ONE LAST MAD, BAD WEEK IN PARLIAMENT
IF YOU think you knew what was going on in national politics this past week, you were watching a different channel. It was a madcap, embarrassing, unedifying, bitter, too-smart-by-half, egodriven, game-playing, pointscoring and moral ground occupying week that left no one with any real credit.
The week, the last one in which our national Parliament sat, also gave us the best window yet into how the next election will be fought. We saw the Coalition and Labor scoping out their preferred territory and testing lines and themes. We also saw the tenor and volume of the rhetoric and got a measure of just how far and how loud the principals – Scott Morrison and Bill Shorten – will take things.
The traditional arc of politics in Australia has been that the Coalition has a head start on the economy and national security while Labor is the caring side which can be depended on to provide schools, health care, welfare, wage justice and a general social safety net.
Nothing this week changed that too much, although the advantage the Coalition has on the economy is on shakier ground than it has been.
While the economic indicators look quite strong, there is a nagging feeling among voters that things are not headed in the right direction and the cost of living is often too much to bear.
This is because we have had negative or flatlining wage growth for seven years, starting in 2010-11 after the great global recession and, according to recent Reserve Bank forecasts, it will continue until at least 2020. Even this forecast must be seen as optimistic. Every prediction of the wage-price index over the past seven years has been pitched way over the eventual outcome, between 1 and 2 per cent.
The national accounts released this week continued to track this wage stagnation and also found our saving ratio was shrinking – suggesting people are dipping into their bank accounts and other asset sources to get by.
The softening of the Australian economy and the persistently flat wages growth, will make it hard for Morrison and his Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, to push a robust message on economic management.
This is especially so because polls have recently shown the gap on economic management narrowing between Labor and the Coalition, and the ALP commanding a dominant lead on providing wage growth and helping with the cost of living.
Attention then turns to national security and the twin