Pushing agendas with statistics


There's currently an Infographic being shared around on Facebook, created by The Australia Institute, a misleadingly named political lobby group. It's a great example about how careful selection of statistics, combined with social media, can be an effective way to push an agenda (whether political or otherwise).

Take a close look at the infographic. You'll notice that the only data they've gathered from a reputable organisation is the first one: the comparison of Australia' taxation as a percentage of GDP. All of the other graphs have been produced from their own survey of only 1422 people.

But then the taxation graph was very carefully constructed. Firstly, the statistic The Australia Institute has selected was total taxation revenue, expressed as a percentage of GDP. They then go on to make conclusions about personal taxation. And secondly, they've selected 2009, smack back in the middle of the Global Financial Crisis. During 2009, almost all the OECD countries showed a negative growth in GDP, with Australia being a notable exception!

Of course, The Australia Institute's infographic would have been pointless if they had used a more relevant statistic, such as personal income taxation expressed as a percentage of GDP. Government have many other forms of taxation revenue, personal income tax of which is only one part. Charting this data (which is also available from the OECD) reveals that in 2009, Australia was in fact the 11th highest taxing country of the OECD nations.


In these times of economic uncertainty, it's prudent for a government not to spend beyond its means, and develop a capacity to stimulate the economy when things get tough. We only need to look to Spain and Greece to see what happens when governments borrow excessive sums of money, and spend beyond their means.

It's strikingly clear The Australia Institute was trying to push a left-wing agenda with this infographic by their caption: "spend more on mental health services, dental care, indigenous welfare, and public education". Draw your own conclusions.