Monday, July 6, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

Bega pleased
Kristy McBain’s win has implications for the Morrison government

Image of Labor candidate in Eden-Monaro Kristy McBain

Kristy McBain, Labor candidate in the seat of Eden-Monaro 

The weekend’s “ugly win” for Labor in the Eden-Monaro byelection, the confirmation that Finance Minister Mathias Cormann will retire, Deloitte Access Economics’ grim forecast of a jobless recovery, and the closure of the NSW–Victoria border, all put paid to any suggestion that the Morrison government has got the next federal election in the bag – albeit for very different reasons. Firstly, there is now hard electoral evidence, from a seat with a pretty good track record of predicting which party will form federal government, that the prime minister’s personal popularity (assuming it lasts) will not necessarily translate into voter support for the Coalition. The retirement of Cormann highlights the toll taken on even the most senior ministers after a tumultuous seven years in power, let alone the eight or nine that will have passed by the time the Coalition seeks a fourth term. Who else might hang up their boots? And Deloitte’s predictions that unemployment will remain stubbornly high and real wages will fall, right through to 2024–25, mean the next election will likely be fought under a long, dark economic cloud. Lastly, Victoria’s second wave – and which state will be next? – underscores that the COVID-19 pandemic has a long way to run. 

First to Eden-Monaro, where the AEC’s tally room this afternoon has Labor candidate and former Bega mayor Kristy McBain ahead by 746 votes after distribution of preferences. McBain, on track to become the first woman to hold the ultra-marginal seat, has already claimed victory, although the Liberals’ Fiona Kotvojs is awaiting official declaration before conceding. Although much of the credit should no doubt go to McBain herself, and it’s a result that simply preserves the status quo on the floor of parliament, it’s also a big win for Anthony Albanese, who turned up repeatedly in his first campaign as leader. The media was primed for a bout of leadershite if Labor hadn’t won. Otherwise, gleaning a simple takeout from the result is complicated. Against a straightforward narrative that voters reasserted the government’s hopeless response to the bushfires, as opposed to its popular response to the pandemic, it turns out there was a primary swing to the Liberals in firestruck Cobargo, for example, and it is hard to see a strong vote for climate action when the Greens vote dropped three per cent. On the other hand, imagine what the coverage would have been like if Kotvojs had won, and what pressure the pro-coal media and Labor’s internal “Otis Group” might have brought to bear on Albanese. As things stand, the heaviest fallout is likely to be within the Nationals, where bitter recriminations have already begun. 

The retirement of Mathias Cormann, who will quit politics altogether by the end of the year after overseeing the 2020–21 budget due in October, and after bedding down any extension to the fiscal stimulus in response to the pandemic, will surely strengthen the hand of the Liberal Party’s moderates, especially with close conservative ally Peter Dutton perceived to be on the outer. The announcement will give the prime minister a chance to reshuffle his ministry, possibly dumping poor performers like Angus Taylor, and even finding a way to return conservative darling and Nationals senator Matt Canavan, currently languishing on the backbench. 

Deloitte’s latest predictions are not resolutely gloomy. Although it forecasts two years of economic contraction – 0.1 per cent in 2019–20 and 0.4 per cent in 2020–21 – it does predict a strong bounce back in the two years following, but not enough to create many jobs or any wage growth. Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s economic statement due later this month, to include the future of the JobKeeper wage subsidy program, assumes even more importance. This week’s Reserve Bank board meeting, unlikely to change the cash rate, may well put more pressure on the government to extend JobKeeper. 

The total lockdown of nine housing-commission towers in Melbourne – which, as Greens leader Adam Bandt told Sky News, has been badly executed – and the closure of the state border between Victoria and NSW, underscore that the foreseeable future is likely to include localised infection spikes and lockdowns. Pundits looking to sheet home blame to Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews are missing the point: the same thing could easily happen in any city, in any state. 

“I said after the last election they’ve only got one more defeat left in them.”

Griffith University’s Dr Paul Williams says he expects serious moves to de-merge the Liberal National Party in Queensland if the joint entity does not win the October state election. Former LNP MP Jann Stuckey says the party has “slowly but steadily been taken over by the Christian right”.

“The fact is a lot of them are drug addicts as well, they are getting their medication, they are alcoholics so they’re being looked after in that way. They are actually getting paid extra money. Why are they getting paid extra money? For what? They are not leaving the premises.”

On Nine’s Today Show, One Nation leader Pauline Hanson denigrated the residents of public-housing towers under lockdown in Melbourne, in comments that saw her regular appearances on the show terminated.

The case for moving Cook
With the renewed focus on colonial monuments, a group of academics and artists is petitioning the City of Sydney to remove Thomas Woolner’s Cook statue from Hyde Park, and place it in a public museum.


The number of women working in the law who have signed an open letter to Attorney-General Christian Porter calling for reform to the way judges are disciplined and appointed, in the wake of the sexual abuse allegations against former High Court judge Dyson Heydon.

“This audit would examine the design of the Urban Congestion Fund, the selection of projects to receive funding, and the administration of approved funding. The $4 billion Urban Congestion Fund is to reduce travel times, reduce vehicle operating costs, deliver a more reliable road network for commuters and freight, and address local bottlenecks.”

A proposed inquiry into the Urban Congestion Fund, under the Australian National Audit Office’s 2020–21 audit work program, was welcomed by shadow transport minister Catherine King. Other proposals include inquiries into the $842m Building Better Regions Fund, and the $336m Drought Communities Program.

The list

“Documents from the police investigation, unseen until now, reveal how witness statements were elicited, and how the NSW Crime Commission was able to financially induce witness testimony. With almost no judicial scrutiny, the Crime Commission handed back millions of dollars’ worth of crooked assets to major crime figures.”

“If it showed anything (and it obviously did not show much), it demonstrated that Morrison’s soaring popularity has not substantially changed voting patterns, and that Labor has still not cut through. The punters are not happy with either side, and will need a lot of convincing before they are ready to give either of them a real mandate, whether for change or for steady-as-she-goes leadership.”

“The federal government has embedded special powers in new COVID-19 laws to make unilateral changes to non-pandemic-related legislation, using what are known as ‘Henry VIII clauses’ – named for the unchecked power they involve. Affected legislation includes the Social Security Act and the Corporations Act, relating to the power to change welfare benefits and arrangements for business.”

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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