Blaming Labor is not an economic plan, Scott Morrison | Greg Jericho

Anyone listening to the government this week would think the Liberals had won government from opposition. Harping on about debt ‘inheritance’ is wearing thin

The most animated Scott Morrison got this week was in response to Chris Bowen during question time on Wednesday, shouting, “I have got news for you: when the whistle has blown and you are on the wrong side of the scoreboard or you are on the wrong side of this House, you lost the election, buddy! And you lost the election because you did not have an economic plan.”

It would have been a nice bit of rhetorical flourish were it not in response to a question pointing out the treasurer’s omnibus budget savings bill had a $107m costing error.

It also would have had more impact had not the government also ended up on the wrong side of the scoreboard on three occasions by the end of the week.

But his retort also highlighted that the government’s natural economic stance is to focus on the Labor party.

And with this comes the sense that the treasurer and prime minister are acting less like members of a re-elected government than one which has just won the election from opposition.

Both of the Dorothy Dixers asked of the treasurer this week on Wednesday and Thursday were about debt and deficit. And both times the treasurer spent most of the time talking of the debt they “inherited”.

You would scarce suspect from his answers that the Liberal party has had three years in which to do something about this inheritance.

For their opening gambit of the 45th parliament, great store was placed in whether or not Labor would pass the omnibus budget savings measures rather than on any measures that might be designed to promote the prime minister’s beloved “jobs and growth”.

Malcolm Turnbull even went to so far this week as to suggest budget repair was “a fundamental moral challenge” – which suggests his government has a very odd sense of morality.

It would be interesting, for example, to hear the moral argument for cutting the clean energy supplement for people on Newstart – one of the measures within the omnibus bill.

As social security economist Dave Plunkett has noted, axing the $4.40 a week supplement will actually see people who go on to Newstart being worse off than they would have been prior to its introduction in 2013 as compensation for the carbon price.

Given we’re talking about people on $264 a week – well below the poverty line of $524 per week defined by the Melbourne Institute – one’s morals would need to be fairly skewed to think such a cut was justified. And at $1.291bn it is the biggest savings measure in the bill.

Such is the price of morality, I guess.

Just in case those on Newstart were still feeling some sense of love, the government also proposes cutting the “job commitment bonus” of $2,500 for those unemployed aged 18-30 who get a job and keep it for a year and an extra $4,000 for those who keep it for two years.

The explanatory memorandum of the bill states that the program was found to have “not had a significant impact on young job seekers either obtaining or remaining in employment”.

Given it was a signature policy introduced by the Abbott government, that’s a fair slap given to both Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey.

Also included is a $1bn cut to the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, but I guess not to worry, the moral challenge of climate change is so 2007.

And what is all this for? What is the big payoff? Why, according to the treasurer, do we have to “arrest this debt”?

On that aspect the government is less clear. Mostly, the argument is that we need to reduce debt in order to have “resilience in the face of any potential storm”. It doesn’t exactly suggest any sense of the economic situation other than “surplus good, deficit bad”.

For now Morrison is content to adopt the negative stance, but it will need to end soon. Voters know this government has been in power for three years, not less than three months, and they deserve some actual sense on what the government wishes to do and why, rather than on what it believes the opposition will not do.


Greg Jericho

The GuardianTramp

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