The Politics    Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Labor keeps at it

By Rachel Withers

Image of Coalition backbencher Craig Kelly appearing on Pete Evans’ podcast.

Coalition backbencher Craig Kelly appears on Pete Evans’ podcast. Image via Instagram

The government insists JobKeeper must go, but Craig Kelly can stay

The 2021 parliamentary year has begun, with a sharper-looking Labor Party shooting out of the gate to tackle the government over Craig Kelly, industrial relations and the impending end to JobKeeper. The government is spruiking an economic “comeback”, but it’s Labor that might be having one.

The day opened with the government shutting down an MP making comments about COVID-19 vaccines and treatments. But it wasn’t Craig Kelly. New shadow health minister Mark Butler was the one silenced, after he moved a motion to censure Kelly for publicly making “irresponsible and dangerous” comments, with the government instead successfully moving that the member for Hindmarsh no longer be heard. “You never shut down Craig,” someone from the Labor benches observed. The Opposition remained laser-focused on Kelly, however, making him and his conspiracies the focus of press conferences, speeches and tweets throughout the day. The government continues to stand by Kelly, even as Kelly defends his appearance on COVID-sceptic Pete Evans’ podcast – an appearance condemned by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners.

Labor’s other focus is on JobKeeper, which the government insists will come to an end as scheduled at the end of March. Labor is putting pressure on the government over the wage subsidy’s demise, with many sectors still unable to return to normal trading conditions – the Queensland tourism industry in particular. Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, though sick of certain states wanting more economic assistance, has continued to signal that the government will provide targeted assistance to the tourism sector when the scheme ends, but insists it’s bon voyage to JobKeeper itself. The sector has launched a campaign, “Save the travel industry”, claiming that only one in 10 travel agents will keep their jobs beyond April 1 without assistance.

The Liberal Party sure is keen to put an end to the JobKeeper program, which, as it turns out, it actually took advantage of itself. A Guardian Australia report on the major parties’ financial disclosures found they banked a record amount of taxpayer funding in 2019–20, including $2.4 million in grants from the finance department. Labor declared two JobKeeper payments totalling $96,000 while the Liberal Party received two worth a combined $78,000. More JobKeeper declarations are expected in the 2020–21 financial year.

And despite the government’s insistence that it can’t continue paying wage subsidies, or else unfairly burden future generations with the cost of assistance for today’s workers, it has little interest in reclaiming money from companies that claimed JobKeeper only to then record massive profits – profits that often went to executives and shareholders. (When asked at the National Press Club yesterday what he would do to ensure companies paid tax dollars back, Morrison said he wasn’t in “the politics of envy”, and “good for them” if companies felt they wanted to hand money back.)

Shadow assistant treasurer Andrew Leigh, who has been calling out companies that haven’t paid the money back (and praising those that do), contrasted this with the ferocity with which the government hounded people on welfare under robodebt. Labor also used Question Time to attack the government’s industrial relations “omnibus” bill (though not quite as bluntly as this Electrical Trades Union ad, showing Scott Morrison running down workers in a bus), with question after question about why the government hates workers so much.

The parties have been sharpening their key messages for a possible election later this year, so get ready to hear the following soundbites ad nauseam. For the government, it’s “comeback”, with market research telling them this is the term that will best sell their message. For Labor, the magic words (other than “Craig Kelly”) are “no one held back” and “no one left behind”. They’ve also added “on your side” as a slogan – four soundbite points to Tim Watts for slipping it into his doorstop interview at least four times this morning. It could even work, with Essential Media director Peter Lewis arguing that “on your side” is compelling – and could even win Labor an election. 

The prime minister insisted again today that the next election would be next year, in no way dispelling rumours that the poll is more likely to be in the latter half of this one. But the latest Essential poll suggests an early election could be seen as an act of opportunism, with 58 per cent of voters preferring that the government hunker down and govern. Essential has also released its quarterly “two-party-preferred ‘plus’ sequence” (introduced after the 2019 election put a stop to the fortnightly horse race), revealing that things have been much closer for the ALP than previously thought. Perhaps “comeback” might be a more appropriate 2021 slogan for the Labor Party instead.

“Eddie McGuire’s inability to let go of the illusion he’s constructed of himself does not serve the club, the code, or the community. It’s a pity his final year looks like it will be marked by yet another self-inflicted racism scandal.”

Former Collingwood defender Héritier Lumumba has slammed the AFL club’s response to an independent report into racism in the organisation.

“My economic advice is that the health advice is increasingly unsustainable, given doubts about the efficacy of forthcoming vaccines, and even illogical.”

Economics editor Adam Creighton proposes that economics should trump health advice regarding COVID-19, admitting he ignores health advice all the time.

The world is embracing climate action. Why isn’t Australia?
All over the world governments are abandoning fossil fuels like coal and gas, and embracing renewable energy, leaving Australia isolated and economically vulnerable. Today, Mike Seccombe on the new climate policies sweeping the globe and how Australia is already being left behind.


The number of gigawatts of new renewable capacity installed in Australia in 2020 – 11 per cent above the previous annual record of 6.3GW – with Australia leading the world in renewable take-up.

“The Greens have decided that rather than let Microsoft’s Bing sweep in if Google decides to exit the Australian search market, they will call for a publicly owned search engine. The move should be accompanied by strong privacy protection.”

The Greens are calling for a publicly owned search engine, with Australians able to own their own data.

The list

“The man once famous for hiding uncomfortable ‘border-protection’ truths behind the justification of ‘on-water matters’ has made secrecy a principle of executive government. When replacing the old Council of Australian Governments forum with a ‘national cabinet’ comprising essentially the same people, Morrison ensured their deliberations would no longer be accessible to the public by invoking cabinet confidentiality. In 2019 he set up the new Cabinet Office Policy Committee, which comprises only one permanent member – himself – enabling him to hold meetings protected by cabinet confidentiality, even if no other cabinet members are present. A better description for a committee with just one member would surely be ‘abuse of process’.”

“Every time Aboriginal activist Ted Wilkes drove his family past Perth’s large urban wetland Lake Monger – known as Galup to the Whadjuk Noongar people – he would tell his children about the massacre that occurred there in 1830. Wilkes, a fighter for land rights and Aboriginal medical services, would point to the riverbank dotted with paperbarks and she-oaks, the latter under which Indigenous women would give birth on a bed of its soft fallen pine needles. ‘Something bad happened there, you boys,’ he would say. ‘Always remember that Noongars were killed at that lake when the wadjelas [white people] first came here.’ Ian Wilkes, an actor and dancer, would later apply that oral history from his father to performance in a spirit of reconciliation.”

“To begin to understand why Home Affairs finally relented and allowed dozens of medevaced refugees into the community, lawyers in the refugee sector say you need to go back to a case decided in the Federal Court last September. It concerned the detention of a Syrian refugee, Mahmoud, who came to Australia as a child, and the outcome, lawyers say, was a watershed. ”

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.


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