Thursday, April 16, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

Four more weeks
An end to the lockdown is in sight, says the PM

Image of Scott Morrison

via ABC News

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has cautiously flagged an easing of social-distancing restrictions in four weeks, after this afternoon’s meeting of the national cabinet, conditional on broader testing for COVID-19, improving tracing capability and establishing an ability to respond rapidly to local outbreaks as has occurred in north-west Tasmania. Morrison said the national cabinet would use the coming weeks to ensure those things were in place, and the lockdown would “remain in place until we’re able to achieve those three goals”. He added later that Australia had “often found ourselves in a better place ahead of time, and if we’re able to achieve that, well and good”. Chief medical officer Brendan Murphy released more Doherty Institute modelling, using “nowcasting” analysis of live Australia data, which showed a “very gratifying outcome” in flattening the curve so far. Australia is reckoned to be the most likely country in the world to detect symptomatic cases, with the viral reproduction rate well below one (except in Tasmania) and the epidemic fading. 

There’s light at the end of the tunnel, in terms of the health of the country if not the economy. The PM flagged that federal parliament would resume for a trial week of sittings under social-distancing restrictions in May, and kids will also return to school in about four weeks. He released [$] a set of seven national principles for the education system’s response to the COVID-19 crisis, which were described in this afternoon’s press conference as “clear as mud”. The PM has made his own preference clear that schools should be reopened as soon as possible – today he said most of the confusion arose because teachers were “more at risk in the staffroom than they are in the classroom”. The premiers are still not listening, and the vexed question of schooling only highlights that differences from state to state remain despite the functioning of the National Cabinet. 

The PM admitted today’s employment figures for March – which showed a small uptick in the jobless rate to 5.2 per cent – was the “best figure we’re going to see for some time” and there would be some “very sobering news on the economic front in the months ahead”. In questioning after the press conference, he put the private sector at the centre of the post-pandemic recovery, saying “we’re going to have to have economic policy measures that are very pro-growth”. The PM is no longer talking about the “snap back”, conceding it will be “a different world on the other side of the virus”. 

In a blistering bit of analysis, respected business commentator for the London Telegraph Ambrose Evans-Pritchard writes [$] that recent rallies on world financial markets (including here in Australia) jar with the gloomy forecasts of the International Monetary Fund and show investors are under-estimating the shock to come. “The market has yet to grasp that we don’t come out of this where we went in,” he writes. “Earnings are structurally damaged for years to come. Equities are not worth the same. Some 17 million Americans have lost their jobs in three weeks and the Great Purge has yet to run its course. Global unemployment rates will explode to politically dangerous levels if the pandemic is not properly contained. The idea of a V-shaped recovery was overly hopeful three weeks ago. Clinging to that position today borders on delusional.”

Australia’s all-in-this-together sentiment is fraying as the health emergency recedes – a fresh survey today shows we are all getting tetchy with each other, if not the authorities – and it will surely disintegrate if the threat of a second wave of infection recedes. Employers are looking for a cut of JobKeeper payments, even before they begin. Landlords are doing panic evictions before the moratorium kicks in. And the culture warriors are already gearing up for a post-pandemic barney. In his regular 2GB Radio slot this morning, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton reinforced that Australia would not follow the lead of US President Donald Trump and withdraw funding from the World Health Organization. But Dutton then jumped on the anti-globalist bandwagon to criticise not just the WHO’s position on wet markets, but the UN itself. “We’ve got to call any of these organisations out when we see it, and there are other bodies within the UN that, I would argue, aren’t acting in the global interest, aren’t acting certainly in the interest of countries like Australia,” said Dutton, in what is surely a dig at the UN’s agenda on the environment and climate change. Equally worrying, the anti-WHO push has support from so-called moderates on the Liberal backbench, including the member for Wentworth, Dave Sharma, the former ambassador to Israel, who told Sky News yesterday a reckoning had been a long time coming.

If and when this pandemic is over – preferably eradicated, at least here and in New Zealand – it’s going to be a strange combination of a pent-up party with biting recession and even-more-partisan politicking over the way back to normal.

“The harrowing experiences of this bushfire season will long linger in our national psyche. The pervasive smoke haunting our towns and cities, the red skies turning black, the thunderous raw and thick smoke that accompanied the wall of flames and the utter devastation.”

Retired air chief marshall Mark Binskin formally opens proceedings of the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements.

“[Scott Morrison]’s a professional politician who understands marketing and messaging better than most. His cringe-worthy ‘daggy dad’ persona is more exaggerated than it is conflated, but in net terms it probably helped. All that aside, however, the truth is that Labor lost the election that the Coalition, after the August coup, did not deserve to win.”

An excerpt from the memoir of former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, A Bigger Picture, which suggests he is not entirely happy the Coalition won the last federal election without him.

What governments are hiding behind coronavirus
While the country’s attention has been focused on the fight against coronavirus, Energy Minister Angus Taylor has forged ahead with a plan to prop up a coal-fired power generator. Today, Mike Seccombe on the push to undermine environmental protections during this crisis.

The staggering value of Australia’s submarine deal with contractor Naval Group, which the French builder is refusing to reveal is being fulfilled, by blocking freedom of information requests okayed by the Defence department.

“Audiences … are increasingly using online services, specifically subscription video on demand (SVOD), as a primary way of accessing narrative content. These online services have no Australian content obligations and provide and commission comparatively few Australian stories. Audiences are no longer guaranteed access to Australian stories in their increasing screen content diet… Continuing to heavily regulate a [free-to-air and pay-TV] sector under pressure while allowing a booming sector to remain unregulated does not represent a level-playing field. Urgent consideration should therefore be given to updating government support measures and regulatory interventions to appropriately reflect the contemporary context.”

In an options paper released yesterday, the Australian Communications and Media Authority and Screen Australia define the problem with existing local content requirements, and consider what can be done.

The list

“A hotel room, says the unnamed protagonist in Eimear McBride’s third novel, Strange Hotel (Faber & Faber), is a place ‘built for people living in a time out of time – out of their own time anyway’. The protagonist knows such rooms well, inhabiting one after another over roughly a decade, in a futile attempt to sidestep the chronological tyranny of her life. We meet her first in a hotel room in Avignon. Then there is Prague, Auckland, Austin. We don’t know why she chooses one place over another. Nor how much time passes between her visits.”

“As the police officer approached with a warrant, Erin got out of her car. She asked for time to talk to her two children, and promised she’d follow him to the station. Back in the car, Erin tried to remain calm. ‘I am so sorry I have put you through all of this. This is not the life I wanted for you. Always remember how much I love you.’ ‘What’s going to happen to us?’ her 10-year-old son cried. ‘I don’t know,’ Erin replied. ‘You just need to tell the truth.’ By the time the police caught up with them, Erin had been on the run with her children for nine months. She was now confronting a reality she’d been avoiding for years."

“It’s something called the Underwriting New Generation Investment (UNGI) program and it’s the baby of the federal Energy minister, Angus Taylor. And in recent weeks, as the attention of the nation’s media and populace has been focused on the Covid-19 crisis, it moved a couple of steps forward. One step was the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the Commonwealth and New South Wales governments, which encompassed a broad range of energy initiatives, not all of them bad in environmental terms. But buried in the various attached schedules to the agreement are measures designed to prop up coal-fired electricity generators and weaken environmental protections.”

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?


The Monthly Today

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Victoria’s woes are a warning for the whole country

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Southern discomfort

Tomorrow’s result in Eden-Monaro is on a knife edge

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Grey zone

Between war and peace, Australia’s defence strategy is evolving

From the front page

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Fermata: Musical performance in lockdown

What becomes of the communion of classical musicians, composers and audiences during social isolation?

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews

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Victoria’s woes are a warning for the whole country

Illustration by Jeff Fisher

Weal of fortune

Rebuilding the economy means government investment, but not all public spending is equal

Image of Labor’s Kristy McBain and Anthony Albanese

A win’s a win

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