The Victorian government plans a pilot scheme for up to five days sick and carer’s pay, at the national minimum wage, for casuals or insecure workers in priority industries.
Even though the initiative is at a very early stage, with $5 million in Tuesday’s state budget for consultation on the pilot’s design, the federal government immediately attacked the move.
Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter said it “raises a number of major issues”.
Once underway, the pilot would run two years in selected sectors with high casualisation. It could include cleaners, hospitality staff, security guards, supermarket workers and aged care workers.
“The pilot will roll out in two phases over two years with the occupations eligible for each phase to be finalised after a consultation process that will include workers, industry and unions,” a statement from Premier Daniel Andrews’ office said.
Casual and insecure workers in eligible sectors would be invited to pre-register for the scheme.
While the pilot would be government-funded, any future full scheme would involve a levy on business.
Andrews said: “When people have nothing to fall back on, they make a choice between the safety of their workmates and feeding their family.
“This isn’t going to solve the problem of insecure work overnight but someone has to put their hand up and say we’re going to take this out of the too hard basket and do something about it.”
But Porter said a fully-running scheme would put “a massive tax on Victorian businesses”, which would be paying both the extra loading casuals receive and the levy.
“After Victorian businesses have been through their hardest year in the last century, why on earth would you be starting a policy that promises to finish with another big tax on business at precisely the time they can least afford any more economic hits?”
Porter said it would be better to strengthen the ability of workers to choose to move from casual to permanent full or part-time employment if they wished.
He said this was what had been discussed in the recent federally-run industrial relations working group process involving government and employee and employer representatives.
“It must surely be a better approach to let people have greater choice between casual and permanent employment than forcing businesses to pay a tax so that someone can be both a casual employee and get more wages as compensation for not getting sick leave – but then also tax the business to pay for getting sick leave as well.”
Porter claimed the Victorian approach would be “a business and employment-killing” one.
In the pandemic the federal government has made available a special payment for workers who test COVID-positive or are forced to isolate and don’t have access to paid leave. The Victorian government has provided a payment for those waiting for the result of a COVID test.
The Morrison government will introduce an omnibus industrial relations reform bill before the end of the parliamentary ar, following its consultation process.
A central objective will be to streamline enterprise bargaining. Scott Morrison told the Business Council of Australia last week: “Agreement making is becoming bogged down in detailed, overly prescriptive procedural requirements that make the process just too difficult to undertake”.
He said various issues needed addressing. “The test for approval of agreements should focus on substance rather than technicalities. Agreements should be assessed on actual foreseeable circumstances, not far fetched hypotheticals.” Assessments by the Fair Work Commission should happen within set time frames where there was agreement from the parties.
Morrison said key protections such as the better off overall test would continue but “our goal is to ensure it will be applied in a practical and sensible way so that the approval process does not discourage bargaining, which is what is happening now”.
With all states called by US media, Joe Biden won the Electoral College by 306 votes to 232 over Donald Trump, an exact reversal of Trump’s triumph in 2016, ignoring faithless electors. Biden gained the Trump 2016 states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Arizona and Georgia; he also gained Nebraska’s second district.
While Biden’s win appears decisive, he won three states – Wisconsin (ten Electoral Votes), Arizona (11) and Georgia (16) – by 0.6% or less. Had Trump won these three states, the Electoral College would have been tied at 269-269.
If nobody wins a majority (270) of the Electoral College, the presidency is decided by the House of Representatives, but with each state’s delegation casting one vote. Republicans hold a majority of state delegations, so Trump would have won a tied Electoral College vote.
Wisconsin (Biden by 0.6%) will be the “tipping-point” state. Had Trump won Wisconsin and states Biden won by less (Arizona and Georgia went to Biden by 0.3% margins), he would have won the Electoral College tiebreaker.
The national popular vote has Biden currently leading Trump by 50.9% to 47.3%, a 3.6% margin for Biden. This does not yet include mail ballots from New York that are expected to be very pro-Biden.
Biden is likely to win the popular vote by 4-5%, so the difference between Wisconsin and the overall popular vote will be 3.5% to 4.5%. That is greater than the 2.9% gap between the tipping-point state and the popular vote in 2016.
Prior to 2016, there had not been such a large gap, but in both 2016 and 2020 Trump exploited the relatively large population of non-University educated whites in presidential swing states compared to nationally.
This article, written after the US 2016 election, has had a massive surge in views recently.
Relative to expectations, Democrats performed badly in Congress. In the Senate, Republicans lead by 50-48 with two Georgian runoffs pending on January 5. In the House, Democrats hold a 218-203 lead with 14 races uncalled. Republicans have gained a net seven seats so far, and lead in ten of the uncalled races.
Before the election, Democrats were expected to win the Senate and extend their House majority. The House would be worse for Democrats if not for a judicial redistribution in North Carolina that gave Democrats two extra safe seats.
US polls understated Trump again
New York Times analyst Nate Cohn has an article on the polls. Biden was expected to greatly improve on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 performance with non-University educated whites and seniors, but the results indicate that Trump held up much better with these demographics than expected.
Trump also had large swings in his favour in heavily Latino counties such as Miami Dade, Florida; polls suggested a more modest improvement for Trump with Latinos.
After the 2016 election, most polls started weighting by educational attainment, but this did not fix the problem. Cohn has some theories of what went wrong. First, Republican turnout appears to have been stronger than expected. Second, Trump’s attacks on the mainstream media may have convinced some of his supporters to not respond to polls.
A third theory is that coronavirus biased the polls’ samples, because people who followed medical advice and stayed home were more likely to respond to pollsters and more likely to be Democrats. Polls had suggested Biden would win Wisconsin, a coronavirus hotspot, easily, but he only won by 0.6%.
While US polls understated Trump in both 2016 and 2020, it is not true that international polling tends to understate the right. At the October 17 New Zealand election, polls greatly understated Labour’s lead over National. Polls also understated UK Labour at the 2017 election.
Victorian Labor surges after end of lockdown
In a privately conducted Victorian YouGov poll reported by The Herald Sun, Labor led by 55-45 from primary votes of 44% Labor, 40% Coalition and 11% Greens. Premier Daniel Andrews had a strong 65-32 approval rating, while Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien had a terrible 53-26 disapproval rating. The poll was conducted from late October to early November from a sample of 1,240. Figures from The Poll Bludger.
A Victorian Morgan SMS poll, conducted November 9-10 from a sample of 818, gave Labor a 58.5-41.5 lead, a seven-point gain for Labor since the mid-October Morgan poll. Primary votes were 45% Labor (up five), 34.5% Coalition (down 5.5) and 11% Greens (up two). In a forced choice, Andrews had a 71-29 approval rating, up from 59-41 in mid-October. Morgan’s SMS polls have been unreliable in the past.
Labor wins Queensland election with 52 of 93 seats
At the October 31 Queensland election, Labor won 52 of the 93 seats (up four since 2017), the LNP 34 (down five), Katter’s Australian Party three (steady), the Greens two (up one), One Nation one (steady) and one independent (steady). Labor has an 11-seat majority.
Primary votes were 39.6% Labor (up 4.1%), 35.9% LNP (up 2.2%), 9.5% Greens (down 0.5%), 7.1% One Nation (down 6.6%) and 2.5% Katter’s Australian Party (up 0.2%). It is likely Labor won at least 53% of the two party preferred vote. The final Newspoll gave Labor a 51.5-48.5 lead – another example of understating the left.
Labor gained five seats from the LNP, but lost Jackie Trad’s seat of South Brisbane to the Greens. Two of Labor’s gains were very close and went to recounts, with Labor winning Bundaberg by nine votes and Nicklin by 85 votes.
Federal Newspoll: 51-49 to Coalition
In last week’s federal Newspoll, conducted November 4-7 from a sample of 1,510, the Coalition had a 51-49 lead, a one point gain for Labor since the mid-October Newspoll. Primary votes were 43% Coalition (down one), 35% Labor (up one), 11% Greens (steady) and 3% One Nation (steady). Figures from The Poll Bludger.
Scott Morrison is still very popular, with 64% satisfied with his performance (down one) and 32% dissatisfied (up one), for a net approval of +32. Anthony Albanese’s net approval jumped eight points to +4, but he continued to trail Morrison as better PM by 58-29 (57-28 previously).
A YouGov poll in former Labor frontbencher Joel Fitzgibbon’s seat of Hunter had a 50-50 tie; this would be a three-point swing to the Nationals from the 2019 election. Primary votes were 34% Labor, 26% National, 12% One Nation, 10% Shooters and 8% Greens.
In an election victory driven by her management of COVID, the dire second wave in Victoria likely helped Annastacia Pałaszczuk. Defending her tough border policy and her message about keeping Queenslanders safe, she had a real life example to illustrate what happens when the virus gets away.
Her win reinforced the accepted wisdom that this crisis favours incumbents – provided people think they are doing the right thing.
The Queensland outcome might at one level be galling for the federal government – which has been sniping at Pałaszczuk’s border policy for months – but at another it is also reassuring for Scott Morrison, who has so far managed the pandemic response well.
That said, Morrison has a rockier road to navigate to his election. The federal poll is a year and a half away, and (assuming the virus now stays under control) the challenge for him is economic, which will be complicated as he juggles withdrawing the current massive fiscal support without any disaster.
While some details of the Queensland result are yet to be finalised, Pałaszczuk is set for an increased majority, with Labor securing a swing towards it. For a government seeking a third term, and one which had been – pre-COVID – under criticism for its performance, this is a remarkable achievement.
Despite some pre-election speculation, and the plight of the tourist industry, Labor’s seats in the north of the state did not collapse.
The difficulties of the Queensland economy and its high unemployment did not translate into electoral damage for the government.
And nearly a week’s campaigning by the prime minister produced not the slightest sign of a Morrison “miracle” for the Liberal National Party. On the other side, the absence of Anthony Albanese could have been a bonus for Labor.
The Pałaszczuk government was helped by its opposition, with recent fighting between the LNP organisation and the parliamentary party. On the main issue of this COVID election, LNP leader Deb Frecklington could only say she too would follow the health advice. She may not have not been believed, given the attacks on the closed border coming from the conservative side.
Apart from the result, the big story of Saturday was the collapse of the One Nation vote. What was left of that vote favoured Labor via preferences, probably reflecting older voters’ COVID fears.
Pauline Hanson was low profile during the election; whether she can gear up her party when the federal contest comes remains to be seen. It’s clear how “all about Pauline” is Pauline Hanson’s One Nation – if she’s not going flat out, there’s nothing much there.
Just as the Victorian wave played into Pałaszczuk’s story line, so did the federal pressure on the premier. The smaller (in population) states are parochial: Palaszczuk benefitted by being seen pushing back against the “open up” brigade.
The benefit was in net terms – she lost skin when some hardline decisions hurt interstate families who needed health care or who wanted to visit sick relatives or to attend funerals.
Apart from the warm glow of a fraternal success, the Queensland result doesn’t bring a lot that’s positive for federal Labor.
For it, the message about incumbency is not encouraging.
The ALP also knows Queenslanders are quite comfortable with federal and state governments being of different stripes. The voters can judge who’s who, and just because they trust Pałaszczuk Labor doesn’t mean they are more likely to embrace Albanese Labor.
Morrison goes down well in Queensland when he’s campaigning for his own government.
Federal Labor must work out its detailed positions on key policies – climate, energy and resources – and more effectively sell its leader, before its fortunes can improve in that state.
Both will be difficult. Attempts to paper over the internal differences on climate and energy won’t cut it, but forging genuine agreement is a struggle.
Albanese is up against it when the times are suiting Morrison.
Post Saturday’s result, the premier has indicated Queensland’s border ban on people from greater Sydney and Victoria won’t be reviewed for another month. That would still leave time for Christmas reunions, but it could be a tight-run thing.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said on Sunday: “we’re now, I think, in a position where we would like to see New South Wales and Queensland be able as soon as possible to have free movement between the jurisdictions. And once everybody is comfortable that Victoria does have its contact tracing to gold standard levels, then I think we’ll see a single national bubble in due course.”
With Victoria on Sunday recording zero new cases and community transmission in Australia virtually stamped out, Australia is at this moment in an extraordinarily good place on the health front.
But with COVID rampaging again in Britain and many other countries, and the memory of the Victorian experience fresh, there can be no complacency.
Update: In an about-face, Frecklington says she won’t seek to stay leader
Deb Frecklington announced on Monday she will not seek to remain as LNP leader – after on Saturday night declaring firmly “I will continue as the leader”.
Her Saturday statement surprised observers, coming not only after a devastating loss but against the background of an automatic spill of leadership positions post-election, when she would have faced a challenge.
Asked what had changed her mind, she said probably her husband and daughters. While “my first instinct is always to fight on”, she’d had a great day with her family on Sunday and reflected on her future. “Family is really important to me,” she said.
This week’s Newspoll, conducted October 8–10 from a sample of 1,527 voters, gave the Coalition a 52–48% lead over Labor in the two-party preferred question, a one-point gain for the Coalition since the previous Newspoll three weeks ago.
Primary votes were 44% Coalition (up one), 34% Labor (steady), 11% Greens (down one) and 3% One Nation (steady).
Prime Minister Scott Morrison remained very popular: 65% were satisfied with his performance and 31% were dissatisfied, for a net approval of +34. These figures are unchanged from the last poll.
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese’s net approval slid three percentage points to -4. His net approval is down six points since late August. Morrison led as better PM by 57-28% (compared to 59-27% three weeks ago).
Newspoll asks three questions after each budget: whether the budget was good or bad for the economy, whether it was good or bad for you personally, and whether the opposition would have delivered a better budget.
On the economy, 42% said the budget was good and 20% bad. When it came to people’s personal fortunes, 26% said they would be better off after the budget, compared to 23% who said worse off. By 49-33%, respondents said Labor would not have delivered a better budget.
Analyst Kevin Bonham tweeted a graph showing this budget performed well compared to historical budgets. The 16-point deficit for the question of whether Labor would have delivered a better budget is the worst for an opposition since 2009.
The one-point gain for the Coalition on people’s voting intentions is also consistent with a well-received budget.
Australian state polls: Victoria and WA
A Victorian Morgan SMS poll, conducted September 29-30 from a sample of 2,220 voters, gave Labor a 51.5-48.5% lead over the Coalition, unchanged from mid-September.
Primary votes were 39% Labor (up two), 39.5% Coalition (up one) and 10% Greens (down two). Morgan’s SMS polls have been unreliable in the past.
In a forced choice, Premier Daniel Andrews had a 61-39% approval rating, down from 70-30% in early September.
Three weeks ago, Newspoll gave Andrews a 62-35% approval rating (compared to 57-37% in late July).
An Utting Research poll of five Western Australian marginal seats showed an average swing to Labor of 16%. In Liberal leader Liza Harvey’s Scarborough seat, the result was 66-34% to Labor.
Labor had a big victory at the March 2017 state election, and this poll suggests a Liberal wipe-out at the next election, due in March 2021.
Biden’s national lead over Trump exceeds ten points
In the FiveThirtyEight national poll aggregate, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden now leads President Donald Trump by 10.4% (52.2–41.9%). It’s somewhat closer in the key swing states, with Biden leading by 8.0% in Michigan, 7.3% in Pennsylvania, 7.2% in Wisconsin, 4.5% in Florida and 3.9% in Arizona.
Since my article about Trump’s coronavirus infection and the first presidential debate, Biden’s national lead has increased by 1.4%.
With Pennsylvania and Wisconsin now polling very closely, both can be seen as “tipping point” states. Previously, Pennsylvania had been better for Trump than Wisconsin.
The gap in Trump’s favour between the national vote and the tipping-point states of Wisconsin and Pennsylvania has increased from 2.4% to 3.2%. If Trump were within five points nationally, this election would be highly competitive. But this difference isn’t going to matter with Biden up ten points nationally.
CNN analyst Harry Enten says Biden is polling better than any challenger against an incumbent president since 1936, when scientific polling started.
US polls include undecided voters, so it is hard for candidates to reach 50%. In 2016, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton never reached that mark in polls, and Trump was able to win far more of the late deciders.
The FiveThirtyEight forecast gives Trump a 14% chance to win, down from 17% last week. Trump has just a 6% chance to win the popular vote.
The Senate forecast gives Democrats a 72% chance to win the Senate, up from 70% last Wednesday. The most likely Senate outcome is still a narrow 51-49 Democratic majority.
We have long been accustomed in Australia to the Commonwealth’s pre-eminence over the states and prime ministers dwarfing premiers. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, has given us a practical reminder of the extensive day-to-day powers that still sit with state governments in our federation. Premiers can have an influence and prominence that transcends their own jurisdictions.
In a situation he no doubt would prefer to have forgone, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has loomed large over the national landscape since a second wave of the pandemic gripped his state in July. One indicator of how many eyes have been glued on the premier: a database of Australian media outlets shows there have been almost as many mentions of him as of Prime Minister Scott Morrison over the past three months. Andrews has had nearly as many hits as all the other state leaders combined.
Elected in November 2014, Andrews is Australia’s longest-serving head of government. The next closest is Queensland’s Annastacia Palaszczuk, who has been premier since February 2015.
Two things stand out about Andrews’ pathway to office. First, it exhibits the hallmarks of a quintessential Labor apparatchik. Second is its rapidity.
Following graduation from Monash University where he majored in politics, Andrews became an electorate officer and factional enforcer for federal Labor MP Alan Griffin, before stints as an organiser and then assistant state secretary for the Victorian ALP. In November 2002, aged 30, he won a seat in the Legislative Assembly. He was immediately appointed as a parliamentary secretary in the second Steve Bracks-led Labor government.
Four years later, Andrews was promoted to the ministry and, after the ALP lost office in November 2010, he was elected opposition leader. By age 42, he was premier of Victoria.
One of the perversities of the modern party apparatchik scheming their way into parliamentary office from a tender age is that, once there, they commonly lack the wherewithal to meaningfully exercise power. They resemble a dog that chases and catches the truck. It is as if they have spent too much time obsessing about the object of their ambition at the expense of bothering to understand its purpose.
Andrews is different. Early this year, I attended the memorial service for the former Labor premier John Cain, who presided over a period of watershed reform in Victoria in the 1980s. A story Andrews chose to tell about Cain said as much about him as it did about the late premier. He recalled that Cain rang him on the eve of the November 2014 state election with Andrews poised to win government. An emotional Cain impressed on Andrews the opportunities of office and implored him not to waste a day of power.
If his own instincts to leave an imprint on the state and Cain’s urgings weren’t enough, Andrews had another reason to be an activist premier. The Liberal-National government Labor defeated in 2014 had mostly seemed becalmed during its single term in office, exacerbating the state’s infrastructure shortfall and squandering the goodwill of an impatient, fast-growing Victorian community.
It was a very different scenario from the last time Labor had won power from opposition in 1999, when Steve Bracks surprisingly triumphed over Jeff Kennett. Then, the imperative had been for a period of healing and consensus following Kennett’s steamroller leadership. The amiable and cautious Bracks was perfectly attuned to that need, but some problems were put in the too-hard basket. Eventually, time ran out for Bracks’ successor, John Brumby, not least because of discontent with Melbourne’s overstretched public transport system.
Andrews, by contrast, styled himself as an assertive premier from the moment he took office. This was exemplified by an ambitious infrastructure building agenda: signature policies were a major program of level-crossing removals and the Metro tunnel rail project.
Andrews the earnest reformer coexists with a powerful streak of the political hard man. He demonstrated a willingness to barge through controversies unapologetically (whether cancelling the contract for the East West Link project, the prolonged dispute over reforming the Country Fire Authority, or revelations about Labor’s deployment of taxpayer-funded electoral staff in its 2014 election campaign — the so-called “red shirts” affair).
Similarly, Andrews seemed to derive satisfaction and affirmation in provoking critics. He thumbed his nose at Melbourne’s top-rating commercial talkback radio host, Neil Mitchell, and appeared unfazed at earning the enmity of the state’s News Corp tabloid, the Herald Sun.
Enter the ‘Danslide’
The formula worked. Despite vociferous attacks by the Herald Sun but aided by a tin-ear law-and-order campaign by the Liberal opposition, which jarred in a community defined by complexity and diversity, the Andrews government was triumphantly returned in November 2018. The victory was so comprehensive that it was dubbed the “Danslide”.
Former Liberal prime minister John Howard sought to console devastated Victorian Liberals by christening the state the “Massachusetts of Australia”. Yet in a review of the election for the Victorian Liberal Party, Howard’s former principal adviser, Tony Nutt, acknowledged the effectiveness of Andrews’ leadership over the previous four years. In private circles, Liberals conceded he was one of the most formidable politicians of the generation.
When Andrews so emphatically won a second term, I wrote that a potential danger was that, emboldened, he might grow too domineering.
That, of course, was long before the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically impacted the political landscape. Early in the crisis, Andrews’ decisive style appeared ideally equipped for the challenge. As head of one of the senior states, he had an influential presence in Morrison’s specially formed national cabinet.
In common with his fellow leaders, Andrews’ management of the first wave of the virus won strong public endorsement. In late April, Newspoll recorded him enjoying an approval rating of 75%, with 85% of respondents believing he had handled the pandemic well.
Then came the botched hotel quarantine program, the unleashing of a second wave of the virus and the imposition of strict restrictions on Victorians in early July. For Andrews, who has prided himself on his control of his government and mastery of detail, it has no doubt been a humbling experience.
He has responded in perhaps the only way he knows how: by asserting still tighter hold over his government and upping an already onerous workload. Day in and day out for the past three months, he has fronted a media conference to announce the latest COVID numbers, exhausting the questions of a frequently hostile journalist pack.
Any semblance of bipartisanship over the management of the virus disintegrated. The state opposition and Morrison government ministers have roundly condemned Andrews.
Predictably, the News Corp press has been especially strident. They resent what they regard as Andrews’ ideological adventurism and also seem actuated by revenge for the 2018 election result.
The legitimate criticisms that can be made of his government for its defective co-ordination, lack of accountability and occasionally tactless overreach have been overshadowed in their pages by hyperbolic columns depicting Victoria as a kind of failed state in which “Dictator Dan” tramples civil liberties. One wonders how many of these columnists have actually walked the streets of Melbourne during the lockdown: the public hardly gives the impression of being cowered under the jackboot of a police state.
Last week, through gritted teeth, The Australian reported the results of a Newspoll that indicated support for Andrews was holding up in Victoria. His approval rating was 62%. Two-thirds of those surveyed believed his government was doing well in handling COVID-19.
What this suggests is that the shrillest voices of criticism are not representative of public opinion at large. The public stoically accepts the restrictions and also has a sense of proportion about what has happened in Victoria when compared to the severity of the crisis in many other countries.
Even as the second wave of the virus is contained, the challenges for Andrews are many. Like his counterparts federally and in the other states, the premier’s destiny will likely be determined by how dire the economic reckoning is and how effectively his government handles the task of recovery.
Andrews may also need to moderate his leadership approach. Crises have a habit of leaving a legacy of centralised authority in governments — think of Kevin Rudd’s federal Labor government and the GFC — but monopolising too much power is ultimately neither sustainable nor wise for any leader. Unless tempered, his ruthlessness, most recently displayed by publicly cutting adrift Health Minister Jenny Mikakos, risks eventually seeding an internal revolt.
There are some predictions a wounded Andrews, emulating what Bracks did in 2007, will resign the premiership before the next state election. I’m unpersuaded. There are amends to be made and to walk away now would be tantamount to conceding to his detractors.
Besides, relinquishing power would go against the grain.
Daniel Andrews’ Sunday announcement of some modest steps out of lockdown will bring both relief and reassurance to many Victorians, but frustration to those who think he should move faster.
Certainly the Morrison government wants the state to take bigger strides.
As the federal government finalises next week’s budget, with a deficit for this financial year of a magnitude none of us have seen before and large red numbers into the future, Morrison, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Health Minister Greg Hunt applied the blow torch to the premier.
“It will be important that more be done in the weeks ahead to safely ease more restrictions,” they said in a joint statement.
“We note that at similar case levels NSW was fundamentally open while remaining Covidsafe due to a world class contact tracing facility.
“As many epidemiologists have encouraged, we would support Victoria in reviewing the trigger of five and zero cases with regards to the third and last steps.
“As it stands this lockdown is already longer than that faced by residents in many cities around the world. We remain deeply concerned about the mental health impacts of a prolonged lock down on Melbourne residents,” they said.
Andrews has responded to a more rapid than expected fall in new cases, and says he will now be driven by numbers rather than dates.
But there is every indication he will continue to be risk averse, after the disaster of the second wave, and on the evidence of last week’s Newspoll, he has public support for that approach. Some 62% of Victorians thought he was handling COVID-19 well.
Andrews has become a highly polarising figure in the pandemic and that’s only likely to increase after his and other evidence to the inquiry into hotel quarantine, followed by Saturday’s resignation of Health Minister Jenny Mikakos.
In contrast to his demeanour at his news conferences, when appearing before the inquiry on Friday, Andrews seemed to be barely containing his anger.
He, like a conga line of witnesses, couldn’t say who had decided to use private security guards to supervise the quarantine.
But he made it clear he held Mikakos responsible for the program.
She, however, thought responsibility spread more widely and indicated her resignation was triggered by Andrews throwing her under the bus.
It continues to be unfathomable to most observers that no one – whether minister, bureaucrat or anyone else – can answer the fundamental but on the face of it simple question: who made the decision about the private security guards?
But Kristen Rundle, from Melbourne University’s Law School, is not so surprised, given the often opaque accountability situations created by contracting out, increasingly a default practice of governments around the country.
She writes in a policy brief titled Reassessing Contracting-Out published last week, that “we need to look beyond standard mechanisms of political accountability in order to address the structural problems posed by contracting-out high-stakes government functions.
“Specifically, we need to analyse more deeply the appropriateness of contracting-out in cases that carry serious consequences for public safety and security, and develop frameworks to achieve better decision-making on when, and whether, to contract out complex government functions.
“The failures in this case underscore that choices about who delivers such government functions, and how, matter to those directly affected by them.”
Clearly the Victorian disaster had three root causes: the bad quarantine arrangements, the failure of Victorian contact tracing and the vulnerability of aged care.
The first two can be completely sheeted home to the Victorian government; aged care is a federal government responsibility, although the state government is responsible for the public health aspects.
Andrews’ supporters aren’t too preoccupied with the state government’s mistakes. They believe he has put health first (despite the death toll, which has been overwhelmingly in aged care). They have been impressed by his willingness to front up day after day to those extended news conferences. They see that as a sign of accountability.
The premier’s critics look at the news conferences in a totally different way. Andrews’ physical presence is not a mark of accountability, they argue, because he pushes aside vital questions (often repeated again and again), saying they must wait for the inquiry’s findings.
Many of Andrews’ strongest critics are those who believe the economy and people’s livelihoods have not received sufficient consideration generally in the pandemic. They are outraged at the economic costs of Victoria’s second wave, and at the slowness of the reopening.
The divisions have an ideological element between the priorities of the left and the right during the crisis.
Mikakos’ quitting has renewed the calls from those who say it is the premier who should go.
There doesn’t seem a lot of common sense in this. Andrews has said he accepts ultimate responsibility for what’s happened. So he should – what’s occurred in Victoria has been appalling.
But would his going actually do any good? Would a replacement perform any better? Would a change of leader amount to anything more than a notch on the critics’ belts?
While Andrews remains the best person for the current job, the pandemic has revealed serious inadequacies in his government, and thus in his leadership, and in parts of the state’s administration.
Victoria’s health minister Jenny Mikakos has resigned, pointing the finger at Premier Daniel Andrews’ evidence that hung her out to dry in the hotel quarantine inquiry on Friday.
Mikakos said in a Saturday statement she will also quit parliament.
She said she never wanted to leave a job unfinished but in light of Andrews’ statement to the inquiry “and the fact that there are elements in it that I strongly disagree with, I believe that I cannot continue to serve in his Cabinet”.
“I am disappointed that my integrity has sought to be undermined. I know that my statement [to the inquiry] and evidence would have been uncomfortable for some.”
Andrews told the inquiry in his written statement that after an April 8 cabinet meeting, Mikakos was in charge of the hotel quarantine program, in which private security guards were used. This program went horribly wrong when COVID got out, triggering Victoria’s second wave. Andrews, Mikakos and other witnesses have all said they do not know who made the decision to use private guards.
Andrews said: “At the start of the program, I regarded Minister Mikakos and Minister Pakula as responsible for informing cabinet about, and seeking cabinet’s endorsement of, the initial overall service model and costings that had been determined for the program. They did so at the Crisis Council of Cabinet meeting on 8 April 2020.
“I then regarded Minister Mikakos as accountable for the program. The CCC was provided with regular reports by Minister Mikakos containing data relevant to Victoria’s response to the public health emergency, key insights from the data, as well as other updates, including in relation to the program.”
Mikakos, in her statement posted on Twitter, said: “For 3 months I had looked forward to learning who made the fateful decision to use security guards. Victorians deserve to know who.”
She said she had never shirked her responsibility for her department “but it is not my responsibility alone”.
“As I said to the Board of Inquiry, I take responsibility for my department, the buck stops with me. With the benefit of hindsight, there are clearly matters that my department should have briefed me on. Whether they would have changed the course of events only the Board and history can determine,”
“I look forward to the Board of Inquiry’s final report.”
Mikakos said she was “deeply sorry” for the situation Victorians found themselves in. “In good conscience, I do not believe that my actions led to them.”
On Thursday she told the inquiry she was “not at all” involved in the decision to use private security guards, and “I do not know who made that decision”. She said she didn’t know private security guards were being used until late May after a COVID outbreak at Rydges, almost two months after the program started.
“I can‘t imagine why it [the use of private security guards] would be brought to my attention, because […][the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions] held the contracts with the security companies,” she said.
But her evidence immediately came into question, because she had been at a press conference in late March when the use of private security was confirmed, and private security was mentioned in a briefing note for caucus on April 8. In a statement to the inquiry on Friday, Mikakos denied misleading it.
Andrews announced at a news conference on Saturday afternoon that the Mental Health Minister, Martin Foley, will replace Mikakos as health minister.
Andrews said Mikakos had taken the “appropriate course” in resigning. But he said he had not spoken to her beforehand – or since. She has texted him that she had sent a letter to the governor, of which he was already aware.
NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said on Twitter:
But the Health Workers Union, which had called for Mikakos’ resignation earlier this week, welcomed her departure.
Andrews said Labor would aim to have a replacement for Mikakos in the upper house before parliament next meets. Labor’s national executive will formally determine who fills the seat because the state ALP is being federally administered at present.
There will also be a replacement in cabinet, drawn from the upper house.
Foley told the Andrews news conference he had nothing but confidence in the health department and its secretary.
Andrews said the latest Victorian COVID tally was 12 new cases, and he would be making a statement on Sunday about the easing of restrictions. He said there was no dramatic variation from the road map but there were a couple of areas where more could be done.
Victoria’s ultra-cautious roadmap out of its lockdown, outlined by Premier Daniel Andrews on Sunday, reinforced the strong message that came from Friday’s national cabinet.
Premiers are in the driving seat of exiting COVID restrictions, and they are imposing the strictest speed limits – much slower than Prime Minister Scott Morrison would like – and ignoring federal government pressure.
Western Australia’s Mark McGowan defied Morrison’s plan on Friday. Queensland’s Annastacia Palaszczuk made it clear she won’t open her state’s border with New South Wales until she’s good and ready.
Now, unsurprisingly, Andrews has indicated he will not be hurried, despite the cries from business and the sound of Canberra’s grinding teeth.
Andrews stressed his timetable “is not what many people want to hear – but it is the only option”. He warned “you can’t run” out of lockdown – or there would be a third wave.
The Morrison government doesn’t think it is the only option, and didn’t mince words in a statement quickly issued from the PM, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Health Minister Greg Hunt (the latter two are Victorians).
“To extend lockdown arrangements will be hard and crushing news for the people of Victoria,” they said.
Just in case anyone doubted where to sheet blame, this was “a further reminder of the impact and costs that result from not being able to contain the outbreaks of COVID 19”.
The statement stressed the roadmap was “a Victorian government plan”, distancing the feds from any ownership.
The tone was very different from Morrison’s words to Parliament last Tuesday, when he said “Victoria has turned the corner and we, together with the Victorian government, are planning to reopen Melbourne and reopen Victoria”.
Sunday’s federal statement declared “the proposed roadmap will come at a further economic cost.”
“While this needs to be weighed up against mitigating the risk of further community outbreak, it is also true that the continued restrictions will have further impact on the Victorian and national economy, in further job losses and loss of livelihoods, as well as impacting on mental health.”
The federal government will talk to business in Victoria “to understand their concerns and seek to ensure they are addressed”.
Morrison and his ministers also had fresh praise for the NSW government, which has its economy running despite continuing low levels of cases. They highlighted the Berejiklian government’s successful contact tracing.
Federal help is being offered to strengthen Victorian contact tracing, in the (probably vain) hope that could put the Victorian foot on the accelerator.
Andrews has used elaborate modelling in reaching his strategy. But his critics argue the benchmarks, particularly at the back end of the timetable, are unrealistic.
For example, the last step in Melbourne’s easing, dated from November 23, is contingent on “no new cases for 14 days (state-wide)”.
It was quickly pointed out if the Andrews’ road map were in place in NSW, that state would have a curfew now.
NSW’s tally announced on Sunday was 10 new cases to 8pm Saturday. The Melbourne curfew is to be lifted from October 26 if there is a statewide daily average over the previous fortnight of less than five new cases and a statewide total of less than five cases with unknown sources over that period.
For the immediate future, in Melbourne there will be an additional fortnight – beyond next weekend – of the hard lockdown, with some minimal tweaking.
The overnight curfew will start an hour later (at 9pm), exercise can be up to two hours, and singles will be able to form a bubble with someone else.
From September 28, if the cases have come down (latest tally on Sunday was 63) to 30-50 daily average in metro-Melbourne over the previous fortnight, there will be gradual relaxations including the re-opening of childcare. The state government says step two would see about 100,000 people return to work across a number of sectors, including construction and manufacturing.
But Melbourne businesses in retail and hospitality will not be able to start to getting back to reasonable activity until the end of October, and hospitality will be strictly limited.
The restrictions in regional Victoria will be eased from their already lighter base.
Business is up in arms. The Australian Industry Group predicted “catastrophic economic, health and social damage caused by the continued lockdown and [the] prospect of more months of sharply diminished activity”.
Frydenberg said a week ago that on Treasury estimates, in the December and March quarters more Victorians were expected to be on JobKeeper than in every other state combined. The calculations didn’t assume any extension of the lockdown. The roadmap could see the numbers even higher than anticipated.
The Andrews timetable will put pressure on the Victorian government but also on Morrison.
Andrews’ hard line is stretching the tolerance of Victorians. Not only will many local businesses believe they can’t survive the longer restrictions, but some voters will be reaching levels of deep stress.
The pressure points on the federal government come from various directions.
There have been calls for it to just “do something”, to intervene to override what are being seen as recalcitrant states. However it is not obvious it would have viable power to do so.
Even if it could intervene, it would be high risk – on health, economic and political grounds.
The extended Victorian lockdown will increase demands for the government to provide more stimulus for the economy, and bolster the calls of those who say JobKeeper and the Coronavirus supplement should not be phased down.
The Victorian roadmap won’t just feed into the budget numbers, but it will affect the public climate in which the October budget is brought down.
In that budget, the government will be talking up hope. But on October 6, Victorians hearing the budget will be still under curfew, confined to takeaways, unable to see extended family.
“I want all of us to stay the course so that we can all have something approaching a normal Christmas,” Andrews said on Sunday. It will require quite a feat to deliver that, on the terms of this strict roadmap.
The Victorian, Queensland and Morrison governments all sought to address their various COVID vulnerabilities with announcements on Monday.
The Andrews government – under intense attack from the federal government – said it will unveil on Sunday its “reopening roadmap” for easing restrictions, a week before the hard Melbourne lockdown is due to expire on September 13.
The Palaszczuk government – after publicity about health hardship cases involving border issues – announced it is setting up a unit in its health department to help with residents from NSW who need medical treatment in Queensland.
The Morrison government – fighting off strong attacks from Labor over the daily death toll among nursing home residents – provided $563 million to extend support under existing measures for the aged care sector.
Andrews said his government would hold extensive discussions with industry, unions and community organisations ahead of Sunday’s announcement “to inform the final development” of the roadmap. The government would tailor guidance to different industries.
Andrews said: “Workplaces will need to look very different as we find out ‘COVID Normal’. By working with business we’ll make sure that can happen practically and safely”.
He warned of the danger of opening too quickly – if that happened “we will lose control of this. The numbers will explode”.
The tally of new cases in Victoria announced on Monday was 73. The number of deaths was 41. But these included 33 deaths before August 27 which were reported to the state department by aged care facilities on Sunday (under new reporting requirements to reconcile federal and state numbers).
Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg on Sunday called on Andrews to present a “message of hope” and a plan for the way out of the lockdown. In a round of interviews on Monday, Frydenberg continued pushing the point of how great a drag Victoria, with its disastrous second COVID wave, is on the national economic recovery.
This comes ahead of Wednesday’s national accounts for the June quarter. Frydenberg said the figures would show “the largest single quarterly fall [in GDP] that Australia has seen”.
Meanwhile, as the war over borders continues to rage, a defiant Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said she would not be moved on the issue.
“Queensland will continue to have our borders closed to keep Queenslanders safe,” she said. “The federal government can throw whoever they want at that.”
But her government has acted to deal with health issues arising from the restricted access to the state.
This was highlighted last week after a woman from northern NSW who was sent to Sydney for medical treatment lost an unborn twin. She went to Sydney following confusion about how she could access treatment in Brisbane, which was much closer. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Friday the case was “heartbreaking”.
Palaszczuk said a hotline will be be set up to “coordinate with families in a timely manner”.
“I understand it is a very difficult time for people,” she said.
Although Morrison is deeply frustrated with premiers in states with few or no cases keeping borders shut, Newspoll on Monday showed eight in ten Australians thought premiers “should have the authority to close their borders or restrict entry of Australians who live in other states”. In Queensland, it was 84%.
The extra aged care money extends existing spending on areas such as infection control and staffing, including to confine staff to working at only a single facility.
Having workers employed at multiple facilities was a problem in Victoria’s second wave. The federal government on Monday could not say how many workers in Victoria were still doing this.
Some of the funds will also extend current short-term home support for people whose families have taken them out of facilities because the pandemic.
Since July, 19 notices have been issued to aged care providers in Victoria to comply with standards.
Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck, appearing at a news conference with Health Minister Greg Hunt, said the government was “doing work on an alternative funding model and that is the real thing that [is] going to put a floor under the sector, and we’re working with the sector.
“And we’re doing the preparatory work to put that in place as quickly as possible now once we come to our Royal Commission response.” The royal commission presents its final report in February.
The government ruled out calls for the Medicare levy to be increased to provide more money for aged care.
The ALP national executive has decided on sweeping federal intervention into the crisis-ridden Victorian ALP, in the wake of revelations of the alleged “industrial scale” branch stacking and threats by now former state minister and power broker Adem Somyurek.
Former state premier Steve Bracks and former federal cabinet minister Jenny Macklin will run the state branch and prepare reforms, while the ALP national executive will handle federal and state preselections.
The intervention follows Nine’s 60 Minutes and The Age revealing recorded conversations in which Somyurek boasted of his power over state and federal MPs, and of running massive branch stacking. He also used highly offensive language about a female colleague.
Victorian premier Daniel Andrews sacked Somyurek from his cabinet on Monday, and two other ministers, Robin Scott and Marlene Kairouz, whose staff were allegedly associated with the stacking have resigned, while denying any wrongdoing. Somyurek quit the Labor party on Monday before he was due to be expelled.
The scandal comes at the worst time for federal leader Anthony Albanese who is fighting the byelection in the Labor held seat of Eden-Monaro, which is on a margin of under 1%.
Another complication for the federal party is that some of the secret recording was apparently in the electorate office of Victorian federal Labor MP Anthony Bryne, who is deputy chair of the powerful parliamentary committee on intelligence and security.
ALP national president Wayne Swan said in a statement after a national executive hook up on Tuesday night that Bracks and Macklin “will provide the national executive with recommendations on how the Victorian branch should be restructured and reconstituted so that the branch membership comprises genuine, consenting, self-funding party members”.
He said in developing their recommendations, the administrators would consult party members and affiliated unions.
“The conduct exposed in recent days is reprehensible and at odds with everything the ALP stands for,” Swan said. “The national executive takes these matters incredibly seriously.”
Andrews wrote to ALP national secretary Paul Erickson calling for profound reform of the branch, and asking for its members’ voting rights to be suspended.
“I have no confidence in the integrity of any voting rolls that are produced for any internal elections in the Victorian branch,” he said.
“Accordingly we must suspend those elections and begin a long and critical process of validating each and every member of the Labor party in Victoria as genuine, consenting and self-funded”.
All state officials and staff will have to report to Bracks and Macklin, who are appointed until January 31 next year. All committees are suspended.
All voting rights are suspended until 2023.
Bracks and Macklin will do a scoping report by the end of next month, including recommendations on integrity measures that are needed for the branch. By Novemeber 1 they are to produce a final report on the restructuring and reconstitution of the branch.