MUNGO MACCALLUM. Morrison reverses gratuitous cruelty.

Apr 8, 2019

There was at least one moment of relief after the election spiel masquerading as a budget; the decision exclude the energy supplement hand out from the New Start allowance was reversed in less than twelve hours.

The original decision was not an oversight – it was gratuitous cruelty. And the reversal was not an act of principle and compassion, it was simply needed to get the numbers to pass.

Still, we – and the unemployed – must be grateful for small mercies. Of course what is needed is a permanent and substantial rise in the pittance provided, and there is no sign of that. And in a sense this has been the essence of last week’s exercise: a cynical stop-gap measure designed to provide a pre-election fillip with no pretence of any vision beyond the poll.

The energy supplement is not just mean and tricky; it is devoid of policy, and is an admission of total defeat. When Scott Morrison stumbled into office, his focus on energy policy was to bring down power prices —  indeed it was not just the focus, it was the only thing that mattered. He re-christened his new minister, Angus Taylor, the Minister for  Bringing Down Energy Bills.

But after all the bluster and ballyhoo, the threats and ultimatums against the power companies and the chatter of the since abandoned big stick, almost nothing has been achieved: energy bills remain stubbornly high. So on to plan B: a one off cash bribe in the vain hope that the government is seen to be actually doing something.

Not very much, admittedly: $75 is hardly munificent. Back in 2003, when Peter Costello offered the average voter a tax cut around $5 a week, his Family and Community Services Minister Amanda Vanstone derided it as less than the cost of a sandwich and a milkshake. Averaged out over a year, ScoMo’s largesse rounds out at about $1.50 a week – not even the price of a Mars Bar. There will be very few dancing in the streets.

And the real cynicism is that the sweetener is not even directed at the power bills: it is to be paid directly in cash. Now some of the hard working Australians (sorry, battlers on welfare, or whatever the cliché is) may actually use the loot to help with their power bills, or perhaps their rent, or the many cost of living pressures to which they are subjected.

But there is no compulsion – they are perfectly entitled to spend it on strong drink or dangerous drugs if that is their fancy. This is the basic advertiser’s ploy – scatter money at the mob, it doesn’t matter what they do with it as long as they can be lured to the marketeer’s bait. Well. some of them might, but you can bet they will not be convinced that Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg have suddenly morphed into compassionate care bears for the poor.

When they announced their move to match Bill Shorten’s plan for tax cuts to middle income earners, it is worth noting that there was nothing for those really struggling – those under $40,000 a year It will be interesting if desperation forces them to another flip.

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