Friday, August 14, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

‘Deeply sorry’
The PM admits Commonwealth failings on aged care… sort of

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison

Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Via ABC News

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he was “deeply sorry” for the unfolding tragedy in Victorian nursing homes – where another 12 elderly people died overnight – and admitted that the Commonwealth response to coronavirus in aged care had sometimes “fallen short”. But saying sorry is supposed to mean you don’t do it again, and on that measure the PM’s apology fell short because he failed to acknowledge the reason for the outbreak. “COVID-19 broke out in Melbourne,” the PM said in today’s press conference. “It has got into meat-packing plants, it has got into pharmacies, it has got into distribution centres. It has got into hospitals. It has got into aged-care facilities. That’s what happens with a pandemic. There is not some special force field around aged-care facilities that can ultimately protect [people] in that environment.” Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck has consistently made the same argument: that the spread of COVID-19 in nursing homes is a function of community transmission of the virus.

But there’s a glaring statistic that gives lie to that argument. As Premier Daniel Andrews has pointed out, on Wednesday there were 1929 active cases in aged care, of which only six were in Victorian government–run facilities. So private aged-care facilities – regulated by the federal government – account for the remaining 1923 cases. If the state-run homes don’t have a force field, at least they are properly managed, staffed and funded, which seems to do the trick.

The prime minister’s apology-of-sorts came after the counsel assisting the aged-care royal commission, Peter Rozen, said in closing comments that the lessons of outbreaks in Sydney’s Newmarch House and Dorothy Henderson Lodge were not properly conveyed to the sector and, as a result, it was not properly prepared to deal with the outbreak in Melbourne in June. There was no plan to stop an outbreak of COVID-19 in aged-care facilities and, perhaps most worryingly, Rozen said there still isn’t one: “Based on the evidence you’ve heard, the sector is not properly prepared now.”

This was put to the PM in the strongest terms today by Seven News political editor Mark Riley, who asked: “Isn’t this a gross failure of governance on the part of your government?” The PM’s response was dismissive: “That is a statement that has been made by the counsel assisting. So that is not a finding of the royal commission. That is a position that has been asserted. People can make those assertions. I think that’s fair enough.”

Morrison often makes a show of modesty and even contrition, but when challenged he soon reverts to a headbutting contest. He repeatedly insisted today that “there has been a plan, and it has been updated, and so we completely reject the assertion that there was not a plan because there was a plan.” The PM sounds increasingly arrogant, and he even lapsed into the third person today, recalling a moment when Brendan Murphy had been adamant that bowel screening must be maintained, “with strong support, I can assure you, from his prime minister”. Morrison gets some points for calling the aged-care royal commission, true, but now that it’s up and running he doesn’t get to pooh-pooh observations made by the counsel assisting. 

The report on the NSW government’s Ruby Princess inquiry was lodged as we hit deadline, and Victoria’s failings in hotel quarantine are also under continued investigation – the Nine newspapers this morning suggested that “patient zero” was an employee of the Rydges Hotel, not a private security guard, which might knock the debate in a different direction. So far, both are looking like utter debacles – and as Crikey’s Bernard Keane writes in a damning piece, the avoidance of responsibility by the political class is epic. The deaths in Commonwealth-run aged-care homes are of a completely different category, however. As Rozen said this week, there is nothing accidental about it – the system is running as it is intended to run, with tragic results. That, ultimately, is the fault of the federal government and the prime minister himself, and until Morrison acknowledges the longstanding, structural failings of the aged-care system his apologies count for little.  

“It’s been 154 days – more than five months – since Labor first called on the government to help this struggling sector. But this week Arts Minister Paul Fletcher refused to even guarantee that this urgent, emergency funding would start flowing before the end of 2020. This is truly pathetic.”

Shadow arts minister Tony Burke lashes the Morrison government for announcing, but not delivering, emergency support for the arts sector.

“The intention of the commentary in the cartoon was to ridicule racism, not perpetuate it … The Australian, and Johannes, opposes racism in all of its guises.”

Chris Dore, editor-in-chief of The Australian, defends the publication of a racist cartoon by Johannes Leak, son of the late cartoonist Bill Leak.

Scott Morrison, a man of inaction?
At the beginning of the pandemic, Prime Minister Scott Morrison was keen to project himself as a unifying leader. But as the crisis has stretched on he’s adopted a much more reserved approach. Today, Paul Bongiorno on Morrison’s strategy of inaction and if it will work.


The megawatt capacity of the battery system that AGL plans to install at the coal-fired Liddell Power Station, in NSW’s Hunter Valley, from 2024.

“Dramatic restructuring of the VET system from the 2000s, based on market-based delivery of programs underpinned by massive public subsidies paid to private providers, failed to create the stable, high-quality vocational education system that the economy needs so badly now. Private providers received enormous public subsidies, only to come and go – sometimes even collapsing mid-program, or leaving students with poor-quality credentials. At the same time, governments have dramatically cut funding to the longest-standing and most reliable national provider of VET education: Australia’s once world-renowned Technical and Further Education (TAFE) institutes.”

From the introduction of a new report by Alison Pennington, of the Australia Institute’s Centre for Future Work, titled, “An Investment in Productivity and Inclusion: The Economic and Social Benefits of the TAFE System”.

The list

“Just as the causes of warming and the pandemic are con­nected, so may be the solutions. In the global response to COVID-19, it became clear that countries that put lives ahead of the economy, listened to the experts, invested in their public health system and worked collectively on measures like social distancing and lockdown were more effective at con­taining the virus. The same tactics that worked to ‘flatten the curve’ of coronavirus infections might also help flatten the ‘climate curve’ of rising greenhouse gas emissions. The pandemic was like watching the climate crisis on fast-forward, the conservative Economist argued, and while many economies were in a medically induced coma there was a unique chance to steer the world away from carbon at comparatively low cost.”

“Ferrante’s great literary creations, Lenù and Lila, have the same emotional weight as Anne in Persuasion, Jo in Little Women, Maggie in The Mill on the Floss, Jane in Jane Eyre … Ferrante’s novels certainly have an autobiographical tone, a force of personal emotion, but their texture is entirely new. Austen, Louisa May Alcott, George Eliot and Charlotte Brontë brought our brilliant and beloved earlier fictional friends to life within a circumscribed world of patriarchy. Elena Ferrante, on the other hand, relaxed and versed in modern feminist thought, has an infinitely more flexible reach. As do her characters; Lenù and Lila live in a dynamic world where anything seems possible, anything might be recut, remade, reshaped.”

“The series that began as a millennial hipster comedy with a true-crime undercurrent has morphed, in its third season, into a legal drama whose jokes take aim at the way influence and attention distort a person, and the parts of themselves they’re willing to sacrifice to emerge unscathed from the carnage. As Charles Rogers, who co-created the series with Sarah-Violet Bliss and Michael Showalter, once said of the show’s central tension: ‘This is a story about a person that wants to be seen as good, how someone lives the life of a good person until they find out more and more about their shadow side.’”

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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