Monday, August 31, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

Dan’s the plan
It’s treasurer vs premier as Victoria remains the key political battleground

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg. Via Twitter

The war of words between the federal and Victorian governments continues to escalate, with Treasurer Josh Frydenberg describing Victoria’s bungling of hotel quarantine and other missteps under Premier Daniel Andrews as “the biggest public policy failure by a state government in living memory”. It is surely no accident that the escalation comes as Frydenberg is mired in a branch-stacking scandal involving his assistant treasurer, Michael Sukkar, and as today’s Newspoll shows support for the Coalition has fallen back to parity with Labor on two-party preferred terms – a sign that the goodwill generated by the federal government’s pandemic response is subsiding. The Australian’s national affairs editor, Simon Benson, has suggested that the polling shift was driven by the border wars, with the PM caught on the wrong side of the argument in states where continued closures remain popular, while acknowledging the aged-care crisis “may also be starting to bite”.

Even as the number of new cases in Victoria dropped to an eight-week low of 73, today’s death toll spiked with a record 41 deaths, of which 37 were in aged care (with at least 22 of those being delayed reports from previous weeks). Under pressure, Andrews said he would reveal the state’s road map out of lockdown on Sunday, amid predictions that Victoria’s case numbers are too high to lift stage-four restrictions in a fortnight as scheduled. 

Frydenberg’s attack on Andrews followed the release of Treasury analysis yesterday, which showed that Victorians would comprise 60 per cent of JobKeeper recipients in the December and March quarters – representing roughly 1.3 million and 1.1 million people respectively in that state alone. Unemployment is naturally sharply higher in Victoria, and consumer spending much lower. “Restrictions imposed by the Victorian government have had a devastating impact on the economy,” Frydenberg said. Shadow health minister Chris Bowen said the treasurer’s remarks were “a political tactic so cunning you could put a tail on it and call it a fox”, adding that Frydenberg was “blatantly spinning in advance to blame anyone but himself for bad economic data”.

For its part, Labor is maintaining pressure on the Morrison government over aged care, as deaths continue to mount. Labor leader Anthony Albanese, whose public approval rating has jumped a few points in today’s poll, opened Question Time by asking: “Why does the current aged-care minister still have his job?” And he finished it by asking why the PM was “spending his time fighting with state premiers instead of fixing an aged-care system that is in crisis and an economy that is in recession for the first time in 30 years”. Two good questions, and there were many more in between.

Morrison’s answers were predictable – both the PM and Health Minister Greg Hunt are trying to appear unruffled – but the government must be feeling the pressure because today Hunt announced another $563 million in funding for aged care, extending support for facilities and aged-care workers until the end of February. At a press conference, Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck insisted that he retained the PM’s confidence and added: “No, I haven’t considered my resignation.”

In the last parliamentary sitting week before the October budget, with important legislation hitting the Senate (including extensions to JobKeeper and JobSeeker), the Morrison government appears determined to shift the blame onto Victoria and tough it out. If the virus gets away from the NSW government – as it threatens to do every single day – that strategy will fail completely. 

“Yes – we’re investigating corruption, and corruption is criminal conduct.”

South Australia’s Independent Commissioner Against Corruption, Bruce Lander, confirms in an exit interview that more than one state MP is under criminal investigation for misuse of parliamentary entitlements.

“The error was made by my senior media adviser in preparing the media release. It was corrected online as soon as it was detected. The data in the online report was correct.”

Education Minister Dan Tehan backpedals after his office issued a release using erroneous figures that suggested arts and humanities graduates had worse employment outcomes than those in other disciplines three years after completing their degrees.

After Christchurch: the calm before the storm
Last week the Christchurch terrorist was sentenced to life without parole. But even though he’s behind bars, his atrocities continue to inspire far-right extremists around the world. Today, Osman Faruqi on the increased threat of violent white nationalism and what happens after Christchurch.


The number of economists (out of 44 surveyed) who believe that the five annual increases in compulsory superannuation contributions, due to start next July, should be abandoned or deferred.

“NDIA is now introducing independent assessors which will sit with individuals for 1–4 hours to complete an assessment … These assessors will be strangers who will determine your level of funding for support, or whether you are able to receive funding from the NDIS. The NDIA has now taken choice and control away from people and [it presents] a conflict of interest. This will now place our most vulnerable people in Australia more at risk.”

An online petition opposes the federal government’s plan, announced on Friday, to use independent assessors when determining someone’s eligibility for the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

The list

“In Asia today, the world’s two most powerful states confront each other in a classic power contest over which of them will dominate the world’s richest and most dynamic region in the decades to come. The stakes could not be higher, and the contestants are formidable. America remains very powerful, but so too is China. For years many of us have complacently underestimated China’s economic power, military strength, diplomatic heft and deep resolve. It is therefore irresponsibly complacent to assume that China will be easily convinced to abandon its ambitions.”

“Richard Di Natale left his party much as he led it: without fuss or fanfare. The retiring Greens leader was quiet and reasonable, and he always kept a certain distance from the turmoil of parliamentary conflict. It was therefore almost appropriate that, because of COVID-19, his valedictory speech had to be delivered via video link from his home state of Victoria rather than at a more public farewell in the Senate. Di Natale was, and is, a figure of substance, at times one of distinction. But he has never really been a political animal.”

“As the rest of the country descended into the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, the government made it easier for these agencies, known as Jobactive providers, to claim bonus ‘outcome’ payments, fees and other rewards for the work of ‘servicing’ the unemployed. Requirements for pay slips to verify job payments were removed, and providers were paid bonuses even if work was interrupted by periods of self-isolation or complications from the health crisis … Conservative estimates drawn from the government’s own data and payment schedules suggest private job agencies have been handed at least $500 million to date during the pandemic.”

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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