Thursday, May 6, 2021

Today by Rachel Withers

Why wait?
The government’s travel-ban dance is a waste of precious time

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison with Employment Minister Stuart Robert at a press conference this morning. Image via ABC News

Prime Minister Scott Morrison with Employment Minister Stuart Robert at a press conference this morning. Image via ABC News

Where has the government’s walk-back of its confounding travel ban got to? Here is what we know, following today’s collection of contradictory, blame-shifting statements. Repatriation flights won’t resume before May 15, but the chances of them returning after that date are “looking good”, and in the meantime there is capacity for medevacs, in the case of emergencies. The chance of the full sanctions being used remains “highly, highly remote” and, actually, it’s the media’s fault that the punishments have been so widely publicised, not the government’s for mentioning them in its late-night emergency declaration. Hotel quarantine is totally safe and effective, and “fit for positive Indian returnees”, but we still have to wait, and when we do reinstate flights, the Howard Springs facility may be used exclusively for those returning from India, with two repatriation flights per week expected in what will be a massive logistical undertaking. But if we all agree that no one should be punished for coming home, and that the correct course of action is to urgently and safely repatriate those in need, why are we waiting?

Nothing quite adds up in the government’s latest attempts to undo the damage caused by its controversial travel ban. If there is capacity for medevacs in the case of emergencies, why are we waiting until people are definitely sick with the virus before bringing them home? If we had to ban people entering the country from India so that we could bring the cases in Howard Springs below the sacred “two per cent threshold”, how will we keep it there when we are filling it solely with people from the “hotspot” where we’ve trapped them, with surely more people infected by the end of the ban than when it started? And if there are 9000 people to repatriate, why delay by another nine days?

The chief justice of the Federal Court has suggested that the legal challenge, which is set to be heard on Monday, might be “moot” by next week, with the ban set to self-repeal the following Saturday, but legal experts say its worth pushing ahead with the challenge to make sure the ban isn’t renewed. It now seems unlikely that the government will renew it, but sources tell the Nine newspapers it is also unlikely that today’s National Security Committee meeting will make a decision to end it ahead of schedule. Despite four days of backpedalling, despite a contentious court battle, despite the government now talking up its repatriation plans and insisting that the “pause” has worked (so well, in fact, that we’re now down to 0.3 per cent quarantine positivity rate across the board), the government still refuses to admit that it might have gone too hard – and that it might be possible to back down early.

As with many of its mistakes during the pandemic, from the vaccine rollout to the need for more federal quarantine facilities, the Morrison government has dug its heels in, instead of simply acknowledging its error and getting on with fixing it. It prefers to slowly ease its way out of a position without ever admitting it was wrong. The government has continually told us to be patient, that things are “not a race”, but for those who are especially vulnerable to the virus, or separated from loved ones overseas, or stuck in a COVID-ravaged country where they are unlikely to be able to access treatment, time is of the essence. The government’s pride insists we wait until May 15 before we even start addressing this one.

“You think things are bad between Canberra and Beijing now? They can get much worse.”

Foreign editor Greg Sheridan – often supportive of the government’s militaristic posturing toward China – urges caution on the cancellation of the 99-year lease of the Port of Darwin.

“Oh, look, we are not shutting down anything in New South Wales, so any other premier shouldn’t even think about that, absolutely not.”

Premier Gladys Berejiklian offers up the fact that NSW is not going hard on lockdown restrictions as justification for why other states should not shut their borders. The state remains on high alert after a Sydney couple in their fifties tested positive to COVID-19.

Australia abandons its own
Right now, thousands of Australian citizens are trapped in India unable to get home because of an unprecedented ban on travel announced by the Australian government. Today, Gabriela D’Souza on the situation in India, and what the federal government’s new travel ban says about how we treat our own.

The amount of funding diverted to projects not recommended by the Home Affairs department in the latest round of the Safer Communities Program, in yet another example of inappropriate ministerial intervention.

“More than $500 million of a $1.2 billion digital economy strategy in Tuesday’s budget will be spent on overhauling the federal government’s myGov and My Health Record sites.”

The government has announced a $1.2 billion expansion of its digital economy strategy, with other initiatives focusing on building Australia’s capability in AI technologies, boosting digital skills and incentivising video game development.

The list

“It strikes me that parliament’s moment of reckoning on sexism and men’s treatment of women has coincided with ever-escalating racism. If our fight for equality is to be with and for all women, this must be our moment to build both a feminist and anti-racist country. This is our opportunity to coalesce the rage we feel against injustices, and to unite in ways we never have before.”

“The similarities between us were strong. We were both private-school boys who’d done well academically but come out of the system with no idea of a career. We were both looking for something that bohemian-free Brisbane couldn’t offer, except in the traditional safety of an Arts degree. And we were both uneasy and difficult, having emerged from families who looked on somewhat bewildered at the eldest sons they had produced. When Grant and I met, we didn’t know it but we’d found each other. Rough mirror-images.”

“Amy Shark, the Gold Coast native who rose to fame five years ago with her surprise hit ‘Adore’, projects the sense that the act of being a pop star is an end in itself. On ‘Amy Shark’, the final song from her sophomore album Cry Forever, the 34-year-old songwriter, vocalist and sometime-producer makes it clear just how much she was willing to give up to become Amy Shark … To most people it probably wouldn’t seem worth it – but for Shark, hustle and sacrifice are both gospel and doctrine. The story of her ascent is tediously overplayed in nearly all available media about her, but it’s also undeniably romantic, a tale of overnight success that took a lifetime.”

The Australian Museum is offering The Monthly Today readers 15% off full price adult season passes.

Join us for the third season of Lunchtime Conversation Series, exploring the stories and groundbreaking work of First Nations leaders across political, environmental and cultural fields in six illuminating talks. Enter the promotional code AM15 at the point of purchase to redeem your discount.


Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Monthly Today.



The Monthly Today

Image of Health Minister Greg Hunt. Image via ABC News

Supply and demands

State leaders feel the strain over the federal government’s latest vaccine mishap

Image of Health Minister Greg Hunt. Image via ABC News

Another ‘challenge’

The government insists the latest vaccine setback isn’t a big deal

Image of Acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack in Question Time. Image via ABC News

A heated environment

Canberra remains stuck in a debate that the rest of the world has moved on from

Image of Immigration Minister Alex Hawke. Image via ABC News

Holding patterns

The Coalition hopes its cruel halfway measure will be enough to make us forget about the Biloela family

From the front page

Image of Health Minister Greg Hunt. Image via ABC News

Supply and demands

State leaders feel the strain over the federal government’s latest vaccine mishap

Alien renaissance

A revived interest in alien visitation only underscores how little we know about the universe

Cartoon image of man with head in the clouds

The return of the lucky country

The pandemic has exposed the truth of Donald Horne’s phrase, and the morbid state of our national leadership

Image from ‘My Name Is Gulpilil’

Like no actor ever: ‘My Name Is Gulpilil’

Molly Reynolds’s beautiful documentary is a fitting tribute to David Gulpilil, at the end of his singular life