With Parliament closing shop until August, who will scrutinise the trillions ostensibly being dished out to a paralysed nation? Executive editor Michelle Pini reports.
AFTER YESTERDAY'S SITTING, in which the Morrison Government’s coronavirus stimulus package was pushed through, Australia’s Parliament will not meet again until August.
BETTER THINGS TO DO
It will instead shut down, with all parliamentarians on full pay, because, as the Attorney-General Christian Porter put it:
“Government ministers have better things to do.”
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese described this as a “breathtaking” statement from the Attorney-General during a time of national crisis.
It's fair to ask, what possible activities qualify as “better”, more important or more “essential” than governing in the national interest during a global pandemic?
Most Western parliaments around the world continue to operate during this crisis, in order to pass all-important legislation, to review emergency measures and respond as the situation evolves. The Australian parliament did not shut down during any previous national emergency, including the Spanish Flu and both world wars.
But Porter is obviously privy to information that we are not, since these much more important activities apparently override the needs of one million Australians. These Australians have been deliberately overlooked in the Morrison Government’s latest “JobKeeper Package” because they happened to be casual employees at the time it was conceived.
SCAMS FOR THE UNWORTHY
Much too busy to deal with such trivial concerns, Porter dismissed even the possibility of discussion on this glaring omission in the much-lauded stimulus package with:
"You have to have some kind of guiding limits on the outer edges even of a scheme that represents expenditure of this extraordinary amount.”
Yes, a “guiding limit” that ignores the survival of one million Australians on those “outer edges”. Never mind that it is his Government’s policies which have created this casualised workforce — the highest level of casual employment in our nation’s history.
Never mind that while their toil was (in the main) being exploited by the many businesses already exposed and the many still to be investigated for underpaying casual (and other) employees, Porter, in his role as Industrial Relations Minister, initially lifted not a finger before a few token measures were instigated, though not for “genuine mistakes”. Of course, unlike the Robodebt scheme, where workers were hounded like criminals and had their passports taken and their tax refunds withheld — no questions asked.
And never mind that during the current enforced period of social isolation, most of these forgotten workers have no alternative means of income because – says the sagacious Porter – they should have reserves stashed away from all that money they were making. Obviously. While they were working as chimney sweeps and match girls, or whatever these unworthy outer-edge employees actually do.
There are also currently close to a million temporary entrants in Australia – such as tourists, temporary visa holders, students and other visitors – who are unable to return to their countries of origin, and for whom no allowance has been made. This, as pointed out by IA’s Abul Rizvi, is a humanitarian crisis in the making.
Apart from his latest, unspecified, extremely important activities, Porter is best known for engineering the Robodebt scheme. Robodebt – more a scam than a scheme – was based on a flawed algorithm, which unlawfully “recovered” millions and has been linked to 2,000 suicides.
SCHEMES FOR THE WORTHY
It is important to remember this history in the current situation, largely because it points to a pattern of behaviour from this Government. A pattern of behaviour that is underpinned with mean-spirited intentions that prioritise assistance for its citizens according to its own elitist pecking order.
Let’s remember, too, that during this period of very little scrutiny – as with the bushfire relief package – we so far have only the promise of government subsidies. How do we know that all this money will be paid, in a timely fashion, even to those lucky Australians who meet the Government’s worthiness criteria?
Morrison, for his part, has been at best slow to act on the COVID-19 emergency, originally telling us all to “go to the footy” like he intended to do. At worst, he has been negligent in his duty, allowing infected cruise ship passengers to disembark and wander about all over the countryside, spreading the virus.
But while the new National Cabinet does not include members of the Opposition, and since Parliament is going to sleep until August, who will scrutinise the trillions ostensibly being dished out to a paralysed nation?
Who will determine whether we are in fact “flattening the curve” and how can we know if we even have coronavirus since, in the absence of widespread testing, we only have Scotty from Marketing’s word (hardly worth the paper it’s not written on) on that?
Who will ensure our hospitals and medical professionals are receiving the help they require?
Finally, who will ensure that close to two million people excluded from this Government’s worthiness scale, do not perish under our collectively isolated noses?
Parliament did manage to agree to the Opposition’s suggested “Senate Select Committee”, intended to act as some sort of filter on the Government's activities. This has been described as “powerful” all over the mainstream media but what are its powers? At the moment, while admittedly better than nothing, any such "powers" appear to be symbolic.
Albanese said yesterday (Wednesday, 8 April) that Labor wishes to be “constructive” in the national interest but that “bipartisanship does not imply unilateralism or silence”.
The Labor Leader also said that
"we owe it to all Australians to keep our eyes open too.”
We all owe it to ourselves to keep our eyes wide open and to continue to hold this Government – one whose track record on matters of trust is hardly exemplary – accountable.
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