Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Today by Rachel Withers


Head in the sand
The federal government keeps pretending nothing is wrong

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison visiting CSL’s Melbourne facility, where the AstraZeneca vaccine is being produced. Image via Facebook

Prime Minister Scott Morrison visiting CSL’s Melbourne facility, where the AstraZeneca vaccine is being produced. Image via Facebook

There is by now no doubt that the federal government’s vaccine rollout is in shambles, after last week missing its target by millions and today being ranked 90th in the world – “sandwiched between Bolivia and Albania” – with only 2.34 doses administered per 100 people. The media knows it, having been tracking the slowly unfolding crisis for months now. Experts recognise it, with one labelling the rollout an “unmitigated disaster”. The states know it, with NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian admitting this morning that the Commonwealth’s goal of vaccinating everyone by October would be a “big stretch”. Even News Corp admits it, with The Australian, The Daily Telegraph and news.com.au each running multiple stories today on the debacle, after Monday night’s Newspoll analysis showed the government in “election peril” in its traditional stronghold states. The only people who can’t seem to admit it are those in the federal government, who continue to insist things are under control despite mounting evidence to the contrary. Unfortunately for us, this is the one group that needs to admit there is a problem if there is to be any chance of fixing it.

The government is doing everything it can to pretend this is not a crisis, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison having insisted for months that the rollout is “not a race” (or, if it is, “it’s a marathon, not a sprint”, in the words of Health Minister Greg Hunt). On April 1, when it became clear by how much the target had been missed, the Department of Health claimed that the rollout was “not behind”, while Hunt characterised where we were at as “an extraordinary outcome”. This morning, Acting Chief Medical Officer Michael Kidd talked up the rollout on ABC News, saying that Australia is now delivering “the equivalent” of what the United States is achieving each day, “population-wise”. “This has always been a program which is going to be ramped up over time,” he argued. Speaking to the media this morning, Labor’s health spokesperson Mark Butler called on the prime minister to “swallow his pride” and “admit that his strategy has failed”. “Surely they must admit that this is not going well,” he said. “They have to admit that, have to get people around the table and adjust their strategy accordingly.”

There appear to be a number of reasons why Australia’s vaccine rollout is so far behind schedule, and there seem to be just as many solutions being proffered. But with the government seemingly unwilling to acknowledge the problem exists, it’s reluctant to grab onto any of them. The most prominent solution at present is that of mass vaccination sites: converting stadiums, churches and warehouses into vaccinating hubs. It’s a model that has been used in Europe and North America to great effect. The idea, which Morrison has previously rejected, is now being urged by experts, the Labor Party and Aussie expats who have been vaccinated at such venues overseas. UNSW epidemiology professor and World Health Organization adviser Mary-Louise McLaws tweeted that there is no way the current vaccination rate will get us where we hope to be by the end of the year, while other experts are calling for Australia to approach the US to buy its excess vaccine stock. Former Labor leader Bill Shorten outlined his own “four-point proposal” for improving the rollout on Today (all but guaranteeing that none of those ideas would be listened to), including involving all of Australia’s GPs rather than just half of them, reimbursing them for losses if they set up a day clinic, and increasing penalty rates so people could work weekends and after hours. “If the rest of the world is vaccinating quicker than us,” he noted, “maybe we are not doing something right.” Even former Liberal MP and conspiracy theorist Craig Kelly chimed in with some semi-useful advice, tweeting: “We just need Health Officials to look at the growing evidence & keep an open mind!” His solution may not have been the right one, but the sentiment was certainly reasonable: if we’re going to address this crisis, we’re going to need the government to keep its mind a little more open to the solutions at hand.

With yet another deadly variant spreading (this one up to three times more deadly for young people) and tens of thousands of Australians still locked out of the country, the vaccine rollout certainly has become urgent: it is, in the words of one expert, “a race against variants”. And yet the Morrison government still refuses to admit there is a problem. If admission is the first step towards recovery, Australia has a long road ahead.


“The right-wing media – they cracked the whip as bullies do, and got their way. In actions like these, you have to ask, ‘Who’s in charge?’”

Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has blamed “thuggery” by the “right-wing media ecosystem” for the NSW government’s decision to dump him as head of a climate change advisory body, days after he called for a moratorium on new coalmines.

“If this is really about making life better for all women, it should not be about picking and choosing based on what political side you want to win in the short term.”

Queensland LNP senator and new assistant minister for women Amanda Stoker suggests those criticising her appointment do so because she comes “from a different political tradition”, rather than because of her horrific views on women’s issues.

Alan Finkel on the electric planet
As Australia’s former chief scientist, Dr Alan Finkel has been on the frontline of Australia’s climate wars, but some of Australia’s leading climate scientists have expressed concern about Dr Finkel’s plan.

The amount by which state budgets have exceeded forecasts, with GST collections $5.9 billion and stamp duty estimates $1.5 billion ahead of predictions amid rising house prices and consumer spending.

AFR

“The super industry and Labor have raised concerns about several measures in the Your Future Your Super legislation, including giving the government the ability to block funds from making spending decisions and investments it does not like.”

Labor financial services spokesperson Stephen Jones has written to 90 Coalition MPs, urging them to vote against the proposed superannuation overhaul unveiled in last year’s budget, warning it could set a dangerous precedent for corporate Australia.

The list
 

“A lack of baseline data on this exceptional creature’s health and habitat has created a situation in which platypus populations could suffer rapid declines or local extinctions without scientists or policymakers noticing. This concern prompted Dr Tahneal Hawke, an ecologist and one of Bino’s colleagues at UNSW, to try to develop a better understanding of platypus distribution and abundance over time. To do this, Hawke scoured newspaper reports, natural history books, explorers’ journals and museum records for references to platypuses. The locations of the nearly 26,000 reports found were then mapped onto the relevant water catchments so they could be tracked over time. The results were stark.”

“I tell them. It is clear immediately that this is a poor choice, as their teachers used to say. O emits a bloodcurdling scream. And then, as if identifying the victims of a massacre: ‘What about the Tooth Fairy? What about Santa?’ … R retreats to his bedroom for quiet contemplation. O makes a keening sound. It is too early for him: I see this now. I have struggled with anxiety this week, and now wonder if I’ve allowed this to infect the entire household, to the extent that it has exterminated the Easter Bunny.‘”

“Last Saturday, shortly after lunchtime, it all exploded. The WhatsApp group – set up between state and territory disability ministers and the then Commonwealth minister, Stuart Robert – had been seething with anger for a while. Then suddenly it was too much. ‘I may actually self-combust with incendiary rage before this thing is over,’ the ACT minister for Disability, Emma Davidson, messaged her colleagues. It had been more than 24 hours since a leaked proposal for changes to the National Disability Insurance Scheme was reported in Nine newspapers. But state and territory ministers, who share half the oversight of the $25 billion scheme, had still not been given a copy of the legislation. None of them had seen even a briefing note.”

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Monthly Today.

@rachelrwithers

 

The Monthly Today

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