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Category Archives: News and Politics

Our greatest failure has been the decline of our democracy

When this corrupt conservative reign of appalling governance ends, as it must, and the COVID-19 virus has been erased – in the aftermath we will come to the realisation that everything must change. Not just Australia, but the world.

In particular, the way in which we conduct our politics.

Conservatives will be hard-pressed to explain how the science of climate that discovered our planet is overheating and threatening our existence is somehow different (and unbelievable) to the science that discovered a virus that also threatened great destruction.

We will also grasp the understanding that our current monetary system doesn’t work. Capitalism has failed because it has no understanding of society.

Capitalism matched to a government that is society sympathetic could work. One that has the common good at the centre of its philosophy.

We live in a failed system. Capitalism does not allow for an equitable flow of economic resources. With this system a small privileged few are rich beyond conscience and almost all others are doomed to be poor at some level.

It cannot measure our humanness and its intercourse with economics. It only measures black and white or profit and loss. It does however measure greed.

“The gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages… It measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom or our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.” (Robert F. Kennedy).

In this current crisis governments have had the very unique example of human health colliding with monetary systems and billions of dollars will have to be spent on a peoples’ health and propping up our financial systems.

It does, however, give the world an opportunity to pause and question whether capitalism without government regulation and greed without conscience should form a part of a modern world economy.

“Like moving mountains,” I hear you say. Well yes, to a degree, but a renaissance is possible.

We dislike and resist change in the foolish assumption that we can make permanent that which makes us feel secure. Yet change is in fact part of the very fabric of our existence.

Three weeks ago Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers advocated that the government deliver a social wellbeing budget, including environmental outcomes alongside traditional financial indicators in the nation’s books.

He was very serious about it.

Extending it further it would give government the opportunity to wean itself off the multitude of ways it opens for the rich and privileged to reduce their tax and make companies pay tax and for companies not to receive subsidies unless they could demonstrate a return for the taxpayer.

All Jim Chalmers got for his educated suggestion was a decent serve from Josh Freydenberg, reported Katherine Murphy:.

“Now I want you to picture this alternative,” Frydenberg said. “The member for Rankin is about to deliver his first wellbeing budget. He walks in, barefoot, into the chamber … robes are flowing, incense is burning … beads in one hand and speech in the other … gone are the seats, gone are the benches … and in their place, meditation mats for all, Mr Speaker … hugs for all, Mr Speaker”.

Besides an apology to those Hindus he had offended he ended up with egg all over his face when he found himself making decisions that, had they gone into the usual May budget, would equate to a wellbeing humanist socialist budget.

Of course he won’t admit to it but his rolling fiscal stimulus is an emergency wellbeing budget. More so because the regular budget has been put back until October. (A scandal in itself)

Wellbeing budgets can be refined over time as objectives and priorities are decided but at the core of there intent should be a fairer distribution of the countries wealth and equality of opportunity both economically and educationally. Economics must touch base with society.

If the conservative President Abraham Lincoln was looking over my shoulder he might repeat one of his famous quotes:

“Labour is prior to and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labour, and could never have existed if labour had not first existed. Labour is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”

As I said at the beginning, these current tragic events have given us cause to reflect on our economics and our wellbeing but we also need to address the sort of democracy we want to be and the society that overlays it.

We must ask ourselves if we are content with the narcissistic, self-interested dog eat dog individualistic, stuff my neighbour, greed is good society we have now or can we dare for the want of something superior.

Will the events of this Australian summer, as ongoing and dreadful as they are, be the catalyst that might wake us from the political malaise that has bogged us down in a quagmire of narcissism? It’s the individual first second and third.

Every part of society, when you think about it, has been indoctrinated with a nefarious, conservative me first. Attitude that has seen the common good almost vanish.

“Is it not possible to hope that there are some people of integrity who might form a centrist party dedicated to honest government for all and the principles of “from each according to her/his ability, to each according to her/his need”? (Origin uncertain).

There will of course be various views as to what comprises a society. Here are mine (you may find them a touch idealistic, but that’s just my manner):

Simply put, my society Incubuses a collective of people who have a desire to express themselves in every human endeavour. A collective who have at the very centre of there being aspirations to express their humanity, work, aspirations, spirituality, art, poetry and play with the richest possible diversity.

My society would have empathy instilled in their learning. Common good at the centre of their politics regardless of ideology.

This common good with equality of opportunity for all would be enshrined in its constitution.

A society where one’s sexual preference or gender is not a judgement upon your character and the colour of your skin says nothing about you other than perhaps your geographical place of birth.

The common good, or empathy for it, should be at the centre of any political philosophy. However it is more likely to be found on the left than the right.

My society advances the right of the individual to pursue whatever desires he/she has including the pursuit of wealth, which would only be regulated by the principles of the collective common good.

In other words, everyone is entitled to an equitable share of society’s wealth.

Freedom of expression would be guaranteed.

An enlightened society in which the suggestion that we need to legislate ones’ right to hate another person is considered intellectually barren.

Health and welfare of all would be at the forefront of its common-good philosophy.

Sacrosanct for all and access to treatment would be assured.

Most importantly, the principle that we should treat others in the same manner as we expect them to treat us would be indelible in the mind of every citizen.

My society would have a healthy respect for science over myth and mysticism, but at the same time recognise that each individual has a right to express their individual spirituality in their own way so long as it doesn’t corrupt the aspirations of ‘commongoodism’.

My society that would be judged by its welcoming, and the treatment it provides for its most vulnerable citizens.

Accessibility to the law regardless of stature or wealth would be available to everyone.

In democratic societies (the best – or least bad form of government) our herding instincts are realised by the election of leaders who form government.

A ‘fitness to serve’ stipulation would seek a clause in our constitution so as to as much as possible guarantee the most qualified serve in our parliament.

The rise of narcissism and inequality and the demise of compassion illustrate the state of the world.

My ideal society would be one that acknowledges that a group mentality advances society better than dictatorial individuality.

If we are to live in a democracy then it is the government that decides and regulates the progress and ambitions of society.

Or at least provides the environment in which to do so.

The Liberal Party has always been a party of elites and would bes. The idea that economics and society are intertwined is abhorrent to them. Economics is the domain of the rich and privileged and society belongs to those of class and privilege.

In reality there is very little that is done in the name of progress that cannot be credited in some way to government.

Individual or collective ambition can only be achieved within a social structure built and controlled by a government that is sympathetic to it.

Those of you who follow my daily political mutterings on Facebook will probably know that first and foremost I am passionate about thwarting the decline in our democracy and the corruption that accompanies it. Amid the daily enraged voices of doing over one’s opponent there must be people with a genuine desire to change the way our democracy functions. There has never been a better opportunity.

My thought for the day

The notion that a few privileged individuals can own the vast majority of a countries wealth and the remainder own little is on any level unsustainable, politically, economically or morally.

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Morrison abandons democracy; installs junta to cope with COVID-19

“There’s a concept of economy and efficiency. You should have just enough beds for what you need tomorrow. You shouldn’t prepare for the future. Right? So the hospital system’s crashing. Simple things like tests which you can easily get in a country South Korea, you can’t get here.

So the coronavirus, which should be controlled in a functioning society, is going out of hand here. We’re just not ready for it. What we’re good at, what our leaders are good at, and have been very good at for the last 40 years, is pouring money into the pockets of the rich and the corporate executives while everything else crashes.” (Noam Chomsky on a US health system which has parallels with Australia’s).

Shock and awe seize the nation in Scotty’s Dad’s Army war on Coronavirus. It’s a sound and light show. The PM does the narration. Lights go up Monday to reveal a helicopter gunship. Alongside an SAS chap at the controls, but keeping his social distance, is nifty Nev Power, a battle-hardened former Fortescue Metals (FMG) CEO.

Every PM’s Office press drop repeats the battle-hardened mantra as Nev abseils into our political theatre while Scotty explains Power’s new power, without really making anything any clearer. Truth is the first casualty of war but Morrison cloaks his communications with a thicket of evasions, distractions, diversions and outright lies.

Having no clue what he’s dealing with, or how to deal with it, only compounds his straight-talking problem. A third tranche of measures to support the economy is on the way, he tells a mystified nation, Friday.

How he loves that word, tranche. A slice. There will be a plan, he says, to hibernate Australian businesses. This means on the other side, the employees come back, the opportunities come back, the economy comes back, adds, baffling everybody.

His big lie is that COVID-19 will only hurt a little bit. The PM loves reassuring platitudes. He invokes verbal images of cushions, bridges – including his favourite pneumatic children’s castle; “bouncing back” all figures of speech washing over us in a torrent of fatuous, flatulent garrulity.

And boosterism. Scotty and Hunt love to pat themselves on the back. We’ve done more tests than the US or the UK, two of the world’s worst COVID-19 testers. Our 163,000 tests, are almost five times as many as Britain; 25 times as many as the United States, ScoMo crows.

Give the man a lapel pin. But our results suggest an infection rate increase of twenty-five per cent per day. Morrison neglects to say we can expect 90,000 Covid-19 cases by Easter; 2.5 million by Anzac Day. Surely a PM could stress how infectious the virus is. One Australian can infect three others. 400 can catch the virus in a month. And in contrast to other countries such as Singapore and South Korea, we are slack at following up results.

If between five million and 15 million Australians are infected … it would mean 35,000-105,000 Australians will die from the Coronavirus, an upbeat Peter Van Onselen calculates cheerily. But what of the recession or depression it brings? We are poorly equipped to help those hundreds of thousands of workers who no longer have jobs.

Close to three million workers could find themselves unemployed as a result of an estimated twenty-two per cent decline in household spending, calculates Melbourne University economist, Professor Jeff Borland, basing his estimate on the two main groups of industries likely to be most affected – ‘other store-based retailing (that is, retailing apart from food, fuel and motor vehicles)’ and ‘food and beverage services’.

Morrison’s big lie to those “decent Australians” who find themselves jobless overnight is predicated on a social welfare system which has been fine-tuned by successive coalition governments to punish needy dole-bludgers for being improvident and a drain on the system. This animus extends to all pensioners, be they aged or disabled. You must, moreover, furnish proof of your entitlement. The Robodebt extortion racket reverses the onus of proof.

It will take until 27 April before anyone gets any Centrelink money because that’s how the system’s designed.

Dutton coup numbers man Matthias Cormann confirms “even using the existing system, the existing processes and programs, this is the amount of time it takes to get this additional level of support into the community”.

Labor asks why the government doesn’t deploy the single touch payroll system which gives real-time data on employees — to create a different base from which to pay wage subsidies. But that would involve dialogue. Compassion. And the empathy consultant seems to have gone into social isolation. Or is it hibernation?

The ABC’s Laura Tingle notes that boofhead Boris Johnson’s Tory government in the UK is already able to provide a wage subsidy of 80 per cent of your previous wage capped at 2,500 pounds a month. Our bonzer, newly renamed with bonus reduced stigma, Jobseeker payment offers a mere eighty per cent of the minimum wage.

Instead, we have announceables and an alarming absence of good faith in Morrison’s government by spin. Keeping us safe is his greatest priority?

Conspicuously missing from the PM’s “conversation” his buzz-word for lecture; talk down to, is the great hoax of border protection – which is now surely well and truly exposed for what it always was – a lie based on the greater lie that others mean us harm.

At LAX there had been masked staff controlling the spacing in such areas. In Australia there was no sanitiser on counters, nor were staff using any as they stood close and took our smeared customs forms. The crackdown on foreign arrivals is symbolic bullshit. Those of us who arrived are as likely to have been infected by under-protected airport staff as they were by us, reports Guy Rundle on his recent return to work in Crikey.

We were quick to close the door to China but far too late to take similar action with Italy and the US. Then there’s the inexplicable fiasco over the Ruby Princess, our own Typhoid Mary which let 150 sick passengers ashore – a figure disputed by NSW Health – while passengers departed to a dozen different countries. 

Or visited local nursing homes. And other states, making it the single, biggest source of infection in the nation.

Jewel in the crown of the extraordinary story of our nation’s epic battle with Coronavirus pandemic terror, is the Ruby Princess, a cruise ship, aka gin palace, named for a precious stone symbolising purity, nobility and passion which let 2647 passengers disembark at Sydney’s Circular Quay, Thursday, despite a ship’s doctor’s treating thirteen on board for symptoms of respiratory illness.

158 passengers report ill yet Sydney port officials are told that there is no-one sick on board. Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt is adamant that ships “arrive under strict conditions”. NSW Health classifies Ruby Princess as low-risk. Why? It comes from New Zealand. Seriously.

What could possibly go wrong? Luckily our fabulous “abundance of caution” kicks in, explains Chief Health Officer, Dr Kerry Chant in an hilarious disclaimer; all cruise ship passengers’ swabs are tested for COVID-19.

At least four prove positive, but other infected thrill-seekers swarm ashore to hit the high spots in Sydney and beyond  – despite an inspired Inspector Clouseau-like expedient of texting passengers a full day after they have gone ashore. Border control by text?

Our highest priority is keeping Australians safe, the PM insists. His empty rhetoric is now self-parody. His government wants to keep Australia trading as long as it possibly can before its corporate sponsors succumb to economic recession. Or worse. At the same time, he’s shutting things down; stage 3 restrictions are imminent.

Scotty’s verbiage betrays his fear that the virus will find him out; we are woefully unprepared as the result of a series of funding cuts to public health launched by Tony Abbott. Our hospitals and healthcare system is already stretched beyond its capacity. We ignored COVID-19 warnings from the World Health Organisation months ago.

Top marks to Brad Hazzard, the wonderfully named dud NSW Health Minister -who may have failed to do his job with any degree of competence – but who is at least prepared to fess up publicly; own his own egregious stuff-up.

“If I had my opportunity to have my two bob’s worth, with the benefit of what we now know about those … people, I’d have said yeah, maybe we should hold them on the ship,” he says in marked contrast to his boss.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian blames the Federal government and the Australian Border Force (ABF). Peter Dutton perks up in recovery from his own COVID-19 infection to say it’s all the fault of the NSW state government. An edifying slanging match erupts.

Ruby Princess passengers boost NSW’s confirmed cases. Total infections in the state jump by 186 to more than 1,617 on Saturday morning. It is the second consecutive day that the total number of new cases in the state is up. Abundance of caution? Or panic stations? At least 26 other passengers test positive to the virus outside NSW.

But, look over there. Command and control fuse seamlessly with chaos and confusion in the latest twist in the plot of our edgy national political soap opera. Clueless Scotty gets in a former mining CEO to do his job for him.

Nothing shrieks medical expertise and nuanced public relations as much as Nev’s career digging rocks out of the ground. He was CEO at the time FMG lodged its Solomon Hub Pilbara land rights decision appeal to the Federal Court, an appeal which the company lost on all counts in 2019.

Local Yinjibarndi people keep their native title to their 2,700 square kilometres of Pilbara land and are eligible for compensation. But Nev is moving up and on.

Nifty Nev will get on well with Morrison’s Chief of staff, John Kunkel, a former CEO at the Minerals Council of Australia, (MCA) who fits in like Flynn with Scotty’s senior adviser, Brendan Pearson, another former MCA CEO, who once worked for ecocidal monster US coal miner Peabody Energy.

Pearson provided Morrison’s infamous lacquered lump of coal for the then Treasurer’s notorious 2017 show and tell (no props allowed) of energy agnosticism in parliament. “This is coal. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be scared.”

What is truly scary is that Morrison has just created a whole new layer of government, his own National COVID-19 Coordination Commission or NCCC. Morrison calls his jumped-up junta “eminent Australians”.

Eminent Australians are next rung up from decent Australians who are losing their jobs; distinguished in government despatches from unworthy bludgers who don’t have jobs and who must be punished by Robodebt.

Eminent? They are certainly part of our corporate ruling elite. Deputy Chair of Power’s power elite, is Dave Thodey who did big things for six years as Telstra’s CEO.

How big is buying video streaming company OOYALA for over $500m in 2014 and writing it down to nothing in 2018? Dave’s also chair of what’s left of the CSIRO, cut down to size by the anti-science Coalition. No longer a portfolio on its own, Science is a bit-player in the portmanteau, Industry, Science and Technology.

But Dave’s had a fair bit of help. In 2014, Abbott’s $110 million science funding cut preceded a loss of 1400 staff across CSIRO. In 2013 CSIRO’s annual report listed 6500 staff overall. By 2015, staff had fallen to 5100. It’s just lost twenty per cent of staff from its Energy Business Unit just days ahead of the Morrison government’s carbon reduction roadmap.

Yet our ruling junta can’t be accused of being exclusively corporate fat cats. Greg Combet, now a lobbyist for industry super, is token leftie on a team of business types which includes career mandarin, Jane Halton, who headed the government’s people-smuggling team during John Howard’s children overboard fraud. Catherine Tanna became MD of Energy Australia, which hates paying tax and is on the boards of the RBA and the BCA.

True, big Paul Little, amassed a net worth of $950m running Toll Group for two decades. And from property investment. But just because you are one of Australia’s richest men, doesn’t mean you lack insight or compassion. It may just be very well concealed.

Speaking of compassion and rounding out the team are our top two Canberra shiny bums, Home Affairs Secretary, Prime Minister and Cabinet, head, Mike Pezzullo and Phil Gaetjens, two of our most powerful if not public-spirited mandarins, both of whom are always eager to assist senate committees with inquiries.

Or, in fabulous Phil’s case conduct their own exemplary-how-to exonerate- Bridget McKenzie of breaching the ministerial code in a secret Star Chamber inquiry.

Is this Covid-19 pandemic, a medical emergency or an economic meltdown? Will the economic considerations take priority over social issues? Morrison’s staffing of his NCCC leaves us in no doubt as to his government’s view. Sadly, as Michael Keating writes, it seems unaware that good health policy is good for the economy.

Scotty waffles on about how the new commission will coordinate decisions across governments and the private sector. Co-ordinate decisions? How good is that?  It will also advise government on re-purposing manufacturing for essential equipment, and shifting staff from defunct industries to areas that need them.

It will be spoilt for choice there. Given the way the economy is tanking, defunct industries will be in abundance. Virgin Australia, for example, has taken a bit of a hit, as has QANTAS now that no-one’s allowed to fly.

A colour-coded spreadsheet, perhaps? Someone at the PM’s Office should be able to help with that.

Commissioner Power will solve problems with supply chains and staff. It won’t be easy. Someone at HQ forgot to order tests, face-masks and other PPE. Fart-arsing and dithering over what we’re doing in the policy space with a lethal pathogen needs a bit of a fine-tune. The National Cabinet, a rebadged COAG with a few tame medicos on hand to baffle media is doing a top job. But it’s a bit bolshie. Even with the Leader of the Opposition excluded. The NCCC will run things Scotty’s way. There’s been a bit of States’ rebellion over letting children got to school. Nev’s boys will fix all that.

How will NCCC work? “They will say ‘Prime Minister, we need you to do this. We need you to authorise this. We recommend that you take these actions to get these problems sorted’,” Scotty from marketing explains making the blatant out-sourcing of his own cabinet’s job sound so terribly democratic. Morrison seems dead keen to be spared the hassle of being a democratic leader – or making any decisions at all for a good five months at least. Or clearing up the sports rorts mystery.

The logo NCCC is emblazoned on the Hawk’s undercarriage to help get the message out that the brand spanking new National COVID-19 Coordination Commission is hi-jacking our democracy a little bit for a while.

Scotty’s been copping a bit of stick for not getting his message out and generally confusing everyone over hairdressers and his crafty herd immunity by stealth approach to Coronavirus. ‘It’s essential, unless it’s not. Then it’s essentially not essential. I can’t be clearer,’” tweets Shane Warne.

Never has the accidental PM’s addled thinking been on such public display. Nor at such great cost to so many.

Every job is essential. Sacred. You can’t have a virus wrecking the Holy Economy, amen. Children who don’t always suffer COVID-19 severely are great at spreading the virus. But they must attend school. Parents may be vital healthcare workers.

Infect Mum and Dad or Grandma? Hairdressers can stay open but beauticians must close? Childcare must continue while some schools close? The NCCC will fine-tune the rules. Don’t you worry about that.

Expect a lot of operational secrecy and deference from Power, a man who owes his loyalty to Morrison alone.

 “When I rang him the other day, I simply said, ‘Nev, I need you to serve your country.’ And he quickly responded … and he stepped up.” How good is Scotty’s authority? Puts this whole Coronavirus thing on to a war footing. Ticks a lot of boxes. Nationalism. Despotism. Secrecy. Smart-arse questions will just be un-Australian.

Morrison is ever in quest of a populist paramilitary, patriotic note or vote. Doubtless, Commissioner Nev’s lapel badge is in the mail already. Along with a salary commensurate with experience. Iron ore is falling in price as the coronavirus pandemic lowers demand from China so it may well prove Power’s golden parachute.

Some experts predict acute oversupply, a scenario which could cut prices from US$80 to $50 per tonne.

Nev’s our new dictator for the next five months or so. At least. Scotty’s got him in to not only to dodge questions but to chair our brand-spanking National COVID-19 Coordination Commission (NCCC). NCCC will “coordinate advice” to Morrison’s utterly clueless government on “actions to anticipate and mitigate the economic and social effects of the global coronavirus pandemic”.

In brief, Nev will do a fair bit of damage control and disaster relief. Power’s mining background makes him a perfect captain’s pick to poppet-head the junta of lobbyists, state premiers, media and other mineral lobby Muppets who already run our kakistocracy.

Not only that, Nev’s got stacks of self-saucing, trickle-down magic pudding stimulus mess-kits to chuck at unlucky punters out looking for work. Lucky punters who own businesses or run banks get the bulk of the money which the government’s printing up as we speak, just to keep the wheels of trade and commerce oiled.

Surprisingly, Nev’s entrance upstages ScoMo and Co’s Ice Follies Show, Morrison’s long-running tableaux vivant of bunnies frozen rigid in the headlights of a monster, runaway debt truck. News Corp critics give Nev rave reviews. No-one listens to Dr Norman Swan who is always, full of sage advice and timely warning. What would he know?

Boosting Cash Flow for Employers (BCFE) is a bill which allows businesses up to $100,000 to small and medium-sized businesses which employ people. It is an article of neoliberal faith which trumps experience, both here and in the US when tax cuts did not trickle-down into increased wages but were more likely to boost share dividends, paying debt or extra cash reserves. In the Coronavirus recession, how many businesses will even be trading?

The frenetic turd polishing on display is a record-breaking, world-class spectacle. The magic pudding trick, or corporate welfare is already into its third, new, improved, upscaled, version before its world premiere.

It’s a spectacular stunt, a patent cure-all miracle message in a basin – a centrepiece of Dr Scotty’s Flatten that Curve, fatten a banker, salvation by corporate welfare, Travelling Medicine show.

A standing ovation erupts across the self-isolation void of our times. Few spot the failure of our caseload curve to flatten at all, as cases quadruple in a week. Or our reverse Robin Hood Treasurer who nicks a nation’s housekeeping to keep needy banks, airlines, casinos, coalmines and other essential services afloat.

Luckily, there’ll be no awkward questions. Parliament is suspended for five months. Our hand-picked crew of fat cats and business-class passengers who’ll be doing Scotty’s job for him are accountable only to him.

Scotty’s been setting the tone. Panic-buying – unless it’s the government’s quest for face-masks and PPE or new stationery is “ridiculous” and “un-Australian”. ScoMo also has a go at all those thronging Bondi or St Kilda Beach for not taking seriously the requirements for physical distancing. There’ll be an ADF team taking care of that.

A monstrous double-standard stalks the land, as Simon Longstaff notes in Crikey. Morrison can lecture us all he likes on how we must take responsibility for our actions. Let him wag his finger until it falls off.

“It’s just a terrible pity that the potency of the message is undermined by the hypocrisy of the messengers — a group that has refused to take responsibility for pretty much anything.”

Warnings of a global meltdown just around the corner comes as a bit of a shock to the mug punter. Morrison’s magical medicine show helps keep it that way. Before the week is out, his government’s spin that the recession is caused solely by a rogue, Far Eastern, pathogen, a Wuhan flu, hardens into gospel truth. Coronavirus is a perfect scapegoat for seven years of coalition economic mismanagement in a world facing a growing debt crisis. You never hear a reporter challenge the PM on it.

“We know everyone is overleveraged, full bore, full risk,” says Lindsay David of LF Economics. “All we were waiting for was a trigger and unfortunately that has come in the form of a health crisis.”

COVID19, the disease resulting from severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is not only a world-wide pandemic, infecting 601,536 people worldwide by 9:30 pm AEST Saturday, causing 27,441 deaths and wreaking havoc with trade, commerce and industry – it may help blow up a financial system which rewards businesses for borrowing well beyond their capacity to pay back, just to keep operating. Cue Philip Lowe.

Thunderous applause breaks out at 4:00pm, Thursday 19 March, as the nation thrills to a bravura soft-shoe shuffle from Reserve Bank Boss, Pianissimo Philip Lowe, our High Priest of polymer money has an act which is reserve personified in a gig where bland is beautiful and cautious, tortured, understatement rules.

In Lowe’s low-key lowdown is one key line: “funding markets are open only to the highest quality borrowers“. Or the shit has hit the fan for companies, fattened on a decade of cheap money, who now find themselves about to go out of business thanks to a virus which has caused the cost of borrowing to sky-rocket as skittish foreign lenders seek to stay afloat in the wen of corruption and deception that is the international money-market.

Masters of illusion, the Morrison government will pump our money into monopoly capitalism’s deepest pockets, while making it appear as if it’s a rescue package for small to medium enterprises.

Why? Banks are risk-averse. When lending money, they will avoid high-risk small to medium enterprises and do business instead with a government-guaranteed airline, for example, or an oil or gas multinational paying no tax or an essential services oligopoly paying little tax.

As Michael West points out the government has surrendered control of its money-printing programme to the Reserve bank and its club of banksters. Paragons of fiscal virtue. They include a Commonwealth Bank which can take money from people who’ve been dead for a decade as evidenced at Kenneth Hayne’s Royal Commission.

It’s also helping out the banks by giving them cash for assets which the banks are keen to offload. To West, it’s confirmation that Morrison and Co “really have trouble governing”.

Job-seekers will get to eat for at least six months as the old New Start becomes a Job-seeker Allowance topped up by $550 a fortnight via a thoughtfully “time-limited” Coronavirus Supplement (about half the median weekly rent in Sydney) while businesses get “up to $100,000” to stop them laying off workers if they haven’t shut up shop.

Of course, there’s more to Morrison’s corona-recession busting but it’s a timely shift of focus as the evidence mounts that our federal government has a lot to answer for in its phony war on the pandemic, its own show of Much ado about Nothing. The truth is that it’s bragged, boasted, self-promoted and talked itself up a treat but at every turn, it has failed to hatch any plan for action. We need to demand more of our politicians.

“They were warned twelve weeks ago by the WHO what was coming”, Bill Bowtell tells The Saturday Paper’s, Mike Seccombe. Architect of Australia’s response to the AIDS epidemic, Adjunct professor at the Kirby Institute for infection and immunity at NSW University, Bowtell articulates every Australian’s dismay at the Morrison government’s inertia; its paralysis in the face of impending disaster.

They ignored the warnings. They did not accumulate test kits. They did not accumulate the necessary emergency equipment. They did not undertake a public education campaign. They gave no money to science, no money to research, no money to the International Vaccine Institute, no money to WHO.

Bowtell’s interview follows his appearance on Q&A, where he challenges the government’s disinformation. He holds to account former chippie, Senator Richard Colbeck, Minister for Aged Care, Youth and Sport, who fills in for the PM or his Health Minister who must be in social isolation or witness protection somewhere. Perhaps, they’ve gone to the footy or are booking flights to Hawaii for when it all dies down.

“I’d like to ask the Minister, where are you getting this idea that older Australians are more vulnerable than anybody else? On the figures released tonight in New South Wales, almost 80% of the caseload in New South Wales, which we’re assured by Brad Hazzard is going up exponentially, 80% of them are younger than 60.”  Colbeck defers to the CMO but misinforms his audience.

Later in the week, Bondi and other popular Sydney beaches are closed because young people are flouting government instruction regarding distancing. The World Health Organisation is worried.

“Today I have a message for young people: you are not invincible. This virus could put you in hospital for weeks – or even kill you,” warns World Health Organisation’s Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

“Even if you don’t get sick, the choices you make about where you go could be the difference between life and death for someone else.”

Yet it would be unfair to say the Coalition is doing nothing; the need to act on Coronavirus and the global economic meltdown it brings with it vastly energises Aloha Morrison and his government. It’s hard work causing panic. And pressers to tell a nation just how great a job you’re doing don’t run themselves, you know.

In the sunny uplands of international politics, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) is flooding the market with dirt-cheap Saudi crude in a mad attempt to break Russia, whilst arresting rivals uncle, Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, and cousin, Mohammed bin Nayef, whom he usurped as Crown Prince in 2017 – it’s a diversion, at least, from dismembering journalists who dare speak the truth about his despotism. It certainly helps depress Wall Street.

King Salman, MbS’ 84-year-old father, will be sidelined soon as his son jockeys for power, lest chief ally Donald Trump lose the November presidential election to Joe Biden. But the oil strategy is foolhardy. Demand is collapsing given the economic recession triggered by the Coronavirus – our Great Plague 2.0 –  MbS is just like his mentor Trump. Neither will tolerate dissent; nor heed practical advice.

Equally headstrong and peerless when it comes to dud judgement or malignant narcissism, Trump’s poodle, Boris Johnson, backs down on his herd immunity excuse for doing nothing which would put at least six million Britons at risk of severe symptoms and kill off the UK’s run-down public health system. Ironically he gets the plague himself.

Britain, along with Australia and the US, has ignored warnings published by Chinese doctors and scientists in The Lancet 23 January, detailing the virus in Wuhan a city of eleven million, the capital of Hubei province. The virus had already spread to Thailand, Japan and South Korea. They urged careful surveillance in the light of its pandemic potential, editor Richard Horton reports.

Belatedly, the UK has implemented new social distancing measures based on modelling by Imperial College and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine which predicted 260,000 deaths – not just from COVID-19 but from other illnesses a stretched NHS could not treat.

Our own NCCC and its inept Morrison government would do well to take note.

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COVID-19 and the Exposure of Neoliberalism

The acolytes of neoliberalism are likely to view this piece as politicising the current crisis. I care not. For decades we have been told that coddling big business and the rich will generate a prosperous society for all. This was always a lie, but until recently the oligarchs have been able to get away with it. The ever-increasing demands of the petulant child that is modern pseudo-capitalism have been tied successfully to the prosperity of the wider society. Any attempt at reform, to actually distribute some of the prosperity to the peasants was decried as socialism. This while these hypocrites gladly partook in consistent corporate socialism. As I stated in a previous post, socialism per se is not the problem; it just has to go to the right people.

The COVID 19 pandemic has exposed the utter failure of neoliberalism. Whether it is the utter obsession with getting the peasants back to work, up to and including sacrificing lives to the market gods, or the refusal to lock down countries because freedom, this philosophy is exposed. Even Morrison said that his measures to stimulate the economy, more than half of which were for the banks, should not go so far as to ‘bury the budget for a decade’. He is still obsessed with his blessed budget surplus. Neoliberalism is thus exposed as a fair-weather philosophy. When everything is fine and the economy (the stock market) is doing well, it and its advocates are fine. But when a crisis hits and the government is actually required to, you know, do something, they are utterly out of their depth.

The Failure of Neoliberalism, Part One: Government Fails because we Broke It

There is an old rightwing trope that says

The nine most dangerous words in the English language are ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help’

Government is not the solution, so the logic went, it is the problem. What they did not tell the rubes to whom they sold that snake oil was that the reason government did not work is that they broke it. They defunded the various agencies (looking at you Trump for firing the pandemic experts at the CDC and cutting its funding among many others) which created the situation of their not working. This is the charge often levelled at the right of creating their own success. They break government, usually by defunding it, so it is ineffective and then say it does not work so this function of government must be privatised.

It is noteworthy that it is only ever those aspects of government that help the ordinary Joe and Jane that are undermined though. If an aspect of government can help the donors of the corporate cuckolds who currently occupy the majority in the representative body, that will be funded to the hilt (quite literally in the case of the armed forces). This is yet another version of socialism is not the problem, the wrong recipients are.

The Failure of Neoliberalism, Part Two: Profit Motives in Essential Services 

As I stated in a previous post, certain essential services such as health, the armed forces, prisons and so on have had a profit motive built into them. The private sector does everything better because competition, they whined. This turned out to be a lie, of course. The result was policy being guided towards increasing the profits of these industries. Famous examples include private prisons demanding that laws be changed to place more bodies in beds. In the context of the current crisis, the for-profit health industry in the United States is the most egregious example. One woman, for instance, received a bill for nearly $35k for her COVID 19 treatment. Yes she had an underlying condition, but still, it takes a particularly ghoulish governing philosophy to profit off people’s sickness, but this is what the American health system has done. Tieing private profit to public services is yet another of the major failings of neoliberalism.

Where to Now? The Next Order

When the world eventually recovers from COVID 19, serious structural questions will be asked, at least by those outside the corporate establishment. Clearly, neoliberalism was not equipped to handle the crisis that was COVID 19. Demands for structural reform will come thick and fast. Here is a list of suggestions for these reforms. A new Bill of Rights so to say

  1. The Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches, at the local, state and federal level, shall be duly elected by the people. The electoral process shall also be funded by the people through tax revenue. Any and all donations from any third-party source for any reason, are hereby deemed unconstitutional and will be prosecuted. Elections shall be clean. Any previous rulings, legislation or executive orders/actions on this topic are hereby voided. This provision shall not be overruled by Executive, Legislative or Judicial action.
  2. There shall be no monopolies, whether of media or any other commodity. Pre-existing monopolies shall be broken up. This provision shall not be overruled by Executive, Legislative or Judicial action.
  3. The financial industry, including but not limited to, banking and investment firms, shall be limited in terms of their value. This will be known as the ‘too big to fail, too big to exist’ clause. This provision shall not be overruled by Executive, Legislative or Judicial action.
  4. A minimum hourly wage shall be set, and chained to inflation and productivity. In addition, a Universal Basic Income shall be instituted. This provision shall not be overruled by Executive, Legislative or Judicial action
  5. The social contract shall be enforced; education to all levels, universal healthcare and generous pensions/social security shall be paid for out of tax revenue. This provision shall not be overruled by Executive, Legislative or Judicial action
  6. Tax evasion by corporate entities shall be investigated and, if a violation is discovered, prosecuted and the revenue recovered three fold. This provision shall not be overruled by Executive, Legislative or Judicial action.
  7. Free-trade agreements from previous times are hereby declared null and void. No agreement of such a nature shall be entered into under any circumstances. This provision shall not be overruled by Executive, Legislative or Judicial action
  8. The domestic rights of free speech, freedom of the press, assembly, protest and petition for redress of grievances shall be upheld.This provision shall not be overruled by Executive, Legislative or Judicial action
  9.  The use of military force, under the supreme command of the Executive, shall only be undertaken in response to an immediate and materialised threat; pre-emptive war shall not be undertaken under any circumstances. Such actions shall be grounds for impeachment of the Executive. This provision shall not be overruled by Executive, Legislative or Judicial action
  10. The privacy of the people in their persons, papers, effects, residences, electronic devices shall not be violated without a warrant obtained from an impartial judge under strict scrutiny with probable cause. Extraordinary circumstances shall not serve to circumvent this provision, nor to lower the legal standard. This provision shall not be overruled by Executive, Legislative or Judicial action.

Pipedreams? Perhaps, but it is wise to ask for much more than you hope to get.

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An incompetent and careless government is a threat to us all

This government’s preparedness and response to emergency situations fails every test.

I highlighted this in my recent article; ‘We were once prepared for this‘ in which I wrote:

In the dying days of the Howard government they were very mindful of a couple of viruses, H5N1 (avian influenza), or bird flu as it was better known as, and H1N1, which was known as swine flu, that in a worse-case scenario could bring the world to its knees. That is, a global pandemic. Which includes us.

We had to be prepared for it…

Battle plans for such an event hit the drawing-board in 2007; an initiative of the Howard government – readying the country for the worst – and some time later the program was given life again by the Rudd government, with a significant increase in funding.

You may wish to read the whole article. It is not crucial that you do, but I encourage you as it provides a glimpse into the Coalition’s indifference to the threat of a pandemic.

Let’s now go back to 2007. I refer you to Australia’s Preparedness for a Human Influenza Pandemic. Due to copyright I cannot reproduce any of the report so I draw your attention to Section 2.43 on page 59 and the importance of thermal scanners being deployed at airports.

What is so good about thermal scanners? Here is a succinct explanation:

In efforts to contain the highly contagious virus causing COVID-19, thermal cameras, set up at checkpoints or hand-held by personnel at airports, borders, and entrances to businesses, schools, and other institutions, are being used to screen large numbers of people for elevated body temperatures quickly and reliably.

A high temperature does not necessarily indicate that the person is infected with the coronavirus, but it is the first step in identifying its presence. People with a high temperature are taken for further testing and, if they test positive, are isolated until treatment can begin.

Thermal scanning should be utilised as the first step in ‘catching’ and ultimately containing the disease, and this is practised in a growing number of countries.

I say “well done” to the authors of Australia’s Preparedness for a Human Influenza Pandemic report 2007/2008 for including the use of thermal scanning in airports as one of their key recommendations.

Now let’s jump to the present day and the same report prepared in August 2019: Australian Health Management Plan for Pandemic Influenza. Again, as with the previous report I cannot reproduce any of the content due to copyright reasons. But I draw your attention to page 136, and there – right up the top of the page – the use of thermal scanners is Not recommended, stating, bewilderingly, that their effectiveness is low and their use is an impediment to travellers.

Instead, as summarised on page 127 of the report, the traveller will be confronted with pamphlets and brochures etc.

What is going to be of the most critical importance in the identification of even one person who is carrying the coronavirus: thermal scanning or a pamphlet?

I also encourage you to read page 9 of the report: “Pandemic stages” and ask yourself how well the Morrison government rates in this current pandemic.

On February 28, Katie Burgess, writing in The Canberra Times reported that the:

But the Health Department says there are no current plans to subject travellers to temperature checks, on the advice of medical professionals.

… Australia’s chief medical officer Brendan Murphy told media on January 21 temperature checks had proven ineffective in past pandemics.

Murphy, sadly, must have read the 2019 report which had reached the same conclusion: it didn’t work for pandemics in the past so it obviously won’t work with any pandemics in the present or the future.

Ever heard of tunnel vision, Mr Murphy?

It is true that thermal scanning won’t stop the spread of the coronavirus and it won’t always catch those that have it, but it will take enormous steps in detecting it, as countries like China have shown.

Australia, meanwhile, with its incompetent and careless government is dragging its feet.

I don’t know about you, but I get the feeling that our incompetent and careless government is a threat to us all.

Note: There is also a brief report from 2018: Emergency Response Plan for Communicable Disease Incidents of National Significance: National Arrangements which also ignores thermal scanning at airports. In fact, they don’t even rate a mention, but a ‘police presence’ at airports does.

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The Best Form Of Healthcare Is A Job!

Ok, nobody has actually said that the best form of healthcare is a job. Nor has anyone said the best form of wealthcare is a job.

However, it’s certainly no sillier than the vacuous: “The best form of welfare is a job”!

Scott Morrison’s reluctance to introduce lockdown measures in response to Covid-19 does seem to underline the priorities of this government. I mean, if you think about this in terms of how they’ve framed climate change action then their slowness is perfectly consistent. “No, we understand the threat perfectly and we’re talking action, but it’s calm, measured action and we won’t be panicked into doing something which will affect our good friends and donors workers in the affected industries.”

Similarly, when it comes the Coronavirus, the Prime Minister knows that some action needs to be taken and, failing that, something needs to be said about the action that his government intends to take. So we have daily announcements about his intentions and how the best medical advice is being followed.

  • “I’m going to the football.”
  • “I’m not going now because of the way it would be misrepresented.”
  • “Nobody should be going to the football because it’s Monday and my advice is to stay home.”
  • “People are defying my advice so I’m telling you I’m going to make the advice compulsory if you don’t start doing the right thing.”
  • “No schools aren’t closing. Kids are perfectly safe and I’m happy to send my kids to school.”
  • “How dare you ask me if I’m actually sending my kids to school. My family is off-limits. Let’s concentrate on what matters; keeping the economy going and making sure that people are all right. To ensure that’s happening we’re announcing a second stimulus package because the first one was so well-received in the media even though nobody’s actually received anything yet. Not only that I’m forming a committee to advice us and we’re putting on experts in the fields of mining and industry to tell us what’s really important during a crisis.”

And so on…

Of course, I’ve resisted the temptation to be pedantic and point out some of Scottie’s inappropriate use of language like when he told us to “reconsider the need for unnecessary travel”. (If you think about that, there is – by definition – no need for unnecessary travel so if one rethinks the need for it one may decide that it is actually necessary!) When he said: “This will be a difficult six months. It could be longer,” I didn’t point out that while the next six months will be difficult a six month period won’t be longer than longer six months no matter how difficult it is I’ve tried to refrain from being un-Australian with regards to hoarding toilet paper, and I have attempted singing that tune from High School Musical “We’re all in this together”. However, it it does get hard when the Prime Minister’s press conferences start to follow that familiar pattern.

  1. We are doing all that we can.
  2. We would do more but it’s not our job.
  3. The states are responsible for almost everything.
  4. We don’t think that (insert latest SNAFU) was badly handled.
  5. SNAFU was badly handled but it was one lone public servant/Labor’s bad planning/Gladys Berejiklian
  6. We’re sending in the army.

As it stands, we’ve been warned by Morrison to be careful what we wish for when it comes to a lockdown because whatever action gets taken, we’ll be stuck with for six months.

It’s a shame that he didn’t give the same warning before the election and tell us that whatever happened we’d be stuck with it for three years.

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The great awakening

By Ad astra  

No sooner had I completed a piece titled: How would YOU revive the economy? than it became redundant. A quick glance through it will show why it dated so rapidly.

Like me, do you ponder why it took the dramatic events of recent days, of which you are all well aware, to bring about what can only be described as ‘a great awakening’ among those in charge.

For weeks, the most coherent appraisal of the threat of the coronavirus pandemic has come from medical and public health specialists. Over and again, they had warned of the dire consequences of an uncontrolled transmission of the virus. In unambiguous terms, devoid of political spin, they had insisted that unless transmission could be curbed, the virus would continue to spread worldwide, bringing with it not just illness, but hundreds of thousands of deaths, as well as profound economic disruption.

To many, this seemed to be too far-fetched to believe, as is evidenced by their words and their actions: congregating at the beach-side in defiance of advice. Now the validity of this prediction is being exposed on every news bulletin. The blithe dismissal of the threat by those burdened with ignorance and stupidity is a measure of the problem of convincing the man in the street of the threat.

Our leaders, keen to avoid spreading alarm, used weasel words to placate us. ‘We’re all in this together’; ‘If we all pull together, we’ll get to the ‘other side’. Our PM eagerly grasped the words of the Reserve Bank governor when he promised “To build a financial bridge over the growing chasm in the Australian economy”. Cronulla Sharks fan Scomo offered pseudo reassurance when he insisted he was still going to the footy, later having to change his mind.

But until the announcement of his second stimulus package it was apparent that Morrison had not really grasped the gravity of the situation. Now it seems he has.

He seems to have had a belated realisation that as coronavirus spreads mainly by contact the only way to counter it is to maintain distance between people. Thus he has closed ‘non-essential’ services: bars, restaurants, cafes, clubs, gyms and other outlets. He seems to have been startled by the social and economic disruption and the acute unemployment that this move is already bringing about, resulting in long queues at Centrelink of desperate and worried people who have lost their jobs. They may eventually number a million.

Talk of closing schools is also about, with all the educational and economic complications that would bring with it, such as keeping them closed for months on end, thereby disrupting the jobs of the parents, as well as the schooling of their children. The response of individual states has varied. Uncertainty prevails.

Not only has Morrison and his government had a great awakening; it also has put its money where it’s most needed via its initial $189 billion rescue package. Here’s a brief account of the government’s second stage $66billion remedy taken from ABC News:

On the economic front, small businesses will receive cash payments up to $100,000 and some welfare recipients will receive another $750.

Additional measures include:
• Temporarily doubling the Jobseeker Payment, previously called Newstart
• Allowing people to access $10,000 from their superannuation in 2019-20 and 2020-21
• Guaranteeing unsecured small business loans up to $250,000
• Reducing deeming rates by a further 0.25 per cent

There’s no need to spell out the details: you can read them here.

Now, deeply alarmed by the profound implications of the pandemic and the complexities of putting Australian society together again after it slows, Morrison has established a COV19 Cooordination Commission to carry out this difficult task.

The most striking reversal of LNP ideology though was the government’s decision to double the Newstart allowance and extend it to others. Hoping that voters would not see that as tacit acceptance of the repeated advice of countless social advocates, as well as hard-nosed economists, they ditched the name ‘Newstart’ in favour of the more benign-sounding ‘Jobseeker Allowance’. It was obvious to all that the LNP was devoted to the belief that Newstart recipients were bludgers, ‘leaners’ rather than ‘lifters’, people who ought to be out getting a job. It must have been a hard pill to swallow to accept that increasing Newstart would have large economic benefits, as so many have been telling them for months.

Morrison and Frydenberg have been given praise for their package, bordering on lavish from their media set. But we have to ask why it took a crisis the magnitude of the coronavirus pandemic to bring about their awakening.

We can only hope that the great awakening the LNP is now experiencing will cast the scales from its eyes and make it more sensitive to the earnestly offered advice of the many experts who in good faith put forward an opinion. LNP ministers are not the economic magicians they fancied they were. Hopefully they now realise that, and will listen more attentively.

This article was originally published on The Political Sword

For Facebook users, The Political Sword has a Facebook page:
Putting politicians and commentators to the verbal sword

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All at sea, with nowhere to go

Do the members of the Coalition government not realise what idiots they appear to be when they announce a decision and, within 24 hours, amend that decision?

Act first and think later is not a good look in a crisis!

What is abundantly clear, in all the current goings-on, is that those making the decisions do not have the first idea of what life is like for most of the population. Almost certainly they rely too much on political advice, designed to help them win another election, rather than truly expert advice, designed to benefit the electors!

If you have never been out of work for any length of time, have a more than comfortable income, and you also own your own home – or at least have assets, like major property investments, which could pay off your mortgage – plus you know you will get your next pay transferred into your account on the due date and have no worry about financial commitments, I suppose it might be easy to overlook the fact that thousands of people do not share your good fortune.

Apart from those below the breadline, who, if they are not already living on the streets, often go without food to pay the rent or to buy new shoes for a growing child; even for those in regular work, when they have the rug pulled out from under them overnight, because they lose their job, with no warning and with no likelihood of finding another, their whole world is destroyed in a flash.

They have no significant savings to fall back on, any government relief will not be instantly available but the regular bills still have to be paid.

Many employed in particular industries, such as entertainment, are used to a high level of job insecurity – but that is very different from the certainty that you will not be able to work at all for the foreseeable future.

Apart from the actual performers, there is a contingent of back-stage staff or, in the gig economy, the roadies, whose normal pay would leave them with little to save and whose work history is just as precarious.

A small, but significant, point – the largely male decision-makers clearly pay little attention to the females in their families, for them to be so blissfully unaware that a visit to the hairdressers is a more significant event than a short back and sides at the barber’s.

I was pleasantly amazed that Boris Johnson, born with a silver spoon in his mouth, was perceptive enough to realise that massive unemployment would not only be bad for the economy, but, more importantly, for the individuals most affected! His decision to pay 80% of the wages of those losing jobs because of the Covid-19 restrictions was clearly beyond the comprehension level of our Prime Minister.

Morrison seems to grab every opportunity to be in the spotlight, at the same time that he is casually closing down Parliament – a truly alarming eventuality – but making no move to share in the austerity conditions he is imposing on thousands.

Having excluded the Opposition Leader from his Emergency Cabinet, he is now behaving like a totally self-interested petty dictator. Small wonder that the Premiers of the larger states are making their own decisions about issues like school attendance.

The ‘experts’ who seem to be called on to back the PM’s policies are, a closer examination might show, not necessarily ‘expert’ in the fields in which their advice is sought.

Why, when so many are being thrown on the scrapheap for an unknown period, should we be paying full salary and entitlements to a collection of jerks who are not even participating in meaningful government activities for months at a time?

If you are a single parent, or you and your partner have young children and both need to work, the argument for immediate help is overpowering – and, under this government’s proposals, ignored.

The Age Pension was once seen as a merited payment, acknowledging a lifetime’s contribution to society. Coalition governments now grudgingly pay it as ‘welfare’ and treat the unemployed as criminals who are responsible for their own failure to find work.

As a part-pensioner, I shall receive a lump sum which I do not need and cannot, in any case, spend, because the shops for non-essential goods are closed! How good is that, Mr Morrison?

Because politicians can be elected to a cushy position, with a guaranteed salary, plenty of additional perks like comcars, accommodation and travel expenses, and a to-die-for in many cases superannuation scheme, they totally ignore the facts of life out in the real world.

For years, now, there have been about 19 people seeking employment for every job that becomes available. Many are counted as employed, even though they only work 1 hour per week. Many more are working part-time in 2 or more jobs in order to make ends meet. Few of them have a realistic superannuation scheme and the Age Pension will be essential for their survival after work.

The official retirement age is unrealistic in this climate as a person made redundant in their 50s, let alone their 60s has limited opportunities to find meaningful work.

Over the years, the Coalition has courted the global corporations and a concerning level of corruption has crept into the lobbying business.

We are experiencing a crisis for which no adequate preparation was made, as a result of the Coalition having starved of funds vitally important organisations like CSIRO.

We are still experiencing the effects of climate change, and masses of people have yet to receive appropriate assistance, following the disastrous bushfires, but the behaviour of the government implies that these issues are of no concern to them.

Normally, charitable organisations step up to the plate to assist those in dire circumstances, but, with so many losing their jobs, many will have to cease donating to charity, so that the charities, too, will be short of funds to help the needy.

The money we need to be in circulation is salted away in places like the Cayman Islands!

Well!! Thank you for nothing, Scott Morrison!

You have clearly demonstrated why you have quit every job you have ever had before your contract formally expired.

You do not have what it takes to lead – although, looking around the available material – it’s hard to see any of our elected Parliamentarians who could do the job well in present circumstances. The behaviour of too many of our elected members has meant that many of integrity, who have the appropriate skill levels, are understandably reluctant to join the rat race of politics.

Australia is in a mess and present policies and expectations are unlikely to see that mess cleared up any time soon. If the schools close, let’s hope our children are astute enough to use the extra time available to work out how to do a better job than the adults who are failing them!

I end as always – this is my 2020 New Year Resolution:

“I will do everything in my power to enable Australia to be restored to responsible government.”

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Peter Dutton is NOT the man we need in this crisis

Peter Dutton just can’t help himself.  Appearing on 2GB this morning in his regular chum session with Ray Hadley, he has made the most outrageous claims.

Speaking about the docking of the Ruby Princess in Sydney, Dutton said he would not get into a political game or “hang anyone out to dry” whilst then going on to say that the person in NSW Health that made the decision to allow the passengers to disembark would “have to live with that mistake”.

This was in response to that fool Hadley suggesting that “someone died, because of a decision taken by a public servant, or by someone in government, and that person needs to be held accountable for that death.”

What an utterly ridiculous irresponsible thing to say.  No public servant was responsible for people on that ship getting sick.  Certainly, the decision to allow them to disembark unchecked was a mistake.  To suggest they are responsible for the death of someone who contracted the virus onboard is wrong and pointless.

Dutton went on to contradict his own ABF Commissioner by saying that Australia was dealing with a “difficult situation” because of ‘lies’.

“Some cruise ships are lying about the state of passengers” said the man who chose to fly overseas in the midst of the crisis, not in any way enforce his own personal hygiene and social distancing, then go to a gym when he got home and spread the disease he had contracted.

When I rang the Minister’s office to express my concern, they hung up on me.  Sure, they are busy, but Dutton seemed to find the time to pass on misinformation on 2GB.

We cannot afford idiots to be giving out the wrong information or for politicians to be wasting everyone’s time looking for someone to blame.

But that is all Dutton is capable of.

As queues of travellers arriving from overseas formed at Sydney airport this morning, Border Force operatives were asked why social distancing was not being enforced.  The reply was “not our problem, that’s biosecurity.”

If I allowed people to cram in like that to my business, I would face hefty fines and possible jail time.

Dutton is incapable of dealing with this.  Shut the fool up.

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The Public versus Scott Morrison

It rather reminds me of the story of the boy who cried wolf. Remember, it was one of Aesop’s fables. It went like this:

“A young shepherd would trick his fellow villagers by shouting for help, pretending that wolves were attacking his sheep. Several times the villagers rushed to his aid, only to find the shepherd laughing at them. One day, some wolves actually came. The shepherd cried for help, but the villagers, who had grown tired of his pranks, ignored him, and the wolves devoured his sheep.”

The story rings true of our Prime Minister and the folks who decided to divest our supermarket shelves of nature’s essentials.

And being the laconic lot that we are to catch a wave at Bondi in the face of Marketing Morrison’s decree that we practice some social isolation. Or was that social engineering?

Anyway when he said, as reported by Sarah Martin in The Guardian: “Stop hoarding … I can’t be more blunt about it,” people didn’t take any notice. After all, why would you pay any attention to those who have, like the boy in Aesop’s fable, been telling lie after lie for near on 7 years?

Remembering that trust in Australian politicians is at an all-time low, again, why would you when only a week and a bit ago, Friday the 13th to be exact, Morrison – in the face of serious life and death decisions – wanted to go to the rugby and his beloved Hillsong needed the weekend for its conference.

He wasn’t practising civil compliance or social isolation so why should we? People are just fed up being told lies.

What we really had was a prime minister telling us not to succumb to the same fear that his party has injected us with every year since I was an infant.

I believe that you should always leave loved ones with loving words. It may be the last time you see them.

For as long as my memory enables me to recollect the conservative parties have been masters of scare; winning election after election using age-old scare campaigns.

The point here is that the story of the boy who cried wolf, as simple as it is, portrays the modern LNP coalition in stark reality. After a litany of lies, no one believes them. Well, in the spirit of truth approximately 50% of the population believes them (going by the 2019 election results).

I have written much about conservative lying, particularly by Scott Morrison. In my recent piece; “Truth doesn’t have the same importance it once did” I said that:

“Lying in Australian politics has also reached unprecedented levels. The Prime minister and his Cabinet have taken lying to such depths that it is not disingenuous to suggest that this government under Morrison no longer has a moral compass nor any understanding of truth.”

In another piece; “You Cannot be a Leader and a bare-faced Liar at the same time” it was noted that:

“Climate change has been met with inaction, as our nation slips dramatically in the Climate Change Performance Index.”

Look at their recent record. We had the White House exclusion of Scott Morrison’s Hillsong pastor Brian Houston from the White House guest list, then there was the great secrecy used to hide the Prime Minister’s Hawaii holiday during the bushfire crisis, followed by Morrison’s active involvement in the allotment of sports grants before (and after) the May 2019 election.

Not having learnt any lesson from all of this, Government Services Minister Stuart Robert – when the MyGov website crashed – chose to tell a lie, originally saying that it was subject to a cyber attack … when it was a case of numbers. In parliament he retracted but his first reaction was to tell a lie.

Robert is a fellow Christian and friend of the Prime Minister.

When you tell a lie you deny the other persons right to the truth.

All that has happened or is likely to happen will take time. It will certainly not end in the near future or without much pain be it financial or with great numbers losing their jobs, or worse, their lives.

I have always been of the view that rather than fighting for Flag or Monarch our service men and women fought for what they believed to be right. Flags and Monarchs are but metaphors and symbols but what is right is entrenched in truth.

Which brings me to my final point.

Australia has suffered tragedy upon tragedy the past few years with nature’s protests against its treatment going unheard.

Floods, fires, droughts and now a virus has come along to decimate us. With typical human ingenuity we will overcome these things only after nature and the virus has taught us yet another lesson.

Our conservative government had no hesitation in believing the science behind COVID19 and reacted accordingly yet they have failed to recognise the science that speaks of an impending disaster with climate change. Will they go back to their reactive ways or will they see the truth for what it is and become proactive?

The final days to this tragedy are in front of us and much economic suffering is to be inhaled by our society. To what extent, we do not know. Most of the population has not even lived through a recession, let alone a pandemic.

In the aftermath of these experiences what will politicians of all persuasions have learnt? Will it be that gratuitous lying achieves nothing, or that the ubiquitous annihilation of conventions and established norms of conduct must stop?

If we don’t learn then a dose of enlightenment will have been lost. In 2016, I wrote a piece titled; “A Society for the Common Good” (Updated 2018). My thoughts on this topic are worthy of a discussion.

My thought for the day

We can sometimes become so engrossed in our own problems that we can easily overlook the enormity of the suffering of others.

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Competence in short supply

Any person, when writing about historical events, necessarily introduces a personal perspective, influenced by their own history.

My first 34+ years were spent in the UK, where I had a very good (free from 5 to 21) education, married, started my career as a maths teacher and had three children.

At the end of 1970, the family left the UK to come to Darwin in the Northern Territory of Australia. I expect to spend the rest of my life (since I do not plan on moving again) in this city, which, IMHO, is uniquely special.

Two of my children are still here, the third being currently overseas, having been unable to find work in Australia, in his specialist area, when he was made redundant in his mid-50s. Many will resonate with that! He was lucky that he is a dual national! Their father has moved on and moved away and we are both happier in consequence!

It is never cold here, the people are incredibly varied, being both cosmopolitan and cohesive, and we live cheek by jowl – but not always 100% harmoniously – with the world’s oldest continuous culture.

That said – we currently live in a time of severe stress.

The NT has just closed its borders, because the COVID-19 crisis puts at risk the indigenous people in remote communities, who share a high level of compromised immune systems, making them uniquely susceptible to serious harm were they to become infected.

Less than 24 hours ago we were hearing the Prime Minister listing all the ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ to which we are to be subjected and, only minutes ago, as I write this, the NT Chief Minister has announced some of the appropriate modifications to the national constraints, necessary to ensure that our NT culture is taken into account.

And this brings me to the crux of my concerns with government – particularly at the national level in Australia.

The PM has excluded the Opposition leader from his National Cabinet, while, admittedly, some of the State leaders in that decision-making body represent the ALP perspective. Since the PM and his Ministers will predominate in implementation of policy, the political balance is missing.

Just as there is a shortage of female representatives in Coalition ranks, so issues such as hairdressing are being decided in the absence of informed discussion. I am fortunate in letting nature decide my hair colour and in having been able to cut my own hair for many years. But for many women, hair colouring and styling are an essential part of their well-being – and half an hour is far from enough!

Our life style in the NT is largely outdoors, with markets and outdoor dining, which introduces a serious problem when looking at the national prohibitions. Again, we will be making modifications.

It seems to me that the whole national government approach is big stick, and fails to accommodate people’s needs. Whole industries, like entertainment, are being closed down, but, whereas in the UK, Boris Johnson is guaranteeing 80% of the wages lost by employees in industries which are being closed down, no such succour is being offered to employees here. It is the business owner who will receive a handout and all that is required in return is an unwritten, and unenforceable, agreement to re-employ its former employees when business restarts.

We have already experienced too long under a Coalition philosophy which supports business – and the economy, which is, surely intended to serve the people’s needs rather than vice versa – while ignoring the needs of employees and the self-employed.

Today, for the first time, we heard Hank Jongen, CEO of Centrelink, provide clear directions for those needing to contact that organisation, because they had become unexpectedly unemployed. That was after 2 days of news headlines over queues outside Centrelink offices and uninformed claims by the responsible Minister, Stuart Robert, that the MyGov website access to Centrelink had been subjected to a cyber-attack!

No – Stuart – the internet just could not cope because of insufficient foresight by government! We once enjoyed a brilliant service from the CSIRO, which has been stunted by massive funding cuts by governments which ignore the value of science, except when it suits them.

I recently joined Extinction Rebellion Darwin. I have 3 great grandchildren whose chances for a good life are being stunted by the climate emergency.

As part of my visible protest, I sit outside our Parliament House in Darwin for 2 hours every Wednesday afternoon, usually with at least one friend. Last week we got drenched (Top End rain is not cold!) and this week we packed up 5 minutes early as we had to collect up our posters before they got drenched by an ill-timed shower.

We are distancing ourselves, as required, and we are not attracting crowds, but we are ensuring that the campaign for action on Climate Change is not drowned out by the COVID-19 restrictions.

Satellite pictures show that the epidemic has resulted in a reduction in emissions – which is good but temporary. As soon as the crisis has passed, vested interest will ensure that industry ramps up again to former proportions, but we need to make sure that does not happen in a harmful way.

We do not want to return to increasing emissions, but increasing use of technology which will decrease emissions!

The current health crisis has demonstrated the extent to which our governments have become reactive, not proactive,

Now we need to use this interregnum to ensure that recovery is proactive in supporting the urgent need to ensure our grandchildren have a viable future.

We need to watch this government like a hawk! They have already indicated their view that activism should be illegal – but how can it be illegal, in a democracy, to protest publicly when an ignorant and incompetent government makes people’s lives harder than they need to be?

If you agree with me, then please, if you can, get out there, get vocal (legally!), email your MP, email the PM, do everything in your power to ensure that the government itself acts legally (Parliament is closed down until August – WHY????) and generally insist that we need an economy which supplies OUR needs – not those of the major corporations – and we need an honest and competent government!

I am just an ordinary citizen but I care about the lives and rights of others – and the need to ensure that those who take on responsibility do their job properly!

And – hey! While we are about it – how about the politicians having their salaries and allowances cut while they are not following their normal routines????

I end as always – this is my 2020 New Year Resolution:

“I will do everything in my power to enable Australia to be restored to responsible government.”

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Shut Up! The Prime Minister Is Listening To The Medical Experts.

Now, there have been a lot of people on social media taking swipes at Scott Morrison for giving what they consider to be inconsistent advice. Nothing could be further from the truth. He has consistently told people to do as they’re told and not to question anything… particularly if they’re a journalist from the ABC.

The Prime Minister has been taking advice from the medical experts and those people who are questioning him have no business doing so, even if they are a doctor or an immunologist because the advice the PM is taking is the best medical advice. How does he know it’s the best? Well, if it wasn’t the best he wouldn’t be taking it, would he?

It’s only those naughty people who aren’t applying social distancing that have led to this need to introduce harsher restrictions. Them, and the fact that several infected people disembarked from a cruise ship without anybody stopping them. This was a major stuff-up by the NSW government and had nothing to do with the Commonwealth because Peter Dutton is in charge of Border Force and they couldn’t do anything owing to the fact that Dutton has been following the best medical advice and washing his hands. So far, he has washed his hands of any responsibility for anything that’s happening, but he has promised to arrest anybody purchasing more than two rolls of toilet paper which he can do under the special Australian Hoarder Force powers.

However, thanks to the misinformation being put out by the ignorant and mischievous, there is some confusion about exactly what we’re meant to do, so I’ve prepared a list of Frequently Asked Questions. Not only that, I’ve also done something that the government may like to copy and provided a list of Infrequently Given Answers. Actually, any actual answer to the question asked would be a great improvement.

FAQs

 Why is Parliament closing?  

There are two reasons for this. First, it would be unwise to have politicians travel and congregate in large numbers. Second, Parliament is an unwelcome distraction for the PM when facing such a major crisis. 

Why aren’t schools closing?

The best medical advice suggests that children are largely safe from the virus and the one or two percent who have a bad reaction aren’t worth worrying about in the scheme of things.

But can’t younger people catch the virus at school and pass it on, and doesn’t the fact that many of them will be asymptomatic increase the risk that they’ll infect others?

The best medical advice says to keep the schools open and as for any suggestion that they could pass on the virus, shut up and stop being alarmist!

Why are weddings only allowed five people while funerals are allowed ten? 

Simply, you only get buried once but there is no limit to the amount of weddings you may have.

Aren’t there more than five people at the PM’s press conference?

Yes, but we are looking at plans to restrict future pressers to five. This includes the PM, the CMO, the PM’s press secretary, an AFP officer and the journalist chosen after they all submit their questions for pre-approval.

Why are hairdressers allowed to stay open?

This is an essential service because Bronwyn Bishop said she would just die if she couldn’t get her hair set. However, all hairdressers need to apply appropriate social distancing protocols and stay at least 1.5 metres from any customer so there should be no chance of passing on the virus.

Are shopping centres closed?

The simple answer is: Yes. However, they should close if they have a food court, but not if the food court is a takeaway. If that’s the case then the food may be sold, but it may not be eaten at the point of sale. Where the shopping centre has an essential service such as a supermarket, a pharmacy or a brothel, then that shop may remain open, but no more than four people per square metre… or was that four metres per square person. Whichever, no more than 100 people can be inside at any time so unless you count the number of people already there and find that it’s less than that, you may not enter unless it’s an open-air mall, in which case the number is higher but still requires you keep appropriate distances from other shoppers and any children that you may have brought with you.

What should I do if I am returning from overseas?

You must self-isolate straight away without any detours like to the supermarket or the chemist. If you need anything, please just wait until the fourteen-day period is over. You should not see any relatives so don’t get them to pick you up. Take public transport because you shouldn’t be infecting the taxi or Uber driver.

With Parliament out of action until August what about vital pieces of legislation like the Ensuring Integrity Bill, the Religious Discrimination Bill and anything else that needs to be passed?

The best medical advice suggests that we shouldn’t add to people’s stress by talking about a lot of potentially divisive topics at a time like this. If Parliament were to sit there’d be a lot of yelling and people would want to bring up things that could cause PTSD like the Sports Rorts and what’s happened to the Bushfire Emergency Fund?

As children are allowed in groups of twenty or more at school, does that mean that there is no problem with them playing soccer in the park with a small group of friends?

School is an essential part of their lives, whereas going outside and exercising is a luxury that will cause them all to be struck down instantly. Please don’t make us weld your door shut like they did in China.

The PM keeps telling us that he’s happy to send his kids to school but there are reports that they aren’t actually at school…

The Prime Minister’s family is off-limits and can only be mentioned by him when he’s trying to make a political point or justify taking a holiday. For anyone else to mention them is intrusive and a violation of the unwritten code.

Speaking of unwritten, what about that “unwritten contract” with employers to rehire people when this is all over?

The government has an implicit contract which means that by giving employers the money that they will be doing everything they can to help get the government re-elected and this won’t just be in the form of donations but there’ll be a clear expectation that they give people at least one hour’s work a week to help get the unemployment numbers down.

Ok, I think that’s covered most things, but if there’s anything I’ve missed please feel free to drop Scott Morrison a line so he can clarify it in one of his daily press conferences where he tells us what a great job he’s doing and how everything would be bonza if we’d only be fair dinkum and just be Australians and do the right thing and have a go.

 

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American Corporatism on Display: The COVID-19 Response

In a recent piece for this site, I suggested that the response of the Trump Administration put ideology before people. Well, Congress has just proven that theory correct with its economic package in response to the virus. To the surprise of precisely no-one, the corporate socialism rolls on while the peasants beg for crumbs. In this piece, I want to look at the provisions of the plan, sourced from a Senior Democratic Aide in the Senate. Various news articles will fill in the other details.

Background and Overview: The Package: From Original to Final Version

The watering down process that is legislative negotiation in the Senate worked its magic on this package. The grand rhetoric that was Trump’s initial address got hit in the face with the shovel that is Congress. Talk of covering ‘the cost of the healthcare for the coronavirus’ soon became covering the testing, without mention of the actual treatment. Talk of ongoing Universal Basic Income (UBI) soon became a one-off, means-tested payment. More details on this below, but you can see the bigger picture here. What began as good ideas (even if they likely did not go far enough) became weak half-measures during the legislative process. But we have not even gotten to the corporate socialism aspects yet. I would like to focus first on the weak measures designed to help the people. After an overview and setting the scene, we now turn to some of the details.

The Package, Part One: Sick Leave

You could be forgiven for thinking that the opposition to payments to, and legislative protection of, the peasants came from Republicans. However, the majority of the opposition, and caveats, to the idea of UBI actually came from Democrats, specifically the leadership, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Originally, broad sweeping worker protections were in place, specifically a $104b package focused chiefly on paid sick leave. Then, as you might expect, cries of ‘what of the profits’ came forth on cue from the GOP. To his credit, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), did say to his caucus to essentially shut up and vote for it, but the intent was clear.

Apparently, however, McConnell does not quite have the level of control over his troops that he thought he did. Republicans put forth amendments that watered down the bill, naturally, and now merely 20% of workers will actually receive paid sick leave. The amendments exempted some types of businesses from the paid sick leave provision and provided various other pro-corporate loopholes. Nothing changes, just the date.

The Package, Part Two a): Attack of the Democrats! Direct Stimulus and UBI

Initially, both President Trump and his Treasury Secretary supported an emergency UBI. This represented direct cheques being made out to the population to keep the economy going. Capitalism survives by people having money to spend, and UBI would have addressed this. So this was a good idea and credit where it is due. Then came the Democrats. The Week reports that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi first floated the idea of means-testing stimulus payments. The rationale was that she did not want to ‘write checks to millionaires’. The ability of the Speaker to say that with a straight face is impressive since she is a renowned corporate sellout.

The Speaker also does not seem to understand the concept of universal inherent in universal basic income. Her suggestion that writing cheques to millionaires somehow delegitimises a good idea is ridiculous. By her logic, the wealthy should not be able to benefit from medicare or other universal programmes. Such programmes are funded by tax revenue like the rest of the government. To suggest that the wealthy are somehow immune to this crisis is absurd on its face. Now, is it true that the wealthy would be able to financially weather the crisis more easily than the average person? Yes, but universal means just that: for all. Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All does not exclude the wealthy: why should UBI? Pandemics do not care about your income level!

The Package, Part Two b): Political Ineptitude in Focus: The Democrats 

Trump and his Administration are outflanking the Democrats on their left. The sheer political ineptitude of the Democrats is remarkable. The ostensible party of workers is being outflanked on the left by a faux-populist. Trump essentially said get the cheques out now – and he was right. The Democrats and their paperwork and their means-testing are precisely not what is called for in a crisis! It is this utter lack of leadership, compassion and basic common sense that will cause Biden to lose to Trump in November! How politically tone-deaf are the Democrats?! They have allowed Trump to assume the mantle of popular leader in a crisis through their insistence on playing politics. Thank you, you inept buffoons, for handing Trump a sledgehammer with which to hit you. 

The Package, Part Three a): Corporate Socialism 

A Senior Democratic Aide in the Senate unearthed the corporate socialism aspects of the bill

  1. a $500b corporate slush fund
  2. Weak stock buy-back language that the Treasury Secretary can ignore.
  3. Executive compensation limits only last two years
  4. Language on ‘worker retention’ is weak with various outs for companies
  5. No language to guarantee that workers will benefit from the bill
  6. Little transparency of the bailout process (how much and where it goes)
  7. No specific provision to eliminate eviction or foreclosure.

Ok, so we have half a trillion dollars for the corporate sector with essentially non-existent or weak as p*ss rules attached. Basically let the corporations loot the treasury and be quiet. 2008 ring any bells? Now to be fair corporations did not cause this crisis. A pandemic is genuinely unforeseeable. To that extent, I understand a limited business bailout. But the attached rules are pathetic.

Focus for a moment on one issue, stock buybacks. This is businesses buying their own stock to artificially inflate its value. This should be illegal since it is fraud: buying your own stock (which you clearly think is a good buy) which creates artificial confidence around it which you then use to sell at a higher price? The language in this bill is notably weak and places very few constraints or limitations on the money paid to the corporate sector or what they do with it. Would I go so far as to temporarily nationalise businesses (or even industries) that receive a government bailout? Perhaps that goes a little far. However, it would be a nice turnabout on the dogma of ‘privatise the profits, nationalise the losses’.

The Package, Part Three b): Austerity?

The staffer outlines more problems, but the highlights are these

  1. No additional funding for Food Stamps
  2. No funds to help with the treatment of the uninsured

In other words, the most vulnerable are on their own. Recall too that Republicans have cut Food Stamps multiple times in recent years. To not increase the meagre amount of Food Stamps, even temporarily, in the midst of a crisis shows a remarkable degree of callousness. Finally, health insurance companies will be allowed to make an exorbitant profit from this crisis on the backs of the most vulnerable.

I end with a quote from Stephen Colbert. This was done in character many years ago, and its relevance has only increased with time

If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don’t want to do it

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Challenging Times!

Did you hear about the elderly couple who were wrestled to the sand by NSW Police with Australian Border Force backup, on Bronte Beach shortly after dawn this morning. The following exchange is said to have taken place :

Police Officer : Cuff them, constable and if they give you any lip, taser them.

Elderly Man : But officer we haven’t done anything wrong, we always take our constitutional along the beach at this time of the day.

Officer : You and your accomplice are in breach of regulations, to wit : assembling in a public place adjacent to the Pacific Ocean where five hundred people or more may [or may not] gather and not maintaining a distance of at least 1.5 meters between you and your accomplice.

Man : She’s not my accomplice, she’s my wife of fifty-five years and could you not sit on my chest and please have your officer remove his boot from my wife’s throat. We didn’t know we were breaking the law, nobody told us about these regulations.

Officer : H’ignorance of the law is no excuse and should you or your moll persist in these illegal activities I will have no alternative but to hand you over to Australian Border Force which could mean a period of indefinite detention on a remote island.

Man : She’s not my moll, she’s my wife and we are law abiding citizens officer and won’t be causing any problems for you. We will be keeping a low profile for the rest of the day and just popping into the RSL for a counter-lunch later : spotted-dick is on special this week.

Officer : Right constable read them their rights, clearly they are repeat offenders. Should you, sir, or your collaborator, be found within the vicinity of the Bronte RSL you will immediately be arrested and detained for intensive questioning and re-education. You will also forfeit your meat and three veg and if in possession of a spotted-dick you will both be prosecuted.

Man : Oh ! OK ! I don’t pretend to understand what’s going on but we are law abiding citizens and will just have a quick surf to get the sand off and then go home.

Officer : Right constable, taser them and call in reinforcements we are dealing with recidivists here.

‘Ooroo folks, keep smiling and don’t forget to wash your hands !

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Moralising Hoarding, Panic Buying and Coronavirus

Hoarding as moral aberration and ethical breach: the term has recently become the subject of scorn in coronavirus chatter. In terms of mental disorders, it is “characterized by persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions”, though the Coronavirus Hoarder is a breed that adds urgent bulk acquisition to the shopping equation. If you part with it, take advantage of making a buck along the way.

Hoarding products in times of crisis is condemned by those in power as unpatriotic, against the community and just plain rude. The empty supermarket shelf is considered the devilish outcome of this. Yet, shelves still remain empty, at least for periods of time. Despite limits imposed on purchases, the hoarder remains active, fearing the pandemic apocalypse, the lockdown, self-isolation and total quarantine.

The central motivation is fear, but it has worthy fuel. Do not trust the government; question the authorities. They, after all, were late to the party. With COVID-19 being enshrouded in garments of misinformation, or at the very least elements of incomplete information, the tendency is further accentuated.

The pieties against bulk buying are accumulating, inversely proportionate to diminishing opportunities to purchase. Writing for the Danbury, Connecticut-based News-Times, Chris Powell acknowledges that households should stock up on the necessaries, but only for a few days. To hoard “for worse than that is antisocial and generates fear. If serious shortages develop, will people consider themselves Americans, all in it together, sharing as necessary and helping their government as it tries its best, or will patriotism and civic duty dissolve into every man for himself?”

The reaction from authorities has ranged from the imposition of regulations to hectoring unprincipled shopping. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has gone so far as to regard panic buying as unpatriotic, a slight against his understanding of the Australian character. “On bulk purchasing of supplies: Stop hoarding. I can’t be more blunt about it. Stop it.” Such behaviour was nether “sensible” nor “helpful and it has been one of the most disappointing things I have seen in Australian behaviour in response to this crisis.”

Image from 7news.com.au

Interestingly enough, such scolding attitudes have done little to stem the craze. As Morrison should himself be most familiar with, any snark directed against voters tends to bite back. He, after all, was the beneficiary of an election victory in which his opponents were termed smug types prone to woke obsessions, preachy about the environment and condescending to those pro-mining “Quiet Australians”. Now, Morrison demands “Australia’s common sense cooperation with … very clear advisory positions. Stop doing it. It’s un-Australian and must stop.” Australians, quiet or otherwise, are panicked and not taking much notice.

Australia’s agriculture minister David Littleproud has also taken to the stage of publicity to condemn bulk shopping practices, calling such shoppers parasites. “I appreciate people are worried about Covid-19,” he wrote in Guardian Australia, “but those fighting in the aisles are more in danger of catching the disease by their actions than we ever are of running out of food.” Farmers were the noble ones, going about their business of supplying food, in contrast to those “frantic shoppers”. The decision by supermarkets to restrict purchases on certain products, change shopping hours and suspend online grocery orders, had been sensible.

In Canada, the panic has been sufficiently gripping to cause concern. The pattern is familiar: a spate of rushed purchases, the emptying of shelves, and the constant warning by those supposedly in the know that all is well in the supply chain. A survey conducted by Dalhousie University and Angus Reid between March 13 and 15 found that 71 per cent of Canadians were concerned about COVID-19, with 41 per cent purchasing additional groceries and supplies as a direct response. Then come the voices of authority, attempting to appease and reassure. Marc Fontin, president of the Retail Council of Canada in Quebec, claimed that “Canadians do not need to panic”. Over the weekend, stores would be “back to almost normal.”

This has not been enough. The panic-driven purchaser and diligent hoarder loom like troubling spectres. Policies have been introduced by specific drug wholesalers such as McKesson. Andrew Forgione, a spokesperson for the company, spoke about the taking of “proactive steps to support responsible ordering, including temporarily adjusting daily customer ordering for some medications and certain daily essentials.” Canadian consumer or retailers, he explained, had little reason to “mass order products.” But order, they do.

Some hoarders have even become accidental, and reviled celebrities. A Tennessee man, Amazon seller Matt Colvin, went so far as to acquire 17,700 bottles of hand sanitizer. The intention was not so much to hoard as make a killing online, selling the items at marked up prices. The intention might have been seen as distinctly American, even patriotic: take advantage of adverse conditions, plan ahead and make money from it. “I’ve been buying and selling things for 10 years now,” he told the New York Times. “There’s been hot product after hot product. But the thing is, there’s always another one on the shelf.”

The interest of the Tennessee attorney general’s office was piqued. An investigation was commenced into possible price gouging. As this took place, Colvin had a change of heart, wishing to donate the supplies. Prosecutors, however, are intent on proceeding with the action.

More militant operations have been recorded in other countries in an effort to rein back the dedicated hoarder. In Maharashtra’s Jalna city, police and officials of the Food and Drug Administration conducted a joint operation against a shop owner Hastimal Bamb for allegedly hoarding 18,900 masks and possessing 730 bottles of fake hand sanitisers.

Across the border, similar stories have surfaced. In Karachi’s Baloch Colony a certain shopkeeper by the name of Zaheer was arrested during the week for hoarding sanitisers then, according to a police statement, selling “them for more than triple the actual price.”

Talk about community, toughing matters out, enduring together, provide salve for the bruised soul. It does not stop greed, nor does it stem opportunity. Responding to pandemics, as to conflict, brings its chances for profiteers and the desperate. No political potentate, whatever the measure, can stem it entirely. The coronavirus hoarder is here to stay – at least for the near future.

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There’s A Better Class Of Unemployed And They Couldn’t Possibly Be Expected To Survive On Newstart!

“Bad news, dear. I’ve just been sacked!”

“Never mind, we’ll sit down and work out ways we can tighten our belts so we can get through this.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. There’s no way we could do a budget at the moment. Everything’s too uncertain!”

“But don’t we need to live within our means.”

“No, that was just when I didn’t want you to spend any money.”

Yes, it doesn’t make sense when you use the household analogy that the Liberals are so fond of when talking Federal budgets, but then there’s a lot of things that don’t make sense including the fact that the National Party can continue to find leaders who make us all think of Tim Fischer as an intellectual giant.

Covid-19 has certainly raised a lot of questions, and I don’t just mean about whether there’s a Covid-18 somewhere that nobody told us about. Let’s take the Prime Minister’s comments about people who’ve lost their jobs “through no fault of their own”. Are we meant to infer from this that up until now, if somebody found themselves unemployed, it was their own fault?

It seems that way, because we were also told that we’d have people suddenly having to deal with Centrelink who’d had no experience of being on welfare before. Don’t know how to break it to the Coalition, but every day, somebody has that experience. It’s not like the unemployed are a permanent underclass who are born with an Indue card. In fact, all the reasons for not raising Newstart was that it was only a temporary thing because “the best form of welfare is a job”!

Speaking of inferences, what does one make of the idea that those who lose their jobs because of the Coronavirus are to be given quick access to a temporary wage that will be set at a higher rate than the “undeserving” people who haven’t had their dole raised in real terms since the days where we thought that the election of John Howard was an aberration that would be fixed at the next election? Are we to presume that this is to boost the economy? Or are we to presume that this is an admission that nobody could be expected to survive on Newstart and if too many people are forced onto it, no amount of sporting grants to stop girls having to change behind trees will save the government’s bacon.

Or should that be pork?

No, it seems there’s a better class of unemployed who can’t be expected to make do with the regular dole payments, unlike those people who don’t seem to understand that the best form of welfare is to be compelled to keep looking for a job while half the businesses in Australia are locked down.

At least, Peter Dutton is going to “come after” the hoarders. I’m not sure what law he intends to use but the special powers to deal with terrorists give him a pretty free hand. Mind you, he’ll only be coming after you if you have more than the prescribed number of toilet rolls or cans of baked beans. Unlike hoarding houses, this is not about the politics of envy or class warfare. Nah, keep buying those investment properties there’s no law against that. Or hoarding toilet paper, as far as I’m away, but I’m not Minister for Home Invasions.

While this may seem un-Australian, I can’t help but wonder if the Budget is being delayed for the simple reason that a May budget would have had next to no spending on the bushfires (the Emergency Fund being “notional”) or the response to the Coronavirus and it would have clearly laid out how the surplus that we achieved before we achieved it, was rather like the benefits Morrison got from an empathy consultant – largely imaginary.

Yes, when Scottie was pressed about the surplus a few weeks ago, he responded by asking if any of the journalists predicted the Coronavirus. This deflection was largely successful because none of them actually thought to say they they weren’t the ones making the predictions. If I’d declared that Gold Coast Suns will win the flag this year, I can’t say that nobody predicted the shorter season and if hadn’t been for that, they’d have won their last five games and made the finals, so there was absolutely nothing wrong with my original prophecy.

Delaying the Budget seems strange. After all it’s just a statement of what you expect to happen which always needs to be adjusted when circumstances change. To postpone it to October seems to suggest that Frydenberg is saying that he has no idea what’s happening or what’s likely to happen. While this may be true, there’s always an element of uncertainty about a budget and to throw your hands up and say it’s all too hard at the moment, doesn’t really inspire confidence.

Well, like those “Back In Black” mugs that have been removed from the Liberal merchandising, it’s always dangerous to get ahead of yourself but there’s a difference between laying out a set of expectations and declaring the future certain. If I say that the current government will be the ones who presided over the first recession in Australia this century, I’m running the risk that the run on toilet paper will somehow stop there being two quarters of negative growth, but I think it’s a lot safer than Morrison’s “We delivered a budget surplus next year”.

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