The PM needs to let Australians in on his recovery plans
Amid mounting criticism on social media that he’d again gone AWOL during a crisis, Prime Minister Scott Morrison showed his face this afternoon at a well-timed Canberra press conference, in which he killed two birds with one stone. As Morrison expressed his manifest sympathy for Victorians returning to lockdown, he also knocked out the broadcast of an unwelcome National Press Club speech by ABC managing director David Anderson. The PM had little to announce – an extra 6105 home-care packages for the elderly at a cost of $326 million – but he was flanked by Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck, who mouthed all of 180 words (including “Thanks, PM”) and received no questions. The press gallery was mostly interested in the implications of Victoria’s second wave for the federal government’s recovery plans. Morrison suggested there would not be an extension of the JobKeeper program on a geographic basis – just for Victorians, say – making the point that the government would extend support for businesses or industries in need beyond September, and saying, “this is about tailoring a national program to provide support where the support is needed”. The PM also refused to be drawn on reports [$] that the personal income tax cuts slated for 2022–23 might be brought forward to stimulate the economy, saying, “That’s a matter that the treasurer and I will address in the context of the budget, not today”.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, the government’s most senior Victorian, told the ABC this morning that the return to lockdown would cost the state’s economy about a billion dollars a week, and the impact would be factored into the federal budget update in a fortnight’s time, when the government will outline the future of fiscal stimulus measures, including JobKeeper. Frydenberg said there will be another phase of income support beyond the September cut-off date for JobKeeper, but said little more. “It will be targeted, it will be temporary, it will be designed to get help to people who need it most,” he said. “But we recognise there are some sectors that are going to be slower to recover than others. We’ve already announced sector-wide support for construction, for aviation, for tourism, and of course the situation in Victoria means that that state will be behind others in the recovery.” The treasurer welcomed yesterday’s news that banks would extend mortgage loan repayment deferrals by another four months. On the possibility of bringing forward tax cuts, he was slightly more positive than the PM, saying: “We are looking at that issue, and the timing of those tax cuts, because we do want to boost aggregate demand, boost consumption, put more money in people’s pockets, and that is one way to do it.”
Millions of Australians are doing it tough. Some are surviving without any income at all, while 2.4 million people have raided [$] their super early, in withdrawals totalling $27 billion. And, with the federal budget heading for a deficit next financial year (which Westpac estimates at $240 billion), it is hard to see how the top economic priority right now is bringing forward income tax cuts that will favour the wealthy. Victoria’s return to lockdown highlights the uncertainty of the situation confronting the federal government as it prepares the July 23 economic statement. But as shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers said at a doorstop interview today, “If the banks can provide some certainty with this announcement, the Morrison Government can too – by releasing their secret report into the JobKeeper payments … We need the government to come clean.” Chalmers expressed support for the idea of bringing income tax cuts forward, saying that the Opposition would “engage with that constructively and responsibly”, adding, “Labor has been calling for that to be considered for some time. The working families of middle Australia need help now, not later.”
It would be an understatement to say that patience with the PM and treasurer’s ducking and weaving on support beyond September is wearing mighty thin.
“Why do you need a gun? And why do you need to display it? … You don’t need to be intimidating people who are already anxious. People have mental health issues, people have PTSD, a lot of people who live here are from war-torn countries … It feels like we’re being discriminated against because we live in public housing.”
“Victorians are officially the pariahs of the nation, with NSW closing the state border … [The state government] is guilty of this second wave of COVID-19 and Labor’s negligence will set our economy back years.”
Victorian Liberal Tim Smith, the member for Kew, in an op-ed for The Australian.
Locked in the nine blocks
Five days ago, the Andrews government used police to lock down nine
public-housing towers. Residents are afraid and have limited access to food and other necessities. We spoke to one resident, Hulya, about what is happening inside.
“China will not allow most foreigners to enter China due to COVID-19. Direct flights between China and Australia have significantly reduced. If despite our advice you travel to China, you’ll be subject to 14 days mandatory quarantine. Quarantine requirements may change at short notice. If you’re already in China, and wish to return to Australia, we recommend you do so as soon as possible by commercial means. Authorities have detained foreigners because they’re ‘endangering national security’. Australians may also be at risk of arbitrary detention.”
“The music is still there. You just need to pick up your instrument and you will find it, and it still offers consolation. But somehow, in the absence of an audience – or the expectation of an audience, tomorrow or next week – it becomes harder to pick that instrument up. I wondered if this revealed an unfortunate character flaw: that showing off had, after all, been the entire point. But I often think of cellist Yo-Yo Ma’s description of playing music as ‘reporting on what you experience’, a formula that presupposes somebody to report to.”
“Life may be meaningless (the jury is still out), but surely it doesn’t have to be banal. Even a hint of connoisseurship – of passionately acquired knowledge and taste – can turn a humdrum moment in a shop or an everyday exchange of small talk with a neighbour into a virtuoso performance. It’s the virtuosity that amplifies the moment, prises it open and turns an ordinary little tick of the clock into a sweep through a wonderland.”
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.
Amid mounting criticism on social media that he’d again gone AWOL during a crisis, Prime Minister Scott Morrison showed his face this afternoon at a well-timed Canberra press conference, in which he killed two birds with one stone. As Morrison expressed his manifest sympathy for Victorians returning to lockdown, he also knocked out the broadcast of an unwelcome National Press Club speech by ABC managing director David Anderson. The PM had little to announce – an extra 6105 home-care packages for the elderly at a cost of $326 million – but he was flanked by Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck, who mouthed all of 180 words (including “Thanks, PM”) and received no questions. The press gallery was mostly interested in the implications of...
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