Friday, May 28, 2021

Today by Rachel Withers


Playing politics?
It’s not wrong to call out what went wrong

Image of Anthony Albanese

Via Twitter

There is a tendency among conservatives, whenever a disaster occurs that can be linked to their policies, to respond to those who demand they take some responsibility by accusing them of “playing politics”. It happens in Australia over bushfires and climate change, and in the United States over mass shootings and gun control, and over the past 24 hours we’ve seen it happen here over Victoria’s lockdown, with conservatives slamming Labor for using the avoidable outbreak to reiterate calls for national quarantine facilities and a more urgent vaccination program. 3AW’s Neil Mitchell, a man who regularly plays politics with COVID-19, has today called for Victorian Acting Premier James Merlino to “drop the politics”, after Merlino suggested “we would not be here today” if the Commonwealth had done its job. (Mitchell saw no irony in going on to suggest that we need to crack on with vaccines and purpose-built quarantine, no matter who was at fault.) The AFR’s Phil Coorey, after noting that the federal government bears responsibility, immediately turned and accused Labor of blaming Prime Minister Scott Morrison because it needed “a win and a distraction from its own internals”. Liberal MP Dave Sharma did the same, tweeting that Labor leader Anthony Albanese was “exploit[ing] bad news ... for political gain”, labelling it “deeply unedifying”. Morrison has been doing it for weeks, berating the Opposition – which has until this year acted in a reasonably bipartisan manner – for fighting the government (or questioning its slush funds), while he focuses on fighting the virus. It’s incredibly rich coming from these figures, especially when playing politics is exactly what they are doing.

It’s also hideously hypocritical, as conservative politicians and media once again launch an “Andrews government” pile-on (specifically targeting Premier Daniel Andrews, despite the fact that he is on leave). The Australian is running a major attack piece, arguing that Melbourne resembles a “poorly run police state” and labelling Victoria’s contact tracing and hotel quarantine a shambles, while on Sky News, Peta Credlin suggested there were “more than enough baseball bats for both Albo and Andrews to cop a whack”, saying that yesterday should have been the day the Victorian government “finally died of shame” (when will conservatives retire that awful phrase?). The Victorian Liberals are going hard after the state government, as is their wont, with shadow treasurer Louise Staley this afternoon accusing Labor of “turn[ing] its back on Victorian businesses” (never mind that the state government is preparing to announce a $200m support package for businesses, while the federal government refuses to step in). Federal minister Jane Hume has slammed Victoria’s “hopelessly inadequate” contact tracing system, while Liberal MP Gladys Liu must have “missed the memo” about making this a “Team Australia” moment, as Labor MP Tim Watts put it, as she attacked the state in parliament yesterday.

Let’s get one thing straight: all sides are “playing politics” here, whether Labor or Liberal (or Green), state or federal, which makes today’s attempts to slander Labor for doing so exceedingly disingenuous. Victorian lockdowns – more frequent and triggering than other state’s lockdowns – are also, for a range of reasons, more political, with Australia’s biggest Labor government facing criticism from not just its own Opposition, but also from the federal Liberal government and the national media. Everyone is angry that this lockdown has occurred, and everyone is keen to pin it on the other side. The problem is, not everyone is equally keen on working out what went wrong. What counts is how constructive the criticism is.

There’s no doubt all sides are acting politically during this painful, terrifying Victorian outbreak, which leaked from hotel quarantine in another state, and hit Victoria especially hard due to bad luck and an unfortunate super-spreader. But only one side appears to genuinely care about preventing it from happening again. While the Victorian government has in the past apologised for its mistakes and done everything it can to fix them (to the point of being described as the “gold standard” in contact tracing and hotel quarantine by experts), the federal government has dug in, refusing to take responsibility, to improve its vaccine communication or incentives, or to pick up the slack on dedicated quarantine facilities that experts say would limit the risk. Mitchell today criticised the Victorian government for things that it was already doing, such as adding contract tracing staff (though it’s been subtly criticised for that, too), or things that are actually federal responsibilities, such as building quarantine facilities; Credlin suggested baseball bats. The federal Opposition, meanwhile, has been accused of politicising a lockdown for suggesting, as it has for months, that we finally overhaul a system that has allowed outbreak after outbreak across the country.

Politics is what politicians do, but there are two very different types of politics going on right now. The federal Opposition is using politics to demand the government take responsibility, do its job, and limit the chance that what has happened to Victoria happens again, as more and more Australians realise the status quo isn’t working. The federal government is using politics to eschew responsibility, shift blame and pretend it is above politics entirely.


“History will deal with Malcolm Turnbull.”

Pat Anderson, co-chair of the Uluru Dialogue, blames the former prime minister for stopping the Uluru Statement in its tracks, as the campaign for a voice to parliament moves into a new phase.

“He’s made very clear his position and he does sincerely regret any distress caused to Ms Holgate by that discussion in the parliament.”

“Prime Minister for Women” Marise Payne again defends the PM, indicating he is unlikely to apologise to former Australia Post chief executive Christine Holgate, despite a Senate report finding he should.

Who’s to blame for Victoria’s lockdown?
Victoria has been plunged back into lockdown, the state’s fourth since the start of the pandemic. But this time there’s one big difference: vaccines that were supposed to help keep us safe and avoid outbreaks are now available, but in Australia the take up has been slow.

2%

The percentage of Australians who have received both required doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, with Health Minister Greg Hunt getting fact-checked live on breakfast TV over claims 20 per cent are “vaccinated”.

“More than eight in 10 Australians support paying more tax to fund the aged-care system, despite the Morrison government ruling out imposing a levy, a new poll has found.”

AFR

An Australian National University survey has found strong support for the aged-care levy recommended by the royal commission. Labor has so far refused to commit to the levy either.

The list
 

“The scope of history is vast and nightmarishly brutal, yet also intimate and deeply observed, in The Underground Railroad (Amazon Prime), the often masterful 10-episode adaptation of Colson Whitehead’s 2016 Pulitzer Prize–winning novel about slavery’s hold on America. Forged by the filmmaker Barry Jenkins (Moonlight), the limited series follows an escaped slave, Cora Randall (Thuso Mbedu), whose journey across the Antebellum South captures a breadth of images and insights that don’t merely re-create the era, but also offer contemporary resonance.”

“There is another type of grief beyond the financial. The music is still there. You just need to pick up your instrument and you will find it, and it still offers consolation. But somehow, in the absence of an audience – or the expectation of an audience, tomorrow or next week – it becomes harder to pick that instrument up. I wondered if this revealed an unfortunate character flaw: that showing off had, after all, been the entire point.”

“What is being proposed, the firm said, was unjustified, ultra vires (that is, beyond legal power), unconstitutional, would have an unquantifiable negative impact on the sector, would add administrative burden to charities, did not address any uncertainty in legislation and was ‘fundamentally inconsistent with our democratic system of government’. The changes ‘are a clear fetter on freedom of political communication and on dissent by civil society. They … must not be made law.’”

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