Thursday, April 2, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

Snap back
The PM thinks the economy will rebound, but that’s not likely

When he was asked what kept him awake at night, and how his family was coping with the pandemic, Prime Minister Scott Morrison held back tears today as he recalled the sacrifices his grandmother made during the Depression. He spoke with feeling about how his family was with him in the Lodge and they were keeping each other entertained and staying connected despite the isolation. “Stay together, Australia,” Morrison said with some confidence, grounded perhaps in the progress being made on the pandemic. It also perhaps reflected the tributes being paid to his latest stimulus package, with The Australian’s Niki Savva comparing [$] him to Howard, if not Churchill, and Peter van Onselen writing [$] on Monday that it was the making of him as PM. Towards the end of the presser – held to announce a free childcare policy that has distinct echoes of the wage subsidy plan Labor took to the last election – Morrison revealed his thinking on how a heavily indebted Australia would recover from the pandemic.

The PM ruled out franking-credit reform or the shelving of tax cuts, but he admitted the $200 billion in stimulus measures announced over the past month was “going to put a great strain on the country, clearly, but … one that is absolutely necessary given the circumstances that we face”. Then he explained the difference between the Coalition’s stimulus and Labor’s during the financial crisis of 2008–09. His government had exercised a discipline, Morrison said, ensuring the stimulus measures were “temporary, and do not provide long tails of expenditure”. He said Labor’s stimulus entailed structural changes in the budget, which the Coalition’s stimulus would not. “There is a snap back to the previous existing arrangements on the other side of this,” Morrison said. “So there is an intensity of expenditure during this period, and then we have to get back to what it was like before, and then we have to deal with the burden that will be carried out of this period of time.”

But is it realistic to imagine that Australia will snap back, even if it does cope tolerably well with the pandemic? The host of the ABC’s The Business, Elysse Morgan, wrote after a stark interview with the OECD secretary-general, Angel Gurría, that Morrison may be being overly optimistic. The United Nations secretary-general, António Guterres, says the world is facing its greatest test since World War Two.

Guardian Australia’s Greg Jericho writes that the tax cuts were predicated on rosy budget forecasts over the next decade, which are now laughable and will either have to be shelved or paid for with deep cuts to expenditure. “Given we are very likely to experience a period of ongoing low revenue, the only way to have the tax cuts be budget neutral is to cut services – and the cuts will have to be much larger than previously expected,” Jericho writes.

The climate-fuelled drought, fire and smoke over Black Summer was a crisis the PM and his government could not deal with at any level – emotionally, philosophically or politically. The coronavirus pandemic is one Morrison has been able to deal with, simply by humbly ditching his fixed positions and listening to the experts around him, and state premiers and even the Opposition. It took too long for Morrison to switch into crisis mode, but in doing so he has been transformed – not into an inspirational leader, but into a safe pair of hands, which is what is needed at a worrying time. A key influence on the stimulus response, according to an interesting profile [$] in today’s AFR, is Treasury secretary and former nurse Steven Kennedy, who did his doctorate on the relationship between the economy and health. “There is no one better for this time,” the former mandarin told the paper.

But that is not to say that the Morrison government should be given free reign. In fact, the valuable role an Opposition can play has never been more obvious. Which is why Morrison should not let this week’s accolades go to his head, and should restore our democracy. His national cabinet is operating without legislative or constitutional authority, and there are now powerful calls for parliament to continue after next Wednesday’s emergency sitting, and a panel of judges have urged the appointment of a parliamentary committee to oversee the executive while the legislature is dormant, as has occurred in New Zealand. For good measure, Labor has referred the stimulus spending to the auditor-general. Now, when did we last hear from him again? 

“Do we want two strong airlines at the end of this? Yes, we do. But support can’t be specific for one business. It must be systemic. There comes a time when the government can’t run every business around the country.”

A senior government source tells the AFR’s Phillip Coorey that the government would not agree to Virgin Australia’s request for a $1.4 billion bailout.

“Anyone thinking this is an opportunity for a FREE RIDE, please think again ... Immediately seeking casual work in whatever capacity you can for the moment (go into survival mode) … If you are from another country and have lost your job and have waited this long, YOU ARE BEING IRRESPONSIBLE FOR DOING SO!!!! Go back home to your friends and family and live through this crisis with their support as many non-Australians have already done.”

Sydney-based property business Sweet Potato Living tells tenants that the six-month moratorium on evictions does not excuse them from paying rent, even if they have lost their jobs.

A Nobel prize winner explains coronavirus
Professor Peter Doherty won the Nobel prize for his research on how our bodies fight off viruses. Today, we ask him what makes COVID-19 different from other infections, how it damages our bodies, and what we should be doing now to prepare for the next pandemic.


The number of days since Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has been seen in public, prompting the AFR’s Jennifer Hewett to pen him an open letter.

“Applying internationally accepted factors for fugitive methane emissions for gas production and taking into account the 25%-30% CO2 content, total greenhouse gas emissions from the actual production and use for electricity generation of gas in the coal seams at Narrabri would actually approach those of coal.”

The conclusion of a new report for community group North West Protection Advocacy, which is campaigning against Santos’s Narrabri coal-seam gas project in NSW, ahead of the company’s annual general meeting tomorrow.

The list

“Patricia Turner, CEO of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO), first asked the federal government to consider deploying the army in remote areas on March 15. She’d just received reports that clinics in the Kimberley had been sent just two sets of masks, gloves and gowns for each health worker, and that it was taking up to two weeks for COVID-19 tests to be returned. ‘In that time,’ Turner told Guardian Australia, ‘if someone has it, the whole community will get it.’ Extraordinarily, Turner declared that ‘the army is our friend in this situation’.”

“Three months since my sister’s rainwater tanks ran dry from fighting those blazes, country roads were turned into moats by monsoonal downpours ... Coronavirus offered a short-term threat of mass extinction to accompany the more medium-term oblivion posed by climate change. DIY survivalists stockpiled toilet paper while recycling breathing masks from summer dust storms. Rebecca and Jamie had unwittingly chosen this moment to get married after a 13-year engagement. Three days before the knot-tying, my sister uploaded a Facebook photo of coffee-coloured rapids gushing across once-scorched lawn now growing pornographically green.”

“‘I have today written a letter to Rod Sims, chairman of the ACCC, to investigate public commentary and an industry-wide campaign by Qantas that is designed to ensure a lessening of competition in the aviation sector,’ Virgin Australia chief executive Paul Scurrah reportedly told staff on Monday. According to the Nine newspapers, the letter accused Qantas of spreading rumours about Virgin’s financial position and ‘briefing journalists on the false pretence that Virgin Australia cash reserves are running out within days and that Virgin Australia has appointed administrators’. The ACCC is investigating.”

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is the author of Body Count: How Climate Change Is Killing Us, Inside the Greens and Born To Rule: The Unauthorised Biography of Malcolm Turnbull.


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