The Politics    Friday, May 8, 2020

Three steps back to normal

By Nick Feik

PM announces a staged roll-back of lockdown restrictions

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, speaking after today’s national cabinet meeting, presented a three-stage framework for rolling back lockdown restrictions over the next two months – aiming for “a COVID-safe economy”, as he put it, by July. Lauding Australia’s success in making its way through the pandemic on both economic and health fronts, Morrison released details of the three steps towards opening up the country again, with the staggered rollout giving health authorities room to monitor how each change affects infection rates and risk. Ultimately, though, it will be up to the states and territories to determine the timing of when restrictions are lifted in their jurisdictions. So, when will step one kick in? South Australian premier Steven Marshall has already announced that SA will relax social-distancing measures from Monday, while Victorian premier Dan Andrews says that nothing will change in the state until at least Monday, when the results of a raft of new tests will be fully analysed. Annastacia Palaszczuk flagged Saturday week for the first set of changes back towards normal in Queensland.

Step one will allow gatherings of up to 10 people, and five guests in your own home; public playgrounds will open and recreational activities such as golf and tennis will be allowed; retailers and small cafes and restaurants will re-open; local and regional travel restrictions will be lifted; and there will be an easing of restrictions for funerals (up to 20 attendees indoors), weddings and religious gatherings (up to 10 attendees allowed). People will continue working from home if it suits employee and employer, and most children will be encouraged to return to school (although Victoria is not preparing to allow all students to return to school this term).

Step two, Morrison said, “will allow larger gatherings of up to 20 people, including for venues such as cinemas and galleries, more retail openings on sector-based COVID-safe plans, organised community sport, and beauty parlours”, among other things. Some interstate travel will be allowed.

Step three will allow gatherings of up to 100 people in most circumstances. Most workers will be back at work. Pubs and clubs will open. Interstate travel will be back to “normal”.

More information on steps 2 and 3 will be formulated depending on circumstances, however not everything will return to normal within the next two months. For example, “there’s nothing on our radar which would see us opening up international travel in the foreseeable future,” Morrison said.

There will be risks, challenges and outbreaks, as well as setbacks and inconsistencies, he added, but these would not disrupt the staged unwinding of restrictions if they could be kept in check.

Treasury has estimated that of the million jobs lost to the pandemic, 850,000 will be restored in the coming months, following the removal of all restrictions. This is an admirable goal (and a courageous prediction, to borrow from Yes, Minister), and one that is clearly at the front of Morrison’s mind – but it seems unlikely.

Some parts of the economy cannot snap back – travel and tourism, arts and entertainment, higher education, to name but a few – and others will be facing global headwinds unlike any we’ve seen in our lifetimes. To give a taste: the Bank of England has warned that Britain could be headed for its biggest economic slump in more than 300 years, forecasting a 14 per cent contraction in the UK economy this year. Car sales in the UK were down 97 per cent in April.

In America, another 3.2 million people filed for unemployment last week, making 33 million in total. That’s one in five American workers who have lost their jobs as a result of the COVID crisis.

The Chinese economy, upon which Australian relies so heavily, has also contracted in the past three months ­– for the first time in decades.

A global recession, or depression, will have incalculable effects across the Australian economy, and the idea that all but 150,000 jobs will return in the coming few months, as restrictions are eased, seems fanciful. And to get that kind of result, the government will need to do a lot more than simply ease restrictions; it will certainly need a lot more in its arsenal than the traditional right-wing triumvirate of tax cuts, less regulation and weakened IR laws. Unfortunately, our leaders show no signs of updating their thinking yet.

In the meantime, Australians can count some blessings: there were 14 new cases in Victoria, but just four new cases in NSW, one in WA (its first in nine days), one in SA (its first in 14 days), none in Queensland, and just a handful across all of Tasmania, ACT and NT over the past week.

“Why do so many people in government and so many people in politics – particularly in the Anglosphere – not take the scientific evidence on climate change just as seriously?”

Former PM Malcolm Turnbull has rediscovered his passion for environmental politics, telling a conservative think tank in London that climate change is a greater existential threat than the coronavirus.

“These views are not supported by the evidence.”

George Pell refuses to accept the royal commission’s findings about his knowledge of sexual abuse by priests within the Catholic Church, and the failure to protect children under his care.

Snakes in the garden of Eden-Monaro
Infighting within the Coalition has been exposed as candidates emerge and then quit in the race for the seat of Eden-Monaro. Today, columnist for ‘The Saturday Paper’ Paul Bongiorno on the divisions laid bare, and the first real test for Scott Morrison’s popularity.

The number of Americans filing unemployment claims in the past seven weeks.

“The document says key threatening processes have ‘limited regulatory influence’ – that they have little effect – and the department has limited capacity to support assessments of them. Because of this, the department did not recommend any of the key threatening processes put forward ‘as priorities for assessment’.”

Environment department documents released under freedom of information laws show the federal government has stopped listing major threats to species, and that its plans to address listed threats are often years out of date or have not been done at all.

The list

“Leigh Robb, curator of this year’s 30th iteration of the Adelaide Biennial, has chosen monsters as her theme in a tight, ambitious exhibition that is both artistically and politically coherent. Titled Monster Theatres, it addresses our present-day fears. Our most pressing annoyance right now – the physical restrictions imposed to combat the monster coronavirus – has been partially dealt with by a virtual tour of the exhibition.”

“Months on from the worst bushfire season on record, torched homes still stand as angry reminders of a crisis that killed 34 people and seemed poised to fundamentally change our nation’s relationship to climate change. Instead, the horror was supplanted by another existential threat, the COVID-19 pandemic. But by the time the worst of this viral threat passes, the next bushfire season will already be upon us.”

“Family violence experts say the situation is so dire they want the entire system investigated. The Australian of the Year, Rosie Batty, told the recent Senate inquiry into domestic violence that the Family Court is her ‘biggest area of concern’. Speaking to The Monthly, Batty said she and other domestic violence advocates are ‘swamped’ with calls for help from victims who say they’re met with suspicion and even derision when they bring concerns about their children’s safety to the courts. ‘If we were to properly investigate what is happening in the family courts,’ she says, ‘we would be horrified.’”

As part of The Monthly's 15th birthday celebrations, throughout May we will present a dedicated selection of great essays from the archives for your reading pleasure.

Nick Feik

Nick Feik is the editor of The Monthly.


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