4
Mar
2019

More Ministers Quit; Treasury Officer’s Life

Can Morrison Cope with Two More Cabinet Departures

Last Friday’s Commentary suggested that the latest Coalition’s Newspoll of 47/53 for the third successive time indicated that the Morrison government was still in serious trouble. I suggested that the additional policy decisions announced by Morrison on climate policy would be unlikely to help close the gap.

These measures included acceptance of the Paris agreement and an expanded use of renewable through the establishment of the very uneconomic Snowy2.0 and the usage of “big batteries”. Energy Minister Taylor also claimed the new measures would cut energy bills while lowering emissions but this failed to take account of the additional costs from using the Snowy or from back-ups needed when other renewable are not available. I noted that it seemed unlikely that the Energy Minister would be able to reduce electricity prices except through the adoption of a regulatory system which legally limited the maximum price able to be charged by retailers.

While the Cabinet elevation of Senator Reynolds to Defence Minister (from Assistant Minister for Home ­Affairs) means the Morrison ­cabinet now has the greatest representation of women in the senior ministry of any government, Pyne will stay as head of that ministry until after the election, when he will not stand for return to Parliament. Mr Morrison said of Senator Reynolds: “When you can call up a brigadier, in the form of Linda Reynolds, to take on the role of ­defence minister, it shows we have a lot of talent on our bench to draw from. Linda will be the second ­female to serve in a cabinet-ranked ­defence portfolio. She will bring the number of female members in the cabinet to seven. “This is the highest number of any cabinet since federation.” More importantly, in the interviews she has conducted since her appointment, Reynolds has shown she should have become a cabinet minister some time ago.

The recent loss of several Coalition Ministers, including (until the election) of Pyne as a senior Minister and the immediate resignation of Defence Industry Minister Ciobo, has led some to question whether this might not allow Morrison greater freedom to run the “ship” and to have the Coalition become a genuine “conservative” party with a reduced influence from so-called moderates. Of particular importance in this regard is the end of Pyne, who is reported as once saying  he could have stood for Labor, and ran as a Liberal only because he lived in a Liberal seat (see Norington’s Analysis of Pyne or Realities of Politics). With both Turnbull and Pyne departing, the potential for a move of the Coalition to conservatism in greatly enhanced.

In today’s Herald Sun, commentators Andrew Bolt and Rita Panahi both argue that this situation may help the electoral position of the Coalition. Bolt argues that

“Malcolm Turnbull gone, Julie Bishop and Kelly O’Dwyer going, and now Christopher Pyne, too. Know what some Liberals call that? A good start. The election will do the rest. Check Sportsbet’s seat-by-seat odds. They tip that from the ruins of this Morrison Government after the May election will crawl a Liberal party where conservatives will again have the numbers and most of the talent. The Liberal Left has destroyed not just the party but itself, and that’s why some of its leaders are now deserting — and slamming the door in fury” (see attached Coalition May Become Conservative).

Of course, there is a lot of water to pass under the bridge before the election and Bolt acknowledges that Morrison himself is “ideologically flighty”. But Morrison has a much improved outlook if he can present himself as a leader who believes in the Menzian “small” government approach and who will spend more time attacking the policies being canvassed by Shorten.

Responses to Assessment of Treasury Life

During the time I was in Treasury (for 27 years until 1987) I naturally had several acquaintances with David Morgan who joined in 1980 at age 33 and left in 1990 to join Westpac. He did not work for me during that time but I became familiar with his economic and political views, although unlike some others I was not invited to his marriage to a Labor minister. His decision to have a book written about his life, titled David Morgan: An Extraordinary Life by an Oliver Brown and published at age 72, reflected his somewhat aggressive approach to letting the world know of his views. On 2-3 March the AFR published an article by Brown who says that at Westpac “he was given a brutal assessment of his management skills”.

The Australian’s Business journalist Richard Gluyas has also written about Morgan’s experiences and his article of 2-3 March is attached (see Gluyas on Morgan). That article however does not appear to provide a completely accurate picture of the then Secretary to the Treasury, John Stone. This has resulted in letters published by each of Stone and myself below.

Ros Kelly warning ‘did not happen’ 

Letters Published in The Australian, John Stone, Des Moore, 12:00AM March 4, 2019

8 Comments

I refer to Richard Gluyas’s Business Review article (“How a banker’s life lessons were forged”, 2-3/3) regarding David Morgan’s biography. In the article Morgan is quoted from the book as saying: “Over drinks one Friday night in Canberra, before (Morgan) married (Ros) Kelly in 1983, the arch-conservative then-Treasury secretary John Stone scowled at Morgan: ‘If you marry that woman, you will never be secretary to the Treasury’.” That is untrue.

I would never have said such a thing about Ros Kelly, nor would I have thought of Morgan (then a relatively junior officer) as a possible future secretary to the Treasury. My subsequent invitation (which I accepted) to attend their wedding renders the allegation even more bizarre.

I have known Morgan for 47 years. His intellectual abilities have never been in doubt. It was for an entirely different reason, when he asked some time ago that the author of his then planned biography might speak to me, that I declined.

John Stone, Lane Cove, NSW

In his commentary on David Morgan’s book on his own life, Richard Gluyas writes that “after an early career at the International Monetary Fund”, Morgan switched over to Treasury where he formed a tight bond with fellow thinkers who allegedly “marginalised” Treasury secretary John Stone, who “then exited Treasury”.

I have not read this book but am puzzled by this assertion.

As a deputy secretary Treasury at the time Stone resigned in 1984, I was in close contact with him at that time and I do not recall him attributing his resignation to any pressure from within Treasury. To the contrary.

Regarding the exchange rate float in 1983, Paul Keating’s concerns later of the danger of us becoming a banana republic suggest Stone correctly advised implementing other regulatory and policy changes with the float.

Des Moore, South Yarra, Vic

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