Saturday’s good reading and listening for the weekend

Apr 17, 2021
Thank you Christine Holgate for saving our post offices

What people in other forums are saying about public policy

The pandemic’s progress

Australia – Morrison cannot restore trust in government when his party has spent four decades destroying it

If we all understood probability and were rational about risk, we wouldn’t build houses on floodplains, there would be no poker machines or casinos in the country, insurers would offer products more in line with people’s needs, and most of us would be guided by calculations of benefit and harm as presented by bodies such as Cambridge University’s Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication. Their graphic shows that, even for those with low risk of exposure to Covid-19, anyone older than 30 bears a higher risk of ICU admission resulting from catching Covid-19 than from harm due to the AstraZeneca vaccine. For people over 60 the benefit-risk ratio is at least 70:1. Yet we are hearing of older Australians cancelling their vaccination appointments out of fear of blood clots. As Jane Frawley of University of Technology Sydney points out in The Conversation, it doesn’t take much news of adverse side effects to damage public confidence, In this regard the mainstream media has shown little responsibility to a community already liable to vastly over-estimate the risk of side effects of vaccination.

Behavioural scientists have long known that an irrational approach to risk is almost hard-wired into the human brain. But if we have sufficient trust in experts – aviation safety regulators, and public health authorities – we overcome our fears and trust them, perhaps when we see their advice confirmed over the years.

There is no reason not to trust our public health experts, but over forty years political parties on the right, starting with Ronald Reagan (“government is the problem”) and copied by his disciples in other lands, have systematically worked to undermine trust in anything government does or recommends.

Norman Swan, on Coronacast, maps out a feasible way we could still come close to our original vaccination program without much slippage. It involves being careful with our allocation of Pfizer vaccine (why is it still being given to people in nursing homes when there is plenty of AstraZeneca?), using inoculation centres rather than GPs to roll out at least a first dose of AstraZeneca to the 8 million people over 50, and dispensing other vaccines (not only Pfizer) to the 12 million Australians between 15 and 50 when supply becomes available. It’s not a firm plan, but it’s more informative than anything the government has come up with since it abandoned its over-confident promises about vaccination by October, and it seems to be where the re-convened “national cabinet” is heading in its “recalibration”.

As Mark Kenny says, writing in The Conversation, Morrison, the master of spin and false assurance, has panicked: “2021 has been a whole new ball game, and one for which a prime minister not accustomed to pressure, has proved far less equipped”.

As at Thursday, just over 5 per cent of Australia’s population has been vaccinated.  Smaller states and territories seem to be performing better than New South Wales and Victoria. The Guardian reports that Australia ranks as a world laggard in vaccination (somewhere between 81st and 100th place), while pointing out what we can learn from those countries advanced in vaccination.

How and when can we open up?

Our approach of keeping Australia Covid-19 free through tough border controls cannot last forever. There should come a time when, as a result of vaccination and established hygiene habits, we will get the virus’s reproduction rate (“R”) a long way below I.0. Once we achieve this any Covid-19 that comes into the country will be quickly traced and extinguished. That’s essentially what has happened with tuberculosis, which is still coming into the country. We still have a long way to go before we can open up.

There will be increasing pressure for early lifting of travel restrictions, however. Morrison is reported to have discussed the possibility of Australians getting used “to dealing with 1000 cases a week or more”  if we go for easier conditions for returning travellers, such as home quarantine, while acknowledging that we would not welcome another round of closures.

Until we get that “R” number way down there is no realistic scenario that would see a stable case load of 1000 or so a week. Once we reach that sort of number it’s going to grow exponentially, unless it is stopped with very costly action as was done in Victoria. Those who think a steady flow of infections is possible should go back to their early high school mathematics books. If they cannot dig them up they should think about how rabbits reproduce and bushfires spread, and how disastrous it was when the UK tried to manage with a tolerable flow of infections.

The rest of the world

Earlier this year the pandemic seemed to be easing, but in the last two months it has re-surged, and its world-wide incidence will probably exceed the January record of 740 000 daily cases.

Just five countries, all very different – India, USA, Brazil, Turkey and France – accounted for 53 per cent of last week’s cases. Within Europe five countries – Cyprus, Sweden, France, Poland and Hungary – are recording more than 500 new cases per day per million population. At the other end of the European spectrum is the UK, now down to 25 daily cases per million. But even the UK has some way to go: at 25 daily cases per million it has only just come down to Japan’s daily rate, which is the highest among developed countries in our region.

Among countries with significant vaccination levels are Israel – 62 per cent first dose 57 per cent fully vaccinated, the UK (48, 11) and the USA (37, 22).


See our separate web page of hyperlinks to generally reliable information and analysis about Covid-19. Among other links The Economist reports that Bhutan vaccinated almost all adults in a week, while the Harvard Gazette reports on research showing that pregnant women show a robust immune response to Covid-19 and that they pass antibodies to their newborns.

Foreign affairs

Myanmar – it’s complicated

No-one outside Myanmar loves the Tatmadaw – the name by which the country’s military is known – very much. The ANU’s Jonathan Liljeblad, writes in The Conversation that we know how to cut off the financial valve to Myanmar’s military. The world just needs the resolve to act. He lists a number of sanctions, mainly financial, that global and Asian bodies could effectively apply.

Writing in Foreign Affairs – The dangerous impasse in Myanmar –  former Secretary of Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Bilahari Kausikan acknowledges that the Tatmadaw vastly under-estimated the amount of support the democratically-elected government had enjoyed, but neither moral suasion or sanctions will see it relinquish power. It was and is the best-functioning institution in the country. For ASEAN and the West, no matter how morally repulsed they may be by the Tatmadaw’s brutality, there are no good options: these countries must be patient and move cautiously.

On the ABC’s Rear Vision  Annabel Quince interviews a number of experts about the antecedents to the country’s present situation, which has roots in its difficult history during the decolonization period. In 1948 Britain left the country with weak institutions and an army cobbled together from British-trained and Japanese-trained soldiers, and with two parties – Karen insurgents and communists – vying for power and influence. Ne Win’s military coup in 1962 brought order, but also isolationism and poverty as other Asian countries grew in prosperity.  From then the army grew from a traditional defence force to a state-within-a-state, with strong economic power, a professional officer corps and a culture of absolute obedience and extreme brutality. The country’s transition to democracy was never complete; de facto the National League for Democracy governed only with the military’s permission, but the outside world mistook the situation for genuine democratisation.

Ireland’s slow path to reunification

The British occupation and division of Ireland has a long and troubled history. A peace settlement – the US-brokered “Good Friday Agreement” – negotiated in 1998, giving the Northern Ireland Parliament more authority, was followed by more than twenty years of calm. As the Northern Irish come to understand the implications of Boris Johnson’s Brexit agreement, discontent has broken out again.

Writing in The ConversationNorthern Ireland, born of strife 100 years ago, again erupts in political violence – James Walker of Keene State College, New Hampshire, puts the re-emerging troubles into that historical context. The people of Northern Ireland, although predominately Christian, are strongly divided between “Catholics” and “Protestants” (a division that probably has more to do with tribal identities than with fine points of theological difference). The Protestants are already fearful of a future that must surely lead to re-unification, and because Brexit imposes a hard trade border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, they feel cut off – classified more as Irish than as British.

Engaging with China

President Biden will be more diplomatic in dealing with China than Trump, but he is still bound by “a rock-solid consensus among the Washington DC establishment that the US must, in one way or another, stop China’s rise”. There is also a belief in Washington that Europe should align itself with the US in this contest.

So writes Kishore Mahbubani – Europe’s dilemma: head or heart?  Europe’s heart, conditioned by history, will remain with the United States, but geopolitics and geography will turn its head to Africa.

Europe faces the prospect of being overrun by desperate African immigrants fleeing violence and poverty. It should therefore take an opportunity to partner with China to help lift Africa out of poverty. The US will oppose such a development, but it should see past its immediate obsession with a two-power conflict. “We should abandon the zero-sum mentality of 19th century geopolitical games and come together as common humanity to deal with the pressing and common 21st century global challenges. An EU-China partnership in Africa will be a step in the right direction” writes Mahbubani.

Also writing on America’s relationship with China on global issues are Andrew Erikson and Gabriel Collins who urge the US to pressure China to cut its carbon emissions: Competition with China can save the planet,published in Foreign Affairs. China has run a strong public relations campaign centred on its 2060 target for carbon neutrality, but the reality is that it is still expanding its use of coal-fired plants and is building new ones. They write that “Washington should build a coalition of like-minded partners” to pressure China into sourcing its energy supplies more sustainability and agree on a carbon tax (including taxing Scope 2 emissions incurred downstream and upstream).

We note that in that list of like-minded partners they see Australia as one of the “key players”.  That may be where Australian public opinion lies, and it may be the view of independent Australian economists, but it’s a long way from the position of a government captured by the fossil fuel industry.

Women in the pandemic

Since the outbreak of Covid-19 all types of violence against women and girls, particularly domestic violence, has intensified. This has been happening worldwide, manifest in different ways in different countries, rich and poor. Drawing attention to this development the United Nations has launched its “Shadow Pandemic campaign”.

On the campaign’s website The Shadow Pandemic: Violence against women during COVID-19  you can hear an Australian voice – Nicole Kidman in her role as UN Women’s Goodwill Ambassador – urging action. We can do our part.

Our inflating housing bubble

At last the Reserve Bank notices that house prices are rising

In the Reserve Bank’s latest Financial Stability Review, it drops the gentlest of hints that rising house prices may threaten the economy. In its short At a glance document it writes that “cyclically low interest rates and rising asset prices create a risk of excessive borrowing”.  It acknowledges that asset price inflation reduces the risk of borrowers defaulting on their loans, but it adds the qualification:

Risks from rising asset prices and debt could build, particularly if lending standards are weakened. Persistent increases in asset prices could lead to expectations rises will continue and so increase risk taking and borrowing, especially given low interest rates. This could push asset prices above their fundamental values which could lead to a correction in asset prices, which if borrowers’ income fell could expose lenders to large losses on higher debt.

Is the housing market getting wobbly?

Its substantial analysis – Household and business finances in Australia – is more upbeat, but it notes that there are regional differences in housing markets. In non-metropolitan regions (confusingly called “regional areas”), and in outer suburban regions, house prices have been rising strongly, but in inner-city regions in Sydney and Melbourne there is evidence of over-supply and falling rental yields, particularly on apartments.

That same document also reveals, unsurprisingly, that many renters are having to rely on once-off assistance, such as withdrawal of superannuation and hardship concessions for utility bills.  The Bank also draws attention to problems in commercial property – retail and office – that seem to be attributable to long-term structural issues rather than simply to Covid-19 consequences.

Its main analysis is about housing, but it also remarks that equity prices are high, as indicated by elevated price-equity ratios. It notes that such high prices are in line with low real interest rates. (Is it not possible that they are two aspects of the same risk?)

Note that this regular review is mainly about risks to the stability of the whole financial system: it is less concerned about risks faced by particular sectors, regions or demographic groups, just so long as they don’t contribute to a general GFC-style catastrophe.

What’s inflating the bubble – irrational expectations

Asset bubbles have three stages. In the first stage some investors go for what looks like a good deal. Falling interest rates and tax breaks have made housing look like a sound proposition, kicking off a rise in prices. In the second stage naïve investors, aware that prices are rising, are attracted to the market by what they see as an inevitable momentum, generating a strong cycle of positive feedback. In the third stage what we may call “strategic investors” come into the market. They know the market is overpriced, but they pile their money in believing that they can get out before the positive feedback cycle collapses.

Peter Martin, writing in The Conversation, believes the housing market is now in that third stage – Home prices are climbing alright, but not for the reason you might think.

Where to channel our savings – superannuation or housing?

Apart from those with their own businesses, most people have only two channels for investment. They can buy real-estate – static assets that may experience intermittent periods of increased demand – or they can invest in equities and if their portfolios are adequately diversified they can share the benefits of the nation’s economic growth. For most Australians the opportunity to invest in equities is through superannuation.

But there are powerful interests in the finance sector seeking to privilege real-estate as a channel for investment. They have succeeded in having the Coalition retain tax incentives for those buying “investment properties” and in expanding financial assistance for first home-buyers. These are demand-side incentives, the net effects of which are to make housing less affordable and to encourage naïve investors to fuel a speculative bubble with borrowed funds.

Liberal Party MP Tim Wilson, Chair of the House Economics Committee, is campaigning to throw more financial fuel on to the property boom by allowing people to use superannuation to invest in property.  As Jennifer Duke reports in the Sydney Morning Herald, the superannuation industry sees Wilson’s personal campaign to allow people to withdraw money from their superannuation funds to invest in housing as a clear conflict of interest.

Writing in Eureka Street, David James reminds us of the public virtue of Prime Minister Keating’s superannuation incentives:

It is an exemplification of a strain of political thinking, neither strictly left wing nor right wing, that was devised by the great writer GK Chesterton: distributism, the idea that productive assets should be widely owned rather than concentrated. Superannuation has made big steps towards such distributed ownership, unlike the Australian housing market, where there is unfortunately a massive generational divide because of reckless bank lending.

Other economics

(Almost) everything you need to know about macroeconomics in twenty minutes

On Late Night Live, Phillip Adams interviews Satyajit Das, author of A Banquet of Consequences: Reloaded, this time about macroeconomic policy.

The discussion is mainly about debt. Australians carry rather a lot of debt, but it’s not the amount of government debt we should be most concerned about: it’s household debt, where we’re really in the big league of borrowers. The problem with our government debt is that it has been used to finance consumption rather than investment to strengthen our economy. We don’t have much to show for it.

The interview moves into what is known as “modern monetary theory”, which leads to the idea of a universal basic income, an idea that has been around for some time, at least since Thomas More wrote Utopia in 1516.

The Liberal Party struggles to understand capitalism

Henry Ford and Karl Marx didn’t have much in common, but they both understood that when most workers are underpaid, capitalism will eventually unravel because capitalism relies on workers’ wages circulating through the economy. Marx’s solution was communism – a less than outstanding success. Ford’s solution was to double wages so that American workers could afford to buy his cars.

Writing in The Conversation, Jim Stanford of the Centre for Future Work describes how the Morrison Government and so-called “employer groups”, in opposing increases in the minimum wage, still haven’t grasped the basic circularity of capitalism: Resistance to raising the minimum wage reflects obsolete economic thinking.  “Obsolete” is too soft a word – it’s a pre-capitalist medieval Weltanschauung  that cannot accommodate the idea of well-paid workers as essential for the working of a sustainable economy.

Putting health care back into aged care

One flaw in our health care arrangements is an imbalance between primary care and hospital care. Better-organized primary care could keep many people out of hospitals, with benefits of health outcomes and financial savings.

The Australian Medical Association has published a report “Putting health care back into aged care”, calling for better financial incentives for GPs to provide primary care in nursing homes. They point out that every year there are more than 27 000 transfers of older people from nursing homes to hospitals that are potentially preventable if there were continuity of care through GPs.

The AMA’s estimates of saving are in a press release: AMA identifies savings of $21.2 billion in aged care hospital admissions. A separate press release details its specific recommendations. Both have links to the full report.

Yellen’s corporate tax plan – dealing with criticism

We have already given links to the Biden Administration’s ambitious infrastructure plan. It is accompanied by US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen’s plan to raise corporate taxes while avoiding the destructive reaction of countries engaging in tax competition. She has written the plan as an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal available through the US Treasury website.

Writing in Inside StoryEnding a thirty-year race to the bottom – Adam Triggs anticipates and dismisses the usual objections to Yellen’s plan. These objections state that low corporate taxes promote investment and growth and they keep governments accountable, and that even if high corporate taxes look good on paper they cannot work. The virtue of Yellen’s plan, however, is that it is practical because it is a package involving cooperation between major economies.

Unemployment and labour force shortages

On Thursday the ABS released March labour force data. All the key figures – the unemployment rate, the underemployment rate, and the participation rate – are pointing in the right direction. The April release will show the effect, if discernible, of the end of “Jobkeeper” payments.

There remains the problem that the labour utilisation rate (unemployment plus underemployment), at 13.5 per cent, is still high, and at the same time in many industries there are shortages of skilled labour: job advertisements aren’t getting many responses. The ABC business reporter David Taylor points to an absence of the usual flow of skilled migrants as one reason for the shortages. Our vulnerability to a temporary shortage of skilled migrants points to weaknesses in our economy.

The existence of high labour underutilisation at the same time as skills shortages is what economists call “structural unemployment”. It won’t be solved with financial incentives, or cuts in unemployment benefits. It reveals weaknesses in our education and training systems, that will not be rectified so long as we skimp on public spending on education.

Our fragile democracy

The Liberal Party’s path to a one-party state

There is a fair bit of news about Republican politicians in Georgia, Texas and other states using measures to discourage Democrat supporters from voting and to take power away from local election officials. Here, in Australia, the Liberal Party is considering ways to weaken our preferential voting system, to allow for optional preferential voting.  Under optional preferential voting the voter would have to do no more than allocate a “1” to his or her first choice: further allocation of preferences – 2, 3, 4 and so on – would be optional.

Writing in The Conversation Benjamin Reilly of the University of Western Australia points out that, based on present voting patterns, optional preferential voting would devastate Labor in federal elections. It would also make it hard for minor parties and independents to win representation.

One would reasonably assume that the Centre Alliance and One Nation would oppose such a move, but Reilly points out that both parties support optional preferential voting. (Presumably One Nation judges the Liberal Party would welcome far-right populists into its fold.)

Reilly sees the move in terms of cementing the Liberals’ hold on power. He also points out that under optional preferential voting in recent federal elections Labor would have won seats from other progressive candidates.

The broader problem we see is that it could entrench the dysfunctional two-party adversarial “Westminster” system, which in recent elections has been slowly giving way to a more representative system of democracy.

Christine Holgate’s dismissal: it’s about far more than bullying and gender

The mainstream media has given plenty of coverage to Morrison’s foul-tempered outburst in Parliament House when he screamed “she can go”, to her dignified interview with Laura Tingle on the ABC’s 730 program, and to the pathetic performance of the chairman of Australia Post, Lucio Di Bartolomeo, appearing before the Senate committee convened to consider the circumstances surrounding Holgate’s departure as CEO.  John Hewson, writing in the Canberra Times, is less than impressed with Di Bartolomeo’s behaviour.

This coverage, important as it is in providing insight into Morrison’s character, has tended to overshadow other aspects of Holgate’s dismissal.  Writing in The Guardian Katharine Murphy makes it clear that Morrison’s petulant outburst was a public manifestation of his already-held view that she should go – a view that pre-dated the revelation about Cartier watches.

Matt Couglan, writing in the Canberra Times, draws our attention to Holgate’s opposition to a “business strategy review” (to use the Boston Consulting Group’s Orwellian language) proposing the privatization of Australia Post’s parcel delivery service and the closure of 190 post offices. Holgate’s offence seems to be that she demonstrated that a well-managed government business enterprise can successfully modernise and transform itself – a violation of the Liberal Party’s faith in the incompetence of the public sector.

The Australian Citizens’ Party goes into more detail about the privatization issue: Getting in the way—how Christine Holgate upset a $75 trillion privatisation agenda targeting Australia Post.  Holgate’s predecessor, Ahmed Fahour, was highly in favour of privatization, particularly of the very successful parcel delivery service, while downgrading other services including letter delivery. So too was Di Bartolomeo in favour of privatization. In what the Citizens’ Party calls “Holgate’s inconvenient success”, she derailed this process by saving and strengthening the network of licensed post offices (LPOs) – the small businesses we see in most suburbs and country towns providing post services, stationery and, most important, basic banking services. Holgate’s success was to ensure that the banks paid proper commissions for these services, thus putting these businesses on a secure financial footing and saving post offices in country towns from closure.

The media has focussed on gender and Morrison’s duplicitous behaviour, but the issue is also about the way the Liberal Party sees government business enterprises – not as organisations intended to provide vital services to the public, but as bounty to reward party cronies through privatisation. To add injury to insult, Holgate ensured that some of the banks’ easily-generated profits were diverted to small businesses providing services in the real economy: she shouldn’t have done that to the Liberal Party’s strongest supporters.

We might ask why the Labor Party has been quiet on this issue. Perhaps it’s because of its own record on privatisation, which has not served the public purpose, and perhaps it’s because Albanese initially joined in criticising Holgate.

The long history of political corruption in New South Wales

No doubt many Pearls and Irritations readers have followed the three-part ABC TV series Exposed: the ghost train fire, in which former New South Wales police officers openly claim that gangster Abe Saffron was behind the 1979 blaze that killed six children and one adult, and that he was protected by corrupt police and politicians. One of their allegations was that “Saffron conspired with High Court judge Lionel Murphy and NSW premier Neville Wran to win the Luna Park lease after the fire”.  As a result pf these claims the state coroner has officially called on the police to review all evidence relating to the event.

Anyone who believes the ABC has a pro-Labor bias should remember that Murphy and Wran were both prominent in the Labor Party.

But it isn’t just about Labor. Wran was premier from 1976 to 1986. He was preceded by Liberal Party Robert Askin, premier from 1965 to 1975 (with two short-lived and easily-forgotten Liberal premiers over a chaotic 16-month period between Askin and Wran).

Quite separately from the Luna Park inquiries, veteran journalist Mike Steketee asks Was Askin corrupt? in a review article in Inside Story. Steketee reviews two works that claim to leave no doubt about Askin’s corruption and a later work asserting that these two  earlier accounts were based on unreliable evidence. Steketee is inclined to believe that Askin was corrupt – that he received regular income from gambling industry bagmen, that he sold honours for cash, and that when he died his estate was very much larger than could possibly be explained by his income from legitimate sources. He concludes, however, that “corruption was not confined to the Askin years”.  Was corruption in the New South Wales law-enforcement and political circles all due to Askin, or was he simply contributing his part to a tradition established in 1788 and passed on to his Labor successor? And in light of recent ICAC investigations involving Premier Berejiklian, what is the situation in New South Wales now?

How dominant is the Murdoch media in Australia?

Kevin Rudd has called Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, with its unwavering support for the Coalition and misrepresentation of Labor policies, “a cancer on democracy”. Rudd’s petition to establish a “royal” commission into media diversity in Australia, supported by Malcolm Turnbull, has led to a Senate inquiry into media diversity.

The RMIT ABC Fact Check team has tried to assess the role of the Murdoch empire in Australia’s media. In what would have been a truly worrying figure in 1970 or 1980, it finds that Murdoch holds about two thirds of print media circulation, and has a print media monopoly in Brisbane, Adelaide, Hobart and Darwin. But unsurprisingly the team found that the online news scene is much more competitive, where ABC News and Murdoch’s are level-pegging for top place, and many non-Murdoch media have substantial following. (For instance Guardian Australia easily outranks The Australian for online readership.)

They devote particular attention to Sky News (probably the most toxic of Murdoch’s offerings).  It seems to have half a million viewers per week in capital cities and perhaps another half-million followers of Sky News on Win in other regions. By contrast the ABC News channel reaches 3.9 million Australians per week.

The team does not come up with a consolidated figure asserting that Murdoch’s share is X per cent: too many assumptions would be involved. Whatever it is, X may not be as high as some people think it is, except perhaps among particular demographic groups who are still wedded to print papers.  But X may not be the way to measure influence: plausible lies, rumours, conspiracy theories and other unverifiable mistruths have a lot of persuasive power.

Polls and surveys

Essential – the case for disenfranchising men

The latest Essential poll has the usual questions on approval of Morrison and Albanese and on preferred prime minister.  Although the gap is narrowing, both Morrison and Albanese are down on approval.

On preferred prime minister, the gap is closing but even more slowly.

There are significant differences between men’s and women’s preferences: 61 per cent of men but only 46 per cent of women approve of the job Morrison is doing as prime minister. Similarly 53 per cent of men but only 42 per cent of women prefer Morrison as prime minister. Men’s views on these questions have changed little over the last few months, while women have turned sharply against Morrison, but not necessarily to Albanese.

Voters still feel positive about the federal government’s response to Covid-19 (62 per cent “good”, 17 per cent “poor”) but are generally more satisfied with their state government’s responses.

There is an odd question “If a Labor government under Anthony Albanese had been in power, how confident are you that they would have done a good job at dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic?”. Labor shows up well: 44 per cent “confident”, 37 per cent “not confident”, but it is hard to impute much meaning into such a question.

There are three questions on the speed of the vaccine rollout.  By a long margin (52 per cent to 20 per cent) people believe the rollout is too slow rather than too fast. Older people, in particular, would like it to be faster (60 per cent to 16 per cent).  People are in no doubt who is responsible for the slow rollout: 42 per cent blame the federal government, 7 per cent blame the states, and 42 per cent blame supply chains and manufacturers. Overall, people are unimpressed with the federal government’s performance.

Note that the poll was conducted between April 7 and April 12. Very few respondents would have known about the Commonwealth’s changed advice on AstraZeneca.

There is a set of questions about the withdrawal of “Jobkeeper” payments. As is the case so often with questions about fiscal matters there are some inconsistencies – more people think it should be extended rather than terminated, but a similar proportion believe that the scheme is far too expensive to be continued.

The statement with strongest support (66 per cent) was “Big companies that have made a profit and paid dividends and bonuses should be forced to repay JobKeeper payments they received.”  There was no discernible partisan difference in responses on this question, and older people were very strongly in agreement. (Is it really a surprise that Australians don’t approve of Morrison’s crony capitalism?)

The above questions and responses are about people’s political attitudes. Essential asked another pair of questions about people’s intended behaviour. The questions and responses were:

As the Brisbane lockdown shows, there’s not much point in the federal government encouraging people to travel to other parts of Australia until the vaccine program has been completed.

Agree 57 per cent, disagree 18 per cent

I would be nervous about booking a trip to another state because it’s impossible to predict if the trip will suddenly be cancelled because of a Covid-19 outbreak.

Agree 69 per cent, disagree 14 per cent

These answers confirm that all the governments’ exhortations and incentives to support the tourist industry count for little when aren’t sure that governments can maintain controls on the virus being introduced from overseas. These responses are understandable when governments (apart from Western Australia’s) are unable to assure the public that all quarantine workers and their families have been properly vaccinated.


The Jesuit who dared

Who are the Jesuits? Some people see the Jesuits as a dark underground movement plotting to take over the world – a Catholic version of QAnon. Even within the Catholic Church they are subject to suspicion. There are Catholics in America and Australia who have so successfully shaken off the “bog Irish” image of Catholicism that Catholics have become part of the “white”, male establishment: they see the Jesuits, including Pope Francis, as a threat to their hard-won elevation to social respect in a world that values power and material riches.

One Jesuit well-known to Pearls and Irritations readers is Michael Kelly. Earlier this month, well before it became the topic of mainstream media, Kelly wrote about Morrison’s disgraceful assault on Christine Holgate, in the context of the way women in public life are treated in this country. Kelly’s defence of Holgate should not be seen in a partisan context: he was no less outraged by Bob Hawke’s treatment of his friend Susan Ryan (another strong contributor to Pearls and Irritations before her death in September last year).

On the ABC’s Compass program he is in conversation with Geraldine Doogue. On one level it’s a personal story covering his work with refugees in Thailand and his recent trauma involving the amputation of his left leg. It’s also a story that de-mystifies the spiritual and worldly life of a Jesuit: The Jesuit who dared. (30 minutes.)

Wholesome dancing for the military

Perhaps the dance performance for commissioning the Navy’s Supply was a little beyond a “G” rating: it certainly upset Peter Dutton’s delicate sensitivities. One of our Asian neighbours demonstrates how good, clean, wholesome dancing, suitable for the whole family, can be accommodated in military events.

See Michael West Media for more analysis of these and other economic and political issues, and watch out for Peter Sainsbury’s Sunday environment round up.

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