Thursday, April 30, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

Back-slaps over
From JobSeeker to Eden-Monaro, a rude awakening looms

Labor senator Katy Gallagher probed the Department of Social Services in this morning’s hearing of the COVID-19 select committee, asking secretary Kathryn Campbell: “What’s the planning for the end of September? Does the government think it’s feasible at that point to go back, for people to live on $40 a day?” The gravity of this question was underlined by fresh figures tabled by the department, which show that an additional 530,300 people sought JobSeeker payments between the end of February and April 24. It also estimated that the total number of unemployed people seeking the benefit would reach a staggering 1.7 million by September – essentially, a million people will be made unemployed as a result of the coronavirus. 

The department stressed that the estimate was produced, in consultation with Treasury, purely for the purposes of costing the JobSeeker supplement, and was not a forecast. Campbell then gave a carefully crafted non-answer to Gallagher’s question, saying the department had been focusing on implementing the JobSeeker scheme, and was only now “turning our mind and working with our colleagues on options for what this looks like when we come out the other side. Of course it’s evolving every day and we’re continuing to work with Treasury and our other colleagues about a variety of options. We are yet to provide advice to government on that”. 

All options were on the table, said Campbell. Gallagher came back at her another way by asking whether one of the options was retaining the higher JobSeeker payment. Again, Campbell dissembled, saying it was too early to say what the options would be and the department was yet to provide its advice. Yesterday, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said that the unemployment benefit would revert to $40 a day after the COVID-19 crisis was over, and the PM himself backed that up, saying, “obviously the income supports that have been put in place to get people through [the pandemic] period well won’t be necessary on the other side – we made that clear at the outset. This was emergency response measures. This was not a change in the government’s view about the broader role of the social safety net in Australia”. 

Scott Morrison’s position on the unemployment benefit is simply incomprehensible and, if he is not careful, will define him permanently. Even before the pandemic, the widest possible coalition – from economists and business leaders to unions and community groups – was desperately calling for an end to the 25-year payment freeze, as were conservatives such as former PM John Howard and backbencher Barnaby Joyce. Yet the Morrison government is proposing to axe the $550 per fortnight “supplement” come September, in the thick of what is likely to be a deep recession, with whole industries decimated and 1.7 million people relying on JobSeeker as their only source of income – this effectively cuts their income in half. Cruel doesn’t cut it … colossally stupid and self-defeating gets close. 

The Morrison government has so far won plaudits – reflected in the polls – for its pandemic response, including establishing the national cabinet, implementing tough lockdowns, flattening the curve and splurging $214 billion in fiscal stimulus. But with the health crisis apparently easing, and very little of the stimulus money hitting the ground, as well as problems with the design of JobKeeper and JobSeeker payments (not to mention the economy being in freefall), it is not clear that the PM’s backslapping is going to last all that long. 

Which brings us to Mike Kelly, Labor’s member for the ultra-marginal seat of Eden-Monaro, who confirmed [$] his retirement due to osteoarthritis – a legacy of his military service – at a Canberra press conference. “There is no area in Australia that has suffered more in recent times than Eden-Monaro,” said Kelly. “Through the drought, into the worst bushfires in Australia, we were at the centre of that crisis, and then rolling into the coronavirus issues.” As The Australian’s Niki Savva writes [$], that sets up an unwelcome contest in an electorate that takes in fire-struck towns like Cobargo, and “a giant can of worms waits to burst open” for the two Coalition parties. Already, high-profile Liberals Jim Molan and Andrew Constance are jostling, and a three-cornered contest is all but certain, as Nationals leader Michael McCormack has confirmed his party will run, with NSW leader John Barilaro contemplating a federal switch. 

At face value, the PM was talking down the prospects of a Coalition win yesterday, saying it would be a “one-in-100-year event” for the government to take a seat from the Opposition. But Morrison looked and sounded like he was relishing the prospect – smug, even. Perhaps he should take another trip to Cobargo. 

“Whenever we were really annoyed with Tony Abbott, we would watch the video of that speech by Julia Gillard. That speech got watched a lot in the Obama White House, let me just put it that way … What was frustrating with Abbott, you know, is he was kind of very sure of himself without really knowing what he was talking about.”

Ben Rhodes, former deputy national security adviser to Barack Obama, talks about the antipathy between the former US president and Tony Abbott, in the latest episode of news and politics comedy podcast A Rational Fear.

“Take a chill pill. Realise that there are families right across Australia who can put food on the table because we have got a great trading relationship with North America … and an even greater trading relationship with China. We should be everybody’s best friends. These fruit cakes running around saying – you know, ‘warmongering, you’re doing the wrong thing’… Just be happy that you are eating this evening, mate.”

Mining billionaire Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest rejects accusations he helped China’s consul-general, Zhou Long, gatecrash a press conference with federal health minister Greg Hunt yesterday.

Evangelical Christianity in the age of coronavirus
The prime minister’s relationship to the founder of Hillsong has focused attention on the church. But what does evangelical Christianity look like in an age of climate change and coronavirus? Lech Blaine on the appeal of Hillsong and how it influences the most powerful politician in the country.


The number of things that Malcolm Turnbull gets badly wrong in his memoir A Bigger Picture, according to fellow former prime minister Kevin Rudd. Number one? The NBN.

“On or about 30 October 2016, Jam Land Pty Limited, or an agent acting on its behalf, undertook spraying of a herbicide on [the property at Corrowong, which] caused the removal of up to 28.5 hectares of grasslands … I hereby require Jam Land Pty Limited to take [action] to mitigate damage that has been caused to the Natural Temperate Grassland of the South Eastern Highlands ecological community.”

Lyn O’Connell, deputy secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, issues a remediation determination against Jam Land, a private company part-owned by Energy Minister Angus Taylor, over illegal poisoning of native grasslands.

The list

“This has been by far the worst day for working people in Australia for generations … We need UK style wage subsidies now!”
— ACTU secretary Sally McManus, Mar 23


“My prayer knees are getting a good workout.”
— Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Mar 23

“Australia’s outspokenness may have boosted its standing among Indo–Pacific neighbour countries that are deeply dependent on China and now also in the grip of Covid-19. ‘Many of the countries in South-East Asia and the Pacific are acutely mindful of the limits of their own power and of the preference for discretion being the better part of valour,’ says John Blaxland, professor of international security and intelligence studies at the Australian National University. ‘They respect Australia as an invested regional player that is prepared to call a spade a spade, and they look to us to do that.’”

“While a reluctance to face historical truth and deal with its consequences represents Australia at its worst, the fact that we never created our own Plymouth Rock surely speaks to the best. The openly unresolved jumble of stories at Kurnell shows the attempt by John Howard and other culture warriors to create a single national story has comprehensively failed.” 

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?


The Monthly Today

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews

Locking back down

Victoria’s woes are a warning for the whole country

Image of Labor candidate in Eden-Monaro Kristy McBain

Bega pleased

Kristy McBain’s win has implications for the Morrison government

Images of Kristy McBain and Fiona Kotvojs

Southern discomfort

Tomorrow’s result in Eden-Monaro is on a knife edge

Image of Defence Minister Linda Reynolds speaking at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute

Grey zone

Between war and peace, Australia’s defence strategy is evolving

From the front page

Image of Satu Vänskä, Australian Chamber Orchestra

Fermata: Musical performance in lockdown

What becomes of the communion of classical musicians, composers and audiences during social isolation?

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews

Locking back down

Victoria’s woes are a warning for the whole country

Illustration by Jeff Fisher

Weal of fortune

Rebuilding the economy means government investment, but not all public spending is equal

Image of Labor’s Kristy McBain and Anthony Albanese

A win’s a win

The Eden-Monaro result shows that Morrison’s popularity has not substantially changed voting patterns – and Labor has still not cut through