Friday, August 3, 2018

Today by Paddy Manning

Let’s count our blessings
There’s nothing broken about Australian politics that can’t be fixed


It is commonly observed that Australian politics is broken, and that the cause of reform has suffered a lost decade that began somewhere between the knifing of Malcolm Turnbull by Tony Abbott in 2009 and the knifing of Kevin Rudd by Julia Gillard in 2010. Katharine Murphy’s On Disruption is a chastening read for a political journalist, and for me it boils down to a single, vital question: does the media help, or are we making things worse? No doubt 90 per cent of people would say that journalists and the media are in it together, feeding off each other. Murphy’s considered analysis suggests that this is possible, and that a big part of the problem is the constant fomenting of crisis in politics. So today, after a dismal week in which it would be easy to bemoan the state of things, let’s instead count Australia’s blessings and shoot for a calm assessment of what needs fixing.

First, an honest appraisal of a shocking week. Today alone, at a spillover estimates hearing of the Senate legal and constitutional affairs committee, we saw confirmation by the federal police that they believe an offence may have been committed in the unauthorised disclosure of an upcoming raid on the AWU by Michaelia Cash’s office (at least). We also saw a home affairs secretary stonewalling and taking on notice questions about whether minister Peter Dutton might have intervened to stop the deportation of two au pairs –  a story the government has so far spent $10,000 trying to suppress. The Coalition questioning was mainly along the lines of asking how good Operation Sovereign Borders was, and the hearing descended into farce when doddering chair Ian Macdonald asked a long series of questions about how estimates worked.

This comes at the end of a week in which we learned that the prime minister and energy minister, Josh Frydenberg, gave almost half a billion dollars of taxpayer money to a private organisation at a private meeting with no tender, no departmental representative, no notes taken, in what one seasoned commentator  described as the most egregious case of maladministration he’d ever heard of. The fact that Frydenberg went on 7.30 last night and described #reefgate as a “distraction” shows he has completely lost his bearings.

At the same time, Labor backbencher Emma Husar was the subject of a string of salacious allegations, which today look certain to cost her her preselection, at the very least, and a bunch of Victorian Labor staffers are being questioned by police over campaign spending. Meanwhile, an investigation on last night’s 7.30 aired a series of sexual harassment allegations – strenuously denied – against NSW Greens MLC Jeremy Buckingham, which have put the party on the back foot nationally, and today he faces a call to stand aside. Dismal enough for you?

If that list makes you feel like you’re drowning, you’re not alone, and here’s where Murphy’s essay is a lifebuoy of wisdom and honesty. Let’s count our blessings.

We are not at war at home, we have dodged terrorist attacks here, and our military excursions in the Middle East at America’s behest have been so disastrous that we may well decide: never again. Our elections are not accompanied by gunfire. Politically, we are faring better than some of our allies: Australia has not elected Donald Trump – in Tony Abbott, we had what Murphy calls a Trump precursor – nor held a disastrous, compromised referendum like the UK, which we now “Bregret”. We dodged the financial crisis and the unwinding of the China boom, and our economy continues to grow – only at the beginning of this decade, remember, the pundits were describing an Australian moment and a “sweet spot”. Evidence suggests the pendulum is finally swinging back towards a fairer redistribution of wealth. We have solved tough economic conundrums that other nations have stumbled over, like compulsory retirement savings and unfunded public sector pension liabilities. Every day we can be grateful for tough gun laws, a publicly funded health system, the NDIS ... the list could go on. 

We have a small number of genuine refugees detained indefinitely offshore as some kind of deterrent – which is immoral – but it will only take one act of compassion to fix. Our politics has failed on climate change but the solution is under construction as we speak: renewables plus storage are unstoppable, and we now need to focus on everything else – transport, agriculture, drawdown. We have failed on reconciliation and closing the gap, but Australia’s Indigenous communities are, miraculously, willing to negotiate and have issued the constructive Uluru Statement from the Heart. Our current federal government under a weak prime minister is sliding into authoritarianism and cronyism, but Super Saturday and all available polling suggests voters are onto it and – easy fix – an election is due. For good measure we will surely soon have a federal anti-corruption agency, supported by more than 80 per cent of the public. In short, there is nothing wrong with Australia and our politics that can’t be fixed.

since this morning

Crikey’s Bernard Keane writes [$] that “we now have a media and political culture in which the pressure is to be ever more extreme – which is why racism is now becoming part of ‘civilised discourse’.”

In The Guardian, Jackie Huggins writes: “A truth and justice commission would provide a public space for our voices. The time to tell the truth is long overdue.”


On page one of The Age, Miki Perkins writes of the murders of four Victorian women: “What horror. The vivacious faces of four women beam from photographs at a moment – striding along a beach, sipping bubbles at a party – when they were full of joy, of life.”

The Productivity Commission’s final report into competition in the Australian financial system finds that banks have sustained prices above competitive levels, offered customers inferior quality products, subsumed much of the broker industry and stopped competitors expanding in some markets. As flagged [$] in the AFR, Treasurer Scott Morrison described the commission’s recommendation for banks to create an “integrity officer” role to monitor mortgage brokers as “an interesting idea” that could have broader application.

Cabinet ministers are promoting [$] a new “NEG-plus” plan to broaden the appeal of the energy policy among wavering government backbenchers who fear an electoral rout over power prices.

The AFR reports [$] that new Minerals Council chief Tania Constable has vowed to take a “technology-neutral” approach to climate and energy policy, signalling the pro-coal agenda run by her predecessor Brendan Pearson is dead.

The Guardian shows how the takeover of Fairfax Media by Nine will further concentrate the Australian media, which was already one of the more concentrated media industries in the world.

The Australian Press Council has received an unspecified number of complaints about an article by Andrew Bolt that argues a “tidal wave” of migrants is inundating Australia and “changing our culture”.

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Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is also the author of three books, including a recently updated unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?


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