Australian Politics 2021-09-29 09:39:00


China power crunch sees potentially millions of homes in the dark and global supply chains cut

Australia used to be a big supplier of thermal coal to China but that has been cut off by China for political reasons. It would seem that replacement of the Australian coal from other sources has not been very successful

A widespread power crisis in China threatens to become the “new normal” as the country’s manufacturers and citizens alike face a potential cold, hard winter ahead.

Several of the country’s provinces have begun to ration power supplies in the face of shortage of coal supplies, increasing energy demands from manufacturers and consumers and tough emission standards.

China, which is increasingly dependent on coal, has ordered provinces to limit power consumption, as it prepares to host the Winter Olympics and strives to curb emissions.

This has led to unannounced power cuts for citizens in many provinces, who have taken to social media to complain about the lack of heating and public infrastructure, including lifts and traffic lights not working.

The most severe impact of the power crisis has been seen in the country’s northeastern industrial belt, comprising of Heilongjiang, Jilin and Liaoning provinces.

Huludao city told residents to not use high energy-consuming electronics including microwaves and water heaters during peak periods, according to Reuters.

The immediate effects of the power crisis have echoed in industry as well. Key suppliers of Apple and Tesla halted production in some plants. Power-intensive sectors like aluminum smelting, cement manufacturing, steel making and fertiliser production have been hit as well. At least 15 Chinese companies that produce goods ranging from aluminum and chemicals, said their production was curbed by power cuts.

While the power crisis has taken its toll on citizens only this month, early indications of the crisis have been witnessed since March, which is when the country had begun witnessing spikes in power prices, reported Reuters.


Stop thinking our kids will be lumbered with massive government debts; they won’t be

If you’re one of the many who worry about how we’ll pay off the massive debt the Morrison government has incurred during the pandemic, the Parliamentary Budget Office has reassuring news.

The budget office – which is responsible to the whole Parliament and so is independent of the elected government – has prepared its own projections of the budget deficit and debt over the decade to 2032.

It’s also assessed our “fiscal sustainability” over the 40 years to 2061, testing the budget against 27 different best, worst and middle scenarios with differing assumptions about economic growth, the level of interest rates on government debt and the size of our budget deficit or surplus.

It finds that the federal government’s debt is projected to keep growing until it reaches a peak equivalent to about 50 per cent of gross domestic product in 2029. After that it’s projected to keep growing in dollar terms, but at a slower rate than the economy is growing, so that it slowly declines relative to the size of the economy, to reach 28 per cent of GDP in 2061 in the middle scenario.

We don’t pay off any debt unless we get the budget back into annual surplus. But this happens only in the best-case scenario, where the debt is completely repaid by 2058. Don’t hold your breath.

So the budget office’s reassuring news is not that we’ll be able to repay the debt – it’s unlikely we will – but that it accepts Scott Morrison’s assurances we don’t have to repay it to keep out of trouble. That, unless our leaders go crazy, we can outgrow the debt and that the interest bill isn’t likely to become a significant burden on taxpayers even though the debt remains unpaid.

These are not controversial propositions among economists. If you find them hard to believe then – forgive me – but you don’t understand public finances as well as you should. It’s a mistake to think that a national government of 25 million people has to live by the same rules as your household.

Households must pay off their debts before they’re too old to work, but governments go on forever and always have most of their population working and paying taxes. Their populations keep growing and getting a bit richer every year, so they can keep rolling over their debts.

They can do what no household can do: pay their bills not by working but by imposing taxes on other households. So stop thinking governments have to pay off their debts the way you and I do.

And stop thinking our kids will be lumbered with massive government debts; they won’t be.

But that’s not to say government debt doesn’t matter or that it comes without a price tag. In its projections over the next decade and its scenarios over the next 40 years, the budget office assumes that the “shocks” causing ups and downs in the economy in the future will be no worse than those we’ve experienced over the past 30 years or so. Maybe; maybe not. As well, it assumes that present and future governments will be no more reckless spenders than governments have been over past decades.

It judges that our deficit and debt position will be sustainable over the next 40 years – will cause no need for “major remedial policy action” (no horror budgets) – “provided fiscal strategy is prudent”. We can continue to run budget deficits provided they’re “modest”.

We’ll need “a measured pace of fiscal consolidation”. Translation: if governments stop trying to keep deficits low, all bets are off. So governments will need to avoid wasteful spending. And they’ll need to ensure tax collections are sufficient to cover most of any growth in government spending.


Australia and India move closer to major trade deal after Scott Morrison meets Narendra Modi

Australia and India expect to seal an interim trade agreement by the end of the year following a meeting on the sidelines of global Quad talks.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi have discussed the trade agreement and climate change during bilateral talks in Washington DC.

The two nations confirmed their commitment to announce an interim trade agreement by December.

It follows former prime minister Tony Abbott’s August trip to India on behalf of Australia to follow up stalled Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement negotiations.

Morrison and Modi also underlined the need to urgently address climate change and possibilities of providing clean technology.

“In this regard, Prime Minister Modi highlighted the need for a broader dialogue on environment protection,” a communique released by the Indian leader said.

Australia is inching towards a commitment to net zero emissions by 2050 amid immense international pressure in the lead-up to United Nations climate talks in Glasgow in November.

The Indian PM reiterated his invitation for Morrison to visit India.

“The prime ministers agreed that as two vibrant democracies in the region, the two countries needed to work closer together to overcome the challenges in the post-pandemic world.”


Dismissal of unvaccinated worker who refused flu shot upheld

The Fair Work Commission has backed the right of a business to sack an employee who refused to get a flu shot as required under a public health order.

The commission’s full bench majority upheld the dismissal of a receptionist at a NSW South Coast aged care facility who refused to get a flu vaccination shot.

In an earlier decision in April, Commissioner Donna McKenna found the worker’s dismissal by Sapphire Coast Community Aged Care in Bega was not unfair.

Commissioner McKenna rejected the worker’s unfair dismissal application on the basis that she did not provide evidence of an allergy she claimed had prevented her from getting vaccinated.

On Monday, a majority of the full bench upheld the original decision and dismissed the worker’s application to appeal.

“We do not intend, in the circumstances of the current pandemic, to give any encouragement to a spurious objection to a lawful workplace vaccination requirement,” the ruling said.

Recording her dissent, deputy president Lyndall Dean, in the minority, said the decision had denied the worker protections under the Fair Work Act “in part because of an inference that she holds a general anti-vaccination position”.

“Never have I more strenuously disagreed with an outcome in an unfair dismissal application,” she said.

The Australian Industry Group welcomed the commission’s decision saying it would influence decisions relating to mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations. Chief executive Innes Willox said this was the commission’s first full bench decision on the issue of vaccination mandates to be handed down during the pandemic.

“It is pleasing that the full bench has supported an employer’s right to mandate vaccinations where reasonable in the circumstances,” he said.

Herbert Smith Freehills employment lawyer Alexis Agostino said the decision “should give some comfort to employers considering mandating vaccination policies within their workforce where those policies are lawful and reasonable”.

Maurice Blackburn Lawyers principal Mia Pantechis said the decision dealt with a dismissal in a specific context, “and although it provides guidance on the type of evidence required to prove a medical contraindication and to gain an exemption from a public health order mandating the vaccination of certain workers, it is not a blanket ruling that it’s lawful to sack employees who refuse vaccines”.

“In most workplaces, including those that are not the subject of a public health order, the question of whether it’s lawful to mandate that employees receive the COVID-19 vaccine or to sack employees who refuse requires careful consideration and a balancing of a range of factors.″⁣

Ms Pantechis said these factors include work health and safety obligations, rights under anti-discrimination laws, the level of risk within the workplace, and whether flexible work arrangements can be offered.

Shae McCrystal, a professor of employment law at the University of Sydney, said the decision was unlikely to provide an authority to employers mandating COVID-19 vaccines outside of public health orders.