Government’s $60 billion not spend doesn’t look like an accident

Contributed by Joe Montero

The Australian government is accused of stuffing up over $60 billion worth of JobKeeper money. media commentators are largely passing this off as a massive blunder. Scott Morrison agrees, and even suggests that the buck stops with him. There is something surreal about this. It doesn’t add up, and there’s the smell of a rat about it.

JobKeeper is supposed to cushion income losses caused by the coronavirus lock down. It was was announced as a measure to cover 6.5 million Australians out of work. Now we are told there was a miscalculation, and the number of those said to have found themselves out of work has been halved.

The critical words are “said to have.” This is not the same as actually out of work. Asutralia went into the pandemic with about a third of the workforce being part-timers, casuals, or designated as contractors, and signed up with Centrelink and worked less than one hour in the week are considered unemployed. Add to this those on work visas, and who who have worked with the same employer for less than a year.

None of these were covered, and it gave a distorted view of the true situation. The government knows it, and this leads to the conclusion that there is another agenda here.

Secondly, employers relying on providing insecure jobs have had little reason to sign on. This especially effects the hospitality and tourism industries, which have been hardest hit by the lock down. They also have the highest proportion of part time and casual workers.

For many small businesses, the application process has been confusing, and a big number of submissions were ruled invalid. They got nothing.

Is it any wonder that there is a huge gap between the political hype accompanying the introduction of JobKeeper, the spin today, and the reality on the ground?

When the government must have known this all along, and the bean counters in the Treasury and the Australian tax Office must have as well, passing off, that only $60 billion of the allocated $130 billion budget went out was a simple mistake, is not good enough.

The most plausible explanation is that the surplus had been engineered to make the package look much better than it was, provide political capital to Scott Morrison, and quieten the voices of the critics.

And it serves as a convenient means to hike off a portion of government resources for other purposes. It is now available to be used to help some close mates.

Doubters should consider the integration of the functions of government and sectional interests within the corporate world in recent times, which has provided both greater influence over government decisions and access to public funds. the practice of government has become more corrupt.

This can be seen being played out in the National Covid-19 Coordination Commission (NCCC) to oversee the spending of the Covid-19 money. Its members have been hand picked and it is riddled with conflicts of interest.

These handpicked members include:

  • Former CEO of Fortesque Metals Group and deputy chair of Strike Energy Nev Power;
  • Catherine Tanna, the managing director of Energy Australia and on the Board of the Business Council of Australia. She is former managing director of the Queensland Gas Company;
  • Andrew Liveris is director of Saudi Aramco and deputy chair of Warley Parsons and former executive of Dow Chemicals;
  • James Fazzino, former CEO of Incitec Pivot, one of Australia’s largest gas users, and director of infrastructure company APA;
  • Ben Eade, Executive director of Manufacturing Australia, and director of the Liddle coal fired power station;
  • Innes Wilcox the CEO of the Australian Industry Group;
  • Greg Comet, former consultant to gas companies AGL and Santos, which have been for greater support for the gas industry.

Added to this are:

  • John Kunmel a former Mineral Council of Australia top executive and now Scott Morrison’s Chief of Staff;
  • Brendan Pearson a senior advisor to Morrison and former owner of Crosby Textor (CT Group) and former advisor to mining giant Glencore.
  • Yaron Finclstein, Morrison’s Private Secretary;
  • Jim Reid, who has just received a private research contract from the government to work with the NCCC;
  • Neville Porter director of Strike Energy and chair of the NCCC.

This clearly shows the government/corporate network in operation. So much so, that it has induced a range of concerned organisations to sound the alarm, including the Human Rights Law Centre, Transparency International, the Grata Fund and the Centre for Public Integrity.

The $60 billion surplus and the NCCC appointments fit in nicely, with the just released announcement to shift from JobKeeper to JobMaker, marking a big shift from handing out money, to a more intense version of the neoliberalism practiced before the pandemic.

We can expect the big stick to be brought out against against the unemployed.

At Tuesday’s speech at the National Press Gallery, the Prime Minister talked about the priority being to “enable business to earn Australia’s way out of the crisis.” Is this the trickle down effect? Sounds very much like it.

Photo by Mick Tsikas/A: Prime Minister Scott Morrison at the National Press Club in Canberra on Tuesday. Prime Minister Scott Morrison at the National Press Club in Canberra on Tuesday

The cornerstone is the creation of a new industrial relations system

Last year’s Ensuring Integrity Bill to take the big stick to the unions had to be shelved. It failed to get through the Senate. Now we have its replacement. A kind of committee system for four months, where the parties, including the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), are locked into a process to deliver the desired outcome.

This will involve pressing for agreement on simplifying awards, extending individual enterprise agreements, a shift in the use of casual and temporary work, the establishment of new workplace laws, and the use of ‘greenfields’ agreements (can be used to lower wages and conditions in existing awards) for new enterprises.

In the context of the Morrison government’s ongoing commitment to neoliberalism, this means shifting the share of national income upwards, cutting back government expenditure on all but that used to boost private business, holding down wage rises and stripping of the capacity of the union movement to counter any of it.

An attempt is being made to sweeten this, with a promise of more money for vocational training, although no details of this have yet been released.

It doesn’t stop here. Other key planks of the government’s strategy are in train.

Energy Minister Angus Taylor has announced the intention to implement the findings of the King Review, to expand the fossil fuel industry through the Climate Solutions Fund, as well as Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) about to go into operation. These bodies are stacked in a similar way to the NCCC.

The King Review was headed by the CEO of the Business council of Australia Grant King.

Environment Minister Susan Ley has announced the “cutting of green tape,” to to fast track and clear the process of approval through new environment protection laws, which will be applied through the above bodies.

In this light, is it likely that the so-called $60 billion excess in the JobKeeper budget was just an accident? I don’t think so. It’s just too convenient.

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