Category Archives: COVID-19

Pandemic matters

Morrison handles the crisis – sort of


Scott Morrison has had a reasonable month

Australia has also had a good month. There have been mis-steps, and mixed messages, and the occasional catastrophic blunder (the Ruby Princess springs to mind), but in a global pandemic we have, along with our cousins across the Tasman, apparently slowed the progress of the virus. It is not empty patriotism to be proud of our achievement.

Against many predictions, Scott Morrison not only turned up, but as the weeks unfolded, he began to seem empathetic. His confidence grew, and he stopped enumerating all the favours he had done for us, and understood that it was his job. His press conferences began to resemble real information sessions, and to look less like infomercials for the Liberals.

Of course he began by taking on the workload single handed, but he then gradually introduced us to Greg Hunt, the Health Minister. He was formerly known as The Minister for Announcing New Drugs on the PBS, but he has, similarly to Morrison, grown in this time.

The real change has been in his attitude to us

The Prime Minister, during his time in parliament, and presumably for his entire adult life, has shown a strange lack of compassion towards “the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame”, as the Bible might describe those who struggle (Luke 14:21). I put this down to his religious faith, which is constrained by its pre-Enlightenment beliefs. This means that the very notion of any form of welfare goes against the grain. A loyal and grateful God will look after the Faithful should catastrophe happen, and supposedly charities will pick up the slack.

He seems to have been able to put aside his disdain for those who do not always ‘have a red-hot go’. Perhaps he has seen that occasionally life throws stuff at you which you can’t deal with, or even that some people are not so well equipped for a hyper-competitive world.

He doubled the unemployment benefit for those who were already unemployed, and included them in his stimulatory package. I still wonder that he did not make more political capital from his doubling of the Jobseeker Allowance, but perhaps he did not want to directly confront the IPA types.

He also, for once, listened to the Labor Party, and the ACTU, and broadly adopted their suggested wages subsidy, which is revolutionary for a neo-liberal Government. Boris Johnson had also done it, in the U.K. so there was a precedent. But he continued to elevate the good of the individual citizen above the needs of the budget.

In another break with ‘dry’ orthodoxy, he convened a ‘national cabinet’, made up of the leaders of the states and territories. This from a man not seen as naturally amenable to the idea of sharing power, but the Premiers have all been impressed with his growing spirit of co-operation. Of course good sense can only go so far, so he was unwilling to enlist the Opposition Leader’s assistance.

It seems that he is governing with compassion, for most of us, and that he has shrugged off the strait-jacket of ideology. Or maybe he just decided that there was no benefit in ignoring the obvious. People need to eat, whether they are in work, or not.

What did it cost?

Early estimates were around $300 billion, and counting. But it has saved many lives. As of today’s figures, there have been 102 deaths, which means a lot of grieving families, but it is many less than we might have expected. It is worth whatever it costs. And it is money from the communal pot. We can afford it, because we want to.

The shutdown of the economy will be difficult to recover from. But Australia has weathered many storms, and I have faith that the measures he has facilitated, from an immediate survival perspective, will at least soften the blow for those least fortunate. Many have slipped through the safety net, but he appears to be discovering the fact that it is part of his ‘job description’; to alleviate suffering wherever he sees his fellow citizens doing it hard. Compare that statement with our expectations of him after the bush-fires!

Where to from here?

He will most probably face internal revolt from the hard right within his party, sooner rather than later. His current spending is heavily reliant on Keynesian economics right now. Keynes’ ideas may be the only credible theory for times like this, and it has been instructive to see so many of the world’s governments recently reverted to the old orthodoxy.

This economic theory postulates that “the government should increase demand to boost growth,” amongst other similarly expansionary fiscal measures. It was seen to work through Roosevelt’s ‘New Deal’ package in the 1930s. This sort of stimulus is very unpopular with neo-liberals, who tend to be driven by their own ideology, concerning keeping government small, and spending minimal. Already we are hearing from libertarians and right wing think tanks such as the IPA that we need to re-open businesses, and to end the lock-down.

Interesting research from the period 1914 – 1919 shows that cities in the U.S. which maintained their social distancing and lock-downs during the Spanish Flu (1918-20) longer, bounced back more quickly, and more resoundingly. Read about this effect here https://arstechnica.com/science/2020/04/lockdowns-flatten-the-economic-curve-too/

Will he survive the challenge?

Scott Morrison has steered this country safely through the early stages of a profound crisis. He will see clamour for a return to the busy days, in an attempt to re-start the economy. He needs to hold his nerve, because the Spanish Flu pandemic taught us something else – if you take your foot off the brake, the second wave can be more devastating than the first. That happened in 1919, and there is no rule that says it will not happen again.

We have yet to see the worst of this particular crisis. India, Russia, Indonesia, Brazil and the United States are all entering unknown terrain, and we are very, very lucky to live where we do. The last thing we need is to listen to populists and ideologues, whose concern for society is zero. Remember their leader, Maggie Thatcher, who in 1987 uttered these words: “They are casting their problems at society. And, you know, there’s no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look after themselves first. Not much of a belief system, if you ask me.

This article has been recently updated, to reflect some changes in relevant facts. The tally of deaths in Australia from COVID19 was revised from 62 to 102.

Early days in this pandemic, but we CAN do this


The ‘Spanish Flu’ pandemic of 1918-1920 bears a strong resemblance to the current pandemic. Although the actual virus causing the disease is different, the result of the infection is similar. It causes pneumonia, and people die, in large numbers. There is no vaccine, so it needs to be managed. We can starve the virus, by limiting its hosts, and it will disappear. Or we can allow it to run through our community, until it decimates the population.

There are a range of self-help measures we can use. People need to physically distance themselves from others. They need to wash their hands regularly, using soap and water, or alcohol based sanitiser. They need to clean up their coughing, and even their breathing protocols, so that they ensure that they do not pass the virus on.

People coming in from overseas need to be quarantined. Not because they came from overseas, but because the virus, to this moment, has spread mostly from those who have recently returned. They need to be policed in this quarantine, because many have been found to be untrustworthy. And these rogues are not only annoying – they are potentially killing people.

We know these things because we have had time to study what has worked, and what has not worked, overseas. We also have the historical record. The Spanish Flu was another pandemic, and we know what worked then, and we know that the same measures will work for us, now.

We have watched China, South Korea, Singapore, Italy, Spain and the U.S. As the pandemic unrolls we know where the mistakes were made, and what worked. We know that physical distancing works, and yet last week we had the fiasco of the ‘hairdressing edict’, where hairdressing was treated as an essential service, and we even extended the time allowed.

We had the saga of the Ruby Princess, where Border Force had responsibility for allowing 2700 passengers to disembark, and to then disperse throughout the country, from Sydney, which was already carrying the burden of the largest number of confirmed cases in the nation. That might turn out to be the defining moment of our battle with the virus, when we realised this was serious, and we needed to wake up.

Is health more important than wealth?

We have had the argument about whether this is a health or an economic emergency. It is a HEALTH EMERGENCY. If we don’t survive this there won’t be anyone around to enjoy the bounce-back.

Eventually, and very haltingly, the Federal Government has responded with emergency measures, although the division of resources, or the balancing act between health and economy has meant that we have seen more of a financial response from the Feds, and more of a public health response from the States. This repeats the mistakes of the Spanish Flu response.

In late 1918 Victoria withheld its statistics on Spanish Flu cases, leading New South Wales to allow travel from Melbourne, when it was actually unsafe to do so. This proved to be extremely dangerous, and it led New South Wales to close its border with Victoria. Co-operation between the states collapsed. This time around, the Commonwealth seems powerless to act, and instead the states are acting alone, closing borders, closing schools, closing hairdressers even.

Scott Morrison is a man divided. He looks like he wants to lead, but his caution and political cunning holds him back. Every press conference concedes some ground, but it lacks what is needed now. We need the leader of the country to catch up with his premiers, to decide on positive action to stop the virus, to throw away the political handbook, and to worry about Australians’ health, and never mind the cost!

He should immediately sack Dutton and Robert, for gross incompetence, and he should include members of the Opposition in a type of ‘wartime cabinet’. This is not the time for politics, but for national mobilisation, using the best minds we have, so that we do not lose lives meaninglessly.

This virus seems to be most dangerous to the elderly. We cannot afford to lose them, as we could not afford to lose our young men, which we did, during the Spanish Flu. Australians who, by stupidity, or inability to act for the common good, should not be allowed to endanger the rest of us.

We need, to put it bluntly, to pull our finger out.