morrison policy
Ian Yates chief executive Council of the Ageing (Image: AAP/James Elsby)

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has a problem, albeit a good one. It’s a week into the first parliament after winning the unwinnable election, and he’s enacted more or less his entire election platform. All three tranches of his tax cuts package have been waved through a compliant parliament. What does one do when one has no policies and three years to fill?

The Morrison government has two options: outsourcing policy to lobbyists or reacting to topical talking points. Both allow you to push for laws you always wanted and never had to run by the electorate, and both have been enthusiastically embraced by the Morrison government. 

Opportunism: cracking down on unions

The government have leaped on the John Setka saga as a reason to reintroduce the Ensuring Intergrity Bill — a move which unions say is a politically motivated attack to stop unions from choosing their own leaders. This, by the way, is the third time since 2017 the Coalition have pushed for this. Labor’s disarray aide, they have a much friendlier Senate this time around.

“We have heard the new Labor leader Anthony Albanese and others within his party roundly condemn John Setka of the CFMMEU. Now it is time for Mr Albanese and Labor to prove they’re not all talk and back their words with action,” said Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter. 

Outsourcing: industrial relations reform

It doesn’t get more explicit that this. In late June, Morrison asked business groups to make the case for industrial relations reform, presumably because in the lead up to the election the Liberal Party sure hadn’t. And business lobbies have been more than happy to oblige. Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox and Australian Mines and Metals Association chief executive Steve Knott collaborated in Tuesday’s The Australian to offer six planks of IR reforms. They are calling for a revamping of the definition of casuals to make it easier to keep people in insecure work, along with reform of unfair dismissal and adverse action laws.

Adverse action laws are the ones that protect you from being fired for your race, gender, sexuality or, yes, your religious views; a protection the AIG and AMMA members would seemingly prefer not follow. Which is an area the AIG and AMMA may end up disappointed, because elsewhere…

Opportunism: a religious freedom push

…the government wants to make it harder for businesses to fire people for religious beliefs. This was has been on the boil for some time. Liberals have made furtive attempts to drum up religious freedom as a major issue ever since the marriage equality debate. 

Despite this, there was no detailed religious freedom policy or wider debate during the election campaign. The only major flashpoint was the sacking of star rugby player and zealot Israel Folau for an Instagram post promising unrepentant gays (among others) that they were bound for hell — a clear outlier as far as employment law goes.

That hasn’t stopped some groups from saying it was religion wot won it and joining the chorus for more protections.

For the record, protections for religious people are already on the books in ways essentially no other group gets. For example, religious people cannot be fired for their beliefs, but religious organisations can fire people for their sexuality. Christian Porter is promising a bump in religious freedom legislation, amending a series of acts to prevent discrimination on religious grounds which, again, does happen. 

Outsourcing: deeming rates on the agenda

Pensioners apparently spent the election campaign just furious at Labor for the whole franking credit and negative gearing “retiree tax” thing. But then Labor promptly lost the election and are in the quiet process of having those policies humanely destroyed. Suddenly aware of their power, the grey vote have switched their attention to the Coalition and the issue of deeming.

Deeming is a set of rules used to work out the income created from a pensioners financial assets, which it assumes is a set rate of income, no matter the reality. This income is then included in the income test when people apply for a pension and helps determine how much the government will pay. The ALP, in a generous mood, all things considered, have done some analysis showing “some retirees could be more than $3000 better off a year if the Morrison government cut the deeming rate on their assets by 1.25%, to match the cuts to interest rates over the past four years.” 

Councils on the Ageing chief executive Ian Yates said part-pensioners were angry and worried about their finances.

“I think the government has got no real choice but to reduce the deeming rate,” he said. “Every dollar counts when you’re on a full or part pension.” The government haven’t promised anything yet, simply saying (through social service minister Anne Ruston) that they understood the difficulties facing older Australians on fixed incomes, and that “any changes to the deeming rate must be financially responsible”. The expenditure review committee are considering the issue.

What other policies will the government take on? Write to [email protected] with your full name observations.

Peter Fray

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