Another year has almost passed. And to be blunt, it’s been another 12 months in Canberra of absolutely abysmal Coalition government. To be clear, I say that as a right-of-centre conservative voter. Sure, last election I actually preferenced Labor above the Libs – based on my view that a close Shorten win that saw Turnbull lose and all 53 of the Abbott plotters punished would have the best long-term consequences. It’s a view I hold even more strongly today despite that ship having sailed.
My grievances with the Liberal Party are not those you hear on the ABC or in the Fairfax press (assuming Fairfax still exists at the time you read this). I want solid and small government, no political correctness, no genuflecting to supranational elites and a government that doesn’t bask in virtue-signalling. Think here about the idiocy of spending two or three billion dollars a year on renewables subsidies that have zero-point-zero effect on what the world’s temperature would otherwise be in 80 years.
So how is that going? Well, Mr. Morrison is clearly and without doubt an improvement on Mr. Turnbull. Of course, you could walk out onto the street and pick a random anyone and that person would be better than Turnbull. Heck, you could even do that in the Liberal party room and you’d do better than Turnbull, save for Mr. Pyne, Ms. Payne and Ms. O’Dwyer. Note that ScoMo opted to put all three of those political giants in his Cabinet, but not Tony Abbott, thereby showing a stunning disregard for the views of his party’s base and core voters. How many of you readers are still angry about how Kelly O’Dwyer attacking superannuation with changes that could easily have come from a Labor government — changes that will make it near impossible for the Libs to protest when Labor opts for further changes down the road, ones that basically will abandon the goal of taking people off the Age Pension? As Treasurer, Mr. Morrison signed off on those changes. Bear that in mind also.
Then there’s Christopher Pyne. He’s the man who gloated about the Liberal Party being taken over by its lefties, the Black Hand gang, those ridiculously misnamed ‘moderates’. Oh, and because of him we’ve wasted billions on submarines that won’t be fit for purpose, that will do a much worse job than off-the-shelf ones we could have bought far more cheaply, and whose prime mission seems aimed at little more than securing his seat in Parliament. Frankly, I’d be happy for the billions to be spent to get him out of Parliament.
And then there’s Ms. Payne, the woman who ran Defence as though the goal was to treat national security as a laboratory playground to social-engineer the most politically correct outcomes you can think of. On US sports cable network ESPN you can watch recruiting ads for the US Army – ones where soldiers are shooting at enemies and the voiceover says ‘Warriors Wanted’. Our recruiting ads firstly look aimed solely at women and, secondly, seem to have next to nothing to do with the core job of the military. These days, of course, Ms. Payne is the invisible Foreign Minister. I suppose that’s better than if she were visible.
Now a fair few readers will say that’s just the cost of holding the Liberal Party together after the dumping of Turnbull. And that may be true. Certainly it’s a cost I would gladly have paid upfront if I’d been guaranteed the end of Team Turnbull. So the question is ‘How has Team Morrison been doing this past quarter year?’.
Let’s be honest. Other than a better persona and manner than that Turbullian hauteur, Morrison has been a pretty big disappointment. Yes, without doubt an improvement on Malcolm, but still pretty pathetic. His is remains very much a Turnbull Cabinet. Morrison has not pulled out of the Paris Accord. Instead, he wants to tell private enterprise – who after all are only responding to the incentives this government put in place – what they can and cannot do with their assets. If that’s not a definition of ‘crony capitalism’ I don’t know what is. And those incredible rivers of renewables subsidies aren’t going away quickly.
Then there’s our world-highest per capita immigration intake, about which Mr. Morrison fuffs about and makes vague noises. Frankly, I’m not at all clear what he’s going to do on that front and I’m a political junky. He should have just cut the intake in half and done it loudly and proudly. But no, none of that. For my money he’s been captured by the bureaucrats who warn about how this might hurt the economy. That’s because they insist on seeing the economy through the prism of the highly misleading GDP criterion. But GDP just measures overall economic activity. Let in a million people a year and you are guaranteed to increase GDP. What matters, or so it seems to me, is GDP growth per person. And on that measure we’re no better these past decades than Japan – a country with basically zero immigration.
Want to know why people feel they aren’t getting ahead economically? It’s because many of them aren’t getting ahead. So next time you hear about GDP growth roll your eyes and ask about per capita growth. I guarantee you that Mssrs Frydenberg and Morrison won’t want to talk about that.
Okay, what about the cultural side of things? Maybe at least there Team Morrison is, you know, actually doing something. Alas, not so much. The plan on the religious freedom front appears to be that they will create yet another human rights commissioner – a Religious Freedom Commissioner. If any sentient being on the planet thinks this will work then I have some seaside property in Alice Springs I’d like to sell them. It is this Liberal Coalition government that appointed Justin Milne and Michelle Guthrie to the ABC; that has appointed various lacklustre salary-drawerers and photo-op models to the Human Rights Commission. And that’s not mentioning awful High Court picks.
Leave aside that, at some point, Labor will get to pick its own so-called Religious Freedom Commissioner and you just know that person will be wholly in step with the ABC worldview. No, as I said, leave that aside. Worse by far is that you simply can’t trust the Libs to pick anyone worth picking. Name a single appointee to anything important that comes close to the choosing of someone who goes against the prevailing PC lefty orthodox. I can think of half of dozen such Trump appointments. I can’t think of a single one here in Australia. I mean, just look at Morrison’s temporary pick for the ABC.
Here’s my prediction: this mooted ‘remedy’ will do absolutely nothing for religious freedom in this country. If anything, it just adds to the incredible Australian proclivity to appeal to ‘independent’ commissioners and the like, where the real meaning of ‘independent’ is nothing more than ‘undemocratic’. And where the appointees almost always share the ABC/lefty worldview.
If the Libs really wanted to sort out the problem of religious freedom they could do it in two steps. First, get rid of the Australian Human Rights Commission completely. Second, repeal Section 18C, our egregious ‘hate speech’ law. Do that and virtually all of the problems faced by religious people would go. But the Libs have a party room where the majority probably like 18C and almost as many are keen on the Human Rights Commission. It’s a party where the likes of Tim Wilson (whom I thought would be a great MP) turns out to be a shill for renewables subsidies and the Paris Accord worldview. Meanwhile, Julian Leeser (whom I got to know during his tenure at the Samuel Griffith Society) is a Liberal MP who wholly supports Section 18C and who wants to jam indigenous recognition into our Constitution.
Well, I have a full year sabbatical looming and my wife and I will be out of Australia for all of calendar year 2019. So come the next election I will be voting absentee while holding my nose. That said, this time, though, I’ll be voting for the Libs in the sense that I will be putting them above Labor, but certainly not as a first preference nor with any measure of conviction and hope. Better than labor? Yeah, but only just and putting them first would only send campaign finance money their way that they don’t deserve. I wouldn’t lift a finger to help them with campaigning or on election day and I wouldn’t give them a penny. The truth is I think the political class in this country, and especially the right-of-centre brigade, is just about the worst I’ve seenin my entire voting life.
Of course it’s still not too late for ScoMo to do something, to show some principles, and to adopt non-Labor-lite policies and have something to campaign on other than ‘we’re only for 26 percent renewables and a half-ruined economy while Labor is worse’ type arguments that will sway next to no one. I really hope he does remember what being on the conservative side of politics is supposed to be about. But thus far the evidence is wholly lacking that the man has it in him. In my view Peter Dutton would have been miles better. Out of necessity he would have stood for something.
Happy Christmas and all the best for 2019!
James Allan is Garrick Professor of Law at the University of Queensland and the author of Democracy in Decline