Saturday, September 03, 2016

Saturday Morning Musings - Prime Minister Turnbull's unfortunate week

It's not been a good week for the Turnbull Government. On Thursday 1 September 2016, the first day of spring, the House of Representatives was due to adjourn. A number of members including senior ministers decided to leave early.

You can understand their desire to sneak away. Australia is a large country with long travel times. They wanted to get home. However, the result was that when the motion to adjourn the house was put, the Government lost the vote. The Labor opposition, aware of the departures, had decided to oppose the adjournment motion. Chaotic scenes then followed as the Government recalled missing members to try to gain control of the House and to pass the adjournment motion. Finally, at 7.22 pm, the adjournment vote was passed.

It left PM Turnbull an angry man. If you have a one vote majority, you simply can't afford to take for granted even an adjournment vote where all members want to get away. It won't happen again, but it did display a lack of discipline. Don't think I'm not sympathetic to the individuals. I know those plane connections and if you don't get out at certain times you won't get home for up to another twenty four hours. But still. It wasn't a good look.

The slow unwinding of the Australian off-shore refugee detention regime continues. Broadspectrum which operates the offshore detention centres on Nauru and Manus had already indicated that it would not re-tender for the contracts. Now the privately owned Wilson Security who provides guards for Broadspectrum has announced that it is pulling out when its current contract with Broadspectrum ends. As with Broadspectrum, offshore detention is no longer "core business".

The "omnibus" financial savings bill introduced into the Australian Parliament during the week looks to me like another Turnbull Government own goal. The Government wished to shaft Labor by introducing a measure containing expenditure reduction proposals that Labor had previously supported. But then, it seems, they could not resist adding things.

The abolition of the Clean Energy supplement is a particular problem. The supplement was introduced as a  measure to compensate welfare recipients for the impact of the Carbon Tax, a tax subsequently abolished by the Abbott Government. The sums involved do not appear large: $4.40 a week for single unemployed, $7.05 a week for a single person on the aged or disability pension.On the surface, its abolition for new welfare recipients seems eminently fair. It's also a measure previously proposed by Labor as part of its savings.

The graph shows the difference between the Henderson poverty line and the amount of government assistance going to an unemployed family of four. It includes projections modelling the effects of the proposed change. The graph would be more dramatic, I think, if it was based on the single person Newstart allowance, the Australian equivalent of the dole.

Asked on radio if he could live on the allowance, new Social Services Minister Christian Porter temporised. The problem for the Government is that there is general agreement that the Newstart allowance has become just too low in real terms, so low that the abolition of the clean energy supplement represents a more significant cut than the raw numbers would suggest. The present weekly base rate for a single person on Newstart is only $263.80 per week.

I think that there is a broad measure of agreement that some form of budget repair is required. However, after the 2014 budget there was also a perception that the Coalition Government approach to the task was inequitable. I think that this proposed measure reinforces that perception.

The full roll-out of the new National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) was always going to experience some difficulties. This is the most complex piece of new policy that I have ever seen. However, the partial collapse of the NDIS on-line portal under the initial pressure was unfortunate for the Government, coming as it did at the same time as the census failure. In both cases, under-resourcing appears to have been a contributing factor. Our public sector organisations now are just so stretched that a degree of failure is inevitable.

I am sure that Prime Minister Turnbull will welcome this short break from Parliament, but must be wondering what might go wrong next.


2 tanners said...

Apropos of an earlier posting, Richard Neville died of Alzheimer's yesterday. Poor sod.

He was somewhat older than I'd thought, though, so Play Power would have been written when he was almost 30, desperately clinging to immaturity. It does give me to wonder whether a war/postwar upbringing had something to do with this.

Jim Belshaw said...

You old conservative, 2t!

Anonymous said...

Think I've commented before how much I enjoy Ms Greer's writing - even when disagreeing with her conclusions. So I have to say I think she's again really nailed it:

"He looked forward to the new. I'm afraid I'm not really like that, I'm kind of a bit suspicious of the new. I used to tease him and say that he was the ad man for the revolution, because he didn't actually have any ideology. His ideology was endlessly supple, but in some ways that's important, that you are open to new ideas in that way, and not doctrinaire like me."

- from Q&A last night, on the death of Richard Neville