Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Today by Rachel Withers


‘No rush’
People are in no rush to get the vaccine, and the PM is in no rush to fix that

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Image via ABC News

Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Image via ABC News

The government that bungled the vaccine rollout and then made it worse through an unnecessarily dramatic, late-night announcement about blood clots might now be hurting take-up even further by failing to communicate the advantages of getting the jab, and by refusing to commit to an international reopening timeline. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has spent the day fielding questions about a concerning new poll from Nine Media, showing 29 per cent of respondents said they are unlikely to get a jab in the months ahead – many driven by fears of side effects, but a decent portion because there is “no rush” amid low case numbers and closed borders. Morrison is “not overly troubled” by the results, as he told a sympathetic Ray Hadley on 2GB, with “plenty of time to have the chat” with those who are hesitant. It’s not clear what he means by “the chat”, though it’s worth noting that the government has already had “plenty of time” to arrange some kind of vaccine marketing campaign. But Morrison, like the survey respondents, is in no rush. Australia now faces a paradox: we can’t open the borders (or even talk about opening the borders, apparently) until a critical mass is vaccinated, but many are taking a leisurely approach to getting vaccinated since there is no reopening date on the agenda.

The federal government, so fond of claiming this critical task is “not a race”, would have us believe the latest round of concerning rollout data is not an issue. Morrison has continued his political pivot towards convincing Australians they are safer with a closed border, telling a press conference this morning that it won’t be safe to reopen “for some time”. For some time, indeed: new projections from the Blueprint ­Institute show that the current rate of vaccination needs to be dramatically sped up if Australia is to meet even its vague, unambitious end-of-year targets, with the border reopening likely to be pushed out well beyond mid 2022. At the current rate, it will be late next year before five out of six adults are fully vaccinated. (In one frustrating anecdote, a nurse at one of Victoria’s mass vaccination hubs administered just one vaccine in eight hours.) Health Minister Greg Hunt gave his usual sell on the latest “record” vaccination numbers, noting the nation is now at 3.278 million total doses. But how many Australians are fully vaccinated? That number could be as low as 400,000, with Australia one of the only countries that does not regularly reveal how many people have had both doses – a lack of transparency that experts have labelled “embarrassing”.

The prime minister may not be “overly troubled” by the data on vaccine hesitancy, but experts certainly are. The latest polling has seen increased calls for a proper public health campaign, something Australia still does not have, unlike many nations around the world (New Zealand’s is especially heartwarming). Deakin University epidemiologist Catherine Bennett told The New Daily that Australians are not receiving adequate messaging around the vaccine, especially with the government having spent months arguing there was no urgency, while public health adviser Bill Bowtell, who was involved in the HIV campaigns of the 1980s, has called for a vaccine campaign to be fronted by high-profile Australians and tailored specifically to the most hesitant groups. (Let us hope there are no milkshakes involved.) The Opposition’s early education spokesperson, Amanda Rishworth, has joined calls for a campaign to combat misinformation, as did ABC Melbourne’s Virginia Trioli. ABC hosts appear to be doing more to take this on than the federal government, with both News Breakfast’s Michael Rowland and Coronacast’s Norman Swan calling for suggestions for campaign taglines on Twitter. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the woman who successfully led communications on the HIV campaigns in the ’80s is now the ABC chair.

But Nine’s survey results would imply that the problem is about more than just the lack of a campaign. The federal government appears to be doing active damage to vaccine take-up with its new political strategy of pushing the border reopening as far into the future (and past the next federal election) as possible. The Australian Medical Association, which yesterday joined calls for a reopening timeline, says a deadline would give people a reason to get vaccinated, with the peak body’s president, Dr Omar Khorshid, telling Guardian Australia that there are “an awful lot of people who don’t feel threatened by the virus [and] don’t see any direct benefit from a vaccine”. As the nurse who administered only one dose in eight hours said, “it’s concerning that Australia seems to take this attitude of, ‘let’s just shut the borders for as long as possible’ while there is vaccine just sitting there”. Professor Bennett agrees, calling for leaders to create a sense of urgency.

The prime minister who wanted international travel back on the agenda ASAP, until he realised it would suit his electoral prospects better to keep us all within our border, is playing some dangerous games with public safety here. First, he made Australians unnecessarily afraid of the vaccine, with a dramatic announcement that has created lasting doubts over the vaccine recommended for older Australians. Now, he is making them dangerously complacent about the need to get vaccinated at all.


“If you want to fix black deaths in custody, stop sending them to jail.”

Relatives of William Haines, who recently became the eighth Indigenous Australian to die in custody since March, want action and answers.

“Well, they’re wrong. Our modelling on this is very clear.”

Energy Minister Angus Taylor, who has spent the day defending a plan to spend $600 million on a new gas-fired power plant that experts say makes little commercial sense, rejects Climate Council modelling showing gas costs more than renewables.

The politician behind a new anti-abortion push
Scott Morrison’s choice for Australia’s new assistant minister for women, Amanda Stoker, has raised concerns from women’s health advocates due to her hardline, and conservative, views on abortion. Today, Rachel Withers on the rise of Amanda Stoker.

The number of Palestinians so far displaced by Israeli air strikes, which have destroyed or damaged nearly 450 buildings in the Gaza Strip, according to the UN.

“Investors will need to stump up an extra $1 million to gain a visa to live in Australia under a shake-up of a migration scheme aimed at encouraging higher quality investment in local businesses.”

AFR

The federal government has confirmed July 1 changes to the investor visa scheme, increasing the investment needed to $2.5 million. No clarity yet on when anyone will actually be able to migrate here under the scheme.

The list
 

“Though Promises is often texturally luxurious it is also compositionally minimal: keyboard instruments, strings and saxophone all ripple together through and around the repetition of one arpeggio. The combination of expansiveness and discipline creates for the listener a sense of both infinitude and the miniature, like a planetarium. Unfurling over nine ‘movements’ of varying lengths, though the piece has no real breaks, the record is a sonic planetarium.”

“For reasons that are still unclear to me, I agreed to go on a 10-day camel trek with my parents. When they invited me my initial reaction was I’ve got a whole LIFE going on here, I can’t just take off. I had a pile of junk mail to read and some pretty firm dinner plans. A few weeks later I was at a party where I didn’t think much of the people. Or, more accurately, I didn’t think the people thought much of me. So I wandered outside, thought, Phooey to you, city living, and texted my parents. ‘I’m in.’”

“After more than eight years waiting for a determination, asylum-seeker families received the letters from the Department of Home Affairs virtually all at once, at the start of May. They had just two weeks to find pro bono legal representatives for their one and only interview with the Australian government to plead their case for refugee protection. The letters were sent to those who arrived in Australia by boat between August 13, 2012, and January 1, 2014. After being left in legal limbo for the better part of a decade, the Commonwealth has decided it wants to clear more than 1100 of these asylum seekers through a so-called ‘fast-track’ process by the end of June.”

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Monthly Today.

@rachelrwithers

 

The Monthly Today

27 reasons to wonder

Another “win” for Porter in the case that he desperately didn’t want made public

Image of Scott Morrison in a Santa hat

The ghost of Christmas past

Morrison’s attempts at good tidings are little comfort to those who might be in lockdown until the end of the year

Pay as you go

With Morrison, help is gradual and insufficient

Composite image of Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian. Images via ABC News

A tale of two lockdowns

As some states lift restrictions, the NSW premier is keen to reject comparisons with Victoria


From the front page

27 reasons to wonder

Another “win” for Porter in the case that he desperately didn’t want made public

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Jenny Morrison laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier during the Anzac Day commemorative service on April 25, 2020. Image © Alex Ellinghausen / AAP Image/ Sydney Morning Herald Pool

A rallying crime

For a country that loves invoking the virtues of wartime sacrifice, why have our leaders failed to appeal to the greater good during the pandemic?

Photo of installation view of the exhibition Camille Henrot: Is Today Tomorrow at NGV International. Photo © Tom Ross

Simultaneous persuasions: ‘Camille Henrot: Is Today Tomorrow’

Radical difference and radical proximity are hallmarks of the French-born artist’s NGV exhibition

Cover image of The Airways

Body and soul: ‘The Airways’

Fusing elements of crime fiction and ghost stories, Jennifer Mills’ latest novel is an interrogation of gender, power and consent