Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Integrity concerns over virus response

A coalition of integrity groups is calling for legislation to govern the National Covid-19 Coordination Commission, as fossil fuel executives and lobbyists on the advisory body push for a gas-fuelled recovery. Guardian Australia reports that the Human Rights Law Centre, Transparency International and the Centre for Public Integrity will release a statement today calling on the Morrison government to pass legislation “that provides integrity and transparency safeguards like other commissions”. According to the ABC,  a raft of commission members have specific links to the gas industry, including chairman Nev Power, who has pushed a LNG focused recovery that may benefit gas firm Strike Energy, which he is a director of. Independent MP Zali Steggall said “it raises serious questions when you see the chairman openly spruiking ... it should be a gas-led recovery in light of his background”. The head of the commission, Peter Harris, faces the Senate select committee on Covid-19 in Canberra today.

Trade Minister Simon Birmingham is seeking talks with his Chinese counterpart Zhong Shan over concerns of a trade war, as Australia pushes for an inquiry into the handling of Covid-19 at the World Health Assembly this week. China imposed restrictions on meat imports from several Australian abattoirs on Tuesday due to alleged violations of quarantine standards. On Monday the country threatened a tariff of up to 80 per cent on Australian barley subject to an anti-dumping investigation. The Age reports that the dairy industry has called a meeting with the federal government out of concern it could be next. China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman, Zhao Lijian, criticised Australia’s pursuit of the coronavirus inquiry for “political reasons”, but did not directly link it to the trade penalties.

Economists have warned the ABC that a sudden end to Jobkeeper and Jobseeker could prolong Australia’s recession, as Coalition backbenchers push for an early exit from the scheme. Danielle Wood from the Grattan Institute said the hard end date for the programs “will leave a significant hole in economic activity that could jeopardise the recovery.” According to The Australian, some Liberal MPs want to stop paying businesses JobKeeper if they no longer require help, while extending the program beyond September for those continuing to struggle. Labor meanwhile is seeking to extend JobKeeper to universities and companies owned by foreign governments. The debate comes as the United Kingdom, which unlike Australia has failed to contain the virus, extends  its wage subsidy scheme by four months to October.  

Leading United States infectious diseases expert Dr Anthony Fauci warned the country's Senate Health Committee on Tuesday that early reopenings of the economy could lead to more Covid-19 outbreaks. The White House Coronavirus Task Force member said disregarding the federal government's “checkpoints” could lead to both health and economic harm. The recommendations come despite US President Donald Trump ramping up his push in recent days for states to reopen businesses. The hearing may be one of the only chances for Congress to question Fauci after the White House declared the task force should be spending its time combating Covid-19 rather than testifying. The country has recorded the world’s highest number of deaths from the virus, with more than 80,000 fatalities.


“‘I’m absolutely devastated,’ Cherine Fahd, a resident Carriageworks visual artist presently locked out of her studio, says of the venue being placed into administration. ‘It’s an indictment of how little value is placed on arts and culture in this country. There is this incredible silence and apathy. During Covid-19, we as a community have waited and waited. We’ve seen the Victorian premier come out and pledge money and other states doing the same. In NSW, nothing. We don’t even have an Arts minister.’”


If you find yourself sleeping on the floor of a shed, it’s easy to believe you’re in the early stages of greatness, rather than just going badly. As a society, we are enamoured with the Cinderella story. I lay on the grease-stained carpet, as the wind whipped in and under the door, waiting for the ol’ upswing in fortunes, thinking, Any moment now! Then, surprisingly, improbably, things got slightly worse.”


“Bernardine Evaristo, clad in an incredible hot pink power suit, white shirt, black tie get-up that showed off her stature, had received the Booker Prize for Fiction for her novel Girl, Woman, Other ... a BBC presenter, reporting on the Booker result, referred to Evaristo as ‘another author’ while discussing her joint victory with Margaret Atwood ... Evaristo tweeted, ‘How quickly and casually they have removed my name from history – the first Black woman to win it. This is what we’ve always been up against, folks.’”


“In Jonestown another chapter is titled ‘Dictators and Tigers’. It begins with a Winston Churchill quote, ‘Dictators ride to and fro upon tigers which they dare not dismount and the tigers are getting hungry.’ There has long been speculation that when he gets off, he will be devoured. Jones has made many friends but many enemies too. Without the bully pulpit he is at last disarmed.”


“He will still be around to snarl at his enemies from pulpits he has carefully nurtured at News Corp ... he also pops up in the News Corp-owned Sky News. He has double headers with Graham Richardson, the tired ALP hack and former senator, and with Peta Credlin, the former chief of staff to Tony Abbott who fancies herself as the heiress apparent to Jones in the right-wing ranting stakes. On top of that he is a frequent writer (or re-writer of radio scripts) in News Corp papers, especially The Daily Telegraph in Sydney and The Australian.”


“Coronavirus has thrown the Democratic National Convention into question as America grapples with life under quarantine. Now, numerous personalities are throwing out ideas that could help rally the party. One possible future for the 2020 convention could include a virtual, ‘Fortnite’-style Joe Biden, said Democratic campaign strategist Lis Smith in a Politico Playbook livestream.”

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