Leading article Australia

Coalition’s slow boat

30 May 2020

9:00 AM

30 May 2020

9:00 AM

‘That is my job, to bring everybody together,’ explained Scott Morrison to the Canberra Press Bubble who were anything but together, having been forced to ‘social distance’ a seat apart from each other at their National Press Club lunch. The occasion was the much-anticipated ‘back to work’ speech delivered by the prime minister as his recalcitrant left-wing premiers carry on enforcing largely pointless quarantine measures in their recession-bound states.

We beg to differ. No, Prime Minister, your job is to return us to surplus as rapidly as possible as you were instructed to do by the electorate. That is your top priority and anything that gets in the way of that is not your job. ‘Bringing everybody together’ is something that preachers and pop singers do. We have an adversarial political system for very good reason. Attempting futile consensus with the unions and the Left can only result in failure and missed opportunities. Back at the beginning of this crisis the PM laughably informed us that ‘there are no more unions, no more bosses, only Australians’. The teachers unions swiftly put paid to that idea, refusing to do their job and teach our children. Oh yes, those unions are very much alive and kicking, squealing already at even the hint of a public service wage freeze. Mr Morrison’s ‘good-will gesture’ of scrapping the integrity bill will only be seen as a sign of weakness and an encouragement to extract further union-friendly concessions from the government in the pretence of ‘bringing us all together’.

Indeed, the prime minister’s speech was one giant missed opportunity. First and foremost he should have been honest with Australians and admitted what is now increasingly clear: that due to flawed modelling and media hysteria the West over-reacted to the corona virus and caused a large amount of unnecessary damage to our economies. Even Norway is now admitting as much. Until our leaders ‘fess up to that awkward and unpalatable fact, they are, albeit to a far lesser degree, treating us with a similar lack of transparency and honesty to that which they rightly accuse China of.

For sure, it was critical to swiftly close our international borders back in early March and to ban large or even small crowds until it was clear that the exponential spread of the virus had been avoided, thus ensuring that our medical resources were not suddenly overwhelmed.

But by early to mid-April it was clear that that goal had been achieved. The PM’s media team made much of the snappy line at his press club speech that ‘it is time to get the economy out of the ICU’. Yet readers of this magazine will of course recall that that was the very point Sarah Dudley and Ben Davis made on the cover of this magazine – seven weeks ago!

Seven weeks is a long time wasted, particularly when you are not allowed to open your doors to customers yet you still have a mountain of bills to pay to keep yourself afloat. Seven weeks of forced unemployment could mean the difference between losing the family home and keeping it, between hanging on to the dream you have worked years and years to create or seeing it disappear into oblivion. For some people, tragically, seven weeks may well have been the difference between struggling on with their life and taking it.

But the press club speech had one high point. Mr Morrison’s lengthy yarn about Team New Zealand’s America’s Cup bid under Sir Peter Blake delivered a terrific potential Coalition slogan and commitment: to make the boat go faster. The idea being that you jettison anything and everything that isn’t crucial to winning the race. Absolutely! This should be the government’s mantra, and has distinctly Thatcherite and Reaganite overtones that are to be applauded.

If only! Alas, Mr Morrison at the same time as giving such sound advice chose to ignore it himself, bringing on board notions of ‘consensus with the unions’ and gabfests with ‘business groups’ and the ponderous ‘national cabinet’ – heavy ballast which any determined captain would immediately jettison if the aim were indeed to make the boat go faster. Not to mention the bizarre and tortuous analogy of indigenous Australians’ ‘caring for the land’ as a metaphor for balancing the books, a piece of touchy-feely waffle of the sort that sounds great but means little.

This skipper will need a faster, sleeker Coalition boat and a more aggressively determined crew if we are to win this race. The finishing line is the long-promised return to surplus.

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