Among the tools used to defend the indefensible, the most widely used is “whataboutery”. When faced with a criticism you can’t answer, you point to something allegedly comparable done by someone supposed to be on the same side as your critic, and ask the critic “what about …”
A recent example (Hat Tip Bill Wallace). Presented on ABC TV with my observation that his election promises represent an arithmetic impossibility, Tim Nicholls resorted to whataboutery, suggesting that I had gone easy on Anna Palaszczuk in regards to the use of transfers of debt between the general government sector, GBEs and public service superannuation. Oddly enough, I’ll be covering this exact point in an article I’m now writing for The Guardian. The relevant para
Labor has been able to improve the accounting performance of the general government sector by requiring public enterprises to make bigger contributions to the budget and by making transfers from the funds hypothecated to pay for public service superannation. This doesn’t change the financial position of the public sector as a whole, but makes the budget sector look better. The relevant criteria is public sector net worth and net financial worth, which are unaffected by such manoeuvres. Fortunately, public sector net worth has never been a problem: the Queensland government had net worth of over $170 billion when the Costello Commission reported, a figure that is projected to exceed $200 billion by 2020.
Some broader responses:
* Whataboutery is a very weak defence in a clear-cut case like this. Even if I were an ALP hack (readers of this blog can judge for themselves), it wouldn’t invalidate the point I’m making
* I don’t think Palaszczuk is open to the specific criticism I’m making of Nicholls. She hasn’t promised to cut taxes or improve the budget balance, and her election spending promises look to be the kind of thing that can be managed within the normal budget process
* I’ve already been critical of both sides in this election campaign. My only published opinion piece was a criticism of Palaszczuk’s pro-Adani policy, which she has subsequently reversed (not claiming cause and effect here, of course). If Nicholls cares to put up an election platform that adds up and protects crucial services from cuts, I’ll be the first to congratulate him.
A few more points:
1. The implied assumption in whataboutery is that people shouldn’t comment on any issue unless they have a published position on every issue that might be remotely comparable. This obviously isn’t feasible for someone writing in spare team, without a team of staffers and researchers to do the hard work.
2. It may be that Nicholls was referring to my post objecting to his waiting until two days before the election to release his costings. As Stephen Wardill pointed out recently, Labor did this last time around. That slipped my notice (see Point 1), but I condemned it as soon as Wardill pointed it out. And of course, one piece of sharp practice doesn’t excuse its repetition. Otherwise we are condemned to ever declining standards
3. Finally, I’ve been less critical of the Greens than of the two major parties, for the obvious reason that I agree with them more often. But I haven’t hesitated to criticise them when they do the wrong thing.