The Politics    Thursday, November 15, 2018

ScoMo-tion demise

By Paddy Manning

ScoMo-tion demise


The accidental PM appears accident prone

As it limps towards the end of 2018, the Morrison government is gradually establishing its own grand narrative – one of staggering ineptitude as it lurches from one self-inflicted crisis to another. On decisions from Jerusalem to Foodbank, there is no overarching purpose here, there is no direction or strategy, there are only missteps and backdowns, seemingly born of the blinkered pursuit of base political advantage, which never materialises. For a PM schooled in marketing, these are textbook fails. For the federal Opposition, the coup against Malcolm Turnbull has proved the gift that keeps on giving.

Today we read, in a Fairfax Media report that has not been denied, that former trade minister Steve Ciobo has privately advised the Indonesian trade minister that there is only a 5 per cent chance that Australia will relocate its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. It is hard to see how the prime minister could have made more of a mess of this: Australia will have managed to offend everybody concerned, to no end. It was a foreign policy decision with grave implications for our most important regional relationship, taken without official advice, in a desperate attempt to court the Jewish vote in the last week before the Wentworth by-election; it was quickly seen for the kneejerk opportunism that it was, and which backfired electorally.

This was followed by sending the former PM in to smooth the waters with Indonesian president Joko Widodo, an attempt which Morrison himself undermined by pretending he had done no such thing in a half-baked fib that was exposed as such in the time it took Turnbull to tweet-correct the record … followed by an Indonesian decision not to sign up to a free trade agreement between our two countries while the Jerusalem option was on the table … followed by a completely arbitrary deadline of Christmas (perfect!) for a final decision on the embassy move … followed by the interview with Penny Wong in which the shadow foreign minister easily spelt out the obvious: “We know he’s going to retreat on this before Christmas, why doesn’t he just do it now?”

The week started with news that six weeks out from Christmas the government had cut $323,000 in annual funding from the charity Foodbank, which The Guardian reported provides $8 million worth of pantry essentials like rice, flour, cereals for more than 710,000 Australians impacted by natural disasters via 2600 charities and 1750 schools around the country. In the middle of a drought, some 40 per cent of beneficiaries were said to be rural and regional areas. Here, at least, Social Services Minister Paul Fletcher could hardly be accused of pursuing base political advantage, because there was none imaginable. Budget-wise, the saving to the taxpayer was trivial. The political gain for the Opposition, however, was obvious, and within hours Bill Shorten had donned the hi-vis and joined the Foodbank production line calling for the cut to be reversed. Within 24 hours of the news emerging, Morrison had backed down, increasing Foodbank’s funding by $1.5 million. The Betoota Advocate had a field day: “Morrison Backflips On Initial Idea Of Letting People Starve To Death”.

It goes on. Why did the PM on Monday walk back a commitment, widely reported earlier this month, to get all kids off Nauru by Christmas? Why did Health Minister Greg Hunt have to “bow to pressure” to extend the opt-out deadline for My Health Record, gifting a win to his political opponents, when surely it is common sense to get the necessary privacy fixes done first? Why did Peter Dutton tell Sky News that Labor opposed encryption cracking laws, when it hasn’t and that is proved easily?

Simple: there is no reason. The accidental PM is proving himself accident-prone, and his government is reliably inept.

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since this morning

The Guardian reports that the Minerals Council has backed the Coalition’s plan to underwrite new power generation, and has warned Labor to honour any contracts negotiated by the Morrison government before the next election.

Brisbane construction firm Canstruct made a $43 million profit running Australia’s immigration centre on Nauru last year, according to The Guardian.

The Coalition has released [$] legal advice that up to 21 Victorian Labor MPs implicated in the “red shirts” scandal may have committed crimes punishable with up to 10 years’ jail.

in case you missed it

NSW Greens MPs are dividing over the sexual harassment allegations levelled under privilege against Jeremy Buckingham on Tuesday, with Justin Field accusing [$] Jenny Leong of an “orchestrated political hit” and Cate Faehrmann penning an op-ed headed “I know the horrors of sexual harassment, but mob rule is not justice”. The Australian reports [$] that the Greens are under siege in the federal parliament from both major parties over a raft of sexual harassment, bullying and hate speech allegations made against state MPs and candidates.

The Guardian reports that Labor’s republic plan has been described as a “slap in the face” for Indigenous Australians.

Environment Minister Melissa Price has blasted one of her own Liberal Party colleagues for saying she is on her “L-plates” in the job, inflaming a dispute over whether she offended a Pacific Island leader by saying the region was “always” seeking cash from Australia.

The AFR reports [$] that, for just a few dollars more a month, New Zealanders will soon be getting internet speeds 20 times faster than those enjoyed by most Australians, further widening an already-huge gap between the two countries’ broadband networks.

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Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is the author of Body Count: How Climate Change Is Killing Us, Inside the Greens and Born To Rule: The Unauthorised Biography of Malcolm Turnbull.

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