A sharp image can smash a bubble.
The sight of long queues outside Centrelink on Monday should have done that, should have made the government realise the stimulus package it was introducing to parliament was already out of date.
Hundreds of thousands of Australians have been suddenly thrown out of work.
A frightening percentage of them were already living week to week – they don’t have the financial safety net the privileged-from-birth Christian Porter has scolded them about.
Our fellow Australians need help now, not in a month’s time under the present system – and that’s if Stuart Robert’s rundown Centrelink is capable of handling it.
They need $1000 deposited into their bank accounts immediately, or as close to immediately as the Australian Taxation Office can move – a matter of days.
There are several ways it can be done.
I’ll come to one that could assuage the remnant neoliberal ideology retarding the government’s response.
For context, Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg realised quite quickly that their Stimulus 1.0 package on March 12 was seriously deficient – “bringing a knife to a gunfight”, as Sean Connery once said.
To their credit, they had another crack and a better one 10 days later as the extent of the looming unemployment crisis dawned on them.
But effectively doubling the Newstart/Jobseeker/whatever-Newspeak-it-is-today-order-more-stationery payment and suspending the assets test doesn’t deal with the crisis of the next five weeks.
It has not been enough to instil broader confidence in our society’s ability to care for itself, or calm the understandable fears of those already hit or about to be hit.
It now looks like bringing a handgun to a war.
It is terrifying to be pushed off a ledge with little or nothing to fall back on.
And once you fall behind, it is perilously hard to claw your way back up in normal times, let alone in a recession.
Forget “the bridge to the other side” – there are people already down in the chasm and they’re about to be joined by many more.
So the ATO should deposit $1000 in every customer’s account now and the government can scrap the $750 payment scheduled for everyone receiving a government benefit next month.
Yes, that would mean extra money for a lot of people who don’t need it, but it can be called a loan rather than a grant to make it palatable for fiscal conservatives.
This quite special zero-interest-rate loan should only be repaid out of tax refunds and deductions for ATO customers for the 2020-21 tax year and beyond – and also out of franking credit rebates.
(Cue Tim Wilson rage – or an unlikely bout of reasonableness given that this is not a time to offer further largesse for those enjoying substantial tax-free income.)
Obviously, many of the loans would never be repaid and would need to be expensed, just like the scheduled $750 grants for 6.5 million Australians.
Any repayment impact is pushed out 18 months and more when we trust the world will be a more promising place.
And most folk treat tax refunds as a windfall anyway.
That’s just one way of doing it, specifically designed to get past the but-what-about-the-deficit mob.
If the government can offer a better means of achieving the same immediate ends, let’s do it.
As the government must know, our economic challenge is not limited to the six months it has so far scheduled.
There will need to be further stimulus packages this year and the nature of the economic challenge will change.
For the fine rhetoric of Monday’s Parliament to mean anything, the nation must collectively support everyone here.
“We also know the actions that we can take,” Mr Morrison said.
“The care, compassion and respect we must show … to one another.”
That must mean not letting people be pushed into the chasm without immediate support.
Call it targeted, call it scalable, call it anything you like – but do it.