Our journalism usually sits behind a paywall, but we believe this is the time to make more of our content freely available to as many readers as possible. For more free coverage, sign up to COVID-19 Watch.
The Australian government's new voluntary coronavirus tracing app 'COVIDSafe' (Image: AAP/Scott Barbour)

COVIDSAFE HITS 1 MILLION DOWNLOADS

Health Minister Greg Hunt has announced that, within five hours of launching, the new contact tracing app COVIDSafe has been downloaded by 1 million people. The latest Newspoll ($) suggests that a total of 54% of residents are prepared to sign up.

The Health Department released the app, the privacy impact assessment, and their PIA response earlier yesterday. Of course, anyone with a passing familiarity with the anti-encryption laws, robodebt or My Health Record may have a question or two about the app. Hunt has pledged a series of protections:

  • Only state and territory health agencies will have access to encrypted contact tracing data, which will be stored in Australia on Amazon servers
  • Anyone who accesses the data illegally faces up to five years in jail, according to a new determination made under the Biosecurity Act
  • The determination also explicitly prohibits pressuring anyone to download the app
  • Data stored on the phone will be deleted automatically after 21 days
  • Data stored at the server will be deleted at the user’s request and/or when the pandemic is over
  • Authorities will be explicitly barred from accessing data under new legislation to be introduced mid-May.

QUICK QUESTION: As the ABC reports, Hunt promised that “not even a court order” can override protections from authorities, but does that also cover the Assistance and Access Bill 2018? Remember that one? The one that forces tech companies to let cops access encrypted data and not tell anyone about it?

DOCTORS V LAWYERS

A coalition of medical bodies, including the Australian Medical Association, has endorsed the COVIDSafe platform. But an alliance of digital rights groups has outlined a series of requirements for the government to “earn the public’s trust”:

  • “publish the source code not only of the app, but for the entire system at the government’s end (both state and federal)
  • “provide for independent oversight and mandatory public reporting of all uses of the data
  • “by legislation, eliminate the possibility of police and intelligence agencies using their anti-encryption powers, to use the app to access any information on a person’s phone.”

The Law Council of Australia’s President Pauline Wright points to similar concerns, including ambiguities over when the obligation to delete data comes into effect (i.e. when is the pandemic really “over?”)

WA AND QUEENSLAND EASE RESTRICTIONS

Western Australia has announced an easing of restrictions from today; the two-person rule has been lifted, with gatherings of up to 10 people now permitted. This comes as Australia’s curve flattens to a seven-day stretch of below 25 new cases per day — a solid effort considering we averaged well over 300 in the last week of March.

Meanwhile, Queensland will ease stay-at-home restrictions from Saturday and allow residents within 50km of their house with either members of their household or one friend. While still requiring social distancing and hygiene practices, Queensland will also reopen some national parks.

Finally, The NT News ($) reports that Chief Minister Michael Gunner could release a roadmap today detailing a plan to reopen businesses by the end of May. The NT hasn’t reported a new case for three weeks.

DANDREWS’ LOCKDOWN HERE TO STAY: Sorry, Victoria, but The Age reports that Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton has reiterated that you’re in the state of emergency until at least May 11.

STATE WRAP

In another bloody bumper weekend for state relief packages:

  • NSW announced a $395 million stimulus package yesterday for low-cost loans for local governments, council retention schemes, and levy payment
  • Victoria announced a $16.8 million creative industries survival package targeting arts organisations, creatives and micro-organisations with at least five years of professional experience
  • Queensland announced a $54.5 million transport package on Saturday targeting regional air, bus and ferry services, as well as the personalised transport industry (taxis), heavy vehicles and licence and registration fees.

WORKERS, IT WAS NICE WHILE IT LASTED

Finally, as Australia braces for business to eventually open back up, The Age reports that Liberal backbenchers Andrew Bragg and Jason Falinski have urged the government to not let its brief partnership with unions let it lose track of its union-busting bill.

Along the same lines, The Australian ($) reports that Ernst & Young modelling, commissioned by the Business Council of Australia (BCA), found that the economic cost of shutdowns hit $200 billion in the first month. The modelling suggests this will rise to $280 billion after three months and, if the lockdown extends for six months, it would reach $400 billion.

BCA SURPRISES NO ONE: You will never guess what’s in BCA’s “preliminary reform blueprint to kickstart the economic recovery” (spoiler: it’s tax cuts, award “simplification” and slashing red tape).

THEY REALLY SAID THAT?

The president was actually reflecting on advice from medical experts who say the virus is very susceptible to heat, light and disinfectant, and he encouraged this continuing medical research on new treatments. Which is all fair enough.

Chris Kenny

The Sky News host and Australian associate editor defends Donald Trump’s suggestions that COVID-19 could be treated by ingesting disinfectant and/or light. This came just hours before Trump attempted to walk the suggestions back as “sarcasm” meant to trick journalists.

CRIKEY RECAP

Company tax cuts: another front in the ongoing war on young Australians

“With yet another effort to cut company tax rates for large companies on the Coalition’s agenda and being pushed by big business and its media cheerleaders, what is clear now — much more so than during previous efforts — is the extent to which it will represent another attempt to transfer wealth from younger people and lower-income Australians to wealthy seniors.”


When this is over, will we recognise the role women played?

“Women make up the overwhelming majority of Australia’s mammoth healthcare and social workforce. Of the 1.7 million workers in the sector, four out of five are female. But it’s also one of the sectors that has the biggest wage gap, with men earning nearly 24% more a week on average than women.”


Doctor Knew-Much, Did-Little reveals fatal flaws in Ruby Princess’ deathly arrival

“If you are the senior doctor on the Ruby Princess and you are asked why you didn’t give health authorities a complete list of passengers with possible COVID-19 symptoms until the day after they left the ship, do you answer:

“A: I had all the information but decided to keep it to myself

“B: I discussed it with the company’s management and they said I should keep it to myself, or

“C: I had the information but I was crazy-busy the day we were docking and I forgot to pass it on. Sorry!”

READ ALL ABOUT IT

Peter Dutton mulls re-allowing travel to New Zealand as first post-COVID step

Labor, Coalition neck and neck in latest Newspoll as PM’s approval rating soars

Psychologist warns Queenslanders to keep grounded and realistic ahead of easing isolation laws ($)

‘No one dies alone’: hospitals look for solutions to connect dying COVID-19 patients with families

Yemen’s separatist southern forces announce plans for self-rule, jeopardising Riyadh peace deal

No timeline given for release of virus investigation findings ($)

Here’s why we shouldn’t give ‘immunity passports’ to coronavirus survivors

China consumer backlash looms over Morrison’s coronavirus probe ($)

Family violence perpetrators ‘threaten to expose children to COVID-19’

Labor MP Mike Kelly poised to quit in key seat of Eden-Monaro ($)

THE COMMENTARIAT

We need to rethink our China relationship, but disengagement is no optionPenny Wong (The Sydney Morning Herald): “Even before this pandemic, Australia’s relationship with China was anything but straightforward. At the end of 2019, reports of interference by the Chinese Communist Party in our democracy, violent crackdowns in Hong Kong, clashes in the South China Sea, upstream Chinese dams of Mekong tributaries threatening water security in Vietnam and Laos, and leaked documents outlining mass detention of Uighurs coloured the debate about the future direction of the bilateral relationship.”

Malcolm Turnbull didn’t learn from his mistakes ($) — Chris Mitchell (The Australian): “Did News Corp campaign for the removal of Malcolm Turnbull as prime minister in 2018? And was that campaign motivated by a fear Turnbull could win the 2019 election? My answer to the first question is ‘only some parts of News Corp’. And to the second? No one who understood the Coalition’s polling in Queensland thought Turnbull could win a second election.”

Trump and the coronavirus have exposed America as a declining empire: time to face the factsAndrew O’Hehir (Salon): “What the coronavirus has shown us, if we’re willing to see it, is America as an imperial power in steep decline, revealed before the world as a weak, divided and ineffectual nation — albeit one with the greatest military force in world history. To put it in the mildest possible terms, that’s a dangerous combination; it might better be described as profoundly terrifying.”

HOLD THE FRONT PAGE

The Latest Headlines

Peter Fray

This crisis will cut hard and deep but one day it will be over.

What will be left? What do you want to be left?

I know what I want to see: I want to see a thriving, independent and robust Australian-owned news media. I want to see governments, authorities and those with power held to account. I want to see the media held to account too.

Demand for what we do is running high. Thank you. You can help us even more by encouraging others to subscribe — or by subscribing yourself if you haven’t already done so.

If you like what we do, please subscribe.

Peter Fray
Editor-In-Chief of Crikey

Support us today