Friday, April 3, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

All in this together, or in danger of turning on each other?

There exists a political opportunity to use the COVID-19 pandemic and its fallout to whip up hysteria and divide Australians – geographically, culturally, racially. So far, mainstream politicians have by and large avoided it, but it threatens to boil over at any moment. The “don’t come” signs popping up in regional towns are a sign of it, and this week’s alarmist language from federal agriculture minister David Littleproud, who called caravans the “cruise ships of the outback”, doesn’t help. The crackdown on Bondi backpackers is part of it, too. As is rising racial abuse, which Victorian premier Daniel Andrews today called out, tweeting: “A health crisis is not an excuse to be racist. We’ve seen some disgusting behaviour directed towards Asian-Australians over the past few months. And it’s getting worse.” Rising Sinophobia is also part of it, and the prime minister was on thin ice with 2GB’s Alan Jones this morning, agreeing furiously about the health threat from Chinese wet markets. 

Let’s give Scott Morrison the benefit of the doubt, since his language has been strenuously inclusive all week. “Every Australian matters,” the PM repeated many times today, when asked how he’d respond to those sideline narks suggesting the economic pain of lockdown and stimulus is not really worth it to save a few elderly people. Morrison also addressed the wet-market question in his press conference this afternoon, and was at pains to point out that he hadn’t raised it – Jones had. Not much of an excuse, but Morrison has repeatedly thanked the Chinese-Australian community for their response to the pandemic, saying on Wednesday, “They’ve showed us the way”.

Osmond Chiu at the think tank Per Capita writes today that COVID-19 has resulted in growing racism towards individuals of Chinese and East Asian descent around the world. “Australia has not been exempt from this trend,” he writes, “with numerous reports of racist abuse in public spaces, refusals to be treated by medical staff of ‘Asian’ appearance, and even violent attacks.” A Sinophobic meme posted today by the St Kilda branch of the Liberal Party – it was quickly removed, but was retweeted here – is a dangerous example of the kind of sentiment the major parties need to stamp out.  

For the moment, there is a semblance of national unity in the response to the pandemic, here and overseas – call it the rally-round-the-flag effect. In Europe, however, political scientists worry that although far-right populists have been sidelined for now, as the economic impact is felt there will be a resurgence of such sentiment. It could easily happen here. Bob Katter’s call for northern Queensland to be sealed off from the south of the state was dismissed by Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, who pointed out there was “no border” to close. One Nation’s Pauline Hanson, making light of the pandemic, has totally misread the public mood, according [$] to former Labor powerbroker Graham Richardson.

The prime minister was businesslike today, announcing a code of conduct to guide negotiations between commercial landlords and tenants – as an ex-Property Council lobbyist, he’s all over that stuff – based on the principle that any rent relief should be proportional to the drop in their turnover. There was nothing for residential tenancies, notwithstanding widespread anxiety about paying the rent as unemployment strikes hundreds of thousands of people.

Australia keeps getting told that we’re all in this pandemic together, but it’s remarkable how quickly we turn on each other.

“[This is] not the time for ambit claims for systemic or ideological changes to the IR system.”

Attorney-General and Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter rebukes resources and energy employers, including the Australian Mines and Metals Association, which called for the scrapping of awards and enterprise agreements for up to six months.

“Increasing LNG exports is the best thing we can do to reduce global emissions.”

Santos chairman Keith Spence addresses today’s annual general meeting, at which two protest resolutions on climate change received proxy support from 43 per cent and 46 per cent support respectively.

How Scott Morrison became an accidental socialist
The past week has completely changed the way politics works in Australia, with a right-wing government introducing the most radical economic measures in a generation. Today, Paul Bongiorno on the political earthquake that rocked Parliament House.

The tonnes of greenhouse gas abatement bought in the 10th biannual round of the federal government’s Emissions Reduction Fund auctions, at a cost of $27.6m. To achieve our 2030 emissions reduction target under the Paris Agreement, Australia needs to cut 390m tonnes.

“ASIC is aware that some real estate agents are advising tenants who are unable to pay their rent, or who may find themselves in such a situation in future, to consider applying for early release of their superannuation. Recent media reports and social media commentary outlining this conduct by some real estate agents is of significant concern to ASIC and, we would hope, you.”

ASIC executive director of financial service enforcement, Tim Mullaly, writes to the Real Estate Institute of Australia about the provision of unlicensed financial advice by real-estate agents to tenants, which carry significant penalties under the Corporations Act.

The list

“The judge rejected defence counsel Robert Richter’s claim that Pell would have to have been ‘mad’, ‘not in his right mind’ to ‘engage in this conduct … with the door open and with people nearby …’ Pell, argues Kidd, had just come from mass and so presumably knew people’s movements. He was either ‘sufficiently confident’ no one would walk in on them, or ‘may have subjectively believed that, had this occurred, you could control the situation by reason of your authority as archbishop’. If this was ‘extraordinarily arrogant’ so was ‘… the offending which the jury has found you have engaged in … in any view, breathtakingly arrogant’.”

“What an extraordinary proposition it must have seemed: Philip Roth’s counterfactual 2004 novel The Plot Against America, the one where Charles Lindbergh, aviator extraordinaire, becomes a fascist, Hitler-friendly president. The TV adaptation is co-created and produced by David Simon, who with The Wire showed how television could take it up to cinema. And what a subject in the year when that rough beast Donald Trump seemed to be slouching his way towards a second stint of the United States presidency.”

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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