Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

Arms wide shut
Australia can afford to be more generous, at home and abroad

Source: Twitter

There was maximum historical significance but minimum political drama as an eerily quiet and empty federal parliament gave the Morrison government an effective carte blanche to spend $130 billion on its JobKeeper scheme to prevent a deep recession or even depression amid the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. Opening proceedings today, Morrison declared these were “extreme times” and then went over the top with the warlike rhetoric: “What we do today is what governments have always done in such circumstances, when our nation is under threat … we act to protect our nation’s sovereignty. When Australian lives and livelihoods are threatened, when they are under attack, our nation’s sovereignty is put at risk and we must respond.”

The coronavirus does not threaten Australia’s sovereignty, of course, although the country is in danger of prematurely congratulating itself to death. Australia is among the richest countries in the world with one of the best-educated populations, and if any nation on earth can handle a pandemic it should be this lightly inhabited island continent. Pity the people of our neighbours in the Asia Pacific, such as Indonesia or Papua New Guinea, or the island nations that CARE Australia estimates are four times more likely than Australia to suffer a humanitarian crisis due to COVID-19.

Australia has embarked on a $214 billion free-for-not-quite-all, across three stimulus packages, which Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said repeatedly will not structurally weaken Australia’s fiscal position. He referred to credit ratings agency Standard & Poor’s reaffirming [$] our AAA credit rating today, but warned we could lose it if the country fails to bounce back quickly. The Coronavirus Economic Response legislation introduced today, to enable the $130 billion JobKeeper payments, is assured passage through the upper and lower houses as Labor has pledged to support it, while hoping for amendments. Centre Alliance senator Rex Patrick complained yesterday that the JobKeeper legislation “is a legal shell that leaves the details on who gets what to be set out in separate rules. Rules have been drafted but the Treasurer can change them at will. With Parliament not sitting for 4 months – if the PM gets his way – there will be no scrutiny.” Finance Minister Mathias Cormann flagged this morning that the government would not be amending the legislation.

Shadow health minister Chris Bowen said that, while the government might not countenance amendments today, given the latitude the bills give the treasurer he could do it tomorrow, or the next day. “Please take it away with you,” said Bowen, which was typical of the cooperative approach the Opposition has taken. This morning, caucus determined that Labor would not support any amendments from the crossbench in either chamber, so the legislation would not be held up. In the house this morning, Labor leader Anthony Albanese said something quite profound, expressing the hope that “one possible casualty of this pandemic is a politics where partisan interests trump the national interest. Where vilifying your opponents and impugning their motives replaces a contest of ideas. That sort of politics undermines faith in our democracy.” Let’s hope.

The government’s language is about “one in, all in” and that no one gets left behind, but the main problem with the JobKeeper bill – as Labor speaker after Labor speaker hammered home today – is that it excludes millions of Australians, including casuals who don’t have 12 months’ service with a single employer, workers in hard-hit charities and other non-profits such as universities and medical researchers like the Doherty Institute, council workers, temporary migrant workers, and more. The prime minister said the JobKeeper package was in tandem with, and reliant on, the JobSeeker program. When it came to 1.1 million casuals, he said, the 12-month service requirement was “where we ultimately drew the line because when you are putting these lifelines in place you have to draw a line somewhere, and when we drew that line we knew we could do it knowing full well that we had already acted to put the JobSeeker safety net in place for those who wouldn’t be eligible under the JobKeeper program. So we have put our arms wide out as a government and as a country to support those who have been impacted by the devastating effects of the coronavirus in our economy.”

If it really proves to be the case in coming weeks that Australia has flattened the curve and passed the peak of the pandemic – and there is a prospect of relaxation of distancing – it will be time for Australia to reverse years of cuts to foreign aid and to take the opportunity to truly step up and provide generous emergency assistance to our regional neighbours, who are much more vulnerable to this virus than us.

“I understand why criminal cases must be proven beyond all reasonable doubt. No one wants to live in a society where people can be imprisoned without due and proper process. This is a basic civil liberty. I would hate to think that one outcome of this case is that people are discouraged from reporting to the police. I would like to reassure child sexual abuse survivors that most people recognise truth when they hear it. They know the truth when they look it in the face. I am content with that. My journey has been long and I am relieved that it is over. I have my ups and downs. The darkness is never far away. Despite the stress of the legal process and public controversy I have tried hard to keep myself together. I am OK. I hope that everyone who has followed this case is OK.”

Complainant Witness J, in a statement regarding the High Court’s acquittal of Cardinal George Pell.

“We either save avoidable deaths & destroy society OR accept avoidable deaths & save society. The moral dilemma of our time.”

Former foreign minister Alexander Downer lords it over us all.

The women and children at risk in a lockdown (plus, the Pell verdict)
A lockdown, together with a shattered economy, means that many domestic violence victims are now trapped inside their home with their abuser, unable to access help and services. Today, Rick Morton on how coronavirus is making Australia’s domestic violence problem worse.

The size of the family farm near Tamworth that the member for New England, Barnaby Joyce, has moved back to so he can look after his elderly parents.

“We are deeply concerned that the recent rise in anti-Chinese sentiment is driving a marked escalation in racial abuse towards Asian Australians. This poses a serious threat to our national unity … Whilst robust debate about the bilateral relationship between Australia and China is appropriate and important – especially in the context of the protection of our democratic institutions and values – it is essential that the distrust, disenfranchisement and vilification of Asian Australians not be tolerated at any level.”

A group of high-profile Asian Australians, including former Australian of the Year Dr John Yu, chef Adam Liaw, screenwriter and director Tony Ayres, investor and company director Su-Ming Wong and author Benjamin Law, sign an open letter calling for national unity in the face of COVID-19.

The list

“Two months later, driving down the Hume Highway, I am shocked at how green the country is after a few weeks of rain. From roadside to paddock, grass is growing thick and tall. Finally, after an hour, the devastation appears. Past the village of Hill Top are forests of burnt matchsticks and bare ground, the warped iron and blackened bricks of ruined houses. Yet cladding the charred trees is regrowth that from a distance resembles furry moss. In the drizzle the effect is beautiful.”

“In one fell swoop the commitment to small government and privatisation, to the eradication of debt and deficit as the measure of fiscal rectitude and efficiency, tumbled into the abyss. A sombre Morrison, whose hair has gone from grey to white in a matter of weeks, said his government has made a decision ‘that no government has made before in Australia … and I hope and pray they never have to again’.”

“We drove for four hours through small towns and low ranges, alongside dry creek beds and stubbly wheatfields. We peppered Brian with questions about camels. (‘Is it true they spit?’ ‘Can Jewish people eat them?’ ‘Why don’t you ride horses instead?’) He had two camels of his own, Firestorm and Vicky, and every time he talked about them he got a faraway look in his eyes.”

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

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison


The PM imposed an illegal ‘debt’ collection scheme on Australia’s most vulnerable

No news is bad news

Australia’s free press is on life support

Image of RBA governor Philip Lowe

Bottoming out?

But the RBA governor Philip Lowe offers a glimpse of optimism

Image of Labor leader Anthony Albanese with Labor’s candidate for Eden-Monaro Kristy McBain.

Hard Labor

Being in Opposition but not in conflict is a tricky balance to strike

From the front page

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison


The PM imposed an illegal ‘debt’ collection scheme on Australia’s most vulnerable

Image of Gough Whitlam in October 1975

It’s about time

The High Court’s landmark ruling on the ‘Palace Papers’ is a win for Australian social democracy

Bondi Beach, May 2020

The new tyranny of distance

Facing a historic isolation of a different kind, what next for our migrant nation?

Image of Robyn Davidson

Something mythic

For Robyn Davidson, her acclaimed memoir ‘Tracks’ was an act of freedom whose reception hemmed her in