TO the best of my knowledge, not a single Australian parliamentarian anywhere has solemnly announced his intention to forego, say, twenty percent of his taxpayer-funded salary or – if he cannot technically forego it – donate it to charity during the Coronavirus Recession. Every Labor MP knows the words to ‘Solidarity Forever’ but they’re obviously as saddened by the implications as the rich young man in Matthew and Mark. It shouldn’t even come down to personal altruism – but certainly that is always more admirable and inspiring. Australia’s governments should have mandated such reductions by now with the force of either law or regulation. With unemployment expected to climb as high as 15 percent in coming weeks and months, the class/wealth/power divide in a country that prides itself (fatuously) as almost genetically egalitarian has never been so pronounced. Masses have been forcibly stood down not by improvident employers or crashing markets but by state decree. The Morrison government sacked Australia, not in the Visigothic sense it’s true but it will soon appear that way if they keep drawing the same hugely generous pay. For the moment, Australians are still in a state of shock. It’s important for officials to keep them that way because the longer they see themselves as lucky virus have-nots the more accepting they’ll be of housebound penury. This nexus between hyped danger and acquiescence is no happenstance. Without it, governments will fall.
On the subject of money, Laura Tingle wrote a sound critique yesterday of the income replacement steps the Federal government has so far taken for coronavirus employment casualties. Forced to abandon a sour weekly campaign against Scott Morrison over climate change, Tingle has returned to what she used to do well: dry and unemotional analysis of economic policy. This she invariably does with a negative slant against the LNP and a transparently partisan habit of denouncing as stubbornness any reluctance to embrace “new ideas” which are actually old left-wing ideas. Her doubts about the sustainability of the government’s approach was nevertheless on the (sorely needed) money. Directing the unemployed to Centrelink (which cannot be contacted), the MyGov website (which crashed), increasing ‘benefits’ (which won’t be available for three weeks) and making a limited portion of super available (causing a chaotic run on funds) were haphazardly applied band-aids that didn’t stick for seven days. People cannot survive and pay their bills via this cockamamie ensemble.
It seems the Tingle view – shared by several other commentators – will prevail. The Financial Review reported last night that as early as today the government will announce a wage subsidy plan for workers and businesses similar to those instituted in the UK and elsewhere. If true, you could say we’ve come full circle and returned to the Commissariat model I mentioned in passing on Friday. As for solidarity, this is the nearest thing to it we’re likely to see. Our noble rulers privatise the plaudits and socialise the sacrifice.