JERRY ROBERTS. Is Ken Wyatt’s position tenable?.

Oct 5, 2018

Ken Wyatt is one of the few high-class acts in a low-class environment known as the Australian Federal Parliament. If he is driven out of the place it will be the Parliament’s loss, not Ken’s

As Minister for Aged Care, Ken Wyatt took the heat when the ABC’s Four Corners programme put the blow torch on nursing homes. When interviewed on camera for the programme he said that a Royal Commission was unnecessary and I agreed with him.

We all know what the problems are. Too many of us, including this writer, are growing old. Nursing homes need more staff in general and more qualified nursing staff in particular. Hanging over this and all other industries is the curse of our times – a mean-spirited, bean-counting managerialism.

Getting in ahead of the ABC, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that there would be a Royal Commission into aged care and Minister Wyatt had the indignity of being over-ruled but having to stand by the PM, literally.

Australian Financial Review journalist Joe Aston wrote that Ken Wyatt was so disgruntled that he had held secret talks with the Labor Party. Ken denied that he would ever consider swapping sides and I can’t imagine he would put himself under that sort of pressure. The last person to do something that silly was Cheryl Kernot.

Ken Wyatt is not a career politician. He came into the Parliament from a fine career as a senior education and health bureaucrat. If he leaves the Parliament he will miss it like a hole in the head.

Journalist Charlie Lewis on Crikey wrote: “Crikey struggles to recall an Australian politician (aside from the last four Prime Ministers, of course), more consistently pissed about by their own Party than Ken Wyatt.”

A more serious issue is an allegation of bullying in Ken Wyatt’s office. Reports on this are difficult to decipher but my understanding is that Ken has threatened to resign if this matter is not handled fairly. I think this means he does not want to see a kangaroo court.

Ken Wyatt holds the West Australian seat of Hasluck for the Liberals by a slender margin. The Liberal leadership had better take his threat seriously. One gets the impression he has just about had enough of the low-class environment.

Personally, I hope he hangs in there. With the advent of Ged Kearney, a nurse, on the Labor bench the Parliament now has two people, one on either side of the House, who know what they are talking about on health issues. This is a positive development.

Minister Wyatt was again standing beside Prime Minister Morrison in Perth on Tuesday (2 October) when they jointly announced a $100 million funding boost to keep people out of nursing homes through support programmes helping them stay in their own homes. This is good policy, just the sort of thing governments should be doing. “This is about giving senior Australians more certainty, more options and more independence,” the Minister said.

Scott Morrison, in Western Australia to lift morale for the Liberals holding marginal seats, continued his virtuoso display of grassroots political campaigning, flying around the country solving all our problems personally by throwing pots of money at them and mixing with the voters in an agreeable, down-to-earth manner.

The only activity that engages West Australians more than cheering for their football team is bellyaching about the distribution of the Goods and Services Tax. The PM cruised into West Coast’s victory celebrations, kicked a footy in a manner acceptable for a rugby league fan and solved the GST problem to the satisfaction of WA’s Labor Premier. If Labor strategists are not worried they should be. A month ago, the election was theirs to lose. Now they have to work out how to win and they are floundering in Scott Morrison’s wake as he navigates the continent at full steam ahead.

The West Australian newspaper’s front page on Wednesday (3 October) had a big picture of a Comanchero bikie and a big headline saying GST Showdown. Premier Mark McGowan is teaming up with PM Morrison to put pressure on Bill Shorten to support the WA GST deal. On the same day, the Australian Financial Review opinion page headline read “Don’t get between Victoria and a bucket of GST cash.”

The Victorian Labor Treasurer Tim Pallas was the author and he described the Morrison policy as “a political fix to try to shore up marginal seats in our nation’s west.”

There are lots more federal electorates in Victoria than there are in Western Australia and Bill Shorten’s realistic option is to sacrifice the chance of gains in the West and look after his back yard in the south and east. Western Australia is not a happy hunting ground for federal Labor.

We saw Scott Morrison up close when he joined Barrie Cassidy in the studio for the Sunday morning “Insiders” programme. Naturally the conversation turned to the ABC. If young Scott is looking for a new job next year he could make a fortune selling used cars. The bloke has the gift of the gab.

The Prime Minister’s ABC performance reminded me of my grandmother when she reversed her car down the driveway, straight across Waratah Avenue and smashed into the side of a car parked opposite. Gran stormed out of the car, angrily scolding the unfortunate owner of the now bingled, parked car. “You stupid woman,” said my Gran, “what a place to park a car!” For my grandmother and for Scott Morrison, attack was the best method of defence.

When questioned about the complicated shenanigans of ABC board and management, Scott said it was all about Emma Alberici getting facts wrong, and that ended the interview. I don’t recall Emma getting it wrong. I wrote similar comments on corporate tax cuts (Pearls and Irritations 29 December 2017) and Jocelyn Pixley, who knows a lot more about this stuff than Scott Morrison and I do, has been on the subject more recently (P&I 28 September). I hope we hear more from Jocelyn.

The star of the show is not the ABC board and manager, not Malcolm, not even the loquacious Scott. It is a gent by the name of Arthur Laffer who has made a career looking for the sweet spot in the relationship between tax rates and tax revenues. His Laffer curve is a latter-day representation of old sayings like “don’t kill the goose that lays the golden egg” and his work has been used to justify the fiction that tax cuts to the big end of town will trickle down to decent people in Main Street.

The Laffer curve was rhubarb when Arthur squiggled his pen on the napkin at the legendary 1974 lunch with Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. It was rhubarb when Ronald Reagan put it into policy. It was rhubarb when Donald Trump rediscovered it and it was rhubarb when Malcolm Turnbull tried to run with it.

That’s the problem with our politics. We are so used to eating rhubarb that we neglect to question its nutritional value and focus our attention on the fools who eat the stuff and on their atrocious table manners.

Jerry Roberts is a member of the Australian Labor Party

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