Friday, August 7, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

COVID scars
Even JobKeeper 3.0 may not be enough

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg. Via Sky News

Signs of hope have emerged that Victoria is getting its second wave of the coronavirus under control, contrary to the baffling coverage on the front page of yesterday’s Australian­. Both Guardian Australia and the Australian Financial Review reported last night that experts are confident Victoria’s curve is starting to flatten and should bend down in 10 days or so, after a fortnight of stage-four restrictions. Premier Daniel Andrews confirmed 450 new cases overnight and 11 deaths. None of this stopped Treasurer Josh Frydenberg lashing out at the state government today as the partisan warfare escalates, saying the failures in hotel quarantine were “not simply bad luck”, but were a failure of leadership. “As a Victorian, I feel so devastated about what has transpired in our state,” said Frydenberg. “It should never have got to this.” Today, Frydenberg announced a $15 billion expansion of the JobKeeper program, with tweaks to the eligibility rules to ensure that businesses that did okay in the June quarter but will do badly in the current quarter can still qualify, and that employees hired as recently as the start of July could still receive it. As is now routine, the announcement was immediately criticised for being inadequate.

First up, the treasurer’s JobKeeper 3.0 was criticised for sticking with the proposal announced on June 21 to cut the $1500 rate to $1200 from the end of September. Frydenberg’s answer was to repeat ad nauseum that the expanded JobKeeper is the biggest fiscal support program ever – now $101 billion and counting – and to point to something like $340 billion that has been thrown at the economy by the federal government, along with the states and territories. Today’s nervous-making moment was the distinct possibility, raised on this morning’s AM program, that NSW could succumb to a second wave of infections just as Victoria has. “That’s why we have to make these health measures in Victoria work,” Frydenberg said. 

Second up, the trade unions put out a statement welcoming the JobKeeper expansion but pointing out that it still excludes millions of people. “Until the scheme fully covers casuals and visa workers it will not adequately protect our community from the virus, as these workers will be desperate for income,” said the statement. “Unfortunately, many of the shortfalls which unions identified at the launch of JobKeeper remain, and are causing severe financial distress for millions of working people.”

In a speech today, Reserve Bank of Australia assistant governor Luci Ellis explained that economic activity is unlikely to bounce back completely after lockdown’s end, after the August statement on monetary policy lifted the forecast unemployment rate at December from 9 per cent to 10 per cent, predicting a slow grind out of the pandemic. Shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers pointed up to the significance of the RBA’s statements, and accused the government of playing catch-up with JobKeeper and of having no plan for jobs. Chalmers picked out three points: the RBA now expects almost 400,000 Australians will lose their job between now and Christmas; the hardest-hit industries are those that have been deliberately excluded from the JobKeeper program (industries where casuals are dominant); and that without sufficient investment from the government in the months ahead we will have a serious long-term problem with unemployment. “They call it labour-market scarring,” said Chalmers. “This is the thing that we need to avoid at all costs – this idea that long-term unemployment will cascade through the generations and concentrate in particular communities.”

It was hard to make out what Prime Minister Scott Morrison was announcing at another hour-long presser following national cabinet’s meeting this afternoon, or indeed if he announced anything at all. In his inimitable preachy style, the PM was somehow above it all – responsible for everything and nothing. The treasurer had already announced the changes to JobKeeper, and ongoing decisions about borders and restrictions are a matter for the states. We were told that national cabinet was still working well – this is to be taken on trust – but were offered very little about what was discussed, apart from Morrison being pleased to receive a report from former health secretary Jane Halton, which “stress-tested” hotel quarantine procedures in NSW and Queensland. Hotels are treating the confined as guests, apparently, and some kid even got a birthday cake, which is nice.

The PM wriggled out of a pointed question about whether the Commonwealth would ask the Federal Court to strike out evidence it provided in support of Clive Palmer’s case against the WA government. “The only way out is for Mr Palmer to pull out of the case,” said Morrison. “He’s the only one who can prevent the case going forward. I think that will be a good decision.” Of course, this didn’t answer the original question at all.

And lastly, Acting Chief Health Officer Paul Kelly spoke optimistically about the possibility of a vaccine. The PM was clear on one thing: whichever country gets the vaccine first, they should share it with the world or “be judged terribly by history”. 

Amen to that.

“Nothing has happened. Not a dollar has been spent … While the sector is desperately waiting for help, the guidelines are sitting on the minister’s desk just waiting for his signature. No worries minister, it’s not like it’s urgent or anything.”

Shadow arts minister Tony Burke on why none of the $250 million arts package has been spent, six weeks after it was announced by federal minister Paul Fletcher.

“The destruction of the rock-shelters has triggered some reflection in our company. And we have taken immediate actions to improve our approach.”

Rio Tinto chief executive Jean-Sebastien Jacques tells a parliamentary inquiry that blowing up sacred sites at Juukan Gorge allowed the company to access iron ore worth $135 million.

Morrison’s coronavirus backdowns
While most of the focus has been on Victoria, behind the scenes the federal government has been sending mixed messages on economic policy and state border closures. Today, Paul Bongiorno on whether Scott Morrison is accurately reading the mood of the electorate during this phase of the crisis.

The salary paid to IDP Education’s Andrew Barkla in the 2019 financial year, making him the country’s highest-paid chief executive, according to a survey by the Australian Council of Superannuation Investors.

“The ALP National Executive met today and has agreed to defer the 49th ALP National Conference due to COVID-19 … The national executive regrets that the events of 2020 mean that it is simply not practical to go ahead this year. Labor’s platform development process will continue as planned.”

ALP National President Wayne Swan announces that the party’s national conference, scheduled for December 2020, is now postponed until further notice.

The list

“Born in the Ukraine and raised in Belarus, Alexievich was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2015 ‘for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time’. Her method appears straightforward: ‘For three years I rode around and asked people: the workers at the nuclear plant, the scientists, the former Party bureaucrats, doctors, soldiers, helicopter pilots, minders, refugees, re-settlers.’ And yet her art remains mysterious: how does she elicit such testimonies? Is it the craft of her questioning, the quality of her listening? Or is it her patience, returning again and again to the same subjects, waiting for the moment of revelation?”

“Girl fans are bad and wrong, it is assumed, because they don’t know how to listen, not in the discriminating, temperate, knowledgeable way that other listeners (male listeners) know how to listen. Instead, they lust. They look, and the gaze of innumerable girls upon the pretty faces of their boy band idols is a kind of embarrassment, both to the idol and to the world. See how I used the word pretty there, without even thinking why – the male musician is made girly by girls. And who would want to be made into a girl, if you don’t already have to be one?”

“In 1998, ‘Blue’ tapped into the possibilities of the new millennium, speaking, somehow, to the infinite possibilities proposed by the advent of personal computers. More than two decades later, its rose-tinted optimism about internet-aided connectivity seems hideously facile. And yet, inexplicably, three songs that run the gamut from the impenetrable fringe to the hyper-mainstream … have dragged the track, warts and all, into our present day, ready to delight and traumatise a new generation.”

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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