Monday, May 3, 2021

Today by Rachel Withers

The blame game
Who is responsible for the government’s India travel sanctions?

Image of Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly. Image via ABC News

Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly. Image via ABC News

Who is responsible for the highly controversial, constitutionally questionable decision to criminalise Australian citizens attempting to return home from India? The government would have us believe that the decision – announced in the early hours of Saturday – was not of its own making. Yesterday, attempts were made to lay the blame at the feet of public health officials, with Foreign Minister Marise Payne insisting the decision had been made “on the basis of the advice of the chief medical officer”. Speaking to ABC’s RN Breakfast this morning, Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly clarified that while he had advised on the need to do something about the number of cases coming into hotel quarantine, “no advice was given” about imposing fines or jail terms. (It’s since been revealed that the advice Kelly gave actually warned of the risks of a travel ban, from serious illness to death.) Then came the attempt to blame “the law”, with Liberal senator Jane Hume telling Sky News this morning that the decision to impose penalties was activated under the Biosecurity Act. “No,” she said, when asked directly whether it was a government decision. “That’s a decis— that’s a function of the Biosecurity Act.” “This is not what anybody wants,” she added, as if that late-night invocation of the Act and the press release announcing the sanctions had somehow occurred without the government’s input.

The government is keen to distance itself from the call, and no wonder, with a surprising coalition of public figures coming out firmly against it. Labor, human rights groups, legal experts, business leaders and Indian-Australians were today joined by a number of figures on the right, including the Nationals’ Matt Canavan and News Corp’s Andrew Bolt, in slamming the criminalisation of Australians coming home. You know things are bad when even Bolt is saying it’s racist, and calling out the “fear, ignorance and incompetence” that drove the government to announce the penalties. While some of these groups – including Labor – were in favour of suspending flights last Tuesday, many have now deemed the penalties inhumane, declaring the criminalisation of the act of coming home a bridge too far – something the tough-on-borders government clearly did not anticipate.

The Morrison government has today attempted the complex feat of standing by Friday’s decision, while distancing itself from the making of it. Prime Minister Scott Morrison told 2GB radio this morning that his “hard calls” have helped save 30,000 Australian lives, slamming Labor for “politicising” the flight ban (wonder what he thinks of Canavan’s latest tweet), while on The Today Show, Education Minister Alan Tudge backed the decision to introduce penalties, saying it was done “to ensure that we don’t get COVID outbreaks here in Australia on a very significant scale”. Morrison insisted that the ban was not racist because a travel ban had been placed on China at the start of the pandemic, though has so far failed to address why a ban was never placed on the United States or the United Kingdom at the peak of their outbreaks, when both countries had higher cases per capita than India. Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck, who happened to be before a Senate estimates committee when this morning’s blame game broke out, rejected the idea that this was a “specific sanction in relation to [India]” saying the penalties were simply a result of invoking the Biosecurity Act, while health department secretary Brendan Murphy confirmed that the medical advice to the government did not include specific recommendations on criminalisation, with those sanctions already “built into” the Act.

There’s no doubt the government misread the room on Friday when it decided to declare its right to bring the full force of the law against Australians seeking to come home (though you can see why they might have thought it would go down fine: Australians at home have been shamefully indifferent to Australians being stranded overseas, with a new poll showing only one in three think the government should do more to help them). But rather than admit it went too far and undo the announcement, the government has attempted to shift the blame, gaslighting the nation into thinking the sanctions were put in place “on health advice” and “under the law”. The government may well have felt that it was following health advice here, but it cannot deny the fact that it chose to publicly invoke the Biosecurity Act, to scare Australians in India, many of them non-white, out of attempting to make it home. And it certainly cannot deny the fact that it has failed ­– for more than a year now – to establish a proper federal quarantine system to get them here.

“We need someone to come out and protect the next generation. Otherwise, they’re just going to be as traumatised as we are.”

A woman known as Elizabeth is one of nine former child gymnasts who are considering legal action against the Australian Institute of Sport over allegations of physical, psychological and sexual abuse going back decades.

“Spare a thought for the ‘1 per cent’ as they’ve been doing even more of the heavy lifting to replenish Treasury’s coffers.”

National chief reporter Tom Dusevic is furious that the 1 per cent are paying a larger share of the nation’s income tax as they take a larger share of its income, noting that a collapse in wage growth means “lower earners benefited even more” from tax cuts.

The government vs Grace Tame
The Morrison government has ordered an urgent review of the Australian of the Year award process. It denies the review is linked to Grace Tame’s appointment, but comes after criticism from the outspoken Australian of the Year.

The amount in JobKeeper subsidies to be paid back by billionaire retailer Solomon Lew’s Premier Investments, in a backflip supposedly driven by a bout of strong trading. Labor’s Andrew Leigh says the number is insufficient considering the company’s full JobKeeper receipt could be as much as $110 million.

“Parents with two kids in childcare won’t secure a dollar of fee relief under Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s proposed overhaul for over a year and families with only one child will get nothing.”

Analysis of the government’s $1.7 billion childcare boost continues, with experts finding that the majority of parents won’t see any benefit.

The list

“For the first time, I was speaking about consent to a hall full of girls and boys together. Previously, I had only ever been invited to speak at girls-only schools, or to the girls only at co-educational schools. That’s how it had been earlier that week, when I spoke to this school’s senior girls, while at the same time the boys were hearing a talk from a male presenter about mental health and financial planning.”

“Like most Australians, I am a swimmer. A good swimmer, or so I thought. I grew up swimming in channels at Hanwood in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area. My brother, Dare, and I, along with assorted cousins, would bicycle to the feeder channels where the water was the swiftest and deepest and try out various stunts, the more dangerous and exhilarating the better, while keeping an eye out for the bailiff. Back then, parents didn’t hover, although my mother sometimes came along to encourage us in our daring, even teaching us to water ski behind a car travelling along the channel banks.”

“This year is seeing a rapid realignment of economies around efforts to avoid catastrophic climate change. On March 10, the European Union approved in principle the adoption of ‘carbon border adjustment mechanisms’ for goods imported into the EU, and in June will vote on their implementation … The Biden administration is looking on with interest, calling the proposed levies a ‘carbon adjustment fee against countries that are failing to meet their climate and environmental obligations’. Japan has recently begun to investigate a similar scheme, and Britain is moving swiftly to adopt a similar fee. Australia, some of whose goods could face penalties, should have seen this coming.”

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Monthly Today.



The Monthly Today

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