Unions demand free RATs for workers

The critical shortage in rapid antigen tests nationwide has prompted threats of strikes from unions and warnings of fines from the competition watchdog for price gouging.

What we know:

  • Unions resolved to require businesses to buy RATs for workers “once supply is resolved” at an emergency meeting on Monday (The New Daily); 
  • In letters sent to employer groups unions also called for improved ventilation and better masks such as the C2 or N95 varieties;
  • Deloitte modelling suggests up to half of Australia’s workforce could miss a week of work due to Omicron in the first half of 2021 – well above Treasury estimates of 10%;
  • The Pharmacy Guild claimed the shortage was being exacerbated by state and federal governments and large corporations placing mammoth orders for the kits (The Guardian); 
  • After failing to prepare for the surge in demand, the Morrison government last week made a $62m order for RATs under the “extreme urgency and unforeseen circumstances” provision of commonwealth purchasing rules;
  • The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission warned of fines of up to $10m for price gouging on the tests, which are being sold for as much as $1000 online (SBS).

Coalition excuses elected anti-vaxxers

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has declared there is nothing the Morrison government can do to silence anti-vaccine backbenchers, after taking a hard line on the deportation of Novak Djokovic.

What we know:

  • Joyce said that the backbenchers don’t have the profile of the unvaccinated tennis star and, in any case, can’t be deported (The Age); 
  • Joyce added that he had counselled MP George Christensen about his anti-vaccine remarks “knowing full well that he’s entitled to make them”;
  • Fellow vaccine sceptic Senator Alex Antic appeared on Serbian television to defend Djokovic and condemn his own government’s “regrettable” decision to deport him;
  • Labor home affairs spokesperson Kristina Keneally accused Prime Minister Scott Morrison of acting “tough” on Djokovic but being “a lamb, weak and timid” when it came to dealing with his own MPs undermining confidence in vaccines;
  • Keneally also said it was an “embarrassing bungle” that Djokovic was allowed to arrive in Australia with a visa in the first place;
  • France’s sport ministry meanwhile indicated Djokovic could be barred from playing in the French Open if he is not vaccinated (France 24). 

Morrison misrepresents hotel refugees

Human rights advocates have criticised Scott Morrison for wrongly claiming those held in hotel detention in Australia are not refugees.

Morrison was asked by 2GB presenter Ben Fordham how it was “acceptable” that refugees in the Park Hotel used to hold unvaccinated tennis star Novak Djokovic had been detained for almost nine years (The Guardian). 

“Well, the specific cases, Ben, I mean, it’s not clear that to my information that someone in that case is actually a refugee. They may have sought asylum and been found not to be a refugee and have chosen not to return,” Morrison said.

“It’s an outright lie to say that these people are not refugees, when most of them have had their refugee status formally recognised for years,” said Elaine Pearson of Human Rights Watch.

Nina Field, a detention advocacy caseworker with the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, said those detained in the Park Hotel “are almost all refugees”.


Billionaires make a killing during Covid

Australia’s 47 billionaires have doubled their wealth since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a new report.

The billionaires doubled their collective net worth to $255bn, an analysis by Oxfam has found.

The elite club, which includes Gina Rinehart, James Packer and Frank Lowy, now hold more wealth than the poorest 30% of Australians, which equates to about 7.7m people (The New Daily). 

It also found the world’s 10 richest men have more than doubled their wealth.

Oxfam also noted that in the UK and Australia, poor people and those in poorer areas are 2.6 to four times more likely to die from Covid than the richest people.

Oxfam Australia chief Lyn Morgain said billionaires have enjoyed a “terrific pandemic”.

“Central banks have pumped trillions of dollars into financial markets to save the economy, yet much of that has ended up lining the pockets of billionaires riding a stock market boom,” she said.

Oxfam called for all governments to immediately tax gains made by the super rich during the pandemic, invest in evidence-based policies to save lives, and rewrite the rules within their economies.


Boris brings in butchers to save job

The UK government is developing a suite of conservative policies under the moniker “Operation Red Meat” to distract from controversy over Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s involvement in parties during lockdown.

Johnson’s hold on the leadership is in the balance, with a vote of no-confidence on the cards after he attended a party at his Downing Street office and had endorsed others in breach of lockdown (The Independent). 

The “red meat” policies in development to appeal to conservative voters include:

  • Freezing and then ending the BBC licence payment that funds the public broadcaster;
  • Deploying the military to tackle migrant crossings;
  • Detaining asylum seekers offshore;
  • Ending Covid-19 restrictions.

The attempt to assassinate the best athlete in the world has ended, 50 bullets in Novak’s chest.

Srdjan Djokovic colourfully summarises his son Novak Djokovic’s deportation. Perhaps he misunderstood — Australia only wanted the tennis star to have two shots in his arm, not 50 in his chest (ABC).


Postscript: ‘Untrammelled Womanhood’ – How the Humble Bicycle Set Women Free

The civil rights leader Susan Brownell Anthony, who played a significant role in American women’s suffrage, was interviewed in the New York World in 1896, and said: “I think [the bicycle] has done more to emancipate women than any one thing in the world. I rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a bike. It gives her a feeling of self-reliance and independence the moment she takes her seat; and away she goes, the picture of untrammelled womanhood. (Flashbak).”


Max Opray is Schwartz Media’s morning editor and a freelance writer.