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We’re waiting for the gambling industry to start lobbying to end lockdowns, Indonesia becomes a real-life disaster movie and Angus Taylor sneaks some coal projects through.

Coal runnings

The federal government’s current focus might be dominated by the single greatest combined public health emergency and economic downturn since the Holocene began, but rest assured that many government MPs are still spending quality time pursuing their personal vendettas. 

As this very column pointed out last week, MP Tim Wilson is determined to bring down industry superannuation funds (by continuing to accidentally prove how superior they are to retail ones), while Arts Minister Paul Fletcher has used the emergency to finally get rid of those pesky Australian content quotas that made it possible for this country to have an entertainment industry.

Energy Minister Angus “great job” Taylor has been suspiciously quiet of late, but The Saturday Paper’s Mike Seccombe has noted that he’s been hard at work on an exciting new project — the Underwriting New Generation Investment (UNGI) fund.

It’s on trend with many of the Morrison government’s projects, in that it’s a huge pot of government money with deliciously opaque governance, no clear guidelines and unclear eligibility criteria.

So, readers familiar with the priorities of Taylor personally and the Morrison government generally are probably going “oh wait, is this just a way to sluice public money ostensibly earmarked to support the development of next-generation power investments back into coal plants?”

And that’s horribly cynical of you. No, it’s got heaps of plans in place. Including… um… pouring money into propping up the decrepit Vales Point coal power station in NSW. Next gen!

Technically the plant wouldn’t appear to be eligible since the funding for the UNGI fund comes from the Clean Energy Fund and an ageing power plant built in the sixties is by no definition clean energy — and yet Taylor’s department and the NSW government have reportedly signed a memorandum of understanding about several projects including Vales Point.

It’s only one of a slew of mining and resource extraction projects which have quietly been given the nod in recent weeks, so rest assured that while your life might be on pause the federal government has apparently given ongoing catastrophic climate change the status of an essential industry. 

Hunka hunka burning lava

While the US is currently winning the global Which Country Can Accrue The Most People Dead From Coronavirus competition, many epidemiologists are predicting that Indonesia could yet take the crown thanks to an enormous and geographically diverse population, widespread poverty, the world’s highest rate of smoking, patchy (though improving) public health coverage, and an initially muddled official pandemic response from a government now desperately playing catch up.

And now they have two exciting new things to worry about.

First is official confusion about what to do regarding the local celebration of Idul Fitri (the Indonesian name for Eid al-Fitr) which starts on May 24.

The Muslim holiday traditionally involves “mudik” or homecoming during which people in the cities return to their home villages to visit families and in-laws in what is one of the largest temporary annual migrations of humans on the planet — and also a communicable health nightmare in the current context.

The government has already banned civil servants from undertaking mudik, but president Joko Widodo had yet to call for regional lockdowns amid fears of widespread civil unrest, especially given that a lot of people are returning to their families in dire economic need.

And if that wasn’t enough of a public safety headache, the nation also currently has four volcanoes which have just rumbled back into life. Mount Kerinci, Mount Semeru and Mount Merapi all enjoyed “elevated activity” last week, accompanied by earthquakes and landslides, while Anak Krakatau has already erupted.

All bets are off

There is at least one good news story coming from our continued lockdown and the closure of all those places in which we used to meet and mingle — back when touching a doorknob didn’t involve a risk of expiring in an ICU.

According to an exhaustive piece by Stephen Mayne at michaelwest.com.au, Australians are currently saving a staggering $38 million a day thanks to the shutdown of pubs, clubs, casinos and RSLs. Thanks, coronavirus!

And therefore it’ll be worth watching how aggressively the gambling industry lobbies for the lifting of current social distancing restrictions, given, a) how much they’re losing, and; b) the totally-reasonable-and-not-horrifying level of influence they have on Australia’s donation-dependent political parties. 

You’d think it’d be a hard sell to the older demographics though, since COVID-19’s estimated 0.5% fatality rate is still orders of magnitude higher than your chances of winning a jackpot — and the experience even more breathtaking!