Friday, March 20, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

Surplus to requirements
In responding to COVID-19, the government has thrown out the rule book

© Lukas Coch / AAP Image

Australia has not begun to flatten the coronavirus curve yet, and there was extra urgency in Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s tone this afternoon as he announced measures decided in today’s meeting of the national cabinet, which includes the premiers and chief ministers of each state and territory. Key measures include a new social-distancing requirement for indoor gatherings – to allow a minimum of four square metres per person – and a postponement of the federal budget for 2020–21 until October 6. Morrison explained that it was “simply not sensible” to try to pull together a budget and make all the necessary economic forecasts at a time of so much uncertainty. With a massive second stimulus package to be announced imminently, and the PM confirming the ordinary rules no longer apply, the next budget is going to be the deepest shade of red we’ve ever seen.

Both the PM and treasurer welcomed today’s announcement from the big banks that they would provide six-month loan repayment deferrals for small businesses, with some kind of relief for ordinary home loan borrowers expected to follow. “It’s a game changer,” said Frydenberg, congratulating the banks for stepping up and playing their part in “team Australia”. The PM downplayed a report [$] in The Australian that the government could reluctantly nationalise companies – Virgin being a widely speculated candidate – and was contemplating measures that would have been “politically unimaginable only three weeks ago”. In response to a question from The Conversation’s Michelle Grattan, Morrison said the government had “no plans along those lines”. But the austerity playbook has clearly been thrown out the window, with the government announcing changes to mutual obligation requirements in response to COVID-19, and the PM hinting that the government could finally buckle and raise Newstart, and that calls from the non-profit sector to be given relief similar to that extended to businesses have been heard.

Australia is facing the deepest downturn since the Great Depression, according to investment bank Goldman Sachs, which is forecasting that GDP will fall by a massive 6 per cent in 2020. Yet, as shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers said this morning, for all the prime minister and treasurer’s press conferences and announcements, “no stimulus is out the door yet”. The Opposition this morning supported yesterday’s extraordinary measures by the Reserve Bank, and also welcomed today’s announcement by the banks. Labor wants to take a constructive approach to the fiscal stimulus legislation that will be introduced to truncated parliamentary sittings next week, but leader Anthony Albanese expressed some frustration today that the stimulus had not been timely enough. “To make an announcement of $750 [cash payment to income support recipients] and to say it will take place on March 31, that’s a political decision, not one that’s an economic decision,” he said. “An economic decision would have been for that money to flow immediately.”

Companies and their investors are not waiting – they are taking decisions today. Some are commendable, such as Telstra’s decision to make more data available for consumers, hire an extra 1000 workers for its call centres, and suspend its “T22” redundancy program for six months. Some are outrageous, like Qantas’s decision to run down the leave balances of 20,000 employees it stood down this week. The PM refused to condemn Qantas when pressed on this by 2GB’s Alan Jones this morning. Retailer Solomon Lew told [$] The Australian Financial Review that he had met with the prime minister and treasurer in the last few days to discuss the second stimulus package, and told them the coronavirus pandemic was “a fireball like we’ve never seen before”. For once, Lew is probably right.


“We stand by our previous calls for the Australian government to urgently intervene to protect the life, health and human rights of its citizen Julian Assange, before it is too late, whether due to coronavirus or any number of catastrophic health outcomes.”

Fearing that Julian Assange will soon contract the coronavirus in the fertile breeding ground of London’s Belmarsh Prison, Doctors for Assange write again to Foreign Minister Marise Payne, appealing for his incarceration to end.

“We are not powerless. I tell you, the best regulator in any economy … it’s the customer.”

Energy Minister Angus Taylor deploys a neoliberal talking point as an explanation for why the government will not intervene to stop profiteering by those service stations refusing to pass on lower oil prices to customers.

The day coronavirus swallowed Scott Morrision
With the cost of coronavirus growing everyday, will Scott Morrison’s stimulus be big enough and fast enough? Today, Paul Bongiorno on the future of the economy, and of the prime minister.

The saleable value of the NBN, according to the Parliamentary Budget Office, after expenditure of some $51 billion.

“Defence is aware of the serious and disturbing story regarding the conduct of Australian Special Operations personnel in Afghanistan aired on the ABC’s Four Corners, 16 March 2020. The Australian Army soldier referred to as ‘Soldier C’ in the Four Corners program has today been identified and suspended from duty. The Australian Defence Force conducts its operations under strict rules of engagement and promotes a culture of ethical and lawful behaviour. These rules and cultural norms are enforced according Defence’s obligations under Australian and international law.”

The Department of Defence has stood down the special forces soldier depicted executing an unarmed Afghan in footage aired by the ABC this week.

The list

“Joyful confusion of what lies within and without is a key aspect of all Donovan Hill projects, whether small or large, domestic or civic. You can be inside a Donovan Hill building before you’ve even crossed the threshold, but on reaching the interior might still find yourself outdoors.”

“The final bid for George Pell’s freedom began with a test of faith. Addressing the full bench of the High Court in Canberra, the cardinal’s silk, Bret Walker, SC, drew his line in the sand: believing the surviving victim was not enough to convict Pell to six years in prison for historical child sexual abuse. Faith can be wrong, he argued. Faith is slippery.”

“Australians are the biggest gamblers on earth, losing more than $24 billion a year … One explanation for Australia’s world-record gambling spend is cultural preference. From Birdsville to the trenches, a love of the punt has supposedly been central to national identity. The other explanation for why Australians became the world’s biggest gamblers during the 1990s was that the expansion of gambling was a deliberate government policy choice.” 

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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