Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

China stoush
The PM stands his ground on a global investigation into COVID-19

© Ascannio / Alamy

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is standing firm on his demand for an independent investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, and he is right to do so in spite of the worsening diplomatic stoush it has provoked with China. At a press conference this morning the PM painted the proposed investigation as an unremarkable and obvious course to take. “This is a virus that has taken more than 200,000 lives across the world,” he said. “It has shut down the global economy.” It was sensible to learn the lessons from the outbreak of COVID-19, he said, so the world can “prevent it from happening again”. Fair enough, and Morrison is supported by the federal Opposition and may be gaining more international support. Although the UK and France resisted Australia’s push this week, saying now was not the time for a blame game given the pandemic is still uncontained, the PM said he had spoken overnight to European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen who would be moving for an investigation at the World Health Assembly – which Morrison thinks is “a very good motion”.

The China–Australia relationship is in dangerously bad shape, with open recriminations between Australia’s foreign affairs department and the Chinese embassy over ambassador Cheng Jingye’s threatened boycott of Australia by Chinese consumers – and things seem to be spiralling out of control. This morning, The Australian [$] reported that former Howard government minister Warwick Smith, who was appointed by the Morrison government to spearhead a revamp of ties with Beijing, has quietly resigned his post as chair of the National Foundation for Australia–China Relations, amid deteriorating diplomatic relations. This afternoon, as Samantha Maiden reports for The Daily Telegraph [$], China’s consul-general for Victoria, Zhou Long, hijacked a Melbourne press conference by Health Minister Greg Hunt. Senior government sources told Maiden that Zhou was not expected to speak at the event, which was held to announce that irrepressible self-publicist and mining magnate Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest’s Minderoo Foundation had secured 10 million COVID-19 testing kits from China.

The Daily Telegraph [$] is ramping up the anti-China sentiment, reporting that the editor of China’s Global Times had shared a Weibo post comparing Australia to “chewing gum stuck on the sole of China’s shoes. Sometimes you have to find a stone to rub it off”, while columnist Miranda Devine calls for Australia to “China-proof” our economy. The Tele is far from alone. Yesterday, political and international editor of the SMH Peter Hartcher, author of Red Flag, wrote that Australia had grown more dependent on China than on any other country since Britain, and thanked ambassador Cheng for “removing the mask so that we can all clearly see the features of the gangster beneath”.

Strong stuff. Morrison’s line today was not inflammatory: he pointed out that Australia supports the World Health Organization, and the proposed investigation is “not targeted” at China. “The key is being consistent,” said the PM. “We don’t lightly form the views we do on these things.” Morrison said Australia’s comprehensive strategic partnership with China is built on mutual benefit, and he once again recast the debate in terms of Australia’s economic sovereignty. This would be asserted not through nationalising industries or with public subsidies or protective tariffs, but through pro-growth policies that maximise the competitiveness of Australian businesses. “That’s what the road back looks like,” he said. “It doesn’t look like an industry run from Canberra. It looks like an industry made up of very successful, innovative businesses on the ground, finding markets, sustaining themselves, employing many Australians, engaging new technology, and using the best minds that we have. That is where sovereignty comes from, and that is the type of approach that we will be pursuing. Australians will find markets, as we have been now for a long time, all around the world, and for many years now our markets have been diversifying.”

And what about Australia’s universities that have become so dependent on income from Chinese students? Too bad. “The universities find themselves in a challenging situation at the moment,” the PM acknowledged. “They will look to their future. They will make decisions about their commercial arrangements, and the markets that they will seek to focus on. It’s not for the government to make those decisions for them.”

Morrison is not wrong here. How can the world trust such an oppressive regime? On ABC’s News Breakfast, Elaine Pearson from Human Rights Watch accused China of covering up the coronavirus pandemic, saying there had been five people arbitrarily detained. “These are activists, they’re citizen journalists, all they were trying to do was expose what the Chinese government was doing in its first days and weeks of handling the pandemic,” said Pearson. “These people are being held in an undisclosed location, they have no access to a lawyer, and I think it just goes to show what lengths the Chinese government will go to, to really prevent any independent reporting on what happens inside China.”

“It’s obviously a very difficult anniversary. I’m not saying that Cook was not a great navigator. I’m not saying that Cook’s contribution to the world is not significant. But what today means for First Nations people was the beginning of Terra Nullius – the beginning of a very difficult period in our history. I think the most important thing is that truth be told – that it not be a one-sided celebration of Cook.”

Linda Burney, shadow minister for Indigenous Australians, on the 250th anniversary of Captain Cook’s first landing at Botany Bay in 1770.

“The decision is that the supplement is in place for the period of the COVID-19 crisis. As soon as we are on the other side of this period, the supplement would not continue.”

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann tells the ABC’s News Breakfast that the supplement of $550 per fortnight that was added to the JobSeeker payment in response to COVID-19 will disappear once the pandemic is over – cutting the benefit in half.

The generation “done over” by coronavirus
As we learn more details about the economic fallout from the pandemic, it’s clear young people will bear the brunt of the downturn. Already younger workers are bearing a disproportionate burden of job losses. Today, Mike Seccombe on how the pandemic is fuelling generational inequality.

The number of payments, worth a combined $128 million, that have been made to survivors of child sexual abuse under the national redress scheme – far short of the 6605 applications. Social Services Minister Anne Ruston acknowledged some victims would have died waiting.


“Catholic and independent schools approached the federal government and said that some schools were experiencing cashflow issues and were asking us to bring forward the July payment we would normally make to them. They’ll get the first if they commit to have a plan in place to have teachers back in the classroom teaching all year levels by the end of May, and then if they achieve 50 per cent of students at a minimum attending schools at the end of May they’ll get the second instalment.”


Education Minister Dan Tehan offers private schools an advance worth up to $3 billion in total on their recurrent quarterly funding.

The list

“Who is Adam Bandt … and where will he take the Greens? His mild manner and the lack of serious media attention have obscured the fact that he is a very unusual Australian politician. He is rooted in industrial law but just as much in scholarship. He is a scholarly activist – a tradition more familiar in Europe than in Australia.”

“Perhaps COVID-19 is less the context for the contact-tracing app than the opportunity. COVIDSafe may be as limited as authorities say it is. But it’s also a Trojan Horse … Even as Morrison speaks of the app’s single purpose and strict limits, governments are rolling out facial recognition–enabled CCTV cameras across our cities and towns in line with a national biometric capability agreement that has very few privacy protections indeed.”

“There is a common narrative about Indigenous health, based on dysfunction and vulnerability, in which Aboriginal people themselves are blamed through the mantra of individual choices. There is little room to focus on strength and agency when you are simply a ‘problem’ to be solved, a ‘gap’ to be filled. The Aboriginal health sector’s response to Covid-19 has flipped that on its head.”

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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