Crispin Hull / On the Coalition’s Litany of Mismanagement

YET again the Coalition says it has the best economic-management credentials and yet again opinion polls show that voters put the Coalition ahead of Labor on economic management. It is a rusted-on myth. Trouble is, when you chisel away the rust, there is no metal underneath.

Since 2013 the Coalition has engaged in a litany of economic mismanagement and misuse of public money.

Let’s look at that, item by item.

Submarines. So far, the Coalition has spent $2.5 billion and has nothing to show for it. And we have not yet had the bill from the French for breach of contract.

The new nuclear AUKUS submarine is not even on the drawing boards. The only plan by the Coalition Government is to build in Australia – in South Australia where there are some marginal seats to be held.

The NBN. On coming to office in 2013, the Coalition dumped Labor’s fibre-to-the-premises plan to give reliable very high-speed broadband to every business and household in the country, except very remote places which would have a satellite option.

The Coalition commissioned a report that said Labor’s model would cost $74bn and not be completed until 2024, while the Coalition’s fibre-to-the-node model would cost $41bn and be finished in 2020. Seven years later, we now find that the costs of the Coalition’s vastly inferior model are not very much lower than Labor’s fibre-to-the-premises at $2330 per premises as against $2750.

It was classic bad economic management: go for some el-cheapo option to save a few pennies and get a rubbish product. People are still screaming about poor internet coverage. Bad economic management affects people’s lives and businesses.

Car parks. Just before the 2019 election, the Morrison Government set up a grants scheme to build carparks near railway stations, ostensibly to relieve peak-hour congestion. The grants were skewed to marginal electorates giving Coalition candidates an election “announceable”.

Three years later we learn the program is $100 million over Budget and only three of the 47 projects have been completed.

“Economic mismanagement” would be a polite way of characterising it. Outright misappropriation and fraud might be a better way of putting it.

Refugees. Australia is now holding just 107 refugees on Nauru. It is costing an astonishing $4.3 million per refugee a year.

Answers to questions on notice in the Senate show that the Government spent $1.67 billion on Nauru from November 2017 to January 2021.

Of that, a bit over $1.2 billion was paid to the three big contractors: construction and facilities management firm Canstruct International; healthcare provider International Health and Medical Services (IHMS); and the government of Nauru.

The remaining $400 million is not accounted for.

It is a mismanaged fiasco. And a cruel one at that. Several of the men who arrived as children are there seven years later. A teenager convicted of murder would not stay locked up that long.

A competent economic manager would get the job done far cheaper or just close the place.

JobKeeper. Jobkeeper was good policy. Employers about to be hit by a Covid downturn could get a government payment provided employees were kept on the payroll. But the Coalition Government fatally mismanaged the scheme. It failed to make a provision for repayment of the money if a company’s profits did not fall but were steady or went up.

Between $13 billion and $20 billion went to companies whose profits did not fall. The companies used the money for management bonuses and shareholder dividends. Worse, unlike most other countries who had similar scheme the names of the companies and the amount they got have not been made public.

But heaven help you if you are a suspected overpaid welfare recipient.

Robodebt. The Government has paid out more than $100 million in compensation for its mismanaged and ill-conceived program to claw back on welfare over-payments. A good economic administrator would know that welfare payments are based on each fortnight’s income and you cannot use annual tax returns to calculate an average fortnightly income and conclude someone made a false claim and then demand via computer-generated letter repayment and penalties.

Fuel. Australians spend $30 billion a year on imported fuel. A competent government would be encouraging electric vehicles like crazy. And it would not give generous fuel-tax rebates to farmers and miners. But not the Morrison Government.

The school chaplaincy program. Just a palpable waste of public money.

The Budget deficit. The deficit has blown out and a balanced Budget can no longer be used by the Morrison Government as evidence of its economic credentials. In any event, good economic managers know that an obsession with austerity and a balanced budget makes for poorer economic performance in the long run. Lowering both revenue and spending is folly when governments have it within their power to redirect resources in a fairer, more productive way.

Childcare. A good economic manager would provide free childcare to get more parents (mostly women) into the workforce.

Population. A good economic manager would have a sensible population policy that looked at long-term costs – congestion, infrastructure, environment etc – instead of accepting the greedy, lazy assertions of employers who want a cheap migrant labour source.

Decarbonising. A good economic manager looks to the future and prepares. It is obvious that Europe, the US and possibly China will impose carbon-price tariffs on nations like Australia that are not doing enough to decarbonise. Australian exporters will pay for the Morrison Government’s incompetence. Its net-zero by 2050 plan just assumes the private sector and new technology will reduce emissions to zero without any government incentives or penalties.

Intelligent, good economic managers like Fortescue Metals’ Andrew Forrest see opportunities like clean hydrogen and renewables. But the badly managing Coalition Government wants to do nothing and continue mining and exporting fossil fuels despite world demand for them heading the direction of whale oil.

Of course, there is more. But with this record, the Coalition’s claim to be a good economic manager is beyond satire.

Good economic managers. Pah! I wouldn’t trust this lot with a kid’s piggybank. They would only hand it over to their mates and donors who would promptly put its snout into the nearest trough.

This article first appeared in The Canberra Times and rother Australian media on 20 November 2021.

Crispin Hull BA, LLB (Hons) | Property Convenor  |  ANU School of Legal Practice Lawyer of the Supreme Court of the ACT, on the Register of Practitioners kept by the High Court of Australia


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