What’s in a name? Well, quite a bit if your name is Karen (or Jack, John, Jeff, Dolly, Biddy, Meg …)



Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Howard Manns, Monash University and Kate Burridge, Monash University

Things are really jeffed up for Karens right now. The Miley (“coronavirus”) did a Melba (“made yet another a comeback”), and Joe and Jane Bloggs are being drongos.

In the process, “Karen” has become the Bradman of ways for calling out selfish entitlement, racism and inequality.

Names are much more than just a tag or a label — they have a special force. This is why they often enter general vocabulary, not only in direct reference to the original celebrated name-bearer, as in the case of doing a Bradman or a Melba, or as common nouns like pavlova, lamington, granny smith, but also as shorthand for a certain “type”. Ask any Tom, Dick or Karen.

English speakers use proper names to mean all sorts of things – and we’re not always nice about it.




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Karen: more Miss Ann than Biddy or Meg

Throughout history, many women’s names have been swept into English in unkind ways. Witness the deterioration of pet names such as “Dolly”, “Kitty”, “Biddy”, “Jill”, “Polly”, “Meg”, “Judy” or “Jude” — all have been contemptuous labels at one time or other, either for “drab and unattractive” women or the “promiscuous and attractive” ones.

But today’s “Karen” isn’t Dolly, Biddy or Meg. Attempts to frame Karen’s overall use as “sexist” miss the point. The term Karen has recently been used to call out white women whose behaviour is considered entitled, unreasonable and obnoxious. It has rightfully spawned a series of male equivalents, including “male-Karen”, “Kyle”, “Ken”, “Kevin” or “Steve”.

Importantly, the sort of entitled (and often racist) behaviour “Karen” is being used to call out existed long before the term. Many Black Americans have framed this behaviour in terms of a “Miss Ann” social type, historically linked to the white women of slave plantations. Some Black writers noted a surge in Miss Ann-like behaviour around the time of Donald Trump’s election.

Of course, these issues have long existed in Australia, too. Famously, last year an actual person named “Karen” did a Karen by trying to take down a neighbour’s Indigenous flag. A viral video led to the spread of the catch-phrase: “It’s too strong for you, Karen.”

Karen then joins a series of labels like “Miss Ann”, “Mr Charlie” and “Becky” to call out obnoxious behaviour and privilege. And, to loosely paraphrase the Claytons faux whisky ad, Karen debates are the debates you’re having when you should be debating privilege.

Awash with joshing Johnnies and Joes

That said, it’s worth sympathising with people named Karen, who have entered a sometimes less-than-illustrious club of people hard done by in the English language, unkindly “joed” and “joshed”, often for centuries.

Whether, when and how people (or animals!) enter this club depends on a range of factors. Media, politics and celebrity are obviously important (“Melba”, “Bradman” and poor old “drongo”). And often there’s verbal play involved, as in the end-clipped rhyming slang “Miley (Cyrus)” for “coronavirus” or “jeffed” and “jeffing” (famously from “Jeff Kennett”, but echoing many an effective cussword).

And then there’s frequency. Karen joins those whose names have been swept into society due to sheer number. Karen appeared on the most common names lists in the late 1960s but is no competition for “John”, which has been among the English-speaking world’s most common names since the 13th century.

And “John” and “Johnny” have been pressed into service for a range of meanings in English, including “the client of a prostitute”, “someone easily duped”, “a sailor”, “an immigrant”, “a vacuous aristocrat”, “penis”, “hospital gown” and “an onion seller from Brittany”.

Indeed, the sheer number of Johns in English history means this name’s most prominent purpose is to “erase” or “anonymise” — in other words, to reduce its referent to an “everyman”, as in “John Q. Public” (for everyday citizen), “Johnnie Raw” (for a new military recruit), or “John-of-all-trades”, among many, many others.

But we’re likely more familiar with a “Jack-of-all-trades”, which points to another common phenomenon: a proliferation of naming alliteration around “j” names. “Jack” is a familiar alternative for John, so it’s probably not surprising to see it being used (since the late middle ages) in a similar everyman (“manual labourer”, “lumberjack”) or derogative sense (“jackanapes” for a “person displaying ape-like qualities”).

In fact, extended uses of Jack have produced well over a hundred different words and phrases, ranging from the slightly disparaging to the wildly offensive (we’re hard-pressed to think of a tabooed bodily function and secretion that doesn’t have an expression featuring “jack)”). So offensive was “Jack”, in fact, that those in polite 18th-century society euphemised “jackass” to “Johnny-Bum”.

And, just as “John Doe” has his “Jane”, so too does “Jack” have his “Jill”, as in “Jack and Jill” — a couple whose common names made them useful to a famous story about a drink-run gone bad. But the “jackanape” also has his “Jane-of-apes” equivalent (which for the record, preceded “Tarzan” by a few hundred years).

The tomfoolery of names: Karen in the dunce’s corner

Karen joins the likes of Scottish theologian and philosopher John Duns Scotus, who was an influential thinker in the 13th century. It was the perceived stubbornness of his 16th-century followers, known as dunsmen or dunses, that led to our current sense of “dunce”.

The club of dim-witted dunces has acquired many members over the years. The original Tom Fool has been around since at least the early 1300s; he joins other ninnies like Tom Doodle (the blockhead) Tom Farthing (the simpleton), Tom Towly (another simpleton), Tom Tug (rhyming slang for “mug”), not to mention “Errant Tony” and “Simple Simon”. These are the predecessors of the modern-day “charlie” or “wally” (from Walter but with happy reinforcement that comes from cucumbers pickled in brine — the “dill”).




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Notably, Karen also joins the many people whose names through historical happenstance come to index “ignorance”, “backwardness” or “lack of sophistication”. “Hick” — an earlier, shortened form of Richard — has certainly developed this meaning. In the 16th century, Hick, Hob (shortened Robert or Robin) and Hans (a general term for a German or Dutchman) seem to be the Tom, Dick and Harry of no manners or consequence.

And we Aussies have our own bevvy of underdogs and uncultured types. “Ocker” was originally a pet form of “Oscar”. Its links to “boorishness” and “exaggerated nationalism” can be traced to Ron Frazer’s “Oscar” character on The Mavis Bramston Show. In the 1970s, he teamed up with “Norm” — the supreme couch potato.

Tom, Dick and Karen

As Oscar Wilde once put it, “Names are everything.” They’re the verbal expression for our personality, for those qualities and attributes that define us as individuals. More than that, names are a proper part of us.

It’s no surprise then people named Karen are upset. However, like inequality, this isn’t something you can just Houdini away.The Conversation

Howard Manns, Lecturer in Linguistics, Monash University and Kate Burridge, Professor of Linguistics, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Microsoft’s takeover would be a win for TikTok and tech giants – not users


Paul Haskell-Dowland, Edith Cowan University and Brianna O’Shea, Edith Cowan University

In what seems to be a common occurrence, Chinese video-sharing app TikTok is once again in the headlines.

After months of speculation about national security risks and users’ data being harvested by the Chinese Communist Party, US President Donald Trump has announced plans to ban TikTok in the United States any day now.

In response, a deal is being negotiated between TikTok’s parent company ByteDance and US software giant Microsoft. If successful, Microsoft will take over the app’s operations in the US and potentially also in Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

A US ban would not be unprecedented. India barred TikTok last month, alongside dozens of other Chinese-owned apps and websites.

The Microsoft deal

According to reports, ByteDance has agreed to sell some of its TikTok operations to Microsoft. The deal, which is unlikely to progress before mid-September, would appease US regulators and could be seen as a way forward for TikTok in Australia.

Microsoft has indicated any takeover would include a complete security review and an offer of:

… continuing dialogue with the United States government, including with the president.

Moving ownership to a US company could help address concerns surrounding the perceived influence of the Chinese government over TikTok. But there will need to be strong oversight to ensure existing user data is transferred entirely to Microsoft’s control.

While Microsoft has pledged to ensure TikTok data are deleted “from servers outside the country after it is transferred” – it would be difficult to prove copies had not been made before control was handed over.

What’s more, a Microsoft-owned TikTok may not appeal to everyone. Some may think Microsoft is too closely tied to the US government, or may consider it a monopoly holder in the personal computing market.

Also, it would be naive to think foreign governments will not be able to covertly access US-stored user data, if they are so inclined.

Who will benefit?

Should the deal go ahead, it may open an opportunity for the Australian and New Zealand governments to align with a US-supported initiative.

Australia is still deciding how to proceed, with the Senate Select Committee on Foreign Interference through Social Media due to hear from TikTok representatives on August 21. The committee has been tasked to look at the influence of social media on elections and the use of such platforms to distribute misinformation.

TikTok won’t be alone though – Facebook and Twitter are both due to attend. It is, however, unlikely the Microsoft acquisition will have much influence on the proceedings as the deal is still in the early days of discussion.

Microsoft’s acquisition may introduce fresh concerns about the US government’s influence over TikTok. Although, this is perhaps more politically palatable than potential Chinese government influence over the app – given the Chinese Communist Party’s unsavoury record of privacy abuses.

Perhaps the only winner from the deal would be ByteDance itself. A product that is increasingly disliked by foreign governments will only become harder to sell with time. It would make sense for ByteDance to cash out its asset sooner rather than later.

The deal would also likely earn it a significant payout, given TikTok’s millions of users.




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Are the risks real?

Despite ongoing allegations, there is no solid evidence of a threat to either national security or personal data from using TikTok. Many of the concerns hinge on data sovereignty – specifically, where data are stored and who can use and access them.

TikTok has responded to allegations by stating its user data are not stored in China and are not subject to Chinese government influence or access.

That said, while TikTok user data may well be stored outside China, it is unclear whether the Chinese government has already secured access, or will seek to do so later through legal channels.




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There are, however, other potential issues that may be driving the US’s concerns.

For instance, in 2018 an unexpected consequence of sharing fitness tracker data through the Strava website inadvertently revealed the locations of secret US military bases.

How a fitness app’s heat map accidentally uncovered military bases in the US. Youtube/The New York Times.

Thus, services such as TikTok which are meant to be relatively benign (if used ethically) can, under certain circumstances, present unexpected threats to national security. This may explain why Australia’s defence forces have banned the app.




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Another Trump power move?

Threats from the US against TikTok are not new.

The country’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo indicated TikTok was being examined by US authorities in early July. And suggestions of a national security review go as far back as November last year.

However, in regards to Trump’s most recent threat, one contributing factor may be the personal feelings of the president himself.

There are theories much of the new hype over TikTok could be a reaction from Trump to an ill-fated political rally in Tulsa.

A number of TikTok users reserved tickets to the Trump rally and didn’t show up, as a protest against the president. The rally saw only a few thousand supporters attend, out of hundreds of thousands of allocated tickets. The Conversation

Paul Haskell-Dowland, Associate Dean (Computing and Security), Edith Cowan University and Brianna O’Shea, Lecturer, Ethical Hacking and Defense, Edith Cowan University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

More screen time, snacking and chores: a snapshot of how everyday life changed during the first coronavirus lockdown



Shutterstock

Deborah Lupton, UNSW

With Victorians heading into a new round of even harsher lockdown measures, there will again be a focus on how people will cope — the various ways such restrictions change lifestyles and how we adapt to them.

New data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics provides a snapshot of how Australians changed their behaviours, activities and consumption patterns as people were forced to stay home during the country’s first COVID-19 lockdown earlier this year.

To understand how the virus affected people’s everyday lives, the ABS ran a fortnightly survey with the same group of 1,000 people from April 1 to July 10. Here are some of the key findings.

Higher levels of anxiety

Lockdown restrictions began to be implemented in Australia from mid-March. Not surprisingly, in the first ABS survey in early April, respondents reported some immediate changes, such as a loss of contact with other people.

Just under half of people reported having no in-person contact with friends or family outside their household. Nearly all had used phone and video calls and text messages to keep in touch.

By mid-April, financial hardship was also starting to set in for people. Nearly a third of respondents reported their household finances had worsened due to COVID-19.




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People’s mental health was also beginning to suffer by mid-April. Compared with a pre-COVID health national survey of Australians, twice as many people reported feelings of anxiety at some point. One in nine Australians also felt hopeless at least some of the time.

More women and younger people reported these feelings compared with men and people aged 65 years and over.

Working from home and changes in diets

Survey results from early May 2020 began to show how people were adjusting their lifestyles to the new routines. Restrictions had just started to ease slightly at this point.

Findings from this stage showed some gender differences. Women (56%) were more likely to be working from home compared with men (38%). Perhaps related to this, women were also more likely to be feeling lonely than men (28% compared with 16%).

The ABS found some notable changes in consumption habits. The early May survey showed fewer people were purchasing additional household supplies (21%) compared with March (47%), suggesting panic-buying had subsided.

Empty supermarket shelves were a familiar site during early lockdown days.
James Gourley/AAP

People were spending their money on other purchases instead. From early April to early May, one in five people reported eating more snack food, while 13% of respondents were eating more fruit and vegetables.

Purchase of takeaway or delivered food declined over this period, with almost a third of respondents reporting less frequent consumption.

Perhaps contrary to popular belief, the overwhelming majority of people were not drinking more in isolation. Just 14% of people reported increasing their alcohol consumption.




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More chores and reading

During the early May phase of the lockdown, people were also seeking solace in home-based activities.

Though a majority of people (60%) were reporting more time on screens during lockdown, others were turning to hobbies and other activities.

Forty-one percent of respondents said they were spending more time on household chores and other work around the house and garden: for instance, 39% were doing more reading and crafts, and 38% were spending more time cooking or baking.

When it came to physical health and exercise, though, just one in four people had increased their level of physical activity during lockdown, while one in five had actually spent less time exercising.

Restrictions ease but some lifestyle changes remain

As more restrictions began to ease around the country, people began to think about what they would do once lockdown ended. By late June, Australians’ mental health had improved compared with the height of the lockdown in April.

Fewer people reported feeling stressed, lonely, restless, nervous or that everything was an effort.

More than 90% were still keeping their distance from others, but fewer were avoiding social gatherings.

Interestingly, the easing of restrictions did not change other lifestyle routines that significantly: many people were still spending a lot of time on screens and with pets, cooking, baking and online shopping compared with before the lockdown period.

Life began to return to streets in cities like Sydney in early July, but people still reported avoiding large gatherings.
Dean Lewins/AAP

An optimistic outlook, except for Victorians

When the final ABS survey was conducted in early July, things were looking brighter for most Australians.

Three in five respondents reported their mental health status as good or very good. Most people had an optimistic outlook on the future, with over half believing life had already returned to normal or would return to normal within six months.




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The big exception was people living in Victoria. In late June and early July, Melbourne had begun to experience a second wave of infections and a re-introduction of restrictions.

Not surprisingly, only 2% of Victorians said their life had already returned to normal or had not changed due to COVID-19.

Where to from here?

The ABS has finished this survey, but is starting a new monthly survey in August, with a new group of respondents. This survey will also focus on Australians’ everyday lives and well-being during the pandemic.

There are also many university-based social research projects currently underway. Once completed, their findings will provide a more detailed picture of how life has changed in Australia during COVID-19 — a situation that continues to evolve day by day.The Conversation

Deborah Lupton, SHARP Professor, Vitalities Lab, Centre for Social Research in Health and Social Policy Centre, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

James Murdoch’s resignation is the result of News Corp’s increasing shift to the right – not just on climate



In happier times: Lachlan, Rupert and James Murdoch at Rupert’s marriage to Jerry Hall in 2016.

Rodney Tiffen, University of Sydney

James Murdoch is not the most obvious candidate for editorial heroism. His route to resigning from the News Corp board because of “disagreements over certain editorial content” has been circuitous and colourful.

James’s first major managerial role in his father’s media empire was to run the Star satellite services and News Corp’s Asian operations in Hong Kong from 2000 to 2003. He had mixed commercial success in this period, which is best remembered for his determination to gain access to the Chinese market by currying favour with the government.

He accused Western media of painting a falsely negative portrayal of China through their focus on controversial issues such as human rights and Taiwan. In 2001, he advised Hong Kong’s democracy movement to “accept the reality of life under a strong-willed absolutist government”. In one of his dealings with China, he agreed that Murdoch’s cable channels around the world would take China’s propaganda channel CCTV9.




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In 2003, he was promoted to run BSkyB in London, where he lived for the best part of the next decade, and where he successfully expanded Murdoch’s satellite services.

He gained early notoriety with a confrontational speech at the Edinburgh International Television Festival. Here he celebrated the digital age and the dynamism of the market, and equated people who still believed in regulation with “creationists”. There was no doubt about his primary target:

To let the state enjoy a near monopoly of information is to guarantee manipulation and distortion.

Yet we have a system in which state-sponsored media – the BBC in particular – grow ever more dominant. That process has to be reversed.

It takes a particularly agile propagandist to find the Beijing regime so benign and the BBC so sinister.

James’s main aim at the time was to effect a total takeover of BSkyB, raising News Corp’s current share of 40% to 100%. The importance of BSkyB to the Murdoch empire was demonstrated by James’s boldest and most ruthless action. In 2006, the newly formed Virgin Media group was negotiating a merger with ITV. The new group’s cable operations would have the potential to provide tougher competition for BSkyB’s satellite service.

Overnight, James swooped, buying 17.9% of ITV for a cost of GBP 940 million. This made News Corp ITV’s biggest shareholder and messed up the intended deal.

News’s move was always likely to be deemed illegal, but by the time this was finally decided nearly four years later, the challenge was dead. News lost GBP 340 million pounds on its forced sale of ITV shares, but no doubt Rupert and James thought this had been a good investment to protect BSkyB’s market share.

After the 2010 election of the Cameron government in the UK, BSkyB looked to be within reach, but James was increasingly impatient with any procedural obstacle or criticism of the attempt. His mentality at the time was on show in an incident in the lead up to the election. The Independent newspaper ran a series of advertisements proclaiming its independence and urging its readers to consider their vote. One such ad ran “Rupert Murdoch won’t decide this election, you will”.

James’s response was bizarre. He and Rebekah Brooks arrived unannounced at the paper, and James yelled at the editor, Simon Kelner, in front of bemused journalists that he was a “fucking fuckwit”, among other things.

AAP/AP/Sang Tan
James Murdoch with Rebekah Brooks in 2011.

Phone hacking scandal

James’s hopes for BSkyB were about to be washed away by a scandal, which did him and the company enormous damage. After the outstanding investigative efforts of Nick Davies, the Guardian published that Murdoch’s News of the World had hacked the phone of a kidnap victim Milly Dowler. This not only created immediate outrage but opened the door for many further revelations about the illegal methods and invasions of privacy by the tabloids to follow. Parliamentary hearings, court cases, and eventually the Leveson inquiry all put the company’s illegal and unethical practices into public view.

At first the arrogance of the Murdoch camp was undented. In private, chief editorial executive Rebekah Brooks said the story was going to end with Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger on his knees begging for mercy.

James, as News Corp’s senior executive in Britain when the scandal broke, found his own actions under scrutiny. His denials, prevarications and lack of remorse did not help the company’s cause. His appearances before the parliamentary committees were disastrous. At the end of his testimony, Labour member Tom Watson said

Mr Murdoch, you must be the first mafia boss in history who didn’t know he was running a criminal enterprise.

Climate change denial

James left London for New York and his promised promotion in the company. But his reputation was in tatters, even with other members of the family. His public persona at this time consisted of neo-liberal politics and corporate ruthlessness, with his actions untroubled by ethical considerations.

Yet, now, this corporate and family loyalist has resigned from his last official position with the company. James has long seen the urgency of combating global warming. As early as 2006, largely at his urging, Rupert also embraced the issue. Rupert soon retreated from the cause, but James’s commitment continued.

Rupert’s conversion had surprisingly little impact on the company’s journalism. Its upper editorial echelons contained a large number of climate denialists, and Rupert seems to have never made any effort to change their views.




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In addition, James’s wife, Kathryn, is by the rather special standards of the Murdoch family, a liberal and a progressive. She has been involved in several environmental organisations, and James and Kathryn have donated to several Democratic candidates, including most recently the presidential campaign of Joe Biden.

James made a rare public criticism of the company last Australian summer. He accused News Corp of promoting climate denialism during its coverage of the Australian bushfires.

Out of step

However the key events are probably in America. At the same time that James and Kathryn have been edging left, the Murdoch organisation has been moving ever further to the right. The commercial success and political impact of Fox News have doubtless shaped Rupert’s thinking and the whole company’s journalism has become more Foxified.

There has rarely if ever been an alliance of president and media company like that of Trump with Fox News. He is their chief publicist and they an uncritical avenue for his views, especially to his base. So far, it has probably worked out well for both.




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However, the dangers are acute, especially as Trump’s popularity wanes. Moreover, an erratic president such as Trump poses problems for the credibility of those who seek to embrace his every twist and turn.

This year’s pandemic, economic and racial problems have given a new urgency to these issues. Over the past six months, there have been more than double the fatalities Americans suffered in over 12 years in the Vietnam War. It is hard to remember any leadership failure approaching Trump’s catastrophe on COVID-19. Some early studies suggested Trump’s denialism, echoed by Fox, meant their viewers had more false beliefs about the pandemic than Americans who consumed mainstream media.

After Trump’s comments after a white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, James donated $1 million to the Anti-Defamation League.

James has taken a principled stance, but it is also pragmatic. Since the sale of the bulk of Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox assets to Disney (of which James was chief executive), there is no future role for him in the corporation.

By also resigning from the News Corp Board, he will be freer to express his own views, and perhaps have the chance to watch from a distance as Trump is defeated and Fox heads into decline together in the coming months.The Conversation

Rodney Tiffen, Emeritus Professor, Department of Government and International Relations, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australia won’t recover unless Victoria does too. The federal government must step up


Brendan Coates, Grattan Institute and Matthew Cowgill, Grattan Institute

The announcement of stage 4 restrictions in Victoria marks a new, and depressing, stage in Australia’s response to COVID-19.

The new measures will close non-essential retailers and most child-care centres across Melbourne, and impose stringent controls on industries such as meatworks and construction. The Victorian government estimates the measures will stop a further 250,000 workers from travelling to work.




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The Victorian economy will probably be better off with this sharper, hopefully shorter lockdown than persisting with Stage 3 restrictions for many months.

The federal government has taken the sensible step of announcing pandemic leave disaster payments of $1,500 for those Victorians that need to isolate for 14 days. But it will need to do more to help Victorian businesses and households make it safely to the other side.

Victoria was already struggling before stage 4

Even before Sunday’s announcement of Stage 4 restrictions, economic activity in Melbourne was back down to similar levels to the first shutdown. Movement around the city, as measured by the number of times people used Apple Maps to get directions, was about half its February level.

By comparison, in Perth (where the virus has been effectively suppressed) drivers were out and about a little more than in February. Sydney was more or less back to normal, with a slight dip at the end of July as people curtailed their movements a little. Across all three cities public transport use remains dramatically below its normal levels, with Melbourne much further away from normal than Sydney and especially Perth.


Movement in three cities.


The number of jobs in Victoria was 7.3% lower in mid-July than in mid-March, a deeper fall than any other state. In inner Melbourne, the number of jobs was down nearly 10% from mid-March levels. Eight of the ten federal electorates hardest-hit by job losses are now in Victoria. Without JobKeeper, the picture would be much worse.

Jobs in three states.

Under the new restrictions on workplaces in Melbourne, employment in construction, manufacturing and retail will plummet. These industries employ about 900,000 Victorians between them. Not all of these people will be thrown out of work, but many will.

JobKeeper and JobSeeker are needed even more

The federal government should reconsider its plans to begin winding back JobKeeper and JobSeeker payments after September. JobKeeper is set to fall from A$1,500 to A$1,200 for full-time workers, and to A$750 for part-timers. And JobSeeker falls from $1,215 to $815 a fortnight.

These income-support programs were absolutely necessary in March when Stage 3 restrictions were imposed. They are even more necessary now, as Stage 4 restrictions put an even tighter clamp on economic activity, stretching many businesses to breaking point and throwing more Victorians out of work.




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The “tapering” of these support payments clearly cannot happen from late September, as currently scheduled.

By the end of September Victoria will hopefully be out of Stage 4 restrictions. But at best Melbourne will be back to Stage 3, the same level of restrictions for which the federal government to introduced the JobKeeper and the JobSeeker schemes.

The eligibility rules for JobKeeper should also be reconsidered.

Some businesses whose revenue did not fall enough to qualify for JobKeeper in March will now take a bigger hit. Other companies that qualified in March but saw a rebound in June will be excluded by the current rules from receiving JobKeeper beyond September.

The federal government COVID-19 “disaster payment” should help address the crucial problem of those without paid leave entitlements being forced to choose between self-isolating and going to work to pay their bills. But the scheme is palliative rather than preventative, since it only applies in states once community transmission has ramped up to disaster levels.

Two-speed economy

The diverging fortunes of Victoria and the rest of Australia gives new meaning to the term “two-speed economy”.

The federal government may be reluctant to do what’s needed just for one state, given the recovery is progressing elsewhere, but that would be a mistake. Victoria accounts for one quarter of the national economy. There is no “moral hazard” here. No state is going to allow thousands of its citizens to catch a deadly virus on the expectation the federal government will turn on the fiscal taps.

The federal government should waste no time wrangling over who pays the costs of getting through the crisis. Trying to split the bill with Victoria will take valuable time, and only concentrate costs on the state hardest hit by the crisis.

Last week the federal government finalised arrangements to borrow A$15 billion through issuing 31-year bonds. These bonds have a fixed interest rate of 1.94%, below the bottom of the Reserve Bank’s inflation target band.




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That means investors buying the bonds were willing to lend money to the federal government and most likely get back less, in inflation-adjusted terms, three decades from now. And investors were queuing up to buy them. In fact the government could have sold A$37 billion worth, rather than A$15 billion.

The federal government should use this ample fiscal firepower to ensure Victorians get through this crisis. Australia’s economy won’t recover unless Victoria does too.The Conversation

Brendan Coates, Program Director, Household Finances, Grattan Institute and Matthew Cowgill, Senior Associate, Grattan Institute

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Takeaway coffee allowed, but no wandering through Bunnings: here’s why Melbourne’s new business restrictions will reduce cases


Philip Russo, Monash University and Brett Mitchell, University of Newcastle

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has announced sweeping changes to businesses across metropolitan Melbourne, including closure of retail stores and restrictions on some industries, including construction. The new constraints come into force from midnight on Wednesday night.

They come after metropolitan Melbourne moved to stage 4 restrictions on Sunday, with a nightly curfew and stricter limits on residents’ movement.




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Andrews said maintaining stage 3 restrictions would mean new daily cases plateau at 400-500 indefinitely, so the aim of these new stronger restrictions is to drive daily numbers down. Given the apparently widespread transmission of the virus at workplaces, the hope is that restrictions on business will help improve the situation.

We also expect to see the effects of mandatory mask-wearing alongside other measures, to become evident in the case numbers over the coming week, and further reduced numbers from the latest round of lockdown restrictions to become apparent in two weeks’s time. But this will only happen if we stick to the rules.

What are the new restrictions?

Monday’s restrictions relate to businesses, and will be in place for at least six weeks. The Victorian government has grouped businesses into three categories:

  1. those that can continue full operations on-site, while maintaining COVID-safe practices. This group includes supermarkets, grocers, butchers, bottle shops, post offices, pharmacies, fuel stations and facilities involved in the frontline pandemic response

  2. others that have to operate under new restrictions. This group includes meat processing and construction sites, which will have to observe new limits on staffing levels

  3. some that will cease all on-site activity and move to home or drive-through delivery where possible. This includes non-essential retailers and restaurants.

Andrews assured Melburnians that the continued operation of supermarkets and grocers means there is “no need to be buying months’ worth of groceries”. Melburnians can also take heart in the fact takeaway coffee is still allowed.

Construction and meatworks can continue but will look very different. Major government infrastructure projects, such as level crossing removals, will continue but with around 50% fewer on-site personnel. Large commercial buildings above three storeys need to reduce to the “practical minumum”, operating at no more than 25% staff capacity. Residential building sites can have no more than five people working on-site at any time.

Abbatoir workers will be required to wear full personal protective equipment, including masks, face shields, gloves and gowns. They will also have their temperatures checked and will be regularly tested for COVID-19. Meat processing facilities will reduce to two-thirds operating capacity. The rules to abattoirs apply statewide, not just in metropolitan Melbourne – a move Andrews said was essential to prevent the industry’s problems with COVID-19 spreading to regional areas.

The retail sector will have to close storefronts. However, these businesses can continue to provide “click-and-collect”, takeaway or delivery services where possible, all of which minimise interactions between people.

Hairdressers, education, elective surgery, brothels and strip clubs, legal services, advertising, and food courts will all be required to cease on-site operations.

Andrews has flagged a “permit system” under which certain workers can be granted permission to travel more than 5km from their homes, and to breach curfew. More details will be provided on this later in the week.

Why are the new measures important?

The most common method of spread is through close contact, and a lot of transmission of the coronavirus has been occurring in workplaces. This is because, ultimately, workplaces bring people together. Even masks won’t stop the spread if people come very close together.

The new restrictions will reduce the movement of people, reducing the frequency of contact and the contact time between them. They will reduce the risk of transmission in key industries that have had clusters in the past, such as the Cedar Meats outbreak.

Melbourne needs to see hundreds of thousands fewer interaction between people every day to bring case numbers down from their current levels.

But the central messages remain

The new measures are welcome, in epidemiological terms at least, and are likely to reduce the spread of the virus. And despite the new strictures, the underlying message remains the same: staying at home, and limiting your interactions with other people as much as possible, is crucial to slowing transmission.

Even when we need to leave the house for one of the accepted reasons, physical distancing still remains the most effective preventative intervention.

These new restrictions will not work unless we follow them.




Read more:
723 new COVID-19 cases in Victoria could reflect more testing – but behaviour probably has something to do with it too


When will we see change?

Every morning, Melburnians wake up and look at the new daily numbers — often with despair. Over the past few weeks, since the start of stage 3 restrictions, new cases have plateaued at around 400-500 every day, but are not decreasing.

As Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton pointed out today, stage 3 restrictions have prevented cases spiralling out of control, but have not reduced numbers as much as we would like.

The latest restrictions will apply for six weeks, but there will be a daily review of the data by health authorities. The restrictions could be modified or extended if there are any hiccups along the way.

We expect to see the effects from the latest round of lockdown restrictions to become apparent in roughly two weeks’ time.




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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.The Conversation

Philip Russo, Associate Professor, Director Cabrini Monash University Department of Nursing Research, Monash University and Brett Mitchell, Professor of Nursing, University of Newcastle

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Melbourne non-essential retailers closed, as Morrison unveils pandemic leave


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Non-essential retailers across Melbourne will be shut except for “click and collect” and delivery sales, and industries including meatworks and construction will be drastically scaled back, under Victoria’s unprecedented lockdown.

The business shutdown details came as Scott Morrison announced a “pandemic disaster payment” worth $1,500 for Victorian workers who have to isolate for two weeks and do not have sick leave.

The leave can be taken multiple times if needed but it will only be available to those hit by the Victorian disaster.

Premier Daniel Andrews estimated 250,000 more workers would be stood down as a result of his government’s measures, which run for six weeks. “We know there is about 250,000 people stood down in one form or another and this will add a further 250,000 in rough numbers.”




Read more:
State of disaster called as Melbourne moves to nightly curfew and stage 4 restrictions


Melbourne supermarkets, grocery stores, bottle shops, pharmacies, petrol stations, banks, newsagents and post offices will remain open, giving people access to necessities.

Businesses have been put into three categories:

  • those able to stay open

  • full “onsite” closures – including retail stores and services, some manufacturing and administration – which must shut by 11.59pm Wednesday

  • those that will have to drastically reduce their operations.

While most of the restrictions relate to Melbourne, the provision for meatworks – on which many COVID cases have been centred – apply across the state.

Andrews said workers in these enterprises would be dressed like health nurses – with shields, masks, gowns, gloves – and have to undergo temperature tests. The on-site workforces at meat works will have to be reduced by one third.

Bunnings, which has been particularly popular during the pandemic, will be only allowed to offer “drive through” sales to the public, although tradespeople will be able into the store for purchases.

Services from tradespeople to the public will be confined to emergencies. Cleaners will not be able to go to houses.

Different rules will apply to various parts of the construction industry, which will move to what Andrews called “pilot light” levels.

Workforces constructing large commercial buildings above three stories will need to be reduced at any one time to no more than 25% of normal numbers.

No more than five people will be able to be working on a house-building site at one time.

The state government has already reduced its large-scale projects and will look at further reduction.

Warehousing and distribution centres in Melbourne will be limited to no more than two thirds of their normal workforce on site at one time.

Workplaces that are continuing to operate will have extra requirements including more personal protective equipment, staggered shifts and breaks, health declarations and more support for sick workers to ensure they stay home.

Daniels announced the latest Victorian number of new cases was 429; there had been 13 deaths, of whom eight were linked to aged care.

Morrison said many Victorians “would have reached breaking point trying to come to terms with what has happened in their state”.

Andrews warned if the changes didn’t work “we’ll need a much longer list of complete shutdowns”.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg flagged changes to eligibility for JobKeeper to take account of the impact of the Victorian hard lockdown.

Last month the government announced eligibility would be tightened under the revised scheme to operate after September – businesses would have to demonstrate they had met the relevant 30% decline in turnover test in both the June and September quarters.

But on Monday Frydenberg foreshadowed tweaking to ensure businesses badly hit in the September quarter were not disadvantaged because they had not had low turnover in the June quarter.

The change would apply nationally, not just in Victoria.

The Business Council of Australia and the ACTU on Monday wrote jointly to the federal government strongly urging it “to move quickly to introduce a paid pandemic leave scheme”.

After the announcement, the ACTU said the pandemic leave disaster payment was a step forward but didn’t go far enough. 

“The $1500 a fortnight is the minimum wage when the average wage is double this amount. This means that nearly every fulltime worker will still suffer a financial penalty for isolating. Only full wage replacement, like sick leave, can fix this,” the ACTU said.

The Australian Industry Group said the economic impact of the draconian Victoria lockdown would “devastate the livelihoods of millions in the state”.

CEO Innes Willox said: “Closing or restricting large swathes of manufacturing and construction as well as their supply chains brings the hammer down on sectors that have been responsible for relatively little transmission, which have followed strict COVID-safe plans and are vital to the community and the country’s economic well-being.”The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

View from The Hill: COVID has brought us a state in disaster and a prime minister in a mask




Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

As Melbourne moved to an extraordinary 8pm to 5am daily curfew and Stage 4 restrictions, and Victoria declared a “state of disaster”, Scott Morrison took to social media with a message for the embattled residents.




Read more:
Explainer: what is a ‘state of disaster’ and what powers does it confer?


“Australians all around the country are backing you in, because we all know for Australia to succeed, we need for Victoria to get through this,” he said.

The Victorian lockdown has not just become drastically harsher – it is now due to run through until September 13.

Before Sunday’s announcement, Victoria was half way through its softer lockdown.

But that was not going to do its job, according to Premier Daniel Andrews, who had spent day after day imploring people to stay within the rules.

If tougher restrictions weren’t imposed, Andrews reckoned it would take until the end of the year before Victoria would be back seeing daylight.

“That’s a six-month strategy that is simply not going to work,” Andrews said. “Therefore we have to do more and do more right now.”

Andrews had no choice. The latest Victorian tally was 671 new cases and seven deaths. There are some 760 “mystery” active cases where the sources could not be traced.

Goodness knows, however, what sort of shape Victoria will be in by mid September, or Australia as a whole, for that matter.

The Victorian economy will be prone. On Monday we will get the details of which areas of business will be cut back or shut down by the government. Many others will be knocked off their feet, temporarily or in some cases permanently, by the stronger general restrictions on activity.

Treasury will be once again going back to its budget figures that last week were already out of date, just a week after they were unveiled.

Andrews is looking for some special Commonwealth help for Victoria. Nothing specific seems on or off the table. But the strong message from the federal government is that any such assistance should be on a 50-50 basis with Victoria.

The tougher lockdown, particularly targeting younger people who move around a lot and may be spreading the virus without showing symptoms, will test the resilience and compliance of a stressed community.

It’s already testing the political restraint of some Coalition politicians. Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, while saying he wasn’t out to whack Andrews with a baseball bat, lamented that tighter restrictions hadn’t been imposed on Melbourne earlier.

Morrison was taking a low public profile at the weekend, apart from social media messaging including an Instagram picture of him wearing a mask. He explained he’d “had to pop out to pick up a few things here in Sydney, so followed the NSW Premier’s advice announced earlier today (and put a mask on in the car before heading into the shops).”

Meanwhile on Saturday he had sent a letter to West Australian premier Mark McGowan, capitulating over the Commonwealth’s participation in the court challenge to WA’s closed border.

Morrison said he was pulling the government out of the High Court case, which has been brought by Clive Palmer.

After concerted attacks on the WA government last week by him and senior ministers from WA, Christian Porter and Mathias Cormann, the Prime Minister presumably recognised (or was told) that regardless of whether he was on the right side of the constitution he was certainly on the wrong side of public opinion.

McGowan has very high ratings – with a state election coming early next year – and the hard border is popular locally.

Morrison reiterated that the Commonwealth intervention in the case had been consistent with convention and its responsibilities in relation to the constitution. He said the government’s actions “have not been to support any private interest of the plaintiffs”.

“While taking our constitutional responsibilities seriously in seeking to respect established conventions, I also accept that recent events in the eastern states, especially Victoria, are creating real concerns to residents in other states less impacted,” he wrote.

“I do not wish to see these concerns further exacerbated in Western Australia.

“Having taken into account the changed state of the pandemic that has worsened since these matters were first brought to the High Court, the high level of concern regarding public health in the Western Australian community, and our desire to work with you cooperatively on a constitutionally sustainable way forward, I consider, on balance, that we must set aside the normal convention in these circumstances and not continue the Commonwealth’s participation in this case.”

Morrison proposed principles “to mitigate the Commonwealth’s concerns with how border issues within our Federation are managed”.

He said the federal government was not asking WA to change its present border setting – as things stood, that would give rise to “significant and unnecessary public concern”.

His principles proposed states should not act arbitrarily in restricting inter-state movement of Australian residents; any restriction should be in consultation with the Commonwealth on the basis of transparent advice about the need for it; affected states should be consulted, and there should be criteria and processes for regular assessment.

“I also want to stress the advice I receive from the Chief Medical Officer, that has also been regularly conveyed to National Cabinet, that border arrangements are no substitute for strong public health response capability and maintenance of social distancing principles,” Morrison wrote.

“If an outbreak were to occur in Western Australia, as has occurred in other states, it will be strength of your State’s testing, tracing and outbreak containment capabilities that will determine your success or otherwise.”

The tone of the letter indicated this had been a retreat made through gritted teeth behind a thin mask of congeniality.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.