Monday, August 23, 2021

Today by Rachel Withers

All part of the plan
Will we ever see the Doherty Institute advice so central to Morrison’s reopening strategy?

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

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

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has continued to harden his position of living with COVID-19 irrespective of case numbers, after on Friday throwing his weight behind the NSW government’s reopening plans. Over the weekend, Morrison began insisting that new, secret Doherty Institute advice said it doesn’t matter at what level of cases the nation reopens, despite the modelling being premised on them being low. At the urging of his own MPs, Morrison has been campaigning against states reserving the right to use border restrictions and lockdowns at the 70 or 80 per cent adult vaccination rates, arguing Australia has to “move forward” and out of the “cave” (a change from the “doona” of 2020). “It is always darkest before the dawn,” he said in today’s pained attempts at motivational speaking – with the entire transcript dutifully published by The Australian. “But the dawn is not far away. And we are working towards that dawn and we are hastening towards the dawn.” Despite Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s earlier threats, Morrison refused to say whether federal financial support for those living under lockdown would cease at the 70–80 per cent mark, but said it “puzzled” him why states would choose to continue with them, even though his revered reopening plan has always allowed for them where necessary. Australians “must adjust our mindset” to living with COVID-19, he said – something one might learn directly from the PM, who has changed his mind on living with it several times throughout the pandemic. But does he have an actual plan for doing so, or is the PM leaving it to the states again? Is he ready for the political consequences of unvaccinated kids falling ill by the thousands and an unknown number of Australians suffering long-term effects from COVID-19, or is this, like his earlier resistance to lockdowns, more short-termism? And will we ever see the changed advice that apparently proves this is all part of the plan?

Today’s sparse, socially distanced Question Time – which featured perspex screens, and only one MP per bench – opened with a series of sombre motions on the situation in Afghanistan, with Labor attempting to call out the government on its failure to evacuate Australian citizens and Afghans who had supported Australia during the war. (Debate on the topic was adjourned, with many an absent minister having failed to appear for Question Time virtually.) It wasn’t long before debate turned to issues closer to home, with a dixer giving the PM a chance to expound upon “the plan” and the need to move away from lockdowns. Labor leader Anthony Albanese was keen to note that Morrison has changed his position on lockdowns several times in recent months, asking how Australians could have confidence that this one was going to stick. Morrison acknowledged his changing response, claiming that the government has always “sought to adjust our responses to deal with the information that is in front of us”, before going on to accuse the Opposition of attempting to hinder the national plan.

Further requests from Albanese for the PM to release the updated Doherty Institute advice, on which his new position is based, saw more accusations that Labor was seeking to “undermine” the plan. Morrison claimed the modelling had already been released in full, before going on to say that this all-important new advice was given verbally, raising serious questions as to whether the Doherty Institute is being used for political purposes. Morrison then abruptly ended Question Time, despite having promised the Opposition it would go on past the usual time to make up for the opening motions, with Albanese rising to his feet to call out the government’s lack of transparency.

Morrison has returned forcefully to his original “live with COVID” stance, apparently eager to shake off any blame for the outbreak that put the national plan in jeopardy (and people do blame him). He has spent the past few days pushing hard against Labor premiers’ cries that this isn’t the plan they agreed to, insisting publicly and privately that he has special advice saying it’s fine to go ahead and start opening up anyway, and claiming that anyone who doesn’t go along with it is living in fear. And now we’re not allowed to even see this advice. It’s looking disturbingly possible that the prime minister is misrepresenting the Doherty Institute’s recommendations in order to achieve his preferred political outcomes, with no real idea about what it will mean for the nation – particularly for its children, its vulnerable adults and its already strained ICU capacity.

“There is no valid excuse for inaction. Acting now to reduce industrial emissions is unlikely to be regretted later.”


Tony Wood, head of the Grattan Institute’s energy program, argues that the government must immediately reduce industrial emissions, and lays out a range of policy ideas in lieu of a carbon tax.

“Someone must lead a fightback.”

Former Liberal MP Craig Kelly will be joining and leading Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party, arguing against “endless authoritarian lockdowns”.

What’s next for Afghanistan
After 20 years of war, invasion and occupation, US and Australian defence personnel have finally withdrawn, ending one of the longest military engagements in modern history. The Taliban swept the country, seizing the capital, Kabul, and retaking control.

The percentage of Australia’s national electricity being generated by solar for a few minutes on Sunday, as solar power outstripped coal-fired electricity for the first time.

“The Morrison government faces growing pressure to tighten Australia’s customs laws after the Senate passed a bill to ban anyone from importing products made using forced labour.”

A bill banning imports made using forced labour, proposed by independent senator Rex Patrick, has passed the Senate with the support of Labor and the Greens, with at least one Liberal senator saying it was “worthy of consideration and support in principle”. It remains to be seen if the Coalition will allow it to pass the lower house.

The list

“Another blockbuster of European masterpieces, you say with a sigh. QAGOMA’s European Masterpieces from the Met in New York is, however, the perfect foil for the NGA’s recent Botticelli to Van Gogh from London’s National Gallery. While Canberra’s exhibition was full of excitement – the dazzling yellow in van Gogh’s Sunflowers has to be seen in real life – Brisbane’s is full of quieter, more erudite pleasures, and of marvellous peripheral activities for adults as well as children.”

The decennial Jared census: Jarrod (10), Jarrad (7), Jarryd (4), Jared (3), Jarred (1), Jaryd (1), Jarryn (1), Sharrod (1)”

“A leaked paper from Scott Morrison’s secretive national cabinet has forecast COVID-19 patients requiring ventilators in outbreak-ravaged New South Wales will double in just one week, while intensive care admissions will rise by 70 per cent in the same time frame. The document, discussed at the quasi-cabinet involving state and federal leaders, also analyses total intensive care unit and ventilator capacity in all jurisdictions and predicted increased demand. In NSW, 51.5 per cent of the state’s total staffed ICU beds – 444 of 863 beds – are already in use.” 

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Monthly Today.



The Monthly Today

Composite image of NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet and Prime Minister Scott Morrison (images via ABC News)

Border farce

So much for the national plan

Image of Nationals deputy leader David Littleproud, leader Barnaby Joyce and leader in the Senate Bridget McKenzie, June 21, 2021. Image © Lukas Coch / AAP Image

Fear and showboating

The Nationals are worried about a net-zero backlash of their own making

Composite image of Nationals Senate leader Bridget McKenzie (via ABC News) and News Corp presenter Andrew Bolt (via Sky News)

The little guys

A vocal minority that has for so long controlled the climate debate is now painting itself as marginalised

Image of federal Labor MP Anthony Byrne, July 30, 2019. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Image

A tale of two commissions

Support for anti-corruption initiatives shouldn’t rest on which side of politics is under investigation

From the front page

Composite image of NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet and Prime Minister Scott Morrison (images via ABC News)

Border farce

So much for the national plan

Image of a tampon and a sanitary pad viewed from above

A bloody shame: Paid period leave should be law

Australia’s workplace laws must better accommodate the reproductive body

Image of Gladys Berejiklian appearing before an ICAC hearing in October 2020. Image via ABC News

The cult of Gladys Berejiklian

What explains the hero-worship of the former NSW premier?

Cover image of ‘Bodies of Light’

‘Bodies of Light’ by Jennifer Down

The Australian author’s latest novel, dissecting trauma, fails to realise its epic ambitions