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Jennifer, who has a PhD, has worked as an academic and a scholar, but now works at little of both her careers. She has published short stories in several anthologies, academic papers and book chapters, frequently on the topic of human rights. Her interests and writing are wide ranging, including cultural analysis. Jennifer has written for On Line Opinion, Suite 101 and ABC’s Drum Unleashed. Jennifer is well-known for her long-running blog No Place for Sheep: an eclectic blog that covers politics, society, satire, fiction and fun stuff.

When you can’t trust the leader…

One month ago, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that it is his government’s aim to have four million Australians vaccinated by the end of March, with a target to roll out 80,000 COVID-19 vaccinations per week by mid to late February.

First, do the maths and see if you think this is honest.

Then consider for a moment what kind of leader makes a vaccination announcement that is so glaringly untruthful it can’t be rationalised as a careless mistake by even the most committed sycophant.

You might conclude, as I have, that the Prime Minister doesn’t give a toss what he says about the vaccination rollout, as long as he says something.

Two days ago, Mr Morrison told the media that our vaccination program is “on track” having clearly forgotten his January announcement, or else consigned it to his dustbin of announcements without substance that is, by now, surely filled to overflowing.

Strangely, nobody at the press conferences where Mr Morrison has insisted we are “on track” has bothered to refer him to his January claims, or indeed, asked him to define what “on track” actually means, given those claims.

But wait. There’s more. On the ABC Insiders program today it was stated that the vaccination roll out will begin next week. I asked for the source of this claim, because there is no such information on the government health website.

 

 

As yet I’ve received no reply and I don’t really expect that I will, to be honest.

What I would like to know is why Insiders is apparently gifted with this announcement when the information is not available on the government website, and no politician has confirmed that the Pfizer vaccine has even arrived in the country.

It is mid February. No roll out has been announced. We will not achieve a vaccination rate of 80,000 by the end of this week, and neither will we reach the four million figure pulled out of somebody’s nether regions by the end of March. We are not “on track.” We are very far from “on track.”

On January 25, the Therapeutic Goods Administration approved the Pfizer vaccine, which is expected to cover around 20% of the population. However, as of writing the Pfizer vaccine has not yet arrived in Australia from Europe and some 80,000 -100,000 doses are reportedly expected next week. These will be batch tested before they are rolled out, adding another week to the estimated wait time.

Then there is the AstraZeneca vaccine, to be used for the majority of us. There are 50 million doses in production on shore (or as Mr Morrison likes to call them, “sovereign” doses) while we are importing 3.8 million more. This vaccine has not yet been approved for use by the TGA.

So as of writing, there is, in fact, no vaccine at all in Australia that is ready for use. But don’t worry. We are on track!

On February 4 the PM had the chutzpah to announce that given our “sovereign” production rate, we would begin vaccination before New Zealand, due to start in April. But that isn’t true either, dear readers! New Zealand will start its Pfizer roll out on February 20, 6 days from now, when we may or may not have our vaccine and even if we do, it won’t be ready for use!

Mr Morrison has repeatedly referred us to the government health website for up to date and reliable information on matters to do with COVID-19. However, as mentioned above, you will find no indication on that site of when the vaccination roll out is due to begin.

But what you will find on this government site is a statement by infectious diseases expert Dr Nick Coatsworth that COVID-19 “is definitely not an airborne pathogen”: (thanks to @SusanSmithAus for alerting me to this)

COVID-19 is definitely not an airborne pathogen. When you have airborne pathogens, like measles for example, the basic reproductive number that we’ve all come to know so well is much higher than what it is for COVID-19 – so, so definitely not an airborne. It’s got- this is a droplet pathogen which means it settles on surfaces. Once it is coughed up or expectorated it tends to- it drops to the ground very quickly. And that’s why hand hygiene and physical distance are our most important measures, and will be our most important measures particularly when we start opening businesses that they that they enable processes that allow us to keep our distance from each other until we have a vaccine or effective treatment.

Yet on January 16, a group of senior scientists, health and safety experts and doctors claimed that:

Failure at a federal level to acknowledge COVID-19 is transmitted through the air has been putting the community at risk…Leading scientists said the virus could be leaking through our border controls because authorities have not put in place precautions that provide the greatest possible protection from airborne transmission.

On ABC QandA last Thursday evening, Professor Coatsworth was forced to defend his position on aerosol transmission. On February 4, experts claimed that the neglect of aerosol transmission was clearly a gap in Australia’s quarantine system.

In short, the federal government’s health website tells us nothing about when we can expect vaccines to be rolled out. It does, however, convey misleading information on the airborne nature of the COVID-19 virus, misinformation that is causing considerable consternation as experts work to address ongoing infections associated with quarantine hotels.

It would seem a futile exercise, to attempt to mislead the community about something like a vaccination roll out. It’s not as if we won’t notice that we aren’t getting the needle. However, this is what Scott Morrison does. He’s entirely focused on the announcement and entirely disinterested in the substance. Unfortunately, no one in the media seems to have charted his vaccine announcements or confronted him about their lack of substance.

While the majority of Mr Morrison’s announcements are not concerned with life-threatening matters and are generally misleading, exasperating, hurtful and deeply disappointing, the COVID-19 situation demands from a leader clarity, straightforwardness and trustworthiness.

None of these requirements are met by Morrison, or any of his ministers.

Morrison must have known, when he made his announcement one month ago, that there was no possibility of vaccinating 80,000 people in February and 4 million by the end of March. He must have known this, and yet he delivered this message to the country anyway. This is not how we need a leader to behave in these circumstances, or any other.

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

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Being Indifferent to Difference

By Dr Stewart Hase

Humans are not particularly adept at accepting difference. I suspect that we are hard wired to at least be wary of others who are not the same as us. In fact, research studies have shown that there is a genetic influence in racism and in other areas such as political attitudes. There may well be an intolerance gene.

An aspect of wisdom or at least being civilised, you’d think, would be the ability to rise above impulse and to bring cognition into play. Sadly, there has been little of this lately. First, we had the unbelievable decision to upgrade Margaret Court’s gong. She received the original for her tennis achievements. Fair enough, she was able to repeatedly smash a tennis ball where she wanted to and made Australia look good on the world stage. But if you’re an observer from anywhere other than the awards committee, you can only conclude that her upgrade was for the homophobic bile she manages to spit out, using her position to influence the more feeble-minded that agree with her. Her rationale: that god’s word is the TV guide for life.

In the same vein, we then witness the leadership, if you want to call it that, at the St George Rugby League Club make the mind-numbing decision to negotiate with Israel Folau to return to Australia to play. Difficult to imagine what kind of logic that went into that idea. Luckily, the fear of losing sponsors and a backlash from fans slayed that dragon, but the fact they even thought about it was breathtaking.

Then we have the Collingwood scandal that exposed systemic racism at the club over many years, and the ugly reality that this is not an isolated case. This weekend, racism was called out again in football in the UK, albeit on social media by lunatic fans. Back here in Oz, Eddie Maguire managed to put his foot in his mouth again as he declared the release of the report on racism at Collingwood to be an historic and proud day.

Given his gaffe over Adam Goodes, does Eddie have a problem with language or is he inherently racist? I think the latter, given he was completely blind to what was happening at his club. The buck stops with him. I’m amazed that they are waiting until the end of the year for him to step down as chairman. Why was he not sacked last week?

We need to be careful to not assume that these high-profile cases are exceptions. They are the tip of the iceberg. I hear racist, homophobic and other slurs around difference at my local golf club and in other places where people mix, on a regular basis. And so do you. We damn the different, no matter what the form. We don’t value diversity, only diversity that makes others more the same as us, in other words, assimilation. We want migrants to be Australians, as long as they cook their authentic national dishes.

Sadly, we are not as civilised as we would like to think ourselves to be. I think we are getting better at calling out prejudice when we see it but we still need much more leadership from politicians and institutions such as those that support the events I’ve described above.

The quip of the week goes to Deborah Devine who talked about her son Dan Levy, the star of Schitt’s Creek, who is gay. She had a message to Dan’s bullies at a school camp when he was a boy: “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!” Dan was hosting the prestigious program, a measure of his enormous success.

 

Stewart is a psychologist with a special interest in how people adapt and also learn. He’s written widely in these areas. He continues to consult, and annoy people who misuse power. Twitter: @stewarthase

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

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What Australian media doesn’t report and …

This article was written by the founder of #ThisIsNotJournalism, a social media account that looks at the reporting of mainstream Australian media, particularly on stories relating to politics at both state and federal levels.

They are constantly dismayed at what they see.

Follow them on Twitter here: @StopLyi58491572

I’ve just read a piece by CJ Werleman in the Byline Times.

I am angry.

NO!

I am absolutely furious!

The main subject matter is the role of media, particularly the likes of Fox News in the January 6 attack on democracy in the US. Yes, that made me angry but I’m pretty sure most of us see platforming lies and partisan spin as a very great danger to many of the institutions we hold dear. What made me absolutely FUCKING FURIOUS was this:

Werelman quotes James Murdoch in a stinging rebuke of his father’s media empire where, in a joint statement he and wife Kathryn say:

“Many media property owners have as much responsibility for this as the elected officials who know the truth but choose instead to propagate lies. We hope the awful scenes we have all been seeing will finally convince those enablers to repudiate the toxic politics they have promoted once and forever”.

This was reported around the world. Well, around the world with the exclusion of Australia.

Murdoch’s news business, which owns a vast number of regional news papers as well as the major mastheads in most capital cities, did not report on this and, as such, it failed to get the coverage from other outlets that it rightly deserved. In many areas, the daily news agenda is set by Murdoch.

On the one hand, we have Australian politicians openly supporting Trump and his absurd claims of election rigging while, on the other, we have a media organisation withholding a vital international story in order to promote their own agenda.

I’m sorry, this is simply not good enough. It’s time we, you, me and anyone else who believes we have a right to a decent standard of reporting in this country, started calling this rubbish out and calling out those that work in these organisations. If you agree, stay with me. If you don’t, thanks for coming this far.

I have recently established a Twitter account with the aim of identifying poor journalism. I call it #ThisIsJournalism. I wanted @StopLying but instead, ended up with @ StopLyi58491572

My intention had been to highlight bias and misinformation in the lead up to what I believe will be a 2021 election. There is no doubt in the minds of many that media bias plays a significant role in misinforming the electorate and as such, distorting our democracy.

Rather than following, “The usual suspects”, the legion of erudite, passionate and often like-minded #auspol Tweeps, I set about following a very large number of people who actually get published on a daily or weekly basis. I noted some interesting things as I looked through their profiles. Are you aware, for example, that a number of outlets, particularly Sky and some News publications have moved away from calling a significant number of the people who write or speak their content “journalists”?

I was also blocked immediately on following by a few of their accounts including, somewhat ironically, by one with #JournalismIsNotACrime in their profile

O…K.

Journalism is absolutely not a crime. Blatant and misleading propaganda for one side of politics over the other is not journalism and probably should be a crime but at the very least, needs to be called out.

This brought me to a question: What is journalism?

It seems a pretty fundamental question, particularly for those of us who express our dissatisfaction with the standard of journalists and their work so, what better place to start than a peak industry body?

@withMEAA give guidance and provide scrutiny to members. They also only look at published pieces so comments on social media clearly do not classify as journalism. I’m perfectly happy with that.

MEAA Journalist Code of Ethics is as follows:

“Respect for truth and the public’s right to information are fundamental principles of journalism. Journalists search, disclose, record, question, entertain, comment and remember. They inform citizens and animate democracy.”

Interestingly, it goes on… “They scrutinise power, but also exercise it, and should be responsible and accountable.”

This is pretty much the point James Murdoch made in the evisceration of his father and his minions. Yes, the one we didn’t see. It also happens to be one of the areas in which I believe we find journalists fail most frequently. I believe it’s our duty to scrutinise them.

Historically, as early as 1837, the press was deemed the Fourth Estate. Originally, there was the clergy, the nobility and the commoners as the first three estates. Media was seen as the perfect tool to “keep the bastards honest” to steal from the great Don Chipp. Many of the comments I see on Twitter and even conversations in real life, question if that very admirable objective is being achieved. Personally, I believe there are a few outstanding MSM journalists but it’s obvious that the vast majority are either too stretched to explore topics to the extent they should or influenced by ideology/bias be it their own or the publication’s they work for.

Journalist should be the protectors of our fragile democracy. James Murdoch has very clearly identified the consequence of poor journalism. It’s not only their historical role but also what is set out in their Code of Ethics here in Australia.

We, the people of #auspol Twitter need to rise up and become the Fifth Estate, holding the Fourth Estate to account and calling them out when they fail to fulfil their time-honoured duty. I hope you’ll join me in doing so

Remember, #ThisIsJournalism because #JournalismIsNotACrime but crap journalism should be.

Oh, here’s a link to that great Byline Times piece. Get Furious

 

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

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Morrison: Opportunity Lost to Attack Racism or Political Expediency?

By Dr Stewart Hase

Good leaders know that what they say influences people. This is particularly true for political leaders because they have followers that share the same biases. We saw this in spades with Trumpism. But politicians can also influence others, the swinging voter: the person in the middle.

Scott Morrison decided this week to model his contempt for Indigenous Australia by criticising the stand by Cricket Australia to drop the term Australia Day in their promotions for the Big Bash League. Then he managed to demonstrate his complete misunderstanding of history by noting that January 26th wasn’t particularly flash for the first fleeters either. Not only missing the point that these first arrivals marked the beginning of genocidal behaviour that, arguably, continues today, but also demonstrating his complete indifference to Indigenous peoples.

And Morrison has form when it comes to his insensitivity, his inbuilt racism. In 2020 he dismissed the notion that there was no slavery in Australia. Here he conveniently rewrote history. More recently, Morrison spoke out against racism towards Chinese in Australia, wanting to protect the economy but not a word about racism towards our own people. Are we indeed, one and free? He also took the Trumpian line that criticised the Black Lives Matter protests in the USA as driven by left wing extremists rather than the victims of institutionalised racism. But at that time, he was still wanting to appease Trump and the right establishment.

Cricket Australia has shown leadership and, coming from a position of power, set out to influence its followers, to attack the racism that is, unfortunately, alive and well in Australian culture. Scott Morrison lost an opportunity as he did when the Wallabies sang the first verse of the National Anthem in a local Indigenous language before playing Argentina last year. Instead, he chose the easy option, to cower to the right wing in his own party, to follow his baser instincts. Scotty from marketing!

So, is Morrison’s behaviour a lack of leadership, which seems likely given his stance or lack of it on so many issues, or is it a demonstration of his and the right-wing intolerance, insensitivity and racism towards our own Indigenous peoples? Perhaps he is simply appealing to his base and it is all about votes. Whatever the case, history will not be kind to him when it judges his performance. Or is it all three. I suspect it is the latter.

Stewart is a psychologist with a special interest in how people adapt and also learn. He’s written widely in these areas. He continues to consult, and annoy people who misuse power. Twitter: @stewarthase

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

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ME-ISM: The cult of the Individual

By Dr Stewart Hase

Let me state from the beginning that I am not opposed to human rights. I’m a member of Amnesty. I will never complain or even raise an eyebrow to someone’s right to order a quarter strength, half almond and goat’s milk, three quarter decaf, latte in a compostable cup while half an office block of people are waiting in line.

Apparently, around a hundred anti-maskers invaded Westfield Shopping Centre in Paramatta at the weekend. The report, complete with video and photos even shows placards stating that Coronavirus is a scam. Clearly, these people have been over stimulated by Craig Kelly’s Facebook page and need to spend more time in the real world.

What I most want to ask these demonstrators is what would be the motive of any government, particularly ours that is obsessed with neoliberal principles. Point the finger at anarchists by all means but she’s only running a party of two and has completely lost all influence. If they want to blame someone then they should blame that big guy in the sky with a white beard that apparently has nothing else to do than take an interest in one, tiny species on a very tiny planet, in a minor galaxy among the billions of galaxies in what is an increasingly large universe (apologies to Monty Python).

But I digress and don’t want to spend too much time and effort pouring cold vaccine on yet another conspiracy theory: cognitive bias almost certainly makes this a waste of time and effort.

Let me also admit to the fact that I hate baseball caps and refuse to wear them. This is not pique but a broader statement about wanting an Australian culture not an American one. My protest includes a dogged resistance to spelling colour correctly and travelled has two &*$#@@! LLs not one, so there. The placard at the demonstration in Parramatta, that read, ‘We will not be muzzled’ is a more important issue.

The culture of the individual or what I want to call ME-ISM, is embedded in the US constitution. In simple terms this was an attempt to ensure that the new country would not be subject to the power of governments, as it had been as a colony under the British. Individual rights were given the nod over collectivism. I’m sure that the founding fathers did not foresee how this would eventually play out when America became the most powerful country in the world, neoliberalism would rule and Trump would come to represent an American ideology that places the needs of the individual before the needs of the community, where the common good has become an anachronism. And the powerful are given free reign to do and say what they want.

And we, Australia, are inheriting this philosophy, just like the baseball cap. The anti-maskers, the anti-vaxxers, and those who don’t get tested or isolate when they have cold symptoms or lie when they enter public places make this clear. People who think about themselves rather than the collective good, who don’t care about the 80-year old that is going to die because they don’t want to wear a mask. And it’s not just because the mask is uncomfortable-it’s ideological. As an ex nurse, I’d wear a mask for hours and it is easy to get used to it.

As a psychologist, I’m obviously familiar with the fact that self-interest is a major human motivator. But there is a self-interest in being a good community member too because the community will take care of us-there is a strength in numbers. I suspect that this worked really well when we lived in small tribes and everyone knew everyone else and it was difficult to be a rebel. It is evident in small communities. But I suspect we have lost this with large cities and increasing population.

The effectiveness of communities relies on people being compliant: to put the interests of the common above their own. It relies on co-operation. It relies on leadership from our politicians and for the common to speak up with our expectations.

Or are we to follow the American way?

Stewart is a psychologist with a special interest in how people adapt and also learn. He’s written widely in these areas. He continues to consult, and annoy people who misuse power. Twitter: @stewarthase

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

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How many lies are too many lies?

By Dr Stewart Hase

“In a time of deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” – George Orwell

The storming of America’s Bastille, the Capitol Building has, finally, forced the debate that we needed to have had years ago. Propaganda, lies, and misinformation have been with us for thousands of years – they are part of the human condition. Print media has long traded on the propensity for humans to need simple solutions to complex issues, to accept whatever reinforces their biases, to be influenced by the influential, to respond to emotions rather than facts or science. Murdoch and others have made the trade in misinformation and artform. The communication tech giants just did what they thought was their job, being vehicles, platforms, for people to communicate. They never gave the consequences a thought.

January the 6th and the threat of major protests across the USA up to the inauguration have created the perfect storm for a sudden gnashing of teeth. Finally, the lines are being drawn, pretty well in accord with the right and left of politics, about what constitutes freedom of speech. Are their conditions in which it is fine to lie, to spread misinformation, distort or ignore the facts, quote questionable ‘science’, to spread hate, and slur others? To create the conditions to overthrow democracy?

Well, Scott Morrison seems to think so by refusing to censor Craig Kelly over his Trumpian behaviour, using the ‘freedom of speech’ argument. Not a whisper from anyone on the right about his mate, George Christensen who, among other things and blind to the irony of it, wants to censor the tech giants for fact checking. Freedom of speech, then, means anything goes-say what you want. The real tragedy is that Facebook have let Kelly and Christensen get away with campaign of disinformation for so long.

Kelly has now used the platform to discredit the wearing of masks by children, calling it child abuse, has prompted the use of hydroxychloroquine in the past and now thinks that Betadine (a topical antiseptic) is the miracle cure. All based on unsubstantiated and even spurious research. What they fully realise is that they are coming from a position of power, and, wanting hope and miracle cures to reduce their anxiety, many will believe what they say. And even act on it.

No doubt that such power massages the politicians’ fragile egos.

The best that even the health Minister, Greg Hunt, can manage is to say that we should listen to the health experts. No censorship of his compatriots or recognition of the misinformation. Just a beige response.

Now we have the acting PM, Michael McCormack legitimising MPs who want to spread lies and disinformation, claiming that facts are contentious, and gracing us with the profound logic that the sky can be grey and blue at the same time because facts are subjective. Presumably he’s a fan of Kellyanne Conway’s thesis on alternate facts.

Not content with that, McCormack has now fuelled a storm by making an astounding comparison between the riots in Washington and the BLM protests.

We have seen the result of the ‘say what you want’ version of free speech in America and how democracy is being tragically undermined. The question is, when will we follow suit? We already saw an inkling of this with Tony Abbot’s unconscionable dismantling of Julia Gillard that went unchecked, and was fuelled by the media of the print and the social kind.

Australia is good at lying to itself. It’s done it for years over racism and misogyny. Are we going to kid ourselves that we are a fair, progressive, intelligent nation while allowing the manipulation of truth, as identified by George Orwell, to run rampant?

How far are we willing to go? Perhaps fostering hate to the point that people feel that it is OK to kill? Allowing the entitled to destroy our democracy, as nearly happened in America over recent weeks?

How far Australia, how far?

Stewart is a psychologist with a special interest in how people adapt and also learn. He’s written widely in these areas. He continues to consult, and annoy people who misuse power. Twitter: @stewarthase

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

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My Story from the Great Plague Isles

By Msunderstood

As far as COVID is concerned, Australia is one of the safest places in the world to be. Msunderstood is an Australian vet living in Scotland, where the situation is very different. Here is her powerful account of life in the UK right now.

After graduating from UQ Vet School and spending two years working in the Snowy Mountains, it was time to explore the world. Following several months wearing out my Eurail pass, I found myself in Edinburgh staying with a school friend on a teacher exchange. I instantly fell in love with Edinburgh and decided to seek work in Scotland. A series of locum jobs, some for a week, some for months and others for years, then came marriage, kids, a farm and lots of debt! Many years later, I am divorced, with two teenagers and juggling two jobs. Then fate intervened, and I met my Someone… only one problem… he lives in Australia. So about two years ago I decided once the kids had finished secondary school it would be time to return home and start a new life.

Pre Covid, my Someone and I had managed to see each other several times a year. Then came 2020. As I write this I am in the depths of a Scottish winter, the thermometer barely above freezing for the past week. Again we are in lockdown. For the third time, thanks to the utter mismanagement and corruption of the ‘WestMonster’ government. Official figures show well over 80 000 dead and we are now losing over 1000 daily due to Covid.

We initially went into lockdown in March – stay at home orders were issued and many (including me) were furloughed. We were allowed out to exercise once a day and for essential shopping. It wasn’t much fun, but being allowed to binge watch Netflix without feeling guilty about not working seemed ok for a while. I was called back to work after about 6 weeks, as the surgery had been working on skeleton staff and the vets and nurses were starting to burn out under the strain. Honestly, I was glad to be working again, as it kept the mind occupied and we seemed to be coming out of the first wave.

The death toll was huge and many of us assumed that Boris’ close shave with the virus may have changed his approach. Sadly, as we now know, this assumption proved false. The lockdown was eased when the numbers in London showed the virus was in decline. Unfortunately, the rest of the country was some weeks behind and this opening up too soon proved to be a disaster.

The ‘Great British Summer’ arrived (not summer as any Aussie would know it) and as everyone knows the Brits love their summer holidays abroad. The government encouraged travel, so they went, in their hundreds of thousands. Evidence now show that the main strain identified in Scotland after the summer was from Spain. “The strain from Spain comes mainly on the plane”??

Then the government had a brain wave to aid the hospitality sector – ‘Eat out to Help out’ where dining out was subsidised. This was also a great success… at spreading the virus.

By the end of summer the virus in the north of England was out of control, and Manchester and many other areas were put into heightened restrictions. By November, London was in a ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown to try to control the spread again. The bright idea to allow households to mix for 5 days over Christmas was eventually reduced to one day, after pressure from the scientific community. Numbers since then have rocketed and the NHS is at the point of crumbling under the stress.

Although each of the four nations of the UK have taken a slightly different approach and have slightly different fatality rates, the mismanagement of the whole saga has been one of too little, too late, not following the scientific evidence and corruption of the highest order. From the purchasing of PPE, the awarding of contracts to Tory cronies, the billions thrown at a test and trace system that is not fit for purpose, and an app that does not work, the setting up of emergency hospitals with no-one to staff them-every step taken has been wrong footed.

So lockdown again. Yet for the last 10 months there has been no border control. You can still land at Heathrow airport and walk straight through onto a tube and into London. Self-quarantine is required if you fly in from non-exempt countries, but it is not policed. There is talk of pre flight testing being required now, but considering we now have the highest infection rate per capita in the world, it seems rather pointless.

But life goes on… for some.

To avoid the mental scars on the staff that followed the first lockdown, the surgery staff have been split into two teams working week about, so that contamination and contact is minimised. Vets had to fight during the first lockdown to be considered ‘key workers’ and are restricted to essential and emergency work only. Interesting that some clients consider clipping nails an essential service!

Children are again off school and I doubt will be back before the summer holidays. In the past 11 months they have had about 15 weeks at school. For my son, that will mean he may go to university having never sat a formal examination.

Since March 2020, I have been to work and to get the groceries. The kids and I have had two day trips away, with a picnic, far from the madding crowds. I have not been for a swim, shopping with my daughter, I have had only two haircuts in the last 11 months, I wear a mask all day, every day at work and will do for the foreseeable future. It feels like being half alive. I realise that I am very fortunate to have a job and so far we have all been healthy, there are so many terribly sad stories to have come out of this crisis.

My plans to return home depend on all the other ‘stranded Aussies’ getting back first. My Someone and I Skype at least twice a day, every day, sometimes for hours when our schedules allow. It is not easy, and every day is a day closer but I am so scared that I will not live to enjoy the life we have planned together.

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

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When your government thinks banning Trump from Twitter is the real injustice

The response of the Australian government to US President Donald Trump’s incitement of the January 6 attack on the US Congress was, shall we say, muted.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison expressed his “distress” and his hope that order would soon be restored. However, he stopped far short of condemning the President, an extraordinary omission for the leader of a liberal democracy, considering Trump’s goal was to violently overthrow the results of a democratic election and retain his power.

It seems reasonable to expect that the government of a country that regards the US as its closest ally would express considerable alarm at a violent anti-democratic insurrection in which five people died, and yet…

Members of the Morrison government have saved their loudest outrage for Twitter, the social media platform Trump used to incite his followers, and the platform that has finally banned Trump for life. This, it appears, is the great injustice, an affront to “free speech,” and, wait for it, censorship.

Liberal MP Craig Kelly, Nationals backbencher George Christensen, Member for Wentworth, Dave Sharma, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack are among government members who have condemned the “silencing” of Trump. (Trump has a pressroom in his house & can summon the world corps at any time, but that spoils the narrative so let’s not mention it).

Several MPs have called for the introduction of regulations that will ensure the state has control over the terms of service of private businesses such as social media, a most extraordinary demand from the party of small government, and one made with absolutely no sense of the irony inherent in the demand.

Christensen has started a petition demanding legislation to rein in the big tech overlords. Sharma is calling for a “publicly accountable body” to control who social media companies can and cannot refuse to host on their platforms. Frydenberg says he is “uncomfortable” with Twitter’s decision to dump Donald, leaving this writer to wonder how “uncomfortable” Mr Frydenberg is with the spectacle of Trump’s anti-Semitic foot soldiers wearing shirts declaring that “6 million wasn’t enough.” Mr Frydenberg has remained silent on this outrage.

Michael McCormack (some of you may know him better as the Elvis Impersonator) has this morning doubled down on his assertion that the insurrection at the Capitol last week was no different from Black Lives Matter protests, an assertion that has been strongly repudiated by Indigenous groups and Amnesty International as deeply offensive and flawed.

McCormack went on to state that “violence is violence and we condemn it in all its forms,” except, apparently, when incited by President Trump, whom McCormack has conspicuously failed to condemn.

What actually happened was that Twitter warned the President over several weeks that his content was violating their terms of service. Twitter then placed warning notices on many Trump tweets, while still permitting their visibility. They offered Trump the opportunity to delete his more troubling posts, and he declined. Finally, after weeks of what many perceived as irresponsible tolerance on the part of the social media platform, Twitter banished Trump.

The President received far more warnings and chances than any other user in the history of Twitter.

It is a manipulative leap to equate the breaching of a private company’s terms of service with “censorship.”

As Garry Kasparov remarked on Twitter:

 

 

Let’s not forget as well the enthusiasm with which an LNP government, under John Howard, took us along with the US into the invasion of Iraq, claiming as one of their justifications the delivery of democracy to that country. And yet, when democracy is under threat from domestic terrorism inside the US itself, there’s an orchestrated effort on the part of the LNP to distract attention from these momentous events and focus instead on Twitter allegedly “censoring” the leader of that insurrection.

Big tech de-platforming Donald is what they want you to think about, not Donald trying to destroy the US democratic process. Ask yourself why this is.

It is deeply troubling when your government decides the issue is a president being chucked off Twitter, and not a president attempting to violently interfere with the results of an election in an attempt to retain power. In its refusal to condemn Trump, the Australian government leaves us with little alternative but to assume its tacit support of the outgoing US President.

If what you take from the events of the last week is that the outrageous injustice is Twitter banning Donald Trump, you are either complicit or incomprehensibly stupid. Which is the Morrison-led Australian government?

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

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Religious profit: Expanding the cashless welfare card ties in with Morrison’s beliefs

The philosophy of the cashless welfare card is the perfect marriage of neoliberal ideology and evangelical Christianity, both of which pathologise, criminalise and individualise poverty as a lifestyle choice.

The concept of the Cashless Debit Card, known as the “Indue” card after the company that oversees its administration, was brought to us by the obsessive efforts of mining magnate Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest who decided that the solution to what he perceived as the “welfare dependency” of Indigenous Australians was income management. The Australian government agreed with him and in 2014 legislation to implement the card in selected communities for a trial period passed federal parliament.

The stated purpose of the card was to prevent Centrelink recipients spending money on drugs, alcohol and gambling. However, whether you engage in those activities or not is irrelevant: if you live in a trial site, eighty per cent of your government payment is quarantined and you are permitted access to only twenty per cent of your money as cash.

There are now four trial sites: Ceduna in South Australia, East Kimberley, the West Australian towns of Kununurra and Wyndham, and most recently, the Bundaberg and Hervey Bay region of Queensland.

The so-called “trials” are now entering their fourth year, and in 2018 were extended into June 2021, despite there being little satisfactory data available on their success. While the trials now include non-Indigenous groups, they are still the majority of cardholders.

In 2019 the LNP government decided to extend the Indue card to every person already on income management in the Northern Territory from January 2020, by moving those already using the marginally less onerous BasicsCard onto Indue. There is considerable chatter on social media that the government’s endgame is to extend the card to aged pensioners and veterans, as well as everyone on Newstart, and that the roll-out will be national. Legislation is already in place for this roll-out.

Indue receives some $10,000 per annum per person from the government, for what is claimed to be “administrative costs.”

The demeaning assumption by the privileged that people living in poverty are incapable of managing meagre government handouts and so must be infantalised, is but one aspect of this class war. Another paternalistic assumption is that anyone in receipt of government assistance is a “welfare cheat” or a “dole bludger,” and their spending habits must, therefore, be surveilled and controlled in an effort to protect “worthy” taxpayers from exploitation.

Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in a visit to the Yalata community, described the card as an exercise in “practical love”, a variation on the concept of “hard love” once advocated as a means of dealing with people addicted to substances.

The implication that the poor are morally inadequate while the wealthy are, solely by virtue of their wealth, morally superior, nicely intersects with the beliefs of Pentecostal Christian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s prosperity theology, which understands God’s love and favour to be primarily expressed in wealth and material comforts. If you are poor, God doesn’t love you, and you haven’t loved him enough either.

The philosophy of the Indue card is the perfect marriage of neoliberal ideology and evangelical Christianity, both of which pathologise, criminalise and individualise poverty as a lifestyle choice, with nary a thought for underlying structural causes. Poverty becomes a question of character, rather than a consequence of capitalist social organisation.

The card is stigmatising. Whenever you produce it to buy food, for example, everyone who sees it is aware that you’re being managed as if you have a problem with gambling, alcohol or drug consumption, all addictions that are concealable if you’re middle or upper class, but highly visible if you’re poor and receiving income support. The card is punitive. It is intended to be, at the very least, a powerful and humiliating reproach to people who receive government assistance.

The shame it evokes only demonises Centrelink recipients.

If the card is rolled out to everyone on income assistance, the division of society into the comfortable worthy and undeserving unworthy will be stark. It is a profoundly troubling backward step to a time when poverty was widely held to be a moral failing.

At the same time, Indue receives some $10,000 per annum per person from the government, for what is claimed to be “administrative costs.” Were the card to be rolled out to every recipient of Centrelink assistance, including all pensioners and veterans, Indue earnings would be considerable, and the cost to the government equally considerable. It is reasonable to question whether these funds could not be better spent in disadvantaged communities, rather than channelled to Indue Ltd and its shareholders.

Then there are the National Party connections with the company. Former National Party MP and Party President, Larry Anthony, was deputy chairman of Indue until 2013.

Nationals MPs are pushing for the widespread roll-out of the card, as are Liberals. The ALP appears, at first blush, to be more reluctant to both continue and broaden the card’s distribution, however, we are fast approaching the point where it is becoming necessary for Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese to clarify his party’s stance on the issue.

This piece was originally published on The Big Smoke. You can find them on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/TheBigSmokeAU/) and on Twitter (https://twitter.com/TheBigSmokeAU).

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The “open secret”: when men do nothing

In an independent investigation by a former inspector general of intelligence and security, former High Court judge Dyson Heydon has been found to have sexually harassed six junior court staff during his period on the bench.

More stories of Heydon’s predatory behaviour are coming to light as I write this piece.

Law Society of Australia president Pauline Wright commented after the revelations that harassment is pervasive in the legal profession. In 2019, the International Bar Association found that one in four women had been harassed in their workplace.

Heydon’s sexual impropriety has been acknowledged as an open secret in legal circles. Which might cause one to wonder about the integrity of a profession dedicated to upholding the law, that protects men who transgress that law.

It really is the same old never-ending story. In 2015, surgeon Dr Caroline Tan found her career derailed after she spoke up about being sexual harassed by a colleague. The prevalence of harassment in medicine is not known, however, it is considered sufficiently serious to cause problems for women across the profession. It is likely an “open secret” in that profession as well.

The only way sexual harassment is called out is when victims speak up. We are dependent on traumatised women putting themselves at further risk to tell us what is going on.

Women who disclosed are frequently disbelieved, especially if the man involved is a powerful figure. Women are blamed, both for the abuse and for disclosing it. Women lose their jobs or promotions. Women can be branded as troublemakers or worse, as sexually problematic in the workplace. It isn’t the perpetrators who are subjected to punishment, retribution and shunning. It is the victims. Women are frequently left without sufficient support and face inadequate complaints processes. Women can be further traumatised by the reactions of others, and the all too real fear of losing their livelihoods.

This is far too much responsibility to put on women in these situations. It is beyond appalling that traumatised women are the only ones who disclose these behaviours, and the only ones who name the men who indulge in them.

If the harassment is an “open secret,” as has been confirmed in the case of Heydon by accounts from senior lawyers, men who are in on this “secret” are enabling and protecting the perpetrator. Men who know this secret and stay silent are signalling their willingness to let this behaviour continue. If men stay silent, women can assume they agree with the behaviour. Women can assume that they will receive little assistance if they approach a man with their story.

There is absolutely no doubt that sexual harassment can only happen within a structure that tolerates and enables it. That would appear to be practically every institution and workplace in the country where men are employed.

Men in the workplace must be aware that sexual harassment is taking place. They must hear about it, see it, and suspect it. And yet, they do nothing. As angry and disgusted as we might be at the behaviour of one individual, he could not continue in that behaviour without the enabling silence of other men. It’s time we started demanding of men, why didn’t you say something? It’s time we started holding men responsible for the behaviour of other men they do nothing to prevent.

Men harass women because they can and one of the reasons they can is because other men let them. It’s called complicit assent. Men are complicit in a culture that encourages the sexual harassment of women. Men who are complicit betray women, and abandon their ethics. The wide-spread harassment of women will not substantially change until men step up.

The careers of six promising women lawyers have been derailed by the direct action of one man, and the tolerance and complicity of that action by every other man who knew about it. In these situations, there is no such thing as an innocent bystander. Men need to realise they are culpable in their silence.

Not all men are sexual abusers and harassers. But as long as they don’t speak up, all men are responsible for their complicity with those who do abuse and harass in their workplaces. It’s time to hold men accountable for that complicity, and remind them that failing to speak up makes them assenters. It’s way beyond time to demand that men start taking responsibility for the actions of other men. Way beyond time.

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Lies, lies and more lies

On May 25 2020, the Secretary of Prime Minister and Cabinet, (PM&C) Phil Gaetjens, the most senior public servant in government administration, made a written submission to the Senate Finance and Public Administration References Committee inquiry into Lessons to be learned in relation to the preparation and planning for, response to and recovery efforts following the 2019-20 Australian bushfire season.

PM&C plays a central role in the management of crises, as outlined in the Gaetjens’ submission:

PM&C supports the Department of Home Affairs in coordinating the Australian Government’s crisis response, supporting effective decision-making by the Cabinet and its relevant sub-committees, advising the Prime Minister and facilitating coordination between Australian Government agencies. Emergency Management Australia (EMA) in the Department of Home Affairs is responsible for leading the government’s response to bushfires.

In his submission, Mr Gaetjens asserted that his department:

provided regular advice to the Prime Minister (including through his office) throughout the bushfire crisis, in close consultation with Emergency Management Australia (EMA).

You may recall that Prime Minister Scott Morrison left for a holiday in Hawaii on December 15th, 2019. At this time, eight people had died in NSW and Victorian bushfires, some of which had been burning since November. For the first few days Morrison’s office denied he was absent on vacation. On December 18, acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack confirmed that Morrison had left with his family for a holiday in “an undisclosed location.”

On Wednesday, May 27, Mr Gaetjens told the parliamentary inquiry that his department did not provide Morrison with any written or verbal briefings while he was away in Hawaii. This contradicts his written submission that regular advice had been provided to the Prime Minister by the department, throughout the bushfire crisis. Mr Gaetjens went on to say the he “believed” the Prime Minister’s office had been keeping Morrison updated while he was in Hawaii.

Apparently Mr Gaetjens doesn’t actually know this he merely “believes” it. Why didn’t Mr Gaetjens make it his business to know who was briefing the PM on a national catastrophe if his department was not? His department plays an essential role in the management of such crises and in advising the PM, yet they did not take responsibility for keeping him informed while he was on his Hawaiian sojourn, despite claiming he was briefed by them throughout the bushfires. Apparently, they did not ensure the PM’s office was briefing him either, they just “believed” it would.

We are entitled to know if Morrison was regularly briefed on the deteriorating fire situation while he was in Hawaii, and by whom.

Deputy PM Michael McCormack said on Thursday, December 19:

The Prime Minister is very across this issue. He is getting daily briefings, if not hourly briefings and he is very across it.

Not across it enough to return, however. Extraordinary, really. In what other employment environment would a CEO, for example, fail to return to their workplace at a time of unprecedented crisis? If Morrison was indeed receiving daily and even hourly briefings, how could he not come back, knowing the terrible circumstances Australians were in?

Both Morrison and his office had enough insight into the nature of the optics of his absence before he left, to decide they’d better lie about it. This is a decision that beggars belief, and is not unlike a small child believing if they cover their eyes, an adult can’t see them. However, neither the office nor Morrison had the gumption to realise it really isn’t possible to lie about a PM’s absence during a national catastrophe, and get away with it. Given the eye-watering stupidity of these decisions, not to mention the alarming penchant for magical thinking they indicate, we can’t trust that Morrison was adequately briefed by his office while he was away, and neither can we take it for granted that he wanted to be adequately briefed. The man legged it. Why should we believe that a man capable of legging it at such a time cared enough to stay informed?

It would be astounding indeed if Morrison’s staff took it upon themselves to withhold information about the gravity of the developing situation from their boss, without some strong indication from him that he didn’t want to know. But did they? Did he? These are questions to which we are entitled to demand answers.

It is also impossible that Morrison was unaware, briefings or not, of the disasters Australians were facing while he holidayed in Hawaii. By this time, our plight was the focus of global attention, and unless the Prime Minister isolated himself from all media, including social, he could not help but know how bad things were. And yet, he did not come back, and he sent no messages of support. He was thunderously, and most cruelly, irresponsibly silent.

When he returned he did say he’d beenVery focused on things back here while in Hawaii.” Thoughts and prayers, perhaps?

How did Morrison watch such devastation take hold from the safety and comfort of his luxury hotel on a tropical island, and do and say absolutely nothing? If he was kept abreast of developments and still did nothing, preferring instead to enjoy his holiday, this makes his choices even worse. And what exactly did go on behind the scenes, in Morrison’s office and in PM&C? They are all public servants. We pay the lot of them. It’s about time we had some answers.

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How the PM’s refusal to isolate puts everyone at risk

Yesterday, Friday March 13th, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton announced that he’d tested positive for the COVID-19 virus earlier in the day, and was in hospital in Brisbane.

Dutton returned from a visit to the US on Sunday, March 8, and attended a cabinet meeting with Prime Minister Scott Morrison and other ministers on Tuesday.

Dutton stated that he woke up on Friday morning with a sore throat and fever, immediately sought testing, immediately received the result, and was immediately hospitalised.

On Thursday,March 12, Senator Derryn Hinch revealed he’d heard a federal minster had tested positive for the virus, and had cancelled all meetings. Hinch is not clairvoyant, one assumes, and the minister in question was either Peter Dutton, or another infected minister who is yet to be named.

Mr Dutton claims to have woken up symptomatic on Friday, yet as nobody else has emerged as a contender, it’s reasonable to assume that Hinch’s information on Thursday was in fact about the Home Affairs Minister’s situation.

This seems to suggest that Mr Dutton is misleading the public about the date his symptoms manifested, given that we can safely assume Mr Hinch is not a prophet. There is little else in this story that we can safely assume to be true.

The deputy Chief Medical Officer, Professor Paul Kelly, advised the Prime Minister that he and other cabinet members present at that meeting do not need to self-isolate or seek testing for the virus, as Dutton was infectious for only 24 hours prior to displaying symptoms.

This is an astounding claim. The World Health Organisation advises that as far as we currently know, people carrying the virus are infectious for between 24 and 48 hours prior to symptoms manifesting.

…we are learning that there are people who can shed COVID-19 virus 24-48 hours prior to symptom onset…

Noteworthy here is a) we are learning, and b) shedding can occur 24-48 hours prior to symptom onset.

The deputy Chief Medical Officer is apparently advising the government in contradiction of the findings of the World Health Organisation, and one has to ask oneself, why?

Morrison has since announced that he and his cabinet will not self-isolate, and will not seek testing. He has based this decision on the deputy CMO’s advice. We are now faced with the bizarre possibility that our most senior government members, according to WHO advice, have been exposed to the virus while interacting with a confirmed case, in a closed room, for several hours, and by their refusal to self-isolate, are prime suspects in its possible transmission.

Apparently the government and the deputy CMO cannot be trusted to properly inform the public on the matter of COVID-19. Quite where the deputy CMO acquired his definitive knowledge on the transmission period for the virus is unclear: nowhere have I been able to find support for his assertion, indeed, the overwhelming impression, trawling through international and domestic reports, is that to date, the period when a carrier is infectious is unclear and still speculative. And yet, the Morrison government has chosen to disregard this global reality, and work on the assumption that they are safe from the possibility of infection. As they are not self-isolating, they are risking transmitting the infection to everyone they come in contact with, including their own families.

If you are now feeling as if you’ve fallen down the rabbit hole, you are not alone. Far from a government that is strong, proactive and reassuring during a pandemic, we are faced with the possibility of a government that is possibly actively expanding transmission, with the most cavalier disregard for the consequences of its actions. In the general population, ordinary citizens are self-isolating for much less, and being encouraged to do so.

Mr Dutton did not only attend the cabinet meeting. He’s flown on planes, he’s been at the Sunshine Coast, and has interacted with his staff and family. Anybody who has had close contact with him has the absolute right to know when he became symptomatic.

And the deputy Chief Medical Officer needs to publicly address the contradiction between his assertions and the claims of the WHO, as do the health departments that are advising a 24 hour infectious window in apparent disregard of international guidelines.

The reality is we do not know with certainty, which is why a fourteen day isolation period was decided upon in the first place.

Misinformation puts everyone at risk. Demanding full, honest and reliable information on the virus is not “panicking” or “hysteria.” It’s common sense, and it is every single person’s right to know what we are facing. The government needs to do its job, and provide this information immediately, or step away entirely form this situation and allow independent, non-politicised experts to inform us.

UPDATE:

Peter Dutton has just admitted in a radio interview that he became symptomatic on Wednesday, not Friday as he stated in his press release. This means anyone in contact with him on Tuesday must self-isolate.

The reason for this latest falsehood is not clear to this writer.

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

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In Cobargo people are still homeless after the fires, so where is the $2 billion going?

This morning I received the following email from my sister, Sarah, who lost her home in the Cobargo fires.

I’m speaking to ABC radio tomorrow about how bad the situation is down here.

I haven’t looked but have you written anything about it on your blog?

PLEASE will you write about how people are still living in tents? I heard a story about people with a disabled son, his wheelchair burnt and they are now paying to hire one. I hear of people who are still without power and water. I found another person who was renting and had been evicted because the landlord now needs to live in the house, she has 3 children and is caring for a disabled sister, they have nowhere to go. People who want to go home to their places in the bush can’t go there because the roads aren’t cleared. The organisations down here are giving priority to farmers and their fences and to businesses NOT the homeless.

This area is a place where Coronavirus would take off. We have no running water, no power, no toilets.

I saw on the tele tonight that the government has earmarked $2.4 billion to combat Coronavirus. Surely the best thing to combat disease is to house people?

Please tell everyone,

from Sarah

PS I’m so pissed off!

At the height of the fires, after Prime Minister Scott Morrison was shamed into returning to Australia one day early from his Hawaiian holiday, the PM announced a $2 billion bushfire recovery fund, presumably to assist people like my sister and the people she speaks of in her email. So far, several months after the catastrophe, only 10 per cent of that money has been allocated.

According to this ABC report, from March 2, the very existence of the recovery fund is questionable:

Labor Senator Murray Watt questioned whether the $2 billion fund actually existed, after National Bushfire Recovery Agency deputy coordinator Abigail Bradshaw told the hearing the fund was “notional”.

“So, the Prime Minister’s announcement on the 6th of January, when he was under a lot of pressure, was that he had established a national bushfire recovery fund. But there is no fund, is there, it’s not anywhere within the budget statements?” Senator Watt asked.

So, is there or isn’t there a $2 billion bushfire relief fund? And if there is, why is it taking so long to distribute the funds to people in desperate situations? And if there isn’t, what the hell is the Coalition government playing at?

Winter in the Cobargo area is cold. Nobody wants to be living in a tent. Nobody wants to be without power, heating, and water. What do people struggling to survive the loss of everything actually have to do to see some of this $2 billion, to which they are absolutely entitled?

Morrison and his government have moved on to the COVID-19 crisis, which they no doubt see as an opportunity for them to repair the massive loss of confidence, and the credibility they so thoroughly trashed during the bushfire disaster. We can only hope that monies promised to deal with the pandemic actually exist and, unlike the bushfire fund, are appropriately dispersed in time to have some effect.

In the meantime, the Coalition must answer all the questions surrounding the national bushfire recovery fund, the most urgent being, does it even exist? Because there are people in Cobargo, and I suspect many other fire-affected towns and villages across the country, who are living in tents and see no immediate relief from hardship, despite Morrison’s promises.

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

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“Let them watch fireworks:” Gladys Antoinette, Sydney 2019

The sickening irony of letting off millions of exploding flames into a city sky already thickened with the smoke of bushfires that have surrounded Sydney for weeks, and then calling it “welcoming in the New Year,” seems entirely lost on Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore and NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian.

According to both women, the fireworks will demonstrate that NSW is a “resilient” state that looks towards the future with hope. “Coming together as a community in times of great trouble” is another justification for persisting with a fiery celebration many other centres, including Canberra, have chosen to abandon. Some because it’s too dangerous, others, like here in northern NSW, because we suffer an unpleasant visceral and emotional reaction to the idea of fireworks at this time. It just does not seem right to celebrate the New Year in this way when people are dying, communities are being left bereft, millions of hectares of country across the state are burning, and untold numbers of animals are frying to death or living in agony.

The symbolism is terrifying. The lack of leaders’ ability to comprehend this symbolism is unnerving.

In fact, cancelling the fireworks would send the powerful message that climate change is irrevocably rearranging our lives and our expectations, and action must be taken by governments right now to address this reality. Indeed, this is a rare and brilliant opportunity to sheet home to negligent authorities the urgency of our situation, something LNP governments both federal and state seem to be slow to grasp.

“Listen, chaps. If you don’t act on climate change and with urgency, fire prevention and management, you won’t be able to have fireworks on New Year’s,” seems an accessible example of cause and effect, even for those practised in denial.

Apparently, cancelling the New Year’s Eve fireworks on Sydney Harbour would cause a loss of some $130 million to Sydney businesses. Perhaps this overnight loss might stimulate those city businesses to demand that politicians face up to the financial impact of climate change and its manifestations, on our economy. I would also love to hear exactly why Sydney businesses must be protected from loss, when across the state, indeed, across the country, individuals, businesses and entire communities are being financially destroyed, even as we watch the fireworks. Increasingly, we read of under-resourced fire brigades, exhausted volunteer firies, and inadequately resourced aerial fighting facilities, yet Sydney businesses are a protected species, indeed, the only protected species in this entire catastrophic state-wide conflagration.

Of course, cancelling the Sydney fireworks would be an acknowledgement of the gravity of our situation, an acknowledgement the Berejiklian and Morrison governments do not want to make. Even the Sydney City Council, usually considerably more aware of the peril we are facing than either government, cannot see the smoke for the fireworks in this instance, and insists on giving priority to marketing and tourism. This is a short-sighted perspective. The impact on tourism of past weeks of air quality readings, at one point the worst in the world, has apparently been omitted from the council’s evaluations. It will be interesting to see how the fireworks are reported internationally.

“Let them watch fireworks!” appears to be the slogan of leaders who think a little bit of bread and circuses will momentarily distract from the catastrophes currently engulfing much of the state. Tomorrow, however, we’ll still be burning with no end in sight, the fireworks forgotten, the fear, anger and sorrow still in our hearts, the failure of our politicians seared on our memories.

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

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You have a #Right to Know, but only when the media says so. Media and the Morrison holiday.

For the last few days there has been unrelenting speculation on social media concerning Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s whereabouts.

Yesterday evening journalist Samantha Maiden published this piece in The New Daily, confirming he is holidaying in Hawaii. This photo, taken by Australian tourists who ran into the Prime Minister and posted the image on Instagram, accompanied her article. For context, around the same time as this photo was taken and posted on social media, two volunteer firefighters died in bushfires in NSW. Morrison has yet to acknowledge those deaths, or express concerns for the families, co-workers and friends of the two deceased. There are also two firefighters in induced comas, and three injured.

Also yesterday the Australian Financial Review posted an editorial in which it was claimed that the Prime Minister’s minders “ordered” the Australian media not to report on his decision to take leave at this time. The reason given for the ban was that the minders and presumably Morrison feared there would be “churlish” commentary from people who thought the PM’s place was in Australia during the bushfire crisis. The AFR apparently ignored this order & reported the holiday some days ago. Other media such as Crikey, and The Guardian published pieces defending Morrison’s “right” to take a holiday without confirming that he had done so.

Never in the history of this country has a Prime Minister taken a holiday in the middle of a natural disaster. For reasons that on the surface appear unfathomable, the majority of the Australian media opted not to question the judgement of the incumbent in choosing to leave at this time. Indeed, they decided to defend his decision. Neither did they question the bizarre secrecy surrounding Morrison’s absence, as I wrote here yesterday.

When the media don’t question incidents that are not normal behaviour for politicians those abnormalities quickly become normalised. The media is all we have to point out abnormalities in political behaviour and when they fail to do that, they are failing at their job and they are failing their audience. Speaking truth to power is their mission, not protecting power from scrutiny. Whether the PM is insufferably arrogant, sociopathically incapable of feeling empathy owing to his religion’s cavalier attitude to lives other than those of its followers, or more incapable of reading a room than any politician in Australia’s history, it’s the media’s job not to maintain its silence about these deficiencies but rather to trumpet them. Morrison’s behaviour in this crisis speaks to his capacity as a leader, & if this is all he’s got, we should be very afraid.

There are occasions when a Prime Minister’s whereabouts ought not to be public knowledge, usually only for a day or so while he or she is on their way to a troop visit that can’t be advertised. Genuine national security is more important than anyone’s right to know. However, in this case, the press were ordered to embargo the information in an attempt to protect Morrison from “churlish” commentary. We might ask, how weak is this man that he has to be protected from adverse commentary?

In October 2019, major media outlets formed the Right to Know Coalition in response to police raids on News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst, and the ABC. The Coalition includes 9, News Corp, the ABC, SBS, The Guardian and journalist’s union MEAA. The Coalition’s mission is to protect the “health of democracy” by ensuring that members of the public have the right to know and are informed about the conduct of those in power. The Coalition sought the public’s support in the stand it has taken against government resistance to scrutiny. I have steadfastly supported this Coalition and its aims. However, this last week would seem to suggest that the Coalition is rather selective about what it considers is in the public interest, appearing to have come down strongly on the side of protecting the Prime Minister from scrutiny. They’ve used the argument that he has a right to have a holiday, while apparently obeying the PMO directive to not actually confirm he’s on a holiday.

Hardly transparent. We do have a right to know how the PM is conducting himself in a time of national crisis. I would like to see any argument the Right to Know Coalition can produce that proves otherwise.

UPDATE: The Prime Minister has now released this statement on the deaths of the firefighters:

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

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