By Joe Montero
The other night’s address to the nation by Scott Morrison was an extraordinary effort to convince the nation that matters relating to the Covid-19 outbreak are well in hand. This is not the truth.
The prime minister tried to portray a picture of national unity across governments. There are considerable frictions over the handling of the crisis.
Take the issue of school closures. Scott Morrison insisted that it was unnecessary to close schools. The New South Wales and Victorian governments disagreed, and it lead to press releases, just hours before the meeting in special Cabinet meeting Canberra. The two states have put forward the Easter holidays, and will review what to do next in due course. It is reported that a large portion of students have already withdrawn from the school system.
Combined with the rising public against, the disagreement between the federal and state governments has been enough to push the of the reluctant Prime Minister to finally do a little more.
The reality on the ground is, that the pandemic’s spread has risen dramatically in the past week. Seven have died. And it is about to get much worse in the coming weeks. The prime minister also acknowledged that the crisis could last 6 months or even longer. This is how serious it is.
He blamed his Australian audience for forcing the tighter measures announced. This is not true, even if a few have been misbehaving, and the gneeralisation works to covers up for the failure to act sufficiently and sooner.
Experience around the world is showing that the more decisive, thorough and extensive the action, the better the chance of containing the outbreak.
An important part of the new anouncement is the provision of $90 billion to the banks, so that they can provide cheap loans to the business sector.
Small and medium businesses in risk of survival should be helped. The best way to do this is by applying a moratorium on existing debt repayments, rather than tie them up with more debt. The banks, which are far from going broke, should be compelled to cover this. Relief from rent payments for struggling businesses, would provide further help.
Guess who gets to pay the bill with Morrison’s scheme? If the track record is anything to go by, it will be the rest of us, through future cuts in government spending. This is unfair and economically unwise, when the economy needs increased spending capacity and not less. If we go down this road, Australia will be left considerably worse off.
Social distancing has been strengthened. Entertainment and sporting venues, pubs, gyms, theatres and places of worship have been closed. Restaurants and cafes have been restricted to providing only take aways. Offices have also been restricted. These measures are needed.
So is the mobilisation of health professionals and emergency services. It seems a move is being made to extend this, although the details have nor been made public.
It is still not enough. Australia is facing a monumental challenge, the scale of which, is far too serious to be overcome by health professionals and emergency services alone. They need the help of an army of volunteers. This is the part that is being neglected most of all.
There are some organisations and individuals stepping up to do their part. This has not been acknowledged valued and encouraged nearly enough by the government. although it is key to engaging community involvement, ensuring that health services are being delivered as they should be, and delivering food and other basics to those in need.
Much more must be done to ensure an adequate supply and proper distribution of protective gear.
Rather than take these steps resolutely, we’ve got overwhelming reliance on the market to sort everything out. Morrison spoke about businesses implementing a new distribution model for customers who can’t go to them, as the way forward. This is no solution.
Serious attention must be put to those risking serious poverty because of a lack of a livable income through no fault of their own. The temporary doubling of Newstart and other Centrelink payments is a positive move, although rolling them together into the new Jobseeker Payment is very controversial.
More can be done. Rent relief is a good place to start. Households need relief from debt payments. Utility charges should be waived. Some basic staples can be provided by government free of charge.
Australians will be suffering many hardships. It is important to minimise these, and the only way is through a more equal distribution of resources. When people feel they are being treated fairly, they are far more likely to participate in a national effort.
Fairer and more equal distribution of income will put the economy in s much better shape for revival. And this is going to be the next challenge, in an environment where, the economy has already been weakened by other factors, and aggravated by the mismanagement caused by the wrong government economic policies.