If there was ever a time for a government to take the bit between its teeth and achieve great things, this is the time. Covid-19 has essentially changed the game forever. Governments world-wide, especially those with the resources to re-build, have been given an historic opportunity to produce a better world. Australia’s Government stands at a threshold – is it up to the challenge, or does it even see the need for change?
The Morrison Government completely dropped the ball on the bushfires disaster, and the so-called ‘recovery’. Survivors are still living in tents, and the Government just repeats the same old promises; billions of dollars, never spent. They are followed by the same old excuses. This has been going on for over a year now.
Some call it “Government by Announcement”. Mr Morrison has earned a new nick-name – Scotty from Marketing. The vaccine rollout is his latest failure, currently falling further behind schedule. The Prime Minister is gas-lighting the country almost daily, denying previous announcements, including timelines, and managing expectations downward. He thinks the daily news cycle provides him with cover, but the electorate is perhaps waking up to him.
His Ministry is shrinking by the day, as is his parliamentary majority. One of his ministers, David Coleman, has not appeared in parliament since December 2019. Mr Coleman has been on personal leave since then, but it has not stopped Mr Morrison re-appointing him to the Ministry, again. In the re-shuffle of December 2020 he was named Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister, for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention. That could be taken as showing the Prime Minister’s disregard for that portfolio, if he is using it as a parking spot for a reluctant Minister. Is he afraid of a by-election? Is that a legal tactic for holding onto power? Why is the Opposition providing a ‘pair’ for a Minister who doesn’t go to work?
His Attorney-General, Christian Porter, has been accused of an historical rape, and on March 15, 2021 Mr Porter announced he would take immediate leave to “look after his mental health”, following the accusations. He then announced that he is taking defamation action against the ABC, and the reporter who aired the accusations. He is said to be due to return to work, although the accusations and the pending defamation case present a unique set of conflict of interest problems for the Government.
Another Minister, the Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds, is on medical leave because she has been accused of mis-handling an accusation of rape, of one of her own staff. She is not certain to return to her duties, as she is seen as vulnerable to the political pressure which will presumably be applied on her return. She has also had to make a defamation payment to the young woman, Brittany Higgins, for publicly referring to her as a “lying cow”.
Mr Morrison shows an almost inhuman ability to bounce back from setbacks. He is also currently battling a popular movement for gender equality, and an end to gendered violence and oppression. He is seen, at best, as a blunderer in the field of human interactions. When presented with the story of the alleged rape of Brittany Higgins, within a ministerial office, he spoke of consulting with his wife, in an apparent attempt to glean, from her, the appropriate response. Many saw it as inept and unfeeling; others as just another ‘marketing’ ploy, playing the ‘suburban dad’, who is told by his wife how to respond to traumatic events. Either way, it was pathetic.
He presides over a Government which suffers a steadily declining reputation for honesty and accountability, and the spin and aversion to scrutiny adds up. There are almost weekly findings of questionable dealings, and some of his Ministers have taken to blaming their departments rather than taking responsibility.
When Barnaby Joyce authorised payment for almost $13 million more than was advised, by an independent valuer, for water buyback, and involving another Minister’s family holdings, he responded with the immortal line that he couldn’t oversee every transaction. A current senator wants the bureaucrat responsible (?) to resign, or be sacked.
The Federal Government bought a parcel of land last year, from a prominent Liberal donor, for 10 times its market value. The land was purchased thirty years before it would be needed, and it is destined for the logistics precinct of Sydney’s proposed second Airport. The Government has replied to questions regarding the transaction, “There is no question of Ministerial involvement. It goes to the administrative actions of the department, more than two years ago.” Have they never heard of the Westminster system of Government?
There are plenty of other examples of such behaviour, but the prospect of a federal Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) is in the hands of the Attorney-General, who is otherwise very busy. He does have a defamation case to direct, and a kangaroo court against a whistle-blower, and his mental health to consider.
Scott Morrison is the person making the policy choices right now, with Josh Frydenberg as his willing side-kick. They will not choose a green re-imagining of our economy. They will ignore the expert scientific advice and they will not invest in a renewable energy revolution. Will they attempt to re-set Australia so that systemic inequality and perilous employment conditions become a thing of the past? Will they embark on a massive social building programme?
Don’t hold your breath. Do not expect such a re-think from the leaders of this Australian Government. They have already started cutting entitlements. They are signalling a lack of affordability. They are talking of throwing two million into poverty. They are oblivious, and they are personally sitting comfortably, fully employed, but not actually doing their job.
Morrison was, just last month, riding a wave of personal approval, precisely because he had done what we wanted, and expected. He turned up on most days, and he only took a short domestic holiday during the opening up in July last year.
During the pandemic he mostly followed medical advice, and he has spent money to keep the wheels on the economy turning. This is not a radical departure from economic orthodoxy. He has followed the Keynesian model, because he had no choice. Everybody was doing it, because everybody knows it is the only way through a crisis.
Notwithstanding his personal preferences, he has allowed the state premiers to call the shots on opening and/or closing down the states. He has had a shot at showing some empathy, but that always looks confected, coming from him.
He is failing the women of Australia now, and he is failing on the vaccine rollout. He is reverting to neo-liberal orthodoxy, and throwing the nascent economic recovery away. He is cutting the unemployed loose, and allowing the ‘big end of town’ to hang onto their ill-gotten gains from Jobkeeper. He is preparing for more tax cuts for the rich, and he is cutting workers’ entitlements.
He is also preparing for an election. That is when the chickens will come home to roost.