Justinian The Great: Is Martin Parkinson Labor’s Best Weapon and Morrisons Fatal Mistake?

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.

 

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31 Responses to Justinian The Great: Is Martin Parkinson Labor’s Best Weapon and Morrisons Fatal Mistake?

  1. RobK

    I think you are onto something here.

  2. miltonf

    Excellent article Justinian. The politicians comes and go but the Canberra Marxists are there for decades.

  3. Worthy of an entire season of the “Yes Minister” series.

  4. Shy Ted

    <a href="Parkinson graduated with his Masters in Arts in 1988″>Aah, this explains a lot.

  5. Iampeter

    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.

    Turnbull gambit? He didn’t create the climate office or middle class welfare. Not sure why he’s such a problem leading a party that was lead by someone like Howard who is celebrated.

    This necessitated as top priority three significant structural changes.

    It’s weird that “having the first clue about politics and ideas that are an alternative to the left” didn’t make this list. I would’ve thought it should be number ONE on any list like this, but hey.

    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.

    I would think a greater blunder is to shift deck chairs on the Titanic.

    The issues facing the Liberals have nothing to do with anything mentioned here. In fact nothing political was mentioned in this article about politics (presumably) at all.

    Gotta love the state of political discourse in the 21st century.

  6. Mark M

    Clive Palmer and Malcolm Turnbull busted in secret dinner meeting, along with head of treasury Dr Martin Parkinson
    http://www.news.com.au/national/clive-palmer-and-malcolm-turnbull-busted-in-secret-dinner-meeting-along-with-head-of-treasury-dr-martin-parkinson/story-fncynjr2-1226935148249

    Someone should have checked Parkinson’s pockets for table knives …

  7. Mother Lode

    It just goes to show what defective people are in the Liberal party, that they can repeatedly and persistently acquiesce to this appalling man’s presence.

    A real doctor will pick up myriad clues that betray someone pretending to be a doctor that a layman would simply miss. Same goes for any profession, discipline or human endeavour.

    That the Libs don’t tweak to the imposture of this malign old fraud is one of the more glaring indictments of their own want of human character.

  8. H B Bear

    Sloppy Joe should have sh1t-canned Parkinson on the Monday after the 2013 election. Naturally, being Sloppy, he didn’t.

    Treasury has gone from being one of the most useful departments to government to being one of the most dangerous. Of course it would help if we had a Treasurer with the background, intelligence and courage to ignore their advice.

  9. Des Deskperson

    The basic argument here is that Parkinson is a ‘progressive’, the Coalition Government adopted ‘progressive’ policies, therefore it is all Parkinson’s fault.

    It is possible, I suppose. that Parkinson is the Svengali-like figure behind the Coalitions’s blunders, but this post provides no firm evidence of this and it would make Parkinson an exceptionally powerful and charismatic – as well as a somewhat anachronistic – figure in the current federal bureaucratic culture – backed up by legislation – where Portfolio Secretaries are expected to do what the Government of the day tells them to do and can be summarily dismissed when thy fail to do so.

    The Government’s mess is primarily the Government’s fault.

  10. Charles

    This is something I have been saying for quite a while, what the Lib ministers need to do is to resign and then become their own departmental heads. That way they can get to make all the decisions, can’t get fired or voted out of office, and will get paid about 2-3 times more than what they were as minister.

    What’s not to like about that?

  11. Peter Sandery

    Well said, Justinian – your thesis was more the proven to me when I noticed said “Mandarin” fussing around and making himself conspicuous during the swearing in ceremony of Turnbull’s cabinet – there was absolutely no need for this venal bureaucrat to have been there.

  12. Roger

    Presumably Parkinson is the one whispering into Morrison’s ear that we can both meet our Paris targets and lower electricity costs. The only chance of doing so is by shifting the onus of compliance from the electricity sector to industries that generate real wealth for the nation. So is Morrison stupid or complicit in this?

  13. Procrustes

    I agree with Des Deskperson. While the post is correct in identifying the many faults of Parkinson, to place him as some kind of puppet master in control of the Coalition government is really stretching it.

    That the Coalition is the author of its own woes and that Parkinson is a progressive windbag under the misapprehension that governments know best about running the economy and our lives can both be true. I would like to see actual evidence of Parkinson being the all-powerful controller beyond the guilt by association provided in this post.

  14. Robber Baron

    It just goes to show what defective people are in the Liberal party, that they can repeatedly and persistently acquiesce to this appalling man’s presence

    The Liberal party is owned by its various “donors.” The MPs just do as they are told. Follow the money.

  15. .

    Iampeter
    #2815620, posted on September 13, 2018 at 7:55 am

    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.

    Turnbull gambit? He didn’t create the climate office or middle-class welfare. Not sure why he’s such a problem leading a party that was lead by someone like Howard who is celebrated.

    It won’t happen. There must be an election within the next 12 months, probably more like before the budget is proposed and Morrison oversaw some pretty awful socialist budgets.

    If the current liberal party is the “centre right”, they may as well fold because they’ve capitulated to the Greens and ALP on almost every issue. Their policies have not reflected their manifesto since they lost in 1972.

    It is funny how the left celebrates November 1975 as some kind of loss. Maybe the loss of the throne; but they have totally dominated politics since then through accepting legislation as institutional and an interventionist High Court.

  16. Entropy

    I think this overplays Oarkinson’s role a lot, similar to Des’ thoughts. At the end of the day it is the government that decides direction. That said, a competent senior officer is more than capable of steering the typically ignorant ministerial adviser in the desired direction, and hence the very busy (and often just as ignorant) Minister gets similar advice not only from the department but their own office.

    I have worked for heaps of ministers over the years, and in my area the best ones (from either side) had a background in the portfolio. They understood when they were being snowed.

  17. jupes

    The basic argument here is that Parkinson is a ‘progressive’, the Coalition Government adopted ‘progressive’ policies, therefore it is all Parkinson’s fault.

    Not necessarily, however it would be naive to assume that the PM doesn’t rely on Parkinson for advice. The fact that he is a green/left loon and government is implementing a green/left agenda might be a bit of a clue. At the very least he will give confirmation bias to any of the PM’s stupid lefty ideas.

    The Government’s mess is primarily the Government’s fault.

    Indeed. One would assume if Morrison didn’t want to set a green/left agenda then he would sack all the greenies from his office. Does anyone know if Morrison has kept that former Greens Party moll that Turnbull hired?

  18. Justinian the Great

    Des ,if I gave the impression of Parkinson as some kind of puppet master I agree that would be going to far. My main point was that leaving a person antithetical to a Coalition agenda in charge of implementing said agenda is stupid. Made worse by the fact that the Coalition has become a policy free zone. If you vacate the field of play don’t be surprised that Parkinson and the APS will pick up the ball and run with it. If that is your strategy (pathetic as that is) the least you can do is replace Parkinson with someone from your own team who will at least run in the right direction. That the Coalition are too inept to do even that says everything!!

  19. H B Bear

    Not necessarily, however it would be naive to assume that the PM doesn’t rely on Parkinson for advice.

    There’s only one way to find out. Ask Lucy (and Daddy).

  20. Norman Church

    I am not close to the action but, from a distance, it does not appear to be the case that the political agenda in this country is set by our elected representatives. It seems to be set by the permanent bureaucracy (especially Treasury ) and the media.

    Setting a political agenda requires one to have a guiding set of political principles, which most of our modern class of professional politicians appear to lack. It also requires the ability to articulate a position, courage and a willingness to take some flak. Again, lacking in our present class of politicians.

    Against that background, it is even more important to be careful in one’s choice of head of the bureaucracy. Mr Parkinson is classic Canberra insider and ought to have been replaced for that reason alone.

  21. Dr Fred Lenin

    Don’t know why the polliemuppets take notice of these so called public servants , there are plenty=y of people in Australia who are actually really smart ,and have actually done something usefull with their lives to ask for advice . You don’t ask the monkey ,you ask the organ grinder , he can tell you ,the monkey just mucks about . Still trying to train politicians must be like training monkeys ,a thankless task .

  22. Just Interested

    Dessie Deskperson is pretty right.

    Parky’s personal values are identical to those of the Liberal left (and, for that matter, the Labor Right) and so he can make decisions safe in the knowledge that he will be backed by the political executive and that in turn the political executive can rest assured that their policy preferences are embedded in the bureaucracy.

  23. En Passant

    I read a history of the Vietnam War which revealed that one of the most senior politician/mandarins (they acted as their own Department heads to retain executive power) was also a secret member and spy for the North Vietnamese Politburo.

    He began his career under Diem in 1962 and was put in charge of the highly unpopular ‘Strategic Hamlets’ program that rounded up villagers, burnt down the villages of their ancestors and herded them into ‘concentration camps’ to ‘protect’ them from the NVA/VC. He did so with such enthusiasm he was regarded as the most loyal supporter of Diem and showered with praise. Thousands defected and joined the VC.

    When Diem was murdered he transferred his total loyalty to his replacement to the next President and volunteered to manage the most unpopular programs. He thrived as he had no ambition to be President, but always enthusiastically supported every crazy and bad idea his boss had.

    He was still there when Saigon fell in 1975. He refused to be evacuated to the USA even though everyone told him that to stay meant certain death for himself and his family.

    It was not until 1978, when he reappeared, that his true role became known.

    Yes, Prime Minister, this fits the profile perfectly.

  24. Des Deskperson

    ‘I am not close to the action but, from a distance, it does not appear to be the case that the political agenda in this country is set by our elected representatives. It seems to be set by the permanent bureaucracy (especially Treasury ) and the media.’

    The influence of the ‘permanent’ bureaucracy may be exaggerated.

    For starters, for the last two decades, at least, the heads of PM&C have been appointed, by governments from both sides of politics, not for their policy development or programme implementation skills but for their loyalty to the PM of the day. Moore-Wilton, Shergold, Moran, none of them policy gurus, but ‘fixers’, their prime, err, quality being their willingness to do whatever the PM wanted.

    I find it hard to believe that Parkinson has reversed that role or that he has made or induced the government to do anything it didn’t want to do or that went against its core ideology or aims.

    As for other Portfolio Secretaries:

    The Head of Treasury was appointed in August 2018. He was formerly Chief adviser to Morrison,

    The Secretary of Defence was appointed in 2016. He previously worked as one of Turnbull’s chief advisers

    The Secretary of Education and Training was appointed in 2014. She was previously head of eduction in NSW under the Liberals.

    The Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade was appointed in August 2016. Prior to her appointment was International Adviser to Turnbull

    Do I need to go on? The facts are (a) there is now a very heavy turnover of what used too be called ‘permanent’ heads and, (b) these people and others like them are appointed not by a cabal of mandarins but largely because they are ‘responsive’ to, if not actually politically inclined to, the aims of the government of the day.

  25. Peter Greagg

    Re Parkinson’s PhD, it’s interesting that 30 mins of Googling doesn’t reveal that he and his first wife and family spent 5 years at Princeton in the USA just so he could gain his PhD at that university by virtue of the Australian taxpayer’s generosity.

    At the time, it was raised in Parliament and the Treasurer of the day was asked how Australia could possibly benefit from the spending of $A1.5 million on this, and if Treasury was determined to sponser his PhD, why couldn’t he get it at ANU as he was already living in Canberra.

    Also missing from his CV is that when Howard was elected in 1996, he fled from Treasury to the OECD in Paris as he had no time for the Liberals.

  26. Senile Old Guy

    The Head of Treasury was appointed in August 2018. He was formerly Chief adviser to Morrison, The Secretary of Defence was appointed in 2016. He previously worked as one of Turnbull’s chief advisers The Secretary of Education and Training was appointed in 2014. She was previously head of eduction in NSW under the Liberals. The Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade was appointed in August 2016. Prior to her appointment was International Adviser to Turnbull.

    And that there is the problem. The LNP is infested with Turnbull left-wing types. The last, vaguely conservative (to some vague extent) of prominence, was Abbott. He is also the most successful LNP leader of recent times. And much of the LNP seems to hate him. (Yes, he made some terrible mistakes after winning the election.)

  27. Tezza

    A bit overdrawn, Justinian. Des Deskperson is closer to the mark on these matters, in my experience.
    I don’t see Turnbull taking advice from anyone – another characteristic he shared to an uncanny degree with that other sufferer from narcissistic personality disorder, Rudd.
    Incidentally, Parkinson’s role with the Grattan Institute was very transitory and hardly significant for either the Inststute or the Government.

  28. Squirrel

    These arguments about prominent personalities in the Canberra bureaucracy are a classic case of not seeing the forest for the trees – the problem is not so much about particular individuals, it’s about the Canberra-bubble mindset – our very own little swamp, to use the language of President Trump.

    Anyone with any doubts about this need only look at the local politics of the place – granted self government in the late 1980s, and in since then, a couple of terms of minority Liberal government and the rest has been Labor/Green, with the current lot in continuously since the beginning of this century. When was the last time the ACT elected a non-Labor candidate to the House of Reps? – for a few months in the dying days of the Keating government.

    Beyond that, look at average income levels in the ACT compared to the rest of Australia, particularly many of the swinging electorates (including some which are new to that status) and you might begin to understand that what seems perfectly reasonable and rational to well-heeled Canberrans (like paying somewhat more for electricity because it will “save the planet” and make you feel good about yourself) is infuriating, extravagant madness for many other Australians.

  29. Tel

    Indeed. One would assume if Morrison didn’t want to set a green/left agenda then he would sack all the greenies from his office. Does anyone know if Morrison has kept that former Greens Party moll that Turnbull hired?

    Morrison is attempting to step through the narrow doorway of optimistic ambiguity where for a Schrodinger cat quantum moment he can be politically all things to all people.

    We are going to find out whether Prime Ministers have wave properties, I’m expecting no they don’t but here it goes.

  30. Death Giraffe

    I read a history of the Vietnam War which revealed that one of the most senior politician/mandarins (they acted as their own Department heads to retain executive power) was also a secret member and spy for the North Vietnamese Politburo.

    ..
    Was his first name Malcolm?

  31. Snoopy

    Incidentally, Parkinson’s role with the Grattan Institute was very transitory and hardly significant for either the Inststute or the Government.

    I disagree. That a left wing think tank provides the safety net preferred by a very senior public servant is revealing.

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