Image for NATION: How can I help you win today? The politics of fear and division

“How can I help you win today?” Clay Nelson, US salesman and Morrison’s mentor.

Journos sulk balefully as Federal Treasurer Morrison wastes everyone’s time at Wednesday’s Press Club lunch. No-one’s up for yet another game of pin the tail on the donkey as Liberal government policy briefings have become.

Scott Morrison’s fended off the press before. His career is built on non-responses. As Sovereign Border Enforcer, Supreme Commander Brush-Off Morrison ruled any useful question out of order by militarising immigration, a tradition capably founded by Liberal PM John Winston Howard who in the Tampa crisis started the pernicious myth that refugees are our enemy. We have been at war with asylum seekers and ourselves ever since.

Happily for our PM it’s open season on demon people-smugglers, many of whom are refugees themselves. The vile, evil scum cop yet another salvo from a Turnbull determined to show he’s not soft on border protection – whatever that is.

PM John Key, who seems to be in the country for some Mal-pal pyjama party says NZ will take 150 Manus and Nauru detainees every year but he’s over-ruled. “There’s an enormous case-load”, says Julie Bishop, adding a nifty bit of jargon on Sunday’s ABC Insiders where affable Barrie Cassidy’s soft questioning helps her get her enormous lie out. As Foreign Minister she must know what a whopper it is. Europeans facing millions of refugees, shake their heads in utter disbelief.

Bishop repeats the equally preposterous government claim that decisions can only be made on a case by case basis despite UN rulings that our entire indefinite off-shore detention scheme itself is illegal.

Not that we are making any decisions. Unspoken, but always implied, the official myth of “processing” hides our practice of punishing refugees simply for fleeing persecution. So far, Turnbull is in lock-step with Abbott over the political necessity of the wilful denial of our own humanity. His Prime Ministership not only disappoints, it diminishes us all.

...a jarring klaxon of fear-mongering.

People smugglers must be discouraged, the PM honks, his silver tongue now a jarring klaxon of fear-mongering. Negative gearing also cops a blast because it would ‘smash housing values’. Unlike the fall in values which will occur as a result of the recession his neo-liberal treasurer wishes upon us with his economic illiteracy and his austerity mindset.

Immigration staggers under its “caseload”. In the meantime, any one of the babies and children in Australia may be extradited back to Nauru without notice, thanks to a nifty “reform” to our “processing”. Baby Asha is surrounded in a Queensland hospital by a group of protestors keeping vigil. A baby needs physical protection from an immigration bureaucracy that we somehow turned into a power-drunk, unaccountable quasi-police force.

Doctors’ organisations, even state premiers offer refuge to the babies and children but Turnbull is not about to go soft on border protection, even if it is a nonsense founded on unlawful policy, a capitulation to hysterical xenophobia and the politics of gutter nationalism. ( SMH update: Baby Asha will be transferred to Brisbane community detention: Peter Dutton )

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Morrison’s a total non-event. The Abbott/Turnbull government is under the spotlight and it looks unprepared for anything. No policy after two and a half years of hints and teases and everything on the table. Of course everything is on the table if you are unable to make a decision. Until you have to take GST off the menu. ScoMo’s giving no-one any copy. No hook, no headline. Only the cartoonists and photographers, as usual, have any fun.

The Treasurer infuriates some journos. He will cop heck from AFR’s Laura Tingle, you can tell, well before she gets to her feet. She rebukes him for saving $80 billion and spending $70 billion and being silly enough to boast publicly about it. Alan Jones tells him the next day “he said nothing”. What was that all about?

“Backing Australians in our transitioning economy” is its clumsy title yet ScoMo’s speech aims to divide us just as surely as if he’d called us lifters and leaners. “Picking winners” is what he’s really up to.

“Australia is rapidly becoming a nation divided between those who pay taxes and those who have taxes spent upon them,” he says in what he calls his ‘candid’ and ‘upfront’ meaning covert, divisive dog whistle style.

We’ll make the losers pay.

He means we’d be so much better off without the bludgers. We’ll make the losers pay. He boasts about the $80 billion cut from health and education as evidence of economic governance instead of what it is, social vandalism. He mutters about $100 billion wasted so far on housing assistance for the needy. If only the nation would grow up, get out of bed and get a job.

No-one, not even Liberal cheerleader Chris Uhlmann would expect candour from this man but why must we always be wrong to expect fairness? Innovation is patently just this government’s latest hoax. We get the same tired old evasion and clapped-out sloganeering that is Morrison’s trademark animated only by the odd hint of his pleasure at increasing social division like a crafty bowler picking at a seam.

“A nation divided…” is one of ScoMo’s clearer statements in a miasma of spin in which he will, he says, share the ‘economic and fiscal context’ of his thinking. This is not the budget, he notes helpfully. Instead we get a series of clichés about China, nothing at all about the fiscal collapse of much of the EC our next biggest trading partner, some hollow boasts about job growth and his barren old hokey standby of “transitioning” the economy.  Even China our biggest trading partner is “transitioning” its economy and it’s looking good for tourism. WOTF?

China is frantically trying to manage an inevitable economic slowdown while at the same time it must wrestle with a credit bubble that somehow just happened. No-one trusts official statistics. Yet while experts disagree on details, all agree that China’s capacity to manage its economy is doubtful. Instead, it looks increasingly ham-fisted and desperate. George Soros even thinks this looks like the GFC of 2008. But reality does not intrude into the eternal sunlight of Turnbull’s mindless optimism. We are in the best of all possible worlds – provided he can squelch any electoral backlash.

...the prospect of rapid political oblivion…

ScoMo is clearly unable to announce a 50% rise in the GST, because Turnbull’s got cold feet. His trepid PM has just pulled the pin on any tax increases. Liberal backbench “bed-wetters”, as ScoMo calls those worried by the prospect of rapid political oblivion, are up in arms. Turnbull rushes out treasury figures about productivity. A GST rise does not do much for productivity. Nor does the tax mix switch, which sounds almost kinky amidst Morrison’s limited pitch.

The tyro treasurer is really struggling.  For Bob Ellis it’s the worst presentation from any treasurer anywhere in five hundred years. Apart from the graphs, his fulsome praise for his team – “it’s always a thrill to work with Matt Cormann”- his rugby forward drop of the shoulder and the thing he does with his jacket button, Morrison has nothing to offer. Zilch. Nada. Zip. Zero. Another dry patch in the five month policy drought of the Turnbull ascendancy itself not a new government as Leigh Sales reminds ScoMo but a government two and half years old with no economic plan.

ScoMo knows a story is a public speaker’s best friend. He’s no public speaker. He praises Clay Nelson, an American salesman in an aside which sums up “what he and his government are all about”, he says. Then he gives us another slogan.

Clay’s tale has alligators in hunting cabins, a practical joke simply begging public endorsement, but it pays tribute to something for every Macca’s drive-through and Centrelink customer service cubicle ” How can I help you win today.” Even Chris Uhlmann looks bored. Later, newspapers background the man in the anecdote. Seriously. Perhaps they, too, sense they missed something.

Scott Morrison’s hokey story does say a lot about him and his budget. He’s right about that. It’s about winners and losers. The winners are those who are out working every day. Scott is trying to help them by reducing their taxes. This will make us all richer as a nation because of something he calls a productivity dividend. A what?

...jargon to exclude us from understanding…

Richard Dennis who shows how politicians use jargon to exclude us from understanding economics has warned us. Understandings that are rightfully ours. Productivity dividend is our old friend, Mr Trickle-down.  Trickle down is a discredited theory that holds that a nation’s prosperity may be increased by increasing the fortunes of the wealthy. It’s Morrison’s tax plan in a nutshell. It has helped create inequality and injustice the world over.

As a speaker, Morrison can’t bat. Can’t bowl. But like many a con artist he can’t resist a cricket analogy. This budgeting business is, he says, is more of a test match rather than a big bash. Perhaps he’s stalling for even more time. His government, certainly appears utterly unprepared for either type of match or anything else involving preparation and a plan.

Whatever he intends by this the treasurer needs to be reminded he can forget cricket when lives are at stake. Voters don’t need yet another sporting analogy. Or a folksy story. They want and deserve a treasurer and a government which can govern fairly and honestly in the interests of all Australians.

It’s not about winners and losers, Mr Morrison, your job is about nurturing a genuinely democratic society that has mutual respect and equality at its core an Australia with the desire, the political will and the capacity to take care of everybody.

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