Monday, June 24, 2019

Today by Paddy Manning

PM’s humble pie
The government’s economic reform agenda is threadbare


The prime minister’s belated attempt to spell out a reform agenda for the Coalition government’s third term, in a speech today to the WA chamber of commerce, fell flatter than usual amid rising calls for more economic stimulus. On the government’s key policy plank – lowering taxes – the job got harder, with Labor’s shadow cabinet confirming [$] that it will seek to defer the $95-billion third stage, and the crucial Centre Alliance crossbenchers signalling their anger at scaremongering over the medivac laws.

Scott Morrison’s second plank was, aping Donald Trump, to boost the “‘animal spirits’ in our economy by removing regulatory and bureaucratic barriers to businesses”. But after six years in government there was barely any detail – in fact, the strategy is to ask business itself to identify what barriers it wants removed. What could go wrong? The third plank, a reheat of Malcolm Turnbull’s innovation agenda, had some pluses and minuses, but won’t stop any barbecues. The PM calls this kind of unambitious agenda “governing humbly”, but the gathering impression is policy drift at the wrong time.

There was more to the PM’s speech, but we have heard it before: he confirmed the union-busting “Ensuring Integrity Bill” would be fast-tracked in response to events at the CFMMEU “in full R18-rated technicolour”. Responding to RBA governor Philip Lowe’s call last week for more government spending to help create employment, Morrison talked up the $100-billion infrastructure plan, which population and cities minister Alan Tudge would be pushing at COAG. He also highlighted the government’s $200-billion spend on defence, which is now in the control of demoted “L-plate” Defence Industry Minister Melissa Price.

Implementation of April’s Vocational Education and Training Review, by former New Zealand minister for tertiary education Steven Joyce – which would involve setting up a National Skills Commission and adding 80,000 apprenticeships – sounds promising, but it will be handled by former employment minister Michaelia Cash, which does not inspire confidence. The creation of a Consumer Data Right to help digitisation in finance sounds fraught with danger.

Cutting red and green tape, union-bashing, it’s all neoliberal boilerplate that fails to address the real challenges the country faces. As Crikey’s Bernard Keane tweeted: “Morrison’s ‘economic reform’ speech today doesn’t mention wage stagnation, doesn’t mention climate change, mentions household income just once and attacks ‘union super funds’. Pure ideology.”

It was fascinating to see the same old go-to Liberal business cheer squad – Graham Bradley, Solomon Lew, Gerry Harvey, Trevor St Baker (who still has his hand out for some taxpayer funds for his coal-fired power station) – on The Australian’s front page on the weekend warning that Labor would “further tarnish” its reputation with corporate Australia if it did not pass the $158 billion tax cut package “in full”. Thankfully, it seems Labor’s shadow cabinet has stood up to this bluster today and has come with a clever twist on the government’s package, proposing a pull-forward of stage two that would give up to $1350 a year to those earning above $90,000 three years earlier than currently planned.

At the same time, Labor is standing firm on the medivac laws, and appears to be winning the argument with the powerful crossbench Centre Alliance senators, who are reportedly appalled at Peter Dutton’s scaremongering about opening the “floodgates”. As the Nine newspapers revealed on Sunday, the expert panel has only overturned government decisions twice, and there is more news of self-harm on Manus Island today as a genuine crisis is unfolding. Dutton may have found his match in shadow home affairs minister Kristina Keneally, who is today insisting that he release an $125,000 Ernst & Young audit before he renews the $423-million Paladin security contract.    

There may be conflict fatigue, but some fights you can’t walk away from.

“The fact that you would take a child and put them in a conflict zone like this is despicable, and I find it disgusting, but the children can’t be held responsible for that.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirms that eight children and grandchildren of Islamic State fighters, including the orphans of Khaled Sharrouf, are on their way back to Australia.

“By approving the degree the council has acted in the best interests of the university. It will enable progress to continue despite any continuing legal challenge to the vice-chancellor’s earlier approval decision.”

Chancellor Jillian Broadbent announces that the University of Wollongong will bypass its own academic senate to greenlight the controversial Ramsay Centre–funded Western civilisation degree, and invites the academics’ union, the NTEU, to withdraw its court challenge.

The amount that GoFundMe will refund to donors who supported the now-defunct page of Israel Folau, which he used to raise funds to assist with his legal case against Rugby Australia.

“The ABC is asking the Federal Court of Australia to declare the warrant invalid. The ABC also wants an injunction to prevent the AFP accessing the seized files, which are being held in sealed envelopes. Managing director David Anderson said the ABC was also challenging the constitutional validity of the warrant ‘on the basis that it hinders our implied freedom of political communication’.”

The ABC has mounted a legal challenge to a warrant that the Australian Federal Police served on the broadcaster on June 5.

The list

“Morrison’s wife, Jenny, helps him speak to the children. He makes an effort to always be moving. His face is oddly smooth and when he speaks his bottom lip does the greatest share of work. He crawls inside the igloo to sit in on a class. It is about cyber safety. Most of the media waits outside. You can hear the teacher quieting the children. Morrison speaks the loudest. ‘This is a different kind of bubble,’ he says from within the igloo. ‘The kind of bubble I like.’”

“The half-billion-dollar Australian government contract to run refugee services on Manus Island has become embroiled in a dispute among local landowners in Papua New Guinea, after a new – and supposedly exclusive – legal agreement was struck last month with a rival to the current controversial contractor, Paladin Holdings.”

“About sixty years ago, as an undergraduate at the University of Sydney, I met a flat-earther on campus ... In more recent times, Fowler would probably have been an anti-vaxxer or a climate-change denier, resolutely irrational in the face of overwhelming evidence. And, again, no university deserving of the name would have given him an official hearing. But he would not have been silenced: indeed, The Australian would probably have provided him with a regular column to propagate his views.” 

The insecurity machine
This election was shaped by two men with very different characters. Erik Jensen on how leadership interacts with uncertainty, and what it means for the country.

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?


The Monthly Today

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Image of Labor candidate in Eden-Monaro Kristy McBain

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Images of Kristy McBain and Fiona Kotvojs

Southern discomfort

Tomorrow’s result in Eden-Monaro is on a knife edge

Image of Defence Minister Linda Reynolds speaking at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute

Grey zone

Between war and peace, Australia’s defence strategy is evolving

From the front page

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews

Locking back down

Victoria’s woes are a warning for the whole country

Illustration by Jeff Fisher

Weal of fortune

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Image of Labor’s Kristy McBain and Anthony Albanese

A win’s a win

The Eden-Monaro result shows that Morrison’s popularity has not substantially changed voting patterns – and Labor has still not cut through

The man inside and the inside man

Crime, punishment and indemnities in western Sydney’s gang wars