Monday, August 2, 2021

Today by Rachel Withers


Getting to 80
We now have vaccination targets, but there’s no consensus over what must be done to reach them

Composite image of NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Queensland Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young. Images via ABC News / YouTube

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Queensland Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young. Images via ABC News / YouTube

Australia finally has vaccination-rate reopening targets, via Doherty Institute modelling, after many long months of the prime minister resisting calls from experts, journalists and industry leaders for such measures. Scott Morrison’s focus today has been on spruiking the 70 and 80 per cent targets he announced on Friday, using the incentive of reopening the nation to encourage Australians to get vaccinated – the exact argument many have been putting forward for months. The PM has issued his own version of a “rallying cry” in the News Corp pages – though it was not the wartime-style one Martin McKenzie-Murray called for in The Monthly last week – with Morrison invoking Olympic gold medals to encourage people. “Our gold medal run to the end of year is now well under way,” he wrote. “Our Olympians in Tokyo have given us the perfect inspiration to get this done.” (Morrison also wrote that he “wished” the targets were lower, though it’s worth noting that they are already much lower than the Grattan Institute thinks they should be, with the 70 and 80 per cent targets not including children.) But while the federal government is keen for all adults to get vaccinated, and with a new “shift” in the strategy to focus on younger cohorts, not everyone is on board with its “go get jabbed with whatever you can” message. Despite Queensland extending its snap lockdown in the face of 13 new local cases, Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young – already infamous for her hesitancy-stoking AstraZeneca warnings – repeated her claims that she didn’t want under-60s getting that vaccine, much to the chagrin of those trying to restore AZ confidence. South of the border, the NSW government remained firm in its view that vaccination is the main way out of its predicament, with CHO Kerry Chant urging under-40s to get vaccinated with whatever was available using “informed consent”. The nation may now have common targets, but it still doesn’t have a united position on how to get there.

With young people falling ill with the Delta variant in greater numbers, with ATAGI having clarified its advice surrounding the “preference” for Pfizer, and with a burgeoning Queensland outbreak, it’s not clear what could possibly shift the Sunshine State from its stubborn anti-AstraZeneca stance – or how much of its opposition is politically motivated. The calculations surrounding AstraZeneca have changed rapidly since Morrison’s strange move to open eligibility to under-40s without warning anyone during a late-night press conference in early June. (As Crikey reports today, little has been done to implement the “indemnity scheme” the PM announced that night, with details still yet to be finalised, according to the health department.) But while a blindsided Queensland government’s fierce resistance to under-40s accessing AstraZeneca may have made sense in the context of Morrison’s very sudden announcement, its ongoing objection now feels wildly out of place. On RN Breakfast this morning, Deputy Premier Steven Miles continued to insist that Queensland authorities will “not be giving people a vaccine which is not recommended to them”, even while acknowledging the state had a battle on its hands given the missing links in its outbreak. In a later press conference, Young stood by her earlier anti-AstraZeneca stance, though in a far more measured tone than previously. While repeatedly insisting that people over the age of 60 should go and get AstraZeneca if they hadn’t already, Young confirmed that she still didn’t want 18-year-olds having it. “Even now?” she was asked. “Even now, yes,” she confirmed.

Queensland’s position on AstraZeneca has been slammed in many corners, especially in light of the fact that many unvaccinated people under 40 – who are still ineligible for Pfizer – are falling ill in Sydney, with one 38-year-old tragically having died during the current outbreak. It’s clearly an issue of concern in NSW, with leaders using their press conference to push the opposite message, specifically encouraging 20- to 40-year-olds to get vaccinated. “We are urging everybody to come forward, whether it’s through your GP, through a local pharmacist [or] through our NSW Health hubs,” said NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, stating that a vaccination rate of 50 per cent by the end of August might mean some restrictions could be eased, even with ongoing new cases. While circumstances may be different in Queensland, the northerners are clearly banking on things not getting out of hand like they have in NSW. But the Queensland government could come to regret its messaging if the risk profile suddenly changes. (In an afternoon press conference, federal leaders strongly implied it already had, with acting chief medical officer Michael Kidd saying Queensland’s outbreak met the ATAGI definition for a “large outbreak”, and that people of all ages in south-east Queensland hotspot areas should “strongly consider” getting AstraZeneca.) What’s worse, the fearmongering could affect efforts to walk back hesitancy in NSW, and in other parts of the country that would rather see higher vaccination rates before the next inevitable outbreak – or simply for the sake of reaching our national targets (which must be reached nationally, as well as by a state before phases are reached). For Queensland, getting to 70 or 80 per cent by the end of the year is not worth vaccinating under-40s with AstraZeneca, even if it means holding the whole country back.

While it might have made some sense for Queensland to push back against young Australians being asked to take the AstraZeneca shot back in June, before Delta took hold in Sydney, there is now little justification for such objections. So how much of this might be politically motivated? Could it be that it suits the Queensland Labor government for the federal government’s terribly delayed rollout to remain terribly delayed, and for the Commonwealth to face the full economic and electoral consequences of its vaccine penny pinching and doubt stoking, even if it means more lockdowns and a prolonged border closure for its own citizens? It’s not fair, of course, that under-40s have been asked to “take responsibility” for the Commonwealth’s botched vaccine procurement program, and the Coalition should not be let off the hook for that. But nor should the Queensland government be standing in the way of the solution, and of Australia getting to 80 per cent vaccinated as soon as it can, with whatever it can.


“New Zealand repaid at 22 times the rate of Australia. So if we were like New Zealand firms, Australian taxpayers would have got $4.5 billion back.”

AFR

Ownership Matters director Dean Paatsch slams the lack of transparency around JobKeeper payments, noting that other jurisdictions had public registers disclosing amounts paid. Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has reportedly failed to act on Treasury advice to implement an independent review of the $90 billion program.

“A disturbing attack on the ability to think freely”

Sky News Australia digital editor Jack Houghton labels YouTube’s week-long ban for Sky an attack on free thinking, while the company “expressly rejects” claims any of its hosts denied the existence of COVID-19.

War games and an espionage arms race
Every two years the Australian and US defence forces engage in a massive military exercise called Talisman Sabre. This year, many observers say the focus has been on China. The wargames haven’t gone unnoticed. In fact, the Chinese navy sent two spy ships to monitor the situation.

16%

The amount by which house prices have increased in the past 12 months, making it the fastest rise in more than a quarter of a century.

“Mr Albanese said Labor would go to the next election with stronger spending on public health to fight the pandemic as well as an economic plan for national reconstruction, as he rejected claims he stood for nothing after dropping ambitious tax policies last week.”

Labor leader Anthony Albanese has vowed to overhaul national cabinet, and has dismissed reports that his party will dump its $2.3 billion cancer treatment pledge.

The list
 

“So, what would you call a prime minister who hides his own convictions, hides behind others’ decisions, won’t make hard decisions himself, won’t consider unpopular or difficult policies, sets targets he’ll never have to meet, won’t face up to his responsibilities, refuses any scrutiny of his ministers, never responds to legitimate criticisms, and doesn’t own up to his mistakes? Yes, exactly.”

“Many former streetfighters mellow with age, but there is something more in Albanese’s turn from combatant into conciliator. The Shorten opposition took firm stands and outlined bold policy (and was punished for them at the ballot box). By contrast, Albanese employs a rope-a-dope strategy: hanging back, feinting, weaving and only sometimes throwing a counterpunch. On a good day (and so far, those have been scarce), this looks sporting and efficient. On a bad day, it looks as though he fought the Tories, and the Tories won.”

“During the meeting, Morrison handballed much of the negotiating to Frewen. The prime minister was being beamed into the hook-up from The Lodge in Canberra, and periodically got up from his desk, turned his back to the camera, and bent down to literally stoke a fire with a poker. Onlookers were agog. It served as a potent metaphor for the divisions and rancour engulfing the nation, much of which had been stoked by Morrison and his Coalition colleagues.”

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Monthly Today.

@rachelrwithers

 

The Monthly Today

Scott Morrison is welcomed to the US Capitol, by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, September 22, 2021

Plus ça change

Morrison’s cackhandedness leaves him at the mercy of our allies, as French fury grows

Police watch protesters at Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance, Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Aftershocks

Melbourne’s earthquake presages faultlines in the Coalition over ongoing lockdown protests

Strange bedfellows

The battlelines are blurring as Melbourne’s lockdown protests heat up

Nuclear fallout

The waves from Australia’s cancelled submarine contract keep building


From the front page

Scott Morrison is welcomed to the US Capitol, by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, September 22, 2021

Plus ça change

Morrison’s cackhandedness leaves him at the mercy of our allies, as French fury grows

Cover detail of Andrew O'Hagan’s ‘Mayflies’

There is a light

Andrew O’Hagan’s ‘Mayflies’ and what might endure from our irresponsible but spirited youth

Scott Morrison in the sheds after the NRL match between the Cronulla Sharks and the North Queensland Cowboys in Sydney, July 25, 2019

Birth of a larrikin

The disguised rise of Scott Morrison

Black Summer at Currowan

Lessons from Australia’s worst bushfires