Pandemic support must continue for as long as it takes

Image by Ann Kiernan/Washington Post

Contributed by Joe Montero

That the Australian government now recognises that the pandemic is not over is a positive development, and a major shift from the attitude of the previous Morrison government. A National Cabinet meeting has just decided to reinstall and extend the $750 support payment that ended on 30 June till 30 September.

This is better than nothing. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to meet the need. Only those forced to lose at least 20 hours week will get it. Many will miss out. There is a failure to recognise that many have been already forced into part-time work because of the lack of full-time jobs.

Getting in the way, is the pressure coming from the corporate sector and blinkered economists pushing in the opposite direction. They insist that more money in the pockets of ordinary Australians is bad for the economy.

Paul Guerra, the of the head of the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, has just announced that it is important to end support as soon as possible to prevent the rise of debt and damage to the economy. He speaks on behalf of the Chamber’s members. This position is not an isolated one in the corporate world. It is echoed around the country and from related political circles and think tanks.

Photo from the ABC: Paul Guerra the head of the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry

They are wrong on two counts.

Continuing stagnation of wages and an even more dramatic fall in the value of social security payments is evidence that contradicts too much money on the pockets of ordinary Australians is putting costs on business. Rather than this, it is the increase in the volume of profits as a handful of the biggest corporations increase their monopoly control over the economy and allows them to charge higher prices that is leading to distortions and economic instability, and a continuing rise in debt.

A relative impoverishment of a large part of the population has created and pushed along an environment doing away with secure full-time jobs and their replacement by insecure, casual, and part-time work. This adds its own damage to the economy.

The graph below reveals the disparity between profits and wages rising since 2001 till 2021. It continues today.

Source: The ABS

As telling as the above is, it does not show the full story. Not all business share equally. Australia’s economy is among the most monopolised in the world. Monopolies can undercut and use other non-competitive ways to take a larger share, and the only way to counter this is through anti-monopoly legislation, something that Australian governments are loath to do. Yet, this is important to reversing the damage to the economy and society.

Secondly, government outlays to support those in need is said to create public debt. It only does so thanks to the shortage of revenue from the falling wages share and the massive scale of corporate tax evasion. A glimpse into the scale of this was revealed in WikiLeaks’s Paradise Papers exposure. Increasing wages and clamping down on tax evasion would soon take care of this.

Failure to take the proper measures in dealing with the pandemic harms the economy through more workdays lost and less capacity to spend, which affects small business most of all.

Funding for the health system to overcome the pressures of the pandemic has been far from adequate. Under resourcing and under staffing have left exhausted wealth workers, which has short-term and longer-term implications. Thousands are leaving because they can no longer cope, and the health system will be left diminished for a long time to come.

This is unless Australia’s governments do something about it.

Both the federal and some state governments have decided to increase funding for hospitals and the recruitment of new staff. It is a small start in the face of what is required. Nevertheless, it does signify something of a shift in government attitudes, and a recognition of the importance of placing this highly on the priorities list.

More could be done to confide in Australia and win trust. Combatting the pandemic should be a community effort. Not just a government one. Tasking this on means creating an army of volunteers to help wherever they can and giving them support. There are all sorts of non-medical roles they can play. A team effort is far more likely to build support for needed measures and far less likely to cause resentment from sections of the community.

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