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That won’t feed one cow

Oct 18, 2019 • 15m21s

As Scott Morrison attempts to control the message on handling the drought, there is bad news for his claims to strong economic management.

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That won’t feed one cow

103 • Oct 18, 2019

That won’t feed one cow

[Theme music starts]

ELIZABETH:

From Schwartz Media, I’m Elizabeth Kulas, This is 7am.

As Scott Morrison attempts to control the message on how his government is handling the drought, there is bad news for his claims to strong economic management. Paul Bongiorno on slow growth and big dries.

[Theme ends]

Archival tape -- Alan Jones:

“Prime Minister, good morning.”

Archival tape -- Scott Morrison:

“Good morning, Alan.”

Archival tape -- Alan Jones:

“Prime Minister, thank you for your time. It is appreciated. I know there have been endless announcements about drought and I don’t want to use the limited time we have talking about harvesting water…”

ELIZABETH:

So Paul, tell me about Scott Morrison's interview with Alan Jones this week.

PAUL:

Well Alan Jones, when he puts his mind to it, can always do a very interesting and newsworthy interview, especially when he's got his angry old man face on. And he certainly didn't help the government in its efforts to sell what it's doing for farmers.

ELIZABETH:

Paul Bongiorno is a columnist for The Saturday Paper.

PAUL:

In a bruising interview on Tuesday, Jones told the PM, all these announcements won't feed one cow, it was almost a refrain that he kept coming back to...

Archival tape -- Alan Jones:

“I don’t mean to offend just telling you what he said: so you’re going to interview Morrison, why bother? I guarantee Australia will have no more confidence in the Morrison government after your interview than before….”

PAUL:

Jones demanded a blank cheque for graziers to truck feed and water from interstate to save their breeding stock. It would amount to billions of dollars of aid, although he didn't put a number on it.

Archival tape -- Alan Jones:

“They’re walking off their farms. They need cash now. Now, so they don't have to sell. They can't afford the feed. They can't afford the water, and they can't afford the freight. Now you’re saying we’ve got a freight subsidy that can't afford anything. And as I said to one farmer, I said how the banks going? And he just looked at me with this forlorn look and he said, How much further can you go beyond one point three million? Prime Minister, they’re gone! They’re gone!”

PAUL:

Jones scoffed at the Farm Household Allowance. That's $250 dollars a week. He dismissed the $5 million dollars the federal government's allocated for counselling and the $115.8 million that's gone out to shires and drought hit areas for various infrastructure work. All of that, the government says, went directly to drought communities. Didn't impress Alan Jones at all.

Archival tape -- Alan Jones:

“How does that feed a cow, how does that feed a cow?”

Archival tape -- Scott Morrison:

“You’ve got pests and weeds running out of control…!”

PAUL:

Morrison tried to shift the conversation to the importance of weed eradication. Amongst other things. But Jones interrupted.

Archival tape -- Alan Jones:

“Oh PM, don’t talk to me on the farm, I’m a farmer's son, you’re not.”

PAUL:

Well, when he could get a word in, Morrison said he wanted farmers and communities to get through this drought. But the Prime Minister said, we can't kid ourselves, that there is a magic wand and a magic cash splash that's going to make this thing totally solved.

Archival tape -- Alan Jones:

“PM, genuine point. I don't know whether it sits by either of us, but we've beaten by the bell. We must must talk again. These are very critical issues and I thank you for your time.”

PAUL:

Later that night, Jones on his Sky News After Dark show choked up in response to a letter from a viewer, Mary.

Archival tape -- Alan Jones:

“We will fight because I have been exactly where the people of Bourke are, my old man would be ashamed of me if I didn't fight. I can't speak for Canberra. [Voice breaking] I've got to take a break.”

ELIZABETH:

So are the coalition worried about how the drought is being perceived in a political sense?

PAUL:

Well, yes, they are, Elizabeth. Morrison told the Coalition party room meeting on Tuesday that metropolitan members, and he's one of them, need to get the message out that the government isn't ignoring the farmers and rural townships, nor is it treating them ungenerously. And he urged other urban liberals right around the country to do the same. One senior government advisor told me that the feedback from the suburbs is that people are getting the wrong impression about what the government is doing. From the dramatic drought pictures and heartbreaking stories of struggling farmers and their families that appear pretty regularly on our nightly TV news.

This is why the PM flew to Dun Gowen in northern New South Wales at the weekend to announce a billion dollar joint investment program with the state government for priority large scale water infrastructure projects. He certainly wants to be seen to be doing something and spending up big.

ELIZABETH:

And what is the government response beyond that announcement and does it add up? Because you know according to Jones, it seems like it might not.

PAUL:

Yes. Well, Jones makes the point that many of these billions or hundreds of millions of dollars aren't going directly to farmers and they're not doing it. Now, he hit that point very hard and Morrison's been making a huge deal that we're spending seven billion dollars on the drought. Well, he's been caught out a bit on that and now has brought that claim down to five billion. Now, this is the Future Drought Fund, and it's basically a pool of money that is to be built up. But it has to be built up to that five billion dollars over a decade. It's not there yet.

And the idea of it, the investments earned from that pool should make around 100 million dollars available on an annual basis for water infrastructure resilience projects. That amounts to dams and doing things in the delivery of water and things like that. But not one cent of it will go directly to farmers. the first hundred million dollars from that future fund doesn't start till July next year. There's also drought assistance and money for counselling and allowances and so on, which shouldn’t be underestimated. They’re not ending the drought, they’re trying to make people cope with it.

ELIZABETH:

There is some money here, but it's not quite as it appeared. Looking at Morrison now, what are his vulnerabilities?

PAUL:

Well, look, Labor's convinced that Morrison's legendary temper and we saw flashes of it in Question Time when he starts bellowing. They see this as a major weakness to be exploited. It's more Morrison's propensity to stretch the truth and deny reality. One of the strategists told me that they're going to keep hitting this all the way up to the next election. And they're pretty certain that they're on a winner like the mean and tricky. That was often thrown at John Howard. The only problem with that, of course, is even though voters thought John Howard might have been mean and tricky, they kept voting for him.

ELIZABETH:

We'll be right back.

[MUSIC PLAYS]

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ELIZABETH:

Paul last week talked about climate change and Labor's confused position on action in this area. Did anything shift this week?

PAUL:

Well, climate change is never far from any discussion on drought, and Labor did some urgent repositioning after the embarrassment called by its agriculture spokesman, Joel Fitzgibbon when he pushed to see the party's platform and policies watered down to match the Coalition's weak commitments. So in an attempt to reclaim its credibility, Labor served notice it will move to have the parliament declare a climate emergency.

Archival tape -- Labor Member:

“As members of the House may well know, I lodge seconded by the member for Charlton, a similar motion seeking the parliament to declare a common emergency this afternoon.”

PAUL:

Now the Greens and the crossbench beat them to the punch, and Labor ended up supporting their attempt to bring on the debate in the parliament. But the government used its one seat majority to close the debate down. The government ridiculed the idea as a meaningless stunt. But the Greens Adam Bandt says they were just three Liberal MPs short of getting the numbers and they'll try again.

And Mark Butler, the labor spokesman, actually agrees and says Labor will too, so on the notice paper. Now we have to climate emergency motions, one from Labor, one from Greens and the crossbench, so we could see another attempt before the year's out.

Now, Butler rejects the idea it is nothing more than a stunt. He says it's an important statement not only of intent, but it shows the voters that the parliament accepts the warnings coming from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Those warnings, of course, are getting dire every time they put out more dire every time they put out another one.

ELIZABETH:

So what does this mean that Labor's sorted out the divisions that it had internally on the issue of climate change?

PAUL:

Well, no, because Anthony Albanese says that closer to the next election, they will come up with their targets and how they'll come to achieve them. There was a hint that maybe Labor will also move the target date from 2030, maybe to 2035. So there's more to come. And of course, the government will paint this as Labor confused and not knowing whether it's up or down on the policy.

ELIZABETH:

While all this is happening, new figures have also come through from the IMF, which is all over the news this week.

PAUL:

Yes, there was something of a bombshell, although not completely unexpected, on Tuesday when the International Monetary Fund released its latest quarterly economic outlook. In many ways, it confirms things we already knew that the global economy is slowing and the Australian economy has slashed the growth forecast by almost 20 per cent to one point seven per cent, down from two point one for the coming year. That's a decline much more severe than either the Reserve Bank in its forecasts had predicted. And it's also well below what the government thought was going to happen in its budget just back in May. And in fact, the IMF has downgraded world growth to 3 per cent. And to get a handle on that, that's the worst performance of the global economy since the global financial crisis of 2008-2009.

ELIZABETH:

And we are we in terms of that global slowdown, where is Australia going to fit within that?

PAUL:

Well, the graph in many ways, in every way probably, is embarrassing for Australia and an Australian government that claims that it's top of the class when it comes to economic management. Our growth rate, according to the IMF, is below Spain and Greece, which isn't the best place to find ourselves.

They're coming off a low base, but they're doing it better and faster than we are managing to generate growth. And that's the real point, I think.

Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers says these new IMF numbers really do torpedo what was left of the government's economic credibility. Morrison has blamed the downgrading on, quote, the uncertainty of the times in which we live. The IMF echoed the same message the Reserve Bank governor has been sending for a while now that lowering interest rates alone can't kick start the economy. The IMF says monetary policy cannot be the only game in town and should be coupled with fiscal support where fiscal space is available. Now, this, of course, is at the cutting edge of the political argument in Australia because fiscal space - when the IMF says that - it means spending the budget surplus or going into sustainable debt. Neither option is palatable to the government. The budget surplus is the Holy Grail. It will deliver no matter the collateral damage.

ELIZABETH:

Paul, what does Morrison do when he faces struggles like this?

PAUL:

Well, Scott Morrison tells us that when he's struggling or when he's facing big challenges, he prays. So, you know, he might do other things. He might kick the cat if he's got one. He might yell, he might bang his fist on the table. But we know, taking him at his word, that when he has big challenges he prays.

At the beginning of the week, the prime minister, along with Anthony Albanese, attended the National Prayer Breakfast in Parliament House. And the prime minister told the gathered faithful there, including Anthony Albanese. The only prayers that you can be assured are never answered are the ones that are never prayed.

Archival tape -- Scott Morrison:

“faith religion is actually, first and foremost, an expression of human frailty and an understanding that there are things bigger than each of us. Thank you very much”

PAUL:

He certainly had some great challenges put before him this week, so he has a lot of praying to do, and I suggest so have we.

ELIZABETH:

Thanks Paul. Bye.

PAUL:

Bye girls and boys.

[MUSIC PLAYS]

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ELIZABETH:

Elsewhere in the news:

US President Donald Trump sent a bizarre and threatening letter to Turkey's leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan last week urging him not to be a, quote, "tough guy" by allowing thousands of people to be killed in the Kurdish-dominated region of Northern Syria. Trump’s letter was revealed by a Fox news reporter on Thursday and read, quote, "You don't want to be responsible for slaughtering thousands of people, and I don't want to be responsible for destroying the Turkish economy - and I will."

And Kaila Murnain, General Secretary of NSW Labor, has resigned seven weeks after she was suspended from her role on full pay. In August, Murnain told an ICAC inquiry that after learning about a prohibited donation of $100,000 to the party, she was asked to stay quiet. Federal leader Anthony Albanese announced a full review into the state branch at the weekend.

7am is produced by Emile Klein, Ruby Schwartz, Atticus Bastow and Elle Marsh with Michelle Macklem.

Erik Jensen is our editor.

Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Envelope Audio.

This week marked our 100th episode on the show. Thank you so much for joining us this far.

This is 7am, I’m Elizabeth Kulas, see you next week.

As Scott Morrison attempts to control the message on how his government is handling the drought, there is bad news for his claims to strong economic management. Paul Bongiorno on slow growth and big dries.

Guest: Columnist for The Saturday Paper Paul Bongiorno.

Background reading:

PM under the pump over drought and economy in The Saturday Paper
The Saturday Paper
The Monthly

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7am is hosted by Elizabeth Kulas. The show is produced by Emile Klein, Ruby Schwartz, Atticus Bastow and Elle Marsh. Our editor is Erik Jensen. Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Envelope Audio.

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drought environment auspol morrison climatechange economics




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103: That won’t feed one cow