Friday, November 20, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

PM’s agenda
A contentious end to 2020 looms on IR, emissions and super reforms

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison

Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Image

Australian politics looks set to revert to more normal levels of partisan argy-bargy, as the Morrison government ends 2020 with contentious measures on industrial relations, emissions-reduction targets and superannuation. In a virtual speech at the Business Council of Australia’s annual general meeting last night, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the government’s looming omnibus industrial relations bill would focus on pragmatic, rather than ideological, fixes in problem areas. “I don’t expect our reforms will elicit delirious applause,” he said. “There won’t be sweeping praise from the union movement, and businesses won’t see their version of an industrial utopia either.” As the AFR’s Phillip Coorey reported, the government is likely to keep the “better off overall” test, which employers have found restrictive during enterprise bargaining negotiations, but it may impose a time limit for improving agreements. Morrison also flagged that the government would seek to avoid using carry-over credits from the Kyoto Protocol to achieve Australia’s 2030 emissions-reduction commitments, as it moved to update the country’s projected emissions before the end of the year. “My government’s ambition is that we will not need them,” he said, “and we are working to this as our goal.” Lastly, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg today released the final report of the Retirement Income Review, chaired by senior Treasury bureaucrat Mike Callaghan, lighting on its finding that the weight of evidence suggests that “an increase in the [superannuation guarantee] rate will result in lower wages growth”. Frydenberg hinted at a likely delay to next year’s already legislated increase in the superannuation rate from 9.5 per cent to 10 per cent, perhaps until 2025. 

Assistant Superannuation Minister Jane Hume sparked headlines a few months ago by saying she was “ambivalent” about whether the legislated increase went ahead next year, as the economy recovers from the pandemic. Putting off the legislated increase is steadfastly opposed by Labor and the union movement. Former Labor minister and chair of Industry Super Funds Australia Greg Combet told RN Breakfast this morning that he would study the report but there was little evidence that putting off super increases led to wage rises, and typically such arguments relied on rosy assumptions. Certainly, he said, when the Abbott government pushed back the legislated super increase from 2014–15, there was no flow-on to higher wages. Most likely, Combet said, if next year’s super increase is put off, workers will see no increase at all, either to current incomes or retirement savings.

That may suit the Coalition perfectly well. As Greg Jericho wrote following yesterday’s labour force data, wages are growing slower than ever and growth is unlikely to return, even when things do begin to improve. “The government is using the pandemic to lock in low wages and insecure work,” he wrote. “It means there exists a very real danger that when our economy does eventually recover, it will be much worse for workers.”

The ACTU produced its own figures showing that deferring the legislated super increase, when combined with the 2014 delay under Abbott and the government’s early access to super scheme during the pandemic, added up to four to seven years of lost retirement savings, meaning “many workers who are carrying Australia through the pandemic will be forced to work well into their 70s”. 

On emissions reduction, the PM’s refusal to commit to a target of net-zero emissions by 2050 puts Australia on a collision course with the United States’ incoming Biden administration, which plans a global summit within the first 100 days of taking office, and is aiming for countries to ramp up their levels of ambition on climate change. This week the global Climate Transparency Report ranked Australia in the bottom bracket for almost every climate policy area, with no plan for a carbon price, no policy to increase renewable energy and per capita emissions three times the G20 average ­– a record labelled “simply embarrassing”.

In a statement today, Greens leader Adam Bandt said that Australia is increasingly isolated and the government’s 2030 targets of a 26–28 per cent reduction on 2005 levels are “consistent with Australia warming by over 4 degrees, which means civilisational collapse. The Liberals’ 2030 targets are not consistent with the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to well below 2 degrees.” A 2-degree limit would require Australia to cut emissions by 48 per cent by 2030, say the Greens, which earlier this year adopted a 75 per cent target. 

Last night’s BCA meeting was a virtual love-in, but the PM can expect a less friendly reception when parliament debates his end-of-year plans. 

“She wasn’t only very good at her portfolio, she contributed in a very commonsense way to cabinet discussions … and she rose higher than any other woman in government, she was very much a trailblazer in that department.”

Former prime minister John Howard pays tribute to former finance minister Margaret Guilfoyle, the first woman to hold a federal cabinet portfolio in Australian history, who has died aged 94.

“The funding of his legal action is a private matter, however he has put his medals up as collateral on a loan and will relinquish them if required. If this eventuates, I will donate his medals with Ben’s approval to the Australian War Memorial, as I have done so with other VCs and medals in the past.”

Seven West Media chairman Kerry Stokes, who also chairs the Australian War Memorial, confirms he will cover the legal costs of former SAS corporal Ben Roberts-Smith, a Victoria Cross recipient who faces prosecution for alleged war crimes in Afghanistan. Roberts-Smith has filed a defamation lawsuit against Nine newspapers.

The truth about robodebt and political responsibility
The federal government has settled the largest class action in Australian history, over the unlawful robodebt program. Today, Paul Bongiorno on who was responsible and whether anyone in the government will be held accountable for this policy.

The value of Chinese investment in Australia in 2019, down from $16 billion in 2016, as the relationship between the two countries continues to deteriorate.

“Just as we have acted immediately to put restrictions in place to keep South Australians safe, we are going to act to lift them much sooner than previously advised. I will not let the disgraceful conduct of a single individual to keep SA in these circuit-breaker conditions one day longer than what is necessary.”

Premier Steven Marshall announces that South Australia’s drastic hard lockdown will end on midnight Saturday, three days earlier than expected, after one person in the Parafield cluster was found to have lied to contact-tracing teams.

The list

“It is November 2021. In the vast, comically gauche estate of Mar-a-Lago, Donald J. Trump lives as president-in-exile – and is more influential than the actual president. Unhappy with the ‘sad, disrespectful’ quota of Secret Service guards, Trump has bolstered his private security with 100 Proud Boys, and furnished them with gold-plated, MAGA-stamped submachine guns. These young Neo-Nazis vet thousands of pilgrims daily, allowing just two through per week to kiss the ring of their High Priest.”

“Before long I was stripped down to my best pair of underpants and lying on a paper sheet atop an examination bed. If my dermatologist, Dr W, was impressed with my physique she didn’t say. In any case, she was not there to appreciate the art, as evidenced by the way she was inspecting the sun’s brushstrokes upon my canvas, close enough that I could feel her breath. She centred her magnifier on blemishes on my back, my arms, my inner thighs. She even peered into the spaces between my toes, explored behind my ears, fossicked through my hair.”

“Hayes has just about done it all. She’s an actor, dancer, singer, choreographer and director. She’s played the leading lady in nearly every major musical – Charity in Sweet Charity, Roxie Hart in Chicago, Nellie Lovett in Sweeney Todd – and her list of credits in non-musical theatre is equally extensive … In a difficult and fickle industry, she’s stayed the distance: next year, the 77-year-old will celebrate 60 years in show business.”

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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