Democracy ISOLATING THE ISSUE
Isolation could be cut to five days, according to Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, as the government grapples with staff shortages disrupting the economy, the AFR reports. Frydenberg said the rules are under “constant review”, suggesting national cabinet or the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee could slash the stay-home period. He cited “a number of countries” who have changed their rules — the US has a five-day isolation rule now as per the CDC, and the UK is thinking of binning isolation requirements altogether as The Telegraph ($) (via Reuters) reported.
Yesterday was Australia’s most deadly day of the pandemic, with 77 COVID-19 fatalities reported countrywide, SBS says. For the first time, the Victorian government has declared a Code Brown emergency across all major hospitals. It’s a measure that allows hospitals to put off all non-urgent stuff, to cancel staff leave, and to send staff where they’re needed most, The Age explains.
Speaking of — the former boss of Victoria’s health department, who stepped down over the state’s hotel quarantine debacle, is now reviewing WA’s health system, WA Today reports. Kym Peake was the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services for six years before she admitted to an inquiry that she didn’t tell then-minister Jenny Mikakos that three reports found big problems with hotel quarantine. Victoria’s second wave, which saw a 111-day lockdown and 768 deaths, as The Conversation reports, was traced back to two quarantine hotels.
Democracy CALLS FOR YANG’S RELEASE
China’s government has told Australia to butt out after Foreign Minister Marise Payne called for the release of an Australian democracy advocate from a Chinese prison, ABC reports. Yang Hengjun, 56, was detailed three years ago after being accused of spying for an unnamed country, as The Australian ($) writes. Yang, a graduate from the University of Technology Sydney who once worked for the Chinese government and later became a hugely well-known pro-democracy blogger, has described his torture and isolation in prison since, as Guardian Australia reports.
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Yang received a secret one-day trial for espionage last May, the SMH explains, and his verdict has been delayed twice already — it’s now expected in April. The Chinese legal system has a conviction rate of 99%, the paper adds. China’s foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said yesterday “China firmly opposes Australia’s unreasonable obstruction in China’s handling of the case in accordance with law and gross interference in China’s judicial sovereignty”. Yang’s friends told Reuters he has gout, high blood pressure, and blood tests that showed he was at risk of kidney failure, “but a Chinese prison doctor has been unable to provide any treatment or advice on treatment”, ABC continues.
In response to Zhao’s curt comments, Payne asked, how are we supposed to stay out of it? The Australian government hasn’t even been given details of the charge against him, SBS continues, nor any information about Yang’s investigation, “reinforcing our view that this constitutes the arbitrary detention of an Australian citizen”, she says. Payne says the government is extremely concerned about Yang’s ailing health.
Democracy FALLING PRAY
While spruiking his latest podcast episode, outgoing Nationals MP George Christensen has told parents not to vaccinate their children, ABC reports. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he strongly disagrees with Christensen, citing up-to-date medical advice, and urged parents to “disregard his dangerous message”. Reduced dosages of the Pfizer vaccine have been approved for kids 5+ by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) who are the same folks who approve all vaccines for kids, Morrison added, describing the TGA as the world’s best medical regulators. It’s quite the juxtaposition for the government, which just deported the world number one tennis player to avoid stoking anti-vaccination sentiment. Last week Nationals Leader Barnaby Joyce basically said Christensen can say what he wants, as the SMH reports, but deputy David Littleproud tweeted last night that Christensen’s comments were irresponsible, saying parents should get medical advice from medical professionals.
Interestingly, Robert F Kennedy Jr (yup, from the Kennedy family) is the key speaker at an event called Prayer and Pushback this Friday. Kennedy is a known anti-vaxxer who has been leveraging his famous name to build a web of misinformation — and profit, as AP News delved into. Also speaking at the event is One Nation’s Pauline Hanson and Malcolm Roberts; Liberal Alex Antic; Nationals Senator Matt Canavan; United Australia Party’s Craig Kelly and Christensen. The website offers little information (can’t help but think that’s intentional), but a Facebook page for an earlier event speaks of promises to offer “practical strategies to make Australia great again”. Former St Kilda mayor and Baptist minister Tim Costello wrote for Eternity News that “again, the theme of freedom and mobilising Christians to stand firm against vaccine mandates and passports, lockdowns and curfews was framed as a Gospel issue of prayer and pushback”.
Democracy ON A LIGHTER NOTE
New Zealand woman Linda McAlister sat down at her computer, trying to zone out the sound of her two boys running wild during their school holidays. She opened classifieds website Trade Me and began to fill in a listing. The item she was selling? Her husband. John McAlister had left on an impromptu fishing trip, leaving Linda to herd her 4-year-old and 6-year-old boys through their free days, and her mind was made up. He’s 6″1, she wrote in the listing, 37 years old, and a beef farmer. He’s had several previous owners, she admitted, but stays loyal if he’s fed and watered.
Meanwhile, John was marvelling at himself. He’d pulled it off — a solo fishing trip and no harm done. That’s until one of his mates rang to tell him about the listing — his listing. He told Stuff that he couldn’t stop laughing. Twelve bids were made on John, and he couldn’t tear himself away from the screen. One interested bidder asked if John had any vices and Linda replied, well, yes — he does suffer from “socks-on-the-floor-itus, which I have found to be contagious to younger models and unfortunately reoccurring”. The listing was taken down by the site (bids were at $100!) and the couple, of course, remains happily married, though Linda’s advice to spouses thinking of pulling the same Houdini move was to “watch themselves”.
Hope something makes you smile today, folks.
Democracy SAY WHAT?
I can tell you categorically that nobody said that this was something that was against the rules, that was in breach of the COVID rules.
Dig up, stupid — the embattled British PM denied his former aide Dominic Cummings’ claim that he warned Johnson having a work drinks party during Britain’s lockdown in May 2020 was a bad idea. Yet two other former Downing Street officials have corroborated Cummings’ claim to the BBC. One might argue the leader of the country shouldn’t need to be told such a thing was against the rules.
“The capacity of government has diminished. Federal MPs are now drawn from a less diverse range of backgrounds than 30 years ago. Between 40% and 50% of MPs in the current federal Parliament, depending on the party, are former political staffers; the remainder consist largely of lawyers and bankers.
“The dominance of former staffers affects both the life and professional experience of MPs (and the ministers drawn from their ranks), and the role of political staff. The job is no longer about providing high quality political advice to ministers — it’s simply a stepping stone into Parliament for junior party workers.”
“Contrary to popular belief, sharemarket crashes tend to happen very slowly. In October 1929, Black Thursday wiped a relatively trifling 12% off the value of the Dow Jones Index (Black Tuesday a few days later took off another 11%). It would take another three years before the market finally bottomed out, 89% below its peak.
“The Japanese crash took even longer, the Nikkei Index peaking in December 1989 before dropping 82% over the next 18 years. Crashes tend to play out slowly because speculators suffer from a terrible dose of cognitive bias. It takes a while for reality to sink in.”
“The tax reform-inequality stuff is deemed too risky for an election fight, so Shorten-era policies like overhauling negative gearing and capital gains tax are long gone. Climate is also too risky, so the party will head to the election with a 43% emissions reduction target less ambitious than both its last offering and what some big business groups who slammed Shorten’s target now want.
“But scare campaigns don’t need policy substance to work. Morrison’s attempt to create a wedge narrative around COVID restrictions are a case in point. When Albanese accused the federal and NSW governments of ‘letting it rip’ in response to the Omicron wave last week, Morrison quickly used it as an opportunity to cast Labor as the party of lockdowns.”
Democracy READ ALL ABOUT IT
Oil prices hit 7-year high on rising geopolitical tensions (The Wall Street Journal)
Extend your life — have a daily teaspoon of olive oil (The Australian) ($)
Democracy THE COMMENTARIAT
No one left behind in Labor blueprint for better future — Anthony Albanese (The Australian) ($): “It’s extraordinary that we have a skills shortage at the same time as 2 million Australians are either unemployed or underemployed. There are 85,000 fewer people in apprenticeships and traineeships than when the Liberals and Nationals were elected …
“Skilling up Australians will give our people more opportunities and make it easier for businesses to expand. It will also build a workforce to drive the development of new industries that will drive prosperity for decades. Manufacturing will be part of that growth wave. When the pandemic hit, Australia found we were unable to meet our own medical needs in areas such as face masks, medicines and mRNA vaccines. That’s not good enough.”
Champagne gesture doesn’t mean Cricket Australia has solved its race problem — Osman Faruqi (The SMH): “On the one hand, it might seem like focusing on a few seconds of footage of Australian cricketers slapping each other on the back while they celebrate thrashing the English might be overkill in terms of its contribution to discourse around race and inclusivity in this country. Surely, not showering your only Muslim player in alcohol, so he’s forced to leave the celebrations is the bare minimum?
“… It’s not evidence of a radical shift in Australia’s racial conversation, it doesn’t prove that the other players are anti-racist heroes for doing the bare minimum, and it doesn’t demonstrate Cricket Australia has solved its race problem. But for a few seconds Australian cricket looked a little bit like the rest of Australia. And Khawaja used the moment to push things forward just a little more. And that’s worth celebrating (with, or without, champagne).”
Democracy HOLD THE FRONT PAGE
Democracy WHAT’S ON TODAY
WikiLeaks legal team and fiancée of Julian Assange, Stella Moris, Labour MP John McDonnell, Chair of the International Federation of Journalists Tim Dawson, and academic Deepa Govindarajan Driver will all speak at a webinar about the Assange case.
Yuggera Country (also known as Brisbane)
The 2020 Letty Katts Award recipient Narelle McCoy shares her research into the life and music of Queensland composer Letty Katts at the State Library of Queensland.
Kulin Nation Country (also known as Melbourne)
A “relaxed” performance of theatre production Into The Woods will take place at the Meat Market — that means it’ll be accessible for audience members including people with autism, neurodiverse people, people with a disability, people with anxiety, and others with sensory sensitivity.