Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Today by Rachel Withers


A tale of two lockdowns
As some states lift restrictions, the NSW premier is keen to reject comparisons with Victoria

Composite image of Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian. Images via ABC News

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian. Images via ABC News

Several lockdowns are set to lift across the country: Victoria, South Australia and the central west of NSW will cautiously loosen their respective restrictions at midnight tonight. But the successes have been hard to enjoy, with NSW announcing the highest daily case numbers since its five-week lockdown began (172, with at least 79 people infectious in the community), leaving the premier unable to provide any details on which measures might change come Friday. Most political attention has been focused on the conclusion of Victoria’s 12-day “snap” lockdown, and the contrast between the approaches taken by the two largest states. As expected, Victoria’s successful exit from lockdown well before Sydney’s has created yet more debate over the two distinct strategies, as commentators argue over whether or not the Victorian approach has been vindicated. Muted barbs continued to be traded across the Murray during Daniel Andrews’ and Gladys Berejiklian’s concurrent press conferences, with the Victorian premier inviting comparisons and the NSW premier resisting them, other than to note how many lockdowns the southern state had undergone to date. The pejorative phrase “lockdown lite” now refers to two different circumstances: heavily locked-down Sydneysiders are growing frustrated by the questioning of their lockdown’s severity, while those in Victoria have been offended by weird attempts to take away from their successes, leaving the country more angry and divided than ever. The prime minister, unsurprisingly, has been neither seen nor heard.

The interstate comparisons were flowing during this morning’s Victorian and NSW press conferences, and the contrast was hard to ignore. Andrews, who has further restricted Victoria’s border with NSW, insisted his government was “in no way boastful” about the state’s success, and that he wasn’t out to “lecture” NSW. But he couldn’t help but continue to push for tighter restrictions in Sydney, including a curfew and a “ring of steel” around the city, saying he couldn’t understand why his state’s tragic 2020 experience wasn’t being learnt from. “I would think they’d look at what we did and have a long, hard think about whether they should do that,” Andrews said. “What they do is a matter for them, but they are making decisions that go well beyond their own state.”

But up in NSW, Berejiklian was not willing to be compared to Victoria when a journalist put it to her that the southerners were “showing us up” and that it perhaps proved she should have locked down harder and faster. “Every state has had its own course during the pandemic,” she said, noting Victoria was emerging from its fifth lockdown. Up until this point in time, she pointed out, NSW citizens had been leading a “free life”.

While the premiers were muted in their criticism of one another, many people were less timid, using Victoria’s announcement to either champion or condemn a particular approach. The conservative media was desperate to limit any vindication of hard and early lockdowns: The Australian’s John Ferguson wrote that the news was no endorsement of snap lockdowns, and Victoria’s “draconian” measures were still too excessive, while Berejiklian’s “rhetoric on civil liberties have been much more comforting”. (This comes after 3AW’s Neil Mitchell rejected the idea that this was Victoria’s second quashing of the Delta variant.) Others have claimed that the fact Victoria is still under heavy restrictions limits its success. Victorian Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien – who last week tried attacking Andrews for not acting cautiously enough – has now returned to his usual self, criticising the anticipated easing as “just a bigger cell”. But it’s impossible for anyone to claim that Berejiklian’s approach has been vindicated, much as they might like to.

No two outbreaks are the same: the conditions faced by Victorians and Sydneysiders in their recent Delta battles were not identical, and no particular approach has been definitively proven over another. There is no perfect test of the methods, and Andrews was wise not to gloat, even as he pleaded with NSW to do more. But it’s a fairly stark contrast, and there are rather unavoidable inferences now being drawn about which state’s approach was more costly – in terms of both the economy and the wellbeing of citizens. Those optics will be hard to shake for Berejiklian – not to mention for the prime minister, who aggressively backed the anti-lockdown “gold standard” state for months on end, and now seemingly has nothing to say.


“Every day that attorneys-general refuse to act, they are condemning a generation of our children to a lifetime behind bars. Ten-year-old children who get trapped in the criminal justice system don’t come out.”

Change the Record co-chair Cheryl Axelby denounces the failure of Australia’s top legal officers to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14 years old, as a coalition of justice organisations reveals 499 under-13s were sent to jail in the past year.

“This is now about providing some clarity and certainty to the Australian people … and our priorities heading into the next election are different.”

Shadow finance minister Katy Gallagher says Labor’s decision to back the stage-three tax cuts and abandon changes to negative gearing is all about “clarity and certainty”.

The Liberal factions pushing out Scott Morrison
Scott Morrison has regularly praised NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian for her government’s “gold standard” approach to contact tracing, and unwillingness to enter lockdown. But behind the surface there are growing tensions between key Liberal party figures in NSW and the federal government.

60%

The percentage of disability care residents who have received their first COVID-19 vaccine dose. Disability Minister Linda Reynolds confirmed the figure following reports that an unvaccinated resident of a Sydney group home had tested positive.

“Controversial changes to allow energy networks to charge solar panel owners for sending surplus power back to the grid have gained the backing of a key consumer group ahead of a final ruling within weeks.”

Energy Consumers Australia has backed the so-called “sun tax”, which the Australian Energy Market Commission says is needed to unblock electricity “traffic jams” created by the influx of solar power.

The list
 

“Richard Bell is always called ‘controversial’. The word is both too clichéd and too weak. The Kamilaroi, Kooma, Jiman and Goreng Goreng artist is powerful, demanding, unsettling, garish, in-your-face, rabble-rousing and comprehensively loathed by the conservative art critics who dominate the Australian mainstream media. So is his work, unsurprisingly.”

“In Rachel Cusk’s extraordinary Outline trilogy (2014–18), her narrator adopts a stance of radical passivity; she rarely talks, mainly listens and ventriloquises the stories of others. A landmark series that gutted the novel of many of its conventions, it was hard to imagine what Cusk would do with fiction after this. The answer comes with Second Place (Faber Fiction), a work that doesn’t mark a break with Cusk’s distrust of narrative, but heralds a deepening of her investigations.”

“Frewen’s appointment also highlights a genuine capability gap. For the past year, Defence has been called on continuously, responding to bushfires, floods and the pandemic. Some 2500 uniformed personnel have been diverted to civil tasks, along with 250 Defence public servants. Inside, the word being used is ‘fatigued’. Some fear this legitimate civil role could undermine its main job: defending Australia from external threat.”

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Monthly Today.

@rachelrwithers

 

The Monthly Today

Scott Morrison is welcomed to the US Capitol, by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, September 22, 2021

Plus ça change

Morrison’s cackhandedness leaves him at the mercy of our allies, as French fury grows

Police watch protesters at Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance, Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Aftershocks

Melbourne’s earthquake presages faultlines in the Coalition over ongoing lockdown protests

Strange bedfellows

The battlelines are blurring as Melbourne’s lockdown protests heat up

Nuclear fallout

The waves from Australia’s cancelled submarine contract keep building


From the front page

Scott Morrison is welcomed to the US Capitol, by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, September 22, 2021

Plus ça change

Morrison’s cackhandedness leaves him at the mercy of our allies, as French fury grows

Cover detail of Andrew O'Hagan’s ‘Mayflies’

There is a light

Andrew O’Hagan’s ‘Mayflies’ and what might endure from our irresponsible but spirited youth

Scott Morrison in the sheds after the NRL match between the Cronulla Sharks and the North Queensland Cowboys in Sydney, July 25, 2019

Birth of a larrikin

The disguised rise of Scott Morrison

Black Summer at Currowan

Lessons from Australia’s worst bushfires