COVID returns and Canberra is failing Australia

By Jim Hayes

Victoria is in lockdown again and the accusations are flying. The bottom line is this. COVID-19 is a virus, and a new mutation has arrived. Australia is not alone. Many other nations are facing the same experience. Re-infection should have been carefully planned for . It didn’t happen.

The science tells  us that there are likely to be further outbreaks. There is still no sign of adequate preventative planning. There is the vaccination rollout. This has been made a dog’s breakfast, at the hands of a government locking us into limited choices. Contractual agreement with pharmaceutical companies AstraZeneca and Pfizer. Australians are being denied the full range of options to prevent infection.

There has been an epic failure to properly regulate nursing homes, some of which government ministers have a commercial interest in.  Elderly residents have consequently been put at risk. These homes are a key infection point, made even worse, by contracting out the vaccination of staff to private providers, and the accompanying lack of transparency and accountability. Add to this the high level of casualised work, which forces carers to travel form one facility to the other.

Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty: The Arcare aged care facility in Maidstone, Melbourne, is one of the new outbreak centres

Where are the purpose-built quarantine facilities? Other countries can do this. So why can’t Australia? Where is the campaign to involve the public in a national effort? This is an emergency, and it requires an emergency response involving all of us.

The present lockdown in Victoria is appropriate. But the failures have added to an already existing lack of trust in our political leaders. Many are not confident that they are acting in our interests. A consequence is a tendency to emerge out of  a spike, assume it is all over, and get slack over precautions rather too quickly. It increases the risk of re-infection.

Commercial interest has got in the way. There is too much haste to get back to business as usual. In the end, this causes farm more damage to business.

Preventive action is always far more effective than chasing the horse after it has bolted. This requires political leadership centred in Canberra. But we have had evasion of responsibility, and a disjointed and inadequately resourced approach from the states.  Mixed messages have been coming out form our political elite, which makes it hard for citizens to work out exactly what us going on.

A preventive approach would see adequate preparation and mobilisation before new outbreaks come. It would give the public the confidence it needs to better play its role in taking the proper precautions and remaining vigilant.

There is the need to look after the vulnerable. Looking after the elderly and vulnerable is a no brainer. But what about those who lose their wages? JobKeeper has gone  and so has the JobSeeker supplement? What about those facing the prospect of losing their homes because they can no longer pay their rent or mortgage? The rent moratorium and mortgage payment relief are no more.

Peak union body the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has called for a reinstatement of JobKeeper. Its president Michele O’Neil said, “People will lose work during this lockdown thanks to the Federal Government’s decision to completely end JobKeeper early.

“The Morrison Government must re-instate JobKeeper where it is still needed.

“While the vaccine rollout continues to flounder, there will be thousands of businesses and millions of workers who continue to need support.”

Photo by Rhet Wyman: ACTU President Michelle O’Neil

The Renters and Housing Union (RAHU) has launched a campaign calling on organisations to support a call to restore all the above, cancel rental debts, provide a one-off rental stimulus payment of $500, and double rent assistance.

Unless this help is provided,  many Australians will be in no position to take the proper precautions, and the risk of the spread of infection will go up with it.

It is telling that this is not even part of the government’s conversation.

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