Friday, June 26, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

Tail spin
Airlines are crying out for clarity on future government assistance

Image © Jono Searle / Getty Images

Though Virgin Australia has a buyer in US private-equity firm Bain Capital, there were few assurances for the company’s workers in today’s confirmation of the sale by administrators Deloitte. The news comes hard on the heels of yesterday’s announcement that 6000 jobs would go at Qantas, in what chief executive Alan Joyce described as the biggest crisis in aviation history. (The Daily Telegraph dubbed the airline the “crying kangaroo”.) Responding to the Virgin announcement today, Transport Workers’ Union secretary Michael Kaine told the ABC that Bain was a deep-pocketed investor and had committed to funding all worker entitlements, but the federal government had gone “missing in action” as the airline went broke, and now needed to step in with an “Aviation Keeper” package. At his press conference after national cabinet this afternoon, Prime Minister Scott Morrison demurred when asked whether he had received any assurances there would be no job losses at Virgin, replying only that he was pleased a successful bidder had emerged from the administration. “I look forward to Virgin going forward and, more importantly, for the jobs in Virgin to be secured,” said Morrison. “It’s a sector, though, as we saw with Qantas yesterday, that faces very significant difficulties. Virgin is now focusing obviously on the domestic operations, and the domestic operations have a much more positive outlook than the international.”

At the height of the crisis, Morrison’s regular press conferences after national cabinet meetings were filled with urgency and import, but lately they have been flagging and you get the sense that the PM, having won over the press gallery, wants to milk the moment. He had little to say today except that the states and territories expressed solidarity with Victoria, which is experiencing a localised outbreak, but national cabinet was “sticking with their three-step plan and continuing the easing of restrictions that will continue into next month, [and] premiers will be making announcements about those issues either today or in the days that follow”.

Today’s press conference was the last for Professor Brendan Murphy, who is stepping down as chief medical officer to become secretary of the Department of Health. The spiciest question was about the ASIO raid on NSW Labor MP Shaoquett Moselmane – whose office has reportedly been infiltrated by China – as part of a foreign interference investigation. “I’m not at liberty to go into that as I’m sure you’d expect,” said Morrison, adding, “it’s an investigation that has been going on for some time. It’s elevated to a new level today. The actions of the Australian Federal Police and ASIO demonstrate that the threats in this area are real … and the government is absolutely determined to ensure that nobody interferes with Australia’s activities. We won’t cop anyone coming and seeking to interfere in our political system, in our energy sector, in any perceived area of opportunity for an outside actor. We won’t cop it.” Hear, hear. 

Morrison would not be drawn on any extension of JobKeeper for the airline industry, or any other sector, beyond saying that there would be an announcement in time for the economic statement in late July, and adding: “Whether it be Qantas or those in the entertainment sector or the tourism, hospitality sector or regions like North Queensland, we get it, we understand that they are going to be hurting more for longer than other parts of the economy. We will continue to tailor our fiscal supports to those areas that will continue to need them.” Interestingly, the PM then segued into a discussion of the need for more industrial flexibility as though an extension of JobKeeper was going to be used as a bargaining chip with unions. Watch this space. 

While there is quite rightly a lot of focus on job-shedding this week, from the ABC to Woolworths to the airlines, there is much less focus on the worsening problem of underemployment, which in some ways is the bigger story of the COVID recession. Labor’s future-of-work spokesperson, Clare O’Neil, gave a thoughtful speech today, spotlighting the impact of the downturn on 600,000 underemployed women looking for more work (not just a few more hours, but 15 hours a week), who were already struggling to make ends meet as the economy softened before the pandemic. “The woman at the epicentre of this neglect is a 23-year-old woman living in the NSW Central Coast,” said O’Neil. “She didn’t study beyond high school, and in all likelihood works in food preparation and cleaning. She would be casually employed, and chronically unable to find the hours of work she needs to get by. Despite almost 30 years of continuous economic growth, this woman has been left behind.” 

O’Neil said politicians of all stripes were abuzz with talk of revitalising manufacturing and other heavy industries post-COVID. “Canberra is virtually feverish at the prospect of using government policy – and presumably government funding – to revive these male-dominated industries,” she said. “These are good conversations, they are important. But the real no-brainer coming out of COVID, the lasting decision that will, with absolute certainty, permanently improve the future of work for millions of Australians, is for us to work in a bipartisan way to align the social value of caring work with the economic rewards given to the predominantly female workforce.”

Hear, hear to that too. 

“What’s actually really clear from the audit report, which is a scathing report, is that it’s not environmental regulation that’s causing delays, it’s Liberal Party cuts and mismanagement. It’s not green tape, it’s blue tape that’s causing the difficulties.”

Shadow minister Terri Butler responds to a scathing finding by the Australian National Audit Office that the federal environment department has failed to protect the environment.

“I made the decision not to throw my hat in the ring for the byelection, which I stand by. Regarding the next federal election, never say never. I won’t rule anything in or out.”

NSW Deputy Premier and Nationals leader John Barilaro, who pulled out of the Eden-Monaro byelection after a spat with putative Liberal candidate Andrew Constance, declines to rule out a tilt at the seat in the next federal election.

Politics and Dyson Heydon
The harassment allegations against Dyson Heydon have reminded some in Canberra of the royal commission that traded on his “stainless reputation”. A key target of that inquiry is now pushing for one into robodebt.


The amount the federal government has spent prosecuting whistleblower Witness K and his lawyer, Bernard Collaery, the former ACT attorney-general.

“HESTA today announced the development of an ambitious Climate Change Transition Plan (CCTP) that will see the $52 billion industry super fund commit to reducing the absolute carbon emissions in its investment portfolio by 33% by 2030 and to be ‘net zero’ by 2050. HESTA is the first major Australian superannuation fund to make carbon reduction commitments of this scale as part of a broader CCTP that seeks to effectively align the fund’s actions and investment portfolio with the goals of the Paris Agreement.”

Health-sector industry super fund HESTA announces a thermal-coal divestment strategy.

The list

“Just as Levi’s score switches between tender fairytale motifs and the surround-sound cacophony of wheezing helicopter rotors, Monos embraces its essential paradoxes. As an allegory for the lingering Columbian civil war (and the nation’s uneasy attempts at brokering accord), the film obscures any direct political comment and blurs the division between left-wing guerrillas and right-wing paramilitary. As an all-purpose horror-of-war piece, it works hard to complicate traditional sentiments on the ‘innocence’ of childhood and the compromises of growing up.”

“All in all, it’s quite a saga, even without the raids. For more than 40 years, Australia has played hardball with some of the poorest people on earth. It is one thing to be caught out spying to protect citizens from terrorism or for national security, but the allegation that Australia spied for commercial gain, under the cover of an aid program, is something else entirely.”

“When I was studying at university, Arthur Summons gave me a job working behind the bar at the Wagga Wagga Leagues Club. The club was thriving then, and Arthur was highly regarded, a local hero of sorts. He’d played 19 international Tests for Australia in both rugby union and rugby league, won with the Wallabies in England, captained the Kangaroos to win, and beaten the All Blacks at Christchurch. I didn’t know much about rugby, but I knew Arthur to be dynamic, funny and fair.”

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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