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We’re not all in this together: the public, not the pols or pen-pushers, will bear the costs of lockdown

10 August 2020

2:01 PM

10 August 2020

2:01 PM

As Victoria is plunged back into lockdowns, with those in greater Melbourne facing unprecedented restrictions on their every move, the difference between the two Australias has never been so stark. 

Since March, the elites have been out of touch with ordinary Australians. Over four months ago, Prime Minister Scott Morrison told us that “we’re all in this together,” a slogan repeated by the political class ever since. Meanwhile, while almost one million Australians have been forced out of work and countless small businesses have shut down, the Victorian government gave its employees a 2% pay rise plus an additional ‘mobility payment’ worth between $757 and $2,800 each. 

Many mainstream Australians have accepted pay cuts to keep their jobs. According to an Institute of Public Affairs poll published in May 60% of 18-24 year olds had either lost their job or had their pay or hours cut in the previous six weeks. For those aged 25-34, this rose to 63%. 

The public sector has been completely insulated from the experience of mainstream Australians. An IPA analysis of Australian Bureau of Statistics data published earlier this year found that between 14 March and 2 May the rate of job losses in the private sector was 4.5 times higher than the in the public sector. 

Victoria is now the epitome of this divide between mainstream Australians and the elites. The Minister for Health, Jenny Mikakos, refused to answer questions in parliament on Tuesday 4 August, clearly unhappy that she had to show up for work. In April, Ms Mikonos argued that politicians were “working incredibly hard” and that she recognised that “many in our community are doing it tough”. It appears she lost her work ethic, along with any semblance of empathy, after receiving per 11.8% pay rise earlier this year, making her salary of $352,057 the equivalent of just over 7 times the median salary. 


In another spurn of mainstream Australians, the Andrews government, without any proper scrutiny in the parliament, has imposed severe lockdown measures on the approximately 5 million residents of greater Melbourne. The IPA has estimated that these restrictions will cost the Victorian economy $3.17 billion each week, a 37% drop on the usual output of $8.58 billion a week in the state. This is based on the Reserve Bank of New Zealand’s estimate of equivalent stage four restrictions imposed in New Zealand. 

For those who have been arguing for severe lockdowns all along, this cost means nothing. To them, lives matter more than ‘the economy’, and any cost is acceptable if it means preventing deaths from COVID-19.  

But this is a fundamental misunderstanding of what the economy is. The economy is lives. It’s the infinitely complex interdependencies between individual people, their families and their communities. The $3.17 billion of missing economic activity is not an abstraction. As NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet put it in a refreshing opinion article in the Daily Telegraph at the end of July, “In human terms, that’s… wages not being earned, bills not being paid, sales not being made, goods and services not being produced, all affecting the welfare of millions of people.” 

Mainstream Australians are the ones who will bear the costs of the Victorian lockdown. The missing $3.17 billion won’t be coming from the pockets of Dan Andrews and Jenny Mikakos, but from the pockets of hard-working tradies, students who work part-time in cafes, and the distribution centre workers who keep the essentials flowing to the rapidly-stripped shelves of supermarkets. 

Ordinary Australians know that there has been no equality of sacrifice in this crisis. That’s why 74% of them think that politicians and senior public servants earning over $150,000 a year should take a 20% pay cut, according to an IPA poll published at the end of April.  

The new Victorian lockdown is going to amplify the harm inflicted on ordinary Australians, and the divide between them and the political elites will only grow. By mid-July 170,000 Victorians had been forced out of work and an additional 80,900 were technically employed but working zero hours because there was no work, not enough work, or they had been stood down. 

The Andrews government expects around 250,000 more people to be stood down as a result of lockdown 2.0. The number is likely to be much higher, with The Australian on Friday 7 August reporting that Victoria’s unemployment rate will reach almost 19%, meaning that approximately one in five Victorians will be out of work. If the lockdown lasts even a few days longer than the anticipated six weeks this figure will be even higher. 

The number one priority of governments across the country has to be getting Australians back into work. For every additional week someone is unemployed, their mental and physical health deteriorate, and their chances of ever finding a job again diminish. 

By refusing to acknowledge the suffering that mainstream Australians are experiencing, the elites, led by the likes of Andrews and Mikakos, are compounding the differences between the two Australias. 

Cian Hussey is a Research Fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs. Join as a member at www.ipa.org.au.

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