Monday, July 13, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

Cluster struck
A second wave of COVID-19 cases is dragging the country down

Image of Treasurer Josh Frydenberg

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg. Via Twitter

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has begun the softening-up process to prepare Australians for the likely dearth of good news in next week’s economic statement. In a burst of media appearances this morning, the treasurer warned that the second wave of infections in Victoria – and those threatening to break out in NSW any minute – was jeopardising the pandemic recovery. With the June jobs figures likely to show a deteriorating labour market, Frydenberg also warned [$] that the effective unemployment rate – including those with zero hours or who had stopped looking for work altogether – was now at around 13.3 per cent. When asked by Sunrise host David Koch whether he was feeling the pressure to extend the JobKeeper payment, the treasurer played a dead bat: “We’re focused on delivering the support to Australians as they need it, and that’s been our practice throughout this crisis.” With Victoria locking down again while other states open up, Frydenberg said Australia was “one country in two stages” and reiterated that there would be further income support beyond September that would be targeted, proportionate, scalable and delivered using existing payment systems. “We recognise the need out there,” Frydenberg said, but he gave no assurance that JobKeeper will be retained. 

Instead, the treasurer announced payment of the second tranche of $750 economic support payments to approximately five million people on lower incomes – social security, veteran and other income-support recipients, as well as eligible concession card holders – at a cost of $3.8 billion. At the same time, the government is reminding us that the low- and middle-income tax offset of $1080 will be hitting bank accounts from this month as people complete their 2019–20 tax returns. As the PM told 2GB’s Ray Hadley this morning, “On top of [those economic support payments], there’s the tax cuts that we legislated just straight after the election, and that has its second round. And people are getting in on that pretty quickly by getting their tax returns in. And so that’s about another four and a half million people that would benefit from that. So that’s a good cash support into the economy at a time when it’s doing it tough, and that’ll be good news for small businesses who will be the beneficiaries of that.”

The truth is, good news is going to be thin on the ground for a while. ABC business editor Ian Verrender writes that the prospect of a quick recovery from the COVID-19 recession appears “slim at best”, and he includes a graph showing workers’ incomes are forecast to fall by 28 per cent – a drop that makes the 1990s recession look mild. The global response to the pandemic has been fragmented, as shadow foreign affairs minister Penny Wong told the ABC’s RN Breakfast this morning, in an interview promoting her new essay The End of Orthodoxy. “It is a great sadness, I think, to all of us that if we look at the circumstances we face – the worst pandemic in a century, the worst financial position, economic position since the Great Depression – that the world has not been able to marshal an effective multilateral response, an effective collective response,” Wong said.

The local news on COVID-19 today is again alarming. Victoria recorded 177 new cases overnight (a little lower, thankfully, than it has been tracking), and federal health minister Greg Hunt said there are now 35 outbreaks in aged-care services across the state. In NSW, the cluster linked to the Crossroads Hotel in Sydney’s south-west continues to grow, while The Star casino has revealed a patron has tested positive, and police are warning of a crackdown on venues that are failing to enforce social-distancing restrictions. Former Labor premier and foreign minister Bob Carr tweeted that NSW should simply “close all pubs”. 

Until someone comes up with a better strategy, it seems the immediate future is one of localised, hard lockdowns – rolling on and off – amid rising unemployment and spiralling hardship.

“Hope the person will be ok, firstly. And just what everyone has been so deeply worried about … particularly given the susceptibility of detainees. Terrifying for everyone at Mantra. They shouldn’t be there @DanielAndrewsMP.”

Former Socceroo and human rights advocate Craig Foster commenting on news that a security guard at a Melbourne hotel – which houses 65 asylum seekers held by the federal government – tested positive for COVID-19.

“Make no mistake. What this faux elitist outrage is about is that a Liberal PM goes to the footy & has a beer on a Saturday night, because he enjoys the footy & supports his local team.  These same ‘outraged’ elites hate the footy and hate the people that go every week. Full stop.”

Alex Hawke, federal minister for international development and the Pacific, goes a bit over the top in defence of the prime minister, who was criticised on social media for attending an NRL match on the weekend.

The man inside (part one)
When Ramzi Aouad went to prison for life, it was on the basis of evidence from one man – a violent enforcer who had been offered financial incentives for his testimony. The conviction was part of a signal moment in racialised policing. This is part one of a two-part episode.

The percentage of women experiencing physical or sexual violence by a current or former cohabiting partner who said the violence had started or escalated since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a survey run by Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety.

“Nearly half of adults believe it is the government that should be most responsible for paying for the lower-level ‘support’ services needed by older people to continue living independently in their own homes (e.g. help with shopping, cooking, cleaning and attending medical appointments). More than half think the government should be most responsible for paying for the higher-level ‘care’ services needed by older people such as help with dressing, eating, going to the bathroom and nursing care.”

The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety releases the results of a survey of 10,518 adults on their views about older Australians (aged 70 or over).

The list

“According to a database kept by the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC, since 1886 Australian governments have held more than 300 inquiries and reviews into natural disasters and emergency management. The decade leading up to 2017 was particularly jam-packed, with 90 such inquiries, delivering more than 2000 recommendations. In the wake of this past catastrophic fire season, where around 3100 people lost their homes, 33 their lives, and an area the size of Syria burned, Australians may well be questioning just how much we’ve learnt from this abundance of examination.”

“Closing borders never really works. The Great Wall of China eventually crumbled and, in modern times, there were always trickles through the Iron Curtain (including the Berlin Wall) until the trickles became an outbreak. These were barriers ruthlessly enforced by totalitarian regimes with no exceptions – guards would shoot to kill. The more porous land frontiers of Western Europe have only ever been temporarily effective, if at all. So, closing the border to Victoria, or any other Australian state, seems an exercise in futility.”

“Daniel van Roo will never know if his now-incurable cancer could have been treated were it not for his 18-month battle to convince doctors something was seriously wrong. He says that over at least 14 different consultations with general practitioners at a clinic in Sydney’s Surry Hills between March 2015 and September 2016 – during which he complained of crippling exhaustion, unexplained abdominal pains, night sweats, weight loss and groin pain near swollen lymph nodes – his symptoms were treated as ‘STI-related in origin’.”

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.


The Monthly Today

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg

Cold comfort

The Morrison government gave us a recession we didn’t have to have

Image of Government Services Minister Stuart Robert

Government dis-services

Stuart Robert is doing the PM’s dirty work

Image of Energy Minister Angus Taylor.

Meet and bleat

Australia’s emissions targets have been soft – they’re about to get harder

Image of Mathias Cormann

No, ex-minister

Mathias Cormann’s taxpayer-funded job application is a nose-pincher

From the front page

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg

Cold comfort

The Morrison government gave us a recession we didn’t have to have

What elitism looks like

Flagrant conflicts of interest abound at the top

Image of Guy Sebastian and Prime Minister Scott Morrison, June, 2020

And now for something completely indifferent

The Morrison government is yet to fully realise that sidelining the arts hurts the economy

Image of Anne Ferran, Scenes on the Death of Nature I, 1986

‘Know My Name’ at the National Gallery of Australia

An exhilarating exhibition considers a persistent gender bias in the visual arts