Wren's Week: Our slowing economy and inept Parliament

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Josh Frydenberg and Gladys Liu have been referred to the Court of Disputed Returns (Screenshots via YouTube)

This week, John Wren looks at why our economy is stalling as well as more Liberal Government failures.

Wren’s Week


THIS WEEK we’ve seen many of the Liberal Government’s chickens coming home to roost. For six years, they have run a largely unstated agenda to reduce the average wage and income of Australians. I say largely unstated because the Finance Minister, Mathias Cormann, let it slip during an interview last year.

The incentive to reduce wages comes from the Liberal Party’s corporate donor base. They want lower wages as lower labour cost generally means higher profits for their shareholders. Higher corporate profits also allow bigger donations to the Party, so everyone wins except waged and salaried Australians, of course, but then the Liberal Party does not represent them so they don’t count.

After six years of stymied wages growth, prices have continued to increase. We see power and gas prices through the roof, petrol costs, house prices (and therefore rents) have all increased at a much faster rate than wages. What this means is that people now have significantly less money to spend and the economy is slowing significantly as a result.

As the economy slows, more people are either moving onto the pittance that Newstart offers or are taking additional part-time jobs to make ends meet. This is not the Australia our grandparents dreamt of. Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s “promise of Australia” is that for the first time since white colonisation, the next generation of Australians will be economically worse off than the previous generation.

The debate around Newstart has been intense with a number of coalition backbenchers breaking ranks to call for its increase. It needs to increase. Almost every commentator and MPs of both sides agree to this, although most coalition MPs will only admit it in private. There are only two reasons why the Government is reluctant to increase Newstart. The first being that Morrison made a promise during the election campaign (when he expected to lose) to deliver a surplus. He now unexpectedly finds himself having to do so. Increasing Newstart would put a dent in this. Mind you, economists point out that almost 100 per cent of any increase in Newstart will be put straight back into the economy, giving it a much-needed boost.

The second reason is much more disconcerting. Morrison unequivocally blocked any increase to Newstart with his thinking seemingly based on the prosperity doctrine promulgated by his Pentecostal faith. In essence, this doctrine suggests that the harder one works and the more god-fearing life that one leads, the more prosperous (financially richer) one will be. Hillsong’s Brian Houston (a close friend of Morrison) wrote a book on it. Such thinking is the opposite of the teachings of Jesus Christ and represents a gross perversion of the Christian faith. Australia is a secular nation. Our forebears recognised the separation of Church and State in our constitution. Morrison seems to be bringing the more extreme aspects of his faith into his decision making.

In Parliament he made the grandiose claim (pure prosperity doctrine) that “The harder [people] work, the more they earn, the more they keep of what they earn”. This, of course, is utter hogwash. Tradespeople work just as hard as businesspeople, but on average earn less. Wait staff in restaurants work damn hard and are lucky to earn $25/hour. Morrison’s salary package is around $500K per year. NAB CEO Andrew Thorburn’s salary package is around $5 million per year. Does this mean he works ten times harder than Morrison?

When the prosperity doctrine is applied to Newstart, Morrison equates unemployed people as not being “hard workers”. They are therefore not worthy of Government money. Again, utter rubbish that demonstrates how out of touch Morrison and his cabal of thieves really are. Looking for a job is a full-time job. It’s challenging, stressful and soul-destroying and needs real emotional resilience. It is hard work — and, as such, Morrison’s prosperity doctrine should recognise that with an increase in Newstart.

To add further insult to the Newstart debate, Channel 7 (One Nation’s primary PR outlet) ran a headline story that referred to Newstart recipients as “dole bludgers” — a grossly insulting term that further disparages battlers already doing it very hard. Make no mistake, the phrase must have passed through a number of journalists, sub-editors and commentators before being loaded onto the autocue for newsreader Natalie Barr to read out on air. After condemnation from all sides of politics, Channel 7 backed down with a classic “sorry, not sorry” apology. They apologised for a “poor choice of words”, not the intent or the hurt they caused. Natalie Barr effectively did a “Ron Burgundy” and blamed the autocue.

The impact of the low wages/slowing economy is now really beginning to bite. In Melbourne, two Catholic schools, one a primary school and the other an all-girls secondary school both announced they would be closing. Both schools are in wealthy Liberal electorates (one in Windsor the other in nearby Caulfield). Dwindling numbers of students is the cause. Cash-strapped parents are simply not able to send their children to private schools and are opting for Victoria’s excellent public schools instead.

Private health insurers are also feeling the pinch and despite huge Government subsidies, members are leaving the private funds in droves. Many simply can no longer afford private health cover due to their reducing pay packets.

The other big news this week was the referral of Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and newly-elected Liberal MP Gladys Liu to the Court of Disputed Returns. Frydenberg for allegedly being a dual citizen of Hungary, something he vehemently denies (although the public evidence suggests otherwise) and Liu for fraudulent advertising activity, largely the use of posters made to look like official AEC directives in Mandarin telling Chinese voters that the correct way to vote was to put her first on the ballot.

As a sign of the desperation with Coalition ranks to protect Frydenberg, Coalition backbencher Michael Sukkar used Parliamentary privilege to accuse Oliver Yates (an Independent challenger of Frydenberg) and others of antisemitism. Yates had nothing to do with the challenge, it was independently brought by one of Frydenberg’s constituents. It was a gross abuse of privilege. They don’t call Parliament “the coward’s castle” for nothing. I doubt Sukkar would have the courage to make the same statements outside of Parliament where he can be sued for defamation. As usual, expect Morrison to do nothing. It’s yet another Parliamentary standard he strolls past.

This is truly one of the worst, most miserably inept Parliaments Australia has ever elected. I’m told that, like those who elected the Abbott Government, buyers’ remorse is going to kick in very quickly over the next few months.

You can sign the petition to have John Wren reinstated on Twitter here.

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