View from The Hill: Morrison shakes money tree again in bid to avoid second recession


BlueSnap/Shutterstock

Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraAs NSW on Wednesday extended its lockdown for another month and the federal government shelled out more money, it was as if we were back in 2020 and Victoria’s long incarceration.

Thankfully, one big difference is that the Sydney outbreak, where the latest figure is 177 new locally acquired cases, hasn’t had (at least so far) a high death rate.

Some deaths are occurring, including a woman in her 30s, but the nursing homes now seem substantially protected, although there remains concern immunisation of aged care workers has a long way to go.

In its latest funding, the federal government has resisted calls for the reinstatement of JobKeeper, but there is help for both individuals and businesses.

Scott Morrison announced the maximum COVID disaster payment for workers who lose hours would rise from $600 to a maximum of $750 (the original JobKeeper level). There will also be $200 for people on welfare payments who lose more than eight hours work.

The Prime Minister argued JobKeeper did not have the flexibility now required.

JobKeeper was “not the right solution for the problems we have now,” he told his news conference (held at The Lodge, where he’s isolating, with reporters clutching umbrellas).



“What we are doing now is faster [paying the money direct to workers rather than through the employers], it’s more effective, it’s more targeted, it’s getting help where it is needed
far more quickly.

“We’re not dealing with a pandemic outbreak across
the whole country.

“What we need now is the focused effort on where the need is right now. And so it can be turned on and off to the extent that we have outbreaks.

“JobKeeper was a great scheme. But you don’t play last year’s grand final this year. You deal with this year’s challenges.”

The cost of boosting the disaster payment and the welfare top up will depend on how long the NSW lockdown lasts – and what other (if any) future lockdowns occur there or elsewhere.



Under an expanded package for businesses hit by the NSW restrictions, more businesses will be covered, with the maximum turnover threshold increased from $50 million to $250 million.

Those eligible – including not-for-profits – will be able to receive $1,500 to $100,000 a week (compared to $1500 to $10,000 previously).

The government says up to an extra 1,900 businesses employing about 300,000 people could benefit from the widening of eligibility.

The total cost of the NSW package – funded on a 50-50 split with the state – is $600 million a week, up from $500 million in the previous package.

Morrison said Commonwealth support to NSW amounted to $750 million a week.

There is also a new joint federal-state package (funded on a 50-50 basis) to give Victorian small and medium businesses extra support to recover from the recent lockdown. This will total an extra $400 million.



On the vaccine front the NSW government, having failed to get more Pfizer from other states, has decided to divert some Pfizer doses from regional areas to inoculate Year 12 students in the COVID hot spots.

These students will be able to return to face to face learning on August 16.

We’ve yet to see how the reallocation decision will go down in the regions.

Morrison was upbeat in predicting Australia’s economy would bounce back strongly from the lockdown, as it did after the earlier dive. It’s crystal ball territory. The September quarter is set to be negative. The December quarter result is unforeseeable.




Read more:
Now that Australia’s inflation rate is 3.8%, is it time to worry?


Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said what happens in the December quarter, “will largely depend on how successful NSW is in getting on top of this virus.”

The government is trying to judge what it will take to keep the economy out of a second recession, which would likely kill many businesses that just managed to hold on through the earlier one.

A second recession would inflict a major hit on the government politically, just before an election that must be held by May.




Read more:
View from The Hill: Labor wouldn’t disturb tax cuts, negative gearing in ‘small target’ strategy


A poll done by Utting Research in NSW on Monday underlines the message of other polls: COVID currently is taking serious skin off the PM. Only 37% were satisfied with the job he is doing handling the COVID crisis; 51% were dissatisfied.

Morrison said on Wednesday: “I would expect by Christmas we will be seeing a very different Australia to what we’re seeing now”.

He knows if we don’t, he could be in dire straits.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.

Barnaby Joyce scores dismal ratings in Resolve poll, while Berejiklian government easily in front despite NSW lockdown


Mick Tsikas/AAP

Adrian Beaumont, The University of MelbourneIn the latest Resolve poll for Nine newspapers, the Coalition had 38% of the primary vote (down two since June), Labor 35% (down one), the Greens 12% (up two) and One Nation 4% (up one).

This is based on a sample of 1,607, conducted from July 13 to July 17.

Two party estimates are not provided by Resolve, but The Poll Bludger estimates 51.5-48.5 to Labor from these primary votes, which is a one-point gain for Labor.

Negative ratings for Joyce, Morrison and Albanese

Of those surveyed, 45% said they had a negative view of Nationals leader and Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce. Just 16% had a positive view, for a net likeability of -29. Former Nationals leader Michael McCormack had a 17% negative, 11% positive rating for a net -6 in June.

This poll suggests the ousting of McCormack in favour of Joyce could hurt the Coalition, as I wrote about last month.




Read more:
Labor regains Newspoll lead as COVID crisis escalates; is Barnaby Joyce an electoral asset?


Also in the Resolve poll, 46% (up six) gave Prime Minister Scott Morrison a poor rating for his performance in recent weeks and 45% (down three) a good rating. Morrison’s net -1 rating is his first negative rating from any pollster since the COVID pandemic began, though Resolve’s ratings are harsher than other pollsters.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese’s net rating fell three points to -16. Morrison continued to lead Albanese by 45-24 as preferred prime minister (46-23 in June).

On COVID, voters thought lockdowns and border restrictions should be gradually eased over the coming months as more people are vaccinated by a margin of 54-19%. By 54-19%, they thought fully vaccinated people should be given more freedom, though they believed (45-34%) this should not occur until everyone has had an opportunity to be vaccinated.

On economic management, the Liberals and Morrison led Labor and Albanese by 41-25% in July (43-20% in June). On COVID management, the Liberals led by 37-25% (40-20% previously).

Essential voting intentions, and anti-vaxxer sentiment

The Essential poll no longer publishes voting intentions with each poll. Instead they release them every few months for all polls they conducted during that period. Essential’s voting intentions numbers include undecided voters.

Last week’s Essential report gave Labor a 47-45% lead with 8% undecided. If undecided voters are removed (as other pollsters do), Labor led by 51-49.




Read more:
Labor gains clear Newspoll lead during Sydney lockdown, but will the economy save the Coalition?


This is a slightly different result from early July when Labor led by 48-44 (52-48 without undecided). They have led by two or four points since April. The Poll Bludger said applying last election preferences instead of respondent preferences to the current poll gives Labor above a 52-48 lead,

With the Sydney and Melbourne lockdowns, anti-vaxxer sentiment has dropped. In Essential, 11% (down five from early July) said they’d never get vaccinated, and 27% (down six) said they’d get vaccinated but not straight away. In Resolve, 21% (down eight since May) said they were unlikely to get vaccinated.

The federal government had a 46-31 good rating for response to COVID in Essential, slightly better than 44-30 in early July, but a long way below the 58-18 rating in late May, before the Victorian and NSW outbreaks. 54% (down three) gave the NSW government a good rating.

Morgan poll and BludgerTrack poll aggregate

A Morgan poll, conducted over July 10-11 and 17-18 from a sample of over 2,700, gave Labor a 52.5-47.5 lead, a 2% gain for Labor since mid-June. Primary votes were 39% Coalition (down 2.5%), 37% Labor (up 2.5%), 11.5% Greens (down 0.5%) and 3% One Nation (down 0.5%).

With polls from Newspoll, Resolve, Essential and Morgan, the Poll Bludger’s BludgerTrack aggregate of recent polls has Labor ahead by 52.0-48.0, from primary votes of Coalition 39.8%, Labor 37.3%, Greens 10.7% and One Nation 2.9%. Labor has been gaining during this year.

NSW Coalition retains large lead in Resolve state poll

In a Resolve NSW poll for The Sydney Morning Herald, Berejiklian’s Coalition had 43% of the primary vote (down just one point since May), Labor 28% (steady), the Greens 12% (steady) and the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers 1% (down three).

This poll was conducted at the same time as the federal June and July Resolve polls from a sample of 1,100. While the July poll was conducted during Sydney’s lockdown, the June poll
occurred after Jodi McKay was ousted in favour of Chris Minns as Labor leader, owing to a disappointing result in the May 22 Upper Hunter byelection.




Read more:
Coalition has large lead in NSW as Nats easily hold Upper Hunter at byelection


The Sydney Morning Herald’s poll article says the Coalition’s position was worse in July than in June. With NSW’s optional preferential voting, the Coalition would lead by around 55-45 from these primary votes. Incumbent Gladys Berejiklian led Minns as preferred premier by 55-16 (compared to 57-17 vs McKay in May).

In questions on the outbreak (only asked of the July sample), 56% thought Sydney was too slow to go into lockdown and 52% said the government should have been more proactive in urging people to get vaccinated. Almost half (46% agreed) the state has handled the outbreak well.

In Essential, 44% of NSW respondents (down seven since early July) thought NSW had moved at about the right speed to enforce lockdown restrictions. But 44% (up five) thought NSW was too slow, and 12% (up two) too quick.

Other states were unsympathetic to NSW, bringing the national figure to 56% for too slow, 34% for about right and 10% for too quick.

Labor easily holds Stretton at byelection

A state byelection for the Queensland Labor-held seat of Stretton occurred on Saturday. It was caused by the death of the previous member, Duncan Pegg.

With 73% of enrolled voters counted, the ABC’s results currently give Labor a 63.8-36.2 win over the LNP, a mere 1.0% swing to the LNP from the 2020 election. Primary votes are 56.6% Labor (no change), 32.7% LNP (up 2.5%) and 6.5% Greens (down 2.2%). The anti-vaxxer Informed Medical Options Party won just 2.5%.

Parties defending seats at byelections normally suffer from the loss of the previous MP’s personal vote. State Labor has held government since 2015, so this is a good result for them. 62% of Queensland respondents in Essential gave their government a good rating on dealing with COVID.The Conversation

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, The University of Melbourne

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

Morrison government orders Pfizer ‘boosters’, while hoping new ATAGI advice will warm people to AstraZeneca


Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraWhile still struggling with a current shortage of Pfizer, the Morrison government announced it has secured 85 million doses of that vaccine for future “booster” shots.

This will be made up of 60 million doses in 2022, and 25 million doses in 2023. Delivery will start in the first quarter of next year.

Scott Morrison said on Sunday this was “prudent future proofing”, although there is still not definitive advice on when boosters will be needed.

Meanwhile the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) has liberalised its advice on AstraZeneca.

It said in a statement on Saturday all people aged 18 and over in greater Sydney, including those under 60, “should strongly consider getting vaccinated with any available vaccine including COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca”.

This was on the basis of the increasing risk of COVID and “ongoing constraints” of Pfizer, the advice said.

Last week Scott Morrison said the government was constantly appealing to ATAGI to review its advice on AZ according to the balance of risk. Many people have shied away from AZ, supplies of which are plentiful, after ATAGI’s caution about it for younger people because of rare blood clots.

Asked about some general practioners being reluctant to give AZ to people under 40, Morrison said he certainly hoped GPs “would be very mindful of the ATAGI advice”.

ATAGI is presently considering whether children between 12 and 15 years old should be vaccinated against COVID, with the government expecting advice in mid-August.

As the crisis continues in Sydney, on Sunday NSW reported 141 new locally acquired cases and two deaths, including a woman in her 30s. This followed Saturday’s report of 163 new cases in the previous 24 hours.

Victoria on Sunday reported 11 new local cases, and is on track to end its lockdown soon, as is South Australia.

Morrison again stressed the lockdown was the primary weapon in fighting the Sydney outbreak.

“There’s not an easy way to bring these cases down. And it’s the lockdown that does that work. The vaccines can provide some assistance, but they are not going to end this lockdown. What’s going to end this lockdown is it being effective.”

But NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, who tried unsuccessfully to get the vaccination program refocused on south west Sydney, the centre of the outbreak, has a different emphasis. “Please know that what will get us through this outbreak is a combination of our restrictions, but also of more people being vaccinated”.

Morrison has refused to alter the focus, saying this would “interrupt the rhythm of the national vaccine program”.

The federal government has found 50,000 extra Pfizer doses for NSW. Asked where these came from, Morrison said: “There are small variations in supply and delivery, which from time to time may ensure that there’s tens of thousands of doses that might be free at any given time.”

Morrison condemned Saturday’s Sydney anti-lockdown demonstration attended by thousands of people, which saw violence, dozens of people charged, and more being pursued where they can be identified.

He said it was not just selfish. “It was also self-defeating. It achieves no purpose. It will not end the lockdown sooner, it will only risk the lockdowns running further,” he said.

Asked about Queensland Nationals MP George Christensen, who attended a rally in Mackay, Morrison said: “As for other parts of the country that aren’t in lockdown, well, there is such a thing as free speech, and I’m not about to be imposing those sorts of restrictions on people’s free speech”.

Christensen said on Facebook, “Civil disobedience eventually becomes the only response to laws that restrict freedom. This is what we’ve seen in Melbourne today.”

Pressed on this, Morrison said: “The comments I made before related to an event that took place in Queensland where there are no lockdowns”.

The Prime Minister told the Liberal National Party state council in a virtual address on Sunday: “After a difficult start, the vaccine program is now making up lost ground, and quickly”.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.

Is the COVID vaccine rollout the greatest public policy failure in recent Australian history?


Carolyn Holbrook, Deakin University; James Walter, Monash University, and Paul Strangio, Monash UniversityIs the Morrison government’s COVID vaccination rollout program one of Australia’s biggest ever public policy failures?

As COVID-19 infection numbers in locked-down Sydney show little sign of abating and Victoria extends its fifth lockdown, the prospect of life resuming some level of normality appears distant.

In recent weeks, we have learned more about the flaws in the federal Coalition government’s vaccination program. There’s the failure to procure sufficient vaccine and an accompanying over-reliance on the AstraZeneca vaccine.
The complications with rolling out the latter have exposed the shortage of supply of the Pfizer vaccine.

While other international leaders personally lobbied Pfizer executives for supplies, Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Health Minister Greg Hunt were inexplicably passive.

Then there is the sluggish pace of the “it’s not a race” vaccine rollout, particularly among vulnerable people, such as aged and disability care residents, and frontline health workers. Only 13% of Australia’s eligible population (those aged 16 and above) are fully vaccinated, while 35.3% are partially vaccinated. That’s a long way short of the goal of a fully inoculated adult population by October 2021, as initially promised.

Exacerbating these problems has been the lack of an effective public education campaign about the vaccine. This has left a vacuum, which anti-vaxxers and the vaccine-hesitant have filled.




Read more:
View from The Hill: Morrison and Coalition sink in Newspoll on the back of rollout shambles


Fallout from a shambolic vaccine rollout

Public confidence in the government’s handling of the vaccine rollout has sharply diminished. The latest Newspoll shows disapproval of the rollout jumping 11 points to 57%.

The policy missteps, which have Australia languishing at the bottom of the OECD for the proportion of its population that is fully vaccinated, have elicited a rising chorus of condemnation.

Some of the criticism comes from usually supportive sources, such as right-wing commentators Janet Albrechtsen and Miranda Divine.

Former Coalition prime minister Malcolm Turnbull claimed recently he couldn’t recall “a more black and white failure of public administration” than the vaccine program. Historian Frank Bongiorno declared the rollout “the worst national public policy failure in modern Australian history”.

Public confidence in the Coalition government and the prime minister has dropped due to the vaccine rollout.
Lukas Coch/AAP

How do we measure public policy failure?

There’s no doubt the Commonwealth government, measured by its inability to reach professed objectives, which are then repeatedly revised, has performed poorly.

Disingenuous attempts by the prime minister and senior ministers to dissimulate, or deflect responsibility to others, have been well canvassed.

But are we ready to conclude that what we are seeing is a near-unprecedented instance of policy failure, especially when there are other pressing public policy issues on which the government has also been found wanting, most noticeably climate change?

There are three principal factors for measuring public policy success or failure.

The first is an assessment of how successfully the policy action ameliorates the problem it seeks to solve. This appraisal must take into account the consequences of that action. Consequences are often unintended and unanticipated. They might not become apparent for some time and can be difficult to quantify and link unequivocally to the policy in question. For example, the Coalition’s inclination to cease support for manufacturing in Australia has led, as is now evident, to our incapacity to meet the demand even for COVID vaccine production.

Second, an assessment of policy success or failure must consider the significance of the policy. That is, the failure of a minor government program has less negative impact than the failure of an economic, social, environmental or public health policy that affects the entire community.

Third, we must take account of the reputational enhancement or damage ensuing from a particular course of action. This may have decisive effects on a government’s electoral prospects.

Applying these measures, we can say that, to date, the Morrison government’s approach to the COVID vaccination rollout fares badly on all three criteria.

On all three measures of policy effectiveness, the vaccine rollout fails.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

The vaccine rollout has failed the tests of public policy success

The problem is not that the proposal – a level of vaccination that will enable the community to “live with” endemic COVID – is misconceived. It is that incompetent planning, logistics and implementation have so far prevented it from sufficiently ameliorating the threat we face.

We can see, from international comparisons, the dimensions of risk while COVID remains insufficiently checked and potentially able to generate more dangerous mutations.

Second, the significance of success or failure in this domain – brought home by recurrent lockdowns – is manifest. There are negative flow-on effects for the entire community, not only in containing the virus, but also with clear impact on the economy, mental health, domestic violence and trust in government.

We are also confronted with counter examples: Seattle, for instance, in dire circumstances not so long ago, is now more or less back to normal because of the swift uptake of vaccination.

Third, the reputational damage to the federal government is evident in a string of public opinion polls that have found a substantial decline in confidence in the Coalition and the prime minister.

… but there is one that is worse

Some other examples help us flesh out the picture. One is a public policy from recent decades that did not achieve its intended purpose: the Rudd government’s Resource Super Profits Tax and its successor negotiated by the Gillard government, the Minerals Resource Rent Tax.

These policies failed on at least two levels. First, they did not reap anything like the revenue that was forecast. Second, the taxes were electorally damaging for the Labor governments, engendering a fierce backlash from the mining industry.

A more significant public policy failure, with consequences that took much longer to become apparent, was the Howard government’s Aged Care Act of 1997. This legislation established the framework for the funding and regulation of the aged care system. Partially privatising the aged care sector, that policy regime is widely recognised as being responsible for the underfunding of the system and associated chronic shortcomings, which the recent royal commission thoroughly documented.

Perhaps the biggest public policy failure of recent times relates to climate action where, as with COVID vaccination, Australia ranks last among developed economies.

This has been a product of the failure of the parties, but in particular of internecine battles within the Coalition and a brutal politics that, as Martin Parkinson argues, brought about “a fracture of the political centre”, rendering it incapable of the negotiation and consensus necessary for resolution.

While the vaccine rollout has been a failure, inaction on climate change represents the biggest policy failure in recent times.
AAP/Department of Defence handout

Indeed, the intractability of climate change as a policy problem suggests that it, rather than the handling of vaccine rollout, is the biggest failure of modern times.

Despite the chaos that has been well documented, the required levels of vaccination can still be achieved, even if belatedly. The situation is potentially capable of resolution, and possibly in time for Seattle-like “normality” to be re-established. Adequate climate action, on the other hand, still appears to be incapable of resolution under this government.




Read more:
Spot the difference: as world leaders rose to the occasion at the Biden climate summit, Morrison faltered


But will the Morrison government’s mishandling of the vaccine rollout be politically fatal? Certainly, falling confidence in the rollout is translating into a decline in support for the Coalition. Yet we should be wary of jumping to conclusions.

The prime minister has until next May to hold an election. The government has ample time to play catch-up with the rollout. If further outbreaks are contained and the elusive herd immunity is achieved by then, lockdowns will have become a thing of the past. The relief at being able to move on may obliterate current disquiet.

Further, in normal circumstances, policy virtue is not necessarily synonymous with political success. The last federal election was an indicator of this. The Coalition triumphed despite a threadbare policy program. In other words, policy prowess is only ever one measure of a government’s success.The Conversation

Carolyn Holbrook, ARC DECRA Fellow at Deakin University, Deakin University; James Walter, Professor of Political Science, Monash University, and Paul Strangio, Professor of Politics, Monash University

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

View from The Hill: Morrison and Coalition sink in Newspoll on the back of rollout shambles


Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraSupport for Scott Morrison and the government have slumped in Newspoll, in a major backlash against the botched vaccine rollout.

Labor has surged to a two-party lead of 53-47%, compared with 51-49% in the previous poll in late June.

The Australian reports the latest result is the worse for the Coalition this term, and if replicated at an election would deliver the government a clear loss.

Satisfaction with Morrison’s handling of the pandemic – which now sees lockdowns in the nation’s two largest states – plunged nine points in the last three weeks to 52%.

As the brought-forward Pfizer supplies start to arrive, confidence in the government’s management of the rollout is negative for the first time, with only 40% believing it being handled satisfactorily.

Morrison’s net approval in Newspoll – plus 6 – is at its lowest since the bushfire crisis, with an eight point overall shift. Anthony Albanese’s position worsened a little – he is on net minus 8. Despite a small drop, Morrison retains a solid lead over Albanese as better PM – 51-33%

Both Labor and the Coalition are polling 39% on primary votes – a two point fall for the Coalition and an equal rise for Labor.

The poll saw an 18 point drop in satisfaction with Morrison’s handling of COVID since April.

Satisfaction with the government’s handling of the rollout was 53% in April and 50% in late June – in this poll 40% are satisfied with the handling and 57% are not.

Sky News at the weekend reported Morrison had urged NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian to strengthen the Sydney lockdown. She did so soon after.

The prime ministerial intervention was likely superfluous because it was already clear harsher measures were needed. But it was notable on a couple of grounds.

In the past Morrison strongly leaned to lockdown scepticism, praising Berejiklian as a woman after his own heart and pointing to the NSW gold standard of limiting restrictions.

The much more infectious Delta variant has forced a change in the positions of both leaders.

Also, the Morrison intervention looked like the prime minister playing himself into the sharp end of the current COVID action, which is concentrated at the state level.

As both the NSW and Victorian governments struggle with serious outbreaks and the detail of their lockdowns, Morrison must be frustrated with his lack of direct power – apart from repeatedly restocking the ATM.

That’s of course leaving aside the vaccine rollout, a federal responsibility, the mishandling of which Newspoll shows is dramatically burning the PM’s voter support.

Late last week, Morrison finally spoke with Pfizer chairman and CEO Albert Bouria. This call, federal sources say, had been scheduled some while ago. It is not clear whether that was before or after the PM heard of Kevin Rudd’s contact with Bouria.

The federal government insists the Pfizer bring-forward was entirely due to its efforts and nothing to do with Rudd. Even so, it was a bad look to be talking direct to Bouria so late in the piece, and after Rudd. It had all the appearance of catch up.

As things stand, Berejiklian, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and Morrison are simultaneously under a great deal of heat.

In dealing with COVID, as Berejiklian will attest, you can go from hero to villain very rapidly; hailed in May as “the woman who saved Australia”, she’s pilloried in July for stuffing things up.

Morrison is suffering the same shift in public judgement. And things are not likely to change in the near future – despite the brought-forward Pfizer supplies, there will be shortages for some time yet.

Of the two premiers fighting outbreaks, Berejiklian is under the greater pressure. She and Andrews took different approaches: Andrews locking down immediately and Berejiklian starting with a soft lockdown that had to be toughened (then going further on shutting construction than Andrews ever has).

Even if the five-day Victorian lockdown has to be extended, the situation there appears more manageable than in NSW. On Sunday, Victoria reported 16 locally acquired new cases, while in NSW there were 105.

Berejiklian is under siege simultaneously for not acting fast and strongly enough, and for abandoning her basic less restrictive approach.

The concentration of the NSW infection in south west Sydney has also complicated the situation, because (as Victoria knows) a heavily multicultural area needs particularly good communications and sensitive handling.

This new COVID crisis has seen another round of inter-governmental bickering.

Victoria seethes with retrospective resentment about how Coalition figures (federal and NSW) blamed it last year over its second wave that resulted in hundreds of deaths, mostly aged care residents.

Melbourne then and Sydney currently both had their crises triggered by lapses in quarantine arrangements. NSW is in a much better position to cope than Victoria was – but now the virus is more virulent, and there’s little confidence the Sydney lockdown won’t extend into August.

Last week the Andrews government labelled Morrison the “prime minister of NSW”, declaring that state had been treated more generously than Victoria was in its earlier lockdown this year. Treasurer Josh Frydenberg accused Andrews of “whingeing”. Andrews had a dig at NSW.

Andrews is always a tough operator – probably why he and Morrison have a grudging mutual respect. Last week Andrews made it clear he expected Victorian workers to get the latest full federal financial help, even though, if the lockdown were only five days, they’d fall short of fully meeting the federal conditions. Morrison complied.

The latest lockdowns come as polling just released by the Australia Institute, a progressive think tank, shows people’s faith in state governments’ handling of COVID at an all-time high.

The Australia Institute has been regularly polling the question “which level of government do you think is doing a better job of handling the COVID-19 crisis?”. Respondents were asked to choose between their state or territory, the federal government, both equally, or say they didn’t know.


The Australia Institute

In August last year, 31% chose their state/territory, 25% the federal government, and 32% rated the performances of both levels of government equally.

By April, 39% nominated their state or territory; 18% the federal government; 28% both.

Early this month (just as the NSW lockdown was starting) 42% rated their state or territory as the government doing better, 16% the federal government, and 24% both equally.

In NSW in July, 39% said the state government was doing the better job, 13% nominated the federal government; and 28% put both equally. The Victorian figures were 34%, 25% and 21%.

The Australia Institute interprets the response to COVID representing “a potential realignment of state-federal relations”.

Certainly the second year of the pandemic, like the first, is seeing the states showing little deference to the federal government when they perceive their core interests are at stake. They determine the lockdowns and, now JobKeeper has gone, NSW and Victoria have shown they are willing to play hardball to extract the best financial support for their citizens. And the Morrison government knows it will pay a political price if it is seen as a skinflint.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.

The ‘car park rorts’ story is scandalous. But it will keep happening unless we close grant loopholes


Dean Lewins/AAP

Yee-Fui Ng, Monash UniversityOn Monday, a senate hearing produced yet more damning evidence about the “car park rorts” affair.

The Australian National Audit Office told a parliamentary committee a list of the top 20 marginal electorates guided the distribution of a $389 million car park construction fund during the 2019 election campaign.

Sitting Coalition MPs were invited to nominate projects for funding. In some cases, money was allocated to electorates when a project had not yet been identified. An adviser from the Prime Minister’s Office was involved in the funding allocation — the same adviser involved in the “sports rorts” incident.

Earlier this month, the Audit Office released a scathing report, finding 77% of the commuter car park sites selected were in Coalition electorates, rather than in areas of real need with congestion issues. None of the 47 project sites selected for funding commitment were proposed by the infrastructure department.

So, why do these rorts keep happening? What mechanisms are in place to try and stop them? And what further protections do we need?

Why do rorts keep happening?

Pork-barrelling involves the channelling of public funds to government electorates for political purposes, rather than proper allocation according to merit.

We have been inundated with pork-barrelling scandals in recent years. This includes the “sports rorts” scandal that led to Bridget McKenzie’s resignation from cabinet last year, and NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s biased distribution of the Stronger Communities fund.

A victorious Scott Morrison with his family on election night 2019.
The Audit Office has delivered a damning assessment of the Coalition’s car park fund.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Australia has a single member electorate parliamentary system, which makes it more susceptible to pork-barrelling than multi-member electorates like Norway or Spain. The belief is that politicians who “bring home the bacon” for their constituents are electorally rewarded for doing so.

This means there are incentives for the central cabinet to strategically apportion benefits to marginal electorates to increase prospects of electoral success. There is also an incentive to bias the apportionment of funds towards the party in power.

In short, rorts scandals keep happening because governments believe that channelling money to marginal and government electorates will win them elections.

What are the accountability arrangements for grants?

At the federal level, we have sophisticated financial management legislation that provides a framework for grant rules. The Commonwealth grant rules provide a detailed set of guidelines that ministers and government officials must follow on grant application and selection processes.




Read more:
Another day, another rorts scandal – this time with car parks. How can we fix the system?


However, there are significant loopholes in the rules. For example, the “car park rorts” scandal is not covered by these rules because it involves money being channelled through the states.

Also, there are no sanctions for breaching the rules. So ministers and government officials can break the rules without any repercussions.

Who keeps an eye on the grants?

The auditor-general is the main actor who investigates federal grants administration. The auditor-general has significant coercive powers, and is independent of government. Although the auditor-general lacks the power to change governmental practices, the publicity of their reports may encourage government agencies to respond in a positive and productive way.

In Australia, parliaments have a strong constitutional role as overseers of the activities of government.

Australian National Audit Office executive director Brian Boyd
Australian National Audit Office executive director Brian Boyd appeared before a senate committee on Monday.
Lukas Coch/AAP

Parliamentary committees have become the main form of scrutiny of government in recent years. They are set up to investigate specific matters of policy or to evaluate the performance of government.

Parliamentary committees are normally tasked with making inquiries into matters by taking submissions, hearing evidence and reporting their findings to parliament. They have been highly effective identifying and investigating issues relating to government rorts.

Where to now?

To fix the system, we need to reform the rules about grants allocation and close the loopholes. We also need to impose punishment for breaching the rules.




Read more:
The ‘sports rorts’ affair shows the need for a proper federal ICAC – with teeth


It is imperative our grants administration system be reformed to ensure that taxpayer funds are protected from governmental abuse. If the ministerial discretion available in grants processes is improperly used, this can give rise to political favouritism and corruption.

Ministers, as our elected representatives, are the custodians of public trust. As part of a well-functioning democracy, it is important there is probity, transparency and accountability in the use of public funds.The Conversation

Yee-Fui Ng, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, Monash University

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

Coronavirus Update: Australia


Are the Nationals now the party for mining, not farming? If so, Barnaby Joyce must tread carefully


Perry Duffin/AAP

Geoff Cockfield, University of Southern QueenslandThe return of Barnaby Joyce to the federal National Party’s top job has highlighted tensions within, and dilemmas for, the broader party – particularly on climate change policy and coal.

Joyce and some of his Queensland colleagues unashamedly support the coal industry, and the federal party appears broadly opposed to Australia adopting a target of net-zero emissions by 2050.

These are positions at odds with progressive quarters of the party, particularly in Victoria. The divisions came to a head earlier this month when, in response to Joyce’s ascension, Victorian Nationals leader Peter Walsh and deputy Steph Ryan sought to split the state party from its federal counterpart.

The move was unsuccessful. But Walsh later called for the party to have “a constructive discussion about the transition of our energy supplies and how we reduce our impact on the Earth we live on”.

So are the federal Nationals the latter-day party for mining, not farming? If so, what does this mean for the party’s political positioning and prospects? To address this question, we must examine the Nationals’ evolution over the past century.

surprised man seated, other man standing holding piece of coal
Barnaby Joyce’s support for coal has troubled the Victorian Nationals.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Coal as nation-builder

The National Party began federally in 1920 as the Australian Country Party, and traditionally represented farmers and rural communities. But over time, the party evolved to represent and advocate for the broader interests of regional Australia.

Economic nationalism has underpinned the party, especially since the 1950s. Under this ethos, farming, mining and basic manufacturing were considered key foundations for nation-building – a view which persists today. As the Nationals’ Senator Matt Canavan wrote in an opinion piece last month:

The restoration of Barnaby Joyce as deputy prime minister restores a strong advocate for the economically nationalist, Australia-first approach that has always served us well.

Most Nationals candidates come from rural small businesses, finance organisations and social and community services – though many have farming roots or some involvement in farming activities.

Rural communities are under pressure from dwindling populations and limited employment opportunities. In that sense, the mining industry is an important source of jobs and economic activity in Australia’s regions.




Read more:
Net zero by 2050? Even if Scott Morrison gets the Nationals on board, hold the applause


coal pile at mine
Mining is an important source of jobs in regional Australia.
Dean Lewins/AAP

The federal party’s vociferous support for mining and opposition to emissions reduction is, in part, values signalling. For many in the Nationals, coal helped build the nation, while climate change action and renewable energy represent a moral and material threat.

Regional differences also exist. Nationals’ support for mining is particularly strong in Queensland – traditionally a mining-dependent state where resource investment has long been considered a means of rural development. At both the Queensland and federal levels, strong political connections exist between mining companies and the Liberal-National Party.

In another sign of the federal party’s contemporary priorities, Joyce’s close party ally Matt Canavan recently told the Guardian:

About 5% of our voters are farmers. It’s about 2% of the overall population. So 95% of our voters don’t farm, aren’t farmers or don’t own farmland.

The Nationals’ apparent support for mining above farming exists partly because because they can get away with it. In many regions, farming and mining co-exist in reasonable harmony, both sectors enjoying the benefits of strong regional centres.

In some cases conflict does arise, such as with gas exploration in cropping country. But in those regions, disenfranchised Nationals voters typically direct their votes to micro-parties rather than Labor or the Greens. These votes often flow back to the Nationals via preferences.

Man in hard hat
Pro-coal Nationals senator Matt Canavan has downplayed the importance of farmers to the party’s constituency.
Lukas Coch/AAP

A questionable strategy

The federal Nationals’ pro-mining, anti-renewables stance may not, however, benefit the party over the long term.

First, mining is at best a very patchy contributor to rural development. Overall, net employment in agriculture is still higher than for mining and is more evenly distributed across the regions. Mining investment can ebb and flow quickly with commodity prices and the stage of project development, leaving communities with falling real estate values and an altered social fabric.

The anti-emissions control stance could also trigger conflict with major farm organisations. Many, such as the National Farmers Federation and Meat and Livestock Association, want to see a strong national emissions reduction plan, under which landowners can benefit financially by participating in land carbon schemes.

Many farmers are also interested in renewable energy as both a source of income and cheaper power. Renewables projects are proliferating in regional areas and even Joyce has been known to turn up in a hard hat to get behind them. So we can look forward to some interesting management of that cognitive dissonance.




Read more:
Renewables need land – and lots of it. That poses tricky questions for regional Australia


cows and wind turbines in field
Many farmers are interested in hosting renewables projects.
Shutterstock

Trouble ahead

Following Joyce’s return to the federal party leadership, Victorian Nationals leader Peter Walsh said he’s had “a very frank discussion with him about the policy differences on climate change”.

But discontent on climate policy is not confined to Victoria. Across the party, Young Nationals organisations are generally far more open to climate action than their older party colleagues.

And the hardline mining stance will not help the Nationals regain or even retain seats in areas such as Ballina in NSW, where demographic changes have eroded the party’s support.

But the biggest test of the Nationals’ farming-vs-mining rift is perhaps yet to come. The European Union and other jurisdictions are considering imposing tariffs on goods – including agricultural products – from nations such as Australia which lack strong emissions reduction policies.

While helping drive global climate action, such moves would partly be motivated by economic nationalism – boosting the international competitiveness of industries in the country/s applying the tariff. The sight of the Nationals impotently arguing for free trade in this instance will be fascinating political theatre.




Read more:
No point complaining about it, Australia will face carbon levies unless it changes course


The Conversation


Geoff Cockfield, Professor of Government and Economics, and Deputy Dean, University of Southern Queensland

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

Another day, another rorts scandal – this time with car parks. How can we fix the system?


AAP/Mick Tsikas

Yee-Fui Ng, Monash UniversityYet another rorts scandal is swirling around the federal government. The Auditor-General has reported that a $389 million car park construction fund has been administered ineffectively. The minister had distributed the grants with “inadequate assessment” for eligibility.

The auditor-general’s report found 77% of the commuter car park sites selected were in Coalition electorates, rather than in areas of real need with congestion issues.

Damningly, none of the 47 project sites selected for funding commitment were proposed by the department. This suggests there has been extensive ministerial interference in the funding decision-making.

The fact this questionable allocation of funding occurred the day before Prime Minister Scott Morrison called the 2019 federal election suggests an element of “pork barrelling”: the channelling of public funds to government electorates for political purposes, rather than proper allocation according to merit.




Read more:
The ‘sports rorts’ affair shows the need for a proper federal ICAC – with teeth


What is the history of rorts in Australia?

The car park rorts is the latest in a series of rorts scandals in recent years. This includes the “sports rorts” scandal, in which the biased distribution of funds and a conflict of interest prompted the resignation of minister Bridget McKenzie.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton was also accused of reducing funding to the highest ranked community safety projects and redirecting the funding to projects of his choice, including those not recommended by his department.

At the state level, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian was accused of pork-barrelling with the Stronger Communities fund, as she approved $252 million funding before the state election, with 95% of funds going to Coalition electorates.

Rorting isn’t new in Australian politics. More than a decade ago, we had a previous “sports rorts” incident under the Labor Government, in which grants were distributed in favour of the Labor Party. Famously, minister Ros Kelly claimed that decisions on short-listed applications were made on a “great big whiteboard” that was erased without permanent record.

A number of empirical studies over the years have confirmed a strong partisan component to allocating grant money towards the party in power.

Why all the rorts?

Given we have had so many rorts scandals over the years, the question is why they are still happening unabated? Why hasn’t the problem been fixed?

To answer this question, it is necessary to understand the legal and political regulation of grant programs in Australia.

First, the political regulation of grant programs is generally working well. The auditor-general, an independent officer of parliament, has been vigilant in reporting on maladministration of grants in government. Many of the rorts scandals have been brought to light through auditor-general reports.

Parliamentary committees have also been vigilant in investigating grants rorts, and reporting on these incidents.

Sometimes the relevant minister resigns, sometimes they tough it out, depending on the political circumstances and the support of the prime minister or premier.

However, the legal regulation of grant programs is problematic.

Although at the federal level we have sophisticated financial management legislation that provides a framework for grant rules, there are significant loopholes in it.

For one, the government cannot make grant rules for government statutory corporations, or for grants administered under intergovernmental agreements with the states. This is problematic because many grants programs are administered by independent statutory corporations or through the states.

As I have written, there are good reasons to set up independent statutory bodies to administer government policies, rather than leave it to the politicians. This would avoid the partisan interference and short-termism that characterises modern politics. An example of the benefits of this is letting the Reserve Bank set interest rates, rather than politicians.

However, these goals are undermined if ministers interfere with the merit-based decisions of the independent bodies in favour of partisan considerations.

Another issue is that breaches of these grant rules do not result in any legal penalty. There is no penalty for breaching the Commonwealth grant rules in the financial management legislation. So there are no repercussions for breaching the rules, which may be why politicians do it with impunity.

A further problem is the limited opportunity for grant applicants to challenge partisan decisions. Courts in judicial review will confine themselves to the legality of the decisions. They will not intrude into public policy considerations by ministers, such as which applicants deserve the grants.




Read more:
Remembrance of rorts past: why the McKenzie scandal might not count for a hill of beans


How can we fix the system?

In light of the pervasive and repeated rorts scandals that have plagued Australian politics, it is time to reform the rules.

First, the loopholes need to be closed. The Commonwealth grant rules provide a detailed set of guidelines that ministers and government officials must follow on grant application and selection processes. This should be broadened to include situations where the Commonwealth distributes grants through an independent statutory corporation or through the states.

Second, there needs to be legal enforcement of the grant rules. This may lead to more effective legal challenges of partisan grant decisions in the courts.

With no legal repercussions for breaches, politicians will continue to flout the rules.

It is clear the probity of the use of public funds is essential to maintaining public trust in the Australian political system. The repeated rorts scandals in Australia undermines a basic tenet of our democracy: that allocation of public money should be administered responsibly by our elected officials.

We need to reform the regulation of grant programs in Australia to enhance the probity, transparency and integrity of the use of public funds.The Conversation

Yee-Fui Ng, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, Monash University

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

Labor regains Newspoll lead as COVID crisis escalates; is Barnaby Joyce an electoral asset?


AAP/Lukas Coch

Adrian Beaumont, The University of MelbourneThis week’s Newspoll, conducted June 23-26 from a sample of 1,513, gave Labor a 51-49 lead, a one-point gain for Labor since the previous Newspoll, three weeks ago. Primary votes were 41% Coalition (steady), 37% Labor (up one), 11% Greens (steady) and 3% One Nation (steady). Figures are from The Poll Bludger.

55% were satisfied with Scott Morrison’s performance (up one), and 41% were dissatisfied (down two), for a net approval of +14, up three points. Anthony Albanese’s net approval increased four points to -5. Morrison led Albanese as better prime minister by 53-33 (53-32 previously).

While Morrison’s net approval was up slightly, this followed a fall of nine points in the previous Newspoll. Analyst Kevin Bonham said Morrison’s current net approval is his second lowest since the COVID situation started last year.

The fieldwork for this poll was Wednesday to Saturday. The vast majority of the sample would have been done before NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian put Greater Sydney into a two-week lockdown on Saturday. Further restrictions were announced for the NT and WA on Sunday, with Queensland following on Monday.

Problems with Australia’s vaccination rollout were apparent in April, but did not have an impact on Morrison’s, or the Coalition’s, polling, or the perception of handling of COVID. At the time, most Australians felt secure behind our hard border, and did not see any rush to get vaccinated.

I believe the current lockdowns are a danger to the Coalition, as the slow vaccination rollout may start to bite. The previous Newspoll was taken during the Victorian lockdown, and Morrison’s net approval slid nine points. In an early June Essential poll, the federal government’s handling of COVID dropped to a 53-24 good rating from 58-18 in late May.

Only 25% of Australians have received at least one dose of COVID vaccinations, compared to 48% in France and higher in other comparable countries. Furthermore, under 5% of Australians are fully vaccinated (received two doses), compared to at least 25% in comparable countries.

The head of the Therapeutic Goods Administration recently said that effective protection against the Delta COVID variant that has spread quickly in Sydney requires both vaccination doses.

Barnaby Joyce’s electoral impact

On June 21, Barnaby Joyce won a Nationals leadership spill, and replaced Michael McCormack as Nationals leader and deputy prime minister. Joyce returned as Nationals leader more than three years after he was forced to resign over an affair with a former staffer and sexual harassment allegations (which he denies).

I wrote in May that non-university educated whites have been deserting left-leaning parties in Australia, the US and UK, and that they appear to be voting contrary to elite opinion.




Read more:
Non-university educated white people are deserting left-leaning parties. How can they get them back?


Elite opinion detests Joyce, so by this logic the Coalition should be boosted with non-uni whites. However, the Nationals have little appeal beyond regional electorates that are not based on a large regional city like Geelong or Newcastle.

At the 2019 federal election, The Poll Bludger wrote there were large swings to the Coalition in regional Queensland, taking seats that were Coalition-held by small margins out of range for Labor. The Coalition also gained Herbert by a large margin.

Owing to these swings, there are few seats where the Nationals traditionally do well that Labor could win at the next election. The weakness of Joyce is that non-uni whites outside the Nationals’ heartland don’t care who the Nationals’ leader is, while university-educated people will dislike the Coalition more than they would have had the far less well-known McCormack remained Nationals leader.

Excellent jobs report for government

On June 17, the ABS reported the unemployment rate in May had dropped 0.4% to 5.1%, returning to where it was before COVID. This drop occurred despite a 0.3% increase in the participation rate.

The employment population ratio – the percentage of the eligible population that is employed – jumped 0.5% to 62.8% in May. It is now higher than at any previous point in the ABS chart going back to May 2011; the previous high was 62.7% in September 2019.

With these economic figures, the government is a clear favourite to be re-elected. Provided the current COVID outbreaks do not lead to extended lockdowns, the economy will probably be doing well whenever the next election is held.

Essential climate change and foreign relations questions, and Morgan poll

In last week’s Essential poll, 56% (down two since January) thought climate change is happening and is caused by human activity, while 27% (down five) thought we are just witnessing a normal fluctuation in the earth’s climate.

45% (up three since January, but down seven since June 2020) thought Australia was not doing enough to address climate change. 30% (down five) thought we were doing enough, and 12% (up two) thought we were doing too much.

On foreign relations, 50% thought we should get closer to NZ (up one since December), 44% the UK (up six), 37% the European Union (up four), 32% the US (up four) and 12% China (down three). By 57-14, respondents favoured the US over China as most beneficial for Australia to strengthen our relationship with (42-18 in May 2020, before Joe Biden’s election as US president).

A Morgan poll, conducted June 12-13 and 19-20 from a sample of nearly 2,800, gave Labor a 50.5-49.5 lead, a 0.5% gain for the Coalition since early June. Primary votes were 41.5% Coalition (up 1.5%), 34.5% Labor (down 1%), 12% Greens (up 0.5%) and 3.5% One Nation (up 0.5%).

Victorian state poll and Tasmanian Labor leadership

As reported by The Poll Bludger, a Redbridge Victorian poll for The Herald Sun, conducted June 12-15 from a sample of almost 1,500, gave Labor a 52.4-47.6 lead. Primary votes were 41% Coalition, 37% Labor and 12% Greens.

Incumbent Daniel Andrews led Michael O’Brien as preferred premier by 42-23. I had a recent article about the Victorian June Resolve poll.

David O’Byrne was elected Tasmanian Labor leader on June 15, after defeating Shane Broad by a 74-26 margin of all votes cast.The Conversation

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, The University of Melbourne

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