Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

Aged scare
COVID is tearing through nursing homes funded and regulated by the Commonwealth

Image of Victorian health minister Jenny Mikakos

Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos

Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos, who is Greek Australian, held back tears while talking about the coronavirus outbreak at St Basil’s aged-care facility in Melbourne. “This is a facility that is very close, of course, to many members of the Greek community,” said Mikakos, “and I know they’ve been particularly distressed to see the rising toll of deaths at that facility.” At the same press conference, Premier Daniel Andrews said that only five of the 769 active cases of COVID-19 in aged care were in facilities run by the state, which occupies roughly 10 per cent of the market. Unlike yesterday, Andrews squarely pointed the finger at privately run facilities, saying he wouldn’t want his own mum in some of them. “I cannot stand here and say to all Victorians that I have confidence in some of the arrangements in private-sector aged care,” said Andrews. “If I could say that, I would. We don’t run this sector, but the residents in these homes are all Victorians. The Commonwealth government have asked for help and that is exactly what my government and our agencies will provide to them.”  

Nine residents have already died and there are 84 cases at the St Basil’s nursing home in Fawkner, in Melbourne’s northern suburbs. The Age reports that the Commonwealth regulator – the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission – has threatened to revoke the facility’s licence, while the state branch of the Australian Medical Association has called for a royal commission into the preparedness of the aged-care sector, deficiencies in the state’s contact-tracing system, failures in hotel quarantine and other aspects of the pandemic response. Andrews deflected today, saying that the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety was already underway, and the Victorian government “should be more focused on doing everything we can to provide care to those who are sick, to have the best set of policies, the best public health response we can possibly have. We are in the middle of a second wave and that should be – and that is – my exclusive focus.”

Federal health minister Greg Hunt this afternoon accused Andrews of making a “dangerous statement”, after the premier alleged staff were not providing appropriate care at privately run aged-care facilities. Hunt said his father attended one. “The idea that our carers, that our nurses are not providing that care, I think, is a dangerous statement to make,” he said. “They are wonderful human beings, and I will not hear a word against them.” But the Morrison government cannot duck responsibility for the outbreaks in Commonwealth-funded and -regulated aged-care facilities. On the ABC’s AM program this morning, Professor John Pollaers, who developed the Aged Care Workforce Strategy in 2018, said that the federal government had been too slow to act on his recommendations, which have since been endorsed by the royal commission.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has cut short his Queensland trip to return to Canberra as the aged-care crisis in Victoria worsens, with more than 80 facilities out of some 430 affected. The PM said the Victorian Aged Care Response Centre, which brings together Commonwealth and state officials in emergency management and health, was trying to plug workforce gaps. “I want to be up-front with you,” he said. “It’s very difficult and it’s very hard to get people into those positions, particularly given the complexity and difficulty of the situations they’re facing. And last night, in particular, we had ADF officers, nurses, being put into a night shift in a Melbourne facility and we were able to arrange that quite late in the evening, about 11pm. And so there is no effort being spared to ensure that we can get the people to the places they need to be.”

A Fair Work Commission ruling last night awarded paid pandemic leave to aged-care workers, accepting submissions by the ACTU, Health Services Union and Australian Nurses and Midwifery Foundation stating that there was an “elevated risk” that workers would be required to self-isolate. The ACTU today repeated calls for paid pandemic leave to be extended to all workers. Secretary Sally McManus said paid pandemic leave was “a crucial public health measure that provides a circuit breaker to stem the rate of transmission by allowing those with symptoms to stay home without losing income. Only the federal government can step up and deliver paid pandemic leave to protect all workers. No worker should be left considering if they should go to work with mild symptoms to pay the bills. The government can fix this, and should do so to stop the workplace transmission of the virus.” This seems like a no-brainer. 

“We call on the NSW Attorney General to refer the matter to the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions and SafeWork NSW to investigate criminal charges under the laws of New South Wales.”

A petition by the family of 26-year-old Dunghutti man David Dungay Jr, who died in custody in 2015, to be delivered to the NSW parliament this afternoon.

“Not only did the 1980s supply-side revolution in the US, Britain, Australia and New Zealand reverse these nations’ secular economic decline, it still provides the basic road map for escaping the pandemic crisis of the early 2020s.”

An editorial in today’s Australian Financial Review argues that neoliberal economics was not discredited by the global financial crisis.

Penny Wong on what happens after coronavirus
Penny Wong warns that coronavirus could unravel the rules-based system on which the modern world is founded. The shadow foreign minister says we must guard against trends towards nationalism and xenophobia – and prepare for the next pandemic, which is climate change.


The proportion of manufactures produced in Australia each year as a percentage of what we use, which ranks us last in self-sufficiency among OECD countries, according to new research.

“The ACCC alleges Google misled consumers when it failed to properly inform consumers, and did not gain their explicit informed consent, about its move in 2016 to start combining personal information in consumers’ Google accounts with information about those individuals’ activities on non-Google sites that used Google technology, formerly DoubleClick technology, to display ads … Google then used this newly combined information to improve the commercial performance of its advertising businesses.”

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission launches Federal Court proceedings against Google.

The list

“The setting for P-Valley, an earthy and complicated new drama streaming on Stan, is the fictional town of Chucalissa, which is situated on both the Mississippi Delta and the faultlines of Black life in America. You are introduced to The Pynk, a strip club that is the show’s fulcrum, not via the women performing on stage but rather the women prioritising in the dressing room. This is the gig economy for working-class Black women, where they bag up the cash literally thrown at them.”

“The key to understanding what is happening now in the South China Sea, and what it means for Australia, is to recognise that it has almost nothing to do with the disputed reefs and rocks themselves, with the economic riches that may lie under the waters around them, or even with the security of the major shipping routes that run close by. It has everything to do with the deadly serious rivalry between the world’s two strongest powers, determining who sets the rules in Asia and who enforces them. This is old-fashioned power politics of the most raw and dangerous kind, and it is all the more dangerous because most of us still haven’t realised it is happening.”

“Few studies have examined the widespread use of masks in the community; fewer still have looked at cloth face coverings, the kind being recommended by authorities the world over. In general, the studies are observational in design, leaving them open to criticisms of bias, and confounding. The question is, how much does this matter?”

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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As coronavirus deaths mount in nursing homes, the anger grows

State of disaster

Stage-four restrictions, a curfew and workplace closures shutter Melbourne

From the front page

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Called to account

Victoria’s second wave has landed a heavy blow

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Kelly Reichardt’s restrained frontier film considers the uneasy problems of money and resources

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A unitary theory of cuts

The Morrison government is using the COVID-19 crisis to devastate the public service, the ABC, the arts and tertiary education