Saturday’s good reading and listening for the weekend

What people in other forums are saying about public policy


The pandemic’s progress

Have we stumbled onto a path to elimination?

Victoria’s infections are on the way down, and New South Wales has had a run of three days without any detected community transmission, broken by one untraceable case on Friday. Most of the Victoria’s cases now have known sources, indicating that contact tracing is working.

Just a month ago the situation in New South Wales looked precarious, particularly because cases were popping up in various parts of the greater Sydney area.

The challenge in Victoria will be to keep adequate restrictions in place once numbers become very low. Strong restrictions are planned to be maintained until October 26, to be removed only if there are fewer than five cases with an unknown source for 14 days. In view of the long period infected people without symptoms can pass on the virus, such caution is easily justified, but it will be a tough task for the government to resist calls to “open up”.

If the eastern states achieve what the rest of Australia and New Zealand have achieved – “practical elimination” or whatever we want to call it, there will still be significant challenges relating to internal travel (can states’ contact-tracing systems cope with travellers?) and external borders (can hotel quarantine be scaled up to cope with more travellers from overseas?).

If we achieve such near-normality, the media will miss Covid-19 stories about heartless and inflexible governments blocking cross-border travel, about criminally negligent administration of aged care homes, and about wicked people flouting rules on isolation. They may have to pay attention to the Coalition’s economic shortcomings – the unresolved sports grants issue, the waste of the Coalition’s NBN maladministration, the Treasurer’s Reaganite “supply-side” economics, the dog’s breakfast of energy and emissions policies, stagnant wages, unaffordable housing, the long-term decline in productivity …

Other countries

The graph below adds another week’s data to European and American figures. Britain’s curve is now showing strong exponential growth. So does the curve for the EU, but that’s a composite for 27 countries. The countries with very high infection growth rates (above 100 new cases a day per million) are Spain, France, Luxembourg, Netherlands and the Czech Republic. Within these countries there are hotspots of even greater growth in infections, such as Marseille and Utrecht.

In America by now close to 7 million people, or two per cent of the population, have been infected with Covid-19. (That’s almost certainly an under-estimate, because testing rates have been low.) And 200 000 people have died.  An article in Foreign Affairs –  America needs to lock down again – by Michael Osterholm and Mark Olshaker presents a compelling case for Victorian-style lockdowns.

How East Asia got it right

One reason east Asian countries handled the pandemic well is that they learned from their experience with the 2003 SARS virus. Writing in Foreign AffairsAn Asian pandemic success story – Swee Kheng Khor and David Heymann describe what that learning involved.

Contrary to the neoliberal myth that Asian countries have built their prosperity on “small government”, the authors point out that these countries have made significant investments in public health, both in terms of attending to the ongoing health of the population, and in having ready-to-respond systems to deal with epidemics.

They point out that “universal health coverage helps countries fight pandemics by bringing the population to a healthier baseline, reducing barriers to treatment, and encouraging familiarity with and trust in government services”. They note that because public health overlaps and cuts across established bureaucratic boundaries, the resulting organisational complexity can make responding to a pandemic very difficult. The solution is to have systems and institutions that can marshal the full power of government when required, with one clear locus of responsibility. (Victoria, take note.)

What’s going on in Africa?

As the pandemic started to spread beyond Europe, there were dire warnings about its impact in poorer countries.

The latest weekly WHO Situation Report reveals a complex situation, however.  A glance at the map on the third page reveals radically different outcomes for South America and Africa. The virus is raging in South America, while Africa seems to be comparatively untouched.  Some more detail on the two regions is provided in the report’s following two pages.

It’s tempting to suggest that because Africa is “underdeveloped” it’s not providing reliable data, but that explanation is contradicted by the data. We can see that cases have risen and are now falling; whatever mechanism was recording infections in July would be recording them now if they were occurring. Low infection rates are recorded in all 30 or so central African countries; at least some of them must keep good records. And it should be noted that deaths have peaked. It is reasonable to assume that deaths are harder to ignore than mild cases of Covid-19.

There are many speculative answers, but so far the experts don’t have a firm idea about what’s happening.

An interview with Peter Doherty

Joe Walker’s latest Jolly Swagman podcast is an 80-minute interview with Peter Doherty –   Of viruses and vaccines. He not only shares his epidemiological knowledge, but also tells us about his own journey through the world of ideas, and makes some observations on public policy. (He sees the Australian economy as a big Ponzi scheme.) The countries that have not coped with the pandemic, such as the US, are the countries that have suffered the curse of  “small government” ideology and have run down their capacity to anticipate and deal with public health emergencies.

Although the podcast is dated 20 September, it was recorded in June, before the Victorian outbreak, but that doesn’t detract from its relevance. In early June there was a week when nationally we were averaging five new cases a day: it looked as if we had the virus licked. His optimism may have been misplaced then, but it may be more relevant now that cases are again running at low and declining rates. The only piece of information that’s dated is his observation that the death rate was 1.4 per cent: it is now closer to 2.0 percent, probably because many cases in Victoria have been in aged care homes.

Sources

Sources of generally reliable information on Covid-19 are on a separate web page


Australia’s economy

Have we learned nothing from the 2008 financial crisis?

Presumably in order to stimulate private spending, the Morrison Government proposes to relax regulations that require banks to ensure people do not enter into loans they cannot afford to pay back.

This proposal comes at a time of record high household debt, low interest rates, and grossly-inflated housing prices. If anything, in such a situation, prudence would suggest a tightening of lending standards. We should remember that lax lending standards, particularly for housing, were the main cause of America’s (and the world’s) 2008 financial crisis.

Writing in The AtlanticThe looming bank collapse – Frank Partnoy of the University of California warns that the behaviours that led to the 2008 crisis are re-emerging. We might remember that leading up to the 2008 crisis banks were exchanging bundled loans known as “Collateralized Debt Obligations” – worthless junk of concentrated high-risk mortgages. They’re back, under a new name – Collateralized Loan Obligations.

Bankers and Coalition politicians have short memories.

An optimistic economist – John Edwards

Published by the Lowy Institute is John Edwards’ economic and fiscal forecast of our recovery from the recession – The costs of Covid: Australia’s economic prospects in a wounded world. Unlike most other independent economists, Edwards does not believe the Australian economy was exhibiting any serious structural weakness before the pandemic hit. Therefore our way out of the recession will be towards the pre-pandemic model – but it may take a long time.

He acknowledges that there are diplomatic tensions with our major trading partner, China, and that our wine, beef and barley industries will suffer as a result of this tension, but he believes Australia is meshed with China’s economy and that “the economic relationship between Australia and China will likely deepen in coming decades”.

The Reserve Bank frightens the horses

RBA Deputy Governor Guy Deeble’s speech The Australian economy and monetary policy has made the financial markets jittery: the $A fell a full cent when the speech appeared on financiers’ screens.

Deeble starts with a comparison of how the pandemic has affected different countries’ economic growth: we’re doing comparatively well, as are east Asian countries.

What spooked financiers are his hints that the Bank is daring to mention radical approaches to monetary policy, such as the statement “a lower exchange rate would definitely be beneficial for the Australian economy, so we are continuing to watch developments in the foreign exchange market carefully”.  And while he notes the shortcomings of negative interest rates, he does not explicitly rule them out.

Keating frightens the Reserve Bank

Paul Keating has hit out at the Reserve Bank’s economic conservatism. He says it should be prepared to buy Commonwealth Government debt – “mountainous sums” of it. He is urging the Reserve Bank to buy Commonwealth debt directly, bypassing the commercial banks which are the traditional financiers of government debt. Writing on the ABC website, Gareth Hutchens suggests that Keating “appears to be siding with proponents of a school of economic thought called Modern Monetary Theory who have been arguing there is no need for the RBA to buy bonds from the secondary market [commercial banks] to fund government spending measures” – Paul Keating says the RBA is not doing what is needed to stop the COVID recession worsening.

Don’t blame lockdowns for poor economic performance; it’s the virus

The ABC’s Ian Verrender has drawn our attention to a study by McKinsey & Company Covid-19: Saving thousands of lives and trillions in livelihoods. Analysing data from different countries and different US states, the study confirms that decisive action to bring the virus spread to near zero is the big “unlock” for most economies. Lockdowns have their economic consequences, but the more economically damaging force is the virus: “the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 and its associated health risks has caused many individuals, households, and businesses to opt out of normal activity—even if no formal restrictions are in place. Eliminating that uncertainty is essential to restart growth”.

This follows an earlier McKinsey study Safeguarding our lives and our livelihoods: The imperative of our time, the essential message of which was “We must solve for the virus and the economy. It starts with battling the virus”.

Verrender’s article Why harsh COVID-19 lockdowns are good for the economy summarises the McKinsey research, and supplements it with Australian experience. As with so many public policy situations, those who grizzle about the lockdowns overlook the cost of letting the virus spread – the opportunity cost of doing nothing. “While it’s almost impossible to measure the true cost of the lockdowns and the shutdowns, most critics look only at the costs and completely overlook the economic benefits the shutdowns have delivered.”

The tax cuts we don’t need

We realise that some Pearls and Irritations readers may not be regular viewers of SKY. So here is a short video, authorised by the Australia Institute, that will be running on SKY and other commercial media, pointing to the economic waste and inequity of the Coalition’s proposed tax cuts. The Australia Institute has a list of prominent Australians supporting the campaign.

One of those prominent Australians is John Hewson. You can hear him on the ABC’s Drive program on Monday night, putting forward reasons why tax cuts for the well-off wouldn’t do anything to give the economy a fiscal boost, and suggesting better things can be done with the $60 billion the cuts would cost – better things such as early childhood education and  public housing.  For some reason the ABC hasn’t separated out his segment as a listed podcast.  Hewson’s segment runs from 2:30 through to 12:30 minutes.

Why is small business sacred?

Small business has sacred status in Australia. The Commonwealth has lower corporate tax rates for businesses with turnover below $50 million, and the “Jobkeeper” payment is available only for businesses with a turnover below $1 billion. Similarly state governments have turnover thresholds below which businesses are exempt from payroll tax.

The Australia Institute Tasmania has commissioned Saul Eslake to look at Tasmania’s state tax system. His report – Reforming Tasmania’s state tax system – has three recommendations in line with improving both equity and economic efficiency. These are replacing conveyance duty with a broad-based land tax, reducing the turnover threshold below which companies are exempt from payroll tax, and re-introducing estate duties.

His report “challenges the almost universally-accepted notion that preferential tax treatment for ‘small businesses’ has done anything to create employment, or to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship”. Drawing on extensive research he points out that “small businesses are less likely to introduce new products or services, or to engage in other forms of innovation, than medium-sized or large ones”. And in employment creation they underperform in comparison with medium and large businesses.

Where small businesses excel, however, is in avoiding paying tax. Drawing on Tax Office data, he points out that “‘non-compliance’ by small businesses is estimated to have deprived the federal government of $11 billion of revenue in 2015-16, compared with just under $2 billion from ‘non-compliance’ by large corporate groups, and $703 million from ‘non-compliance’ by high net worth individuals”.

Good news on rents

Over the next few years, rents in inner-city areas will probably remain lower than was expected before the pandemic hit. Lower population growth and a pipeline of committed supply will reduce dwelling prices, driving down rents. That’s the conclusion of a paper by Richard Evans, Tom Rosewall and Aaron Wong of the Reserve Bank: The rental market and Covid-19. They note an increase in supply of listings of long-term rental properties (some of which are former Airbnb short-term properties), higher vacancy rates, lower advertised rents in Sydney and Melbourne and a large number of apartments still to be completed, particularly in Melbourne.

There is a similar forecast for rents in a report by the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation: Global pandemic to cut Australia’s demand for housing. The study looks at the housing consequences of our steep fall in immigration resulting from Covid-19 restrictions. It finds that “large falls in underlying dwelling demand are already putting upward pressure on vacancy rates and downward pressure on rents, particularly in some inner-city areas”.

The report is mainly concerned with reduced residential construction activity. Without the epidemic, we could have expected to see demand for about 630 000 new dwellings over the next four years, but because of reduced immigration there will be between 130 000 and 230 000 fewer dwellings required over the same period.

This will obviously be tough for the residential construction industry. What the report omits to mention is the way public housing could take up the slack, providing employment in the residential construction industry, ensuring that the most needy are housed, and, through increasing supply, making housing more affordable for all.

National broadband – seven years late

Australia is notorious for having slow and expensive internet.  In terms of speed we rank around #60 in the world, behind many countries which would be considered as “less developed”.

In an eight-minute interview with ABC’s Andrew Probyn, Kevin Rudd recalls how Tony Abbott stopped work on the NBN in its tracks, incurring the cost of closing down a construction project and having to re-start it, as well as the cost of seven years of lost opportunities.  He reminds us that Murdoch’s News Corporation saw high-quality internet as a competitive threat to the Fox Entertainment Network and to Murdoch’s cable system from new players such as Netflix.  “It’s all very fine to sacrifice the national interest to the commercial interests of the Murdoch media, as they did back then. Who pays the price? The Australian taxpayer and the Australian economy”. As former NBN CEO Mike Quigley says, the Coalition made a very big mistake which it is now rectifying at a high cost.


The Coalition’s war on renewables

From technological agnosticism to muddled polytheism

Malcolm Turnbull’s National Energy Guarantee was flawed, but at least it claimed to be technologically neutral (“technology agnostic”).

By contrast the Government’s Technology Investment Roadmap reads like a cut-and-paste from a Soviet Union Five Year Plan.

There was a time when the Liberal Party opposed the idea of “picking winners”, but they have had a Pauline conversion, to the extent that they are now prepared to pick what most energy experts see as losers – such as carbon capture and storage as a way to generate hydrogen.

Their plan could possibly work if it were accompanied by price signals, such as a carbon price or an emissions trading mechanism, but market mechanisms must be avoided, because they are favoured by the Labor Party, and basic economics is too difficult for the Coalition’s climate change deniers to understand.

The “roadmap” has attracted a load of criticism. Renew Technology’s  Michael Mazengarb describes it as a roadmap to nowhere.  Writing in The Conversation, Mark Diesendorf describes the flaws in the policy: Angus Taylor’s tech roadmap is fundamentally flawed — renewables are doable almost everywhere. It does not recognise the potential of demand-side responses to load management. And its claim that solar and wind can stand on their own disregards the fact that our electricity transmission lines have been built to suit coal-fired generators. We need a transmission system that connects our renewable hotspots.

Malcolm Turnbull describes the Morrison Government’s energy plan as crazy and a fantasy. He makes a plea for the market to do its work to meet our GHG emission obligations while delivering reliable and affordable energy. “We have got to stop this mad ideological response to energy. … We need a coherent energy and climate policy”.

BP Energy Outlook: where is coal?

BP has produced its annual Energy Outlook, exploring different pathways for the global energy system to 2050. It’s a short document, and blessedly does not use the meaningless cliché “roadmap”. It models three scenarios – a “rapid transition” (in which carbon prices play a strong role), “net zero by 2050”, and “business-as-usual”. Coal consumption virtually disappears in the first two scenarios, and even in the “business-as-usual” scenario coal consumption falls sharply.  Gas is prominent in the “rapid transition” scenario, where it has a short-lived peak, but its role is diminished in the “net zero by 2050” scenario.

Labor joins the debate, with two bob each way

The Guardian’s Katharine Murphy reports that Labor has developed a weak and ambiguous draft energy policy, backing new gas development, with enough qualifications about “the highest environmental standards” to allow a wide interpretation of its actual policy: Labor commits to ‘environmentally sustainable’ gas development.

She notes conflicts within the Party, particularly over the question of whether to commit to a medium-term emissions target. It appears that just as the Liberal Party is held back from developing a meaningful and responsible energy policy by a National Party bloc, Labor is held back by the electoral prospects of its shadow resource minister, Joel Fitzgibbon, whose   electorate of Hunter has a concentration of coal mining.

(Has Labor not learned the lesson of going to an election with a vague policy on climate change?)

Why Scott Morrison and Angus Taylor have joined the Australian Republican Movement

Britain’s heir-apparent, Prince Charles, has delivered the keynote speech to launch Climate Week (21 – 27 September).

For too many years the crisis of climate change has been “decried, denigrated and denied. It is now rapidly becoming a comprehensive catastrophe that will dwarf the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. At this late stage I can see no other way forward but to call for a Marshall-like plan for nature, people and planet”. He outlines five broad approaches countries can, and should, follow to deal with the catastrophe: the fifth of those points is a call for strong price signals.

Carbon inequality

Oxfam, in association with the Stockholm Environment Institute, has produced a report Confronting carbon inequality. Its most eye-catching finding is that the richest one per cent of the world’s people have been responsible for fifteen per cent of cumulative emissions and nine per cent of the carbon budget – twice as much as the poorest half of the world’s population. Without a redistribution of income, the well-off could quickly spend the world’s remaining carbon budget.

The report is rich in graphical presentation of emissions by region and income group. Notable is the extent to which many Chinese and other Asians now feature among the high-income/high-emission groups. Also notable is the prominence of air travel as a source of emissions from the top one per cent.

(While few reasonable people would oppose a much fairer distribution of income, the Oxfam report does not seem to produce a compelling argument that achieving better income inequality, in itself, would reduce emissions. It does not address this question, but it does urge governments to address climate change and inequality as interconnected problems.)


Australian politics

Why did the Commonwealth pay ten times too much for a block of land?

The media have covered the main findings of the Australian National Audit Office Report into over-payment for land at the western Sydney airport.  The Department of Infrastructure paid $29 million for a block of land that would have had a fair valuation of around $3 million.

Extraordinarily, the report finds that the firm that did the valuation had been recommended by the landholder:

17. A single valuation of the market value of the land was obtained jointly with the landowner. No valuation of the other types of compensation that may be payable under a compulsory acquisition was obtained.

18. The land valuation was procured by approaching one supplier. The supplier was one of those suggested by the landowner and was then agreed to by the department on the basis that there were no conflicts of interest between the parties.

In addition to what’s uncovered in the ANAO report, Paul Karp, writing in The Guardian, reveals that the company owning the land has been a major donor to the Liberal Party, having given the Party $58 800 in 2018-19.

The report does not suggest there has been political interference in the purchase. But anyone who has worked in the public service knows that many public servants, over-willing to please, are adept at knowing how to serve their ministers’ directions; they don’t need specific directions.

The explanation for this waste may be more mundane than a favour for a minister or the blatant corruption of paper-bags full of money. It appears that no-one did a simple back-of-the-envelope calculation to see if the valuation made any sense. If so, it’s an indication of gross incompetence and of systemic corruption. That is the corruption of process that, in the name of “responsiveness” to executive government, has seen a de-skilling of the public service and a downplaying of those analytical skills that allow public servants to assess public value and to spend money wisely.

We need a political re-alignment

Federally and in New South Wales we have witnessed the destructive power of the National Party – a party with only four per cent of the vote nationally but with enormous clout in Coalition governments. Federally, it’s been a handful of National Party members who have blocked any prospect of an economically sound energy policy, and in New South Wales they have taken the side of property developers and some farmers who want to destroy native forests for short-term commercial gain.

Crispin Hull has advice on  How to deal with dog-wagging Nats. We need a great political re-alignment. “One side would contain the rural, science- and expert-despising, climate-change denying proponents of big government subsidies for dying industries. They will come from the Nationals, the branch-stacked Christian right of the Liberal Party, the Joel Fitzgibbon-style industrial wing of the Labor Party, One Nation, the Shooters and the Katters.”

The other side would contain the adults who have some concern for public policy.


The rest of the world

“There was a time when America had promise”

On Saturday Extra  Geraldine Doogue interviewed New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof about the state of the US from the perspective of a country town. Kristof was born in 1959, and grew up in Yamhill Oregon, a town of about 1000 people. Yamhill is only 60 km from Portland but in a different world. (Unlike Portland, Yamhill is Trump territory. In the 2016 election Yamhill County voted 40 per cent Clinton, 48 per cent Trump, while Portland voted 73 per cent Clinton, 17 per cent Trump.)

His parents’ generation had good blue-collar jobs – not highly paid, but sufficient to finance a middle-class lifestyle. But since around the 1970s hope and optimism seem to have drained out of the community.  He recalls five siblings, whom he knew as children. All are now dead – one from liver failure as a result of drug-taking, one who was drunk and died in a house fire, one from hepatitis, one in an explosion when trying to cook methamphetamines, and one from a heroin overdose.

What the people of Yamhill – and by extension much of impoverished rural America – don’t realise is that the opportunity of times past was supported by government investment in education and health care. The downturn in these communities dates to the anti-welfare policies of the Nixon Administration and the “small government” policy of the Reagan Administration. (20 minutes).

Kristof is joint author, with Sheryl Wudunn, of Tightrope: Americans reaching for hope.

Capitalism is dying – we’re heading back to feudalism

The post Covid-19 world will look less like a capitalist world and more like a feudal one. In fact capitalism’s reversion to feudalism was already in train before the pandemic, writes Adrian Wooldridge, editor of the “Bagehot” column of The Economist –  Visors and violence: we are returning to the Middle Ages in the 1843 Magazine.  “Even before the new plague arrived, modernity seemed to be in retreat”.

He considers each social class in our present world, and re-casts it into its medieval equivalent. The most striking similarity he finds:

… is the distance between image and reality. The people of the Middle Ages talked about chivalry and the Glory of God but lived in a brutal world in which gangs mugged each other and monks engaged enthusiastically in all the sins of the flesh. Today’s elite talk constantly about “inclusion” and “win-win” situations but have created a world in which the spoils go to a tiny minority, and more and more people are cast into the wilderness.


Polls and surveys

Social progress index – we’re in the top class but New Zealand is ahead of us

Ten years ago academics from Harvard and MIT (later expanded to include people from other countries) established The Social Index Imperative, which produces the annual Social Progress Index – an indicator resulting from averaging scores out of 100 for three main components. These are:

“Basic human needs” – nutrition, basic utilities, shelter, personal safety;

“Foundations of wellbeing” – access to education, access to information, health and wellness, environmental quality;

“Opportunity” – personal rights, freedom and choice, inclusiveness, access to advanced education.

Notably, they do not use indicators such as GDP, although most countries’ ranking on the Social Progress Index are not too far from their rankings on economic indicators.

The 2020 Index puts Norway in top place out of 163 countries reported on. (Their criteria don’t include shopping hours.)  At #8 we come in behind Canada (#7) and New Zealand (#4). Our poorest score is for contribution to greenhouse gas emissions.

The USA comes in at #26, dragged down by poor performance on personal safety, health, and environmental quality. It also scores poorly on personal rights and on personal freedom and choice – findings that do not align with that country’s established self-image.

Newspoll – we’re a politically inert lot

William Bowe’ Poll Bludger reports on the latest Newspoll.  Labor’s support is 34 per cent (33 per cent at last year’s election), the Coalition’s is 43 per cent (41 per cent at last year’s election).  All of that is within the margin of error. The TPP vote has been hovering around 50:50 ever since the election.

Essential – another swagful

The Essential Report has questions on economic policy and on Covid-19. To summarise:

On the economy:

Only 23 per cent of us describe the state of the economy as “good”. That’s down from a not-quite-so-miserable 32 per cent in September last year. Although we know the pandemic has its worst effect on young people, they are more inclined to give the economy a “good” rating than older people are. (This is possibly because younger people have no reference period other than the last 24 years of the mediocre economic performance of a run of Coalition governments.)  Coalition supporters are more likely to give the economy a “good” rating (30 per cent) than Labor supporters (17 per cent), and women give the economy a poorer score than men – possibly reflecting gender-based work experiences during the lockdowns).

When asked “what is the most important when thinking about whether the Australian economy is in a good or poor state?”, 39 percent respond with “the unemployment rate”, unsurprisingly up from 25 per cent last year. There is some concern about the value of the $A, but it’s a fair guess that such concern is more about the price of a Bali holiday than the competitiveness of the economy.

Otherwise, economic indicators don’t get much mention. “The size of the national surplus” (presumably the federal budget balance) scores only 6 per cent, as it did last year. (Why then, does Labor allow the Coalition to define “economic management” in terms of fiscal management, rather than the real economy of people’s lived experiences?)

Only a minority – 25 per cent – believe the economy will improve in the next six months. Men are more optimistic than women, and Coalition supporters are more optimistic than Labor supporters.

There isn’t much enthusiasm for bringing forward the Coalition’s tax cuts – cuts that would favour those with high incomes. Only 33 per cent want them, unsurprisingly with significant differences between Coalition and Labor supporters. Those with incomes above $104 000 are much more enthusiastic (46 per cent) than those with lower incomes. (Is this greed, or is it that people with incomes >$100K just don’t know how well-off they are in comparison with other Australians?)

When asked about priorities for the federal budget, building more affordable housing comes in top place (60 per cent), and even 54 per cent of Coalition supporters support it.  Infrastructure, including renewable energy projects, gets strong support. There isn’t much support for tax cuts for those with high incomes – even Coalition supporters aren’t very enthusiastic (31 per cent).

People were asked for their preferences for power sources to replace our ageing coal-fired stations. Coal and gas both get 15 per cent support, while renewable energy gets the balance – 70 per cent.  Even 60 per cent of Coalition supporters nominate renewables as their preference.

On Covid-19:

There isn’t much change in people’s assessments of governments’ responses. People generally approve of the Federal Government’s handling of the epidemic.  States, too, get a high rating, the rating being highest for those states that have zero or few cases. Even the Victorian Government gets a 47 per cent rating.

Victorians were asked about the updated restrictions on Victoria’s “roadmap” (why do politicians keep referring to “plans” as “roadmaps”?) Sixty per cent believe “the restrictions affecting my area seem appropriate”.

There is a set of questions on the Queensland border closure – now dated since Queensland has lifted many restrictions.  The main message is that, unlike those who dominate media anecdotes about corporate or personal hardships, most people – those who live in Queensland and those in shut-out states, strongly support border closures.

There is a question about support for a loan scheme to pay for people’s care in retirement – an option flagged by the commission on aged care and supported by Keating. There is on-balance support for the idea – older people being less supportive than younger people.

People’s acceptance of migrants is declining

Gallup has found that between 2016 and 2019 the world has become less accepting of migrants, with a number of EU countries “topping the list of the least-accepting countries in the world” – World grows less accepting of migrants. It’s not all bad news; many countries, including some economically poor countries, have become more accepting of migrants, and Canada, Iceland, New Zealand and Australia remain at the top of the list for migrant acceptance.

America’s waning image

The Pew Research Center has surveyed people in 13 countries to rate their general view on the US, their assessment of America’s response to the coronavirus, and their rating of Trump.

On all three counts, ratings are low and western Europeans are the most critical among those surveyed. The percentage of Australians holding a favourable view of the US has dipped sharply in the last few years, but surprisingly we seem to have more confidence in Trump than people from most other countries surveyed: 23 per cent of Australians have “confidence in Trump” compared with 10 per cent of Germans and Danes.


More government announcements

An upgraded NBN

The Commonwealth has announced yet more plans fir the NBN, using technologies that are only on the drawing board in other countries.


Watch out tomorrow, Sunday, for Peter Sainsbury’s Sunday environment round up.

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Ian McAuley is a retired lecturer in public finance at the University of Canberra and a Fellow of the Centre for Policy Development.

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