Wrong. “Tell your grandmother you love the socks.” Telling a friend, “I’m five minutes away.” Or, “Yeah, you look good in that!” Lying is essential in order to navigate our way through daily conversations and relationships. Yet, it’s basically one of the most important values as an Australian to hate politicians and to call them out as liars. So there must obviously be a difference between a little white lie that’s used harmlessly as a social lubricant and a ‘real’ lie. Or in other words, a false statement for the purpose of deception.
Politicians must be held accountable for their actions, and it’s our role to be sceptical of them. Our democracy is abused every time a politician is voted into power based on a lie, or a broken promise they made simply in order to be elected. When the news becomes saturated with stories of deceitful politicians and ‘alternative facts’, it is no surprise that voters are apathetic. We’re fed up with futilely putting our trust in the unfaithful.
However, determining whether a broken promise is actually a lie is difficult. For example, Gillard faced accusations of deceit after breaking a promise she was elected under, that she would not introduce a carbon tax. When Gillard did in fact introduce it, she blamed changed circumstances due to minority government demands. Gillard certainly broke a promise, but whether it was made dishonestly is up for debate, and it is largely down to our perception of the person that determines whether we believe it was a lie or truth.
Perception is crucial, and one person’s truth is another person’s fiction. When the Government denigrate the character of asylum seekers for example, some may believe the statements to be factual due to their own biases. Earlier in April, Peter Dutton claimed soldiers at Manus Island detention centre open fired due to an alleged sexual assault attempt on a five-year-old boy. The ABC has since labelled this as wildly untrue and without any foundation. However, Peter Dutton continues to maintain his position, citing “confidential” briefings as his source.
I attended this year’s Monash University Fetish Party and watched a hoard of law students snapping back at the cameras, ordering the photographers to not publish the pictures they were just photographed in. They didn’t want their actions coming back to haunt them and their carefully crafted golden reputations. This deliberate choice not to reveal everything about oneself may not be strictly lying. It’s something we’re all experts at, as we do it constantly on social media. I guess these future lawyer law students may be liars to some extent. But I think it’s wrong to lump lawyers into the same category as politicians.
I’m saying those law students are liars. However actual lawyers are not liars.
“Being honest is really up to the way the person perceives or interprets the event or facts,” says law student, Mitch. He says of the key roles of a defence lawyer is to, “Present an argument that best suits their client.” This isn’t lying, it’s just putting your best foot forward, and our adversarial legal system will ultimately reveal the truth through cross-examination, the jury and the judge. Choosing not to reveal every single thing about an alleged criminal isn’t lying. On the other hand, it may be crucial to reveal some elements about a person’s life, for example if they experienced a rough upbringing. Even if people think this is irrelevant, “Receiving a fair trial is the absolute foundation of the rule of law.” Lawyers have to, “Operate within the grey area,” because there is simply no black and white when it comes to the truth.
In a time of undeniable political inaction, politicians are being scrutinised more than ever. Just like we lie daily to ease social interaction, it’s expected that politicians will lie to some degree. Although, with the fact that very little is being achieved, it can be argued that the ends don’t justify the means. It’s our white lie on a grand scale and adapted for a bigger stage, with bigger consequences. However, we should never stop demanding for accountability and transparency.