Rhetoric vs reality
The government has no agenda for addressing the worsening economy
The IMF’s sharp downgrade [$] of its growth forecasts for Australia in 2019 and 2020, to a level below Greece, underscores that the do-or-die challenge for the Morrison government will be to turn around the broad perception that our economy is floundering on its watch. Correction: it’s not the perception, it’s the reality, whether or not you buy into the per-capita recession debate. Falling productivity, stagnant wages and rising household and government debt are all dragging on confidence. Labor Leader Anthony Albanese told colleagues this week that every economic indicator was a bad story for the government, proving the growing gap between their rhetoric and reality. If that holds true, it will quickly take the shine off the Coalition’s third term. But it’s a long way from today’s grim economic reality to the reality of 2022, when the next election is due.
The PM’s talking points, inadvertently released on Monday, were faintly Orwellian, referring to the government’s plan for an “even stronger” economy, “building resilience and rewarding aspiration”. The plan boiled down to seven points: lower taxes, “so you can keep more of what you earn”; reduce the costs of doing business; equip Australians with the skills that business needs; expand trade borders; build infrastructure; “keep our budget strong”; “play to our economic strengths” (that’s code for coal and gas); and “realise our opportunities”.
Like when the PM promised to “burn for the Australian people every single day”, phrases like “keep more of what you earn” and “keep our budget strong” present as empty rhetoric, and are no substitute for developed policy. But a majority of voters appear to regard this stuff as policy depth, going by the Guardian’s Essential poll today, which found that a majority of respondents believe “the Liberals have better policies and a better team of leaders, and keeps its promises”. By having no agenda, Scott Morrison has somehow endeared himself to Australians. He will look like a genius if it works, and be exposed if it doesn’t.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg insisted this morning that lower growth forecasts would not be allowed to threaten the expected budget surplus for 2019–20, and resisted [$] calls for more economic stimulus to boost growth. With Australia facing economic headwinds, he said it was “more important than ever that we stay the course with considered, disciplined and responsible economic management”.
Labor leader Albanese accused the government of complacency: “During the GFC we received advice from Ken Henry. I well remember it. It has been documented in cabinet. He said ‘go early, go hard, go households’. This government is going slowly, going soft and going nowhere when it comes to an economic plan.”
The problem for the Opposition is that staying the course might work for the government. Here’s a nightmare scenario for Labor strategists: Boris Johnson gets a Brexit deal and is re-elected; Donald Trump gets a US–China trade deal and is re-elected; global financial markets regain confidence, Australia avoids recession, and recovering housing prices in Sydney and Melbourne boost consumer spending as the wealth effect kicks back in. Morrison, having returned the federal budget to surplus, goes to the next election claiming his economic plan has worked, and is re-elected.
“If there’s one thing that could start rebuilding trust in democracy, it’s a government tackling the influence of money in politics. There’s no level playing field when industry groups can marshal multimillion-dollar campaigns or a Clive Palmer can wash our whole country’s smartphones, laptops, and just about every spare billboard in an icky sea of yellow. But instead, Palmer gets a slap on the back, and GetUp members get a slap in the face.”
“These people are seriously unhinged … They are hell bent on deconstructing society as we know it … They operate on a manifesto of delusions based on a rejection of European colonisation and traditional values that most mainstream Australians hold dear.”
Former Liberal councillor and staffer Liz Storer, new national director of Advance Australia – the conservative foil to GetUp – vows to campaign against “climate alarmists”, starting with Extinction Rebellion.
Peter Dutton’s war on dissent
From anti-protest legislation to funding cuts, this government has waged war on dissent. In recent weeks, its rhetoric has intensified.
“(a) Australia’s incarceration rate has now risen to 0.22 per cent, the highest level since Federation;
(b) rates of homicide, robbery, car theft and assaults have fallen considerably since the mid 1980s, while the imprisonment rate has more than doubled;
(c) the direct cost of prisons is almost $5 billion per year…”
“Shoalhaven City Council has spent much of the past decade trying to figure out what to do about that wickedest of problems: 85 per cent of us live in proximity to the coast, and as the climate warms and sea levels rise, bringing bigger tides and more frequent storms, the ocean is coming for many of our homes. Local councils – being the ones that decide where and how we build – are the first responders to this critical challenge.”
“You already know that a film about Judy Garland is going to end with ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’. No finer popular song has ever been written about the human desire for perfect serenity, which might also be called a longing for utopia, and Garland granted that subject its necessary sorrow, while making it, in time, inseparable from the sorrow of her own life. The only question is: how will the film get there?”
“It’s the hagglers’ motto: cheaper for cash. But bargaining for discounts on a new or used car, or other big purchases, could land both buyer and seller in jail, under a proposed law banning most cash transactions of $10,000 or more from January.”
Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is also the author of three books, including a recently updated unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?
The IMF’s sharp downgrade [$] of its growth forecasts for Australia in 2019 and 2020, to a level below Greece, underscores that the do-or-die challenge for the Morrison government will be to turn around the broad perception that our economy is floundering on its watch. Correction: it’s not the perception, it’s the reality, whether or not you buy into the per-capita recession debate. Falling productivity, stagnant wages and rising household and government debt are all dragging on confidence. Labor Leader Anthony Albanese told colleagues this week that every economic...