Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Today by Rachel Withers

Flight plan
When one border closes, another one opens

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaking at a press conference this afternoon. Image via ABC News.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaking at a press conference this afternoon. Image via ABC News.

Australia’s national security committee has decided to halt all flights from India for three weeks amid skyrocketing COVID-19 cases there, locking out a segment of the expat community trapped in an already precarious situation, and increasing the chances they will catch the virus in the intervening weeks. Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne announced the “heartbreaking” decision in an afternoon press conference, following the urging of the panicked Western Australia and Queensland premiers, saying that flights will be suspended until at least May 15. Support will be provided to India, they added, with 500 ventilators, one million face masks, and 100,000 gloves to be sent as part of an “initial” package, and further support to be provided to the 8000 Australians on the list trying to get home – a number that has jumped following the mass outbreak. But it appears that when one border closes, another one opens (or, as our God-loving PM might say, “When God closes a door, he opens a window”). Victoria has announced plans to start accepting international students and actors as soon as next month, with 120 arrivals permitted on top of the 1000 Australians returning to Victoria each week. While “vulnerable” Australians in India – who were already desperately trying to get back before the tighter restrictions were announced – will no longer be able to enter Australia, increased numbers of “economic cohorts” soon will.

Morrison’s India announcement was widely expected, following reports a ban was on the agenda for today’s national security committee. Western Australia Premier Mark McGowan, with his capital city fresh out of a snap lockdown caused by an India returnee, this morning urged the federal government to block flights, labelling India the “epicentre of death and destruction”. Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk revealed she had asked the prime minister to implement a flight ban last week, reiterating her concerns about a Brisbane-bound flight. Many are perturbed, however, about the way the situation in India and the need for a flight ban have been discussed by politicians and in the media over the past few days. Australia never considered banning flights from the United States, even when it appeared to be a “epicentre of death and destruction”, while those returning from India have repeatedly been portrayed as a danger to Australia, in a way that white Australians have not.

The Morrison government may have heeded McGowan’s and Palaszczuk’s calls on India, but it doesn’t seem likely to budge on the premiers’ ongoing demands that the federal government take some responsibility for hotel quarantine – even with the Australian Medical Association seemingly joining them, after AMA president Omar Khorshid called for a nationally coordinated standard on the ABC’s News Breakfast. Morrison today rejected criticism of the quarantine system, saying the current system was working, and refused to be drawn on whether Perth’s snap lockdown – seen by some as too drastic – went too far. “Ninety-nine point nine per cent success rate, I think, is pretty good,” Morrison said of hotel quarantine. “I don’t think there’s a country in the world who would not want a quarantine system that has been working as effectively as that.”

Victoria, meanwhile, is opening its borders, with Acting Premier James Merlino writing to the PM advising him of the state’s intention to start accepting international students, actors and other economic migrants in May. There will be space for an extra 120 arrivals per week outside of the state’s 1000-person weekly cap for returning Australians, with entrants to be quarantined in hotels outside of the state’s existing scheme, and costs to be carried by the universities, production companies and major events groups that use them. It’s hard to imagine that New South Wales is going to love that: Premier Gladys Berejiklian this morning called on other states to take more returned travellers each week, with analysis showing Victoria and Queensland are accepting the fewest returnees by population (13 and 10 respectively, with NSW accepting 37 per 100,000 residents).

Australia, having already more or less closed the door on a significant portion of its overseas population, today chose to “temporarily” lock that door on its most at-risk citizens, while letting others in from elsewhere. Australia is no longer willing to countenance the risk of quarantining Australians trying to escape India – even though quarantining COVID cases is exactly what hotel quarantine exists to do. If only we weren’t still so heavily reliant upon the flawed, state-by-state quarantine system that experts have been demanding be overhauled for months (or upon a vaccine rollout that is so behind schedule that it no longer has a schedule). Lives are at stake.

“Many of us are wondering whether we have witnessed a genuinely transformative moment for women over the past few months or whether, once the headlines die down, so will any commitment to real change.”

ACTU president Michele O’Neil urges the government to unveil more ambitious gender policies, including universal free childcare.

“In a world of perpetual tension and dread, the drums of war beat – sometimes faintly and distantly, and at other times more loudly and ever closer.”

Home Affairs secretary Michael Pezzullo – who is tipped to follow Peter Dutton into the defence department – has been urged to “tone it down”, after an Anzac Day speech warning the public to brace for “the curse of war”.

What’s behind the violence engulfing Northern Ireland?
For much of the 20th century, Northern Ireland was marred by violence, as Irish republicans and forces aligned to the United Kingdom fought over the future of the region. That conflict officially came to an end with a peace agreement in 1998 but now the violence is flaring up again.


The percentage of those over 50 who say they are unwilling to take the recommended AstraZeneca vaccine, with another 14 per cent unsure. 

“The idea, first examined in detail in the 2009 Henry tax reform, would entitle all Australians to a $3000 annual standard tax deduction. Centrist think tank the Blueprint Institute argues this would benefit low and middle-income earners while delivering an economic stimulus.”

The treasurer is being urged to consider a standard tax deduction, with Australia’s complex deductions system costing the government and taxpayers unnecessary time and money.

The list

“Pentecostalism is obsessed with the Devil to an extent that is heretical to mainstream Christianity. ‘Satan’ is not an abstract idea but a highly personal fallen angel who, through his ability to manipulate and direct nonbelievers, largely runs the ‘world’. To be baptised in the Spirit is to be personally conscripted into the struggle, intimately experienced in daily life, between the forces of good and ever-present evil. The 24/7 cosmic drama is made more intense by the fact that the play is soon coming to an end. The Devil is powerful now but he is on the verge of defeat. Only God knows exactly when Jesus will return and banish Satan to Hell, but most Pentecostals are certain that the end times are upon us.”

“Rhys Gloury is checking through some large clip-lock plastic storage boxes in his shed. Except for the neatly symmetrical holes drilled in their lids, the stacks of boxes could just as well contain old tax returns. ‘Here we go,’ he says, lifting one up. Out on the lawn behind his house, he opens it and gently, easily, extracts two tiger snakes. ‘See, people say they’re aggressive, but look at that,’ he says, crouching attentively as the snakes stretch themselves on the grass in the sun.”

“On Wednesday morning, as Australians were waking to news of the verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin – the police officer whose murder of George Floyd last year sparked a resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement – New South Wales Police Minister David Elliott was in the middle of his own media blitz about BLM. Elliott wasn’t, however, commenting on the outcome in the Chauvin trial. Nor was he reflecting on the demands of the movement in Australia – demands that became even more urgent following the death of five Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in custody in a six-week period earlier this year. Instead, Elliott was speaking about a story on the front page of The Daily Telegraph, fed to the media by Mark Latham, the NSW leader of the far-right party One Nation.”

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