Thursday, December 5, 2019

Today by Paddy Manning

Sour note
It’s one rule for the government, another rule for everyone else

© Mick Tsikas / AAP Image

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is 100 per cent right that the Australian people are tired of the tawdry political games that are played in Canberra, and the confected drama of it all. But he is 100 per cent wrong if he thinks that means he can treat the parliament with contempt, as he did today by trying to shove the union-busting Ensuring Integrity Bill through the House of Representatives without allowing the Opposition to speak. The PM is also 100 per cent right to say, as he did while announcing a sweeping departmental restructure, that the public service should have “a very strong focus on the delivery of services because that’s what government is there to do”. But the Morrison government itself is 100 per cent not focused on the delivery of services – a prime example being the hapless energy and emissions reduction minister, Angus Taylor, whose office seems to be engaged full-time in defending one self-inflicted folly after another. The prime minister has some good lines, but there is a yawning gulf between his rhetoric and the reality.

The end of the parliamentary year is a moment of reflection, and there is not much to show for six years of Coalition government. With drought and wildfire ushering in a frightening summer, the economy floundering and banks gone rogue, something near panic about China, schools going backwards, and sorry revelations from royal commissions underway into aged care and disability (and possibly a inquiry into veterans’ suicides inquiry), Morrison wanted to end the last Question Time of 2019 on a high note. “Australia is the best country in the world,” said one Coalition speaker after another today, expressing confidence in Australia’s future and asking cheery Dorothy Dixers about how the Morrison government was “working to make this future even better”. These words echo Trumpist nationalism, the siren song of optimism, but are without a good news story to back it up. So Morrison falls back on his trademark bluster, today accusing Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese of being “Captain Angry”.

Announcing his radical overhaul of the public service today, ahead of the release of his government’s response to David Thodey’s review next week, Morrison said he was reducing the number of departments from 18 to 14 because he wanted a keener focus on the implementation of policy. “The success of policy is not recognised in its articulation, but its delivery. Its implementation. Anyone involved in business will understand that it’s the execution of your strategy that matters, not just having one.” Leave policy formulation to the government, is the underlying message, but the Coalition’s record on policy development is abysmal. Morrison took hardly any policy to the May election, beyond tax cuts that have manifestly failed to spur economic growth, and has spent the past six months cobbling together an agenda. The government’s record on implementation has not been much better, from the energy train wreck to robodebt to the botched NBN to the corrupted Murray–Darling Basin Plan.

Execution of today’s announcement was ruthless, and may prove counterproductive within the public service itself. Respected secretary of the department of communications and arts, Mike Mrdak, one of four departmental chiefs to be axed, wrote in an email to staff that the department had had no notice of today’s changes, “nor were our views ever sought on any proposal to abolish the Department or to changes to our structure and operations”.

More than anything, what gives the lie to the prime minister’s announcement today is that while he is asking a lot of the public service – more reform, more efficiency – a minister like Angus Taylor and his staff remain a protected species. On the very same day Scott Morrison declares he wants to focus on Australians, Taylor is engaged in a ridiculous back-and-forth with author Naomi Wolf, a Taylor staffer is the subject of police investigation for distributing false information, and a Senate inquiry into the grasslands saga has called on the PM to investigate “clear breaches” of ministerial standards. As long as he continues to shelter Taylor and his staff – never mind sending him overseas to represent Australia at crucial UN talks on the climate emergency – nothing the PM says can be taken seriously.   

“[The offer] has not changed, but the ball is obviously in Australia’s court … Ultimately the ball has sat domestically with Australia for quite some time. [A lifetime ban] would be a matter for them. The way they place restriction on movement is something for them, not for New Zealand.”

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern keeps open the offer to resettle asylum seekers currently in offshore detention. Scott Morrison is reportedly [$] considering this option on the condition that there’s a lifetime ban on those resettled from applying for an Australian visa.

“[Anthony Albanese] pretends to be from the right but he’s not. Albo is from the extreme left, and he’d open the gate if he were to be prime minister at any time in the future and say, ‘In you come. Queue forms here. 100,000, 200,000, whatever you want. I’ll beat Kevin. We’ll have more than 50,000 here, we’ll have 150,000 here! Whatever you want to do, just come in the front door, the back door, whichever way you want, you lob here.’”

Sydney 2GB broadcaster Ray Hadley takes flight in a warm conversation with Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton about yesterday’s successful repeal of the medevac legislation.

Angus Taylor’s hydrogen scandal
Hydrogen will be a major renewable energy source, and can be produced by splitting water atoms. But the government is ignoring this low-carbon option to ensure Australia’s hydrogen industry is controlled by fossil fuels.


The increase in retail sales in October 2019, seasonally adjusted, which is below economists’ forecasts of 0.3 per cent.

“Foreign Minister Marise Payne has asked parliament’s joint standing committee on foreign affairs, defence and trade to conduct an inquiry into introducing legislation modelled on the US Magnitsky Act, which allows the imposition of visa and property-related sanctions on foreign individuals who are responsible for human rights violations, and those ‘who have materially assisted, sponsored or resourced significant corruption’.”

The Morrison government inches towards legislation to stop human rights abusers entering the country.

The list

“A clever little girl at Noosa tried to persuade me that Cinderella’s wicked stepmother was actually ‘an unsung hero’. I stared at her and she gazed back at me steadily with her large brown eyes. I laid down a few pieces of damning evidence: cruelty, spite, envy and so on. She contemplated these for a moment and then we both burst out laughing.”

“I’m pretty sure it was Courtney Love who once said, back in the ’90s, that in order to be a rock star you must first hate your parents, bone-deep resentment and implacable rage being more or less essential if you wish to spend adulthood screaming your head off in front of a paying crowd. By that measure, the members of Nasty Cherry are doomed to fail. By any measure, I suspect, but we might as well start with the basics.”

“McPhee is the most distinguished Australian publisher in living memory. In 1975, she published that transformational novel Monkey Grip by her friend Helen Garner, but she has always been at the centre of what people do when they try to shape words: the stately monotonies of Gerald Murnane, the exuberant momentum of Tim Winton writing Cloudstreet, Drusilla Modjeska when she compounds the real and the imagined.”

Some subscribers may have received an unfinished draft of The Monthly Today earlier today in error. We apologise for any confusion caused.

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is the author of Inside the Greens and the unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?


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