Thursday, August 13, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

Thanks a million
The COVID economy is looking grim and is about to get worse

Image of Employment Minister Michaelia Cash

Employment Minister Michaelia Cash

The economy remains in intensive care with, for the first time, more than a million Australians now unemployed, and almost a million businesses on JobKeeper. And the situation is going to get worse before it gets better, with the Treasury and Reserve Bank forecasting that unemployment will jump to 10 per cent before Christmas, up from today’s 7.5 per cent figure. Nonetheless, there were signs of hope in today’s monthly labour force figures for July. At a doorstop interview in Perth, Employment Minister Michaelia Cash talked up the better-than-expected figure of 114,700 more people employed, the 0.6 per cent increase in the participation rate to 64.7 per cent, and the drop in the effective unemployment rate from 11.2 per cent in June to 9.9 per cent, well down from its 14.9 per cent peak in April. “When we can get the health crisis under control, when we ease those restrictions on our economy, you will see jobs returning back to the economy,” said Cash. The ACTU, by contrast, said that with 1,009,400 people now out of work, “the economy is in deep crisis and we need decisive action to create jobs and begin a long recovery process. We need a National Economic Reconstruction Plan.” With the unemployment rate being kept artificially low by JobKeeper, which is supporting the incomes of another 3.5 million employees, the ACTU said that “even a small number of those workers falling into unemployment when that program ends would be disastrous”.

As Cash acknowledged, there will undoubtedly be a “massive jump” in unemployment in next month’s figures, reflecting the harder lockdowns in Melbourne and Mitchell Shire, especially given that the ABS’s reference period ended on July 11 – well before stage-four restrictions came into effect. “We’re not blind to the fact that next month the figures for Victoria – because of the stage-four lockdowns – are not going to be good,” Cash said. On the bright side, there was an encouraging drop in Victoria’s COVID-19 statistics overnight, with 278 new cases – the lowest tally in a long time – and fewer deaths, at eight. The federal health minister, Greg Hunt, said, “We now believe, cautiously, that we have early signs of the flattening of the curve in Victoria.” NSW remains on a knife edge, with 12 new cases overnight, and one death, and Premier Gladys Berejiklian flagging tougher restrictions if she doesn’t see more evidence of face masks being worn in public and social distancing. 

Unfortunately, the country remains in a period of policy limbo. The future of JobKeeper and JobSeeker is uncertain pending the October budget, and industrial relations reform is waiting on talks between employer groups and unions. Shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers said that while today’s labour force figures were confronting they did not tell the full picture, pointing to gloomy official forecasts that another 400,000 people would lose their jobs before the end of the year. October was too long to wait to get a plan for jobs, Chalmers said, adding, “Australians can’t afford a jobless recovery from this recession. Australians can’t afford a discarded generation of workers.” 

But it was shadow industrial relations minister Tony Burke who took the gloves off today, apparently angered by reports this week that business are benefiting from JobKeeper, with payments going straight to shareholders as higher dividends. Billionaire retailer Solomon Lew, one of the key advisers to Treasurer Josh Frydenberg when he designed the scheme, today reported record profits for his company Premier Investments, describing JobKeeper as a “shot in the arm” and enraging landlords who have permitted a rent holiday. Burke ripped into the government’s push for employers to be able to keep emergency powers, given at the height of the pandemic, in order to vary workplace conditions. “The government is using the pandemic as an excuse to bring in extreme changes that will leave workers worse off,” said Burke. “What’s worse, they’re not even bothering to explain or seek to justify their plans to the Australian people. They’re simply hoping the public doesn’t notice this assault on their job security. It is truly extraordinary that in the middle of a pandemic this government’s only ideas for so-called industrial relations ‘reform’ involve cutting workers’ pay, conditions, rights and job security.”

“We’ve had a lot of parliamentary sitting days cancelled. Now that parliament is finally getting together, all politicians’ focus should be on the main game. And that shouldn’t be on raising money for the Liberal Party. It should be on doing the work that our constituents want us to be doing.”

Labor MP Andrew Leigh attacks the Liberal Party over its plans for three $2500-a-head fundraising dinners in Canberra, featuring the PM’s assistant minister, Ben Morton.

“He’s an assistant librarian – a cautious conservative who is not taking any risks. He can’t inspire anyone and he has no impact. He is the ultimate faceless man. The camera is bored by him.”


A prominent Liberal figure from Victoria, speaking anonymously, says that time is up for Victorian Opposition leader Michael O’Brien, who has been accused of being too supportive of the Labor government.

Supercharging the generational wealth gap
The federal government’s decision to give workers access to their superannuation accounts risks dramatically increasing Australia’s generational wealth gap. Today, Mike Seccombe on how the government is reshaping the fundamental purpose of superannuation.


The number of days of personal/carer’s leave that workers are entitled to annually – equivalent to two standard five-day working weeks – according to a High Court decision, with implications for more than a million people doing shift work.


“The responses to the Education and Learning issues paper provide an insight into the experiences and impacts of violence, abuse and neglect of students with disability in education settings. Some responses provided research that indicates restraint and seclusion are used in Australian schools as a means of coercion, discipline, convenience and retaliation.”

The disability royal commission publishes 49 responses to its paper on education and learning issues, examining the experiences of people with disability in educational settings.

The list

“It is a driving song, a dreaming song, a weeping song, a song that shimmers with summer light even as it traces out a winter of the heart, a song vast enough to fill the horizon yet intimate enough to feel as if it were being played right beside you. I would wager that there are few pop songs so beautiful as ‘Wide Open Road’, though perhaps its magic is only wholly palpable to a listener who holds within them a sense of what this country feels like: its heat, its distances, its fraught and haunted spirit.”

“It is easy to forget how radical Garner is. Decades before Knausgaard rehabilitated the quotidian for literature, she produced Monkey Grip. She wields her ukulele not only against European cultural shrines but also against a particular brand of artistic ambition.”

“In The Fifth Element, the words ‘We Are All In This Together’ float over the landscape in red paint. Groom’s addendum complicates the fictions constructed by painters such as McCubbin, exposing the bloody fantasy of colonial nationhood that still haunts the Australian imaginary. But it also hints at the indivisibility of all people, regardless of culture and history, part of ngumbaay-dyil or ‘all are one’. For Groom, this has been a particularly prescient concept during a year in which acknowledging the web of ties that bind us has become a life-or-death matter. It’s a moment that’s asked us to accept our place in a social body, to put our responsibility to the world and each other ahead of our individual lives and privileges.”

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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