Friday, August 13, 2021

Today by Rachel Withers

Open and shut case
State premiers – and the public – want to know what Berejiklian is planning for NSW reopening

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian arrives to speak at a press conference in Sydney, August 13, 2021

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian arrives to speak at a press conference in Sydney, August 13, 2021. © AAP Image/Joel Carrett

Prime Minister Scott Morrison emerged from national cabinet and opened his media conference with a series of slides spruiking vaccination rates (far lower than they might have been if he had simply done his job) and a reminder that Australia is still in the “suppress and vaccinate” phase – an apparent repudiation of the NSW approach that was expected to dominate today’s discussion. While Morrison made no direct reference to that discussion, it was widely reported that state premiers would spend the session pushing for further clarification on what the hell NSW is planning. Wouldn’t we all like to know. It’s not the easiest thing to figure out, with NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian remaining vague about exactly what she means in statements that have differed depending on the day, about either permitting “greater freedoms” at a 50 per cent vaccinated mark or at 6 million doses (these are different things, as 6 million doses is roughly equivalent to half the population having at least one dose). Other state leaders had foreshadowed challenging the prime minister on Berejiklian’s plan to open up even if cases remain high. NSW recorded another record high of 390 cases today, along with two deaths, including a woman in her forties.

When questioned publicly about NSW’s intentions, the premiers have consistently pushed back, at varying levels of ferocity. WA Premier Mark McGowan has gone the hardest, slamming the suggestion as “a threat to the entire country”, and today tightened his state’s border with NSW, requiring entrants to produce a negative PCR test and proof of at least one vaccine dose (if eligible). Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the NSW issue would dominate discussion, with leaders very concerned about the call. Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has been more delicate, suggesting that his NSW counterpart surely – surely – wasn’t implying any major reopening against her chief health officer’s advice, while ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr, whose territory has been plunged into lockdown, says reports that their all-encompassing neighbour would end lockdown at 50 per cent were “crazy” and not something they would do. “It would be helpful if that was clarified,” he added. So, what exactly is NSW looking to do, and what will it mean for the rest of the nation?

The NSW premier has been flagging her state’s move away from a COVID-zero goal for some time, promising that it will be vaccination rates, not case numbers, that will free her citizens from their extended lockdown, in a bid to incentivise them to get the jab. In recent days, Berejiklian has walked this back somewhat, clarifying that her state would still need to reach 70 per cent fully vaccinated before granting “significant freedoms”, as per Phase B of the Doherty Institute modelling (“We have made it clear from the outset that the NSW government commends and supports the findings of the Doherty Institute,” she said on Wednesday.) But she has continued to flag “additional freedoms” in September and October, once the 50 per cent threshold is reached – something some have suggested might be giving people “false hope”. There are reports her government is in talks with the hospitality industry to allow pubs and bars to reopen as soon as September for those who are fully vaccinated, with figures such as Australian Hotels Association boss John Whelan, hospitality mogul Justin Hemmes and pub owner/former Liberal MP Craig Laundy lobbying hard (Laundy this morning told Nine that it would be safe to open to vaccinated people, as no double-vaccinated Australians had died – a fact that is sadly untrue). It’s a decision that would likely see case numbers rise, putting the unvaccinated at further risk, with vaccinated people still able to catch and transmit the virus.

Would that be just, or even wise? In today’s press conference, Berejiklian was pressed on whether it was “fair” for communities with higher vaccination rates – ie. the wealthier parts of Sydney – to enjoy eased restrictions, while others go on suffering under the harshest measures. The premier claimed her government was pouring “many additional resources” into the hardest hit communities, adding that NSW couldn’t afford to leave them behind, but didn’t actually answer the question. But it’s not just that it would be “unfair” to grant certain freedoms to the more privileged and more vaccinated parts of Sydney at 50 per cent. It’s that it’s callous and dangerous – not just to the rest of the country, but to migrant communities in western Sydney, which have already been failed by the government, and Indigenous communities in the western NSW, which look to be next.

“Why are they allowed to get away with it? Why don’t they have to pay it back?”

70-year-old pensioner Jan Raabe, who did not realise the JobKeeper she received as an emergency teacher would cause her to be overpaid $1049 for her part pension, says she cannot understand why she has to pay it back when profiteering businesses do not.

“This is a real issue, it’s a problem, and it has accelerated.”

Coal-industry insiders are considering self-insurance schemes to face the problem of banks and investors turning their backs on them, as the IPCC report sounds their “death knell”.

The anti-lockdown movement reaches Parliament
Australia’s anti-lockdown movement reached federal parliament this week, when a rogue Coalition MP took to the floor to blast public health measures used to limit the spread of Covid. The comments highlight growing divisions in the government over Australia’s approach to the pandemic.

The cost to taxpayers of the federal government’s interventions in High Court cases last year challenging states’ border closures, including almost $41,000 covering Clive Palmer’s legal costs.

“New political parties in Australia would require 1,500 members to be registered and would be blocked from using names similar to existing parties, under changes proposed by the Coalition government.”

The government’s suite of electoral reform bills has been criticised by small parties, green groups and charities, with the leader of the New Liberals believing the bills are “directly aimed at us”.

The list

“In Melbourne’s sixth lockdown, I’ve considered again my two-year-old daughter’s happy Eden – her detachment from knowledge; her obliviousness to pestilence and our forsaken climate forecasts. Her world is prelapsarian, and her pleasures are simple: the moon, a waving garbo, the sight of a neighbour’s cat. Scott Morrison is also detached from knowledge, but his detachment is not innocent but wilful. He was unaware of his government’s extravagant rorting of community sports funding, and unaware of the similarly corrupt use of train-station car-park investment (or at least he gives this impression – as with the issue of Brian Houston, he has never directly answered the question of whether he saw the electorate list of funding).”

“As a white, cisgendered, heterosexual male, Silvey’s authorial right to tell that story went largely unquestioned, helped by the distancing techniques of a white teenage narrator’s filter and the half-century between the story’s setting and the book’s release. This time, however, questions are being raised about who should tell contemporary trans stories, and how. In a review at Guardian Australia, author Fiona Wright, while conceding she is not trans, wrote of Honeybee: ‘It feels othering, or almost exploitative, even as Sam is always portrayed with great compassion.’”

“What is it about little buildings? From huts to shacks to follies to tiny houses, from ‘cabin porn’ to cottage-core, the appeal of small spaces shows no sign of, ahem, diminishing. One of my favourite reveries comes from the Anglo–German novelist W. G. Sebald, whose final novel, Austerlitz, suggests that someone ought to ‘draw up a catalogue of types of buildings, listed in order of size, and it would be immediately obvious that domestic buildings of less than normal size – the little cottage in the fields, the hermitage, the lock-keeper’s lodge, the pavilion for viewing the landscape, the children’s bothy in the garden – are those that offer us at least a semblance of peace’.” 

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Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Monthly Today.



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