Canberra Report - COVID-19 remains the primary focus - Wednesday, 3 February 2021

By Joel Fitzgibbon

03 February 2021

Parliament is back in session this week after the long summer break and COVID-19 remains the primary focus for all involved. The week began with a warning from the Prime Minister that “the pandemic is still raging.  It’s not petering out. Indeed, it is morphing into new and more virulent strains.”


On the same day in response to questions about the ongoing need for Government assistance, the Treasurer declared we can’t keep spending borrowed money to prop up the economy forever.  Both the Prime Minister and the Treasurer were correct, but you can see the inconsistency, can’t you?


Australia has handled the Coronavirus magnificently when compared to other countries where the death rate and economic impact has been devastating.  As an island nation we’ve easily been able to protect ourselves from the rest of the world. Our governments have followed the expert health advice and in the main, our people have been sensible.


Economically, JobKeeper has been critical to our relative success. That’s one thing on which everyone agrees.  At around $100 billion it’s been expensive, and it has blown out the Budget, but it’s been money well spent. So, if the virus is still “raging”, is there a case for extending JobKeeper?  Surely the answer is yes.


But what is also clear is that JobKeeper has been abused by many and implementation mistakes have been made.  It’s obvious that some businesses no longer need it while others still desperately do.


So surely the answer is to re-shape the program, better target it, and to deal with the rorts and mistakes.  The rorts and mistakes were possibly forgivable in amongst the early rush to act but they are not now.  Some businesses are busier than ever but others, like our travel agents, couldn’t be doing it tougher, and it is no fault of their own.


Of course, more government debt is a concern. Our grandkids will pay a price.  But interest rates are at record lows and governments can borrow cheap.  The Government could also work hard at saving money elsewhere too.  I know all readers will be happy to nominate an example.  Government advertising would be my first port of call.  It’s out of control.


As the Western Australia incident demonstrated on Sunday night, the lockdowns won’t end until a large proportion of our population is vaccinated. In the meantime, Government will have an ongoing role in ensuring the economy stays afloat.  It’s a difficult fiscal balance but it’s one we must get right.