The Politics    Wednesday, July 14, 2021

The petty and the petulant

By Rachel Withers

Image of Treasurer Josh Frydenberg

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg. Image via News Breakfast

Is the Victorian government being “petulant” here, or is it right to gripe about double standards?

The war of words over the increased Commonwealth income support for the NSW lockdown has heated up. Last night, the Victorian Labor government slammed the federal Coalition over its actions, labelling its position a “disgrace” and a “double standard”, while acknowledging it was good that NSW was getting the help it needed. The federal Opposition, meanwhile, said it was “petty politics” from the Coalition, with shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers telling RN Breakfast that Victorians had “every right to be filthy”. But the federal government has fired back just as hard: Treasurer Josh Frydenberg accused the Victorian government of being “petulant” and “whingeing”, while Prime Minister Scott Morrison dismissed questions about double standards as “nonsense”, reeling off a series of deceptive numbers about how much help Victoria had received previously. Morrison’s dismissal of a double standard that, frankly, everyone can see (including Sydneysiders) is insulting. But the federal condemnation of the Victorian criticism as “petulant” may be warranted. Is now really the time for bitterness from a disgruntled state government, or should we all just be happy that the federal government has finally been forced to set a decent precedent for Australians who need financial help during lockdowns? 

Let’s be clear: these are absolutely double standards favouring NSW, as much as the Morrison government brazenly claims they aren’t. Even as he was first announcing changes to the COVID-19 Disaster Payment eligibility last Thursday, the PM was already pushing back against the idea that the rules were changing for Sydney, noting that the eased eligibility would only kick in from the third week (which Victoria’s recent lockdown never reached). But while the help the states have received is technically equal, no one is under any illusions that it would have increased for Victoria had its lockdown gone on, after the state government begged for the help, only to have it granted under strict, limiting conditions. And yet the federal government’s insulting “equal treatment” line has continued throughout its subsequent changes to the support offered, even as the double standard grows more stark. Government Services Minister Linda Reynolds yesterday ran with the line that the circumstances were different for Sydney, leaning heavily on the word “evolve”. Frydenberg told 7.30 last night that the “facts” were clearly on the Coalition’s side (they’re not), while both he and the prime minister today started pointing to the amount of JobKeeper that Victoria received last year, even though the hypocrisy claim is about this year’s lockdowns. (Even the Andrews government’s chief critic called that one out, since NSW received far more JobKeeper per capita per day in lockdown.) It would almost be better if the federal government would just admit that it made a mistake in not offering states more assistance, rather than shamelessly lying about it.

But even accepting that there are double standards at play, is it appropriate for the Victorian government to bring this up now, even with the repeated addendum that it is happy to see NSW getting the required help? The federal government would certainly have us think not, knowing its only defence to such criticism is to attack. The federal treasurer has accused his home state of politicising the current crisis, of being “petulant, childish and playing politics” (a favourite tactic of the Coalition when its policies are challenged, and one that involves a heavy dose of politics in itself). Victoria’s outcry does, in some ways, come across as whingeing, considering that NSW is currently facing a very serious lockdown. The Andrews government has repeatedly stressed that it is a “good thing” that NSW is getting support, which will help the state lock down and protect the nation, and that the support will now be in place for other states should they go through something similar. So why not just be quiet and accept it?

The state government certainly is playing politics with the situation, keen to take this opportunity to point out to Victorians that the federal government doesn’t care about them as much as it cares about citizens of NSW. But it’s not clear the Morrison government has introduced these changes because it cares about NSW more, or because the NSW government is of the same political persuasion. This increased support really is needed, and quite urgently, because the federal government’s stubbornness, along with the NSW government’s hubris, has plunged Australia’s largest city into a lockdown with no end in sight. The Commonwealth’s desperate ploy to disincentivise lockdowns has finally backfired, and it now owes the people who will suffer longer because of it an even larger amount of help, to get us all out of danger. Yes, this help should have been available to Victoria, and sooner, and the double standard is infuriating and insulting. But it’s not that the federal government doesn’t care about Victoria. It’s that it doesn’t care about anyone at all.

Listen to The Politics Podcast, with Rachel Withers


“This must be our goal not because of personal ambition, politics or ideology, but because we know this is where we’re headed.”

Daniel Westerman, the new chief executive of Australia’s energy market operator, will use his first public address to push for a clean energy revolution, arguing that Australia can be ready to power its grid with 100 per cent renewables by 2025.

“We the undersigned, humbly petition you to continue serving our nation this way for as long as your constituents shall wisely choose to re-elect you.”

A petition on the alt-right website “the good sauce” calls for maverick LNP MP George Christensen to rethink his retirement decision, as Barnaby Joyce backers fight to keep Christensen in the party room.

The case that could help close the gender pay gap
It’s been more than 50 years since equal pay for equal work became law in Australia, but in recent years efforts to better value women’s work and increase wages have stalled. Now, a new case being brought to the Fair Work Commission by a group of aged-care workers could change that.

5%

The amount by which NSW treasurer Dominic Perrottet reportedly suggested docking the pay of the state’s chief health officer, Kerry Chant, if the lockdown of Sydney’s Northern Beaches outbreak proved unnecessary.

AFR

“The new study suggests Australians now have ‘a surprisingly high level of support for wealth transfer taxation’.”

An academic paper finds that most Australians are not as opposed as previously assumed to wealth transfer taxation. This could provide “a green light for politicians to revive inheritance taxes as a potential salve for looming budget deficits”. So much for 2019’s “death tax” scare campaign.

The list
 

“In April this year a media storm erupted over the smallest of things: an urban dance troupe gyrating on a wharf in front of the grey hull of a warship. An ABC News story about the incident showed silver-haired admirals looking on in apparent disapproval beneath a nearby marquee. Only they weren’t. Sloppy editing had created a misleading impression of what had actually happened earlier in the day. The context was the commissioning of a new naval vessel at Garden Island in Sydney. Amid the confected outrage, the name of the ship was easy to miss. It was HMAS Supply, and its entry into naval service is a more interesting story than the one about the dancers and the admirals.”

“At his opening press conference, [director Thierry] Frémaux was bullish. ‘Give me the name of a young filmmaker discovered by Netflix!’ he dared the reporters, still smarting over the ongoing war with the streamer, a spat that had cost him Jane Campion’s new feature … Other festivals, Frémaux sniffed, ‘open their doors a bit too widely, perhaps, to people who we’re not sure about’. Petty sniping aside, what we found on the Côte d’Azur was a strange, almost dream-like thing, a festival at once familiar and, somehow, subtly not.”

“Since the Coalition took office, Australia has become world renowned for its ever-expanding ability to surveil citizens. The country made international headlines in 2018 when the government passed encryption-busting laws, and it’s making headlines again as the government demands an expanded mandate to intercept and monitor communications. But while these laws are often sold as being about safety, that’s not really true. They are about government control and a show of power, both domestic and international.”

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.

@rachelrwithers

The Politics

Image of Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Images

Making his Mark

The dropping of Bernard Collaery’s prosecution is one of the simplest yet most meaningful actions this government has taken

Image of former energy minister Angus Taylor, February 17, 2022. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Images

Fools’ equivalence

The Coalition’s criticism of Albanese’s official travel is a sign of just how galling this Opposition is going to be

Image of former defence minister Linda Reynolds during Question Time in the Senate, June 17, 2021. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Images

Women’s Lib(eral Party)

Linda Reynolds’ newfound enthusiasm for quotas ignores the many reasons women are turning away from her party

Image of Minister for Emergency Management Murray Watt in Brisbane, June 8, 2022. Image © Jono Searle / AAP Images

In deep water

As climate-fuelled flooding hits Australia again, the Greens are being urged to fall into line on an insufficient 2030 target


From the front page

Image of Fonofono o le nuanua: Patches of the rainbow (After Gauguin), 2020. Image courtesy of Yuki Kihara and Milford Galleries, Aotearoa New Zealand

The dream machine: The 59th Venice Biennale

Curator Cecilia Alemani’s long overdue Biennale overwhelmingly features female artists and champions indigenous voices and other minorities

Photo of the hands of an elderly woman. Image © Yui Mok/PA Wire

Age is just a number

The slow decline of Australia’s aged-care system into a bureaucratic nightmare

Illustration by Jeff Fisher

What the oil and gas industry tells itself

A week after the devastating floods, the fossil-fuel industry described the scarcity of new projects today as “frightening”

Image of Anthony Albanese

How to be a prime minister

The task ahead for Anthony Albanese in restoring the idea that governments should seek to make the country better