Thursday, September 9, 2021

Today by Rachel Withers

Hunting for answers
If only the government’s definition of “effort” was a little broader when it came to sourcing vaccines

Image of Health Minister Greg Hunt on Sunrise this morning. Image via Twitter

Health Minister Greg Hunt on Sunrise this morning. Image via Twitter

Health Minister Greg Hunt is in damage control mode thanks to the two Pfizer scandals plaguing him: reports that he failed to meet with the company when it first reached out to him in mid 2020, and (disputed) reports that the federal government secretly allocated additional vaccine doses to NSW at the expense of other states. Hunt has been working overtime to counter the story surrounding the FOI-released Pfizer emails, releasing several statements attacking Labor’s “discredited” claim and getting straight onto the breakfast TV circuit, where he has been slammed by the likes of Karl Stefanovic and David Koch (though he didn’t front up to the ABC – I wonder why?). Labor has applied some pressure, with shadow health minister Mark Butler appearing on ABC News Breakfast and Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese on Sunrise reiterating “the extent of the go-slow”. When it came to the mystery of the mismatched Pfizer allocations to states, which has also been hammered by the Opposition and state governments, Hunt did what any good health minister would do: he penned an utterly tone-deaf op-ed in The New Daily, praising the “Aussie spirit of helping our mates”, while continuing to attack the states right back. To the surprise of some, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has also shown his face, talking up Australia’s latest milestone of 40 per cent of the eligible population double dosed (the “halfway mark”, he said, implying 80 per cent is the finish line) and noting proudly that most of this had happened in the past few months alone (not a good thing given the current news, Scott). Facing questions on Hunt’s failure to take the early meeting with Pfizer, Morrison made it clear that he would stand by his man. “No one has put more effort into that task than the minister for health,” he said. If only someone had. When pressed on what effort he had made to secure more than the initial 10 million dose order, Morrison insisted the government had undertaken “every effort we could”, and refused to answer follow ups.

Hunt has endeavoured to portray the story about the Pfizer emails as a Labor beat-up, accusing the Opposition (which put in the FOI request for, and then released, the correspondence) of “misleading” the public, and pointing out there were other emails exchanged with Pfizer prior to June 2020 that the public hasn’t seen, some of which he has now released to his current preferred outlet. But none of this explains why his office didn’t meet with the company until more than a month after they asked. Hunt has carried on insisting, as he did before the release of the damning emails, that every effort was made to secure as much Pfizer as possible, noting that other countries received priority due to the much more serious outbreaks they were facing, and that our doses started arriving at the same time as New Zealand’s. (It’s telling, notes Nine’s Latika Bourke, that the government chooses to compare Australia with much larger countries when it comes to death tolls, but with New Zealand whenever it’s about vaccine supply.) Unfortunately for Hunt, the breakfast TV hosts weren’t buying his spin: Stefanovic accused him of “dragging his feet” on the deal, while Koch suggested he had been “complacent” and “slow”.

Many things have been described as “tone deaf” in the past few weeks, but Hunt’s op-ed about mateship and the Australian spirit getting us through – in light of the revelations that he flubbed the one thing that would actually get us through – might just take the cake. With Australians seething at the impression that they are in prolonged lockdown because the health minister didn’t do his very important job, Hunt’s talk of “the Australian way”, of people struggling yet supporting one another through lockdowns, is galling. (It’s not clear if Albanese was responding directly to these infuriating sentiments in this morning’s press conference, when he talked up the “sacrifices” made by “magnificent” Australians, to show the contrast with the federal government that blames and makes excuses.) But it’s clear the op-ed was first and foremost about defending the government against claims it may have sent even more additional doses of Pfizer to NSW than it let on.

This wasn’t about politics, Hunt opined, and it was important that vaccines went where they were most needed to save lives (if only we had more of them, hey). He then went on to make sly attacks on the state governments for calling for more doses, using opaque figures that no one seems to be able to wrap their head around, and arguing that his home state of Victoria had both received more COVID vaccines per capita than NSW, and had drawn on 1 million less of the AstraZeneca doses available through the GP and pharmacy program. (This seems strange, considering Guardian Australia analysis showing Victoria has administered almost half the nation’s AstraZeneca supply through its state-run clinics.)

Not to be outdone in the tone-deaf department, the PM responsible for much of the nation’s current suffering opened today’s press conference with a reminder that it was R U OK? Day, something we all saw coming and yet desperately hoped he would avoid. Morrison, then pressed on Hunt’s failure to attend early Pfizer meetings, had so much and yet so little to say about his health minister’s actions, rejecting the premise of some questions while simply refusing to answer others. When directly asked if Hunt was right not to take the meeting in June last year, Morrison said he would leave that up to others – as usual.

“We are now approaching a lost decade on climate change and significant action by the major parties is being stymied by powerful minorities inside their ranks as well as powerful business interests.”

Former Liberal MP Julia Banks will join the advisory board of Climate 200, an organisation aimed at electing climate-focused independents, noting that even those in the Coalition who say they support net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 vote with the more extreme elements of the party.

“Your sacrifices have made that happen. You have saved lives by enduring and going through those difficulties, so thank you.”

Pledging home quarantine by the end of the year, the PM has begun appealing to stranded expats, acknowledging their sacrifice but not his own failure to build quarantine facilities so they could have come home sooner.

Why your next car will be electric
Governments and car manufacturers all over the world are preparing for a future where most vehicles will be powered by electricity. But in Australia there’s no national policy on electric vehicles and, as a result, the country is falling behind the rest of the world.

The full vaccination threshold at which NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant had reportedly advised the economy be reopened, but was overruled. Chant neither confirmed nor denied this when pressed on it in today’s announcement of “freedoms” at the 70 per cent fully vaccinated mark.

“The ACT chief minister, Andrew Barr, has rejected the use of vaccine passports or facilitating a requirement to be vaccinated to enter venues via use of QR codes on the Check-In CBR app.”

The next great national cabinet debate may be over plans to use check-in apps as vaccine passports, with the ACT opposed on technical and philosophical grounds. 

The list

“Billed as a return to the crime movies at which he excelled, No Sudden Move does indeed find filmmaker Steven Soderbergh revisiting the terrain of such past hits as Ocean’s Eleven and Out of Sight. Certainly, the familiar ingredients are all in place: a lean, twisty script from Ed Solomon, a discreetly funky score from long-time collaborator David Holmes. Best of all, though, is the production design by rising star Hannah Beachler, whose credits include Moonlight, Black Panther and Beyoncé’s Lemonade, and who makes the most of the mid-century setting, crafting a lush, meticulous re-creation of the era that never for a moment feels airless or studied. And then there’s the direction: assured, efficient, yet always surprising.”

Nostalgia Has Ruined My Life is a small but grand book. The narrator is singular and knowable, exasperating but charming – a triumph of voice. When you look at its subject matter directly, it is dark fun, playing with a dark subject, but the game is worth it for the cringing and laughing you are pushed to on nearly every page.”

“Time doesn’t stop for the pandemic. Babies arrive, people get married, everybody gets older, some people die. Those who remain far away are left with few ways to mark the occasions. In this sense, homesickness bears similarities to grief – loss is a huge part of it.” 

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Monthly Today.



The Monthly Today

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