Politics Analysis

Well done, Australia — now let’s fix the joint up properly

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(Cartoon by Mark David / @MDavidCartoons)

Australia’s Parliament is not the only institution to have been trashed by the Coalition and corrupt corporate interests over the last decade, as Alan Austin reports.

CONGRATULATIONS, Australia! Saturday’s election result was fantastic for observers dismayed at the recent deterioration of Australia’s democracy, economy, community and global reputation.

As this is written, several seats remain in doubt. But we know 13 impressive women have been elected – one Green, five Labor and an extraordinary seven independents – so far. We know the new lower house will have three Greens and maybe four. At least five high-profile Liberal Party men are gone, including Australia’s worst-ever Treasurer — worst in terms of measurable outcomes and in lying about them. And we know Anthony Albanese, who everyone agrees is a top bloke, will be PM.

The incoming MPs know their immediate tasks — to fix the climate change response, build an effective federal ICAC, recover lost wages, ensure women are respected and restore international relations.

The nation can back this new Parliament with confidence. Then we can all get to work to repair the other institutions either mauled or left to rot over the last decade. Here are just five of them.

The Tax Office

Can a large government department suffer from schizophrenia? The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) publishes annual reports with grim warnings about tax evasion — which it declares is illegal, immoral and punishable.

It also publishes an annual list of big corporations which pay little or no tax. Why does this continue? Why doesn’t the ATO use its manifest powers to enforce the law? Given the debt and deficit blow-outs, this is a high priority.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Arguably the most influential ABC broadcast before the Election was Leigh Sales’ 7.30 interview with Anthony Albanese in prime time on Election Eve.

Sales informed her national audience that:

“The Morrison Government was hit with one of the worst and most complex economic and health crises in history and compared to the rest of the world, the outcome in Australia in both those areas is exceptionally good. Low death rate, almost instant economic recovery.”

She then asked Albanese, “What’s the case for change here?” She didn’t ask if those Coalition election messages were accurate. She postulated them as true.

The problem here is not the ABC editorialising. It is not that the national broadcaster is openly spruiking the party which serves rich corporations at the expense of the majority of citizens. The problem is those assertions are not true.

Yes, the health crisis was serious. But the associated economic downturn was not “one of the worst and most complex crises in history”, as the Liberal Party claims. Compared with all other global recessions over the last 100 years, this was a blip. More than 12 major economies avoided a recession altogether. Those who did cop a GDP decline recovered almost instantly. Job losses were not widespread and most were restored within months, not years.

Nor does Australia currently have a low COVID-19 death rate. Australia’s death toll so far this year is 220 per million, ranking 147th out of 227 countries — well down in the world’s bottom half. Among the 27 major countries in the Asia-Pacific region, Australia ranks 26th.

The economy is not “exceptionally good”. Measurable outcomes which show Australia lagging advanced economies badly include GDP growth, joblessness, real wage declines, budget deficits, government debt, productivity, inflation, homelessness, wasteful spending, tax evasion and corruption.

The truth, if we examine all the economic and health data, is that former PM Scott Morrison’s management of the global downturn has been among the developed world’s worst.

The problem is not just one presenter. Whole sections of the national broadcaster now systematically deceive its extensive audience with constant repetition of Coalition falsehoods. Sackings are needed from top to bottom.

Australian Press Council

These same pro-Coalition lies appear routinely in most of Australia’s media. Last Friday’s editorial in the Australian Financial Review urged a return of the Morrison Government because ‘by any objective measure, the Government responded appropriately’ to what it asserted was the ‘most profound health and economic shock in a century’.

These claims are manifestly false, as are most assertions of fact in the AFR’s craven appeal to stupidity and greed. Fortunately, the nation rejected that call.

A reinvigorated and well-resourced Press Council will combat these widespread abuses of trust.

Communities of faith

Religions represented prominently in the last Parliament are Roman Catholic, Anglican, Pentecostal Christian and Jewish. It reflects poorly on all of them that Australia has seen a sharp decline in global rankings on corruption and integrity and a dramatic increase in rorts, lies and broken promises.

All communities of faith have remained shamefully silent throughout the recent Coalition period. This contrasts with the visibility of Methodist leader Sir Alan Walker in the '60s and '70, the thundering of God’s Squad president Reverend John Smith in the Fraser years, the vigilance of the Anglican Brotherhood of St Lawrence through the Hawke period and the voices of Catholic priests Peter Norden (now ex-priest) and Frank Brennan in the Howard years.

The Liberal Party

For the Liberal Party to undo the damage it has sustained under former PMs Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison, it should start by electing a woman as leader, but not one of Morrison’s henchwomen. That doesn’t give them many options. But, really, right now, who cares?

Change is possible

Anthony Albanese is only the fourth Labor leader to win office from Opposition since World War Two. Under the others – Gough Whitlam, Bob Hawke and Kevin Rudd – lasting social reforms were achieved in multiple areas simultaneously. This can happen again if the nation so resolves.

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

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