Monday, March 23, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

Boosting business cashflow is one thing, keeping workers hired is another

Lukas Coch / AAP images

The long queues outside Centrelink offices around the country today are proof that people are losing their jobs now, as Australia locks down to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. And the wage subsidies offered under the “Boosting Cash Flow for Employers” policy announced by the government yesterday – which will not flow to small and medium enterprises until the end of April – may be too little, too late to stop further job losses. This single initiative accounts for $32 billion of the $66 billion in new stimulus measures unveiled yesterday, and came in for the sharpest criticism from the Opposition during today’s bare-bones parliamentary sitting, which was otherwise conducted in a spirit of constructive non-partisanship. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the government is relying on the “unwritten contract” between businesses and their employees who are stood down, that they will be rehired once the pandemic crisis is over. Given the extent of taxpayer assistance being provided to businesses, that is not much of an assurance.

The government will get its package through the parliament, given the Opposition has reiterated it will support the necessary legislation – offering constructive amendments where possible – and that it will pass the supply bills necessary to ensure the government can continue to function until the next federal budget is handed down in October. It is highly unlikely the Senate would block the stimulus spending either, as key Tasmanian independent senator Jacqui Lambie signalled in an op-ed [$]. Interestingly, Centre Alliance senator Rex Patrick tweeted that the Opposition should be invited to join the prime minister’s historic national cabinet, highlighting the “very fluid #COVID19Aus situation and a need for national unity”. (The Australian’s Dennis Shanahan took the opposite view [$].) In the house today, Anthony Albanese spoke dismissively of the national cabinet as a jumped-up COAG.

The national cabinet certainly put in a Z-grade performance over the weekend, with confusion reigning as NSW and Victoria broke ranks and effectively declared in the hours before last night’s meeting that they would be closing schools no matter what position the prime minister took. The ACT followed suit, and this morning parents were left wondering whether to send their kids to school or not. Frankly, it’s still not clear what is going to happen in schools, and the PM’s defensiveness on the issue is not helping.

However, the main focus of debate in parliament today was the second stimulus package (the PM is already signalling will be followed soon enough by a third). Labor zoomed in on the business cash-flow measures, comparing them harshly with the wage subsidies being offered by the conservative UK government, which will cover up to 80 per cent of salaries temporarily to keep people in their jobs. In Question Time, Opposition employment spokesman Brendan O’Connor said that, for the median income employee in Australia, two payments of between $10,000 and $50,000 per business will amount to just 20 per cent of their salary, and the payments will only flow at the end of April and at the end of July, after businesses have completed their March and June quarter BAS statements.

The prime minister said that the aim was to help employers “keep as many employees as they can, but with the pledge, and our support to them, that [when] we pass this virus those businesses that have had to stand people down, we’ll stand them back up again on the other side. That they give them that assurance, that they give them that encouragement, as they have to stand staff down – that they commit to do all they can on the other side to stand them back up again. This is the unwritten contract that is being undertaken between employers and employees as we speak.”

There are two prongs to the stimulus spending, in other words: give money to help business with its cash flow, and boost welfare to those who have been made unemployed.

The government claims that by linking the payments to business to staff wage tax withholdings, businesses will be incentivised to hold on to more of their workers. Labor is not convinced. In any case Labor’s criticism is that business needs the cashflow boost right now, not at the end of April, if it is to avoid mass layoffs. As shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers said this morning, if the policy mantra during the GFC was to “go early, go hard, go households”, this time it should be “go big, go fast, go jobs and incomes”. For the people lining up at Centrelink, it is already too late.


“They are some of the most beautiful places on the planet and so to know they have done well in this event gives me enormous hope for the future and of what we have left to protect.”

The authority’s chief scientist, David Wachenfeld, tells Guardian Australia that early results from aerial surveys suggest outer reefs in the north escaped bleaching this year.

“NBN was a failing project when we came to government, with barely more than 50,000 premises connected to the fixed line network.  Thanks to the turnaround which our Liberal National Government has driven, today the NBN is very widely available to Australians wanting to use fast, affordable broadband for a productivity and connectivity boost.”

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher marks the passage of a milestone – more than 11 million homes and businesses now able to connect to the widely derided NBN.

Coronavirus, part one: The frontline
As the number of confirmed coronavirus cases grows in Australia, hospitals are gearing up for a spike in admissions. Today, Dr Nenad Macesic on how doctors are handling the pandemic and what the future holds. This is part one of a five-part special.


The number of men charged in relation to an alleged right-wing terrorist plot to attack the NSW South Coast electrical grid, which police will allege was to be carried out on the anniversary of the Christchurch shootings.

“From today, the Morrison Government’s business hotline will give more support to small and medium businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Operations at the 13 28 46 Contact Centre will increase from five days per week to seven days per week, and provide additional hours of support outside standard operating hours for the first month, answering calls from 7am to 11pm AEST.”

A joint media release from Industry, Science and Technology Minister Karen Andrews and Employment, Skills, Small and Family business Minister Michaelia Cash.

The list

“There is confusion at all levels. In spite of Morrison’s worthy initiative in bringing the state and territory leaders into a national cabinet, he has mean-mindedly excluded the federal Opposition. Labor leader Anthony Albanese has pointedly not been offered a guernsey. Although the idea is apparently to coordinate a nationwide approach, Tasmania has effectively seceded from the mainland. Mixed messages galore.”

“When SARS broke out in 2003, the first truly global social networking site, MySpace, was still months away from existence. There was no Facebook, no Twitter. But today, as novel coronavirus cases climb past 200,000, with more than 8000 deaths, there is a unique storm of access and information.”

“Lithe, graceful and, of course, doe-eyed, Wollongong’s deer have nevertheless attained pest status, estimates of their number varying between 2500 and 4000. As well as testing the patience of local gardeners, they are considered a biosecurity risk ‘due to their potential to carry weeds and transmit disease’, as a city council factsheet puts it.” 

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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