With polls showing Labour could govern alone, is New Zealand returning to the days of ‘elected dictatorship’?

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern and National leader Judith Collins meet in the first TV debate on September 22.

Richard Shaw, Massey University

In the mid-1990s New Zealanders adopted electoral rules they hoped would end the tyranny of what Lord Hailsham once called the “elected dictatorship” of single-party majority government. And yet, a quarter century later, we are staring down the barrel of just that.

In the New Zealand parliament, which typically numbers 120 MPs, the threshold for this political grail is 61 seats. The latest polls indicate the Labour Party would exceed this number if it maintains its current popularity.

That’s significant because in parliamentary democracies single-party majority governments are powerful beasts, able to wield executive and legislative power without recourse to coalition or compromise with other parties.

Moreover, when the constitutional constraints on the (mis)use of executive authority are pretty feeble — as is the case here, with our dispersed constitution, limited scope of judicial review and unicameral legislature — such administrations have a propensity to go rogue.

Governments behaving badly

During the 1980s and 1990s, governments of both the centre-left and centre-right displayed stunning levels of executive arrogance: routinely ignoring pre-election commitments, embarking on structural reforms without mandates, and making a virtue of taking “hard” decisions that enriched some and made life miserable for many.

So in 1993 voters changed the rules, ditching the old first-past-the-post (FPP) system, which regularly delivered outsized parliamentary majorities to either Labour or National, in favour of mixed member proportional representation (MMP).

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Under the new system, providing a party wins at least 5% of the vote or one constituency seat (either Māori or general), its share of parliamentary seats is in more or less direct proportion to its support among voters.

That “more or less” is important. Depending on how many votes go to parties that fail to clear the threshold, a major party can win slightly less than a majority of the vote but still control a parliamentary majority.

For instance, last week’s 1 NEWS Colmar Brunton poll had Labour securing 62 seats on the basis of 48% support. That’s because the same poll showed a combined 7% support for parties that would not make it into parliament.

The eight seats represented by that so-called “wasted vote” would effectively be shared pro rata between the elected parties: Labour would pick up four, giving the party a majority.

Electoral snapshot as at September 27: a single-party majority government is possible.
Screenshot/Newshub-Reid Research

Would Labour form a coalition anyway?

There has not been a reputable poll since March that does not put Labour in a position to govern alone. For some, and not just those on the political right, this is a concern. New Zealanders have become accustomed to power sharing rather than the power hoarding that is the hallmark of single-party majority, winner-takes-all government.

But are we necessarily staring back to the future? If Jacinda Ardern wakes up on October 18 (or when the official results are announced on November 6) with a parliamentary majority, what might she do?

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The cautious approach (and the prime minister is nothing if not cautious) would be to form an arrangement with another party. For one thing, it is useful to have someone else to blame when things go wrong (as they will).

Also, Ardern knows the support she and her party currently enjoy is unlikely to last for the next three (let alone six or nine) years. Voters shop around. The last time a party won an election with a majority of the vote was in 1951.

Labour has never won more than 41.5% of the vote under MMP. To become the natural party of government it will need allies for those times when its vote falls beneath what is required to govern alone.

Electoral snapshot as at September 22: even at 48% Labour could form a parliamentary majority.

The temptation to go it alone

The other option is to go full retro: throw off the handbrake of current coalition partner New Zealand First, put aside the Greens (assuming they make it back in) and go it alone.

That would be tempting: no need to share scarce executive slots, plus the ability to legislate unimpeded by the moderating constraints of multi-party government.

Across all eight MMP elections the average vote share of the highest-polling party has been 42%. But that figure is climbing. In the first four elections it was 39%, but across the next four it rose to 46%. Under MMP, that is getting very close to winner-takes-all territory.

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In that sense, New Zealand has been flirting with a return to elected dictatorships since 2008. The go-it-alone option might not be the outlier it seems.

There is no MMP commandment that “thou shalt not have single-party majority governments”. Electoral systems translate votes into seats in the legislature. If a single-party majority government takes office next month it will do so because a near or clear majority of voters wanted one (unlike the last one in 1993, which was chosen by 35% of voters).

Underneath this lies the question of how executive power is constrained. Having changed the system to end a tradition of elected dictatorship, New Zealand may have to admit that the question has not yet been properly answered.The Conversation

Richard Shaw, Professor of Politics, Massey University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

We’re facing an insolvency tsunami. With luck, these changes will avert the worst of it


Anil Hargovan, UNSW

Ahead of the budget, the government has announced new rules that will allow small businesses at risk of collapse to continue to work out their problems instead of appointing an administrator.

They are needed because of an avalanche of insolvencies awaiting the end of an effective moratorium on bankruptcies (a so-called “regulatory shield”) that expires at the end of December.

Since it was introduced in March the number of companies entering external administration has been unusually low compared to earlier years (at a time of unusually bad conditions) suggesting a buildup of zombie companies waiting to die.

Number of companies entering external administration

Twelve months to each week (red) versus previous twelve months.

The new rules will allow insolvent small businesses with liabilities of less than A$1 million to keep trading under the eye of a small business restructuring practitioner for 20 days while they develop a restructuring plan to put to creditors rather than surrender control to an external administrator.

If half the creditors by value endorse the plan it will be approved and the business can continue under its present ownership with assistance from the restructuring practitioner. If not, it can be put out of its life quickly under a proposed simplified liquidation process.

Existing laws give directors little leeway

Under the current insolvent trading law, directors are expected to immediately stop the trading when they know or have reasonable grounds to suspect the company is insolvent. Directors who “give it a go” and try to trade their way out of financial difficulty face severe legal consequences: personal liability, a fine of up to $1.11 million per offence or a prison sentence of up to 15 years in extreme cases.

The only way to avoid these penalties is to quickly place the company in the hands of the administrator who temporarily manages the business until the company’s creditors make a decision on the company’s fate.

Its a regime not particularly suited to small businesses.

Read more:
Australia needs new insolvency laws to encourage small businesses

The proposed new rules can be seen as a tacit admission of the failure to the “safe harbour” law reform of 2017. Applicable to all companies irrespective of size, it protects directors from personal liability for debts incurred by an insolvent company if they took a course of action “reasonably likely to lead to a better outcome” for the company and its creditors than administration or liquidation.

Anecdotal evidence suggests it is largely shunned by small businesses in part because of its uncapped cost. The fees of small business restructuring practitioners will be capped.

The new laws will create breathing space

The new rules are based on Chapter 11 of the United States Bankruptcy Code, with important differences.

The US law applies to all Companies, not just to those with debts of less than $1 million. And it gives the court an oversight role.

The absence of judicial supervision in what’s proposed for Australia is a double-edged sword. Court involvement generally means delays and high costs.

Read more:
Government will reform insolvency system to improve distressed small businesses’ survival chances

On the other hand, it provides a valuable check against abuses – such as the deliberate liquidation and rebirth of “phoenix companies” in order to avoid paying debts.

In Australia, that’ll be the role of the small business restructuring practitioner.

It’s not yet clear how they’ll work

It won’t be a panacea for small businesses. They will be required to lodge any outstanding tax returns and pay any employee entitlements before a plan can be put to creditors.

In the current circumstances many small businsses will not be able to comply.

There’s much we don’t yet know about what’s proposed. The government’s briefing says time and cost savings will be achieved through “reduced investigative requirements”. It is unclear to what the extent the liquidator’s wide investigative powers into reasons for business failures will be curtailed.

The changes are likely to have profound implications for many stakeholders, including creditors, employees and the general community.

It is important that the government consults properly before the new rules are put to parliament in time for their introduction on January 1.The Conversation

Anil Hargovan, Associate Professor, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Private health insurance premiums are going up this week. But the reasons why just don’t stack up


Yuting Zhang, University of Melbourne

Private health insurance premiums are set to rise on October 1, an increase companies have delayed for six months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But 2020 has been a year like no other. And some of the reasons insurance companies are using to justify this price rise don’t stack up.

These include increasing costs of hospital and health care, more claims, an increase in chronic health conditions, and an ageing population.

At a time when many policy-holders are facing financial stress and many elective surgeries or treatments suspended or delayed, this week’s price rise isn’t justified. With a further price rise already set for April 2021, it would be fairer to delay any fee hike until then.

1. Increasing costs of hospital and health care — false

Costs of hospital and health care paid by private insurers have reduced substantially in 2020, not increased, according to the latest figures from the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority. That’s because many elective surgeries and routine extra care (such as dental check-ups) were suspended.

Private insurers paid reduced hospital treatment benefits in two consecutive quarters. They dropped 7.9% in dollar terms in the March 2020 quarter, compared with the December 2019 quarter. They fell another
12.9% in the June 2020 quarter, compared with the March 2020 quarter.

Man lying down in hospital bed signing papers
Insurance companies paid less for hospital treatments earlier this year, not more.

Private insurers’ payments for general treatment (also known as ancillary or extras) benefits dropped even more. They fell 32.9% in the June 2020 quarter, compared with the March 2020 quarter.

Some may argue the reduction in benefits paid is because substantially fewer people had private insurance in 2020. But this is not true.

While there was a small drop in the number of people with private health insurance in the first half of 2020, this was by less than a percentage point: the number of hospital memberships fell by only 0.4 percentage points. There was a similar drop in the number of people with extras cover.

2. Increase in claim frequency — false

Another reason for the price rise is there have been more claims over a given time, or an increase in claim frequency. This, again, is not true this year.

Private insurers paid for 16.7% fewer hospital treatments in the June 2020 quarter compared with the March 2020 quarter. That’s a 4.1% reduction in the 12 months to June 2020.

Private insurers paid out 28.4% fewer extras claims in the June 2020 quarter, compared to the March 2020 quarter. This was a 9.8% fall over the 12 months to June 2020.

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In Victoria, services are only gradually returning to full capacity from November. So it will be a long while before claims return to pre-pandemic levels.

People have also been avoiding seeking needed health care because they are afraid of contracting the coronavirus, or cannot afford out-of-pocket costs due to increased financial stress. This would be another reason for the numbers of claims decreasing, not increasing.

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Should I drop my private health insurance during the pandemic?

3. More chronic disease, an ageing population — no data supporting this for the next 6 months

In the long run, these claims are correct and premiums should increase gradually over the coming years because of the ageing population and growing incidence of chronic conditions.

However, they’re not likely to change enough in the next six months to justify a premium increase now.

Read more:
FactCheck: do one in two Australians suffer from a chronic disease?

Here’s what should happen

Some insurers are already providing discounts for families in financial hardship, such as people receiving JobSeeker or JobKeeper. Others offer discounts or waive price rises to people who pre-pay their policies for up to 12 months. More insurers should do this.

Providing financial relief and delaying the October premium increase will not only help customers but also help private insurers in the long run.

Increasing premiums twice in six months (October 2020 and April 2021) during an unprecedentedly difficult time can backfire, especially if the reasons to support the increase do not stack up.

Read more:
Young people dropping private health hurts insurers most, not public hospitals

When premiums increase, young people are more likely to drop private health insurance. This will drive up premiums further for everyone. This in turn will lead to more young and healthy people dropping their cover.

Consequently, it may cause a “death spiral”, driving private health insurance out of business.The Conversation

Yuting Zhang, Professor of Health Economics, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Many anti-lockdown protesters believe the government is illegitimate. Their legal arguments don’t stand up


Rick Sarre, University of South Australia and Joe McIntyre, University of South Australia

Lockdown has been particularly hard in Victoria and some dissent against restrictions is to be expected.

While it might be easy to dismiss the anti-lockdown protesters by calling them selfish or deluded, we should not lose sight of just how far beyond our normal expectations of civic responsibility the last six months have taken us.

By and large, most Victorians have been exceptionally responsible and stoic. And while police enforcement has been problematic at times, regulatory requirements often unclear and emergency powers unlike anything we’ve seen in a century, the vast majority of Victorians, indeed all Australians, continue to trust the actions of governments are reasonable and constitutionally valid.

Not everyone agrees, however, with this proposition.

In recent weeks, there has been an increase in social media traffic asserting the lockdown measures — and indeed our legal institutions themselves — are unlawful and unconstitutional.

These arguments — some inspired by the “sovereign citizen” movement — are also showing up in online forums, the courts and the streets.

Some of these protesters argue, for example, that all laws passed since November 18, 1975, in Victoria are invalid because Queen Elizabeth did not personally sign off on the new state Constitution.

Another argument is the Victorian courts have no vested authority because the oath each judge takes is not addressed to the queen using her proper title, or at all.

These are strong accusations. But are they true?

Protesters have frequently taken to the streets in Melbourne in recent weeks.

How our system of government works

To address this question, it is important to start with some general principles of law.

In Australia, we are governed by a blend of constitutional styles: a federation of states (like the US) but in a Westminster setting (like the United Kingdom).

The central document that sets out our political system is the Commonwealth Constitution, which is augmented by state constitutions.

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The Constitution gives federal parliament in Canberra power over a range of specific matters (defence, customs, immigration), with the rest largely left to the states (including law enforcement).

However, the federal government has most of the money, and can therefore exert influence over policies dealing with education, health and the environment, all of which fall outside of its lawmaking mandate.

Protesters have taken aim at COVID-19 vaccines, 5G and other conspiracy theories.

We have very few constitutionally protected legal rights. Fortunately, we have a rich tradition of legal conventions and common law principles that underpin our democratic processes.

Most people, however, do not understand these complexities. And that leaves many angry and frustrated.

The rise of the “sovereign citizen” movement — which purports to reclaim the law for the individual — is entirely understandable. But this does not mean that its proponents are correct.

Conspiracy theorists claims debunked

Let’s look at some of the arguments of those claiming Australia is in a constitutional crisis.

These conspiracy theorists claim, for instance, that every oath of office not using the full title “Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of the United Kingdom & Northern Ireland and the Commonwealth” is invalid. As a result, our judges, governors and police commissioners are all impostors.

This proposition is nonsensical. One accepted shortened form in oaths, “Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, her heirs and successors”, is based on the schedule to the Constitution. Another form, “the Queen of Australia”, is regularly used by the High Court.

Indeed, some jurisdictions, including Victoria, have legitimately removed references to the queen from their legal forms entirely, which parliamentary sovereignty allows them to do. These changes do not have to be approved by referenda.

Victoria police have come out in force against protests in recent weeks.

Also, according to conspiracy theorists, Victoria’s courts are invalid because the attorney general did not have a mandate from electors to set up the court services in 2014, as this plan was not in the party’s pre-election platform.

This claim is also unfounded. In a representative democracy, we elect politicians to make decisions for us — we do not vote directly on specific legislative actions.

Read more:
‘Living people’: who are the sovereign citizens, or SovCits, and why do they believe they have immunity from the law?

Another argument asserts the 1975 Victorian Constitution is invalid because the queen did not sign the bill that created it, only the Victorian governor did. According to one theory, the queen, as head of state, was required to put her signature on it.

But according to the High Court, this is a specious claim.

In 2013, in the case of Rutledge v Victoria, Justice Kenneth Hayne addressed this very argument. He found the bill did not need an actual signature. Instead, according to longstanding practice, the queen merely had to provide “royal assent”, in other words, a royal nod.

Better civics education is clearly needed

These conspiracy arguments have been routinely shown to be without legal foundation.

But the rise of “constitutional crisis” arguments highlights the shortcomings of our civics education in Australia to adequately explain governmental structures, legal principles and parliamentary conventions. For most people, the law remains mysterious and inaccessible.

While we have a system that makes it compulsory to vote, we do not equip Australians to understand how the legal system operates, how the myriad of accountability structures work and how citizens can engage with them.

Read more:
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Despite laudable efforts to correct this, the lack of functional knowledge remains widespread. And the vacuum in legal knowledge is quickly filled with social media mischief-making.

Underlying the conspiracy theories is the idea there is an alternative legal truth, the revelation of which will liberate the oppressed from the constraints of authoritarian governments. While these claims are without any legal merit, their growing prevalence should ring alarm bells about the parlous state of civics education in this country.

We have learned during this health emergency the value of placing our trust in medical experts. Some people, however, are reluctant to extend that trust to other experts, including legal experts.

To some extent this is appropriate. Our political system belongs to us, and we need to question and test it at every opportunity.

However, legal quackery is as dangerous as the medical variety. In a time of crisis, such as in a pandemic, it is essential for us to have open and informed debate about the best way through it, based upon fact, not fiction.

The conspiracy theorists are doing themselves a disservice by throwing their considerable energies into irrelevancies rather than engaging in key political debates. While enticing to some, their pronouncements are the last thing we need right now.The Conversation

Rick Sarre, Emeritus Professor of Law and Criminal Justice, University of South Australia and Joe McIntyre, Senior Lecturer in Law, University of South Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

View from The Hill: Morrison government’s message to Daniel Andrews: ‘open faster’

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Daniel Andrews’ Sunday announcement of some modest steps out of lockdown will bring both relief and reassurance to many Victorians, but frustration to those who think he should move faster.

Certainly the Morrison government wants the state to take bigger strides.

As the federal government finalises next week’s budget, with a deficit for this financial year of a magnitude none of us have seen before and large red numbers into the future, Morrison, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Health Minister Greg Hunt applied the blow torch to the premier.

“It will be important that more be done in the weeks ahead to safely ease more restrictions,” they said in a joint statement.

“We note that at similar case levels NSW was fundamentally open while remaining Covidsafe due to a world class contact tracing facility.

“As many epidemiologists have encouraged, we would support Victoria in reviewing the trigger of five and zero cases with regards to the third and last steps.

“As it stands this lockdown is already longer than that faced by residents in many cities around the world. We remain deeply concerned about the mental health impacts of a prolonged lock down on Melbourne residents,” they said.

Andrews has responded to a more rapid than expected fall in new cases, and says he will now be driven by numbers rather than dates.

But there is every indication he will continue to be risk averse, after the disaster of the second wave, and on the evidence of last week’s Newspoll, he has public support for that approach. Some 62% of Victorians thought he was handling COVID-19 well.

Andrews has become a highly polarising figure in the pandemic and that’s only likely to increase after his and other evidence to the inquiry into hotel quarantine, followed by Saturday’s resignation of Health Minister Jenny Mikakos.

In contrast to his demeanour at his news conferences, when appearing before the inquiry on Friday, Andrews seemed to be barely containing his anger.

He, like a conga line of witnesses, couldn’t say who had decided to use private security guards to supervise the quarantine.

But he made it clear he held Mikakos responsible for the program.

She, however, thought responsibility spread more widely and indicated her resignation was triggered by Andrews throwing her under the bus.

It continues to be unfathomable to most observers that no one – whether minister, bureaucrat or anyone else – can answer the fundamental but on the face of it simple question: who made the decision about the private security guards?

But Kristen Rundle, from Melbourne University’s Law School, is not so surprised, given the often opaque accountability situations created by contracting out, increasingly a default practice of governments around the country.

She writes in a policy brief titled Reassessing Contracting-Out published last week, that “we need to look beyond standard mechanisms of political accountability in order to address the structural problems posed by contracting-out high-stakes government functions.

“Specifically, we need to analyse more deeply the appropriateness of contracting-out in cases that carry serious consequences for public safety and security, and develop frameworks to achieve better decision-making on when, and whether, to contract out complex government functions.

“The failures in this case underscore that choices about who delivers such government functions, and how, matter to those directly affected by them.”

Clearly the Victorian disaster had three root causes: the bad quarantine arrangements, the failure of Victorian contact tracing and the vulnerability of aged care.

The first two can be completely sheeted home to the Victorian government; aged care is a federal government responsibility, although the state government is responsible for the public health aspects.

Andrews’ supporters aren’t too preoccupied with the state government’s mistakes. They believe he has put health first (despite the death toll, which has been overwhelmingly in aged care). They have been impressed by his willingness to front up day after day to those extended news conferences. They see that as a sign of accountability.

The premier’s critics look at the news conferences in a totally different way. Andrews’ physical presence is not a mark of accountability, they argue, because he pushes aside vital questions (often repeated again and again), saying they must wait for the inquiry’s findings.

Many of Andrews’ strongest critics are those who believe the economy and people’s livelihoods have not received sufficient consideration generally in the pandemic. They are outraged at the economic costs of Victoria’s second wave, and at the slowness of the reopening.

The divisions have an ideological element between the priorities of the left and the right during the crisis.

Mikakos’ quitting has renewed the calls from those who say it is the premier who should go.

There doesn’t seem a lot of common sense in this. Andrews has said he accepts ultimate responsibility for what’s happened. So he should – what’s occurred in Victoria has been appalling.

But would his going actually do any good? Would a replacement perform any better? Would a change of leader amount to anything more than a notch on the critics’ belts?

While Andrews remains the best person for the current job, the pandemic has revealed serious inadequacies in his government, and thus in his leadership, and in parts of the state’s administration.

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The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Top economists back boosts to JobSeeker and social housing over tax cuts in pre-budget poll

Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Peter Martin, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

Overwhelmingly, Australia’s leading economists want the budget to boost social housing and the JobSeeker unemployment benefit rather than bring forward personal income tax cuts.

The 49 eminent economists who responded to Conversation-Economic Society of Australia pre-budget survey were asked to rate 13 options in terms of “bang for the buck” – effectiveness in boosting the economy over the next two years.

Among the options offered were boosting JobSeeker (previously called Newstart), wage subsidies beyond the expiry of JobKeeper, one-off cash payments to households, big infrastructure spending, bringing forward the personal income tax cuts, and company tax cuts.

The options were selected by a committee of the central council of the Economics Society and were presented to each surveyed economist in a random (shuffled) order.

The economists surveyed are Australia’s leaders in the fields of microeconomics, macroeconomics, economic modelling and public policy. Among them are former and current government advisers, former heads of statutory authorities, and a former member of the Reserve Bank board.

Each was asked to nominate the four most effective options for boosting the economy.

Economic Society of Australia/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

The most popular option, endorsed by 55% of those surveyed, was boosting spending on social housing.

Monash University econometrician Lisa Cameron said the budget provided an unusual opportunity to fix things for the long term while boosting the economy.

Social housing would leave us with something worthwhile (as did the school hall building program during the global financial crisis) in addition to providing work for the building industry. Alleviating homelessness would be a lasting benefit.

If it goes to the unemployed, it will be spent

The second most popular option, endorsed by 51%, was permanently boosting JobSeeker, previously known Newstart. The temporary boost in the A$282.85 per week payment was wound back last week and will end in December.

Melbourne University economist John Freebairn pointed out that with no real increase in Newstart since 1993 and many on it in demonstrable poverty, every extra cent spent on it will be spent rather than saved.

Supported by fewer than half of those surveyed, but third most popular at 45%, was more funding for education and training.

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Flinders University labour market specialist Sue Richardson said education was
labour-intensive, which would help with employment, and would assist young people severely hit by the pandemic to get the skills they would need to get jobs rather than stay unemployed.

Matthew Butlin, who heads the South Australian Productivity Commission, said the decimation of income from student fees means universities will have less money to subsidise research. There was a case for more direct funding of university research in the form of competitive grants for projects with practical applications.

The fourth most popular option was infrastructure spending, supported by 41%.

Why not a Hoover Dam, a new Opera House?

Many made the point that the projects chosen would have to be worthwhile in their own right, and feared this might not be the case. Others looked to big “nation building” projects along the lines of the Hoover Dam in the United States which was built during the Great Depression and employed 21,000 people.

“Why not building a massive dam in Australia? Why not building a new Sydney Symphony Orchestra building like the Berlin Philharmonie? Why not expand the National Parks? Why not building green libraries all over Australia?,” asked Sydney University’s Stefanie Schurer.

Read more:
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Done right, like the Sydney Harbour Bridge which was completed during the Great Depression, big imaginative projects could leave us with something valuable.

There was less enthusiasm for continued wage subsidies (35%) and an expanded investment allowance (29%) with University of NSW economist Gigi Foster saying investment allowances could be replaced with income-contingent loans along the lines of the Higher Education Contributions Scheme.

That way businesses could borrow to invest, with an obligation to repay if the investment paid off.

If it goes on tax cuts, it might not be spent

The same approach was taken by some to funding higher quality aged care (supported by 31%) and increasing subsidies for child care (29%).

Economic modeller Warwick McKibbin suggested funding child care through income-contingent loans (repayable on the basis of income) rather than subsidies.

Bringing forward the leglislated personal income tax cuts as proposed by the government and cash payments to households were relatively unpopular, supported by 20% and 16%.

Saul Eslake said that while he agreed with the treasurer that early tax cuts would “put money in people’s pockets”, there was no guarantee the high earners “into whose pockets most of that money would be put”, would take it out and spend it in sufficient quantity.

Read more:
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Eslake suggested that rather than supporting households with cheques as happened during the financial crisis, households could be handed time-limited tradeable vouchers that could be spent in areas hurt by restrictions, such tourism and the arts, or used for other worthwhile purposes such as childcare or reskilling.

Among those who did support bringing forward the tax cuts was John Freebairn, who said that although presented as cuts, what was proposed would do little more than restore what had been lost to bracket creep, keeping income tax steady.

Company tax cuts an also-ran

Company tax cuts, once touted by former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull as the key to jobs and qrowth garnered minimal support, being backed by just six of the 49 economists surveyed.

The least popular option, backed by only two economists surveyed, was government support for cleaner fossil fuels such as natural gas, as the prime minister is promising. In contrast 13 (26%) backed support for renewable energy.

Individual responses

The Conversation

Peter Martin, Visiting Fellow, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Behind Victoria’s decision to open primary schools to all students: report shows COVID transmission is rare


Fiona Russell, University of Melbourne; Edward Kim Mulholland, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute; Kathleen Ryan, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute; Kathryn Snow, University of Melbourne; Margie Danchin, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, and Sharon Goldfeld, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute

At the weekend, Victorian Premier Dan Andrews announced all the state’s primary school kids would return to school for Term 4. This is an update from the previously planned staggered return to primary school, which would begin only with students in the early years — prep (first year) to Year 2.

The change was informed by our analysis of Victorian health and education department data on all cases and contacts linked to outbreaks at schools and early childhood education and care services (childcare and preschool).

We included data between January 25 (the date of the first known case in Victoria) and August 31.

Our analysis found children younger than 13 seem to transmit the virus less than teenagers and adults. In instances where the first case in a school was a child under 13, a subsequent outbreak (two or more cases) was uncommon. This finding played a key role in helping make the decision for primary school children to return to school.

Here is what else we found.

1. Outbreaks in childcare and schools are driven by community transmission

Infections linked to childcare, preschools and schools peaked when community transmission was highest in July, and declined in August. In addition, they were most common in the geographical areas where community transmission was also high.

This suggests infections in childcare, preschools and schools are driven primarily by transmission in the broader community. Controlling community transmission is key to preventing school outbreaks.

2. School infections are much lower than in the community

There were 1,635 infections linked with childcare, preschools and schools out of a total of 19,109 cases in Victoria (between January 25 and August 31).

Of 1 million students enrolled in all Victorian schools, 337 may have acquired the virus through outbreaks at school.

Read more:
Coronavirus disrupted my kid’s first year of school. Will that set them back?

Of 139 staff and 373 students who may have acquired infection through outbreaks at childcare, preschools or schools, eight (four staff and four students) were admitted to hospital, and all recovered.

The infections in childcare, preschools and schools were very rarely linked to infections in the elderly, who are the most vulnerable to COVID-19.

3. Most infections in schools and childcare centres were well contained

Of all the outbreaks in Victorian childcare centres, preschools and schools, 66% involved only a single infection in a staff member or student and did not progress to an outbreak. And 91% involved fewer than ten cases.

Testing, tracing and isolation within 48 hours of a notification is the most important strategy to prevent an outbreak.

The majority of infections in childcare, preschools and schools were well contained with existing controls and rapid closure (within two days), contact tracing and cleaning.

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4. Households are the main source of infection, not schools

The investigations of cases identified in schools suggest child-to-child transmission in schools is uncommon, and not the primary cause of infection in children. Household transmission has been consistently found to be the most common source of infection for children.

Closing schools should be a last resort

Based on our findings and a review of the international literature, we recommend prioritising childcare centres, preschools and schools to reopen and stay open to guarantee equitable learning environments — and to lessen the effects of school closures.

Children do transmit the virus and outbreaks can occur. But based on the international literature, this mostly happens when there are high rates of community transmission and a lack of adherence to mitigation measures (such as social distancing) at the school or childcare centre.

Childcare centres, preschools and schools play a critical role not only in providing education, but also offering additional support for vulnerable students.

With childcare centres and schools being closed, along with the additional economic and psychological stress on families, family conflict and violence has increased. This has led to many children and young people feeling unsafe and left behind in their education and suffering mental-health conditions.

Closing all schools as part of large-scale restrictions should be a last resort. This is especially the case for childcare centres, preschools and primary schools, as children in these age groups are less likely to transmit the virus, and be associated with an outbreak.

Now that community transmission in Victoria is so low, it’s time for all kids to go back to school.

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The authors would like to thank their advisory committee from the Department of Education and Training and the Department of Health and Human Services. They would also like to thank outbreak epidemiologists at the DHHS and medical students Alastair Weng, Angela Zhu, Anthea Tsatsaronis, Benjamin Watson, Julian Loo Yong Kee, Natalie Commins, Nicholas Wu, Renee Cocks, Timothy O’Hare, and research assistant Kanwal Saleem, and Belle Overmars.The Conversation

Fiona Russell, Principal research fellow, University of Melbourne; Edward Kim Mulholland, Professor, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute; Kathleen Ryan, Research Fellow, Asia-Pacific Health, Infection and Immunity Theme, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute; Kathryn Snow, Epidemiologist, University of Melbourne; Margie Danchin, Associate Professor, University of Melbourne, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, and Sharon Goldfeld, Director, Center for Community Child Health Royal Children’s Hospital; Professor, Department of Paediatrics, University of Melbourne; Theme Director Population Health, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.