Friday, August 28, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

Border wars
The interstate mess is a test for national cabinet

Scott Morrison speaking at today’s Bush Summit. Image via Sky News

The heart-rending story of a Ballina woman who lost one of her unborn twins last week after waiting 16 hours to fly to Sydney for urgent surgery (rather than attempt to cross from NSW into Queensland), highlights the mounting unintended consequences of border closures across Australia. Though the prime minister can be fairly criticised for his government being slow to react in many areas of its pandemic response – such as lockdowns and income support – Scott Morrison was right today to warn against a “retreat into provincialism” across the country. Speaking at a “Bush Summit” sponsored by The Daily Telegraph, held in the southern NSW town of Cooma, the PM proposed that Australia follow the lead of Denmark and adopt a colour-coded system of areas under COVID-19 restrictions, instead of imposing hard internal border closures. As The Canberra Times reports, Denmark classifies other countries as either “open” (yellow) or “quarantine” (orange), based on whether there is a sufficient testing regime and whether there are fewer than 20 new cases per 100,000 inhabitants in one week. Yellow means people should travel with caution and returning tourists do not have to quarantine, while orange means quarantine is imposed and people should avoid all non-essential travel. “I think that’s quite a sensible approach,” said Morrison, adding, “What matters is the outbreak and containing it there and as localised as possible.”

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the baby’s death was an “absolute tragedy” but insisted that health authorities were acting compassionately. (And Brisbane Times reported that the woman would not have needed an exemption to travel given there was a medical emergency.) Nonetheless, federal MPs from Queensland reportedly expect that the state’s border with New South Wales will be reopened after the October 31 state election, which suggests political considerations are at play. To the extent that border closures are politically motivated, rather than strictly based on health advice, they should be reversed immediately.

There have been farcical scenes at state borders, including the hundred-odd Canberrans returning home from Victoria who, in a stunning display of inter-governmental incompetence, were forced to wait five days at the NSW border. For the healthcare sector, for the agriculture sector, and for border communities generally, there have been disastrous consequences. At a press conference this week, an exasperated Helen Haines – the independent federal member for Indi, whose electorate office is in Wodonga – said the economic impact of the border closure was phenomenal. “Recently, Business Wodonga told me that in surveying the businesses in their region alone, the impact of the border closure was worse than the bushfires, it was worse than the COVID-19 lockdown one, and worse than the COVID lockdown number two.”   

Overnight, the restrictions around travel between South Australian and Victorian border towns were eased. Today, the PM announced that people who live in NSW and South Australia but work in Victoria are now eligible for the $1500 Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment if they need to self-isolate or quarantine due to COVID-19. Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein, who today announced an extension to the state of emergency until the end of October, hinted there may be an opportunity to travel to safe states before the desired open date of December 1. WA remains entangled in litigation with mining magnate Clive Palmer, with the state’s attorney-general, John Quigley, writing an op-ed on the subject in The Australian.

The whole situation is a mess, and a test for the PM’s much-vaunted national cabinet. Is it a force for greater national unity and policy cohesion? Or is it a loose talkfest in which, as Labor leader Anthony Albanese memorably said yesterday, “state premiers all tell each other what they’re doing, and Scott Morrison goes out and announces it and pretends it is a national decision, and then spends the time in between the national cabinet meetings criticising the decision that he’s been a part of”. 

“There is no systemic government response (federal, state and local) to build resilience to climate risks. Action is piecemeal, uncoordinated … and does not match the scale of the threat climate change represents to the Australian economy, environment and society.”

The Australian Climate Roundtable, comprising business and environment lobby groups, calls for climate change to be made a standing agenda item for the national cabinet.

“It’s their money and they should be able to do with it what they like … Save it in super or put it into a house, put it into investments that can set them up. So long as they’re saving for their retirement in some sort of an asset. They’re doing alright.”

Queensland LNP Senator Amanda Stoker, when asked if she agreed with a proposal that people should be allowed to use $50,000 of their super as a home deposit.

The minister for not caring
In a week where the minister for aged care was unable to answer questions about the crisis in his portfolio, and details emerged about a branch-stacking scandal in his own party, the prime minister is finding himself under increasing pressure.


The number of extra days that women, on average, have to work to reach parity with male earnings from the last financial year.

“A number of issues were raised regarding the current funding / contracting model, and the impact this has on [the Australian Migrant English Program] delivery. These issues include: An over-emphasis on assessment [which] has inhibited learning, making it more academic, and less focused on effective settlement. Much of the class time is spent preparing for and conducting assessments, at the expense of actually teaching English.”

From the Settlement Council of Australia’s February 2020 consultation report into the Australian Migrant English Program, cited by Labor’s assistant immigration spokesperson, Andrew Giles, after Immigration Minister Alan Tudge announced that the program cap of 510 hours for free English lessons would be removed.

The list

“Anthony John Abbott was a lousy prime minister. He was a devastatingly effective attack dog, savaging his enemies whenever he caught a glimpse of them, whether on the Opposition benches or among his internal rivals … In his truncated term as prime minister his major positive proposal was an attempt to bring in an inequitable and unaffordable parental leave scheme, eventually discarded. But what he will mainly be remembered for were his mistakes: the disastrous 2014 budget, the authoritarian chaos of his office under his chief of staff Peta Credlin, and of course his knighthood of Prince Philip.”

“Good as his last two albums have been, it’s on stage that [Justin Townes] Earle displays his true stature, as he proved on his last run through Australia in March. A lanky six-footer, he exudes a cockeyed energy that’s hard to drag your eyes away from, leaning into the mic at odd angles and throwing arms-akimbo shapes like Hank Williams. Sporting silver-rimmed specs, a carnival barker’s plaid jacket, blue business shirt, striped tie and crumpled linen pants, he looked like a juvenile offender dressed for a court appearance, and between songs he lunged for his water bottle, fidgeted, scratched, rubbed the back of his head and drawled rueful stories of his various travails before leaping into the next song as if on sudden impulse.”

“One of the few advantages of working in a chronically underfunded, marginalised corner of the arts – such as, say, New Music – is that you develop a remarkable ability to adapt and survive. The grant is cut, the gig falls through, the car breaks down and you can’t afford to get it fixed but, somehow, you keep playing, you keep making music. This means that when a global pandemic rocks up and disrupts the entire music ecosystem, you are uniquely equipped to flex your creative superpowers.” 

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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