Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

Virgin fails
The future for 16,000 Australian families is up in the air

Source: Twitter

There won’t be much public sympathy for the wealthy foreigners who own 90 per cent of stricken Virgin Australia, including billionaire Richard Branson, but it is a high-risk strategy for the federal government to hope that a truly competitive airline will re-emerge from voluntary administration by accounting giant Deloitte. Federal treasurer Josh Frydenberg was at pains today to stress that Virgin was going into administration, not liquidation, saying [$]: “this is not Ansett”. He was backed up later this afternoon by Prime Minister Scott Morrison who was encouraged that 10 potential investors were reportedly interested in taking over the operation of the airline, and stood by the government’s refusal to provide a bailout. “All we would have ended up doing is sending a billion dollars to foreign shareholders,” he said, with some justification. Virgin boss Paul Scurrah said today the airline was “not collapsing” and would come back “leaner, stronger and fitter” and although there are currently no plans for redundancies there will be a lot of uncertainty and heartache ahead for the company’s 16,000 employees. 

The ACTU called for immediate government intervention today with president Michele O’Neil accusing the government of sitting on its hands. “It is not too late,” she said in a statement. “Virgin Australia can still be rescued. It must keep trading in administration, and then come out of administration with new shareholders that include the federal government. This is do or die for the Morrison government. They can choose to save the jobs of 16,000 Virgin Australia workers, or they can choose to abandon all these workers and hand Qantas a monopoly.” The treasurer has appointed former Macquarie Bank chief Nicholas Moore to negotiate with the administrators but it is not clear why the government would compete with other interested parties for a stake in Virgin, much less buy the whole thing as the Greens leader Adam Bandt – who worked on the collapse of Ansett as a lawyer – has again called for today. 

A restructured and recapitalised Virgin could take the fight up to Qantas, and if existing investors take a bath, so be it. The vital and urgent public policy question – on a day fresh ABS figures show some 800,000 workers lost their job last week, and Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe predicts ten per cent unemployment by June – is how many jobs can be saved at Virgin, especially as the federal government is paying some $15 million a fortnight in JobKeeper subsidies to the airline’s employees expressly for the purpose of keeping them on the payroll, a point the PM stressed this afternoon. Administrator Vaughan Strawbridge said Deloitte’s intention was to “preserve as many of those jobs as possible. As we go through the expressions of interest as they [come] in, we’ll be mindful of the impact on those going forward.” Insolvency practitioners are not known for their social conscience, however at a joint press conference this afternoon, former TWU secretary and now Labor senator for NSW Tony Sheldon spoke forcefully: “If Scott Morrison allows this company to bleed out and allow corporate raiders to feed on the carcass of Virgin, then that’s not a national aviation policy.”

Scott Morrison has shown a strange mix of largesse and parsimony – $214 billion in fiscal stimulus, but not $83 million for the ABC which is helping to keep Australia’s schoolkids on task during the lockdown. This is clearly deliberate, and in the Virgin case parsimony has prevailed. If the Virgin turnaround fails, and thousands of workers lose their jobs, this will be looked back upon as a grave mistake, because the government clearly had the wherewithal to prevent it. When he was asked this afternoon about the possibility of an underspend on the government’s stimulus measures – given the coronavirus curve has been flattened – the PM did not rule it out, saying only “we’re still a long way I think from knowing the full extent of these costs.” 

“I am aware of some pretty odious comments that one of my successors made. I think she was comparable in my government to the role of someone like Arthur Sinodinos in the Howard government. She was a fine thinker, a great organiser, and she was a trusted colleague and I think that she deserves a great deal of credit for what she did.”

Former prime minister Tony Abbott defends his former chief of staff Peta Credlin after Malcolm Turnbull said on ABC 7.30 last night that she was “dominating” Abbott and running the country.

“Given that the World Health Organization must be a repository of immense international trust in dealing with health and mortality, this bloke, Tedros Adhanom, must be replaced. We need someone who is strong, intelligent, has integrity and experience in both health administration and politics, at a high level. Enter Tony Abbott. He was our federal health minister and made several telling speeches about the need to prepare for a pandemic.”

Broadcaster Alan Jones nominates Tony Abbott to be the next secretary-general of the WHO.

The coronavirus endgame
As the number of coronavirus infections in Australia stabilises, talk has turned to how and when this crisis might end. Today, Mike Seccombe weighs up the different exit strategies and analyses the coronavirus endgame.

The US$ price per barrel of US West Texas Intermediate crude, as a supply glut due to the great lockdown forces oil prices negative for the first time.

“Term 2 will begin as it finished in Term 1. The majority of NSW students will be learning from home. Schools will be open and operational for students that need to attend but where practical, parents are encouraged to keep their children at home … The Premier and Minister for Education have announced a phased operating model for NSW schools during COVID-19. The new model will see students being reintroduced to some face-to-face learning on campus starting from week 3.”

The NSW government announces a confusing plan for school students to restart school on a one-day-a-week roster from the third week of Term 2. Clear yet?

The list

“Anne Enright, spoken about as the greatest Irish living writer, winner of so many major prizes, is masterly. She writes of the ‘shape of the air’ inside an empty house and you know what she means. Actress addresses the nature of reality and authenticity, focusing on the melting, capricious line between the truth and the fake.”

“Analysis of the data that does exist, from NSW, reveals significant discrepancies in how the public health orders are being enforced. Infringement notices issued so far are clustered in Sydney’s western suburbs and regional NSW, with 15 per cent of all fines in the state limited to just three local government areas – Liverpool, Canterbury–Bankstown and Fairfield ... There appears to be limited correlation between suburbs with high infection rates and those where most infringements are being handed out.”

“A scam artist, an ignoramus, a professional liar, a colossal and malignant narcissist, a vulgarian, a casino operator, a serial bankrupt – a Roy Cohn–mentored billionaire with deep Mob connections – is in the White House. Has there ever been a more American presidency? What took them so long?” 

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 Body Count: How Climate Change Is Killing Us, Inside the Greens and Born To Rule: The Unauthorised Biography of Malcolm Turnbull.


The Monthly Today

Image of former Australia Post chief executive Christine Holgate speaking before a Senate inquiry today. Image via ABC News

Holgate strikes back

Scott Morrison humiliated the wrong woman

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison at a press conference on April 9. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Image

The cost of delay

Delays, as we have sadly learnt, can mean the difference between life and death

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaking at a press conference today. Image via ABC News

Vaccine rollout a (p)fizzer

The government came with good news, but the rollout remains a shambles

Image of Attorney-General Michaelia Cash and Prime Minister Scott Morrison at a press conference today. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Image

Trust fall

Supply issues aren’t the only thing hampering the vaccine rollout

From the front page

Image of former Australia Post chief executive Christine Holgate speaking before a Senate inquiry today. Image via ABC News

Holgate strikes back

Scott Morrison humiliated the wrong woman

Up the river

Hope is running dry in the Murray–Darling Basin

Green house effect

Joost Bakker’s vision for sustainable housing is taking root


Give us not serenity but a sense of urgency in the face of catastrophic climate change