Thursday, April 02, 2020

Coronavirus: Centre-right in need of new narrative

Rubbish!  All the recent events show is that big government interventions lead to more big government interventions.  The interventions in Sweden were mild and did not kill the economy.  That seems to have worked well, with less than one death per capita

The government’s massive fiscal intervention in the Australian economy, entirely justified by the gravity of the COVID-19 crisis, will change centre-right politics in this country forever.

You cannot make the need for small government, free markets and less state intervention your chief political narrative if you have just used government on a scale never before imagined to rescue the nation from a desperate health emergency.

Federal and state governments are introducing immense changes to the way Australians are governed in this warlike mobilisation. Many of them, such as restrictions on civil liberties, will surely be strictly temporary. They must be.

The Morrison government, like centre-right governments around the world, has to work out what kind of society, what kind of economy, it wants to emerge from this crisis. The centre-right will need to craft a new narrative on the role of government.

It needs to find a way to use the immense authority and power government will accrue to shape a society with values and practices that accord with its own philosophy, and that work for Australians in the long term.

The $130bn wage subsidy scheme is the biggest fiscal intervention in Australian history. It takes the three economic support packages, as the government deftly labelled them, to $214bn. When you add fiscal and monetary support together, you get to $320bn, or more than 16 per cent of GDP.

If coming out of the crisis in a few months’ time the government simply says these were wartime-like emergency measures so now we go back to our mantra about small government, they risk repeating exactly the post-war political transition that took place in Britain in 1945.

A grateful nation thanked Winston Churchill and the Conservatives Party for getting them through World War II. Then they elected Clement Attlee’s Labour Party, which they saw as the natural heirs of big government, the folks who would use the new ­powers of government to improve their lives.

A strong government to build a strong nation need not mean anything like socialism. But that is a danger.

A real possibility, if we come out of this crisis intact, is we end up with an Australian version of ­Eurosclerosis — an affluent nation crippled by debt, big welfare and transfer programs, wide government involvement in the economy, yet still low on productive capacity.

Inevitably there will be competing narratives as this crisis one day ebbs. One big narrative will centre on: is our health system adequate?

Another will pivot on a different question: how do we get Australia moving again economically?

The purity of free-market doctrines on aspects of trade and industry policy will have to give way to central considerations of ­national capacity.

South Australian Premier Steve Marshall is right to insist that we must have the ability to manufacture surgical masks and all elements of protective medical gear in Australia. For there is no reason to think that COVID-19 is the last or only pandemic we will ever face.

It is surely scandalous that as the 13th-largest economy in the world, and one of the richest societies, even now, four months into the coronavirus crisis, we cannot manufacture ventilators.

Australians will want these critical shortfalls addressed. They will be addressed either by a pro-growth centre-right government or a pro-redistribution centre-left government.

Saddled as we will be with such debt, there will be a huge imperative for government to find creative ways to finance key infrastructure and other projects.

You can neither leave it all to the market nor leave it all to the federal Treasury.

This will be even more challenging, given the necessity of diversifying away from our trade, services and supply line over dependency on China.

Consider this: in three weeks, the Morrison government could mobilise more than $320bn for a national crisis but it took the Adani group eight years to get a licence for a coalmine that both sides of federal politics always believed served the national economic and security interest.

Across the government, key ministers are identifying priority projects and priority reforms needed to get the economy into ­recovery.

This involves infrastructure such as dams, roads, resources projects and much else. Senior ministers are determined to cut through “green lawfare” that has paralysed so much development.

These projects will have to involve the private sector as the government will not have enough money, although one big danger will be people drawing the wrong conclusion that government money is limitless if you really need it.

There will be serious opportunities for Australian super funds with their trillions of dollars under management.

Right now, the priority is rightly entirely on dealing with the health crisis. But a shattered economy, and a stressed society, will need rebuilding. It’s not too early to think seriously about the shape that rebuilding takes.


Coronavirus: ‘Not the time for fun’, but this police state tone is deeply worrying

In Sydney’s harbourside Rushcutters Bay Park, police cars with flashing lights dispersed people getting some fresh air and sunshine, in Perth, encouraged by Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan, police flew drones over parks warning people to go home. In Victoria and New South Wales the governments and police forces are warning of $10,000 fines for people who leave home for reasons not covered by prescriptive lists.

In Queensland there are similar threats from police and Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk explained that now is “not the time for fun.”

I don’t think anyone is having fun. But this police state tone is deeply worrying.

On the medical front we are entitled to be encouraged. We have curbed the overall level of new infections because we have cut the number of cases coming in from overseas.

We must listen to the expert medical advice that says there is a long way to go, that community infections are the real concern and they could take a fortnight or more to show up. We understand that the worst is likely yet to come, and that it why rules are tightening rather than relaxing.

But we are entitled to reflect that border closures, compulsory quarantine, an extensive and growing testing regime, shutdowns of travel, tourism and hospitality businesses, and physical distancing rules and practices have enabled this country to make some tangible progress. We have reduced the growth in new infections, despite testing going up.

We have had an activist media, driven by the inanities of social media, pushing state and federal governments for what they like to call a full lockdown. They have paid scant regard to the human toll of even more draconian measures.

Governments are wary about being accused of not doing enough – especially after the often illogical and hysterical criticism of governments over the summer of bushfires. We also have activist academics and medical representatives, many with political agendas, prodding and bullying governments and ministers over their responses.

The strident calls have continued for weeks; shut everything down, shut down society, shut down schools, shut down businesses and shut down the economy. We have had continued high-level medical advice that schools should be a safe option; a place to keep kids organised and focused, coached on hygiene demands, away from vulnerable people and continuing with their education.

Yet our schools are as good as closed, students are actively discouraged from attending and those that do turn up are minded rather than taught.

We have citizens being threatened with heavy fines if they leave home. We have people being abused and threatened with legal action if they go to the beach.

We have police putting drones into the sky to check that no more than two of us are out in public together. Is this proportionate?

Is this reasonable given we live in an educated, sensible, liberal and egalitarian society? Is this the way we should operate when we confront a community challenge?

This is not a government project; this is not a police operation; it is not even a medical task. This is a challenge for society; this is a time when citizens deliver the outcome.

It is citizens who provide the medical care, run the pathology test, make the deliveries, clean the bathrooms, stack the shelves and prepare the food. We are all in this together, for each other.

Governments and other authorities need to make difficult decisions, they need to enforce new laws, provide information so people can take reasonable precautions for their own sake and the sake of others.

But the penalties, policing and political messages run the risk of being over the top and counter-productive. It is no good assuaging the shrill voices of Twitter (not the real world) if you infantilise and antagonise mainstream Australians.

We know there will be idiots and scumbags – we’ve had people allegedly spit at police, and illegally open bars – and we would expect the book to be thrown at them. But threatening all Australians isn’t really on.

Please tone it down.

There is not a citizen in the country who doesn’t understand what is at stake. But fair go – except in the most egregious and obnoxious examples, governments shouldn’t be threatening people about leaving home, or spying on them with police drones at the park.

We all need to play our role to slow the spread and protect the vulnerable; most of us have elderly family and friends, so we are apprehended by the danger. Australian citizens, who are doing the heavy lifting in this crisis, do not deserve to be treated like delinquents.

They are the ones who are suffering from this pandemic, losing their jobs, their businesses, their schooling and their social interactions. They are also the ones who are combating it, running the hospitals, providing the essentials, staying home, schooling their kids, and offering state and federal governments, police and other authorities the appropriate support.

Those authorities should reciprocate by treating people like adults, recognising they are doing this in partnership with us, not against us. We fight the virus with community co-operation, not police sirens.

Whether you are a government minister, medico, teacher or policeman, we appreciate your work, we appreciate the pressure you are under and we support your aims; we are all in this together.

Rather than tackle a horrible health and economic crisis with some version of a police state, our leaders must try to appeal to what Abraham Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature”. Because that is what will work; by maintaining social cohesion and ensuring we don’t lose our national character just when we need it most.


Victoria’s real estate industry has welcomed the moratorium on evictions to help tenants struggling through the crisis, but says further details and support for landlords are urgently needed

Recent government announcements should take some stress off Australian renters.

Victoria’s real estate industry has welcomed the moratorium on evictions to help tenants struggling through the coronavirus crisis, but says further details and support for landlords are urgently needed.

Both Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Premier Dan Andrews have confirmed evictions will be frozen for six months for residential and commercial renters “experiencing financial distress” due to the impact of COVID-19.

But details surrounding how the moratorium will work, when it will kick in and how landlords will be supported are scarce, with the National Cabinet agreeing to “consider advice from treasurers” at its next meeting this Friday, April 3.

The state government said it was “working through the legislative changes needed to bring this into effect”.

When Mr Morrison announced the move on Sunday night, he urged landlords and tenants to “sit down, talk to each other and work this out”, while Mr Andrews posted on Facebook: “From hospo to retail, if you’re struggling to get by due to coronavirus, you won’t be evicted just because you can’t pay the rent.”

Leading tenancy legal service Tenants Victoria praised the moratorium, but chief executive Jennifer Beveridge said government urgently needed to provide details to the public.

“Every day, we are hearing stories of renters who are being told to leave their homes … of renters being reminded that no tolerance will be shown for people who fall behind in the rent, even if they have lost their jobs because of coronavirus,” Ms Beveridge said. “We are even hearing people having their rent increased in the middle of this public health emergency.

“We understand some of the details are still being worked out. I would ask the Premier, … at his next press conference, to tell the Victorian community that as of last Sunday, no residential evictions for rent arrears can proceed.”

She added it was impossible for people without a home to “maintain social distance and follow the government’s health advice”.

Real Estate Institute of Victoria president Leah Calnan said a one-size-fits-all approach wouldn’t work when it came to supporting landlords who were also experiencing financial hardship.

She said different measures were needed for mum and dad investors with mortgages, self-funded retirees who relied on rental income, and those with larger property portfolios.

“While I’m as anxious as everyone to have a resolution, I’m very aware of the complex nature of trying to formulate the appropriate support package for everyone,” Ms Calnan said.

“There needs to be some rental relief as well. I would encourage the government to ensure those funds are delivered to (property management) agencies to ensure the appropriate distribution.”

University of South Australia property and investment researcher Peter Koulizos also urged immediate rental assistance for tenants so landlords didn’t experience flow-on impacts to their own mortgages or income.

“(Government) is overlooking the impact on landlords, many of whom need to pay mortgages, or rely on rental income as self-funded retirees,” Mr Koulizos said.

Banks offering six-month mortgage payment referrals was helpful, UniSA’s Reza Bradrania added. But it was problematic that mortgages continued to accrue interest, adding to the overall expense.

The Victorian Council of Social Services labelled the moratorium “a good thing … the community sector has been calling for”.

But it said government urgently needed to determine the kinds of evictions that won’t be banned, which might include cases where the property owners needed to move into their investment property or if a tenants was a danger to themselves or others.

Other key questions to answer included: Would rental arrears simply be forgiven and forgotten at the end of the eviction ban, or would tenants be expected to pay up? What happens if tenants and landlords can’t come to an agreement? What about tenants experiencing financial distress that’s not a direct result of COVID-19?

Major real estate agencies Harcourts and Ray White have both encouraged the federal government to use the existing Centrepay system to offer rental assistance to residential tenants under rental stress during the pandemic.


Melbourne wharfies stood down after refusing to unload Chinese ship

Typical wharfie bloodymindedness

Melbourne wharfies are refusing to unload cargo from a fully laden ship from China carrying toilet paper, surgical masks and tinned food due to fears they could catch coronavirus.

In the largest dispute to hit the Port of Melbourne since the COVID-19 outbreak, more than 60 dock workers have been stood down by stevedores DP World in the past 24 hours over their refusal to unload the Xin Da Lian, which left a Taiwanese port less than 14 days ago.

The ship sailed from mainland China on March 17, continued on to Koashiung in Taiwan and then headed to Melbourne two days later.

The Xin Da Lian docked in Melbourne at Swanson Dock on Tuesday. A group of wharfies refused to unload the cargo on Tuesday night as the ship had arrived before the end of the 14-day coronavirus quarantine period.

Twenty two workers were stood down amid the stand-off between the Maritime Union of Australia and the stevedore on Tuesday and another 40 were stood down on Wednesday.

DP World argued the Australian Border Force deemed the vessel compliant and the 14-day rule only applies to ships from mainland China, the Republic of Korea, Italy and Iran.

The company said chemicals for soap and detergent manufacturing, medical supplies, surgical masks, gloves surgical gowns, lab coats and hair nets are aboard the ship now sitting idle at the port. Tinned foods for supermarkets and whitegoods were also being transported.

DP World's chief operating officer Andrew Adam said the vessel had been cleared to berth at DP World by the Australian Border Force and the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment’s Biosecurity.

“The directions are very clear, and we don’t make the rules, these are defined by Australian Border Force. Any crew members aboard a vessel that has been to mainland China, must have been at sea for 14 days before they are allowed to dock in Australia," Mr Adam said.

"The vessel left Shanghai in China on March 17 and arrived in Melbourne on March 31. It has been out of sea for 14 days. The union is not allowed to unilaterally declare a vessel unsafe: they are not allowed to create their own set of rules.”
The Chinese ship arrived at the Port of Melbourne on Tuesday.

But Warren Smith, the union's assistant national secretary, said all vessels should be quarantined for a 14-day period if they arrive from an overseas port and it was wrong to stand down workers who were trying to prevent the spread of the virus.

"It is ridiculous that these workers have been stood down and had their livelihoods threatened for standing up and doing the right thing," Mr Smith said.

"Waterside workers need to be protected to the absolute maximum extent possible so the supply chains into the supermarkets can be maintained ... the workers are simply saying we want some protections here."


Islamic school shortchanges its teachers

Members of the Independent Education Union NSW/ACT Branch in the Islamic School of Canberra have today won the right to take industrial action, as long running enterprise agreement negotiations continue to stall.

The IEU has been calling for school management to pay salaries and conditions in line with those received by teachers in other schools in the ACT and other Islamic schools in NSW.

The union has been in negotiations with the School Board for a new enterprise agreement since 2016, after the previous agreement expired in 2013. The school was sold in 2018 by the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils to Islamic Practice and Dawah Circle Inc.

Initial discussions with the new school management were cordial, but negotiations stalled at the end of 2019 when the employer applied to terminate the enterprise agreement. The IEU notified a dispute to the Fair Work Commission about the school’s failure to bargain in good faith and applied for a Protected Action Ballot Order on behalf of its members.

“Staff employed at the school are an extremely dedicated group of employees who have stuck it out for their students during a very difficult period,” said IEU organiser Lyn Caton.

The teachers have today confirmed their concern and dissatisfaction by returning unanimous support for taking industrial action.

IEUA NSW/ACT Branch Secretary Mark Northam says he has “nothing but praise for the members at the Islamic School of Canberra, who have collectively indicated their desire to achieve parity with like schools.”

“Members at this school have the full support of the union in their ongoing struggle to achieve fair wages and conditions.”

Valuing teachers and support staff is a responsibility of all school employers.

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 Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).    For a daily critique of Leftist activities,  see DISSECTING LEFTISM.  To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup  of pro-environment but anti-Greenie  news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH .  Email me  here

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