Monday, June 15, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

Back in blue
The PM is snapping back to austerity

Declaring that Australia has an economic “mountain yet to climb”, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said this morning that “neither excessive austerity nor higher taxes are the path that our government will pursue”. But after dropping a record $150 billion in response to COVID-19, Morrison is snapping back to the Liberal philosophy of austerity, which gave us such highlights as the 2014 federal budget, the illegal and expensive robodebt program, an eventual return to a balanced budget and two successive federal election wins. Relishing fiscal restraint, Morrison pontificated: “there will always be a case made for spending more and spending for longer and there are plenty of people who are happy to make that case, but it is not a wise nor responsible course.” Announcing a priority list of 15 big-ticket infrastructure projects to be fast-tracked in cooperation with the states and territories under the auspices of the national cabinet, the PM kept the Commonwealth contribution down to an exceedingly modest $1.5 billion. In Question Time, Morrison easily brushed off a question about the lower-than-expected uptake of JobKeeper, saying: “Only the Labor Party will lament the fact that fewer people needed an economic support program than was estimated.”

Labor leader Anthony Albanese is having a shocking day, with Victorian Labor going into meltdown over last night’s 60 Minutes revelations against now-sacked state MP Adem Somyurek, and with Milton Orkopoulos – the disgraced former NSW Labor minister – being charged with new child sex offences. But Albanese directed one very good question to Morrison. After the prime minister said businesses using the JobKeeper subsidy would be making their own decisions about who to keep on and who to let go, Albanese asked, “How many Australians do you expect to lose their job when JobKeeper is cut off in September?” Morrison could not give an answer beyond saying there would be announcements pending in July after the program was reviewed, and he cautioned the Opposition leader against raising expectations too high. “We cannot say to Australians that government or anyone else, ultimately, will be in a position to ensure that every job can be saved, and every business can be saved,” said Morrison. “That is unrealistic. And if the leader of the Opposition wants to play politics with that, he would be being negligent in his responsibilities and callous in his words to the Australian people.” Morrison went on to lecture Labor for thinking government should be at the centre of the economy.

But right now, government is at the centre of the economy – and it needs to be. JobKeeper is turning into a slow-moving train wreck – it is being critiqued from all sides, and is heading for a cliff. Labor is right to focus on the reckoning to come. Even if the COVID-19 recession does not prove as bad as was feared only a few weeks ago, the main worry of economists (from the OECD to the Reserve Bank) seems to be the premature withdrawal of the fiscal stimulus being provided to millions through JobKeeper. As the SMH’s Ross Gittins writes today, Morrison is in danger of believing his own rhetoric – particularly, that “yet more tinkering with the tax system and the wage-fixing system is what will give us ‘business-led growth’ out of recession. That’s not economics, it’s rent-seeking propaganda.” 

Combining selective austerity (tempered by plenty of taxpayer money for elite private schools, self-funded retirees, property investors and well-off renovators) with IR deregulation and “let ’er rip” gutting of both red tape and “green tape” (led by the usual suspects such as Energy Minister Angus Taylor and Resources Minister Keith Pitt) does not sound like a winning formula for the long recovery ahead. It sounds like the same old Coalition hymn sheet. 

“Words matter. Violent, misogynistic language perpetuates the attitudes and behaviours that enable a culture of violence against women … No one deserves to be threatened in this way.”

Victoria’s minister for women, Gabrielle Williams, responds to the revelations of misogynistic abuse directed towards her by MP Adem Somyurek, who is also accused of industrial-scale branch-stacking dubbed the stackathon.

“It is clear that I was taped and surveilled in a federal electorate office without my knowledge and that this material was published without my knowledge of its existence or my consent. I will be taking steps to seek a police investigation into these matters.”

Adem Somyurek, who was sacked from the frontbench by Premier Daniel Andrews, has denied allegations of branch-stacking.

Meet Australia’s marijuana terrorist
George Dickson is a cannabis law reformer. After an altercation with police, he was also classed as a high-risk terrorist offender. Hugh Riminton on legal powers and overreach – and one man’s experience of both.


The approximate number of Age journalists who have signed a letter to Nine Media executive editor James Chessell, expressing “alarm” over the politicisation of the newsroom, the masthead’s loss of independence and a lack of diversity on staff.

“In addition to lower wages, costs can also be borne by employers through a reduction in profits, by consumers through increases in prices, or via lower equilibrium employment … Ultimately, who bears the cost will depend critically on competitive factors such as labour supply and demand elasticities and factor substitution, but also on institutional factors such as employment protection legislation, minimum wage determinations and the degree of unionisation.”

A paper by Industry Super senior analyst Bruce Bastian, marked “not for citation”, argues that higher superannuation will come at a cost to workers through fewer jobs or lower wages.

The list

“In January 2019, Santosh and Amita received a new delivery request. They accepted it, but Uber’s app gave them a ‘recommended’ route that required them to take an immediate left turn. ‘We were in the right lane; we could not take left turn,’ Santosh says. ‘We went straight. We were late by 11 minutes.’ Uber blocked Amita’s access to the app, cutting her off for good.”

“The idea of conferring Australian honours to Australians in the name of British royals is more than anachronistic; it is plain silly … If there was ever a reason for this postcolonial grovelling to take place, it should have been swept away long ago by an independent Australia. If we have to throw lollies to the massed hordes of bureaucrats, the ambitious politicians and the smattering of sportspeople and scientists, let’s just do it quietly – and preferably in a darkened room somewhere.”

“It’s hard to be precise about when the political migration of the tradies began, but Ian McAllister dates it to the mid-’80s. Certainly, the shift was important to the election of John Howard’s government in 1996, when significant numbers of those McAllister calls ‘manual worker supporters’ – Howard’s ‘battlers’ – backed the Coalition. Rebadged as ‘Tony’s tradies’, they later helped the Abbott government to power. And without them, Scott Morrison almost certainly would not be prime minister today.”

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?


The Monthly Today

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Victoria’s woes are a warning for the whole country

Image of Labor candidate in Eden-Monaro Kristy McBain

Bega pleased

Kristy McBain’s win has implications for the Morrison government

Images of Kristy McBain and Fiona Kotvojs

Southern discomfort

Tomorrow’s result in Eden-Monaro is on a knife edge

Image of Defence Minister Linda Reynolds speaking at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute

Grey zone

Between war and peace, Australia’s defence strategy is evolving

From the front page

Image of Satu Vänskä, Australian Chamber Orchestra

Fermata: Musical performance in lockdown

What becomes of the communion of classical musicians, composers and audiences during social isolation?

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews

Locking back down

Victoria’s woes are a warning for the whole country

Illustration by Jeff Fisher

Weal of fortune

Rebuilding the economy means government investment, but not all public spending is equal

Image of Labor’s Kristy McBain and Anthony Albanese

A win’s a win

The Eden-Monaro result shows that Morrison’s popularity has not substantially changed voting patterns – and Labor has still not cut through