Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Today by Paddy Manning

Back in black? Hit the sack
From muppets to mullets, the government remains a circus


In record time the 2019–20 budget has become a bit of a joke – a hypothetical exercise in future tax cutting and debt reduction over a decade by a government that won’t be there, and in circumstances that will be completely different. Without legislation underpinning the centrepiece $158 billion tax cuts, the budget is more like a giant press release – and one that immediately shifts the focus to the Opposition, because what really matters is what Labor intends to do as government-in-waiting. What’s more, the budget is evidently a work in progress, which had to be amended late last night to make sure that people on Newstart would receive the one-off energy assistance payments that are being legislated today.

In Question Time this afternoon, shadow treasurer Chris Bowen described this backflip on energy payments as an $81 million black hole in the budget, and asked the treasurer whether he could confirm that “after six years of cuts and chaos under this Liberal government the budget is a con job that is falling apart before our eyes”. Treasurer Josh Frydenberg confirmed only that the government had delivered a surplus last night, and noted that the last time that happened, 12 years earlier, “I had a mullet! It’s long gone now.” Frydenberg, who is bald, joked: “God only created a few perfect heads, and the rest he put hair on.” Laughs all round. From Muppet jokes last August to mullet jokes today, the government is a diminishing circus. The hashtag “#fakesurplus” was trending on Twitter last night, amid a diverting debate about whether the unveiled $7 billion surplus counts as “delivering” or “forecasting” a surplus.

ABC business editor Ian Verrender described the budget as a gamble in which the treasurer was betting the house on tax cuts based on a set of rosy assumptions: “So long as resource prices remain high, economic growth dramatically lifts, wages growth accelerates out the doldrums, inflation takes off, the housing downturn moderates, population intake remains among the developed world’s highest and unemployment at record lows, we should be sweet.”

Think past the glowing coverage in certain outlets, and what is the government’s actual message in this budget? “If you vote for us in six to eight weeks, we’ll give you some cash in 13 weeks.” Nothing more than that. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said as much when kicked off his re-election pitch this morning on RN Breakfast. He said that the budget aimed to “keep giving Australians the incentive to keep going out there and doing what they do every day … [to] make our economy stronger by working hard, running their business, doing what they do best”. He concluded: “You’ve got to give them the opportunity to keep doing that.” As you were, in other words. So empty. When the PM went on Jon Faine’s Mornings on ABC Melbourne thereafter, things went from bad to worse as the two locked horns over whether the surplus had been built up by underfunding the NDIS.

The chamber quietened in Question Time this afternoon – a moment of politics-free, clanging reality – when Kerryn Phelps, representing the Liberal Party’s old heartland of Wentworth, pointed out that at the recent by-election voters “sent a clear message”. Phelps said that people in her electorate “want urgent action on climate change and the environment”. Referring to the recent summer of extreme weather events around the country, Phelps noted experts’ opinions that on the current trajectory Australia has no chance of reaching its Paris commitments on emissions. She made the observation that “last night the federal budget did not take the opportunity to promote the role of renewable energy and promote leadership on the environment”.

Phelps then asked about the need for a tough environment protection agency. Instead of taking the question seriously and addressing himself to the voters of Wentworth, the PM took the opportunity to launch into an uproarious attack on Labor’s climate policies, particularly those allowing Australian emitters to buy offshore carbon credits, as was confirmed this week. “Some may call this a carbon tax … I call it the Borat tax, with carbon credits for Kazakhstan!” More laughs all round. They will keep laughing, no doubt, all the way to the ballot box.


“[When] families, friends, communities of those lost were still reeling from the shock, the senator blamed the victims. While those injured were being treated, this senator sought to further fan the flames of division. How pathetic. How shameful. Shameful and pathetic attempt by a bloke who has never been elected to get attention by exploiting diversity as a fault line for political advantage.”

Labor Senate leader Penny Wong supports the censure motion against Fraser Anning today.


“We don’t make any cars in Australia any more … Our manufacturing costs are very high, and our cost of energy is amongst the highest in the Western world. The manufacture of any automobile, regardless of its engine, requires significant energy.”

Former Business Council president and Transfield chair Tony Shepherd dismisses Labor’s plans to support electric vehicle manufacture in Australia.

The Number

The number of successive federal budgets without a real increase in Newstart, which is currently just under $40 a day.

The Policy

“The Government’s economic plan and this Budget are building a stronger economy and securing a better future for all Australians. This Budget and our economic plan are: returning the budget to surplus; delivering more jobs; providing lower taxes; [and] guaranteeing essential services like Medicare, schools, hospitals and roads.”

The list

Former Brexit cheerleaders who are now nowhere to be found: Derek Eggmolesse-Smith, Ned McHenry, Charlie Constable, Tori Groves-Little, Sarah D’Arcy, Darcy Parish, George Horlin-Smith, Darcy Byrne-Jones, Riley Collier-Dawkins, McKenzie Dowrick, Julia Crockett-Grills, Tanya Hetherington, Laitham Vandermeer.” 


“Our political class really seems to believe that it is tough for retirees who live in their own homes to make ends meet on less than $50,000 per year, tax-free. But the same people seem to think that the unemployed are having the time of their lives on less than $300 per week and that the minimum wage must be kept from rising lest we make Australia ‘uncompetitive’. Meanwhile, the government now expects wage growth to double over the next four years, helping to deliver an eventual surplus. So whose wages will do the growing? Take a guess.”


“In one case, a teacher came forward after being groped many times by the same student only to discover another woman had also reported the same behaviour by the student to the year level co-ordinator, who had told her to ‘deal with the issue on her own’. It was only when three teachers made the same complaint that the co-ordinator took it to the school’s administrative body, at which point more women came forward. In total, the same student had sexually assaulted seven teachers at school.” 

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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Wyatt finds a voice

The minister for Indigenous Australians has got the recognition ball rolling again

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