Friday, May 1, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

Early mark
Pressure is building to end the lockdown

The national cabinet has brought forward to next Friday, May 8, a looming decision on whether the country can relax social-distancing restrictions, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison saying this afternoon, “Australians deserve an early mark for the work that they have done.” There is just one catch: only 3.5 million people have downloaded the COVIDSafe app, and that’s well short of the 40 per cent of the population that the government hoped would participate for the industrial contact tracing to be effective. Morrison denied that he had a download target in mind, saying, “it just needs to be higher than it is”, and reiterating that the more people download it, the safer the community will be. Broadly, the country has cleared the two other hurdles: mass testing is ramping up and surge capacity exists to cope with local outbreaks – in fact, extra medical staff that were hired in anticipation have been stood down. New cases in all states bar NSW and Tasmania are so low that the modellers can no longer reliably calculate an effective reproduction rate. The COVIDSafe app is the last hurdle, so Morrison, Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy and Aged Care and Sports Minister Richard Colbeck sang from the same song sheet today, ratcheting up the pressure. 

“Download the app” was the answer to just about every question this afternoon. Colbeck was there to confirm an additional $205 million for the aged-care sector – $900 per bed in the cities and $1350 in the regions – and was also asked when sport could get back up and running. “If you want to get out and play, download the app today,” said Colbeck in a singsong voice. When a reporter asked the PM, “When can we go to the pub?”, Morrison, like a broken record, said: “If that isn’t an incentive for Australians to download COVIDSafe, on a Friday, I don’t know what is.” 

Piling extra pressure on the public to download COVIDSafe, however well intentioned, could backfire if Australians fail to participate at anything like the scale the government hopes for. With growing excitement and anticipation of an end to lockdown next Friday – and states already taking steps in that direction – it would be a highly unpopular stance for the PM or national cabinet to cite a low download rate as a reason for keeping restrictions in place. 

The PM was cagey about which restrictions may be relaxed next week, and he would not canvass, for example, whether a reopening of pubs, clubs and restaurants was on the agenda. Any easing would be controlled, he said, and the requirements for room density (four square metres) and separation (1.5 metres) are likely to remain in place while the virus remains in the community without a vaccine. 

National cabinet today endorsed the draft “Code of Conduct on Pandemic Procedures” for residential aged care, along with “National Principles for the Resumption of Sport and Recreation Activities”, developed by the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee.

After next Friday’s meeting, assuming everything goes to plan and Australia gets an early mark, it will get harder for the national cabinet to command attention. Batting away questions on schools this morning, the PM continued to duck and weave, telling Alan Jones it was a matter for each state and territory: “We’re a federation and we’ve been working constructively within the federation and the national cabinet.” For how much longer? 

“As the Prime Minister himself said this morning, ‘People should stick to their day jobs.’ @PeterDuttonMP needs to stop playing the political games & engaging in culture wars & do his job. If Mr Dutton did his day job, maybe the #RubyPrincess disaster would have been avoided?”

Shadow home affairs minister Kristina Keneally responds to Peter Dutton’s call for Victorian deputy chief health officer Dr Annaliese van Diemen to resign over a tweet comparing Captain Cook to coronavirus.

“People shouldn’t get too excited about party brands … It’s about the individual and their brand. I’m going to take the weekend off, hide at the farm, turn off the phone. I find it easier when I’m surrounded by family. I’m going to be asking them to surrender part of their life. This isn’t just a by-election – this is a big shift in my life.”

NSW deputy premier John Barilaro mulls a switch to federal politics, by contesting the looming byelection in Eden-Monaro. Labor’s candidate will be Bega Valley Shire mayor Kristy McBain.

How Scott Morrison sparked a new war with China
Scott Morrison’s push for an inquiry into the coronavirus outbreak has further strained Australia’s relationship with China. The Chinese government has expressed concern and threatened retaliation. Today, Paul Bongiorno on a new low in China–Australian relations.


Labor’s success rate in 10 three-cornered contests in Eden-Monaro since 1946.

“Shareholders request the Board disclose, in annual reporting from 2021:
1) Short, medium and long-term targets for reductions in our company’s Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions (Targets) that are aligned with … the Paris Goals;
2) Details of how our company’s exploration and capital expenditure, including each material investment in the acquisition or development of oil and gas reserves, is aligned with the Paris Goals; and
3) Details of how the company’s remuneration policy will incentivise progress against the Targets.”

The text of a resolution at yesterday’s annual meeting of Australia’s biggest oil and gas company, Woodside, which was supported by more than 50 per cent of shareholders in what activists called a “breakthrough” moment.

The list

“Like several of my women friends, I flinched from the story yet followed the media reports out of the corner of my eye. We emailed each other, we texted, about women we had known (or had been) – single mothers who slammed the door and ran away, or threw a screaming baby across a room, or crouched howling with one hand on the phone, too ashamed to call for help.”

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.

“Earlier that morning the prime minister had announced that ‘difficult times call for heroes, heroes in the spirit of the Anzacs’. I’d never been a hero and no one in my family had been to war, so my chances of stepping up for the nation were slim, although providing half a litre of blood to the Red Cross did offer an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”

“The company founded by major shareholder Andrew Forrest in 2003 has earned accolades from politicians and in the national media for its treatment of Indigenous people. It’s true that FMG employs more than 1200 Aboriginal people and has awarded $1.95 billion in contracts to Indigenous businesses, but when it comes to compensation for access to traditional lands FMG has taken a very different approach.”

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is the author of Body Count: How Climate Change Is Killing Us, Inside the Greens and Born To Rule: The Unauthorised Biography of Malcolm Turnbull.


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