The Politics    Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Bursting into blame

By Rachel Withers

Image of Climate Change and Energy Minister Chris Bowen speaks to media in Sydney, June 8, 2022. Image © Steven Saphore / AAP Images

Climate Change and Energy Minister Chris Bowen speaks to media in Sydney, June 8, 2022. Image © Steven Saphore / AAP Images

Will the Australian public accept the obvious fallacy that all current crises are of Labor’s making?

It has not been an easy opening few weeks for the Labor government, with compounding crises leaving some to speculate that the Coalition was perhaps rather happy to lose the election last month. As Rick Morton reports in The Saturday Paper, the outgoing government had left many departments in a state of extreme neglect, with no doubt more surprises to come as Labor surveys the wreckage. It’s interesting to consider, as Sean Kelly did in the Nine papers yesterday, how much the growing sense of “crisis” has been heightened by the fact that we now have a government that’s actually willing to talk about problems rather than simply ignore them. The most curious aspect of all this, however, is that the Opposition seems to think it can immediately begin hammering Labor over it all, and get away with suggesting that to point out the Coalition’s own role in these crises is nothing but whinging. From energy issues to asylum-seeker boat arrivals to a lack of submarines, everything going wrong is Labor’s fault, apparently, while News Corp wants to make sure that the Liberals still get credit for the few things that are going right, seeking to apply its ridiculous economic fallacy forevermore. But does the Coalition really expect the public to immediately blame Labor, four weeks in, after nine years of conservative rule? Why, of course it does.

Nowhere is this ridiculousness more apparent than in the energy crisis in which we find ourselves – one that, as Labor keeps rightly pointing out, stems from “a decade of neglect”. Labor’s response to the crisis, which has today seen further warnings of blackouts, is far from perfect, with the Albanese government doubling down on opening up gas supply in a way that misses the point. But at least Labor can be said to be doing something, with Energy Minister Chris Bowen having convened state ministers to sign off on a national transition plan that it’s hard to fathom didn’t already exist. The Coalition has nevertheless spent the past week claiming that the new government is fumbling the energy crisis, and saying that it needs to stop “banging on about the former government”. This morning brought even weirder assertions: former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce chimed in to blame the net-zero emissions-reduction target and “the mad cult of closing down coal fired power stations” (never mind that the states with a heavy reliance on renewables are doing just fine), while the new shadow immigration minister, Dan Tehan, complained that the government should bring forward its sitting dates to deal with the issue, despite the fact that the former Coalition government had itself scheduled a ridiculously sparse parliamentary calendar and barely paid the issue any mind.

But that’s not the only area in which the old government is seeking to pin culpability on the new. Operation Blame Labor for Boat Arrivals is in full swing, with The Australian overnight reporting that Border Force had intercepted a “third asylum boat since election day”, noting that the return of boats “coincid[ed] with the change of government” – never mind that the first of the three was intercepted under the Coalition’s watch. As with last week’s boat, further reading reveals that this has more to do with a Sri Lankan crisis than a Labor one, with military officials warning that the Australian government’s messages about the risk were no longer working

The same goes for our submarine defence-capability gap, which Opposition Leader Peter Dutton last week claimed to have a magic solution for – a ludicrous claim showing he was yet again willing to risk national security for political gain, as Nick Feik wrote. Outgoing senator and former submariner Rex Patrick has today ripped apart Dutton’s claims in a scathing op-ed, adding that there is no way we will get the nuclear subs this decade and we will need instead to go the conventional route. But all that matters to Dutton is that it’s Labor, and not him, who takes the fall for the concerning capability gap that Australia is now faced with.

Nothing, it seems, is the Coalition’s responsibility – unless it’s the things that are going right. Labor’s success in reopening a dialogue with China “owes a lot to the Morrison government’s resolve in not bending to years of Beijing’s intimidation”, according to The Australian’s foreign editor, Greg Sheridan (“Team Albo builds on Morrison’s work”). The column did, to be fair, give Dutton some blame for the submarines issue, with Sheridan a long-time critic of the former defence minister in this area. But Labor won’t be allowed to get full credit for its diplomacy on China, with the hawks still adamant that the Coalition had it right.

It’s hardly surprising that the Coalition has stepped into the Opposition role with relish (though as NDIS Minister Bill Shorten said this morning, can’t they just be a little bit constructive when it comes to this genuinely shitty energy crisis?). This, of course, is where Australia’s conservative parties feel most comfortable: whinging and blaming and tearing down Labor. But perhaps the former government might like to wait just a little while before it starts screaming bloody murder about the problems it has left us with. The Coalition is no doubt hoping that the people of Australia weren’t paying attention to the crises building up under its watch. Because, God knows, it wasn’t.

Listen to The Politics Podcast, with Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.


The Politics

Image of Health Minister Mark Butler during a press conference at Parliament House, June 22, 2022. Image © Lukas Coch / AAP Images

Taking stock

From vaccines to carbon credits, the new government announces more reviews into the old one’s messes

Image of then NSW deputy premier John Barilaro and then treasurer Dominic Perrottet enjoy a Guinness on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 2021. Image © Dean Lewins / AAP Images

The tool of the trade

What made John Barilaro and the NSW Coalition think they could get away with such blatant nepotism?

Image of Fatima Payman, Labor senator for Western Australia, May 28, 2022. Image © Richard Wainwright / AAP Images

Census and sensibility

Between the census data and orientation day for incoming MPs, this is clearly no longer Scott Morrison’s Australia, if it ever was

Image of Independent Member for Warringah Zali Steggall speaking in the House of Representatives, October 27, 2021. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Images

Very cross bench

Labor appeals to fairness to justify a crossbench staffing decision that looks distinctly unfair

From the front page

Composite image showing John Hughes (image via Giramondo Publishing) and the cover of his novel The Dogs (Upswell Publishing)

A dog’s breakfast

Notes on John Hughes’s plagiarism scandal

Image of Erin Doherty as Becky Green in Chloe. Image supplied

App trap: ‘Chloe’

‘Sex Education’ writer Alice Seabright’s new psychological thriller probing social media leads this month’s streaming highlights

Pablo Picasso, Figures by the sea (Figures au bord de la mer), January 12, 1931, oil on canvas, 130.0 × 195.0 cm, Musée national Picasso-Paris. © Succession Picasso/Copyright Agency, 2022. Photo: © RMN - Grand Palais - Mathieu Rabeau

‘The Picasso Century’ at the NGV

The NGV’s exhibition offers a fascinating history of the avant-garde across the Spanish artist’s lifetime

Cover image of Paul Dalla Rosa’s ‘An Exciting and Vivid Inner Life’

‘An Exciting and Vivid Inner Life’

Alienations and fantasies of escape unify the stories in Australian author Paul Dalla Rosa’s debut collection