Holden Bailout: $275m 'Bullshit Bridge'

Experts reveal world championship bullshit bridge-building secrets (opinion)

There’s a gulf between the absolute truth and an outright lie, and it can be spanned only with a bridge built of bullshit. Building bridges of bullshit is a real skill (often called, erroneously, ‘PR’ or ‘communications’). There are weak bullshit bridges and strong ones, but even a bullshit bridge built by a master bullshit bridge builder tends to have a half-life of about a week – just ask Tiger Woods, Bill Clinton … or any man who’s ever been caught with his wheels hanging out of the wrong garage during an unauthorized service.

Two of the best bridge builders/spin doctors in Australia – really impressive, elite performers; true masters of their craft – are South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill and General Motors’ fading antipodean outpost, Holden.

Bullshit bridges all end up this way - sooner or later

If bullshit bridge building ever becomes an Olympic sport, this pair must be conscripted to the Aussie team if we’re really serious about going for gold.

The foundations at each end of the span of the latest $275 million taxpayer-funded Holden support package bullshit bridge have maintained admirable integrity for about 10 days now, but despite recent hasty attempts to shore them up they’ve finally become unstable. The bridge is scheduled imminently to make like the West Gate did between piers 10 and 11, on 15 October 1970.

It’s pretty clear that, despite the latest extortionate bailout, jobs will still go at Holden. Premier Jay Weatherill told Parliament on March 28: “I have been given no advice of any plan to shed jobs.” In The Australian newspaper the next day, Holden claimed it had provided the Premier with a projected number of job losses at its manufacturing plant.

At first glance one might be moved to infer that one of the parties is lying. Au contraire: one can be apprised of the job loss projection without being aware of the plan to implement them. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the kind of semantic adroitness that separates the truly weapons-grade bullshitter from some run-of-the-mill mid-fielder.

The truth being obscured by BS here is that the balance of probabilities suggests jobs will be lost despite the taxpayer funding.

“Only in Australia can GM extract Taxpayers’ money to keep its operation alive … this invalidates the claim, repeated ad nauseum, by Australian car lobbyists, that every car company in the world subsidises its car industry. This is simply not true.” – Dr Oliver Marc Hartwich, Research Fellow, Centre for Independent Studies (Business Spectator)

Holden attempted to shore up its end of the bridge by clarifying the Premier had been given “worst-case scenario job-loss predictions” but said these wouldn’t be made public claiming it was “commercial-in-confidence information”. And, therefore, not appropriate for public scrutiny – like most of the terms and conditions pertaining to the bailout.

Don't underestimate the power of carefully crafted bullshit

Minor cracks in the footings at the Holden end of the bullshit bridge were quickly filled in and smoothed over thus: “We are obviously aware that in taking government funding there is a great responsibility that comes with that.” Apparently this includes giving what the spokeswoman described were “some minimum commitments”.

“But that’s exactly what they are – minimum guarantees,” she ‘clarified’. Hot air – speech emptied of informative content - is the render on the fascia of most bullshit bridges…

“The reason that we subsidise the car industry at the moment is purely and simply for political and not economic reasons.” - Chris Berg, Institute of Public Affairs (ABC, The World Today)

Keen to see his side of the bridge not collapse first, Mr Weatherill sunk deeper piers into bullshit bedrock and filled them with the following Yes Ministerial-esque structural-grade BS: “The fact that there is in the material that has been exchanged between the government and Holden, information about worst-case scenario propositions, which are not the objective of Holden, is not the same as what jobs are likely to be there in the future.” Humphrey, eat yer heart out…

On one hand it’s uplifting to see brilliant bullshitters strutting their stuff, and doing what they do best. On the other it’s gob-smackingly appalling to see hard-earned taxpayer funds pissed up against the wall so inappropriately.

All-new 'Commodore'? You've already paid for it...

What’s conveniently cloaked in obscurity by this recent A-grade bullshit gab-fest is the fact that US car makers have a proud history of extorting multi-billions in ransom revenue from Federal and state governments in Australia, with the alternative prospect of unspecified multi-thousand job losses leveraged as a convenient hostage. The victim when it all goes horribly wrong and the exchange is botched, is the Australian taxpayer.

The SA opposition says the number of jobs that will be lost at Holden is “at least 500”. It begs an obvious question: If they plan on shooting the hostage anyway, why are we paying this ridiculous ransom?

“They are making a political issue of this – it is a state economic issue.” – Holden Boss Mike Devereux in response to the SA opposition claim above (Adelaide Now)

Letting the cat out of the bag on the job losses this close to the 'job securing' funding announcement is hypocrisy writ large. It’s the kind of tectonic plate-shifting bullshit that not even the most robust bullshit bridge on earth could hope to withstand.

Important footnote: Bullshit and lies are very different. The terms are not interchangeable. Calling someone a bullshitter is not the same as calling them a liar. Someone may easily be a bullshitter without being a liar – in other words, bullshit and the absence of a lie may live a long life of harmonious coexistence. Bullshit is a kind of selective deceptive misrepresentation best defined by the Brilliant philosopher Harry G Frankfurt in his seminal classic, On Bullshit: “What bullshit misrepresents is neither the state of affairs to which it refers nor the beliefs of the speaker concerning the state of affairs. Those are what lies misrepresent, by virtue of being false. Since bullshit need not be false, it differs from lies in its misrepresentational intent. The bullshitter may not deceive us, or even intend to do so, either about the facts or about what he takes the facts to be.

“What he does necessarily attempt to deceive us about is his enterprise. [The bullshitter’s] only indispensably distinctive characteristic is that in a certain way he misrepresents what he is up to.

“This is the crux of the distinction between him and the liar. Both [the bullshitter] and the liar represent themselves falsely as endeavouring to communicate the truth.”

No allegation is made in this post, neither implicitly nor explicitly, that any party referred to in this post is a liar or is engaged in the act of lying. They're just, like many Australians, from the PM down, occasionally engaged in the commission of bullshit, according to the definition above. You could also call it 'spin': telling part of the truth in a way that makes it look better for the teller than it really is. Bullshit, spin - whatever you call it - is merely one of the most insidious, salient and prolific features of modern life.