Thursday, April 29, 2021

Today by Rachel Withers

Hey, big spender
The government goes big, and saves small for later

Image of Treasurer Josh Frydenberg delivering a pre-budget speech.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg delivering a pre-budget speech. Image via YouTube

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has addressed reporters ahead of the coming budget, confirming that the government will not be turning to “budget repair” for at least another year, focusing instead on job creation in what may end up looking more like a Labor budget than a Coalition one. “We will not move to the second phase of our fiscal strategy until we are confident that we have secured our economic recovery,” he said, calling it “prudent” and the “fiscally responsible course of action”, repeatedly justifying the government’s decision not to go full austerity (while reminding journalists that “the Morrison government’s core values” – of small government and budget discipline – “have not changed”). In his response, shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers attempted to attack the very un-Liberal budget, but was forced to attack only future, hypothetical cuts. “All this speech does is push budget nasties from this side of the election to the other side of the election,” he said, while scoffing at Frydenberg’s belated realisation that austerity is not helpful, and that unemployment needed to be lower. “Welcome to reality,” he said. Welcome, he might have liked to say, to the Labor Party.

Frydenberg was keen to strike a balance between optimism and pessimism, raving about how well the economy was doing while acknowledging that it was not quite doing well enough to start addressing the massive deficit. He claimed that unemployment levels were way below expectations, while admitting they were not low enough for the government to enter the “debt-lowering” phase of its recovery. (Never mind the Coalition’s earlier single-minded obsession with decreasing debt at any cost.) Chalmers wasn’t having a bar of the treasurer’s attempt at positive spin, noting that recovery would be going much better were it not for the bungled vaccine rollout, or for the billions of dollars wasted on JobKeeper payments that went to companies that didn’t need them. Frydenberg’s “about-face”, meanwhile, was evidence that he’d got the budget strategy wrong in the first place, Chalmers argued.

The government appears to be showing some much welcome caution when it comes to Australia’s economic recovery, but many are now arguing it has shown too much caution in banning flights from India, with growing questions over why the decision was made. Guardian Australia analysis has revealed India currently has fewer coronavirus cases per capita than either the United States or the United Kingdom at the height of their outbreaks, suggesting Tuesday’s flight ban may have been based on racism, as many have suspected all along. Analysis shows that UK and US returnees were responsible for an even greater share of the cases in Australia at the height of their outbreaks, contradicting claims that flights from India were paused over fears the cases would overwhelm the quarantine system. Experts have urged the government to resume flights, “to ensure there is no misconception the ban is in any way racist”, while former Labor leader Bill Shorten has broken ranks with his party (which backed the ban), saying Australia has an obligation to repatriate its citizens. Prime Minister Scott Morrison, however, shows no signs of resuming flights sooner than scheduled. Speaking to Darwin commercial radio this morning, the PM said he would like to see those repatriation flights start again “after that 15 May period”. “Obviously we’ve got to take the medical advice,” he added.

Such caution, and yet. The federal government, spooked as it is by the prospect of India returnees in our hotel quarantine, is still refusing to countenance the alternative solution that has been put to it for months by both premiers and experts: moving quarantine out of city hotels. Western Australia Premier Mark McGowan has today renewed pressure on the federal government to hand over access to its purpose-built facilities, telling the ABC that while his government is reviewing potential options across the suburbs of Perth and in regional areas to convert, the answer is “staring us in the face”. Victoria has taken matters into its own hands, announcing an alternative site at a pet quarantine facility 40 kilometres north of Melbourne. The move is designed to force the PM’s hand, with Victoria arranging the design while demanding the Commonwealth fund construction, since quarantine is a federal responsibility.

The $200 million proposal will be discussed at Friday’s national cabinet, though it seems unlikely that the federal government ­– which doesn’t even want to grant access to its existing facilities – will be into it. Then again, $200 million isn’t much for a government that is apparently now comfortably rolling over its $1 trillion debt.

“No other country in the world – not Taiwan, Japan or South Korea – are talking about the likelihood of war on a day-to-day basis.”

Natasha Kassam, the Lowy Institute’s director of foreign policy, says the government’s “drums of war” rhetoric is creating unnecessary hysteria about the possibility of a military confrontation with China.

“We believe in equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome – it’s the simplest way for me to explain why I will always be opposed to quotas.”

Outgoing Boothby MP Nicolle Flint stands with a group of senior Liberal women as the “last line of defence” against quotas to get more women in parliament.

The Murdoch plan to save Fox
Rupert Murdoch’s media empire is one of the most powerful corporate influences right around the world, but in recent years it’s been through radical changes. Now it looks like Rupert is starting to hand power over to his son Lachlan. Today, Paddy Manning on Lachlan Murdoch’s ambitious plans.


The number of rental properties in Australia considered “affordable” (taking up no more than 30 per cent of a person’s household budget) for a single person living on JobKeeper.

“Women pushed out of paid work to care for children, ageing parents and disabled family members should be given taxpayer-funded superannuation payments to close the gender retirement gap, according to analysts suggesting a raft of changes for the federal budget.”

Actuaries are pushing for unpaid carers, who “provide care the government would otherwise have to pay for”, to receive the 9.5 per cent super guarantee.

The list

“If we are what we eat, what our food has eaten in turn matters. Yet it’s easier to find out what you’re feeding your dog than what you’re feeding yourself when you eat Tasmanian salmon. Should you search the murky filth of a salmon pen to discover what constitutes the millions of feed pellets that drift down, you would quickly find yourself enveloped in a growing darkness. A veil of secrecy, green-washed and flesh-pink-rosetted, was long ago drawn over the methods and practices of the Tasmanian salmon industry, from its inexplicable influence over government processes to its grotesque environmental impacts. But the biggest secret of all is what the industry feeds its salmon.”

“In both George Bush’s America and John Howard’s Australia, we see the political orchestration of various forms of organised Christianity in support of the conservative incumbency. In the US, the book God’s Politics, by Reverend Jim Wallis, has dragged this phenomenon out of the shadows (where it is so effectively manipulated by the pollsters and spin-doctors) and into the searching light of proper public debate. US Catholic, Evangelical and Pentecostal Christians are now engaged in a national discussion on the role of the religious Right. The same debate must now occur here in Australia.”

“Australia faces a reality where porn has become young people’s choice for sex education – not because it’s a good educator, but because it’s better than what else is on offer. The federal government’s new consent education campaign is exemplary of why this is the case … The campaign is, at best, bizarre, heteronormative and ill informed. At worst it is alienating, infantilising and risks disseminating harmful messaging about sexual violence.”

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Monthly Today.



The Monthly Today

Image of Lieutenant General John Frewen. Image via ABC News Breakfast

The back of the back of the queue

Young people have waited patiently through the government’s slow rollout, but it’s now killing them

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison in Question Time today. Image via ABC News

Carrot vs pork

The government that loves buying Australians’ votes is deadset against paying them to get vaccinated

Composite image of NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Queensland Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young. Images via ABC News / YouTube

Getting to 80

We now have vaccination targets, but there’s no consensus over what must be done to reach them

27 reasons to wonder

Another “win” for Porter in the case that he desperately didn’t want made public

From the front page

Image of Suzanne Ciani

Tip of the pops: ‘This Is Pop’ and ‘Song Exploder’

Two Netflix documentary series only manage to skim the surface of pop music history

Image of Lieutenant General John Frewen. Image via ABC News Breakfast

The back of the back of the queue

Young people have waited patiently through the government’s slow rollout, but it’s now killing them

Image of Scott Morrison holding a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine. Image via Facebook

Vaccine resistance

Despite historically high vaccination rates, Australia has developed a significant anti-vax movement in the middle of a global pandemic

Illustration by Jeff Fisher

Racing against time

The I-Kiribati Olympic sprinter hoping to draw attention to his nation’s climate catastrophe