The Politics    Thursday, July 15, 2021

Twin failings

By Rachel Withers

Twin failings
The woman who failed to learn from the past, and the man who failed to plan for the future

Victorians will join Sydneysiders in lockdown from midnight tonight, just a few short weeks after they came out of the last one, as COVID-19 cases originating in NSW multiply in the southern state. Victorian testing commander Jeroen Weimar appeared concerned in a press conference earlier this afternoon, declaring that the situation was changing by the half hour and announcing (at that stage) 16 positive cases, 75 exposure sites, 1500 primary close contacts and 5000 secondary close contacts.

Speaking earlier today, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a major simplification to the COVID-19 Disaster Payment that he has been progressively tweaking through Sydney’s lockdown, just in time for Melbourne’s. The PM revealed that he would be putting forward a “more simple” set of rules for the whole country at tomorrow’s national cabinet meeting, with the liquid assets test to be dropped, and payments set at $600 and $375 (depending on the usual hours worked) from the second week of a lockdown, rather than at the arbitrary points the government had been selecting in order to maintain an aura of consistency. (It seems a lower payment will even be made for week one “on arrears”, if a lockdown extends beyond the first week.) The changes, of course, are welcome, with Morrison forced to tacitly acknowledge that his longstanding resistance to providing financial support is cruel and pointless. It’s a tacit acknowledgement, as well, that he has offended Victorians by making those alterations only when it was Sydney going through it, as much as he continues to shamelessly insist there was no double standard. But could it also be a recognition that this latest lockdown – Victoria’s fifth – is the fault of the Coalition, at both a state and federal level?

There are two leaders that are responsible for the fact traumatised Victorians are going into yet another lockdown, and neither of them reside in the state of Victoria: the NSW premier, who failed to learn from the past, and the prime minister, who failed to plan for the future. Victorians are rightfully angry that the virus has again leaked into their community from another state. While the last outbreak came from South Australian hotel quarantine, this time it’s different, with the highly infectious Delta variant running rampant not because of an accidental breach but because of a deliberate gamble by the NSW government to wait a drastically long time before locking down. Coalition figures at both the state and federal level have been urgently trying to push back against that characterisation today, noting that an inexperienced Victoria waited even longer than NSW to lock down hard during last year’s second wave, as if this excuses NSW from having failed to learn from that experience when every other state in the country did. Gladys Berejiklian has continued to argue that this new variant is different, and that NSW is in “uncharted waters”, facing something no state has faced before, ignoring the fact that several cities have now run down the Delta variant. To add insult to injury, Berejiklian appeared to mock Victoria in today’s presser, when she was pushed on successful actions Victoria had taken that NSW hadn’t yet, such as having defined essential work. “No they didn’t,” Berejiklian laughed.

But as with all 2021 lockdowns, Morrison bears an increasing amount of blame given his government’s failure to sufficiently vaccinate the population, allowing the virus to continue to circulate freely. The prime minister, characteristically, has resumed blaming everyone but himself, with his new favourite scapegoat being the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, which he has blamed for its changing advice. (ATAGI has since hit back, labelling his scapegoating “unfair”.) This morning Morrison also lay blame upon the future. When pushed on what he should have done differently regarding vaccine procurement, Morrison said that “we would have foreseen the future better”, as if it wasn’t clear to everyone from the start (including, it seems, most of the OECD) that nations needed to order a proper supply of different vaccines.

This fifth Victorian lockdown is to be a short and sharp five days, with Melbourne likely to be in and out of it long before poor Sydneysiders see the end of theirs. That is because Victorian leaders have learnt over the past year (and even the past month, watching NSW) about the need to go hard and go early with this virus, and they are planning ahead accordingly. These are skills that seem to be beyond the Coalition, no matter how many times it happens.

Listen to The Politics Podcast, with Rachel Withers

“That is the decision the federal party made, which I can’t change, and only time will tell, but I am not sure about recycling leaders in any position.”

Former Nationals president Christine Ferguson says “recycling” Barnaby Joyce may drive women to leave the party, as she calls for young women to speak up about their bad experiences and help drive cultural change.

“I didn’t vote for you … But I’ve changed my mind.”

Radio host Kyle Sandilands tells the PM he feels “safe” with him in charge, after watching him “handle disaster after disaster”, at a time when confidence in Morrison is plummeting.

A psychologist’s guide to surviving lockdown
A few days ago psychologist Chris Cheers began sharing advice on social media about getting through lockdowns, as a way to support those in Sydney. His posts quickly went viral. Today, he explains how those of us not in lockdown can support our friends and family who are.

The latest unemployment figure, down 0.2 per cent to its lowest rate in a decade. Underemployment jumped half a percentage point to 7.9 per cent, mostly due to Victoria’s recent lockdown.

“The federal government has agreed to allow childcare centres not to charge families gap fees from Monday while still receiving taxpayer subsidies when children are absent.”

Fees will soon be waived for Sydney parents who keep their children at home during the lockdown. Opposition childcare spokesperson Amanda Rishworth has been calling for the waiver, saying recent costs could have been avoided if the government had accepted Labor’s amendment to make the waiving of gap fees automatic.

The list

“If the preferred corporate term for the daily distractions clogging up the world’s innumerable streaming platforms is ‘content’, then what studios let loose into cinemas these days is, politely termed, ‘product’. The standalone feature is shunned – what you want is a sequel, a remake, a reboot, some firmly established bit of IP that can be given a new lick of paint. This is not an unheard of phenomenon in the film industry, but never in its more than 100 years of history has so little space been left over for anything other than the coldly calculated commercial feature. And when it comes to identifying the fingerprints of this modern tendency, all hands are gloved white.”

The Life of C.B. is Boltanski’s legendary bet with the owner of Tasmania’s Museum of Old and New Art, David Walsh (whom Boltanski calls ‘the devil of Tasmania’). For a monthly fee, which he will receive until his death, the artist beams 24-hour live video of his suburban Paris studio to MONA on the Berriedale peninsula. The sum negotiated with Walsh, who made his fortune as a professional gambler, is based on Walsh’s unsettling prediction of Boltanski’s lifespan. He gave the artist, who was 65 at the time of the 2009 deal, eight more years.”

“Both women are members of the Health Services Union, which is bringing a landmark case to the Fair Work Commission seeking a 25 per cent pay rise for aged-care workers, of whom 85 per cent are women. The unions of other female-dominated, undervalued caring sectors are watching the case with great interest. They say it is the opening salvo in a broader reckoning on the so-called ‘undervaluing of women’s work’: the low pay and poor conditions in highly feminised professions. The pandemic has added an extra sense of urgency, they say, with many women in traditionally undervalued caring professions suddenly deemed ‘essential workers’.”

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.


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