Monthly Archives: October 2021

The roadmap to nowhere

The Morrison Government’s internal wrangling over its net zero carbon emissions target (or is it a goal?) is not only exasperating. It is depressingly familiar.

For over a decade now the Federal Government has, with a few exceptions, shown itself to be incapable of providing leadership on issues that really matter.

The list of significant challenges facing the country is substantial – climate change, the pandemic, geopolitical uncertainty, entrenched inequality, population ageing, environmental degradation, cybersecurity, family and sexual violence, disability care.

In traditional and social media and across the airwaves these and many other important issues are the subject of vigorous (and at times rancorous) discussion and debate. People are deeply concerned about what is happening to them and around them.

Morrison Government ministers have sound bites at the ready on each of these issues. But that’s pretty much all they have.

After eight years in office, it is all they can do to express a commitment to net zero carbon emissions by 2050. That is where most of the world was at in 2015. Six years ago.

Internationally, the conversation has well and truly moved on.

Nations, local and regional governments, companies and industries are now announcing ambitious plans to slash emissions by 2030.

As befits a global problem, the proposed solutions to climate change are global in their impact too. Australia will be affected.

Countries and groups of countries are talking about tariffs on goods and services adjusted according to their carbon intensity.

Investors are directing their dollars to renewable energy and energy-efficient production and away from fossil fuels. Insurance premiums on coal mines and gas plants are soaring. Coal mines (and to a lesser extent gas operations) are at risk of becoming stranded assets.

Where is Australia in any of these international discussions and debates? Our obdurate federal government has essentially cut our nation out of these conversations. It means our lives will be directly affected by decisions and actions made by others without our input.

Australia will pay three times over for the Coalition government’s sustained failure to be part of the international discussion around climate change solution. Not only will we suffer the consequences of global warming like everyone else (who knew that the effects of climate change could cross borders?)

 We will also be hit with any trade-related charges and penalties that are introduced, without a chance to have a say.

And, instead of being at the cutting edge of clean technology industry for the last few years – as we could easily have been – Australia is playing catchup.

As in so many issues in need of urgent attention and leadership, Australia’s national government is missing or, even worse, a handbrake on action.


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COVID surge weighs on PNG economy

The current surge in COVID-19 infections in Papua New Guinea is weighing on people’s lives and economic activity, if the latest Google COVID-19 Community Mobility Report is to be believed[1].

The report, which collates data from mobile phones to measure movement, shows that since Independence Day on September 16 people have pulled back on how much they are going to shops, parks and hopping on public transport.

Unsurprisingly, there was a surge in visits to restaurants, cafes, shopping centres and bars on Independence Day and the days leading up to it. Independence Day is an important public holiday and the Google data show the volume of such outings soared by about a third over the period while supermarket shopping trips and public transport use jumped by about 10 percentage points as people took the chance to catch up with family and friends.

This year that effect was amplified by the fact Independence Day fell on a Thursday, and many took the opportunity to turn the break into a long weekend. Reflecting this, the Google data show that workplace attendance not only plunged on September 16 but remained well down the following day, a Friday, at about half its normal level.

 At the time, concern was high that Independence Day gatherings would become super-spreader events for the COVID-19 virus. National Pandemic Response Deputy Controller Dr Daoni Esorom warned that “there is a high risk of a surge in infections in the coming weeks and months”.

Tragically, those concerns are being borne out. Infection rates have soared, hospitals are struggling, mortuaries are beginning to overflow and doctors are calling for a national lockdown.

The Google data show that, even without a formal, government-mandated lockdown, people are already curtailing their movements.

Visits to café and restaurants have fallen away significantly since early September, shopping trips to the supermarket and pharmacy are trending down, workplace attendance has dropped and public transport use is about a third lower than it was a month ago.

The decision to go into lockdown is a tough one for any government, given the enormous cost to the economy and the great disruption to people’s lives that is involved.

Those concerns are magnified in PNG, where the majority of people are in the informal economy and the government’s ability to provide income support is very limited.

Government revenue has plunged in the past 18 months, forcing the Marape government to borrow $2 billion to cover the income loss. While the government has been able to retire K1 billion ($AU380 million) of debt this year and invest a similar amount in road infrastructure, the latest surge in COVID cases will continue to put public finances under great pressure.

The worst days of the pandemic for Australia’s closest Pacific neighbour may yet lie ahead.

[1], accessed 22/10/2021.

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