MUNGO MACCALLUM. Morrison actually does something.

Sound the trumpets, fire the cannons, stop the presses – Scott Morrison’s fledgling government has actually managed a result.

The GST on tampons is to be abolished. It may have taken 18 years and six prime ministers to achieve this modest outcome, but finally the travesty of regarding women’s essential health products as optional luxury items will be exposed as the absurdity it always was.

So that’s the good news. Now for the rest. And that is when it comes to more wide-ranging policy reform, ad hockery rules. Morrison and his increasingly bewildered Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, are still looking for quick fixes and dodgy bog ups.

The most recent was the lunge to secure the votes of disaffected Sandgropers with a swift cash splash in time for the next election. Morrison, ever the PR man, called it a new, fairer, GST deal, and the West Australians enthusiastically agreed: after all, they got almost all the money, $1.4 billion in the next three years.

But the other five premiers – Liberal as well as Labor – were less impressed. In spite of Frydenberg’s assurances that they would all get a bit of the loot too, they wanted it locked in. They not only wanted more money, they wanted it guaranteed, by legislation, in perpetuity.

This should not have been a surprise: Paul Keating once said that the most dangerous place in the world was to stand between a premier and a bucket of money, and both previous and subsequent COAG meetings have proved the truth of his assertion.

But as usual, the feds were caught unprepared. Frydenberg replied limply that he wanted to make new laws, not worry about the old ones, but given that Morrison had made it clear that he was determined to enshrine his GST fix into legislation to safeguard it from tampering in future, Frydenberg seemed at best ingenuous.

He could perhaps be forgiven for being blindsided; after all he has only just arrived in the job. But Morrison, a former Treasurer with many COAGs behind him, had no excuse. Not only did he know just how stubborn the states and territories could be when they put their collective minds to it, and to have been aware that with two of them (Victoria and New South Wales) facing imminent elections they were unlikely to be sympathetic to appeals to assisting the West, but Morrison already knew how fraught GST issues could be.

At the start of 2016 he took the idea of a rejig, simplifying the schedule of exemptions and raising the rate; Malcolm Turnbull promptly kyboshed it as being too expensive and too politically difficult. For ScoMo to imagine that just because he has switched roles he could get away with a chewing gum and fencing wire solution was more than naïve – it was deluded.

But it seems of a pattern with Morrison’s other nostrums. The Royal Commission into Aged Care will have no immediate practical purpose for many months – it was about making a decision for the sake of making a decision. But at least it could be cast as a positive. The same could perhaps be said of the Productivity Commission inquiry into the economic impact of mental health.

But almost all the rest have been negative – dropping the corporate tax cuts, tearing up the much-trumpeted NEG; the latter when the government was already sitting on a report that showed clearly its emissions policy, such as it was now going backwards. Then there have been a few lesser inquiries: the ABC, Stuart Roberts, more distractions than serious policy. And the thought bubble of an indigenous day of celebration has mercifully been canned.

It would be easy to get the impression that Morrison is more interested in clearing up the rubble of the last five years than in serious agenda of his own. Except in one area: religion.

It may well be that our current leader is the most assiduous god botherer ever to assume the role. At first blush, the bonanza shovelled out to the Catholics for their already over-funded schools was just another fix: buy them off, get the lobby off our back, we really need our votes. But no, says our evangelical prime minister: this is all about choice.

If the religious – well, at least the Christians, although this was all about the Catholics – don’t want to be part of the national, secular, public system, they should not have to do so and we – well, the taxpayers, actually – will pay them to go their own way. It need hardly be said that this is not a privilege accorded in other fields of government: normal workers who do not like their surroundings are not lavishly subsidised to provide others they prefer.

State aid for church schools has been a reality for more than 50 years in Australia, but it has seldom been expressed in such stark terms: if you don’t like the system devised by the constitution, you don’t have to put up with it – as long as the Prime Minister is one of you, a believer, one whose skin curls (whatever condition that may be) when he sees what goes on in public schools.

Morrison’s pentacostalism is absolute, beyond even his devotion for his football team, but even he apparently realises that his religious zeal may not be shared with all his fellow Australians. He has already told us that he plans to embrace Phillip Ruddock’s inquiry into enhancing religious privilege, but while he has been enjoying the fundings for months, they are still to be kept secret – certainly until the voters of Wentworth convene in a fortnight, before the apprehensive agnostics of Vaucluse are to be told they are not to be numbered among those blessed by their theocratic prime minister.

ScoMo does have his charitable moments;  last weekend he admitted that Bill Shorten’s proposal for some pre-schooling for three year olds might not be a bad idea — if it was affordable. But that was before his allies in the pages of the Murdoch press discerned that it was actually a dastardly plot to snatch innocent infants from their mothers and deliver them to the Green Left Marxist deviates of the education regime.

Back to the culture wars – taking the tax off tampons was quite radical enough.


Mungo MacCallum is a veteran political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy.

This entry was posted in Politics. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to MUNGO MACCALLUM. Morrison actually does something.

  1. Denis Beckmann says:

    Perhaps the price for religious school funding would be to tax religious organisations. Which would they prefer?

  2. Stephen Prowse says:

    The abolition of GST on tampons is just a small piece of inconsequential theatre. The GST base should be broadened to encompass everything, no exemptions with appropriate adjustments to the income tax rates at the lower end.

  3. Graham English says:

    “Catholic parents, indeed many Catholic clergy did not have a choice about which school they’d send their children…” Woops! I meant not all clergy wanted separate schools for the children of their parishioners.

  4. Graham English says:

    I must express an interest. From the age of four years and a few days I attended Catholic schools. Then I trained in a religious teaching order with the express intention of teaching in Catholic schools. Then I spent forty six years in either teaching in Catholic schools, supporting other teachers in various ways like writing texts and policy, and inservicing or training teachers. While I was in training, in 1962 the Goulburn School Strike took place and ‘state aid’ was almost as big an issue for us as was the fight against Communism. The arguments for and against ‘state aid’ coloured my days and probably entered my dreams. Then in the 1960s for a number of reasons politicians granted state aid, not all of them glorious and just in the nick of time Catholic schools survived. I was a very young teacher then but the elders assured us it was a close run thing, survival that is, and various politically oriented Catholics sometimes for their own ends rushed to take the credit.

    I remember at the time this argument was one of those against state aid. ‘If the Catholics don’t want to be part of the national, secular, public system, they should not have to do so but they should pay their own way if they want to have their own schools.’ The comparison was made between schooling and public transport. ‘The state supplies public transport. If you choose not to use it that is okay, use your own but don’t ask the state to pay for your private transport. This reply neglected to notice that public transport is all very well if it goes from where you are to where you are going at the time you need it.

    Be that as it may. one answer to ‘you can have your own schools but you also have to pay for them’ went something like this: ‘yes but the big difference between public transport and schools is that the law demands that all children between the ages of five and fifteen have to be at school somewhere. And we the bishops are not happy with avowedly secular schools. We believe religion has to be part of schooling.’
    I can’t remember but I suppose someone raised the claim that schooling is so important that parents have to have a say in it. Of course Catholic parents from 1870 didn’t always have a say. The Irish bishops here made it mandatory under pain of excommunication in some places to send ones children to a Catholic school. Catholic parents, indeed many Catholic clergy did not have a choice about which school they’d send their children to even when as happened in the Canberra Goulburn diocesan town of Young when I was a child the local state school headmaster knew his school was very much better than the local Catholic high schools and Bishop Guildford Young threatened to excommunicate him when he took his children to his high school. Guildford Young had the same fight with the poet James McAuley, a Fort Street boy from Sydney when he was archbishop of Hobart.

    These days one of the prime arguments for Catholic schools is ‘choice’ and I support it, but anyone who knows the history knows that it was not always so and that some Catholic parents in the past had no choice but to send their children to what were too often inferior schools or risk censure from the bishops.

  5. Kim Wingerei says:

    Nothing quite like GbKJR, is it? (Government by Knee Jerk Reaction)

  6. Dr John CARMODY says:

    Like many others with a barrow to push, Mungo MacCallum seems happy to misrepresent the GST buy ridiculing the just-abolished tax on tampons as objectionable because it treated “women’s essential health products as optional luxury items”. It is no exculpation of his that many others make the same fallacious assertion.
    This tax — is has various names: here it’s the “Goods and Services” tax; in Britain it’s the VAT (value-added tax) and in Germany it’s the MWS (“Mehr Wert Steuer”, more worth tax) — is, essentially, a tax on turnover, designed to catch (to some degree) those who have the power to minimise the tax on their incomes. It is not and never has been a luxury tax, for all that, in the Australian past, some items attracted a high rate of sales tax because they were considered “luxuries”.
    There may be grounds — as there are with certain other “goods and services” — for waiving the tax on tampons. But it is not on account of “luxury”. Unfortunately, those arguments seem not to have been made.

Comments are closed.