Monday, August 3, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

State of disaster
Stage-four restrictions, a curfew and workplace closures shutter Melbourne

After announcing stage-four restrictions and a night-time curfew in Melbourne yesterday, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews today announced a staggered series of workplace shutdowns that are expected to add at least 250,000 to the number of people working from home for the next six weeks, as well as extra financial support that is expected to cost the state $600 million, while flagging that Prime Minister Scott Morrison would make further announcements. “As heartbreaking as it is to close down places of employment, while I never thought that I would be telling people not to go to work,” Andrews said, “that is what we have to do in order to stop the spread of this wildly infectious virus.” Announcing 429 new cases overnight and 13 deaths, the premier said the government would “err on the side of doing everything we possibly can to drive these case numbers down”, because if the new restrictions did not work it was “highly uncertain” what further steps would need to be taken. Andrews was keen to stress he was working closely with Morrison, saying he was “very grateful to the prime minister for the partnership that he and I have, because tomorrow’s announcements around some of those issues will involve further ADF, further important support for us to get this job done”.

Andrews acknowledged that there would be issues and anomalies with the list of Melbourne businesses that would be forced onto a “pilot-light setting” or to close fully, but said the health system could not cope with continuing stage-three restrictions, which would see 500 new cases a day, mounting hospitalisations and more deaths. “We cannot do a six-month strategy on this in the hope that it might work with tiny, gradual decreases each couple of days,” Andrews said. “We have to do something that is very painful, but will drive these numbers down and drive them down as quickly as possible.” Andrews was adamant that supermarkets, grocers, banks, chemists and other key retailers would remain open, and he was keen to discourage panic buying. “You may not be able to buy every single item that you want in the quantities you normally would,” said the premier, but “people will have everything they need, and there’ll be more to go around if people buy what they need when they need it rather than going and buying four trolleys’ worth of groceries and enough chicken or beef to last you until Christmas. That’s not necessary … And that’s why I think you’ll find that a number of our supermarkets will add to the restrictions they’ve already put in place, and I fully support them doing that.”

Labor leader Anthony Albanese, in a joint press conference with shadow health minister Chris Bowen, called on the prime minister to respond to the second wave with a three-point plan comprising: paid pandemic leave, revisiting changes to JobKeeper (Albanese said it is “very clear that a range of businesses who did okay in June won’t be doing okay in the September quarter”), and a national plan for aged care. Albanese then added a fourth point, reiterating Labor’s calls for an economic recovery plan – one that would support the extra 240,000 people who are expected to become unemployed by Christmas to get back into work – and he finished off with a call for the federal parliament to reconvene. “The national parliament should be meeting tomorrow,” he said, “and the fact that it isn’t is, I think, a source of regret. We are of the view that when parliament is due to sit on August 24, it must sit.” As columnist Sean Kelly writes in the Nine newspapers today, even though the Morrison government may prefer the lack of scrutiny, it is in its own interests to be held to account. 

Asked about potential changes to the JobKeeper program and the possible introduction of national paid pandemic leave, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told RN Breakfast this morning that the federal government was “working through these issues methodically”. A little more urgency would seem to be warranted, particularly on pandemic leave, since most transmission in Victoria has been at workplaces, and given that the business sector and unions are united on the issue. Instead, Frydenberg said the matter was being handled by Attorney-General and Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter – who on Friday was signalling that it was a terrible time to introduce pandemic leave while businesses were struggling – and pointed to the introduction of paid pandemic leave by a number of large companies. On extensions to income support given the impact of stage-four restrictions across Melbourne, Frydenberg said, “We do think there’s a need to do more, but we’ll work with the Victorian government and it will be based on sharing the load with them.”

The crisis in Victoria is now clearly a national crisis, with South Australian Premier Steven Marshall tightening restrictions today, and NSW teetering on the edge of a second wave with the state’s premier, Gladys Berejiklian, upping recommendations to wear face masks. As Chris Bowen said, “our thoughts are with every single Victorian. This is not a Victorian pandemic. It’s not a Victorian wave. This is a global pandemic, and we have to say that we’re in it together and mean that we are in it together. And we are in it with our Victorian cousins, brothers, sisters and friends.” The prime minister is scheduled to have his own press conference at 4.45pm this afternoon. 

“To be at this point in time right now, to kick off the formal negotiations with the state government and start looking at what our communities have long called for when we’ve marched out on the streets, to start thinking about and discussing what that can look like … It’s the first time we will sit opposite government in this whole and newly shaped relationship.”

Marcus Stewart, a co-chair of the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria, speaking ahead of today’s historic first meeting with the state government to begin treaty negotiations.

“What an appalling article. At a time when the nation is desperate for quality independent journalism (that the ABC is paid by taxpayers to deliver) to question the ongoing ban that states in Australia have on hydroxychloroquine – this is the ideological rubbish that the ABC serves up.”

Liberal backbencher Craig Kelly attacks the ABC over a story that analyses the spread of misinformation about hydroxychloroquine and describes the drug as a poor coronavirus treatment.

How Morrison is using coronavirus to destroy his critics
Scott Morrison’s prime ministership has been dominated by a series of rolling crises, but what can we learn about the ideology that drives him from the way he’s governing at this moment? Today, Richard Cooke on how Scott Morrison is using the pandemic to fulfil his political objectives.


The number of workers at a Woolworths distribution centre in Melbourne’s outer west who have walked off the job after a positive COVID-19 case was reported there on Friday night.

“Business and unions believe the federal government, together with relevant states, must urgently provide for and fund a national paid pandemic leave scheme. This scheme should include the following principles in its design: (i) Amend the Fair Work Act to incorporate a leave entitlement consistent with the decision of the Fair Work Commission in relation to the Aged Care Awards; (ii) Provide for reimbursement to business to facilitate the leave entitlement. Mechanisms such as those used for JobKeeper or the Paid Parental Leave payment appear appropriate; (iii) funded by the federal government and where necessary the relevant state governments.”

Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott and Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Sally McManus call for the urgent introduction of a national paid pandemic leave scheme.

The list

“It’s in the home – the frontier least modernised by feminism – that COVID-19 is wreaking the most havoc on women. When schools are closed, or when parents lose paid work and can no longer afford to send their young kids to childcare, there is a stark choice to be made: someone has to stay home to look after the kids. In Australia, where the average man declares $69,644 to the tax office and the average woman $48,043 the choice is often depressingly straightforward.”

“It’s a terrible thing to say, but shadow minister for agriculture and resources Joel Fitzgibbon is rapidly turning into Labor’s answer to Barnaby Joyce. I hasten to add that I am not comparing him to the Beetrooter in terms of personal failings, but rather his drift away from the political mainstream.”

“In this country, [modern monetary theory] has found an eclectic collection of supporters: Alan Kohler is one, as is Indigenous leader Noel Pearson, for whom it brought the realisation that high unemployment is essentially a political decision. In the United States, MMT is endorsed by the progressive wing of the Democratic party as integral to the Green New Deal, by the likes of Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. A book on the subject by economist and Sanders adviser Professor Stephanie Kelton, The Deficit Myth, recently became an international bestseller.”

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 Inside the Greens and the unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?


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