Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

Worst quarter ever
The Morrison government’s response to the COVID recession is not convincing

Confirmation that Australia is now in the worst recession since the Great Depression – the 7 per cent drop in economic activity from March to June is the country’s worst quarterly performance since records began in 1959 – increases the pressure on the Morrison government to maintain the current levels of income support, and to put off cuts to JobKeeper and JobSeeker. And the worst could be still to come, since the figures do not reflect the full impact of Melbourne’s hard lockdown. Declaring that the Australian economy had been “savaged” by the global pandemic and recession, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said it was a “devastating day for Australia”. Shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers asked the PM in Question Time this afternoon whether the government’s decision to “cut JobKeeper, cut JobSeeker and cut wages [would] make the worst recession in almost a century even deeper and even longer”. Morrison flicked that one to Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, who argued that, while JobKeeper was supporting 3.5 million workers and a million businesses, “we’ve always said the program was temporary, it was targeted, and that there would be a transition”. Frydenberg then embarked on a confidence-draining, point-scoring exercise about whose idea it was to reduce JobKeeper: “Not just those on this side of the house have said it should be tapered.” 

On the government’s side of the house there was a desperate attempt at optimism. Resources Minister Keith Pitt talked up the performance of the mining industry: “There is a ray of hope for the Australian people and it is in the resources sector. [The sector] has grown 0.2 per cent in the June quarter, and that is up 1.1 per cent compared to last year. So it is a sector that has continued to grow and provide jobs.” Likewise, Agriculture Minister David Littleproud, when asked how that sector would help the Australian economy emerge from recession, said that since the instant asset write-off threshold was raised in July “there has been a 24 per cent increase in the number of tractor sales, 33 per cent in terms of bailors and 14 per cent in terms of front mowers. That’s a significant investment putting money back into local communities. We are seeing economic growth in these communities from these measures that are supporting not just agriculture, but supporting regional communities.” This is yet more evidence of the Coalition’s blinkered farm-and-quarry vision for the Australian economy. 

Morrison pointed to promising payroll data, to the $10 billion of infrastructure spending (across water, energy and transport), and to the nebulous JobMaker scheme, which remains little more than a series of announcements. But none of this speaks of an overarching plan for the economy, which was stagnant before the pandemic and which the Coalition has been managing for seven years. The hard fact is that, with Victoria in the middle of a second wave and the ever-present danger of a second wave in NSW or elsewhere, and with unemployment rising and the economy likely to get worse before it gets better, the end of September is way too soon to begin winding back the key supports of JobKeeper and JobSeeker. The PM seemed to acknowledge the possibility that those plans may be revised ahead of October’s budget, telling parliament, “We will continue to calibrate these measures, as we have always done, in response to the economic circumstances that we face.”

This is not the time for ideological debates about whether government support is appropriate or how long it should be kept in place for. This is a genuine economic disaster – a time for Australians to look after each other. Morrison said a hallmark of his government’s response to the pandemic was that “every life matters”. He should show he means it. 

“Please show wisdom, show honesty, compassion, if you wish, to let Witness K live his life as an honourable patriot of Australia. Stop harassing Bernard Collaery.”

The former president of Timor-Leste, José Ramos-Horta, calls on the Morrison government to drop the secret prosecution of whistleblower Witness K and his lawyer Bernard Collaery.

“People who were self-reliant are now looking to the government for sustenance – a something-for-nothing mindset – reinforced by young people saved from looking for jobs.”

Former prime minister Tony Abbott shares his perspective in a speech to a London think tank. He also attacked Victorian premier Daniel Andrews for wanting to extend a “health dictatorship for another six months”.

Profiting off the unemployment boom
As Australia grapples with an unemployment crisis, corporate job agencies are benefiting from a boom in government payments. Some are being accused of pressuring those looking for work. Today, Rick Morton on who is profiting from Australia’s unemployment industry.

The size of the bonus that Australia Post chief executive Christine Holgate will no longer receive, after the board vetoed all executive bonus payments this year.

“Add a self-sufficient Australian medium and large aerial firefighting capability to fire services … Create an Indigenous-led National Cultural Fire Strategy to complement and inform fuel management by agencies … Set up a national climate disaster fund to meet climate-fuelled disaster costs and build resilience – paid through a fossil-fuel producer levy … Develop and implement a national climate change, health and wellbeing strategy.”

Four of the 165 recommendations developed by the Emergency Leaders for Climate Action, as part of its Australian Bushfire and Climate Plan.

The list

“Over the past two years, the all-Pasifika group OneFour, whose name derives from the ‘Mounty county’ street gang NF14, have become Australia’s most infamous hip-hop act. Since their inception in 2017, their rotating roster of rappers – J Emz, Spenny, YP, Lekks, Celly and Caesar – have been going viral on YouTube with music videos that parade their thuggish frame of mind. Blurring the lines between street credibility and art, their authenticity has come at a heavy cost. In 2019, their national tour was cancelled because of police pressure on venues and, after a violent altercation, the majority of their members were incarcerated.”

“It is a deeply discomfiting experience to read a novel set in a near-future dystopia of contemporary Australia, here in the middle of a pandemic. In Kate Mildenhall’s second novel, The Mother Fault, the seeds of tension are planted early, with Mildenhall amplifying present anxieties around increased surveillance, unregulated government intervention and over-the-top security measures.”

“After the scuffle over Elaine Pearson’s interview, UNSW put out two different media releases – in English and Mandarin – with two different messages. The English document, written by vice-chancellor Ian Jacobs, stated the university has ‘unequivocal commitment to freedom of expression and academic freedom’. A separate letter was written in Mandarin and sent to the Chinese international student body. This letter was written by Laurie Pearcey – who is both the pro vice-chancellor (international) and chair of the board of the Confucius Institute at UNSW – and it said the university was ‘disturbed by the trouble this incident has caused you [the international students]’. Pearcey’s letter made no reference to academic freedom and was described by the nationalistic Chinese tabloid Global Times as an apology to the university’s Chinese students.”

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 Inside the Greens and the unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?


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From the front page

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