By Denis Bright
Nothing excites the electorate more than the voice of our leaders’ messages of hope over adversarial politics. Prime Minister Albanese has been busy consolidating with art in media releases over the holiday break.
The press conference in Sydney on 3 January 2024 was a sign-on for more duties that are usually beyond the scope of a Prime Minister:
Happy New Year everyone. In 2024 I’m very positive as we enter the new year. And later this morning I will be briefly attending the beginning of David Warner’s last test match at the SCG. And I do hope, if it hasn’t happened already, whoever knows anything about the missing caps – David Warner has represented Australia on more than one hundred occasions. The baggy green caps belong to him. He has earnt them and they should be returned.
The press conference continued to cover vital issues about living standards and skilling the nation. There was a promise of 300,000 fee-free TAFE places during 2024. The MYEFO spirit continued with a promise of more commitment to cost-of-living-relief in the 2024-25 budget scheduled for 9 May.
What a contrast to the political statements from Prime Minister Morrison exactly two years ago. In a live interview from Kirribilli House to Sarah Abo on the Today Show, discussion moved to the leadership skills of then Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese:
Well, he’s always full of complaints after the fact. I’ve found with the Leader of the Opposition. He’s like that person on the Monday morning who always says what the coach should have done and what all the players have done. But you know, I don’t think you want that bloke running the team at any time.
The current press conference marginalized adversarial politics. Responding to a journalist’s questions Prime Minister Albanese offered New Year on several fronts:
What we want is to take pressure off people who are feeling pressure as a result of global inflation. This has had an impact. Australians, of course, were hit by the pandemic and then they were hit by global inflation, which was a result of two global impacts. One was the ongoing supply issues related to the pandemic, and the second of course, was the illegal Russian invasion of Ukraine that had an impact on prices here as they did right around the world. So, we’re very conscious about those cost-of-living pressures. That’s why we have introduced a range of measures, including fee-free TAFE, but in addition to that, our energy price relief plan, our plan that has made an enormous difference in reducing the price of medicines. That’s why we’ve also undertaken increases in rent relief, for example, the largest increase in rent assistance for 30 years, along with other measures that we took assisting single mums, assisting others.
Peter Dutton as Opposition Leader received just one mention from the Prime Minister at the press conference and in response to a journalist’s question:
JOURNALIST: Did you reflect over the break over any changes you would like to see in the way the Government operates in the New Year?
PRIME MINISTER: We continue to engage in a positive way. We’ll continue to put forward our positive plans for the nation. Continue to point out that Peter Dutton has no solutions and nothing positive to offer the nation.
More mention of the Opposition or the Opposition leader merely fosters a return to unproductive pollical polemics. This outcome would be detested in households, comfortably-off and disadvantaged alike. The recovery of Labor’s primary vote would be inhibited.
Having outperformed on budget estimates from May 2023 as recorded in MYEFO 2023, the Labor Government can perhaps consider more generous cost-of-living relief measures. Some review of the rate of delivery of Stage 3 tax concession might even be possible. Fully implemented on the Morrison Government’s formula would cost around $69 billion over the forward estimates period (to 2026-27), and around $313 billion over the medium-term projection period (to 2033-34) according to ATO estimates. Adjustments for bracket creep can still be accommodated at the lower end of the taxable income stage where households deserve a 30 per cent income tax rate.
Most voters would surely welcome a review of the background to Australia’s commitment to the Iraq War in 2003 which brought thousands of Australia’s out onto the streets in protest in 2003. Prime Minister Albanese cautiously did not pre-empt the results of the inquiry chaired by Dennis Richardson:
I do want to make some comments about the release of documents that takes place every twenty years. The process there is that documents are provided to the National Archives of Australia three years in advance. So, the documents for what occurred in 2003 were provided in 2020 by the then Morrison Government to the National Archives of Australia. It’s clear that there were some Cabinet records missing from that transfer from the Government. Some 78 Cabinet records were not transferred to the National Archives. The public service has now, within days of being notified of that, provided the remaining documents to the Archives, and the head of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet has commenced an independent review that will be conducted by Dennis Richardson, as to how this failure in 2020 to provide all the appropriate documentation occurred. Let me make it very clear of what my government’s position is. Australians have a right to know the basis upon which Australia went to war in Iraq. Australians lost their lives during that conflict and we know that some of the stated reason for going to war was not correct in terms of the weapons of mass destruction that was alleged Iraq had at that time. Australians do have a right to know what the decision-making process was, and my Government believes that this mistake must be corrected, that the National Archives of Australia should release all the documentation that has been provided to them, having account for any national security issues, of course, upon the advice of the national security agencies.
Unless more investigative journalism is hastened on the background to the LNP’s AUKUS defence deal in 2021, readers will need to wait until the early 2040s before details just maybe available of the background to the nuclear-powered submarine acquisitions.
The AUKUS deal was announced in an imperious style on 16 September 2021 with the imprimatur of Scott Morrison, Boris Johnson and Joe Biden. The statement offered strategic aspirations without details of forthcoming contracts an advanced warning about future costs. Later Australian government officially estimates the cost of the program to be between $268 billion and $368 billion over the next 30 years. These far-ranging estimates include:
- Acquisition of submarines: Purchasing at least eight nuclear-powered submarines, either directly from the US or built in Australia with US and UK assistance.
- Infrastructure and facilities: Upgrading existing facilities and building new ones to support the operation and maintenance of the submarines.
- Operational costs: Fuel, crew training, and ongoing maintenance throughout the lifespan of the submarines.
The press conference on 3 January 2024 provides just a peek into the need for more openness in government processes. The media team handled this press conference with outstanding professionalism. The complex issues were communicated in stages after that less than nerdy reference to David Warner’s stolen cricket cap. Perhaps the chase is a negative metaphor against unnecessary secrecy in government.
Can this openness ease the current fragmentation shown by recent national opinion polling? Currently, support for the Greens is completely offset by preferences from far-right parties back to the LNP?
Perhaps the solutions require much more than offering a higher standard of new clips to promote a more thorough understanding of the processes of government so that populist whims and soft media discussions do not determine outcomes relating to living standards and Australia’s stamp in geopolitics.
Denis Bright (pictured) is a financial member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis is committed to consensus-building in these difficult times. Your feedback from readers advances the cause of citizens’ journalism. Full names are not required when making comments. However, a valid email must be submitted if you decide to hit the Replies Button.
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