Monday, April 11, 2022

The Australian economy’s in astonishing shape but not all voters feel it

The low unemployment rate is good news and the participation rate is even more so. But the situation is fragile and almost certainly temporary. There are two reasons for that.

1). Labour has become cheaper in real terms so more of it is being demanded. Businesses can usually increase their prices without much ado so can often increase their revenue that way. But wages are much slower and harder to move. They are sticky upwards. So will not immediately move. So wages relative to increased business income are proportionately smaller. They are cheaper. And when a thing is cheaper, more of it will be demanded. Hence the low unemployment rate.

But that tends to be temporary. Court cases and industrial action (strikes etc.) will tend to rebalance wages relative to prices. So labour will become more expensive and less will therefore be demanded of it. Unemployment will rise.

And that rebalancing will be disruptive, with an increased incidence of strikes etc. So a lot of productivity and income losses will flow from that.

2). Governments worldwide have pumped up the money supply rather recklessly in order to fund their high rate of pandemic spending. But that is a "sugar-hit" to the economy.

The extra money will be spent, leading to an increase in demand. And businesses will expand in order to provide the extra goods and services which satisfy that demand. So they will put on more staff.

But the available supply of labour is not very elastic so the extra services they can provide will be limited. There will be a shortage of goods and services relative to demand. And the result of shortages is that prices will rise. People will be prepared to pay higher prices to be the ones who get the goods and services that are available. You have inflation.

But with government spending returning to roughly normal levels, everything else will return to normal levels too. Shortages of of goods and services and shortages of labour will evaporate and extra staff will be laid off.

Australians will go to the polls on May 21 with the economy in astonishingly good shape. Despite what may feel to voters like a long period of crisis and challenge, the past couple of years have left minimal economic scarring.

Growth is nearly double what it was in the three years before the pandemic, at 4.2 per cent across 2021. When pens last struck federal ballot papers in May 2019 economic growth was at 1.7 per cent. This time, the economy is roaring with a jobs-led recovery pushing unemployment to a 14-year low.

In fact, leading indicators suggest we’re about to see the lowest unemployment rate since the early 1970s, which means the healthiest job market ever for the 8.8 million voters under the age of 50.

Importantly, it is a more inclusive labour market – female unemployment is at record lows and participation rate at record highs. Youth unemployment is at the lowest level since March 2008.

Job insecurity is also down 26 per cent since COVID hit, and elevated job-switching is hopefully delivering pay bumps and more fulfilling jobs. Wage growth is finally starting to stir after many years in the doldrums, although it is taking time to feed into awards, enterprise bargaining agreements and the public sector.

And household balance sheets are very healthy, partly as a result of generous government support in the pandemic. There’s a mountain of cash saved in bank accounts, house prices have risen by 28 per cent (remembering that two in three Australians own their home outright or with a mortgage) and net household wealth is up 32 per cent since the pandemic began.

And yet, despite the good news backdrop, consumers are feeling nervous. People either don’t see themselves reflected in the positive statistics, or don’t believe the good conditions will last.

Cost of living concerns, which are largely driven by petrol and food prices, have shot to No. 1 on the worry list. It tells us that, notwithstanding some of the best economic statistics in a long time, the reality is that real wages are still falling, at least for the next quarter or two, meaning the standard of living is declining. At the same time, households are being told interest rates are about to rise and house prices could fall.

How the Coalition sells the story of Australia’s economic recovery to voters will be important. This week’s employment data may help, especially if the March unemployment rate falls below 4 per cent.

But will it be enough to counteract the feeling that a strong economy is not delivering for the individual? Inflation data that will be released in the middle of the election campaign is likely to confirm rapidly rising prices in the March quarter, so expect to hear a lot about cost of living over the next six weeks.

While there’s no doubt this is an important issue for households and will influence consumer confidence and potentially the election outcome, I hope it doesn’t dominate the conversation at the expense of other challenges we should, as a nation, be asking of both major parties.

There has been a lot of talk of using the pandemic crisis to rebuild better, and yet both the budget and the opposition’s budget reply lacked bold reform agendas or a robust conversation on fiscal repair.

This matters because whichever side wins next month, the long-term challenge remains, of making sure the current growth peak transforms into a sustained upward trajectory.

Unfortunately, Australia’s well researched laundry list of productivity-enhancing reforms (industrial relations, red tape, regulation, skills, infrastructure, competition policy and tax), don’t hold a lot of interest around the dining table for most voters.


"Gender" and natural disasters

In the last couple of months, multiple fingers have been pointed in a great many directions in an effort to blame somebody or something for the flood response in New South Wales and Queensland. In an online poll conducted by the Daily Telegraph which asked, ‘Who do you think is responsible for the Lismore flooding disaster?’, the majority of respondents thought that the most culpable was ‘Mother Nature’, while the rest of the blame was distributed evenly across politicians, the State Emergency Services and the Bureau of Meteorology.

According to IPA Senior Research Fellow Jennifer Marohasy however, most of the blame should fall fairly and squarely on the Bureau of Meteorology. As Marohasy has pointed out in this very magazine, the BOM has long been failing Australians on account of its mendacious and deliberate erasure of temperature and rainfall records.

As Marohasy says, the experts have been ‘stripping away evidence of past cycles of warming and cooling that correspond with periods of drought and floods’, which ultimately ends in tragedy. Indeed, the BOM said that it got the Lismore forecast wrong because ‘extreme weather events are becoming more difficult to predict’. The problem is that the BOM can no longer predict the weather because it has lost all sense of history.

Perhaps some of the blame should also go to the Australia Institute of Disaster Resilience (AIDR), because it seems to have lost all sense of objective reality. According to its latest disaster advise, the next time that the residents of Lismore find themselves on the roof waiting to be rescued from rising flood waters, they should think of gender. There are many things that the residents of Lismore would be thinking about in this situation, and I can guarantee that gender is not one of them.

In the January edition of the Institute’s Journal of Emergency Management, the editorial team has devoted the entire issue to matters and policy relating to ‘gender justice’, which it believes is one of the most pressing issues being faced by disaster management in this country. It is so urgent in fact, that last year they held a conference entitled ‘Gender Justice in Disaster: Inspiring Action’ which brought a ‘gender lens to critical issues of contemporary emergency’. The organisers promised that it would ‘inspire action at the intersection of gender and sustainable Aboriginal land management, climate change activism, discrimination against LGBTIQA+ people, the representation of women in leadership, violence against women, and more’.

What, you may ask, is gender justice in disaster? Gender justice is based on the fiction that gender is a social construct, and that there is no biological difference between men and women. Certainly, in the corridors of university gender studies departments, anyone who dares to refer to ‘men’ and ‘women’ is considered both mad and incoherent.

Gender justice posits that women are overwhelmingly represented as victims of natural disasters. It also looks at the composition of largely male-dominated rescue services and concludes with horror that minorities and members of the LGBTQ+ community are massively underrepresented. And because gender justice is yet another variation on the postmodernist theme that power and privilege is the way in which society organises itself, the AIDR believes that the overabundance of men is a profound societal problem which is in desperate need of a solution.

The clue as to how radical gender theory has ended up in the field of Australian Disaster Management lies in the edition’s foreword which has been penned by ex-University of Sydney academic, Professor Raewyn Connell, previously known as ‘Robert’ or ‘Bob’. Connell is a disciple of the Simone de Beauvoir ‘one is not born a woman’ school of thought, writing that ‘Biology and identity are certainly aspects of gender, but not the whole story. They are bound up with divisions and relationships in society. Gender is, above all, relational. It is a social structure and a major pattern in human social life.’

Furthermore, Professor Connell is internationally renowned for having developed the theory of ‘hegemonic masculinity’, which is almost impossible to explain if you are layman, but it is closely aligned to the toxic notion of ‘toxic masculinity’. The upshot is that not only are too many men doing the rescuing, but also too many muscly, manly men are doing the rescuing. This kind of thinking is all very well in the alternate universe inhabited by university academics who make a living out of repudiating reality, but it’s a different story altogether when this lunacy escapes the confines of academic journals and lecture theatres and is pressed into service as part of the recovery from a natural disaster.

Those in charge of disaster management in this country should think very carefully before pursuing a policy of ‘diversity’ in disaster management because ideology has real world consequences. If policy makers insist on going down the diversity road when it comes to the emergency services, they should prepare for the worst.

It is important to note that the AIDR provides advice and direction to the federal government’s National Recovery and Resilience Agency. It recently came to light that in the last two years the agency has made $700 million in interest alone on its $4.7 billion Emergency Response Fund. Yet to date, not one single dollar of this fund has been spent on one single emergency. As Labor senator Murray Watts recently rightly pointed out to the agency’s bureaucrats at Senate estimates, this money ‘could have been used to build cyclone shelters, evacuation centres, fire break and flood levees right across Australia’. Senator Watts is spot on. It could have been used for these things, however it’s being used to poison our emergency services.


COVID-19 drug to ‘reduce hospitalisations’ now subsdized ahead of close contact rule change

Australians at risk of severe COVID-19 will soon be able to access two drugs that can lessen the disease’s impact through their GP after the federal government listed a second anti-viral treatment on the pharmaceutical benefits scheme.

Health Minister Greg Hunt will announce the PBS listing of Paxlovid, a combination of the drugs nirmatrelvir and ritonavir, on Saturday, as state governments prepare to scrap close contact rules once the Omicron BA.2 wave of infections has subsided.

Eligible adults who test positive to COVID-19 through a PCR or rapid antigen test will be able to get Paxlovid, which can prevent severe disease if taken within five days of onset, from their local pharmacy with a GP prescription from next month.

“This medicine will help reduce the need for hospital admission,” Mr Hunt said.

Lagevrio, the trade name for molnupiravir – another anti-viral used to treat COVID-19 – was listed on the PBS on March 1 and has since been used to treat about 5000 patients. Both listings followed the recommendation of the independent Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee.

State and territory governments have agreed to the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee’s recommendation that close contact isolation rules be scrapped when it is safe to do so.

Paxlovid will be available on the PBS from May 1 to people aged 65 or older, with two other risk factors for severe disease, or one factor for those aged 75 and over. It will also be subsidised for Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander patients aged 50 or over with two other risk factors and patients who are moderately to severely immunocompromised.

Patients will pay a maximum of $42.50 a script and $6.80 with a concession card.

Mr Hunt said it was important that patients “continue to follow local health guidance to isolate if they test positive for COVID-19”.

“It’s recommended they use telehealth to consult their doctor and ask their pharmacy to arrange for Paxlovid to be delivered to their home, if necessary,” he said.

The federal government has access to 1 million courses of Paxlovid, with 500,000 arriving last year and a further 500,000 secured for delivery throughout 2022 for supply through both state and territory health departments and the PBS. More can be procured if needed.

Paxlovid is already available to COVID-19 patients through state health hospitals, which can access it through the national medical stockpile, and patients ineligible under the PBS can still be treated with the drug through this pathway, which has been used 42,867 times.


Another false rape allegation

Bettina Arndt

Imagine a sexual encounter involving a woman shagging a man, sitting on top of him, bouncing cheerfully. How could she be a rape victim?

That was a key question at the heart of a case settled two years ago involving a Sydney man who achieved a substantial payout as settlement of a $1 million malicious prosecution case against NSW police and prosecutors. The case exposed the disgraceful behaviour of police and the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) in ignoring clear video evidence revealing his former wife’s rape and assault allegations to be falsehoods, the authorities’ role in encouraging her to concoct new allegations, and their lies told in court to try to keep him in prison.

The settlement came at the end of a five-year ordeal for the man – I’ll call him ‘Peter’ – after his former wife, a medical specialist, told police he had raped her a few weeks after the couple had split up in 2015. The marriage fell apart when Peter discovered she was having an affair, but the couple then had a brief reconciliation which culminated in consensual sex on the day in question.

Two months later Peter was arrested and charged with sexual assault and violence when he returned from a work trip to Europe. He spent a month in prison and over $350,000 in legal costs before the allegations were thrown out after a 10-day jury trial. The judge described the wife’s evidence as ‘demonstrably false’ and said that the prosecutors had failed to take into account ‘clear and consistent, objective evidence’ backing up Peter’s claim that he was being wrongly accused.

Peter had installed video cameras that recorded the whole encounter, giving a lie to the wife’s allegation that he had jumped her immediately following her arrival at the former marital home. The cameras showed them fully dressed for almost an hour prior to the consensual sex which featured the woman in flagrante delicto, sitting riding him on the couch.

And… wait for it…. During their lively encounter, the video evidence showed she actually stopped to ask if he was okay!

The doctor has suffered no adverse consequences for her malicious lies. Peter’s efforts to have her charged with perjury have received persistent knock-backs from police, the DPP, and other relevant complaints bodies.

That’s our justice system. Women accusing men of rape or violence have absolute license to perjure themselves in our courts and concoct elaborate mistruths which, even if proved false, will very rarely bear any adverse consequences.

The official policy of our police and prosecutors is that women can lie with impunity. This week I canvased police officers across the country who all reported they are told never to take action against a woman caught out making false violence or rape allegations, lest punishment of false accusers deters genuine victims from coming forward.

That’s the mantra making a mockery of our rule of law. Undermining our justice system. Encouraging women to play fast and loose with the truth.

Look what happened in our family court system, where false allegations have long been rampant. The Howard Government made a noble effort to impose penalties aimed at reining them in, only to have their reforms rolled back by Labor’s mean girls as soon as they gained power.

In 2006, Howard’s path-breaking new family law legislation included advice to courts to make cost orders against persons who knowingly made false allegations in family law proceedings – a measure stated to address concerns about widespread false allegations in The Family Court.

A year later, the Howard government was gone and suddenly all the talk was about risks to children from violent dads. A Chisholm Review into violence and family law dutifully concluded that the cost orders provision might deter vulnerable parents from disclosing family violence and by 2011 Julia Gillard’s team had changed the legislation to ensure there were no longer any consequences for perjury.

That’s been the case ever since. At hearings for the recent parliamentary inquiry into the family law system, a Deputy Secretary from the Attorney General’s Department showed that between 2014 and 2019 not a single family law-related perjury matter was investigated by Commonwealth prosecutors.

I wrote last year about research showing family court judges determined that only 12 per cent of the child sexual abuse allegations involved in contested cases were found to be true. Accusations of abuse that were deliberately misleading were found to be twice as common as true allegations, according to the study by Webb, Moloney, Smyth, and Murphy, which reviewed family court cases from 2012 to 2019.

Think about all those wrongly accused fathers, deliberately alienated from their children by such horrendous lies, children forced to suffer through embarrassing, damaging interviews from experts attempting to weed out the truth. Not one of these mothers faced legal consequences for what she did.

The same unwritten rule applies in magistrates’ courts dealing with the weekly flood of false domestic violence allegations and the criminal courts handling sexual assault. Everyone knows that police and prosecutors will accept the most preposterous allegations and even if they ultimately get thrown out in court, the instigator gets off scot-free.

In Peter’s case, his ex-wife is still out there, despite her allegations having cost taxpayers a fortune – well over $200,000 for the trial alone, plus Peter’s settlement, let alone the years of police and prosecutors’ time.

The good doctor continues to practice medicine, even though court proceedings revealed she was addicted to Tramadol and had frequently written prescriptions for herself in her husband’s name. Peter reported her to the Health Care Complaints Commission, which decided not to investigate because it was ‘a private matter’. Go figure… can you imagine they’d ever take that decision if a wife provided similar evidence about her doctor husband?

The argument about perjury charges deterring proper victims is spurious nonsense. Perjury charges would never be applied in cases where the allegations simply failed to be proved in court. Actual victims, or women who mistakenly believe they are victims have nothing to fear.

It’s a high bar proving someone has intentionally lied or falsified evidence, a big job to find them guilty beyond reasonable doubt of such malicious behaviour. But in cases like this, where police and prosecutors are forced to pay out for ignoring irrefutable evidence that the allegations were false, that bar would likely be reached. Surely proper justice demands Peter’s former wife pay some price for what she did.

The constant silencing of public discussion about the proliferation of false allegations prevents examination of the benefits of introducing measures to deter perjury in our courts, including massively reducing demands on our justice system and increasing the resources available to real victims.

Trust in our law depends on an assumption of fair treatment. We need to know that police and prosecutors aren’t there just to act for one side, but to ensure consequences for wrongdoing – wrongdoing that includes maliciously using false allegations to weaponize the legal system against the object of their grievance.

What a blight on our society that so many are discovering that trust in our legal system is misplaced. Our faith in this vital institution is surely being undermined by widespread knowledge that there’s no requirement for women to tell the truth in our courts.

The final twist of the screw is the fact that the low rates of prosecution for false allegations are then used by feminists to claim we should believe all victims – because women so rarely lie. Further proof of the evil genius of the feminist enterprise.




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