Going it alone
NSW understands the need to keep supporting businesses – why doesn’t the federal government?
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg held a video conference this morning to make two announcements about finals – no, not the one that supposedly caused the spike in Victorian case numbers reported today, nor the one believed to be currently keeping Queensland from a snap lockdown. The treasurer’s first point was to put his own spin on the final budget outcome for 2020/21, which revealed a deficit $27 billion lower than the $161 billion forecast in May – an improvement not expected to last thanks to the lockdowns of 2021, he acknowledged. The second was to confirm, in line with yesterday’s withdrawal of income support, that federal support for businesses will cease once states have vaccinated 80 per cent of their over-16 population, with the government having struck final agreements with NSW, Victoria and the ACT for closing payments. The separate but complementary announcements raise several interrelated questions. Why, if the budget bottom line is so much better than expected, does the Commonwealth need to withdraw business and income support the very second we hit the 80 per cent mark, long before many industries are able to get back to anything resembling normal? Why, if the (supposed) drop in unemployment was the “key driver” behind the economic improvement, as Frydenberg claimed, would the Coalition do anything to jeopardise the viability of struggling businesses? In today’s NSW press conference, state treasurer Dominic Perrottet was asked about whether the federal government was ending its financial support too early. He was careful: “I thank the Commonwealth government for their support during this period.” But Perrottet’s own announcement – that the NSW government would “go it alone” in continuing to pay its share of JobSaver until November 30, well after the federal government stops paying – betrayed his opinion. It’s obvious to many, including the Liberal NSW treasurer, that the tap should not be turned off so abruptly. But, as with so many issues, the federal government is leaving it up to the states to lead.
As several critics pointed out after yesterday’s disaster payment announcement, lockdowns and restrictions are not necessarily set to end at the 80 per cent vaccinated mark, making the sudden withdrawal of income assistance both premature and dangerous. The same arguments can and will be made of the decision to so abruptly cut off business subsidies: many in areas such as hospitality are worried that density limits mean they won’t be back to normal for the foreseeable future. Though he declined to criticise the federal government for the withdrawal, Perrottet summed up the need for financial support well (as he did when fighting with his federal counterparts for the much-needed support to begin with). “We know that when we do open up at 70 per cent and 80 per cent there will be still some restrictions in place, that businesses will not be operating at full capacity,” Perrottet said. “So by maintaining the NSW government’s contribution to this program, it will allow many businesses the support they need as we move from response to recovery.” Success for NSW, he said, wasn’t about the budget position, rather it was about “keeping as many people in work and as many businesses in business during this difficult time”. It’s clear from today’s announcement that the federal Coalition’s priorities are the opposite.
It’s far from the only occasion where the federal government has left it up to the states to lead through the pandemic: we have seen the same dynamic repeated on vaccines, quarantine, support payments and contact tracing. The vaccination rollout didn’t pick up, famously, until states insisted on getting involved (if only they had been in charge of procurement) and, as Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews lamented today, it’s still not often clear who is actually leading the process at the federal level. The federal government’s COVIDSafe app, 7.30 has just confirmed, hasn’t uncovered any close contacts during the current outbreaks, despite state teams having tracked down tens of thousands of cases. As former Labor leader Bill Shorten notes, the government has even shirked its responsibility on proof-of-vaccination apps, with the Commonwealth failing to create one national app to prove status. (Australians will need to download up to eight different state and territory apps to get around the country.) “Once more the heavy lifting is handballed to the states,” Shorten said.
It’s not just on the pandemic either. The NSW Coalition has this week put its federal counterpart to shame by announcing an ambitious 2030 emissions-reduction target, gaining enthusiastic agreement from the state Nationals. The PM, by comparison, struggles to even broach the lacklustre target of net-zero emissions by 2050 with the federal Nationals. The NSW commitment has put extra pressure on Scott Morrison to lift his goals, Guardian Australia reports, with states’ combined pledges now able to deliver at least a 34 per cent cut in emissions by 2030.
Unfortunately for us, success for the federal government (to paraphrase Perrottet) is only about the budget position – and its junior Coalition partner still fails to grasp that climate action will be the best thing for the bottom line.
The outgoing head of the government’s energy advisory body, Kerry Schott, urges the Coalition to increase its 2030 emissions-reduction target, noting that more ambitious policies would lower prices and bolster the economy.
Former PM Tony Abbott defends those who stormed Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance last week, arguing that the protesters – some of whom urinated on the Shrine – weren’t being “destructive”.
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Treasurer Josh Frydenberg held a video conference this morning to make two announcements about finals – no, not the one that supposedly caused the spike in Victorian case numbers reported today, nor the one believed to be currently keeping Queensland from a snap lockdown. The treasurer’s first point was to put his own spin on the final budget outcome for 2020/21, which revealed a deficit $27 billion lower than the $161 billion forecast in May – an improvement...
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