Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Today by Paddy Manning

Unpopulation policy
The PM’s efforts are too little too late


Scott Morrison’s population policy push was dreamed up in the first flush of his prime ministership, when it seemed possible that he might bring a divided Coalition back into electoral contention. So much has happened in the few short months since he took it to a postponed Council of Australian Governments meeting in December that it feels like a blast from the past. Indeed it is hard to read anything from the Morrison government that has the word “future” in it, because it seems highly unlikely that the future will include a Morrison government.

The Christchurch massacre has woken mainstream Australia up to the perils of Islamophobia and scotched the prospect of an anti-refugee, anti-immigrant Coalition scare campaign like the Tampa election of 2001. The PM is left to talk about [$] intake figures and visa categories and long-term infrastructure provision, or to acknowledge the bleeding obvious, that different parts of Australia have different immigration needs, which is not like running a scare campaign at all. A sorrowful press conference in the Prime Minister’s courtyard taking Turkish president Tayyip Erdoğan to task over his admittedly provocative comments about Australians and Gallipoli won’t do the trick either.

Crikey’s Bernard Keane writes [$] today that “the Coalition has now discovered that a core part of its long-term agenda has turned politically toxic”. That includes not just race-baiting and Islamophobia but the PM’s last-minute attempt to wind back decades of growth in the number of skilled workers and foreign students coming to this country in today’s “Planning for Australia’s Future Population” policy. Too little too late, and the new cap of 160,000 permanent residents a year is so close to the current level that it is hard to see where the political mileage is for the government – even 2GB’s Alan Jones could hardly get excited about it this morning. “The fact that you say it won’t alter any kind of budget appropriations indicates that it’s already there,” said Jones. Status quo.

The Coalition is too far down the road to change course. Take the PM’s sudden aversion to a preference deal with One Nation, which has surprised and horrified his own colleagues, including one LNP MP who told The New Daily: “We take Pauline Hanson’s vote every day in the Senate. Five times a day. Ministers negotiate with her. They beg for her support … What’s she’s done that’s so bad?”

It’s a similar story on long-term infrastructure planning: the PM’s embrace of fast rail today is also too little too late, not only because whatever he’d like to see done he is unlikely to be around to do it. The Coalition never recovered from the Abbott-era disaster that killed off rail investment and instead imposed controversial freeways of highly dubious cost-benefit, including Melbourne’s cancelled East West Link, Perth’s cancelled Roe 8 freight link and Sydney’s WestConnex project, which actually went ahead. Now Morrison has flagged further funding in next month’s budget for three projects under consideration, including fast-rail links between Melbourne and Shepparton (which sounds like more money for the CLARA project covered in this essay for The Monthly), Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast, and Sydney and Newcastle.

Shadow infrastructure minister Anthony Albanese put out a sharp release this afternoon, pointing out the Coalition has cut investment in public transport and done nothing over six years to advance plans for high speed rail from Brisbane to Melbourne via Sydney and Canberra, which was found to produce $2 of benefits for every $1 invested. “Now, as the Government scrambles for solutions to traffic congestion exacerbated by its own neglect and lack of infrastructure investment, it pretends it is acting by periodically re-announcing its ‘faster rail’ proposal.”


“The Parliamentary Privileges Act can … be changed … This would take an extraordinary show of unity and a willingness to legislate with breakneck speed given the impending election. If this occurred, parliament could expel Anning for his Christchurch comments.”

UNSW dean of law George Williams on how Senator Fraser Anning could be expelled from parliament but also why this would be “a mistake”.


“The hypocrisy and callous opportunism of the Left is there for all to see in the wake of last week’s terrorist attack in Christchurch. The bodies were barely cold when blame started being laid on any conservative who has ever expressed an opinion about Islamist terrorism or border security.”

Daily Telegraph columnist Miranda Devine puts the boot into Osman Faruqi, Waleed Aly, Nick Reimer, Richard Di Natale, Tony Windsor and Marcia Langton.

The Number

The value of federal government contracts awarded to the big four consultancies – KPMG, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ernst & Young and Deloitte – since the Coalition won power. This represents a tripling of the firms’ income from federal government contracts. Over the same period these firms became among the nation’s most generous political donors.

The Policy

“The Government will harness the benefits of digital technology to help job ready job seekers to self-service with a new digital platform to better match job ready job seekers to suitable vacancies and allow them to access the training they need when they need it. Importantly, job seekers will still be able to speak to someone if they require advice, guidance or technical support.”

Minister for Jobs and Industrial Relations Kelly O’Dwyer announces an overhaul of jobactive that sounds remarkably like a reinvention of SEEK.

The list

“Tiffany’s new novel shares much with both its predecessor, 2012’s Stella Prize–winning Mateship with Birds, and her 2005 debut, Everyman’s Rules for Scientific Living. Here, too, the focus is wholly rural – a landscape dotted with isolated figures and heavy with lonely hours. And as the 1950s setting of Birds marked a 20-year leap forward from Everyman’s ’30s setting, the 1970s presented in Exploded View marks a similar temporal jump. Yet it is where Tiffany diverges from her earlier work that the most striking comparison can be made.” 


“Whichever party attempts to form government will likely also have to deal with an upper house of bewildering complexity. The large number of seats up for grabs in the legislative council, and the state’s preferential proportional voting system, mean minor parties can win representation with a relatively small percentage of the vote.” 


“The stories of Turkish–Australian friendship at Gallipoli are repeated endlessly today as a means of ennobling the campaign for a generation uneasy with older myths of martial valour. We imagine the battle as the heroic birth of a nation, despite the fact that our soldiers did not understand why they were there in the first place. We remember tales of fraternisation and forget the overwhelming evidence of inhumanity, preferring our wars cleansed of killing.” 


The Monthly invites Melbourne readers to enter the draw for a chance to win one of four double passes to a special screening of Christophe Honoré’s Sorry Angel – part of the 2019 Alliance Française French Film Festival – followed by a Q&A with author and The Saturday Paper film reviewer Christos Tsiolkas and gay rights activist Dennis Altman.

Fall in love with beautiful Brittany, the setting of this new romantic drama by acclaimed director Honoré. The screening takes place at Palace Westgarth at 6.30pm on Thursday, March 21, and includes a Breton delicacy and cider on arrival.

Entries close at 9am AEDT on Thursday, March 21, and winners will be notified by 10am the same day.  ENTER HERE

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?


The Monthly Today

Failure to launch

The Berejiklian spill has been cancelled, but coup attempts are unlikely to stop anytime soon

Big stick, no carrot

The Coalition’s fixation on energy prices distracts from wage stagnation

Another Liu blow

What does the scandal surrounding Gladys Liu tell us about Australian politics?

In Liu of a defence

When Bolt asks if Beijing’s writing Morrison’s speeches, the PM has a problem

From the front page


Spiralling admissions

Victoria’s royal commission hears stories of a dysfunctional, under-resourced mental health system

Failure to launch

The Berejiklian spill has been cancelled, but coup attempts are unlikely to stop anytime soon

Image of ‘Sachiko’ my Miwa Yanagi

‘Here We Are’ at the Art Gallery of NSW

An opportunity for rethinking the position of women in contemporary art


The Newcastle trial of Graeme Lawrence

The second most senior churchman in Australia to be found guilty of child sexual abuse