Missing in action

The prime minister speaks of taking action. “Practical, meaningful action.” To buoy our economy, protect our land, lower emissions and create new jobs.

On Thursday, as parliament hurtled to a close for the year, he took action – moving ruthlessly to push his union-busting bill through the house of representatives once more, undeterred by last week’s shock defeat in the senate.

Debate was gagged, an action Anthony Albanese deigned “an abuse of our democratic processes”. But the vote was won by the government, the stifling simply a means to its ends.

This came just a day after the prime minister closed out his year-long campaign to repeal the medevac legislation, having struck a secret pact with Jacqui Lambie to secure her vote.

It was a strong week for Scott Morrison, but the prime minister has always been one to believe in miracles.

Already he has turned his mind to the new decade. The public service will be overhauled in 2020 – five department heads gone, vast amalgamations. The arts portfolio will be housed under a new Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications. And he has renewed his promise to introduce a religious discrimination bill, too, in the new year.

But the closure of parliament seems an apt moment to consider Morrison’s actions this year. His scattergun approach that saw little more than the country’s revenue base undermined in a moment of economic uncertainty, and vegan activists likened to terrorists under the law.

Politics is always obsessed with victories – winning the vote, winning the news cycle. But lacking any coherent plan, the Morrison government has spent the year in a blinkered push towards a nebulous unknown.

It is action without any acknowledgement, or care, that reaction is inevitable.

At times, of course, action is not necessary.

There is no need to take any action against Angus Taylor, for example, as Morrison told parliament last week – after he spoke to the New South Wales police commissioner about a pending investigation into his Energy minister.

There is no need to take action on climate change, as he told the United Nations General Assembly in September, because Australia is already “taking real action on climate change and we are getting results”.

When doctors warn a desperately sick asylum seeker will die without immediate transfer to Australia, there is no need to take action.

“On the night of the election I thanked all those Australians who go about their lives honestly, decently, with their aspirations. They’re the Australians that our government spoke directly to,” Morrison said in parliament on Thursday. “Those Australians endorsed the agenda, the objectives and the work program of this government.”

In truth, there has been no agenda – only cruelty, ego and inertia. Time will tell whether the new decade ushers in anything different.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on December 7, 2019 as "Missing in action".

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