Staying with the latest from Australia for a moment, the opposition is urging the prime minister, Scott Morrison, to call Donald Trump to clarify whether Australian exporters are being disadvantaged by the US-China trade deal.
Growing trade tensions with China have been one of the biggest concerns in Australian political and business circles over the last couple of weeks, as Beijing has imposed tariffs of around 80% on Australian barley imports and suspended beef imports from four abattoirs on technical grounds.
China announced recently it would immediately allow barley imports from the US, which was seen as a measure to meet commitments in the first phase of Xi’s trade deal with Trump. In January, China pledged to buy an extra $US200bn of American farm products and other goods and services over two years.
The moves come after China railed against Australia for early and vocal calls for an independent inquiry into the origins and handling of coronavirus – a watered down version of which won broad support at last week’s World Health Assembly, including from Beijing.
Penny Wong, the Labor opposition’s foreign affairs spokesperson, said it would have been better for the government to have followed “the usual diplomatic practice” of trying to secure some support from other countries before publicly announcing the inquiry push.
But in an interview with the ABC’s Insiders program this morning, she also called on Morrison to check in with Trump “to ensure that our interests are not affected and not undermined by that [trade] deal between President Trump and President Xi [Jinping]”.
Wong said: “Scott Morrison is always very keen to tell us when he has spoken to President Trump. Well, I think it is time for him to pick up the phone and speak to him now and ensure that the US-China trade deal does not come at the expense of Australian exporters and Australian jobs.”
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More on the wage subsidy scheme in Australia. So far, the government has not given any indication it is planning to extend the scheme to excluded workers, such as casuals employed for less than a year, university and local government staff, temporary visa holders and employees of foreign-owned companies.
However, a scheduled review in June may look at tweaks to the scheme, including the potential to extend targeted support to the worst-affected sectors beyond the expiry in September.
The government has been spinning the updated figures as good news.
The energy minister, Angus Taylor, told Sky News this morning that the original forecast was never “an objective or a target”.
“It does mean that we’re in a better position as we work our way towards recovery and that is fantastic news,” Taylor said, adding that “we’ll see what comes out of” the review in June.
In Australia, the government is facing sustained pressure to widen its wage subsidy scheme to cover a broader group of workers, after revelations on Friday that the six-month “jobkeeper” program is now expected to cost the budget AU$70bn (US$45.8bn) rather than AU$130bn.
The Labor opposition’s Senate leader, Penny Wong, described the news as “a $60bn black hole in the economic credibility of the Morrison government” and she reinforced calls for the $1500 fortnightly payment to be extended to a more of the workforce, including short-term casuals.
Speaking on the ABC’s Insiders program on Sunday morning, Wong said the treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, should have “the courage” to accept a forthcoming invitation to appear before the Senate’s Covid-19 inquiry to explain the error.
“We’d say to Josh, when you’ve got a budget blunder of this size, I reckon it is about time you fronted up and explained it.”
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