Oz Blog News Commentary

Should Scott Morrison abolish all unemployment payments?

July 21, 2020 - 16:51 -- Admin

A: No. Why ask such a ridiculous question?

When it eventually dawned on the Morrison government that a global pandemic requires governments to spend money, the prime minister was devastated. As treasurer, Morrison handed down the 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19 federal budgets. All were in deficit. He, andthe Canberra press gallery, called these deficits ‘bringing the budget back into surplus’. This lie relied on artificially inflated estimated revenue from unlawfully extorting payments from low income Australians, also known as #Robodebt.

In 2019, prime minister Scott Morrison, as ousted prime minister Malcolm Turnbull did before him, leveraged an artificially inflated budget bottom line to launch the Liberal Party election campaign. He also shut parliament for most business other than passing supply bills, presumably to avoid losing any more votes on the floor of the house. The other prongs of his campaign strategy included preference deals with Clive Palmer, who has been charged with fraud; giving billions of public dollars to Liberal and marginal seats; a stunt a day for the nightly news; and constant lies about his political opponents.

All of this was faithfully covered by the press gallery in ways that consistently served the interests of the Liberal Party campaign, whether ignored (the handouts), minimised (the Palmer deal), amplified (the stunts), or legitimised (the lies about Labor policy).

[Bear in mind that the richest areas tend to vote Liberal, so higher amounts of needs-based public funding should land in Labor electorates. Yet when the national press (as opposed to regional newspapers giving free publicity to people like Georgina Downer) did, eventually, start reporting on the corrupted handouts based on Liberal Party campaign priorities, their comparisons to Labor government funding models are false equivalence at best. Anyone comparing a Mt Druitt football field to Mosman rowing club knows nothing about Mt Druitt, needs based funding, or the role of government.]

Fast forward to March 2020. There is a global pandemic. Months earlier, evacuees from Wuhan are sent to the Christmas Island detention centre, 1500 kms from the Australian mainland. Cruise ship passengers are allowed to embark in February and then disembark in March to spread out across the country. Various levels of isolation restrictions are implemented by the Premiers and Chief Ministers. Scott Morrison maintains he will go to the footy and then walks it back.

Various ‘stimulus’ polices are announced, staged and piecemeal. He starts by announcing, in early March, that there will be one-off $750 payment to unemployed people in May and people on other income support in July, aimed at propping up the quarterly figures. At this point, Morrison still thinks he can manipulate the numbers sufficiently to avoid the appearance of recession.

This is despite the fact that the economy is already in recession in all but name, papered over only by federal government defence spending and the migration intake. The economy has been tanking since the first Abbott-Hockey government budget. Economic management under the Liberal Party leaders Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison is so dire that even the Reserve Bank governor has been calling for stimulus for years, including lifting the rate of unemployment benefit.

Also in early March is the announcement of more public subsidies for business owners who employ apprentices. This is aimed at corporations in unionised male-dominated industries and blue collar male business owners in swinging seats. They receive an eye-watering expansion of instant tax write-downs, from $30,000 to $150,000 for ‘tradies’ with turnover of $500 million, up from $50 million

The big one.

In late March, the prime minister calls his third press conference in three days. He is ponderous, handwringing, to announce ‘jobkeeper’, a payment for businesses to pay employees rather than stand them down. The announcement is aimed at stemming the steep rise in unemployment figures. A huge headline figure, which is later cut by $60 billion, is splashed all over the press. Also later, the subsidy is expanded to wealthy corporate religion, so the catholic church for example is collecting public cash; several rule changes are made to be absolutely certain public universities are excluded; and it is withdrawn completely from teh childcare sector.

There is also a ‘corona virus supplement’ to top up the ‘jobseeker payment’. This is aimed at stopping footage of long unemployment queues – and heavy handed policing of destitute people in the queues – appearing on the nightly news. Still to come are almost a billion dollars for wealthy home renovators via builders aka tradies; a $250 million announcement for the arts framed by Scott Morrison as directed at tradies;

Each of these piecemeal and deeply ideological measures are reported as heroic. The accompanying slogans, carefully designed to confuse and mislead, are faithfully broadcast and published, with the desired result.

Barely two months after payments start rolling in May, the Morrison government starts leaking its plans for the future of the payments after its September deadline, to favoured journalists. This fuels endless press gallery speculation about a political statement slated for Thursday 23 July, which was offered up by the government to replace the cancelled federal budget.

Morrison then brings the income support component of the political speech that is supposed to replace the budget foreard by two days. Why? Hard to say. Incredibly, this political communications tsrategy generates blanket coverage that income support is to be ‘extended’. The narrative is aimed at well off people who vote Liberal and like comforting pabulum to obscure the fact that the rest of us fund their investment properties and private school educations for their children.

Some detail, and some context

Firstly, as the government fiddled around with eligibility for the wages subsidy based on its political priorities (like misogyny and religiosity), the ‘jobkeeper’ budget was cut by a whopping $60 billion inside the same month payments commenced. Now we are told it will be cut by $300 per fortnight per full time employee after September and by $750 per part time or casual (under 20 hours) employee.

In addition, the corona virus supplement to JSP will be cut by $285, to less than half the original $550. These cuts are reported as ‘extending’ income support because he is announcing in July what the lower rate will be after the September deadline which the government announced in March.

Missing from thie media reporting is the fact that the base unemployment rate had already been rebranded, from newstart to jobseeker (JSP), before any stimulus response to a global pandemic. At teh time it was just routine Morrison government activity, cosmetic fiddling while Rome burns, text book neoliberal capitalism, designed to construe people on income support as latent jobs, as nothing more than the potential value of their labour to bosses. Its degrading and punitive compliance regime, which forcibly transactionalises human relationships and commodifies members of the working and underclasses to benefit rentseekers like Sarina Russo, has been called a digital workhouse.

Dickensian, but online.

Meanwhile, the news cycle is dominated by Morrison government announcements and misinformation. Arguably worse is what top Australian psephologist and fellow blogger Noely Neate describes as scottysplaining. This is the fantasist editorialising on what Morrison could do (be a decent person, act in an intelligent and timely way, implement policy in the public interest) rather than who and what he really is (a heartless stentorian, a monstrous and profligate liar).

Morrison has long shown us who he is and we ought to believe him. This is a man who lies about charity workers and refugees in detention, costing us billions; who unlawfully extorts money from the lowest income workers to fabricate a budget bottom line, costing us billions; and cancels the parliament but will solicit corporate clients at the football, costing us billions. This is but a sample of what passes for Liberal Party ‘economic management’.

The most critical element of the Liberal Party comms strategy is press gallery journalists invariably reporting, above the fold, on the home page, at the top of the bulletin, what Scott Morrison said. No matter what its relationship to reality, anything said by Morrison (or his ministers) is ascribed priority, and what Scott Morrison (or his ministers) say is what the Australian people, the audiences and readership out in the electorate, see and hear first. It is extraordinarily difficult to get cut-through for the purpose of refuting their lies.

This gift is not a function of who is in government. Only Liberal-led governments enjoy the vast benefit of this reporting model. Liberal opposition leaders have no difficulty in getting their deranged and false claims about Labor governments onto the front page of the Murdoch press. It is a function of aligned corporate interests. The Liberal Party are the party of business, of awarding huge contracts, billions of public dollars, to the corporate sector – usually to see it wasted.

A strange thing happened today.

The inspriation for this post is that something odd followed Morrison’s announcement about cutting jobseeker and jobkeeper income support payments today. The press gallery departed from their devoted practice of unquestioningly reporting Morrison setpieces as policy facts and instead told us that the base jobseeker rate will not stay at its present low rate. Bewildering stuff.

To conclude, a brief overview of unemployment payment at the time of writing:

    • ‘Jobseeker’ is a pre-covid rebranding of newstart, sickness benefit and other income support payments. It is not a virus response or stimulus policy. It is the base rate of unemployment benefit that has not increased in real terms for over 25 years.
    • That Scott Morrison has decided not to abolish unemployment benefit is ‘news’ if you think Scott Morrison could or should or would abolish unemployment benefit.
    • The corona virus supplement was announced in March 2020. Actual payments commenced in May and it was legislated to expire in September. The prime minister has now announced the supplement will be cut rather than abolished at that date.
    • When asked if the base JSP rate is too low, the prime minister said his government is not considering the matter.
  • When asked if the base JSP rate is too low, the prime minister said his government is not considering the matter.


Recall that the first sector to lose access to ‘jobkeeper’ wage subsidies was childcare. Almost all the workers are low-paid women; and almost all working mothers depend on childcare to participate in the paid workforce. While today we are inundated with breathless reports of future cuts to the rate of jobkeeper as an ‘extension’, it has already been withheld from university and other short term casuals, migrant workers, and the arts; and withdrawn from the child care sector.

You’re welcome.