Thursday, March 12, 2020

Stimulus arrives as pandemic declared

Prime Minister Scott Morrison will today unveil a stimulus package expected to be worth almost $18 billion, as the World Health Organisation officially designated COVID-19 a global pandemic. The package includes ($) tax breaks for small businesses which will be able to claim up to $25,000 against income tax costs of their staff, unspecified one-off cash bonuses to pensioners and Newstart recipients, and an increase in the instant asset write-off threshold from $30,000 to $150,000, which will be expanded to businesses with an annual turnover of up to $500 million. Most of the package would need to be legislated when parliament resumes on March 23. The news comes as the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, with more than 118,000 cases across 110 countries and territories.

Bishop steps down: Sexual misconduct allegations have prompted a prominent member of the Catholic clergy in Australia to step down. The Bishop of Broome, Christopher Saunders, has faced an ongoing police investigation into sexual misconduct for 18 months, 7NEWS reports. WA Police interviewed members of the bishop’s own staff, including a priest, after two men made claims of non-consensual sex acts. Meanwhile a full bench of seven high court justices will continue deliberating today on whether to grant disgraced Cardinal George Pell an appeal over his rape and sexual assault convictions.

Tax avoidance: Analysis by the Australian Taxation Office finds that deliberate tax avoidance and accounting mistakes by Australia's richest individuals and companies costs the federal budget $772 million annually. The first ever tax gap analysis for Australia's high-wealth taxpayers found 7.7 per cent of total income tax liabilities went unpaid in the 2016-17 financial year, reports The Australian Financial Review ($). The ATO will recruit more than 100 extra staff with a new program focusing on high-wealth private groups from July 1. Meanwhile, the High Court of Australia has dismissed an appeal by BHP Group regarding taxes owed on profits made by its Singapore-based marketing arm.

US presidential race: Democratic US presidential contender Bernie Sanders announced he would continue his campaign for president, despite a series of losses to former US vice-president Joe Biden. In the most recent state primaries, Biden won the delegates for Idaho, Michigan, Mississippi, and Missouri, with Sanders winning North Dakota, and votes in Washington still being counted. Sanders vowed to continue campaigning at least until the first one-on-one debate between the two candidates on Sunday.


“Australian schools missed out on $10 million in federal government funding earmarked for school sporting grants in the past two years because the central distribution agency, Sport Australia, used it for administration, technology, marketing and other associated programs. The agency has told The Saturday Paper that both former Sport minister Bridget McKenzie and the Sport Australia board approved its decision to withhold 25 per cent of the $41.7 million allocated to the Sporting Schools program in 2018.”


“Even a prime minister with an enthusiasm for marketing might struggle to shift a product derided as unnatural ‘frankenmilch’. But what if that two-litre container of white stuff looked like milk, tasted like milk, was chemically identical to milk without the bad bits, was cheaper, made a great cappuccino, came without most of the land, water, climate issues, and nothing had to die to produce it? Would you buy it?”


“Sophie Allison, the Nashville-based songwriter and guitarist who performs as Soccer Mommy, was born in May 1997, in the infancy of Gen Z; as such, her experiences, and the voice in which she writes, are uniquely linked to this troubled, emotionally neutered time. Allison’s earliest records ... dealt with youthful anxiety and romance with an arch, irony-laden tone, countering earnest, pop-inspired melodies with lyrical death fantasies and tales of teen misery.”


“Some independent grocery stores are protecting their loyal customers from toilet paper shortages by saving up loo roll and only giving it out to familiar faces. Kulwint Singh owns the independently run Foodworks in Raymond Terrace, near Newcastle, and he’s keeping the toilet roll out the back. He’s only giving toilet paper to people from the area, or as he calls them, the ‘regulars’.”


“Supermarket giant Woolworths has told customers attempting to return excess purchases of toilet paper, pasta, canned foods and other items in high demand amid the coronavirus outbreak that they will not be eligible for refunds. The grocery giant issued a notice across stores saying that from Wednesday onwards it would not allow ‘rainchecks’ on any products, or refunds for certain goods that have been in high demand amid the coronavirus outbreak.”


“Prisons are like black boxes where little information gets in and even less gets out. Surveying incarcerated people about their political views proved to be a logistical puzzle. Typical political polling organizations have the demographic data they need to make sure that they’re reaching a representative sample of people. And they can reach their prospects at home or on their cellphones. This isn’t the case for prisons. Incarcerated people can’t receive phone calls or use the internet.”

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