IT’S A LOCK
Victoria has locked out residents who are in NSW (except essential workers or those with compassionate exemptions) for a fortnight. Premier Daniel Andrews implied NSW’s lockdown had not gone far enough, stating that people “are not locked into Sydney, so they must be locked out of Victoria” and pointed out that Victoria “had a ring of steel around Melbourne last year” which “protected the whole country”, the Herald Sun reports. Non-essential travel is banned outside Greater Sydney at the moment, however.
In regional NSW, Orange, Cabonne, and Blayney will enter a seven-day lockdown after several new exposure sites were added, Guardian Australia says, affecting about 50,000 people. The state reported 78 cases on Tuesday — a drop on prior days’ totals — but less than half were in isolation while infectious. The SMH says mystery cases in the state are at a pandemic high not seen since March 2020 — a total of 260 people’s infections have no known source.
Meanwhile, South Australia has plunged into a rigid seven-day lockdown as of 6pm last night — stay-home orders are in place (meaning the only reasons a person can leave home is for essential work, care, shopping, exercise, and healthcare). The state has perhaps the strictest travel limits in the country: exercise must be within 2.5km of the home and only for up to 90 minutes, ABC reports. About 3000 people are in home quarantine after a fifth case was found in SA.
That means half of Australia’s population is in lockdown now, as Reuters reports. But WA Premier Mark McGowan said lockdowns are not a sustainable solution, Guardian Australia reports. “Vaccination is. It’s our best and only way out of this pandemic,” he said.
AIRS AND GRACES
Australians aren’t allowed to travel, but former finance minister Mathias Cormann has been making up some ground — or should I say air — on behalf of all of us. The Australian government paid more than $11,000 a day for Cormann to jet around Europe and South America for a month, Guardian Australia reports. The former politician was drumming up support for his successful bid to lead the OECD, with the total cost coming to an eye-watering $380,000.
Cormann was flying aboard a RAAF special-purpose aircraft, which flew to *takes a deep breath* Turkey, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, Slovenia, Luxembourg, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Austria, Hungary, France, Colombia, Sao Miguel, Chile, Mexico, Hawaii, then Canberra and home to Perth. Guardian Australia adds that the cost of the trip didn’t include accommodation.
It’s not the first time Cormann has come under scrutiny for flying via the air force. Last year Scott Morrison defended the $4000 per hour plane for Cormann’s OECD pitch, saying “he would have got COVID” flying commercial, ABC says. Cast your mind back to 2018 and you might remember Cormann booking a $37,000 solo defence force flight to lobby crossbenchers about business tax cuts.
RULES GO OUT THE WINDOW
The government is facing increasing calls to reintroduce JobKeeper, AFR says, in light of Victoria’s extended lockdown and South Australia’s new one. It comes as the Expenditure Review Committee of federal cabinet meets today to chat about income and business supports. At the moment the federal government is going halves with the states on cash payments for business and funding income support for individuals.
But not everyone is coping with the restrictions, it seems. A Brisbane man has been arrested after he escaped from a Perth quarantine hotel by scaling down from his fourth-storey window using a rope made entirely of bedsheets, Guardian Australia (via Reuters) reports. The man touched down in Perth but was told the borders were shut and was given 48 hours in a hotel to organise how to leave the state. His great escape didn’t exactly go as planned, however, and he was picked up eight hours later across town.
POTENTIAL RETURN TO AFGHANISTAN
Australia is considering going back to Afghanistan less than a month after it left. ABC reports that Foreign Minister Marise Payne is closely monitoring the resurgence of the Taliban and remained “inclined” to return, potentially stationing intelligence officers within the CIA’s Kabul headquarters.
So far, the Taliban claims to have retaken nearly 200 of the 421 districts. Some intelligence assessments have estimated that the Afghan government could fall under pressure from the Taliban in as soon as six months, The New York Times reports. If the Taliban returns, Marine General Kenneth F. McKenzie of the US Central Command said he expects “a return to medieval standards here in Afghanistan, particularly in the domain of women’s rights, human rights, [and] education”, Reuters says.
It comes just four days after Reuters said Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Danish Siddiqui, who was embedded with the Afghan special forces, was killed as the commando unit sought to recapture Spin Boldak.
ON A LIGHTER NOTE
A quick line up of good news for your Wednesday:
In Australia, 14.09% of the population over the age of 16 is fully vaccinated, while more than a third (35.71%) have received their first dose.
More women are investing during the pandemic, which is helping level the historic financial gender imbalance.
In the US, South Carolina State University has forgiven the hefty student loans of 2500 people.
Long-lost masterpieces by Mexican artist Frida Kahlo have been found.
A Filipino inventor has flown his hoverboard for two miles, setting a world record.
And a tiny tree frog less than 2cm in length had successful surgery and has been released with a full bill of health.
If that little frog can thrive against the odds, I reckon we all can. Sending strength to you all.
THEY REALLY SAID THAT?
I want to thank every Amazon employee and every Amazon customer, ’cause you guys paid for all this.
The richest man in the world, whose company has been accused of multiple labour violations, and who paid a tax rate of 0.98% as his wealth grew by $99 billion between 2014 and 2018, thanks people who funded his 10 minute trip to space.
“While carbon capture and storage is a scam that has already taken billions of taxpayer dollars and is now taking hundreds of millions of dollars more, the bigger problem is that the idea of a relatively straightforward transition to net zero is based on CCS working. And it doesn’t.
“A new analysis by West Australian journalist and former oil and gas engineer Peter Milne has exposed just how poorly Chevron’s Gorgon LNG project on Barrow Island off the WA coast has performed at its intended goal of sequestering millions of tonnes of CO2 in underground storage. Gorgon is the world’s flagship CCS project, after the CCS component of the $7.5 billion Kemper power plant in Mississippi was shut after years of failure and delays in 2017. And it has been a massive failure.”
Progressive left needs to exercise caution — banning people for their views is the road to censorship
“So our public debate isn’t going to suffer from an absence of [Katie] Hopkins’s thoughts (funny how the British keep saying how racist we are, yet if we want the real primo Holocaust-adjacent stuff, we have to import a home counties type). But we are going to suffer if we re-establish the idea — from the progressive ‘left’ — that people should be barred from entering the country simply because many people find their ideas noxious.
“Looks like this idea is going to keep coming round and round, from the progressive left. The commonly understood position on the left used to be that, free speech principles aside, we are the side that advances our cause by the circulation of ideas that question the status quo. As a response to that, for decades the right (in Labor as well as out) imposed the Western world’s most repressive censorship system on us, a vast amount of it devoted to preventing books about racism and human sexuality, especially homosexuality, from getting in — something that materially contributed to our backwardness.”
“Over the years, governments have gone to great lengths to exploit cabinet-in-confidence rules to bury damaging information. Trolleys of documents have been wheeled into cabinet rooms; rogue documents stapled to the back of cabinet papers. But the Coalition stands accused of taking things much further, creating “phantom” cabinet committees for the sole purpose of enshrining government business in secrecy.
“Cabinet committees are in the spotlight again after it was revealed the government was attempting to block the release of Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) secretary Phil Gaetjens’ report into the sports rorts by claiming it was sent to the so-called governance committee of cabinet, and therefore entitled to cabinet confidentiality. But what is the governance committee and why was the report sent there?”
READ ALL ABOUT IT
Australian Muslims look for ways to stay connected during Eid festival in lockdown (Guardian Australia)
American Airlines pulls flights into Sydney amid COVID-19 passenger caps (The Australian) ($)
How bad is the Bootleg fire? It’s generating its own weather. (The New York Times)
US forces give the nod to closer ties (The Australian) ($)
Finance power will drive PM to net zero — Paul Kelly (The Australian) ($): “The reason [Scott] Morrison must move is not primarily public opinion, or demands from energy sector investors, or moral appeals to save the planet, or even the global pressure he faces from Joe Biden and Boris Johnson — though they are all material factors. The reason Australia must move is because of the global financial power now mobilised in the climate cause.
“This power is beyond the control of any government or any public. It has no democratic legitimacy. It can make and break companies and redirect the trajectory of nations. It originates in acceptance of the science, the global climate goals and financial risks to fossil fuel investment. It is buttressed by another mega-fear: that mismanagement of climate change might destabilise the global financial system.”
Worried about AstraZeneca? Me too. The way we think about risk might be the problem — Liam Mannix (The Age, SMH): “Here’s the first problem: our brains struggle to understand risks at the extreme — either very high or very low. It’s hard to imagine what 0.00009% means, so our brains think ‘very low risk’, when the risk is actually much smaller than that.
“Another mental shortcut: the availability heuristic. Here’s how it works. The brain calculates probability and risk, it seems, by trying to bring to mind how many examples of a thing it can think of. The easier an idea, thought, or risk is to bring to mind, the more weight the brain gives it. If we are comparing two risks, our brains will increase the likelihood of the one that comes to mind first. This might have been a good way for our ancestors to judge the risks of getting eaten by a lion. It is less useful now, in part because it is so strongly affected by media coverage.”
8 Hours a Day, 5 Days a Week Is Not Working for Us — Bryce Covert (The New York Times): “A reduction in work doesn’t have to mean a reduction in anyone’s living standards. In 1930, in the midst of the Great Depression, John Maynard Keynes predicted that by 2030, we would need to work only 15 hours a week. Technological advances and increasing productivity and prosperity would mean we could have everything we needed by doing less. But while Keynes underestimated the jump in technology and wealth we would experience in the intervening years, instead of working less, we’re working harder than ever.
“That doesn’t mean we’re producing more. There’s a point at which we simply cannot squeeze any more useful work out of ourselves, no matter how many more hours we put in. Studies show workers’ output falls sharply after about 48 hours a week, and those who put in more than 55 hours a week perform worse than those who put in a typical 9 to 5. Even during the pandemic, as work hours shot up, output stayed flat, which means productivity actually fell.”
HOLD THE FRONT PAGE
WHAT’S ON TODAY
Independent Senator Rex Patrick speaks on federal integrity and accountability in an Australia Institute webinar called “Keeping the Bastards Honest”.
NSW Liberal MP Kevin Conolly joins anti-euthanasia campaigners Alex Schadenberg and John Whitehall in a webinar called “The ‘No’ Case for Euthanasia and Voluntary Assisted Dying in NSW”.
A Gold Coast community event will hear the announcement of the 2032 Olympics host, with athlete interviews, live entertainment, activities for kids and competitions.
Ambassador of Thailand Khun Busadee Santipitaks will speak at a sundowner held by the Australia Thailand Business Chamber.
The University of Western Australia will host a seminar about how coastal communities can prepare and adapt for the challenges of global warming.