Friday 7th of October 2022

trapped in the quicksands of the scomo government, should we worry?


February 1 marks two years since Scott Morrison announced the Australian border was effectively being closed to Chinese nationals or non-citizens who happened to have spent time in China.

Promising this “temporary measure” would be reviewed in a fortnight’s time, the PM also revealed Australia’s official travel advice for China had changed to “do not travel”.

While there were fears over the spread of coronavirus, Morrison was keen to assure all that everything was under control. “There is no basis for alarm,” he said.

It feels a lifetime ago. For those who have lost family or friends either to the pandemic or to the mental toll of lockdowns, it must be even worse.


Our vocabulary has changed — strollouts, RATs, PCRs are now part of day-to-day conversation. We await the daily hospital, ICU and death statistics with the same interest as the weekly Tattslotto numbers.

On the economic front federal and state governments plus the Reserve Bank have undertaken the biggest ramp up in spending and liquidity since Japanese planes attacked Darwin in February 1942.

The RBA, which has official interest rates at 0.1 per cent, now owns about a third of all government debt as part of its quantitative easing program. That program, still running at $4 billion a week, is likely to be wound up early next month.

At the government level, the sheer quantum of spending undertaken by federal and state administrations is now beyond the wherewithal of even the smartest spreadsheet.

In the first few months of the pandemic, several private think tanks plus government agencies sought to keep tabs on every program used to protect the country. By the start of last year, they’d all given up. And that was before the Delta outbreak (and now the Omicron disaster).


At the federal level, last month’s mid-year budget update contained $26 billion in revenue and expenditure measures tied to the pandemic.

While most of that is spent this financial year (the COVID disaster payment to individuals and businesses amount to more than $20 billion), come 2024-25 there will still be costs associated with the pandemic in the budget.


That does not include an extra $1.1 billion in infrastructure spending that is supposed to be helping the economy out of the pandemic. Of that $1.1 billion, half is earmarked for 2024-25.

At the state level, NSW’s mid-year update revealed $22.7 billion in extra spending while Victoria booked another $11.7 billion.


A few billion here, a few billion there … it is a mind-numbingly large number thrown at an unquantifiable number of programs. All done with borrowed cash.

At a macro level we can look at the unemployment rate or the national accounts and say “yep, it all seems to have worked”.


But surely the biggest outlay of taxpayers’ and borrowed money outside of war time deserves more than a couple of thumbs up emojis?

We need a public inquiry or a royal commission to work out whether we could have done this better.


It’s clear during the past two years, failures have occurred. That was always likely as the world went through an unparalleled event that required modelling, best-guesses and gut feelings as much as any nuanced policy.

We need an inquiry to work out what worked, what failed, what should or could be done differently if there is ever a repeat of the COVID pandemic.

Even now we’re repeating mistakes just a few months old.

One of the key drivers of Sydney’s Delta mid-year outbreak was the high proportion of people from the city’s south-west who, despite the risk of infection, had to continue working.

Unlike those in the eastern or northern suburbs, working from home next to their high-end Italian coffee machines, the people of the south-west had no financial option but to leave the safety of their homes.


Six months on, when a rapid antigen test is literally worth its weight in gold, the people most able to work from home are again asking people most at risk of being infected to absorb the cost.

Governments do like a good inquiry. Just last month, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg announced three separate inquiries (two by the Productivity Commission, another by Treasury).

We’ve seen with the royal commission into aged care, into Aboriginal deaths in custody, into the HIH collapse, good can come out of a warts and all investigation.

Treasury reviewed the first six months of the $90 billion JobKeeper program. Unsurprisingly, the department gave itself a clean bill of health for a scheme it designed and implemented (while skating over how it shelled out tens of billions of dollars to businesses that increased their turnover during the deepest recession since the 1930s).

There have been some wild (and politically) motivated royal commissions over the years (there were two pointless inquiries into the Labor Party’s lease arrangement over a property in Canberra).

But as we’ve seen with the royal commission into aged care, into Aboriginal deaths in custody, into the HIH collapse, good can come out of a warts and all investigation.

Such an inquiry would not be to deliver political retribution (although every government in the country would have cause for concern) but to determine if we are ever unfortunate enough to go through another pandemic there are better ways of dealing with it.

Could JobKeeper have been designed better? Is there a better way for governments to collectively make decisions? Should Australia invest more in preventative health programs? What sort of powers should state or federal chief health officers have? Should the Therapeutic Goods Administration be overhauled?

My own running tally has total government spending since 2020 linked to COVID or the recession somewhere between $250 billion and $300 billion. Then add in the RBA and we’re beyond $550 billion (not including ultra-low interest rates).


Such a huge expense of treasure deserves a proper, independent investigation. We owe it not only to current taxpayers but to those who will be paying the bill for the decisions made in our name over the past two years.





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leading from backwards...

While some frown upon technology as diminishing our quality of life, it's our political leaders who have truly misguided us, writes Paul Budde.

WE DO LIVE in turbulent times. There is such a lot happening, with many people feeling overwhelmed and lost. One of the reasons given why we do have these problems is technology.


BY Paul Budde


I would argue against that. In all reality, technology is a tool that we can use and yes, we all know that we can use it for the wrong reasons (cars kill people, atom bombs, killer robots, chemical and biological warfare and so on). However, we have learned to live with it and in general, the outcome from science, innovation and technology has been positive.

Look at progress in healthcare, education and agriculture. Furthermore, people love their smartphones, the internet, apps and gadgets as those are making their lives better. Artificial intelligence and robots can all be used for the better. Of course, some people get addicted or are using it for the wrong reasons, however, most of them don’t.

So, if technology is not a problem, why are so many people feeling lost? On the material side, we could argue that we have never had it better. Especially if you compare this with our grandparents and the generations before them.  

In my opinion, the problem is emotional and not physical. Physically, we are better off but mentally, we seem to have problems with the way society functions.  

The complexity of our lives and our world is simply too big to fathom for most people in the Western world. I think the rest of the world is still too busy with the “physical” side. The mental problem – at least at this level – is mainly a Western problem.

This lack of mental strength is also very clear in our leadership — they also don’t seem to be able to lead the people in a better direction. Instead, they are constantly reverting to political polarisation and populism. This adds to the confusion and anxiousness, people feel lost and become easy targets for fake news, conspiracies and so on.

For as long as humans have been in existence, they have had leaders, be they tribal, community or national. In all reality, perhaps 10% are leaders (if that), the rest in one way or another follow them. Even after popular uprising or rebellion, we end up with not more than 10% of (new) leaders. I don’t think this has changed.

Good or bad leaders have narratives and based on that, the rest of the population usually follows, be it for better or worse. So, while the problems we are facing are created by us, with good leaders and good narratives the “us” will follow. I would argue that at least one of our current problems is the lack of good leadership.

I know I am on thin ice as people will say, “define good”. But within a democratic context, most people will intuitively be able to make such judgements. This is different within totalitarian and autocratic societies, where there is not the openness and transparency needed to make informed decisions.

Take climate change. Easily 80% of people see this and want to do something about it, yet many governments fail to come up with good, strong narratives to lead us in the right direction. A key reason, therefore, is that in all reality, their problem is the protection of vested interests based on capitalistic and neoliberalism structures.

Of course, we do need to balance those issues, but because of polarisation, most leaders fail to provide a longer-term, more centralistic oriented vision on how to best do that.

On the narrative, this is now largely in the hands of the media and while the focus of the “baddies” is on social media, I believe the traditional media – especially TV – still have a far greater impact. Most commercial media rely on selling bad news (again a capitalistic issue, because they want to increase their profits) and there isn't a strong enough counter-narrative from political leadership. Good leaders could produce good narratives that people would support and that in turn would temper the negative media narrative.

It would also be good if we see more activism from our young people. They were in the 1960s and 1970s a driving force between many of the changes that occurred during that period. We need more Greta Thunbergs to shake up our societies.

It could be argued that young people have been the real victims of the COVID-19 pandemic, robbing them so far already two years of the very precious time of being young. We need them to force changes to a society that sometimes looks like it has fallen asleep or been dominated by the self-interests of the baby boomers.

In my opinion, it is totally unrealistic to expect the majority – the more settled population – to take the lead or even to be part of it. They simply are not leaders but followers. Good, intelligent, responsible followers, but followers nonetheless. If good leaders with good narratives can persuade the 80%, we will win the battle. If not, we will end up in some sort of a crisis and it will a long time to recoup from that.

I am a strong believer that with democracy, good leadership and the right activism, we can use the technology tools that we currently have for a very positive influence on the future that we are facing. I find it frustrating that we do have the tools that could assist good leaders who have a reasonably good understanding of the complexities to use them to address the challenges ahead of them.

We have millions of people in our technology industries who can create, develop and use these tools. We need the leadership to come up with new and better narratives and focus this positive force on the challenges ahead.


Paul Budde is an Independent Australia columnist and managing director of Paul Budde Consulting, an independent telecommunications research and consultancy organisation. You can follow Paul on Twitter @PaulBudde.



Read more:,15988


See toon at top. Please don't give any brilliant ideas to ScoMo and his henchmen. He is likely (and he will) muck them up...


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one vote, five ministries…..


 BY Paul Bongiorno


Scott Morrison having himself secretly appointed as health, finance and resources minister is more than weird and bizarre – it is a frightening revelation of how fragile our democratic arrangements are.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese got it right when he reacted with alarm.

The current Prime Minister said it was “extraordinary and unprecedented”.

“It is the sort of tin-pot activity that we would ridicule if it was in a non-democratic country.”

In a Westminster-style parliamentary democracy like ours, cabinet government answering to the peoples’ representatives in the Parliament is the bulwark against tyranny and the arbitrary restriction of citizens’ right and freedoms.

For it to work everyone needs to know who has responsibility for what, especially the ministers who believe they have been charged to administer their portfolio areas.

After all, they are the ones who have to give account of themselves in Parliament after the cabinet has collectively signed off on the government’s policies and direction.


The irony is that the revelation comes in a new book – with the captivating title Plagued  – by two journalists at The Australian, apparently meant to show how heroic Scott Morrison was in handling the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But the subterfuge went wider than then health minister Greg Hunt’s emergency powers.

Hunt at least was in on the trick and agreed with Morrison it would be better that he take over the extraordinary powers should Hunt be unable to carry on rather than the junior minister Richard Colbeck.

A clear vote of no confidence in Colbeck, with indications he didn’t know about the arrangement anyway.

But according to the book, Morrison saw the unprecedented twinning of the health ministry also in terms as a safeguard against abuse of the absolute authority the state of emergency act conferred on Greg Hunt.

That truly is weird: On the one hand constraining the minister while at the same time secretly making the prime minister even more unaccountably powerful.

Just as curious was Morrison also making himself the secret finance minister.

In this case the very senior and competent Mathias Cormann was kept in the dark. We are left to speculate what he would have thought about being cloned in this way.

The fact that the conventions of cabinet government could be trashed in this way is a pointer to how vulnerable our institutions are to over weening megalomania.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton who was a member of the National Security Committee of cabinet – the engine room of the federal pandemic response – says he knew nothing of Morrison’s “elegant solution”.

Senior Nationals in cabinet lined up on Monday to say they were similarly blindsided.

The Nationals were victims of another secret power play that had nothing to do with the pandemic and everything to do with Morrison being unwilling to confront them in cabinet over a gas exploration permit off the New South Wales coast.

Nationals’ resources minister Keith Pitt was in favour of granting a permit, which had voters from the Central Coast all the way down to Wollongong up in arms.

Morrison’s solution was again to furtively make himself the resources minister so he could kybosh the proposal.

Pitt was “shocked” when he was told and queried the prime minister’s authority to take matters out of his hands in this way.

His colleague in cabinet at the time and now the Nationals leader, David Littleproud, says it was “pretty ordinary “of Morrison and “disappointing”.

Nationals Senate leader Bridget McKenzie says if she knew about it she would have challenged it robustly in cabinet because “transparency and accountability” are fundamental in our “fabulous liberal democracy”.

She says the conventions that keep this democracy working must be respected.

Indeed, but unfortunately there is precedent for how easily they can be subverted.

The biggest constitutional crisis of our democracy occurred in 1975 when the opposition in the Senate and the Governor-General threw convention to the wind and colluded in dismissing the duly-elected Whitlam Labor government.

This time the Governor-General David Hurley – unlike his predecessor the duplicitous Sir John Kerr – ‘‘followed normal process and acting on the advice of the government of the day appointed former prime minister Morrison to administer portfolios’’ other than his own.

A spokesperson for Hurley says these actions were “consistent with section 64 of the Constitution”.

That certainly was then attorney-general Christian Porter’s view and constitutional experts on Monday indicated this application may well be legal but it is certainly dangerously unconventional.

Albanese says “the Australian people deserve better than this contempt for democratic processes and for our Westminster system of government”.

They did in 1975 and they certainly did over the past two years.

But we should not let the fact Scott Morrison was swept from office lull us into a false sense of complacency – eternal vigilance is, as the saying goes, the price for our liberty.


Paul Bongiorno AM is a veteran of the Canberra Press Gallery, with 40 years’ experience covering Australian politics.