ON THE MONEY
With Treasurer Josh Frydenberg set to deliver his second COVID-19 budget today, a final round of pre-budget drops has revealed:
- Better-than-projected projected post-COVID jobs figures will slash the forecast budget deficit from $213.7 billion to $161 billion, and funding for mental health services will be lifted by more than $500 million a year (The Australian $)
- A workforce plan will include ‘‘intensive support’’ for retraining Australians and more funding for job service providers — who already made out like bandits during the pandemic — to provide digital skills training. The Morrison government has also asked officials to “look at ways to communicate with every young person on income support to tell them of education programs in their area”, raising the prospect of requirements for not just job applications but training (The Sydney Morning Herald)
- A package designed to attract global talent will include an overhaul of employee share schemes and the taxation of foreign investors and financial service providers, for example tax will no longer be payable on shares at the point an employee leaves a business (AFR $)
- A $65 million boost to rural and remote bulk billing rebates (AAP)
- Following a campaign from Alison Day, who has has a terminal breast cancer diagnosis, the budget will include $5 million to support a clinical trial of potential new drugs for the treatment of refractory low survival breast cancer in women who have been identified through molecular testing. Greg Hunt has also appealed to the manufacturer of promising drug Trodelvy to apply for listing on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (The Daily Telegraph).
PS: As Kevin Rudd has again helpfully illustrated on Twitter, News Corp’s coverage of the Coalition’s stimulus measures has thus far been just slightly more generous than their response to his GFC measures.
AIR STRIKES IN GAZA STRIP
Al Jazeera reports that “at least 20 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli air raids on the besieged Gaza Strip”. As The Guardian explains, “….militant groups in Gaza fired rockets into Israel and Israel responded with strikes on the Palestinian coastal territory”.
The air strikes follow a raid by Israeli forces on the Al-Aqsa Mosque in the Old City of Jerusalem, widely considered the third holiest site in Islam, where they allegedly fired rubber-coated bullets, tear gas and sound bombs at Palestinian worshippers. The raid inspired immediate retaliation from Hamas, which issued an ultimatum to the government to stand down its forces at Al-Aqsa and another Jerusalem flashpoint, and upon expiry of the ultimatum fired rockets at Israel.
Al Jazeera explains that police have wounded hundreds and severely damaged the building ahead of a planned Jewish nationalist march through the city, while others have attacked Palestinian residents and protesters in Sheikh Jarrah ahead of planned evacuations.
The Federal Court has thrown out part of a challenge to the Morrison government’s temporary ban on passengers travelling from India, with constitutional lawyer Anne Twomey explaining at The Conversation that the Biosecurity Act was found to prevail over a common law right to return home.
Lawyers for 73-year-old Melbourne man Gary Newman, who has been stuck in India since early March 2020, are still considering whether to raise constitutional issues about whether Parliament had the power to create the act at all; as Marque Lawyers’ Michael Bradley argued in Crikey last week, the Biosecurity Act is not covered by the Commonwealth’s quarantine or immigration powers.
Elsewhere, Guardian Australia reports that a national plan to prioritise the Pfizer vaccine for residents under 50 will further impact attempts to vaccinate young people with disabilities living in care homes.
The Health Department has acknowledged it is yet to finalise a new plan to vaccinate the priority group, while medical professionals warn the cold chain delivery and specialist mobile teams required to administer the drug in disability care homes are already at capacity across aged care homes.
The news comes after the New South Wales government announced residents aged 40 to 49 are now eligible to register for a Pfizer shot and could receive the shot “within weeks” at Sydney’s new mass vaccination hub.
GLOBAL COVID-19 NEWS
In global COVID-19 news, the Indian Medical Association together with White House coronavirus adviser Anthony Fauci have added to calls for Narendra Modi to implement a national lockdown.
India is also experiencing a surge in a rare infection called mucormycosis, or the “black fungus”, in part due to drugs dampening COVID-19 patients’ immune responses.
China has also announced “a line of separation” at the summit of Mount Everest to prevent climbers from COVID-hit Nepal interacting with those ascending from the Tibetan side.
And Malaysia has locked down a third time in the wake of another surge.
THEY REALLY SAID THAT?
I might be showing my age or whatever but I think this is getting pretty tired. It’s a bit like a dad joke that’s continually going on and I think that it’s time that we changed it up a little bit.
…I do really want [co-founder of the ‘Shit Towns of Australia newsletter’ Geoff Rissole] to make himself known next time he comes to Port Pirie, so that we can actually show him some of the good side of things, and maybe we might drop down to fifth or ninth on the list.
The mayor of South Australia’s beautiful Port Pirie is not particularly impressed with the town’s latest — and seemingly perpetual — honour.
“Irrational fears over blood clots caused by the AstraZeneca vaccine have led to doctors warning about a growing vaccine hesitancy. A recent poll showed eight in 10 people are worried about side effects.
“Turns out it’s not the Mullumbimby-crystal-rubbing-5G-conspiracy-theory mob that put our hoped-for herd immunity at risk — it’s those people cancelling their jab appointments because of a disproportionate and ill-defined fear of an extremely rare event.”
“It would be gauche to say that Australia has ‘had a good pandemic’: the death toll, even if much smaller than elsewhere; the economic disruption; the miserable impacts of lockdowns, especially on the young, are all part of the horrific cost of an historic crisis.
“But the last 12 months has blown up the Australian economy, and the thinking about how to manage it, in ways that can only do immense good. Our policymakers have abandoned old ideas and embraced concepts that were anathema to them less than two years ago.”
“The Labor leader took a rare opportunity to share his moving personal history and articulate the values it imparted. ‘I know the difference that governments can make on people’s lives because I lived it,’ he wrote. ‘Mum lived it.’
“Alas, the advisers who vet Albo’s social media posts could not let an articulation of working-class pride slide without appending some cynical triangulation. ‘She taught me how to save,’ he wrote. ‘And how to spend wisely — because every dollar had to count.’”
READ ALL ABOUT IT
‘Fortress Australia’: what are the costs of closing ourselves off to the world? — Natasha Kassam (The Conversation): “As border closures have remained in effect for 15 months and counting, there are mounting concerns this is having implications for Australia’s national character. And serious questions need to be asked about the message Australia is sending to the rest of the world by shutting everyone out.”
Scott Morrison’s acrobatics: more backflips than a three-ring circus ($) — Dennis Shanahan (The Australian): “Morrison is turning the policy retreat or political about-face into a refined art as he seeks to maintain political momentum and avoid distractions from the budget and pandemic recovery. It may look inconsistent, and Anthony Albanese says it is crisis management from a government in chaos, but Morrison is more concerned with maintaining political and budget momentum than short-term contradictions and embarrassment.”
Why American politicians cannot say the words ‘Israeli apartheid’ — Mariam Barghouti (Al Jazeera): “Over the past few weeks, as the Israeli colonial forces escalated their brutal violence against the Palestinians of occupied Jerusalem, many hoped for some kind of a sharp reaction from the new Biden administration. But that did not come. Instead, we once again heard about how ‘deeply concerned’ the US State Department is about ‘unilateral steps that exacerbate tensions’ and that both Israeli and Palestinian officials need ‘to act decisively to de-escalate tensions’.”
HOLD THE FRONT PAGE
WHAT’S ON TODAY
The Wheeler Centre will host the Emerging Writers’ Festival’s programme launch with festival artists Mia Nie, Luke Patterson, Yamiko Marama and Olivia Muscat.
Former Greens senator Scott Ludlam will discuss his new book, Full Circle; Power, Hope and the Return of Nature, in an Avid Reader event.