DAVID SOLOMON. A hidden agenda

May 10, 2019

Extract from notes for a victory speech by Prime Minister Morrison to the Coalition party room: I want to make special mention of the contribution to our victory by my Cabinet colleagues. Now Josh, you had a special role. As Treasurer, you had to let the people know that Treasury didn’t like anything that the Labor party was planning to do because it would hurt the economy. Now we all know that Treasury may or may not have thought that, but you were’t put off by that. You knew, without asking, what Treasury would have said if you had asked. And who could contradict you? That’s one of the advantages of incumbency, isn’t it?  

But as for the rest of you, you were steadfast in your refusal to be drawn into any sort of public debate about anything. Its as though many of you weren’t even in the country during the election – well, perhaps some of you may not have been. And many of you were under extreme provocation because of the way the Labor Party kept releasing policies that impacted directly on your portfolios – health, social security, jobs, the environment. But you resisted temptation and remained silent.

And speaking of the environment, I should make special mention of Minister Price. Melissa, you were magnificent. First, the way you dealt with the revolt from our own colleagues in Queensland who thought they were in trouble in their electorates. The way you held out to the last possible day in giving your approval to Adani, and then went behind the barricades. You showed incredible strength resisting the temptation to answer your many critics. And then you simply ignored all the stuff the Labor Party put out about global warming and how we should reduce emissions.

You inspired all our colleagues: Peter Dutton, who was holding his fire until a boat appeared on the horizon, Greg Hunt, who was prepared to fight the medicare scare from the last election but resisted the temptation to respond to suggestions the scheme could be improved, Angus Taylor – oh, and I shouldn’t leave out the Deputy Prime Minister – Michael McCormack, who was distracted anyway, and decided the best way to fight off the challenge from Barnaby, supposedly Australia’s best retail politician, was simply to close up shop.

There are a few others that I won’t mention by name with less honourable motives – in particular that they thought if we lost they couldn’t be blamed because they didn’t take part in the election campaign. But hey, their silence was what was important and everything is forgotten and forgiven, so we can get on with our program.

End of notes.

But that program. Just where would a new Morrison government be taking us?

It would be a new and very different government. All or most of the influential (well, they weren’t really) small l liberals have gone. This would be the most reactionary right wing government Australia has had since the 1930s. It would not be restricted by a Liberal mandate – the promises it has made to the electorate are few in number and barely extend beyond major tax cuts, a few transport and other capital works programs for the states, and urban and regional minor works.

Legislatively, it could be restricted by its inability to get radical changes through the Senate. But administratively it would be free to implement – well we don’t know just what it wants. That is one of the problems with this election. The Prime Minister is seeking re-election but with a blank cheque.

This matters because the Liberal Party that will be in Canberra after this election will be unlike the Liberal Party Australia is accustomed to. In the fifty years since the end of the Menzies Government the Liberal Party has formed moderate right of centre governments, more liberal under Malcolm Fraser, more conservative under John Howard. But in the modern era, the balance has shifty significantly. The old party had rebellious souls on both the left and the right. Today those furthest to the right are about to take control, not least because the moderate small l liberals have mostly quit the fight – and the parliament.

One example of the way the balance has shifted is relevant to today’s politics.

When Harold Holt succeeded Menzies as Prime Minister in 1966 one of his most significant achievements was to bring and end to the White Australia policy, a policy that had been extant since Australia federated in 1901. Holt did not smash it, he moderated it. But the changes he began resulted in the large scale (by the standards of the time) migration of Vietnamese people when Malcolm Fraser was Prime Minister and the gradual opening of Australia’s doors to people from everywhere else on the globe. John Howard, when Prime Minister, didn’t like Asian migration, but didn’t stop it. But all the dog-whistling of the past year or so suggests that a re-newed Morrison Government will change the ‘emphasis’ of the migration policy. Substantially. It won’t completely satisfy One Nation and others who want to return to White Australia but it will largely meet the demands of that party and others from the far right.

But I’m speculating. And I must do so because on the government side this has largely been a policy-free election campaign.

Ever since the advent of television, people have complained about the presidential nature of our election campaigns – all the emphasis is on the leader and what he (or she) says and does. This election has carried that to an extreme on the one side (government) but not the other (where the Opposition has been keen to parade its experience in government as well as its policies).

The old media – newspapers in particular – have helped retain this focus on the leaders. And unfortunately its hard to see how this is going to change. Pity the voters.


David Solomon is a retired journalist and author.

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