The Politics    Friday, June 25, 2021

Fault lines

By Rachel Withers

Image of NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian. Image via ABC News

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian. Image via ABC News

Berejiklian locks down as Morrison backs down

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has continued to slowly walk back his once-firm opposition to building designated quarantine facilities, while Gladys “Never Lockdown” Berejiklian has announced the lockdown of four Sydney local government areas, though she was reluctant to use the word. (“You can use whatever word you want”, she replied, when asked why she was avoiding the L-word.) The localised lockdown – which Australian Medical Association president Dr Omar Khorshid has said doesn’t go far enough – is an indictment, first and foremost, on the federal government’s failure to vaccinate the population, with NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard again pointing the finger at the Commonwealth over “insufficient vaccine supply”. But the finger is being pointed right back. When pressed about his culpability in parliament yesterday, Morrison (via videolink) blamed the state government for its failure to enforce health orders. (This was crudely but accurately summed up by the AFR last night as “Don’t blame me for Sydney cluster, it’s NSW’s problem”.) Even News Corp has begun to suggest that the current COVID-19 outbreak is a result of a state policy failure over airport worker protocols, though that’s mainly because they’re furious at the NSW premier for locking down at all. While tensions rise over which Coalition government is to blame for having to partially lock down Australia’s “gold-standard” state, Labor premiers appear to be finally getting their way on quarantine. Victoria has had its Mickleham site and funding confirmed this morning, while both Queensland and Western Australia have received letters from the federal government overnight regarding arrangements for purpose-built facilities – something they’ve been asking for for months. The realisation that even Sydney can’t contract-trace its way out of a Delta outbreak appears to have finally convinced the federal government.

With NSW and the federal government’s preferred way of dealing with outbreaks having failed, at significant political and economic cost, greater attention has today turned to how the Bondi outbreak started, taking the heat off the feds and turning it up on the state. Police have reportedly had to seek legal advice over whether the limousine driver at the centre of the outbreak breached health orders, since the enforceability of the guidelines is unclear, while the driver himself told the media he didn’t believe he caught the virus at work, suggesting he caught it at a cafe. In today’s press conference, Berejiklian and Hazzard announced they would be converting the current mask-wearing guidelines for air transportation workers into formal public health orders from 4pm, but they insisted the existing “expectations” had been clear, dancing around the fact masks were not mandatory until now. None of this, of course, absolves the federal government, which is responsible for the virus spreading through the community as easily as ever (even easier, with the Delta strain) with so few Australians vaccinated because the government didn’t order a wide enough variety of vaccines. The driver’s revelation that he hadn’t been vaccinated due to his concerns about AstraZeneca, meanwhile, is also part of the reason the virus has returned, mask mandate or no. Regardless of where or through whom the virus leaks back into the community, and it will, Australia’s state of vulnerability is on Morrison.

That would seem to be why the PM is finally acting on long-time calls for purpose-built quarantine facilities, writing to premiers last night with proposed sites for 1000-bed quarantine camps to complement but not replace hotel quarantine, as well as plans to speed up Victoria’s site development. WA Premier Mark McGowan has backed the federal proposal for a facility near Perth or Jandakot airport, even though he had previously insisted that the solution lay in the Commonwealth simply handing over existing facilities. McGowan made his annoyance with the proposal known, telling reporters it was going to take more time and money than his government’s suggestions. “I thought they made a lot of sense, but he doesn’t want to do it,” he said. “They are obviously not ones we can use because the Commonwealth has to find this.” Queensland was equally exasperated by the proposal for a site on the Damascus Barracks at Pinkenba, after having its plans for a regional site at Toowoomba rejected. Deputy Premier Steven Miles noted that Queensland was told its own 15-page proposal for a Toowoomba site lacked detail, only to be provided with a one-and-a half-page proposal from the federal government with nothing but an address. But Miles said he hoped both sites could go ahead, especially with plans for Toowoomba further advanced, scalable and, importantly, regional (Pinkenba being in the suburbs of Brisbane).

With the prime minister still in his own special quarantine facility, Finance Minister Simon Birmingham was charged with promoting the federal commitment today, bragging about taking “further steps in relation to how COVID and other future challenges can be managed”, as if people hadn’t been asking for this for ages. When pushed on that wait, Birmingham said that these plans were “about the medium to long-term, recognising that potential for these sites to be used for a range of purposes into the future”, as if people hadn’t been saying exactly that for ages as well.

For some time now, there have been growing contradictions in Morrison’s many COVID-19 positions: his ongoing opposition to lockdowns and state border closures don’t exactly gel with his recent attempts to be the champion for “keeping Australians safe at all costs” whenever he is questioned on the lack of reopening timeline. His failure to do any of the things asked of him to prevent outbreaks have made this contradiction even starker. How can you talk up a safety-first, Fortress Australia approach to the virus, when you don’t believe in stamping it out at any cost, and won’t do anything to limit the likelihood of it coming back in? There’s little that can be done to fix the vaccine rollout now, with the consequences of the government’s blunders growing starker by the day, but Morrison has at last begun to address the issue of quarantine. And all it took was a Sydney lockdown.

Listen to The Politics Podcast, with Rachel Withers

“[T]here was no ambiguity, it seemed to me, as to whether or not this was a consensual act that got out of hand or anything of that nature.”

The Federal Court has released a trove of documents relating to the rape allegation against former attorney-general Christian Porter, including a transcript of an interview with Jo Dyer, a friend of the accuser, laying out why she believed her.

“… actuated by actual malice”

Defence Minister Peter Dutton, the man who reopened the Christmas Island detention centre and sent two young children there to make a point, has accused refugee activist Shane Bazzi of “malice” in his defamation suit over Bazzi’s tweets.

Barnaby Joyce sinks to the top… again
After two years on the backbench, Barnaby Joyce is back as leader of the Nationals and Australia’s deputy prime minister. His return to power has put the spotlight on the tense relationship between the Coalition parties. Today, Paul Bongiorno on what triggered Joyce’s return.

The decrease in the forecast population for 2024–25, with the upcoming intergenerational report blaming the downgrade from 2015’s forecast on declining fertility rates as well as the pandemic.

“The federal government has committed to $10.1 million in funding for a national network to help younger people and their families find age-appropriate accommodation and additional support.”

The government will “lift efforts” to get the 6500 young Australians with a disability living in residential aged care into more appropriate accommodation, having previously committed to no one under 45 living in aged care by the end of next year.

The list

“Saying yes is a dangerous proposition in Physical, a blackly deceptive comic drama that is the latest instalment in Apple TV+’s unpredictable streaming roster. It is 1981 and the attraction of Reaganism is building in San Diego, as in much of America. Sheila Rubin (Rose Byrne) has reached the end of the line with her self-loathing, but her ‘road to Damascus’ moment comes when she tries an aerobics class and finds liberation and possibility. The camera fixes on her as the lighting builds to an ecstatic hue, so that a fantastical moment feels akin to deliverance. Annie Weisman’s show can be scabrous and even bleak, complete with Sheila’s self-lacerating internal monologue as voice-over, but it also has a seditious sense of wonder. More is open to interrogation in this series than you initially imagine.”

“What happened or did not happen in 1988 is not my primary concern here. Nor is what should happen to the alleged perpetrator from this point onward. It’s what happens to an alleged victim who comes forward, even posthumously. Kate has been sneered at, smeared and patronised. Her words have been alternately ignored and used in evidence against her, in a kind of trial by media of the alleged crime’s victim.”

“White has a knack for knowing what will resonate. She’s astute and selective – important characteristics in an editor and publisher – but she always works from feeling; she is genuinely moved by the books she publishes. ‘I’m always interested in replicating the perfect thing that I’d like to go to,’ she says. The live music events were driven by that instinct, as was Arcane Bookshop, which she opened at 23. It also drove her work as the director and publisher at University of Western Australia Publishing (UWAP) – a position she held for 14 years.”

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.


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