Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

Catching on
It’s not the virus that’s scary, it’s our response

Source: Twitter

The coronavirus outbreak is starting to get scary, admittedly, and it’s nothing to do with the health consequences of the virus. It’s the panicky response of otherwise sensible Australians – living in a well-off, educated country with a good public health system – that is worrying. Part of the problem is a lack of trust in institutions, including in our political leaders, although today’s Essential poll suggests that voters are rewarding the prime minister’s apparently front-footed response to COVID-19, holding press conferences on the crisis every other day. I say “apparently”, because the rising public worry is itself proof that Scott Morrison has already waited too long, as Peter Hartcher wrote yesterday, and is in danger of allowing another leadership vacuum to develop, as he did over summer. This morning’s announcement of a $2.4 billion health package is a start – let’s hope it is well advised, because one doctor yesterday told Guardian Australia that the government’s COVID-19 response so far was “a shambles”. The broader economic stimulus package is expected to be announced by the PM and the treasurer tomorrow.

Trust in the media is also suffering. Janet Albrechtsen writes [$] in The Australian today that the World Health Organization has used the word “infodemic” in relation to coronavirus: “too much information, much of it unreliable, like social media posts of bare supermarket shelves”. But then, as if to prove her own point, Albrechtsen goes out of her way to have a crack at Greta Thunberg and her supporters for exaggerating the climate emergency – dog-whistling to climate sceptics and deniers again.

If the jury is out on the PM and the treasurer, at least Australia’s state governments do not appear to be politicising the COVID-19 outbreak. Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews did not try to score points, warning bluntly it was inevitable that schools would be closed, sporting fixtures cancelled, and the rest. South Australian Premier Steven Marshall announced an “unprecedented” $350 million stimulus package to cushion the state economy.

Our much-maligned public service is doing its bit. As Hartcher wrote yesterday, chief medical officer Brendan Murphy’s response in invoking the Biosecurity Act early on has been exemplary, as has the Reserve Bank of Australia’s rapid response with an interest rate cut – the RBA deputy governor, Guy Debelle, reinforced that today by indicating [$] that the bank was prepared to implement quantitative easing if necessary.

It’s the prime minister himself whose credibility is on the line, and after the debacle with Brian Houston, Hawaii and sports rorts he is starting from a very low base. The fact that he was boasting about his foresight-in-hindsight yesterday is not promising. At least Morrison is better than Donald Trump, ignoring health advice and calling it a hoax, while gutting the ability of the US government to respond. As Bernard Keane writes [$], “Trump’s entire goal is to inflict chaos at the highest levels, to render what’s left of government incapable of operating at even the most basic level.” The world is in very different hands than when the global financial crisis broke a decade ago, Keane points out. And that is scary.

As Newsweek columnist Seth Abramson tweeted after the White House overruled health officials who wanted to recommend that the elderly and physically fragile avoid flying: “Trump is going to get people killed. A lot of people. This is getting scary – not the Coronavirus, but how the White House sees it as a political rather than public health issue.” If that’s the path the prime minister is on, he should get off fast. The trust he loses by exploiting a public health crisis for political gain could never be restored.

“Today is as good as any to remind people that the concept of mandatory corroboration in sexual offence trials went out decades ago. There was good forensic reason: sex offenders typically ensure their crimes aren’t witnessed by others & conviction rates were horribly low.”

The award-winning author of Cardinal, on the opening of convicted child sex offender George Pell’s High Court appeal.

“Ministerial authority for the program was with the minister for sport.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, sidestepping questions about who made late alterations to the final list of approved projects under the Community Sport Infrastructure Grant Program, after former sports minister Bridget McKenzie said it was not her.

White terror, part two: The dossier
A secret ASIO document warns of the threat of far-right terrorism in Australia. In detail never before published, it outlines the risk Australia faces from those who believe in an impending “race war”.

The amount to be paid in compensation to victims of the historic use of toxic per- and poly- fluoroalkyl (PFAS) retardant by the Department of Defence.

“The Christchurch attacks will have an enduring impact on the extreme right-wing community … and will contribute to the radicalisation and inspiration of future attackers for at least the next 10 years.”

An ASIO document obtained by The Saturday Paper warns of the rise of neo-Nazism among young Australians.

The list

“What if we could have milk without the methane, gruyere without the guilt? Camembert without the actual cow? … Plant-based dairy alternatives are going gangbusters, at least in the Western world, with the projected market in 2019 worth about US$14 billion, and 8 per cent annual growth projected over the next decade. Plant-based dairy alternatives are far from the only threat to the livestock industry. We are now entering the brave new world of animal-free animal products.”

“There’s little escapism to be found in the festival’s major attraction, Les Misérables, the debut feature by French-Malian filmmaker Ladj Ly that won Best Film at the Césars and shared the Jury Prize at last year’s Cannes. Inspired by an episode of police brutality in 2008 and set against the multiracial projects in the director’s home suburb of Montfermeil – a location in Victor Hugo’s classic novel, from which the film borrows its title – it’s a combustible, social-realist drama of bad cops and dispossessed kids powered by an ever-present anxiety.” 

“Julie Mecham, a crisis and support worker at Wagga Women’s Health Centre, said lack of local abortion providers in Wagga is putting the lives of local women experiencing domestic violence at risk. She said the lack of abortion access severely limits options for women who are trying to terminate a pregnancy without their abusive partner finding out, and women are more likely to stay in a violent relationship if they have a child with their partner.’”

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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