Thursday, September 17, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

A million jobs
A plan to tackle unemployment and climate change is staring the government in the face

Image of Co-CEO of Atlassian Mike Cannon-Brookes

Co-CEO of Atlassian Mike Cannon-Brookes. Image © Dan Himbrechts / AAP Image

After two days of headlines dominated by the Morrison government’s confusing proposal for a “gas-fired recovery”, today brought better news on two fronts. The first was that the Expenditure Review Committee is considering a pre-budget submission on “The Million Jobs Plan” for a green recovery from climate think tank Beyond Zero Emissions, a consortium backed by heavyweight investors including tech billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes, former Origin Energy and Macquarie Bank chair Kevin McCann and First State Super chief executive Deanne Stewart. Independent modelling by economist Chris Murphy suggests that the plan would boost private investment by an average of $25 billion annually over the next three years, generate 124,000 jobs next year, add 1–2 per cent to GDP, and lift real wages by one per cent in 2022–23. Launched in June, the Beyond Zero Emissions plan is a cracker – it’s the culmination of a decade’s work – and the pre-budget submission proposes that the government fast-track 15 priority projects, including transmission lines to link renewable energy zones to the grid, the massive Star of the South offshore wind-farm proposal off the Gippsland coast, the Walcha solar and storage project in NSW, and the Central Queensland Power Project in Gladstone. The second piece of good news is that unemployment fell from 7.5 to 6.8 per cent in August, defying expectations that it would rise to 8 per cent, although the number of jobs in Victoria fell. 

Nationally, employment increased by 111,000 people last month, comprised mostly of 74,800 new part-time jobs. The participation rate and number of hours worked increased marginally by 0.1 per cent, while underemployment was static at 11.2 per cent, meaning that the total underutilisation rate was 18 per cent. Treasurer Josh Frydenberg welcomed the jobs figures, while noting that the effective unemployment rate – which includes people working no hours or who have given up looking – was higher than the official rate, with the effective unemployment rate falling from 9.8 per cent to 9.3 per cent.

Shadow employment minister Brendan O’Connor also welcomed the figures but said the increase in total hours worked was “very, very small … These are mainly part-time jobs with very few hours.” O’Connor said he was concerned that the government would take the welcome drop in unemployment as a sign it could afford to cut the JobKeeper subsidy – slated to fall by $300 per fortnight from the end of this month – as well as the coronavirus supplement for the unemployed. “The government is foreshadowing that in just 10 days’ time they’re going to rip billions of dollars out of the economy, which could have very adverse effects on businesses and indeed on employment, and that is something that we would like to see not happen,” O’Connor said.

The ACTU today called for the government to continue its stimulus spending. And over at the COVID-19 committee today, Treasury officials confirmed $100 billion had gone out the door up to mid-September – including almost $55 billion on JobKeeper and $12 billion on the coronavirus supplement – with a further $179 billion already committed. 

Analysts are still trying to make sense of the Morrison government’s announcements on the gas-fired recovery, with the AFR suggesting that it could result in an oversupply of power in NSW. In a thread of tweets today, Cannon-Brookes indicated that while support for new transmission lines was welcome, the call for 1000MW of new generation needed definition, and support for new gas extraction – a new gas pipeline and five new basins – “would cost tens of billions, take decades and likely not generate ‘cheap gas’”, and could not possibly be in line with our emissions-reduction commitments.

Separately, as RenewEconomy reported, the government finally decided to extend the funding for the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, but will continue its quest to push both ARENA and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation away from investing in wind and solar and into other “low emission” technologies, including carbon capture and storage.

It is painful to watch, especially when an attractive and economically feasible proposal like the Million Jobs Plan is staring the government in the face.

Beyond Zero Emissions executive chair Eytan Lenko says his organisation has a database of over 700 projects, and the 15 projects put forward in its submission – which has not been released publicly – are “shovel-ready, have private investment behind them and have a clear ask of government. In our conversations with private investment at the highest levels, they’re telling us these are the kind of things that they want to back. The global trend is towards digitisation and decarbonisation and projects that are in line with that trend are investible.” Here’s hoping.

“There are market power imbalances everywhere throughout the economy … so why do we address this one? We address this one because it is damaging journalism, it is damaging news media, and that’s so fundamental to democracy.”

Rod Sims, chair of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, explains why the government is introducing its mandatory bargaining code to force digital giants Google and Facebook to pay for news content.

“I think I’ve displayed myself and have acted totally in the highest propriety in this role, for a very long time, in a lot of conflicting issues within the party. There’s no rocket science or anything ulterior here.”

Nationals president, lobbyist and former politician Larry Anthony explains why he continues to attend federal partyroom meetings for MPs despite being on the payroll for political rival Clive Palmer.

The calm before the recession
Australia’s economy has taken its biggest hit since the Great Depression, but so far government stimulus measures have cushioned most people and businesses from the worst impacts. Those stimulus measures are about to dry up.

The number of signatures that Qantas has garnered for an online petition calling for the reopening of state borders, in a campaign supported with free newspaper advertising donated by Nine and News Corp.

“The chief executives of the Australian Industry Group (Innes Willox), the Master Builders of Australia (Denita Wawn), the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (James Pearson), and the Australian Mines and Metals Association (Steve Knott) will now write to the minister informing him they will put forward their own proposals and want nothing to do with the ‘fundamentally flawed’ approach of the BCA and ACTU.”


Employer groups have split over a proposed softening of the so-called “better off overall test” (known as the BOOT), which was agreed on by the Business Council of Australia and the Australian Council of Trade Unions.

The list

“To get through the door of this debt-buying operation, I promised not to name names or give locations; debt-buying businesses have strict privacy obligations to their clients. I agreed because I wanted to see how it worked from the inside. Precious little has been written about the industry in Australia.”

“I first heard Bob Randall’s ‘Brown Skin Baby’ by a camp fire in the late ’80s when I was touring with my band in the Northern Territory. The guitars and songs were being passed around along with kangaroo tails singed in the coals. I felt the hairs stand up on my arms from the very first keening notes – ‘Yowie, yowie, my brown skinned baby, they take ’im away.’ Almost everyone there knew the words and sang along. ‘Yowie, yowie.’ The soft howl of those wordless words said it all, returning after each verse of the inexorable story.”

“It’s impossible not to be conscious of the politics surrounding the release of Disney’s flying martial arts, picturesque live-action remake of Mulan. A noisy campaign to boycott the film has been growing since its star, Chinese actor Liu Yifei, voiced support for the Hong Kong police during the city’s pro-democracy protests last year, culminating with this week’s revelation that it was partly filmed in Xinjiang, where human rights abuses are alleged against Muslim Uygurs. Disney’s transparent desire to capitalise on the Chinese market – with a faithfully unquestioning stance – explains the watered-down adaptation, which appeases more than it excites.”

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning 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.


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