The Politics    Friday, April 17, 2020

School daze

By Nick Feik

Image of school blackboard

AP / Michael Probst

Mixed messages in education follow growing calls from shock-jocks

If you’re confused about the government’s approach to the virus, you’re not alone.

Nine Media was trying to encapsulate the announcements of the past 24 hours. “Morrison says Australia’s COVID-19 restrictions to remain in place for at least four weeks,” one article said. At the same time, another reported that “Morrison has said it may be a year before social-distancing requirements are relaxed and there is no guarantee a coronavirus vaccine will be developed”.

Regarding the progress on the virus, Samantha Maiden reported in that Morrison “has rejected (an) eradication strategy” even while federal government modelling was reported as showing that “social distancing is holding new COVID-19 infection levels low enough to eliminate the virus from mainland Australia”.

Elsewhere at News, “Two of the federal government’s top coronavirus advisers” said that we will “inevitably see an increased caseload from the last few weeks, we are going to see an increase in hospitalisations, admissions to ICU and deaths”.

Say what? It’s almost as if they’re saying different things to suit different audiences.

The increase in loudmouth contrarian commentators arguing that the lockdown has gone too far, that the economic effects are too much to bear, that old people’s safety may need to be sacrificed, is starting to have an impact on government messaging, and as Australia gets so close to flattening the curve, the timing is particularly bad. Winter is coming, and not in a metaphorical way. If the new season increases community transmission of the disease, politicians must surely know that the community will hold them responsible if they’ve lifted their restrictions prematurely. Andrew Bolt and Alan Jones may have appointed themselves sudden experts on epidemiology, economics and health infrastructure (even more expert than the trained ones, apparently), and their success may be related to the noise they make, but the government must rise above them. They are dangerous idiots, out of step with the actual health experts and economists, and with the public and its politicians, and the reason Australia is currently keeping the rate of new infections so low is because it has ignored them (so far).

Most schools are now back for term two, and this should have settled some confusion, but unfortunately this too has been a subject of mixed messages. Morrison made a direct appeal to teachers on Wednesday, urging them to keep schools open. He presented distance/remote learning as a choice for parents. Teachers unions told Morrison to “butt out” because his comments were in “complete contradiction” to the states and schools, which are plainly telling parents that they need to keep their children at home if they possibly can. Then federal education minister Dan Tehan told parents that they shouldn’t “feel guilty” about sending children to school.

Commingling the mixed messages, and sullying her government’s previous record of clarity on this issue, NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian today said a rostering system may be used to stagger the return to classroom schooling in term two, rather than encouraging all students to return at once. “Berejiklian sought to further clarify the confusion around school returns,” said this Nine Media piece, “after announcing on Thursdays that face-to-face teaching would resume on May 11, the third week of term two”.

“I want to stress this does not mean all students are going back. This does not mean all classrooms will be full,” Berejiklian said. The rostering system was yet to be determined but could mean some students attend school on certain days. “Students will not be at school full time, students will not be in a classroom with all of their classmates.”

So… that’s all clear now, right?

If she didn’t have the details, why put it out there? It is bound to cause more confusion than clarity. Parents can’t plan around an announcement like that. NSW politicians have a bad record of changing their message as a result of shock-jock pressure, and the signs right now are not good.

It’s not just schools where the confusions are starting to mount. Governments state and federal need to stop playing to the peanut gallery and hold their nerve.

“The applicant was not afforded procedural fairness.”

The Federal Court has ruled that a two-year-old girl born in Australia to Tamil asylum-seeker parents was “not afforded procedural fairness” in her asylum bid, and the formerly Biloela-based family cannot be immediately deported. They remain in detention on Christmas Island.

“The longer the restrictions remain needlessly in place, the greater is the likelihood that we will emerge from this pandemic with an economy so severely weakened that it can survive only by clutching to the life raft of public spending.”

Economist Henry Ergas, of all people, advocating the removal of social-distancing measures before tracking, tracing and testing procedures are fully in place.

Virus economics: You and whose numbers
With the global economy facing its biggest downturn since the Great Depression, the Treasury and the IMF are at odds on the extent of the damage in Australia. Today, Paul Bongiorno on the competing economic forecasts for the country, and the way forward.


The US government has revealed another 5.2 million people have lost their jobs in a week, taking the total to apply for unemployment benefits in the past month to 22 million.

“The federal government will cover the cost of Qantas and Virgin Australia to keep operating critical domestic air routes.”

Transport Minister Michael McCormack has announced that an initial $165 million package will underwrite flights to all capital cities and regional centres, including Albury, Alice Springs, Coffs Harbour, Dubbo, Kalgoorlie, Mildura, Port Lincoln, Rockhampton, Tamworth, Townsville and Wagga Wagga.

The list

“New UK Labour leader Keir Starmer is, on paper, of impeccable working-class pedigree. His father was a toolmaker, his mother a nurse. They named him after party icon Keir Hardie. He presents as electable: competent, intelligent and articulate, if rather wooden. It is possible to imagine a Prime Minister Starmer. Upon becoming leader, he spoke of working with the government to fight the coronavirus, but not without opposition where it is warranted. He apologised to Britain’s Jewish community for Corbyn’s handling of Labour’s anti-Semitism crisis. He made ‘restoring trust’ a leitmotiv. Yet the task before Labour’s 19th leader is Sisyphean when compared to what Blair faced.”

“How should we make sense of the Black Summer bushfires? What lessons can we find amid the destruction? These were the questions that drew people – a lot of people – to the Muniment Room at the University of Sydney one recent afternoon. So many people that other questions soon arose, like how to fit 80 into a room made for half that number. ‘Is this structurally sound?’ one student asked, pointing to a wide windowsill. Soon a dozen were seated on it. The event had been organised by the philosophy department in response to ‘the devastating events of this summer’, and the crowd was gathered to see what guidance, if any, philosophers could give.”

“In recent months, Bluey has broken through globally on the Disney Junior pay TV network, the Disney+ streaming service and the Youku streaming platform of China’s Alibaba Group, dubbed in Mandarin. In the United States, some young fans have even added ‘mum’ to their vocabulary, in place of the requisite ‘mom’, a reflection of the fact Disney has not dubbed the Australian cast’s voices. ‘It wasn’t calm,’ Joe Brumm says of the Emmys night. Bluey’s success has been incredible and the competition was stiff. ‘It’s always hard when you’re not holding a trophy, but some pretty big shows have won this in previous years.’”

Nick Feik

Nick Feik is the editor of The Monthly.


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