Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

Child scare
JobKeeper axed for early educators... overwhelmingly women

Image of Education Minister Dan Tehan speaking during a press conference on June 8, 2020.

Education Minister Dan Tehan speaks during a press conference on June 8, 2020. Image © Lukas Coch / AAP

Yesterday’s shock announcement by Education Minister Dan Tehan that the federal government will move early to wind back free childcare and withdraw the JobKeeper subsidy from the embattled sector provides yet more confirmation that the Morrison government’s $150 billion stimulus response to the pandemic has been thoroughly politicised. The decision to withdraw JobKeeper from childcare first will hit women hardest, as ACTU president Michele O’Neil declared today, noting that 95 per cent of the country’s 200,000 low-paid early childhood educators are women. So childcare joins the ranks of out-of-favour, hard-hit industries such as higher education, media and the arts. The male-dominated construction industry, by contrast, has been targeted for assistance with $688 million thrown at builders and renovators last week, and today’s extension of the instant asset write-off for small businesses is likely to translate into a lot of new utes and trucks. The ABC’s political editor, Andrew Probyn, this morning wrote that the COVID-19 downturn is shaping up to be a “pink” recession, and it is hard to see it as anything other than deliberate. 

Tehan said the decision to return to the pre-existing childcare subsidy arrangement from July 13 was based on signs that demand for childcare was returning as employees return to work and kids get back to school. “We put in place a temporary measure which was designed to help the sector … when it was on the brink of collapse, when demand was collapsing,” Tehan said. “What we now have to do is design a package which deals with increased demand, and that’s what this package does.”

At a doorstop press conference, Labor leader Anthony Albanese warned that childcare centres would be forced to shut down as a result of the withdrawal of the JobKeeper payments, which constituted a broken promise by the prime minister himself. “What we will see is that parents will struggle because they are snapping back to the old system that already had, we know, one of the highest cost childcare systems in the world,” Albanese said. “We know that it’s not good enough. And it comes just days after – four days after – Scott Morrison said, very clearly, in a press conference on June 5, you can guarantee that [JobKeeper] will be there until the end of September.”

In a statement, shadow minister for women Julie Collins cited Treasury evidence before the COVID-19 Senate select committee confirming that women have been disproportionately impacted. Women lost an additional hour of paid work during each week of the pandemic compared to men, while mothers are spending an extra hour each day on unpaid housework and four extra hours on childcare; the majority of the Australians who lost a job in April were women, and almost 200,000 Australian women missed out on the JobKeeper payment. “Day after day we see new evidence of the terrible impact COVID-19 is having on Australian women,” said Collins, “but in response this government just makes things worse.” 

Treasury secretary Steven Kennedy told the COVID-19 committee today that Treasury had lowered its forecast for the peak unemployment rate from 10 per cent to 8 per cent, saying: “We have been steadily revising down our expectations of the hit to the economy.” Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told today’s joint partyroom meeting that Coalition MPs should brace themselves for a spate of difficult decisions as they pare back the billions of dollars in financial assistance and stimulus measures. 

The brunt of the hard decisions looks likely to be borne by more women than men. As the treasurer said at his own doorstop interview this morning, the instant asset write-off will allow small businesses to “go and purchase equipment or machinery, tools, up to a value of $150,000 – as many times as they want – and then write it off”.

“This evidence shows implicit or unconscious bias toward our First Australians is not imagined … When we looked at education, we did not see any relationship between higher levels of education, necessarily, and lower levels of bias.”

ANU researcher Siddharth Shirodkar explains the findings of a new study that shows 75 per cent of Australians have negative “implicit or unconscious bias” against Indigenous Australians.

“In the first few weeks the number of employees reported seemed to be on a trajectory consistent with the Treasury estimates. But once employers began to confirm the actual employees covered as part of stage two, we identified within a fortnight that the numbers were less than expected.”

Tax commissioner Chris Jordan tells the COVID-19 Senate select committee that the Australian Taxation Office knew of the issues with the cost estimates in the JobKeeper program very early on.

Black Witness, White Witness
As the world protests the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Darumbal and South Sea Islander journalist Amy McQuire confronts Australia’s national silence on black deaths in custody. She remembers the names of those killed and the history that killed them.


The percentage-point dip in average wages for those with vocational qualifications compared to those with undergraduate degrees, according to Reserve Bank statistics cited by TAFE Directors Australia.

“Australian businesses with annual turnover of less than $500 million will be able to take advantage of this extended timeframe to invest in assets to support their business as the economy reopens and Coronavirus health restrictions continue to be eased. These measures will support over 3.5 million businesses … The threshold applies on a per-asset basis, so eligible businesses can immediately write-off multiple assets provided each costs less than $150,000.”

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Employment Minister Michaelia Cash extend the instant asset write-off to the end of 2020, at a cost to taxpayers of $300 million.

The list

“His clothing signalled a man of no great wealth. His short-sleeved shirt was unironed. His trousers were faded and baggy. His heavy black shoes were neither well-made nor fashionable. At 43, Dickson’s working life had been patchy. At times he had slept rough. A homeless man. He was, on his own account, a dope-smoking hippie. But Dickson carried two things that set him apart. The first, hidden under the folds of his pants, was an ankle device designed to monitor his every move. The second, impossible to see but weightier than the anklet, was his status under New South Wales law.”

“Should Australia breach the inner sanctum of the G7, Rudd should receive some of the credit. His rescue of the local economy from the global financial crisis, in which Australia avoided recession as the rest of the world floundered, was seen and applauded by the other industrialised nations. In this context, there will be a certain irony if Morrison collects the trophy. Whatever his virtues, he will be forever remembered as the leader at the helm when Australia fell into recession after an extraordinary three decades of economic growth.”

“Perhaps most ominously for the government, [Gordon Legal] will seek damages for ‘negligence’, that the government was deliberately misleading in the way it set up the scheme, that it owed a duty to those welfare recipients. And that might get to the big unresolved question about the whole saga: whether the government knew it was acting unlawfully. Ministers have argued at various points in the process that the government acted on legal advice. But that advice has never been made public.”

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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