Saturday’s good reading and listening for the weekendMay 29, 2021
What people in other forums are saying about public policy.
The pandemic’s progress
The Victorian outbreak
The Victorian outbreak results from yet another failure in hotel quarantine. As Mark Butler, Labor Shadow Minister for Health and Ageing pointed out in an interview on ABC Breakfast, the Prime Minister is directly responsible for the Melbourne outbreak. Butler points out that the Morrison Government had two tasks in relation to the pandemic – to vaccinate the population and to provide effective quarantine. It has failed on both. (The twelve-minute interview starts with a strident and hysterical rant by Scott Morrison before reverting to normal English.)
On vaccination we have achieved only 3.8 million, or 15 per cent of the population, first-dose coverage. On quarantining, although this is the 17th case of an outbreak from hotel quarantine, the Morrison Government has been particularly slow in developing specialised quarantine facilities, and has even refused to enforce standards of ventilation, immunisation for staff and use of protective equipment.
This latest outbreak has spread from someone who caught the case while in hotel quarantine. If people can catch the virus while in quarantine, it means that short of keeping everyone in a hotel until two weeks after the last case is recorded, there is no way hotel quarantine can work. And that is not to consider the injustice of forcing returning Australians to be exposed to unnecessary danger – a failure of a duty of care. Norman Swan has drawn our attention to failures in hotel quarantine: it works most of the time, but when it fails the consequences are terrible. He also cites research by epidemiologists quantifying the consequences of hotel quarantine failure.
When can we open up again?
There are voices calling for Australia to ease up on arrivals, to tolerate some level of Covid-19 circulating in the community. That day will come, when we achieve a high level of vaccination. It needs to be at least 70 per cent, and probably significantly higher. But those who are asserting that we should ease our borders now, or should muddle through with our unreliable system of hotel quarantine, are either ignorant of the basic mathematics of viral reproduction or are callously indifferent to the suffering and economic devastation that would result from an unsuppressed outbreak.
Unsurprisingly these voices have gone quiet in the last few days, but they will pipe up again once the Victorian outbreak comes under control.
Melissa Cunningham and Aisha Dow, writing in The Age last Saturday – Life after the pandemic: will we meet COVID again? – collated the views of a number of epidemiological experts. While those experts differed on details, their essential message was that we have been extremely lucky to have had an extended period – nine months – of almost no community transmission. The experts warned of a strong possibility that that situation could change rapidly, as it did in India. We should have been using that lucky break to get vaccinated, but thanks to complacency, a failure to understand risk, and government ineptitude in securing supply and distributing vaccines, we have squandered it. They would not be surprised by the Victorian outbreak.
There is no magic point at which we achieve “herd immunity” and can go back to a pre-2020 lifestyle. Theoretically any set of measures, including vaccination, that bring the virus’s reproduction rate R below one will lead to herd immunity. But if R is just below one, herd immunity can take years to achieve. Different sub-groups will have different vaccination rates and different vulnerabilities: R is not a single nation-wide figure. We still don’t know how long immunity lasts, and in any case the virus mutates.
Counterintuitively, as we start to achieve high rates of vaccination, but not high enough to achieve herd immunity, contact-tracing could become more difficult and less reliable, because a proportion of vaccinated people will be catching and spreading Covid-19 without knowing it, such is the effectiveness of vaccines in providing protection against the worst of the virus’s effects.
It’s a situation that calls for clear and open communication by the government, rather than the present approach characterised by defensiveness and secrecy. Last Monday’s Four Corners revealed as much of the Commonwealth’s failings as can be conveyed in 45 minutes. It is a story of politicisation, over-confidence, administrative incompetence, public officials’ conditioned practice of covering-up mistakes, and the Morrison Government’s generally patronising attitude towards the community. Some of the explanation is that the Commonwealth laid some poor bets, but much is about Morrison’s attempt to use vaccination as a political weapon to help his and his cronies’ re-election.
That Four Corners episode shows Health Minister Hunt explaining how some of the government’s bets about vaccine availability didn’t come off. Had the Morrison Government explained the contingencies around vaccination last year, rather than confidently asserting that we would all be vaccinated by October, the public would surely be more forgiving. But Australians are understandably angry and confused. They get angry when private contractors hired by the Commonwealth mess up vaccine distribution. They become confused and fearful when the Commonwealth simply says that one vaccine is safe for everyone over 50 but not for anyone younger. Why has not the Commonwealth published, in simple tabular or graphical form, the empirical data relating clotting risk to age?
If the Commonwealth could bring itself to see vaccination as an administrative task rather than a political opportunity, we would be much further advanced towards some degree of herd immunity and opening borders. But as Laura Tingle explains – If the public has vaccine hesitancy, the government has developed strategy hesitancy – Morrison sees vaccination as an exercise in political marketing.
World reported cases are shown in the graph below, with a separate line showing cases in the world other than India.
In terms of reported cases the Indian outbreak peaked earlier this month, but this may simply mean that the virus is spreading to rural areas where record-keeping is less accurate than in the cities. For the rest of the world the fall in cases is not as marked as it is in India, It is largely explained by continued falls in Europe and the USA, shown in the following graph.
It is notable that in the UK the daily new case rate seems to be levelling out at about 25 cases per million people. In the rest of Europe cases are falling in almost all countries. The EU average is now around 100 daily cases per million, but there is a wide range of figures, from 7 daily cases per million in Malta, up to 250 in Sweden and Lithuania. (That is, if one ignores Ireland, which has stopped reporting cases.)
It is possible that we are seeing some benefits from vaccination. The virus is still spreading, but in some countries it seems to be becoming less deadly. In Europe and the USA death rates per 100 cases are much lower than they were in 2020 and earlier this year. A combination of factors is probably at play, including better medical care, but vaccination is probably a factor in countries where vaccination has been targeted at the most vulnerable.
As yet, however, there is no clear relationship between vaccination and the incidence of cases. Some countries, such as Uruguay and Bahrain, have high case rates and high immunisation: this may be because high immunisation has been in response to high rates of infection. The table below shows vaccination and daily cases for countries that have achieved at least 50 per cent one-dose vaccination, excluding small island countries.
A most attractive investment
Who, with some cash to spare, would turn down an investment of $35 000 for a return of $9 million?
Pearls and Irritations isn’t going into investment advice, but we use this example to draw attention to IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva’s remarks on the global economic returns of investment in worldwide action to stop the virus from spreading. Rich countries should provide vaccines, diagnostic supplies and other therapeutics to poorer countries, as a global response to Covid-19. She calls for an investment of $35 billion, yielding a return of $9 trillion in the global economy – to the benefit of rich and poor countries alike. The modelling that lies behind these figures is in an IMF staff discussion paper A proposal to end the Covid-19 pandemic, by Ruchir Agarwal and Gita Gopinath.
Because we think those big numbers are hard to grasp, we scaled them back by a factor of a million. Another way to consider $35 billion in personal terms is to think of the roughly 1 billion people living in prosperous countries like Australia: it’s about $35 a head.
See our separate web page of hyperlinks to generally reliable information and analysis about Covid-19, including the ABC’s vaccine tracker. The Harvard Gazette has an article “Daily walks? Baking? Mindfulness? Which pandemic changes are keepers?” – maybe the people of Victoria will have enjoyed benefits denied to other Australians who have had shorter periods of lockdown.
The Australian economy
Will manufacturing make a comeback in Australia?
Much of Australia’s economic history of last century has been about the rise and fall of manufacturing. By now, out of all OECD countries, Australia has the smallest share of manufacturing in its economy and of what remains there is little in the skills-intensive high-technology end.
If manufacturing is to make a comeback it won’t bear much resemblance to what we had last century. There will be some factories, but there will be far more emphasis on engineering, design and development of supply chains.
These are some of the points raised by Jim Stanford of the Australia Institute’s Centre for Future Work and David Chuter, CEO of Innovative Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre on last week’s Saturday Extra: Making Australia make again: The future of manufacturing in Australia. We need to recognise the value of manufacturing, not only in terms of its contribution to supply reliability (why did we run short of face masks?) and to our trade balance, but also as a repository of skills. A network of manufacturing industries brings benefits that spill over into all sectors of the economy.
Stanford and Chuter give nodding recognition to the government’s nomination of six manufacturing areas to be boosted, but we need far more – essentially an industry policy, which would provide the public goods for all industries, particularly skills and education. They both speak highly of the way Germany, a country with high wages, has competed on value rather than simple cost-competitiveness to sustain a leading world role in manufacturing. (21 minutes.)
Jim Stanford’s ideas and analysis are spelled out in his 2020 report A fair share for Australian manufacturingpublished by The Australia Institute.
Inflation – another perspective
When statisticians try to measure household inflation they usually avoid making value-judgements. The items that make up the Consumer Price Index are based on surveys of household expenditure, without judgement as to whether people buy potatoes or Porsches, schoolbooks or shiraz.
But the ABS has taken a cautious approach to breaking the CPI into “discretionary” and “non-discretionary” components: Measuring non-discretionary and discretionary inflation, revealing that over the last 15 years the prices of non-discretionary items have risen much more than the price of discretionary items. That’s quantification of what anyone struggling to make ends meet knows all too well.
The ABS spells out its classifications. At first sight it seems to be odd: motor vehicles are discretionary but gasoline and car repairs are non-discretionary, and we note that, as on a nudist beach, clothes are discretionary. For such items the criterion for classification seems to be whether purchase of an item can be deferred or not.
The budget, another week on
Leading economists give the budget a poor mark
A majority of economists – 60 per cent in fact – give the budget a “C” or poorer mark. Out of 56 economists surveyed by The Economic Society of Australia and The Conversation, only 3 gave it an “A” mark.
Most economists are generally comfortable with running a fiscal deficit in the current circumstances, and there is general support for the idea that we can safely aim for a lower level of unemployment.
But those positive assessments are outweighed by the budget’s failure to address the economy’s structural needs and opportunities, particularly as they relate to decarbonisation and building a green industrial structure. They note that structural adjustment will be impeded by the government’s continued neglect of education. The budget makes strong claims about creating jobs through tax concessions to small business, but it is far from evident that these jobs will materialise. Money for aged care is welcome, but money alone does not address the need to have a workforce able and qualified to provide aged care services.
Housing – investing in public housing is a start but there’s a lot more to be done
Hal Pawson, Professor of Housing Research and Policy at the University of New South Wales and co-author of Housing policy in Australia: a case for system reform, writes in The Guardian about the budget’s approach to housing. The title of his article The Australian public purse is already pumping big money into housing – just not where it’s needed summarises his view. He is critical of demand-side financial incentives that escalate the price of housing, and he supports Labor’s proposals to build public housing – while pointing out that these proposls fall far short of what is needed to make a significant dent in waiting lists. But he calls for fundamental reforms:
We have to re-balance a system that overly benefits existing homeowners and landlords at the expense of tenants, especially lower income renters. We have to break away from a pathway that is increasingly restricting young adults’ opportunity for homeownership to those with access to family wealth.
A more favourable evaluation of the budget?
Stephen Bartos, former Deputy Secretary of the Finance Department, writing in The Conversation, believes that the budget addresses some basic needs. It should help make housing more affordable, and it is well-directed to the needs of indigenous people. There is increased spending on social security, mental health and children’s needs. “Lifting people out of poverty goes a long way to improving wellbeing” he writes. Overall the budget is well-directed to sustaining and improving people’s wellbeing, in both material and non-material terms.
We should mention that he is writing about the New Zealand budget, presented on May 20.
The Coalition’s war on renewable energy
When the lights went out in Queensland
When a coal-fired power station fails it does so in style. An explosion at Queensland’s Callide C station took out 700 Megawatts of capacity instantaneously, and as is the case of any system of interconnected large generators, there was a concatenating effect on the rest of the state’s power system. This failure was a clear demonstration of the need for battery storage to deal with the immediate effects of outages, and for a distributed system of renewable-based generators connected by a national grid – a system that would be less vulnerable to failure in any one component.
But as Giles Parkinson points out, writing in Renew Economy – Would a big battery have kept the lights on in Queensland?, energy minister Angus Taylor, supported by Queensland Coalition members of parliament, managed to use the accident as a case for coal:
The Coalition technology skeptics didn’t waste a moment to jump on to social media on Tuesday afternoon to argue – with not a hint of irony – that an explosion in the turbine hall of one of Queensland’s flagship coal generators was an argument to build yet more coal generators.
Those who seek a more technical description of the event can read Michael Mazengarb and Sophie Vorrath Coal plant “explosion” triggers widespread blackouts across Queensland, also writing in Renew Economy.
Sea levels to rise by 85 meters by 2030
OK – we got our dates and decimal points wrong. It’s more like 85 mm by 2050, but what do a few such errors matter when it comes to advocacy or providing advice to the government?
Sonam Thomas of RMIT ABC Fact Check has looked at claims made by Andrew Liveris, head of the Morrison Government’s National Covid-19 Commission, which is pushing the case for gas. On the ABC’s Q&A program Liveris asserted that 850 000 Australians are employed in industries that use gas as a feedstock.
The figure is plainly absurd. In fact it turns out to be the number of people employed in the entire manufacturing sector. As Thomas points out, at a stretch one could get to an upper estimate of about 50 000 jobs dependent on gas – one seventeenth of Liveris’s claim.
We’re not taking a cheap shot at someone who made a slip under the pressure of a TV program. On the same program Malcolm Turnbull gave him ample opportunity to correct himself (see the 4-minute video embedded in the article). It’s about the quality of advice sought by our decision-makers – decision-makers who have deliberately sidelined the expertise and objectivity of the public service.
“Without truth no democracy can stand”
That’s a quote from Simon Longstaff of The Ethics Centre, and it’s the title of one of the entries in Crikey’s Dossier of lies and falsehoods: how Scott Morrison manipulates the truth, which lays out “16 documented lies” and “11 documented falsehoods” delivered by Scott Morrison since his election in 2019. They cover Morrison’s claims about climate change and emissions, misuse of public funds, false statements about vaccination, and misrepresentation of actions or statements by his critics.
Crikey is neither partisan nor “left”. (The fact that some may see it that way indicates just how far most of our established media has allowed itself to be aligned with the Coalition Government’s Weltanschauung.) Crikeywas founded by Stephen Mayne, a former staffer of Liberal Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett.
To quote from Crikey’s justification for this project:
Emphatically, it is not for partisan political reasons. We would publish exactly the same dossier about a Labor prime minister if he or she had lied as often, as brazenly, and with so little accountability.
This is public interest journalism, pure and simple. We’re doing this because we care deeply about our democracy and, like all Australians, we don’t want to live in a country where systemic lying by our elected leader has become so normalised that no one seems to notice.
Morrison takes a leaf out of Putin’s book on suppressing criticism
The Morrison Government has charities in its sights. How dare bodies such as Anglicare, the Climate Council, the Australian Conservation Foundation or the St Vincent de Paul Society speak out against bad government policy or expose government corruption!
Mike Seccombe, writing in the Saturday Paper – Morrison’s ‘unconstitutional’ crackdown on charities – explains how the government proposes to hold charities criminally responsible for behaviour not only by their office-holders, but also by their members and supporters. They could be held responsible even for the way other groups use their reports and materials, and they could also be punished “on suspicion that they are merely ‘likely’ to commit a breach because a similar group has done so”.
Sanctions available to the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission would include de-registration, leading to a loss of tax deductibility for donations, and forced closure.
In comparing Morrison’s proposals with Putin’s means of suppressing dissent, Seccombe points out that “the intent is not just to prevent and punish minor acts of illegality but to deter the entire sector from advocating for politically inconvenient causes”.
(Note the Schwartz Media access provisions. You can read one free article a week without a subscription. But why be content with one article? In a country dominated by mediocrity and partisan bias in established media, Schwartz’s publications are good value for money.)
Social inclusion – generally holding up but some shortcomings
Inclusive Australia has published its Social Inclusion Index 2020-21, tracing responses on indicators relating to social inclusion over the last four years. In all there has been little movement in these indicators, and there is little evidence that any group stands out from others as subject to prejudicial attitudes. Depending on which way one reads the indicators, we are roughly equally tolerant of/prejudiced against religious minorities, racial minorities, indigenous Australians, people with different sexual references and young people.
In terms of experienced discrimination, however, significantly more young people than older people and significantly more indigenous Australians than other Australians report having experienced major discrimination over the last two years.
The report observes that there has been some fall in people’s identification as “Australian”. Older people are most likely to identify as “Australian”. It also has some unsurprising observations on how we have been impacted by Covid-19.
Is it so hard to say “sorry”?
The Senate Inquiry into Australia Post has been tabled, and the media has focussed on the report’s fifth recommendation “that the Australia Post Board and Shareholder Ministers and the Prime Minister apologise to Ms Holgate for denying her the legal principles of procedural fairness and natural justice in her departure from Australia Post” – a reference to Morrison’s disgraceful “she should go” outburst about CEO Christine Holgate. Government members of the committee, presumably invoking the doctrine of Prime Ministerial infallibility, have dissented from this recommendation.
That, and the behaviour of Australia Post board members in relation to Christine Holgate are of immediate concern. Of long-term concern is the way executive government has interfered in the business affairs of one of the nation’s most important government business enterprises. The report’s eighth recommendation is about re-asserting the proper authority of Parliament over Australia Post:
The committee recommends that the Australia Post Board be restructured to ensure that its makeup is consistent with the original intent of the Australian Postal Corporation Act 1989, and so that it functions properly as a public enterprise. A restructured board should include nominees of the House of Representatives, the Senate, the employees and unions, and the licensees.
For those without a penchant for reading Senate reports, inquiry chair Sarah Hanson-Young has given a summary in an interview on the ABC’s Breakfast program: Inquiry calls for Scott Morrison to apologise to Christine Holgate for “humiliating” her.
Among the writings on the strife in Israel is a Foreign Affairs article by Khalil Shikaki of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research: Fighting in Gaza marks the start of a more violent era. It is written before the current fragile ceasefire. Shikaki covers the antecedents to the conflict – there is plenty of blame to go around – and its likely enduring consequences.
The present round of violence goes back to Israel’s invasion of Gaza in 2014, which ended attempts by the then US Government to broker a peace deal. Then came Trump, whose policies “emboldened many Israeli conservatives and cleared the way for extreme anti-Palestinian policies”. This increased tension laid the ground for a power struggle between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, and through a series of incidents and misjudgements Hamas is likely to emerge on top.
There is little the international community can do. It lacks the capacity or political will “to force Israel to respect international law or Abbas and the Palestinian Authority to respect the norms of good governance”.
More background on the conflict is on an ABC Religion and Ethics Report Religion, politics, and history behind the Israel-Palestine conflict with two commentators. Yonat Shimron of the Religious News Service explains how a raid on the Al Aqsa Mosque during Ramadan helped trigger the violence, but she traces the conflicts back a few years – to the times of Kings Solomon and David. Maha Nassar of the University of Arizona, and author of Brothers apart: Palestinian citizens of Israel and the Arab world, reminds us that while the media refer to a conflict between Palestinians and Israelis, such a frame is an erroneous categorisation and simplification, because a good fifth of Israeli citizens are Palestinians, who suffer various forms of discrimination, akin to apartheid, and whose interests in this conflict have led them to be at odds with the political interests of the Israeli Government. (21 minutes.)
Who’s advising the Morrison Government on foreign affairs?
Bruce Haigh, writing in the Canberra Times, outlines how ever since the time of the Howard Government, the Commonwealth Government has been turning more to politicised sources of advice on foreign affairs, and has increasingly used foreign relations policy as a means to secure domestic political advantage. Experts in Defence and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Office of National Assessments have been marginalised, while the influence of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a body funded by the Australian Government and several large US weapons companies, has grown: ASPI has Australia trapped under ice.
Haigh sees ASPI as a partner in the Morrison’s government practice of “harnessing hysteria for political purposes”, particularly through the electorally-popular practice of China-bashing.
The geopolitical and geoeconomic consequences of climate change in the Arctic
Global warming is converting the Arctic from a sheet of ice to a set of navigable waterways, and this has a suite of consequences, outlined by Klaus Dodds of the University of London on last week’s Saturday Extra: As sea ice melts, the battle for the Arctic heats up.
The most obvious consequences are in navigation, as the fabled Northwest Passage and the Northeast Passage (aka the Northern Sea Route) become commercial realities, with implications for world trade and the distribution of economic activity. Also as the seas become more navigable and the oceans become warmer, the Arctic could become contested territory for fishing.
Most concerning for the global environment is that below the sea ice are huge reserves of oil, gas and hydrocarbon liquids, all outside any country’s territorial jurisdiction. Will they be left there as they become more accessible? What conflicts will arise over more easily extracted Arctic resources?
And Dodds reminds us that in the lands in the far north there are 4 million indigenous people, who up to now have led comparatively isolated lives. (19 minutes.)
Dodds’ work on the Arctic is published in the British magazine Prospect The battle for the Arctic, co-authored with Rachel Halliburton.
Fears of a mass exodus of women from the paid workforce are overstated
The ABC’s Jane Lee ran a story Almost one in four women have considered leaving the workforce during COVID.
The actual report by Deloittes, on which the story is based, is a little more nuanced. The survey was of women employed full-time in large organisations in Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, India, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States – countries with a wide range of experiences with Covid-19 and differing traditions of women participating in the paid workforce. It found that some women – 10 per cent of those surveyed – are considering making a career break or leaving the workforce entirely and that most women believe that their career progression will slow down, as a result of Covid-19.
The survey found that a disproportionate load of coping with the pandemic has fallen on women, particularly if they have caring roles. If companies are to retain women they should make flexible working the norm – not just working from home, which in cases can add demands placed on women, but also arrangements such as reduced hours and job sharing. (Note that this is real flexibility, rather than the asymmetric arrangements that demand workers adjust to corporate demands, that Coalition politicians call “flexibility”.)
Elections and polls
Upper Hunter by-election
Most media have focussed on Labor’s dismal showing in the Upper Hunter state by-election, with an 8 per cent fall in primary vote, down to 21 per cent, and a 3 per cent fall in two-party preferred vote.
The election wasn’t too flash for the Nationals either: they suffered a 3 per cent fall in primary vote. Between them the two parties scraped together just 52 per cent of the primary vote. The other 48 per cent went to a Melbourne Cup field of minor parties and independents. Kirsty O’Connell, the independent candidate backed by Malcolm Turnbull, and who had no commitment to the coal industry, put in an impressive performance with 9 per cent of the vote – much better than the Greens who won only 4 per cent of the vote.
The true winner in this by-election was the coal industry. Adding the National, Labor Party and One Nation votes, 66 per cent of voters went for parties supporting the coal industry. Adding together votes for the Greens and O’Connell, only 12 per cent went for candidates with a realistic view of the coal industry, while the other 22 per cent went to candidates who seemed to be having two bob each way. Surely there are more than 12 per cent of the electors in Hunter who have a realistic understanding of the coal industry’s dwindling prospects; why were so few candidates seeking their vote?
Many journalists have written about the dire implications for the Labor Party – in a way that they didn’t write about “dire implications” for the Liberal Party when the McGowan Government almost wiped the Liberal Party off the Western Australian map. Some see the result as the power of incumbency in these difficult times, but they fail to acknowledge that even in Tasmania, with its nine-month virus-free run, the Liberal Government suffered a 1.5 per- cent swing against it. (In fact in 16 of 17 of the last elections. state and federal, the Liberal Party or the LNP has suffered a negative swing in primary vote.) Even The Betoota Advocate has reported on Labor’s distress.
Writing in the Canberra Times, John Warhurst looks at the electoral politics in the wider context of both established political parties having difficulty in appealing not only to their traditional bases but also to the wider community: Upper Hunter or bust? An alternative perspective. The Upper Hunter by-election carries a message about our two-party system, but those with partisan blinkers aren’t reading it.
The time will come, possibly quite soon, when there are layoffs and closures in the coal industry, particularly in thermal coal which is dominant in the Hunter region. There will be a sense of bitterness and betrayal directed at all politicians who have failed to engage with the electorate on the hard issues of economic adjustment.
The Lowy Institute has published a major survey on attitudes to climate change: Climate Poll 2021. Public concern about global warming fell a little during the height of the pandemic, but it has resumed its upward trend: 60 per cent of respondents now agree that “Global warming is a serious and pressing problem. We should begin taking steps now even if this involves significant costs”, while only 9 per cent believe “Until we are sure that global warming is really a problem, we should not take any steps that would have economic costs”.
Just on three-quarters of us believe that “the benefits of taking further action on climate change will outweigh the costs”, but on this question there are significant differences based on education, age and partisan affiliation, with agreement levels shown below:
On the other hand, there is little difference based on income, or on whether people live in capital cities or in the country.
Another question asks whether Commonwealth policy should be directed to reducing emissions or reducing household bills. A clear majority (55 per cent) support reducing emissions over reducing household bills (32 per cent), a view that has strengthened over the last two years. (So why is energy minister Taylor using electricity affordability as an excuse to spend $600 million of our money on a new gas-fired plant?)
The latest Essential Report starts with questions about the budget. When asked who will benefit, “people who are well-off” and “big business” are seen as the winners, while people don’t see much in it for “older Australians” or “me personally”. Even those who count as “older” don’t see much in it, in spite of the billions for aged care and continuation of generous provisions for so-called “self-funded” retirees.
A majority of respondents believe that the budget will “place unnecessary burdens on future generations” and “create long-term problems that will need to be fixed in the future”. We would like to believe that respondents are concerned by the budget’s neglect of the economy’s structural problems, but a more likely explanation, confirmed by responses to other questions, is that years of conditioning have left people worried about the supposed horrors of government debt.
One question is about whether people think the budget is designed to help the economy over the long term or to help the Coalition to win the next election. While 55 per cent believe it is about the economy, there are significant and predictable partisan differences in response to this question. Older people are much more likely than younger people to believe it is designed to help return Morrison to office.
Respondents are asked about confidence in the Commonwealth’s long-term plans about the vaccine, quarantine, opening borders, reducing the national debt, and reducing carbon emissions. The Morrison Government scores poorly on all these dimensions. People are in no doubt that “it should be the federal government’s responsibility to build and manage quarantine facilities across the country”, but on this question there are partisan differences: Coalition voters seem to be unfamiliar with Section 51 of the Constitution.
People are unenthusiastic about the Commonwealth calling an early election.
Stuck in Melbourne?
If you’ve done your shopping, gone out for a vaccination, had a cycle ride, you may enjoy a virtual tour of Healesville Sanctuary.
If you have comments, corrections, or links to other relevant sources, we’d like to hear from you. Please send them to Ian McAuley — ian, at the domain name ianmcauley.com
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.