The inconsistent responses to Covid-19

The bag of Covid-19 policy responses bulges with inconsistencies. The first people to admit they knew the least about this virus strain were epidemiologists who knew the most. But how frustrating when politicians shift positions in pretence they know (anything).

Underrating such viruses often backfires, as the Irish journalist Patrick Cockburn argues: the first casualty of war and pandemics is the truth. He caught polio in 1950s Cork and the English press rushed to cast blame. It leaves serious disabilities if not death, but to Cockburn. polio incidence is less with unsafe water or sanitation.

Unlike polio, pandemics usually attack the poor and disadvantaged, evident in varying Covid-19 death rates. Australians fancy an egalitarianism, which the virus savagely exposed after decades of neoclassical failures – not ‘days’ as the PM claimed. These mean-spirited policies also multiplied CV-19 dangers.

While Australians were relieved that governments heeded expert advice, the public policy legacies are those for which political parties are most responsible, and they are easy to separate from pandemic idiocies of D. Trump, or differently, B. Johnson.

Political blame in Australia is cast not at virus experts (luckily), but at victims of established economic policies. The first blamed included numerous people going to work ill, who had no choice in the absence of paid sick leave (or other allowances). In Menadue’s pages, experts examine those rendered destitute on temporary ‘holiday’ and student visas (rarely reported elsewhere); and those in the casual workforce, whether for lack of training or with years gaining degrees, such as casual tutors. Their work is patchy and seems to be narrowing; paid no sick leave either, some wait for months to be paid, if they are paid. Woolworths to the ABC are paying for wage theft, some grudgingly.

The same with pandemic leave now granted only to Victoria so far. Harsh labour market rules were modified momentarily to prevent CV-19 spreading. Racism also entered mostly via the gutter press and a few politicians complaining about hotel quarantine scheme operated mostly by a precarious ‘security’ workforce across Australia. Precarious work was lauded days before the pandemic, as flexible incentives (a gig) for bosses.

Most on high incentives work less and, as the public is aware, are favoured. Those few flying in from the US ski fields to spread CV-19 were politely kept from press photos, unlike two teenagers who crossed into Queensland. People could not protest the cruelties and death rates of Black Lives Matter, but Rugby is barely touched, the audience so lucrative to corporations. It also turned out that highly paid white, middle-aged male doctors were strolling through some of Sydney’s major hospitals, not bothering with masks despite (correctly strict) hospital rules for staff and patients. Class divisions have come to the fore in countless ways, as have gender divisions.

The sense of white male entitlement reeked inside the Bear-Pit when the NSW Health Minister decided to abuse the female Labor Opposition Leader. We later learned that Ms McKay’s question was well-placed: there is indeed a shortage of face masks. But the Minister’s LNP male gang joined in the hilarity of playing the person not the ball; leaving us to imagine life in the domestic sphere. Violence is across-class, but many women’s and children’s refuges were closed in NSW years ago.

Raising payments to the long pitiful Newstart, as ‘JobSeeker’ support, may reduce, and the Commonwealth’s CV-19 pre-school help was abolished first. Given the LNP Minister Dan Tehan called Shorten’s Labor programme for pre-schools ‘communistic’ it was bound to go.

If Medicare survives, just, the welfare state is threadbare, proven by so many dying in private aged care homes. This idea of PM Howard led to a disregard of Commonwealth responsibilities, confirmed in PM Morrison’s recent excuses about mere errors. The Commission claimed the alleged governing of aged care was by press releases.

Likewise, Treasurer Frydenberg’s comment about the situation being similar to the 1930s shows no knowledge of Australia’s two 1930s responses. The first, of Scullin’s and Theodore’s Labor government, raised ‘dole’ payments and started job-creating industry schemes. Anti-Labor forces brought it down, with Joseph Lyons deserting Labor. The second, Anti-Labor responses were to slash wages and refuse stimulus spending. A Royal Commission in 1938 found the Anti-Labor government prolonged the Depression and Australia reached unemployment levels close to Germany’s before the Nazis took power.

Heedless, Frydenberg extolled his neoclassical heroes. Wages and unions, gravely attacked by Reagan and Thatcher, ushered in the neoclassical return of swelling rentier groups. Those barely holding assets are in insecure positions, and the struggle for existence is increasingly desperate since the 1980s-90s.

Clichés shift inside the Commonwealth-states grab bag. The states are responsible for primary health care and education; therefore, no Premier could endure the blame for shoddy care. But now, the LNP is attacking Labor Premiers, and nearly all Commonwealth politicians behave as though federal revenue is in their exclusive (mis)control. The public is not allowed to know to where the sovereign state’s spending is directed.

CV-19 will eventually subside, but the climate disaster will not, and, in Commonwealth politics, the legacy is more spying, more military arms and policing. This harsh executive is unlikely to be stopped even though CV-19 uncovered serious tensions that union leaders stress. Those mourning and the unemployed, the young, elderly and homeless seem doomed to a parched landscape unlike the few, feckless privileged

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Jocelyn Pixley's research is on Citizenship and Employment (1993); Emotions in Finance (2004;2012), Mobile Capital, and Central Banks (2018), with CUP. She is an Honorary Professor in Sociology at Macquarie.

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