Australia has a new four-phase plan for a return to normality. Here’s what we know so far


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Adrian Esterman, University of South AustraliaPrime Minister Scott Morrison has received criticism from the general public for not having a concrete plan to take us out of the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, he went some way to addressing this on Friday, announcing national cabinet had agreed to a four-phase plan to get us back to something resembling our pre-COVID way of life.

It’s not yet very detailed, and no dates have been set out for the various phases. But we do have some idea of what’s being proposed, and Morrison said moving through each phase will depend on reaching vaccination targets determined from modelling, currently being undertaken by Melbourne’s Peter Doherty Institute.

The idea is to transition from our current priority of suppressing transmission of the virus, to a focus on the prevention of serious illness, hospitalisation and deaths.

Let me take you through each phase and what we know so far.

Phase 1: vaccinate, prepare and pilot

We are in Phase 1 now, and the aim is to continue to minimise community transmission.

Lockdowns may continue to be used in this phase, although only as a last resort.

The international arrivals cap will now be reduced by 50% to take pressure off our hotel quarantine system due to the increased infectiousness of the Delta variant.




Read more:
What’s the Delta COVID variant found in Melbourne? Is it more infectious and does it spread more in kids? A virologist explains


Morrison has indicated he expects the cap to stay in place until at least the beginning of 2022.

However, the federal government will facilitate increased repatriation flights to Darwin for quarantine at Howard Springs.

Also, as part of this current phase, there will be a trial of home quarantine for fully vaccinated returnees. This will be for seven days rather than 14.

South Australia has already indicated it would be willing to take part in this trial.




Read more:
Home quarantine for vaccinated returned travellers is extremely low risk, and won’t damage their mental health


Phase 2: post-vaccination

In this phase, the international arrival cap will be restored to current levels for unvaccinated passengers, and a larger cap applied to fully vaccinated passengers.

Lockdowns would rarely be needed, and fully vaccinated people would have eased restrictions in any outbreak with respect to lockdowns or border closures. More students and economic visitors will also be allowed in.

Although no dates or vaccine rollout targets have been set, for us to reach Phase 2, we would clearly need a high percentage of our population to be fully vaccinated.

As it will take at least until the end of year for the whole adult population to have received their first dose, Phase 2 is likely to kick in some time in the first half of 2022.

Phase 3: consolidation

In Phase 3, COVID would be treated more like the flu, presumably with annual booster shots to account for new variants. Fully vaccinated Australians would be able to travel abroad.

There would be no lockdowns, no cap on returning vaccinated travellers, and no domestic restrictions for vaccinated residents. We would be able to have travel bubbles with countries in a similar situation.

There would also be increased, albeit still capped, entries for international students.

Realistically, we are probably talking about the second half of 2022 before we can enter Phase 3.




Read more:
View from The Hill: COVID transition plan has bad news for returning travellers


Phase 4: final

Here life returns to relative normality, very similar to the way it was before the pandemic began. However, there would still be pre- and post-flight testing for unvaccinated arrivals, and a vaccine passport system will likely be in place. I imagine there will still be a focus on hand hygiene and coughing etiquette.

The plan depends to a large extent on vaccine availability, any new and more transmissible variants arising, and persuading enough Australians to get vaccinated.

It will create a two-class system of those who are fully vaccinated and who will have lots of freedoms, and those not. Although there are some people who, for medical or even religious reasons, might not be able to be vaccinated, for the vast majority, it is a choice.




Read more:
A vaccine will be a game-changer for international travel. But it’s not everything


Morrison’s statement says the plan will depend very much on the percentage of Australians 16 years and older who are fully vaccinated.

However, the Delta variant may be spreading more easily in children, although it’s not yet clear whether this is simply a function of the variant being more transmissible in general. It’s also unclear whether this leads to increased serious illness in those children infected.

Overall, I think the plan is sensible, if somewhat vague. Phase 1 calls for lockdowns to be a last resort, although I think this a big ask given the low percentage of the population currently fully vaccinated. Singapore has proposed a similar plan, but is way ahead of us in its vaccine rollout, with more than 60% of its population likely to be fully vaccinated by August.

So, for those desperate for international holidays, there is light at the end of the tunnel. You can potentially start packing in the second half of next year.The Conversation

Adrian Esterman, Professor of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, University of South Australia

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

View from The Hill: COVID transition plan has bad news for returning travellers


Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraThe plan to transition Australia from COVID-as-crisis to COVID-like-flu that Scott Morrison has announced is designed to send a positive message – and an exhortation – to a community jaded by lockdowns, aborted holidays and closed borders.

But its most immediate and concrete measure is a negative.

The caps on returning travellers coming on commercial flights will be halved, as the country deals with the highly infectious Delta strain. The reduced caps, which several states pressed for, are set to last into next year.

Weekly arrivals will be cut to 3,035.

The federal government will increase the number on its sponsored flights bringing people to the Howard Springs quarantine centre. But that won’t compensate for the slashed cap, in what will be a blow to many people already finding it hard to return home.

On the more positive side, alternative quarantine options will be trialled, including home quarantine for returning vaccinated travellers, and there will be expanded commercial trials for limited entry of student and economic visas holders.

Under huge political pressure over the slow vaccine rollout – jabs are currently around eight million – a major aim of Morrison’s four stage plan is to incentivise people to get vaccinated.

At present the rollout is being held back not just by vaccine shortages and other problems but also by hesitancy – and in some cases complacency. The bad publicity around AstraZeneca has contributed to hesitancy.

Under the plan, yet-to-be specified vaccination coverage will be the key to eventually managing COVID like other infectious diseases, notably the flu.

But the “post-vaccination” second stage of the plan won’t be reached until next year – and that’s assuming all goes well.

A vaccination threshold for the easing, minimising or eschewing of restrictions, including lockdowns will be set on the basis of medical evidence and scientific modelling currently being done at Melbourne’s Peter Doherty Institute.

Morrison said of the vaccination threshold: “This will be a scientific number. It won’t be a political number, it won’t be an arbitrary number.” It could include targets for vulnerable populations such as the over-70s.

Experts give a wide range of rates for the appropriate level of vaccination needed for adequate community immunity.

Morrison announced the plan after national cabinet, at the end of a week that has seen brawling over his encouragement for younger people to take AstraZeneca, despite mixed health advice.

He denied his Monday comments had been inconsistent with the official advice.

Under the plan, the country is presently in phase one – dubbed “vaccinate, prepare and pilot” – when the strategy is to “continue to suppress the virus for the purpose of minimising community transmission”.

The plan has been agreed to “in principle” by the states and territories. But given they have the power over lockdowns and other restrictions, they won’t be bound by its specifics. Also the stages contain menus of measures rather than hard-and-fast commitments.

The “post vaccination” second phase would “seek to minimise serious illness, hospitalisation and fatality” from COVID

The Prime Minister said national cabinet had agreed on a “mind-set change”.

“Our mind-set on managing COVID-19 has to change once you move from pre-vaccination to post-vaccination. That’s the deal for Australians,” said Morrison, who is just out of quarantine after his overseas trip.

The plan says measures in the second phase may include easing restrictions on vaccinated residents, such as lockdowns and border controls. There would be lockdowns only in extreme circumstances to prevent escalating hospitalisations and deaths.

In this stage, inbound passenger caps would be restored at previous levels for unvaccinated returning travellers and there would be larger caps for vaccinated returning travellers.

Capped entry of student and economic visa holders would be allowed, subject to quarantine arrangements.

New reduced quarantine arrangements would apply for vaccinated residents.

The third – “consolidation” – phase would see COVID-19 managed like the public health management of other infectious diseases. There would be no lockdowns and restrictions would be lifted for outbound travellers who were vaccinated. Stage four would bring a final loosening.

There are not indicative timetables for the last two phases to start.

The plan is largely a work-in-progress, as is the vexed rollout, but Morrison hopes it will help drive the jabs, and provide him with some political cover.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

The LNP’s child-care subsidy plan: how it works, and what it means for families and the economy


MariaNikiforova/Shutterstock

Danielle Wood, Grattan Institute; Kate Griffiths, Grattan Institute, and Owain Emslie, Grattan InstituteThe federal government is pitching its 2021 budget as “women-friendly”. Yesterday it announced a key feature of that – more money to make child care cheaper and boost women’s workforce participation.

The Coalition’s policy will increase spending on the child-care subsidy from July 2022 by an extra A$1.7 billion over three years. That is about a 6% increase on the current investment of A$9 billion a year.

Key changes

The policy has two main components.

First, it drops the “annual cap” that limits the total yearly subsidy to A$10,560 per child for families with combined income of more than $189,390. After that – generally if they have their children in care for four or more days a week – they pay the full cost of care. These costs are often a big disincentive for women with high-earning partners to work more than three days a week.




Read more:
An extra $1.7 billion for child care will help some. It won’t improve affordability for most


Second, it boosts the subsidy for second and subsequent children in care by up to 30 percentage points (capped at 95%). This means families currently eligible for a 50% subsidy would now be eligible for an 80% subsidy on their second child if both children are aged under six. Older children using after school care are not eligible for any extra subsidy.

This will reduce fees for families paying some of the highest out-of-pocket childcare care costs – those with multiple children in long day care.

So how does it work?

Consider a middle-income family where one parent earns A$85,000 and the other parent earns A$65,000, with two young children in day care paying the average cost of A$110 a day per child. Under the current scheme they are eligible for a 60% subsidy for both children. So they pay A$88 a day and the government pays A$132.

Under the new policy, the subsidy will rise to 90% for the second child (with the first child still on a 60% subsidy). This means the parents will pay $55 a day for both children, and get a $165 subsidy. If they have the children in care for four days a week, they will be $132 a week better off.

Effect on workforce participation and family budgets

Currently, for families with two children in long day care, the primary care giver (typically the mother) can lose more than 80% – in some cases 100% – of take-home pay in the move to take a fourth or fifth day’s work. Child-care costs on those extra days are the main contributor.

The new policy reduces the disincentives for those families.

The first graph shows a family where the father earns A$60,000 and the mother would earn the same if she worked full time. The current system means she loses 90% of what she earns on her fourth day and more than 100% on the fifth day.


Primary earner works full time, 2 children requiring care. Each day of work for second earner results in 2 days of approved care, costing $110 each.


The new policy will lower these “workforce disincentive rates”.

The mother will now lose 75% on the fourth day and 90% on the fifth day.

As the next graph shows, the family will be A$5,000 a year better off if the second earner works four days, and $7,500 a year better off if she works full-time.


Primary earner works full time, 2 children requiring care. Each day of work for second earner results in 2 days of approved care, costing $110 each.


For a family where both parents have the potential to earn A$100,000 working five days a week, the new policy will almost halve the current workforce disincentive rate for working a fifth day – from 100% to 55%. This is because such a family will benefit from both the extra subsidy for the second child and the removal of the annual cap.

Workforce disincentives remain high even with the new policy. But it is a significant improvement on the status quo.



The flip side of a highly targeted policy is that it benefits only a small segment of families. On the federal government’s numbers, up to 270,000 families may benefit. This compares with almost 1 million families now accessing some subsidised child care and many more who would like to access it if they could afford it.

How the Coalition’s policy compare to Labor’s

Labor announced its child-care policy in the budget reply last year.

Like the Coalition’s, it removes the annual cap. But it also increases the base subsidy (for all children) to 90%. It also reduces the rate at which the subsidy reduces as family income increases. This is one of the big contributors to growing out-of-pocket costs as mothers work more and use more child care.

So Labor’s policy is broader, with all families who use child care standing to gain, regardless of the number of children, their age and the family income.

It would cost about A$2 billion per year – roughly three times more than the Coalition’s. But it would also have bigger benefits, sharpening workforce incentives for a much wider group of families. The boost to GDP from higher workforce participation is likely to also be about three times bigger.

In terms of the impact on family budgets, the big difference between the policies is the number of children aged under six in care.




Read more:
Permanently raising the Child Care Subsidy is an economic opportunity too good to miss


Families with only one child under six in care (or only older children in after-school care) would be unambiguously better off under the Labor policy.

For families with two children under six in care, there is little difference at most family income levels. For families with three children under six in care (probably less than 20,000 families at any given time), almost all would be better off under the Coalition policy.

A step forward, but not a game changer

Overall, the Coalition’s policy is a helpful and well-targeted package that tackles some of the worst out-of-pocket costs and workforce disincentives. It will mean a real improvement for up to 270,000 families.

What’s missing is support for all the other families using child care. Almost 1 million families now use child care, and many would like to work more if they could afford to do so.

A broader policy supporting more families would have much larger and more widespread economic benefits. Of course, it would cost more too, but our research shows such an investment can be expected to deliver a boost to GDP of at least twice the cost.

This is a step in the right direction, but much more needs to be done to create a system that truly supports women’s workforce participation and long-term economic security.The Conversation

Danielle Wood, Chief executive officer, Grattan Institute; Kate Griffiths, Fellow, Grattan Institute, and Owain Emslie, Senior Associate, Grattan Institute

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

Forget JobKeeper — what the government and the country need now is a JabMaker plan


original.

Mark Kenny, Australian National UniversityForget last week’s healthy 5.6% unemployment rate.

It might be “comfortably below” the Coalition’s 6% threshold for commencing “fiscal repair” (another term for unpopular spending cuts), but the government is under unforeseen political pressure and is anything but relaxed and comfortable.

In any event, this 5.6% figure was from March, which is an important detail because it predated the wind-up of the JobKeeper wage subsidy.

Who knows what that means.

It could mean nothing much or we might see an uptick in jobs lost — employees shed from debt-addled “zombie” firms, which survived the crisis only to perish in the recovery.

At $90-plus billion, the JobKeeper wage subsidy scheme was the biggest single program in Australian history. And by any metric, it was a shining success. Any metric that is, if you exclude the country’s fourth biggest pre-pandemic export sector, education.

Higher education’s ‘long COVID’

Universities suffered a triple COVID hit — denied access to the JobKeeper program due to the way they were structured, denied overseas students from whom (admittedly too much) revenue was relied upon and denied any certainty about their return due to a snail-paced vaccine rollout.




Read more:
The government keeps shelving plans to bring international students back to Australia. It owes them an explanation


As a result, a country that led the world through the 2020 pandemic trails it in 2021 through a bungled recovery program, while perhaps permanently hobbling one of its most lucrative and reliable exports.

Ever innovative, Australia may have found a way to give its university sector and therefore its own future growth the economic version of long COVID.

A terrible start to 2021

Politically, Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s options at the start of 2021 looked pretty inviting. Flush with that 2020 success — a combination of good judgement, good luck, and state government front-footedness — Morrison was riding high in public opinion. Inevitably, talk turned to a possible spring election to capitalise.

Labor’s end of the see-saw was weighed down. Doubts were aired about leader Anthony Albanese’s cut-through, his chances in an early poll, the pros and cons of a challenge.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Prime Minister Scott Morrison walking through a doorway.
Talk of an early election in 2021 has melted away.
Lukas Coch/AAP

But events since have changed everything. Two months of attempting to politically nuance a series of negative stories and allegations regarding the treatment of women in politics have damaged the government, consumed its oxygen, and pricked the prime minister’s inflated reputation as the supreme pragmatist.

His unwillingness to get in front of the problem has instead evinced a strange defensiveness. His grudging late-stage efforts at political rescue have been less effective for their pointless delay and for the tightly qualified nature of the language used.

The Christine Holgate saga is merely the latest iteration.

It was clear weeks ago that Holgate had been prejudicially forced from her job at Australia Post. The most senior political leverage in the land had been summarily and publicly applied. A prime ministerial apology was the obvious solution, not just for her but for him also.

The vaccine ‘eekout’

Twice-weekly national cabinet meetings began again on Monday, in a sign the prime minister understands the seriousness of Australia’s vaccine bungles.
But his reluctant acknowledgement of multiple problems in the rollout to date reinforces his instinctive stubbornness.

The abject helplessness of Australia at the vaccine stage is also all the more jarring for its contrast with the 2020 suppression of the virus and the glowing vaccination expectations the government itself created.

Australians line up at a Melbourne vaccination centre.
Australia’s vaccination rollout has been plagued by supply issues and health concerns.
James Ross/AAP

On these grounds alone, the prime minister’s political judgement is questionable. Australians were promised a world-class vaccine program in which we would be at the front of the queue. What it would lack in immediacy (a luxury of zero community infection, we were assured) would be more than made up for in logistical precision.

In fact, it has failed to materialise. Opaque and piecemeal, the rollout feels more like an eekout.

What will decide the next election?

Now, the Coalition looks to the May 11 Budget for political salvation.

Even with a jobless number of just 5.6%, it has limited political capital to spend and must use the balance sheet to repair its political stocks rather than the nation’s books.

JobKeeper, JobSeeker, and even JobMaker, have either gone or will not make enough difference to matter at the ballot box next year.

What the government really needs is what the country needs — JabMaker.




Read more:
To abandon vaccination targets is to abandon the mantle of leadership


After all, it’s the jabless rate rather than the jobless rate that could decide the next election. It currently sits “comfortably” around 95%, with no certainty that the population will be vaccinated this calendar year.

The end of October target has been junked, replaced with … nothing.

Compare that to calamitous America where they expect to reach the full adult population by the end of July.

Last week, the US inoculated roughly the entire population of Australia. On one of those days alone, 4.6 million people received jabs of either Pfizer or others such as Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson.

Australia is well and truly “jab-ready”.

Its government, not so much.The Conversation

Mark Kenny, Professor, Australian Studies Institute, Australian National University

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

Australia’s plan for manufacturing missiles to be accelerated


Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraThe government is speeding up the establishment of its planned $1 billion Sovereign Guided Weapons Enterprise, which aims to boost Australia’s own defence production capabilities as it faces a deteriorating security outlook.

The defence department will now start the process of selecting a strategic industry partner to operate a sovereign guided weapons manufacturing capability to produce missiles and other weapons on the government’s behalf .

The new enterprise will specialise in guided missiles for use across the defence force.

The increasing assertiveness of China and Australia’s deteriorating relations with that country, as well as the lessons of COVID, have strengthened the push for greater sovereign capability.

Scott Morrison, who will announce the acceleration in Adelaide on Wednesday, said in a statement, “Creating our own sovereign capability on Australian soil is essential to keep Australians safe, while also providing thousands of local jobs in businesses right across the defence supply chain.

“As the COVID-19 pandemic has shown, having the ability for self-reliance, be it vaccine development or the defence of Australia, is vital to meeting our own requirements in a changing global environment.”

Peter Dutton, who was only sworn into the defence portfolio on Tuesday, said the announcement “builds on the agreement the Morrison government achieved at AUSMIN last year to pursue options to encourage bilateral defence trade and to advance initiative that diversify and harness our industry co-operation”.

Dutton said Australia would work closely with the United States “to ensure that we understand how our enterprise can best support both Australia’s needs and the growing needs of our most important military partner”.

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a defence think tank, estimates Australian will spend $100 billion in the next 20 years on buying missiles and guided weapons.

ASPI defence expert Michael Shoebridge wrote in June last year:

“The ADF gets its missiles from US, European and Israeli manufacturers, at the end of long global supply chains. And, when the home nations of these manufacturers need missiles urgently themselves, their needs can get in the way of meeting ours […]

“The deteriorating strategic environment in our region, combined with the heightened understanding of how vulnerable extended global supply chains are, means the current situation has become unacceptable.”

Companies that could be a potential partners include Raytheon Australia, Lockheed Martin Australia, Kongsberg, and BAE Systems Australia. The partner will need to be suitable to work with the US and have strong links with Australian supply chain businesses.

The new Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, Christian Porter released a National Manufacturing Defence Roadmap on Tuesday, for a 10 year plan for investment.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.

Labor’s plan for $15 billion ‘reconstruction fund’ to promote post-pandemic manufacturing economy


Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraA Labor government would set up a $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund to promote manufacturing in Australia’s post pandemic economy.

The fund, to be announced on Tuesday as Labor begins its national conference, would partner with private investors and superannuation funds, which have access to large reserves of capital.

It would be aimed at helping build new industries and boosting existing ones. The $15 billion would be provided through a combination of loans, equity, co-investment and guarantees.

In a statement on the plan, Anthony Albanese and shadow minister for national reconstruction. Richard Marles, say the pandemic has highlighted the serious deficiencies Australia has in its manufacturing capabilities and its ability to be globally competitive in innovation and technology.

“If there is anything that COVID has taught us, it is the need for Australia to be a place which makes things – to have our own industrial and manufacturing capabilities, our own sovereign capabilities,” they say.

“From commercialising our historic capacity in science and innovation to boosting the development of medical devices and pharmaceuticals, through to reviving our capability to make cars, trains and ships, today’s announcement will support the businesses in these industries to secure the capital and investment to grow and prosper,” Albanese and Marles say.

The fund would concentrate on a range of strategic industries. These would include resources value adding; food and beverage processing; transport; medical science; renewables and low emission technologies; defence capability, and enabling capabilities across engineering, data science and software development.

Objectives of the fund would be to:

  • reduce the risk of investment in innovation
  • help firms grow by support for new investment especially in regional areas
  • strengthen self-sufficiency and industrial diversity in Australia by assisting businesses build national sovereignty and decrease the risks in their supply chains
  • support regional developoment by enhancing private sector investment in industries of the future.

Labor would model the fund on entities such as the successful Clean Energy Finance Corporation, which was set up by the Labor government. It has invested billions to promote the transition to renewable energy, energy efficiency and low emissions technologies.

Labor’s proposed fund would have an independent board.

Assistance it provided would need to return rates above the government borrowing rate.

The $15 billion capital provided would be off-budget.

Labor points out that according to the OECD Australia ranks last in manufacturing self-sufficiency among industrialised countries. It produces just over two thirds of what it uses.

The pandemic as well as the deepening Australia-China tensions have increased debate over the past year about the need for greater self-sufficiency especially in certain key areas, such as medical supplies. The pandemic led to supply chain problems which are still being experienced for some products.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

The 5-prong plan for a budget that will set us up for the future


Steven Hamilton, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University; Daniel D’Hotman, University of Oxford, and Josh Steinert, UCL

For three decades, Australia’s economic story has been marked by abundance and wealth. Much of it has flowed from minerals, and a good deal more from earlier economic reforms.

COVID-19 has exposed how unprepared we are for a new uncertain reality.

Next week’s budget most certainly does have to address the recession we are in. But it also has to get us in shape for what’s ahead.

Property and resources booms have masked structural weaknesses.

Even before this crisis, our productivity growth had begun to lag other nations – and this was in the midst of a widespread productivity slowdown among advanced nations, dubbed “secular stagnation” by former US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers.

Australia is ranked 22nd by Cornell University’s Global Innovation Index, 16th in competitiveness by the World Economic Forum, and outside the top 20 on multiple indicators of industry and business collaboration.

Performing better won’t happen by itself.

The Budget Blueprint we released this week suggests a five-prong plan.

1. Continued financial support

We need to set aside any usual concerns about public debt for the good of the nation. Providing too little support or withdrawing it too quickly would threaten our fledgling recovery. But we should prioritise support that has the best bang for buck, avoids perverse incentives, and adapts to changing circumstances.

We are suggesting

  • Bringing forward planned personal tax cuts

  • Revenue-contingent loans for small and medium businesses.

  • Immediate capital expensing and hiring incentives for small and medium businesses

  • Investment in projects high on Infrastructure Australia’s priority list

  • Household cash stimulus payments of A$1,000 per adult earning less than $100,000 plus $500 for each dependent, and a further $750 for government payment recipients

(The stimulus payments would hardly be a first. The Rudd government handed out two cash payments during the global financial crisis. The Morrison government handed $750 to pensioners, Newstart recipients, family tax beneficiaries, and other social security recipients early in the coronavirus crisis.)

2. Medium-term fiscal discipline

A ratcheting up of government debt over time poses big risks. Our existing fiscal and tax settings are ill-equipped to repay a net debt approaching A$1 trillion.

We suggest

  • Accounting separately in the budget papers for the cyclical and structural deficits

  • Credibly committing to drawing down net debt faster than through bracket creep alone

  • Increasing the cap on tax receipts from its current level of 23.9% of GDP

  • Committing to overhauling our tax and transfer system

3. Compassionate social initiatives

During the crisis we have taken welcome steps to protect vulnerable Australians, but we need to do more. Societies are judged by how they treat their most vulnerable.

We suggest

  • Targeted interventions and retraining to address the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on women and young people in the workforce

  • Additional funding for support services and strengthen legal protections to combat domestic violence

  • Permanent Medicare funding for bulk-billed telehealth services (psychologists, psychiatrists, and GPs) for those at risk of mental illness and suicide

  • Boosting funding for social housing to reduce the impact of homelessness and housing insecurity while supporting economic activity

4. Clean, cheap and reliable energy

Many governments have leveraged COVID-19 stimulus to invest in clean energy. With excellent renewable resources and a strong clean-technology sector, Australia can play a key role in accelerating the transition to a low-carbon world.

We suggest

  • Increasing funding to the Clean Energy Financing Corporation’s Innovation Fund and decrease its required rate of return

  • Creating a “Grid Expansion Fund” to publicly finance critical electricity transmission projects

  • Recasting the regulatory investment test for transmission infrastructure to include carbon emissions

  • Conducting rigorous cost-benefit analyses of investment options in the technologies other nations are investing in during the crisis such as green hydrogen and steel

5. Setting things up for the next boom

The record-high debt incurred in World War II was followed by rapid growth that helped us pay it down. Getting us on a similar path today will require an industry policy that supports dynamism.

We suggest

  • Redesigning JobSeeker, offering more generous support in a smarter way to encourage better matches of workers to firms discourage over-reliance on welfare

  • Reforming and better funding the higher-education sector to promote competition and better prepare workers for the jobs of the future

  • Committing to supporting research, development, and deployment in science, technology, engineering, and related fields to drive innovation and productivity

  • Improving access to capital for young and fast-growing firms, learning from successful international efforts such as the Israel Innovation Fund

Nothing focuses the mind like a crisis.

We think that with the right policy settings it is possible to get out of the slump we are in while creating the conditions that will ignite the next boom.




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


Even better, we think it can be done while assisting the vulnerable and refashioning our energy system.

It’s a tall but important order. We are hoping for some first steps in the first pandemic budget on Tuesday night.The Conversation

Steven Hamilton, Visiting Fellow, Tax and Transfer Policy Institute, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University; Daniel D’Hotman, DPhil Candidate, University of Oxford, and Josh Steinert, , UCL

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

The Thousand Talents Plan is part of China’s long quest to become the global scientific leader


James Jin Kang, Edith Cowan University

The Thousand Talents Plan is a Chinese government program to attract scientists and engineers from overseas. Since the plan began in 2008, it has recruited thousands of researchers from countries including the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Singapore, Canada, Japan, France and Australia.

While many countries try to lure top international research talent, the US, Canada and others have raised concerns that the Thousand Talents Plan may facilitate espionage and theft of intellectual property.

Why are we hearing about it now?

China has long been suspected of engaging in hacking and intellectual property theft. In the early 2000s, Chinese hackers were involved in the downfall of the Canadian telecommunications corporation Nortel, which some have linked to the rise of Huawei.

These efforts have attracted greater scrutiny as Western powers grow concerned about China’s increasing global influence and foreign policy projects such as the Belt and Road Initiative.

Last year, a US Senate committee declared the plan a threat to American interests. Earlier this year, Harvard nanotechnology expert Charles Lieber was arrested for lying about his links to the program.

In Australia, foreign policy think tank the Australian Strategic Policy Institute recently published a detailed report on Australian involvement in the plan. After media coverage of the plan, the parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security is set to launch an inquiry into foreign interference in universities.




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Why China is a leader in intellectual property (and what the US has to do with it)


What is the Thousand Talents Plan?

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) developed the Thousand Talents Plan to lure top scientific talent, with the goal of making China the world’s leader in science and technology by 2050. The CCP uses the plan to obtain technologies and expertise, and arguably, Intellectual Properties from overseas by illegal or non-transparent means to build their power by leveraging those technologies with minimal costs.

According to a US Senate committee report, the Thousand Talents Plan is one of more than 200 CCP talent recruitment programs. These programs drew in almost 60,000 professionals between 2008 and 2016.

China’s technology development and intellectual property portfolio has skyrocketed since the launch of the plan in 2008. Last year China overtook the US for the first time in filing the most international patents.

What are the issues?

The plan offers scientists funding and support to commercialise their research, and in return the Chinese government gains access to their technologies.

In 2019, a US Senate committee declared the plan a threat to American interests. It claimed one participating researcher stole information about US military jet engines, and more broadly that China uses American research and expertise for its own economic and military gain.




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Dozens of Australian and US employees of universities and government are believed to have participated in the plan without having declared their involvement. In May, ASIO issued all Australian universities a warning about Chinese government recruitment activities.

On top of intellectual property issues, there are serious human rights concerns. Technologies transferred to China under the program have been used in the oppression of Uyghurs in Xinjiang and in society-wide facial recognition and other forms of surveillance.

A global network

The Chinese government has established more than 600 recruitment stations globally. This includes 146 in the US, 57 each in Germany and Australia, and more than 40 each in the UK, Canada, Japan and France.

Recruitment agencies contracted by the CCP are paid A$30,000 annually plus incentives for each successful recruitment.

They deal with individual researchers rather than institutions as it is easier to monitor them. Participants do not have to leave their current jobs to be involved in the plan.




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This can raise conflicts of interest. In the US alone, 54 scientists have lost their jobs for failing to disclose this external funding, and more than 20 have been charged on espionage and fraud allegations.

In Australia, our education sector relies significantly on the export of education to Chinese students. Chinese nationals may be employed in various sectors including research institutions.

These nationals are targets for Thousand Talents Plan recruitment agents. Our government may not know what’s going on unless participants disclose information about their external employment or grants funded by the plan.

The case of Koala AI

Heng Tao Shen was recruited by the Thousand Talents Plan in 2014 while a professor at the University of Queensland. He became head of the School of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China and founded a company called Koala AI.

Members of Koala AI’s research team reportedly now include Thousand Talents Plan scholars at the University of NSW, University of Melbourne and the National University of Singapore. The plan allows participants to stay at their overseas base as long as they work in China for a few months of the year.

The company’s surveillance technology was used by authorities in Xinjiang, raising human rights issues. Shen, who relocated to China in 2017 but was as an honorary professor at the University of Queensland until September 2019, reportedly failed to disclose this information to his Australian university, going against university policy.

What should be done?

Most participants in the plan are not illegally engaged and have not breached the rules of their governments or institutions. With greater transparency and stricter adherence to the rules of foreign states and institutions, the plan could benefit both China and other nations.

Governments, universities and research institutions, and security agencies all have a role to play here.

The government can build partnership with other parties to monitor the CCP’s talent recruitment activities and increase transparency on funding in universities. Investigations of illegal behaviour related to the talent recruitment activity can be conducted by security agencies. Research institutes can tighten the integrity of grant recipients by disclosing any participation in the talent recruitment plans.




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More resources should be invested towards compliance and enforcement in foreign funding processes, so that researchers understand involvement in the Thousand Talents Plan may carry national security risks.

Following US government scrutiny in 2018, Chinese government websites deleted online references to the plan and some Chinese universities stopped promoting it. The plan’s website also removed the names of participating scientists.

This shows a joint effort can influence the CCP and their recruitment stations to be more cautious in approaching candidates, and reduce the impact of this plan on local and domestic affairs.

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect the fact that Heng Tao Shen ceased to be an honorary professor at University of Queensland in September 2019.The Conversation

James Jin Kang, Lecturer, Computing and Security, Edith Cowan University

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

Government triggers emergency plan for COVID-19 pandemic, and considers economic assistance


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The federal government has activated its emergency response plan to deal with a spread of the coronavirus locally, in anticipation of it becoming a “pandemic”.

It is also considering limited assistance for those hardest hit by the economic fallout.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison told a news conference late Thursday Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Treasury was working on possible measures to give some relief.

Morrison stressed any measures would be “targeted, modest and scalable” – that is, able to be built on if necessary.

“This is a health crisis, not a financial crisis, but it is a health crisis with very significant economic implications,” he said.

“We’re aware, particularly in the export industry, in the marine sector, there are particular issues there especially in North Queensland, but these problems are presenting in many other places,” he said.

The tourism and education sectors are being heavily affected as the crisis worsens. But the government has stressed universities have good liquidity to deal with the situation.

The travel ban on arrivals from China has been extended for at least another week. There will be no carve out for the tens of thousands of university students unable to reach Australia.

Treasury has not yet finalised an estimate of the economic impact of COVID-19.

Cabinet’s national security committee met for three hours on Thursday to discuss the latest information on the virus and what should be done now.

“What has occurred, in particular, in the last 24 hours or so as the data has come in is that the rate of transmission of the virus outside of China is fundamentally changing the way we need to now look at how this issue is being managed here in Australia,” Morrison said.

Stressing Australia had been ahead of the World Health Organisation in its previous response, he said “based on the expert medical advice we’ve received, there is every indication that the world will soon enter a pandemic phase of the coronavirus”.

“So while the WHO is yet to declare … it’s moved towards a pandemic phase, we believe that the risk of a global pandemic is very much upon us and as a result, as a government, we need to take the steps necessary to prepare for such a pandemic.”

The actions were “being taken in an abundance of caution,” Morrison said.

Health ministers will meet on Friday to discuss the emergency planning, to respond to a future situation where there is sustained transmission in Australia – in contrast to the present containment to a handful of cases. As the virus spreads internationally, the chances increase of a major spread in Australia.

The emergency plan covers special wards in hospitals, and ensuring key health workers have access to adequate protective equipment from the medical stockpile.

It includes provision for aged care facilities to be put into lock down if necessary.

There would also be contingency alternative staffing for key facilities if staff got the disease.

On another front, Border Force would if necessary extend screening to passengers arriving from multiple countries.

Morrison said consideration was being given to how school children would be protected.

The Prime Minister emphasised there was no cause to consider cancelling events or for people not to be out and about.

“You can still go to the football, you can still go to the cricket, you can still go and play with your friends down the street, you can go off to the concert, and you can go out for a Chinese meal.

“But to stay ahead of it, we need to now elevate our response to this next phase,” he said.

“There are some challenging months ahead and the government will continue to work closely based on the best possible medical advice to keep Australians safe.”

So far, Australia had had 15 cases who had come from Wuhan and all 15 had now been cleared, he said. Eight other cases had come from the Diamond Princess. There had been no community transmission in Australia.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.

Scott Morrison’s gas transition plan is a dangerous road to nowhere



Flickr

Tim Baxter, University of Melbourne

As Australia continues to battle horrific bushfires, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced a renewed focus on gas-fired electricity to reduce emissions and lower energy prices. This is a dangerous and completely unnecessary route.

In a speech to the National Press Club last week, Morrison claimed:

There is no credible energy transition plan, for an economy like Australia in particular, that does not involve the greater use of gas as an important transition fuel.

This statement is completely untrue, even among the “official” transition plans.

The Australian Energy Market Operator’s draft Integrated System Plan, used to plan future infrastructure needs in Australia’s largest grid, contains multiple scenarios for the coming decades. Several of these, including the “central” scenario – representing entirely neutral assumptions about the future – see no substantial increase in gas consumption over the coming decades.

But with Morrison now pursuing bilateral agreements with the states to open up more gas reserves, it is vitally important to interrogate the logic of gas as a transition fuel.

The strong case against gas

Gas is, of course, a fossil fuel and a source of greenhouse gas emissions. Emissions occur during extraction and transport as well as when it is burned to produce energy.

Nonetheless, since the 1990s it has been touted as a “transition fuel” – that is as a resource that might be drawn upon temporarily while the world switches from coal-fired power to renewables.

Proponents say gas is less emissions-intensive than coal and as such, offers a better fossil fuel alternative as renewables are constructed and energy-efficiency improvements are implemented. (This benefit is overstated: more on this later.)




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But in the 30-odd years since gas was first talked up as a transition fuel, humans have added more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere than they did in all of human history before that point. We are twice as far from stable global temperatures now as we were when the the concept of a transition fuel was born, and emissions are accelerating in the wrong direction.

Last year a consortium of major international organisations including the United Nations Environment Programme released a landmark report which showed planned global production of coal, oil and gas would see the world far exceed the Paris Agreement targets. There is no room for further expansion.

Australia: a vulnerable nation

2019 was the hottest and driest year ever recorded. We reeled from crippling drought and fires worse than our most terrifying nightmares. Then came the suffocating air pollution.

The Bureau of Meteorology explicitly linked this fire season to climate change.

The world has warmed by 1.1℃ since the industrial revolution due to the burning of coal, oil and gas. Current fossil fuel developments are enough to double that temperature increase.

Australia has among the world’s highest greenhouse gas emissions per person, despite also being among the most vulnerable to climate change.

Alongside this, Australia has long been the world’s largest coal exporter and last year took the crown as the largest exporter of liquefied natural gas.

Scott Morrison’s plan for a gas transition is a dangerous route.
AAP

Overstated benefits

It is true that gas, if produced and consumed in Australia without being liquefied, is 30-50% more carbon-efficient than coal at the point it is burned to produce electricity. But this benefit is substantially eroded by the emissions created when gas is vented or flared during the exploration, extraction, transport and distribution processes.




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Gas is mostly composed of methane, the most significant climate-warming agent after carbon dioxide. Methane survives for a shorter period in the atmosphere, but over 20 years has 86 times the planet-warming potential of carbon dioxide.

In 2019, the venting and flaring of methane accounted for 6% of Australia’s emissions – and this is likely a significant underestimate. These so-called “fugitive emissions” massively detract from the purported climate benefits of a gas transition.

Renewable energy is waiting to provide the decarbonisation Australia needs.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Running out of time

It is worth remembering that to make the gas projects viable, developers expect their projects to last for several decades at least. Gas can only be a “transition fuel” if there is a clear path out the other side to net-zero emissions. Locking in gas projects for decades makes that path impossible.

Where gas does provide a small benefit, this lock-in means it cannot be enough to secure globally-agreed temperature goals.




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A separate United Nations Environment Programme report last year considered how the world might limit global warming to globally agreed temperature goals – 1.5℃ or 2℃ above pre-industrial temperatures. Both of these targets will result in a climate notably less secure than that which drove Australia’s past year of extreme weather.

To meet the 1.5℃ target, emissions from all sources must fall by 7.6% per year between now and 2030, and keep decreasing after that.

Even 2℃ of global warming – a catastrophic temperature increase by any measure – would require annual emissions reduction of 2.7% per year. This is well beyond what can be accomplished with a long, slow detour through gas.

Over and above all this, is the simple point that increasing gas supply will not reduce prices anyway. Since 2016, the spike in energy prices in Australia has occurred because of the increase in gas supply. Nothing Morrison has proposed so far is capable of counteracting the perverse dynamic which brought that about.

It is entirely unnecessary for the federal government to continue down the gas route. The renewable energy sector is waiting in the wings to deliver massive emissions reduction and lower prices.

But in the sunniest and windiest inhabited continent on the planet, investment confidence in the renewables sector is collapsing on Morrison’s watch.The Conversation

Tim Baxter, Fellow – Melbourne Law School; Senior Researcher – Climate Council; Associate – Australian-German Climate and Energy College, University of Melbourne

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