CheckMate is a weekly newsletter from RMIT FactLab which summarizes the latest in the world of fact-checking and disinformation, drawing on the work of FactLab and its sister organisation, RMIT ABC Fact Check.
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CheckMate November 25, 2022
This week, CheckMate explains why a claim by One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts about a recent “staggering drop” in Australian births doesn’t add up.
We also explain why photos shared online purporting to be from a Barbecues Galore ad campaign don’t cut the mustard, and round up all the claims checked by RMIT ABC Fact Check in the lead up to tomorrow’s Victorian election.
Senator cites ‘incomplete’ figures to suggest decline in Australian births
One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts have used Twitter sharing a video in which he claims to have identified a “staggering drop” in Australian births, suggesting this was due to COVID-19 vaccines.
According to the senator, official data reveals that births fell by an “astounding” 70 percent in December 2021 compared to July.
“Guess what significant event matches about nine months before this data[?]” he tweeted, alluding to the start of Australia’s vaccine rollout.
“The government claims I got my facts wrong, but the data is published on [Australian Bureau of Statistics] website for all to see,” Senator Roberts wrote on his websitewhich links directly to a set of ABS birth data.
So what happens?
That ABS data cited by Senator Roberts actually shows that after an uneventful first 10 months, registrations of births (by date of occurrence) were lower in the last two months of 2021.
Compared to about 25,000 births in June and 23,000 in October, it appears that there were only 18,000 births in November and then only 6,700 in December.
However, the same dataset cautions that these figures are “incomplete due to [the] delay in registration of births.
It adds: “This is particularly noticeable in December (and to a lesser extent November) as births in these months are more likely to be recorded in the following year.”
In fact, data provided to CheckMate by the ABS shows that its December birth estimates are typically revised upwards – significantly. Between 2018 and 2020, the average increase was 16,500 births.
These updates will not occur until the next annual data release.
And while Senator Roberts pointed to the monthly births by date of the incident, same ABS data release (from October 2022) includes a different measure of births by registration date.
Seen this way, the number of registered births in 2021 was almost identical to the five-year pre-pandemic average (2015-19).
When the ABS released its figures last month, it was announced that Australia’s fertility rate had “exploded[d] back” after a record low in 2020.
The Australian Government together with the Royal Australian College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, continues to advise that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective for people who are pregnant or considering becoming pregnant, and that being pregnant and unvaccinated carries a greater risk of serious illness from the disease.
Fact check the Victorian election
RMIT ABC Fact Check was busy this week tackling various demands ahead of tomorrow’s Victorian state election.
First up was the leader of the Victorian Greens, Samantha Ratnam, who took to Twitter to claim that since the introduction of poker machines three decades ago, “Victorians have lost $66 billion . . .
In fact, Fact Check found the correct number is even higher.
While official data shows that in nominal terms Victorians have lost $65.4 billion on ATMs in pubs and clubs since 1992, that amount has exploded to $89.7 billion when adjusted for inflation. Additionally, this data does not include losses at Crown Casino, which houses 10 percent of the state’s poker machines.
However, inflation-adjusted data also show that losses have been declining since the early 2000s.
Meanwhile, the Liberals have continued to remind Victorians of the government’s handling of the pandemic, including the 262 days Melburnians spent under strict stay-at-home orders.
According to Opposition Leader Matthew Guy, residents endured the “world’s longest lockdown”, which his party claimed made Melbourne the “most closed city in the world”.
But Fact Check found it such claims were not cleargiven the difficulty of comparing shutdowns in different parts of the world.
Nevertheless, Iquique in Chile spent more days in total confinement and suffered 287 days of stay-at-home restrictions compared to Melbourne’s 262.
And Buenos Aires spent 234 consecutive days locked up, compared to Melbourne’s longest stretch of 111 days.
In the Philippines, some residents of Manila – including children, seniors and those they lived with – were locked up for more than 450 days, while many of the country’s schools suspended in-person classes for more than two years.
Fact Check also scrutinized arguments over Victoria’s “debt disaster”, including a claim by Shadow Treasurer David Davis that net debt was “set to rise to $165.9 billion by 2025”.
This was not only “the biggest debt of any state in Australia”, he said, but also “more than the total of New South Wales, Queensland and Tasmania combined”.
According to Fact Check, Mr. Davis’ claim was gilding of the lily – which were similar Liberal claims, including that Victoria was “now” $167.5 billion in the red.
Victoria’s net debt as of June 2022 was just $100 billion. It is not expected to reach $165.9 billion until June 2026, a year after Mr Davis’s claim.
Nevertheless, Victoria’s existing debt is head and shoulders above any other state or territory in nominal terms. It is also greater than the combined numbers of NSW, Queensland and Tasmania, and is expected to remain so in 2026.
Looking at net debt as a share of the economy, Victoria and the Northern Territory are neck and neck in 2022, with other states still far behind. By 2026, Victoria’s debt is expected to be greater than any other single state.
Citing the unreliability of the four-year projections, Fact Check concluded that the Liberal Party could have made the same argument by sticking to more current figures rather than reaching for higher numbers that may never materialize.
Finally, as covered in last week’s edition of CheckMate, Fact Check found that a claim made by Victorian Labor that Mr Guy had “cut a billion dollars from health” was “still wrong”.
No, Barbecues Galore did not run an ad campaign with the slogan ‘almost as many cookers as the Liberals’
A viral series of photos purporting to show an ad campaign by Barbecues Galore suggesting the retail chain has “almost as many stoves as the Liberal Party” is fake, according to the Twitter user who posted the photos.
The images were posted on Twitter by Adrian Elton, whose user profile says he is a Melbourne-based designer and musician. They show a series of digital billboards, owned by QMS Media, which feature the Barbecues Galore branding, a photo of a barbecue and the slogan apparently poking fun at the Left.
“Love it when a brand takes a stand!” he tweeted Monday afternoon. “Seen all over Melbourne this morning.
“Obviously, since these are digital billboards, it’s hard to know if the system was hacked or not? But if they’re legit, BBQs Galore deserves a big shout out!”
“Cooker” is Australian slang for “a crazy person”, according to Wiktionary, an online dictionary run by the Wikimedia Foundation, which also runs Wikipedia.
The images were widely shared on Twitter and reposted to Facebook, where users’ comments suggest people thought the billboards were real. “Well played, Barbeques Galore Australia!” cheered one Facebook post. “For fun.”
Within 24 hours, Mr Elton’s tweet had racked up more than 1,000 retweets and attracted 4,500 likes, before he admitted in a tweet that he had created the images using Photoshop.
Barbecues Galore CEO Angus McDonald confirmed the ads were not commissioned by the BBQ retailer.
“We are aware of the parody ads that were circulated yesterday, but I will leave it to the political commentators to give the candidates in the upcoming Victorian election a good grilling,” McDonald told CheckMate.
Mr Elton’s confessional tweet said: “Like ‘The Cat in the Hat’ who cleans up the house after he’s had his fun, I just wanted to admit that I actually did.
“100% sorry to #barbequesgalore – hope you didn’t have to deal with any pesky stoves!”
His tweet was accompanied by a picture of his computer screen showing one of the images open in the Photoshop app.