Politics Analysis

ABC's 'Nemesis' series whitewashes the Coalition's failures

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(Cartoon by Mark David | @markdavidcartoons)

The ABC's recent mini-series 'Nemesis' has failed to depict accurately the damage done to Australia’s economy and social fabric by recent Coalition governments, as Alan Austin reports.

*Also listen to the audio version of this article on Spotify HERE.

IN RECENT DAYS, Australians have viewed historic clips from the disastrous nine years of Coalition Government in ABC Television’s three-part series, Nemesis.

The internal workings of the Liberal and National parties from 2013 to 2022 were certainly shown to be destructive — or “fractuous”, as Senator Michaelia Cash described them at one point. But this account failed to reveal the collapse of Australia’s economy, the damage done to its defence capability, the profound loss of respect and authority globally and thousands of needless Australian deaths.

History rewritten badly

Far too much commentary came from Liberal Party MPs with high motivation to spin events favourably.

Former Assistant Minister James McGrath said of ex-PM Tony Abbott:

“Tony was a brilliant opposition leader. He stuck to the message and was just merciless in how he applied it and picked up a brick and went after the Labor Party.”

Tony was not brilliant. He was hopeless. Successful opposition leaders formulate sound alternative policies, identify positive existing programs to retain, groom a team of competent ministers and establish relationships with state governments. Abbott did none of those. He was a wrecker, plain and simple.

To its credit, the program later quoted former PM Malcolm Turnbull observing accurately that:

“Tony Abbott is focused on his mission, which is generally one of destruction — to defeat something, to stop something.”

An ABC journalist claimed of Abbott:

“He’s a Rhodes scholar, a boxing champion, a monarchist and now the new boy in the Federal Liberal Party.”

Abbott was never a champion at boxing. He struggled for years but never won anything significant — apart from his cauliflower ears.

Former Liberal backbencher Luke Simpkins asserted of Abbott:

“While other people talk about Indigenous issues, he was the guy who was out there working in Indigenous communities... for years and years.”

Also untrue. Yes, Abbott visited some remote communities. He always pocketed the extremely generous parliamentary remote living, meal and travel allowances, and frequently took a media entourage. But he never accomplished anything of benefit to the communities, as far as any Aboriginal people can recall.

This furphy was partially corrected by former Minister Ken Wyatt, a Wongi and Noongar man.

He recalled bitterly that:

“I was on the outer in Indigenous issues and I used to hate the missionary approach in the way we did things under Tony.”

Turnbull’s history revised

In the second instalment, Malcolm Turnbull claimed credit falsely:

“I am very proud of the achievements of my Government... Snowy Hydro 2.0, big commitments on infrastructure, Trans-Pacific Partnership, trade, reinvestment in the defence forces, making sure we stood up versus other big powers whether it be Xi Jinping's China or Donald Trump’s America.”

Of those, only the Snowy Hydro project qualifies. Infrastructure investment declined, trade stagnated apart from iron ore to China, the contract to buy French submarines was abandoned – at the cost of multiple billions of dollars of borrowed money – and Australia’s standing in the world suffered badly, as proven by former Australian allies and trade partners choosing links with China.

After former PM Scott Morrison rolled Malcolm Turnbull in humiliating 2018 party room brawls, Turnbull publicly congratulated his vanquisher.

He described him as:

“Scott Morrison, a very loyal and effective Treasurer.”

Morrison accepted the praise:

“We got a lot of good things done together. I’m saddened that those good things have been overshadowed.”

Both assertions were fanciful. Economic management during the Turnbull period was close to the worst in Australia’s post-war history — based on measurable outcomes.

When Morrison promoted himself from Treasurer to PM in 2018, the jobless rate was 5.31%, ranking 17th in the OECD. Annual GDP growth was 3.2%, which ranked 18th. The deficit had just come in at $10.14 billion and gross debt had surged to $532.4 billion. That’s up from $388.2 billion when Morrison became Treasurer.

Overall, Australia’s economy declined from 9th in the world in 2015 to 21st in 2018.

Morrison turned out to be the second-worst Treasurer since World War II, ahead only of John Howard, based on actual stats. Since then, Josh Frydenberg has performed more poorly than both.

Third episode: Morrison as PM

Former Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s recollection regarding the COVID-19 crisis is revealing:

“On the weekend before we announced JobKeeper... I rang John Howard and I said, ‘John, we are about to announce an economy-wide wage subsidy with an eye-watering cost. I’d never thought that as a Liberal Treasurer I’d be announcing such a policy’.”

No wonder Frydenberg’s outcomes were the worst of any Australian post-war Treasurer if he sought advice from the second-worst, as Howard was at that time. Had he consulted either former treasurer who had earned the accolade of "world’s best" – Paul Keating or Wayne Swan – his economic mismanagement may not have been so horrendous.

Preventable deaths

As this is written, 24,194 Australians are dead from COVID. The fatality rate is now 928 per million people. Had the Morrison Government promptly sealed the borders, quarantined returning travellers and provided timely vaccines, the number could be half that. Death rates per million are now 437 in Vietnam, 493 in Thailand, 595 in Japan and 700 in South Korea.

Nobody knows for sure how many welfare recipients committed suicide because of Morrison’s destructive Robodebt scheme, implemented during the Turnbull years. According to the Human Services Department, 2,030 people died after receiving an 'Employment Income Confirmation' letter between July 2016 and October 2018.

Nemesis dispenses with Robodebt in two minutes and a few seconds, with just one death acknowledged, and Morrison’s self-justification allowed to dominate.

The costly submarine fiasco

In a moment of accuracy, ABC aired Turnbull’s outrage at the abandoned French submarine contract:

“I think Morrison sacrificed Australian security, sovereignty and honour, all at once. It was the worst decision of his Government in my view.”

But Morrison was given the final word:

“That’s not what history will record. It will record it as the best and one that others had never sought to successfully undertake.”

Let’s hope an accurate history is written one day. Nemesis is not it.

*This article is also available on audio here:

Alan Austin is an Independent Australia columnist and freelance journalist. You can follow him on Twitter @alanaustin001.

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