The National Party used to be known for its leadership stability — what happened?


Mick Tsikas/AAP

Geoff Cockfield, University of Southern QueenslandBarnaby Joyce is back as Nationals leader, after a spill in Canberra on Monday morning.

This is the latest development in an unusually tumultuous period for the junior Coalition partner, beginning with Joyce’s reluctant resignation in 2018 and punctuated by his unsuccessful leadership challenge in February 2020 and ongoing discord and rebellion over climate policy.




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All this from a party that has a long history of relatively stable leadership, being out of the national media and settling disagreements with the Liberals behind closed doors

Some might argue the instability in recent years is the result of Joyce’s personality, ambition and behaviours. As well as the media’s focus on leadership and the contagious nature of leadership instability in other parties over the last decade.

But there are also other factors to consider.

Party differentiation

The federal Coalition has the characteristics of one party while formally remaining separate entities, which has been a successful, but unusual political arrangement.

In Canberra, party leaders largely act as one party, negotiating policy outcomes or implementing decisions. When in government, the Nationals leader gets the deputy prime ministership, Nationals MPs sit in Cabinet and there are joint party room meetings and joint Senate tickets.

Yet the Liberals and Nationals also have their own separate party room meetings and occasionally compete against each other for lower house seats when a previous member does not recontest a seat. During election season, the Nationals go on “the Wombat trail” as partial policy independents.

On the campaign trail, the Nationals speak the language of rural populism with its tropes of rural disadvantage and urban indifference or hostility, with the “urban enermy” implicitly including the Liberal Party.

The problem here

The problem for the Nationals is they struggle to deliver adequate agricultural support and rural services in a post-deregulation world. So they have no signature programs that show their policy value.

They fight for residual programs such as drought support or regional funding that are limited in scope, time and impact and subject to considerable criticism as to effectiveness and fairness.

The Nationals need new generation signature issues that deliver for regions, while still representing the values and aspirations of an earlier Australia. For example, large-scale irrigation projects and mining developments, but even many Liberals don’t want these.

Meanwhile, their vocal support for the coal industry only holds sway among select voters (and turns off others).

Geography

The Nationals are also trying to overcome geographical divides. At the federal level, National Party power is split between Queensland and NSW. The latter generally dominates party leadership, contributing to easily animated northern resentments.




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The formation of the Liberal National Party (LNP) in Queensland in 2008 further complicated matters.

It created a party now pressing for greater influence within the Coalition, especially after the 2019 federal election, where the LNP was seen to have “delivered” government for the Coalition.

The results in the so-called “coal seats” of central Queensland (such as Flynn and Dawson) have given further encouragement to the resources focus. Joyce, though now a NSW representative, started his political career in Queensland and it is presumed much of his support for his leadership challenges came from the sunshine state.

Leadership

Balancing the Coalition relationship, with different strands of the Nationals’ base is a difficult task for a leader. And is seen as a significant reason for Joyce’s return.

Last century, longstanding National leaders, such as John McEwan and Doug Anthony, possessed combinations of strong personality, electoral leverage, political acumen and good relationships with the Liberal (or predecessor parties) leaders. From 1922 to 1984, the average length of tenure of a Nationals leader was more than 12 years, with two of them serving more than 17 years.

No other party comes close to this record of keeping multiple leaders in office for long periods — and this now seems a historical quirk. Since 1988, there has been an increased rate of turnover, though most transitions still occurred reasonably peacefully.

More recent leaders have been confronted with the declining electoral position of the Nationals and the discontent of people in the bush. Most — such as Tim Fischer, John Anderson and Warren Truss — opted for being collaborative Coalition partners and keeping disputes behind closed doors. McCormack was also of that persuasion (and indeed, was criticised for not pushing back enough).

This means he could be characterised as too close to the Liberals and too accommodating. The other approach is more public signalling of the differentiation and more implicit threats of splitting the Coalition.

Policy tightrope

The Nationals then, must operate in the zone between tight cooperation and political competition.

The Liberals need them to form government but if skirmishes break into open disagreement and competition, the Liberals may lose majority government and the Nationals would face an existential threat.

Barnaby Joyce talks to a man on a horse during the Upper Hunter byelection in May 2021.
Since quitting the leadership, Joyce has never been far from the spotlight.
Darren Pateman/AAP

Open competition at the state level in Victoria (in the 1930s-50s) and Queensland (in the 1980s) did yield some increased power in the short run for the Nationals. But this was followed by long periods out of government.

As a standalone party in Western Australia, they got a signature program (“royalties for regions”) in 2008 but no sustained increase in either state or federal representation. Voters in southern NSW and northern and western Victoria have also shown that they will elect rural Liberals, which is one of many threats to Nationals’ parliamentary representation.

In amongst this, rebel Nationals — such as George Christensen and Matt Canavan — have not necessarily picked issues that are easy for a modern Coalition government to give way to. Arguing for more coal fire power stations goes against international political trends and the sciences around climate change.

Under the new leadership of United States President Joe Biden, global cooperation on emissions is likely to step up and pull Australia along with it. Business is moving ahead of government in investment decisions on energy and even the National Farmers Federation want an emissions reduction strategy.

Marriage of convenience

Earlier this year, Joyce characterised the Coalition as a “marriage of convenience”.

This may be so, but a love match is unlikely (otherwise the parties would merge) and a divorce would come at a huge cost.

As Joyce resumes leadership of the Nationals, he now takes on the difficulties of keeping the party relevant, united and electable as we head towards the next federal election.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.

Barnaby Joyce ousts Michael McCormack to regain Nationals leadership


Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraBarnaby Joyce has blasted Michael McCormack out to seize back his old job of Nationals leader.

Joyce’s win, which automatically makes him deputy prime minister, has major implications and challenges for Scott Morrison, who had been hoping the more malleable McCormack would survive.

It was a two-horse race but, in line with its practice, the National party did not announce numbers.

Joyce is a hardliner on issues such as climate change and coal. On a very different front, he recently declared the Bileola Tamil family should be allowed return to the town.

He is a formidable retail politician and will seek to strongly differentiate the Nationals from the Liberals in the run up to the election.

He may also want to renegotiate with Morrison the detail of the Coalition agreement. He has to deal with Morrison, who is in isolation after his trip, remotely.

As Joyce takes over the Nationals in parliament, Morrison this week will be handling question time via videolink.

David Littleproud remains as deputy Nationals leader. What changes Joyce will make to the Nationals ministerial line up are yet to be revealed.

But their Senate leader, Bridget McKenzie, who was forced out of cabinet at Morrison’s insistence after the sports rorts affair, appears likely to be brought back. Matt Canavan, a former resources minister, said ahead of the vote he was not seeking to return to the frontbench.

At Monday morning’s Nationals party room meeting, the spill was moved by Canavan, a Joyce loyalist, and David Gillespie, a backbencher from NSW.

There had been constant criticism among Nationals of McCormack’s performance, with many of them feeling he did not stand up to Morrison firmly enough.

Feeling against McCormack has intensified since the budget, when discontented Nationals believed the minor party had not received proper acknowledgement, particularly in the government’s infrastructure announcements.

Some Nationals have become particularly concerned at Morrison’s slow but steady move towards embracing a “net zero 2050” target. Nationals Resources Minister Keith Pitt and McKenzie both came out publicly last week declaring this was not the Nationals policy.

The Nationals were also dismayed by McCormack’s embarrassing performances in parliament when acting prime minister last week.

Joyce became deputy prime minister in February 2016 after Warren Truss resigned. He quit as leader in February 2018, amid a scandal over his extra-marital affair with his now partner Vikki Campion, and a claim of sexual harassment, which he denied.

In 2017 he had to fight a byelection for his seat of New England after he was disqualified by the High Court during the dual citizenship crisis. He had been a dual New Zealand citizen and so ineligible to be a candidate at the 2016 election, the court found.

This was Joyce’s second attempt to overthrow McCormack, after a failed challenge in February last year.

Asked on radio before the vote whether he was happy with McCormack’s performance as Nationals leader, Morrison said, “Absolutely. I’ve got a wonderful partnership with Michael. We’ve worked very closely together and provided great, stable leadership for Australia”.

McCormack said after the vote: “I’ve represented this nation as deputy prime minister for three years, and I’m proud of the fact I did my best, that’s all you can ever ask”.

Asked whether his colleagues had betrayed him, he said:“It’s called democracy”.

UPDATE

In a bizarre arrangement, Michael McCormack sat at the House of Representatives’ central table, in what would normally be Morrison’s chair, at question time. This was because the Governor-General is out of Canberra and so Joyce could not be sworn in immediately.

Asked by Anthony Albanese who was deputy prime minister Morrison, speaking virtually from The Lodge, said “the member for Riverina is currently the deputy prime minister of Australia”.

At a news conference before question time Barnaby Joyce said he would take the issue of net zero 2050 to his party room.

He was asked whether he believed Morrison should be going to the Glasgow climate summit with a net zero by 2050 policy.

Joyce said: “I will be guided by my party room. It’s not Barnaby policy – it’s Nationals policy. And Nationals policy is what I will be an advocate for.

“And if the Nationals Party room believes that the best deal for regional Australia is to make sure that we secure their jobs, is to make sure we secure their industries, is to clearly understand the dynamics of an Australian economy, as opposed to a Danish one or a German one – if that’s the view of the Nationals Party room, that’s the view that I’ll support.”

Asked how he would change the Nationals Joyce said: “I have a different suite of issues. I have a different suite of attributes and I hopefully will be able to apply them in such a way as to give us the best chance [at the election].”

Joyce said he would consult his colleagues about the new Coalition agreement. A new agreement was “part and parcel of when you have a new leader,” he said.

“And I’ll be making sure that I talk to my colleagues in the Nationals about the issues that they see as pertinent, and I will be making sure that that respect is given to the party room.”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.

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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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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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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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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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.

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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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.




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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


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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