Category Archives: COVID-19

Pandemic matters

The Aussie Pandemic Diaries


Date: October 6, 2021

Another week of cynicism, lies, prevarication and obfuscation. We should have a unique page in the thesaurus for the many ways we can label public discourse in Australian public life.

Today Dan Tehan arrived in Paris. Yes, slow talking Dan, who is our Trade Minister. He is going to try and arrange for someone in France to talk to him. His loner status was caused by the Prime Minister’s recent attempt at international diplomacy.

You might remember how the Prime Minister tore up a long-standing, large ($90 Billion) contract for submarines. If he worked for a corporation rather than a country, he’d be sacked on the spot. The damages will be substantial, as will the damage to our reputation for fair dealing. But then I cannot think of a corporation which would consider employing him.

He replaced the contract with the French with (drumroll) zero, zilch, nothing. A photo opportunity in Washington. But there was a result. The French are not taking our calls. They do sit on the Security Council of the United Nations, but who needs the French when you’ve got Boris on your team?

Remember the PM’s first foray into international affairs? He attempted to move our embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. He was slavishly following Donald Trump’s lead. Remember how the Islamic world turned on him, (and us, by association) for his sheer naivety, and his stupidity. Who else would have joined with Trump, that well known career diplomat?

I have a theory that he heard the name “Jerusalem”, from those “end of world” lectures at that weird church he belongs to, and he thought “how good is Jerusalem?”

Angus Taylor has had a bad week. Firstly an American advisor to Joe Biden on climate change, asked whether he was an idiot, or an ideologue? Tough question, when you have listened to his nonsense about gas-led recoveries, and the end of the weekend. Then Ford announced they are releasing electric versions of the F150 ute. Thank God the weekend is safe.

This week Twiggy Forrest described Carbon Capture and Storage as useless. It doesn’t work. All Angus’ eggs are in that basket. What to do? Send some dodgy figures to a newspaper, Angus. Hopefully your goose is cooked, come election time.

New South Wales lost its Premier. There was a’moaning and a’groaning about what a great Premier she had been. Strangely forgotten was the reason for the loss of her career. She was being actively investigated for corrupt conduct. Or having bad taste in men? Possibly both.

With no hint of shame, several news organisations suggested that the Federal Liberals would use this event to further delay a National Integrity Commission, because it had ‘caught out’ a Liberal Premier, and such a result was regrettable, and a reason NOT to have a Federal watchdog. Very like abolishing the police, because they keep catching criminals.

Her replacement was a staunch and rigid Catholic, who looks to have close to zero life experience, but he likes straight marriage, lots of kids, and presumably doesn’t mind people like George Pell. He is against abortion in all cases. He has also something of a chequered career as Treasurer, but he is white, straight, male and religious. What could go wrong?

He wants to open up the economy, like Scott Morrison does, when they hit the bare minimum of vaccinations, no matter the number of cases. We will remember if they cause unnecessary deaths, and the thinking electorate is already stocking up on baseball bats.

Morrison has also just accused the Queensland Premier of attempting to extort money from the Commonwealth, because she fears an overload on their hospital system, and she wants to be prepared for the rush of cases when we do inevitably open up.

Now his chronic inability to actually deliver a reasonable sentence, has him accusing a Labor Premier of a criminal offence, for trying to cushion what will be an outburst of new infections, once those borders come down.

If nothing else, his statement was tone deaf, stupid, defamatory, demeaning, meaningless. She wasn’t trying to buy herself a condo in the Gold Coast, she was asking for health funding in the midst of a pandemic which has seen the deaths of nearly five million people. Classy, Scotty. Even your mates from the Gas Industry would call that a step too far.

Finally, will he, or won’t he, go to Glasgow? Too chicken to go, too chicken to not go. Decisions, decisions. Man up, Scott.

I can’t wait for another week to pass. Reminder! I am not making this up.

Too little, too late, for everything


When a politician rises to the top of his profession we expect that he or she has always wanted the job, and that he or she has meticulously planned every step along the way. I would argue that Morrison is aware of his limitations, but he rose to the top despite not having a plan. He believes in his own luck, because he really believes that God has a stake in the game. Why not throw your hat in the ring, if you believe in divine providence?

Scott Morrison seems never to have planned for anything. He wasn’t ready for the Prime Ministership. He just put his hand up when it became clear that Malcolm Turnbull lacked the political skills to protect his position, and that Peter Dutton was unacceptable, not only to the Liberals who were voting for a new leader, but for the Australian electorate at large. So his run was fortuitous, and landed him the top job, with no preparation, and no relatable skills with which to sell himself to us.

Some of the antipathy toward Dutton has dissipated. That will be attributable to his change of portfolios, and also to the nature of the Ministry of Defence. His role at Home Affairs was too powerful to trust him with, and Defence is the sort of portfolio where most of us are happy to see someone who can focus, and stay relatively quiet, and in the case of Dutton, stay out of our private lives and communications. It is after all, the portfolio which directs our armed forces, and most citizens are content to allow our defence chiefs to potter about, and to not smash the china (pun intended). So unless the U.S. wants another war, we’re close to being safe. Australia does not elect to go to war by itself.

The bushfires of 2019-2020 were our first exposure to Morrison, and he showed us what he was like from the outset. It was all about him, and what he would deliver to those who needed help. The Defence Force was his to deploy, the payment of volunteer fire fighters was his decision, the excuses were picked up from the side of the road (definitely NOT climate change related; arsonists lit most of the fires; the fuel load was high, which could be conveniently used to divert blame to the states.

With responsibility comes reward. It was not a huge leap for him to choose a holiday in Hawaii. He felt he deserved it, and as befits a small time thinker, he would take the reward before he had earned it. He then tried to hide it, which provided further proof that he was not up to the job.

Morrison on holiday

He must have felt that he could leave the country to its own devices, and that no-one would enquire as to his whereabouts. Leaders of modern nations have responsibilities, and obligations, to a wide range of stakeholders. Citizens, Ministers, other Governments, both inside Australia and internationally, need to know that there is somebody in charge. In emergencies they need to be ‘on the ground’.

It is beyond understanding that he would absent himself from his duties during an existential crisis for the whole of the East Coast. Secondly he put his staff members in an unenviable position, in that they were expected to join in on the deception. This attitude of protecting their boss at the expense of the rest of the nation, has fuelled distrust of the Prime Minister’s Office ever since.

We now wonder why he visited his family in Sydney for Fathers’ Day, when so many others of us had been stopped from seeing our families. We have all heard tales of children being kept apart from their parents, of cancer patients not permitted to access treatment if they live on the wrong side of the border, even of dying parents left to die alone. That did not bother Morrison. He has risen further than he expected, and the privileges of rank are there to be used. He earned them. I am sure he reminds himself often that it is his due.

The explanation lies in the particular nature of this accidental Prime Minister, and his choices and work history. He has always managed to be appointed to plum jobs because of his connections. Those jobs have been mainly middle to upper management, as a sort of Regional Manager. He appears to last a couple of years, and to then move on, leaving behind conflict and, as often as not, there are legal or accountability issues. Reports into his corporate behaviour seem to go missing, and there is always a patron willing to put him forward for the next gig.

He fell into parliament, after a smear campaign against his pre-selection opponent. That campaign was later proved to be false, but the damage was done. An amusing sideshow has been the career of Craig Kelly. Destined for the electoral scrap-heap, he was saved by a direct intervention by Morrison. Morrison over-rode the Liberal Party’s decision to dis-endorse Kelly at the 2019 election. He saved him, only to lose him to the cross bench, and then, more odiously, to Clive Palmer.

His record over the pandemic has been similarly mercurial. Pro-lockdown, anti-lockdown, pro-income support, anti-income support. Won’t build quarantine stations, yes he will. Will buy vaccines, but he wants the cheap ones. Totally transparent, as when he told us all to not accept the AstraZeneca vaccine, and then in favour of it, to almost every age. It is definitely not a race, it is a race. Now it is a race which can be won by starting slowly, but then powering home. In other words, he is making it up. The worst part is that he changes his mind according to reactions to his last pronouncement, rather than for the country’s good.

Our decent Prime Ministers have a larger calling. Their remit appears to have been to work for the good of Australia, whereas Scott Morrison’s motivation appears to be getting his pay, taking his holidays when he is ready, see the family when he wants to, and win the next election.

Scott Morrison needs to reflect on why he seems to be so unpopular, and why his every action is endlessly dissected. It is because he doesn’t hide his disdain for the common people, and the people are discovering that fact. He also appears to be fairly keen on Scott Morrison.

How can we trust Morrison’s word, or his motives, on anything?


Scott Morrison has now been Prime Minister for over three years. That means he has spent more time in the job than Turnbull, Whitlam, Rudd, or Abbott did. In those three years he has built a reputation as a man whose word cannot be trusted, and as a man who has given both his Ministers, and his back-benchers, a free pass, no matter what they are caught out doing, or saying. All they need to do is to vote with the Government.

Some say a one seat majority can do that to a Government, but the scandals and the behavioural issues during Morrison’s ascendancy have plumbed new depths. Morrison himself has been implicated in many of them, but even when his hands have been demonstrably ‘clean’, the behaviour he walks past has only served to highlight his elastic ethics, and a seemingly wilful blindness regarding community expectations.

If it wasn’t so tragic, it would be amusing to track the disappointment of those who confuse the crude hucksterism of the Hillsong Church with Christianity. Practising Christians need to stop bleating about his disavowal of Christian principles, and wake up to the fact that the so-called “new churches” are just another dodgy import from the U.S., like the gym equipment advertised on afternoon television.

Many of us have expected this most overtly ‘Christian’ of our leaders, to call Enough!, as new rorts supersede older rorts, as racist dog-whistling continues apace, and Ministers asking for ‘favours’ from other Ministers continues to undermine the very character of our democracy.

Mr Taylor, for example, has had little luck lowering carbon emissions, possibly because he is so busy asking for favours from his colleagues. Sometimes he receives favours even when he has not asked for them, as in the case of the water buyback scheme. It is a most accommodating Ministry.

The changing landscape of newspapers in particular, and the broader media generally, has shaken up the quality of reporting, and the idea of holding power to account, has been almost universally degraded. In the case of the Murdoch media, standards are so low that one might as well watch a game show, as expect objectivity.

Consider the rabid response to the ABC’s Four Corners episode this week. A report, using sourced opinion from Fox News insiders, criticised what is known throughout the thinking universe, as Fox News’ correct calling of Arizona for Biden, and then the shameful sacking of a loyal employee for doing his job, demonstrates their passion for objective news. You cannot then publish over forty articles attacking the show, and to then deny a campaign of vilification.

Years after the bushfires of 2019-2020 the bushfire relief is still being parcelled out, mainly to coalition seats. Some of the victims of the bushfires are still waiting to have their land cleared, but bad luck if you live in a Labor seat. Car parks, sport grounds, buying land, or water, from donors, stacking the AAT with drones, keeping Christian Porter in the Ministry, accepting George Christensen’s and Andrew Laming’s support-they all speak of incompetence and a lack of moral fibre.

After the utter shambles of Robodebt, the Morrison Government has the hide to start it up again. This time they are sending out debt notices to people who were overpaid during the pandemic last year. Many of the debts are very small, but when you try living on less than $300 per week, repaying debt with the threat of legal action is not only dispiriting, it is cruel.

It also exposes the awful double standards of this rabble of a Government. Firstly they pursue the poor for unproven debts. Their next step is to be found to have acted illegally, and ordered to repay all the debts recovered. As a kind of grace note, they then terrorise the same demographic (the poor), to repay any over-payments, caused by their own indifferent drafting, and hopeless messaging, regarding those pandemic payments.

Treasurer Frydenberg is seen by some as a future Prime Minister. This must be seen as a distinct possibility, because John Howard, Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison have all succeeded to the job, and we all know the level of their capabilities. So it is clear that ability is not a pre-requisite for success. It makes Bill Hayden’s comments on drover’s dogs winning elections somehow relevant.

Frydenberg managed to waste $25 billion of taxpayers’ money on JobKeeper last year. He overlooked inserting a claw-back provision, which is a standard measure by which the ATO claws back money over-paid to corporations.

Close to $9 billion was paid to firms whose turnover not only failed to decline as forecast, but actually increased. So the young, inexperienced Treasurer of Australia has lost $25 billion of our money, and doesn’t have a way of getting it back. His leader, Scott Morrison, thinks asking for its return would be to engage in the politics of envy.

Do you trust him to open up the country, safely?

So, would you put him in charge of opening up the country, in the midst of the Delta variant, which is now running rampant through Sydney? Firstly he wanted the country opened up, then he wanted to follow medical advice and close it down; then he wanted to ‘hurry up’ the medical advice, then he wanted to lock down, then he wanted the states to accept full responsibility for everything, then he wanted to give us hope as we waited for the dawn. Lately he has been cherry-picking medical experts, searching for the opinion du jour, which might suit his latest shift.

The vaccination of all Australians was not a race, then it was still not a race, but it was more important to finish well than to start well. Amidst all the tap-dancing around the truth, and the weird word choices he makes, ask yourself why he chose AstraZeneca as opposed to Pfizer. And if he is so concerned about costs, why pay PWC $11 million to not deliver them? Did the Government have a claw-back provision if it was unable, or unwilling, to provide vaccines on time?

I have seen some estimates of the relative costs of the two, with AstraZeneca costing around $6 a dose, while Pfizer can command $22 a dose. Could it be that our leader chose the cheap one, with the attendant problems with vaccinating the country? The problems are immense. No talk of reaching milestones will remove the necessity of vaccinating special needs groups, and workers in crucial industries.

Groups like the aged and the disabled need vaccination, but their carers and nurses do, too. Aboriginal communities need to be vaccinated, because many have underlying health issues. Children are noticeably being infected by this variant, so can he include them when calculating vaccination rates?

Considering his Government’s almost total lack of competence, I would not put him in charge of getting the morning tea. I certainly trust Daniel Andrews way more than I do the twits in Canberra.

It’s the vaccine rollout, stupid


Bill Clinton certainly had a feel for what ‘worked’ in getting himself elected, and then re-elected. He knew that the electorate had one major concern, and all the other matters were just background noise. Cue Scott Morrison and his Government. The vaccine rollout, period. Fix that, and you are home. No more lockdowns, no more businesses going broke, no more daily press conferences, obsessively watching numbers of infections.

How hard could it be?

Step 1. Buy the product. It had never been done before, but the scientists really came through. A handful of vaccines, produced in record time. Years ahead of expectations. Most of the testing was already done, and Australia is a wealthy nation, and the people were up for spending whatever it cost. There was even talk of sharing it around, with our nearest neighbours in the Pacific and New Guinea, and even Indonesia should be assisted.

But then Australia acted like a classic beginner. Firstly, we relied on a Government which classically outsources every function of governing that it can. We engaged with one supplier, AstraZeneca. Then we rejected, or passed on, a limited offer from Pfizer. Next we backed the University of Queensland effort, which proved unsuccessful.

When the first shipment arrived from Pfizer we had the cringe-worthy spectacle of the Federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt, stating “the eagle has landed”, in relation to 142,000 doses. Much was made of the work being done in the background, but it was obvious from the beginning that the less-fancied AstraZenaca would be the workhorse of the rollout.

The original target was that all Australians would be vaccinated by October. Then the target moved to the end of 2021, then we abandoned all targets. Last week the Prime Minister spoke of horizons, which can mean what you want them to mean. As can his messaging, which he changes regularly, in response to the news cycle.

CSL was then licensed to produce the AstraZeneca vaccine, but the AstraZeneca vaccine had some teething problems. It was found that it caused an extremely rare blood clotting disorder. At this date only two persons in Australia have died as a result of the disorder, so the benefits of using the vaccine far outweighed the risk.

For a Government often accused of excessive secrecy, it is not clear why they highlighted the risk of the rare disorder, with late night televised announcements causing an instant spike in vaccine hesitancy. The Pfizer quickly became the vaccine of choice, and we were then told that the bulk of the Pfizer vaccine would not arrive until October.

The next step in this incredible journey was when the Government advised us that the vaccine could only be safely used by those over 60. The very next night Scott Morrison seemed to advise that anyone under 60 could go and speak to their GP, and get the jab if they were prepared to take the risk.

In another twist to this sorry tale, we appear to hold more AstraZeneca vaccine than we can use, and very limited Pfizer. So we have all our eggs in the one basket, at least until October. Three long months from now.

Somewhere along this tortuous timeline the Prime Minister, who seems to have a fetish for uniforms, appointed a Lieutenant-General, John Frewen, to handle the logistics of the rollout. If we were serious about logistics, we would recruit the CEO of a transport company. He seems to be a handy fall-guy, should the rollout continue to founder.

In a desperate scramble to remedy this sorry mess we have apparently secured some alternative supplies, but they do not arrive until sometime soon, we hope. So that explains the much repeated refrain, “this is not a race”. If it was, we have already lost.

Step 2. Distribution of the vaccine. For good reasons the Government divided the population into categories, or phases, of urgency. Aged Care residents were placed into Phase 1a, as were workers in the industry. Four months into the rollout only one third of the workers have been vaccinated. General Frewen discovered yesterday that, with the benefit of hindsight, they should have been vaccinated at their work-places.

There is no need for hindsight. Blind Freddie could tell the General that if you have a team of nurses visiting a nursing home, it is beyond simple to vaccinate the workers at the same time. Like they have been doing for years, with the flu vaccine.

But the Government, in its wisdom, decided it was too risky to expose the workers to the after-effects of the shot, on the same day they vaccinated the elderly residents. But it was not at all risky to allow unvaccinated staff to provide care, to the same vulnerable residents.

Anyway, most of the workers missed out. Now we have to rely on them taking time off work, to go and have their Phase 1a first shot, and then we needed legislation to cover them for lost wages. We will probably then need them to find their own second doses, with the ensuing running around.

I am not making this up. The next step in the failed rollout is to have the Treasurer ask the business community for help. Like they do with their annual flu vaccinations. It took the treasurer 18 months to discover that businesses routinely facilitate such health measures, for reasons of business efficiency. It means your staff don’t have to take time off work to get the shot, and the business doesn’t have to fund their time off if they catch the flu.

Sometimes the tried and trusted way is the best. The main problem with this rollout is the shortage of supply. So the General spoke of conducting scenario testing, which I presume means war-gaming. Instead, why not try picking up the telephone and buying some more vaccines, from wherever you can. The people of Sydney will thank you, and so will the rest of us. It might even save us from engaging with the Premiers every morning, on the TV.

Morrison dropped the ball on his two jobs


The failure of leadership in Australia has been demonstrated, once again, by the mis-steps of our so-called leaders. They then exacerbate the problem by not owning their mistakes, and blindly asserting, against all the evidence, that they are following ‘medical advice’. They pick which pieces of medical advice suit them. This is like saying “God told me to do it”.

Morrison and Hunt had two jobs between them

Scott Morrison and Greg Hunt had just two jobs to do. The pandemic had been weathered, the people were feeling safe and even trusting. The dynamic duo merely had to manage the return of Australians stranded overseas, and as a final grace note, to get everyone vaccinated.

We all know their repeated refrain that they don’t even eat breakfast until it is cleared by ‘medical experts’. So it is almost impossible to believe that they have not acted on the desperate need to build dedicated quarantine facilities, rather than to rely on often second rate hotels for quarantine. As every premier and every health officer, in all the states, continually remind us, the hotels are for tourists. They are not quarantine stations.

If we can afford to send Matthias Cormann jet-setting around the globe on his very own VIP jet, we can afford to build some quarantine hubs. Equally, if we can afford to spend $600 million on a great white elephant, a gas fired power station, we can afford to build quarantine hubs.

They don’t need to be luxurious. I once worked in Dampier in W.A. and the accommodation was cheap, but it separated the workers, and if needed, it kept us away from the town. Job done. These villages are everywhere in the outback, some even abandoned, if the mine has closed up, and moved along. How hard would it be to find some workers’ huts, and move them? Or if it is too difficult to find some, build some of our own!

Is Morrison doing everything?

The Victorians have even done the preliminary research, scoping out the best sites. All the Feds had to do was to evaluate the site(s) and proceed, or reject the proposal. But no – the Morrison Cabinet is very different from any I can recall. It is not run like a boardroom, but more like a mediaeval court, with Morrison seemingly dictating policy, ministerial responsibilities, their daily talking points, even the colour of their ties. So he hedged, daily. The best we have seen is that it might be worth considering.

Consider the fact that no Minister ever disagrees with Morrison. No Minister appears to have any original thoughts; they all just go along with the ‘group-think’. So if Morrison is too tied up with all the scandals he daily deals with, perhaps he was too busy to make a decision on quarantine hubs.

We have plenty of evidence that ‘Morrison from Head Office’ is not a great planner, nor does he last very long in his jobs. He has been known to ‘absent himself’ when he feels like it, and the practical day to day stuff often escapes him. Maybe the ministry has picked a dud to follow?

We still have many thousands of Australian citizens stranded overseas. They have a right of return, and whether they are in India or Scotland, we want them back, safely. So what possible reason for the hold up?

If everyone was vaccinated, we would still need quarantine hubs

Recent developments in previously virus-free countries have again proved that this virus is here to stay. Taiwan and Singapore have recently let down their guard, and they have been swamped. Now it looks like the same is happening here. A leak from Adelaide (quarantine) moves to Melbourne, then it moves to southern New South Wales. Where next?

Part B of the optimum plan would be, by overwhelming consensus, vaccinate everyone you can. The results in the U.S. and the U.K. have been miraculous. We forget the horrifying numbers from last year, but they are possible even here, especially with the dangerous variants now arriving. So vaccination is key to long-term protection.

Here is where this badly led, banana republic we call home, decides that, firstly we will wait and see. What were they looking for – a better price? So we missed out on the first batches of vaccines, and then we put all our eggs in the one AstraZeneca basket, and we went to market late. A first year purchasing officer would know that you should diversify your suppliers, so as not to be disappointed when you definitely need the supply.

Another of the reasons for such a rookie failure is that, because of this Government’s war on the Public Service, we have a multi-national contractor ‘handling’ the supply and distribution of the vaccine. What could go wrong with a multi-million dollar contractor not having any experience in something as tiresome as purchasing stuff, and then distributing it? Scotty from the Office, who does not hold a hose, doesn’t buy vaccines, and it seems neither does his fancy contractor.

The next ‘joke’ in this farce is the Government decided that “it is not a race”, kept to that position for four months, until it was actually a race. As per Government policy, even after the Victorian outbreak, Michael McCormack, the Deputy Prime Minister, was on auto-play, repeating the line about there being no race, and so was Dan Tehan, our Trade Minister. One or other of them then explained the difference between a race and a hurry, I think.

They may still be in awe of his last election victory, but let us not forget he sits on the thinnest of margins. So for whatever reason, Morrison declares policy, and he sends various Ministers out to spread the word. We can only hope that the Premiers can save this country, because the no-hopers in power in Canberra could not organise a trip to the lavatory.

Melbourne’s close to success


Most Victorians are thrilled by the results obtained by lockdown, which was imposed by Daniel Andrews. You might call our original assent grudging, but it gradually morphed into gratitude, as long as the Trump-lite knuckle draggers in the Federal Government allowed us to deal with the second wave, our own way – a hard lockdown. Victoria is alone in suffering through a second wave, so our experience and our success are worth celebrating.

Victorians defeat 2nd wave

Comparisons with the United Kingdom are of interest here. On July 30 Victoria had 723 new cases of Covid-19, the U.K. had 763. Today (October 19) we have 1 new case, the U.K. has 16,982.

Since then the second wave has been crushed in Victoria, with new cases in single digits almost every day, and a decreasing death rate. Take a good hard look at Boris Johnson’s pathetic leadership, and the deadly cost of having a neoliberal idiot in charge.

We were on similar case numbers on July 30, and because of the lockdown we are almost 17,000 cases better off today. At a 1% death rate from overall infections, that looks like 170 deaths from one day’s cases.

So this is where you have to wonder whether these liberals and the other right wing folk have been perhaps giving the Scotch bottle a bit of a nudge between meals. Because they seem not to understand the situation, or perhaps they really believe money is more important than human life.

Not everyone has been helpful

Jeff (I feel so useless, and foolish) Kennett is whinging about Grand Final celebrations. Two points: your team is not even in the big dance, and secondly, my team (the Tigers) is, and I am happy enough to miss out on a party in the short term, as long as my family and I are safe from the pandemic in the long term.

That is called playing the odds, and planning for the future. The opposite of your government, which sold half the state’s schools to real estate developers back in the ’90s. Of course we had to re-build them later, but Jeff had already moved on.

What about Josh (the boy-treasurer) Frydenburg? I believe that he has found his people, the hard-right fat-cat warriors, who unashamedly put the nation’s economy before public health, but they are too dishonest to say so. He is either particularly insensitive, or just stupid, to rabbit on about mental health in such dangerous times.

His sanctimonious words will come back to haunt him, as the Jobseeker cliff looms. That little gift to the Australian people will cause a giant spike in mental health cases, when over 6 million people are thrown into poverty, again. Poverty, with hunger and homelessness thrown in.

Morrison was always keen to not be seen putting economic concerns before the public health dilemma. That kept him relatively quiet for a few months, but his tiny neoliberal soul would not let him rest. When you are steeped in market-based ideology, it is difficult to let go. And so he has unleashed his minions.

And what a group they are. Frydenburg, Hunt (I am the Health Minister), Tudge (locks up detainees illegally), Kennett (desperately seeking relevance), Dutton (not prejudiced, he hates all Laborites, Victorians and Queenslanders) Tim Wilson (please take a photo of me) with the evil Scotty from Marketing, still trying to put daylight between himself and his Victorian attack dogs.

Steady as she goes

Many of us have been separated from family, limited in our social lives, many are in fear for their finances; but most of us are alive, and the fear of contagion is receding. For a reason that I cannot fathom, Scott Morrison has decided that he is willing to continually wage war on Daniel Andrews, pressuring him to re-open the state and to remove restrictions.

Victoria might be considered a lost cause to the Coalition, but we all have memories. We can still punish you at the next election, by removing the remaining duds from your team. And although Dan has had some uncertain moments, I still stand with him, and the rest of Victoria.

2 neo-lib clowns


Josh Frydenburg showed his true colours during the second wave of coronavirus. He ripped into the Victorian Premier almost daily, and blamed him personally. Obviously if Daniel Andrews is in charge, and the outbreak occurred on his watch, then at some point in time, he will be held to account.

The major problem is that Andrews did a creditable job, trying to save the situation from becoming even worse. The people know there will eventually be a reckoning, but they are content to see it AFTER the crisis has passed.

Frydenburg proved himself to be as naive and gung-ho as we suspected, by allowing himself to be used as Morrison’s cats paw. Morrison knew that it was too dangerous for him to attack the Premier, because he continues with the fiction that the two of them have a good working relationship. So he rolled out the ambitious Victorian to deliver the attack.

Victorians do not like this Prime Minister, as a rule, but they tolerate him, while he is seen to be doing a passable job of leading the country. And when Victoria is being treated equitably. But Frydenburg, in his juvenile ardour, kicked Victoria, while he was kicking Andrews.

He started to harp on about the cost to the national economy, being spent on one state. That didn’t sound like we are all in this together. We all eagerly await the speedy apology from Head Office. It will probably come from the Treasurer, similar to that offered by Dan Tehan, when he railed against the Premier. Sorry, but not very.

Frydenburg showed the poverty of his neoliberal soul as well. He sounded aggrieved, as if it is his money, and Victorians are greedily sucking it away from his unlamented surplus. If there is one pleasure to be gleaned from this crisis, it is in watching the neoliberals squirm, as they spend OUR money. It goes against their grain, because these people do not really like the great unwashed. They would rather that we all suffered in silence.

He also implied that he values the economy above human life. In this he came close to joining those other beacons of callous stupidity, those leaders who have so stuffed up their responses to the pandemic that their names will live in infamy forever – Trump, Johnson, Bolsonaro. He must ensure that he does not appear on that particular list.

During some of his earlier car-crash interviews he fumed about the lack of a road-map out of lock-down. No body knew Josh! We had to wait and see, to be cautious, because as you all parrot every day, when it suits you, listen to the medical experts. Not the economists, the epidemiologists.

And while Victorians’ lives are being turned upside down, and our livelihoods decimated, he wants a plan. Sitting up in Canberra and sniping. To cover up for a Government which actually does need a plan. A plan on fixing inequality, a plan to cut greenhouse emissions, a plan to re-start the economy, a plan to house the homeless, and especially a plan to fix the Aged Care crisis, for good.

He wants to give tax cuts to businesses, while reducing the benefits to citizens, who are all facing hardship. As we know, Frydenburg and Morrison are not getting a pay cut. If you want an idea of the depth of Frydenburg’s intellect, and his commitment to Australia’s future, please study this statement:

“We are comfortable with the fact that people are accessing their money when they need it most.”

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg responds to fresh figures from the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority showing that 64 per cent of superannuation withdrawn early is going on discretionary spending and 11 per cent on gambling.

So the next time they speak about the future, you know what they are thinking. We deserve what we get, because we are a feckless lot, and if the best thing we can do is fritter away our retirement, well at least the deficit will look better. Very like the sentiment behind asset sales – let’s take the sugar hit now, and forget about the future.

“Let them eat cake!”

Let’s not pin the second outbreak on the guards


It is clear that, after our initial success in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic, Australians are disappointed and even angry that we have been thrown back into lockdown. Rates of infection have, relatively speaking, shot up. The entire Melbourne Metro area has been locked down, residents of high rise towers have been placed under virtual house arrest, and the economy has screeched to a halt, again. 

This has caused a cascading effect, where the other states are keen to blame Victoria, and some Victorians are equally keen to blame Dan Andrews and his Government. The Government, in an attempt to divert attention away from the cause of the outbreak, at least until it is contained, has scheduled a judicial inquiry, commencing on July 20.

What went wrong?

Returning Australians are required to quarantine for fourteen days on arriving in Australia. It is compulsory, and they are tested for the virus while in quarantine. At the end of quarantine, they go home. It was a system employed around Australia, with Melbourne and Sydney taking the bulk of the returnees. The system was very effective until the outbreak in Melbourne.  

It appears that the Government turned to contract labour firms to provide essential security staff at the quarantine hotels. These companies, in their turn, then sub-contracted the work out to other labour hire companies. There is doubt as to who contracted the security contractors, as the Health Minister denies hiring them. 

Compounding the problem, the Government had a list of approved providers. One of the companies contracted was not on the approved list. The contracts also appear to have been granted without a tendering process. One possible explanation for this is the haste with which the arrangements were put into place.

Notwithstanding any contract irregularities, as the chain of responsibility lengthened, so did the Government’s control of the situation weaken. Genomic sequencing of the outbreak has traced it back to the quarantine hotels. So there seems little to investigate. We know where the outbreak started, we know that many of the security guards became infected, and we also know that some then transmitted it to their families, and so on. What was the reasoning behind the decision to outsource the security work?

Why did the Government outsource?

Outsourcing is akin to the ‘cargo cult’ of old, where believers think that if you cut costs you will reap an immediate benefit, with no downside. It is usually implemented without adequate research, with very little evidence supporting the practice, and it is often ‘imported’ because it is reported as a rising trend overseas. 

It has a number of problems however, the most important of which is a trade-off between cost and quality. There is ample evidence that the more important the function, the higher the risk of an expensive failure. There is also a compulsion to overstate savings, which almost never eventuate. 

Although the New South Wales Government used some private security in their own hotel quarantine system, they mainly used Police and ADF members. It appears to be a matter of some luck that they did not suffer an outbreak similar to Victoria’s. Such is life.

Health Minister Jenny Mikakos on Friday said her department was not responsible for hiring private security guards to work at the hotels. Again, who hired them then?

Who is responsible for the outbreak?

Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton, along with other public health staff, was warned of major problems with the scheme in April, more than a month before the first outbreak was detected. 

Professor Sutton is fourth in the chain of command at the Department of Health and Human Services’ Regulation, Health Protection, and Emergency Management Division. He reports to Melissa Skilbeck, who has subsequently been stripped of many of her responsibilities in the Division. This seems premature, considering the inquiry has not started yet.

The problems included an inadequate supply of masks and gloves, poor infection-control systems, inadequate training in even the most basic hygiene protocols, and open breaches of physical-distancing guidelines by hotel staff, security and health personnel. Poor literacy and English language skills were cited as aggravating factors, and the lack of preparation time made the situation even worse, as did the fractured lines of command. Who was in charge? Was it hotel management, or the security provider, the Health Department or the federal Department of Immigration?

Some of the guards were provided at the last minute, and were unsupervised, as is often the case with labour hire staff. Some of them are alleged to have been less than professional in their interactions with each other, and more worryingly, with some of the quarantining guests. 

Another problem is that the qualifications framework within the security industry is considered haphazard at best, and criminally inept at worst. There is widespread confusion as to the minimum standards required, and there is apparently a black market for bogus security officer’s certificates. 

There is a two tier system, between registration and licensing, which weakens definitions and position descriptions. The industry has been the subject of a disparate number of investigations by the Fairwork Commission, due to its record of wage theft, and also its use of sham contracting. Many guards are paid in cash, and are employed under their own ABNs. This means that many are without any sort of leave entitlements, no workcover insurance, and no superannuation. Such conditions can lead to over working, unsafe practices and exploitation by employers. There is no real union representation. 

Several were rumoured to be working two jobs during the hotel quarantine period, which led to fatigue and possible under-performance. It has been reported that several were employed at more than one location during this period of time. This might have increased the risk. 

Any lessons to be learned?

Many of us have laid the blame for the outbreak firmly at the guards’ feet. They were undertrained, under resourced, under supervised, underrepresented and chronically underpaid. They were undervalued, as was the role they were expected to play. No matter who employed them, it was our public health being protected, and there was a cavalier disregard for the importance of the task. Whoever was in charge of the hotel quarantine project failed. They should have thought it through. The guards deserved better. Management means just that – to manage. 

On a systemic level, perhaps it is time in the 21st century to put aside our arrogance and our sense of entitlement. They are security guards. They are doing a job most Australians turn their noses up at. And many are recent migrants. Perhaps we could reflect on the fact that most of our forebears were migrants, and every man or woman deserves to be treated with some respect, and to be given consideration. When did we start throwing the vulnerable to the wolves? 

Morrison needs to finish one job at least


Scott Morrison has, in many ways, been ‘saved’ by the coronavirus. At the end of February and heading into March, his public standing was at rock-bottom. Scotty from Marketing was jeered at every time he went out in public, and journalists were daily questioning his honesty, and his competence.

What went wrong for Morrison?

He had abandoned Australia during the bush-fires while he went on holiday. He eventually came back, and proceeded to further damage his reputation with badly managed photo opportunities, and his attempts to relate to victims of the bush-fires were ill-timed and clumsy. He exhibited a complete inability to read people.

Even his physical bulk was seen as intrusive, and his casual, friendly manner was widely distrusted, because it looked phony. Every day was a desperate attempt to make up lost ground, and it felt like it. I found myself wincing when I saw him on television.

The ‘sports rorts’ affair followed on from the bush-fires. It began slowly, but it had quickly gotten out of hand, with almost daily revelations of, if not outright corruption, then a flexible reading of the guidelines. It displayed a cynical disregard for honesty, and accountability. And don’t forget this was at the very last moment before, and possibly after, the government moved into ‘caretaker mode’.

It seemed he might have won the election by buying it. And it’s not as if the recipients of his largesse were struggling sports clubs. They were more often than not well-endowed clubs, in the heart of prosperous areas, represented almost exclusively by Coalition members of Parliament. This exposed his contempt for rural and regional Australians. The unkindest cut of all was that he used a National Party minister as a stooge.

At the exact time that this was unfolding, Angus Taylor was running his own side-show. Every day in Question Time he ducked and weaved, and blustered about “vile smears” and “bizarre vendettas” against him.

He had been caught out, implying Sydney City Council were hypocrites. He accused them of wasting buckets of money, flying around the world needlessly, while trying to cut greenhouse emissions. His accusation had mysteriously made its way to the Daily Telegraph. The problem was that it was demonstrably not true.

The tragedy was that he either made up the whole story, or somebody had duped him. He had transformed $6,000 into $15.9 million ($1.7m on international travel and $14.2m on domestic travel”). So he is not great with numbers, either. No wonder he thinks our greenhouse emissions are going down – he can’t count.

Morrison should be open and transparent

So Scott Morrison spent most of his time before the virus either ducking questions about what he knew about the sports rorts affair, or why he had not sacked his Energy Minister. Excellent questions. But from the moment the virus struck, Morrison reverted to an old trick. He had used a similar technique during the bush-fires, where if he was questioned about anything other than the bush-fire emergency, he accused the questioner of bringing up politics.

That is a strange response from someone who is in the public eye for one reason, and one reason only. He is not famous for his wit, or his skill with a whip, or because he hypnotises chickens. He lives and breathes politics, and that is why we even know his name. Anyway, the virus provided him with timely cover.

I have written elsewhere about his response to the Covid-19 response, see here https://askbucko.com/2020/04/15/morrison-handles-the-crisis/ I think it has been more than adequate, as it should have been. That is why we entrusted him with the job. Protect Australians when they are in danger. He only did what the majority of world leaders did, although he acted more quickly than many others, to his credit.

That does not change the facts. He was facing an escalating problem concerning his own, and his Government’s honesty. He leads a Government made up of opportunists and narrow idealogues, and even now he keeps most of the Ministry hidden. He obviously learnt a valuable lesson during the last election campaign. Be the front man, and if you must use your ministers, keep it to a minimum. And instead of pursuing political advantage in every television appearance, share the praise, and the thank yous, around. The Premiers have certainly grown in stature, and built on their reputations, following the disastrous summer.

Remember it is a health emergency

Lately Morrison has been pushing the opening of the schools. He believes this will unlock the economy. So his emphasis is shifting, from a health crisis, to an economic catastrophe. With the shift in emphasis, his tone is hardening. He is speaking of limiting support for those who have lost their jobs, and he refuses to expand the eligibility criteria for welfare payments.

At times like this he can sound like the bursar at a local church, disappointed with the takings from the collection plate. Welfare at times like this can mean food on the table, and a heater on for a cold night. Or heaven forbid, a roof over your head. These things keep people alive, and we need to provide them, to all who need them.

Winter is coming, and thousands are still living in tents, because of the other calamity in this country – a bush-fire season like no other, three months ago. So don’t pull out the old story about what we can afford. We can afford whatever it takes.

So let us see if you can walk and chew gum at the same time. Do your job. You have more than one. Get the admin done. Release the money that still hasn’t reached the bush-fire victims. Allow the Premiers to continue doing their terrific jobs. And treat Australians, all of them, as if they are all equally worthy of our care and support.

Ignore those who whisper about herd immunity, or possible years of economic recovery. Ignore the economic dries in your party. Listen to experts, and the people. Many are angry and frustrated about the lock-down, but no-one wants to follow the United States down their deranged path.

Sweden chose ‘herd immunity’ – Australia didn’t


Sweden chose the wrong strategy

Considering how almost universally admired the Nordic countries are, Sweden has broken ranks with its neighbours, in the manner in which it has responded to the pandemic. The country has dealt with the Covid-19 virus very badly, and the proof that this is so, is its current death rate. It is close to the world’s worst.

According to the World Health Organisation, “a well-functioning healthcare system requires a steady financing mechanism, a properly-trained and adequately-paid workforce, well-maintained facilities, and access to reliable information to base decisions on.” Based on those criteria, Sweden has a modern, well-equipped, and funded, health system. It is at least the equal of Australia’s.

How does Sweden’s approach differ from ours?

It is very simple. Sweden did not lock-down. It relied on the opinion of one health bureaucrat, state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell, of the National Institute of Public Health, to formulate its response. It also relied on the innate good sense of its citizens, to voluntarily apply social distancing. Initially Mr Tegnall believed that it would not spread from China. Later on, he believed that contact tracing of individual cases coming from abroad, would be an effective method of stopping the contagion.

The Government, led by Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, continued to follow his advice; it was more comfortable in those early days, and chose not to legislate for social distancing. Later, at the end of March, as the pandemic claimed more lives, it limited gatherings, from 500 down to 50, and then legislated penalties for non-compliance. It also shut down visits to aged care facilities, because there were infections at close to half of them.

It looks very like Boris Johnson’s early mis-steps in the U.K., except that they corrected their direction even more belatedly than the British. One crucial difference is that they do not seem shy about mentioning ‘herd immunity’. The Swedish Government is now claiming that it is approaching that point. At what cost? Well, that would be 1540 deaths, and counting. The death rate per million citizens is 151. Australia’s is 3.

Those bearing the burden for that herd immunity are the elderly. Swedes are at last awake to this fact, and they are not happy. The Swedish Government has listened, and is desperately playing catch-up.

Why discuss Sweden?

I mention Sweden because there is a rising impatience with the lock-down, here. We are all tired of isolation, and grumpy that we are not seeing our families and friends, or football matches even. Many business leaders are calling for selective re-opening of sectors of the economy. Many believe that we have over-reacted to the Covid-19 pandemic, and I fear that their voices will become louder. I fear that our politicians will listen to those voices, and lose their resolve.

It is hard to trust politicians in this country. They have failed us so spectacularly over the last decade or so, that it is difficult to believe that they have our best interests in mind. Already the Murdoch press is railing at the shut-down, and the spectre of government debt is looming. Business leaders are warning of financial Armageddon, the IPA is warning that we have lost our basic freedoms, and the forces of the right are gathering steam.

I want the Government to stay the course, because this virus is so effective, and so infectious, and we are so close to victory. The Swedish example is proof that social distancing is the best way to defeat the virus, and that allowing life to go on as if nothing is happening is totally disastrous. Not to mention cavalier, in treating the lives of ANY citizens as expendable.

Scott Morrison has been something of a revelation lately. But there are elements within his own party, and within the loud right, who would undo the good work done so far. We need to continue our locked down lives, at least until we have evidence that we have neutralised the virus. Black humour in times of crisis is fine, but the U.S. is losing 3000 lives a day; on Sweden’s worst day they lost 170 out of a small population. These are not just numbers, but real people, lost forever to their families, and their communities.

This is too serious to leave to the cynics and the profit takers. The fear of a second wave is no laughing matter, as Singapore can attest; and we have barely felt the first wave. I believe in our own scientists, and our medical people, and I am prepared to back our current strategy. Our lives depend on it.

UPDATED April 22, 2020

Nearly 1800 people have now died in Sweden, making it the 14th worst affected country globally.

The death rate is 156.45 per million compared to 62.84 in Denmark, 28.41 in Norway and 17.69 in Finland, all of which have much more severe lockdowns. Its death toll is roughly three times the combined total of its Scandinavian neighbours. Australia’s death rate remains at about 3.

We have to stay the course!