Thursday, October 8, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

Cormann out
The finance minister’s OECD credentials are questionable, however

Image of Mathias Cormann

Mathias Cormann. Via Sky News

Maybe the outgoing finance minister, Mathias Cormann, will become secretary-general of the OECD and maybe he won’t, but the prime minister’s announcement that he will nominate the multilingual senator for the position is complicated by two things, both of which smack of hypocrisy. Firstly, it was only a year ago that Scott Morrison, in his Lowy speech, was taking a Trumpian swipe against “negative globalism” and the “unaccountable internationalist bureaucracy” that “seeks to elevate global institutions above the authority of nation states to direct national policies”, which Morrison saw as interfering in Australian policy on global issues such as immigration and trade, human rights, and the environment and climate change. The PM didn’t even consult DFAT about that speech. Today, he said that the Cormann nomination “highlights our determination, signalled in my Lowy speech in October last year, for Australia to take an even more forward-leaning approach to international economic institutions”. Why would the nations comprising the OECD be suddenly keen on appointing an arch-conservative, climate-denying, former Australian finance minister whose 2014 budget was so austere it nearly blew up the government? The second complication is that Cormann’s nomination recalls the time the Coalition – under former PM Malcolm Turnbull – failed to support “Team Australia” by backing out on promised support for Kevin Rudd’s long-odds campaign to become UN secretary-general, in a bit of rank partisan politics. When asked today why Labor should support Cormann’s nomination, Morrison dead-batted it, saying that every candidate should be considered “on their merits”.

On merit, Cormann has little to offer the OECD. His signature attempt to roll back Labor’s “Future of Financial Advice” reforms (which sought to ban sales-driven, conflicted financial planning) was a spectacular failure, particularly once the banking royal commission exposed a series of mis-selling scandals. So was Cormann’s drawn-out pursuit of deep tax cuts for big business, which Malcolm Turnbull – in his memoir A Bigger Picture – blamed in no small part for the demise of his prime ministership. Critically, Cormann’s decision to back the botched leadership coup of Peter Dutton was perhaps the gravest event of that torrid week. Turnbull writes bitterly of Cormann’s betrayal, and arguably the finance minister’s reputation as one of the government’s straight shooters has never recovered. 

Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie took a crack at the finance minister on RN Drive yesterday, particularly for letting her down on veterans’ affairs. “I’ll be glad to see the rear end of Mathias Cormann, put it that way,” Lambie told host Patricia Karvelas. “When you give me your guarantee on something and you don’t fulfil that, I think we’ve got problems … When Mathias doesn’t get his own way, he’s like a two-year-old having a dummy spit.” Sounds like the kind of character flaw that Turnbull claimed to have identified in Rudd, sufficient to cause him to overturn his foreign minister Julie Bishop’s recommendation to support Rudd as the Australian candidate for UN secretary-general. Good luck to Cormann – it would be good to see an Australian in the hot seat at OECD – but from my perspective the most likeable thing he’s done is last night’s cameo on Mad as Hell.

Morrison’s promotion of Trade Minister Simon Birmingham to the position of finance minister is smart, and will even the factional ledger somewhat after the loss of senior moderates such as Bishop, Christopher Pyne and Kelly O’Dwyer. As trade minister, he has been a calming influence during a volatile period, and his personal brand of diplomacy should make him an effective government leader in the Senate. As a South Australian he will appeal to crossbenchers, including the newly independent Rex Patrick and Stirling Griff of Centre Alliance, who today handed the government a major victory by passing the higher education reform legislation, as expected. Amid persistent rumours that the government is wooing Griff and his Centre Alliance colleague Rebekha Sharkie to join the Liberal Party – which would secure the Coalition a working majority in the Senate, assuming the support of One Nation – Birmingham could be the just person for the job. 

Michaelia Cash, promoted to take over Birmingham’s deputy leadership in the Senate, joins the growing list of government ministers who can survive scandal (in her case, lying under oath five times before a Senate committee) and keep their jobs simply because of the prime minister’s bloody-mindedness. Cash is an example for the likes of Alan Tudge (whose conduct has just been called criminal by a judge) – there is no career low so appalling that it can’t be recovered from, with time.  

“If the price of staying in politics is betraying the people I’m here for, I’ll leave with grace. My future isn’t worth more than theirs.”

Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie explains her vote against the Morrison government’s higher education reform bill, which will make many degrees more expensive.

“There is a fine line between supporting Australians in crisis and inadvertently providing a disincentive for insurance and personal responsibility.”

Coalition senators James Paterson and Paul Scarr, members of the Finance and Public Administration References Committee, dissent from an interim report recommendation to increase the rate of the government’s Disaster Recovery Payment and the Disaster Recovery Allowance.

After the virus: Lidia Thorpe wants to change the system
Lidia Thorpe entered the Senate this week, becoming the first Aboriginal senator representing Victoria. Today, she talks to Ruby Jones about rebuilding after the pandemic, and what we can learn from the communities that she represents.


The number of hours of English classes that foreigners could soon have to complete in order to qualify for partner visas under new requirements proposed by Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge.

“Tax is an investment in society. After decades of tax cuts, all we’ve seen is more inequality and fewer community services. Australia Institute research has consistently demonstrated that these tax cuts are inequitable, will weaken Australia’s progressive tax system, and undermine Australia’s long-term revenue base. Tax cuts – particularly those that benefit wealthier Australians – make poor economic stimulus.”

From a petition organised by the Australia Institute, promoted in an advertisement wrapped around Canberra editions of The Australian today, which proclaimed “Tax is good”.

The list

“So many writers, especially writers of colour, believe they have to write about suffering and then produce some type of a redress or redemption at the end. I don’t know if it’s because they believe in this or if it’s the hydraulics of the white publishing industry upon them. Afropessimism doesn’t have that prescriptive gesture in it because it simply believes that black people throughout the world will raise enough hell in the streets.”

“Gene therapy is a wonderfully simple concept. A person is born with a glitch in a piece of their DNA code or is missing that piece altogether. Correct or add that piece of DNA code – the gene – and the problem is fixed. How is it possible to correct or add DNA? Nature has ferries designed to do just that: viruses. They not only infect your bloodstream, they can infiltrate the DNA of your very cells. The idea is to include in that viral payload some human DNA that carries instructions to fix the genetic anomaly.”

“Diehard followers of the Spice Girls’ respective solo careers could tell you more about Chisholm’s career over the eight studio records since the Spice Girls, but for most of us, Chisholm’s identity has always been as part of a set. On her new self-titled album she’s making strides to change that. Rather than the karaoke-ready pop of her past or the trap-infused sounds that dominate the charts now, Chisholm follows artists such as Robyn and Carly Rae Jepsen in making finely crafted electronic dance music. Melanie C is a revealing look at the mess and insecurities of a 46-year-old woman who’s been looked at since she was only 20.”

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 Body Count: How Climate Change Is Killing Us, Inside the Greens and Born To Rule: The Unauthorised Biography of Malcolm Turnbull.


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