‘Truthiness’ and the Adani Carmichael Mine

Photo by John Englart via Flickr, Creative Commons CC-by-SA

Current political culture in the US, UK and Australia see politicians influence public opinion through appeals to personal values and beliefs over objective facts. This period has been defined as the ‘Post-truth’ era or the phenomena of ‘truthiness’ – a term coined by Stephen Colbert in 2005.

In the context of Australia, post-truth politics and ‘truthiness’ has become part of mainstream political discourse surrounding the Adani Carmichael mine in central Queensland. Politicians who are pro-mining have continuously made claims to the legitimacy and necessity of the mine, that are not scientific, logical or based on facts.

‘Truthiness’ in the case of the Adani Carmichael mine has three distinct traits which are identifiable in the discursive forms of ‘gut feelings’, the politicisation of unwanted facts and the employment of “lies”.

Gut feelings as a regime of ‘truthiness’

‘Truthiness’ replaces facticity with appeals to emotion and a logic of ‘gut feelings’ in the political discourse surrounding the Adani Carmichael Mine.

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott appealed to the logic of ‘gut feelings’ in suggesting that  “coal is good for humanity, coal is good for prosperity, coal is an essential part of our economic future, here in Australia, and right around the world” and that it is Australia’s “destiny” to “bring affordable energy to the world”.

The framing of coal as a national saviour, is also met with claims from politicians that Australia’s coal can solve environmental problems, rather than intensify them. This reasoning was shared by former Prime Minister Abbott in September 2014 when he claimed that the development of the mine (the largest coalmine in the southern hemisphere) and the extraction of Australia’s ‘clean coal’ will help cut carbon pollution.

Creating contradictions around facts

A second component of ‘truthiness’ is the practice of deliberately presenting empirical facts as debatable, uncertain or political. This is exemplified in the claims made by the Prime Minister, the Attorney General, and Liberal and National Party members of Commonwealth and Queensland Parliaments that the Adani mine will create 10,000 new Australian jobs. However, this claim has been proved false time and time again, with the Adani Corporation’s own economist, Jerome Fahrer, admitting in court that the Adani mine will create near 1464.

Furthermore, the ‘truthiness’ surrounding the mine tends to create contradictory messages about unwanted facts, to paint them as debatable or doubtful. This tactic is evident when mining corporations use the term ‘sustainable mining’ to describe projects that provide employment, which has since been adopted in political discourse. For example, Anthony Lynham, Queensland Minister for Development and Natural Resources, declared, “this government strongly supports the sustainable development of the Galilee Basin for the jobs and economic development that it will provide for regional Queensland”.

Reframing discourse with lies

Thirdly, to construct truthiness, Parliamentarians and supporters of the Carmichael mine also rely on mendacious statements to convince voters of their argument.

Politicians have constantly re-framed the term ‘activist’ to connote an enemy of both the Carmichael mine and the national interest, with parliamentarians calling members of green groups ‘saboteurs’, ‘vigilantes’, ‘terrorists’, and ‘extremists’, and accusing them of waging warfare on Australia’s economy.

In the House of Parliament, far-right Queensland Senator George Christensen referred to legal action to stop the mine as “an act of ecoterrorism”. He continued, “Their lies, misinformation, slander and the frivolous legal action attacking a company for the sake of furthering an ideological cause can only be described as terrorism if you look at the criminal code”.

Such claims against activists opposed to the Carmichael mine are not based on fact or any actual illegal activities on the part of environmental groups. It is also important to note the ‘truthiness’ regime surrounding the mine site has also seen the state, federal government and courts deny all legal challenges from the Aboriginal people most effected by the Carmichael mine.

The best examples of the practice of lying are the claims of the mine’s benefits to Queensland and Australia. Most common are references to the number of jobs the Carmichael mine will provide to the Queensland economy, where the employment situation is portrayed as desperate. As Ms Landry, House of Representatives for Capricornia, Queensland House Hans, Capricornia repeatedly claimed: ‘The Adani Carmichael coalmine offers up to 10,000 new jobs, mainly in Queensland; $20 billion of investment in Australia; and power, to build the living standards of 100 million people in India’.

Sadly, however, once built, the mine is not projected to offer anywhere 10,000 jobs; the Adani Corporation’s own economist predicted that the total number is closer to 1464: Adani’s economist, Jerome Fahrer from ACIL Allen, found that Adani’s mine and rail operations would employ around 1,800 people directly and create around 1,000 downstream jobs in “other services’.

Challenge the ‘truthiness’ around the Carmichael Mine

The primary purpose of dissecting the political discourse which favours the Carmichael mine is to reveal the complexity of ‘truthiness’ regimes. None of these discursive forms – ‘gut feelings’, spin and the politicisation of unwanted facts, or even outright lies – are enough on their own. Rather, these ‘truthiness’ strategies overlap, intersect and reinforce each other, to create an overarching ‘truthiness’ regime that posits new megamines as desirable, inevitable, and essential to maintaining Australia’s national destiny. A more complex and multi-dimensional approach is necessary if the public are to be convinced that mining is not sustainable for Australia, its economy, or the globe.

This blog is based on research conducted for an upcoming book edited by Benedetta Brevini and Graham Murdock, titled Carbon Capitalism and Communication: Confronting Climate Crisis. The book examines the role of communication in contributing to and contesting the current climate crisis.

Join SEI Monday 4 December 2017, for the Carbon Capitalism and Communication: Confronting Climate Crisis book launch and panel discussion. For details and to register, click here.

Dr. Benedetta Brevini is a journalist, media activist and Senior Lecturer in Communication and Media at the University of Sydney. Before joining academia she worked as journalist in Milan, New York and London for CNBC and RAI. She writes on The Guardian’s Comment is Free and contributes to a number of print and web publications including the Conversation, Open democracy, Index of Censorship and Red Pepper Magazine. She is the author of Public Service Broadcasting online (2013) ,editor of the acclaimed volume Beyond Wikileaks (2013) and Carbon Capitalism and Communication: Confronting climate Crisis (2017). Her next volume entitled “Media and Climate Change” is forthcoming  with Peter Lang in 2018.

Dr. Terry Woronov is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Sydney. Since completing an undergraduate degree in Chinese Studies at Georgetown University, Woronov has studied social and political change during China’s long 20th century. She has lived, worked, and studied in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan for many years, including spending 18 months

Anastasia Mortimer is the Knowledge Translation Officer & Communications Coordinator at The Sydney Environment Institute. Anastasia completed Honours in Sociology at the University of Sydney in 2016, and was awarded First-class Honours.  Her thesis examined discourse produced by the Western Australian State Government and unequal relations of power between the State Government and Kimberly First Australians in the case of the proposed LNG development on James Price Point.