Scott Morrison is warning of a rocky road ahead this year despite his confidence that the “economic recovery is well under way”.
And the alarms are sounding as much for him as anyone when he is forced to face up to issues he has managed to avoid addressing adequately.
Two time-buying royal commissions will finally report, forcing him to face up to crises in aged care and disability services.
But if the government’s response to another Morrison-initiated probe, the Banking Royal Commission, is any guide the government will shirk the hard decisions.
Analysis last month by Emeritus Professor of Finance Kevin Davis in The Conversation found that of the 76 recommendations made by commissioner Kenneth Hayne to reform the industry, two years on “the government has yet to implement 44 of these and turned its back on five key reforms, including curbing irresponsible lending practices”.
Morrison as Treasurer had dismissed Labor calls for such a commission as “a stunt” so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he has ignored its prescriptions – risking, of course, a repeat of the very problems that fuelled the public outcry.
In the meantime lower borrowing costs and easier access to credit is sure to make voters happier.
And make no mistake – few in political circles doubt that making voters happy is now uppermost in the Prime Minister’s mind, especially as he has a vivid awareness that the recovery he boasts of is fragile.”
The pandemic that ravaged the economy last year “is still raging”, he said at the National Press Club. “It is not petering out … indeed it is morphing into new and more virulent strains.”
The ending of Western Australia’s enviable COVID-free existence is a stark reminder of the danger and yet another reason why the federal election will be held this year.
While the Prime Minister is promising to unveil his response to the Aged Care Royal Commission in the May Budget he is also promising a return to fiscal rectitude by “not running a blank cheque budget”.
It was the Howard Coalition government – in the name of saving taxpayers’ dollars – that handed aged care over to private providers to run with virtual deregulation of staffing levels and qualifications.
The early days of the pandemic saw the death toll in private facilities skyrocket; in Victoria 600 of the 800 COVID deaths were in Commonwealth regulated facilities none in the state operated ones.
Aged care, along with disability service provision, as evidence at both inquiries has shown, demand a lot more funding and involvement from the Commonwealth than has been provided.
Another crunch point for the government, and indeed the Albanese-led opposition, is managing climate change in a way that meets the growing concerns of the electorate, as highlighted by the new Biden administration in Washington, adding weight to the message action is urgent.
The Prime Minister claims the “politics of carbon has ended” but the internal politics of the government has him refusing to commit to “net zero emission by 2050” because he doesn’t know how to get there without blowing up the Coalition.
The Nationals have become even more strident coal champions and anything that smells of a tax, like a price on carbon pollution, is also federal Liberal Party heresy.
So it’s “technology and not taxation” – technology that keeps the fossil fuel donors of the Liberal Party onside like gas and carbon capture and storage.
Both are now much more expensive than renewables even without a “carbon tax”.
Morrison is left with a glib and meaningless assurance: “When I can tell you how we get there (net zero) that’s when I will tell you when we’re going to get there.”
Labor’s Anthony Albanese and his new climate man, Chris Bowen, believe Joe Biden’s successful policy push linking climate action to new job opportunities is a circuit-breaking way forward.
After his near-death car crash, Albanese says he’s determined to make every day count and do “everything he can to make a difference.”
Albanese is confident of his support in the party room – and that victory is within reach no matter when the election is called.
The latest line ball Newspoll suggests he’s not being fanciful.