Scott Morrison assembled 700 of the nation’s top public servants in the Great Hall of the federal Parliament to put them on notice: He’s the boss who knows what the quiet Australians want – and they had better get used to it.
Along the way, the Prime Minister defined these quiet Australians as middle Australia who have a “trust deficit” of government and the services it provides.
Mr Morrison said there is a perception that politics “is very responsive to those at the top and those at the bottom, but not so much to those in the middle”.
“This will not be the case under my government,” he said.
“Middle Australia needs to know that the government, including the public service, is on their side.”
Left outside the Morrison bubble are the 700,000 languishing on the Newstart unemployment benefit or the 4.5 million receiving government pensions and allowances.
They are among the 44 million missed telephone calls to the government’s main service delivery agency, Centrelink.
Mr Morrison said – without blushing – “we need interactions with government to be simpler, more human and less bureaucratic”.
His good friend “Stuey” as he called Minister for Government Services Stuart Robert – beaming in the front row of the audience – has a goal “to have all government services available digitally by 2025”.
Mr Robert certainly knows a lot about digital technology; last year he repaid $38,000 for home internet bills for which he had slugged taxpayers.
And this year has rejected calls to scrap robo-debt collection that has seen thousands of people hit with mistaken overpayment demands.
Mr Morrison certainly means business because he says he and his ministers are the ones who have to face the voters.
It is what his old rugby coach called the “bacon and eggs principle, the chicken is involved, but the pig is absolutely committed to the task”.
In the metaphor, the politicians are the pigs who have no intention of becoming the bacon and will continue blaming the chicken for the problems their policies have created.
Labor’s public service shadow minister Katy Gallagher says “it’s a bit rich for Scott Morrison to simply say do better when he and his colleagues have ripped money out of departments, cut thousands of jobs from front-line services like call centres, and outsourced government work to big consulting firms at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars a year”.
Senator Gallagher, who represents the Australian Capital Territory, says 65 per cent of the nation’s 240,000 public servants live and work outside of Canberra.
The prime minister is urging they “look beyond the bubble” and take more notice of the “vast majority of Australians” rather than the vested interests that “parade through this place”.
“Physician heal thyself”, as the Good Book says.
Pacific Island leaders have been forthright in their condemnation of the Australian government looking after the vested interests of billionaire coal miners rather than commit to meaningful emissions reductions and a faster transition to renewables.
This projection onto others, the consequences of its own policies, is particularly apparent in light of the China panic currently gripping the country.
Here our universities are the victim with their growing dependence on full-fee-paying overseas students to stay operational.
They are being accused of being soft on foreign interference and free speech on their campuses.
The 700,000 foreign students in Australia account for the $17 billion education export sector.
Two of our biggest universities, Sydney and New South Wales, have more than 70 per cent of this revenue coming from Chinese students.
In April last year, Labor’s Tanya Plibersek warned treasurer Morrison’s $2.2 billion of cuts would see the number of Australian students studying “at uni or TAFE plummet by about 490,000 over the next 15 years”.
There’s plenty of blame to go around inside the prime minister’s bubble.