Monday, July 20, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

Bright side
The PM is talking up the under-subscribed business-loan scheme

Scott Morrison

Scott Morrison. Via ABC News

“I’m certainly optimistic, it’s my natural disposition,” said Prime Minister Scott Morrison while visiting a small business on the day the government announced an overhaul of its problematic $40 billion business-loan scheme. Despite worsening news on the pandemic – with Victorians required to wear face masks from Thursday and NSW facing more localised outbreaks, as well as a rising reproduction rate – the PM has reason to look on the bright side. Today’s Newspoll [$], slightly at odds with last week’s Essential survey, shows that Morrison’s approval rating, at 68 per cent, is now translating to support for his government more generally, with support for the Coalition at its highest point in more than a year and two points further ahead of Labor (53:47, two party preferred). The relevance of the Opposition is reduced further by the postponement of planned parliamentary sittings until August 24, which the PM said was agreed with Labor leader Anthony Albanese and was “frankly a no-brainer” based on the medical advice. And it has been revealed [$] that Thursday’s economic statement will include an extension of the JobKeeper program until Christmas, although it will be less generous.

With only three days to go until the economic statement, it is clear that the government has taken on board warnings about the “fiscal cliff” we would be approaching if stimulus spending were to stop suddenly in September. In fresh research, Deloitte has estimated that 240,000 businesses would go broke if that happened. Under the revamped Coronavirus SME Guarantee Scheme announced by Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, changes include extending the purpose of loans able to be provided beyond working capital; permitting secured lending; increasing the maximum loan size to $1 million (from $250,000) per borrower; increasing the maximum loan term to five years (from three years); and allowing lenders the discretion to offer a repayment holiday period. The changes are designed to broaden the appeal of the loan guarantee scheme, which was meant to advance $40 billion but has been heavily undersubscribed, with some 15,600 businesses taking out loans worth just $1.5 billion. Shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers expressed tentative Labor support but warned, “The second attempt by the Morrison government at its SME Guarantee Scheme needs to do a much better job of supporting small businesses than the first one did.”

Asked whether it was wise to be underwriting such large loans to small businesses at a difficult economic juncture, Morrison said that “it’s important for Australians to be optimistic. They will be looking sensibly at what their commercial opportunities are, and then they will make those judgements … What the treasurer and I are seeking to do with our entire government is to back them in, to give them the support they need … I just don’t want Australia to survive the COVID recession, I want us to emerge strongly from it. We’re not a country that just survives, we are a country that always seeks to thrive.”

It’s a confidence game, but it remains to be seen whether small and medium businesses are as optimistic as the PM. 

One person surely not feeling optimistic is Anthony Albanese, whose support in the polls has arguably [$] taken a knock from the electoral damage done to the Andrews government by Victoria’s lockdown 2.0 and the mismanagement of the hotel quarantine regime (the first day of the state’s judicial inquiry heard that errors in hotel quarantine may have been responsible for every new COVID-19 case in the second wave). Not only that, The Australian [$] ran a mischievous count of former rival Bill Shorten’s media mentions, suggesting they have spiked lately, in an effort to rattle the leadership cage.

Albanese remained on message today, concentrating on the economic statement: “The parliament can’t meet, but the government wants to wind back JobKeeper and JobSeeker. If the parliament can’t meet, that’s a sign that this crisis is far from over … I think it’s very unfortunate the government has refused extra sittings of Senate estimates that could have been done virtually, very easily, as a range of Senate committees are. But the non–government controlled COVID committee will be scheduling extra meetings chaired by Katy Gallagher, to make sure that, after Thursday’s announcement, we’re able to hold the government to account and provide proper scrutiny. That’s what a democracy requires. Scrutiny by the national parliament.”

“The country relies on research for medical advances through to music and the arts. But the research funding does not cover the cost of the activity. It gets cross-subsidised by international student money and that means … all the fixed-term contracts are at risk.”

National Tertiary Education Union general secretary Matt McGowan on the increasingly vulnerable position of university staff, particularly those on fixed-term contracts, as the sector braces for the loss of thousands of research jobs.

“I no longer trust what Premier Daniel Andrews says about the coronavirus. That includes his latest order to Victorians: wear face masks. On what medical basis is this necessary?”

Columnist Andrew Bolt continues to undermine public confidence in the Victorian government during the pandemic.

Why we need to “feel” climate change
As climate models predict even worse outcomes for the planet, some scientists believe the way to change what is happening is for people to “feel” the emotion of it. There is still time to halt the crisis, but we are at a fork in the road.

The number of children aged 14 and under who would be forced into poverty if the coronavirus supplement for JobSeeker recipients is axed in September, according to new economic modelling.

“The EPBC Act is ineffective. It does not enable the Commonwealth to protect and conserve environmental matters that are important for the nation. It is not fit to address current or future environmental challenges.”

Former ACCC boss Graeme Samuel, speaking as chair of a review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, which recommends enforceable national environment standards.

The list

“A coiled hose, a howling dog, terebinth trees, soap suds, the smell of petrol on human skin. These details are so subtly embedded in part one of Minor Detail (Text) that when they recur in part two they gain a holographic glow. Palestinian Adania Shibli’s cinematic novel stages a return of the repressed on a national scale by reprising an atrocity committed by Israeli soldiers in the Negev region in 1949.”

“The Queen did not pull the trigger. But the now-released Palace Letters show that she, her family and her closest advisers were well and truly in the loop during the events of 1975. And since 1975 was all about politics, the neutrality of the Crown is irrevocably compromised … Kerr was provided with constant reassurance, occasional encouragement and even advice over the implementation of his highly contentious reserve powers.”

In the middle of April, a close descendant of the coronavirus strain that first took hold in the Chinese city of Wuhan all but disappeared in Australia. On April 16, this ‘S’ strain was found in a 79-year-old woman in Victoria, but her diagnosis would represent the end of the line for the first wave of the outbreak in Australia. Social distancing had been a success. Lockdown policies starved the virus of venues for large-scale contagion. As this original lineage petered out in Australia, though, newer versions of the virus were taking off in Europe and the United States.”

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

Image of Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews

Called to account

Victoria’s second wave has landed a heavy blow

Out of sight, out of mind

Held for seven years in immigration detention, then COVID-19 strikes

Image of Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck appearing via video link during a Senate inquiry

Aged rage

As coronavirus deaths mount in nursing homes, the anger grows

State of disaster

Stage-four restrictions, a curfew and workplace closures shutter Melbourne

From the front page

Image of Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews

Called to account

Victoria’s second wave has landed a heavy blow

Image from ‘Hamilton’

America’s imperfect angels: Lin-Manuel Miranda’s ‘Hamilton’

Post Black Lives Matter, the hit musical already feels like a souvenir from a vanished pre-Trump America

Image from First Cow

Milk it: ‘First Cow’

Kelly Reichardt’s restrained frontier film considers the uneasy problems of money and resources

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison

A unitary theory of cuts

The Morrison government is using the COVID-19 crisis to devastate the public service, the ABC, the arts and tertiary education