Friday, September 18, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

On a practical day, the PM got practically none of what he wanted

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison

Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Via Facebook

After making a song and dance about it a few weeks ago, Prime Minister Scott Morrison is making little progress in getting the states and territories to agree on the definition of a coronavirus “hotspot” (as an alternative to border closures), saying that there was “no further recommendation … from the AHPPC on that today”. Another prime ministerial thought bubble appears to have popped – for now. Morrison, who was speaking after today’s national cabinet meeting, preferred to talk about his plan to lift the cap on Australians returning from overseas – from 4000 to 6000 per week – although there was pushback from national cabinet on that proposal as well. Some states are concerned about the cost of boosting hotel quarantine capacity, despite a review by former health department secretary Jane Halton finding that there are plenty of beds available. The PM had to give ground to the states and agree to slowly ramp up arrivals, so NSW, Queensland and WA will take an extra 500 people per week by mid October, with increased assistance from Australian Defence Force personnel. After days of political pressure on the government over the plight of roughly 24,000 Australians stranded overseas, today’s announcement represents some progress. Describing it as a “very practical day”, the PM got bogged down in minutiae. It hardly helps his case that British billionaire Lord Alan Sugar has just landed in Sydney to shoot the next season of Celebrity Apprentice. As shadow foreign minister Penny Wong tweeted: “Once again Scott Morrison has one rule for the privileged few while #strandedAussies are told to ask for charity or go to homeless shelters.”

Labor today shared memes celebrating the seventh anniversary of the Abbott–Turnbull–Morrison Coalition government – an occasion not mentioned in the PM’s press conference – including a greatest-hits video featuring Tony Abbott’s onion-eating and prince-knighting, Malcolm Turnbull’s NBN-wrecking and “High Court will so hold” bluster and Morrison’s “I don’t hold a hose, mate”, as well as the more recent Ruby Princess disaster and Richard Colbeck’s car-crash performance at the Senate COVID-19 committee … and now the recession with almost a million unemployed.

At a press conference today, Labor leader Anthony Albanese said it had been “seven years of lots of announcements but far less delivery. Lots of photo-ops but no follow-up … This is a government that is characterised by spin and marketing rather than substance and a vision for the nation.” He then ripped into the government over the ABC’s revelation that the Sydney campus of New York University, with annual revenue of more than $16 billion, has received JobKeeper payments, even though Australian public universities were deliberately excluded from the scheme and job losses in the sector are now approaching 11,000. “This is rolled-gold hypocrisy,” Albanese said. The PM was not asked about that this afternoon.

This week we learnt more about the Morrison government’s plans for a “gas-fired recovery”, which continues to get a decidedly mixed reception, as this report in The Australian suggests. But we also saw signs in yesterday’s jobs figures for August that the economy could be rebounding more quickly than expected, with almost half of the jobs lost during the pandemic now regained (although, as an ABC analysis explains, much of the jobs growth appears to be in the gig economy, as more Uber Eats and Deliveroo drivers criss-cross our streets). 

“More than half of the jobs lost came back – that’s good news,” Morrison said this afternoon, before basking in Australia’s relative success in responding to COVID-19. “We had a fall in the size of our economy in that June quarter by some 7 per cent. But we’ve learnt just this week that just across the ditch in New Zealand, in that same quarter, they saw a fall of over 12 per cent. Australia is managing both the economic and the health impacts of this COVID pandemic better than almost any other part of the world in developed economies.”

No doubt Morrison will continue to indulge in that kind of COVID-waffle all the way from here to the next election. 

“This legislation cannot be salvaged. Anyone who thinks that’s the case is kidding themselves.”

Senator Rex Patrick tells ABC education reporter Conor Duffy that he will oppose the Morrison government’s university funding reforms, meaning that the support of either Stirling Griff or Jacqui Lambie will be required if it is to pass through the upper house.

“That anyone would seriously entertain creating new rights for unions in the context of a recession is bad enough, but for it to come from an employer association is completely bewildering.”


Showing no awareness that insecure work has crippled the country’s pandemic response, Master Builders Australia chief executive Denita Wawn slams the deal between the Business Council of Australia and the ACTU to fast-track union-backed agreements.

The cliff and the climate
The federal Opposition is seeking to capitalise on the current economic downturn by arguing that the government’s policies are making things worse. Meanwhile, the prime minister is pinning his hopes on a gas-led recovery.


The number of investigations launched by Airservices Australia into workplace bullying and harassment allegations.

“The Morrison government will provide $5 million to the Australian Associated Press Limited Newswire (AAP) under the Public Interest News Gathering (PING) program.”

Minister for Communications Paul Fletcher finally announces funding for AAP, which recently launched a crowdfunding campaign to address increasing financial pressure.

The list

“Never relax, never give your opponent a sense he is on top – these are iron laws in male sport. But after our team scored in one match, my daughter’s opponent turned to her with a grin: ‘Wow, you guys are fast!’ Another said to her in a quiet moment: ‘I am so hungry! Are you hungry? I can smell burgers.’ Another exclaimed: ‘I like your hair!’”

“Now may be a good time for artists and art institutions to be asking questions about masculinity and mortality, but a better time might have been 20 years ago, when Ben Quilty started painting a series of Holden Toranas. The 46-year-old’s ways with colour and grand scale – elements that have remained consistent through distinct periods of moral inquisition and advocacy – have fortified his position as one of the most acclaimed and popular contemporary Australian artists.”

“If Australia wants to exert its moral authority when it comes to issues of press freedom, it must take seriously the criticisms levelled about its treatment of journalists. The threat of prosecution that still hangs over ABC reporter Dan Oakes for his investigation into alleged war crimes perpetrated by Australian soldiers in Afghanistan, the AFP raids on the ABC and News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst – this behaviour undermines the Morrison government’s ability to criticise other countries’ actions, particularly China’s, which will seize upon any hint of hypocrisy.” 

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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