By Denis Bright
As a financial member of the MEAA, I am always on my best behaviour when interacting with representatives of the LNP at all levels.
Occasionally, I have phoned Josh Frydenberg’s electorate office in the Melbourne electorate of Kooyong or to his staff members in Canberra. Despite the high profile of Josh Frydenberg’s portfolio, his staff team is always polite and helpful. Some point of clarification maybe required relating to budget papers or related documents for articles later published on The AIM Network. Getting the facts straight is a Win-Win Exercise.
A busy staff member at the office of Senator Anne Ruston, Minister for Families and Social Security, gave some polite clarification about aspects of the Corona Virus Supplement payable to university students in the preparation of this article. This clarification saved errors of interpretation.
Our representatives serve the entire electorate and not just their own support base. Courtesy should be the norm in Australian politics.
Foreign shores, past and present, offer alternative models of leadership styles.
Long before the modern era, audiences were enthralled by the fictional antics of Sir Joseph Porter in Gilbert and Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore from its initial performance in Queen Victoria’s Britain in 1878.
Sir Joseph’s promotional trail commenced by shining up the button on the big front brass door at an obscure legal partnership. Is there some Freudian imagery in the choice of the imagery in the musical repertoire long before psychoanalysis was born?
YouTube offers some entertaining variations on Sir Joseph’s career which always assist with my understanding of contemporary politics.
I commend Josh Frydenberg’s commitment to a preface to his economic statement on 12 May 2020. It contained a kind remark to the family members of Ged Kearney who is currently Labor member for an adjacent federal electorate of Cooper in Melbourne and a former ACT President. The Treasurer’s economic statement can be read in full here. Here is an extract from the preface to the document.
Australia finds itself at war against a faceless and flagless enemy.
The coronavirus has created a one in a hundred- year event.
A health and economic shock the likes of which the world has never seen.
So many of our fellow Australians, through no fault of their own, are struggling and doing it tough.
Be they battling the virus, separated from friends and family or worried about their job security and economic future.
Tragically, 97 Australians have lost their lives with many more people, including in this Parliament, directly affected.
Our thoughts are with the Member for Cooper and all the other families across the country who have lost loved ones.
A short preface is often appropriate. Audiences welcome such a statement of intent before moving onto the details which must still be evaluated objectively. Today’s political players sometimes make the mistake of going straight to the boring details. However, dwelling on the Preface at the expense of the details is also hazardous to audiences. It can also mean that confusion exists within the federal LNP caucus about the longer-term agendas.
Let’s move on through the document.
Shorter-Term Economic Stimulus Measures in the Treasurer’s Statement
The Treasurer’s Economic Statement proceeds to the grim economic statistics which were taken up by eyewitness news bulletins on 12 May 2020.
The ABC news coverage offers a summary of the details with an embedded video extract. Why compete with that splendid coverage, I ask?
My previous article for The AIM Network covered some aspects of the grim times faced by my parents during the slow recovery from the Great Depression at the behest of LNP governments at Queensland state (1929-31) and federal levels of government (1931-41) prior to the ascendancy of John Curtin as our wartime leader.
Tuesday 12 May was also my deceased mother’s birthday. I am sure that Kathleen Bright would be taking note of events in Canberra from a heavenly perspective. My mother joined the Ipswich Central ALP Branch during her latter years. Does she have a metaphysical extension to her membership after death and all those years of commitment to family, work and involvement in the Labor Movement.
In these times of new wave theology, I have no doubt that the energies and momentum of earlier generations can be mutated and perfected. Democratic politics can perfect baton changes in the interests of the nation and a wider humanity.
So how far has Josh Frydenberg moved away from the federal LNP’s cherished commitment to neoliberalism in its more virulent phase since 1996 when the days of the corporate state were still riding high?
The Treasurer’s statement proceeds from the current economic gloom to focus on practical solutions to the most significant challenges which will be front and centre in the post-crisis world.
Even the local Suburban Social Bar in Chapel Hill within the Ryan electorate got a mention in the economic statement:
Our economic measures fall into three categories: support for households; support for business and employment; and support for the financial system.
For households, our actions are designed to “cushion the blow” from the income shock and support consumption across the economy.
Given the level of uncertainty, our economic measures provide more than financial relief.
They provide a psychological boost as well.
There are so many stories from across the nation about how our measures provided an economic lifeline to people in their hour of need.
Like Luke, the owner of a local restaurant and bar in Chapel Hill, Brisbane, who said JobKeeper “saved our bacon” and Adrian, owner of an auto business in Moonah, Hobart, who said JobKeeper has “turned out to be a saviour.”
We effectively doubled unemployment benefits with the introduction of a temporary $550 coronavirus supplement for jobseekers.
We waived the waiting period, adjusted mutual obligation requirements and expanded the partner income test to ensure it reached those in need.
With over 1.4 million Australians now receiving the payment, it is providing critical support.
The Treasurer’s Long-Term Vision?
The Treasurer’s economic statement was a little scant on long-term vision. Perhaps there is always the fond hope that the old globalised neoliberal economy that has prevailed since the Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 might be resuscitated:
On the economic front, we have put in place a comprehensive range of measures designed to keep people in jobs and to build a bridge to recovery.
Our measures are working, protecting lives and livelihoods.
We can be confident about our future.
This virus will not defeat us.
We must stay strong.
We must stay together.
We must maintain our resolve.
The fighting Australian spirit will see us come through stronger than ever.
The Churchillian rhetoric in the Treasurer’s Statement sounds great. However, the emergency response measures carry some short-term flaws through anomalies in the fine print of the Coronavirus Supplement, the Stimulus Payments, emergency taxation assistance to the business sector and of course support for self-funded retirees in a virtually zero interest rate environment.
Let’s take feedback from a staff member at one of my favourite Woolworth’s supermarkets in Brisbane where most casual and permanent staff members are SDA Members (SDA Queensland).
After the initial rush to buy toilet paper and foodstuffs in late March 2020, business has now plateaued. Hours for casual staff members have been reduced at this store. Many of these casuals are also students who are in receipt of student youth allowances to cover their long years at university. The student and casual worker who I spoke to at Woolworths is an architecture student who had already completed a degree in town planning. It is indeed a long road on low income before career goals are attained. Every shift counts.
A spokesperson for the Minister for Families and Social Services, Senator the Hon Anne Ruston, assured me that recipients of student youth allowances would be in receipt of the additional coronavirus supplements of $550 per fortnight to complement the basic allowance available to all students but subjected to means testing for students who are living with parents/guardians. However, there were no guarantees on just how long this support could be extended from a government that believes in the power of the corporate market over the social market.
Basically, the Churchillian rhetoric seems to be a support of a return to the normalcy which has prevailed under neoliberalism since John Howard was elected in 1996.
Under this normalcy, official unemployment levels have been massaged to exclude anyone working for an hour per month or on job-seeker training programmes. Access to Job Seeker Allowances is also means tested for young people living at home with parents/guardians.
In over thirty years since the Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, a more aggressive form of capitalism has emerged which will ultimately have to be challenged by the election of a majority Labor governments with a strong social market agenda. Constituents expect to know more about the longer-term goals of the government in these difficult times. Our gravest errors since 1996 is an assumption that the macroeconomics of US Administrations should be applied here when our own economic and financial ties are increasingly with the South West Pacific and Asia.
The old school financial leaders got things badly wrong as they smoked away to forget the excesses of the First Abbott Budget in 2014. Both Mathias Cormack and Joe Hockey were astute enough to expect some real flack from the cutbacks dished out to Australians.
It’s surely time for Australian youth to mobilise again in the spirit of Bob Dylan’s rhetorical challenge to the status quo expressed in a recent release in March 2020 to honour of the late President John F. Kennedy.
Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside and it is ragin’
It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’
The future lies with the change strategies embedded in a commitment to people’s capitalism in a future social market as opposed to the corporate agenda which is coming out of US firms like Amazon (CNBC) and perhaps the federal LNP itself. This article is worth reading in its entirety.
Denis Bright is a financial member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis is committed to consensus-building in these difficult times. Your feedback from readers advances the cause of citizens’ journalism. Make yourself an instant political player. Telling your story will also relieve some of the psychological health risks associated with financial insecurity. Full names are not required if you wish to make comments through the Replies Button. Only a valid email is required which will not be distributed online.
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