Monday, May 10, 2021

Today by Rachel Withers

Budgets and borders
The government floods the media with pre-budget announcements

Image via ABC News

The budget countdown is on (literally), with Treasurer Josh Frydenberg continuing to unveil major spending announcements and faux inspirational videos in the hours leading up to Tuesday night’s full reveal. Spending commitments are dropping prematurely, like the leaves on the Budget Tree, with multibillion-dollar announcements on both infrastructure ($10 billion over 10 years) and aged care ($10 billion, over four), along with $1 billion to extend JobTrainer for another year and $353 million over four years for women’s health – all put forward in the past 24 hours alone. Pre-emptive criticism is growing, however, from those who are expecting to miss out and those whose flagged amounts are not considered enough. And from Labor leader Anthony Albanese trying out talking points from his budget reply, which is clearly set to focus on the government’s tendency to announce and re-announce things without delivering much of anything.

The billions now being trumpeted for infrastructure and aged care are expected to form the centrepiece of the big spending, election-vibe budget, along with its promised focus on women. The latter is definitely not a cynical ploy to win back women voters, says new Minister for Women’s Economic Security Jane Hume in an AFR puff piece (prime minister for women Marise Payne is not in the country this week, acting instead in her foreign affairs role, today discussing Australia’s “robust response” to its war crimes with Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani). Critics have already pointed out that spending in these areas doesn’t go nearly far enough. President of the Australian and New Zealand Society for Geriatric Medicine Dr John Maddison told ABC’s AM that $10 billion over four years was not enough for the system overhaul that aged care needs, noting that the royal commission had estimated a shortfall of almost $10 billion annually, as aged-care workers rallied outside Parliament House with oversized cut-outs of an eldely Scott Morrison’s head. The newly unveiled infrastructure package is full of re-announcements, according to Labor’s infrastructure spokeswoman Catherine King, who says a lot of the money is going to pre-existing projects that have overrun their budgets. Women’s workplace centres, meanwhile, are calling for the funding boost recommended in the Respect @ Work report, warning they will be forced to close or drastically reduce services without it. There is little indication such a boost is forthcoming.

Frydenberg has also used today’s budget drops to try and clear up the government’s border reopening time line, after a weekend dispute between Prime Minister Scott Morrison and The Daily Telegraph over what exactly the PM said the strategy was. The paper reported that he had said international borders would remain closed, with Australia looking to “eliminate” coronavirus. Morrison refuted the “elimination” claim on Sunday, adding that the borders will open “when it is safe to do so”. The treasurer has told Nine that the budget assumes borders will reopen some time in 2022, still far behind the original targets, while Finance Minister Simon Birmingham defended the lack of plan on Sky News, conceding that vaccinated Australians won’t be free to travel internationally before then (so much for the random promise of vaccinated, quarantine-free travel Morrison threw out less than a month ago).

In other border news, the government is currently defending its India travel ban against a challenge in the Federal Court, with lawyers for a 73-year-old Australian stranded in Bangalore arguing it is a common law right for citizens to enter Australia, that the Biosecurity Act cannot expressly override that right, and that the ban was not the “least intrusive” measure available, as required. It has been revealed that Health Minister Greg Hunt didn’t get fresh legal advice from the solicitor general, with the latest advice presented predating the ban by “many months”. But Justice Thomas Thawley – who has been a “bit prickly” to the plaintiff’s lawyer, Guardian Australia’s Paul Karp notes – has already rejected arguments that the criminal penalties were not “front and centre” in the minister’s mind when he made the announcement (noting they were in the late-night press release the government would like us to forget about). Thawley pointed out that the act does allow the health minister to infringe rights by banning Australians from leaving. He appears “likely” to uphold the validity of the travel ban, agreeing with Hunt’s counsel that it was “nonsensical” to argue that the act can’t control movements originating outside of Australia, and that to prevent travel bans such as the one at hand would open the door to questions over the validity of bans on aliens entering the country.

We may have a result on the case as soon as this afternoon, with the ban set to lift on Saturday either way. But it will no doubt be months before we have any clear answers on when that ban not in dispute – the one on us leaving the country – goes away.

“When it comes to the energy sources of the future, investing in coal power would be an expensive mistake, not just for the environment but for the economy too.”

Liberal MP Trent Zimmerman teams up with UK Conservative MP Philip Dunne to write an op-ed arguing in favour of a green recovery.

“The curriculum’s lack of attention to the history and meaning of modern Australia is not mere carelessness on the authors’ part, but a deliberate attempt to hide it from children lest they be drawn into thinking there is anything virtuous in our liberal heritage.”

Executive director of the Menzies Centre Nick Cater is perturbed by the Australian Curriculum Authority’s draft changes on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, along with its “philistine” focus on diversity, inclusion and sustainability.

Does Dutton really want war with China?
The relationship between Australia and China has already reached an all-time low, but now senior political figures are starting to talk publicly about war. Today, Hugh White on how likely a hot war with China really is, and why our government seems to be talking up the possibility.


The percentage of Australians who support making a vaccine passport compulsory for work, travel and study – more than the percentage willing to get vaccinated voluntarily, according to a new poll.

“Greens leader Adam Bandt says the party wants to amend legislation to make companies which received JobKeeper and posted a profit pay it back – in some form or the other.”

The Greens will attempt to amend the budget legislation to require profit-turning corporations to pay back their JobKeeper funds, by restricting access to GST input credits to the dollar figure of their required repayment amount.

The list

“Kate has been sneered at, smeared and patronised. Her words have been alternately ignored and used in evidence against her, in a kind of trial by media of the alleged crime’s victim. Indeed, judging by the reception of her story in the Australian press (the Murdoch press in particular), one might well draw the following grim lessons.”

“Our fear of death allows governments to remove freedoms and overspend billions protecting us from terrorism, while simultaneously exposing us to the risk of climate change. It’s easier, and politically more valuable, to prioritise a tiny number of potential high-profile deaths today over an enormous number of likely deaths in the future. Economists have a term for this phenomenon: it’s called discounting … While the morality of this is widely accepted among economists, the size of the ‘discount rate’ for future lives is hotly contested.”

“We are at a concert and, as the band plays and the crowd sings along, this almost feels normal. Almost. The 2000 people at the outdoor venue sing behind face masks and clap hands sticky with sanitiser. They are, for the most part, obeying the rules that were set out in an email and reiterated in regular announcements at the venue: ‘The use of masks is obligatory at all times. It is prohibited to get up from your seat, except to go to the toilet.’”

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Monthly Today.



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