Andrew P Street
Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice…
There was a moment during Simon Birmingham’s interview on the ABC’s Insiders on Sunday which really laid bare the impressive gall of the federal government.
The senator from SA is almost unique in the Morrison government’s frontbench in that he hasn’t presided over at least one astonishing personal or political scandal, giving the welcome impression that he’s a high performer in a government otherwise consumed by defamation cases, allegations of sexual abuse, misuse of public money, or whatever category Robodebt falls under.
So when this paragon of basic competence was asked how he might justify the recently revealed pork-barrelling exercise that was the coalition’s pre-election promises of commuter carparks, he dismissed the question with ‘The Australian people had their chance and voted the government back in, and we’re determined to get on and deliver those election promises that we made in relation to local infrastructure’. Ah, sorry: so it’s all the public’s fault. Sorry for disturbing you, senator!
Now, it might seem a stretch to suggest that the voting public approve mightily of a $660 million pork-barrelling exercise, much less consider it quality government at work. And rightly so, because the claim is not remotely true.
The voters of Australia barely got the government over the line in 2019, and at that point couldn’t possibly be aware that the infrastructure spending being promised in their electorates was, for the most part, never going to happen.
In fact, of the 47 commuter carparks promised in 2019, two have been completed and eight were cancelled. Another 11 of the carparks haven’t even had preliminary assessments as to whether they comply with eligibility, over two years down the track, because no proposal for their construction has even been submitted.
(Mind you, it’s also worth remembering that it was while taking responsibility for a still-nonexistent commuter carpark in Campbelltown that Angus Taylor memorably forgot to change his Facebook profile to that of a pretend constituent before praising him with ‘Fantastic. Great move. Well done Angus’. )
So Birmingham was sidestepping the truth with his comment. What is true, however, is that if the people of Australia return the Morrison government then it won’t be because they don’t know what they’re going to do, but because they do.
Look at the legacy of Scott Morrison’s government right now, and what it’s achieved over during its tenure.
This is a government that ignored its own departmental advice in order to keep Robodebt alive, despite it being clear that there were significant problems with the way debts were being calculated and the inevitability of a massive settlement that cost the public a further $1.2 billion.
This is a government that is now six months into an internal inquiry to find out what it knew about the alleged rape of Brittany Higgins – a process which really shouldn’t take more than an afternoon, given everything that is already on record – and has been spending that time backgrounding against her and her partner to compliant journalists instead.
This is a government who angrily denied the pre-election suggestion of Medicare cuts as Labor lies, and then quietly instituted cuts to Medicare.
And of course, there’s the ongoing debacle that is the mishandling of the response to COVID-19.
Not only is Australia holding its breath that the Greater Sydney outbreak will be contained, with the lockdown still open-ended at the time of writing, owing to the utter inadequacy of the federal government’s vaccine rollout (memorably defended by the PM with ‘it’s not a race’), but the inadequate quarantine response has led to the knee-jerk slashing of new arrivals without consultation with airlines who are now weighing up whether it’s economically worth flying passenger aircraft into Australia at all.
And meanwhile thousands of people, including hundreds of unaccompanied children, still desperately want to return home 16 months into our border closures.
Re-electing the Morrison government means pork barrelling marginals with imaginary carparks is not merely fine, but the epitome of good government. It means saying that dodging responsibility on public health and climate action is not merely expected but encouraged. And it means that bullying women and committing sexual assault should be brushed under the carpet with no repercussions for anyone other than the victim.
So Birmingham might have been wrong about the last election, but he’d be right about the next one.
Andrew P Street is a journalist, columnist, author, editor and broadcaster.
For more information, visit www.patreon.com/andrewpstreet.