VICTORIA: ENTER DISASTER
Following the state’s third day of 600+ new cases within a week and news of 760 active cases without a known transmission source, Dan Andrews yesterday announced a state of disaster for all of Victoria and at least six weeks of stage four restrictions for Melbourne.
Characterising the alternative as six months of stage three, Andrews announced the following would come into effect from 6pm last night (deep breath):
- An 8pm to 5am curfew that only allows leaving home for work, medical care and caregiving. Residents will have to stay wherever they slept Saturday night, with exemptions for partners who live apart and for work
- A no-further-than-5KM-from-home rule for both shopping and exercise, with the former limited to one person per household per day and the latter limited to two people for a maximum of one hour per day. Some common sense exceptions apply i.e. supermarket proximity, children etc, but recreational activities such as golf and fishing are banned
- A state-wide return to remote and flexible learning for all year levels, with the exception of children of permitted workers and vulnerable kids who can’t learn from home. Students who are currently attending on site — including senior students and those in specialist schools — will go to school today, have a pupil free day tomorrow, and learn from home on Wednesday
- From Thursday, these rules will apply to Melbourne’s kinder and early childhood education services. Study at TAFE and uni will also move to remote only
- The state’s night network will be suspended, with public transport services to be reduced during curfew hours, along with increased Protective Services Officers
- From Wednesday at 11:59pm weddings will be banned, with compassionate exceptions, while funerals will remain unchanged with a maximum of 10 people allowed.
Meanwhile, regional Victoria including Mitchell Shire will move to stage three “Stay at Home” restrictions from Thursday, with similar, if slightly looser school shutdowns.
PS: According to The Age, a group of Australia’s leading infectious disease experts is pushing for more transparency over government testing and tracing data in order to better analyse the second wave, with requested items including: whether a person was symptomatic, what symptoms they presented with, whether they were close contacts of a positive case, and a breakdown of turnaround times for test results.
MINDING OUR BUSINESS
As the ABC reports, new business restrictions will be announced today within three operating categories: normal, reduced output with fewer hours and staff, and complete closures. These will not come into effect until Wednesday at the earliest, and will not affect food services i.e. supermarkets and takeaway-only restaurants etc.
Elsewhere, The Australian ($) reports that the six-week hard lockdown could wipe up to $9 billion from budget forecasts and put hundreds of thousands of people out of work, with Josh Frydenberg noting that stage four restrictions are higher than Treasury estimates and will be “felt beyond” state borders.
PS: The Oz ($) also reports that the National COVID-19 Commission — fresh from advocating for oil subsidies and granting communications contract to a firm headed by ex-Liberal staffers — has called for businesses that invest in local expansions to get larger tax concessions and incentives.
SURELY WE CAN TRUST VIC POLICE?
More controversial than the rules, perhaps, are the new “state of disaster” powers that have been invoked to allow the government to: suspend acts of Parliament that “would inhibit response to or recovery from the disaster”, and enable Victoria Police to enforce curfews, quarantines and other stage four restrictions.
The Victorian government has deployed this rule before during the 2019-20 bushfire season but, as the ABC explains, Emergency Services Minister Lisa Neville this time highlights that the legislation allows her to appoint police as authorised officers — removing a previous need for health officials to be on compliance checks — and enable them to prevent protests or move crowds at supermarkets and other areas if physical-distancing rules are not being followed.
Further, constitutional lawyer Anne Twomey has noted at The Conversation that a state of disaster may have a psychological intent, especially after the royal commission into the 2009 Victorian bushfires criticised the government’s failure to invoke the legislation that “would provide symbolic recognition of the gravity of a situation”.
PS: In case anyone is worried about Australian police even theoretically being held accountable for potential abuses of power, SBS reports that South Australian Police sneaked out an announcement on Friday that not only had they cleared a Port Adelaide officer over a violent arrest of an Indigenous man, they have reinstated charges against the man for “hindering police, resisting police and property damage”. SAPOL commissioner Grant Stevens has decided against releasing body-camera footage because the matter is now before court.
WHAT NEXT FOR SOCIAL SUPPORT?
In his press conference, Andrews has also hinted at further financial measures beyond JobKeeper and JobSeeker for residents who currently fall through the gaps in these programs — notably international students and non-citizens.
Additionally, the AFR ($) reports that the Morrison government is considering forcing Victoria to fund any state-specific support measures, including paid pandemic leave and reduced JobSeeker and JobKeeper criteria.
The state currently offers a one-off $300 support payment for workers forced to quarantine while awaiting test results and another one-off $1500 payment for workers who have been instructed to self-isolate or who have a child aged under 16 in their care who has been instructed to self-isolate.
Finally, The Guardian’s Luke Henriques-Gomes reports that mutual obligations have been deferred until further notice for Victorian job seekers, while the rest of Australia moves to “stage two” from tomorrow, August 4, that would see people “cut off welfare benefits for refusing a suitable job”.
PS: ACTU president Michele O’Neil — who is calling for both the reintroduction of free childcare and paid pandemic leave — further notes that COVID-19 has overwhelmingly targeted low-income workers. It follows evidence for workers ignoring quarantine rules out of financial necessity — and, relatedly, racial profiling for fines.
STATE WRAP: THINGS KEEP HAPPENING!
- As The Guardian reports, the Morrison government has pulled out of Clive Palmer’s challenge to Western Australia’s border closure following the spike in Victoria
- After NSW recorded another 12 cases yesterday, the ABC reports that Gladys Berejiklian has issued a “strong recommendation” for residents to wear masks in enclosed spaces, in hospitality or retail, when attending a place of worship, and in hotspot areas
- According to The Courier-Mail ($), Queensland Police will investigate social distancing measures at yesterday’s Storm v Knights game on the Sunshine Coast, following images of crowds that, while looking packed, were within the state’s 50% capacity rule.
THEY REALLY SAID THAT?
Georgina and I have launched a podcast.
In perhaps the one bright spark in a truly soul-crushing year, the then foreign minister who oversaw the East Timor bugging scandal announces a new podcast with a twice-failed dynasty heir whose gigantic, novelty cheque helped launch the sports rorts inquiry.
“At the psychological core of society’s response to a pandemic is the Other. Multiple Others. The infected are Others until they recover, needing isolation and exclusion. Those who recklessly or even intentionally increase the risk of infection are Others, in breach of societal norms and deserving of denunciation.”
“What do you know about COVID-19 if you rely on the front page of Australia’s tabloid newspapers? Judging from the efforts of News Corp over the past six months, you’d know just one big thing: there’s always someone to blame.
“First China. Then Dan Andrews. Now young women. Thursdays front-page declaration by The Courier-Mail that a pair of 19-year-olds who tested positive for COVID-19 and failed to self-isolate were ‘enemies of the state’ drew particular attention. But it’s all part of the same playbook”
“For years, we kept death at arms length. We awkwardly avoided it, looked the other way, and hid it behind layers of euphemism.
“But since January, death has been inching closer, a drum beat in the back of our minds getting louder as COVID-19 spread around the world. Body counts became the focus of every news update. Field hospitals in Central Park. Mass graves in Italy. A gnawing sense that within weeks, this could happen here.”
READ ALL ABOUT IT
COVID has brought us a state in disaster and a prime minister in a mask — Michelle Grattan (The Conversation): “As Melbourne moved to an extraordinary 8pm to 5am daily curfew and Stage 4 restrictions, and Victoria declared a ‘state of disaster’, Scott Morrison took to social media with a message for the embattled residents. ‘Australians all around the country are backing you in, because we all know for Australia to succeed, we need for Victoria to get through this,’ he said.”
Attack-dog Anthony Albanese leashes himself to Daniel Andrews’ precarious fate ($) — Dennis Shanahan (The Australian): “The COVID-19 resurgence in Victoria and the terrible toll of deaths in Melbourne aged-care homes has broken the boundaries of dubious claims to bipartisanship. Anthony Albanese and the federal ALP are going for broke in blaming Scott Morrison and the federal Coalition for the deaths and mismanagement in some Victorian aged-care centres and expanding anxiety over caring for elderly parents into a broader political point.”
James Murdoch’s exit paves way for News Corp to move further right — Edward Helmore (The Guardian): “James Murdoch’s resignation from the board of News Corp confirms divisive splits in the publishing arm of his family’s media empire and removes a powerful dissenting voice against the rightwing slant of the group, according to insiders. The move marks the full departure of Rupert Murdoch’s youngest son from News Corp and it is likely to boost the influence of his brother, Lachlan, who is seen as being far more sympathetic to rightwing causes.”
HOLD THE FRONT PAGE
WHAT’S ON TODAY
The bushfires royal commission will hear evidence from Australia’s chief scientist and the ABC on issues with national coordination during the crisis. Other hearings will be held for inquiries into GM Holden, the federal working holiday migration program, nuclear waste dumping, and sports rorts.
This week is National Missing Persons Week 2020.