Thursday, February 4, 2021

Today by Rachel Withers

Quarantine angst
The ongoing federal vs states argument over responsibility

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison at a press conference today

Prime Minister Scott Morrison at a press conference today. Image via Facebook

All eyes are on Victoria, as the state rushes to test up to 600 Australian Open players, officials and support staff after a hotel quarantine worker tested positive to coronavirus on Wednesday – the same day Victoria officially “eliminated” the virus for a second time (third time’s a charm though, right?). But a few eyes are also on Canberra, with renewed calls for a national approach to hotel quarantine, following yet another transmission between a guest and a worker. In a joint press conference, Labor’s shadow ministers for health and home affairs, Mark Butler and Kristina Keneally, called for the federal government to set up a national facility, pointing out that borders and quarantine are a Commonwealth responsibility, with the states forced to step up because the federal government hadn’t. In an earlier press conference, Prime Minister Scott Morrison seemed reluctant to consider changes to the hotel quarantine program, insisting that it remains the most effective way to bring Australians home (though he noted the $243.7 million the government had put into the remote Howard Springs facility in the Northern Territory). “He doesn’t want to assume any of the risk,” Keneally observed.

In happier COVID-19 news, the prime minister announced that Australia had secured an extra 10 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, doubling our stock of doses, as well as the fact that the government will offer a vaccine free to any foreign nationals who are in the country – including refugees. Australia now has enough of the Pfizer vaccine to dose 10 million people, but concerns remain about our predominant vaccine, AstraZeneca, with former chief medical officer, now head of the health department, Brendan Murphy forced to defend it on the ABC’s 7.30 last night, saying he would be “very pleased to have it” (one wonders which vaccine government leaders are getting). Ireland today joined France, Belgium, Germany and other EU countries in recommending against using AstraZeneca on people over 65, while Switzerland has rejected it altogether

Inside parliament, Question Time remained dominated by questions on the government’s proposed industrial relations changes (eight by my count), broken up by Andrew Wilkie using the independents’ question to ask about increased costs on the Spirit of Tasmania service. But it was an earlier debate over Labor’s attempts to move amendments on the government’s national child abuse redress scheme that brought about the most quintessentially #auspol moment of the day, with the government voting to gag its own minister rather than explain to parliament why it opposed the changes. A close second must have been the government’s “both sides”-driven amendments to a Senate motion calling out the rise in far-right extremism, which added a reference to far-left extremism. (The Greens decided to vote against that one, though Labor reluctantly let it slide.)

Morrison, meanwhile, took two pretty big phone calls from America today ­– one with Google chief Sundar Pichai and another with US President Joe Biden, putting to rest gossip over the fact he hadn’t made contact with the latter since Biden’s inauguration. Both calls went well, according to the PM, who described them as “constructive” and “warm” respectively: Biden might come to Australia, while Google might just stay. That’s bad news for Bing, which yesterday said it would willingly participate in the news media bargaining code, but good news, no doubt, for Morrison.

“The case for a permanent rise to JobSeeker has never been stronger.”

A Nine editorial joins Reserve Bank of Australia governor Philip Lowe in calling for an increase to the base rate of JobSeeker.

“The government rejects Senator Keneally’s thesis that there is rising extremism in Australia.”

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke contradicts statements from our national security agencies on the rise in right-wing extremism, in his response to comments from shadow home affairs minister Kristina Keneally.

China is warning against a new Cold War. Will Australia listen?
Diplomatic and trade tensions between Australia and China are at an all-time high, and China’s president has even warned of the risk of a new cold war.


The amount of money received in the fire-ravaged Blue Mountains from the New South Wales government’s $177 million bushfire disaster fund, with the government rejecting all 24 proposals. All but $2.5 million of the fund went to Coalition-held electorates.

“The Greens look fwd to Labor’s support for our bill to cap political donations to $1000 per year no matter who you are.”

Greens Senator Larissa Waters moved that the Senate support lowering the disclosure threshold for political donations and imposing caps on the amount that donors can donate. Labor voted against it, despite also calling for caps.

The list

High Ground, the long-awaited second feature from Stephen Maxwell Johnson (Yolngu Boy), opens with an extraordinary image: a vista shot of Nimbuwarr, a sacred rock in Arnhem Land, from high above, as a red sun declines behind it and insects buzz on the soundtrack like a piece by Alva Noto. The best drone shot in recent Australian cinema (and Christ knows there’s been enough of them), it’s also the only one that actually adds something to the story; mesmerising, almost otherworldly, it functions as a codicil for the narrative that follows. Man’s capacity for evil is vast, it seems to say. But this country is vaster still.”

“Most professional athletes are obsessed with winning, or at least with not losing. This fixation almost always predates them becoming a professional, and sometimes even comes before playing serious sport. It is pronounced in tennis players, and especially pronounced in Nick Kyrgios. He approaches everything from the men’s tour to the video game Call of Duty with the same obsessional thirst for competition, and has done ever since he was an overweight, asthmatic kid playing juniors in Canberra.”

“Chadwick is polarising, and disliked among those who find her style offputting – she has joked in the past about how many people walk out of her shows. Although she has gained renown and international press with her most recent releases, she bucks the unwritten rules of newly ‘emerging’ artists, in that Me and Ennui doesn’t move towards the more palatable or more accessible to court new fans.”

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Monthly Today.



The Monthly Today

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Kelly a crass bencher

Craig Kelly has quit the Liberal Party to sit on the crossbench. For now.

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From the front page

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‘She said, he said’

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Its own reward: ‘The Virtues’

Topping February’s streaming highlights is a four-part series examining trauma and addiction, propelled by Stephen Graham’s affecting performance

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‘Fragile Monsters’ by Catherine Menon

Memories of the Malayan Emergency resurface when a mathematician returns to her home country, in the British author’s debut novel

In light of recent events

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