The great awakening

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 farfetched to believe, as is evidenced by their words and their actions: congregating at the beachside 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 realization 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 hardnosed 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 realize that, and will listen more attentively.

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