Paul Bongiorno: ‘Where’s the money coming from?’ A sick excuse for pandemic inaction

Josh Frydenberg  insists Australian households will be better off but won't say if that extends to the petrol pump.<i>Image: TND</i>

Josh Frydenberg insists Australian households will be better off but won't say if that extends to the petrol pump.Image: TND Photo: TND

All of a sudden there are other priorities rather than saving Australian lives and livelihoods.

There’s not enough money for free rapid antigen tests for everyone but there’s a stash of $16 billion to buy votes ahead of the election.

We got a couple of instalments at the weekend.

There’s one billion dollars for the Great Barrier Reef and $50 million to save koalas, both programs announced in North Queensland by the Prime Minister on the deadliest days of the Omicron wave.

Despite assertions Omicron is less severe, it has a four-times higher death rate than the original Delta outbreak.

Four hundred elderly Australians in aged care died in January alone, more than the 300 over the entire 12 months of 2021.

Experts are warning with the return to school we are sure to see another surge in infections, which can only prolong supply chain disruptions and staffing shortages.

And yet calls from doctors, business and the opposition for free rapid antigen tests for everyone as a surveillance check on the spread of the virus continue to be rejected.

Finance Minister Simon Birmingham has led the charge, demanding Labor cost its policy and tell us where the money is coming from.
There is a simple, straight answer.

The money is coming from the same place that will fund the government’s earmarked billions of yet to be announced election initiatives.

It will be mostly borrowed because no one is promising to raise taxes or curb generous concessions for budget repair.

Scott Morrison at the National Press Club today will trumpet the government’s record of responding to the COVID pandemic with an unprecedented $337 billion spend so far.

He will also need to explain why he personally intervened and vetoed Treasurer Frydenberg acceding to the request of the New South Wales Coalition government to match it in allocating $700 million to a Small Business Support Program.

Josh Frydenberg says “you can’t just keep writing the cheques”. How then will he explain grabbing for the cheque book in his pre-election Budget brought forward to March precisely to set up the government’s political recovery with wads of targeted largesse?

NSW Liberal Treasurer Matt Kean, unlike his counterparts in Canberra, doesn’t believe the pandemic is over and governments can rest on their laurels.

Mr Kean told RN Breakfast: “Ash Barty didn’t win the Australian Open saying I don’t need to try in the final because I had a good semi. You have to address each of the challenges that come along.”

He says small business is being smashed, Omicron has decimated consumer demand and “a new challenge demands new solutions”.

Mr Kean says he is “struggling to understand” the federal government’s stand because he doesn’t think “now is the right time for austerity, now is the right time to make sure we protect the fabric of the economy”.

The NSW Perrottet government faces the voters in a Super Saturday of four by-elections in a fortnight’s time.

It has clearly judged there are political points to be scored by not only distancing itself from its Liberal counterparts in Canberra but by criticising their tin-eared political response.

The latest Newspoll suggests a large number of Australians share their frustration. Not only has the Morrison government’s primary vote plummeted to a four-year low – it trails Labor by 12 points two-party preferred.

The Prime Minister’s approval has collapsed an astounding 51 points over the past year and he is now 19 points into negative territory.

The mounting death toll over summer and explosion of infections, the disruptions, confusion and log-jams of PCR tests, compounded by the unavailability of rapid antigen tests have led to the Prime Minister also losing his clear ascendancy over Labor’s Anthony Albanese on economic and pandemic management.

The South Australian independent senator Rex Patrick notes the poll’s results are in line with its longer-term trend and he believes Scott Morrison has run out of time to turn around his fortunes.

Labor insiders are reluctant to claim 2022 is shaping as a “drover’s dog election”, one which no matter who led Labor the party couldn’t lose, but there is considerable relief at signs Anthony Albanese is beginning to consolidate his position.

Josh Frydenberg says it’s too early to write the government’s obituary and on morning television he ruled out any challenge to Scott Morrison ahead of the election.

Both men will have to come up with a better question for Labor than where the money is coming from – they have their own trillion dollars’ worth of gross government debt to explain.

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