As the ‘miracle’ Morrison government settles into its new term of office, Australians are expecting significant developments in public policy. As Michael Keating writes in his review of the Australian National Outlook Report for 2019 by the CSIRO and its partners, the Coalition was re-elected ‘with almost no policies’, except for inequitable tax cuts and minimal climate policies. Australia is at a crossroads, according to the report, and, to prevent a slow economic decline, needs to deal with problems arising from technological change, the rise of Asia, threats from climate change, inequality, low and stagnant wages, high housing costs, unemployment and persistent under-employment, and infrastructure not keeping pace with population growth.

Many Australians, including Coalition supporters, are dismayed at Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers. Former Australian ambassador John McCarthy considers that “no international issue is as emotive as asylum and refugee policy. No single policy question is more responsible than this for the debilitated state of federal politics”. We have diminished ourselves since the Vietnam exodus, when “we were leaders in international refugee policy”.

The refugee crisis is growing, mostly with developing countries hosting 70 million displaced people. Of these, 25.9 million in 2018 were refugees, almost half of them children, but only 92,400 were resettled internationally in that year. Many are held in detention camps, with more than 900 still on Manus Island and Nauru at a cost of A$573,000 each per year. This cannot continue.  

Another area of crying need is the steep decline in Australia’s overseas aid, with recent governments cutting foreign aid from 33 cents per $100 in 2013-2014 to just 22 cents. More than a third of that is now geared to countering China’s expanding influence in the Pacific. China committed in 2017 to spending more than four times as much as Australia on aid in the Pacific.

We don’t have space here to expand on the government’s mystifying refusal to raise the miserable level of Newstart payments for unemployed people, or to discuss Indigenous issues. This July newsletter highlights climate change.

Climate alarm

Extreme weather events are occurring with increasing frequency, as climate scientists warned would result from global warming. In The sirens are blaring about a climate catastrophe. Are we deaf? Bruce Duncan lists appeals from experts and international organisations, alarmed that we are not doing enough to avert an astonishing but still preventable global ‘catastrophe’. Instead, the world subsidised fossil fuels by $5.2 trillion in 2017. All the major world religions are echoing the pleas by Pope Francis that this is at heart a moral crisis, choosing short-term profits over the lives of millions. Australia is one of the worst climate offenders, with recent governments strongly influenced by fossil fuel interests.

George Browning is stringent in his critique of the failure of Australian governments to power Australia away from depending on fossil fuels. He denies that the Morrison government has a mandate to stay with current climate policies. Instead, it needs to develop renewable energy and job opportunities for people displaced from fossil fuel industries.

Australia has closed 12 coal power stations since 2013, but has not planned a transition out of coal. Australia refused to sign a Just Transition declaration at the Poland climate conference in December 2018, but other countries are planning to transition out of coal completely, Germany within 20 years, and Scotland, Canada, and South Africa planning to follow. Franziska Mey outlines the steps Australia needs to take.

Also in this issue, Brian Lawrence examines the impact of proposed tax changes on low-income workers, and argues the changes would ‘effectively penalise the lowest paid Australian workers’. A taxpayer with an income of $200,000 a year, almost five times the annual taxable income of a cleaner, would receive 20 times the cleaner’s tax cut by 2024-25. For low-paid workers like a cleaner, the proposed change in the Low and Middle Income Tax Offset ‘would only add $192 a year, or less than $4 per week, to the 2018 tax cuts’.

Let’s hope the Morrison government can work some miracles in all these areas.

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