Is there anything else this election can throw at us? I've started to feel like Alice in Wonderland, hurtling head over heels towards a thoroughly bonkers tea party, where the only thing we can be certain of is who'll sit in the Mad Hatter's chair.

Recently, we've fallen down the rabbit hole into a postmodernist reality - if you can call it that, given that there is now no such thing as reality, or if there is, the particular versions of reality we experience are determined by our differing life experiences, our biases and our social conditioning.

In this chaotic era of Trumpian politics, to which we are not immune despite being many thousands of kilometres divorced, there is no truth. There is no knowledge. There are only the loudest voices and the wildest claims. Is your head spinning yet?

Much has been written about fake news. The term has become so ubiquitous that future generations may point to it as a defining concept of this decade. It has become a euphemism for a falsehood, or, put more baldly, a lie.


In the war for truth, however, exactly who is lying depends on who's on the other end of the fake news claim.

Our election has featured a depressing amount of fake news. First there were the mythical $18 cabbages, harvested from the fields of murky maths and thrown to the public by Winston Peters in an attempt to generate sensationalist headlines around Labour's water levy.

Irrigation NZ soon clarified that "the impact on fruit, veges, milk and bread will be minimal" but Peters still got his headlines.

Then there were the similarly fictitious $75 price increase for a bottle of sauvignon blanc, thrown to the media by Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy, and Finance Minister Steven Joyce's estimation that individual farms could expect to pay between $50,000-$100,000 per year in water fees under Labour.

Both were debunked (the price increase on a bottle of wine would be less than a cent - summer barbecues are safe! - and only a large farm of 600 hectares would attract a water levy of approximately $48,000 when calculated at the higher end of Labour's 1-2 cents royalty range).

The shaky grounding of such hypothetical claims didn't stop former National Party President Michelle Boag from going on TVNZ's Q+A and claiming (erroneously) that every litre of milk would cost an extra $4, however.

From there the porky train choo-chooed into elective surgery statistics and unscientific claims about beneficiaries.

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman promised to lift the number of elective surgeries to 200,000 per year by 2021, despite claiming in Parliament in July that a target of 200,460 elective surgeries in the 2015-2016 year had been met.


Social Development Minister Anne Tolley was forced to admit on Radio NZ that her claim that one in five young beneficiaries say that "drug use is a barrier to them getting a job" was based on "a little survey in quite a few of our WINZ offices".

Newsroom journalist Bernard Hickey later reported that Tolley's office said the survey was conducted over four weeks in Work and Income offices in just four regions, and gave no information about the sample size.

Other falsehoods have included Act Party Leader David Seymour's claim that "we lost re reo through compulsion in schools", in which he seemed to forget that te reo Maori was in fact banned in schools over a long period (and children who spoke Maori at school were punished for it); MP Simon O'Connor's outrageous claim that Jacinda Ardern was "happy to encourage the suicide of the elderly, disabled, and sick"; and activist group Saving Downs' impersonating Labour and saying it supports "abortion up to birth for babies with disabilities".

Ardern also muddied the waters when she claimed that only 5000 extra construction workers would be needed to make Labour's housing policy work, despite MBIE's estimate that 56,000 extra workers are needed to handle New Zealand's construction boom.

The biggest porky of all, however, has to be Steven Joyce's $11.7b fiction. After failing to find a single expert who agreed that Labour had a hole in its budget, Joyce's refusal to budge has begun to take on the appearance of a Trump supporter crying, "but her emails!"

Only time will tell whether Joyce's scaremongering will have the same devastating effect.

In the grand tally of the fake news stories, National has a healthy lead, and after realising that, I put Labour under the microscope.

It is well known that Ardern is a friend and I wouldn't want to be accused of giving her an easy ride. After a fruitless day of searching the news media I rang my dear old dad, who's been a National Party member for longer than I've been alive, but even he couldn't think of an outright lie that had come from the opposition.

To try to balance the score sheets of the two would be to create false equivalence, but there is one area in which Labour wasn't perhaps being entirely open. The drip, drip, dripping of tax policy undoubtedly caused confusion among voters, which was promptly exploited by National. Labour's plan to act on the recommendations of a tax working group wasn't an example of misinformation, but it did present a lack of information, giving rise to a sense of uncertainty. Which is likely why they backtracked, deciding not to introduce any further new taxes until 2021.

All in all, this election season has represented a precarious state of affairs for the electorate. Between lies about everything from the price of food to abortion legislation, it has become abundantly clear that critical thinking is more important than ever. Thankfully, the media has done a relatively good job of holding politicians' feet to the fire over their more outlandish claims, but wild assertions are still flying left, right and centre.

In such an environment, it will be fascinating to see who succeeds in pulling the White Rabbit out of the hat.