Politicians, people and the pits

Why this person distrusts politicians


Parliament House Canberra Dusk Panorama.jpg

Australian Parliament House, Canberra (Wikipedia)

By Spencer D. Gear

Why do politicians refuse to answer the questions of mass media interviewers? It frustrates me over and over when a journalist asks a specific question on a topic and the politician gives an answer that is not related to the question. It’s called political spin and amounts to a red herring logical fallacy.

That happened on Wednesday, 17 September 2014, when the Australian federal treasurer, the honourable Joe Hockey, was interviewed on Australia’s ABC’s nation current affairs programme, ‘7.30’. The nature of the logical fallacy became evident when the interviewed talked over the treasurer to try to bring him back to the topic. Those in current affairs’ shows often do this when a politician goes off at a tangent and doesn’t answer the question.

Some background


Peter Costello (Wikipedia)

This is how The Guardian, a British newspaper, reported on former Australian treasurer, Peter Costello’s, speech to a property forum:

Australia’s longest-serving treasurer has warned that the country’s luck is beginning to run out as wages fall and consumer pessimism grows.

Peter Costello says while Australia is “far” from recession, the economy is undergoing big changes, leaving people with a sense of uncertainty about the future.

“(Australia’s) luck’s beginning to run out,” he told a property forum in Sydney on Wednesday. “For the first time since the 1990s, per capita incomes have stabilised in Australia – they are no longer growing.

“Young people under 50 who have lived through a period of uninterrupted rising incomes are beginning to experience something that’s different.”

Consumers were “anxious” and had “stopped spending”, he said.

Real wages were falling and disposable incomes had “peaked”, Costello said.[1]

Costello also added: ‘And they’re distrustful of the political class where consensus is breaking down. We need to work out how to put things back together’.[2]

A politician’s problem

I have grown increasingly frustrated by the inability of politicians, whether federal or state, and no matter what political brand, to answer straight-forward questions put to them by journalists. What follows is but one example.

Leigh Sales (canberratimes.com.au, public domain)


On the evening of 17 September 2014, I watched Australia’s ABC 7.30 programme and Australian federal treasurer, Joe Hockey, being interviewed by Leigh Sales. See ‘Joe Hockey rejects Peter Costello’s warning that Australia’s economic luck is running out as demand for resources falls‘. Leigh referred to the above speech made by Australia’s former, but longest serving, federal treasurer, Peter Costello, on 17 September 2014.

One of Leigh’s questions to Hockey was: ‘Mr Costello mentioned a distrust of the political class. Has the Abbott government contributed to that by introducing plans like the Medicare co-payment and the pension changes without ever mentioning those things before you were elected?’

Although Hockey said, ‘Well, no, not at all’, he directly avoided answering the specifics of this question. Leigh persisted, saying that politicians have eroded public goodwill and this has contributed to the distrust of the political class. Hockey continued on with his political spin (only saying what you wanted to say in promoting his political line) and not answering her questions about this specific topic of distrust of the political class.

I ask Hockey and all politicians: Don’t you understand what that does to droves of us around the nation who know what he is doing and we are fed up with THE POLITICAL TACTICS OF NOT ANSWERING QUESTIONS. If he and his party continue to do this, I’ll put my TV volume on mute immediately I see a politician on air. I’ve learned to expect the politicians of whichever stripe all to do the same – AVOID THE ISSUES OF THE MASS MEDIA QUESTIONER.

Don’t politicians understand what this does to the people of the electorate? It causes exactly what Leigh Sales said – a distrust of the political class, eroding public good will, and causes listeners to tune out on politicians.

There is a simple solution

When will politicians wake up to the Aussie populace who know exactly what they are doing?

All politicians would enhance credibility if they as politicians would make these commitments:

1. I now will specifically answer whatever a mass media journalist asks me about any topic.

2. Quit making promises before the election that you will break when in government.

3. Become politicians of integrity who speak the truth and nothing but the truth.

Is that asking too much? That’s what would assist in enhancing political good will.

Equipping politicians for the simple solution


(courtesy Rostrum)

One of the problems for politicians is that when many of them are elected to parliament, they don’t seem to have a handle on being competent public speakers. They need more training in how to think on their feet to answer:

blue-arrow-small questions in parliament,

blue-arrow-small questions from their constituents, and

blue-arrow-small questions from the mass media.

How do they get that training? Before they are elected to parliament and while they are in parliament, join a public speaking club such as Rostrum or Toastmasters.

I know that it is more comfortable for a politician to keep to the script of the party line. They can be prepared for this kind of rote response. However, I find it dissatisfying as a listener. There is no excuse for politicians not to become better presenters and to learn to think on their feet when journalists and constituents ask questions – even pointed questions.

Works consulted

Australian Associated Press 2014. Peter Costello warns ‘Australia’s luck is beginning to run out’, The Guardian (online),17 September. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/sep/17/peter-costello-warns-australias-luck-is-beginning-to-run-out (Accessed 18 September 2014).

Powell, R 2014. Luck running out: Peter Costello warns of hard days ahead as property market slows, The Sydney Morning Herald, 17 September. Available at: http://www.smh.com.au/business/the-economy/luck-running-out-peter-costello-warns-of-hard-days-ahead-as-property-market-slows-20140917-10i0t7.html (Accessed 18 September 2014).


[1] Australian Associated Press (2014).

[2] Powell (2014).


Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 29 October 2015..