Friday, March 1, 2019

Today by Paddy Manning

The sinking ship
If or when the Morrison government goes down, there will be very little positive to remember it by


With the imminent resignations of Defence Industry Minister Steve Ciobo and Defence Minister Christopher Pyne, the Morrison government is now holed below the waterline and listing heavily. Coming hard on the heels of former foreign minister Julie Bishop’s resignation, and the departure of ministers Kelly O’Dwyer, Michael Keenan and Nigel Scullion, the perception that the government is sinking is getting harder to dispel. Ciobo was demoted in the wake of the attempted coup against former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, in which he supported challenger Peter Dutton, and his resignation would indicate that the federal Liberal Party has not healed the wounds of August.

Ciobo’s departure comes at an inconvenient time – as Australia is poised to finally clinch the long-awaited free-trade agreement with Indonesia, which Ciobo helped negotiate when he was trade minister, taking over from Andrew Robb in early 2016. It is too early to start preparing the political obituaries, nonetheless a succession of free-trade agreements – with China, Korea, Japan, and followed up with the Trans Pacific Partnership – was one of the few policy achievements the government could credibly claim. Ciobo can hardly take all the credit, given his short tenure, but he can claim some. With his departure, the government’s ranks get thinner.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison attempted a daring rewrite of history in February, arguing that the big myth of the 2013 election was that Labor got thrown out because it was divided. No, Morrison argued, Labor lost because they were a terrible government on every score. The PM has a stake in this line of argument, because he wants to distinguish the last six years of the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison turnstile from the six preceding years of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd turnstile.

It is easy to see, from Morrison’s point of view, having held the immigration portfolio both in Opposition and in government, how Labor’s track record looked disastrous. But in other policy areas, Labor did a lot: avoiding recession through the financial crisis (even if the Coalition will never give them credit for it); rolling back WorkChoices (which even the Coalition acknowledged had gone too far); setting up an economy-wide carbon price (a level of policy difficulty the Coalition cannot even come at); establishing a visionary, full-fibre NBN; setting up the NDIS and needs-based school funding; delivering a national apology … it goes on. Much of that work, either shunned or unravelled by the Coalition, now lies ruined or distorted beyond recognition.

By contrast, the Coalition’s policy failures on show, just this week, include: Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton scraping the bottom of the bottom of the barrel, warning that sick asylum seekers transferred here for medical attention will lead to Australians being “kicked off” waiting lists for healthcare and public housing, which the PM defended today as “simple math”; the PM’s gobbledegook in response to a question about why the independent panel process for board nominations established under the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Act was ignored yet again: “So, the Labor Party set up a process, we have followed that process, but where I don’t believe that process actually meets the requirements, then the government of the day has the ability to make the right appointment and that’s what I have done today”; Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions continuing to rise, as the government relaunches the Abbott-era Emissions Reduction Fund to near-universal disdain; and the punitive ParentsNext [$] program, which has seen welfare payments cut off for desperately needy single parents, leaving them and their children with nothing at all. A budget surplus built off inflicting that sort of pain is something to be ashamed of, not campaigned on.

They’ve stopped things and axed things and cut things – even had a legislative bonfire in the parliament – but what has this government come up with for the good of the nation that will endure? Very, very little.



“Imagine having to get someone else to provide proof you aren’t shagging anyone on a regular basis and that even if you are, you aren’t getting financial support. Your own word isn’t good enough any more. That’s what happens to single mothers in Australia if they want to be eligible for welfare.” THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

Jenna Price profiles Australian single mother Juanita McLaren, who says that the way Australia treats single mums breaches human rights, and is taking her complaint to the United Nations.


“A disorderly Brexit would mean, at most, a few months of inconvenience. Perhaps some modest transition costs. But these difficulties would quickly pass.”THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

Tony Abbott in a column for the Spectator, which sparked derision in the UK.

The Number

The amount reportedly charged to taxpayers by Assistant Treasurer Stuart Robert to attend a Hillsong conference where he delivered a masterclass. READ ON

The Policy

NSW coroner Harriet Grahame recommends that the state’s Department of Premier and Cabinet facilitate and host a drug summit focused on harm minimisation, that would give “full and genuine consideration” to ways of reducing drug overdoses in New South Wales, including “decriminalising personal use of drugs, as a mechanism to reduce the harm caused by drug use”. NSW CORONER’S COURT

The list

“The streaming services have been focusing on a new kind of antihero to replace the familiar flawed patriarchs and embittered-but-dedicated detectives: the adolescent. Teenagers, whether comically appropriated or coolly sketched, were at the centre of some of the month’s best shows.” the monthly


“Any professional tennis player who raises their voice will sooner or later be compared to John McEnroe. For once, that comparison is pertinent. Kyrgios and McEnroe have a lot in common beyond the clichés. Both outsiders, both preferring basketball, both in some ways not suited to tennis but too good to do anything else, both practice averse, both preternaturally talented, both noise-phobic, both mystified and apologetic but ultimately unrepentant about their own playing emotions.” the monthly


“Karl Lagerfeld’s death at 85 on Tuesday marked the end of an era. The designer had failed to take the customary accolades at the end of his couture show for Chanel last month and rumours about his health were spreading. Nonetheless, a world without him seemed – seems – inconceivable.” The saturday paper

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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