(Cartoon by Mark David / @mdavidcartoons)
Scott Morrison's timidity and inaction have been driven by the irreconcilable differences between the moderates and conservatives within the Government, and the rejection of the Coalition’s brand of neoliberalism by many workers and others.
Morrison's reign as Prime Minister has hardly been ten days that shook the world.
Climate change and drought
Take climate change. We are nominally in the Paris Agreement, without really being in it. We still have no target for emissions reductions.
We have a new Minister for Energy, Angus Taylor. In his first speech as Minister a few days ago, he did not mention reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Taylor’s pitch is that we need cheaper electricity without subsidising renewables. This ignores the fact that renewable energy is reducing the cost of electricity.
Melissa Price, our new Environment Minister, is a former lawyer for the mining industry. A few days ago, her first statement as the Minister for the Environment did not mention reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Since then, she has mentioned climate change, but only in the context of balancing the environment with industry, jobs, prices and other excuses for inaction.
Nowhere is this Government’s climate change denialism clearer than in the discussion about the drought. Amid all the crocodile tears from conservative politicians for farmers, they either ignore or dismiss the underlying cause: climate change. Indeed, our new Prime Minister went so far as to say that climate change was not "part of this [drought] debate". Seriously?
On social services, the Government's victim blaming robo-debt continues. More than half of those on Newstart – 55%, in fact – are living below the poverty line. For pensioners, more than one third live below the poverty line.
For Indigenous Australians, the health, imprisonment and poverty rates are a national disgrace in such a rich country.
On the economy, wages are stagnant or falling, while the rewards for the top 1% are increasing rapidly. Underemployment remains a great concern for workers, as does precarity. Despite the half-truths analysis from the Productivity Commission, the reality of inequality remains and, for many, continues to grow.
All the $110 billion in unpaid overtime that we work goes straight into the bosses’ coffers.
Despite the talk from leading mainstream economists about increased productivity leading to increased wages, as Michael Janda pointed out in the Sydney Morning Herald in June:
‘ ... a large proportion of what productivity gains there have been over recent years have gone to capital (the owners of the machines and information technologies that generated them) not labour (the workers using the new machines and IT).’
And the best official measure of what is happening in the relationship between labour and capital, the share of factor income going to either, shows a decades’ long shift from labour to capital.
The following graphs from the Australian Bureau of Statistics give a good sense of what has been happening:
The profits share of total factor income has risen over the period 1984 to 2017 from 22% to 27%.
The wages share has fallen from 57% to 53%.
Saul Eslake in The Conversation has helpfully put the trends since 1960 into one graph for us to see the long-term results:
Politically, too, some things remain the same. The crisis-ridden Coalition Government remains in crisis.
One or more of Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton’s colleagues is leaking against the Home Affairs Minister. Dutton, of course, is the "au pair affair" man, who destroyed Malcolm Turnbull in the bizarre belief he, unlike Turnbull, could win the next election for the Coalition. This is true only if you live in a right-wing hothouse and echo chamber. He – and almost half the Liberal Party – apparently do.
They should get out more. That is precisely the strategy Morrison has developed for two other cankers on the Coalition’s body politic, former Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce and former PM Tony Abbott. Morrison hopes these envoys to nowhere will be too busy on their make-work projects to continue to organise the snipers for the Dutton camp, or otherwise undermine the Government.
Joyce is now the special envoy for drought assistance and recovery. This is the man who denies climate change, let alone its contribution to droughts and their frequency and length. Joyce is also the man who, as Agriculture Minister, did nothing to ameliorate the conditions for farmers, except assist a few big farming enterprises.
The appointment of Abbott as Special Envoy for Indigenous Affairs is paternalism of the highest order. Abbott is a White man who expounds the uplifting aspects of White invasion and genocide — or, as he calls it, "Western civilisation":
"But I would also argue ... that what happened on the 26th January 1788 was, on balance, for everyone, Aboriginal people included, a good thing, because it brought Western civilisation to this country; it brought Australia into the modern world."
Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people reject him and his racism.
The new PM
Then there is the attempted make-over of the new Prime Minister from radical right-winger to moderate Liberal, from cruel and heartless politician to warm human being.
Morrison’s message is pretty simple: I am on your side. There is no truth to this. His neoliberalism and trickle-down ideology mean he has been on the side of big business – and business alone – throughout his political career. His three years as Treasurer only reinforce this. As Treasurer he ruled for the 1%. He will do the same as Prime Minister.
We are also reminded – over and over – that he is a loving dad, a bit of a dag, a one-eyed supporter of his local football team, a devout Christian and so on. These superficialities are unlikely to convince anyone of his humanity. This is especially true for those who are unemployed, want to work more hours, want better pay in their current job, don’t want to lose their job, want to keep their penalty rates, care for others, or wonder where their next meal is coming from — just about everyone, really.
This propaganda exercise is all about humanising the man who, as Abbott’s Immigration Minister, ran Australia’s concentration camps on Manus Island and Nauru from September 2013 until December 2015. British socialist and Member of Parliament, Tony Benn, warned us many years ago of the slippery slope from mistreating refugees to mistreating the rest of us.
The Morrison Government also has a problem with women.
During the Liberals’ internal leadership spill madness, long-term Deputy Liberal Leader Julie Bishop could only garner 11 votes from within her party.
Further, it appears the Dutton forces used strongman tactics to get three moderate Liberal Party women to join the "dark side". Senator Linda Reynolds lashed out in the Senate against the bullying tactics she suffered.
Member for Chisholm Julia Banks has announced she will not stand in the next election because she, too, has been bullied by members of her own party. According to the ABC, Member for Corangamite Sarah Henderson was a third Liberal Party woman who had pressure applied to her.
Neoliberalism, trickle-down economics, authoritarianism, infighting, inhumanity and inaction lead to the conclusion that we should give Morrison and the rest of his motley crew our utmost contempt.
It appears much of Australia agrees. The last Newspoll has the Morrison Government on course for a landslide defeat. This is a Government whose time was over before it began. Let’s send it down.
You can follow Canberra correspondent John Passant on Twitter @JohnPassant. Signed copies of John's first book of poetry, Songs for the Band Unformed (Ginninderra Press 2016), are available for purchase from the IA store HERE.
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