If Morrison was to have any chance of turning around the Coalition’s fortunes he needed to make a decisive shift from the disaster that was the Turnbull gambit and shift the policy debate to the sensible centre-right.
This necessitated as top priority three significant structural changes. One restructure the Cabinet and Ministry in terms of both personnel and functions. Second, realign the Ministerial departments to core (sensible centre-right) strategic priorities of the Government. Three, terminate the employment of Martin Parkinson.
Morrison is zero from three. The mish mash of Ministers and Assistant Ministers with bewildering job titles, duplication and overlapping responsibilities is mind boggling. That this mish mash is filled with Ministers without talent, experience or expertise only adds to the malaise. It is a triumph mediocrity and factions over talent and direction.
That the Ministry is such a mish mash of baffling positions and roles points to a Morrison lacking a clear set of strategic policy priorities to define his Government and frame the looming election. As such there will be zero public sector reform that might have boosted the Government’s chances. This is a failure of leveraging the benefits of incumbency. It is also a big win for big government, hostile to the Coalition at every turn, that will greatly extend the Coalitions time in the opposition wilderness.
Morrison’s failure, however, to send Martin Parkinson back to the Grattan Institute, is even more serious. It illustrates both political naiveté and a failure to comprehend the key role he played contributing towards the turmoil of the past 5 years. For all the Abbott -Turnbull government faults (and there are many) entrusting Martin Parkinson with the two most senior positions within the public service must surely rank as the Coalition’s single biggest failure.
Bill Shorten may be the Opposition Leader but the progressive-Left, bureaucrat, economist is the true Coalition slayer. No one individual has done more damage to successive Coalition governments, bringing down two Prime Minister’s, than the public service chief of chiefs.
True, the Coalition has made many a blunder over the journey and the previous campaign under Turnbull was a train wreck in slow motion. Apparently an election void of policy was meant to herald in never as before “exciting times”. This was of course unless your job was soon to be “disrupted” by an “agile” employer outsourcing offshore.
It was also less exciting for the self-funded retirees who retrospectively got to pay for everyone else’s excitement. And for the party of Menzies the campaign tactics to forget the “forgotten people” anew was truly “innovative” of Turnbull and Textor.
But when all is said and done the Coalition’s electoral rout and ongoing polling woes can be traced to two catastrophic decisions to retain the services and rely on the advice of one man: Martin Parkinson. The Coalition should be under no illusions that Parkinson has been the master architect of their spectacular fall from grace.
A progressive Left economist of the big tax and spend kind Martin Parkinson was Treasury Secretary in 2013 when the Abbott Government swept into power. With a mandate to abolish the carbon tax and reign in government spending the government rightly determined that the former Climate Change Secretary was a poor ideological fit. His sacking as Treasury Secretary was one of Abbott’s first official acts after being sworn in as Prime Minister.
Having made the right call the Abbott Government bizarrely kept Parkinson on as Treasury Secretary for the critical first budget in what turned out to be one of the biggest own goals in recent political history. Treasurer Hockey wanted to end the “Age of Entitlement” and the soon to be departing Parkinson happily obliged.
Under his stewardship (and as a parting gift), Parkinson’s Treasury crafted not so much a budget but a 10-year political suicide note. The big “announcements” were mostly outside the forward estimates, managed to upset almost every voter demographic in the nation, and incredibly required the Government win an implausible three further elections to implement.
Unbelievably for all the political pain, the budget actually failed to reign in government spending as promised, and while Labor sacred cows like Gonski and NDIS were spared the worst, the Coalition broke faith with its base hitting it up for tax increases in the name of “fairness” borrowed straight from the Green-Left playbook.
The budget sank like a stone and with it the Abbott Government’s fortunes. Stripped of an economic context the government’s political narrative floundered and unable to set the agenda, became captive to events and populist opposition. Every mistake became amplified, focus on the leadership intensified and Party infighting sucked the oxygen out of any Abbott Government achievements.
One would like to think that Coalition would have learned from that experience. However, as the old saying goes, fool me once, shame on you! Fool me twice, shame on me!! The problem with the Coalition is they apparently have no shame. Morrison represents fool me thrice!!!
Having done his best to destroy the Abbott Government, Parkinson retreated to the socially progressive safe space of the Grattan Institute. There with fellow travelers of the Left, including Lucy Turnbull, Parkinson helped steer the institute to develop socially progressive policies Labor could take to the next election.
With the elevation of Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister, Parkinson didn’t have to wait for Labor, enjoying a Lazarus like return to public life as the Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet where he seems to have exercised considerable influence over the new Prime Minister.
The irony of Prime Minister Turnbull promising to articulate an “economic vision” for the nation employing the very person who destroyed the economic narrative of the previous government was clearly lost on a clueless Turnbull.
Unsurprisingly, what Parkinson did for the Abbott Government he subsequently did for the Turnbull Government, which absent any ideas of its own, relied instead on the flawed and politically inept policy advice of Martin Parkinson.
Within months of becoming Prime Minister, Turnbull not only squandered the honeymoon, but soon found himself and the government in a polling free fall lasting right up to polling day.
The collapse in polling correlates with the influence of Parkinson over the economic direction of the Turnbull Government and the paralysis of decision-making it created leading up to the budget. Having destroyed the Abbott Government’s first budget, Parkinson, with Turnbull’s authority, successfully destroyed the Turnbull Government’s election budget.
Having promised an economic vision the Prime Minister instead vacillated with the tax policies of Parkinson and the Grattan Institute, totally ignoring the spend side of the budget. In the process, Treasurer, Morrison became both marginalized and compromised being reduced to an observer of tax policy driven by Parkinson out of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet rather than Treasury. For a Party that likes to differentiate on economic management this was toxic.
Making matters worse was the apparent lack of policy detail or political reality to the tax / budget advice. This led to the situation in which one moment everything was on the table and the next it was off, leading to confusion and dysfunction in the lead up to the budget
Who could forget Treasurer Morrison making the case on talk back radio for changing the GST the exact same day Turnbull later ruled it out? Or the thought bubble of a Commonwealth collected state / territory income tax proclaimed by the Prime Minister as the greatest reform to the economy since Federation then dropped like a lead balloon within two weeks.
In the critical months between February and May of 2016 the Government comprehensively failed to position the budget and lay the foundations for the looming election. Far from having an economic narrative the government was looking farcical. Having wasted months chasing thought bubbles the budget strategy was in tatters and the economic credibility of the Prime Minister and Treasurer greatly diminished.
By the time of the budget the only thing still on the Parkinson tax table was a crack down on superannuation tax concessions for high-income earners in what would become a repeat of the deficit levy writ large.
By default this “reform” became the infamous centerpiece of the budget, in essence funding the 10-year cut to company tax that in turn was the centerpiece of the Government’s “jobs and growth” platform (now dead). To effectively launch the Government’s re-election campaign with a sneak attack on the Coalition base was political madness.
That Morrison has seemingly learned nothing from this experience by retaining Parkinson as Secretary of Prime Minister and Cabinet spells disaster with ongoing dysfunction in government and an electoral flogging of epic proportions looming cometh the election.
The electoral wipeout of the Coalition in 2016, and the ongoing polling woes to this day stem from two hopelessly flawed budgets that bookended the Coalition’s first term in office.
Both were significantly influenced by the advice of Parkinson as Treasury Secretary and later Secretary of Prime Minister and Cabinet. Both were economic and political failures of epic proportions. Both sold out the Coalition base. Both failed on economic management. Both were shambles in the preparation and implementation.
The final straw (to which Morrison owes becoming Prime Minister) was the utter shambles of energy and climate change policy that resulted in the sham National Energy Guarantee. To think that Parkinson (Former Secretary of the Department of Climate Change) didn’t have his green fingers all over Turnbull and Frydenberg’s “signature” policy is implausible.
For these reasons Martin Parkinson must be considered the Coalition’s greatest blunder, one that Morrison seems destined to repeat, and one of Labor’s best weapons. Morrison has gifted Labor a progressive Left insurgent that will tear his government apart from the inside and destroy any chance of re-election.