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.




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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.

Great approach, weak execution. Economists decline to give budget top marks


Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Peter Martin, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National UniversityDespite overwhelmingly endorsing the general stance of the 2021 budget, only a few of the 56 leading economists surveyed by the Economic Society of Australia and The Conversation are prepared to give it top marks.

Asked to grade the budget on a scale of A to F given Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s objective of securing Australia’s economic recovery and building for the future, only three of the 56 economists surveyed gave it an ‘A’.

But a very large 41% awarded it either an A or a B, up from 37% in last year’s October COVID budget.

The economists chosen to take part in the Economic Society of Australia survey have been recognised by their peers as Australia’s leaders in fields including macroeconomics, economic modelling, housing and budget policy.

Among them are a former head of Australia’s prime minister’s department, a former member of the Reserve Bank board, a former OECD director and two former frontbenchers, one from Labor and one from the Coalition.

Of the panel members who commented on the historic stance of the budget — expanding the size of the deficit beyond what it would have been in order to drive down unemployment — all but three offered enthusiastic endorsement.

Emeritus Professor Sue Richardson of the University of Adelaide commended the government for at last turning its back on a “debt and deficit” mantra, that was “never justified”.




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Professor Richard Holden praised the “watershed”. In due course there should be increased attention paid to the structure and quality of spending, but for now we should applaud the “Frydenberg Pivot”.

Saul Eslake said the strategy of providing further stimulus to push unemployment down to levels not seen consistently since the first half of the 1970s was the right one. It meant the Reserve Bank and the treasury would no longer be working at “cross purposes” as they had been for most of the past two decades.



The Conversation, CC BY-ND

But Eslake said the budget fell short in the A$20 billion it devoted to tax concessions for small business in the mistaken and unfounded belief it is “the engine room of the economy” and in housing measures that failed to heed warnings from history about the risks of ultra-high loan-to-valuation ratios.

Rebecca Cassells of the Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre said the claim that 60,000 jobs would flow from extending the temporary loss carry back and full expensing tax concessions was “a stretch,” with the connection quite tenuous.

Bucks, but not the biggest bang

Consultant Nicki Hutley said a bigger boost to the JobSeeker unemployment payment would have achieved much more than the $7.8 billion one-year extension of the “lamington” low and middle income tax offset.

Economic modeller Janine Dixon said while spending more to get more people into work was the “right setting for the times,” Australia had to ensure its workforce was ready to supply the extra aged care and child care and disability services it had funded by delivering the right training, especially in the absence of migration, which has traditionally been used to address workforce shortages.

Labour market specialist Elisabetta Magnani said measures to boost wages in the caring occupations could have achieved the double bonus of drawing more workers into those occupations and shrinking the gender pay gap, given that more than 80% of the workers in residential aged care are female.

Little for net-zero

Michael Keating, a former head of the prime minister’s department, said restoring high wage growth would require big investments in education and training, which sits oddly with the cuts in funding for universities. The extra funding for apprentices and trainees only makes up for past cuts.

Professor Gigi Foster said the $1.7 billion spent on childcare subsidies was only “surface-level fiddling with the sticker price”.

“Where is the supply-side intervention required to make childcare services sustainably accessible and of high quality?” she asked. “Childcare should be viewed as social infrastructure. Instead, when we heard infrastructure, it was mainly code for transportation.”




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Fewer hard hats, more soft hearts: budget pivots to women and care


Margaret Nowak of Curtin University said a budget that really “built for the future” would not have focused on the “infrastructure of the past”. Professor Richardson lamented that most of the infrastructure spending was on traditional “roads and ports” when the future was net-zero emissions.

“There is little in the budget that supports this transformation,” she said. “It is an extraordinary lost opportunity.

Nicki Hutley said retooling the economy for zero emissions would have brought forth “more jobs, higher wages, more growth and private sector co-investment”.

Some concern about debt

Former OECD director Adrian Blundell-Wignall said a much-greater investment in vaccinations would have helped “get the economy back to work and the borders opened sooner which, in turn, would have saved unemployment benefits, tourism, aviation support and the need for the extension of temporary measures”.

And he was concerned that a jump in US inflation might cause international interest rates to rise faster than expected, forcing Australia to cut its projected budget deficits in order to stabilise net debt.




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Frydenberg spends the bounty to drive unemployment to new lows


Former International Monetary Fund economist Tony Makin, a critic of government spending during the global financial crisis,
described the budget spending as a “knee-jerk primitive Keynesian reaction” to the COVID recession.

Unease about going into debt to keep and create jobs aside (and very few of the economists surveyed shared Makin’s unease) the criticisms of the economists surveyed relate to execution and details. If Frydenberg had been judged on his approach, most would have given him an A.


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.

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


Darren Pateman/AAP

Adrian Beaumont, The University of MelbourneA recent Resolve poll of New South Wales voters for The Sydney Morning Herald has given the Coalition 44% of the primary vote, Labor 28%, the Greens 12% and the Shooters Fishers and Farmers 4%. This is the first nonpartisan poll of NSW state voting intentions since the last election.

At the March 2019 election, primary votes were Coalition 41.6%, Labor 33.3%, Greens 9.6% and Shooters 3.5%.

No two-party estimate was provided by Resolve, but analyst Kevin Bonham estimates this means 56-44 to the Coalition, compared with 52-48 at the election. The poll was conducted with two federal Resolve polls in mid-April and mid-May from a sample of 1,228.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian led Labor leader Jodi McKay as preferred premier by a massive 57-17 margin. Half of those polled thought Berejiklian likeable, while 17% were negative. Meanwhile, 13% thought McKay likeable, while 21% were negative (this includes don’t know and neutral responses).

Nationals easily win Upper Hunter byelection

There was a byelection in the state seat of Upper Hunter on Saturday. With 84% of enrolled voters counted, the Nationals defeated Labor by a 55.7-44.3 margin, a 3.1% swing to the Nationals from the 2019 election. Primary votes were 31.2% to the Nationals (down 2.8%), 21.3% to Labor (down 7.3%), 12.3% to One Nation, 12.0% to the Shooters (down 10.1%) and 12.9% for two independents combined.

The total vote for the major parties fell 10.1% to 52.5%, but with a large field of candidates, the National and Labor candidates were certain to finish in the top two after preferences, especially given NSW’s optional preferential voting system.

The Shooters won three seats at the last state election, but will need to come to an agreement with One Nation not to contest the other party’s target seats at the next election.




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Little change in post-budget Newspoll; Liberals win Tasmanian majority


This is the lowest primary vote for the Nationals in what was a safe Nationals seat before the rise of the Shooters and One Nation. For Labor, it is their second lowest primary vote, beating only the 17.9% at the 2011 Labor annihilation.

Overall preference flows from all third party candidates were 20.5% to Labor, 16.3% to the Nationals and 63.2% exhausted. Including exhausted ballots, two party vote shares were 39.0% Nationals (down 0.9% since 2019), 31.0% Labor (down 5.0%) and 30.0% exhausted (up 5.8%). That’s the lowest Nationals share by this measure.

The byelection was caused when former member Michael Johnsen was accused of sexually assaulting a sex worker — he denies any wrongdoing. Other factors that would normally be expected to drag the Nationals vote down are the loss of Johnsen’s personal vote, having a federal government of the same party, and the ten-year age of the current NSW Coalition government.




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Has a backlash against political correctness made sexual misbehaviour more acceptable?


The byelection result and the Coalition’s big lead in the state NSW poll are both dire for NSW Labor. And it’s another example of sex scandals not impacting actual votes.

At the last election, the Coalition won 48 of the 93 lower house seats, one more than the 47 needed for a majority. They have lost two members to the crossbench, so winning this byelection still puts them in minority government with 46 seats. The Coalition is in no danger of losing a confidence vote.

Federal Resolve poll

In the federal Resolve poll for the Nine newspapers, conducted April 12-16 from an online sample of 1,622, primary votes were 39% to the Coalition (up one since April), 35% for Labor (up two), 12% to the Greens (steady) and 2% to One Nation (down four). From these primary vote figures, Bonham estimates Labor is in front, 51-49, a one-point gain for Labor since April.

It is likely One Nation’s large drop reflects Resolve adopting Newspoll’s methods on the One Nation vote, and they are now only asking for One Nation in seats they contested at the 2019 election.




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Great approach, weak execution. Economists decline to give budget top marks


More than half (53%) gave Prime Minister Scott Morrison a good rating for his performance in recent weeks, and 38% a poor rating; his net +15 rating is up three from April. Labor leader Anthony Albanese was at 32% good, 45% poor, for a net of -13, down seven points. Morrison led Albanese by 48-25 (compared to 47-25 in April).

On economic management, the Coalition and Morrison led Labor and Albanese by 46-20 (43-21 in April). On handling COVID, the Coalition led by 46-20 (42-20 in April).

Resolve had far stronger approval for the budget than Newspoll. More than half (56%) rated it good for the country and just 10% poor (for a net +46). Meanwhile 35% rated it good for their personal finances and 17% poor (net +18). Treasurer Josh Frydenberg had a +31 net rating, while Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers was at -3.

Newspoll and the budget

In additional Newspoll questions, released last Tuesday, more voters trusted a Coalition government led by Morrison over a Labor government led by Albanese to guide Australia’s COVID recovery (52-33 voters, compared to 54-32 last October).

Of those surveyed, 60% of voters thought the government was right to stimulate the economy despite increased debt, while 30% said it should do more to rein in spending. During Labor’s last period in government, the Coalition ranted about debt and deficit, but now 71% of Coalition voters support increased debt.

The Newspoll also found many voters thought Labor would not have delivered a better budget (46-33). Bonham says the 13-point margin is typical by recent standards after the 49-33 result following the 2020 budget.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.

Little change in post-budget Newspoll; Liberals win Tasmanian majority


AAP/Mick Tsikas

Adrian Beaumont, The University of MelbourneThis week’s Newspoll, conducted May 13-16 from a sample of 1,506, gave Labor a 51-49 lead, unchanged from the last Newspoll published three weeks ago. Primary votes were 41% Coalition (steady), 36% Labor (down two), 12% Greens (up two) and 2% One Nation (down one). Figures are from The Poll Bludger.

58% were satisfied with Scott Morrison’s performance (down one), and 38% were dissatisfied (up one), for a net approval of +20. Anthony Albanese’s net approval was down four points to -7, his worst ever net approval. Morrison led Albanese as better PM by 55-30 (56-30 three weeks ago).

Newspoll has asked three questions after every budget: whether the budget was good for the economy, good for you personally, and whether the opposition would have delivered a better budget. Results for this last question are yet to appear, and it would be disappointing if that question has been cancelled.

44% thought last Tuesday’s budget was good for the economy and 15% bad, for a net rating of +29. On personal finances, 19% thought it would be good and 19% bad, for a net zero rating. Voters have consistently been better disposed to budgets on the economy than the personal.

The Poll Bludger says this budget is the eighth best on personal finance and the sixth best on the economy since Newspoll started asking these questions, which I believe was in 1988. Analyst Kevin Bonham says this budget has the best net score on the economy since 2007’s +48. However, the Coalition under John Howard lost the 2007 election after that budget.

Most budgets have little impact on voting intentions, and this is confirmed by voting intentions remaining unchanged on two party preferred in this Newspoll. Exceptions were the very unpopular 1993 and 2014 budgets. After both those budgets, the government lost much support.

The drop in Labor’s support, and the rise for the Greens, is probably due to left-wing voters who are unhappy with Albanese. Morrison’s consistently big lead over Albanese as better PM likely encourages some voters to perceive Labor would do better if led by someone more left-wing than Albanese. I posted about the flaws in this logic in my last Newspoll report.

In an additional Newspoll question, 73% thought Australia’s borders should remain closed until at least mid-2022, or the pandemic is under control globally. Just 21% thought borders should open as soon as all Australians who want to be are vaccinated.

In last week’s Essential poll, taken before the budget, Morrison’s net approval surged to +26 from +17 in mid-April. With women, his net approval rose 17 points to +21; with men, it was up two points to +31. While there is still a gender gap, many women appear to have forgotten or forgiven the sexual misbehaviour in March.

Liberals win Tasmanian majority as sex-compromised Liberal wins, then resigns

At the May 1 Tasmanian election, the Liberals won 13 of the 25 lower house seats (steady since the 2018 election), Labor nine (down one), the Greens two (steady) and Independent Kristie Johnston won the last seat. Vote shares were 48.7% Liberal (down 1.5%), 28.2% Labor (down 4.5%), 12.4% Greens (up 2.1%) and 6.2% for independents.

In party terms, there were two electorates where the result appeared uncertain in my post-election article: Clark and Bass. With five seats per electorate, a quota is one-sixth of the vote, or 16.7%. In the Hare-Clark system, candidates compete against other candidates in the same party, as well as other parties’ candidates.

In Clark, there was some doubt on election night as to whether the Liberals would win a second seat. But former Labor MP Madeleine Ogilvie, who had sat as an independent in the last parliament, and joined the Liberals at this election, won the second Liberal seat in Clark.

Ogilvie was 342 votes or 0.03 quotas ahead of fellow Liberal Simon Behrakis at the second last count. At Behrakis’ exclusion, final standings were Ogilvie 0.95 quotas, Johnston 0.93 and Independent Sue Hickey 0.82. Ogilvie and Johnston were elected to the final two seats.

In Bass, Labor benefited from leakage of Premier Peter Gutwein’s surplus and preferences from other sources. Labor easily defeated the Greens and Liberals for the final seat for a three Liberal, two Labor result.

The day before the election, Liberal Braddon candidate Adam Brooks was accused of impersonating to enter a sexual relationship using a fake driver’s license. Tasmania still requires early voters to complete a declaration that they cannot vote on election day, so most votes were cast on election day.

Brooks was still elected after a close race with two other Liberals in Braddon. With the final two seats to be filled, Jaensch finished on 0.934 quotas, Brooks 0.931 and Ellis 0.904, with Ellis missing out. Brooks had been 0.046 quotas ahead of Ellis after Liberal exclusions and surpluses, with his lead reduced by sources outside the Liberals.




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The Braddon result was finalised Thursday. On Friday, Brooks resigned his seat after Queensland police charged him with firearms offences. Brooks’ seat will definitely go to a Liberal on a countback (not a byelection), likely Ellis. The Liberals will be relieved at not requiring Brooks’ vote to maintain a majority.

In the upper house, the Liberals gained Windermere from a retiring conservative independent, while Labor held Derwent. In Windermere, the Liberals defeated Labor by 54.1-45.9, from primary votes of 37.8% Liberal, 27.0% Labor and 21.3% for an independent. In Derwent, Labor defeated the Liberals by 55.7-44.3, from primary votes of 49.1% Labor, 40.9% Liberal and 10.0% Animal Justice.

The Tasmanian upper house has 15 single-member electorates with two or three up for election every May for six-year terms. Current standings are five Labor, four Liberals, four left independents and two centre-right independents.

Poll gives Nationals 51-49 lead for Saturday’s Upper Hunter (NSW) byelection

A byelection will occur in the NSW Nationals-held state seat of Upper Hunter this Saturday. This seat has been Nationals-held since 1932, but at the 2019 NSW election, the Nationals had their lowest primary vote of 34.0%. Labor had 28.7%, the Shooters 22.0% and the Greens 4.8%.

Excluding exhausting preferences, the Nationals defeated Labor by 52.6-47.4, with 24.2% of total votes exhausting under NSW’s optional preferential system.

A YouGov poll for The Daily Telegraph gave the Nationals a 51-49 lead over Labor in Upper Hunter based on respondent preferences. Primary votes were 25% Nationals, 23% Labor, 16% Shooters, 11% One Nation, 6% Greens and 10% combined for two independents. The poll was conducted May 11-13 from a sample of just 400.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.

No ‘bounce’ for government from big-spend budget: Newspoll


Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraThe government has failed to get any electoral “bounce” from last week’s budget, despite it being widely seen as good for the economy, according to Newspoll.

Labor retains a two-party lead of 51-49%, although there was a 2 point fall in its primary vote, to 36%. The fall was matched by a 2 point rise in support for the Greens, to 12%.

The Coalition was stable on 41% primary vote.

Publishing the results, The Australian reported it was the most well-received budget since the Howard-Costello days, with 44% saying it would be good for the economy, and only 15% believing it would be bad. This was the largest margin since 2007.

But voters found it harder to get a clear fix on what it would mean for them personally. They were evenly divided, with 19% each side, on whether they would be personally better or worse off financially from the budget.

A record 62% could not say whether they would be better or worse off.

While the budget contained tax cuts for low and middle income earners and a child care package, much of the big spending was directed to particular areas, such as aged care and mental health, rather than affecting the financial position of people more widely.

Both leaders’ personal approval ratings worsened somewhat in the poll, although Anthony Albanese took more of a hit than Scott Morrison.

Dissatisfaction with Albanese increased 3 points to 46%, while his satisfaction rating decreased a point to 39%. His net rating is minus 7.

Satisfaction with Morrison fell a point to 58%, and dissatisfaction increased a point to 38% His net approval is plus 20.

Morrison led Albanese as better prime minister 55% (down a point) to 30% (stable).

In Queensland selling the budget, Morrison said on Sunday: “The recovery cannot be taken for granted. The recovery can be lost. The hard won gains of Australians, particularly over these last 18 months, can be lost unless we keep doing what’s working. And this is working.”

Also in Queensland, Albanese said: “Quite clearly, Scott Morrison has a plan to just get through the next election and then we’ll see cuts, because we know from this government, just like we saw in 2014 when it first came to office, that they will make cuts, they will return to type.”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.

Money for telescopes and vaccines is great, but the budget’s lack of basic science funding risks leaving Australia behind


John Shine, Garvan InstituteThe story of the past year has been the pandemic: from the first outbreaks in early 2020, the identification of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and methods to detect it, through to lockdown and quarantine measures, vaccine development, testing and finally distribution. The pandemic is not over, but the recovery has started.

At each stage, it has been scientists and researchers at the forefront of a rapid and successful national and global response to the pandemic. A nation’s capacity to respond to threats like a pandemic does not exist in a vacuum. It depends on scientists. You can’t research a solution without researchers.

In Australia, the higher education sector performs the vast bulk of research, including basic foundational research. This sector has been hit extremely hard by the pandemic, losing billions in revenue leading to the loss of research capacity — the very capacity we need to continue to respond to the pandemic and recover.

For this reason, the lack of recognition for science and scientists in the federal budget, and in particular for the foundational capacity in basic discovery science, is perplexing indeed. Such science capability underpins Australia’s resilience, not just against pandemics but also against natural disasters, economic shocks, technology disruption, the needs of an ageing population, and cyber warfare – many of the government’s stated priority areas.

There is some new funding in the budget, which is welcome. Initiatives such as support for the Square Kilometre Array radiotelescope, supporting women in STEM, climate adaptation, clean energy and government digital resources are essential additions to the Australian scientific landscape. The proposed patent box system promises to stimulate investment in Australian science in medical technologies and clean energy.




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Much of this funding is for incremental, short-term, focused technology programs. But such mission-directed science, while worthy, does not substitute for discovery science. If the government wants these missions to be effective, it must invest in basic science too.

If universities are being asked to pivot away from over-reliance on international student income, and towards research commercialisation, there must be a basic science pool to help fuel this translation of research findings into commercial outcomes. At the risk of mixing metaphors, the pivot will be ineffective without a pipeline.

More importantly, the budget does nothing to stem the loss of university science jobs. Failure to act on university funding before the start of the 2022 academic year will mean more university job losses – and it is clear from the decisions already taken at ANU (in science and medicine), Melbourne, Macquarie and Murdoch that these cuts will come from science research.

Medical manufacturing capability

While the government has not revealed in the budget how much money it has committed to onshore mRNA vaccine manufacturing, it is welcome news that there is commitment to developing this capability that will serve the nation well for decades.

The Australian Academy of Science is pleased the government has heeded our advice to future-proof Australia by developing this capability. It will allow Australia to build resilience against future pandemics and potential biosecurity threats that require us to have the onshore capacity to mass-produce vaccines.

Australia will require significant capability development alongside a manufacturing facility. A pipeline of knowledge will need to be developed, from fundamental to applied research related to mRNA vaccines and therapeutics. Australia will need a nationwide consortium of multidisciplinary expertise, in everything from data science to materials engineering, to become a world leader in this new technology.

Building our research capability in this area will allow us to continue solving existing challenges with mRNA vaccines. That’s why the science sector must be included in the scoping and investment in this new capability.




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Did someone drop a zero? Australia’s digital economy budget spend should be 10 times bigger


When I was appointed president of the Australian Academy of Science in 2018, I spoke about how it can take decades to translate the outcomes of basic research into something of real value for the community. This remains the case. It has always been the case.

Often, our political leaders want instant answers to the big questions. Australia’s science and research community delivered when it came to COVID-19, but it must be supported and funded to continue making fundamental discoveries if it is to deliver again. The future prosperity of our nation depends on it.The Conversation

John Shine, President, Australian Academy of Science; Laboratory Head, Garvan Institute

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

Grattan on Friday: Is that the Coalition debt truck parked just past the election?


Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraIt was a small thing but a revealing moment during Scott Morrison’s Wednesday interview on Nine’s Today show.

Presenter Karl Stefanovic noticed Morrison seemed out of sorts, despite the government having delivered the night before a benign budget that was well received and likely to be popular.

“It is a very big budget. Josh Frydenberg had a very big smile on his face this morning. I thought you might be happier this morning, PM. Everything OK?” Stefanovic asked.

Morrison said he was “fine”. He went on: “I’ve got to tell you, Karl, the reason is this.

“I know, look, budgets are big events and that’s all fine, but I just know the fight we’re in – and the fight we’re in, and me as prime minister I’m in, is to be protecting Australians at this incredibly difficult time.

“I am very cognisant of how big those challenges are. It is with me every second of every day.”

There are a few points to be made here.




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First, the government is using the budget to talk up the current threat of the pandemic to an extent it hadn’t been recently.

Morrison, in particular, had previously been anxious to emphasise the return to as much normality as possible. Now it’s more about lurking dangers.

These provide a justification for the government’s mega spending in the budget. (“Did anyone miss out? Perhaps only the beekeepers of Australia,” quipped one cynical Liberal backbencher.)

The language also indicates Morrison wants to do what state and territory leaders have done – use the pandemic to pave the path to electoral victory.

The other point highlighted by the Today exchange is that Morrison was looking somewhat ragged.

This was accentuated by the contrast with Treasurer Josh Frydenberg who, on the face of it, would have been under the greater stress.

Frydenberg’s performances in the week of his third budget were smooth and, whatever nerves he felt, he appeared unfazed.

The week reinforced the impression he is in the box seat eventually to reach the prime ministership (assuming the Coalition lasts in government).

Pre-budget, he and wife Amie were out for the cameras on a Sunday charity run in Canberra. Post-budget, his staff rang around backbenchers to ask if they’d like a picture with the treasurer.

In question time, Morrison found old problems returning to irritate him. He was pressed on the two internal inquiries into who in his office knew or did what in relation to the Brittany Higgins matter, and he had to say neither was concluded (one had been on hold before this week while the police dealt with their investigation of her rape allegation). Whatever the results of these inquiries, Morrison needs to get them cleared away as soon as possible. They are “barnacles”.

Morrison has been travelling a lot recently and may be tired (although those around him say he’s energised by being on the road). Or he may not be used to sharing the limelight. Or the endless round of everything may be just taking its toll.

Then there’s the challenge of explaining this Labor-lite budget to the hardliners in the Liberal base and among the right-wing commentariat.

The budget has made the opposition’s already formidable task of carving out room for itself more difficult, but it is also proving a hard swallow for those rusted on to the Coalition’s old “debt and deficit” preoccupation.




Read more:
View from The Hill: Frydenberg finds the money tree


Many of these critics will be reluctant to buy the proposition the big spending must continue because the pandemic is a constant threat, given they’ve thought the threat was exaggerated in the first place.

The government could attempt to deal with these critics by saying it will “snap back” into tackling debt and deficit as quickly as possible.

But facing an election soon, it doesn’t want to do this, for obvious reasons.

In the budget the timing of the next stage, fiscal consolidation, is imprecise.

The budget papers say: “Progress on the economic recovery will be reviewed at each Budget update. This phase of the Strategy will remain in place until the economic recovery is secure and the unemployment rate is back to pre-crisis levels or lower.”

While some commentary is focused on how the Coalition has done a dramatic U-turn from its old debt-and-deficit rhetoric, there’s an opportunity for Labor to run a major scare campaign claiming it’s not a U-turn at all – that the debt truck is just in the parking lot.

Remember, it can say, when Tony Abbott promised no cuts to health, education and even the ABC – and recall what happened. This time, so the argument runs, cuts and savings will be Coalition priorities again as soon as it has secured the votes.

Morrison and Frydenberg this week have been invoking John Howard’s advice, given to Frydenberg in the early days of the pandemic, that “in times of crisis there are no ideological constraints”.

The question is whether the Liberals have softened their ideology, or just put it in storage during the crisis.

While there can be no definite answer, Tim Colebatch, writing in Inside Story. makes a strong case that the Coalition “won’t dump its political tactic of branding itself as the ‘fiscally responsible’ party and Labor as the party standing for deficits. This [budget] is a short-term tack that will be reversed after the election.

“Of course no government promising $503 billion of deficits in five years can be called fiscally responsible, so it will make cuts then to reclaim the brand,” Colebatch says.

Morrison and Frydenberg are both pragmatists rather than ideologues. But opinions in the wider party are also relevant, as Malcolm Turnbull found on the climate issue.

Frydenberg has pledged there will not be “any sharp pivots towards ‘austerity’”.

Nevertheless, there must be a budgetary reset at some point. And whether a pivot is sharp or not, and what amounts to “austerity” depend in part on whether you are one of the losers.




Read more:
Politics with Michelle Grattan: Simon Birmingham and Jim Chalmers on a big spending budget


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.

Budget package doesn’t guarantee aged-care residents will get better care


Shutterstock

Stephen Duckett, Grattan Institute and Anika Stobart, Grattan InstituteThe big investment in aged care announced in last night’s federal budget – an extra A$17.7 billion over five years – is a welcome response to the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety. But even an investment of this scale does not meet the level of ambition set by the royal commission.

The government has committed A$6.5 billion for more home-care packages (about A$2.5 billion more for home care per year when fully implemented), and A$7.1 billion for residential-care staffing and services (about $2.4 billion more for residential care per year when fully implemented).

But the government has failed to outline a clear vision of what older Australians should expect of their aged-care system.




Read more:
Fewer hard hats, more soft hearts: budget pivots to women and care


Immediate fixes with no guarantees

The budget includes funding for 80,000 extra home-care packages over two years. The current home-care packages program has numerous problems, including nearly a 100,000-strong waiting list.

But the government has not explicitly promised to clear the waiting list and bring waiting times down to 30 days, as the royal commission called for.

The budget has some good news for people in residential aged care. The Basic Daily Fee (for services including food) will be increased by A$10 per resident per day, as called for by the royal commission.

And there’s more funding for better staffing, with mandates for an average of at least 200 minutes of care for every resident every day (40 minutes of which must be by a nurse) by 2023.

This is a good start, given nearly 60% of residents presently get less than this. But residents will have to wait two years – not one, as recommended by the royal commission – before they get more care hours.




Read more:
If we have the guts to give older people a fair go, this is how we fix aged care in Australia


The budget also provides additional funding to improve the aged-care workforce. The government will subsidise the training of new and existing aged-care workers, including 33,800 places to attain Certificate III.

But the government has not gone far enough in supporting the workforce. It stopped short of guaranteeing that every staff member providing care for older Australians will be trained to a minimum Certificate III level, and that all residential aged-care facilities will have a registered nurse on site 24 hours a day.

The budget commitments appear to be a once-off, with workforce funding plummeting to only A$86.5 million in 2024-25, compared to A$293.3 million in 2022-23. And there is no commitment to lift carers’ wages.

Residents won’t have access to a registered nurse 24 hours a day.
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Small steps towards a better system

The royal commission made it clear the aged-care system needed to be reformed from top to bottom. The government’s announcements foreshadow a shake-up of the system over five years. But the extent of reform is yet to be determined.

The budget papers show funding will be up by about A$5.5 billion per year once most reforms are in (see the chart below). That’s not enough to create a needs-driven, rights-based system, called for by the royal commission and the Grattan Institute.


Federal budget paper 2

The government has committed to a new Aged Care Act, to be legislated by mid-2023, though the details are yet to be filled in. This Act must put the rights of older Australians at its heart.

The government has also committed to designing a new home care program and will provide a single assessment process for both home care and residential care.

More home-care packages will be available but there won’t be enough for all those currently on the wait list.
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A local network of health department staff will be embedded in the regions, and there will be a network of 500 “care finders” to help older Australians get the support they need.

But the biggest risk to achieving real structural change is governance and transparency. Here, the government has fallen short.




Read more:
4 key takeaways from the aged care royal commission’s final report


The government does not support the establishment of an independent aged care commission. Most disappointingly, it is pumping A$260 million into the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission, which the royal commission found had demonstrably failed.

While some transparency will be provided through public reporting of staffing hours and star ratings to compare provider performance, clear transparency measures will be needed to ensure the additional billions don’t end up boosting providers’ profits.

The good news from budget 2021 is that the journey has begun. The government has made a substantial down payment to allow development of a new aged-care system. We must hope that more will follow, so the neglect ends and every older Australian can get the care and support they need.The Conversation

Stephen Duckett, Director, Health Program, Grattan Institute and Anika Stobart, Associate, Grattan Institute

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

Did someone drop a zero? Australia’s digital economy budget spend should be 10 times bigger


Marek Kowalkiewicz, Queensland University of TechnologyThe federal budget for 2021-22 promises A$1.2 billion over the next six years to support the Digital Economy Strategy, a plan to make Australia “a leading digital economy and society by 2030”.

The Digital Economy Strategy proclaims

We are well placed to be a leading digital economy and have strong foundations, but many countries are investing heavily in their digital futures.

This may sound like a lot, but a closer look at the strategy and funding announcements, compared with what other countries are doing, shows we may not be so well placed after all.

Countries such as France and Singapore have implemented similar initiatives, with one key difference: they are spending about ten times as much money as Australia.




Read more:
Cuts, spending, debt: what you need to know about the budget at a glance


The world picture

To see how Australia compares worldwide, we can look to the most comprehensive global analysis of the digital evolution of nations, the Digital Intelligence Index produced by researchers at Tufts University in the United States.

This index looks at many factors, such as digital payment and logistics infrastructure, internet usage, regulations and research, to give each country scores for the current state of its digital economy and also how fast the digital economy is developing.

In the 2020 edition, Australia ranked as the 17th digital economy in the world — behind Sweden, Taiwan, New Zealand, and the leading nation, Singapore. In 2017 Australia came 11th, so we are already dropping down the rankings.

Just to maintain our position, we need to improve at least as rapidly as those behind us. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has acknowledged this, noting “we must keep our foot on the digital accelerator to secure our economic recovery from COVID-19”.

However, the Digital Intelligence Index ranks Australia 88th of the 90 countries analysed when it comes to our speed of improvement. The only two countries slower than Australia are Hungary and Nigeria, and there are 87 digital economies developing faster than us.

Since 2017, countries such as Slovenia, Egypt, Greece and Pakistan, which used to grow more slowly, are moving faster, increasing the pressure from the back of the pack.

Denmark and Sweden, two countries ahead of us in the Digital Evolution ranking above, used to grow slower, giving us a chance to overtake them. Not anymore. They have now picked up speed, and are increasing the gap we need to cover even to catch up with them.

The right ideas, but not enough funding

The Digital Economy Strategy package, announced in the budget, covers a broad range of initiatives. They are grouped into eight priorities, covering education, support for small and medium enterprises (SMEs), cyber security, artificial intelligence (AI), drone technologies, data sharing, support of government services, and tax incentives.

It is promising to see government’s dedicated investment, particularly in securing future skills and building Australia’s AI capability. But it is concerning to see the spending on some priorities fails to reflect the importance of these topics.

The federal government recognised the need for upskilling Australians. According to the Australia’s Digital Pulse report compiled by Deloitte and the Australian Computing Society, we will need 60,000 new technology workers every year for the next five years, just to meet the growing demand. Yet only 7,000 students graduated with IT degrees in Australia in 2019.

The new budget will support graduate and cadet programs, including through additional funding assigned to AI. Unfortunately, the government’s new programs will barely put a dent in our projected skills shortage of about 50,000 workers annually. The new programs will provide scholarships for only up to 468 graduates over a six-year period.

Artificial intelligence is another key topic. AI is upturning industries globally, and creating opportunities for emerging and transforming businesses. The federal government allocated $124.2 million to this priority, distributed among initiatives lasting between four and six years.

Compare this with France, which has allocated €1.5 billion (A$2.3 billion) to AI initiatives running between 2018 and 2022. Given France’s economy is roughly twice the size of Australia’s, an equivalent commitment from Australia would be slightly over A$1 billion — almost 10 times the promised A$124.2 million.

Not enough funding for private enterprise

A huge chunk of the $1.2 billion promised in the budget will be spent on the Enhancing Government Services Delivery priority. Aside from two small expenses of $13.2 million, it consists of just two large initiatives.

The first will deliver an enhanced version of the government’s online service platform, myGov. The second is for digital health, funding My Health Record and Australian Digital Health Agency activities. Together, they will consume more than half of the entire Digital Economy Strategy budget.


This seems grossly unbalanced and skewed toward digital transformation of the public sector, rather than supporting Australia’s digital economy holistically.

Are we really keeping our foot on the digital accelerator, or just pretending to?

We need to do better

Australia’s budget spending on the Digital Economy Strategy for 2021-22 is planned to be just shy of $500 million (with the remainder of the announced $1.2 billion to be spent over the following five years). That’s less than 0.1% of Australia’s entire projected budget spending. How does it compare to leading digital economies?

In Singapore (the world’s top digital economy), a single initiative to support organisations in adopting digital solutions and technologies received S$1 billion (A$960 million) in funding this year. That’s just shy of 1% of Singapore’s entire budget in 2021. Again, the commitment is around ten times higher than Australia’s investment.

To stop sliding down the rankings, Australia needs to put its (our) money where its mouth is. Countries ahead of us (Singapore) and behind us (France) are investing ten times as much as we do in digital economy initiatives.

Are we really well placed to be a leading digital economy? Like so much in life, you get what you pay for.




Read more:
To change our economy we need to change our thinking


The Conversation


Marek Kowalkiewicz, Professor and Founding Director of QUT Centre for the Digital Economy, Queensland University of Technology

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

Australia: Budget 2021