Politics with Michelle Grattan
a budget for a pandemic

a budget for a pandemic

October 8, 2020

With the budget’s expected eye-watering debt and deficit numbers, the question remains whether the huge spending will be enough to fight the coronavirus slump.

Minister for Finance Mathias Cormann and Shadow Minister Katy Gallagher joined the podcast to discuss the budget’s entrails.

The government has faced criticism for benchmarking the much vaunted tax cuts against 2017-18, making them appear larger. Cormann said 2017-18 is the appropriate benchmark, and wouldn’t be drawn on giving further detail.

“The costing has been done on the basis that we’ve published it.”

Gallagher declared the budget expressed Scott Morrison’s choice to leave some people without support.

In particular, the decision to leave those on JobSeeker hanging was described by Gallagher as “frankly, just plain mean.”

Chris Richardson on what Tuesday’s budget will and should do

Chris Richardson on what Tuesday’s budget will and should do

September 30, 2020

On Tuesday, the 2020 budget will be brought down. It will show a huge deficit for this financial year and massive government spending, aimed at promoting economic recovery and reducing unemployment. In the wake of COVID, the Coalition’s usual preoccupation with “debt and deficit” has become very yesterday.

On this week’s Politics podcast, we speaks with Chris Richardson, partner at Deloitte Access Economics. Deloitte’s Economics Budget Monitor, released this week, favoured bringing forward the tax cuts as one measure to stimulate the economy and expected the deficit to be holding up better than earlier thought.

Like economists in a recent survey  Richardson says the budget should prioritise a permanent boost to JobSeeker and fund more social housing:

“The least noticed thing about this crisis is how geographically specific it is,” he says.

“The job losses in Australia have been far and away the biggest where unemployment rates, suburb by suburb, town by town, out in the bush, were already the highest. … The areas that were struggling are now struggling a lot more. The areas that weren’t struggling haven’t been that hard hit.”

“And one real advantage of boosting unemployment benefits. It’s probably the single most targeted regional spend you can do in Australia at a time when that is needed most.”

And on social housing: “Think of what this virus has done all around the world. It’s found the weakest link in every nation.

"It’s travelled through the political system, the political divide in the US, it’s travelled through the migrant workers, construction workers in Singapore.

"In Australia, it showed up or could have shown up through our very low unemployment benefit… And social housing. You saw those towers locked down, as the virus got away on us in Melbourne. And again, both social housing and unemployment benefits. That’s money that would be spent. It makes it good stimulus.”

New Zealand’s Helen Clark on the pandemic inquiry and avoiding election ‘cat fights

New Zealand’s Helen Clark on the pandemic inquiry and avoiding election ‘cat fights

September 24, 2020

On October 17, New Zealanders will head to the polls to vote in a general election and also on referendum questions for the legalisation of cannabis and euthansia.

In a head-to-head between two women, Labour’s Jacinda Ardern appears to be heading to a comfortable win against National Judith Collins, who only recently became her party’s leader.

This week NZ’s three term ex-PM Helen Clark joins the podcast to discuss the World Health Organisation’s investigation into COVID preparedness and response, and the New Zealand political scene.

Clark is a significant global player, a strong voice on the issues of climate change, gender equality, and women’s leadership, through her work with prominent bodies in the United Nations.

Most recently, Clark was appointed co-chair of the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, which will present a report on how to effectively address health threats as they develop.

In NZ, an election in the wake of a pandemic creates a unique range of issues for voters. Ardern hasn’t committed to opening the New Zealand border, while the National party believes the border must be opened for economic reasons, but under stringent conditions. Clark is doubtful the border should be opened soon, or will be.

“I don’t think the border could be open for Christmas.

"And I’m in the school of thought that says a vaccine as a silver bullet isn’t going to give us sufficient protection any time soon. The most optimistic forecasts … [are for] later next year.

"Others – which might be more realistic – are saying later on 2022. Others are saying for years.”

Will there be a trans Tasman bubble? “At the moment, we don’t see that either.

"If Australia had firm borders at its state level, we could have had bubbles with New Zealand and Australian states. But that’s not the way the Australians have dealt with it. And that, of course, is absolutely their prerogative.”

With the first election debate taking place this week, Clark looks back to the election when she ran against a female leader.

“I recall that 1999 election when I went head-to-head with then prime minister Jenny Shipley. And to use a ghastly phrase, in a way there’s nothing that a lot of observers would like more than to see the two of you descend into some kind of ‘cat fight’

"Watching Jacinda Ardern and Judith Collins last night, I think it’s also fair to say that they kept it well above that level. They are so different in style. They’re a generation apart. Jacinda, 40. Judith, 61. Very different style. But they didn’t descend into pettiness of the kind that you can see in such debates. So I think the women leaders feel a real onus not to get down into the gutter.”

Politics with Michelle Grattan: Angus Taylor on the ‘gas-fired’ recovery

Politics with Michelle Grattan: Angus Taylor on the ‘gas-fired’ recovery

September 16, 2020

The Coalition is having yet another go at crafting an energy policy. Faced with the huge economic challenges presented by COVID, the government this week announced its "gas-fired recovery".

But the policy is already under fire from both environmentalists and coal advocates, and the energy sector warns it could discourage investors. 

Part of the announcement was a threat – the government will build a gas generator in the Hunter Valley if the private sector fails to fill the gap in power supply that will be created by the closure of the Liddell coal-fired power plant. 

This dramatic form of intervention would seem very much against the Liberal grain.

But Energy Minister Angus Taylor says: "Our focus is on good competitive markets. That's a Liberal Party philosophy. 

"Our belief is in the importance of affordable, reliable energy - we want the private sector to deliver it. That's their obligation to their customers, we believe. But if they don't, we will step in."

Despite the focus on gas,  Taylor said renewables would play their role in the future. "I've always been enormously enthusiastic about renewables, but I also see that what we need is a mix. 

"And when people talk about a single technology as the answer to all our problems, I am sceptical.

"I'm not sceptical of balance and having a range of different technologies...a balance that includes hydro, solar and wind, gas, coal, batteries starting to play a role, particularly over the very short term, to help support, secure, the market."

Jodie McVernon on Melbourne’s modelling, a Covid vaccine, and the role of experts in a crisis

Jodie McVernon on Melbourne’s modelling, a Covid vaccine, and the role of experts in a crisis

September 9, 2020

In light of Victoria’s cautious roadmap out of lockdown, with some experts claiming the exit is too fast, and others believing it is unnecessarily slow, the modelling underpinning the decisions is under close scrutiny.

University of Melbourne Professor Jodie McVernon is director of epidemiology at the Doherty Institute, and a modelling expert.

She tells the podcast, “I think the broad qualitative conclusions of the model would have been reached by really any kind of model formulation - that the lower numbers can be driven down, the less likely a resurgence would be”.

This week saw a pause in the progress towards a hoped-for Oxford vaccine, when a clinical trial produced an unexplained illness in one participants.


But McVernon remains optimistic. “I think we will get vaccines. I don’t think we’ll get perfect ones, but I’m hoping we’ll get useful ones – because without vaccines, we only have behaviour to prevent this disease. … So I think [a vaccine will] be one of a suite of things that we’ll be using into the future to control the spread of Covid.”

The pandemic has seen ‘experts’, including public health officials and academics, come centre stage as public figures – as policy heroes but, latterly, also targets for some critics who think their voices are carrying too much influence.

“I would have to say I’m a very reluctantly public figure,” McVernon says.

“[I] was convinced by others early on that it is important …in these times of uncertainty that people are reassured by having the evidence explained.

"If we we do have expert knowledge and we can help to clarify things for the public - I think that’s an important responsibility. Part of having knowledge is sharing that knowledge.”

Chris Bowen on the recession, aged care and priorities for health policy

Chris Bowen on the recession, aged care and priorities for health policy

September 3, 2020

Had the 2019 election panned out differently, Chris Bowen would have been the treasurer coping with Australia's current economic crisis.

Instead, as shadow health minister, he has been critical of aspects of the government's handling of the health issues, especially its failure to act earlier and more comprehensively to secure access to potential vaccines.

With Labor homing in on aged care, which has seen the deaths of hundred of residents, Bowen in this podcast questionsd the performance of the regulator, the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission. 

"I was frankly shocked by a number of things.

"I was shocked by the fact the regulator was informed by St Basil's, [that] they had a positive case – and on the face of it, did nothing. I've seen no evidence that they actually did anything about it. Their defence is it was somebody else's job - we had no role to play.

"I just don't think that cuts the mustard for a regulator. 

"I was surprised to learn that no-notice or very short notice inspections had [ by the regulator] ceased during the pandemic. 

"I think these are problematic decisions which the regulator is accountable for, and I do have deep concerns about [them].

"And as a parliamentarian, I am expressing the view that there have been shortcomings [by the regulator] and I've yet to see an adequate explanation for those."

Former Greens leader Richard Di Natale on COVID, climate and his successor

Former Greens leader Richard Di Natale on COVID, climate and his successor

August 27, 2020

In February, then Greens’ leader Richard Di Natale stepped down from the leadership after five years and announced he’d leave parliament to spend for more time with his family. On Tuesday, he delivered his valedictory speech to the senate – remotely – and on Wednesday, he formally resigned.

In his speech Di Natale said “We’ve closed off the [parliament] building to the community, but we’re throwing the gates wide open to vested interests with deep pockets.”

Asked if there should be tougher control on lobbying and what could be done to limit the power of “vested interests”, he says: “There’s a few things that need to happen.

"The first thing is political donations. There are cancer on our democracy, and we need to immediately move to a system of public funding of election campaigns with basically the prohibition of all corporate donations.”

“The second thing you have to do is … close that revolving door between lobbyists and MP’s… It’s remarkable that some MPs don’t even leave the parliament before they get on the payroll of some of these interest groups, whether it’s in the defence industry, the gambling industry, the alcohol industry, the mining industry.”

“And finally, we need a national anti-corruption body.”

Many would regard current leader Adam Bandt as more radical than his predecessor. Di Natale sees the difference as more cosmetic.

“I think Adam and I shared a sort of political outlook on most things. We’re obviously different people. We might have different ways of communicating. And that’s to be expected. But the truth is, [in] terms of our policy direction, in terms of all the things we’ve been campaigning on, there’s very little of a difference between us or indeed any of our Greens colleagues.”

Professor Barney Glover on the bleak years ahead for higher education

Professor Barney Glover on the bleak years ahead for higher education

August 19, 2020

With the withdrawal of the international market, and the stresses of delivering education virtually, the university sector has been hit especially hard by COVID-19. The sector, which in the 2018-2019 financial year contributed $37.6 billion in export income to the Australian economy, is a shadow of its former self.

Meanwhile the government last week released its controversial “JobReady Graduates” draft legislation, which aims to promote study in areas it believes will increase the employment prospects of graduates. A new fee structure will steer students towards STEM fields, IT, teaching, nursing and away from the humanities and law.

Professor Barney Glover, former chair of Universities Australia, a peak body for the higher education sector, is Vice Chancellor of Western Sydney University. Among his many roles on advisory committees, he’s on the New South Wales International Education Advisory Board.

While acknowledging the need for innovation and reform in how higher education is delivered, Professor Glover believes it will be a long road back to normality for the university sector, which has had such a high dependence on foreign students.

“This is something that’s going to affect the sector for several years because the recovery – the economic recovery overseas, the capacity for students to study internationally, the amount of international mobility – all of that is going to be curtailed and constrained, which means universities are going to have to deal with a very different financial situation over the course of particularly [20]21, [20]22 and I suspect [20]23.

"And it won’t be, we predict, until 2024 that we see recovery back towards 2019 levels.”

Jim Chalmers on tax cuts, inequality, and the Queensland election

Jim Chalmers on tax cuts, inequality, and the Queensland election

August 13, 2020

The second wave of the pandemic in Victoria has pushed the post-COVID economic recovery further beyond the horizon. Among the challenges for the federal opposition are dealing itself into the debate and formulating alternative economic policies before the next election.

With speculation the budget may bring forward the next tranche of the legislated tax cuts, Labor is leaving the way open to give its support.

“We’ve said for some time that that’s something that the Government should consider. We’d have an open mind to that if they came to us with a proposal. They don’t yet have a specific proposal. We’ve had some smoke signals about it for some time now…” Jim Chalmers, Shadow Treasurer, tells The Conversation.

“If they came to us and said that they wanted to bring forward stage two of the legislated tax cuts, then we’d engage with them in a pretty constructive way. We’ve said that for some time.”

A high danger is Australia may come out the COVID recession as a more unequal society. Charmers says: “My big fear is that it will accelerate some of those trends that we were already worried about; inequality, but also social immobility.

"We are worried about a lost generation of workers, a discarded generation of people, who become disconnected from work and from society during this recession, who find it very hard to make their way back.

"When people ask what keeps us awake at night, really it’s the idea that this spike in unemployment turns into long-term unemployment, which becomes long-term disadvantage, which cascades through the generations and concentrates in areas like the one that I represent. That’s our big fear.”

At the moment, Chalmers is working in Brisbane, assisting with the campaigning for the October Queensland election, which he believes will be “extraordinarily tight”

“There’ll be different sub-elections around the place. Townsville will be a challenge for us. There’s some opportunities for us on the Gold Coast. It’ll be a real mixed bag. The big thing that we need to avoid is one of those minority governments. In this recession and into the recovery, we want to have a stable government like the one that Annastacia Palaszczuk is providing.”

Concetta Fierravanti-Wells on aged care – what needs to be done differently

Concetta Fierravanti-Wells on aged care – what needs to be done differently

August 7, 2020

The Royal Commission into Aged-Care Quality and Safety delivered it’s interim report in October 2019. Titled ‘Neglect’, it provided a scathing insight into the aged care industry - finding it centred around transactions not care. It minimised the voices of people receiving care, lacked transparency, and was staffed by an under-appreciated and under-pressure workforce.

The outbreak of coronavirus, and the second-wave of infections in Melbourne, has raised fresh questions. The virus has infected residents and staff en masse, leaving aged-care residents major victims of the pandemic.

Read more: View from The Hill: There's no case for keeping secret any aged care facility's COVID details

NSW Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells was the shadow minister for ageing for four years, during Tony Abbott’s time as opposition leader. She has made a detailed submission to the Royal Commission, critical of the government’s attempts to reform the troubled sector.

The Royal Commission is holding hearings next week to take evidence on the affects of the COVID virus. Among the questions Fierranvanti-Wells would like asked of the industry are

“How could you have avoided the situation that you were facing?

"What is it about the system that has led to you being in this difficult situation?

"What was in place to assist you in the event of a pandemic?

"Where have you found that the intersection between health and ageing has fallen over?

"Where could you have performed a better response if you’d had better medical services available in your aged care facility?

"And what workforce was required to have been available to you in your aged care facility to meet the potential of a pandemic?”

Concetta Fierravanti-Wells submission to the commission can be read here.

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