Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Today by Rachel Withers

The need for speed
Australia faces two very different kinds of races

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison giving a speech to the Business Council of Australia last night. Image via ABC News

Prime Minister Scott Morrison giving a speech to the Business Council of Australia last night. Image via ABC News

Much has been said over the past week about the need for speed, with disagreements over just how urgently the Australian population should be vaccinated. Yesterday, it was agreed that things should be sped up, with national cabinet agreeing “in principle” to bring forward Phase 2a, allowing those aged 50–69 to be vaccinated earlier than expected (“We need to really crack on with it,” said NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian ahead of the meeting; “We want to see a sense of urgency,” added Acting Victorian Premier James Merlino). The question of urgency has today shifted to the climate crisis, ahead of the United States’ virtual climate summit on April 22, with calls for increased urgency from Australia coming from all quarters. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that the Biden administration would “challenge” those countries whose “action – or inaction – is setting the world back”, promising that those still investing in new coal “will hear from the United States”. He didn’t mention Australia by name, but it’s pretty clear we’re getting a call.

Closer to home, Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese has told a clean technology and jobs summit that Australia cannot afford “further drift and time-wasting” on its shift to renewables (someone tell that to his resources spokesperson, Madeleine King), with an accompanying AFR op-ed outlining Labor’s plan for “green manufacturing” through its national reconstruction fund. Long-time Coalition climate policy adviser Warwick McKibbin has warned that Australia risks being left behind if it doesn’t lift its game, while the Reserve Bank of Australia plans to start investigating the economic effects of climate change. It’s obvious from these warnings that we really do need – to borrow a phrase from Berejiklian – to crack on with it.

Pressure is building on the Morrison government – from Labor, economists, policy advisers and the international community – to commit to more ambitious climate goals, while Morrison himself creeps ever closer to committing to the (by now globally normalised) target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Morrison, who has been calling it a “desirable” goal since at least November last year, continued to make promising but non-committal signals in a speech to the Business Council of Australia last night (“all but lock[ing] it in” as the AFR likes to insist), saying it would be achieved “not in the cafes, dinner parties and wine bars of our inner cities” but “by the pioneering entrepreneurialism and innovation of Australia’s industrial workhorses, farmers and scientists” (so much for “not setting Australians against each other”, then). But prying out of the Coalition an actual commitment to the target is extremely slow-going. The prime minister has said he doesn’t want to commit to the target without a plan for how to reach it, though in refusing to set one, he also dodges responsibility for finding the way there. And action needs to be taken now.

It’s been apparent for a while that the once again Democrat-led White House will be one of the biggest influences in dragging the Australian government into line on climate. Thursday’s leader-corralling summit is expected to be especially awkward for Morrison, with Australia increasingly isolated (the US is set to unveil new climate pledges, as are Japan and Canada). But it’s Blinken’s public warning that confirms just how firmly the US intends to pressure nations like Australia on coal – and just how much Australia is being seen as a time-waster, one that is “setting the world back”.

While one high-profile American official was calling out Australia’s sluggishness, another was defending it: US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Dr Anthony Fauci (best known for standing up to Donald Trump) appeared on ABC Radio this morning, saying that Australia’s vaccine rollout pace was not actually a cause for concern, with Australia in a very different situation to the US, where half the adult population has now received at least one shot. “I wouldn’t be that hard on Australia if this is the beginning of your program,” he said. Others have agreed with Fauci, with The Australian’s Peter van Onselen deciding – based on Fauci’s “wise words” – that it was time to give the Morrison government a break from the pile-on.

The speed of Australia’s vaccine rollout does matter, as numerous reports have proven (not to mention the fact that we still don’t have the faintest idea when we’ll be allowed to go anywhere other than New Zealand). The race isn’t against the clock; the race is to keep up with the rest of the world, with the risk being that Australia will be “left behind” as more vaccinated countries open back up, all because we didn’t get our act together. Fauci does have a point: the rollout of vaccines in Australia is not quite as critical as it has been in America. Action on climate change is, however. The US is powering ahead of us on both fronts.

“Unless the royal commission is empowered explicitly to do that, it’s not going to get to the bottom of all the matters that need to be fully dealt with that are contributing to the suicide problem.”

Retired army officer Stuart McCarthy says the government’s proposed royal commission into veterans’ suicide, which is not expected to make findings of criminal wrongdoing, needs to be able to address misconduct by specific officers.

“Fear not, while I think vegan food is unethical I don’t think it should be illegal.”

Tasmanian Liberal MP Felix Ellis has been widely mocked after a remark made on social media in which he labelled vegan food “unethical”, in response to a comment on a photo of him eating meat.

The fight to overhaul Australia’s vaccine rollout
Federal and state governments are locked in a high-stakes battle over the future of Australia’s vaccine rollout. On Monday, Scott Morrison held an emergency meeting of the national cabinet to develop a new vaccine strategy. Today, Karen Middleton on where Australia’s rollout went wrong.

The apparent cost of the government’s bizarre and unhelpful consent resources for schools – including the already notorious “milkshake” video – which constitutes more than half the funding allocated to the Respect Matters campaign.

“Scott Morrison has claimed that businesses will save an estimated $430m annually from deregulation measures, including cutting greenhouse gas, pharmaceutical, occupational licensing, childcare and international education reporting requirements.”

The prime minister has pledged $120 million to be spent on “deregulation” in the upcoming budget, telling the Business Council of Australia that his government has a detailed plan to reduce red tape.

The list

“Beckett’s special take on Modernism – moody, soft focus, minimal, and a unique amalgam of realism and abstraction – puts her in the pantheon of great and innovative Australian painters. Both her sex and a life worthy of a Brontë novel prevented that elevation, however. When her greatest posthumous promoter, the art historian and curator Rosalind Hollinrake, finally mounted an exhibition of her work in 1971, 36 years after the artist’s death, The Age’s celebrated critic Patrick McCaughey praised Beckett as ‘a remarkable modernist’ – he was the first to name her so – and every bit as good as Margaret Preston and Grace Cossington Smith. Very good, in other words, for a woman.”

“Dr Rebecca McNamara, a medieval scholar at the University of Sydney, has spent hundreds of hours in the UK’s National Archives at Kew, identifying and translating from Latin records of 550 cases between 1200 and 1500 in which a ruling of felonia de se was passed. Looking closely at the language used by juries, coroners and Eyre justices, McNamara is piecing together how people of that time responded to suicide as part of her Australian Research Council–funded project on the history of emotions.”

“Controversial ‘robo-planning’ reforms of the National Disability Insurance Scheme could lead to the loss of 1200 jobs within the agency and hugely limit the input of disabled people, according to a proposal prepared for the scheme’s board and executive leadership team. Based on conversations with senior National Disability Insurance Agency figures, leaked memos and comments from agency staff, The Saturday Paper can reveal unprecedented detail about the mooted restructure within the government agency that oversees the NDIS.”

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Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Monthly Today.



The Monthly Today

Image of Lieutenant General John Frewen. Image via ABC News Breakfast

The back of the back of the queue

Young people have waited patiently through the government’s slow rollout, but it’s now killing them

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison in Question Time today. Image via ABC News

Carrot vs pork

The government that loves buying Australians’ votes is deadset against paying them to get vaccinated

Composite image of NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Queensland Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young. Images via ABC News / YouTube

Getting to 80

We now have vaccination targets, but there’s no consensus over what must be done to reach them

27 reasons to wonder

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

From the front page

Image of Suzanne Ciani

Tip of the pops: ‘This Is Pop’ and ‘Song Exploder’

Two Netflix documentary series only manage to skim the surface of pop music history

Image of Lieutenant General John Frewen. Image via ABC News Breakfast

The back of the back of the queue

Young people have waited patiently through the government’s slow rollout, but it’s now killing them

Image of Scott Morrison holding a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine. Image via Facebook

Vaccine resistance

Despite historically high vaccination rates, Australia has developed a significant anti-vax movement in the middle of a global pandemic

Illustration by Jeff Fisher

Racing against time

The I-Kiribati Olympic sprinter hoping to draw attention to his nation’s climate catastrophe