Brown Study

Brown study

18 April 2020

9:00 AM

18 April 2020

9:00 AM

I seem to be the only person in this country who is not cock-a-hoop about the lavish government package to protect the economy from the ravages of Covid-19. In fact, I oppose it. It is too much, too open-ended, encourages dependence on the government, saps self-reliance, will never be undone or paid back, creates an enormous debt burden for the future, and is a high price to pay for ScoMo’s Hawaiian holiday. Presumably this reckless extravagance is all about restoring people’s faith in the prime minister, a faith that was tested and lost during the bushfires. But spending all this money was unnecessary: all he had to do was be tough and resolute as he was during the election. The wage subsidy will be higher than the government imagines, as everyone has their tongue out for a subsidy. It will still have to put something in the Christmas stocking for relief for tenants who cannot pay their rent or who, like Sam Dastyari with his debts, would prefer not to pay. And as politics is now part of the entertainment industry, expect a massive handout for films and the theatre.

That is my first objection, that the program is far too generous. Government spending should have some relationship to need and there should be some rational justification for asking the government to carry your burden. But this package has neither. The strangest aspect is that under the JobKeeper scheme, some people will be paid more than their regular pay.

My second objection is that it is so generous that it cannot help but encourage people to lean on the government. When they see that propping up businesses is a legitimate area of government activity, when they see that wages, rent, private hospitals, transporting produce to market, the payment of pre-school fees and, as now seems inevitable, subsiding airlines are all fit subjects for government money and a free ride, they will inevitably ask for money for their own little corner. Already it seems a regular ritual for so-called industry leaders to ask for ‘help’ and more line up every day. And after all that, what do we do when we get, not to Snap Back, but to Payback, when we have to get rid of the debt to keep our Triple-A rating? Simple. Get ready for tax hikes and levies with fancy names like the Voluntary National Health Emergency Reconstruction Contribution. That is when everyone will be asking, as I am asking now, was all of this really necessary?

But the saddest thing about Covid- 19 is that we are already getting into the swing of the next one. All the ingredients are in place. The absurdly named World Health Organisation is naturally at the forefront, as it welcomes the re-opening of the infamous wet markets in China. Our PM says this is ‘baffling’, but apparently not bafflingly enough to stop us doling out more millions to the WHO. The international elite is talking down criticism of China. Our clever ‘modern’ Liberals are warning against protection of Australian industries. If you liked Sars, bird flu and Covid-19, you’ll love Covid-20. Coming to an emergency ward near you.

One of the casualties of the pandemic is the regional press. Country people are now losing their local media outlets, which is bad for democracy. Several country newspapers have recently fallen by the wayside as the economics cannot justify keeping them alive. They are joining other sections of the media that are already doing it tough. As the established media point out, the root cause of the crisis is that the hi-tech companies, all foreign-owned like Google and Facebook, help themselves to news from the media companies, disseminate it to their subscribers and make money from it. I will leave it to your imagination whether the foreigners pay tax on their bloated revenue which is earned by this neat way of generating free copy. Obviously, that should be stopped and the failure of the government to do anything about it is a scandal. But there is another and more immediate problem. The problem is that the private sector media, including the regionals, are being denied a lot of advertising revenue because it is diverted to the government-owned SBS which, a few years ago, we foolishly allowed to take paid advertising. There must be millions of dollars involved, which is being used to puff up the SBS which is just another government body. Apart from the irritating fact that the advertisements ruin a lot of SBS programs, it is revenue that could keep private sector media companies afloat. There is a very practical solution to this problem and it can be found without bankrupting the country, turning the people into beggars or setting up yet another government handout scheme with a fancy name. The solution: the government should simply order it to be stopped.

That reminds me that with all the brouhaha about pulling together in this age of the pandemic and all making sacrifices as we cry that we are all in this together, there have been some notable absences from the ranks of the martyrs. Has a solitary employee at the ABC or the SBS lost their job, been forced to take annual leave, had their hours or pay reduced or forgone a bonus? Oh no! Your shelf stacker at Woollies is shouldering more of the community burden than the most exalted executive or so-called personality in the ABC on their extravagant salaries. For that matter, why is the entire public service apparently sheltered from the sacrifices the rest of us have been called on to make? The media, arts and entertainment industry has been one of the worst hit. But the lucky ones who got themselves into a public service funk hole are protected. Everyone has to carry an equal share of the burden, but with the ABC and the SBS free from any sacrifice, some are more equal than others.

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