Thursday, October 15, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

Back off
Daniel Andrews should be left to act on health advice alone

Image of Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews. Image via Sky News

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Health Minister Greg Hunt are playing with fire by piling political pressure on Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, insisting he reopen the state economy on Sunday, when the premier has flagged some easing of restrictions. “Please, give the people of Victoria their freedom back this weekend,” Frydenberg tweeted yesterday. He reinforced the message today when better-than-expected unemployment data nonetheless confirmed that the locked-down state shed another 36,000 jobs last month: “Time for the lockdown to end & Victorians to get their freedom back.” These public calls come as the High Court has expedited a challenge to the validity of the lockdown brought by Sorrento hotelier Julian Gerner, and a hearing is now set for tomorrow afternoon. Putting extra pressure on Andrews ahead of a difficult decision on Sunday is highly inappropriate. Substitute the premier’s name with that of Victoria’s chief medical officer, Andrew Wilson, and it is inconceivable that political pressure would be put on him over a public-health issue. Agree with Andrews or disagree with him, love him or hate him, but allow him to be guided by the health advice, not by political opponents or the media. Trying to force the premier’s hand risks a self-defeating, lose-lose outcome in which community confidence in both state and federal governments (and therefore the efficacy of public-health measures) is undermined, requiring the lockdown to continue longer than otherwise necessary. 

This is not an endorsement of every aspect of Andrews’ handling of the pandemic – far from it. Nor is it to say that the federal government is wrong to hope for a reopening of Victoria on Sunday. Everybody wants that, including Andrews himself. But at this point in time – after Victorians have experienced months of confinement, and when the community needs to act with a single purpose – poking the bear for political purposes, as Frydenberg and Hunt are doing, is highly irresponsible. When the Coate inquiry delivers its final report, there may well be a political price to pay for the way in which the second wave got started in Victoria, but with the end of lockdown in sight, the premier should be trusted to make the right decision based on the medical advice, to avoid the most damaging outcome of all: a third wave. 

And, as many observers on Twitter pointed out, it is beyond the pale for some members of the Morrison government to profess concern about the mental health of Victorians. Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge tweeted yesterday: “New data reveals the devastating impact of lockdown on mental health: 30% increase in accessing a mental health service in the last 4 weeks. 61% increase in calls to Kids Helpline. Beyond Blue 77% higher. Lifeline - 16% higher. 33% increase in eating disorder calls.” That was met with an outraged volley of 1200 responses pointing out that this is rank hypocrisy coming from one of the key ministers responsible for the illegal robodebt scheme – which quite possibly pushed 2000 people to suicide – and the indefinite detention for seven years of asylum seekers who have done nothing wrong.   

Premier Andrews woke up today to find his electorate office vandalised – the words “sack Dan” were spray-painted on the windows of the Noble Park building – alongside the news that the property industry, the legal profession, one of the nation’s largest grocery retailers, psychiatrists and doctors were all pleading for certainty ahead of Sunday’s decision. Hopefully, Andrews will ignore it all and come to the right decision on Sunday, whatever that may be. 

“Why are they so terrified of an anti-corruption commission? It’s absurd to claim that they are too busy to act. This is the biggest spending budget in history. There’s never been a greater need for an anti-corruption commission.”

Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus responds to the leak of talking points from the prime minister’s office, which urge Coalition MPs to promise that the government will create a Commonwealth Integrity Commission “as soon as possible”.

“The independent reviewer determined that there was not a sufficient basis to form a view that there was serious misuse of Commonwealth resources.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Finance explains why law firm Ashurst stopped investigating the offices of senior Liberal MPs Michael Sukkar and Kevin Andrews – who are alleged to have engaged in party political work at taxpayer expense – without hearing from their staff.

Australia’s medicine shortage
A reliance on imports has left Australia with dwindling supplies of some essential medicines, and experts are now warning that manufacturing capabilities at home need to be boosted. Today, Margaret Simons on Australia’s pharmaceutical vulnerability.

The size of the personal debt that former Wagga Wagga MP Daryl Maguire admitted he discussed with his then partner, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian.

“I expect the ACCC will inform me prior to any significant regulation or intervention in the telecommunications markets. I also expect the ACCC to provide me with sufficient advance notice in relation to major announcements, public submissions, media releases and major speeches relevant to my portfolio responsibilities.”

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher issues a statement of expectations to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission about how it will regulate the NBN as competition emerges from 5G.

The list

“As a white, cisgendered, heterosexual male, Silvey’s authorial right to tell that story [in Jasper Jones] went largely unquestioned, helped by the distancing techniques of a white teenage narrator’s filter and the half-century between the story’s setting and the book’s release. This time, however, questions are being raised about who should tell contemporary trans stories, and how.”

“It’s 3am and I’m awake – again. It’s no exaggeration to say that my work as a climate scientist now routinely keeps me up at night. I keep having dreams of being inundated. Huge, monstrous waves bearing down on me in slow motion. Sometimes I stop resisting and allow myself to be sucked in. Other times, I watch as a colossal tsunami builds offshore. I panic, immediately sensing that I don’t stand a chance. I watch the horizon disappear, before turning to bolt to higher ground. Around me, people are calmly going about their business.”

“On climate policy, the evidence is clear: ambition isn’t dictated by size, density, population or wealth. It comes down to one factor – how willing a government is to accept that rapid action is needed to avert catastrophic climate change. For nearly a decade, Australia’s government has been allergic to this fact. The 2020 budget proves that not even our own Black Summer could shake loose the calcified denial.”

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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