Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Poll: Australians more comfortable with easing of coronavirus rules

Australians are increasingly comfortable with governments easing restrictions designed to slow the spread of coronavirus, but people surveyed in the latest Guardian Essential poll also want lockdowns and travel bans reinstated if infections surge.

The latest poll comes as the treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, will use an economic update to parliament on Tuesday to quantify the gains to gross domestic product if governments roll out the full, three stage, agreement to end the lockdowns signed off by the national cabinet last week. Frydenberg will report the GDP gains from easing coronavirus restrictions nationally will be $9.4bn a month.

The treasurer says implementing stage one of the easing – which involves the reopening of retail outlets, permits cafes and restaurants to seat 10 patrons rather than just offer takeaway, and also encompasses the opening of outdoor gyms, playgrounds and skate parks and the return of schools – will boost GDP by $3.1bn.

The Morrison government over the past week has been ramping up public focus on the economic and fiscal cost of the pandemic restrictions. Frydenberg will note the end of lockdowns will see 850,000 Australians return to work. With individual states in control of the timetable for easing restrictions, Tuesday’s economic statement will break down the employment gains by state of returning to business-as-usual, and also quantify the GDP gains by state.

Australia’s two most populous states, New South Wales and Victoria, are moving more slowly than other jurisdictions because they have had higher numbers of infections. The GDP gains for NSW of implementing all three stages would be $3.1bn and in Victoria, the gain would be $2.2bn. In employment terms, NSW would see 279,550 jobs return over the three stages, and Victoria 216,085 jobs.

While Morrison has been careful not to inflame relations within the national cabinet, a number of Victorian Liberals have used the resumption of federal parliament to blast Daniel Andrews for hastening slowly on dismantling restrictions.

With Australia moving to a period of easing restrictions, concern about the threat of the virus increased in this week’s Guardian Essential survey. 49% of respondents say they are quite concerned, compared with 46% last week. But people remain satisfied with both federal and state government handling of the crisis.

The latest poll of 1,067 respondents shows a majority of Australians are comfortable with the broad direction set by governments last Friday. Only a quarter of respondents now oppose an easing of the social distancing rules, compared with half the sample at the end of April.

But the survey also points to nervousness about the consequences. It shows 77% of people would support restricting travel to places if there are new clusters of infections. More than half of respondents, 67%, would also support increasing fines for people found to be breaching remaining restrictions, and 63% would support a return to restrictions enforcing physical distancing and closing workplaces nationwide if there was a new surge of cases.

Respondents over the age of 55 are more likely to support a snapback to restrictions than the cohort between 18 and 34.

Australians also remain cautious about the CovidSafe app, which is part of the government’s surveillance toolkit to trace recent contacts in the event people become infected with coronavirus. There are now more than five million registered users. Only 38% of the sample would support making downloading the app mandatory in the event there are new clusters of infections.

While just over half the sample (55%) agrees the CovidSafe app would help limit the spread of Covid-19, less than half the group surveyed agrees that they are confident the government will adequately protect any data it collects (45%) and not misuse that data (44%). Just under half the sample, 47%, express concern about the security of their personal data if they download the app.

A majority of the sample would favour a reduction in the number of temporary migrant worker visas permitted in Australia after the Covid-19 outbreak. The shadow home affairs minister, Kristina Keneally, last week called for a reduction in temporary migration post-pandemic.


Keeping middle seats empty for social distancing is not feasible, the airline industry argues

Of all the safety steps airlines are taking to lure travellers back onto their planes in the coronvirus era, the empty middle seat is the most alluring.

What passenger in an aisle or window seat hasn't wished or even prayed that the person heading down the aisle is not bound for the unoccupied seat next to them?

Qantas, Virgin Australia and many other carriers are granting that wish in the name of social distancing by blocking middle seat assignments and/or not filling planes to capacity to assure passengers it's safe to fly.

But passengers shouldn't get too giddy about the extra space, experts and some airline executives say, because it won't last forever.

"It's a lovely soundbite," said John Grant, senior aviation analyst with aviation analytics firm OAG. "It's just not practical."

He says the social distancing measures will be temporary, lasting perhaps through the Thanksgiving travel booking season.

It all comes down to money. Airlines make money when they fill a certain percentage of seats, and leaving middle seats empty means they'll have to charge more for the remaining seats.

The figure for low-cost carriers including Southwest and JetBlue, according to OAG: 52 per cent more per passenger on average.

The International Air Transport Association, which has come out strongly against permanent social distancing on planes because it says the risk of virus transmission is low and the new mask requirements will provide more passenger protection, says average fares would jump 43 per cent to 54 per cent around the world depending on the region.

In North America, filling just two-thirds of the plane by keeping middle seats empty would boost the average ticket price by 43 per cent, from $202 to $289, based on 2019 figures, IATA says. Airlines in the region need to fill three-fourths of their seats to break even, the group says.

Most travelers won't be willing to pay the price, critics and skeptics of permanent social distancing say. Leisure travelers, the passengers the industry expects to return first when travel demand comes back, are notoriously price sensitive and lured by cheap fares.


Post-COVID, Australia and NZ may have gained in international attractiveness

Joe Sixpack had little to do with America’s emergence as a scientific and technological superpower after World War II.

The US deliberately welcomed and encouraged brilliant foreigners to settle in the country. Simon Kuznets in economics, Albert Einstein in physics, the list is endless. Cast your eye down the list of Nobel laureates awarded to Americans: more than a third are foreign born.

Australia and New Zealand, having — for now at least — “defeated” COVID-19, unexpectedly find themselves in a more attractive position to attract the best and the brightest, along with cashed-up foreign boomers seeking a COVID-free retirement.

Economically, being COVID-free may prove a mixed blessing for the two countries, which make up less than 1.5 per cent of global economic output, and a scintilla of the world’s population.

Some of their biggest exports have shrivelled up. International tourism made up almost 21 per cent of New Zealand’s export earnings last year, and higher education was Australia’s fourth largest export. Exports, however remote they may seem to many, allow us to afford goods and ser­vices from abroad.

Australians and New Zealanders won’t be able to go abroad without a period of quarantine on return. And the prospect of a two-week quarantine will deter all but the most determined tourists and business people from visiting.

But for longer, or permanent, stints the imposition won’t be nearly as onerous. Certainly, well-off seniors in Europe and North America may be prepared to pay a hefty down-payment in the millions — enough to fund their healthcare costs and more — for a permanent visa to Australia. The government already offers significant investor visas for anyone worth $1.5m or more — why not a significant senior subclass?

The rest of the world will live under the spectre of stage three or four lockdowns for potentially a few weeks every year until a vaccine is found for the coronavirus, or some sort of herd immunity is achieved. That’s a highly ­disrup­tive prospect for researchers too.

Kyle Daniels, a postdoctoral fellow with the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation in California — which imposed a Victoria-style lockdown on March 19 — says research at universities in the US has largely been shut down.

“This is an opportunity for Australia to establish collaborations with universities in the US, perhaps by taking in postdocs and graduate students from labs in the US that aren’t functioning normally right now,” he tells The Australian. “There are a lot of American scientists who would love to get back to work in a stable environment like Australia. And some of that talent would stay in Australia afterwards.”

Oliver Hartwich, executive director of the New Zealand Initiative, says our universities could diversify their appeal to students who would have picked US or British institutions as well. “And why not offer Australian and New Zealand grounds to the Bundesliga and the Premier League? Bring in the players and everyone, quarantine them for a couple of weeks and let them start playing the rest of their matches in sports grounds and empty stadiums here,” he says.

It’s not crazy. Olympians will need to keep training, and millions of euros in broadcast rights are at stake right as the world’s top sporting codes face ongoing disruption from COVID-19 restrictions.

Weeks of experience working from home, for white-collar workers at least, have eroded the relevance of time zones and formal working hours, playing into Australia’s and New Zealand’s hands.

Eric Knight, a pro vice-chancellor at the University of Sydney who recently returned from a stint at Stanford University, says Austrade and federal and state governments should mobilise the one-million plus Australian diaspora to encourage decision-makers in US multinationals to shift jobs and R&D here.

“Companies like Google, Amazon, Twitter and Facebook have all opened major offices in recent years to try to address their structural talent shortfalls, and have located them in a nearby, strategic ally: Canada,” he says.

“Australian software engineers are no less intelligent or hardworking than their American counterparts and are no more than a flight away.” Their average wage, he adds, is about a third of those in California too.

Any campaign would be more successful if the government brought forward tax cuts slated for 2024, which include a flatter income tax scale and a higher income tax threshold of $200,000.

Excluding European nations and New Zealand, Australia’s top marginal tax rate cuts in at the lowest multiple of average earnings in the world, on OECD figures. New Zealand’s is 33 per cent, ours is 47 per cent. High-income earners might deserve a break, having just funded the biggest social security transfer in our history on top of a decade of bracket creep.

COVID-19 has made Australia and New Zealand a lot poorer, but it needn’t be forever. Being COVID-free will have economic cachet, though whether it’s enough to offset the damage remains to be seen.


Only reliable electricity can give Australia the economic jolt needed for recovery

These past few months have taught us many things, including the fact many state government ministers are none too bright.

Competition for the wooden spoon has been fierce, including Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos, who claimed the response of her department to the runaway COVID-19 outbreak at a Melbourne abattoir had been “perfect”. Mind you, NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard has been giving her a run for her money.

But the competition is not confined to health. The recent actions of South Australian Energy and Mining Minister Dan van Holst Pellekaan demonstrate a failure to appreciate the new economic challenges and his determination to hammer the last nail in the coffin of the worst-performing state economy.

Last week, this minister expressed his support for SA accelerating the date at which the state should reach 100 per cent renewable electricity generation. The current time frame is 2030.

I don’t know what he thought he was doing attending the launch of the newly constructed gas-fired electricity generation facility at Barker Inlet in Adelaide last November. The minister raved about the plant, built by AGL Energy, being “good news for affordability and reliability of electricity supplies in South Australia”. Are we to assume that the plant will be closed down by 2030 (or before) for the state to meet its renewable energy target?

And I wonder how he interprets the depressing results of SA becoming an electricity island earlier in the year? As a result of the need to repair the interconnector linking SA with Victoria, the Australian Energy Market Operator was forced to drastically curtail the amount of renewable energy generated in the state and instead rely on expensive gas generation to ensure the stability and reliability of the grid.

The cost of managing the power system was $310m in just the first quarter of this year, more than double the previous record set in 2008. It is estimated that managing the grid accounted for 8 per cent of all energy costs compared with the historical average of between 1 per cent and 2 per cent.

South Australian voters might have expected a change of direction when the longstanding Labor government was voted out. But the Liberal government headed by wet Premier Steven Marshall is every bit as beholden to the renewable energy players as the previous government.

The dream is that a new interconnector will be constructed between SA and NSW that will allow the excess renewable energy generated in SA to be exported to NSW — when the wind blows and the sun shines, that is.

And because the interconnector will be regulated, consumers will bear the cost. This will significantly inflate electricity prices.

According to the witless policy advice to the SA government, reliable electricity could be imported from NSW and Victoria to offset the inherent unreliability of renewable energy, even given the addition of short-living and expensive batteries. This way the illusion of SA being 100 per cent renewable can be maintained.

The economics of baseload or intermediate electricity generation in those other states is undermined by virtue of renewable energy being sent across the border. And let’s not forget that the NSW government has silly plans in relation to the promotion of renewable energy, too. The same goes for Victoria and Queensland.

At this rate, all the eastern states could become an electricity island, awash with unreliable energy and insufficient backup.

Into this policy quagmire comes the advice of the ideological Australian Energy Market Operator, telling us that it would be technically possible to have 75 per cent renewable energy electricity generation. That’s if we spent a lot of money — for example, on more expensive interconnectors, transmission and distribution — and changed the rules to favour renewable energy providers even more than they do now. This is poor advice.

The only sensible alternative in the post-COVID world is to junk the obsession with renewable energy (which is an inefficient way of reducing emissions, particularly when measured on a life-cycle basis), to kill the subsidies and to secure affordable, reliable electricity based, in all likelihood, on new gas plants.

When green rent-seekers start calling for a green new deal — more subsidies for renewable energy — the response should be that we have had a green new deal for more than a decade. And it has worked out badly for Australia’s industrial competitiveness. It’s time for a change.

And when the rent-seekers moan about fugitive emissions from gas, tell them these have already been taken into account when emissions are calculated by the federal government. Estimates, including by the CSIRO, put fugitive emissions at between 1 per cent and 1.4 per cent of total production.

With the lower price of gas this year and the possibility that new reserves will be developed in the Bowen and Beetaloo basins and possibly Gippsland, we are on the cusp of an exciting new phase for electricity generation and other heavy industry. With cheaper and reliable power, it’s easy to foresee substantial investments in the manufacture of explosives, paper, glass and bricks, and in food processing, among other possibilities. It simply won’t happen if we depend on renewable energy.

To be sure, we won’t need to junk the raft of renewable energy that already exists in the electricity grid, although some will begin to wear out in the not-too-distant future. (Several overseas renewable energy construction companies are already leaving the country.) But only firmed electricity — that is, 24/7 power with backup — should be accepted from these providers, a requirement that exists in most parts of the world.

We have paid a heavy penalty — some of the highest electricity prices in the world — for allowing renewable energy providers to offer electricity into the grid without bearing the costs of reliability and stability (frequency/inertia).

Unless the SA government takes a realistic stance in relation to energy and other matters, the place will be just a footnote in our economic history in 50 years.

And I haven’t even mentioned the urgent need for the federal government to cancel the expensive and unviable submarine project. That might be the last straw for the state’s economy — or a wake-up call for the South Australian government to get real rather than chase rainbows.


 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

1 comment:

Paul said...

Maybe if the airlines were good enough to allow free (medically validated) schedule changes for people with illnesses at the time they originally planned to fly instead of treating necessary cancellations/postponements as a money making opportunity??

Nah, that would be too common-sense.