Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Today by Rachel Withers

Role reversal
What ever happened to Scott “live with the virus” Morrison?

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Image via Facebook

Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Image via Facebook

Virgin Airlines chief executive Jayne Hrdlicka could have chosen her words a little more carefully when she told a business lunch yesterday that Australia’s borders should reopen sooner than the middle of next year, even though “some people may die” (though it is technically what many health experts are saying, amid pre-emptive efforts to convince Australians to let go of their extreme aversion to having any COVID-19 in the community). Hrdlicka’s comments have today been condemned by figures across the political spectrum, from Greens senator and disability advocate Jordon Steele-John (“How many disabled people is it acceptable to have die?” he asked on ABC News Breakfast) to NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian (“No death is acceptable,” she said, when pressed on the comments), right through to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who labelled the words “insensitive”. “I find it very difficult to have any truck of what was said there,” he said, also mentioning the “terrible tragedy” that was the 910 Australian lives lost to date. “I won’t take risks with Aussies’ lives” the PM added, defending his cautious reopening and praising the border closure that “so far has avoided the loss of 30,000 lives”. Morrison’s rebuke of Hrdlicka is a little hard to swallow. Isn’t this the prime minister who spent much of last year asking us to learn to “live with the virus”? 

The Coalition has changed its tune on many things now that it’s politically convenient. The federal government, which used to decry the state governments for their cautious approaches on borders and lockdowns, has become extremely risk-averse, unwilling to even commit to a vaccination rate at which international borders might reopen. Morrison speaks sanctimoniously about the importance of putting lives over the economy – as if he didn’t used to attack those Labor premiers who did just that. This, after all, is the prime minister who told us to go to the footy, as desperate premiers pushed for lockdowns. It’s the prime minister who spent much of the tail end of Victoria’s lockdown trying to bully the state into fast-tracking its reopening. “It’s time,” the PM said in October, growing increasingly aggressive towards the state government (for insisting on elimination) as the lockdown went on. 

This is the prime minister who, almost the whole way through this crisis, has talked of “living alongside the virus”. In July 2020, he praised New South Wales, arguing that “the best protection against the virus is to live with the virus, to live alongside the virus and to open up your economy”. “We’ve gotta live with the virus,” he told Triple M in August 2020. “The idea that you just shut everything down and put all the borders up, that is no way to live with this.” Australians, he told Sky News in September 2020, must “live alongside the virus”, and not let it “dictate how we should live”. In March this year, he declared that “the risk has changed”, urging states to accept a new “risk framework” that prioritised the economy. “It’s not just about health because the health risk is diminished,” he told an AFR business summit.

Morrison wanted Australians to learn to “live with the virus” at a time when doing so definitely would have meant some loss of life, when public health experts said it was too early, or akin to “giving up”. But now that experts (and extremely blunt airline CEOs) are saying it’s time to start thinking about living alongside it, once we’re all vaccinated, Morrison wants to keep Australians afraid, talking about the threat of the pandemic “raging” and “morphing” around the world. So what’s changed? There’s no doubt it has something to do with the upcoming federal election, with recent state elections all having rewarded governments that took hardline stances on keeping the virus out of their communities. It’s clear that Australians are very nervous about reopening, with yet another poll today backing a cautious approach to the closed international border

Scott Morrison can read the public mood, and is more than willing to lean into it – even if it means leaving Australians afraid of reopening for years to come.

“Investing in sustainability and building prosperity are not mutually exclusive. After all, a sustainable future is the growth story of our time.”

Prince Charles calls on Australian superannuation funds to invest in green finance and move faster to bring their portfolios to net-zero emissions.

“We’re going to have to be, I think, louder and more regular in our proclamations of our support for traditional industries like oil and gas and coal industries.”

Labor’s strongest coal advocate Joel Fitzgibbon says former UK Labour PM Tony Blair is “spot on” in calling for centre-left parties to participate in culture-war commentary, including on climate change, so as not to leave it to the far-left.

Gaza’s deadliest day
For the past week, the Palestinian territory of the Gaza Strip has been under an intense aerial bombardment. Today, world editor for ‘The Saturday Paper’ Jonathan Pearlman on why the violence in Israel and Palestine is at its worst point in years.

The number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children who accessed child protection services last year, with the number of Indigenous children removed from home now 11 times the rate of non-­Indigenous children.

“Australians struggling with their mental health will be able to call a new national hotline that will book them in for treatment in a bid to unify Australia’s fractured mental health system across eight states and territories.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews have reportedly been consulting closely on a plan to unify Australia’s fractured mental health system, with a commitment to have a national agreement in place by November.

The list

“The sun-faded metal sign rising from the rocky slope is a humble marker for such a remarkable place. Squeezed between the fence line of a sheep farm and a bend on a dirt road just outside Canowindra, a small town on Wiradjuri country in the central west of NSW, it reads: ‘THE ORIGINAL FISH FOSSIL SITE’.”

“The notion that a third of large fish in Australian waters disappeared in just 10 years should be of profound concern to all. The health of marine food webs depends upon healthy populations of the predator species that regulate populations of smaller species; declines in their numbers are likely to lead to hastening disruption of ocean ecosystems.”

“Further questions have been raised about Amanda Stoker’s suitability to hold the role of assistant minister for Women after the controversial senator spoke at the March for Life rally outside Queensland parliament last Saturday. The march was aimed at ‘pushing back’ against the availability of abortion in the state, where abortion has been legal since 2018. The protest also targeted moves to legalise euthanasia across the country.”

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

Supply and demands

State leaders feel the strain over the federal government’s latest vaccine mishap

Image of Health Minister Greg Hunt. Image via ABC News

Another ‘challenge’

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

Image of Acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack in Question Time. Image via ABC News

A heated environment

Canberra remains stuck in a debate that the rest of the world has moved on from

Image of Immigration Minister Alex Hawke. Image via ABC News

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