Thursday, June 25, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

Artless and heartless
Endless culture wars, meet senseless austerity

Image of Arts Minister Paul Fletcher

Communications and Arts Minister Paul Fletcher. Via Twitter

You would think that in the middle of a pandemic and the beginning of a recession – and with a prime minister talking a lot about jobs and getting Australians back to work – that the very last thing the federal government would want to be doing is throwing more people onto the unemployment line. Wouldn’t you? Well, think again, because senseless job-shedding is exactly what is happening right now at publicly funded educational and cultural institutions, at the instigation (actually, the insistence) of the Morrison government. At the ABC, up to 250 jobs are to be cut; the National Gallery will lose 30–40 jobs; and the CSIRO this week revealed it will slash another 40 jobs, bringing its total this financial year to 619. At universities, hundreds have already gone and up to 21,000 more are looming. No doubt there are more public institutions under the knife. If job security means anything, it should matter right now. Higher job security is the flipside of generally lower-than-private-sector wages for these employees, who are very often highly qualified. But in this pandemic-induced recession, that job security is being held against public-funded workers by the Morrison government, as though they should be forced to suffer the same pain as those in the private sector. Why? Do they think more public-sector job-shedding is going to help speed the recovery? It won’t, and the saving to the federal budget is merely a rounding error on a rounding error. What we are watching is just more damage to consumer confidence in the name of brain-dead austerity and a juvenile culture war.  

Let’s remember that it was only weeks ago that the Morrison government was prepared to spend up to $130 billion, or roughly 10 per cent of GDP, to save Australians from unemployment in the face of the pandemic, and then discovered that demand for the flubbed JobKeeper program would be about half what it expected, “saving” the budget some $60 billion. Even after that good financial news, neither the PM nor Treasurer Josh Frydenberg nor Communications Minister Paul Fletcher could find a measly $84 million to shore up jobs at the ABC over the next three years, for example, despite the private entreaties of Scott Morrison’s hand-picked chair, Ita Buttrose. The government won’t even own up to having made the cuts! The PM’s commentary on the subject is expertly misleading (“The ABC’s funding is increasing every year”), and his claim that “there are no cuts” was demolished in the very same news report that carried it. (Shadow communications minister Michelle Rowland helpfully tweeted a screenshot of the page on the 2018 budget where the indexation freeze and budget saving was announced by then treasurer Morrison.) The prime minister went on to remind ABC employees how lucky they are: “If you are a journalist today, the safest place for you to be is actually the ABC because your revenue is guaranteed in that [organisation] by the government. For journalists working in so many other media companies, they are doing it really tough and I think we need to keep that in perspective.” That’s probably code for further cuts down the track. As former MEAA secretary Christopher Warren points out in Crikey, coincidentally or otherwise the Tonagh efficiency review was released last night, and it recommends cuts not just to programming but to services like ABC News 24. Now, wouldn’t that make Sky News happy? (Actually, nothing will make Sky News happy until the ABC is sold to the lowest bidder – so let’s stop trying.) 

It’s not just the publicly funded institutions that are in the government’s sights, of course. Three months after the lights went out on the arts and entertainment industry, and after months of campaigning (including a petition with more than 20,000 signatures and an open letter signed by stars including the PM’s favourite, Tina Arena), Paul Fletcher, also arts minister, finally announced his $250 million package for the sector. Except that $90 million of that is in loans, which no artist or entertainer in their right mind would ever take up (so rack up another announceable underspend for the government), and the rest boils down to just over $10 million a month for a year across the entire sector. A drop in the ocean, as Crikey’s analysis shows, and too little too late, as Greens spokesperson Sarah Hanson-Young told the ABC this morning.

But wait, there’s more politically inspired job cuts! A study by UTS shows the renewable energy industry is about to shed up to 11,000 jobs as a result of the Morrison government’s refusal to develop an energy policy. As if there isn’t enough disastrous job-shedding going around (6000 at Qantas today and 1300 at Woolworths earlier this week), the government is adding to it at the same time as it rushes to withdraw the JobKeeper stimulus, despite a warning from the IMF overnight and the fact that Australia’s outlook is improving.

It is chilling to think that in its partisanship, the same Morrison government that produced robodebt and Angus Taylor has calculated that a pandemic and a recession provide a good opportunity to settle a few dribbling scores from their student-politics days. Ultimo, Foucault, gender studies, blah blah blah. It’s all so predictable. It’s half-smart, against the national interest, and will rebound spectacularly. 

“The pandemic has shown what a weakness [insecure work] is for our country … We can’t afford to have a situation where there’s just a trapdoor, where one in three workers disappear when something like this happens. They need better protections.”

ACTU secretary Sally McManus, speaking on the first day of a new round of industrial relations negotiations with employers, brokered by the federal government.

“This is how the system works. Most associates are pretty young women. They quite intentionally flirt with their judges, as having been associates significantly advances their careers. They chose to use their bodies to further their careers.”

An anonymous email to investigative journalist Kate McClymont, in the wake of revelations that former High Court judge Dyson Heydon was found to have sexually harassed six former associates.

It’s not about statues or Chris Lilley...
As the Black Lives Matter movement reignites calls for action on Indigenous disadvantage and incarceration, politicians and the media in Australia have turned it into a culture war that deliberately ignores the goals of protestors.


The number of years Victoria Police spent investigating alleged sexual crimes by former Melbourne lord mayor Robert Doyle before closing the case.

“This targeted blitz across 10 priority suburbs represents one of the biggest testing efforts ever. On the advice of the chief health officer, priority suburbs include Keilor Downs, Broadmeadows, Maidstone, Albanvale, Sunshine West, Hallam, Brunswick West, Fawkner, Reservoir and Pakenham. Over the next 10 days, residents of these suburbs will receive free testing – with or without symptoms. Our aim is to do 10,000 tests a day across these areas and in the top two priority suburbs – Keilor Downs and Broadmeadows – we want to reach half the population in the next three days.”

Premier Daniel Andrews announces a huge ramp-up of testing after a spike in COVID-19 cases in Victoria, including 33 overnight.

The list

MasterChef is often lauded for its diversity, and it is true that it is just about the only Australian TV show where I can see people who look remotely like me, who aren’t being gratuitously sexualised or being forced to do a generic ‘Asian accent’. However, the fact that there are several Asian Australians on MasterChef and almost none on, say, Neighbours or The Bachelor sends a clear message to Asian Australians: We don’t want to live next door to you, touch you, get close to you or know anything about your inner lives, but we will take your food.”

“People used to sing songs and write poems about this town. A wartime prime minister ate steak and eggs in the kitchen of a local cafe. A dog sat famously on a tuckerbox five miles from here (and sits there still, as a bronze statue, commemorating… well, I never did understand the significance of that dog). I couldn’t see anyone writing about the town anymore, unless they were writing about songs already sung.”

“Expanding almond plantations across the southern Murray–Darling Basin are increasing the risk that water entitlements cannot be met, even in years of good rain, according to a study conducted for the federal government. Documents released under freedom of information laws warn that along with climate change, a shift to permanent plantings is contributing to the risk of shortfalls, due to these plantations’ location and the water they require.”

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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