The end of government as we know it
The endgame of a returned Morrison Government
Twitter and other social media are filling up with accounts of people in Northern NSW not receiving any sort of government assistance or response to the floods that have devastated the area.
We need to recognise what is happening.
The Morrison and Perrettot Governments, in particular, are driven by an understanding of government that puts little value on the idea of a government safety net; in fact, they are openly hostile to the idea.
Covid, bushfires, and now the floods have provided them—Morrison in particular—with the opportunity to rewrite our understanding of the role of government and the evidence suggests he is using these crises to lower our expectations of government as site of collective response.
I have been making this point for a while now: Morrison skipping off to Hawaii during the bushfires; his failure to order vaccines for Covid in a timely manner; his failure to distribute funds in the wake of the bushfires; his indifference to the provision of RATs as Omicron ran rampant: these are not isolated examples of a prime minister flustered or incompetent.
They are examples of prime minister making decisions in line with his underlying belief that people should look after themselves and that, as much as possible, the private sector should do what we have traditionally understood governments to do in these circumstances, and that if “the market” fails to step in, then, oh well, individuals, families, communities will just have to take care of themselves.
We saw this idea writ large recently when Defence Minister, Peter Dutton—cheered on by the prime minister—organised a private, online fundraiser for Queensland flood victims, rather than provide federal government aid. Talk about a redflag.
We see it with things like a NSW Government Minister cheering private action, while failing to call for her own government to play their role.
But evidence for the theory goes back even further to when Morrison was Minister for Social Services. In 2015, he told an ACCOSS conference that welfare had to be good for business:
What I am basically saying is that welfare must become a good deal for investors – for private investors. We have to make it a good deal – for the returns to be there, to attract the level of capital that will be necessary in addition to the significant injection of capital and resources that is already provided by States and the Commonwealth.
It is who he is, and he keeps telling us, but we keep failing to comprehend.
I don’t hold a hose, mate.
If you have a go, you get a go.
It’s not a race.
None of what is happening is an accident, and the underlying philosophy is constantly shored up with a PR approach to government, the likes of which we have never seen, and this is important to understand too.
This performative aspect of the Morrison Government, the endless and relentless production of photographs and videos of the prime minister performing everything from cooking a curry to building a cubby house to washing someone’s hair; the distribution of photos of him being given a red-carpet welcome by the Air Force; or images of him doing late-to-the-show ‘tours’ of bushfire-affected towns—all of these stunts, illusions and advertising—are a necessary adjunct to the project of undermining government he is engaged in.
We even see it with his response to violence against women, as Jane Gilmore pointed out this week.
In one of her pithy “fixed it” rewrites of a media headline, Gilmore nails the problem.
As she writes in the accompanying article:
Of the $189 million announced last weekend, $104 million over five years ($20 per year) going to Our Watch, which claims to be “a national leader in the primary prevention of violence against women and their children in Australia”. Another $80 million will be spent on advertising campaigns about men’s attitudes and behaviour, and consent/respectful relationships education. Finally, $5million will go on a survey of secondary school students about consent.
…A pre-election announcement…about throwing some money at an agency that busies itself with advertising and report writing, and never sets standards or holds government to account is not action. It’s stumping for votes at the cost of women’s lives.
We shouldn’t be afraid to say so.
The substitution of performative stunts for government action fulfils another purpose too.
It displaces and subverts media coverage of what the government is actually doing (or not doing), and it is truly pathetic the way the mainstream media enables these stunts at the expense of holding the prime minister to account.
Most of the media are either asleep at the wheel or openly complicit with this reinvention of government as austere and minimalist. Not only do they endlessly and uncritically reproduce nearly every PR stunt the PM cares to dish up to them, they have, in many cases, provided a platform for the self-serving voices of business who, for instance, demonise the unemployed, and those who screamed to let Covid rip.
In other words, we as a society, are being railroaded into a diminished understanding and practice of government by a political class who are ideologically opposed to the very idea of government as a bulwark against the risks inherent in a complex society.
By positing climate change and pandemic as somehow unsolvable problems—things we have to “live with”—they have found the perfect pretext for lowering our expectations of what government can be.
We shouldn’t fall for this sleight of hand. We know what’s happening, and as Jane Gilmore said, we shouldn’t be afraid to say so.
In fact, the first lesson we need to learn is to stop calling all this a mistake, or a stuff up, or even incompetence on behalf of the government. They are doing it on purpose.
It’s happening under our nose, as Morrison and co weaponise Covid and climate disaster to reshape our understanding of the proper role of government, and they are being aided and abetted by a political class, including the media, that shares many of their values.
Make no mistake, a re-elected Morrison Government will take us further down this path of American style hyperindividualism, and the Australia many still boast about, the one of the fair go and mateship, will be irretrievable.
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