Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

At a crossroads
Should Australia be trying to eliminate COVID-19?

Health Minister Greg Hunt. Via Sky News

“We are in … the great fight of our lives,” said Health Minister Greg Hunt today, while rejecting calls for Australia to pursue an elimination strategy against COVID-19, like New Zealand has done. As the country passed the 10,000-case milestone, and as intensive care units in Victorian hospitals now face a surge of COVID-19 patients, Hunt said case numbers in his home state were “stable” but “deeply concerning”, with 238 new infections overnight. But it was “heartening” that, in New South Wales, cases of community transmission had been contained to a link to the Crossroads Hotel (and “patient zero” in that outbreak has been identified as a Melbourne man in his thirties who works in the freight industry). Hunt confirmed additional military support in Victoria, and announced the provision of 500,000 masks for aged-care homes in western Sydney. Hopefully, Hunt’s emphasis on stability proves well founded, and the curve starts to flatten again, but for now fear and uncertainty are creeping back into the national debate. 

Health experts, including Victorian chief health officer Brett Sutton, have suggested that Australia should pursue an elimination strategy once the current outbreak is under control. But Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said it is impossible to achieve elimination “unless we are not going to allow any freight, or medical supplies into Australia, or any exports into Australia … There is always going to be a connection between Australia and the rest of the world.” The PM said lockdowns were necessary in Victoria but “your protection against the virus is not shutting things down all the time”. “You don’t just shut the whole country down because that is not sustainable, said Morrison. “I’ve heard that argument. You’d be doubling unemployment potentially, and even worse.”

The PM gave more confirmation that JobKeeper would be extended beyond September, albeit in a more limited way. The AFR reported [$] this morning that the wage subsidy is likely to be tiered rather than a flat rate, linked to pre-pandemic income, and eligibility will be constantly re-evaluated. The coronavirus supplement for the unemployed will be wound back, but JobSeeker will not revert to the old level of Newstart. Labor has flagged that it would support extensions to Fair Work Act amendments that allowed employers to vary work conditions during the pandemic. At the same time, the ACTU today released a report that found the gig economy is hurting workers, revealing that employers have “used apps to deliberately deny workers their basic rights, including minimum wages, sick days and protections against being unfairly dismissed”. The danger of the gig economy is one of the hobby horses of the union movement, and today’s report shows that the negotiations with employer groups, brokered by the national cabinet, will be difficult. News of those talks has gone quiet, and Attorney-General and Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter, overseeing the process, made no mention of them in an interview on Perth’s 6PR today. 

State premiers Dan Andrews, Gladys Berejiklian and Annastacia Palaszczuk all gave press conferences today, and the news from all three was grim. In Victoria, which has suffered another death and had its 10th day in a row with a triple-digit rise in cases, Andrews declared there would be a zero-tolerance approach to infringements of COVID restrictions, saying, “The time for warnings, the time for cutting people slack, is over.” In NSW, Berejiklian flagged further restrictions but joined the PM in rejecting the elimination of COVID-19 as an option, calling it an “unrealistic” aim that would “hurt” the state’s economic “aspiration”. In Queensland, Palaszczuk all but gloated about the AFL’s announcement that all Victorian teams would move to the sunshine state, and put in a pitch to host the grand final. But the states that have no community transmission and are keeping their borders shut will also suffer from the loss of tourism. Quite suddenly, the discussion has turned from recovering from the pandemic – which, for a while there, seemed to be over and done with – to surviving it. 

“Does the environment minister, Sussan Ley, agree with these attacks on the Bureau of Meteorology? … This is beyond a joke. The government needs to take responsibility for the actions of its own backbench.”

Labor frontbencher Mark Butler condemns a Facebook post by Liberal MP and climate denier Craig Kelly, shared by his colleague George Christensen, which calls the Bureau of Meteorology a “warmist climate cult” and accuses it of deleting and hiding “record hot days of the past”.

“The release of the letters ... confirms that neither Her Majesty nor the Royal Household had any part to play in Kerr’s decision to dismiss Whitlam.”

Buckingham Palace denies that Queen Elizabeth II played any role in the 1975 Dismissal.

Setting up for the second wave
With Victoria one week into its second shutdown, and NSW on high alert, there are new fears about what a second wave could mean for Australia’s coronavirus recovery.

The value of federal government contracts awarded in 2019–20 to the big four consulting firms, KPMG (more than $200m), Deloitte ($156m), PwC ($150m) and EY (more than $100m).

“According to multiple sources, DFAT will cut 50 jobs out of Canberra and 10 from eight overseas postings … DFAT plans to use natural attrition and redeployment to make the cuts and to complete the process with no redundancies.”

Despite calls from top foreign-policy experts and Liberal MP Dave Sharma, the former ambassador to Israel, for a reinvestment in Australian diplomacy and overseas aid, especially in the Indo-Pacific, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is the latest public institution to face jobs cuts.

The list

“Sydney-based musician Ziggy Ramo, aged 25, released his debut album Black Thoughts on June 6. It was the day that huge protests took place across Australia in response to Indigenous deaths in custody, and in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States … Part of Ramo’s achievement on Black Thoughts is to make this history [of racism, colonisation and dispossession] palpable in sound: to trace in his songs the continuity of racist governance and belief, but also the unbroken lineage of Indigenous resistance.”

“It seems clear that the Queen was never actually going to intervene in 1975 one way or the other, including by stopping Kerr from what she could clearly see was his course: the Queen’s view seems to be that she shouldn’t be seen to have one, and that any exercise of the royal prerogative is a matter for her representatives alone. Ultimately – and this is the great paradox of power – the fact that the Queen has maintained her powers in Australia has depended in no small part on the fact that she’s never used them.”

“Imagine going through cancer treatment and discovering it might have been unnecessary. According to research released in early 2020, this happens to about 30,000 Australians each year. The Medical Journal of Australia study explored lifetime risks for five types of cancer – prostate, breast, renal and thyroid cancers and melanoma. By comparing the difference between 1982 figures (when there were no screening programs) and those from 2012 (when screening and early detection were common), researchers concluded about 11,000 cancers in women and 18,000 in men may be overdiagnosed each year.”

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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Cold comfort

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