Speculation that the government would like to go to the polls by the end of this year has been swirling since before last Christmas. Earlier this week, our own Charles Pier explained how a December election could be a possibility. One of Scott Morrison’s trusted lieutenants, Ben Morton, had brand-spanking new signs bearing his mug plastered on bus stops all over his crucial Perth electorate. This Budget, which continues the 2020 spendathon from all the leaks so far, would appear to confirm the speculation that the Prime Minister will be paying a visit to Yarralumla for more than just a cup of tea before the year is out. As Charles writes, the times may well suit Scott Morrison, and the Coalition, at the present time, seems more likely than not to get a fourth term. But then what? More of the same mediocrity?
Peter Costello once said that when a government is seeking a third or fourth term, it should run on its record. Well, what is this government’s record? Anyone who answers “it kept us safe from the virus” fails the test. This government in three terms has not enacted a single major reform that its constituency can be proud of. Not one. Tony Abbott tried but with Joe Hockey losing control of the debate over the 2014 budget, Turnbull leaking constantly to his ABC and Guardian friends, George Brandis and Christopher Pyne (among others) doing their worst in their respective portfolios and Scotty from Marketing blocking any changes to section 18C, Abbott never stood a chance. The justification for Turnbull’s 2016 double dissolution election, purportedly the reinstatement of the construction industry watchdog, was lost when the Miserable Ghost did so well in reducing a 35-seat majority to minority government. Then, when the Liberals finally realised he had to go, up stepped his old friend from the Wentworth pre-selection days, Scott Morrison, a man with no obvious political convictions, and it showed. As John Ruddick noted recently in these pages: “During a televised leaders debate in the 2019 campaign, Morrison declared, ‘I’ll govern from where I always have – from the middle.’ Lacking any depth, Scott Morrison’s guiding principle is to be a little to the right of a very left Labor party and that’s delivering us two left-wing parties.”
Morrison as PM has shown that Turnbull trait of believing in nothing and compromising on everything. Abandoning meaningful industrial relations reform. Forgetting the ‘quiet Australians’ who delivered him government in 2019 by joining the climate change cult and pledging net-zero emissions by 2050. Allowing the dictatorship of the medical bureaucracy to inflict such crippling damage to the economy and mental health. Whipping up fear and hysteria over a virus with an infection mortality rate of 0.3% (which includes effectively tearing up the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights by banning Australians from leaving the country and, even worse, returning home). Giving up on the Constitution and letting jumped-up, narcissistic, blow-hard state premiers close borders for no reason other than squalid political expediency. Spending billions on outdated submarines that make Kim Beazley’s Collins Class debacle look like a shrewd investment.
Then we have forgetten about the rule of law, declaring Cardinal George Pell guilty, throwing Christian Porter under the bus and effectively convicting everyone who served in Afghanistan of war crimes on the basis of a report that recommended certain allegations further investigated. Staying silent when Zoe Buhler was arrested in her own home for having an opinion on social media. Shutting down debate in the party room because the views of other members don’t accord with his own. Giving in to cancel culture and wokeness by not tackling the issue of freedom of speech at universities such that Peter Ridd has to fight his sacking all the way to the Hugh Court. Empowering activist bodies like Our Watch to police our language, to make it possible for people to lose their jobs and livelihood over an unproven accusation of wrongdoing or even for a misunderstood joke or physical action. (And no, Prime Minister, I don’t buy your little marketing stunt about “identity politics” at the United Israel Appeal last week. That to me just seems like “throwing the dog a bone”.) And, finally, as we saw last year and will no doubt see more of on Tuesday, blowing out the budget, with no reasonable plan for reform, so that deficits will be here until about 2040. Is the Reserve Bank going to continue printing magic money until then? The interest to pay off that debt can’t be used to otherwise fund badly-needed infrastructure.
As John Howard showed, once you reduce the budget deficit you can also reduce the tax burden, particularly on the engine room of the economy, small business (yes, those quiet Australians). Is it a case of “après moi, le déluge”, Prime Minister? The last man who said that, Louis XV, might have gotten away with it, but his grandson and Marie Antoinette paid for it with their heads, literally.
For the last two Federal elections and the recent WA state election, I did what Sir Robert Menzies is reported to have done in 1969 and 1972, and not vote Liberal, but for a minor conservative party. When all Scotty from Marketing can pitch is that he is going to out-flank the ALP on spending, cutting carbon emissions, etc., what is the point? Vote for me just because I am not Anthony Albanese? This was part of the “third way” strategy dreamt up by Tony Blair and Bill Clinton. Steal as much of the other side’s agenda as you can, put your spin on it and convince the electorate to vote for you because you aren’t the other mob. That was also the strategy behind Kevin07. The problem with this strategy is that the electorate sooner or later will work out you are either a bad photocopy of the original, or simply a fraud, and go back to the original. This government is like Seinfeld, a show about nothing (but without the laughs). When you look at its record, it hasn’t achieved anything of significance in three terms that you would expect a centre-right government worthy of the term to achieve. Why would it achieve anything in a fourth?
Rocco Loiacono is a senior lecturer at Curtin University Law School.
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