Thursday, April 4, 2019

Today by Paddy Manning

A tale of three valedictories
Highlights were few in the 45th parliament

Independent member for Indi Cathy McGowan delivers her valedictory speech in parliament.

Something closer to the tax cuts that are likely to occur in 2019–20 will be announced tonight in Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s budget reply speech. At the very least, what Shorten says has more chance of happening than the version of reality set out in Josh Frydenberg’s first budget, delivered on Tuesday. As has been well flagged this morning, from July 1 Labor will offer more by way of tax relief for low- and middle-income earners. It will also dispense with the radical flattening of the tax system proposed by the Coalition, which would blow a $95 billion hole in public revenues in just five years, and overwhelmingly benefit upper-income earners in inner-city electorates, as National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling analysis released today makes clear.

The Frydenberg budget continues to unravel. Tonight on Radio National’s Late Night Live, Abul Rizvi, former deputy secretary of the immigration department, will accuse his former colleagues at Treasury of bending to the government’s will and ramping up annual population growth assumptions from 1.6 to 1.75 per cent – both migration and fertility. This may sound minor, but has major implications over a decade, and is clearly inconsistent with the prime minister’s plan to cap immigration as a way of busting congestion. Rizvi says Treasury was confronted with two conflicting objectives: forecast enough growth to generate 1.25 million jobs in five years, while lowering immigration. “The two are inconsistent,” says Rizvi. “You can have one or the other, but not both.”

As well as unveiling his tax plans, Shorten is tipped to make major pre-election policy announcements on health and aged care in his speech tonight, before the lights go out on the wretched 45th parliament, which will hopefully in future be regarded as the nadir of good government in Australia (although you wouldn’t bet on it).

Federal parliament is no longer the main game as the country switches into election mode, notwithstanding a rush today to pass world-first legislation to stop social media platforms livestreaming massacres, as happened with the recent Christchurch shootings. The digital giants have been threatening that Australia would become a backwater, but it was hard not to cheer when Attorney-General Christian Porter, at a press conference to announce fines of up to 10 per cent of annual turnover and potential jail time for executives, pushed straight back. “This is what they said before the cyberbullying regulations and requirements, this is what they said before the e-safety commissioner, this is what they said before the take-down notice; they’re all still here. It’s like Alec Baldwin saying he’s going to leave America every time a Republican’s elected president. It just doesn’t happen.” Porter reminded the press that 8Chan, when asked by the New Zealand government to take the Christchurch video down, had basically told them to “get stuffed”. If only the Coalition showed the same fortitude regulating fossil fuels as it does trying to regulate the internet.

The most interesting speeches of the day, however, were valedictories. Former trade minister Steve Ciobo, retiring after 17 years, gave a self-effacing account of his propensity to back losers in leadership contests, stretching right back to Peter Costello versus John Howard. Ciobo acknowledged that his support was a kiss of death that could kill off a political career forever, and Peter Dutton looked on mournfully behind him.

Christopher Pyne also gave his valedictory speech this afternoon, a characteristically frothy piece of work, though this time ending in tears. “This place brings out the best of us and it brings out the worst in us. I’ve seen some truly dreadful people come through here, Mr Speaker.” But, ever positive, he still believed there were more good people than bad. “Thank you, goodbye and good luck.”

The more important valedictory, however, was that of Cathy McGowan, member for Indi. McGowan is retiring after just six years, in which she has nonetheless effected a kind of revolution in the politics of regional Australia, and is now inspiring a raft of country and city independents from Zali Steggall to Adam Blakester to Oliver Yates, and her own successor, Helen Haines. Emblazoned with an orange scarf, and with a hundred-odd orange T-shirt-wearing supporters from Indi in the public gallery, McGowan was downright inspiring. Her achievements by the numbers: 525 speeches, 15 private members bills, 74 questions without notice, 35 motions, 18 amendments, hosting 4600 school children from the electorate and fielding inquiries from 15,000 constituents a year. McGowan thanked the people of Indi for “enabling us to be the change we want to see, and there is so much more to do”. She had a message for the major parties: “Independents DO get things done.” And she had a message to Australians frustrated at politics, especially the young, about whom she spoke with love: “Don’t get mad, get elected!”


“First Nations peoples in Australia know what it’s like to be powerless in the face of hateful prejudice, fanned by the illusion of superiority and the false courage created by a weapon in the hand of an oppressor … We know the impact of murder wilfully carried out and morally justified by hatred of minorities, misplaced power and bullying superiority.”

Senator Pat Dodson speaks in support of the censure of Fraser Anning.


“Do you think Malcolm is going to survive?”

Lachlan Murdoch stops short of calling for the removal of then prime minister Malcolm Turnbull in a 2018 meeting with Sky executives, according to a New York Times magazine investigation.

The Number

The amount that Australian taxpayers will have paid to reopen and then close the Christmas Island detention centre, in the process allowing the PM to hold perhaps the most expensive press conference in history.

The Policy

“The Criminal Code Amendment (Sharing of Abhorrent Violent Material) Bill 2019 … will address significant gaps in Australia’s current criminal laws by ensuring that persons who are internet service providers, or who provide content or hosting services, take timely action in relation to abhorrent violent material that can be accessed using their services. This will ensure that online platforms cannot be exploited and weaponised by perpetrators of violence.”

The list

“There are thousands of miles of tunnels beneath the continental US. Many have no known purpose at all,” reveals the opening statement in Us (2019), Jordan Peele’s new philosophically meandering, satirical horror. The statement indicates both the shadowed, conspiratorial tone of the film and Peele’s cinematic approach, in which surfaces are rippled with clues that point to the dark, sinister elements of everyday life that are suppressed to maintain dominant American social structures.” 


“‘Despite this growing tragedy, there are still no nationally accepted suicide prevention intervention programs.’ [Tracy] Westerman, who was WA’s 2018 Australian of the Year, is highly respected in the field of Indigenous suicide prevention, having worked on the issue for two decades. ‘I think once you just have inquiry after inquiry after inquiry, the inquiry almost becomes the government’s response to suicide, rather than the programs you need,’ she says.” 


“Throughout her career, Nakkiah Lui’s presence in all-white theatre rooms occasionally made her question whether she was there as a box-ticking exercise. She soon realised she’d grown up with people constantly assuming that of her, regardless of how hard she worked. ‘So I always took any opportunity as an opportunity,’ she says. ‘If people think it’s about box ticking, that’s just what they think. Then you prove them wrong. Be better. Be the best.’”

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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