Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

PM slips up
Scott Morrison can’t keep ducking and weaving

One day, Scott Morrison’s ducking and weaving in the face of difficult questions must surely catch up with him. There were signs of the prime minister’s vulnerability today, from the federal government’s responsibility for the terrible tragedy in aged care to the announcement of a “deal” on a COVID-19 vaccine that seemed shaky almost as soon it was announced. Asked on ABC’s News Breakfast about the litany of failures in aged care, and whether the buck stopped with him, the PM obfuscated and dissembled in a way that would’ve made Joh Bjelke-Petersen proud, saying there were public-health responsibilities shared with the Victorian government, while the federal government regulates aged care. “When there is a public health pandemic,” Morrison continued, “whether it gets into aged care, shopping centres, schools or anywhere else, then they are things that are matters for Victoria.” This simply won’t fly with the families of those who have died or have contracted COVID-19 due to failures in federally funded and regulated nursing homes. Labor’s shadow minister for ageing and seniors, Julie Collins, put out a statement describing the PM as the “incredible shrinking man” and pointed to his own declaration, in February, that the federal government would be responsible for residential aged-care facilities. “For Scott Morrison,” said Collins, “there is always someone else to blame even when the responsibility is squarely his own.” 

More slippery words came with Morrison’s announcement this morning that Australians would be “among the first in the world to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, if it proves successful, through an agreement between the Australian government and UK-based drug company AstraZeneca”. Here was some good news at last! Never mind that the federal government is months behind the eight ball on negotiating pre-purchase agreements. An article widely shared today, published by industry news outlet Pharma in Focus and headlined “What deal? AZ asks PM”, an AstraZeneca spokesperson was quoted as saying the letter of intent “doesn’t go into any detail about costs or numbers or anything until we have an idea of what the manufacturing capacity is – that’s a critical piece in the puzzle”.

Shadow health minister Chris Bowen also addressed the issue at a doorstop press conference in Sydney: 

Today AstraZeneca has said there is no agreement that has been signed … When the prime minister says Australians will have first access to this vaccine, he is simply not telling the truth. Other governments have acted. The first such agreement was signed in mid May. His government has not acted, and no amount of spin today will change that fact. The government was ready to go with a meme. They just don’t have an agreement. Reminds me of the bushfires when they were ready to go with an ad, a TV ad by the Liberal Party, but they were completely mismanaging the bushfire crisis.

Borders remain a debacle. The Ruby Princess disaster is catching up with the federal government. The government has still not released the report into the Newmarch House outbreak, as Labor pointed out yesterday. And independent Rex Patrick’s challenge over national cabinet confidentiality offers yet more evidence that the goodwill towards Morrison engendered by the pandemic is evaporating. The ex-Centre Alliance senator is challenging the extension of cabinet confidentiality to national cabinet meetings with state premiers – an issue that until now has been subject of little scrutiny outside the COVID-19 select committee. 

Today’s case numbers in Victoria were thankfully lower, with 216 new infections – the lowest tally in more than a month – and 12 deaths. State premier Daniel Andrews told reporters he would stick to the facts in his dealings with the PM, and the most devastating fact remains that, of 2050 active cases in aged care in Victoria, only five are in state-run facilities. If that’s not squarely the prime minister’s responsibility, nothing is.

“Winding back JobKeeper will remove a fair bit of support from the economy, which is more alarming in the absence of any comprehensive jobs plan. If they are winding back JobKeeper, and the economy is not recovering as fast as we like, then what is going to fill the hole?”

Shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers calls on the federal government to rethink its plan to taper the JobKeeper wage subsidy from September.

“AMP has always acknowledged the seriousness of the 2017 employment complaint made against AMP Capital CEO, Boe Pahari.”

AMP digs in behind the embattled head of its investment arm, who was the subject of a sexual harassment complaint.

Inside the ‘Ruby Princess’: What went wrong
An inquiry examining the ‘Ruby Princess’ saga has delivered its findings, six months after the ship docked. The cruise ship remains Australia’s largest coronavirus cluster. Today, Malcolm Knox on who was responsible and what the inquiry found.

The amount of new investment in renewable energy in the June quarter, more than 50 per cent below the quarterly average in 2019, according to Clean Energy Council data.

“The bill in its current form does not adequately provide assurance to universities that the minister would not reduce funding further by specifying a lower maximum basic grant amount for higher education courses in future funding agreements.”

Universities Australia responds to the draft legislation for higher-education funding reform, which Education Minister Dan Tehan put out for consultation.

The list

“In Broady they’d used bricks & bottles, glass on
The factory floors, fire hoses turned on offices: down
Tools, down fence, down walls; unified they held the line”

“McManus’ decision to go hard in the face of conservative criticism recalls a tactic John Howard used often and well: lob a verbal bomb to provoke your opponents and embolden your supporters, dominate the news cycle, and move the parameters of the debate to where you want them. Besides a few articles in this magazine written by Kevin Rudd in the mid-to-late ’00s, it’s been a long time since neoliberalism’s status as the default setting of Australian society has been so openly questioned in the public arena.”

“Several facets of the commission’s 10-month process have turned out to be farcical and highlight enduring barriers to reform across Australia. Despite the terms of reference requiring the commission to consider the views of survivors and relevant experts, the perspectives of these individuals and organisations were ignored on multiple occasions. The final report clearly reflects the almost homogeneous legal backgrounds of the appointed commissioners.”

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning 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

27 reasons to wonder

Another “win” for Porter in the case that he desperately didn’t want made public

Image of Scott Morrison in a Santa hat

The ghost of Christmas past

Morrison’s attempts at good tidings are little comfort to those who might be in lockdown until the end of the year

Pay as you go

With Morrison, help is gradual and insufficient

Composite image of Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian. Images via ABC News

A tale of two lockdowns

As some states lift restrictions, the NSW premier is keen to reject comparisons with Victoria

From the front page

27 reasons to wonder

Another “win” for Porter in the case that he desperately didn’t want made public

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Jenny Morrison laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier during the Anzac Day commemorative service on April 25, 2020. Image © Alex Ellinghausen / AAP Image/ Sydney Morning Herald Pool

A rallying crime

For a country that loves invoking the virtues of wartime sacrifice, why have our leaders failed to appeal to the greater good during the pandemic?

Photo of installation view of the exhibition Camille Henrot: Is Today Tomorrow at NGV International. Photo © Tom Ross

Simultaneous persuasions: ‘Camille Henrot: Is Today Tomorrow’

Radical difference and radical proximity are hallmarks of the French-born artist’s NGV exhibition

Cover image of The Airways

Body and soul: ‘The Airways’

Fusing elements of crime fiction and ghost stories, Jennifer Mills’ latest novel is an interrogation of gender, power and consent