Friday, June 11, 2021

Today by Rachel Withers

Triple zero
Australia records zeros, but still refuses to commit to the zero that matters most

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison during a visit to the Australian Federal Police operations centre in Perth. Image © Stefan Gosatti / AAP Image

Prime Minister Scott Morrison during a visit to the Australian Federal Police operations centre in Perth. Image © Stefan Gosatti / AAP Image 

The eastern side of the country is breathing a frosty sigh of relief, as all three of the states currently on high alert recorded zero locally acquired cases of COVID-19, meaning Australia has recorded its first “donut day” in a number of weeks. Concerns remain, however, over the infected Victorian couple who entered Queensland without a permit, with chief health officers in the north and south questioned over what happened. Victoria’s newly eased restrictions mean the federal government has withdrawn access to its COVID-19 disaster payments, but the Victorian Council of Social Service is calling for them to be extended, as ongoing restrictions leave many still unable to work. Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has this afternoon flat-out refused that request, reminding everyone that it’s the state that has decided to leave restrictions on some sectors. Prime Minister Scott Morrison made no comment, because he is on his way to the United Kingdom for the G7 summit, where he is expected to come under pressure to commit to the other all-important zero: net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Morrison, who used a departing foreign policy speech on Wednesday to declare that it should be up to sovereign nations to set their own path on emissions, plans to use the summit to warn others against the use of carbon tariffs, a warning that is likely to gain zero traction in his talks with other leaders. Morrison’s signature stubbornness is now putting the nation’s jobs and exports at risk: a new Australia Institute report warns that by sticking his head in the sand over emissions-based tariffs – an idea growing in global popularity – he risks major damage to 43 Australian industries.

Morrison’s stubbornness knows no bounds, whether on climate targets, federal quarantine, international borders or detaining families seeking asylum. But he surely cannot expect his warnings against carbon tariffs to have any effect in Cornwall; his embarrassing bluster over Australia “meeting and beating” its current insufficient targets never does. The G7 summit’s chair, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, has been calling for more ambitious pledges from attendees ahead of November’s climate summit in Glasgow, and even has an opinion piece in today’s Australian, calling for the G7 to commit to halving emissions by 2030. (Lucky for Morrison we’re not actually members of the G7, only guests…) Morrison will be using this month’s summit to push for a global alliance on China, but apparently such international cooperation doesn’t extend to climate. Morrison claims tariffs are “combative” protectionism, while railing against a measure that is simply about creating a level playing field. But the PM’s pointless obstinacy is about to do some serious damage. In the Australia Institute report, former government adviser and climate policy expert Frank Muller urges Morrison to shift course and join the “climate club”, noting that the carbon price trend is going to move beyond Europe, with Japan and the United States considering introducing them too. The health of Australia’s economy is at stake, he tells The New Daily: “You can put your head in the sand and say you don’t want anything to happen about climate change, or you can look ahead and say, ‘This is coming, we need to have a plan.’”

The cold snap on the east side of the country has delivered an infuriating reminder as to why Morrison is as pig-headed on the carbon price issue as he is. Nationals MPs including Matt Canavan and Barnaby Joyce are using the extreme weather conditions, which have so far taken two lives in Victoria, to question the existence of climate change. How long can Morrison go on appeasing the anti-climate conspiracy theorists in his parliamentary ranks, in the face of sustained pressure from the friends he wants to impress in Cornwall? It’s believed US President Joe Biden will pressure Morrison to move faster in their first ever face-to-face meeting this weekend, as will Johnson in trade deal discussions. Labor has copped a lot of flak lately for its internal divisions on coal and gas, but the splinters within the Coalition will surely have to come to a head before Glasgow – which likely means before the next election.

Unless of course the election comes before the Glasgow summit. Pundits are now predicting an election this year, given that waiting until 2022 involves the risk of further COVID-19 outbreaks and the economy faltering. Morrison will be hoping both this weekend’s summit and the coming election stay firmly focused on the topics of his choosing. 

“We are writing to you because we fear that the integrity of the nation’s premier memory bank, the National Archives of Australia, is in jeopardy and to urge you to secure its future.”

More than 150 prominent Australians have signed an open letter protesting the government’s underfunding of the national archives and calling for urgent interim funding.

“Allowing international governments to waive IP rights would undermine the global collaboration that has led to more than one billion vaccine doses being administered in 188 countries so far.”

Australian industry group AusBiotech warns against the proposed waiver to COVID-19 vaccine IP rights, arguing the move – aimed at creating more equitable access to vaccines – might disincentivise innovation.

Australia’s biggest ever crime sting
This week, Scott Morrison announced Australia’s involvement in a massive organised-crime sting coordinated by the FBI. But was the extraordinary press conference more about bad news and poor polling?

The compensation to be paid by the government to victims of its robodebt scheme, with the Federal Court approving the settlement. The government will also pay back the $751 million it unlawfully recovered and wipe all debts.

“Australian workers should be given special ‘vaccine leave’ to get the jab – and it should be paid for by the federal government. That’s the stance from the Australian Council of Trade Unions, which says two paid leave days – to get the jab and recover from any side effects – would boost the country’s vaccination uptake.”

Unions are calling for paid COVID-19 vaccination leave, with the ACTU writing to the PM over its concerns about lagging rates among workers in aged and disability care.

The list

“Combining skits, music, satire and monologue, Inside captures the chaos of a busy and anxious millennial mind. It’s about the experience of isolation and mental illness brought on by COVID-19, but it is equally about the experience of isolation and mental illness in an increasingly online world, where there is an expectation to be perennially present.”

“I didn’t feel like someone who’d been overpaid. When the letter arrived I was living in a van with towels strung up everywhere to cover the windows. It wasn’t even my van. The letter (a digital letter – creepily, they would always arrive in the middle of the night) said that I had 30 days to pay. I began, quietly, to seethe.”

“For a time we moved into the [_____] memorial. Many had died, but we were not among them. Some among us had come closer than we would like to remember, but to not remember seemed a small destruction. There were no names inscribed on the [_____] memorial. In some ways this made it easier to inhabit. In any case, the names of the dead were carried with us.”

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

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Image of Health Minister Greg Hunt. Image via ABC News

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

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A heated environment

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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