Miners have surged on the Australian share market after developments that bode well for iron ore and coal exporters, with the main indices closing higher.
Qantas has been accused of using COVID-19 as cover to sack thousands of Australian workers and replace them with cheap labour from overseas.
Qantas on Monday confirmed 2000 ground service jobs would be axed as part of the embattled airline’s cost overhaul which has been sparked by the coronavirus pandemic. Ground servicing at 10 major Australia airports will be outsourced to a number of overseas aviation operators.
A union delegation arrived in Canberra on Thursday, demanding the government intervene to prevent the cuts.
Sean Toohey has been a Qantas groundworker at Canberra Airport for four years, before finding out his job had been cut via a prerecorded message on Monday.
He was told he would be required to stick around until the company transitioned away, and said finding a new job in the pandemic-stricken economy would be almost impossible.
“(Qantas CEO) Alan Joyce said we were a family and then pretty quickly threw us to the kerb,” he said.
“We’re hoping the Australian public and the government get behind us to say this isn’t right. (Then) I can then tell my three girls that we do the right thing, that we look after each other.
“It’s not even about whether I did a good job or not. It’s just them bringing in someone who can do it cheaper than me.”
The decision came after months of reviews aimed at reducing the size of Qantas’s workforce. The airliner claimed the cuts were necessary given the devastating financial impact of COVID-19, despite receiving more than $800m in federal government support since the beginning of the pandemic.
Transport Workers Union national secretary Michael Kaine has accused Qantas management of using the pandemic as cover to force through a long-held plan to outsource work to cheaper, “substandard” companies.
“There are 2000 Australian families who are absolutely devastated as a result of a decision we now know was premeditated by Qantas management,” he said.
“A spear has been put through these families’ hearts. These are families who have worked for Qantas for up to 30 years. These are families who have literally built the Spirit of Australia.
“One hand on that spear is Qantas management, who have no excuse for this action.”
He said there was no financial justification for the decision, saying Qantas retained the JobKeeper supplement until March and was on the cusp of breaking even.
Qantas said the decision to retrench the workers would save the financially struggling airline $100 million per year.
Chief executive of domestic and international operations Andrew David said the industry had been turned “upside down” and would take years to recoup the financial damage caused by the pandemic.
“Unfortunately, COVID has turned aviation upside down. Airlines around the world are having to make dramatic decisions in order to survive, and the damage will take years to repair,” Mr David said in a statement on Monday.
Qantas said it will take years for the airline to reach pre-pandemic travel numbers, with international travel not expected to resume until at least the middle of 2021.
“International travel is likely to be at a virtual standstill until at least July next year, and it will take years to fully recover, which means we’re carrying the overhead for billions of dollars worth of aircraft in the meantime,” Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said on Thursday morning.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese accused the government of having an ad hoc strategy over aviation cutbacks, but stopped short of demanding the government revoke subsidies for Qantas’s domestic flights.
“(These workers) have done nothing wrong; they’ve just worked hard for their families to put food on the table. They’ve worked hard for Qantas, that great Australian business. They’ve been loyal, and throughout the country they’ve made a difference,” he said.
“But what we’re seeing in this market is there are too many people being left behind.”
Mr Albanese said one of the broader lessons of the pandemic was Australia’s need to shift away from casualisation towards secure, well-paid jobs.
The comments mirror those made by Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Sally McManus on Wednesday, when she labelled casualisation a “virus” that had exposed Australia to coronavirus outbreaks.
ACTU president Michele O’Neil criticised the government for offering Qantas an economic parachute during the pandemic, without guarantees the airliner would not outsource Australian jobs.
“We’ve got government money going to companies without strings attached,” she said.
“At the very same time that money is being paid to a company like Qantas, that they have treated these workers in a cruel way, asking them to bid for their own jobs.
“And then after not even a week of considering that, they announced via recorded message that they weren’t wanted anymore.”
The new case comes two days after WA Premier Mark McGowan announced the state would reopen to Victoria and New South Wales on Tuesday, pending no further community cases being detected in that time.
New South Wales was due to reach 28 days without a community case, also known as ‘elimination’ of the virus, on Saturday, while Victoria has achieved 34 days without a mystery case.
On Thursday, a spokesman from Mr McGowan’s office said WA Chief Health Officer Andy Robertson was in discussions with his NSW counterparts to get a better understanding of the risks associated with the new case.
“WA’s Chief Health Officer will seek further information from NSW before providing advice to the Premier,” he said.
Earlier in the week, during his border policy change announcement, Mr McGowan was asked what would happen if a new case was detected in New South Wales before the reopening date.
He responded it “may well” lead to the hard border continuing.
“We’ll wait and see, it depends where it is, who it is and how widespread it is,” he said.
“We treat Victoria and New South Wales together because they have those big border communities and because they’ve had a lot of interaction across those borders.
“We’re not expecting another case in NSW … but if one comes up, we’ll make a decision then.”
More to come…
India secured a consolation win in the final One Day International at Manuka Oval tonight while Australia sweat on the fitness of allrounder Ashton Agar after an apparent calf injury.
India batsman Hardik Pandya’s destructive 92 off 78 balls lifted the visitors to the 13-run victory in a damaging display of death batting.
NSW seamer Sean Abbott (1-84) copped the brunt of Pandya and Ravi Jadeja’s (66no) striking as they lifted India to a 302-run total.
In reply, Marnus Labuschagne was elevated to open alongside captain Aaron Finch (75) but couldn’t capitalise on the elevation, playing onto his stumps for seven.
WA debutant Cameron Green looked every bit at home in the middle for his 21, before his innings was prematurely ended by a sublime Jadeja catch.
Explosive middle-order striker Glenn Maxwell (59) was at his trademark best, blasting four maximums as he built what looked to be a match-winning partnership alongside WA allrounder Ashton Agar (28).
However a centimetre perfect Jaspit Bumrah yorker ended the 58-run stand – and Australia’s hopes – with the key wicket.
Agar appeared to sustain a calf injury throughout the partnership, attended to by head physio David Beakley as he gingerly ran between the wickets.
The left-hander continued to bat but looked to minimise his running, turning down a quick second run on a few occasions.
Cricket Australia will sweat on the results of the Agar’s fitness with David Warner (groin), Mitchell Starc (side) and Pat Cummins (rested) already missing from their best white-ball line up.
Australia has little time to rue the loss, with the Twenty20 series opener to be played on Friday night at the same venue.
The second and third fixtures will return to the SCG, where the One Day International series started.
Steve Smith was awarded player of the ODI series for his consecutive 62-ball tons in the opening two matches.
Pandya was named player of the third and final ODI for his match-winning knock.
China accounts for more than a third of export dollars earned by Australia.
The figures, for the 12 months to October, cover the period of coronavirus disruptions and disputes over trade.
They apply to physical exports rather than harder to measure services, and are dominated by record high Chinese takings of Australian iron ore.
But they mightn’t last.
China is changing, transitioning from growth driven by the iron-ore hungry expansion of cities and manufacturing to growth driven more by the supply of services.
Externally, its “belt and road” infrastructure investments facilitate the supply of resources from locations other than Australia, among them the Simandou iron ore and bauxite deposits in Guinea, West Africa that will eventually offer higher quality ore than Australia from a region China may regard as more friendly.
Read more: Australia demands apology from China over ‘repugnant’ slur on Twitter
Even if this source is slow to emerge, China will seek to diversify its supplies of iron ore by other means, as suggested by Australia’s former ambassador Geoff Raby in his recent book China’s Grand Strategy and Australia’s Future in the New Global Order.
One will be to ensure a steady supply from Brazil which, with China, is a member of the BRICS group of major emerging national economies.
Australia produces few manufactured goods and pays for the considerable quantity it imports by exporting commodities, mostly to China.
The loss of this export channel would be serious, but how serious?
Iron ore matters more than we think
Conversation authors John Quiggin and James Laurenceson argue the effects would be small. They point out that mineral exports account for only 1% of Australia’s national income and that China would hurt itself if it cut off the flow.
But China’s size means the damage to China would be proportionately smaller than the damage to Australia.
And while the mining sector is not the largest in Australia’s economy, its growth since 2002 has brought with it a secondary boom in Australian service industries. Australia’s East Coast cities have prospered even while most of the mining has been occurring in the Pilbara.
Read more: Relax, losing access to China won’t make us the ‘poor white trash of Asia’
The mining boom brought a substantial boost to our terms of trade (the earning power of our exports relative to the cost of our imports), pushing up the Australian dollar and making imported goods much cheaper.
A reversal would see our terms of trade fall and our cost of living rise.
Some commentators place store in our ability to redirect exports of wine and barley, and whatever else is affected by trade disputes, to other customers. At least for iron ore, however, there are few other customers at current volumes. This suggests a decline in export prices and in Australia’s terms of trade.
Damage to us, a mozzie bite for China
So its worthwhile attempting to quantify the damage from a winding back by China of its imports from Australia.
We have conducted simulations of the effect of shutting down Australia-China trade by 95% in which we allow time for capital flows and production and employment to readjust and assume that monetary policy and fiscal balances remain unaltered throughout the world.
We find the shock to the demand for Australian products is large and it is only partially offset by the redirection of our exports, even with a large depreciation of the Australian dollar.
Read more: Hopes of an improvement in Australia-China relations dashed as Beijing ups the ante
The reason for this is that the loss of Chinese exports reduces the rate of return on investment in Australia, forcing financial markets to reallocate finance to other parts of the world.
The effects on Australian gross domestic product and real disposable income per capita are big (6% and 14 %), while those on China are mosquito bites by comparison (0.5% and 2.4%).
It’s wise to be prepared
Important things we can do to hedge against such an occurrence include maintaining strong relations with current and potential export destinations and fostering innovations that will allow our export product mix to adjust so as to better service the markets that remain open.
Examples include the proposal by Ross Garnaut to turn Australia into an exporter of green energy and associated plans by Fortescue and others to raise exports of energy by more than the east coast of Australia currently consumes.
Without such innovations a substantial decline in trade with China would cut investment in Australia and cut living standards.
It is, of course, entirely possible that the worst won’t happen, but we don’t think that’s something Australians can bank on.
If our ship does begin to sink, capital and skills will jump off and what we are left with won’t be enough to support us in the manner we have come to expect.
Authors: Rod Tyers – Winthrop Professor of Economics, University of Western Australia | Yixiao Zhou – Senior Lecturer in Economics, Australian National University
Aussie bogans, take a seat.
Volley has released what may be its most ‘Straya pair of shoes ever — combining its iconic high top sneakers with one of the country’s favourite beers.
In the ultimate bogan double-header, a new range of the shoes will be emblazoned with the Victoria Bitter logo and feature the signature of VB’s founder Thomas Aitken.
The idea started as an April Fool’s Day prank, when Volley teased the idea of VB sneakers as the “ultimate shoey”.
“This is no joke though…make it happen,” pleaded one fan.
Now, eight months later, Volleys have caved to fans’ demands, putting the first pairs of the $84.99 shoes up for sale.
VB’s marketing director Hayden Turner said the company was excited to give its drinkers a unique way to shoe their love of the beer.
“When we first saw Volley’s April Fool’s Day hoax, it sparked some thinking in our office. When we saw the popularity of the post, we felt this was a good opportunity to offer something different to our drinkers. We hope they love it as much as we do,” he said.
And it seems many have already snapped up the unique sneakers, which include a splash of VB green, after they went on sale early this morning.
It took only hours for a sneaker and cooler bag combo to sell out on the Volley website and the release has sparked a huge reaction among Aussies desperate to get their hands on a pair.
“Size 8 women’s sold out,” one Instagram user declared this morning.
“This is the best thing I have seen come out of 2020. Take.my.money and…you did. Cannot WAIT to get these,” added another.
Volley, which started as a tennis shoe in 1939, has been worn by some of Australia’s biggest stars including model Miranda Kerr and Hollywood actors Chris and Liam Hemsworth.
While COVID-19 has highlighted the value of medical research, it has unfortunately also seriously disrupted it. Lack of funding is driving members of Australia’s once-vibrant virology research community out of the sector, and forcing early-career researchers to turn to fundraising or philanthropy amid intense competition for federal government grants.
This disruption disproportionately affects early- and mid-career researchers (EMCRs) and laboratory-based scientists, especially women (who typically also shoulder the bulk of caring and home-schooling responsibilities).
In Australia, national funding of medical research happens mainly via the National Health and Medical Research Council. Over the past ten years there has been near stagnant investment, leading to a decline in funding in real terms. In 2019, the average success rates across the main NHMRC Ideas and Investigator Grant schemes was just 11.9%.
Stagnant investment, plummeting morale
Eureka Prize-winning cancer biologist Darren Saunders and clinical geneticist Luke Hesson are leaving science altogether. The full-time medical research workforce declined by 20% between 2012 and 2017.
How did we get here?
In 2018, following extensive consultation, the NHMRC funding scheme was overhauled with major objectives to encourage innovation across the sector, reduce the burden on applicants and reviewers, and improve success rates of EMCRs.
In the first two years of this new scheme, the success rates for EMCR Investigator Grants (EL1-2) was just 11.7% (250 of 2,133 applications).
Read more: The NHMRC program grant overhaul: will it change the medical research landscape in Australia?
Schemes specifically designed to develop emerging talent are also receiving dwindling support. In 2017 the NHMRC awarded 181 “early career and career development fellowships”; by 2020 that figure had fallen to 122.
The 2019 success rate for NHMRC Ideas Grants scheme (which sustains fundamental research, including on vaccines) in Australia was only 11.1%, despite almost three times as many applications being ranked as “fundable” by expert peer reviewers.
Onus on universities
With such low success rates, it has fallen to universities to prop up their research departments and laboratories.
If these trends continue, Australia stands to lose an entire generation of medical researchers. This prompted the Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes in August to call for the government to fund 300 new fellowships for EMCRs through the federal budget.
AAMRI president Jonathan Carapetis said the lack of grants and fellowships has forced EMCRs to rely on philanthropy or fundraising to support their research, adding:
This call, however, was not heeded in the recent federal budget, which contained no new money for biomedical research.
Funding the future?
The federal government’s Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) was established in 2015 and began dispensing funds in 2017. As the MRFF website explains, the government uses some of the net interest from the A$20 billion fund to pay for medical research. This year it will disperse around A$650 million.
The MRFF represented a major and very welcome funding boost to Australia’s health and medical research sector.
But the combined NHMRC and MRFF budget still only represents 0.53% of the total health expenditure in the federal budget.
This is a fraction of the 3% of health expenditure that would bring Australia’s health and medical research spending into line with other OECD countries. An increase to 3% of health expenditure would generate A$58 billion in health and economic benefits, according to a Deloitte Access Economics report commissioned by the Australian Society for Medical Research.
The MRFF has recently come under scrutiny as it emerged during Senate estimates that up to 65% of funds were distributed without peer review.
What’s more, researchers who narrowly missed out on the incredibly competitive NHMRC Investigator funding cannot apply to the MRFF unless they are a clinical researcher, meaning fundamental biomedical researchers engaged in translational research, but without a medical degree, miss out.
Without investment, advances are not possible
In the post-COVID era, a robust health and medical research sector is essential to lead the discoveries and innovations that will fuel our long-term economic recovery.
The National Association of Research Fellows (a peak body representing biomedical researchers; the authors of this article are on the NARF Executive) is calling for:
at least a doubling of federal funds into the Australian health and medical research sector
transparent, 360-degree oversight of the targeted calls for expression of interest and allocation of funds from the MRFF with involvement of NHMRC peer review.
strictly equal support for clinical and fundamental biomedical research.
This investment would position Australia as an international leader in health and medical research. Without better support for the sector, advances in patient treatment and care are simply not possible.
Read more: More than 10,000 job losses, billions in lost revenue: coronavirus will hit Australia’s research capacity harder than the GFC
Authors: Gina Ravenscroft – Research Fellow, University of Western Australia | Elizabeth E. Gardiner – Professor, John Curtin School of Medical Research, Australian National University