The Politics    Thursday, August 19, 2021

Live with it

By Rachel Withers

Image of NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian. Image via ABC News

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian. Image via ABC News

The NSW premier continues her push for us to live with her mistakes, while pretending she is leading the way

Australia has recorded a grim milestone, with NSW’s 681 new COVID-19 cases (a new record) Victoria’s 57 (the highest since September 2020) and the ACT’s 16 combining to create the highest daily case number the nation has ever seen – and it won’t stop there. Even with increasing vaccination rates, which the PM celebrated in a press conference this afternoon, the NSW figure is expected to balloon into the thousands without further action. In the Nine papers, 4000 mystery infections are fuelling fears of 2200 cases a day; NSW could reach four figures within a month, according to RN Breakfast; while Guardian Australia says the NSW government is at risk of losing control entirely. Despite this, Premier Gladys Berejiklian, whose increasingly confusing messages suggest she’s making it up as she goes along, came today with a more positive outlook – perhaps inspired by the PM’s recent attempts at uplifting platitudes. After yesterday warning that NSW hadn’t seen the worst of it, with September and October to be the most difficult months yet, Berejiklian said that there was “light at the end of the tunnel”, the most optimistic language since her “green shoots” in mid July. The premier continued to promise that additional freedoms would be granted at 6 million vaccination doses (at this rate, it’s hard to know if there is any daily case number that would stop her from fulfilling that pledge), but she remained mum on what they might be, promising only a plan next week. (Those freedoms are currently believed to be haircuts and beauty services for the vaccinated, but Twitter is proposing its own fun treats.) But with case numbers dizzyingly high, Berejiklian was most keen to press the idea that NSW was “learning to live with COVID”, and other states should too. The premier is trying to buy into the narrative that she is “leading the way” out of this, rather than reacting desperately to the circumstances she now finds herself in, having all but lost control of the outbreak.

Many figures – including those found in the pages of the AFR, but some notable ABC personalities too – are pushing the narrative that NSW is boldly leading the way out of this situation, and that any other premier who is still trying to eliminate the virus while the population remains insufficiently vaccinated is some kind of COVID laggard. Berejiklian was keen to push that message today, telling reporters that everyone will eventually have to learn to live with Delta – and that NSW, which has been receiving a greater share of vaccine doses lately, was already doing it. “What I am absolutely convinced about is that NSW can lead the way,” she said. “If we keep people out of hospital, we keep people out of intensive care, we stop people dying, that means we are starting to live with COVID.”

In praising NSW’s approach, Berejiklian’s supporters have been keen to imply that state leaders who are not yet willing to abandon the elimination approach are going to cling fearfully to COVID-zero, even once the Doherty Institute milestones are reached, thus doing the entire nation a disservice. The NSW premier echoed that message, too, with a dig at her fellow premiers. “Australia will need to come to terms with the fact that when you get to a certain level of vaccination and open up, Delta will creep in,” she said. “We can’t pretend that we will have zero cases around Australia with Delta.” Of course, no one credible is pushing for that, much as Berejiklian might like to portray herself as the one fearlessly leading the way. Even the protectionist WA premier, Mark McGowan – who has become a regular target of such attacks after claiming that his state reserves the right to lock down even at 80 per cent vaccinated – does not pretend that COVID-zero is permanent, merely that lockdowns will be used where “absolutely necessary” – and such circumstances are looking all the more likely thanks to the NSW approach.

The NSW government may well have prematurely decided it’s time for Sydney to live with COVID, in light of the circumstances, but unfortunately for the rest of the country, that means we all have to – especially those in regional NSW, who today had their lockdown extended until August 28 “at least”. Melbourne – which has hit its own grim milestone of 200 days of lockdown – is very much living with it now too, with NSW’s surge raising fears that Victoria will be in and out of a series of “yo-yo lockdowns” until the population is vaccinated, thanks to “inevitable” cross-border seedings. Queensland, on its second “donut day”, is on edge, ready to lock down again, with Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk warning it would only take one infected person entering the state from NSW. But it is children and young people across the country who are the ones being truly forced to “live with COVID”, with many still struggling to get vaccinated (or ineligible). There is still no vaccine approved for under-16s (it’s coming, ATAGI promises), and no timeline for when they will be vaccinated, with experts increasingly concerned about the spread among Australian children.

Though it wasn’t meant to be now, Australians will eventually have to live with the virus, when adverse effects can be maintained at some kind of manageable level. But in claiming that other premiers are “pretending” that COVID-zero was a forever goal, the NSW premier and her cheerleaders are creating a straw man, encouraging a ridiculous proposition they can tear down, in order to portray the NSW government as the heroes in all this. Australians were always going to have to learn to live with it. What Berejiklian is asking them to do is to learn to live with her mistakes.

Listen to The Politics Podcast, with Rachel Withers

“The Australian government has a responsibility. Western countries who made the mess, they should not leave it like that.”

Sydney resident Saber Ansari adds his voice to calls from Australia’s Afghan community for the government to do more to help the people of Afghanistan.

“If this proposition in the voice is a ‘take it or leave it’, I don’t think it necessarily advances in a way that some people think it will.”

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, whose party has outright refused to consider the Uluru statement’s calls for a constitutionally enshrined voice, calls for bipartisanship on the issue.

Curfews, police, more fines: Is there another way to fight lockdown fatigue?
Eighteen months into the pandemic, many Australians are feeling exhausted and compliance with public health measures is dropping off, leading governments to ramp up policing efforts. Today, pandemic response expert Dr Alexandra Phelan.

July’s unemployment rate, down from 4.9 per cent in June, but only because tens of thousands of people gave up looking for work during the latest lockdowns.

“The shadow climate change minister, Chris Bowen, is to send his clearest signal that federal Labor is planning a more ambitious medium-term emissions reduction target than the Coalition, as well as committing to net zero emissions by 2050.”

It’s not quite a policy yet, but Labor has begun signalling one, with Chris Bowen telling the Better Futures Forum that the government’s 2030 emissions-reduction target (of 26–28 per cent on 2005 levels) is insufficient.

The list

“The trial of the decade – that of Constable Zachary Rolfe, charged with murdering a young Aboriginal man in Yuendumu – will again be deferred while the High Court is asked to consider a question that strikes at the core of our society and our history: can police officers kill with practical impunity?”

“[A] recurring theme in her work is the taboo of female rage. Many of her women characters are sick of wearing the demure masks expected of them by the wider culture, and are searching for outward release of the fury they express in internal monologues. In Nine Perfect Strangers, the romance writer Frances is menopausal, pissed off about being unlucky in love, and anxious because she has not heard back from her editor about her latest manuscript. One of the other resort guests discovers Frances in her car, having a fit of rage, hitting the steering wheel and screaming. ‘I’m always fascinated by what we show to the world and what we don’t,’ Moriarty says, when I mention the scene.”

“Carved out of the pristine surroundings of Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory, the Ranger uranium mine has long been a site of deep controversy. The mine may have been decommissioned in January, but concerns remain about its legacy, as the Mirarr traditional owners suffer through a mysterious health crisis. The stillbirth rate among Aboriginal people living near the mine is more than twice as high as among Indigenous Australians elsewhere in the Top End, and rates of cancer are almost 50 per cent higher.” 

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.


The Politics

Image of protest signs seen decorating Employment Minister Tony Burke’s office. Image via Twitter

Taken to task

Health and welfare advocates have expressed outrage at Labor for leaving several Coalition decisions in place

Image of Health Minister Mark Butler during a press conference at Parliament House, June 22, 2022. Image © Lukas Coch / AAP Images

Taking stock

From vaccines to carbon credits, the new government announces more reviews into the old one’s messes

Image of then NSW deputy premier John Barilaro and then treasurer Dominic Perrottet enjoy a Guinness on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 2021. Image © Dean Lewins / AAP Images

The tool of the trade

What made John Barilaro and the NSW Coalition think they could get away with such blatant nepotism?

Image of Fatima Payman, Labor senator for Western Australia, May 28, 2022. Image © Richard Wainwright / AAP Images

Census and sensibility

Between the census data and orientation day for incoming MPs, this is clearly no longer Scott Morrison’s Australia, if it ever was

From the front page

Image of Anthony Albanese

How to be a prime minister

The task ahead for Anthony Albanese in restoring the idea that governments should seek to make the country better

Image of the Kiama Blowhole, New South Wales

The edge of their seats

Lessons from Gilmore, Australia’s most marginal electorate

Image of Peter Dutton and Sussan Ley

The future of the Liberal Party

Peter Dutton doesn’t just have a talent problem on his hands

Image of Australian Army Cadets on parade. Image via Alamy

Ghosts in the war machine

Does the military attract violent misanthropists, or are they forged in murky theatres of war?