Independent senator Rex Patrick is asking now about the Covid vaccine assumption in the budget.
Luke Yeaman says to formulate the assumption, the Treasury looked at the international evidence about availability (when credible global economic bodies were projecting coronavirus vaccine availability) and spoke to colleagues in the Department of Health.
The assumption landed on was a vaccine would be available towards the end of 2021. Yeaman says the Treasury did not look at the details of the various vaccines under development.
He says what the department was trying to forecast was when confidence would return to the economy because the health crisis was contained. That could be because of a vaccine. It could be rapid testing. Patrick wants to know what percentage of the population was assumed to be vaccinated.
Yeaman says the Treasury didn’t consider percentages. He says again the health department was “happy” with the vaccine assumption. Yeaman says the relevant metric is successful containment of community transmission because that success will promote confidence that will in turn promote economic recovery.
The Liberal senator James Paterson then dives in to clarify some elements of the evidence a few minutes back about the Resolve Strategic contract (I covered this earlier today).
Paterson invites the Treasury officials to confirm that Jim Reed’s research was not political.
The officials concur. “It was not political,” the deputy secretary Roxanne Kelley says. Paterson asks if it is true that major campaigns are required to be preceded by market research. The officials concur again.
Research has to be done to inform the advertising.
Paterson again invites the officials to confirm that the Reed research informed a number of campaigns.
Kelley says it informed a number of campaigns. (Obviously some sensitivity around this contract.)
The federal budget’s assumption that a Covid vaccine will be available towards the end of 2021 is under scrutiny. Photograph: LM Otero/AP
Marise Payne said she has asked for a full report on what happened to female passengers aboard a Qatar airlines flight from Doha to Sydney on 2 October, after the women were allegedly assaulted following the discovery of an abandoned premature baby at the airport (the baby survived and is in care).
Anthony Albanese was asked about it this morning as well:
The reports are really disturbing. The idea that women could be subject to these very intrusive searches is, in my view, an absolute disgrace. The Australian government should be demanding answers from the Qataris, the airline, but also the government that would have regulated the airports.
I’m familiar with these issues. Indeed, the CEO of Qatar Airways has a role at the airport in Doha as well. And there is a real concern here. The government needs to really make the strongest possible protest to the government of Qatar. But also, anyone who has heard those reports will be thinking with just a great deal of sympathy. And our hearts go out to the women impacted by this. This is incredibly intrusive behaviour.
Q: What do you mean by the strongest possible protest? What should the government be doing?
I will be asking for a proper briefing as to the details. I’ve heard the reports. But in my view, it is completely unacceptable. The government has a relationship with Qatar. It is in a position to regulate a range of activities. And I would have thought that it needs something other than just strong words.
Andrew Giles spoke in parliament a little earlier about the government’s silence on senator Eric Abetz’s demand that three Chinese-Australians denounce the CCP – apropos of nothing.
Abetz said it was about Australian “values”.
We’ve heard that one before.
Some of Giles’s speech:
In evidence before Senate estimates last week, the race discrimination commissioner, Chin Tan, confirmed there had been a:
“… substantial rise in race activities – more in terms of some communities – particularly Asian communities”.
Thisdemands a strong response from the Morrison government.
There is no vaccine for racism. But racism is a virus, a virus that we as policy-makers must do something to tackle and ultimately eliminate. Especially when we have voices in the media spreading fear, hate and division.
The Morrison government should join Labor in supporting a new, national anti-racism strategy. A racism strategy aimed at both changing attitudes and empowering communities, so we really are all in this together.
We must all stand up for multiculturalism and multicultural communities.
The acting minister has lately been talking about the importance of social cohesion. He should recognise the threat his colleagues’ conduct is to this. He should think about the signal his silence is sending. He should think about his responsibilities – to Chinese Australians and every Australian.
One of the reason’s Queensland Labor is feeling like things are so “grim” is because of the feeling no one is listening – no messages are getting through.
Queensland has had no cases of Covid for long enough that it doesn’t feel like a crisis any more, so the incumbency-in-times-of-crisis message isn’t hitting. In that way, the government has been a victim of its own success.
There aren’t a lot of policies, but the LNP is offering people a $300 reimbursement on their rego. THAT is a message people are hearing.
So Labor is looking at losing all three Townsville seats, plus Cook, plus Keppel, plus South Brisbane, plus Aspley – and that is just the obvious ones. With votes to UAP and PHON falling, those voters are returning to the LNP.
Just don’t be surprised if the LNP manages to win government, despite being nine seats behind, is all I am saying. This is Queensland. It is never predictable.
The Green senator Nick McKim wants to try to land a point in Treasury estimates that wealthy people are more likely to save their tax cut than spend it. One of the Treasury officials at the table, Luke Yeaman, says tax cuts are stimulatory.
Yeaman says “at the margin” higher-income households save more than they spend compared with people on lower incomes with higher marginal propensity to spend, but over time the stimulus flows through to the economy.
How long will the savings ratio remain at record highs, McKim wonders?
Yeaman says: “The situation this time around is quite different to the GFC.” Households and businesses are certainly saving but there have been “limited opportunities to go out and spend”.
He says once those opportunities return and consumer confidence returns, the spending will likely return.
There will be an acceleration and a rebound, Yeaman says. McKim wonders whether high levels of household indebtedness might constrain the rebound. Treasury officials say possibly at the margins.
Greg Sammut, a defence official, says the majority of Australia’s submarines in operation will be the new attack-class submarines from around 2042 onwards, “based on a nominal drumbeat of a delivery of one boat every two years”.
At that time there would be six new attack-class submarines in operation and four of the older but updated Collins-class submarines.
Sammut said the particulars were “still yet to be decided by government” but that was a basis for planning.
Penny Wong asks whether that means 2040 is the earliest possible date for the majority of subs in operation to be the newer ones. Sammut replies:
No, it could be earlier if we increased the drumbeat.
Asked when Australia is likely to have all 12 submarines fully operational, the defence minister, Linda Reynolds, at first indicated:
My understanding is on the current schedule it’ll be in the mid- to late-2040s.
Reynolds later clarifies that her “clear understanding is it is the 2050s”.
Sammut says the date is 2054 for all 12 submarines, based on the aforementioned drumbeat (one delivered every two years).
Liberal senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells asks whether it would have taken so long if Australia had simply bought the submarines “off the shelf”.
Sammut says it’s a hypothetical, prompting Fierravanti-Wells to tell him to “cut the Sir Humphrey answer”.
The HMAS Sheean, a Collins-class submarine based at the Stirling naval base at Garden Island, south of Perth. Photograph: Richard Wainwright/AAP
Gallagher wants to know why the value of the contract keeps getting bumped up. Kenna says they didn’t know at the beginning what the scope of work would ultimately be. The contract has been amended four times in $50,000 increments.
These increments, Kenna says, paid for focus groups to test the ads. Over the course of the contract there were 16 virtual focus groups, more than 7,000 randomly selected people participating in online surveys, and 30 in-depth interviews, she says. A broad spread of the population was sought, she says.
Initially, the testing focussed on people receiving the jobkeeper or jobkeeper payments – people as well as businesses. The in-depth interviews were with businesses, checking the efficacy of materials.
This is a big research project. Kenna also confirms that final reports from the research went to the Treasury, the treasurer’s office and the prime minister’s office.
She’s not sure if all the material went to both offices. (It was confirmed last week the prime minister’s office was given access to a separate $500,000 research project by Resolve Strategic).
Gallagher asks whether the committee can have access to the research and the survey. Kenna takes that on notice. The contract went for four months and is now finished.
The Labor senator Katy Gallagher has moved on to taxpayer-funded advertising.
Treasury deputy secretary Roxane Kelly says $15m has been set aside for an ad campaign, “Our Comeback”. The campaign launched on 14 October. There’s no spend to date available because the campaign has just launched.
Shannon Kenna, communications director at Treasury, says the tagline of the campaign (our comeback) was “one of the concepts put forward by the advertising agency”, which is TBWA Melbourne.
Gallagher notes there was some unusual language in correspondence between Treasury and the officials-level advertising campaign finance committee within government – language from Treasury assuring the advertising committee that the ads would not use government slogans. Kenna says:
We reassured them as part of the discussion that it wound’t be happening.
The Treasury official suggests those kinds of conversations are not unusual. She says Josh Frydenberg’s office was briefed on the advertising campaign. They weren’t at every meeting with all the consultants.
Gallagher wants to know what work was done to inform the campaign. By work she means research.
The questions now go to the Resolve Strategic contract. (This is the $500,000 contract held by Jim Reed, a former Crosby textor operative.) Kenna says Reed was engaged by limited tender “due to the urgency of the situation”.
She says Treasury made the decision to engage Reed. He was recommended to Treasury by PMC because Resolve Strategic was “doing research into community attitudes and awareness around Covid. They were seen to be directly engaged in an area where we needed research. It was deemed appropriate to engage them.”
Kenna says Treasury was coordinating closely with PMC throughout and it “came up” in discussion that Resolve Strategic would be suitable for that purpose.
Over in defence estimates, officials have sought to pre-empt questions from Labor’s Penny Wong, who will be pursuing answers over the blowout in the cost of Australia’s future submarines acquisition.
It was revealed earlier this year that the out-turned cost will be $89.7bn (up from the original talk of at least $50bn).
The defence department secretary, Greg Moriarty, made an opening statement that sought to “clarify answers” previously given to the Senate about defence’s knowledge of the likely cost. He said at the time officials told Senate estimates in 2015 of an out-turned cost of $50bn, that was before the outcome of key decisions including the process to determine the builder were made.
Moriarty said the government’s 2016 defence white paper committed to acquisition of a fleet of 12 regionally superior submarines. He said the integrated investment program released at that time foreshadowed an approximate investment “of greater than $50bn out-turned over the time period 2018 to 2057”. He revealed, however, that the classified version of the integrated investment program at that time included a figure of $78.9bn. On why that higher figure was not released, he said:
It was not released due to commercial sensitivities, noting the government was yet to consider the outcomes of the competitive evaluation process and decide the build location.
Moriarty said a recent response to a question on notice from the Department of Finance “has been interpreted to mean defence was aware in October 2015” that the cost was $78.9bn - but “this was not the case”. He said it predated the decision that 12 submarines would be acquired and that they would be built in Australia.
In August, Labor’s defence spokesman, Richard Marles, signalled the party was going to take a more assertive role in critiquing what he called the government’s mismanagement of the future submarine program. He argued the Coalition’s handling of a submarine project had made Australians less safe.