Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

Grim harvest
On policy reform, the Coalition is reverting to type

There is some wishful thinking going around, but the Morrison government has not changed its spots. As Treasurer Josh Frydenberg confirmed at the press club: “The values and the principles that have guided the Coalition reforms in the past must guide us again in the future”. Those values, according to the treasurer, are encouraging personal responsibility, maximising personal choice, and rewarding effort and risk-taking, while “ensuring a safety net which is underpinned by a sense of decency and fairness”. When asked, Frydenberg would not countenance cuts to services as a way of paying down debt incurred during the pandemic, and would not be drawn on any increase to the GST to compensate states for any relief on indirect taxes, such as stamp duty or payroll tax. So, a jump to the right through radical post-pandemic austerity, or more regressive taxation, does not appear to be on the agenda. On the other hand, the government has not jumped permanently to the left either: the treasurer insisted that the JobSeeker supplement of $550 a fortnight would indeed be withdrawn in October, and played an extremely dead bat when asked about the Australian Industry Group’s proposal that recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and cutting greenhouse-gas emissions should be addressed together.

Frydenberg wheeled out some stock Coalition talking points about how meeting the Paris Agreement’s targets for emissions reduction is “a focus of the Morrison government”, saying, “we have made great progress”. He cited Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor’s Underwriting New Generation Investment program, and his “big stick” regulatory reforms to lower electricity prices, and said, “We believe that those changes we’ve made on the generation side, on the regulatory side, are helping to reduce prices, but also to reduce our carbon footprint.”

Australia looks like it is going to remain stuck with the energy and climate policies of the climate deniers on the Coalition’s conservative flank, with Taylor pushing for a gas-fired recovery and raiding the Clean Energy Finance Corporation for $300 million to fund hydrogen from fossil fuels, and Resources Minister Keith Pitt opening [$] consultation for 49 offshore areas nominated for exploration by the oil and gas industry. Asked by a reporter for billionaire Kerry Stokes’s West Australian to “categorically rule out any changes to revenue raising for the sector in the post-COVID rebuild”, Frydenberg pretty much obliged. “Our focus is on lower taxes, where we have the opportunity to do so,’ he said. ‘That’s our proven record. We weren’t the party that went to any elections with a mining tax … We have a whole series of incentives in place to support the mining sector for companies big and small.” The government’s focus, Frydenberg said, would be on “unleashing the power of dynamic innovative and open markets”, with “the private sector leading job creation, not government”.

In other words, let her rip. The treasurer’s press club speech was immediately followed by a rather humdrum briefing from Scott Morrison, Attorney-General Christian Porter and ex-Fortescue boss Nev Power, chair of the COVID-19 commission. On a day the ABS confirmed up to a million Australians have lost their jobs since lockdown restrictions took effect in mid March, the PM said the focus was on getting those people back to work. The number of downloads of the COVIDSafe app would pass five million today, Morrison said, out of a target population of roughly 16 million people – shifting the goalposts from the initial target of 40 per cent of the population. Porter and Power spoke about the nuts and bolts of getting businesses ready to reopen safely, including a proper workplace safety regime and processes for outbreaks, where they occur. If there is no second wave, we may see a return to politics as usual, sooner than we think. “We’re not about to announce a shopping list of reforms,” the treasurer said today. “We are in a harvesting phase during which we will look at new and old reform proposals with fresh eyes.” Those proposals are likely to be very familiar.

“I know what it’s about when you see the impact of trauma that a bushfire of the magnitude we faced over summer brings to communities. To this end, it’s important we look at how we establish a pathway moving forward with a national response to trauma when it comes to natural disasters.”

NSW transport minister Andrew Constance confirms he will run for the Liberal party in the federal seat of Eden-Monaro, vacated by Labor’s Mike Kelly, citing diaster recovery as a particular focus.

“Once this lockdown is over and the grim reality of a decimated economy, high unemployment and reduced household incomes hits home in Queensland, there will be a window of opportunity for [Deb] Frecklington and the LNP … It’s time to excite Queenslanders with some big ideas, outline a policy agenda and take some calculated risks.”

Former Queensland premier Campbell Newman warns that the LNP will lose the coming state election unless it rolls the dice … like he did, before he lost government.

The 160,000 jobs lost while the government waited
The government’s economic relief package was broken into three phases, but serious questions are being asked about whether the timing and order of the announcements may have led to job losses. Today, Mike Seccombe on the flaws in our rescue package.


The proportion of Australians, according to the latest Essential poll, who favour keeping JobSeeker (formerly Newstart) at the higher level it has been during the pandemic, or aligning it with the rate paid to single pensioners.

“It is a criminal offence to collect, use or disclose COVIDSafe app data for a purpose that is not related to contact tracing. It is also a criminal offence to coerce a person to use the app, to store or transfer COVIDSafe app data to a country outside Australia and to decrypt app data. A maximum penalty of five years imprisonment or $63,000 applies to breaches of the determination.”

Attorney-General Christian Porter releases draft legislation to protect the privacy of users downloading the COVIDSafe app.

The list

“It seems important that Easter Sunday should somehow be different from all the other Sundays, so as soon as the children wake up I hustle them to the reserve. We may not be camping this year, but I have heard that the Easter Bunny sometimes visits local parks … They descend upon the gully with the single-minded purpose of a SWAT team. I trail behind, incontinently dropping eggs in my wake.”

“The influences of surrealism, dadaism, futurism, suprematism and more can be seen in the small but perfectly formed Japanese Modernism exhibition that opened in late February at the National Gallery of Victoria before being prematurely closed down by the coronavirus. It recently resurfaced as a virtual show. Encompassing advertising, fashion, decorative arts and other aspects of popular culture, the exhibition features objects that are on show for the first time and represents the culmination of five years of the institution’s collecting in the field.”

“The technology behind the Australian government’s new COVIDSafe tracing app could create a comprehensive social contacts map of the nation – a potentially valuable dataset to foreign governments and Australian law enforcement. That’s the view of one analyst, Professor Dali Kaafar, executive director of the Optus Macquarie University Cyber Security Hub, who has studied the app’s functions and the source code of the Singaporean version, which he says the Australian app very closely matches.”

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?


The Monthly Today

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Southern discomfort

Tomorrow’s result in Eden-Monaro is on a knife edge

Image of Defence Minister Linda Reynolds speaking at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute

Grey zone

Between war and peace, Australia’s defence strategy is evolving

Arms race?

The government’s China rhetoric is disturbingly warlike

Image of Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk

Border wars

Premier Palaszczuk hits back at the PM

From the front page

Images of Kristy McBain and Fiona Kotvojs

Southern discomfort

Tomorrow’s result in Eden-Monaro is on a knife edge

Image of Defence Minister Linda Reynolds speaking at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute

Grey zone

Between war and peace, Australia’s defence strategy is evolving

Image of Patrick Allington's ‘Rise & Shine’

Shelf pity: ‘Rise & Shine’

Patrick Allington’s fable of a world in which perpetual war is staged to fuel compassion is too straightforward for its ambitions

Image of then treasurer Scott Morrison handing Barnaby Joyce a lump of coal during Question Time, February 9, 2017.

Coal cursed

The fossil-fuel lobby could not have created the climate wars so easily without the preceding culture wars