Failure to govern
It is a dangerous thing, a government that refuses to govern. So much of the apparatus of governing is dedicated to the appearance of action: doorstops, press conferences, site visits, overseas trips and speeches; committees and estimates hearings; inquiries and royal commissions.
It is easy to see all of this general busyness and mistake it for the doing of something. With some political sleight of hand, though, it can easily come to naught.
Scott Morrison’s is a government committed to the appearance of action: to building our economy, to securing your future.
In practice, it is paralysed.
His is a government that has limited the parliamentary sitting calendar. There have been fewer than 40 days, since the start of the year, when both houses have sat together.
His government has squeezed the time allowed for primary function – the debate, amendment and passing of laws – to the absolute minimum.
In the legislation that has skirted through, there has been a studied avoidance.
Instead of the help needed by farmers facing drought, the sanctions required to rein in the corruption that let the Murray–Darling run dry, the government spruiks its $7 billion funding for the drought. As yet, next to nothing has been spent.
Meanwhile, there has been no meaningful economic reform to stave off recession. Instead, the job has fallen to the Reserve Bank. Having cut itself into irrelevance by pushing interest rates to historic lows, the bank must now consider printing money in an attempt to stimulate the economy.
Repeated calls for the Morrison government to take action – for fiscal stimulus, or even the consideration of such measures – have been ignored.
On climate change, perhaps most keenly, we have been failed.
Australia is “doing our bit on climate change”, the prime minister says. “We reject any suggestion to the contrary,” he added in New York last week. “Australia is taking real action on climate change and getting results.”
But we are not. The central plank of the Morrison government’s policy, the Emissions Reduction Fund, is failing.
Australia has no climate change plan. No drought plan or water plan. No economic plan.
Some may argue a government in stasis is less dangerous than one intent on destruction. But in our current moment, there is no doubt a government that decides to do nothing – while dedicating significant resources to the appearance of doing something – comes with its own perils.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Oct 5, 2019 as "Failure to govern". Subscribe here.