Scott Morrison
Scott Morrison speaks to journalists at the 2018 ASEAN Summit in Singapore (Image: AAP/Mick Tsikas)

No wonder Australians are disaffected about politics, especially in the two largest states. In Victoria, voters shortly face an election between a Labor government that regularly forfeits its judgment and is a plaything of factional pissants, and an opposition with alarming ties to organised crime and infested with religious extremists. In NSW, the choice is between the single most corrupt political party in Australian history, which has just lost another leader in the most sordid of circumstances, and a competent, decent premier whose party appears hellbent on tearing itself apart over factional games and electorate merry-go-rounds.

And then there’s Canberra.

This was the week in which it became clear that the Morrison government is simply not up to the job of running the country. An “L-plate minister” was the phrase one former frontbencher used to deride Melissa Price, but the L-plate was better applied to the entire clown-car government.

The Jerusalem embassy move, which started off as a cynical piece of electoral posturing before the Wentworth byelection, then became a debacle after when we learnt the circumstances in which the whole thought-bubble was puffed out. It grew into a full-blown diplomatic disaster as Indonesia hit pause on a trade deal, Malaysia’s famously recalcitrant Mahathir Mohamad declared it would increase the risk of terrorism and the potentially dangerous impact on the brain fart on Indonesian domestic politics became clear.

A vaguely competent PM would have rushed an expedited “review” to finality and announced the embassy would be staying put, but Morrison locked himself into a Christmas timetable, voluntarily drawing out the pain. The fascist frolickers on night-time Sky frothed and fulminated about furreners daring to dictate to Australia; Eric Abetz helpfully suggested we cancel all assistance to Indonesia. Josh Frydenberg, perhaps seeking to emulate Paul Keating, today decided to pick a direct fight with Mahathir. Who knows where the actual Foreign Minister is in all this.

Domestically, the list of stuff-ups, gaffes and generic bungling is too long to fully recount. The My Health Record debacle rolls on, with the government forced to accept yet another extension to the opt-out period for raging assault on medical privacy and then trying to claim the whole thing was its idea. Angus Taylor’s efforts to wield a “big stick” to force energy price cuts has gone nowhere, while the mooted plan to waste taxpayer money propping up coal-fired power looks likely to benefit prominent fossil fuel advocate, former Nationals candidate and LNP donor Trevor St Baker.

This is Taylor’s plan that involves rushing to commit billions of dollars before the election, and contracting on behalf of the Commonwealth to offset the impacts of any future climate action — an outrageous attempt to bind future parliaments to override any decisions they may make about climate policy.

Such rank interventionism is the new fashion within this notionally liberal government. This week also saw the bizarre announcement of a $2 billion fund to encourage additional bank lending to small business — as if low wages growth, record low interest rates, penalty rate cuts, high profits, a small business company tax cut and rising productivity weren’t benign enough conditions for business.

The commitment of taxpayer funding to commercial loans is in complete defiance of the Productivity Commission’s findings earlier this year that “access to debt finance is not a problem for most small businesses that apply for it. Nearly 90% of SMEs that applied for debt finance in 2015-16 were successful”. What was needed, the PC said, was not a $2 billion ScoMoBank, but a change to APRA’s risk weightings so that smaller and regional banks don’t have to hold so much capital for loans to SMEs. But you can’t whack out a media release with “billions” on it for sensible prudential policy.

The government continues to reflexively spout neoliberal rhetoric, but its economic actions are more interventionist than any government since the Fraser years. Fortunately, there’s a huge surge of commodity-driven tax revenue flowing into the government’s coffers, so it can splash around plenty of money to its favoured sectors — coal, small business, farmers, the war memorial industry.

The resemblance to 2007 and the desperate spending of the Howard government is plain. That government had an excuse: it was 11 years old and led by a tiring long-serving PM. This mob have only been around since late 2013 and are onto their third leader. And he’s the worst of the lot.

Too harsh? Let us know what you think of Morrison’s latest efforts by emailing [email protected].

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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