The Morrison Government: Teetering around the edges of governance

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Prime Minister Morrison during Question Time (Screenshot via YouTube)

The defeat of the Government on the Medivac Bill is the potential precursor to its defeat in the upcoming election, writes Canberra correspondent John Passant.

Last week in Parliament (12 February) the Government was defeated on the 'Medical Evacuations Bill' and Question Time became the "longest in history" to avoid debate on a royal commission into the abuse of the disabled.

Climate change continues unabated. More than three million Australians live in poverty. Wages are falling. But hey, let’s talk about One Nation and sex.

Accusations arose that Palmer United Party Senator Brian Burston – formerly of One Nation – allegedly told one of Hanson’s staff he could help improve her mood by "fucking" her.

There was another possibly related story about some blood smeared on Hanson’s door. Bizarrely, Burston cannot remember the incident but has confessed to doing it. Then news emerged that Hanson’s adviser, James Ashby, had allegedly harassed the Senator and his wife by filming them at an event in Parliament House. Truly it was ''The Clash of the Tits', as Ross Jones wrote in IA yesterday. The upshot was that the President of the Senate has banned Ashby from Parliament House.   

Okay, now that is out of the way, what about drugs? The drug of choice in Parliament House and in society more generally is alcohol. Illegal drugs are only illegal because they threaten the social drug monopoly that the alcohol industry has enjoyed for decades.

That appears to be breaking down somewhat. In the A.C.T., a Labor backbencher looks set to succeed in de-criminalising the possession and small scale cultivation of cannabis. And yet those in the thrall of the big alcohol drug companies continue to fight back.

Nowhere is that clearer than in New South Wales where the State Government refuses to allow pill testing at music festivals, which can save lives. The reason for this stance? Well, umm, err ... the Prime Minister has also failed to specifically support pill testing.

How much money do alcohol companies donate to the major parties? Together with gambling and tobacco interests, alcohol groups pay over $14 million into the pockets of the political parties — either when specific legislation that impacts on their interests is being debated, or in the run-up to elections.

And how much does the fossil fuel industry contribute to both major parties? Over $1.2 million, plus their own big spending political ads. That political spending included $3.6 million by ACA Low Emissions Technology (ACALET), manager of the black coal investment fund, Coal21. (ACA, by the way, stands for Australian Coal Association. ACALET was‘formerly owned by the Australian Coal Association and now part of the Minerals Council for Australia'. 

A major part of that $3.6 million spending was on their campaign, "Coal – It’s an Amazing Thing". The Minerals Council spent $1.3 million and this included their fossil fuel campaign, "Making the Future Possible".  

But it is not just that big business tries to buy political influence through donations or advertisements, it is that we have a political process which produces politicians whose world view is about profit. These parliamentarians represent the today of capital rather than its future.

While the state is supposed to rise above individuals and their interests and take action to enable the system to operate beyond the next entry in the balance sheet, the Australian state has failed in future-proofing the system — one of its basic functions. The major parties’ paralysis on meaningful action to address climate change shows this clearly.

Immediate business interests (Adani anyone?) trump longer-term thinking. Climate change poses an existential threat to human existence. And the response of our politicians of left and right is, what exactly? At best, some fiddling at the edges. At worst, nothing. 

The drug that is profit pervades the thinking and reality of our politicians as much as it pervades the actions of business — except, apparently, for the 722 big businesses who paid no income tax in Australia in 2016/17.

Our governments are trapped by the immediate interests of sectors of business rather than the long-term interests of society. The solution is not in changing the jockey but in getting a new community-owned horse. Of course, that is very much a minority view, at the moment.

The rise of democratic socialism across the globe, from Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders to Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, suggests Australia cannot be too far behind. Let’s leave the discussion of where Australia’s Jeremy Corbyn is for another time

Which leads me to rock and roll. The 2016 winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature wrote many years ago that 'the times they are a-changin:

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall

But our parliamentarians are deaf. Their ears are stuffed with dollar notes. A backbencher’s starting salary is $207,000, putting them in the top two per cent of income earners. Cabinet ministers and prime ministers, of course, earn much more.

On almost every issue, our MPs and senators, or at least significant numbers of them, 'stand in the doorway and block up the hall'. They are decades behind the rest of us on social and economic issues.

On same-sex marriage they were 20 years behind the majority. On refugees and asylum seekers, they remain out of touch with the growing compassionate sentiment.

The Morrison Government this week will vote for a motion in the House calling for a royal commission into the abuse of the disabled, but then will likely not call one.

The Government thinks its defeat on the Medivac Bill could be its salvation. It has ramped up the lies and propaganda about "protecting our borders". This resonates with some voters.

It's unlikely this will be the Government’s Tampa moment. Part of the difference between voters in 2001 and the election in May 2019 is their standard of living.  Wages have fallen or been flatlining for some time while CEO pays has skyrocketed.  

The Morrison Government has no policy to fix this. Tax cuts have not and will not improve wages. Labor has some measures to allow a little more freedom for unions. These reforms – okay in themselves but part of Labor’s more subtle neoliberal approach – will not entrench a right to strike, which is the key to improving our living standards.

The baseball bats are out. The defeat of the Government in the Parliament on the Medivac Bill is the potential precursor to its defeat in the upcoming election. Then we can judge if the past has been dragged into the present. Our future beckons.

You can follow Canberra correspondent John Passant on Twitter @JohnPassantSigned copies of John's first book of poetry, Songs for the Band Unformedare available for purchase from the IA store HERE.

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