Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

Triumph to tragedy
Pointing to worse COVID outcomes overseas is no answer

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison during Question Time today

Prime Minister Scott Morrison during Question Time today. Image © Lukas Coch / AAP Images 

Scott Morrison marked two years as Liberal leader and prime minister in the Coalition’s joint partyroom meeting this morning, held in the socially distanced federal parliament, by claiming that Australia was widely regarded as being in the “top four globally” in terms of handling the health and economic consequences of the pandemic. On aged care, Morrison pointed to far worse outcomes overseas, citing UK figures showing that 56 per cent of aged-care facilities had experienced COVID-19 infections among staff and residents, compared with 8 per cent in Australia. But there was a crunching disconnect between the PM’s triumphalism in the morning and the grilling his government received in Question Time this afternoon. Labor pressed the Coalition on aged care over and over again: on why the aged-care regulator had failed to immediately notify the health department about the July outbreak at St Basils; about the country’s worst outbreak at Epping Gardens, where 20 people died and just six staff were left to care for 115 residents; about why a 95-year-old woman was found with ants crawling from her wounds at Kalyna Care nursing home; and about this morning’s reported demotion of Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck, who has been “cut out” of decisions to activate new aged-care emergency measures. Albanese told the Labor caucus meeting it was as if Colbeck was a Comcar driver being told, “You’re still a Comcar driver but you’re not allowed to drive the car.”

Morrison slugged his way through the barrage of questions, often calling on Health Minister Greg Hunt for backup, but said he stood by Colbeck, and continued to speak with him as part of a daily review of aged care with the deputy prime minister, the treasurer and the health minister. Then Morrison tried to turn the tables on Albanese by accusing him of having a blind spot on the failings of the Labor state government in Victoria, led by Premier Daniel Andrews. “The Leader of the Opposition believes that in Victoria there is nothing going on when it comes to community transmission,” said Morrison. “There has been no failure of quarantine, there has been no failure of tracing – the Leader of the Opposition seems to think that everything is okay in Victoria and there have only been challenges in aged care.” 

That won’t wash. Senator Rachel Siewert says the community has lost confidence in the federal government’s management of aged care, and there has still not been a government response sufficient to prevent a Victorian-style disaster elsewhere in the country. Today, for example, the expert review into the Newmarch House disaster found that nursing-home staff, administrators and regulators all lacked understanding of infection control. And expert infection-control nurses, speaking on the ABC’s AM, called on the industry to fund a comprehensive training course for their staff.

“We have no national coordinating body to address the COVID crisis in aged care,” Siewert said in a statement. “We have a regulator that is not regulating effectively. We have a government failing on workforce. When I asked about infectious-disease control training, only about half of staff have done an online infection-control training [course] and the government thinks this is adequate. The prime minister and the minister need to improve their approach or the minister has to go.”  

Asked in the Senate whether he had been sidelined, Colbeck rejected the premise of the question, adding, “Don’t believe everything you read in the newspaper.” If that’s his best defence as people are dying on his watch, the minister should be one of the people worried about the reshuffle looming in December. Another may be Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, who is facing a fresh bout of leadership speculation, notwithstanding that everyone from David Littleproud to Darren Chester to Barnaby Joyce is denying there is anything happening. Ditto Michael Sukkar, who is the subject of fresh branch-stacking revelations and is facing calls from Labor and the Greens for his resignation. As Victoria’s second wave case numbers continue to track downwards, pandemic politics is getting tougher, not easier. 

“There is no role for an expansion of the gas industry.”

Leading Australian scientists have written an open letter to Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel, saying his support for gas as an energy source is “not consistent with a safe climate nor … with the Paris Agreement”.

“To use that tissue for science is reprehensible.”

Anglican Archbishop of Sydney Glenn Davies says he will likely boycott the COVID-19 vaccine being developed by Oxford University, which uses a cell culture grown from a decades-old aborted foetus.

Why coronavirus could mean fewer nurses
As our hospitals face pressure from coronavirus outbreaks, we’re relying on nurses more than ever. But at the same time, the pandemic means many nursing students may not be able to graduate. Today, Santilla Chingaipe on the looming shortfall in our health workforce.

The number of jobs Qantas will shed as it outsources ground handling, in addition to the 6000 jobs already lost at the airline and its partner Jetstar, due to COVID-19.

“The season showed us what damage megafires can do, and how dangerous they can be for communities and firefighters. And it is clear that we should expect fire seasons like 2019–20 , or potentially worse, to happen again … Climate change as a result of increased greenhouse gas emissions clearly played a role in the conditions that led up to the fires and in the unrelenting conditions that supported the fires to spread, but climate change does not explain everything that happened.”

From the final report of the NSW Bushfire Inquiry, chaired by Dave Owens and Mary O’Kane, which makes 76 recommendations including for more aggressive hazard-reduction burning.

The list

“The typical Charlie Kaufman screenplay? Exuberant invention constrained by feature film limitations. His first novel? An enormous thumbed nose at restraint. This review? Too short for a long book. More than 700 pages, but the zippiest postmodern self-referential doorstop you’ll ever read. Feels written in a joyous rush; should be consumed likewise. Antic spirit abounds – slapstick comedy, multiplying personalities, fracturing timelines. Plotholes and literal potholes.”

“Law reform is not for the meek. Theorising is for the meek. Change requires breaking bread across the political divide. With our theoretically unassailable institutions of liberal democratic governance straining as the public loses faith in the capacity of politicians to deliver change, it is not a divide that is easy to bridge. To make this change, we will need the Australian people to understand who we are as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and why a constitutionally entrenched ‘voice to parliament’ is desirable, because half of our parliamentary representatives do not.”

“The prime minister’s post-COVID-19 plan is to roar ahead with a slate of mega-projects that would be delayed by any proper consideration of their environmental and Indigenous heritage impacts. While the EPBC Act rarely leads to any project being given the thumbs down, it does require environmental impacts to be assessed, and this takes time. The government’s solution? Get rid of the federal assessment.”

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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