The ritual killing of a water buffalo, by Ifugao villagers of northern Luzon, Philippines, the bloody, brutal slaughter of an innocent, sentient creature, a shocking intrusion of cinéma vérité (filmed by his Francis’ Ford’s wife Eleanor) spliced into the last, dark scenes of Coppola’s self-indulgent masterpiece Apocalypse Now presages the savaging of our body politic to keep us safe from COVID-19.
Premiers hack away at our civil liberties. Our pass-the-parcel federal government hands over its job to a congeries of police proto-states where democracy is hollowed out. Unlike their counterparts overseas, our Federal MPs take a break while the pandemic wreaks its havoc. Genius. Much as it suits Morrison’s secretive style to run a closed shop, someone has to turn up to work, along with teachers and healthcare workers.
To be fair to Scotty, being mugged by reality is a relief. His government has always lacked any agenda. Its dearth of policy ideas, programmes, principles is embarrassing. Forlornly, it kicks a busted legislative can or two down the road. Where is that Morrison priority, his tits-on-a-bull religious discrimination bill? All that seems still in play are its stage two and three tax cuts – cuts it can’t afford and can’t afford to give up on.
Bernie Fraser tells The Sydney Morning Herald that Team Morrison’s policies plus tax cuts face a “reckoning” as public sector debt reaches $1.5 trillion. Plus a potential budget deficit of $200 billion this year, reports The Saturday Paper‘s Max Opray. New company tax cuts for sprats – firms earning under $50 million start next in 2020-21. Personal income tax cuts further bleed the budget by $132 billion over ten years begin the following financial year. None of this will help our economy over-reliant on mining in deep recession.
As Frank Bongiorno puts it, Morrison has governed like a political billionaire yet without a hint of a policy agenda thanks to his vacuous, platform-free election campaign. The rest of his team are back-slapping and high-fiving on the close of parliament’s token day back, Wednesday – as if they had something to celebrate.
Other democracies aren’t shutting down. Peoples’ representatives in the US, the UK, Canada and New Zealand will all return to parliament, later this April. Congress, on the other hand, hasn’t cut its schedule at all.
It’s not easy being Antony Albanese, you get bad press, cut off mid-sentence or mostly no press at all. Jokes about your combover? Yet Albo has it sussed. Parliament “wasn’t suspended during the Spanish flu, or World War I or World War II”.
Barry Jones argues cogently that it is precisely in times of crisis that we need our parliament the most. Without transparency and scrutiny, there is no democracy. He quotes lawyer and journo, David Allen Green.
“If it were not for this public health emergency, this situation would be the legal dream of the worst modern tyrant. Everybody under control, every social movement or association prohibited, every electronic communication subject to surveillance. This would be an unthinkable legal situation for any free society. Of course, the public health emergency takes absolute priority. But we also should not be blind to the costs.”
Who’s to help our Kangaroo National Cabinet and NCCC run the show? SA and WA adjourn their parliaments, mothball democracy, but for other states, it’s see you later (on the other side) and may the fuzz be with you.
“Don’t be surprised, this Easter, if you are stopped by the police and asked what you’re doing” warns Tasmanian Premier, party-pooper, Peter Gutwein who, at least, concedes that if “this were a game of football, we’re not yet halfway through the first quarter”. Apple Isle Peelers will be out in force over Easter. Anyone holing up in the shack; hunting eggs in holiday homes can expect a knock on the door. Or a boot.
Never one to be outdone, Victorian Premier, despotic Dan Andrews, in bed with Big Gas, suspends parliament indefinitely and – unlike Gutwein – seriously contemplates a bonking ban on couples living apart. Andrews warns Victorians high-tailgating it out of Melbourne to caravan parks or already at it like rabbits in their holiday homes to expect an Easter visit from a flop-eared friend in uniform. “…it’s not an Airbnb weekend.”
You can holiday with your family only in a property you own, says Dan. Own? That’s around five per cent of the state’s population. But there’s always been a better set of rules for the ruling elite. Get used to it. Inequality’s only going to increase.
For SA Easter hot cross bunnies, first the good news. Steve Marshall who like climate giant, Craig Kelly, ran a family furniture business before getting into politics and middle-class welfare is giving $10,000 to 19000 gyms, hairdressers, beauty and nail salons, restaurants, cafes and cellar doors, who’ve had to close their doors or who’ve lost income because of the CoVID-19 lockdown. It’s a handout to help you through a crisis which News Corp’s flat-curvers tells us will be done and dusted soon. It’ll buy a lot of chocolate at least. But does trickle-down really work?
Trickle-down is a delusion conservative economist Arthur Laffer sketched on a napkin at a free lunch in 1974 to bullshit Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, two giants of US Republicanism, a once-proud party which now panders to demented despot, aspiring-president-for-life, Pussy-Grabber in Chief, Donald Trump.
A senile Ronald Reagan fell in love with trickle-down. If governments cut business taxes and ease up on the rich, (or, give hand-outs like Scotty’s (Keep my own) JobKeeper or Marshall’s cash splash,) they’ll invest that extra money in productive enterprise, which, in turn, creates more jobs and growth, which will ultimately maximise both the return on endeavour and government revenue. Fantastic? Literally. It hasn’t happened yet.
For Ron Reagan Sr, revenues fell, the deficit doubled and government debt tripled. The US turned from the world’s largest creditor to its biggest debtor. But the theory thrives.
A huge body of evidence exposing the trickle-down myth is probably all fake news. At least if you’ve shut up your SA nail salon, you can buy a few Easter eggs. The bad news? Going away is “completely and utterly off”.
As it is for those in Queensland or NSW. But cheer up Crow-eaters. If at home in SA, the two person rule is just a recommendation – you can have up to ten attending your Easter rave parade and you won’t be busted. But don’t be surprised when your local coppers drop by just to count heads. Human, that is. There’s a rogue virus to patrol.
Every day, we become a less democratic nation, warns lawyer Michael Bradley. The PM and Premiers lecture us with a heavy-handed paternalism. Leaders don’t make sense? No. It’s the people who can’t be trusted to do the right thing. A novel coronavirus brings a brave new world, Bradley writes in Crikey. It’s a world with,
” … police cars circling inside public parks, lights flashing, ordering stationary people to either get on with their exercise regime or go straight home. A tense debate on social media about whether visiting your boyfriend who lives in a different house qualifies as a “reasonable excuse” to leave yours.”
Follow our leaders’ authoritative, timely advice? Listen as they clearly explain restrictions to us? Impossible. They’re experts in equivocating, spin and bullshit.
Eagerly, NSW, Victoria, SA and other tinpot dictatorships reach for the big stick; vying with each other to impose the strictest lockdown. NSW and SA put their top cops in charge. And they look the part. Overpower-dressing. Flaunt the braid; flash the badges, patches, epaulettes and the rest of their quasi-military rig. Inspire trust.
It’s not just the uniform. Our cops are increasingly militarised. Front-line officers in Queensland and Victoria, and specialist units across the country, are being trained in military-style tactics and thinking. Lawyer and former ADF officer, John Sutton warns of a slow and disturbing “convergence”. But is it a good fit?
“Typically, a close ideological and operational alliance between the police force and the military has always been associated with repressive regimes,” he says. Despite John Howard and Tony Abbott and other uniform-fetishists, “Australia has a very strong democracy and a very robust civic mindedness among its population.
Erik Jensen agrees. The Saturday Paper’s editor in chief, agrees that restrictive public health measures are vital. There’s just no evidence to justify any lurch to the right; any special powers of enforcement. “Australia is an exceptionally law-abiding country with a national character based on the false belief we are not.”
Nor is there any sign police have been trained to deal with the health measures detailed in the public health order. Worse, Bradley and others note, the “lockdown state” reverses the onus of proof fundamental to our legal system. In coronavirus times you need to prove you’re doing the right thing by others at all times.
To protect against wrongful convictions, the criminal law, ordinarily, requires proof “beyond reasonable doubt” and the onus of proof lies with the accuser. If there is no case to answer for, a defendant’s silence should be sufficient to render them innocent. Only after proof is brought, should the defendant need to present some defence to their supposed actions.
Old as the law itself, the presumption of innocence lies trampled underfoot. States vie on TV to signal their virtue as guardians of public health, a task neatly handballed, along with such responsibilities as the criminal investigation of the Ruby Princess by a Morrison government always happy to hand-ball trouble.
Are we flattening the curve or flattening freedom? Of course we need to self-isolate and observe other social distancing and health precautions. Self-quarantine is imperative in halting contagious disease. Surviving the coronavirus pandemic means following expert advice, but do we need to be coerced?
Michael Bradley makes a case for a less arbitrary more workable system of policing lockdown.
“I wouldn’t object to a regime under which I was required by law to remain home, with the proviso that I was able to lawfully leave home and go outside if I had a legitimate reason for doing so, subject to all the rules of physical distancing. I also wouldn’t object if that regime gave the police power to reasonably determine that my reason was not legitimate and to order me to go home; or to fine or arrest me if I refused and they reasonably believed that I may be presenting a danger to public health by my actions.
No-one disputes the need for a lockdown. It is a reasonable and proportionate response to the threat of community infection but are we really that complacent or recalcitrant? Or is our allegedly wilful disobedience simply the result of our leaders’ mixed messaging? Confusion abounds. Just look at Victoria.
Not every couple lives together. Can you visit your partner at his or her home? No says Victoria’s Chief Health Officer, Brett Sutton. State Police Minister, Lisa Neville also says it’s not on. Well mostly. Sort of. That’s a definite mabybe, then.
“You cannot visit your partner for social reasons. There are select reasons you can go to the home of your partner.” Daniel Andrews, on the other hand, who knows a bit about public speaking goes off into a riff:
“That’s not work, that’s not caregiving, that’s not medical care, that’s not shopping for the things that you need when you need them. And you know, it does not comply with the rules. So people should not do that.”
Newsflash. The rules have been relaxed. It’s now OK. But there’s no guarantee things won’t change as the number of Victorians infected with COVID-19 continues to climb. And climb as they do when community transmission is under-reported thanks to a limited testing regime – (expanded since Monday).
Our leaders fail to communicate clearly; consistently. In part, they, themselves, are confused. Or prefer evasion. At the start, in his self-styled role as Bronte bogan, Ocker Morrison urged us to continue with our normal lives. He was off to watch his Cronulla Sharks, or so he planned. It’s vital to his self-marketing.
Being a macho Sharkies fan is vital to Morrison’s everyman branding – as Van Badham says, although he fools no-one, he’s a “fauxgan not a bogan” – a Sydney eastern suburbs spiv who needs the westie blue collar vote. Yet in February, there were echoes of his mentor Donald Trump in his message of business as usual.
“There is no need for us to be moving towards not having mass gatherings of people. You can still go to the football, you can still go to the cricket … You can go off to the concert, and you can go out for a Chinese meal. You can do all of these things because Australia has acted quickly.”
Yet there was a need. Morrison gave dud advice based on a lie. Australia did not act quickly, argues Bill Bowtell, adjunct professor at The Kirby Institute for Infection and Immunity at the University of New South Wales and architect of Australia’s world-leading response to the AIDS epidemic several decades ago.
The federal Government knew about the severity of Coronavirus three months before it did anything. It should have accumulated testing kits, brought in necessary emergency equipment and medical supplies, provided money for science and vaccine research and immediately begun a public educational campaign.
Confusion from the top helps create a broader, underlying problem of vagueness at law. In the US a law can be unconstitutionally void for vagueness as former convenor of criminology, Deakin University’s Darren Palmer writes in The Conversation; a law becomes invalid because it is insufficiently clear.
People must have trust in any new powers given to authorities, he continues. New powers must be clear to all; applied consistently and transparently. Pandemic powers currently meet none of these criteria.
Pandemic powers are vague, inconsistent and opaque. A Victorian teenager is fined $1600 (later withdrawn by Victorian Police) for a driving lesson that is deemed non-essential travel yet NSW Police say the lesson would have been OK in NSW. Mick Fuller tells Fran Kelly that travel to a holiday home at Easter is not essential travel whereas in Victoria, it’s OK if quarantine is observed on arrival. And you own the home.
Do we really need to see soldiers in the street? Fine a man for eating a kebab? A homeless person is fined washing windscreens in south-west Sydney. Another man is pinged for drinking outside a closed pub. Exercise is OK but not elbow-raising.
But,sit on a park bench to catch your breath and you risk a fine in Victoria or NSW.
In SA, as in NSW, top cop, Police Commissioner, Grant Stevens, is the designated emergency co-ordinator. Accordingly, Stevens is practically licensed to kill.
He may use “such force as is reasonably necessary in the exercise or discharge of a power or function under this section or in ensuring compliance with a direction or requirement under this section.”
Not only are you are expected to quietly obey the new laws in SA, you forfeit your right to remain silent. “no obligation to maintain secrecy or other restriction on the disclosure of information” when you are “ … required to disclose information by a direction or requirement” issued under the new powers. Experts in civil liberties warn that we’re on a bit of a slippery slope – and we’ve been on it for about twenty years.
“Australia is now the only democratic nation in the world without a national human rights law such as a human rights act or bill of rights,” warned UNSW Professor George Williams in 2011.
Williams calculates that between the September 11 terrorist attacks and Howard’s end in 2007, a new anti-terror law was enacted every 6.7 weeks. Since then, increasingly draconian – and often unworkable – legislation has ballooned out well beyond any sane or reasonable response to its original worthy aim. Coronavirus extends the trend.
“There’s been a massive amount of legislation passed that prior to [September 2001] would have been unthinkable”, Pauline Wright, President of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties says. “There have been incursions into freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of movement, right to protest, all basic legal rights that underpin our democracy”.
Luckily, we have a PM who is alert to creeping crypto-fascism. Scotty from marketing makes it clear he is sensitive to the term “lockdown”. He fears it may prompt panic buying of toilet rolls and hand sanitizer.
“I would actually caution the media against using the word ‘lockdown’ because I think it does create unnecessary anxiety because that is not an arrangement that is actually being considered in the way that term might suggest,” he says with typical laconic brevity. Yet Police Commissioner, Mick Fuller, who once took Morrison’s wheelie bin in for him, and is now the most powerful man in the state, begs to differ.
“You’re in a lockdown wherever you live,” Mick says last Tuesday after NSW announces its strict rules.
The latest lockdown laws in all states are rushed, unnecessary; “overzealous” writes ANU’s Peter Collignon, a professor of infectious disease. Not only do they seem a tad arbitrary and excessive, however, they are based on guesswork, extrapolation from extractions; cherry-picked, overseas data as Our Nation’s, Flat-Curve Saviour, Morrison confirms in his over-hyped, long-awaited, Release the Modelling show, Tuesday.
Asked whether the exotic modelling “indicated anything about the relative effectiveness of different measures” deployed in Australia. Chief Medical Officer Murphy replies: “It doesn’t, unfortunately.”
In brief, we’ve set up petty despots to protect us from spreading infection who don’t really know what they’re doing or why they are doing it. There is broad agreement on restricting movement but without any clear rationale to inform their arbitrary and inconsistent decrees to restrict the spread of the virus.
Duck-shoving responsibility to the states but taking all the credit for a flattening of the coronavirus pandemic curve, the federal government suspends parliament –
Even Jacqui Lambie’s not happy.
“This idea the government has of calling us in on a whim, whenever they feel they need, it’s not the most functional. They’re spending billions of dollars, so it’s time to apply a bit of scrutiny. We’ve been very nice to the government, we’ve played very nice. But with no parliament – is that a sustainable way for a democracy to go? No, it’s not.” The Independent Tassie Senator,makes the right call this time.
The Morrison government continues to hack away at the practice of representative democracy. Adding insult to injury, Federal Parliament is recalled, Wednesday, to rubber-stamp Job-Keeper. Labor is asked endlessly if it’s going to block the legislation – as if it has the numbers -when it’s already promised its support. The subtext in ABC news reports is that it would be heresy to challenge the Morrison government’s plan.
In fact, there’s a lot that needs challenging. Over a million Australians are ineligible. The Very Christian Porter doesn’t care. There has to be a line drawn somewhere he says. The Australian Bureau of Statistics report only 47% of businesses in the arts and recreation sector are still operating at the end of March.
But because short-term contract work is rampant in theatre, television, film, live shows and the wider arts sector of the economy, many of the 50,000 artists and 600,000 workers in the sector miss out on JobKeeper.
JobKeeper is touted as a $130 billion stimulus package, vital to Snap-Back, Morrison’s six-month miracle cure for our Coronavirus economic recession – which, amazingly, is yet another subsidy of the Liberal Party’s business pals. No-one asks where’s the money coming from; ask which spending will be cut or what additional revenue will pay for it. Few bother with the lack of any “mutual obligation” to bosses attached to it.
Yet the package will help Scotty counter toxic images of queues outside Centrelink offices, snaking along pavements and around the block. Not only will JobKeeper workers be kept out of unemployment queues, moreover, they won’t appear in statistics. Best of all, employers get to choose which workers to keep and which to lose. Workers’ gratitude will be lavished on big-hearted bosses, not endorse Big Government.
JobKeeper is yet another “package” – Morrison jargon to help evade accountability. Many drought relief packages, for example, are yet to materialise. JobKeeper subsidises six million workers’ wages to keep one million in work, as Richard Denniss observes, in a cunning transfer of wealth to prosperous business owners.
Expect little debate. The News-Corp-led media Hallelujah Chorus hails the PM as the Messiah. David Speers on ABC Insiders is full of applause. Others ask: how good is our socialist government? But both are lies. By pumping hundreds of billions into existing businesses, there’s little capital for investing in projects that actually create employment. And Morrison expects things to snap back, once we’re on the other side.
It cannot last. The PM is very keen to impress this on us. “There is a snap-back there, a snap-back to the previous existing arrangements on the other side of this,” Morrison warns Thursday. “There is an intensity of expenditure during this period. And then we have to get back to what it was like before.”
Except, he has no idea how to do this. Or when. Turning off the economic stimulus tap too soon, however badly it’s targeted, would deepen any recession – and it’s likely to be a deep one. It’s wildly optimistic to talk in terms of a six months’ cure.
Other problems are just as intractable. How it will be possible to snatch back JobKeeper or “free” childcare or the JobSeeker allowance, a doubling of the not so new Newstart and tacit admission that its forty dollars a day was woefully inadequate? Meanwhile, JobSeeker still promises punitive “mutual obligation” requirements after 27 April 2020 which force unemployed workers to look for jobs that simply won’t exist.
Greg Jericho reports that Callam Pickering, economist at global job site Indeed, estimates that currently job adverts are running about 33% below what they were last year. “It would actually be surprising if they don’t drop by more – during the 1990s recession they fell by half.”
Some prosperous businesses will receive a big boost from JobKeeper, notes Richard Denniss, The Australia Institute’s chief economist. For example, childcare which underpays and overworks its staff, exploiting a largely female workforce. But for many, it is no help at all. Worse it further divides the working poor.
A glance at current ABS statistics on businesses in the hospitality sector, already rife with wage theft and underemployment and now hit by the coronavirus social isolation decrees, reveals that seventy per cent are forced to further under-employ their workers, reduce the hours of their staff. Forty three percent are estimated, by ABS sampling, to have either laid off workers, or placed them on unpaid leave.
Federal Parliament is suspended until 11 August at least, although as government leader in the House of Reps, Attorney-General Christian Porter makes clear, it’s not due to resume until September. The recession-busting brains trust running the joint has “better things to do” than sit in parliament.
Non-essential outings are banned in NSW and Victoria in a zealous interpretation of a recommendation by Morrison’s oxymoronic adhocracy, his National Cabinet; a marvel of self-promotion and self-preservation by a PM who’d struggle to raffle a duck in a pub but who is a past master of the duck-shoving of responsibility.
Scotty grandstands, whilst ensuring responsibility for containing the coronavirus pandemic lies with the states. But it will all be OK because he’s agreed to a senate committee which will provide oversight. Seriously.
We’ve seen too much already of the contempt for democracy and transparency displayed by his government and senior public servants called before senate committees – including the ADF’s top cop, Reece Kershaw, whose boast was that he’d set a record for taking questions on notice. In other words, avoid answering.
Nowhere is Scotty’s buck-passing more apparent than in the five star scandal of the monster cruise ship Ruby Princess, our Typhoid Mary, an eighteen deck behemoth linked to over a dozen deaths and up to a thousand cases of infection.
Is it a cop-out by federal government as NSW Senator, Kristina Kenneally alleges? She’s being diplomatic about dereliction of duty compounded by a very clumsy cover up of Dutton’s Home Affairs failure to stop the one boat that mattered.
The shadow minister for Immigration and Home Affairs, accuses the Coalition of ducking its responsibility by expecting the states to take the lead – albeit in co-operation with federal Border Force officers. The federal government’s “dragged its feet” on crucial border protection measures, such as temperature checks at airports or mandatory quarantine for cruise ship arrivals.
“The wider Australian community is now seeing the calamitous results of their decision to allow the Ruby Princess to dock in Sydney,” Kristina Keneally says, “a moment we have quickly realised was a tipping point in the spread of coronavirus in Australia.”
This will be regarded as the worst public health disaster in America in a century,” says Eric Topol, professor of molecular medicine at Scripps Research in San Diego. “The root cause of the disaster was the lack of readiness to understand where, how and when the disease was spreading.”
It’s been much the same in Australia but now with Carnival and other companies’ ships of shame no longer visiting, there’s been a drop in our statistics. Whether we are flattening the curve, it is too early to tell but there are encouraging signs of a decline in reported cases although community transmission continues to be a major concern.
Finally Morrison’s snapback is an illusion. Many who lost their jobs in past recessions never found another another, even years later.
In the recession of the early 1980s the unemployment rate almost doubled, increasing from 5.5% to 10.5% in two years. The number of unemployed Australians increased by 330,000. An equivalent proportion of today’s workforce would be about 650,000. It took six and a half years, to the end of the 1980s, for the unemployment rate to claw its way back to somewhere close to where it started.
And there were other, deeper, consequences. During the recession of the early 1980s, the proportion of Australian males with a job fell by about 7%. Only half of that fall was reversed in the ensuing recovery. Then workers were hit with the recession of the early 1990s. In the following three years, the proportion of males with a job fell by a further 10%, Macrobusiness’ David Lewellyn Smith reminds us.
Morrison needs to step up, however, much he fears accountability. Parliament needs to be recalled immediately. The nation deserves no less. Our public health and the health of our body politic, our democracy depends upon it.