Monday, October 14, 2019

Today by Paddy Manning

The PM’s talking points
An accidental email sets out the government’s threadbare agenda

© Lukas Coch / AAP Image

There was nothing new in the prime minister’s talking points, inadvertently emailed to the entire federal parliamentary press gallery this morning, and that’s the problem. So confident is the government that it barely feels the need to develop new policy – let alone new rhetorical flourishes – despite a stagnating economy, worsening inequality, galloping climate change, drought and disaster, and all the other issues that the quiet Australians appear to have ignored when they returned Scott Morrison to power. The talking points show that the government is happy to continue to keep the focus on Labor, which is in disarray with divisions on policy out in the open ahead of the imminent release of its post-election review, and the powerful NSW branch effectively under administration. How good is incumbency?

Guardian Australia carefully fact checked the PM’s talking points this afternoon, and some of the lies are very familiar, because they’re the same ones the government took to the election. Labor is not and never was the party of $387 billion in higher taxes; Australia is not on track to meet its 2030 emissions reduction targets set in Paris under the Coalition; before the medivac laws, the existing processes for medical transfer weren’t working to help asylum seekers who have been indefinitely detained on Manus and Nauru, the vast majority of whom are seriously unwell. There’s more. The touted $7 billion in drought funding has not been provided – most of it remains unspent – and there are real concerns about the government’s proposed religious freedom laws, which will override state and federal anti-discrimination laws, and could have unintended consequences, such as undermining [$] Victoria’s planned ban on gay conversion therapy. In her own portfolio area, shadow home affairs minister Kristina Keneally went to town on the points, tweeting her own corrected copy.

The prime minister could hardly care less: his third-term agenda has been spelled out in an 8000-word email, and he’s sticking to it. The tone of the email is cocky. Today’s centrepiece announcement by Treasurer Josh Frydenberg of another inquiry into the banks’ failure to pass on interest rate cuts – a groundhog day exercise expertly unpicked by Crikey here [$] – is perfectly in keeping with the practice of a government that by one recent tally [$] has announced 72 inquires since September last year, but has actually done very little governing.

In Question Time this afternoon, when the Opposition asked for the PM’s talking points to be tabled – they were certainly not confidential – the government had fun with it, particularly Nationals Leader Michael McCormack, who joked that Opposition frontbencher Joel Fitzgibbon – who wants Labor to adopt the Coalition’s climate targets – certainly had a copy and seemed to be using them. The prime minister simply brushed off questions from the Opposition about record household debt and record low wages growth. On a point of order, Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese asked plaintively, “why won’t the prime minister just give straight answers, whether it’s here or in media interviews?” The PM, described today by shadow foreign affairs minister Penny Wong as the best political tactician in the country, dealt with it easily:

“Mr Speaker, once again, the Leader of the Opposition comes to the dispatch box and he casts a whole range of aspersions across the table, Mr Speaker, without being able to back them up. The problem is, the leader of the Opposition doesn’t like the answers to the questions, Mr Speaker. He doesn’t like the fact that, when it comes to our economy, we continue to be one of the strongest-growing developed countries in the world, that we’re continually providing jobs for Australians, and that 1.4 million Australians have been able to find work, that our AAA credit rating has been maintained, that taxes have been reduced, Mr Speaker, under our government, and that we continue to provide support to the farmers and rural and regional communities of this country.”

Morrison could recite these talking points in his sleep. When it come to this government’s policy agenda, there is nothing but talking points: they are the long and the short of it.

“You can’t be pro–free trade and anti-globalist – and we all need to call Scott Morrison’s bluff on this.”

Penny Wong attacks the prime minister’s populism on foreign affairs in the wake of his recent tour of the US.

“It looks like Scott Morrison has lost control of our borders again. Where is the government keeping these people?”

The One Nation leader reacts with customary calm to figures cited by shadow home affairs minister Kristina Keneally that under the current government 95,000 asylum seekers have arrived by plane.

Spies and Chinese money
Australia’s relationship with Chinese investment has been remade in the past six years. David Uren on how ASIO helped transform the Foreign Investment Review Board.

The amount of additional emergency funding that federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud has allocated to help states manage fish kills this summer.

“The inquiry will ensure the pricing practices of Australia’s financial institutions are better understood and made more transparent by: investigating the prices charged for residential mortgages across the entire market …; considering how banks make pricing decisions …; [and] investigating barriers that may prevent consumers from switching lenders.”

The treasurer has directed the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to undertake an inquiry into the pricing of residential mortgage products.

The list

“If Labor were to implement the Coalition’s climate policy, it is not clear how it would play out, but the lessons from history are not promising: it is only a little over 10 years ago that Kevin Rudd walked away from what he once called the great moral challenge of our times and put his own ambitious plans for climate change on the backburner.”

“David Eastman could be very annoying. Throughout the 1970s, ’80s and early ’90s, everyone who was anyone in the nation’s capital received complaints, threats, tip-offs, late-night crank calls and early morning doorknocks from Eastman, a former dux of Canberra Grammar, son of a decorated ambassador, and one-time Treasury wunderkind.”

“The National Disability Insurance Scheme was intended to provide clearer support to people living with disabilities, but its poor implementation has led to an increase in the number of children forfeited into state care. The Saturday Paper can reveal that at least 500 children were relinquished by their families during this period. Essentially, they were given up to institutions by parents who could no longer cope.”

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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