Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

Pressed pause
Today’s COVID-19 modelling leaves Australia locked down for Easter

“You’re getting everything we’ve got,” said Prime Minister Scott Morrison after the chief medical officer, Brendan Murphy, ran a press conference through the modelling that the federal government and national cabinet have been relying on to orchestrate Australia’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It underlined the extent to which the PM, Murphy, and the states and territories have been flying by the seat of their pants through this crisis, because the modelling done to date by the Doherty Institute is based on international data, and the four scenarios canvassed are extremely broad: unmitigated spread; quarantine and isolation; quarantine and isolation with mild social distancing; and quarantine and isolation with tougher social distancing. Part of the problem is Australia has responded so successfully to the pandemic that, despite our high testing rate, we don’t have enough COVID-19 cases to come up with a reliable trend for community transmission. Murphy explained that the data is still confounded by returning travellers. The ridgy-didge, you-beaut, proper Aussie modelling won’t be available for 10 days at least, and then it has to be cleared by the national cabinet. Until then, Morrison’s message remains that we all have to stay at home, especially over this Easter long weekend. When might that be relaxed? “No time soon,” the PM said. 

While jettisoning his every political principle and snatching an entire platform from the Opposition, perhaps the single smartest thing that the prime minister has done in his response to the pandemic is very simple: to try and ensure that his government will under-promise and over-deliver on the length and cost of this crisis. So by continually hardening us up with the message that Australia must prepare for six months of emergency measures in response to COVID-19, including harsh stay-at-home lockdowns, Morrison will be showered in gratitude if or when he and the national cabinet announce that the social distancing measures can be relaxed earlier. Likewise, by steeling us all to prepare for stimulus spending of $200 billion-plus – with all that means for the nation’s finances – Morrison and the treasurer will be hailed as geniuses if they are able to get the economy to the other side of this crisis having spent half that. US President Donald Trump has conspicuously done the opposite.

Morrison acknowledged that Australia had been unusual, compared with other countries, in specifying that the period of the pandemic could last six months, and he said that the timeframe had been chosen based not on the pandemic modelling but on the length of time the government could sustain the scale of the fiscal response that was required. That period, he said, could be extended or retracted based on medical advice. By successfully imposing travel bans and testing, and by adopting social-distancing measures, Australia had bought itself time to choose a strategy, and the national cabinet had asked for a range of options. Australia has clambered onto a life raft, he said, unlike many other countries that were still in the water, and “now we have to chart a course”.

So although there is no end to the pandemic in sight just yet – nor clarity about the efficacy of specific measures, such as banning large gatherings or closing schools – it does appear that more clarity will come soon after Easter. Murphy repeatedly admitted that there was a lot the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee still did not know, but he appeared to signal that Australia was inching towards a policy of eradication, hoping to identify, control and isolate every case of COVID-19. “We’re not pursuing a path of herd immunity,” said Murphy, “we’re pursuing a path of control and suppression.”

Both Murphy and the PM now appear much more relaxed and confident. Morrison announced more detail about the mandatory code for commercial tenancies coming out of this morning’s national cabinet meeting, and during questions reflected on the historic nature of the pandemic. The coronavirus, he said, had “pressed pause on the global economy. That’s never happened before.” If the curve has really been flattened – and we’ll know soon – then it’s time to start thinking about what happens when someone presses play.

“I make no comment about today’s High Court decision. But I have a message for every single victim and survivor of child sex abuse: I see you. I hear you. I believe you.”

The Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, reacts to the High Court’s acquittal of Cardinal George Pell on historic child sexual abuse charges.

“The witch hunt against George Pell destroyed his reputation and locked him in jail for a crime he could not possibly have committed. This was one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in Australian history. The quashing of his conviction for inherently implausible crimes does not make things better. Pell has had his reputation smashed, his career ruined, his savings destroyed and his freedom stolen … His supporters have had to spend millions to defend his innocence.”

A triumphant Andrew Bolt.

Policing a pandemic
The public health response to the coronavirus has quickly become a law and order issue. Extensive new powers have been granted to police in several states, to crack down on public association, private gatherings and travel. Today, Mike Seccombe on how Australia is policing a pandemic.


The number of days Cardinal George Pell spent in prison.

“The High Court found that the jury, acting rationally on the whole of the evidence, ought to have entertained a doubt as to the applicant’s guilt with respect to each of the offences for which he was convicted, and ordered that the convictions be quashed and that verdicts of acquittal be entered in their place.”

From the summary of the High Court’s unanimous verdict, handed down at 10am today.

The list

“Contemplating this contested country made me unexpectedly appreciative of our nation’s approach to the past. While a reluctance to face historical truth and deal with its consequences represents Australia at its worst, the fact that we never created our own Plymouth Rock surely speaks to the best. The openly unresolved jumble of stories at Kurnell shows the attempt by John Howard and other culture warriors to create a single national story has comprehensively failed. An inscription on the footpath under the Cook monument reads “Everything that has happened … has its roots in this area”. Who can argue with that?”

“It’s strange what goes unremarked in this time of plague. A couple of weeks ago Max von Sydow died and there was barely a mention of it in the national press, though he was one of the very greatest actors of the Brando generation and probably made more great films than any of them – more than Brando, certainly more than Richard Burton, probably more than Marcello Mastroianni, or even Alain Delon. But Max von Sydow has high claims to top any list because he made 11 films with Ingmar Bergman – nearly all of them masterpieces – which have the enormous advantage of being the work of a great dramatist of the cinema.”

“What is the evidence that supports the health measures that are being taken? What are the competing views? Of these, we know very little. Most important of all, we do not know what economic decisions are implicit in the health choices being made. If there are none, let us know. If there are some, what are they? Then, and only then, can the community make an informed judgement. Without transparency, and scrutiny, there is no democracy.”

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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