“There’s a concept of economy and efficiency. You should have just enough beds for what you need tomorrow. You shouldn’t prepare for the future. Right? So the hospital system’s crashing. Simple things like tests which you can easily get in a country South Korea, you can’t get here.
So the coronavirus, which should be controlled in a functioning society, is going out of hand here. We’re just not ready for it. What we’re good at, what our leaders are good at, and have been very good at for the last 40 years, is pouring money into the pockets of the rich and the corporate executives while everything else crashes.” (Noam Chomsky on a US health system which has parallels with Australia’s).
Shock and awe seize the nation in Scotty’s Dad’s Army war on Coronavirus. It’s a sound and light show. The PM does the narration. Lights go up Monday to reveal a helicopter gunship. Alongside an SAS chap at the controls, but keeping his social distance, is nifty Nev Power, a battle-hardened former Fortescue Metals (FMG) CEO.
Every PM’s Office press drop repeats the battle-hardened mantra as Nev abseils into our political theatre while Scotty explains Power’s new power, without really making anything any clearer. Truth is the first casualty of war but Morrison cloaks his communications with a thicket of evasions, distractions, diversions and outright lies.
Having no clue what he’s dealing with, or how to deal with it, only compounds his straight-talking problem. A third tranche of measures to support the economy is on the way, he tells a mystified nation, Friday.
How he loves that word, tranche. A slice. There will be a plan, he says, to hibernate Australian businesses. This means on the other side, the employees come back, the opportunities come back, the economy comes back, adds, baffling everybody.
His big lie is that COVID-19 will only hurt a little bit. The PM loves reassuring platitudes. He invokes verbal images of cushions, bridges – including his favourite pneumatic children’s castle; “bouncing back” all figures of speech washing over us in a torrent of fatuous, flatulent garrulity.
And boosterism. Scotty and Hunt love to pat themselves on the back. We’ve done more tests than the US or the UK, two of the world’s worst COVID-19 testers. Our 163,000 tests, are almost five times as many as Britain; 25 times as many as the United States, ScoMo crows.
Give the man a lapel pin. But our results suggest an infection rate increase of twenty-five per cent per day. Morrison neglects to say we can expect 90,000 Covid-19 cases by Easter; 2.5 million by Anzac Day. Surely a PM could stress how infectious the virus is. One Australian can infect three others. 400 can catch the virus in a month. And in contrast to other countries such as Singapore and South Korea, we are slack at following up results.
If between five million and 15 million Australians are infected … it would mean 35,000-105,000 Australians will die from the Coronavirus, an upbeat Peter Van Onselen calculates cheerily. But what of the recession or depression it brings? We are poorly equipped to help those hundreds of thousands of workers who no longer have jobs.
Close to three million workers could find themselves unemployed as a result of an estimated twenty-two per cent decline in household spending, calculates Melbourne University economist, Professor Jeff Borland, basing his estimate on the two main groups of industries likely to be most affected – ‘other store-based retailing (that is, retailing apart from food, fuel and motor vehicles)’ and ‘food and beverage services’.
Morrison’s big lie to those “decent Australians” who find themselves jobless overnight is predicated on a social welfare system which has been fine-tuned by successive coalition governments to punish needy dole-bludgers for being improvident and a drain on the system. This animus extends to all pensioners, be they aged or disabled. You must, moreover, furnish proof of your entitlement. The Robodebt extortion racket reverses the onus of proof.
It will take until 27 April before anyone gets any Centrelink money because that’s how the system’s designed.
Dutton coup numbers man Matthias Cormann confirms “even using the existing system, the existing processes and programs, this is the amount of time it takes to get this additional level of support into the community”.
Labor asks why the government doesn’t deploy the single touch payroll system which gives real-time data on employees — to create a different base from which to pay wage subsidies. But that would involve dialogue. Compassion. And the empathy consultant seems to have gone into social isolation. Or is it hibernation?
The ABC’s Laura Tingle notes that boofhead Boris Johnson’s Tory government in the UK is already able to provide a wage subsidy of 80 per cent of your previous wage capped at 2,500 pounds a month. Our bonzer, newly renamed with bonus reduced stigma, Jobseeker payment offers a mere eighty per cent of the minimum wage.
Instead, we have announceables and an alarming absence of good faith in Morrison’s government by spin. Keeping us safe is his greatest priority?
Conspicuously missing from the PM’s “conversation” his buzz-word for lecture; talk down to, is the great hoax of border protection – which is now surely well and truly exposed for what it always was – a lie based on the greater lie that others mean us harm.
At LAX there had been masked staff controlling the spacing in such areas. In Australia there was no sanitiser on counters, nor were staff using any as they stood close and took our smeared customs forms. The crackdown on foreign arrivals is symbolic bullshit. Those of us who arrived are as likely to have been infected by under-protected airport staff as they were by us, reports Guy Rundle on his recent return to work in Crikey.
We were quick to close the door to China but far too late to take similar action with Italy and the US. Then there’s the inexplicable fiasco over the Ruby Princess, our own Typhoid Mary which let 150 sick passengers ashore – a figure disputed by NSW Health – while passengers departed to a dozen different countries.
Or visited local nursing homes. And other states, making it the single, biggest source of infection in the nation.
Jewel in the crown of the extraordinary story of our nation’s epic battle with Coronavirus pandemic terror, is the Ruby Princess, a cruise ship, aka gin palace, named for a precious stone symbolising purity, nobility and passion which let 2647 passengers disembark at Sydney’s Circular Quay, Thursday, despite a ship’s doctor’s treating thirteen on board for symptoms of respiratory illness.
158 passengers report ill yet Sydney port officials are told that there is no-one sick on board. Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt is adamant that ships “arrive under strict conditions”. NSW Health classifies Ruby Princess as low-risk. Why? It comes from New Zealand. Seriously.
What could possibly go wrong? Luckily our fabulous “abundance of caution” kicks in, explains Chief Health Officer, Dr Kerry Chant in an hilarious disclaimer; all cruise ship passengers’ swabs are tested for COVID-19.
At least four prove positive, but other infected thrill-seekers swarm ashore to hit the high spots in Sydney and beyond – despite an inspired Inspector Clouseau-like expedient of texting passengers a full day after they have gone ashore. Border control by text?
Our highest priority is keeping Australians safe, the PM insists. His empty rhetoric is now self-parody. His government wants to keep Australia trading as long as it possibly can before its corporate sponsors succumb to economic recession. Or worse. At the same time, he’s shutting things down; stage 3 restrictions are imminent.
Scotty’s verbiage betrays his fear that the virus will find him out; we are woefully unprepared as the result of a series of funding cuts to public health launched by Tony Abbott. Our hospitals and healthcare system is already stretched beyond its capacity. We ignored COVID-19 warnings from the World Health Organisation months ago.
Top marks to Brad Hazzard, the wonderfully named dud NSW Health Minister -who may have failed to do his job with any degree of competence – but who is at least prepared to fess up publicly; own his own egregious stuff-up.
“If I had my opportunity to have my two bob’s worth, with the benefit of what we now know about those … people, I’d have said yeah, maybe we should hold them on the ship,” he says in marked contrast to his boss.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian blames the Federal government and the Australian Border Force (ABF). Peter Dutton perks up in recovery from his own COVID-19 infection to say it’s all the fault of the NSW state government. An edifying slanging match erupts.
Ruby Princess passengers boost NSW’s confirmed cases. Total infections in the state jump by 186 to more than 1,617 on Saturday morning. It is the second consecutive day that the total number of new cases in the state is up. Abundance of caution? Or panic stations? At least 26 other passengers test positive to the virus outside NSW.
But, look over there. Command and control fuse seamlessly with chaos and confusion in the latest twist in the plot of our edgy national political soap opera. Clueless Scotty gets in a former mining CEO to do his job for him.
Nothing shrieks medical expertise and nuanced public relations as much as Nev’s career digging rocks out of the ground. He was CEO at the time FMG lodged its Solomon Hub Pilbara land rights decision appeal to the Federal Court, an appeal which the company lost on all counts in 2019.
Local Yinjibarndi people keep their native title to their 2,700 square kilometres of Pilbara land and are eligible for compensation. But Nev is moving up and on.
Nifty Nev will get on well with Morrison’s Chief of staff, John Kunkel, a former CEO at the Minerals Council of Australia, (MCA) who fits in like Flynn with Scotty’s senior adviser, Brendan Pearson, another former MCA CEO, who once worked for ecocidal monster US coal miner Peabody Energy.
Pearson provided Morrison’s infamous lacquered lump of coal for the then Treasurer’s notorious 2017 show and tell (no props allowed) of energy agnosticism in parliament. “This is coal. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be scared.”
What is truly scary is that Morrison has just created a whole new layer of government, his own National COVID-19 Coordination Commission or NCCC. Morrison calls his jumped-up junta “eminent Australians”.
Eminent Australians are next rung up from decent Australians who are losing their jobs; distinguished in government despatches from unworthy bludgers who don’t have jobs and who must be punished by Robodebt.
Eminent? They are certainly part of our corporate ruling elite. Deputy Chair of Power’s power elite, is Dave Thodey who did big things for six years as Telstra’s CEO.
How big is buying video streaming company OOYALA for over $500m in 2014 and writing it down to nothing in 2018? Dave’s also chair of what’s left of the CSIRO, cut down to size by the anti-science Coalition. No longer a portfolio on its own, Science is a bit-player in the portmanteau, Industry, Science and Technology.
But Dave’s had a fair bit of help. In 2014, Abbott’s $110 million science funding cut preceded a loss of 1400 staff across CSIRO. In 2013 CSIRO’s annual report listed 6500 staff overall. By 2015, staff had fallen to 5100. It’s just lost twenty per cent of staff from its Energy Business Unit just days ahead of the Morrison government’s carbon reduction roadmap.
Yet our ruling junta can’t be accused of being exclusively corporate fat cats. Greg Combet, now a lobbyist for industry super, is token leftie on a team of business types which includes career mandarin, Jane Halton, who headed the government’s people-smuggling team during John Howard’s children overboard fraud. Catherine Tanna became MD of Energy Australia, which hates paying tax and is on the boards of the RBA and the BCA.
True, big Paul Little, amassed a net worth of $950m running Toll Group for two decades. And from property investment. But just because you are one of Australia’s richest men, doesn’t mean you lack insight or compassion. It may just be very well concealed.
Speaking of compassion and rounding out the team are our top two Canberra shiny bums, Home Affairs Secretary, Prime Minister and Cabinet, head, Mike Pezzullo and Phil Gaetjens, two of our most powerful if not public-spirited mandarins, both of whom are always eager to assist senate committees with inquiries.
Or, in fabulous Phil’s case conduct their own exemplary-how-to exonerate- Bridget McKenzie of breaching the ministerial code in a secret Star Chamber inquiry.
Is this Covid-19 pandemic, a medical emergency or an economic meltdown? Will the economic considerations take priority over social issues? Morrison’s staffing of his NCCC leaves us in no doubt as to his government’s view. Sadly, as Michael Keating writes, it seems unaware that good health policy is good for the economy.
Scotty waffles on about how the new commission will coordinate decisions across governments and the private sector. Co-ordinate decisions? How good is that? It will also advise government on re-purposing manufacturing for essential equipment, and shifting staff from defunct industries to areas that need them.
It will be spoilt for choice there. Given the way the economy is tanking, defunct industries will be in abundance. Virgin Australia, for example, has taken a bit of a hit, as has QANTAS now that no-one’s allowed to fly.
A colour-coded spreadsheet, perhaps? Someone at the PM’s Office should be able to help with that.
Commissioner Power will solve problems with supply chains and staff. It won’t be easy. Someone at HQ forgot to order tests, face-masks and other PPE. Fart-arsing and dithering over what we’re doing in the policy space with a lethal pathogen needs a bit of a fine-tune. The National Cabinet, a rebadged COAG with a few tame medicos on hand to baffle media is doing a top job. But it’s a bit bolshie. Even with the Leader of the Opposition excluded. The NCCC will run things Scotty’s way. There’s been a bit of States’ rebellion over letting children got to school. Nev’s boys will fix all that.
How will NCCC work? “They will say ‘Prime Minister, we need you to do this. We need you to authorise this. We recommend that you take these actions to get these problems sorted’,” Scotty from marketing explains making the blatant out-sourcing of his own cabinet’s job sound so terribly democratic. Morrison seems dead keen to be spared the hassle of being a democratic leader – or making any decisions at all for a good five months at least. Or clearing up the sports rorts mystery.
The logo NCCC is emblazoned on the Hawk’s undercarriage to help get the message out that the brand spanking new National COVID-19 Coordination Commission is hi-jacking our democracy a little bit for a while.
Scotty’s been copping a bit of stick for not getting his message out and generally confusing everyone over hairdressers and his crafty herd immunity by stealth approach to Coronavirus. ‘It’s essential, unless it’s not. Then it’s essentially not essential. I can’t be clearer,’” tweets Shane Warne.
Never has the accidental PM’s addled thinking been on such public display. Nor at such great cost to so many.
Every job is essential. Sacred. You can’t have a virus wrecking the Holy Economy, amen. Children who don’t always suffer COVID-19 severely are great at spreading the virus. But they must attend school. Parents may be vital healthcare workers.
Infect Mum and Dad or Grandma? Hairdressers can stay open but beauticians must close? Childcare must continue while some schools close? The NCCC will fine-tune the rules. Don’t you worry about that.
Expect a lot of operational secrecy and deference from Power, a man who owes his loyalty to Morrison alone.
“When I rang him the other day, I simply said, ‘Nev, I need you to serve your country.’ And he quickly responded … and he stepped up.” How good is Scotty’s authority? Puts this whole Coronavirus thing on to a war footing. Ticks a lot of boxes. Nationalism. Despotism. Secrecy. Smart-arse questions will just be un-Australian.
Morrison is ever in quest of a populist paramilitary, patriotic note or vote. Doubtless, Commissioner Nev’s lapel badge is in the mail already. Along with a salary commensurate with experience. Iron ore is falling in price as the coronavirus pandemic lowers demand from China so it may well prove Power’s golden parachute.
Some experts predict acute oversupply, a scenario which could cut prices from US$80 to $50 per tonne.
Nev’s our new dictator for the next five months or so. At least. Scotty’s got him in to not only to dodge questions but to chair our brand-spanking National COVID-19 Coordination Commission (NCCC). NCCC will “coordinate advice” to Morrison’s utterly clueless government on “actions to anticipate and mitigate the economic and social effects of the global coronavirus pandemic”.
In brief, Nev will do a fair bit of damage control and disaster relief. Power’s mining background makes him a perfect captain’s pick to poppet-head the junta of lobbyists, state premiers, media and other mineral lobby Muppets who already run our kakistocracy.
Not only that, Nev’s got stacks of self-saucing, trickle-down magic pudding stimulus mess-kits to chuck at unlucky punters out looking for work. Lucky punters who own businesses or run banks get the bulk of the money which the government’s printing up as we speak, just to keep the wheels of trade and commerce oiled.
Surprisingly, Nev’s entrance upstages ScoMo and Co’s Ice Follies Show, Morrison’s long-running tableaux vivant of bunnies frozen rigid in the headlights of a monster, runaway debt truck. News Corp critics give Nev rave reviews. No-one listens to Dr Norman Swan who is always, full of sage advice and timely warning. What would he know?
Boosting Cash Flow for Employers (BCFE) is a bill which allows businesses up to $100,000 to small and medium-sized businesses which employ people. It is an article of neoliberal faith which trumps experience, both here and in the US when tax cuts did not trickle-down into increased wages but were more likely to boost share dividends, paying debt or extra cash reserves. In the Coronavirus recession, how many businesses will even be trading?
The frenetic turd polishing on display is a record-breaking, world-class spectacle. The magic pudding trick, or corporate welfare is already into its third, new, improved, upscaled, version before its world premiere.
It’s a spectacular stunt, a patent cure-all miracle message in a basin – a centrepiece of Dr Scotty’s Flatten that Curve, fatten a banker, salvation by corporate welfare, Travelling Medicine show.
A standing ovation erupts across the self-isolation void of our times. Few spot the failure of our caseload curve to flatten at all, as cases quadruple in a week. Or our reverse Robin Hood Treasurer who nicks a nation’s housekeeping to keep needy banks, airlines, casinos, coalmines and other essential services afloat.
Luckily, there’ll be no awkward questions. Parliament is suspended for five months. Our hand-picked crew of fat cats and business-class passengers who’ll be doing Scotty’s job for him are accountable only to him.
Scotty’s been setting the tone. Panic-buying – unless it’s the government’s quest for face-masks and PPE or new stationery is “ridiculous” and “un-Australian”. ScoMo also has a go at all those thronging Bondi or St Kilda Beach for not taking seriously the requirements for physical distancing. There’ll be an ADF team taking care of that.
A monstrous double-standard stalks the land, as Simon Longstaff notes in Crikey. Morrison can lecture us all he likes on how we must take responsibility for our actions. Let him wag his finger until it falls off.
“It’s just a terrible pity that the potency of the message is undermined by the hypocrisy of the messengers — a group that has refused to take responsibility for pretty much anything.”
Warnings of a global meltdown just around the corner comes as a bit of a shock to the mug punter. Morrison’s magical medicine show helps keep it that way. Before the week is out, his government’s spin that the recession is caused solely by a rogue, Far Eastern, pathogen, a Wuhan flu, hardens into gospel truth. Coronavirus is a perfect scapegoat for seven years of coalition economic mismanagement in a world facing a growing debt crisis. You never hear a reporter challenge the PM on it.
“We know everyone is overleveraged, full bore, full risk,” says Lindsay David of LF Economics. “All we were waiting for was a trigger and unfortunately that has come in the form of a health crisis.”
COVID19, the disease resulting from severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is not only a world-wide pandemic, infecting 601,536 people worldwide by 9:30 pm AEST Saturday, causing 27,441 deaths and wreaking havoc with trade, commerce and industry – it may help blow up a financial system which rewards businesses for borrowing well beyond their capacity to pay back, just to keep operating. Cue Philip Lowe.
Thunderous applause breaks out at 4:00pm, Thursday 19 March, as the nation thrills to a bravura soft-shoe shuffle from Reserve Bank Boss, Pianissimo Philip Lowe, our High Priest of polymer money has an act which is reserve personified in a gig where bland is beautiful and cautious, tortured, understatement rules.
In Lowe’s low-key lowdown is one key line: “funding markets are open only to the highest quality borrowers“. Or the shit has hit the fan for companies, fattened on a decade of cheap money, who now find themselves about to go out of business thanks to a virus which has caused the cost of borrowing to sky-rocket as skittish foreign lenders seek to stay afloat in the wen of corruption and deception that is the international money-market.
Masters of illusion, the Morrison government will pump our money into monopoly capitalism’s deepest pockets, while making it appear as if it’s a rescue package for small to medium enterprises.
Why? Banks are risk-averse. When lending money, they will avoid high-risk small to medium enterprises and do business instead with a government-guaranteed airline, for example, or an oil or gas multinational paying no tax or an essential services oligopoly paying little tax.
As Michael West points out the government has surrendered control of its money-printing programme to the Reserve bank and its club of banksters. Paragons of fiscal virtue. They include a Commonwealth Bank which can take money from people who’ve been dead for a decade as evidenced at Kenneth Hayne’s Royal Commission.
It’s also helping out the banks by giving them cash for assets which the banks are keen to offload. To West, it’s confirmation that Morrison and Co “really have trouble governing”.
Job-seekers will get to eat for at least six months as the old New Start becomes a Job-seeker Allowance topped up by $550 a fortnight via a thoughtfully “time-limited” Coronavirus Supplement (about half the median weekly rent in Sydney) while businesses get “up to $100,000” to stop them laying off workers if they haven’t shut up shop.
Of course, there’s more to Morrison’s corona-recession busting but it’s a timely shift of focus as the evidence mounts that our federal government has a lot to answer for in its phony war on the pandemic, its own show of Much ado about Nothing. The truth is that it’s bragged, boasted, self-promoted and talked itself up a treat but at every turn, it has failed to hatch any plan for action. We need to demand more of our politicians.
“They were warned twelve weeks ago by the WHO what was coming”, Bill Bowtell tells The Saturday Paper’s, Mike Seccombe. Architect of Australia’s response to the AIDS epidemic, Adjunct professor at the Kirby Institute for infection and immunity at NSW University, Bowtell articulates every Australian’s dismay at the Morrison government’s inertia; its paralysis in the face of impending disaster.
They ignored the warnings. They did not accumulate test kits. They did not accumulate the necessary emergency equipment. They did not undertake a public education campaign. They gave no money to science, no money to research, no money to the International Vaccine Institute, no money to WHO.
Bowtell’s interview follows his appearance on Q&A, where he challenges the government’s disinformation. He holds to account former chippie, Senator Richard Colbeck, Minister for Aged Care, Youth and Sport, who fills in for the PM or his Health Minister who must be in social isolation or witness protection somewhere. Perhaps, they’ve gone to the footy or are booking flights to Hawaii for when it all dies down.
“I’d like to ask the Minister, where are you getting this idea that older Australians are more vulnerable than anybody else? On the figures released tonight in New South Wales, almost 80% of the caseload in New South Wales, which we’re assured by Brad Hazzard is going up exponentially, 80% of them are younger than 60.” Colbeck defers to the CMO but misinforms his audience.
Later in the week, Bondi and other popular Sydney beaches are closed because young people are flouting government instruction regarding distancing. The World Health Organisation is worried.
“Today I have a message for young people: you are not invincible. This virus could put you in hospital for weeks – or even kill you,” warns World Health Organisation’s Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
“Even if you don’t get sick, the choices you make about where you go could be the difference between life and death for someone else.”
Yet it would be unfair to say the Coalition is doing nothing; the need to act on Coronavirus and the global economic meltdown it brings with it vastly energises Aloha Morrison and his government. It’s hard work causing panic. And pressers to tell a nation just how great a job you’re doing don’t run themselves, you know.
In the sunny uplands of international politics, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) is flooding the market with dirt-cheap Saudi crude in a mad attempt to break Russia, whilst arresting rivals uncle, Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, and cousin, Mohammed bin Nayef, whom he usurped as Crown Prince in 2017 – it’s a diversion, at least, from dismembering journalists who dare speak the truth about his despotism. It certainly helps depress Wall Street.
King Salman, MbS’ 84-year-old father, will be sidelined soon as his son jockeys for power, lest chief ally Donald Trump lose the November presidential election to Joe Biden. But the oil strategy is foolhardy. Demand is collapsing given the economic recession triggered by the Coronavirus – our Great Plague 2.0 – MbS is just like his mentor Trump. Neither will tolerate dissent; nor heed practical advice.
Equally headstrong and peerless when it comes to dud judgement or malignant narcissism, Trump’s poodle, Boris Johnson, backs down on his herd immunity excuse for doing nothing which would put at least six million Britons at risk of severe symptoms and kill off the UK’s run-down public health system. Ironically he gets the plague himself.
Britain, along with Australia and the US, has ignored warnings published by Chinese doctors and scientists in The Lancet 23 January, detailing the virus in Wuhan a city of eleven million, the capital of Hubei province. The virus had already spread to Thailand, Japan and South Korea. They urged careful surveillance in the light of its pandemic potential, editor Richard Horton reports.
Belatedly, the UK has implemented new social distancing measures based on modelling by Imperial College and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine which predicted 260,000 deaths – not just from COVID-19 but from other illnesses a stretched NHS could not treat.
Our own NCCC and its inept Morrison government would do well to take note.
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