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Carving with the Grain - Essay, Evatt Journal Vol. 19

CARVING WITH THE GRAIN

Evatt Journal Vol. 19 - After the lockdown: Essays on a Post-COVID World – July 29, 2020

Carvers asked to make a bowl from a piece of timber don’t simply pull out their favourite blueprint, says philosopher Peter Singer. Instead, they examine the timber and adapt the design to suit the wood. Likewise, anyone looking to reshape society cannot simply begin with abstract ideas.  Reformers must understand the values, aspirations and needs of the community if we are to make change that does not run against the grain.

Globally, COVID-19 has infected millions, and claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. The International Monetary Fund expects it to cause the sharpest drop in global GDP since the Great Depression. In Australia, unemployment spiked, with hospitality workers, arts employees, women and young people the hardest hit. The promised Morrison ‘snap back’ seems unlikely. Rather than a V-shaped recession, the best we can hope for at this stage is a recovery that looks like a Nike swoosh.

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The ugly truth is that the numbers matter — and we are not getting them right - Op Ed, Crikey

THE UGLY TRUTH IS THAT THE NUMBERS MATTER — AND WE ARE NOT GETTING THEM RIGHT

Crikey, 22 July 2020

Numbers, said mathematician Paul Erdős, are beautiful. But when it comes to coronavirus, they’ve also been downright ugly. That’s true whether we’re talking about the rate of infection of the virus, or the size of the economic slump, which has literally required economists to redraw their graphs to accommodate the drop. Getting the right numbers to the right people at the right time is critical. Yet amidst the first recession in a generation, Australia is fighting blindfolded, because we’re not measuring and publishing the things that matter most.

Let’s start with JobKeeper. When it was first announced in March, the federal government anticipated that the wage subsidy program would cost $130 billion and support 6 million jobs. In May, they continued to say that the program was on track in terms of both cost and jobs. Then the $60 billion penny dropped. Suddenly the Treasurer admitted that the program would in fact cost just $70 billion and support only 3.5 million jobs.

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New Thinking in the Age of COVID-19 - Op Ed, The Canberra Times

POLICY MAKING NEEDS TO CHANGE POST-COVID

The Canberra Times, 15 July 2020

If a policymaker doesn’t think differently after coronavirus, they’re probably not thinking at all. Would any conservative now dare to quote Ronald Reagan’s claim that ‘government is the problem’, or Margaret Thatcher’s suggestion that ‘there is no such thing as society’? Imagine the outcry if Scott Morrison was to present the budget proposals he supported in 2014, including a Medicare co-payment, reduced CSIRO funding, cutting pension indexation, and abolishing unemployment benefits for under-25s.

The same is true for progressives. After World War II, Labor didn’t yearn for a return to the 1930s. Instead, Curtin and Chifley made the case for full employment, and democratising home ownership.

What’s the equivalent today? In health care, we’ve seen the benefits of a universal system over that of the United States, which spends nearly twice as large a share of GDP on health, yet provides patchier care. Coming out of the crisis, there will be a strong demand for telehealth, particularly in regional Australia. Preventive health will become a greater priority. The vulnerability of nursing homes has given new urgency to calls for serious reform in the way we manage aged care.

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How Fire Hurt Our Firms - Op Ed, The Canberra Times

HOW FIRE HURT OUR FIRMS

The Canberra Times, 3 June 2020

When coronavirus hit, one thing many Canberra households didn’t have to rush out and buy were N95 masks.

That’s because we already had plenty in the cupboard from summer, when Canberra’s air quality was 22 times the hazardous rating. On some days in December and January, air quality in the bush capital was the worst in the world. People debated how many cigarettes you would have to smoke to do as much lung damage as just breathing our air. Was it half a pack, one pack or two?

The effect of the summer bushfires on Canberra was brutal. For weeks, outdoor activity was almost impossible. Restaurants, hotels, arts events, and the sporting sector were hit hard.

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As Australia bounces back, let’s make sure we’re not leaving people behind - Op Ed, The Canberra Times

AS AUSTRALIA BOUNCES BACK, LET’S MAKE SURE WE’RE NOT LEAVING PEOPLE BEHIND

The Canberra Times, 18 May 2020

Recently I heard from a Canberra woman who had changed employers last November. Her new employer told her she’d start off as a casual and then transition to permanency. When coronavirus hit, and the government announced its JobKeeper wage subsidy program, she hoped that it would apply to her. But as a casual who had been with her employer for less than year, she was excluded. As she wrote to me ‘This will have a long and lasting financial impact on our family’.

In another family, I heard the story of two children, aged 18 and 21, who had each been in casual jobs for 11 months. They’re ineligible too. A local Turkish restaurant told me that half their staff were international students. Because those workers are on temporary visas, they are ineligible for JobKeeper. The restaurant owners are worried they’ll have to close permanently. They pleaded ‘Save us from folding up.’

Labor supports the JobKeeper wage subsidy scheme. More than that, we called for it. Early in the crisis when other countries had announced wage subsidy schemes, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said it wouldn’t work in Australia. It was only under pressure from business, unions and the Labor Party that Mr Morrison changed his mind, recalled parliament and enacted the JobKeeper package. It’s the most important thing the government has done.

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Poor bear burden of coronavirus downturn, but inequality not inevitable in Australia - Op Ed, The Guardian

THE POOR BEAR THE BURDEN OF THE CORONAVIRUS DOWNTURN, BUT INEQUALITY IS NOT INEVITABLE IN AUSTRALIA

Over the three-month American summer break, school students diverge. In high-income families, students keep learning, thanks to museum trips, instructional camps, and home tutoring. In low-income families, students slip backwards, losing 1-2 months’ worth of learning by the time they return to school. According to one study, the ‘summer slide’ accounts for two-thirds of the difference between poor and rich students.

The gap between high-performing and low-performing children in Australia is already larger than in most advanced nations. With a large share of families currently homeschooling, this problem is likely to worsen. Speaking with a range of parents, I’m struck by the differences in how children are spending their days - with some being intensively tutored, while others are literally left to their own devices.

Before COVID-19 hit, we already had too much inequality in Australia. And that’s not just a Labor view. In one survey, people were three times more likely to agree than disagree with the statement that ‘income and wealth should be redistributed towards ordinary working people’.

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Charity jobs at risk - Media Release

CHARITY JOBS AT RISK

The future of hundreds of charity workers remain in limbo as they continue urging the Morrison Government to further revise the JobKeeper program.

In spite of initial changes to the program’s requirements, major charities - including Oxfam, Anglicare, UnitingCare, Fred Hollows Foundation, the Samaritans, St Vincent de Paul, Wesley Mission Queensland and many of our major medical research institutes - say they cannot meet the test of a 15 per cent drop in revenue required for charities to qualify.

According to a survey this week by the Australian Council of Social Service, many charities are expecting to have to shed jobs as a result of the drop in donations. They estimate that 37 per cent of anticipated job losses will still occur in organisations whose overall revenue loss is likely to be less than 15 per cent.

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Charities on the brink - Media Release

CHARITIES ON THE BRINK

Major charities will have to dismiss staff in coming weeks unless the Morrison Government again revises its JobKeeper program.

Charities run a range of different services including retail stores, early childhood centres, disability services and facilities that bring communities together. In many cases, some operations have suffered massive losses of 80 per cent or more. But because other operations have been sustained, they do not meet the test of a 15 per cent drop in revenue that is required for charities to qualify for the JobKeeper program.

Charities have seen a major increase in demand for help, while also experiencing a drop in donations and volunteering numbers. While some federal assistance has been provided, much more is needed to help the sector navigate the impact of coronavirus.The government’s decision on 5 April to offer charities a reduced threshold (15 percent rather than a 30 percent drop in turnover) was an attempt to fix the problem. But major charities say that it isn’t a solution.

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Let’s take this chance to rebuild our solidarity - Op Ed. Herald-Sun

LET’S TAKE THIS CHANCE TO REBUILD OUR SOLIDARITY 

Herald Sun, 30 March 2020

A century ago, the Spanish Flu hit Australia. Quarantine measures were only partially effective, so in 1919, authorities turned to social distancing. Public gatherings were cancelled. Masks were distributed. Schools were closed. People stayed home when they could. One analysis of the response found that it prevented 22 percent of Australians from catching the potentially deadly disease. In the end, 15,000 Australians died. It was a huge toll, but smaller than you might expect from a disease that claimed over 50 million lives globally.

Social distancing measures work, but they are especially tough on those with fewer social connections. In a recent survey on social connections, Nick Terrell and I found that Australians report having only about half as many close friends as they did in the mid-1980s. We are also less likely to know our neighbours. Remarkably, half of all Australians report feeling lonely at least once a week.

Social capital is the idea that the bonds of trust and reciprocity that bind us together have inherent value. Those with stronger social networks tend to be healthier, to do better in business, and to report being happier with their lives. Yet over the past generation, Australians have become disconnected. We are less likely to attend church, less likely to join clubs, less likely to be part of a union, and less active in politics.

Sometimes, a crisis can build social capital. We have seen this at times of war, and at moments when communities put aside their differences to battle bushfires or fight floods. But disasters can also be emotionally scarring. As Lifeline warns, ‘The stress caused following a natural disaster can lead to “burnout” and physical, mental and emotional exhaustion.’

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Helping the helpers - Op Ed, The Canberra Times

HELPING THE HELPERS

The Canberra Times, 24 March 2020

On the NSW South Coast, charities are hard at work supporting victims of this summer’s unprecedented fires. There are homes to be rebuilt and debris to be removed. Teachers are seeing signs of mental distress among children who were evacuated from their homes three or four times. When local MP Fiona Phillips and I held a roundtable with charities in Nowra earlier this month, they told us how their budgets and staff were overstretched.

And that was when there were less than 200 coronavirus cases in Australia.

In the face of Australia’s greatest post-war health emergency, there’s a risk that Australian charity workers have become the forgotten people.

Already, we’ve seen charities sidelined by the federal government’s response. In the first stimulus package, businesses were prioritised over non-profit groups. That meant a for-profit childcare centre could access support that was unavailable to a non-profit early learning centre. Although the second stimulus package contained support for small charities, the main measures are off limits to major charities such as Mission Australia, Barnados, the Smith Family, and Goodstart Early Learning.

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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | Andrew.Leigh.MP@aph.gov.au | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.