Recall how you felt when you last fondled a plump avocado, deep green, beautifully formed, slightly soft to the touch, seemingly ripe for consumption, only to find that when your knife punctured its alluring skin and peeled it back you were greeted by grey spots, rotting inedible pulp, and precious little else.
Even as you extruded the big brown seed, hoping to salvage some usable pulp, you found yourself contemplating the few scraps that were not rotten. Not prepared to throw the whole avocado in the bin, you scooped up the scraps, added a little vinegar and mayonnaise, and made a small amount of dip as an evening appetiser. It was the best you could do, but it was a miserable reflection of the uncut fruit that promised so much.
That’s how I feel as I reflect on the performance of our recently-elected Prime Minister.
Not that I ever saw him as a pristine piece of fruit that would delight us all. Many did though. The Morrison PR machine amplified that illusion.
It gift-wrapped him as a regular, slowly-balding family guy in a baseball cap, beer in hand, replete with a big smile - clearly one of us. Experienced in the art of glib talk from his time in tourism, he quickly learned how to deflect hard questions, airily dismissing them with a disarming grin as a product of the ‘Canberra Bubble’ where stupid or inconsequential questions are generated every day by what Morrison regards as hangers-on. Any question too demanding was studiously ignored.
In itself, that would not have been disappointing. It would have been just what most of us expect from the political class. What has been, and continues to be so deeply disappointing though, is the gross incompetence, the sheer ineptitude, and the alarming hollowness of Morrison and his government.
We were promised so much more. We were reminded endlessly that the Coalition was a superior manager of the economy, miles ahead of Labor, which we were told was ‘never able to manage money’. Every survey of voter opinion showed that the voters had bought this line, despite Labor’s brilliant management of the global financial crisis. Spin drowned out the facts.
Then along came reality.
For months now the Reserve Bank Governor, Philip Lowe, has warned PM Morrison and Treasurer Frydenberg that monetary policy - lowering interest rates - could not bear the full responsibility for propelling the economy out of the doldrums in which it has been becalmed month after month. He insisted that the government must do some of the ‘heavy lifting’ through fiscal policy. He cited infrastructure spending as an obvious activity that would not only benefit the nation, but in doing so would create jobs, and with it consumer spending which the economy so desperately needs.
Some pointed out that boosting the Newstart allowance would be of immediate benefit to the economy as the money would be quickly spent. That was ignored by a PM and Treasurer obsessed with the surplus they had promised. Nothing was going to deflect them from the pursuit of their ‘Holy Grail’.
Then a sledge hammer hit.
As Glenn Dyer and Bernard Keane put it in Crikey in an article titled: Morrison’s economic mire snares retailers and media alike:
The great Morrison Stagnation besetting the Australian economy has now been recognised internationally, with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) cutting its 2019 GDP growth forecast for Australia to 1.7% (down from 2.8% just a year ago) and revising its unemployment predictions for this year and next.
Cornered by a salivating media, all Frydenberg and Morrison could do to explain these awful figures was to indict ‘global headwinds’ and ‘the drought’. Of course neither of them accepted any personal responsibility for the crisis. In their view, the state of the global economy was the chief culprit, along with US-China trade wars. Their habitual ‘nothing to see here’, was trotted out once more to deflect attention.
Scott Morrison is now declaring he “won’t be spooked” into taking any action to help the economy, in the same way a man standing on a rail line refuses to be spooked by the oncoming train. If stagnation turns into a downturn or worse, this do-nothing, agenda-less leader will own it 100%.
Quizzed about the expected stimulatory effect of the tax cuts, they could not explain why these much-vaunted measures had not been effective, why instead of spending it, countless recipients had chosen to pay down debt, an outcome that even novitiate students of Economics 101 would have anticipated. They seemed astonished by the news that spending on a variety of consumer goods had slumped, that profit forecasts of some well-established firms were in free fall, and that some previously profitable businesses were threatened with closure. They clung tenaciously to the belief that eventually the tax cuts might work. Asked about infrastructure, they continued to insist that they had billions of activity ‘in the pipeline’, failing to add that the activity and its benefits were still decades away.
In response to our deteriorating economy, the media sector too was forced to expose its underbelly. Many players reported a worrisome slump in advertising, reflected in falling profit margins. Share sell-offs followed. The future of several media outlets remains uncertain.
Now we have the latest job figures. Like those unexpectedly caught in a storm, Coalition operatives cling hopefully to the miserable 0.1% drop in unemployment, all the time ignoring the legions of people who desperately want work, or want more of it. Unable to make ends meet, they are hungry for income-earning work, any work at all, to keep food on the table after paying rent, power bills and all the others that arrive every day.
But Morrison and Frydenberg assure us with every breath that the Coalition ‘has a plan’, one for every contingency, no matter how threatening. No details are offered. We are expected to accept, relax, and ‘leave it to Beaver’. Wouldn't we all love to see their plan for managing climate change, their energy policy, their drought policy, even their plan for managing the burgeoning cohort of elderly, demented and disabled folk.
It would be difficult to identify even one area of our economy that has not been affected, or dangerously threatened by ‘The Great Morrison Stagnation’. Yet our hollow PM and our discombobulated Treasurer press on as if there’s nothing to explain, nothing that needs attention, nothing wrong with what they’ve done, nothing to do but watch, wait, and hope that the headwinds will abate and that fair winds will propel the ship of state to a conservative utopia, where ‘if you have ago, you’ll get a go’. Journalists are now waking up to Morrison's do-nothing style. Peter Hartcher is one. He sums up the situation well in Arise Prime Minimal - your country needs you, while Paul Keating savagely exposes the futility of the government policy of doing nothing that might threaten the cherished surplus. On another subject, Katherine Murphy berates Morrison in Scott Morrison's climate pact with the Pacific 'family' exposes the hollowness of his words.
Can you see now why I began with the avocado analogy? While it looked so good on the outside to those who elected Morrison and his entourage, when the skin of the Coalition avocado is peeled back and the seed extruded, most of the inside is exposed as hollow and rotten, and even more tragically, like any rotten avocado, irrecoverable.