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The incredible shrinking prime minister

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From the editorWell, that was 2019. I don't know about you but I'm happy to see the back of it. From
 

SundayFocus

December 29 · Issue #23 · View online
Your weekly wrap of national affairs, society, culture and politics, published by UnionsACT.

From the editor
Well, that was 2019. I don’t know about you but I’m happy to see the back of it. From disappointing election results to climate inertia and neoliberalism’s stubborn refusal to die, 2019 has been a shocker.
On a personal level, however, it’s been pretty good. One of the highlights of 2019 for me has been the opportunity to produce SundayFocus. When we launched the newsletter in July we didn’t really know what we were doing. We just knew that right-wing media seemed to be in the ascendancy and we wanted to push back. In some respects we still don’t know what we’re doing, but we thank the 6249 of you who don’t seem to mind.
To that end, SundayFocus can only survive if it can cover its costs, those costs being me and some admin expenses. I know that money is tight for many people these days so if you can’t afford to pay for a subscription, that’s no problem. But if you can afford a few bucks a month, and you’d like to keep reading SundayFocus in 2020, please consider subscribing, or buying a Gift Solidarity Subscription or a Yearly Gift Solidarity Subscription for someone.
Enjoy the issue, and here’s to a 2020 superior in all ways to this sorry excuse for a year. 🥂
Guy Mosel, editor

The incredible shrinking prime minister
by Guy Mosel
Seven months is a long time in politics.
It was only in May that Scott Morrison was celebrating a shock election victory, vanquishing a Labor opposition that had already selected drapes for their new ministerial offices.
It seemed, for a time, that Morrison was a man built for this moment. In the age of spin and bullshit, where electoral victories are built on simplistic narratives, three-word slogans and targeted Facebook smears, who better to leverage these modern tools of political warfare than an ad-man like Scotty from marketing.
Ensconced for another three years, Morrison set about casting Australia in his own reactionary, small-target, IPA-endorsed image, going after unions, attacking climate and other social activists and promoting a radical Christian agenda.
During this time Morrison demonstrated an almost Trumpian tendency to look truth squarely in the face and lie regardless. From repeatedly claiming that Australia’s climate emissions have fallen under the Coalition (they haven’t), to assuring us that the religious discrimination bill is definitely not designed to entrench Christian hegemony (it is), Morrison’s smirking chutzpah has become nearly as iconic as Tony Abbott’s red budgie smugglers.
For a while, Morrison’s mastery of the media combined with his aw-shucks invulnerability to criticism, a feckless opposition and a malleable senate made him apparently bulletproof.
But that seems like a long time ago now. Jetting off to Hawaii for a holiday with the family while the country burned may very well turn out to be Morrison’s defining screw-up.
The mistakes began before the Morrison clan decamped for Hawaii. In Sydney two weeks before Christmas, the city shrouded in smoke from a dozen surrounding fires, Morrison spoke about the religious discrimination bill. When reporters pressed him on whether the government ought to provide more support to overworked volunteer firies Morrison rejected the notion, claiming that they “want to be out there”.
Having aborted his vacation and returned to Australia when the cacophony of outrage became too loud to ignore, Morrison went defensive, first apologising for causing offence and then later attempting to pass off his decision to abandon the country in a moment of crisis as a by-product of trying to be a good parent.
When that didn’t placate the nation he went on the offensive, again going after Greta Thunberg (who is, it should be noted, a child with Asperger’s) and launching another passionate defence of the coal industry.
Meanwhile, the country continued to burn.
Scrambling for ideas, Morrison has now relented on his initial refusal to support volunteer firefighters, pledging additional annual leave. And he’s also resorted to some diversionary tactics, announcing an inquiry into state bushfire management.
How bad is this for Morrison?
Terminal, according to some. Writing in The Canberra Times Nicholas Stuart said Morrison’s prime ministership was “over”. “The trappings remain but any remaining moral authority exited with the brief interview he proffered to radio from his beach-side hideaway in Hawaii,” Stuart writes. “It will never return.”
Long term it’s hard to say. In any other era this would be the kind of dereliction of duty that a prime minister would carry with them forever. But now, when every day brings with it a new disaster and a new outrage, this appalling failure of leadership might end up being nothing more than a footnote to a political era when every time we thought we’d reached the bottom we discovered further depths to plumb.
If nothing else you can be sure that Dutton will be keeping this debacle in mind for his inevitable leadership challenge.
Read more
It doesn’t really get much better than Booker Prize winner Richard Flanagan’s piece “Aloha, little Scotty from Marketing, is it resurrection you’re looking for?”
The week in review
Good news… Research from The Australia Institute reveals that most people want Newstart recipients to receive a bonus Christmas payment. The survey found that two-thirds of Australians support a payment ($500 or more was the most popular figure), with households earning more than $200,000 per year the only income group to reject the idea. Because of course.
Bad news… The elections of Liberal MPs Gladys Liu and Josh Frydenberg in the Victorian seats of Chisholm and Kooyong will stand despite the federal court finding that the Liberal party’s then acting Victorian director Simon Frost had “caused or authorised the printing, publishing and distribution of … corflutes … that were likely to mislead or deceive an elector in relation to the casting of a vote”. The court found that even though it was preparing to make a declaration that Frost had committed an “illegal practice”, there was “no real chance” that the Chinese-language signs, designed to look like they were produced by the Australian Electoral Commission, had changed the result.
Dodgy election signage, concocted death taxes, the invention of Corbyn’s antisemitism – voters deserve much better than this.
Good news… More and more Australian businesses are switching to renewables to save money. “Power purchasing agreements” with renewable energy providers are allowing large corporations to negotiate power supply at predetermined prices for extended periods. In 2018 PPAs accounted for 1.5 gigawatts of renewable capacity (for comparison, the total capacity of the National Electricity Market is 50 gigawatts).
Bad news… Narendra Modi and his far right Bharatiya Janata Party have faced countrywide protests in opposition to the anti-Muslim Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens. At least 25 protesters have been killed by police and thousands detained. Police have also raided libraries and universities, and beat up and sexually assaulted students, while the government has cut off internet access to prevent news of the repression spreading.
A bit of both… There have been all manner of bullshit conclusions drawn from the election defeats of the ALP and UK Labour. Two of the most common, propagated by both the right of each party and puffed-up conservatives, is that labo(u)r parties have lost/are losing the working class and that left-wing policies are unpopular. The first is a tricky proposition to counter because it’s definitionally and geographically messy, although certainly in Australia the old class divides still seem to apply. The second conclusion, however, is manifestly disprovable, as Godfrey Moase explains in his excellent Jacobin essay.
Longreads
A front-row seat to history: Inside Trump's impeachment day
How Brexit sunk Labour
Then WeCame to the end
For your bookshelf
Bob Hawke: The Complete Biography, by Blanche d'Alpuget
The Chaser and Shovel Annual 2019, by The Chaser
Plots and Prayers, by Niki Savva
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