Scott “Press Release” Morrison

In my last article, I concluded cursorily that headlines take precedence over policy for this federal government. Today I want to flesh this out a little.

We already saw how a supposed $100m of surge workforce staffing for aged care was announced by Morrison in March 2020. This was part of the coronavirus emergency response plan, in which the Federal Government said it would take charge of aged care. 

Yet by October, as the second wave was concluding, only 30 per cent of the money had actually been spent. This policy and planning failing contributed to the chaos and death in Victorian nursing homes.

Then there was JobKeeper, a supposed $130bn stimulus to business payrolls. Yet thanks to an “accounting error,” it ended up being half that. 

JobMaker was announced quickly after the “accounting error” came to light. This “historic effort,” as Morrison described it to the National Press Club, was news to the Department of Education & Training, who hadn’t even heard of the program before the day it was hurriedly announced.

In early March, a $1bn fund was announced to cushion tourism operators from the pandemic, again drawing headlines. Yet in a Senate Committee hearing in August, it was revealed the fund was being used up in hand-outs to forestry and air-freight, to the chagrin of Australia’s peak industry body for tourism.

In June, Morrison stole the headlines again announcing a $250m package for arts funding. At that time, the program still didn’t have guidelines or application forms, and no money was disbursed until November, when the second wave was over and venues were re-opening.

Then there is the Bushfire Recovery Fund. In January 2020, Morrison said, “What I envisage is guaranteeing to the Australian people at this time of crisis that we will meet every cost that needs to be met.” 

Accompanying these fine words were $2bn to help bushfire-affected rural communities. By March 2020, six months after the bushfires began, the agency in charge had paid out just 10 per cent. Of 104 applications for concessional loans for small business, just five had been approved.

The 2019-20 bushfires.

As Nick Feik argued in The Saturday Paper, “In the current environment, there are no disincentives” for this behaviour. “Press conferences are held at short notice with details postponed until later, and inconvenient questions are easily batted away, well after headlines have established an underlying narrative.”

For those without the time to thoroughly keep up with the news, it’s important – under this Federal Government – to carefully distinguish headline from reality.