Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

Hard call
Much is riding on the success of Victoria’s lockdown

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews speaks to the media today. Via ABC News

Another scarily high count of 484 new coronavirus infections and two more deaths overnight in Victoria reinforces that everything – including each line in tomorrow’s economic statement from the federal government – depends on getting the dreaded virus under control. Premier Daniel Andrews chose his words carefully at this afternoon’s press conference when asked whether Victoria was headed for an even tougher, New Zealand–style lockdown (as at least one reporter has suggested, citing federal sources). Andrews mentioned he’d had a detailed conversation with Prime Minister Scott Morrison last night, but said there were “no announcements to be made today about any changes to the rules”, and then waffled on, in Morrison-like fashion, about how the government was not considering a higher-stage lockdown: “That’s not the way in which we’re thinking.” Andrews pleaded with the assembled journos to communicate three very simple messages. Firstly, 9 out of 10 people are taking too long to get tested (the message is, “If you feel sick, get tested quick”). Secondly, 53 per cent of people tested are failing to isolate while they wait for results (which does seem crazy). Lastly, he urged workers who are feeling sick but unable to take sick leave to call the hotline number, as they may be eligible for a $1500 payment. The lack of sick leave for many workers is “a commentary on insecure work” across the state and nationally, Andrews said, before adding, “that debate can wait”.

Andrews said there was “some stability” in the case numbers – which aren’t doubling – but the current six-week lockdown in Melbourne and adjoining Mitchell Shire could be extended for “much longer” if things did not improve. Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said the effective reproduction rate of the virus has dropped from about 1.5 to 1.2, or perhaps lower, but he still believed it was above one, meaning the virus was still spreading. Sutton said Victoria remained at a challenging point of the pandemic: “The second wave … is very different to the first wave that we’ve gone through, for a whole bunch of reasons – the populations affected, the fact that we’re all rather fatigued.” Sutton said there was no guarantee that a harder, NZ-style lockdown would be effective in Victoria, given New Zealand was largely dealing with returned travellers and did not have significant community transmission. The vast majority of daily cases in Victoria are not linked to known outbreaks, and many are transmitted at work.

Adding up the 16 new cases in NSW and one in Queensland, today was Australia’s worst day of the pandemic so far. At a Canberra press conference this afternoon, shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers was asked about the uncertainty hanging over tomorrow’s economic statement and the extensions to JobKeeper and JobSeeker, announced yesterday. “It’s really certain that unemployment is going to be higher for longer,” Chalmers said. “That’s the issue that we need to address. Of course, there will be outbreaks in different parts of the country, of course that will have economic consequences. But it’s been very clear, even before the most recent outbreak in Victoria, that unemployment will be higher for longer, and it’s equally clear that the government doesn’t have a plan to deal with that.” Asked what Labor’s plan would be if he were Treasurer, Chalmers talked about building more social housing and finally settling on an energy policy, but otherwise he welcomed yesterday’s announcements of more stimulus spending and a return to mutual obligation. 

In some ways it will be a relief when the political cycle turns and Labor takes the gloves off (after many months of “welcoming”, “having a look at” or “calling for” this and that) and starts once again to oppose. 

“The 2002 intergenerational report … sounded an alarm to Australia. It said that we needed to find a way of boosting growth in the economy by at least one half of one percentage point a year, for 40 years, in order to prevent an ever-increasing rise in the tax burden … and when we look back, what we find is that we were remarkably accurate.”

Speaking about welfare, debt and deficit, former Treasury secretary Ken Henry says Australia has failed to meet the economic challenge laid down two decades ago, with the big disappointment being productivity growth.

“It was separately addressed … I saw no need for a non-lawyer to provide advice on that issue.”

Phil Gaetjens, secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, tells the Senate committee into the “sports rorts” affair that he had not formed a view on whether former minister Bridget McKenzie had legal authority to give out $100 million worth of grants.

A night at the opera: How Whitlam and Kerr fell out
After a 10-year legal battle, the “palace letters” were finally released last week. In full, they show how Gough Whitlam’s relationship with the governor-general broke down – and how involved the Queen was through this collapse.

The number of child-exploitation charges laid against 144 people in the past 10 months, up by nearly 800 in the last two years, according to Australian Federal Police commissioner Reece Kershaw.

“The Advisory Council will provide advice and recommendations [on]: ways the NBN and other high-speed networks can be used to lift Australia’s economic output and the welfare of Australians more generally; opportunities to increase the use of the NBN other networks, including by small and family businesses; barriers to using the NBN and other networks, including financial and cultural/behavioural issues and cost-effective strategies to reduce such barriers, and; potential implementation, communication and outreach strategies.”

With the NBN rollout complete but more than 4 million premises yet to be connected, Minister for Communications Paul Fletcher has set up a committee to advise on the future use of the NBN.

The list

“Drawings of what I think various Real Clickbait Headlines might be about, without actually clicking on them”

“On the day I meet Lee Lin Chin – SBS newsreader for more than 20 years and Australian fashion icon – she’s in Sydney in a Surry Hills apartment block, her hands around a woman’s throat. When Chin sees I’m watching, she breaks into a maniacal grin, the eerie effect amplified by her all-white wardrobe, hollowed-out kohl eyes and ghoulish foundation that makes her look dead. Glamorous, but dead. ‘Annnnnd cut,’ calls writer-director Chris Leben. ‘A little bit more evil this time, Lee Lin,’ he suggests. Chin nods dutifully.”

“On Monday … the government ended the free childcare scheme, under which existing subsidies were suspended and childcare centres were instead paid 50 per cent of the hourly rate cap by the government, while parents were not required to pay fees. It is the first pandemic support measure to be withdrawn in the prime minister’s ‘snapback’ – the foreshadowed moment when the coronavirus crisis ends, and relief spending is cut. Only the pandemic hasn’t ended, nor has the economic impact it is having on families.” 

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?


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