Crikey Worm: Make do and spend

DOLLARS AND SENSE?

Despite the splashy spendathon described as a “budget of bribes“, aged care is set to lose out if the Coalition wins the election in May, Crikey’s Bernard Keane reports. In a glaring omission, there was no pay rise for the strained workforce (who make as little as $22 an hour) in the 2022-23 budget despite desperate pleas from unions and employers, with spending for services increasing by less than a measly 1%. Women are among the winners in the budget, however — with $2.1 billion pledged for women’s safety and health (like response support, emergency accommodation, and legal services) Crikey’s Josefine Ganko writes. The devil is in the detail, it seems — among the fine print, there was $20.3 million allocated for planting trees for the Queen, $61.1 million for fighting lumpy skin, and $9.9 billion for REDSPICE — no, not Geri Halliwell, the mysterious Resilience, Effects, Defence, Space, Intelligence, Cyber and Enablers, a snappy acronym for a mostly classified government package, as Crikey’s Jason Murphy explores.

Some other quick winners, courtesy of ABC’s coverage: motorists, who’ll have their fuel excise halved to 22.1 cents a litre; low- and middle-income earners who’ll get $420 back on their tax returns; regional Australians who’d get upgraded ports, roads, dams, and logistics hubs; Afghan nationals with 15,000 extra visas over four years; and first home buyers with 25,000 new places in the first home buyers scheme. And some losers: anyone worried about the climate crisis as the Coalition will cut spending across clean energy agencies by 35% over four years, Guardian Australia writes, and “future generations”, The Age says plainly, as the eyewatering budget bottom line ensures they’ll have to pay back Australia’s debt (which’ll hit 31.1% of GDP by next June) for decades to come. As AFR’s Phillip Coorey puts it, “Basically, there is a shed load of cash up front to get the government across the line in the election … Beyond that, things begin to tighten up, relatively at least.”

ICAC INVESTIGATES ROLFE CHARGE

The NT’s Independent Commissioner Against Corruption Michael Riches has launched an investigation into the decision to charge cop Zachary Rolfe with murder after he fatally shot 19-year-old Indigenous man Kumanjayi Walker, the NT News reports. NT Parliament was in an uproar yesterday after Chief Minister Michael Gunner accused Opposition Leader Lia Finocchiaro of impugning the justice system over her calls for an inquiry — Gunner has before said he didn’t see the need for an ICAC investigation, saying he trusted the police, the courts (the decision had been greenlit by a committal hearing first), and the Director of Public Prosecutions. But Gunner says he respects ICAC’s decision to look into it all the same, The Australian ($) adds. Finocchiaro responded to the accusation of interference levelled at her by calling Gunner “disgusting” but withdrew her comments.

It’s actually not the first NT’s ICAC has heard about Rolfe — the NT Independent reports Police Commissioner Jamie Chalker personally referred Rolfe to the Territory’s anti-corruption body less than 48 hours after the shooting on the basis of “suspected improper conduct”. That was before any charges had been filed, and while evidence was still being gathered, according to the ICAC Inspector annual report. It seems to be at odds with Chalker’s claim he operated “at arm’s length” from the investigation, SBS reports, and was “shocked” by Rolfe’s murder charge, as ABC adds. A coronial inquest will take place later this year lead by Elizabeth Armitage who has said Walker’s family and community will be “heard and understood” in an effort to prevent a similar tragedy as Walker’s death, the Oz ($) says.

ZOE’S LAW

NSW has upped the penalty for injuries to pregnant women that result in the loss of unborn babies, The New Daily reports, with up to 28 years now on the table. The crime — called “causing the loss of a fetus” — was inked into law yesterday, meaning NSW is the only state to have it as a standalone offence. It comes after 12 years of campaigning from Brodie Donegan, who lost her unborn daughter Zoe after a drug-affected driver hit Donegan in 2009. But so-called Zoe’s Law has been a hot topic in feminist circles because of fears it bestows personhood on a fetus — with some fearing it would erode women’s rights to autonomy, informed consent, and liberty over pregnancy and childbirth decisions, The Conversation wrote in 2014. The bill was introduced by Christian Democratic Party MP Fred Nile at the time, but reintroduced by independent MP Chris Spence.

Speaking of protecting women — Chelsea Watego has written an interesting story for IndigenousX about the already-infamous slap dished out by actor Will Smith after comedian Chris Rock made a joke about Jada Pinkett-Smith’s alopecia at the Oscars (Smith apologised overnight, as CNN reports). Watego writes that she doesn’t condone violence but “the real shock for many was witnessing a Black man stand up in defence of the Black woman he loves”. Watego says Smith’s response to Pinkett-Smith’s condition being ridiculed was too quickly characterised as a form of domestic violence, and says Australian commentators — including a tweet from ABC’s Patricia Karvelas — contributed to a loud chorus that “drowned out the voices of Black people”.

ON A LIGHTER NOTE

If Energy Minister Angus Taylor tweets about nearly anything, you can bet your bottom dollar someone will reply “Fantastic. Great move. Well done Angus”. It’s a constant reminder of the rather embarrassing time Taylor commented on his own Facebook post congratulating himself for announcing 1000 new parking spots. It’s likely Taylor — or perhaps his staff — meant to switch accounts to leave the positive feedback, but rather humorously forgot. Across the ditch, another politician has been left red-faced after being accused of running a secret citizen account to praise himself. Councillor Sean Rush wouldn’t confirm whether he ran the now-deleted account @localbod1, which — incredibly — recently tweeted nearly verbatim what Taylor’s did: “Well done Sean Rush”. The complimentary account has also called climate change “massively overstated” and claimed male politicians get more abuse.

When asked if it was him, Rush, a former gas and oil lawyer, replied “I’d have to check what it’s tweeted to see whether that’s appropriate”. Oh. But ever since, he’s has been tight-lipped when probed further, saying he would not comment further on the “local bod thing”. His colleague Rebecca Matthews is almost certain it was him. She says the account knew things only Rush would’ve known, and besides, it sounded like it was him speaking in the third person. The exasperated Wellington mayor Andy Foster warned all elected officials to try not to fake their own support networks, and to not take negative comments too personally. “Anonymous comments should be taken with a grain of salt, while the rest of us get on dealing with real issues,” he says.

Hoping you take the high road today, folks.

SAY WHAT?

There is a very appropriate saying here, the fish stinks from the head. Morrison and Hawke have ruined the Liberal Party in New South Wales by trampling its constitution … It is his way or the highway. [He’s] an autocrat, a bully who has no moral compass.

Concetta Fierravanti-Wells

The conservative Liberal senator from New South Wales is leaving politics at the next election after being demoted on the party’s ticket — so took the opportunity to unleash on Prime Minister Scott Morrison in a speech to the Senate on budget night, who she also accused of using his “so-called faith as a marketing advantage”.

CRIKEY BUDGET SPECIAL

 

A budget bulging with big bribes

“The deficit for the current year is expected to fall by $20 billion to $80 billion, and by a similar amount to $78 billion for 2022-23. However the budget will still be more than $40 billion in deficit in 2026. That’s because the government is using much of that revenue windfall on bribing voters. It is pumping $36 billion in extra spending into the economy across the forward estimates, even on top of the additional spending it announced in MYEFO.

“By way of comparison, this time 12 months ago, the government said it planned to spend $593 billion — tonight, it says it will be spending $625 billion. As a result, 2026 is forecast to become the seventh year in a row with spending above 26% of GDP — a level it has never reached under any government since World War II, but which now looks a permanent default level of larger government under the Coalition.”

Record high employment… and the horrible, ugly fight it portends

“The Coalition will do the same with low unemployment. Having achieved it, mostly accidentally, they will now hold it as proof of their superiority as economic managers. If, under Labor, unemployment were to rise, that will be turned into a truncheon to use against the treasurer of the day.

“This will reshape the partisan landscape. After all, it was the Labor treasurer following CostelloWayne Swan — who most obsessed over surpluses. Whichever Labor treasurer follows Frydenberg — perhaps as soon as May — will be laser-focused on unemployment too.”

The three terrifying poisons in Frydenberg’s price forecasts

“While inflation wreaks direct havoc on the buying power of our currency, it poisons the political environment by smoothing the way for lies. The higher inflation is, the more vital it is to distinguish between numbers adjusted and unadjusted by inflation. The government will be able to slash the buying power of funding for institutions like the ABC or the health system, while arguing — accurately — that they are giving those institutions record funding.

“My advice to any political watcher is to view claims of record spending with extreme scepticism in an era of high inflation. Familiarise yourself with the nomenclature. In budget speak, ‘real’ means ‘inflation-adjusted’ while ‘nominal’ means a figure is not adjusted for inflation.”

READ ALL ABOUT IT

Gulf states hold Yemen talks despite boycott by the Houthis (Al Jazeera)

Gretchen Whitmer: FBI agent ‘bomb-maker’ in kidnap plot (BBC)

Federal judge finds Trump most likely committed crimes over 2020 election (The New York Times)

UN Libya mission uncovers abuse, investigates mass graves (Al Jazeera)

Covid-19: Kiwis seek banned Chinese medicine as Customs seizes 235k pills (Stuff)

As trade with Russia halts, countries turn to Canada (The Wall Street Journal) ($)

Hillsong, once a leader of Christian cool, loses footing in America (The New York Times)

Twenty fines to be issued over No 10 lockdown parties (BBC)

Republican retracts false claim schools placing litter boxes for ‘furry’ students (The Guardian)

THE COMMENTARIAT

We must steel ourselves to protect an Australian way of life — Lachlan Murdoch (The Australian) ($): “I am always saddened when elements of our citizenry, often the elites who have benefited most from our country, display not a love of our values but a disdain for them. This is why some of what sets Australia apart is under threat. Our core values, our successes and even our history are under constant attack. Nourishing and defending those core values are extremely important. Not to do so has real world, real bad outcomes. This past month we have all been both horrified by the brutality of Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine and inspired by its leaders and its people in their courageous defence of their country.

“The people of Ukraine were living in an emerging democracy, embracing their post-Soviet sovereignty, working hard to achieve their economic and political aspirations, when Russia decided to snatch that future away from them … And so I was shocked when a respected poll in the United States last week revealed that barely a majority of Americans would defend their country if invaded in a similar way … But here, in Australia, let’s learn from this cautionary tale … To listen to our national broadcaster or much of the media elite is to hear about a uniquely racist, selfish, slavish and monochromatic country.”

It is time to look beyond the family feud and focus on what binds us — Chris Uhlmann (The SMH): “Listen to the major parties’ key messages and the looming contest appears to be a choice between a pathological liar and a gutless fraud. There are policies, of course, but the central battle is over the character of the leaders, or rather, their lack of it. Labor says Morrison stands for nothing, goes missing in a crisis and then blame shifts. The Coalition argues Anthony Albanese is an extremist disguised in a beige suit. Neither caricature fits the man, but public life has become the art of character assassination …

“As Peter Malinauskas stood before adoring true believers in an Adelaide Oval function room, he began his victory speech working against the instincts of the mob by thanking the Liberals …. Because neither is Labor the Coalition’s enemy. It is time to look beyond the family feud and focus on what binds us. Time to stop nitpicking every flaw in our democracy and rediscover the big things which make what we have infinitely better than any alternative. The people of Ukraine are fighting and dying because they don’t want the future a despot has mapped for them. That’s a powerful cause. It is ours too.”

HOLD THE FRONT PAGE

The Latest Headlines

WHAT’S ON TODAY

Kaurna Country (also known as Adelaide)

  • Art Gallery of SA’s Rhana Devenport, Adelaide Festival Centre’s Douglas Gautier, and SA Museum’s Brian Oldman will have a panel discussion on the future of art beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, in an event held by the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce.

Muwinina Country (also known as Hobart)

  • Former prime minister John Howard and Australian of the Year Dylan Alcott will speak at The Property Congress 2022, which explores property development and investment.

Eora Nation Country (also known as Sydney)

  • Musicians Phil Burton (Human Nature), Christine Anu, and Shannon Noll are among the performers at the Premier’s Gala Concerts, as part of the Seniors Festival Expo.




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