Wednesday, 17 June 2020
Matters of Public Importance
I listened with some interest to the answer that the Minister for Aged Care gave during question time. I don't think there would be any other country in the Western world where the Minister for Aged Care would simultaneously be the Minister for Youth, but that's what the Morrison government has delivered to the people of Australia. Senator Colbeck's answers in question time are an enduring delight for everybody, I'm sure. He was asked about the performance of the government in relation to a promise that the government made to deliver 36,000 food packages to elderly Australians. Like many of the announcements that the Morrison government makes, they're breathlessly made with press releases, videos, government ministers standing in front of microphones but very little delivery. In this case 36,000 were promised but 38 were delivered. Even my high-school maths tells me that that's not 10 per cent, not one per cent but 0.01 per cent delivery. It's an emblem of the government's failure. It's an emblem of the cancer that goes to the heart of this government's approach to policy delivery and delivering for all Australians.
Today, in the other place, the Prime Minister was asked about the impact on women from Yass who have to travel to either Canberra or Goulburn to give birth. His answer was that there might need to be some improvements to the road system. He is out of touch, out of his depth, entirely devoted to spin. He has no capacity for the policy substance. And there are so many examples.
The National Party doesn't have a Minister representing the Minister for Agriculture in this place. On the commitments the government has made to Australian agriculture and the Australian farming industry: biosecurity levy? No delivery. A real-time payment platform for dairy farmers, breathlessly announced in the election campaign? The minister crawled back from that proposition today—another policy failure, another failure to deliver on behalf of this government. That would have meant something for Australian dairy farmers. The government promise to deal with $1 milk and the floor price for dairy farmers? No delivery. Drought response? No delivery. Not all the money has gone out the door—the government appears incompetent at delivering money to Australian farmers. They can fill the advertising budgets of the agencies and send people driving all over the country, but there's no real delivery.
Look at the coronavirus response, which I listened to Senator Abetz talk about. The absolute disaster of policy failure on coronavirus in the United States, Brazil and the United Kingdom and the failure of government responses in those places, driven by the kind of politics that animates some people on the government's backbench, is a cautionary tale. In contrast the Australian public health response so far has delivered a very good outcome, but the Prime Minister took a very long time to get to there; it was only the response of the state premiers that dragged him to reaching the right policy conclusions. Meanwhile, in New South Wales, the failure of Border Force, the Border Force minister and the Prime Minister to stop the Ruby Princess debacle has delivered misery to the four corners of the Australian continent—misery in every state, infections in every state and many, many deaths as a result of that policy failure.
Then there's the coalition's economic response. There's no certainty about what's going to happen when there's a snapback of the jobseeker payment. Prior to the announcement of the scheme, it was universally acknowledged by everybody except those on the other side that Centrelink payments were too low for unemployed Australians. The snapback will have dire consequences. JobKeeper, a policy demanded by Labor, was mocked by people in here up until a few days before the government announced it. But there are serious policy failures there too: millions of Australian casuals excluded, universities excluded and international students left to starve. Australia's reputation oversees has been shattered, with international students who can't pay their bills and can't get enough to eat queuing for food in all of our major cities. And the entertainment and arts sector has been left to fail by a government that doesn't understand its responsibilities.
There's also the enormous $60 billion error in the forecasting and delivery of that policy. As the Leader of the Opposition said, you could see it from space. The Americans managed to put a man on the moon for less than $60 billion, in today's dollar terms. It is the biggest forecasting and delivery error in Australian history. I imagine it's probably the biggest error in the Southern Hemisphere. The one thing that the Minister for Finance can be confident of, the one achievement he can notch up there, is that nobody else will make an error that big. He is in the record books for the biggest policy error in Australian political history. That is the end of the Morrison government's economic credibility. They needn't knock at the door of economic credibility ever again. It's overconfidence and smugness that lead to policy neglect, and that error has real consequences. Rating agencies made decisions about the position they took in relation to the Australian economy. People made investment decisions. Many more people are unemployed because of that policy failure.
The HomeBuilder scheme—you couldn't design such a scheme even if you got the cleverest people in the country and said to them: 'I want you to design a scheme that reaches almost nobody, and, for those that it does reach, I want it to fund them a little bit extra to do a project that they were already going to do.' They devised a policy scheme that would provide no extra stimulus to the Australian economy—none—but drive up inequality, which is emblematic of this government's approach.
Pre-COVID, the government had nothing to boast about. There was downward pressure on wages—flatlining wages; downward pressure on retail spending; declining business investment; and decreased productivity. Monetary policy was on its knees, with the Reserve Bank begging the government to actually do something. Fiscal policy was in all sorts of trouble, and there was no plan.
On all sorts of other policy areas, like the federal ICAC the government promised they would deliver—no delivery. On energy policy, Senator Canavan's favourite thing, there are plenty of policies—there have been 17 of them—but none have been delivered. They've managed to construct an environment in energy policy where prices go up, emissions go up, investment goes down and confidence is shattered. The manufacturing industry has been forced offshore because of their policy failure and incapacity to develop a plan. Senator Canavan's mad plan for a new, expensive coal-fired power station would only serve to add to the policy chaos in energy policy on the other side of the chamber and push prices up further. It would increase emissions further and drive more industry offshore. He is smart enough to know it but he will continue to press that case because it suits him. There are 140,000 fewer apprentices. There is robodebt. Finally, in terms of delivery, we have the government's position in relation to Australia Post. Well, policy delivery there will mean that, because of Scott Morrison's plan for Australia Post, people in regional areas will get their mail later.
The problem with these people is that they believe their own spin. They believe their own spin and they are condemned to repeat it. On the grave and serious issues that face Australia in terms of its future economy—Australia's place in a more dangerous world; dealing with climate change; making sure that we reconcile effectively with our First Australians; and the future of our rivers and our country towns—they are not up to the task of charting a course for modern Australia in very challenging times.