Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

Trillion-dollar man
The treasurer has loosened the purse strings – guess who missed out

Image of Josh Frydenberg at the National Press Club today

Josh Frydenberg at the National Press Club today

For a crisis budget that splashes $98 billion in tax cuts, wage subsidies and new spending to fund a business-led recovery, there are a surprising number of losers in the budget handed down by Treasurer Josh Frydenberg last night. In the wash-up today, women over 35 have been marked down as losers, with an ABC analysis highlighting the absence of new funding for childcare (excepting Victorian providers) and suggesting that the budget has failed to understand what hard-hit women need to recover from the pandemic. Women’s Agenda contributing editor Georgie Dent calculated that women get 0.0385 per cent of the funding.

In aged care, there is funding for 23,000 new home-care packages, but that still leaves 102,000 people waiting (further funding will be dependent on the final report of the aged-care royal commission). The United Workers Union has accused Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck of breaking a promise, given only last week, to look after people in aged care during COVID-19, and the union attacked the lack of specific funding for day-to-day staffing in residential care. “Residents are literally dying of loneliness,” said the union’s aged care director Carolyn Smith. “The federal government commits to help them, and yet the very next week there are no specific funds set aside in the budget to live up to the promise.”

And there are other nasties in the budget’s fine print: as Guardian Australia’s Paul Karp tweeted, there is a crucial $14 million cut to the Australian National Audit Office, which will see it do fewer performance audits of the kind that exposed the “sports rorts” fiasco. The arts sector was also ignored, according to ArtsHub, with the National Gallery’s funding cut by $25 million. So who wins? Anyone who wants to buy a new ute and write it off as a business expense. 

No doubt there will be unintended consequences from all this largesse, although the government continues to pretend that the stimulus is entirely different to that deployed by Labor during the global financial crisis because it is “targeted” and “temporary” – 90 per cent of the money goes out in the first two years.

In his speech at the National Press Club today, Frydenberg was tested on the timing of the tax cuts, fudging when asked whether workers would see the result in their pay packets before Christmas. Frydenberg’s answer appeared to suggest that once the tax office has updated its system in November or December, the new lower tax rates would be immediate going forward, but the component backdated to July 1 would be paid in a lump sum at tax time next year. “The changes will come into effect at the end of this year,” he said, “but in terms of what’s happening in the first six months, that will be payable at the end of the year.”

Frydenberg also gave a less-than-convincing answer to a question about what would prevent employers from sacking older workers and hiring new ones under the new JobMaker hiring credit scheme. The treasurer said that there was a double-barrel test: based on the numbers at the end of September, “the head count has to be higher, and the payroll needs to be higher, and so that is the integrity test that is designed to support additional people coming on to that business”.

That has certainly not reassured the ACTU, whose president, Michele O’Neil, sounded the alarm today, while Australian Council of Social Service chief executive Cassandra Goldie called for the age limits to the hiring credit scheme to be dropped completely to remove any such incentives for age discrimination.

Labor questioned aspects of the budget in parliament today, but its criticism is blunted by the fact that it will support most of the headline measures. That leaves the Greens to mount an opposition case, and leader Adam Bandt did not hold back this morning, telling RN Breakfast: “When we needed a green recovery, it’s all brown and trickle down.” True enough, the budget delivers more of the same from the Coalition – handouts to business in the hope that it will kickstart the economy, albeit on a scale unlike anything we’ve seen to date – while passing up on substantial reform. Asked about that today, the treasurer spoke plainly: “What we have decided to pursue in this budget is boosting investment incentives, and that’s been the critical focus for us – boosting business investment incentives – and that is going to help strengthen the economy in the here and now.”

Fingers crossed.

“This budget’s a bit like the Christmas present you get when you’re a kid and you rip off the paper, you’re really excited, and then you read ‘batteries not included’, because for a trillion dollars of debt, you’d expect a bit more bang for your buck.”

Shadow education minister Tanya Plibersek sums up the budget on Sunrise.

“You maybe need to look at your federal member.”

Deputy PM Michael McCormack tells ABC Ballarat why the electorate – held by Labor – seems to have missed out in last night’s budget.

Budget 2020: Getting on with the jobs
Josh Frydenberg’s second budget is a world away from the surplus he was predicting last year. Now, in the middle of a pandemic, debt is on track to hit $1 trillion and the treasurer is talking up a jobs-led recovery. Today, Karen Middleton on a budget of big numbers and heroic assumptions.


The number of times the outgoing finance minister, Mathias Cormann, used the term “COVID recession” – not the Morrison recession – at his lock-up press conference last night.

“Commencing 1 July 2021, the Your Future, Your Super package will improve the superannuation system by: having your superannuation follow you; making it easier to choose a better fund; holding funds to account for underperformance; [and] increasing transparency and accountability.”

Last night’s budget announced some potentially far-reaching reforms to superannuation.

The list

“Making sense of a tragedy is an innately human instinct. It’s also protective: How can we be safe in the future if we don’t understand exactly what happened last time? The lack of clarity has only enhanced the already widespread trauma and distress, among survivors and first responders alike.”

“Frydenberg explained that the Morrison government would not be cutting taxes. ‘When the world changes, we change our policy,’ the treasurer said simply. His paraphrasing of the economist John Maynard Keynes – the bête noire of the political right for half a century – was perhaps the evening’s greatest signal that Morrison and Frydenberg had decided to shelve the undistinguished point-scoring and politicking that had marked the Coalition’s last decade, and to commence a new era of cooperative nation-building.”

“The boundaries of what is politically possible have shifted, rapidly, during this pandemic. The conditions have been created for the most significant policy reforms in our history. No one wants to see what we are now weathering repeated. There is an appetite for change. The government could build a fairer future for all of us – if only it was motivated to do so.”

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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