The Politics    Monday, April 12, 2021

The cost of delay

By Rachel Withers

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison at a press conference on April 9. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Image

Prime Minister Scott Morrison at a press conference on April 9. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Image 

Delays, as we have sadly learnt, can mean the difference between life and death

“It’s not a race,” we were repeatedly told of the vaccine rollout, as the government was questioned over its late start, its lack of variety and its mounting struggles with supply. But with other countries now rocketing ahead of Australia on the path back to normality, it’s clearer now that time is of the essence, and this is one race with real consequences for coming last. Two reports released today ­– both undertaken before Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced recommendations against AstraZeneca for those under 50, throwing the timeline into further disarray – have highlighted the economic and social impact of the hold-up, and reveal just what the government may have squandered. (The government has opted not to set a new timeline, after abolishing its old one, knowing it can’t fail to meet targets it doesn’t set.) New revelations, meanwhile, that NSW Police denied and dismissed opportunities to interview former attorney-general Christian Porter’s accuser prior to her death may be an even starker reminder of the tragic cost of delay.

It’s obvious to many that the severely hampered vaccination timeline is going to be costly, but now, thanks to the McKell Institute, we can put a rough figure on it. “Counting the cost of Australia’s delayed vaccine roll-out”, released today, warns of the increased risk of further outbreaks and lockdowns – a risk that should be obvious to the prime minister. But it goes even further, actually measuring what these outbreaks might cost. The report puts the “conservative” cost of locking down a capital city at $123 million per day, and depending what vaccination rate Australia can ramp up to (and bearing in mind this was put together before last week’s timeline upset) cities are expected to face between 3 and 34 more days of lockdown, with costs of up to $4.16 billion. McKell Institute chief executive Michael Buckland told Nine it was “vital” to be “clear-sighted” about the cost of inaction. “Just as it was correct for the government to measure the economic impact of state lockdowns, so too should the government embrace the publication of clear information about the economic impact of its vaccination rollout program,” he said.

Meanwhile, analysis from Deloitte – also completed before last week’s announcement – expects international travel to remain fairly restricted until 2024, with some sort of quarantine program remaining in place for incoming travellers for some time. Not exactly a promising sign for Australia’s crucial but struggling tourism industry.

It’s baffling that the Morrison government couldn’t grasp the importance of speed, particularly considering it was Australia’s early actions in shutting its international border and locking down that in many ways spared us. (Then again, this is the prime minister that told people it was still okay to go to the footy at a critical juncture.) Australia also benefited from a healthy dose of luck, but it looks set to squander much of that good fortune, as it so regularly does.

It’s not just the federal government that has delayed things unnecessarily. New documents provided by NSW Police to the state’s parliament have today revealed that Deputy Commissioner David Hudson denied detectives permission to travel to South Australia to interview Christian Porter’s accuser in March 2020, despite the trip having been recommended for approval by the Child Abuse and Sex Crimes Squad. (NSW Police also passed up an offer from South Australian police to take a statement from the alleged victim before she took her life, reportedly without putting the option to her.) The police squandered a number of opportunities to talk to the woman – who had been wanting to give a statement for many months – but they failed to make the effort, deeming the matter “inessential”. 

We don’t know if more urgent action would have prevented the alleged victim from taking her life, and there is little point speculating. But we do know that the police’s stalling has left her allegation permanently untrialable – an injustice not just for her but also for Porter, who will have this hanging over him forever. Getting her statement, like rolling out the vaccine, was not technically a race. But perhaps both could have been treated with more urgency – there is more than just time to be squandered.

“Self-determination for First Nations people is still lacking in this country. This unfinished business cannot be separated from anything else that is done to try to prevent the deaths of First Nations people in custody.”

NSW State Coroner Teresa O’Sullivan says First Nations people are over-represented in every category of death dealt with by the Coroner’s Court, adding that Indigenous deaths in custody cannot be separated from Australia’s colonial history.

“Insofar as new allegations are made they do not appear to be supported by evidence. In the circumstances Seven does not need to reconsider its position concerning Mr Roberts-Smith and him continuing in his position.”

The Seven Network is standing by senior executive Ben Roberts-Smith, saying he denies Nine’s latest reports that he attempted to cover up alleged war crimes.

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The amount by which real national income per head (“the best measure of living standards”) grew in 2020, according to Deloitte’s fairly rosy quarterly business outlook. Never mind that it finds wage growth is expected to reach a new low of 1.2 per cent, following years of stagnation.

“The government has been accused of pressuring experts who questioned its gas-fired recovery plan … Four Corners understands [Energy Minister Angus Taylor] called then-chief executive of [the Australian Energy Market Operator], Audrey Zibelman, and in a heated conversation, pressured her to change the report’s conclusions, which were unfavourable to gas.”

Energy Minister Angus Taylor has rejected claims he pressured a top bureaucrat to change a report’s conclusions because they didn’t support the government’s plan for a gas-led recovery.

The list

“Everything about Greenhouse is sustainable and a monument to low-impact living, from the ethically sourced building materials to the natural glues that hold the dining table together, the onsite gardens that will supply nearly 300 different foods and the renewable power sources. There’s a self-sustaining, naturally functioning ecosystem in the stairwell, a devilishly clever closed-loop system that both recycles waste to produce the methane used for cooking and relies on aquaponics and aquaculture to deploy nutrients for growing food. The house has even been constructed so that it doesn’t penetrate the earth but is instead weighted down by the soil in the gardens.”

“In Australia there are few constitutional checks on MPs’ behaviour or on ministerial discretion. The separation of powers dictates that elected representatives have guaranteed freedoms under the law, and, in the absence of any kind of national independent corruption body, standards of governance have rested on a kind of honour system. Yet the message from the top of the Coalition parties, whenever the integrity of a senior MP is called into question over their behaviour, is that there will be no repercussions.”

“Two senior public servants involved in the establishment of the robo-debt program are now working in the compliance division of the National Disability Insurance Agency, with one making substantial comments on draft legislation that would overhaul the $25 billion support scheme and raise debts from participants … These public servants joined as the agency began a years’ long project of introducing a fraud strategy and sharpening internal tools that would more easily ‘detect and investigate serious fraud and non-compliance’.”

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.


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