Volume 73 – number 23 – political news

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The Week in Politics

Canberra, Australia – 23 July 2020: Treasurer Josh Frydenberg during a presentation that he gave as part of the Economic and Fiscal update in the Main Committee Room at Parliament House. Photo by Rob Keating (https://photos.keatingmedia.com.au)

This week Labor finally got what they wanted from the Government in terms of further details regarding JobKeeper and JobSeeker. The Government had consistently said they would provide an update this week when the Treasurer provided the Economic and Fiscal update. Prime Minister Scott Morrison got the jump on that when announcing the plan from October through to March at a press conference on Tuesday.

One of the major announcements came on Tuesday when Prime Minister Scott Morrison entered the Prime Minister’s courtyard alone. This was due to the special COVID-19 protocols that Treasurer Josh Frydenberg was required to follow after receiving a travel exemption to visit Canberra from Melbourne. The Treasure after removing a mask entered the courtyard after a short delay.

The Prime Minister and Treasurer announced that JobKeeper and JobSeeker would be extended through to March 2021. Before getting to that announcement the Prime Minister briefly updated the media about the COVID-19 fight in Victoria. He said, “I can confirm that I have spoken with Commodore Hill overnight and Lieutenant General Frewen again this morning, the ADF resources are in place in Victoria now, working closely with the Victorian government, making some real ground in terms of the arrangements they are putting in place, I intend to speak to the Premier later today, and have been in regular contact as you would expect, but today, it is to address the other significant element of the crisis and the challenge that our nation faces. We have always been addressing this crisis as a dual headed one. The health crisis and the economic crisis. The COVID-19 recession that it has become, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic, and our national response to both of these challenges.”

JobKeeper press conference

The details that everyone wanted to hear were about the extension of the support programs. 

The JobKeeper Payment will be extended by six months to 28 March 2021 and the temporary Coronavirus Supplement for those on income support will be extended until 31 December 2020.

Canberra, Australia – 23 July 2020: Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers during a press conference in the Labor Caucus Room at Parliament House. Photo by Rob Keating (https://photos.keatingmedia.com.au)

At a doorstop interview that followed Labor’s Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers said, “Labor is inclined to support what the Government has announced when it comes to JobKeeper. We will work through the detail of what’s being proposed. When we see the legislation, if there are improvements that can be made, we will seek to make those improvements. We’ve been responsible and constructive throughout this recession, and we will continue to be so. We will continue to put people and their jobs before politics. We will continue to point out where the Government can do a better job with what they’re proposing to do to deal with this first recession in three decades.”

Also on Wednesday the Treasurer when speaking to Karl Stefanovic took an opportunity to prepare people for the shocking numbers that would appear in his Economic and Fiscal update the next day. 

The Treasurer said, “You are going to see eye watering numbers around debt and deficit. Numbers that Australians have never, ever seen before. That’s the harsh reality of this pandemic. The coronavirus has required the Government to spend unprecedented amounts of money to support people in need.”

Economic and Fiscal Update

Canberra, Australia – 23 July 2020: Treasurer Josh Frydenberg with Finance Minister Mathias Cormann as they provide the Economic and Fiscal update in the Main Committee Room in Parliament House. Photo by Rob Keating (https://photos.keatingmedia.com.au)

On the big day the Treasurer was joined by Finance Minister Mathias Cormann as he let the Australian people know that real cost of protecting lives and livelihoods as a result of the coronavirus. 

The Treasurer said, “As a consequence of lower receipts and higher payments the deficit is estimated to be $85.8 billion or 4.3 per cent of GDP in 2019/20 and $184.5 billion or 9.7 per cent of GDP in 2020/21. 

Finance Minister Cormann said, “So yes, we find ourselves in a very challenging fiscal position, but we need to keep things in perspective. We are in a better, stronger, more resilient position than most other countries around the world.” 

Senator Cormann later asked the media what was the alternative. “You asked about the levels of debt as a result of where we are here today. I ask you, what is the alternative? Are you suggesting that we should not have provided the support we did to boost our health system, to protect jobs, to protect livelihoods? I mean, in the circumstances what was the alternative?”

The Shadow Treasurer responded by saying, “These are dark days and confronting numbers in the budget update today. The defining features of what has been released today are the deepest downturn on record and high and rising unemployment. We now know the Government expects 240,000 Australians to lose their job between now and Christmas. Australians already knew that things were grim when it came to jobs in the economy, but what they desperately wanted to hear today from the Government was a plan with how to deal with that unemployment. Australians who are looking to the Government for a plan to deal with this jobs crisis in this recession and a plan to create new jobs in the recovery would have been deeply disappointed by the Government’s failures to present that plan today.”

Chalmers also said, “What we got today wasn’t a plan, it wasn’t even half an update. It wasn’t a plan, it was a pamphlet.”

The Treasurer and Finance Minister did release a 184 page update document which can be viewed at https://budget.gov.au/2020-efu/downloads/JEFU2020.pdf

The National Cabinet again met on Friday and the Prime Minister was joined by the Acting Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly to provide an update.

At the time of the press conference the Prime Minister announced There have been over 13,000 confirmed cases in Australia and sadly 139 people have died.

National Cabinet recommitted to the suppression strategy to address COVID-19. The goal remains suppression of COVID-19 until a point in time a vaccine or effective treatments are available, with the goal of no local community transmission.

The National Cabinet agreed to move to single-touch environmental approvals underpinned by national environmental standards for Commonwealth environmental matters.

The Prime Minister kept his press conference to just over 30 minutes to allow the media’s attention to focus on the Treasurer’s National Press Club Address.

Early in the Treasurer’s speech he said, “Ladies and Gentlemen, we are just over half way through 2020 and it has already been a devastating year.

From the drought to the fires and now COVID-19.

Lives have been lost.

Businesses have closed.

Family dreams shattered.

It’s not right, it’s not fair, but it is our harsh reality.

Decent, hard-working Australians from all walks of life, through no fault of their own, are paying a heavy price.

Despite the darkness, we have seen once again the remarkable spirit and strength of the Australian character.

In his conclusion the Treasurer said, “This is a difficult time for Australians. It will test many of us like we have never been tested before.”

No one should underestimate the size of the mountain we have to climb.

But we can be confident that as a nation we have the ability to manage these challenges and the plan to do it.

Underpinning the recovery has been a strong spirit of collaboration across the country.

From the Commonwealth and the States and Territories through the new National Cabinet.

From our big cities to our small towns.

From business to the unions and the banks. 

Australians have come together to tackle this crisis.

If we continue to work together in the spirit of cooperation that we have shown in our response to date, we will emerge stronger.

There is hope for the future.”

The Leader of the Opposition gave his opinion on the Economic and Fiscal update when he held a doorstop interview on Friday afternoon. He opened by saying, “Yesterday was a lost opportunity from the Federal Government. A lost opportunity to explain to those 240,000 Australians who the Government says will lose their job between now and Christmas that the Government has a plan to actually create employment…”

JobKeeper and Income Support Details

On Tuesday the Prime Minister and Treasurer announced the long awaited details for JobKeeper and other support payment beyond the first stage which ends on September 27. Below are details for the JobKeeper scheme until March 2021.

The payment rate of $1,500 per fortnight for eligible employees and business participants will be reduced to $1,200 per fortnight from 28 September 2020 and to $1,000 per fortnight from 4 January 2021. From 28 September 2020, lower payment rates will apply for employees and business participants that worked fewer than 20 hours per week…

The Nationals claim credit for helping cattle industry

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud
Photo by Rob Keating – https://photos.keatingmedia.com.au

Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management David Littleproud has said the decision of the Attorney-General not to appeal against the Federal Court of Australia’s decision in Brett Cattle Company Pty Ltd v Minister for Agriculture  was a strong vindication for Northern Australia’s cattle producers…

Northern Territory enters the space race

The NT and Federal government are teaming up to take advantage of the territories location to expand the Top End’s space sector,

Federal Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Karen Andrews said the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Northern Territory Government and the Australian Space Agency came at an opportune time…

From the Archives

The following content is from Inside Canberra Volume 48, No 28 published on July 28, 1995.

Keating Lectures

When Paul Keating was Treasurer he arranged for a special briefing on basic economics for his mate John Laws, host of Australia’s biggest talk-back radio show at the Reserve Bank headquarters in Sydney. Mr Keating said at the time:- “Who needs the Press Gallery when you have got John laws “. 

Well maybe after his Wednesday appearance on the Laws show Mr Keating might decide the radio whiz needs another course in economics or he might go back to the Press Gallery. At least the gallery know what he is talking about. Mr Laws and his callers on Wednesday showed a deplorable red necked degree of economic illiteracy which plainly had the PM boiling. Hence the Pryor cartoon in the Canberra Times on Thursday showing Mr Keating in the Sun King garb saying into the microphone “Have you ever asked yourself John how 95% of your listeners can be wrong 100% of the time”. Which is funny – but most members of the Caucus are not laughing. The day after Wayne Goss scrapped home by a handful of votes and everyone was saying how all in the Labor Party – State and Federal – had to listen to the electors. Mr Keating was not listening, he was lecturing. He simply cannot understand how the dopey bastards can’t see we have got a terrific economy and they should be thanking the Government, not criticising it. If Mr Keating keeps this tack up he is for the high jump. And perhaps the only person left in the whole world who can tell him this is Kim Beazley.

Howard needs “Honest John”

Can John Howard win the next election if he is no longer widely regarded as “Honest John”? Mr Howard appears to be going the right way about finding out. His appearance before the Senate Select Committee on Airport Noise on Tuesday reeked of hypocrisy and opportunism. Rightly pulled up by Labor’s Senator Michael Forshaw for comments in 1990 that complaints about aircraft noise under the east-west runway were “grossly exaggerated”, Mr Howard asked to forget about what he then said. This, he says, is because the noise now generated was much greater than expected. He was also reminded that in 1989 the Leader of the National Party, Tim Fischer and the then Opposition spokesman on Aviation, Charles Blunt, urged speedier construction of the third runway to end the dangerous use of the east-west cross runway.

Runway politics and lives

Committing himself to opening the east-west runway should he come to power Mr Howard said:- “I am unconvinced there are any strong safety arguments and it is purely political bloody mindedness by the Government not to do so”. Perhaps he is right. After all cross runways are used all over the world and in fact San Francisco have two sets of parallel runways operating. But if Mr Howard comes to power and orders the opening of the east-west runway against the safety advice of his experts he better start praying for the good health of the air traffic controllers. Should there be a major disaster at the intersection of the east west and the parallel runways, he would have no alternative but to resign.

Business council wants a brawl

Incidentally the reaction of the Business Council to the BIE report was much more robust. Mr Glen Dudley, chairman of the Council’s Transport Task Force, said in part “I am therefore calling on the Government to act to immediately reduced leave and on-costs in the coastal shipping industry…”. What is Mr Dudley on about? The Australian Constitution does not allow Government to arbitrarily set pay and conditions for workers. This is done under the IR system by way of award changes or enterprise bargaining. Certainly The ASA statement did not call for such arbitrary action. Mr Dudley went further saying that if users are to benefit from coastal shipping changes then greater competition may also be necessary. “The removal of cabotage is an obvious starting point…” he said. One wonders what BHP thinks of Business Council reaction. BHP being the largest ship owner and user on the coast and the largest member of both the Council and the ASA. Certainly BHP and the ASA are not in favour of the removal of cabotage.

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