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What the quiet Australians will get from the Morrison Government

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Morrison's win at the 2019 Election was, in his words, a victory for quiet Australians (Image by Dan Jensen)

We’ve heard a lot about Scott Morrison’s so-called “quiet Australians”, but what are they getting in return for their silence? Dr Martin Hirst is looking for answers.

THANKS TO a story by Laura Tingle and Laura Francis on the ABC website, we know they’re quiet Australians because they told us so, and also that Scott Morrison speaks to and for them.

We were also treated to a longish dissertation on the sociology of these mostly silent Aussies from “pollster Jim Reed” who previously worked for notorious Liberal Party advisors Crosby Textor.

Mr Reed’s contribution to the discussion was to denigrate people living in urban areas of the country as somehow “upper class”, adding “...and they’ve sometimes been called the elite”. Yes, they have Mr Reed, by Coalition politicians wanting to discredit their opinions.

So, these are the people who Mr Reed – and the two ABC journos – have decided are the “noisy” ones:

They are closer to power, closer to the centre of politics, to media, to academia, to business. They are seen by the majority to be somewhat distracted by social issues, sometimes progressive issues and more insider political debates.

 

They seem to be distracted from those very immediate issues and the majority is simply repaying that in kind by disengaging from those political and social media debates. Hence, “quiet Australians”.

Somehow we move to the totally unfounded conclusion that the “quiets” are a majority and that the “noisies” are not interested in the mundane and are not bothered by the “immediate issues” of family life, jobs and so on.

Let’s take this questionable sociology at face value and assume there are loads of quiet Australians who quietly take their political cues from the Morrison Government.

If you read the ABC piece, the very ordinariness of the test subjects is strikingly ordinary.

What do they get in return?

What exactly has the Prime Minister delivered for these less talkative Australian voters?

There are several policy areas where Morrison has claimed to target the needs and concerns of his quiet supporters. He laid out the coalition strategy in an interview with Chris Uhlmann in August.

In describing how he will judge his government's performance over the next 12 months, Mr Morrison said delivering lower taxes, creating more jobs and meeting the commitments on emissions reductions will make Australian's lives just that little bit easier.

 

"[Families] will see it through a stronger economy which means the essential services, whether it's the national disability insurance scheme or improved services for mental health. Support we are giving to our veterans," Mr Morrison said. "We have seen private real wage growth increase. As we continue to create more jobs, that is the path to higher wages." 

This is Morrison’s mantra. It distils down into a handful of points:

  • cutting energy bills for households;
  • lower taxes for working people;
  • creating jobs;
  • meeting CO2 emissions targets;
  • NDIS;
  • mental health reforms;
  • support to veterans; and
  • real wage growth.

Cutting energy bills while reducing carbon emissions

The Government is more focused on the first and failing on the latter.

The Coalition is touting its success in cutting prices, but the actual results are disputed. According to the Clean Energy Council, the average domestic price fall over the next 12–18 months will only be around 1.1%. This is despite news reports that some consumers are experiencing larger cuts largely as a result of State, not Federal, actions.

There are other problems for Morrison in this area, too. The Senate has ratified Morrison’s so-called “big stick” approach aimed at forcing suppliers to cut retail prices for gas and electricity. But the move is facing serious pushback from the energy companies and the Business Council, traditionally strong supporters of the Coalition. That is not surprising — a government ideologically committed to the “free market” imposing sanctions and penalties on businesses to force them to comply with political objectives sounds just a tiny bit Stalinist.

The second major headache for Morrison’s contradictory energy policy is that any perceptible fall in retail power prices is being driven by renewables, not coal or gas. It turns out the Government’s plans for power reliability are – surprise, surprise – built on shonky assumptions and not-so-subtle gaslighting. Morrison’s plan to underwrite new coal-fired power is also snarled in delays and reluctance from the big players who are all transitioning to renewables.

On emissions targets, the Morrison Government continue to insist things are going well, but Climate Action Tracker tells a different story:

Australia’s climate policy is further deteriorating, as it focuses on propping up the coal industry and ditches efforts to reduce emissions, ignoring the record uptake of solar PV and storage and other climate action at State level.

 

The Australian Government has turned its back on global climate action and will continue to subsidise fossil fuel extraction and export against the need to phase out fossil fuels, particularly coal, globally.

Emissions are going up, not down and by 2030 – the Paris Agreement target date – they will be 8% above 2005 levels, not the promised 14–17% below.

I doubt Morrison is bothered by this failure of climate policy. He is banking on the quiet Australians being ignorant and indifferent when it comes to climate policy. If he can convince them power prices are falling, that is enough to secure the political objective.

Does the economy favour the quiet Australians?

By most credible accounts, the Australian economy is tanking; wages are stagnating and unemployment is not falling when it comes to real, full-time jobs. So how does his benefit the quiet Australians that Morrison relies on?

The short answer is, “it doesn’t”.

So far, tax cuts for low and middle-income workers are on the back burner. Income tax cuts don’t come into effect until 2024, which means they might never materialise as there will be an election before then and Labor is yet to fully commit to the policy beyond the life of this Parliament.

Its also difficult to see how the quiet Australians benefit from tax cuts to foreign investors announced on 15 November. Most sensible economists have derided Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s announcement as a hollow stunt.

The official unemployment rate in October 2019 was 5.3%. This is the worst number in three years according to ABS figures and comes despite around 10,000 new jobs being added to the economy. There are more than 720,000 officially unemployed and the underemployment rate is 8.5%.

Wages growth is, at best, flat. Most workers are seeing no pay rise this year or next and for many, real wages are going backwards as the cost of living increases, eating into their small, discretionary spending margin.

On top this, the price of raising a family is going up in areas like health and education. Public education is not really free, parents pay upwards of $1,300 per student annually in costs imposed by schools — for things such as uniforms, books, excursions, and I.T. requirements. If the kids are in the private system, the costs are substantially higher.

When it comes to health, two points can be made.

Australia’s “world-class” public health system is becoming increasingly unaffordable according to a recent study by accounting firm PwC.

The NDIS is a chronic mess according to providers and clients. Despite claims to the contrary by NDIS Minister Stuart Robert. There is a lack of suppliers and long delays in processing new claims. Of course, if Robert is involved there are bound to problems and controversies — like giving the bureaucrat in charge of the scheme a massive pay rise just one week into the job.

There are also concerns that a focus on the NDIS takes the pressure off the Morrison Government to deliver on other mental health outcomes, like cutting youth suicide rates, which has been quietly dropped since the PM made such a fuss about it only a few months ago. The same can be said about the Government’s expressed concern for military veterans. It is another flashbang without substance. The aim was to woo Tasmanian independent Jacqui Lambie, not to deal with real problems facing vets.

In short, there is little material benefit flowing to quiet Australians. Their compliant silence is bought with a dollar here and there, buckets of snake oil and media complicity.

The future will not be quiet

Things are only going to get worse for the quiet Australians. The 2020s is set to be a decade in which the tensions that we now see driving global disruption will continue and deepen. The stability and peaceful silence that keeps the quiet Australians politically sedated is coming to an end.

The question we need to ask is which way will they jump when they are compelled by circumstances to raise their voices?

There are two stark choices — a rise in reactionary nationalist populism fuelled by racism and climate denialism, or a progressive pushback led by politicised millennials who want to claim a future in which the planet survives.

You can follow Dr Martin Hirst on Twitter @ethicalmartini.

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