A virtual Australian parliament is possible – and may be needed – during the coronavirus pandemic

AAP/Lukas Coch

Anne Twomey, University of Sydney

The Commonwealth Parliament has shut down its sittings due to the COVID-19 pandemic and is not scheduled to resume sitting until August. The usual budget sittings of May and June have been cancelled and the budget will not be handed down until October. Supply bills have been passed to ensure ordinary government expenditure is funded until the end of November.

An important consequence is that there will be very little parliamentary scrutiny of the government for nearly five months, a critical period during which extreme powers may be exercised.

Parliaments around the world are adapting to the new circumstances caused by the spread of coronavirus. European Union Parliament will operate with online voting from March 26. Other legislative bodies are contemplating a similar move.

How can we ensure the Australian government remains accountable, while still able to fulfil its functions and without putting the health of MPs and their staff at risk?

Parliamentary committees can still operate

Parliament has only been adjourned, not prorogued. This means its committees can still function.

The Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Delegated Legislation, for example, can play a very important role in checking and reporting on all regulations that may be made to give effect to emergency measures. The Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit can continue to scrutinise government expenditure and efficiency.

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Parliamentary committees can operate using technology, so their committee members, staff and witnesses can remain physically isolated while communicating with each other. Such meetings are still regarded as “parliamentary proceedings” for the purposes of parliamentary privilege.

For example, Standing Order 235(b) of the House of Representatives says:

A committee may conduct proceedings using audio visual or audio links with members of the committee or witnesses not present in one place. If an audio visual or audio link is used, committee members and witnesses must be able to speak to and hear each other at the same time regardless of location.

Senate Standing Order 30 also permits Senate committees to hold meetings electronically so everyone does not need to be in the same place.

There is therefore no reason for parliamentary committees to stop performing their important scrutiny functions while parliament is not sitting. Indeed, there are strong reasons why they should. In addition, the absence of parliamentary sittings will free up more time for such activity.

In New Zealand a special parliamentary committee upon which all parties are represented will meet regularly, sitting remotely, so government scrutiny can continue. Its proceedings will be live-streamed to the public to maintain accountability.

Virtual sittings of parliament?

If a parliamentary committee can engage in parliamentary proceedings with members and witnesses participating by way of technology links, is it possible for parliament to sit in the same manner, as a kind of “virtual” parliament? It may prove necessary in the course of the next few months to enact urgent legislation. Hence some facility to assemble parliament and pass laws in this way would be a safety net in the current circumstances.

It has been suggested the Australian Constitution forbids such action. It is not abundantly clear that this is so.

Certainly, the framers of the constitution did not envisage parliament sitting with members dispersed and communicating by way of technology, but they did recognise that communications technology was quickly changing in the 1890s and that those changes needed to be accommodated.

For this reason they gave the Commonwealth Parliament power to legislate with respect to “postal, telegraphic, telephonic, and other like services”. The phrase “other like services” was intended to pick up future developments in technology, such as radio, television and the internet.

The constitution is commonly interpreted in a manner that accommodates changes in facts and technology, so the absence of such technology in the 1890s is not a barrier.

What does the constitution say about where and how parliament sits?

Section 125 of the constitution says the parliament shall “sit at Melbourne until it meet at the seat of government”, which “shall be in a territory located in New South Wales, not less than one hundred miles from Sydney”.

Parliament therefore needs to “sit” in the “seat of government”, which is now in the Australian Capital Territory. But that could be accommodated by having a minimum number of key personnel, such as the presiding officers and perhaps a minister, at Parliament House, hosting the electronic meeting. Participating members could then log in from elsewhere.

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View from The Hill: A contest of credible views should be seen as useful in a national crisis

The constitution also refers to the “attendance” of members. For example, section 20 provides that a senator’s office shall become vacant if he or she, without permission, “fails to attend the Senate” for two consecutive months of any session. Section 38 provides the same for members of the House of Representatives.

But there appears to be no reason why attendance may not, with the permission of the house, be by electronic means. Similarly, sections 44 to 46 refer to members and senators as “sitting”, but one could still “sit” by participating in parliamentary proceedings via technology.

Most importantly, sections 22 and 39 require, until parliament otherwise provides, the “presence of at least one-third” of senators or members “to constitute a meeting of” the Senate or the House of Representatives “for the exercise of its powers”.

These provisions permit parliament to “otherwise provide”, which it has done by enacting laws permitting a reduced quorum. It is not clear why parliament could not also legislate to permit a virtual presence through participation by electronic means in circumstances such as those now prevailing.

How could this be done?

There are two options. Section 50 of the constitution allows the houses to make rules and orders with respect to their business and proceedings. This is what was done when the houses, through their standing orders, permitted members and senators to participate in parliamentary committees by electronic means. The standing orders would need to be changed by a vote of an absolute majority of the house.

The second option would be to enact legislation to permit it. This would amount to parliament “otherwise deciding” for the purposes of sections 22 and 39 of the constitution. It would be wise to require that the presiding officers be in Parliament House, within the seat of government, to satisfy section 125.

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A key consideration would be to ensure the identity of all participants, making audio-visual technology preferable so there could be certainty about who is participating and voting. Another would be ensuring all members in the virtual chamber can hear and communicate with each other. The best method would need to be ascertained for recording votes, along with ways of resolving any disputes about whether a vote was correctly recorded or how to deal with unintended absences resulting from failures in technology.

What preparations has the parliament made?

On March 23, Attorney-General Christian Porter moved two critical motions. The first changed the House of Representative’s sessional orders so it could

meet in a manner and form not otherwise provided in the standing orders with the agreement of the Leader of the House and the Manager of Opposition Business, with the manner in which Members may be present (including for the purposes of achieving a quorum) to be determined by the Speaker…

This potentially permits MPs to participate in parliament by electronic means, if the major parties and the speaker agree. An assurance was given that this motion was being moved for the purpose of enhancing greater participation in parliamentary proceedings, including from the cross-bench, rather than limiting it.

The second motion was to amend the standing orders so that, with the agreement of the two major parties, the standing orders can be amended without the need for an absolute majority of MPs. This means there will not need to be an absolute majority of MPs available in parliament to change the order of business.

Both measures were wise precautions, and both were passed.

Maintaining public confidence

In an emergency, maintaining public confidence in government is essential. One way of supporting this is to ensure parliament can operate, to scrutinise government action and represent the wishes of the people. If the physical presence of MPs is not possible due to a pandemic, there is good reason to ensure such scrutiny and representation can occur by electronic means.The Conversation

Anne Twomey, Professor of Constitutional Law, University of Sydney

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

Grattan on Friday: Which leaders and health experts will be on the right side of history on COVID-19 policy?

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

After the coronavirus nightmare has passed, harsh judgments will be made about which political leaders and health experts were on the right or wrong side in handling this crisis.

Politicians like to cast back to the global financial crisis and play the blame game. The stakes were very high then – this time they are multiplied.

And there are many with futures or reputations (or both) on the line.

This week we’ve seen a high-profile clash of opinions and expertise on display. Given the exponential rise in cases, the calls for everyone to be on the same page must be secondary to the imperative of getting the right strategy.

One school of thought says, put health first and go nuclear now, with a full lockdown. The other school favours a stepped approach, tightening the screws but trying to keep as much economic activity alive for as long as possible.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews (Labor) and New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian (Liberal) are hardliners. Victorian Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton spoke out forcefully this week. The two premiers have given notice their states are set to move to lockdown (where people would be confined to their homes). Jacinda Ardern has already taken New Zealand there.

With the divide crossing partisan lines, Andrews and Berejiklian are working closely together.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is the prime advocate of the gradual approach. Resisting a full lockdown, he argued strongly this week he didn’t want to throw people out of jobs where it was possible to avoid doing so, and he feared the consequences of the stresses the economic crisis would put on families.

For Morrison, it’s a balancing act, in the face of “a twin crisis, a crisis on a health front, which is also causing a crisis in the economy as well. And both of them can be equally as deadly, both in terms of the lives of Australians and their livelihood.”

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Labor has aligned with the position taken by Andrews and Berejiklian. From the start, the opposition has been urging faster action; this week Anthony Albanese sharpened his criticism.

He disputed “there is a tension between dealing with the health issues and dealing with the economic issues. That is a false distinction.

“The government has a responsibility to deal with this health emergency. That is the first priority. Then, it needs to deal with the economic consequences of the health emergency and the appropriate response. It needs to be done in that order.”

Those who argue Labor is just playing politics and should be sticking to the government line are off beam. This is a policy crisis too and policy arguments are legitimate and indeed necessary.

Among federal officials, the secretary of Home Affairs, Mike Pezzullo, is reportedly a hardliner.

Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy (who has been appointed secretary of the Health Department) and his deputy, Paul Kelly, have been strong public defenders of the gradualist path.

Yet in the health world many in academia are advocates of an immediate lockdown.

The prime minister has found his hand being forced by the states (as in Sunday’s argy bargy on shutdowns) or bypassed (on schools).

Morrison has been a firm advocate of keeping the schools open, arguing it’s vital so health workers can continue in their jobs, and also because children shouldn’t lose a year of education.

This week Berejiklian advised parents to keep children home, while Andrews brought forward the school holidays. Western Australia is now encouraging remaining at home as new arrangements are prepared. Next week Queensland schools will be “student free” (apart from children of “frontline workers”). South Australia is likewise planning for the future.

Read more:
View from The Hill: A contest of credible views should be seen as useful in a national crisis

Academic experts are at the centre of the policy battle, and this carries its own politics.

Take a paper, commissioned by the federal government, reporting the advice of 22 experts from Group Of Eight universities. Dated Sunday, it put forward two views.

“One view, influenced by our position on the epidemic curve, the limitations of wide community testing and surveillance and the experience of other countries, argues for a comprehensive, simultaneous ban across Australia.

“The other, influenced by the fact that a large number of our cases are a direct/contacts of importation (which have now been stopped), influenced by the large variation in case density across Australia and the adverse consequences of closure and the sustainability and compliance to an early closure, argued for a more proportionate response”.

The first view was “a dominant position in this group”, the paper said. What it didn’t add was that this was the overwhelming view.

When asked about the paper at a Tuesday news conference, both Morrison and Murphy were noticeably uneasy. Morrison flicked the question to Murphy who said: “Any measures we place, we believe need to be for the long haul. The idea that you can put measures in place for four weeks and suddenly stop them and the virus will be gone is not credible. So we are very keen to put as restrictive measures in place without completely destroying life as we know it.”

Another paper circulating, including to senior business figures, argues “the case for a short, sharp lockdown in Australia”. It has been contributed to by Raina MacIntyre, who heads UNSW’s Biosecurity Program; Louisa Jorm, director of the Centre for Big Data Research in Health, UNSW; Tim Churches, health data scientist at UNSW; and Richard Nunes-Vaz, from Torrens Resilience Institute at Flinders University.

“We are deeply concerned about the prospect of Australia losing control of the epidemic to a degree which would exceed health system capacity and result in far greater numbers of cases, more health and economic losses, and a longer time to societal recovery,” the paper says.

“A short, sharp lockdown of 4-8 weeks will improve control of the epidemic in Australia, reduce case numbers and bring us to a more manageable baseline from which phased lifting of restrictions and economic recovery can occur.

“If we fail to do this, we face continued epidemic growth, potential failure of the health system, and a far longer road to recovery.”

The lockdown would be used to ramp up a massive testing operation to identify and isolate cases, enabling the subsequent ease-off to be done more safely.

On Thursday the federal government’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly suggested challenges to official advice made for public confusion and should be kept behind closed doors.

Not if the challengers turn out to be right.

Morrison received praise in the early days for his handling of the crisis. Now he and his closest health advisers are increasingly finding themselves the odd men out.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.

Coronavirus shines a light on fractured global politics at a time when cohesion and leadership are vital

AAP/EPA/Filippo Attili/Chigi Palace

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

Leaders of the world’s largest economies came together at a virtual G20 this week to “do whatever it takes to overcome the coronavirus pandemic”. But the reality is that global capacity to deal with the greatest challenge to international well-being since the second world war is both limited and fractured.

A G20 statement at the end of a 90-minute hookup of world leaders said the right things about avoiding supply-chain disruptions in the shipment of medical supplies, and their agreement to inject A$8.2trillion into the global economy.

Read more:
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By all accounts, interactions between the various players were more constructive than previous such gatherings in the Donald Trump era.

However, emollient words in the official statement, in which the leaders pledged a “common front against this common threat”, could not disguise deep divisions between the various players.

The US and China might have acknowledged the need for coordinated action to deal with the pandemic and its economic consequences, but this hardly obscures the rift between the world’s largest economies.

While Trump says he and Chinese President Xi Jinping have a good relationship, the fact remains Washington and Beijing are at loggerheads over a range of issues that are not easily resolved.

These include trade in all its dimensions. And central to that is a technology “arms race”.

Then there is Trump’s persistent – and deliberately provocative – reference to a “Chinese virus”. Beijing has strongly objected to this characterisation.

Overriding all of this is China’s quest for global leadership in competition with the US and its allies. The US and its friends see this quest as both relentless and disruptive.

In its response to the coronavirus pandemic, which originated in China’s Hubei province, Beijing has sought to overcome world disapproval of its initial efforts to cover up the contagion by stepping up its diplomatic efforts.

In this we might contrast China’s approach with that of the Trump administration, which continues to emphasise an inward-looking “America first” mindset.

These nativist impulses have been reinforced by a realisation of America’s dependence on Chinese supply chains. The US imports a staggering 90% of its antibiotics from China, including penicillin. America stopped manufacturing penicillin in 2004.

In remarks to pharmaceutical executives earlier this month, Trump said dependence on Chinese pharmaceutical supply chains reinforced the

importance of bringing all of that manufacturing back to America.

Tepid American support for international institutions like the United Nations and its agencies, including, principally, the World Health Organisation, is not helpful in present circumstances.

Trump’s verbal onslaught against “globalism” in speeches to the UN has undermined confidence in the world body and called into question American support for multilateral responses to global crises.

Ragged responses to the coronavirus pandemic are a reminder of the dangers inherent in a world in which global leadership has withered.

In Europe, leaders spent most of Thursday arguing over whether a joint communique would hint at financial burden-sharing to repair the damage to their economies.

Germany and the Netherlands are resisting pressures to contribute to a “coronabonds” bailout fund to help countries like Italy and Spain, hardest hit by the pandemic.

This reluctance comes despite a warning from European Central Bank president Christine Lagarde that the continent is facing a crisis of “epic” proportions.

Resistance to a push by European leaders, led by France’s Emmanuel Macron, to collectively underwrite debt obligations risks fracturing the union.

These sorts of geopolitical tensions are inevitable if the pandemic continues to spread and, in the process, exerts pressures on the developed world to do more to help both its own citizens and those less fortunate.

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In an alarming assessment of the risks of contagion across conflict zones, the International Crisis Group (ICG) identifies teeming refugee camps in Syria and victims of war-ravaged Yemen as areas of particular concern.

In both cases, medical assistance is rudimentary, to say the least, so the coronavirus would not be containable if it were to get a grip.

In its bleak assessment, the ICG says:

The global outbreak has the potential to wreak havoc in fragile states, trigger widespread unrest and severely test international crisis management systems. Its implications are especially serious for those caught in the midst of conflict if, as seems likely, the disease disrupts humanitarian aid flows, limits peace operations and postpones ongoing efforts at diplomacy.

In all of this, globalisation as a driver of global growth is in retreat at the very moment when the world would be better served by a “globalised” response to a health and economic crisis.

These challenges are likely to far exceed the ability of the richest countries to respond to a global health emergency.

The disbursement of A$8.2trillion to stabilise the global economy will likely come to be regarded as a drop in the bucket when the full dimensions of a global pandemic become apparent.

In the past day or so the United States became the country hardest hit by coronavirus, surpassing China and Italy.

Medical experts contend the spread of coronavirus in the US will not peak for several weeks. This is the reality Trump appears to have trouble grasping.

Leaving aside the response of countries like the US, China, Italy, Spain and South Korea, whose health systems have enabled a relatively sophisticated response to the virus, there are real and legitimate concerns about countries whose healthcare capabilities would quickly become overburdened.

In this category are countries like Pakistan, India, Indonesia and Bangladesh, which is housing some 1 million Rohingya refugees.

Questions that immediately arise following the “virtual” leaders’ summit are:

  • How would the world cope with a raging pandemic that is wiping out tens of thousands in places like Syria and Yemen?

  • What body will coordinate the $8.2trillion to stabilise the global economy?

  • What role will the International Monetary Fund play in this rescue effort?

  • What additional resources might be allocated to the World Health Organisation to coordinate a global effort to withstand a health tsunami?

The short answer to these questions is that the world is less well-equipped to deal with a crisis of these dimensions than it might have been if global institutions were not under siege, as they are.

The present situation compares unfavourably with the G20 responses to the Global Financial Crisis of 2008/9. Then, American leadership proved crucial.

In this latest crisis, no such unified global leadership has yet emerged.

The further splintering of an international consensus and retreat from a globalising world as individual states look out for themselves may well prove one of the enduring consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. This would be to no-one’s particular advantage, least of all the vulnerable.The Conversation

Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

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

Scalable without limit: how the government plans to get coronavirus support into our hands quickly


Peter Martin, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

The government says its second stimulus package – the second in ten days – is temporary and targeted, but that’s not really true.

What it is is big, automatic, and infinitely increasable.

The first package, released ten days ago, cost A$17.6 billion. This one costs an extra $66.1 billion. (It’s best not be be too distracted by the claim that the total is $189 billion, almost 10% of GDP – it includes an element of double counting.)

The government has doubled, and then doubled again, what it intends to spend, and has made it easy to spend much, much more.

Automaticity is the key

Josh Frydenberg’s first assignment on being appointed parliamentary secretary to Prime Minister Tony Abbott in 2013 was to cut red tape.

The fewer needless procedures that people and businesses have to comply with (and the fewer forms and multiple forms they need to complete) the better everything can work.

In good times, it’s a good idea. In bad times, it’s essential.

As treasurer, nine months ago he set up a deregulation taskforce staffed by a dedicated unit within treasury.

Its work has infused the government’s second response.

An extra $550 per fortnight

The government has effectively doubled Newstart (which, in an unrelated previously-announced move, changed its name to “JobSeeker Payment” on Friday).

The maximum rate for a single recipient without dependants is $565.70 per fortnight.

For the next six months from April 27 the government will boost that by $550 per fortnight.

Importantly, the extra $550 will go to all recipients, including those who get much less than $565.70 because they have assets or have found a few hours of part-time work.

It’ll also go to both existing and new recipients of the Youth Allowance Jobseeker payment, Parenting Payment, Farm Household Allowance and Special Benefit.

The asset test for JobSeeker Payment, Youth Allowance Jobseeker and
Parenting Payment will be waived for the duration of the boost.

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What really matters is that it will be paid automatically. Recipients will receive the full $550 on top of their regular payment without asking for it. No forms, and an extra 5,000 Services Australia staff (previously called Centrelink staff) to make sure it happens.

The government says the boost is temporary, a claim that is not credible. The government can and will extend it for the duration of the crisis, and even after the crisis has ended will find it impossible to fully dismantle.

Recipients who have become used to receiving $1,115.70 per fortnight will not take kindly to suggestions they should be busted back to $565.70.

A “grandfathering” provision that let existing recipients keep getting $1,115.70 while forcing new recipients on to $565.70 would be almost as unrealistic.

Household support

Ten days ago the government announced a support payment of $750 to social security, veteran and other income support recipients and eligible concession card holders. It was to be paid automatically from March 31.

The new announcement is for an extra $750 to be paid to those people, other than the subset who will be getting the extra $550 per fortnight. About half of them are pensioners.

It will be paid “automatically from July 13, 2020”.

Early access to super

Anyone made redundant because of the coronavirus, or who has their hours cut by 20% or more because of the coronavirus (for sole traders, has their revenue cut by 20% or more) will be able to get early access to up to $10,000 of their super during the current financial year (the one that ends on July 30) and a further $10,000 during the first three months of 2020-21 (July 1 to September 30).

Frydenberg believes the funds will find this easy to manage:

the super funds last year had about $300 billion in cash, so they have the ability to provide what treasury estimate to be about a $27 billion
injection into the economy.

He makes the point super belongs to the owners, and was saved with the intention that it be available for use on a rainy day:

this is the people’s money, and this is the time they need it most.

Withdrawals will be tax-free and will not affect Centrelink or veterans payments.

The process will be close to frictionless. Rather than approaching their fund, “eligible individuals will be able to apply online through myGov”.

When approved, the fund will “make the payment to you, without you needing to apply to them directly”.

Lower deeming rates

Pensioners with income-producing assets will find the pension rules adjusted so that they are assumed to earn 0.25% less than had previously been the case, in line with last week’s emergency Reserve Bank rate cut.

Again, it will happen automatically, from May 1, 2020.

Up to $100,000 per business

From April 28 employers will receive payments of 100% of the salary and wages they hand over to the tax office (up from 50% in the first package) plus an additional payment calculated using the same formula on July 28.

Worth up to $100,000 per business (with a minimum payment of $20,000) it will partially compensate them for hanging on to staff, and the announcement says they won’t need to do a thing.

The payments are tax free, there will be no new forms, and payments will flow automatically through the Australian Tax Office.

Going guarantor

The government will guarantee 50% of any new loans to small and medium sized businesses up to a maximum of $20 billion, which will support $40 billion in loans.

This way it’ll be the banks doing the assessments (the government won’t require the paperwork that would be involved in “picking winners”) but it’ll pick up the tab, without the businesses needing to do anything extra.

Indefinitely increasable

The government has found it relatively simple to plonk this $66.1 billion package on top of the previous $17.6 billion package. It has used the same or pre-existing foundations to scale up amounts and extend time periods.

This means it can get money out quickly and for as long as it needs to, in the main putting it into people’s hands automatically.

There is no practical constraint on its ability to do so. It has delivered what is almost certainly Australia’s biggest economic stimulus package, and will increase it as needed.

It can “find the money” by issuing bonds, effectively IOUs, to investors. If the investors want to offload them, or even if they don’t, the government-owned Reserve Bank has said it will buy them from investors without limit in order to prevent interest rates from rising.

The government’s financial measures are scalable without limit.

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The Conversation

Peter Martin, Visiting Fellow, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

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

Our politicians are not fit to oversee the coronavirus response. It’s time they got out of the way

Lukas Coch/AAP

William Bowtell, UNSW

Prime Minister Scott Morrison this week announced sweeping measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus in Australia, including bans on indoor gatherings of more than 100 people and a warning for Australians not to travel anywhere in the world.

However, Morrison’s press conference is still grossly inadequate when it comes to the government’s overall response to the pandemic. The problem, from the beginning, has been a lack of clarity and structure.

In principle, most of what the prime minister said this week would have been far more relevant last week. It’s too late and not enough.

Not a role for politicians

The prime minister should not be the front-man for this effort. This was clear from the government’s response to the HIV/AIDS crisis in the 1980s, and it’s clear now.

The only role of the federal government in a health crisis, as we found in the HIV response in the 1980s, is to understand there has to be national response instead of everyone doing their own thing in the states and territories.

Back in the 1980s, the federal government brought everyone together and got the experts who knew what needed to be done to figure it all out in the spirit of cooperation. And the politicians just got out of the way. Then-Prime Minister Bob Hawke and opposition leader Andrew Peacock understood that completely.

Had we done this in January, when the coronavirus began to spread in China, we would not be in this mess now.

Trust in politicians is at an all-time low in this country. Half the country does not like Morrison and half the country does not like opposition leader Anthony Albanese.

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Trust in politicians and government is at an all-time low. The next government must work to fix that

The national cabinet, this creation of the federal government to deal with the coronavirus crisis, doesn’t include the leader of the opposition. It doesn’t include the leader of the Greens.

This is not a national response, with the best interests of the Australian people at heart. This is a response created for political reasons by politicians, and it’s been deeply deficient.

The government should have turned to virologists, epidemiologists, public communications experts in January and told them to use their expertise to make recommendations in the best interests of the county.

We should then have had one address to the nation by the governor-general putting in place a committee of non-partisan, trusted experts to direct all aspects of the public health response.

Politicians should convene the experts and implement their recommendations.

While Morrison is loved by his supporters, he’s not loved by his opponents. There is no reason for the prime minister to take this on, unless the person standing next to him is the leader of the opposition.

Inconsistency on messaging leading to chaos

Another major problem with the government’s response thus far has been its inconsistency on messaging.

For example, on Friday, the recommendation of the government was to limit mass gatherings to 500 people, but the prime minister decided this ban would only take effect on Monday. Morrison said at the time he still planned to go to the football on the weekend – a decision he later backtracked on for fear his attendance would be “misinterpreted”.

For the public, this kind of messaging leads to deep confusion and lack of clarity as to what is really going on. There should be no gatherings of any size whatsoever – and this should be implemented as soon as possible.

The government caused confusion by announcing a ban on gatherings to take place after a weekend of rugby games.
Craig Golding/AAP

As for the broader public awareness campaign around the virus, there has been none. There’s be no campaign of the sort that’s been happening since the end of January in Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea and Singapore.

Read more:
Why Singapore’s coronavirus response worked – and what we can all learn

There’s been no mobilisation of the public, no sanitisation or disinfection of busses, trains and airports. All of this should have taken place since the end of January, when Asian countries saw what was coming and started putting precautions into place.

There is also still no clarity about testing in Australia. You cannot get a straight answer from people about how many test kits there are in the country.

Australia’s chief medical officer, Brendan Murphy, wrote to doctors on Friday that in some regions of Australia, they have run out of test kits completely.

Morrison’s scolding about hoarding at supermarkets also won’t have an effect on people’s behaviours. It is Australian to hoard. If you’ve been to a supermarket in the last two weeks, you know it’s Australian to hoard.

The public doesn’t know what’s going on, the truth has been held from them. As a result, it is time for rationing of food in supermarkets and for the presence of police to be sustained at supermarkets and hospitals.

Read more:
Desperately seeking toilet paper, pasta or hand sanitiser? Some relief is just weeks away

The government is promising a multi-billion “safety net” package, but many young people who are about to be, or have already been, sacked from their work don’t know where their next paycheck will come from.

Small businesses need support to cover their wages or lease payments. The tourism sector has collapsed, the arts and entertainment sector has collapsed. We have to take control and impose some order on this chaos.

What Australians can do

The Australian people must now take control of this crisis. It is time for the people of Australia to take control in a caring, sharing and loving way. We need to refrain from panicking, to restore order in our communities, our supermarkets and our hospitals.

There has got to be a consistent national approach. And we need to depoliticise the response.

Our politicians are not fit to run a public health response in this country. That was the lesson that saved tens of thousands of lives and hundreds of thousands of infections 40 years ago.

People don’t trust the politicians. They need to just get the people who know what they’re talking about and get out of the way.The Conversation

William Bowtell, Adjunct professor, Kirby Institute for Infection and Immunity, UNSW

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

Scott Morrison to take part in ‘extraordinary’ G20 summit next week

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Scott Morrison will participate in an Extraordinary Leaders’ Summit of the G20 called for next week to discuss the international coronavirus crisis.

The teleconference has been convened by the Saudi G20 Presidency.

A statement from the presidency on Wednesday said the virtual G20 leaders summit aimed to “advance a coordinated response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its human and economic implications.”

“The G20 will act, alongside international organisations, in any way deemed necessary to alleviate the impact of the pandemic.”

“G20 leaders will put forward a coordinated set of policies to protect people and safeguard the global economy,” the statement said.

It said the summit would build on the work of G20 finance ministers and central bank governors, and health, trade, and foreign affairs officials to develop detailed actions needed.

Earlier Report:

Morrison government bans indoor gatherings of 100 people, and tells Australians ‘don’t go overseas’

The federal government’s new sweeping measures in the coronavirus crisis include a ban on non-essential indoor gatherings of 100 people or more, advice that no Australian should travel abroad, and strict restrictions on visitor access to aged care facilities.

The measures, announced by Prime Minister Scott Morrison early Wednesday, take the battle to contain the spread of the virus to a new level but do not include the closure of the nation’s schools, or foreshadow a general community shutdown.

Morrison said the second stage economic package the government is now working on would be to “cushion” the impact of the measures put in place – it would focus on strengthening the “safety net” for individuals and small businesses.

He said there had been a big “gear change” at the weekend “when we were moving to far more widespread social distancing and bans on gatherings”.

Morrison berated hoarders in the strongest language. “Stop doing it. It’s ridiculous. It’s un-Australian[…]also, do not abuse staff. We’re all in this together. People are doing their jobs.”

“They’re doing their best, whether they’re at a testing clinic this morning, whether they’re at a shopping centre.”

Travel advice has been lifted to the highest level – which is unprecedented – with Australians, regardless of their destination, age or health, being told they should not travel overseas.

The new measures, which were approved late Tuesday night by the federal-state “national cabinet”, also include the cancellation of ANZAC Day events, which was mostly an endorsement of action already taken by the RSL. There will be a national service, but without a crowd. Small streamed ceremonies involving officials at state level may be held

“Life is changing in Australia, as it is changing all around the world,” Morrison told a Canberra news conference in which he and Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy stood the required social distance apart.

“Life is going to continue to change,” he said, but he also stressed the need to keep the country operating.

Morrison emphasised that measures had to be for the long term because the crisis was set to last at least six months.

Murphy said “a short-term two to four week shut down of society is not recommended by any of our experts. It does not achieve anything. We have to be in this for the long haul.”

On the sensitive issue of the schools, on which there’s been a lot of pressure for closure, Morrison highlighted his own family.

“I am telling you that, as a father, I’m happy for my kids to go to school. There’s only one reason your kids shouldn’t be going to school and that is if they are unwell.”

The advice from health experts, and the view of the premiers and chief ministers has been that schools should be kept open. Morrison said that closure would mean a “30% impact on the availability of health workers.”

The government has also decided that 20,000 international student nurses who are in Australia will be able to stay to help with the local crisis.

Aged cared facilities will not ban visits but will put in place restrictions to protect residents, who form the most high risk portion of the population. Morrison, who recently lost his own father, said he knew these would be difficult for families.

Visits will be restricted to a maximum of two people at any one time a day and no large group visits or social activities will be allowed

There will be special arrangements for the families of end-of-life patients.

The human biosecurity emergency provision of the Biosecurity Act was put into force early Wednesday. This gives draconian powers to the federal government, and the action matches the state governments’ emergency declarations.

Morrison said the advice was that plane travel within the country did not present a high risk – the risk was where people had come from and were going to. People are told not to visit remote communities, to protect vulnerable indigenous citizens.

The ban on non-essential indoor gatherings of more than 100 excludes a range of places such as shopping centres; public transport; medical and healthcare facilities; office buildings; factories; construction sites, and mining sites.

States and territories are looking at rules for non-essential indoor gatherings of fewer than 100 people, such as cinemas, restaurants, clubs, weddings, and funerals. This will be considered when the national cabinet meets on Friday. There may be significant changes to the operation of these facilities, such as decreasing maximum capacity, or increasing space available.

The beleaguered aviation industry is being promised relief, with a waiver of fees and charges.

Both Morrison and Murphy strongly reinforced the need for “social distancing”

Murphy said “it is every individual Australian’s responsibility to practice good social distancing. Keep away from each other where possible. Practice really good hand hygiene.”

“No more handshaking. No more hugging – except in your family.”

So far, 80,000 tests have been conducted, and the government is sourcing further testing kits.

Full press release from The Prime Minister’s office can be read below

The focus for the Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments is the health and wellbeing of Australians and their livelihoods, ensuring that Australia is positioned to emerge strong and resilient from this global pandemic crisis.

Leaders met last night for the second National Cabinet meeting and agreed to further actions to protect the Australian community from the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).

General Population – Indoor Gatherings

As part of our efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Australia, the National Cabinet has accepted further restrictions on gatherings.

The National Cabinet has accepted the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) advice that non-essential indoor gatherings of greater than 100 people (including staff) will no longer be permitted from Wednesday 18 March 2020.

An indoor gathering refers to a gathering within a single enclosed area (i.e. an area, room or premises that is or are substantially enclosed by a roof and walls, regardless of whether the roof or walls or any part of them are permanent, temporary, open or closed).

This does not apply to essential activities such as public transportation facilities, medical and health care facilities, pharmacies, emergency service facilities, correctional facilities, youth justice centres or other places of custody, courts or tribunals, Parliaments, food markets, supermarkets and grocery stores, shopping centres, office buildings, factories, construction sites, and mining sites, where it is necessary for their normal operation (although other social distancing and hygiene practices may be required in these settings).
The states and territories will give further consideration to practical guidance and rules for non-essential indoor gatherings of fewer than 100 people (including staff) such as cinemas, theatres, restaurants/cafes, pubs, clubs, weddings and funerals. This will be considered at the next National Cabinet meeting on Friday 20 March 2020. In the meantime these venues should continue to apply social distancing and hygiene practices.

This includes being able to maintain a distance of 1.5 metres between patrons.
Hand hygiene products and suitable waste receptacles need to be available, with frequent cleaning and waste disposal.

This may require significant changes to the operation of some venues, such as reducing the maximum capacity or increasing the space available.

Settings like gyms, indoor fitness centres and swimming pools are not required to close at this time providing they meet these requirements for social distancing and hand hygiene. Such venues should take actions to ensure regular high standards of environmental cleaning take place.

General Population – Outdoor Gatherings

Outdoor events of fewer than 500 attendees may proceed. There are general measures that all events should follow, including:

In a given occupied space, there must be no more than one person per four square metres of ground space.

Availability of hand hygiene products and suitable waste receptacles, with frequent cleaning and waste disposal.

Food markets are exempt from the 500 person limit, however must undertake additional measures, such as control of patronage level numbers or stall density reduction to decrease the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

There may be other gatherings that are considered essential and it is at the discretion of the individual state and territory Chief Medical Officers or equivalent to assess each on their merits, and determine whether they can continue if mitigated by social distancing measures.

Domestic Transport

National Cabinet agreed that all Australians should only consider travelling when it is essential. If unwell, people must stay at home, unless seeking medical care.

National Cabinet agreed that public transport is essential and that AHPPC advice should apply in relation to public transport (trains, trams, buses, ferries), taxi and ride share vehicles and transport of vulnerable populations, with particular attention given to cleaning and hygiene.

National Cabinet agreed that domestic air travel is low risk. The issue of where people are travelling to and sensitive locations where travel should be restricted, will be developed with advice of states and territories.

The National Cabinet will further consider social distancing arrangements for domestic transport at its next meeting on Friday 20 March 2020.

In all cases, appropriate social distancing and hygiene practices should be applied.

Anzac Day

Anzac Day is an important commemoration where we demonstrate our respect and admiration for Anzacs past and present. But the way we commemorate Anzac Day this year will need to change.

The National Cabinet has agreed that Anzac Day ceremonies and events should be cancelled due to the high proportion of older Australians who attend such events and the increased risk posed to such individuals. A small streamed/filmed ceremony involving officials at a state level may be acceptable. There should be no marches.

All Australian-led international Anzac Day Services will be cancelled for 2020 given international travel restrictions and restrictions on public gatherings.

The Australian War Memorial will aim to conduct a national televised Dawn Service with no general public attendance.

State and Territory Governments and the RSLs will work together on local community arrangements to commemorate Anzac Day.

Recommendation on bulk purchase of supplies

The National Cabinet has strongly endorsed the AHPPC advice against the bulk purchase of foods, medicines and other goods.

We strongly discourage the panic purchase of food and other supplies. While some advice has been provided to have a small addition of long shelf life products in the case of illness there are a range of mechanisms in place to support people in self-isolation, including food and other deliveries. AHPPC notes that the risk of individual Australians being asked to quarantine in coming weeks is low, and encourages individuals to plan with friends and family in the event of the need to isolate. We recognise the importance of supply lines to remote communities.

Aged Care and Older Australians

As the transmission of COVID-19 increases rapidly, it is our priority to protect and support elderly and vulnerable Australians. Aged care is a critical sector that faces staffing challenges as existing staff are either subject to self-isolation requirements due to COVID-19 or are unable to attend work.

The National Cabinet has agreed to the recommendations by the AHPPC to enhanced arrangements to protect older Australians in Residential Aged Care Facilities and in the community

Restrictions on entry into aged care facilities

The following visitors and staff (including visiting workers) should not be permitted to enter the facility:

Those who have returned from overseas in the last 14 days;
Those who have been in contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the last 14 days;
Those with fever or symptoms of acute respiratory infection (e.g. cough, sore throat, runny nose, shortness of breath); and
Those who have not been vaccinated against influenza (after 1 May)

Aged care facilities should implement the following measures for restricting visits and visitors to reduce the risk of transmission to residents, including:

Limiting visits to a short duration;
Limiting visits to a maximum of two immediate social supports (family members, close friends) or professional service or advocacy at one time, per day;
Visits should be conducted in a resident’s room, outdoors, or in a specific area designated by the aged care facility, rather than communal areas where the risk of transmission to residents is greater;
No large group visits or gatherings, including social activities or entertainment, should be permitted at this time;
No school groups of any size should be allowed to visit aged care facilities.
Visitors should also be encouraged to practise social distancing practices where possible, including maintaining a distance of 1.5 metres.
Children aged 16 years or less must be permitted only by exception, as they are generally unable to comply with hygiene measures. Exemptions can be assessed on a case-by-case basis, for example, where the resident is in a palliative care scenario.
Measures such as phone or video calls must be accessible to all residents to enable more regular communication with family members. Family and friends should be encouraged to maintain contact with residents by phone and other social communication apps, as appropriate.
Managing illness in visitors and staff

Aged care facilities should advise all regular visitors and staff to be vigilant for illness and use hygiene measures including social distancing, and to monitor for symptoms of COVID-19, specifically fever and acute respiratory illness. They should be instructed to stay away when unwell, for their own and residents’ protection.

Given the high vulnerability of this particular group, aged care facilities should request that staff and visitors provide details on their current health status, particularly presentation of symptoms consistent with COVID-19. Screening for fever could also be considered upon entry.

These additional measures should be implemented in order to better protect residents and prompt individuals entering the aged care facility to consider their current state of health prior to entry. Both individuals and management need to take responsibility for the health of visitors and staff at facilities to protect our most vulnerable community members.

These are the recommendations of the AHPPC, individual facilities may choose to implement additional measures as they see fit for their circumstances.

Symptomatic staff

Staff should be made aware of early signs and symptoms of COVID-19. Any staff with fever or symptoms of acute respiratory infection (e.g. cough, sore throat, runny nose, shortness of breath) should be excluded from the workplace and tested for COVID-19. Staff must report their symptoms to the aged care facility.

Further information is available at: https://www.health.gov.au/committees-and-groups/australian-health-protection-principal-committee-ahppc


The National Cabinet has accepted the advice of the AHPPC that schools should remain open at this time.

Specifically the National Cabinet has agreed that “pre-emptive closures are not proportionate or effective as a public health intervention to prevent community transmission of COVID-19 at this time.”

National Cabinet also noted AHPPC advice that “More than 70 countries around the world have implemented either nationwide or localised school closures, at different times in the evolution of the local COVID-19 epidemic, however it should be noted the majority of these have not been successful in controlling the outbreak. Some of these countries are now considering their position in relation to re-opening schools.”

Boarding schools

The National Cabinet noted that boarding schools are “at high risk of transmission” and encouraged boarding schools and parents to “consider the risks versus the benefits of a student remaining in boarding school”.

Universities and other higher education centres

_The National Cabinet accepted the advice that university and higher education “should continue at this time” with risk mitigation measures, including working from home arrangements where effective. As with boarding schools, group student accommodation “presents a higher risk” that warrants consideration of “closing or reducing accommodation densities” if risk mitigation is not possible. _

Community Sport

The National Cabinet accepted advice from the AHPPC that community sporting activities could continue with involvement from essential participants (players, coaches, match officials, staff and volunteers involved in operations, and parents and guardians of participants).

This advice follows ongoing consultation with sporting organisations which has resulted in guidelines being prepared for community sporting organisations. The guidelines provide relevant advice on change room access, physical contact, travel, and social distancing and hygiene practices.

Furthermore, it has been acknowledged that contact sports have a greater risk of transmission than other sports, and as such, should be considered on a case-by-case basis.

All sporting codes should seek public health advice applicable to their codes, and take into account outdoor mass gathering issues.

Further work on Indigenous and NDIS Australia

Further work will be progressed by Friday 20 March 2020 and will include additional support for vulnerable Australians including indigenous communities and NDIS participants.

The Department of Social Services (DSS), National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) and NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission (NDIS Commission) are working together in preparation to respond to COVID-19 and its impact on the NDIS.

Additional measures

Commonwealth emergency powers

The National Cabinet noted that Commonwealth, States and Territories were implementing emergency powers under respective legislation in order to be able to deal with the spread of COVID-19 as quickly and flexibly as possible.

The Governor-General has accepted the Commonwealth Government’s recommendation that he declare a “human biosecurity emergency” under the Biosecurity Act 2015 given the risks COVID-19 poses to human health and the need to control its spread in Australia.

That declaration would allow the Health Minister to issue targeted, legally enforceable directions and requirements to combat the virus.

The declaration was recommended by the Chief Medical Officer in his capacity as the Director of Human Biosecurity.

The first emergency requirement that will be made under the declaration is to formally prohibit international cruise ships from entering Australian ports for an initial 30 days, which provides additional legal support for the decision announced on Sunday 15 March 2020.

Additional Support for International Student Nurses

The Commonwealth Government will relax international student nurse visa work conditions to provide workforce continuity for aged care facilities, home care providers and other health care workers. This will allow international student nurses and other aged care workers to work more than the 40 hours a fortnight that they are currently. This measure will be examined on an ongoing basis. There are currently around 900 approved providers of residential aged care employers and around 1,000 approved providers of Home Care Packages. There are currently around 20,000 international student nurses studying in Australia.

Level 4 Travel restrictions – Do Not Travel

The National Security Committee of Cabinet has decided to raise the advice for all overseas travel to the highest level. Our advice to all Australians – regardless of your destination, age or health – is do not travel overseas at this time.

This our highest travel advice setting – Level 4 of 4.

The decision reflects the gravity of the international situation arising from the COVID-19 outbreak, the risks to health and the high likelihood of major travel disruptions.

We also now advise Australians who are overseas who wish to return to Australia, to do so as soon as possible by commercial means. Commercial options may quickly become limited.

Anyone arriving in Australia from overseas, including Australians citizens and permanent residents, will be required to self-isolate for 14 days from the date of arrival.

We have issued this advice for several reasons:

There may be a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 overseas.
Health care systems in some countries may come under strain and may not be as well-equipped as Australia’s or have the capacity to support foreigners.
Overseas travel has become complex and unpredictable. Many countries are introducing entry or movement restrictions. These are changing often and quickly, and your travel plans could be disrupted.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade will do what it can to provide consular advice and assistance, but DFAT’s capacity to do so may be limited by local restrictions on movement, and the scale of the challenges posed by COVID-19. These challenges vary and the situation is changing rapidly.

Australians who cannot, or do not want to, return home should follow the advice of local authorities and minimise their risk of COVID-19 exposure by self-isolating.

Aviation Industry Support

The Commonwealth Government has announced an aviation package for the refunding and ongoing waiving of a range Government charges on the industry including aviation fuel excise, Airservices charges on domestic airline operations and domestic and regional aviation security charges.

These measures are in response to unprecedented and likely sustained period of falling international and domestic aviation demand related to the impact of COVID-19.

The total cost of the measures are estimated to be $715 million, with an upfront estimated benefit of $159 million to our airlines for reimbursement of applicable charges paid by domestic airlines since 1 February 2020.

The National Cabinet expressed their thanks to Australia’s world-class health professionals for their continued efforts in restricting the spread of the virus and saving lives.

Leaders also thanked all Australians for playing their part in following the health guidance and complying with the strong measures in place to respond to COVID-19.

Leaders called on the community to remain calm. While there have been some temporary, localised food and grocery distribution delays, there are sufficient stocks in Australia. Violent or anti-social behaviour would not be tolerated.

As a National Cabinet, we will continue to come together as a united team to ensure our collective response remains proactive and targeted, but we all have a responsibility to each other in protecting our community.

All Australians must continue to be vigilant and play their part to slow the spread of COVID-19 and protect vulnerable members of our community, including the elderly.

The National Cabinet urged Australians to continue to adhere to the health guidance on hygiene and personal social distancing, including avoiding any non-essential travel. Leaders also acknowledged the many businesses that have stepped up and allowed staff to work from home where practical. These early actions are critical in delaying the peak of the outbreak and ensuring our health system response remains strong.

The Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer, Professor Brendan Murphy, provided the National Cabinet with an overview of the current situation in Australia and overseas. The National Cabinet noted the continued development of international responses. Australia, like many other nations, is seeing an increase in community transmission. We are one of the best prepared nations and we remain united, focussed and ready to respond to any sustained escalation.

The National Cabinet also considered the Chief Medical Officer’s advice on rates of community testing. More than 80,000 tests have already been undertaken in Australia. Further testing stocks have been secured and the Doherty Institute in Melbourne has developed an alternative testing process. This ensures Australia has a diverse range of tests and can protect supply of testing in the event there is a shortage in materials or components of some testing kits.

All Australians should continue to closely follow the expert medical advice – and ensure testing is only sought for COVID-19 where it meets the relevant clinical criteria. As we enter the colder months there may be a number of other viruses that enter our community, so there is a need to prioritise testing of people.

The National Cabinet noted that in order to protect older Australians and vulnerable communities in the weeks and months ahead, Australia may see even more restrictions put on social movements. We need all Australians to please look out for each other and to follow the medical advice.

The National Cabinet will be meeting again on Friday 20 March 2020 to discuss implementation arrangements for indoor gatherings and domestic transport.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.

Budget delayed until October, and new restrictions on indoor gatherings in latest coronavirus decisions

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The federal budget will be delayed until October 6, as the demands of dealing with the rapidly moving pandemic and the impossibility of forecasting have made the May timetable impossible.

State budgets will also be pushed back.

As the Morrison government prepares to announce on Sunday its second multi-billion package, which will dwarf last week’s $17.6 billion one, the national cabinet of federal and state leaders on Friday endorsed even tougher rules to limit numbers in non-essential indoor gatherings. Earlier this week these gatherings were limited to fewer than one hundred people.

Under the latest edict, in any given space, density must be kept to no more than one person per four square metres, so they can properly distanced from each other.

This would mean the permitted number in a 100 square metre room would be only 25 people.

Cinemas and theatres will reduce their densities, and some restaurants will be hit.

As the virus spreads, people are being advised to reconsider any unnecessary domestic travel. Scott Morrison said although air travel was considered low risk, “the issue is moving to different parts of the country and potentially large volumes of populations moving around the country”. He noted the conditions Tasmania had put on entry to the state, where non-essential travellers will have to self-isolate for a period, and said “other states may take those decisions for particular parts of their states, and that is entirely appropriate that they may consider doing that”.

With school holidays approaching, the national cabinet – which will meet each Tuesday and Friday – is considering further the travel question and more advice will be given.

Restrictions are being put on travel into and out of indigenous communities, where many residents have compromised health.

The recommendation remains for schools not to be closed.

Morrison announced $444.6 million for the aged care sector. This is in addition to the $100 million announced last week to support the aged care workforce. All aged care workers will be tested for the virus.

The national cabinet agreed measures will be put in place by the states for tenants, both commercial and residential, where there is hardship, for rent relief and protection.

“All Australians are going to be making sacrifices obviously, in the months ahead, and everyone does have that role to play, and that will include landlords … for people who are enduring real hardship,” Morrison said.

The national cabinet has asked for advice on dealing with localised outbreaks of COVID-19, which would require more severe restrictions in the area affected.

Morrison said the second economic package would focus on small and medium sized businesses, and sole traders, as well as giving the income support that would be needed by those most directly hit by the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus. The cabinet expenditure review committee went through the package late Friday.

Earlier, the banks announced loan relief for small business which needed assistance because of the impact of COVID-19.

Australian Banking Association CEO Anna Bligh said “banks are already reaching out to their customers to offer assistance and packages will start rolling out in full on Monday”.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the banks’ decision “to defer payments by small businesses for six months will be a substantial boost to confidence and the spirit of millions of Australian small businesses. It’s a game changer.”

The government is also cutting red tape affecting lending to small business. “It’s critical that businesses not just have access to capital, but the speed at which that capital is delivered by the banks is as fast as possible,” Frydenberg said.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: MPs aim for lightning sitting on stimulus, as third parliamentarian contracts virus

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

A pared-down parliament will aim to pass the government’s stimulus package in a single day’s sitting on Monday.

As a third federal parliamentarian tested positive for coronavirus, the government and opposition agreed to pair 30 a side from the 151 House of Representatives members. The Senate will also be reduced.

Members with personal or family health issues will be the first off the list of attendees, followed by those who live furthest away. Staff travelling from interstate will be kept to a minimum.

If complications arise the sitting – originally scheduled for four days – might have to extend to a second day but both sides want to avoid that.

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On Tuesday NSW Liberal senator Andrew Bragg announced he has tested positive for the virus. This follows Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton and Queensland Nationals senator Susan McDonald also being confirmed with the virus.

Bragg contracted the disease at a March 6 wedding where multiple guests were infected. Bragg chaired a Senate committee on March 9. Senate crossbencher Rex Patrick, one of those present at the inquiry, said he had no symptoms but was going into self-isolation and would get tested.

Foreign affairs late Tuesday issued advice to Australians abroad that if they want to come home, they should do so now. “If you’re already overseas and wish to return to Australia, we recommend you do so as soon as possible by commercial means.”

Against the background of increasingly disastrous news from the business community and more chaos in supermarkets, Scott Morrison and his senior ministers are working at full speed on the new support measures to be added to last week’s $17.6 billion package.

The NSW government unveiled a $2.3 billion package including health measures and tax relief for small business.

With travel to and from overseas drying up and local air travel drastically reduced as events are cancelled and businesses ground their employees, Qantas announced it was cutting 90% of its international capacity and 60% of its domestic capacity.

The government is blunt about the devastating economic consequences of the virus crisis.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, who usually puts an upbeat interpretation on everything, said:

“The impact is clearly getting more severe. We expect that businesses will close and people will lose their jobs. We are currently working to provide the necessary support through what will be a difficult transition. That is the grim reality of it.”

Cormann said tourism and hospitality sectors were “very much on the front line”, while also pointing to the difficulties of the not-for-profit sector.

“There are a whole series of Australians at the lower income end that are facing particular challenges,” he said. These people would need “appropriate levels of support”.

Cormann said the government was considering “to what extent we might be able to channel those workers who have less work for a company like Qantas, but might be able to do more work for companies like Coles and Woolworths”.

The government announced expanded telehealth services. They will now cover midwives, access to more GPs, and a range of specialist services including general surgeons, psychiatrists and mental health support, and geriatricians.

Read more:
View from The Hill: Government forced to “scale up” fiscal response to deal with impact of “scaled up” health response

Health Minister Greg Hunt also said 230,000 new masks had just arrived in Australia and flagged an expansion of testing. He said he had had discussions with the Doherty Institute about new testing regimes, so “we can expand beyond the individual tests”.

“They are looking at ways of expediting the testing process, and, indeed, some significant new mass testing processes over and above what we’re doing.”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.

Morrison, compassion and coronavirus: when crisis refines leadership

Sen Sendjaya, Swinburne University of Technology; Mulyadi Robin, Alphacrucis College, and Nathan Eva, Monash University

News that the Morrison government paid A$190,000 last year for advice on how to empathise with the Australian people was met with ridicule.

Yet it might be worth the money.

In late January, Morrison was continually criticised for appearing to lack compassion over the bushfires.

He himself said, “there are things I could have handed on the ground much better”.

There are signs he has taken that to heart during the coronavirus outbreak.

Read more:
Mr Morrison, I lost my home to bushfire. Your thoughts and prayers are not enough

He has acknowledged unknowns and people’s fear of the unknown, and used inclusive language along the lines of, “together we will get through this”.

It’s been more than getting the narrative right. We’ve seen capable and compassionate leadership, even “servant leadership”.

Problems, not projects, make leaders. Real leaders faced with real problems put their followers before themselves.

Servant leadership works

Research shows that “servant leaders” make good leaders.

Their stories explain the success of many of the Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For, including Zappos.com, Marriot International, and TDIndustries.

In a recently published state-of-the-art review of servant leadership, we argue that servant leadership makes sense empirically, financially and psychologically.

Our review of 285 studies on servant leadership in 39 countries finds the approach creates better leader-follower relationships, in turn boosting performance metrics including employee satisfaction and well being, commitment, and innovation.

It can help in the polls

It is probably why we react positively in the polls when our political leaders show compassion.

The latest Newspoll suggests his approach to the coronavirus has done him no harm.

Financially, servant leadership is a worthwhile investment because it is correlated with individual, team, and organisational performance better than other forms of leadership.

Psychologically, it helps individuals shift from a concern for themselves towards a concern for others, creating a culture of service.

Servant leadership is made up of six dimensions that can be applied on a daily basis:

It is a common misconception that in times of crisis we need leaders with a command-and-control and domineering approach, and those who demonstrate compassion will be seen as weak.

Compassion needs genuine strength

The truth is that being compassionate does not signal weakness, inferiority, or a lack of self-respect.

On the contrary, only those with a secure sense of self, strength of character, and psychological maturity are able to put aside themselves and instead serve others in times of crisis.

Being compassionate isn’t easy, as Morrison knows.

But it’s never too late to start.

Read more:
Grattan on Friday: Morrison looks to his messaging on coronavirus and climate

The Conversation

Sen Sendjaya, Professor of Leadership, Swinburne University of Technology; Mulyadi Robin, Senior Lecturer, Alphacrucis College, and Nathan Eva, Senior Lecturer, Monash University

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

Putin for life? Many Russians may desire leadership change, but don’t see a viable alternative


Alexey D Muraviev, Curtin University

It should be taken as a given that Russian President Vladimir Putin is a master of ambiguity and strategic surprise.

After the Russian government resigned and Putin proposed amendments to the constitution in January, the Russian leader spent a great deal of time rebuffing claims he would try to run for president again when his fourth term in office was up in March 2024.

But this week, he did not back away from a proposal by Valentina Tereshkova – a trusted supporter and one of the most respected women in Russian politics – to change the constitution to reset Putin’s presidential terms to zero. This would legally allow him to run for the presidency again (and potentially a second consecutive term), thereby extending his reign past 2024 for another 12 years.

Read more:
Russian government resignation: what’s just happened and what’s in store for Putin beyond 2024?

The 67-year-old Putin has been in charge of the country for the past 20 years, both as president (2000-08, 2012-present) and as de facto leader while serving as prime minister from 2008-12.

He has stayed in power longer than any other elected Russian head of state and still maintains strong approval ratings. However, the Russian public’s trust of Putin hit a six-year low last month, dropping sharply to just 35% in January.

Putin likely did not make this latest move in response to declining public trust. Rather, the proposed change to the constitution, which must still be approved by Russia’s Constitutional Court and a nationwide referendum, can be explained by three other major factors.

Saving the ruble

The move to signal possibly staying in power may be driven by the immediate need to offer some support to the volatile Russian markets, which plummeted following the collapse of talks between Russia and OPEC over oil production cuts.

The logic is simple: by indicating he may be staying on, Putin is trying to reassure investors that Russia is unlikely to slide back into internal political turmoil after almost two decades of relative calm under his continuous rule.

The Russian stock exchange improved immediately after the proposed constitutional change was announced and the ruble recovered some lost ground to major foreign currencies. However, this may prove to be just temporary relief.

No political heir in sight

This week’s announcement may also be an indication of a more serious challenge for Putin – identifying his political successor.

Even as public trust in Putin has declined in recent years, it’s even lower for his political allies, such as former Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev (5% in January 2020), current Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin (3%), head of the Russian Federal Assembly Valentina Matvienko (2%) and Moscow mayor Sergey Sobyanin (2%).

The only person the Russians seem to trust (besides Putin) is Defence Minister Sergey Shoygu, who garnered 19% in the January poll.

Shoygu is perhaps Putin’s most loyal ally in his inner circle and could be a potential heir, but it seems he has no ambition for the top job.

Shoygu is close to Putin and has vacationed with him in the summer.

Russia’s lost opposition

Another effect of Putin’s 20 years in power is that the Russian electorate does not see any viable alternative to the current president.

For most Russians, Putin is associated with the country’s rise as a great power, the revival of its military might and the stabilisation of the economy compared with the volatility of the 1990s. He’s also overseen a considerable decline in the risk of terrorist threats in the country.

There is a whole new generation of Russian voters who grew up in a country run only by Putin. Not all support Putin, but many young people are his biggest fans.

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Russia’s first president, Boris Yeltsin, once faced fierce political opposition in the Duma, the Russian parliament. But under Putin, the parliamentary opposition currently represented by the Communist Party, A Just Russia (a leftist party) and the liberal democrats has lost much of its support to the pro-Putin centrist and nationalist coalition of the United Russia party and the People’s Front movement.

Russia’s real liberal opposition is a lost cause. The most charismatic and trusted opposition figure in Russia, Alexey Navalny, has launched many anti-corruption investigations into figures in Putin’s party, yet his popular support base remains pitifully low. The same political trust poll by the independent Levada Centre shows Navalny at no more than 3% from 2017-20.

The real problem of Russia’s liberal opposition is its continuous failure to engage the vast majority of the conservative Russian electorate. This, combined with its
simultaneous courting of both big business and the small, underdeveloped middle class, as well as select intelligentsia, does more damage to its public reputation than the Kremlin’s oppressive measures.

Alexey Navalny tried to run for president in 2017, but was ruled ineligible – a move he said was politically motivated.

As such, the Russian electorate is stuck with practically no alternative. On one hand, they want change and recognise Putin is no longer the most effective problem solver. On the other hand, they don’t see anyone else who is as experienced, trustworthy and capable of running the country as Putin.

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Being both a populist and pragmatist, Putin has positioned himself well. Putin the populist gives Russians hope by addressing their anxiety over who could lead the country after him. Putin the pragmatist understands that his reputation in the eyes of ordinary Russians, while remaining strong, is nonetheless fading away.

Perhaps most critically, Putin remains a master of evasiveness, and his announcement this week left enough room for him to make a final decision on standing for another term closer to the 2024 election.

Putin’s love of power is balanced by his ambition to be remembered as yet another saviour of Russia. He will go for another term only if he feels confident he can deliver another success story. Failure is not an option for a strong, ambitious personality like Vladimir Putin.The Conversation

Alexey D Muraviev, Associate Professor of National Security and Strategic Studies, Curtin University

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