Morrison divides the nation: National Press Club

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Treasurer Scott Morrison addressing the National Press Club yesterday (Image via abc.net)

Treasurer Scott Morrison's first National Press Club address gave us a series of clichés about China, some hollow boasts about job growth and his barren old hokey standby of "transitioning" the economy. David Tyler reports.

"Australia is rapidly becoming a nation divided between those who pay taxes and those who have taxes spent upon them," Federal Treasurer, Scott Morrison says late in what he assures us will be a “candid” and “upfront” Press Club address in Canberra yesterday. Instead we get the same tired old evasion and sloganeering that is his trademark.

"A nation divided…" is one of ScoMo's clearer statements in an hour in which he will, he says, share the “economic and fiscal context” of his thinking. This is not the budget. Instead we get a series of clichés about China, some hollow boasts about job growth and his barren old hokey standby of "transitioning" the economy. WTF?

Transitioning is not a transitive verb. There is no argument that the economy is in some type of transition but no evidence the non-mining sector is taking up the slack. Morrison is peddling a hoax based on wishful thinking. Yet, somehow, his government wishes to claim leadership for looking on idly as the bottom falls out of commodity exports, for example, as if this were somehow the natural scheme of things.

Mining has declined and nothing has risen in its place. Revenue is down, down, down. Yet no revenue problem exists, Morrison bizarrely insists.

Forget "transitioning". What is his government is actually doing to foster new enterprises, apart from impeding a renewable energy sector its fossil fuel sponsors won’t let it help? Farewelling a car industry its ideology won't protect?

The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), will, of course solve everything by setting up "generations of prosperity". A late question as to why the productivity commission has been denied evaluation of the TPP is dismissed in another ScoMo smart remark that his government does not go in for "rear view analysis".

The truth is that the benefits of the TPP are likely to be either miniscule or negative. Our USA FTA, for example, diverted trade from lower-cost countries, cutting our trade with the rest of the world, it is estimated, by $53 billion.

What the treasurer does manage to make clear is that he wants to cut income tax for a lucky group of wage earners he is "backing" while cutting back on government spending for everyone. Pensioners, welfare recipients and other bludgers are especially in the gun. The best bits are left until last and only then divulged under questioning.

Despite all the innovative hype surrounding his government, Morrison is flogging some very old ideas. Joe Hockey's "lifters and leaners" are clearly still part of the Liberal mental furniture as Morrison drags out the old austerity line that the government has to spend less on everything but especially on welfare.

"Buckets of money" are not available he says repeatedly as if the states, for example, were being scandalously reckless in requesting enough funds to pay for hospitals and schools after being cut $80 billion from forward projections in the Abbott government's first budget.

Morrison evades Lenore Taylor's question on how states obtain the funds to avert a looming crisis in health and education by saying we are all sovereign governments. In other words, states can raise taxes if they must, but the federal government "is not about taxing and spending". It is a shameful capitulation to cheap politicking.

"I don't run the other governments," he says betraying an immodest but never deeply concealed view of his power in the federal government. It's his "upfront and candid" way of saying states need to raise their taxes. He bullshits that he is a "federalist".

Is this petty trick his best shot? His government will cut its spending in order to get its budget back into surplus. States have to fend for themselves any way they can. No-one asked him if this were wise in the face of a looming global slowdown, if not a recession. No-one challenges the politics or the economics of austerity.

Discrimination and the politics of resentment are ugly ideas from anyone at the best of times but when times are tough, it behoves national political leaders not to be seen to foster division. ScoMo's backing himself in. Bugger anyone else.

Equally unattractive is the tea party bias against taxation. Yet Morrison continues to claim against all evidence that rising tax rates are “job-destroying” simply to justify cutting taxes for the wealthy while welfare recipients must expect to have benefits even further reduced.

Morrison's this-is-not-the-budget speech is cagey and evasive on policy but generous to a fault when it comes to meaningless sloganeering such as "how can I back you in today"' which, by way of a clumsy personal anecdote, is his message for the nation.

Australians who are "out there earning" would win his government's backing. Those millions of decent and worthy non wage-earning saving and investing Australians deserve less support.

Backing winners and bagging losers emerges as central to Morrison's vision, a vision which he calls: 

"backing Australians and our transitioning economy".

Who writes his stuff? His talk promises to ease taxes on worthy wage-earners who are "transforming and transitioning" our economy while the $11 billion he says goes on housing assistance is very clearly a drain in a less than upfront aside to his reply to 2CC's question about housing supply.

Otherwise the treasurer is ideologically bound to repeat the tired old myth that housing affordability is merely a matter of supply and demand despite the work of ratings agencies such as Fitch or the ABS suggesting otherwise.

Despite giving himself a boost as a “plain speaker” Morrison is dull, opaque and cloaked in generalities. His pet analogy of how a government should handle a nation's economy is embarrassingly hokey and wilfully misleading. It brings back memories of other conservatives in the position like Peter Costello who would offer the spurious analogy that the nation's economy is like a household budget and must not spend more than its income.

When all else fails, Morrison badmouths Labor, a little too eagerly.

Devoid of any announcement on GST, Morrison has no real material to offer. Instead, he fumbles an austerity budget plan that depends on a couple of meaningless slogans. 

ABC's Chris Uhlmann gives him a boost in introducing him as the kind of guy who did what had to be done. "Stop the boats, they said and he did".

Many watching recall today is the anniversary of 23 year old Iranian Reza Berati who was bashed to death on Manus Island in circumstances which Morrison has never given a candid or upfront account of, despite being the minister responsible at the time.

Perhaps Morrison could be given indefinite leave of absence to attend to this unfinished business in a previous portfolio. His Backing at Transitioning Australia at the Press Club yesterday is so seriously inept that someone needs to get him to stop pretending; get him out of the portfolio before he is “not responsible” for further unspeakable cruelties and unnecessary suffering on his watch.

You can follow David Tyler on Twitter @urbanwronski.

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