Monday, November 5, 2018

Today by Paddy Manning

Liberals v unions
It’s the last thing that can unite the Morrison government


Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s warnings to business in this morning’s The Australian [$], echoed by colleagues from both the moderate and the conservative factions of the Liberal Party, signpost what is perhaps the sole plausible path to re-election that the Morrison government has left. Okay, it’s a transparent plea for donations, but the Coalition’s pro-business, anti-union rhetoric may well get traction with voters. In any case, tax and industrial relations are probably the only issues on which both factions of the Liberal Party and the Nationals can still agree.

The Coalition’s warnings are not without substance, either: Labor Leader Bill Shorten has carefully, patiently put together a fiscal policy platform that The Australia Institute’s Richard Denniss has described as “arguably as radical as that of Gough Whitlam”. On industrial relations, it is abundantly clear from the #changetherules campaign that the union movement will make a hard set of demands from a future Shorten Labor government. Debates on everything else – from Medicare to schools, from climate change to Nauru – have either turned against the government or exposed its divisions. The economy is the last battleground on which it is possible to imagine Morrison campaigning to win.

Frydenberg’s warning this morning was itself unremarkable – putting forward the bog-standard argument that the Coalition was the only side of politics with business-friendly policies. But the list of Liberals quoted alongside Frydenberg was revealing, including leading Turnbull loyalist Trent Zimmerman, key Morrison backer Ben Morton and Abbott supporter Craig Kelly. What else could unite these three, except opposition to Labor’s “anti-business” agenda? “If businesses don’t want to wake up the morning after the election and think ‘What on Earth has happened?’ they need to be supporting the Coalition now and supporting good economic policy now,” Zimmerman said.

The story appeared alongside [$] a typically self-serving attack on the union movement by Qantas chief Alan Joyce, who, according to The Australian, argued that a push to reintroduce industry-wide bargaining would “cripple” thousands of small suppliers and “take the industrial relations system back to the chaos of the 1970s”. Labor’s workplace spokesperson Brendan O’Connor confirmed the party was “looking at multi-employer bargaining”, and in a follow-up story, The Australian reported [$] how shadow assistant treasurer Andrew Leigh had not ruled anything out on Sky News this morning. “We’re open to changes that see a fairer industrial relations system,” he said. “We’ll have those conversations through employers, through unions, through other stakeholders but I do think we need to make sure our industrial relations system is fit for purpose.”

This is a real fight, unlike so many of the fake fights in the culture wars that consume our national debate but never escape the political bubble. The polls spell doom for the Morrison government, which formally slumped into a minority today with the official declaration of independent Kerryn Phelps as the winner in Wentworth. She immediately raised the matter of Peter Dutton’s and Chris Crewther’s eligibility to sit in the parliament, an ominous sign. For all the division and instability and unfavourable polling, it would be crazy to believe that Labor has the next federal election in the bag. Shorten believes the party would be much further ahead if it were not for the difficult calls he has made, such as on negative gearing and dividend imputation. That is an implicit recognition that these progressive policies remain, in some quarters, a difficult sell. Warnings from business about union anarchy and a return to the industrial environment of 1970s will no doubt worry some of those very same voters.

since this morning

Virgin Australia’s move to give war veterans priority boarding and public acknowledgement during in-flight announcements has been described as “embarrassing” and “tokenistic”.

Backpackers and other visitors on working holidays will be able to stay in Australia longer under a federal government plan to help farmers fill job shortages.

A second judge has recused [$] himself from overseeing the civil court trial involving Clive Palmer and the liquidators of Queensland Nickel.

in case you missed it

Scott Morrison will today embark on a blitz [$] of Queensland marginal seats, part of efforts to reclaim political momentum and reinforce Coalition MPs ahead of next year’s election.

The Australian reports [$] that among the 13,800 asylum seeker now stuck in limbo in Indonesia, many facing a wait of 15 years or more for third country resettlement, news that refugee children and their families are being moved off Nauru is beginning to pique interest.

Confidential plans obtained by Fairfax Media show a worst-case oil spill in the Great Australian Bight would be twice the scale of the Gulf of Mexico disaster, and rough seas and a lack of suitable equipment risk delaying the response effort.

The Guardian reveals that Queensland’s wealthy Wagner family lobbied high-ranking government officials to reroute Australia’s multibillion-dollar inland rail project past their privately owned airport.

by Mungo MacCallum
Scott Morrison’s foreign forays
The PM concluded a week of patchy diplomacy with his first major speech on foreign policy

by David Marr
Once is enough
Reflections on weddings after the legislation of marriage equality

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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