Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Fact-Checking The Fact-Checkers, Part 2

There's a popular saying in the poultry industry (and elsewhere): "don't count your chickens before they're hatched". Andrew Robb, shadow Finance spokesman, and PolitiFact didn't follow that advice, with the inevitable result: egg all over their counting fingers.

PolitiFact bravely asserts: Government revenues are "up 7 per cent" despite the budget deficit. This refers to an email newsletter sent by Robb on 7th May 2013, a week before the Budget. The figures in the email were based on the data contained in the 2012-13 Budget Papers, specifically Statement 10: Historical Australian Government Data (Table 2).

This stated that taxation receipts were estimated to be $309.7 billion in 2011-12 and $343.1 billion in 2012-13, in other words an increase of 10.8%. (Or "around 11%", according to their decimal-place-hating calculator.) PolitiFact then adjusted the latter figure downward by $12 billion to take into account the then-current guesstimate of the revenue shortfall.

So they got a revised figure $331.1 billion, which represents a 6.9% increase. (Near enough to 7%, I guess. What's 0.1% here or there? About $300 million in this context, but hey - it's not real money!)

The problem was that as of 7th May 2013, the date of Robb's newsletter, he was working with old figures: the estimates from the 2012-13 Budget delivered on 8th May 2012. And some plucked-from-whichever-orifice guess at how much the revenue shortfall had been in the meantime.

So... fast-forward a week to yer actual 2013-14 Budget delivered last night, 14th May 2013. This year's model of Statement 10: Historical Australian Government Data (Table 2) is presented. It shows that actual taxation receipts in 2011-12 were $309.9 billion, and they were estimated to be $326.3 billion in 2012-13.

That's a 5.3% increase - and a shortfall of $16.8 billion compared to the 2012-13 Budget estimate. In other words, 40% more than the $12 billion pick-a-number-any-number.

When you're a week out from the Budget, why not just wait until the actual numbers are right in front of you? It saves cleaning up all that messy yolk afterwards.

5.3/7.0 = 75.7%, so I rate PolitiFact's article "75.7% true".

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