Despite the high tally, there were signs of hope in Victoria’s announcements today
There were some heartfelt moments from a tired Premier Daniel Andrews today as he announced Victoria’s worst daily infection count, with 532 new COVID-19 cases and six deaths, of which five were in aged-care facilities. Asked to comment on why most of the cases in nursing homes appeared to be in the private and not-for-profit sectors, and whether it had to do with nurse-to-resident ratios, Andrews declined to take the bait. “Can I make a point to you?” Andrews said. “I have been around these areas of policy for almost my entire working life in one way or another, and I can give you a very long description of the differences between public-sector [and private-sector] aged care, and we are the state with the greatest amount of public-sector aged care. Others got out of that space. We have stayed in it. We’re very proud to have done that. But me running a commentary on these matters will only inflame things … [and] will essentially be read as a criticism of that part of the aged-care system that we don’t run. Doesn’t matter who runs it – we’ve got a big, big problem, and we’ve got to work together to fix it.”
The premier was similarly frank when he talked about his eldest son sitting the VCE in a disruptive year for students all around the country, and he let rip when asked about the anti-masker in Bunnings: “I think people can judge for themselves the efficacy, the credibility of people who are running those sort of keyboard warrior campaigns. Seriously, one more comment about human rights – honestly. It is about human life.” Andrews’ televised press conference was preceded by a rambling presser from the prime minister about the National COVID-19 Coordination Commission, and followed by another from NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, who had a much smaller tally of 17 cases to announce. In one long press conference after another, the coronavirus has showed us our national, state and territory leaders unscripted – a bit of relief for journalists who’ve long bemoaned how wooden and relentlessly on-message politicians are nowadays. It seems to be working for the punters too, with governments of both major parties soaring in the polls, while oppositions are relegated to the shadows. Morrison, Andrews, Berejiklian, Palaszczuk, McGowan and so on are under the long glare of the COVID spotlight, and one way or another they are inevitably revealing themselves to be ordinary human beings. As long as they decline to play politics with the crisis, they are being marked up by voters. Although, for my money, Andrews has had the best line of COVID-19 so far: “It’s not a popularity contest, it’s a pandemic.”
Whether Andrews wants to debate it right now or not, there is a good argument that the terrifying spread of COVID-19 through nursing homes – whether in NSW or Victoria – is a function of under-funding and under-regulation. Rick Morton wrote in The Saturday Paper that COVID-19 has shattered “an institutional delusion that staffing numbers in aged care are appropriate, that funding is appropriate, and that aged-care management is always experienced in healthcare”. As Dr Sarah Russell wrote on Friday, warning that 80 nursing-home deaths were imminent: “What’s driving it is simple: the marketisation of aged care.” In a United Workers Union survey, provided to the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, more than 1000 workers in the sector spoke out about their lack of training, their low level of preparedness for the coronavirus outbreak, and chronic staff shortages. According to the survey, two thirds say they do not feel very prepared if there is a coronavirus outbreak at their centre, three in 10 say they have not had training in how to use personal protective equipment, and two thirds of residential care workers say their workloads have increased because of the coronavirus. Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck’s response to questioning on the ABC’s RN Breakfast was entirely unconvincing.
The most encouraging moment in the Andrews presser came not from the premier, but from Victoria’s chief health officer, Brett Sutton, who – with all due caution and copious caveats – said the modelling showed that, with the effective reproduction rate falling below one, “today should be the peak”. Fingers crossed.
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“The Australian government rejects any claims by China that are inconsistent with the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, in particular, maritime claims that do not adhere to its rules on baselines, maritime zones and classification of features. There is no legal basis for China to draw straight baselines connecting the outermost points of maritime features or ‘island groups’ in the South China Sea … Australia rejects any claims to internal waters, territorial sea, exclusive economic zone and continental shelf based on such straight baselines.”
“To those who were paying attention, Graeme Samuel’s interim report on Australia’s 20-year-old environmental protection laws provides a sombre warning. The essential message the veteran investigator sought to convey was a simple one: the current regime is not working. Native flora and fauna are not being conserved, while habitats are in a state of decline and under increasing threat. The environment is on a trajectory that is not sustainable.”
“Australia’s prisons are increasingly filled by people with mental illnesses … While mental illness doesn’t discriminate – it can affect anyone, regardless of income or background – incarceration does. The mentally ill who get locked up are usually poor, have insecure housing, struggle with addiction or a cognitive disability, and lack strong family networks to keep them safe. As a group, they face higher rates of convictions for lower-level offences.”
“It is hard to conceive the scale of iron ore mining in the Pilbara, if you haven’t seen it. Trains, kilometres long, pushing their way through red country to Port Hedland. Processing plants the size of a central business district. And then there is the mine itself – terraforming on a vast scale: creation and destruction. This is the world that Neville Power, the man picked to head the National COVID-19 Coordination Commission (NCCC), made his name presiding over.”
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?
There were some heartfelt moments from a tired Premier Daniel Andrews today as he announced Victoria’s worst daily infection count, with 532 new COVID-19 cases and six deaths, of which five were in aged-care facilities. Asked to comment on why most of the cases in nursing homes appeared to be in the private and not-for-profit sectors, and whether it had to do with nurse-to-resident ratios, Andrews declined to take the bait. “Can I make a point to you?” Andrews said. “I have been around these areas of policy for almost my entire working life in one way or another, and I can give you a very long description of the differences between public-sector [and private-sector] aged care, and we are the state with the greatest amount of public-sector aged care. Others got out of that space. We have stayed in it. We’re very proud to have done that. But me running a commentary on these matters...
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