Monday, March 16, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

State of emergency
The virus is moving at lightning speed. The government is playing catch-up

The prime minister has copped plenty of flak in the media for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, including Friday’s mixed messages about going to the footy on the weekend, the confusing delay to the ban on gatherings of more than 500 people, the incredibly tardy start to a mass communication campaign, and more besides. This is all justified, but if speed trumps perfection when it comes to fighting a pandemic – as a World Health Organization expert has explained in a widely shared clip – then we should also expect that nobody can get everything right immediately, and we will all have to learn as we go. But there is one thing that we keep hearing from Scott Morrison in one form or another that really jars.

“The government can’t manage every hour of your life and tell you what to do every hour of the day,” Morrison said yesterday, at a press conference after a historic meeting of a new national cabinet, a souped-up COAG that includes the PM, premiers and chief ministers. It is true that there are times when we don’t want government in our lives – such as attendees at a music festival not wanting to be strip-searched or sniffed out by police dogs; or journalists, whistleblowers and ordinary citizens not wanting to be subjected to secret surveillance by one of Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton’s unaccountable minions.

But there are times when we absolutely do want government in our lives, and as panic builds over an uncontained viral outbreak, we’ve arrived at exactly such a point. It’s not unreasonable to expect the government to take charge early on, send clear signals and act to prevent the unnecessary panic caused by misinformation. Scott Morrison’s instincts, unfortunately, appear to lean towards getting-the-government-out-of-our-lives, and we know where that leads – the total dysfunction we are watching unfold in the US.

From the stagnant economy to the drought, the bushfires and now COVID-19, why is there always a sense that this government is adrift and playing catch-up? When will this government begin to be proactive rather than reactive? Is it capable of it? The Australian’s Alan Kohler writes [$] that the problem for authorities is that they need to try to prevent the health system from being overwhelmed without causing an economic depression. “That’s with a D, as in 10 per cent GDP contraction, not an R for a two-quarters recession, which is already a given.”

The economic and financial impact of the pandemic is happening at lightning speed. The RBA is preparing [$] to implement quantitative easing on Thursday. In Guardian Australia, former PM Kevin Rudd writes that Morrison’s stimulus mantra appears to be “go late, go half-measures, and go to Hillsong”. Sky News Australia’s Andrew Clennell is reporting that the PM, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann are already locked in meetings preparing a second round of economic stimulus, to be unveiled before the budget, just days after announcing the first. Economist Stephen Koukoulas tweets that a 2020–21 budget deficit of $100 billion – around 4 per cent of GDP, just like during the GFC – is shaping as a central case.

Victoria declared a state of emergency today, which gives the state’s chief health officer powers to enforce the measures agreed at yesterday’s national cabinet meeting, including the mass gathering ban and the 14-day self-isolation requirement for overseas visitors. Schools are top of mind for parents and teachers. What’s happening to help 3.3 million casual and insecure workers whose income is now in freefall? How is the government helping to ensure its not every man for himself at supermarkets? Meanwhile, the $2 billion bushfire fund money still hasn’t hit the ground.

Todays’ Newspoll showing [$] Morrison retaking the lead as preferred PM shows voters are looking for leadership. The Morrison government needs to provide it.

“After such a horrific summer, this advertising campaign is there to remind Australians that the country needs a sensible approach to climate change. We have received enormous support from our neighbouring electorates of Wentworth and North Sydney who want their local federal members to vote for the bill.”

Independent member for Warringah Zali Steggall calls for public support for her Climate Change Bill, to be introduced to parliament later this month.

“Unless I’m moving in different circles, the almost universal reaction I am getting is that we have gone mad. And in this modern world, at the slightest provocation it seems, we revert – in spite of all the money spend on education – we revert to hysteria and alarmism. We now seem to be facing the health version of global warming. Exaggeration in almost everything. Certainly in description, and certainly in behaviour.”

2GB broadcaster Alan Jones attempts to offer some perspective on the threat posed by the coronavirus.

The future of dairy
Animal-free milk could wipe out the traditional dairy industry within the decade. Today, Lesley Hughes discusses the future of alternative milk and what it means for Australia.

The estimated annual saving to Commonwealth taxpayers resulting from private schools – a figure that is eight times smaller than is often claimed, according to new report “The School Money-go-round”, by researcher and former principal Chris Bonnor and University of Sydney academic Rachel Wilson.

“Where there are many questions about the legality of native forest logging, including findings by the Victorian Auditor-General’s Office that some VicForests activities are not consistent with requirements under Victorian law, then there is a clear risk that in accepting and processing Victorian native forest logs, Australian Paper is not complying with its due diligence obligations under the Illegal Logging Prohibition Act.”

Environmental Justice Australia senior lawyer Danya Jacobs warns Japanese company Nippon Paper, owner of Australian Paper, that buying supplies from VicForests may be in breach of logging rules.

The list

“It would be harsh and uncaring to admit a modicum of satisfaction at the news that Peter Dutton has contracted coronavirus. But given that Dutton seems to spend most of his waking hours inflicting harsh and uncaring treatment on just about everyone else, a sense of karma is understandable … Beyond the personal, however, the knowledge that the virus has infected someone at the innermost workings of the government is a grim reminder of just how pervasive it is, and how hard it will be to contain and combat.”

“The final deadline is the end of June. In all, it will be 600 people out of work, 180 of them well-trained and highly skilled journalists. But the impact of Australian Associated Press’s closure – especially on regional publications that depend on the service for syndicated photographs and stories – is difficult to overstate. Some observers say it will be worse than anything journalism in this country has faced so far.”

“The three dance pieces that make up Trois Grandes Fugues are very different in style, and respond to three very different musical interpretations of Beethoven’s work. All the choreographers are women. I wish this weren’t noteworthy, but it is still necessary to promote women choreographers, composers and painters – the artists whose job is to create, rather than interpret someone else’s creation.” 

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.


The Monthly Today

Queensland votes

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Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison during Question Time today.

Having us on

What job is the Morrison government getting on with, exactly?

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Kean on action

A moderate Liberal adds pressure on the PM over climate policy

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison in Question Time today

Less is less

The Morrison government’s underspending ways are catching up with it

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