The Politics    Thursday, August 5, 2021

Winners and losers

By Rachel Withers

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaking at a press conference today. Image via Facebook

Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaking at a press conference today. Image via Facebook

Morrison tries to pass off his attempt to buy votes as a “win” for us

“Australians are the winners.” This was the best answer a defensive Prime Minister Scott Morrison could come up with as he walked away from a barrage of difficult questions about his government’s rorted commuter car park fund. Questioning turned to that topic towards the end of today’s press conference on Closing the Gap, with Morrison ignoring or deflecting 12 individual questions, led by Nine’s Jon Kearsley, on why his government had employed a list of top 20 marginal seats, what the PM’s involvement was, and why he signed off on the funding prior to his government going into caretaker mode. “Ministers make the decisions as authorised,” he stonewalled, at least seven times, before trying to turn the blatant pork-barrelling into a win, talking up the issue of urban congestion. “What Australians are getting are more car parks. Australians are the winners!” he said, walking away, just as the minister in question, Alan Tudge, did yesterday. Morrison and Tudge have been hoping to ride this one out, focusing on the fact the government had the authority, while ignoring questions surrounding the outrageous way it used that authority. But the attempt to pass the program off as a “win” for Australians was laughable considering it was targeted only at very specific Australians, and that only two of the projects have so far been delivered. It was especially laughable for Morrison to be claiming that “Australians are the winners” today of all days, given the admission that the current Closing the Gap measures aren’t working, and given that much of the nation is either in lockdown or teetering on the edge of one. Who exactly is a winner here, other than the government that used its office to try to buy votes in marginal seats?

Surely it’s not Indigenous people, despite Morrison’s pride in announcing at the press conference $1.1 billion in funding as part of a refreshed Closing the Gap implementation plan. The new package includes an admirable $378.6 million redress scheme for Stolen Generations survivors, along with a suite of measures aimed at reducing social, health and economic disadvantage. (Labor used today’s statements to pledge to boost public and private sector job opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers.) But, as many have noted, the reason the plan needs refreshing is because it’s not working. Only three of the 17 new targets the government committed to last year are on track, and only seven are being tracked at all, with the refreshed agreement to include new reporting obligations.

Indigenous organisations have cautiously welcomed the plan, but say it has to actually work. The national voice for Aboriginal children, SNAICC, has warned that Indigenous children in crisis can’t wait much longer, noting there was something “fundamentally wrong” with the lack of progress over the past 10 years. Other advocates say the new plan doesn’t address the housing crisis. There is still, meanwhile, little chance of a voice to parliament being introduced in the form called for by the Uluru Statement from the Heart – or even much chance of one being introduced this side of the election, it seems.

The people of NSW are surely not feeling much like winners either, with the state recording another high of 262 new infections and five deaths in an outbreak that shows little sign of abating. NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced another regional lockdown, this time in the Hunter and Upper Hunter regions, after cases spread there from Sydney, while Morrison was forced to allocate an extra 180,000 Pfizer doses to NSW, so that doses that had been redirected from the Hunter region to Sydney high-school students could be replaced. But if the people of NSW thought they were going to get some acknowledgement from Morrison that his hamstrung vaccine rollout and previous championing of staying open at all costs might have contributed to their plight, they were sorely mistaken. When asked in Question Time if he took any responsibility, the prime minister once again accused the Opposition leader of negativity, and rejected the assertion of what were plainly reasonable questions. The people of Queensland and Victoria, though not the focus of today’s Question Time, were surely not feeling much like winners either, with the former still in lockdown and the latter nervously awaiting the possible announcement of another.

And no Australian could have possibly felt like a winner, even if they happened to be one of the handful of marginal voters the government wanted to target here, watching the government respond to perfectly legitimate questions about the $660 million commuter car park fund in Question Time today. Tudge, who yesterday fled journalists to avoid questions on the matter, declined to respond to a question from Labor MP Catherine King about how the sites were chosen, telling parliament he “gave a very comprehensive answer to those questions” at the press conference he had fled. The prime minister refused to answer direct questions on the fund at all, palming them off to the now Urban Infrastructure Minister Paul Fletcher (who ignored his own questions over further revelations about the Leppington Triangle land deal) so that he could launch into an irrelevant, theatrical, riotous display, which he was quickly forced to withdraw. Perhaps Morrison meant the Australians winning gold at the Olympics, for whom he interrupted Question Time (twice) to acknowledge. It’s hard to see how anyone else in this country could be considered a winner after today. 

Listen to The Politics Podcast, with Rachel Withers

“We cannot and we should not accept countries that have already used most of the global supply of vaccines using even more of it while the world’s most vulnerable people remain unprotected.”

World Health Organization director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus calls for a halt on booster shots of COVID-19 vaccines until at least September, while poorer countries are still struggling to access first doses.

“We should not be condoning premiers shutting state borders and locking cities and states down.”

Coalition MP George Christensen continues to rail against lockdowns and masks, in opposition to his government’s newfound appreciation for them.

The frontline of Australia’s strictest lockdown
Sydney has been in lockdown for six weeks now, but the number of COVID-19 infections is continuing to rise. While most residents are able to stay at home, thousands of essential workers are travelling to their place of employment everyday, to keep the city running.

The total amount in JobKeeper payments received by religious entities, despite many remaining in surplus. Government school chaplaincy programs were among the biggest recipients, with the Scripture Union of Queensland receiving more than $15 million before posting a $11.7 million surplus.

“Divisions have emerged in the federal government over farming rules to improve water quality on the Great Barrier Reef, as the government’s special envoy for Northern Australia slams regulations targeting harmful farm water runoff that has been endorsed by the environment minister.”

The government is further divided over how to protect the Great Barrier Reef, and now has just months to demonstrate to the United Nations why the reef should not be listed as “in danger”, after having recently secured a delay on the decision.

The list

“While a show about pop history aimed at 10-year-olds is a great idea, This Is Pop treats its viewers in the way children themselves hate to be treated, as simple-minded. The chirpy, credulous tone is familiar from NPR podcasts – and the many imitators of that North American style – where no topic is too large to not be broken down into gobbets of light entertainment. God forbid that we should catch within these shows the slightest whiff of the pedagogical, or be presumed to think complexly.”

“The sourness in Australia’s current relationship with China is as much Australia’s fault as China’s, with ideology and domestic politics overpowering the national interest. It is true that China has in recent times been behaving towards Australia like a schoolyard bully picking on a small fry, but we have been actively provoking the bully. Whose interests are being served by our continuing to do so? Or are we just not thinking clearly because we are so used to being told what to do?”

“You know the type. The junior star destined for a glorious sporting career. The one whose future is mapped out like geography 101 before the ink has dried on the final year 12 exams. The standout who has fans salivating and recruiting managers knocking. That kid’s name was not Tom Atkins.” 

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Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.


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