Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Virus, fires end surplus hopes

Economists are confident that the coronavirus and bushfire crises mean the Morrison government’s optimistic forecast of a budget surplus will not come to pass. Former Reserve Bank of Australia board member Bob Gregory told The Sydney Morning Herald that the promised surplus, a key part of the Coalition’s election campaign, relied on a string of good luck, “so if the coronavirus did not get them this year, something else would in the near future, namely lack of wage inflation”. Finance Department figures show the budget is $1.1 billion behind expectations and the Reserve Bank predicted the bushfires would hit economic growth by 0.2 percentage points through the December and March quarters, while Deloitte Access Economics estimated the coronavirus would cut about $1.8 billion from budget revenue this financial year. Australia is set to extend a travel ban that will block 100,000 international students from attending university in Australia this year. The news comes as it was revealed that four more Australians are among the 65 newly confirmed cases of coronavirus on the Diamond Princess cruise ship docked in Japan.

Resources lobby: Australian Conservation Foundation freedom of information requests into former resources minister Matt Canavan’s interactions with coal lobbyists are being ignored because there is a new minister in the role. According to Guardian Australia, foundation campaigner Christian Slattery was told the request was now void because Canavan, who had repeatedly delayed releasing the relevant documents, no longer held the office and the documents had not been kept by his successor Keith Pitt. Meanwhile, bushfire survivors will today create a "trail of destruction" of burnt debris from Parliament House to the Canberra offices of a mining lobby group in protest at links between government and the fossil fuel sector.

Calombaris administration: The majority of former MasterChef star George Calombaris' restaurant empire went into voluntary administration on Monday afternoon. About 400 jobs will be lost with Made Establishment going under, with venues including Jimmy Grants souvlaki stores ceasing trade. Calombaris’ Toorak mansion has also been put on the market. Employees will be paid all entitlements owed, the administrators said.

Oscars: South Korean comedy/thriller Parasite made history at the 92nd Academy Awards in Los Angeles, becoming the first non-English-language film to win the best picture Oscar. The film also won three other categories, including best director for Bong Joon Ho. It was also a good night for 1917, which nabbed three Oscars for visual effects, cinematography and sound mixing.


“Representatives from every state and territory government, and every major ministry – Health, Home Affairs, Trade and Education – met in Melbourne on Monday with delegates from the university sector, accommodation providers and the Council of International Students. Their task was clear: to stop Australia’s education sector – the country’s third-largest export – haemorrhaging almost 100,000 international students ... Dealing with the fallout from an international pandemic was not in the group’s original remit.”


“Grammar was tough. The Migraine of Stupidity kicked in early when trying to grasp the passé récent, the futur and the vérité générale. Sometimes the ‘fake listening face’ I learnt from my husband shielded my ignorance, but occasionally everybody tried to help me. I usually just pretended to understand so that the helping would stop, but pretending comprehension to a group this large was emotionally disconcerting, like faking an orgasm at an orgy. I imagine.”


“The old tautology ‘deja vu all over again’ has become a jarring reality for the Coalition. And shattering the promised peace and stability are all the same factors that destroyed the prime ministership of Malcolm Turnbull: climate change, energy policy and competing egos. The big difference this time is that hostilities broke out among the Nationals rather than the Liberals.”


“The Insurance Council of Australia has declared another weather-related catastrophe, this time for property losses caused by storms and flooding along the east coast. It is the sixth catastrophe declared in five months after a summer of raging bushfires and storms ... Since February 5 storms have flooded southeast Queensland, NSW coastal regions and caused damage several hundred kilometres inland, and in the ACT.”


“Firefighters say the past week's torrential rain has extinguished the Gospers Mountain ‘mega-blaze’ north-west of Sydney and is on track to put out the state's remaining fires this week. The fire, which burned through more than 512,000 hectares after it was ignited by lightning strikes in a remote forested area on October 26, was once considered ‘too big to put out’.”


“On a recent Sunday morning on Sri Lanka’s Jaffna Peninsula, Packiyanathan Rajkumar was standing on a swampy dirt road that cuts across the Thondamanaru Lagoon. He often visits this site to research the many bird species here. But they’re species he’s never fully studied—because wading into the water could end his life in a literal flash.”

Max Opray is Schwartz Media’s morning editor and a freelance writer.