Thursday, August 26, 2021

Today by Rachel Withers

Plan of attack
The PM is playing a cheap game of politics, and the Labor premiers are letting him

Composite image showing Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, federal Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese and Western Australia Premier Mark McGowan. Images via Facebook

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, federal Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese and Western Australia Premier Mark McGowan. Images via Facebook

Scott Morrison is playing a clever game with his crude messaging on the “national plan”, creating an overly simplistic dichotomy between lockdowns and freedom, fear and hope, and Labor and the Coalition, ahead of the next election. While Doherty Institute modelling allows for targeted lockdowns once the 70 and 80 per cent vaccination thresholds are met, the PM has portrayed the Labor premiers who reserve the right to use such measures as backing away from the national plan – and he’s hammering federal Labor with it too. In today’s Question Time, Morrison continued to suggest that any criticism of his rhetoric was a sign that the Opposition – which has repeatedly said it backs the plan – didn’t back the plan. “They either support the plan or they don’t,” he said, when questioned on whether he took any responsibility for the situation the nation now finds itself in. Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese is doing his best to clarify that his party supports the plan, while trying to retain some of the nuance that Morrison is attempting to wipe away (with no small amount of help from the media). But is it working? The premiers whom the PM says are not supporting the plan are doing their federal counterpart no favours by failing to clarify that they don’t mean to maintain COVID-zero forever. What is Labor, as a federal party but also as a national team, going to do to dispel Morrison’s dangerous implication that it doesn’t support reopening?

Appearing on ABC News Breakfast yesterday, the Labor leader said that he supported the plan, but that targeted lockdowns were still part of it – something News Corp has portrayed as some kind of humiliating backdown. (“[A] major policy and political strategic shift”, wrote The Australian’s Dennis Shanahan yesterday, when Albanese confirmed that he was in favour of the plan, with The Daily Telegraph reporting that it had “finally achieved bipartisan backing”.) On 6PR Perth last night, Albanese tried again, insisting that all the premiers were on board, and that Morrison, with his implication that there would soon be minimal restrictions, was misleading the public on what the national plan was. Albanese clearly doesn’t want Morrison’s claim – that the Labor Party wants to hold the country back – to stick. But it nevertheless appears to be sticking in many corners, with the media continuing to imply that Labor doesn’t really support the plan – mainly thanks to the premiers of Western Australia and Queensland, who remain firm in their commitment to keeping COVID out of their states. 

Australian states, as Albanese well knows, cannot remain COVID-free forever – and surely the hardline premiers know this too. It’s not unreasonable for them to want to keep their unvaccinated populations safe from the virus right now, and their current border restrictions are well in line with the national plan’s suppression phase. (In fact, it is the Liberal NSW government that is most obviously failing to follow the plan, as it loosens restrictions at only 32 per cent vaccinated.) But the premiers’ extreme rhetoric is not helping Albanese in his attempt to find the middle ground here, and to shake off perceptions that Labor is the party of permanent lockdowns and COVID-zero forever. In the face of her growing outbreak, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, a strong and successful proponent of the elimination strategy, has herself begun clearly communicating that the country will have to eventually relinquish it (while insisting that lockdowns and elimination would remain in place while they vaccinate). So why aren’t we hearing that from Mark McGowan and Annastacia Palaszczuk? At this stage, WA Labor seems more interested in scoring points against Morrison for his ill-chosen Croods comments, and picking apart his weak implication that Western Australians were cave people, something that Labor MP Milton Dick brought up again in Question Time. But Labor ought to be more worried about Morrison’s more dangerous implications: that the Opposition doesn’t want to open up the country.

The prime minister wants to turn the debate on the national plan into something simplistic, an argument between being fully open or fully closed once the nation reaches its vaccine thresholds. If you listen more closely to some of his ministers, however, you get a more nuanced story, more in line with what Albanese is saying. Moderate Simon Birmingham has admitted that the plan does include capacity for “targeted lockdowns” where required, and that the federal government would not simply “walk away” from providing assistance to those enduring them, despite what Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has implied. The wildly inaccurate picture Morrison wants to paint ahead of the election is that Labor is going to keep people locked down while the Coalition is going to set them free. McGowan and Palaszczuk, in failing to provide any nuance, are letting him get away with it.

“There are thousands of Australians and their loved ones who are only in Afghanistan because you haven’t processed their visas for years, and now you are leaving them to die.”

Labor MP Julian Hill, who represents more Afghan-Australians than any other MP, could not contain his anger as Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews responded to a Dorothy Dixer on Afghanistan. He continued yelling as he was booted out of the chamber.

“They should lend to anyone who has a legal product.”

Federal LNP senator Gerard Rennick says banks are obliged to provide finance to coal and gas projects.

Angus Taylor’s fossil fuel handouts
As scientists warn about the impacts of climate change, the federal government is spending big to help prop up the gas industry. One company, which has links to the Liberal Party, has been the sole beneficiary of a government fund established to help drill for gas in the Northern Territory.

The percentage of the Aboriginal population fully vaccinated in western NSW, where there is a rapidly evolving outbreak. The region’s non-Indigenous population is 26 per cent fully vaccinated.

“Criticism from the renewable energy sector over proposed market rules, that some fear could prop up ageing coal generators, has led Australia’s Energy Security Board (ESB) to vow to work with industry players and all tiers of government to design a new system by 2023.”

The Energy Security Board’s proposed rules, intended to ensure grid reliability in the transition away from coal, were reported on The Australian’s front page with the headline “Subsidise coal”.

The list

“The debut novel by Melbourne-based writer Allee Richards is a subtle reflection on the taken-for-granted structures and rhythms of day-to-day existence. After forays into what she hopes is a new relationship, Eva is rebuffed by Pat, who soon after commits suicide. Eva subsequently finds herself out of work and pregnant. Eschewing her penchant for melodrama (she was, until recently, an actor), she quietly goes about preparing for the birth and keeping a firm handle on her devastation at Pat’s death. Implicit in her restraint is the question of whether she is entitled to grieve, having never officially been in a relationship with him. The novel unfolds as an extended letter to Pat, a space where Eva can acknowledge the depth of her emotion while keeping it hidden from others.”

“From what was revealed in court, it seems that on the early evening of Wednesday, April 22 last year, the world of Richard Pusey, populated only by Richard Pusey, was a place where every possible form of justice was possessed exclusively by Richard Pusey. In this empty interior realm, moral law was coordinated to his exclusive benefit, legal justice did not exist, remunerative justice had rewarded him because he was good, and vindictive justice had eliminated his enemies.”

“Children have been largely spared the most severe symptoms of the COVID-19 infection, but as vaccines increasingly protect the adult population, the Delta variant is spreading quickly among young people. Although acute infection in children still tends to be milder than in adults, countries such as Britain and the United States have seen a surge in children hospitalisations. In Australia, COVID-19 transmission among children has increased, too.” 

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Monthly Today.



The Monthly Today

Nuclear fallout

The waves from Australia’s cancelled submarine contract keep building

Composite image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison (image via Facebook) and Industry Minister Christian Porter (image via Sky News).

The standard you walk past

Ministerial standards breach or no, there is something deeply wrong with the government’s principles

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison announcing the new AUKUS partnership alongside UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and US President Joe Biden (not pictured). Image via ABC News

Whatever it takes

Scott Morrison says we will spend whatever we have to on defence. Why doesn’t the same apply to climate change?

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison and former finance minister Mathias Cormann, who is now secretary-general of the OECD. Image via Facebook

The world is watching

The OECD recommends that Australia take action on climate change. Is our government listening?

From the front page

Nuclear fallout

The waves from Australia’s cancelled submarine contract keep building

Image of Colson Whitehead's ‘Harlem Shuffle’

‘Harlem Shuffle’ by Colson Whitehead

The author of ‘The Underground Railroad’ offers a disappointingly straightforward neo-noir caper set in the early ’60s

Composite image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison (image via Facebook) and Industry Minister Christian Porter (image via Sky News).

The standard you walk past

Ministerial standards breach or no, there is something deeply wrong with the government’s principles

Image of Paul Kelly

Unfinished business

Every Paul Kelly song so far, from worst to best