Friday, June 12, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

All about jobs
On JobKeeper and JobSeeker, the PM has stopped listening

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison

After today’s national cabinet meeting, Scott Morrison fielded a series of questions about Closing the Gap, Indigenous incarceration rates, the continuing Black Lives Matter protests, the history of slavery in Australia and whether Chris Lilley’s shows featuring blackface should be taken off Netflix – at which point, Morrison blew up. Without being dismissive, the prime minister said he regretted any offence caused by his comments yesterday (“there was no slavery in Australia”), but he did not want to get caught up in the history wars and instead was focused on the 800,000 Australians who had gone onto the dole over the last three months. “I’m worried about jobs,” said Morrison, not about what’s on streaming TV, or which statues should be pulled down. “I’m interested in what people want to build back up, not what they want to tear down,” he continued, warming to the theme. He urged the assembled journalists to focus on the Australians who have lost jobs in the COVID-19 recession, concluding, “They really are hurting, and I won’t be distracted”. Okay, but the problem with the PM’s rhetoric is that in many cases it is the Morrison government itself that is inflicting the pain. 

Labor backbencher Alicia Payne, the member for Canberra, touched on this towards the end of Question Time by asking about reports that government MPs were pushing for JobSeeker to be extended beyond September. After childcare workers were surprised to find they would be kicked off JobKeeper within weeks, and with the government refusing to rule out further use of the wage subsidy “kill clause” in the enabling legislation, Payne asked: “Why can’t the prime minister be clear – which Australians will he leave behind?” At first Morrison rebutted any suggestion that the government had left anyone behind, saying the boost to JobSeeker was the first measure announced in response to the pandemic because it supported all Australians, and his government had “put in place the most comprehensive, the largest set of income support and economic lifeline measures that this country has ever seen”. The PM then returned to the same theme he had hammered home in his press conference. “What we want, above all things, is to get Australians back into jobs,” he said. “Australians don’t want to be on JobKeeper or JobSeeker. They want to be in jobs. And what we hear from the Opposition all the time is how they would seek to keep people back, not allow them to go forward. And the policies we will put in place and continue to put in place will be about them – not only getting the support they need when they need it, but in the jobs they need.” 

If Tony Abbott had a few three-word slogans he was especially fond of, Morrison has, in the pandemic’s wake, reduced his government’s whole agenda down to one word: jobs. The PM appears to have stopped listening to complaints about who has missed out on JobKeeper or what will happen when JobSeeker reverts to its impoverishing pre-COVID level. From here, it seems likely that his focus will be on lifting the remaining restrictions and withdrawing income support as quickly as possible, in service of the simple philosophy that the best form of welfare is a job. After the national cabinet meeting, Morrison announced an easing of phase-three restrictions from next month, and he appeared frustrated that he could not announce a reopening of Australia’s internal borders – to undo a policy, he pointed out, that had never been endorsed by the national cabinet. He welcomed Queensland’s decision to set a date for the reopening of its borders, and pulled out a stick: there was no way the federal government would allow international students to return to the state’s universities until the interstate border was opened. “If you can’t come to your state from Sydney,” he said, “then no-one’s coming from Singapore.” 

The national cabinet also decided to set up six new subcommittees to oversee the recovery, covering health, energy, rural and regional Australia, tax and deregulation, infrastructure and transport, and population and immigration. If the implication is that each subcommittee will be led by a first minister from one state or territory – somehow shouldering a national responsibility – it is a sign that the national cabinet could be a real departure from the COAG model, and a substantial reform to the workings of the federation. As the AFR’s political editor Phillip Coorey writes, the political stage is set for the first lasting major economic reform (that sticks) since the GST 20 years ago. The PM is certainly talking a big game. “The decisions we make now are about the next five years,” he said again today, “and the five years of changes we make will set up the next 30 years of prosperity.” 

“I look forward to continuing to contribute to the governance of Murdoch University through my membership of its Senate, and to contributing to the broader public discussion around governance and international student recruitment practices of public universities.”

Associate professor Gerd Schröder-Turk reacts to the university’s announcement that it will cease legal action against him after he spoke to the ABC’s Four Corners about international student welfare and admission standards.

“These warnings not to congregate … are now being blatantly ignored, so of course the last resort is the hip pocket … You can’t take from taxpayers with one hand, then intentionally increase the risk of infecting them with the other.”

Coalition backbencher Andrew Laming calls for protesters gathering this weekend to cop fines equivalent to six months’ worth of JobSeeker or JobKeeper. The PM rejected the idea this afternoon.

Does Scott Morrison want an early election?
Speaking to his party room, Scott Morrison says the next five years will define a new generation. Looking at the economic realities, some in his own party think he’s gearing up for an early election.


The number of commissioners – out of six – on the National COVID-19 Coordination Commission who have refused to release their conflict-of-interest declarations: chairman Nev Power, Jane Halton, Paul Little, Catherine Tanna and David Thodey. Greg Combet released his.

“COVID-19 restrictions are being exploited by extreme right-wing narratives that paint the state as oppressive, and globalisation and democracy as flawed and failing. We assess the COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced an extreme right-wing belief in the inevitability of societal collapse and a ‘race war’. An extreme right-wing attack in Australia is plausible.”

An ASIO threat assessment sent to security professionals last month says COVID-19 has reinforced an extreme right-wing belief in the collapse of society.

The list

“Since premiering at Sundance in January, The Assistant has become known as ‘the Weinstein movie’ – which is only fair, given that it’s about the bullying, womanising head of an independent film company, early ’00s Miramax in all but name. Yet those hoping for a shot of #MeToo-fuelled catharsis will be disappointed. Despite its title, The Assistant is less an account of one woman’s unhappy experience (though it certainly is that) than a prosecutorial indictment of an entire system – a mechanism that facilitates abuse both sexual and psychological, even as its various enablers take care to maintain an airtight seal of Plausible Deniability. There’s no triumph here, and no reckoning – just a forensic examination of prevailing conditions. By Green’s own admission, it is a deeply pessimistic film.”

“In 2015, the #RhodesMustFall campaign succeeded in having his statue removed from the University of Cape Town (‘University authorities aren’t going to defend Rhodes,’ one commentator said), and it raised broader issues about the alienation of the black majority from campus culture, curriculum and faculty. At Oxford itself, #RhodesMustFall was not successful. Oriel College kept its statue, an immense piece set high in a wall, in which he stands over the viewer, looking down onto High Street. The college said the statue represented Rhodes’ legacy, not agreement with his views. (It also said that the threat of a million pounds of gifts being withdrawn from donors if the statue went was not a primary consideration.)”

“None of us were certain when the hole first appeared. Initially, we ignored it and sometimes would forget it was even there, except when we were sitting outside, hanging up our washing, or if we happened to look out of the large bay window above the kitchen sink that faced the backyard.”

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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