Franklin D. Roosevelt was the President of the USA in the aftermath of the ‘Great Depression’ that commenced with the stock market crashes of 1929. Rather than riding out the Depression, promising business as usual at some point in the future, Roosevelt instituted a series of economic programs across the USA that focused on ‘the 3Rs’, relief for unemployed, recovery of the economy and reform of the financial system
. Roosevelt also overcame the objections of a large isolationist campaign in the USA to provide help to the allied forces in World War 2, first of all through the ‘lend lease’ program where armaments were ‘given’ to the allied forces and subsequently through a direct involvement in both the European and Asian ‘theatres’ of war. Arguably, Roosevelt also set the USA up for its financial and political domination of the remainder of the 20th Century.
In short, Roosevelt was a leader. He didn’t do everything correctly and despite being the President that repealed the USA’s prohibition, you could argue that in terms of the norms of 2020, his actions left a lot to be desired. However, in the terms of the era, his actions were radical and met by significant opposition with the US political and legal systems of the day. Sadly Australia’s response to the ‘Great Depression’ was nowhere as near as successful. The economy in Australia remained generally depressed until the economic stimulus caused by additional expenditure on raising and outfitting the military at the commencement of World War 2.
Conversely in the current malaise generated by COVID 19, Australians are certainly managing better than the Americans from a medical viewpoint. When compared on most measures, Australia is one of the world’s leaders in ‘flattening the curve’ and reducing deaths while managing to maintain some economic activity. Despite the marketing, the leadership we are seeing is not due to the actions of Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Sure, he is making the right noises and seems to be (generally) saying the right things, but there is a disconnect between Morrison’s actions and the marketing of the actions.
Paul Bongiorno recently discussed Morrison’s leadership throughout the current pandemic in The Saturday Paper
(paywalled). It is noted that
Scott Morrison keeps misreading the mood of a nation gripped by fear. Nowhere is this more obvious than his now-abandoned legal case against state border closures — or to be more precise, against the lockouts in the Labor-governed states of Western Australia and Queensland. The Liberal-governed states of Tasmania and South Australia escaped his censure.
If the ‘mood of the nation’ is represented by the survey conducted by The Australia Institute in May where 3 in 4 Australians surveyed supported state border closures, the misreading was not something that could be claimed to be within any reasonable margin of error
However Morrison was still supporting failed politician and self-described ‘businessman’ Clive Palmer’s Court Case against the West Australian Government’s border restrictions during July and August, until a campaign was mounted by the (only) Perth newspaper. Morrison issued the instruction to federal Attorney-General (and Western Australian) Christian Porter to withdraw from the case. It was a rushed decision — the previous week, according to Bongiorno, Porter was texting WA Government’s Attorney-General, taunting him for being on the losing side.
In March, the ACTU called for payment of two weeks ‘pandemic leave’ for all those who are required to self-isolate. Morrison ignored the request which has to an extent worsened Victoria’s recent ‘second wave’ as those that couldn’t afford to stay home and isolate went to work and assisted the pandemic to spread. Recently the Unions and the Business Council of Australia wrote a joint letter to the Coalition Government again requesting pandemic leave — which Morrison has since agreed to, initially as a Victoria only arrangement, a couple of days later the payment was extended if required across the country.
Over at The Guardian
, Greg Jericho has been looking at wages policy over recent years and — surprise, surprise — wages generally haven’t been growing at or better than inflation for about seven years (or 2013 — when the Coalition was elected to government). As Jericho suggests
As the pandemic crisis continues, we need to focus not just on the economic recovery but what kind of economy and society we want that recovery to lead to — because the government is using this crisis to push its agenda.
Discovering this week that 2.5 million people are either out of work or underemployed is pretty scary, but add in record low wages growth and you can understand people being fearful of what the future holds.
Morrison is talking about flexibility for employers to enable them to employ more people, however as Jericho notes
Flexibility is always code for the ability to reduce employees’ hours. And with that comes lower wages growth because workers constantly feel pressure of a trade-off between better wages for fewer hours.
The government is negotiating with employer groups and the ACTU for changes to the IR system, but has threatened to “go it alone” should no agreement be reached by the end of this month.
In addition to his lack of understanding of public opinion and lack of regard for the economic circumstances of those with insecure or low paid work, Morrison’s government is the responsible authority for aged care in Australia and there have been a number of COVID 19 clusters based in aged care homes. Morrison is attempting to duck shove responsibility back to the states, as demonstrated in Victoria where the state government were supplying staff to operate privately owned aged care homes as this article was being prepared. Greg Jericho also commented
This week as well, the head of Scott Morrison’s Covid advisory commission, former gas company director Nev Power, confirmed to a Senate committee that the commission was pushing for a gas-led recovery rather than one underpinned by a shift towards renewable energy.
The government is clearly using the crisis to favour fossil-fuel energy and sideline renewables as it hopes people’s attention has shifted from the climate-change crisis. (By the way, the first half of this year was the second hottest on record.)
Roosevelt took advantage of a crisis to make a better USA. You would hope Morrison and those that support him can live with the realisation that they could have made a better Australia for the next 50 to 70 years — and blew it.
What do you think?