Friday, July 16, 2021

Today by Rachel Withers

Pride and precedents
The Morrison government has accepted the error of its ways, so why can’t Berejiklian?

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian. Image via Facebook

The consensus around the need for snap lockdowns has officially shifted – or it’s shifted for the federal Coalition and the Murdoch media at least, since the rest of the nation grasped the concept some time ago. With Victoria in the first day of its hopefully short statewide lockdown, very few are quibbling with the vigilant approach (other than the most ardent anti-lockdown protesters and Victorian Opposition leader Michael O’Brien). Prime Minister Scott Morrison has stepped in with even more comprehensive income assistance overnight, striking a deal with Victoria for the Commonwealth to provide the weekly COVID-19 Disaster Payments pro-rata from the very first day of a lockdown, regardless of its length. It’s the most dramatic change to the PM’s “incentivisation” calculations yet, and the closest we’ll ever get to an admission that the Coalition was wrong to begin with. Even those federal MPs who once adamantly opposed snap lockdowns seem to have come around, telling the media that the Delta variant means they are necessary and something we will all have to endure in the short term. This comes just 14 days after Morrison insisted that national cabinet notionally agree they be a “last resort”. But the one person who doesn’t seem willing to admit that hard and early lockdowns are now warranted is NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, who has continued to stand by her late, light lockdown. Admittedly, it’s too late for Berejiklian to do a snap lockdown now, and the “why didn’t you?”s from the media that cheered her on as she fatefully resisted are deeply unfair. But her proud refusal to admit fault and correct course risks leaving Sydneysiders in a devastatingly long lockdown.

The federal government’s many alterations to its lockdown support payments have been hard to keep track of, but the size of payments and who was eligible will now be applied consistently across the country. Over the past 24 hours alone, Morrison has made several changes to the payment start date, yesterday taking it from day eight to day one (but only if a lockdown reaches a second week, with payments in arrears if it does), and today saying payments will be made from day one no matter how long a lockdown lasts. All these modifications, but especially this most recent one, are a concession that the federal government got its cruel, lockdown-disincentivising policy wrong – even if it’s not going to openly acknowledge that. When pressed on that fact by an in-form Karl Stefanovic, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg did not accept the government was late to the party. “In order to strengthen the economy, to support people, we need to put our hands in our pockets,” he said. “And that is what we’ve done from day one of this crisis, as you know.” Except, of course, it was day eight that they waited to put their hands in their pockets, back in May, and only after the Victorian government had publicly pressured them. “I think the people of Victoria are doing it pretty tough,” said the treasurer, who has spent the past months insisting his home state had received enough support. “And the Morrison government is there to support them.” (Sunrise had a crack too, with Frydenberg insisting that the Coalition response had evolved along with the virus). Despite having just a few days ago been labelled “petty” by the treasurer, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews was not willing to gloat when asked if the updated arrangements were an admission from the Commonwealth that it initially got it wrong. “I am not here to have a quarrel with anybody but this virus,” said Andrews. He didn’t gloat, because he didn’t need to.

But while Morrison and co have been forced to tacitly admit the error of their ways, their NSW counterparts are not there yet, unwilling to tighten an already dangerously delayed lockdown, or even admit they went too late. The Australian Medical Association today issued a statement, calling on the state government to implement a “more Victorian-style” lockdown, asking for non-essential retail and services to be closed. (And here is a handy list the Andrews government has put together of what should remain open – isn’t it helpful and definitely not funny having a state that’s been through this before?) Modelling from the University of Sydney, meanwhile, has predicted that it will take weeks to get the NSW outbreak under control with the current settings, with even a small drop in compliance predicted to extend it significantly. Berejiklian has remained resistant to all such calls, despite the state recording another 97 cases. In today’s press conference, the premier continued to insist the settings were right, even while admitting the numbers were not looking good. When pushed on why she was not tightening restrictions, Berejiklian said that NSW would “of course” go harder “if we need to”, saying she “would not hesitate” to do so. It’s still not clear how bad the situation would need to be for Berejiklian to implement tighter restrictions. She also seemed to praise herself for starting restrictions when she did, saying: “I shudder to think what would have happened had we not gone into lockdown when we did, given the cases and how transmissible the virus is.” The entirety of Victoria shudders at what has happened because NSW waited so long.

Admitting error is, of course, very difficult, especially for a politician. And you have to feel for Berejiklian, having been held up as the poster child for Staying Open only to have Sky News and The Australian turn on her now that it’s gone wrong. But her pride in standing by her choices is hurting the nation, and especially the citizens of Sydney, leaving them in a half-baked lockdown with no clear end in sight. Perhaps she could take a lesson from the Morrison government on how to change tack without actually admitting fault. Claim that it’s the virus that’s suddenly evolved (even though it evolved months ago, and even though you criminalised citizens coming home because of it), that it’s the virus setting the rules; that you couldn’t possibly have predicted something as wild as the future. Berejiklian has also been blaming the more contagious strain for the fact that the virus got away from NSW contact tracers, but she’s not yet willing to shift course because of it. All along, Berejiklian has talked about not wanting to cause undue hardship to her people, but that’s exactly what she’s now doing. She repeated that claim today. “The worst thing we could do is put in additional measures which don’t have the desired effect,” she said. Incorrect. There are far worse things she could do.

“It was demonising a community for not having access to that information that was the responsibility of government to make available for the multilingual communities who live in those parts of Western Sydney.”

Arwa Abousamra last night blasted the heavy-handed lockdown of Western Sydney on the ABC’s Q&A panel, saying that even as a local translator she was unsure what was allowed under the current restrictions.

“The heated water actually comes from the northern hemisphere and turns right at about Chile and travels across the Pacific where it hits, and is basically where the bleaching occurs.”

Comments from the government’s reef envoy, Warren Entsch, which have been dismissed by experts as “far-fetched” and “ill-informed”.

I get locked down, and I’m locked down again… something, something, something whiskey drink
This week Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a new COVID-19 financial support package for Sydneysiders currently in lockdown. But the announcement was met with frustration from other states, particularly Victoria, which had been asking for help during its own lockdowns.

Sportsbet’s current payout on Anthony Albanese becoming PM at the next election, with the Labor leader ahead of Scott Morrison, on $1.90.

“The extraordinary figures, revealed in Australian Taxation Office documents obtained under Freedom of Information laws, have prompted top experts to call on Treasurer Josh Frydenberg to close down the overly generous superannuation tax concessions accessed by the ultra-wealthy.”


Revelations that 27 of Australia’s biggest self-managed super funds hold more than $100 million each have prompted calls for reform, given the funds receive generous tax concessions.

The list

“As the English team marched through the bizarrely named Euro 2020 tournament – which ended this week with England’s loss to Italy in the final, and the tears of the future king – the English media fanatically narrowed the tournament to the mere fortunes of the Three Lions. This was predictable. Slightly less predictable was that much of Australia’s coverage would suffer from a similar myopia. We may be one of the most multicultural countries in the world, but it’s rarely reflected in our football coverage. There, we are still the sons and daughters of Britain.”

“You hear Robert’s group before you see them: the cacophony of barking rings out through Sydney’s Centennial Park. If you follow the sound, past the willow fronds on the lake, up the sandy dunes towards the pine grove, you find his swarm of canines chasing one another with primeval zeal. And amid the apparent pandemonium stands Robert Zarauz, serene, like the dog philosopher-king that he is.”

“Sal and I were sitting in the usual place when a man came by dressed as a pigeon. Not as a bird, mind; just exactly as a pigeon would be dressed if it were human. Grey suit, white shirt, shiny red-brown shoes. Grey top hat, white cravat. ‘Would you look at that?’ I said to Sal. We were sitting a metre apart, as per the regulations, or I would have nudged him.”

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Monthly Today.



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