View from The Hill: aged care to cabinet, Tehan to trade in Morrison’s modest reshuffle



Lukas Coch/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The most important changes in Scott Morrison’s limited reshuffle are centred on two vital and controversial issues – aged care and trade – that will severely test the government in coming months.

Aged care has been elevated to cabinet and put in the safe hands of Health Minister Greg Hunt, who has performed strongly during the pandemic.

The current Aged Care Minister, Richard Colbeck, retains responsibility for aged care services, including delivery of residential and home care packages and the regulation of the sector.




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With the royal commission due to deliver its final report in February, Hunt will spearhead the policy response. Importantly, he will carry the government’s public case as it works through one of the most difficult policy challenges of early 2021.

The choice of Dan Tehan for trade is logical. He comes with an extensive background in the area before his parliamentary career, including serving in the Foreign Affairs and Trade Department, and as an adviser to a former trade minister, Mark Vaile.

Tehan arrives in the portfolio – shed by Simon Birmingham who is now Finance Minister – when trade tensions with China are an all-time high, and Australia is looking to negotiate trade agreements with Europe and the United Kingdom.

Tehan’s education portfolio goes to Alan Tudge, who will also have responsibility for youth (previously under Colbeck). The recent Four Corners expose about Tudge’s private life hasn’t affected his ministerial career. Questioned at his news conference on Friday, Morrison said those matter related to years ago.

Morrison has also elevated some spear carriers of the right.




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Is Canberra having a #metoo moment? It will take more than reports of MPs behaving badly for parliament to change


Queensland senator Amanda Stoker is promoted from the backbench to become Assistant Minister to the Attorney-General. ACT senator Zed Seselja moves from being an Assistant Minister to become Minister for International Development and the Pacific.

Rewarding the Liberal party right might be politically useful next year, if Morrison needs the conservatives’ forbearance for a shift on climate policy.

Andrew Hastie is also from the Liberals’ conservative wing, but his move up from the backbench will be seen through a foreign policy prism.

He has been an outspoken hawk on China and the Chinese will be particularly noting his appointment as Assistant Minister for Defence.

Hastie has been well respected on both sides of politics as chair of parliament’s influential intelligence and security committee.

A former soldier in the SAS who served in Afghanistan, he will potentially be able to help manage the fallout from the Brereton report on alleged Australian war crimes, which is proving difficult for the government.

The new Immigration Minister will be Alex Hawke, Morrison’s strong factional ally. This position has been in limbo for a year, in the hands of an acting minister, while David Coleman has been on personal leave.

Coleman is to become Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, an area Morrison has given high priority in the pandemic.

It is notable Ben Morton, who is very close to Morrison, has not been moved up to the junior ministry. He stays as Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister and Cabinet, where he can have a bird’s eye view on many matters, as distinct from the narrower focus demanded by a ministerial portfolio.

Morton formally takes over from Hunt to become Assistant Minister for the Public Service — a role he has had anyway while Hunt has been preoccupied with the health crisis. A former Liberal party director in Western Australia, Morton will also have the politically-sensitive position of Assistant Minister for Electoral Matters.




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Jane Hume moves up from assistant minister, with expanded responsibilities as Minister for Superannuation, Financial Services and the Digital Economy.

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher adds urban infrastructure and cities to his responsibilities, but loses cyber safety.

Morrison emphasised key portfolios relating to the economy and security remained unchanged, as did the positions held by the Nationals, and the number of women in cabinet.

He said the changes reflected a “very strong focus on stability in key portfolios, together with a commitment to bring forward some new talent”.

The new Morrison ministry list can be found here.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.

Why the Morrison government’s ‘double-dipping’ gambit fails the pub test



Shutterstock

Joo-Cheong Tham, University of Melbourne

It’s almost unimaginable: an Australian government proposes a law that would wipe out billions of dollars of employers’ entitlements.

Even more unimaginable: it does so on the basis of mistakes made by employees.

Yet right now a “Black Mirror” scenario lies before Australia’s federal parliament, in the form of the Morrison government’s “ominbus” industrial relations bill.

It proposes to extinguish entitlements owed to workers due to the mistakes made by employers. If passed, thousands of low-paid workers stand to lose billions of dollars in entitlements.

But that’s not even the worst thing that can be said of the bill. Worse still is the cynicism of its premise, the need to “fix” a problem that does not really exist.

To appreciate the depth of that cynicism, let’s recap the smoke and mirrors that have made “double-dipping” – the “horror scenario” of paying workers misclassified as casual employees both a 25% casual loading and paid leave entitlements – a hot-button issue.




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Paying the costs of employer mistakes

Action is needed, the government claims, to address the “uncertainty” over employers incurring up to A$39 billion liabilities because of a Federal Court decision in May 2020.

Known as Rossato v Workpac, the case was unusual because the defendant, labour-hire company WorkPac – with the federal government’s support – funded the legal action against it by former mine worker Robert Rossato.

Rossato argued Workpac should have employed him as a permanent worker, rather than a casual worker, given his regular work roster. Workpac wanted the Federal Court to hear the case so its lawyers could try some arguments not used in Workpac’s unsuccessful defence of a 2018 court case (involving similar claims by fly-in-fly-out worker Paul Skene).

One of Workpac’s new defences was that Rossato (and workers in similar situations), even if misclassified as casual employees, had been paid a casual loading that should be “set off” against leave entitlements now accrued to them.

As Andrew Stewart summarised at the time: “In other words, if he was entitled to the benefits he claimed, he had already been paid for them.”

The Federal Court rejected this argument comprehensively.

In finding for Rossato, it ruled the casual loading paid any worker wrongly classified as a “casual employee” did not offset their separate entitlement to paid leave, as guaranteed to all permanent employees under the Fair Work Act.



CC BY-NC-ND




Read more:
The truth about much ‘casual’ work: it’s really about permanent insecurity


Different entitlement types

Presumably the Federal Court must have had its reasons – and indeed it did. It laid them out in terms so clear it is hard to see where uncertainty arises.

The key distinction, said the court, was that casual loading and paid leave are two different kinds of entitlements.

The casual loading is a monetary entitlement supposed to compensate casual employees for the downsides of being casuals. Casual employees are meant to get 25% more than what a permanent employee would be paid, though research suggests in reality the loading is often neglible.

Does the loading cover casual employees not accruing annual and other leave? That is a matter of confusion, with differing approaches taken by courts and industrial tribunals. It some cases, the casual loading might be framed as compensating for the disadvantages of casual employment. Sometimes the loading might simply be paid due to prevailing “market rates”, as a wage premium to attract workers to jobs with few other benefits.

Whatever the circumstances, the Federal Court stressed that paid leave was not just another monetary entitlement when it came to permanent employees (including those wrongly classified as casuals).

As the judges put in their Rossato ruling, there is a “temporal dimension” to paid leave.

That is, it was an entitlement to an absence from work “in order to facilitate rest and recreation”. This made it qualitatively different to a cash entitlement.

So the Federal Court’s ruling was clear. There was no uncertainty. It saw no double-dipping. Its ruling did not require employers to pay twice. It required them to honour different types of employee entitlements.




Read more:
What defines casual work? Federal Court ruling highlights a fundamental flaw in Australian labour law


Return of a living dead argument

Now the federal government is arguing what WorkPac (with the government’s backing) argued unsuccessfully to the court. Its industrial relations bill proposes making that losing argument the law.

If passed, courts will be required to deduct the value of any casual loading paid to misclassified casual employees from any claim they now have to compensation for not being being given the leave entitlements owed to permanent employees.

It creates a “back door” for employers to cash out paid leave obligations, leaving even more workers in the “employees without leave entitlement” category.



CC BY-NC-ND

In doing so, the bill doesn’t just strip rights from wrongly classified casual workers. It undermines a fundamental principle in Australia’s national employment standards – reflected by the Fair Work Act having limits on cashing out paid leave.

These limits recognise leave entitlements aren’t just a personal benefit. The the whole community benefits; and 2020 has shown the community costs of failing to ensure all workers have paid leave entitlements.

Workers in risky jobs – such as aged care and meat processing – without sick leave or other entitlements have been clear transmission vectors for COVID-19 outbreaks such as that which enveloped Melbourne.




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These limits have safeguarded low-paid workers signing away these rights out of financial need in lop-sided bargains.

If there’s only lesson one to be learned in the months since the Federal Court handed down its ruling, it’s this. Further impoverishing the value of leave entitlements is just about the last thing any COVID-inspired industrial relations reform should being doing.The Conversation

Joo-Cheong Tham, Professor, Melbourne Law School, University of Melbourne

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

Morrison likely to elevate aged care to cabinet, as government boosts its funding by $1 billion


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government will inject a further $1 billion into aged care, most of it for home care packages, in Thursday’s budget update.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is also likely to elevate the troubled policy area to cabinet, in his imminent ministerial reshuffle.

Some 10,000 home care packages will be provided, costing $850 million, in the latest funding – 2500 packages will be released across each of the four levels of care.

The funds – announced Wednesday and included in Thursday’s Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook – come ahead of the final report of the royal commission into aged care due in February. An interim report more than a year ago was scathing about conditions in the sector.

Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck is in the outer ministry and struggled during the pandemic. COVID’s largest death toll was in the residential aged care sector – approaching 700 deaths out of the total Australian deaths of just over 900.

Colbeck, a Tasmanian senator, was with Morrison in Tasmania on Tuesday and it is understood the Prime Minister went to Colbeck’s Devonport office after a function.

The reshuffle is expected to be modest, with most interest in who gets the trade portfolio, presently held by Simon Birmingham who took over finance when Mathias Cormann left parliament.

Trade is high profile with the attacks by China on a range of Australian exports. Education Minister Dan Tehan has been widely speculated for the post.

Tehan has experience in the area. He served in the Foreign Affairs and Trade Department; in 2002 he was seconded to the office of trade minister Mark Vaile as trade adviser. Later he worked for the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry as director of trade policy and international affairs.

If Tehan moved to trade, that would leave the education portfolio open – with the new incumbent facing the problems of a higher education sector that has taken a beating from the pandemic, which has blocked overseas students’ entry to Australia.

David Coleman, who has been on leave from the ministry for personal reasons for a year, is expected to step down from it in the reshuffle.

There is some room for backbench promotions to the frontbench.

The government said the new aged care money would bring to nearly 50,000 the number of home care packages funded since the commission’s interim report, at a cost of $3.3 billion.

In September more than 100,000 people were waiting for packages. The government says 99% of people on the home care waiting list are already receiving some level of support package.

The latest funding also includes $63.3 million for increased access to allied health services and improved mental health support for people in residential aged care.

An extra $57.8 million will be provided for aged care under the National Partnership on COVID-19 Response. This will strengthen protection, including training and and support in infection prevention and control.

There will be $8.2 million to extend the Victorian Aged Care Response Centre until June 30.

The budget update will show the projected deficit not to be as large as forecast in the budget only two months ago.

The update is expected to adopt conservative assumptions about the iron ore price which has skyrocketed recently.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.

So much for consensus: Morrison government’s industrial relations bill is a business wish list


Jim Stanford, University of Sydney

“We are all in this together,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison solemnly intoned in April – and for a brief few months, in the face of the economic crisis wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic, Australia’s industrial relations protagonists agreed.

Business groups, unions and governments put aside their usual differences and worked together to minimise job losses.

They quickly negotiated alterations to dozens of awards and enterprise agreements, adjusting rules and rosters to help keep Australians on the job.

Then, in late May, seeing opportunity in that spirit of cooperation, Morrison heralded a new consensus-based approach to industrial relations.

The federal government set aside its effort to impose more legal restrictions on unions and established new “industrial relations reform roundtables” for employer groups, unions and government officials to work together on reforming workplace laws Morrison said were “not fit for purpose”.

“We’ve got to put down our weapons,” he declared. The change in approach was even compared to the historic Accords of the 1980s, in which the Hawke-Keating Labor government convinced unions to accept wage freezes in return for enhanced social benefits (like Medicare and superannuation).




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Well, the Kumbaya moment didn’t last long.

Within weeks the parties retreated to their corners and their standard speaking points. No meaningful consensus emerged on any issue from any table.

Even tentative proposals – like an idea supported by unions and the Business Council of Australia to combine fast-track approval of union-negotiated enterprise agreements with greater flexibility in determining their suitability – were shot down in partisan gunfire by more strident business lobbyists.




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Now, in the absence of consensus, the government has picked up its traditional hymn book and is once again singing the praises of “flexibility”.

Today federal industrial relations minister Christian Porter revealed the rotten fruit of the roundtable process, the Fair Work Amendment (Supporting Australia’s Jobs and Economic Recovery) Bill 2020.

If passed, it will further skew the already lopsided balance of power towards employers.

The bill doesn’t just take the employers’ side in the five issues debated at those roundtables (award simplification, enterprise agreements, casual work, compliance and enforcement, and “greenfields agreements” for new enterprises).

One of its biggest changes is to suspend rules that prevent enterprise agreements from undercutting minimum award standards. This proposal wasn’t even discussed at the roundtables.

This confirms the gloves are off once again in Australia’s interminable IR wars.

Here are the most significant ways the bill will weight the scales further to the disadvantage of workers.

Suspending the BOOT

As the law now stands, enterprise agreements cannot undercut minimum standards in industry awards. This is known as the “better off overall test” – or BOOT. The new bill instructs the Fair Work Commission to approve agreements even if they fail this test, so long as the deal is nominally supported by affected workers (more on this below) and deemed to be in the “public interest”.

Australia is unique among wealthy nations in allowing employers to unilaterally implement enterprise agreements, without involvement by a union. The BOOT is thus necessary to prevent enterprise agreements from undermining award rights.

The bill proposes suspending BOOT for two years. But even if it were restored after that (which is uncertain), agreements approved during that window would remain in effect (enterprise agreements typically last four years). Even after they expire, under Australian law they remain in effect until replaced by a new agreement, or terminated by the FWC – neither of which is likely in a non-unionised workplace.

Apparently in anticipation that unions will actively oppose non-BOOT-compliant agreements, the bill also includes measures to speed their approval by the Fair Work Commission. The process must be completed within 21 days (with some exceptions). This will limit the ability of affected workers to learn about and resist their loss of benefits and conditions. Unions will be restricted from intervening around agreements they were not directly involved in negotiating (including intervening against agreements that had no union involvement at all).

Broadening the definition of casual work

The growing use of “casual” employment provisions was a hot topic at the IR reform tables. The new bill clarifies the definition of casual work in the most expansive way possible: a casual job is any position deemed casual by the employer, and accepted by the worker, for which there is no promise of regular continuing employment.

In other words, any job can be casual, so long as workers are desperate enough to accept it. This will foster the further spread of insecure employment without paid leave entitlements. Most importantly, it removes a big potential liability faced by employers as a result of recent court decisions, under which they might have owed back pay for holidays and sick leave to employees improperly treated as casual workers.




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What defines casual work? Federal Court ruling highlights a fundamental flaw in Australian labour law


Casualising part-time workers

Further casualisation will be attained through new rules regarding rosters and hours for permanent part-time workers. The bill extends flexibility provisions originally implemented earlier this year – during that brief moment of pandemic-induced cooperation. The rules allow employers to alter hours for regular part-timers without incurring overtime penalties or other costs (currently required under some awards). This will allow employers to effectively use part-time workers as yet another form of casual, just-in-time labour.

Doubling new project agreement times

Finally, the bill grants one more big wish from the business list.

It allows super-long enterprise agreements at major new projects. Agreements can last for up to eight years – double the time now allowed – and be signed, sealed and delivered before any workers start on the job (thus denying them any input into the process).

Under revised BOOT provisions, they could also undercut the minimum standards of any industry awards.

Back to business as usual

These changes are being advertised as a spur for post-pandemic job creation. But this claim is hollow.

In reality, the changes in part-time and casual rules will actually discourage new hiring. Since existing workers can be costlessly “flexed” in line with employer needs, there is no need to hire anyone else.

Weaker BOOT protections will spur a wave of new enterprise agreements, most union-free, and aimed at reducing (not raising) compensation and standards. This makes a mockery of the goals of collective bargaining, and grants employers further opportunity to suppress labour costs (already tracking at their slowest pace in postwar history).

So what to make of that short-lived spirit of togetherness that purportedly sparked this whole process? In retrospect, it seems to have been just an opportunity for the Coalition government to pose as visionary statesmen during a time of crisis.

Now, mere months later, the government is back to its old ways – and the pandemic is just another excuse to scapegoat unions, drive down wages and fatten business profits.The Conversation

Jim Stanford, Economist and Director, Centre for Future Work, Australia Institute; Honorary Professor of Political Economy, University of Sydney

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

Australia demands apology from China over ‘repugnant’ slur on Twitter


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has demanded China apologise for – and Twitter remove – a highly offensive tweet depicting an Australian soldier with a knife to the throat of a child.

Morrison described the tweet as disgusting and utterly outrageous. Australia has protested to the Chinese embassy in Canberra, and a protest is also being made by Australia’s embassy in Beijing.

“The Chinese government should be totally ashamed of this post. It diminishes them in the world’s eyes,” Morrison told a virtual news conference from The Lodge, where he is still in isolation after his trip to Japan.

“Australia is seeking an apology from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, from the Chinese Government, for this outrageous post. We are also seeking its removal immediately and have also contacted Twitter to take it down immediately.”

Following the recent release of the Brereton inquiry into alleged atrocities by some members of Australian special forces in Afghanistan, the tweet was posted by Lijian Zhao, spokesman and deputy director general of the information department in the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

It said: “Shocked by murder of Afghan civilians & prisoners by Australian soldiers. We strongly condemn such acts, &call for holding them accountable”.

A line in the illustration said: “Don’t be afraid, we are coming to bring you peace!”

Morrison said the repugnant post of a falsified image of an Australian soldier threatening a young child had come from an official Chinese government Twitter account.

It was “truly repugnant” and “deeply offensive” to every Australian.

“[To] every Australian who has served in that uniform. Every Australian who serves in that uniform today. Everyone who has pulled on that uniform and served with Australians overseas from whatever nation,” he said.

“It is a false image and a terrible slur on our great defence forces and the men and women who’ve served in that uniform for over 100 years.”




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Morrison said while there were undoubtedly tensions between China and Australia, “this is not how you deal with them”.

Rather, the way was to engage directly in dialogue between ministers and leaders.

“And despite this terribly offensive post today, I would ask again and call on China to re-engage in that dialogue.

“This is how countries must deal with each other to ensure that we can deal with any issues in our relationship, consistent with our national interests and respect for each other’s sovereignty. Not engaging in this sort of deplorable behaviour.”

Morrison said he hoped “this rather awful event” might lead to a “reset” in the relationship, allowing a dialogue to be restarted where there could be sensible talk about issues — “because this type of behaviour is not on”.

Morrison sought to put the situation in a wider international context.

“It’s not just about Australia. Countries around the world are watching this. They see how Australia is seeking to resolve these issues and they’re seeing these responses.

“This impacts not just on the relationship here, but with so many other sovereign nations, not only in our own region, but like-minded countries around the world who have expressed similar sentiments to Australia about many issues. And so it is important that these things end and the dialogue starts.”




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When he was asked why he didn’t write to Chinese President Xi Jinping directly, Morrison said, “You assume that there hasn’t been such interactions. We’ve constantly sought that engagement. This is not new.”

Asked about the controversial issue of revoking the Meritorious Unit Citation for Special Operations Task Groups who served in Afghanistan between 2007 and 2013, which was recommended by the Brereton report, Morrison said no decision had been made.

This is despite the chief of the Defence Force, Angus Campbell, saying when releasing the Brereton report that he would write to the governor-general asking for the revocation.

“No decisions have been made on that and were decisions to be made on that, that would only be following a further process. And that is where that matter rests right now,” Morrison told his news conference.

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese said he stood with Morrison in his condemnation of the China tweet. He said the opposition would not be asking about it in question time — the matter was above politics.

There was an immediate pushback from China – via Twitter – to Morrison’s attack.

Hú Xījìn, editor of the state-owned Global Times, tweeted:

“It is a popular cartoon that condemns the Australian Special Forces’s brutal murder of 39 Afghan civilians. On what ground does Morrison feel angry over the use of this cartoon by the spokesperson of Chinese FM? It’s ridiculous and shameless that he demanded China to apologize.”

The latest deepening of tensions in the bilateral relationship comes days after the Chinese imposed punitive tariffs on Australian wine.




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The Conversation


Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Morrison remains very popular in Newspoll as the Coalition easily retains Groom in byelection



James Ross/AAP

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

This week’s Newspoll will presumably be the final one for 2020. It gives the Coalition a 51-49% two-party-preferred lead, unchanged from three weeks ago. Primary votes were 43% Coalition (steady), 36% Labor (up one), 11% Greens (steady) and 2% One Nation (down one).

This is One Nation’s worst result in a federal Newspoll since before the 2019 federal election. It comes after the party slumped by 6.6 percentage points at the recent Queensland state election.

Newspoll figures are from The Poll Bludger. This poll was conducted November 25-28 from a sample of 1,511 people.

Two-thirds of respondents said they were satisfied with Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s performance (up two points) and 30% were dissatisfied (down two), for a net approval of +36. Morrison’s approval rating has consistently been over 60% since April, following the initial outbreak of COVID-19 in Australia.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese recorded a net approval of +3, down one point. Morrison led as better PM by 60-28% (58-29% previously).




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Coronavirus may be the only important issue for many voters at the moment, and Morrison is perceived to have handled that well. In normal times, issues less favourable to the Coalition would likely have gained traction, undermining Morrison’s ratings, but these times are not normal.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has enjoyed a similar polling boost in her state as well, due to her handling of the pandemic.

In a NSW YouGov poll taken after revelations of her affair with former Liberal MP Daryl Maguire, she still had a 68-26% approval rating.

LNP easily retains Groom at federal byelection

There was very little media attention on Saturday’s byelection for the safe Coalition seat of Groom in Queensland.

Only four candidates ran, representing the Coalition, Labor, Sustainable Australia and the Liberal Democrats.

The LNP won by 66.6-33.4%, a 3.9% swing to Labor since the 2019 federal election.




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Primary votes were 59.0% for the LNP (up 5.6%), 27.8% for Labor (up 9.1%), 8.0% for Sustainable Australia and 5.3% for the Liberal Democrats. The major parties benefited from the absence of One Nation and the Greens, which respectively won 13.1% and 8.0% in 2019.

Analyst Kevin Bonham says the average swing against a government at byelections in its own seats is 6%, so this is not a great result for Labor.

Furthermore, there was a 5.2% swing to the Coalition in Groom in the 2019 election, as it romped to a 58.4-41.6% drubbing of Labor in Queensland.

If federal Labor had recovered support in Queensland since then, a much bigger swing would have been expected.

While Labor easily won the recent Queensland state election, state and federal voting can be very different.

Biden’s popular vote lead stretches

In the Cook Political Report tracker of the national popular vote in the US presidential election, President-elect Joe Biden leads incumbent Donald Trump by 51.1-47.1%.

Biden’s four-point lead is up from 3.1 percentage points on November 8 when the states of Pennsylvania and Nevada were called for him, making him the presumptive winner. Many mail votes are still be counted in New York, which will heavily favour Biden as well.

Biden came out on top in the Electoral College vote count, 306-232.
Carolyn Kaster/AP

Biden’s popular vote margin now exceeds Barack Obama’s margin of 3.9 percentage points in 2012. But Obama won the “tipping-point” state that put him over the magic 270 electoral college votes by 5.4 points, while Biden won his tipping-point state (Wisconsin) by just 0.6 percentage points.

Trump performed 3.4 percentage points better in the tipping-point state in 2020 than in the national popular vote and this difference will increase further as more New York votes are counted. In the 2016 election, the difference was 2.9 points.




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In the House of Representatives, the Democrats lead the Republicans 222-206 in seats, with seven races uncalled.

Republicans lead in all seven of these uncalled races. If they hold their leads, Democrats will win the House by just 222-213. That’s a net gain of 13 seats for Republicans from the 2018 midterm election.The Conversation

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

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

Scott Morrison’s message to China: Don’t pigeonhole us




Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Australia’s actions should not be seen just through the lens of the strategic competition between China and the United States, Scott Morrison has said in a speech rejecting “binary choices”.

With China casting Australia as an extension of America, disrupting trade, and citing multiple grievances, Morrison reaffirmed the importance Australia put on wanting a positive bilateral relationship.

“Australia desires an open, transparent and mutually beneficial relationship with China as our largest trading partner, where there are strong people-to-people ties, complementary economies and a shared interest in regional development and wellbeing, especially in the emerging economies of Southeast Asia,” he said.

Equally, Australia was “absolutely committed” to its alliance with the United States, based on a shared world view, liberal democratic values and market-based economics.

“And at all times we must be true to our values and the protection of our own sovereignty.”

He acknowledged the global competition between China and the US “presents new challenges, especially for nation states in the Indo-Pacific”. Like other countries in the region “our preference is not to be forced into binary choices”.

Addressing the British Policy Exchange on Monday night, Morrison warned that “our present challenge in the Indo-Pacific is the foretaste for so many others around the world, including the United Kingdom and Europe.”

Australia’s pursuit of its interests in the midst of the China-US strategic competition was made more complex by the assumptions made about its actions, he said.

“Our actions are wrongly seen and interpreted by some only through the lens of the strategic competition between China and the United States.

“It’s as if Australia does not have its own unique interests or views as an independent sovereign state. This is false and needlessly deteriorates relationships.

“If we are to avoid a new era of polarisation, then in the decades ahead, there must be a more nuanced appreciation of individual states’ interests in how they deal with the major powers. Stark choices are in no-one’s interests.

“Greater latitude will be required from the world’s largest powers to accommodate the individual interests of their partners and allies. We all need a bit more room to move,” Morrison said.

He said international institutions also had an important role as circuit breakers. “To provide the space and frameworks for meaningful and positive interaction to be maintained, as a bulwark against any emerging divide.”

Morrison talked up the role the OECD had to play “in support of open trade and market-based principles”. The Australian government is currently running a strong campaign to try to have former finance minister Mathias Cormann elected secretary-general of the OECD.

Morrison also noted the importance of the World Trade Organisation in promoting shared interests, as well as the G7-plus, and the Five-Eyes arrangement, where co-operation had extended beyond traditional security to the economic realm.

He lamented that “two of the most important economies in the region – the United States and India” had decided not to joint the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the recently-concluded Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership respectively.

“Of course, we respect those decisions. But they both remain welcome to join. Our response is straightforward.

“Working with our partners, we plan to make the TPP such a powerful force for open trade and investment that the US and, in the future, India and others will join without reservation. And that includes the UK.

“Interestingly, [China’s] President Xi Jinping has also now expressed interest in possible participation in the TPP,” Morrison said.

“The critical thing about the TPP is that it developed WTO-plus disciplines in key areas of intellectual property, digital commerce and state-owned enterprises.

“These are some of the areas where the WTO has fallen short.”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.

Morrison government commits $1 billion over 12 years for new vaccine manufacturing supply



PMO, Author provided

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The federal government has concluded a $1 billion agreement, funded over 12 years, with Seqirus to secure supply from a new high-tech manufacturing facility in Melbourne which would produce pandemic influenza vaccines as well as antivenoms.

This would boost Australia’s sovereignty when the country was faced with a future pandemic, and make for quick responses.

Seqirus, a subsidiary of CSL Ltd, will invest $800 million in the facility, which will be built at Tullamarine, near Melbourne airport. It will replace Seqirus’ facility in the inner Melbourne suburb of Parkville which is more than 60 years old. The Victorian government has supported the procurement of the land for the new operation.

Seqirus says the complex will be the only cell-based influenza vaccine manufacturing facility in the southern hemisphere, producing seasonal and pandemic flu vaccines, Seqirus’ proprietary adjuvant MF59 ®, Australian antivenoms and Q-Fever vaccine.

Work on construction will begin next year; the project will provide some 520 construction jobs. The facility is due to be fully operating by 2026, with the contract for supply of its products running to 2036.

The present agreement between the federal government and Seqirus is due to end in 2024-25.

Seqirus is presently the only company making influenza and Q fever vaccine in Australia, and the only one in the world making life-saving antivenom products against 11 poisonous Australian creatures, including snakes, marine creatures and spiders.

Scott Morrison said that “while we are rightly focused on both the health and economic challenges of COVID-19, we must also guard against future threats.

“This agreement cements Australia’s long-term sovereign medical capabilities, giving us the ability to develop vaccines when we need them.

“Just as major defence equipment must be ordered well in advance, this is an investment in our national health security against future pandemics,” he said.

Stressing the importance of domestic production capability, the government says when there is a global pandemic, countries with onshore capabilities have priority access to vaccines.

Health minister Greg Hunt said: “This new facility will guarantee Australian health security against pandemic influenza for the next two decades”.

Seqirus General Manager Stephen Marlow said: “While the facility is located in Australia, it will have a truly global role. Demand for flu vaccines continues to grow each year, in recognition of the importance of influenza vaccination programs. This investment will boost our capacity to ensure as many people as possible – right across the world – can access flu vaccines in the future.”

To deal with the present pandemic, the government has earlier announced $3.2 billion to secure access to over 134.8 million doses of potential COVID-19 vaccine candidates developed by the University of Oxford-Astra Zeneca and the University of Queensland, Pfizer-BioNTech and Novavax.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 prepares Australians for shocking news out of report on misconduct in Afghanistan


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government is setting up a special investigator office to examine the findings of the Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force’s inquiry into alleged misconduct by Australian special forces in Afghanistan between 2005 and 2016.

The office will assist and coordinate Australia Federal Police criminal investigations into matters raised by the inquiry, gather evidence and where appropriate refer briefs to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Ahead of next week’s release of the redacted report, prepared by Justice Paul Brereton, Scott Morrison warned it would be “difficult and hard news” for Australians to hear.

He said the Australian Defence Force had served in Afghanistan “with great sacrifice, while dealing with significant challenges”, and more generally, he was extremely thankful “to every Australian who chooses to put on our uniform”.

But “we need to ensure justice is truly served by illuminating the conduct of those who may have acted in ways that do not accord with the high standards expected of our ADF and those expectations held by the serving men and women of our ADF and their veterans community, past and present.”

Morrison said the conduct covered the time-span of three governments. “Our responsibility is to ensure now that we deal with this in a way that accords with our Australian standards of justice, that respects the rule of law, that provides the relevant checks and balances through this process, that upholds our values and standards and the respect that we have for our Defence Forces that they have earned and deserve”.

He stressed the need to “protect the vulnerable whether serving currently or who are in our veterans community who have no part in this ”.

While those accused of misconduct must be held accountable within the justice system and the Australian rule of law “responsibility must also be taken by leadership to ensure the lessons are learned and these events are never repeated”.

The inquiry has examined a raft of alleged breaches of the laws of armed conflict, including claims of murder and mistreatment, involving non-combatants and those being held prisoner.

The report covers not just specific allegations, but also the culture that allowed misbehaviour.

The government is also establishing a panel to oversee Defence’s broader response to the inquiry, covering cultural, organisational and leadership change. It will report to the defence minister.

Its members will be Vivienne Thom, a former inspector-general of intelligence and security, Robert Cornall, a former secretary of the attorney-general’s department, and Rufus Black, an ethicist and vice-chancellor of the University of Tasmania.

The special investigator will be a senior counsel or retired judge. The office will sit in the Home Affairs portfolio. It will have investigative staff from within the Australian Federal Police, state police experts and legal counsel.

The investigations would normally be handled by the AFP but the volume and complexity of the task is too great.

Morrison said it would operate as long as necessary.

Ben Roberts-Smith, a VC recipient in Afghanistan, who has been subject to allegations in the media, issued a statement on Thursday night.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.

View from The Hill: Morrison urges Biden to visit in 2021, as US result injects new force into Australia’s climate debate


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Scott Morrison has lost no time pivoting to the incoming US administration, declaring on Sunday he hopes Joe Biden and his wife Jill will visit Australia for next year’s 70th anniversary of ANZUS.

“This is a profound time, not just for the United States, but for our partnership and the world more broadly,” Morrison told a news conference.

“And I look forward to forging a great partnership in the spirit of the relationships that has always existed between prime ministers of Australia and presidents of the United States.”

Those around Morrison say the government is already familiar with many figures in the Biden firmament, who were players in the Obama years.

Morrison also thanked Donald Trump and his cabinet “with whom we have had a very, very good working relationship over the years of the Trump administration and, of course, that will continue through the transition period.”

Meanwhile, Anthony Albanese retrospectively sought to put a less controversial gloss on his Friday comment, when he said Morrison should contact Trump and convey “Australia’s strong view that democratic processes must be respected”.

On Sunday Albanese said: “What I suggested was that Scott Morrison needed to stand up for democracy. He’s done that in acknowledging the election of President-elect Biden”.

Within Australia political attention is quickly turning to what a Biden administration will mean for the Morrison government’s climate change policies, and how Biden will handle China.

With an activist climate policy a central feature of Biden’s agenda, including a commitment to net zero emissions by 2050 (which Australia has refused to embrace), Australia faces an increased risk of becoming isolated internationally on the issue.

That could have trade and investment implications, something of concern to the business community.

Morrison sought to highlight a common Australian-US commitment to technology.

He said he particularly welcomed campaign comments Biden made “when he showed a lot of similarity to Australia’s views on how technology can be used to address the lower emissions challenge.

“We want to see global emissions fall and it’s not enough for us to meet our commitments,” Morrison said.

“We need to have the transformational technologies that are scalable and affordable for the developing world as well, because that is where all the emissions increases are coming from … in the next 20 years,” he said.

“I believe we will have a very positive discussion about partnerships we can have with the United States about furthering those technological developments that will see a lower emissions future for the world but a stronger economy as well where we don’t say goodbye to jobs,” Morrison said.

Labor will use the Biden win as a springboard to ramp up its attack on the government over climate policy, including in parliament this week.

Albanese said Biden would reject “accounting tricks” like the government’s argument to be allowed to use carryover credits to reach emission reduction targets.

Former Liberal prime minister Malcolm Turnbull told the ABC the US result gave Morrison the opportunity to pivot on climate policy. Now was the time for him to say, “I don’t have to go on with all of the BS about a gas-led recovery, which is political piffle,” Turnbull said.

Chief of the Australian Industry Group Innes Willox said the Biden administration would place much more emphasis on climate change and energy policy.

“The commitment to net zero emissions by 2050 will encourage other economies to move down this path. We are already seeing significant steps in recent times from other major trading partners such as Japan, South Korea, the UK and the European Union.

“Australia, led by industry and investor action, is already headed this way without making a formal target commitment,” Willox said.




Read more:
Grattan on Friday: A Biden presidency would put pressure on Scott Morrison over climate change


Willox said independent Zali Steggall’s climate change bill – with a pathway to a 2050 target – provided an immediate opportunity to move the debate forward. The bill will be introduced on Monday.

“The Bill is non-partisan. 2050 is many changes of government away, but for some industries it’s just a couple of investment cycles,” Willox said. The Steggall bill is receiving considerable business support.

Willox said the other shift of importance for Australian industry from a Biden administration would be “the opportunity for the US to re-engage with China on trade and broader economic issues.

“Efforts to take the heat out of differences on global trade through a change in tone will be welcomed but there should be no illusion that a Biden administration would seek to markedly soften the US’s stance on key issues,” Willox said.

“The risk for Australia until now has been that we have been caught up as collateral damage in the US-China trade dispute.

“The future risk is that China may seek to substitute Australian exports in key sectors with goods from the US in an effort to reset their economic relationship,” Willox said.

Asked about the prospect of the US rejoining the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Morrison said, “I think it would be very early days to speculate on those matters. I would simply say to the United States, the door has always remained open on the TPP. It is open now. It will be open in the future and you are welcome any time.”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.