It removes from our streets and parks the most visible symbol of our COVID winter, signalling that although the pandemic still rages in Europe and America and future outbreaks are likely, we are where we want to be at the end of this wretched year.
It puts an end to the silliest of culture skirmishes – thankfully it never quite reached the stage of warfare here – about whether mandating masks outside was a reasonable public health precaution or an elastic strapped conspiracy against freedom.
It scraps the COVID restriction of weakest efficacy and re-focuses the public health response where we know the risk of viral spread is greatest: in hospitals and nursing homes, at family gatherings and in confined, indoor public spaces.
Since July 22 in Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire and August 2 across the rest of Victoria, it has been mandatory to wear a mask outdoors. Anyone caught not wearing one, whether they were walking a deserted street or through empty parkland, could be fined $200.
It is unclear whether, in all that time, the wearing of masks outdoors prevented the spread of a single COVID case. Victorian Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton cannot say how many of the state’s 20,000 cases were transmitted outside or indeed, if any were.
“We have got very strong suspicions that the vast majority of our transmission has been within households and within workplaces,’’ he said. “We don’t have many examples of outdoor transmission and where it has been picked up, where there have been people in contact outdoors, they have also been in contact indoors.’’
Yet, despite the absence of data supporting the use of masks outdoors, they became an article of faith in Victoria’s response to its second wave.
The new regime, which comes into force on midnight Sunday, takes Victoria away from what public health expert Nathan Grills, an associate professor at the University of Melbourne’s School of Population and Global Health, calls “dumb masking’’ – a broader-than-necessary provision supported by neither epidemiology nor layman’s logic.
Epidemiologist and infectious disease experts such as Deakin University’s Catherine Bennett and Australian National University’s Peter Collignon have both argued that, given the negligible risk of contracting the virus from someone in the open air if you keep your distance from other people, the wearing of masks in those circumstances served no public health purpose.
In the UK, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies advises against the “excessive measure’’ of mandating their use outdoors. “It is critical that recommendations are seen to be based on the science and proportionate,’’ the group notes.
Professor Sutton and Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews took the view that, however small the risk of outdoor transmission, it was not a big ask for people to wear a mask to mitigate it. The inconvenience of wearing a mask when walking the dog seemed trifling compared to economic, social and educational disruption caused by Victoria’s other COVID restrictions.
Victoria is now moving into line with jurisdictions like California, where masks are mandatory indoors but outside only when social distancing is not possible. Masks must still be carried outside in case the need arises.
For anyone uncertain about when to wear one, Mr Andrews offered a Bunnings analogy complete with “sausage rule’’: you must wear one inside the store, you don’t have to wear one in the parking lot but, if you get stuck in a queue for a snag, please put one on.
“Common sense drives this,’’ Mr Andrews said. “If you are outside in the open air and you believe you can keep your distance from people then you don’t need to wear it.”
Having gone three weeks without a new confirmed case, Victoria is on the brink of COVID normal. Professor Sutton believes all community transmission of the virus has ceased. The Premier flagged Christmas day gatherings of up to 30 people, a gradual return to the office and greater patronage for restaurants, cafes and pubs.
For many of us, the greatest returned pleasure is the simplest – walking outside and filling our lungs with fresh, free air.
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Chip Le Grand is The Age’s chief reporter. He writes about crime, sport and national affairs, with a particular focus on Melbourne.
People are battle weary. So many are facing mental health challenges, have lost their livelihoods, their jobs and businesses. And many are hanging on by their fingernails. So when there’s a dissonance between our freedoms and those of our neighbours, and we can’t get logical answers as to why, people feel let down. It’s a big deal for those facing a personal crisis.
People are readily able to grasp and understand risk. We apply it when crossing roads, out driving and at home. People know why we wear masks, use hand sanitiser and keep socially distant because it has been explained and makes sense. People can also easily digest straightforward data that gives a basis for a decision.
Fitness Australia collected data in NSW, since their June reopening, and found that in more than 7 million visits to more than 500 gyms, there hasn’t been one confirmed COVID-19 community transmission case to date. That’s data people can get their head around. And when decisions are made based on that data, people get it. It doesn’t have to be complicated, and when explained in a way people understand, it builds trust and confidence; something that is in short supply since the hotel quarantine debacle.
Data also shows that our health workforce and their close contacts make up the majority of daily case numbers. So why are all Victorians subject to standardised restrictions and curfew when that’s clearly not where the bulk of the risk exists?
Our provisional October 26 work restrictions state that weddings can have 10 people including the couple, witnesses and the celebrant, but a funeral can have 20. Weddings are often outside, which is safer, but funerals are nearly always inside which the government tells us is less safe. So how is this based on risk? And with weddings having a massive supply chain, that includes sole traders with little or no government support, many are on their knees.
The difficulty with the road map is that it demands blind trust, yet we have no idea what data drove which decision. And until then, we are unable to grasp why many things aren’t permitted here, yet are in NSW.
While the focus has been on the case data, we have heard little of another critical data set – job losses, business closures, financial hardship and mental health. These are all measures of the personal, social and financial cost.
When this data is not analysed side by side with COVID-19 case data, the government makes unbalanced decisions that have not factored in other critical life and death considerations. Decisions that don’t provide for a nuanced road map, developed through a risk management lens. The road map should balance competing risks to life and livelihoods and draw on Australian and international data. Data that informs and educates and gives hope while plotting a path to an open COVID-safe Victoria.
It’s the beginning of September and the start of the spring season. Or is it? Depending on where you live in Australia, it could well be the beginning of Ngoonungi or Kambarang. Or, if you live in Adelaide, you’re still seeing out the chilly Kudlila season.
There’s a whole raft of Indigenous definitions for seasons, and they might make more sense than sticking to the famous four.
Some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) communities divide the year into six weather periods and some into a mere two. The Tiwi country, off the coast of northern Australia, has three main seasons and no less than thirteen minor seasons.
“The four seasons in the Australian calendar are based on the northern hemisphere climate and do not adequately account for the diversity of weather and climate across Australia,” the Bureau of Meteorology’s ATSI community engagement coordinator Tammy Hunter told news.com.au.
“Northern Australia’s wet season does not fit in with any of these seasons.”
Ms Hunter, from the Wurundjeri community in Melbourne, said there were more than 500 Indigenous groups and each had their own cultural knowledge on the weather and climate which was specific to their location and historical experience
“Traditional culture and spirituality also play a large role in the development of Indigenous weather knowledge,” she said.
“One of the main differences between calendars of ATSI communities are that we don’t just include information about the seasons, we include changes in the local environment and make references to animals we might hunt in that season, like fishing.
“Some communities provide cultural information related to that season, for example if we hold important conferences during a particular season.”
“To the people of D’harawal country (which stretches through Sydney and into the Illawarra) during Marrai’gang, when the cries of the marrai’gang (quoll) seeking his mate can be heard, is the time when the lilly pilly fruit begins to ripen on trees. However, when the lilly-pillies start to fall, it is time to mend the old warm cloaks from the last cold season, or make new ones, and begin the yearly trek to the coastal areas,” the site states.
“This produces a far more intricate and subtle overview of Australia’s climate than the four-season European climate description.”
FIRST AND SECOND SPRING
Looking at D’harawal country we’ve just entered Ngoonungi, one of six annual weather periods.
This lasts until November and is the bridge season between Wiritjirbin, equivalent to the end of deep winter, and the warmer and wetter period of Parra,dowee leading into Christmas.
Ngoonungi is a time when bats are numerous, the waratah blooms and ceremonies take place.
For the Noongar, whose country covers south western Western Australia including Perth, we’re in the midst of Djilba, or first spring, heading towards Kambarang – second spring.
First spring brings wet days and an increase in clear nights and warm days.
Around Adelaide, we’re in the third weather period of the year – Kudlila. For the Kaurna community this roughly equates to winter despite the fact, officially speaking, spring has sprung.
THREE MAJOR SEASONS, 13 MINOR SEASONS
The Yawuru calendar of north western Western Australia has six seasons. These are characterised as: wet, hot, dry, cold, getting warmer and hot with build-up. We’re currently in Wirlburu which is when the days and nights begin to warm.
“For the Tiwi community, it’s currently Tyari season known for its heat and high humidity,” said Ms Hunter.
“But the Tiwi community also makes reference to 13 minor seasons and June to September is also known as Pumutingari, a season when the wind flakes the skin.”
Many of the seasons kick off not on a certain date, but rather due to observations of the land and the creatures upon it. So, the next minor season in the Tiwis will be Milikitorinari and that will start when the soles of your feet are burnt by the hot ground.
A later season is characterised by muddy possum tracks after they go foraging at night in the rain.
The BOM notes that for the Walabunnba people the call of some birds signals the rainy season. While the flowering of certain plants is often a sign the weather is changing.
European seasons can seem quite different to this, with their rigid start and finish dates whatever the weather or conditions may be at the time.
However the North American term for autumn – fall – is so named because the season after summer was when the leaves fell from the trees.
Given native trees in Australia are mostly evergreens and so the leaves don’t fall at a certain point, this is another sign that the established seasons don’t necessarily marry so well with our climate.
It isn’t just Indigenous Australia that eschews the more usual seasons. In the Hindu calendar there are six seasons with winter split into and early and late and an additional monsoon season. Spring is known as Vasanta.
So enjoy Ngoonungi and Kambarang. Or if you’re in Katherine in the build up to the wet it’s Jungalk. And if you’re in and around the Grampians of Victoria and the bush has burst into life and the weather is tempestuous as the days warm, welcome to Petyan.
So to get us out of stage four safely and in a way that Victorians will readily accept, risk controls must be specific, not generalised. A general approach that scoops everyone up in the same net is not sustainable, has vast costs and curbs liberties disproportionately. Risk controls need to be strong where we need them most, and less intrusive where we don’t. Otherwise, we’re cracking nuts with sledgehammers, increasing the chance of people not complying, and anger bubbling over to civil unrest.
Data and experience have shown where COVID-19 consequences are highest. We know seniors and those with chronic disease or compromised immune systems are most at risk. So it makes sense to have robust controls in place to protect them. If we can reduce the likelihood of the virus entering environments where these people live, or are being treated, by limiting visitors and being strict about who can visit, and when, we will protect our most vulnerable.
In our hospitals and aged care facilities, personal protection equipment and adherence to strict infection control protocols must remain.
Data and experience have also shown us that COVID-19 spreads quickly between those who live in close quarters and share amenities such as lifts. It’s a lot cheaper – and easier – to restrict numbers in each lift, provide hand sanitiser, and clean rails and lift buttons after each use than it is to take away personal freedoms. By cheaper, I am not just referring to the financial cost, but the cost to mental health and wellbeing. It’s sensible and proportionate.
For Victorians who are fit and healthy, the cost to livelihoods, business, jobs, and mental health means that the risk controls on personal freedoms also need to be sensible and proportionate. And trust needs to exist in the relationship between government and the people. We know that contracting COVID-19 has both short term and long term consequences, so a new COVID normal is what’s needed.
One where people can exercise for however long they want and where they can run down to the shops after 8pm. Where families and friends can see each other, albeit in fewer numbers than some would like.
Low and medium risk workplaces need to resume with their COVID risk plan in place – masks, social distancing, hand sanitiser on tap and clear directives about staying home if unwell and getting tested.
While the state government has flagged it’s currently working on a long-overdue plan to reopen business; it needs to be careful of a generalist approach. A traffic light system might sound easy, however we know many businesses don’t fit the cookie-cutter standard. Tourism and restaurants need people back, and there’s no reason that they can’t resume with directed checks and balances in place.
While hand sanitiser and social distancing are the way of the future, we will still need masks indoors in public and where social distancing can’t be assured. We know the drill and are used to it now. We need a return to community policing. Local cops know their turf, and together with our defence forces they can quickly prevent large groups congregating. We need proactive policing rather than reactive.
And if people want to ride their bike for 30 kilometres, they should be allowed. Common sense needs to return. And sensible restrictions need to be backed with education – at school, in the community, on social media and television. When people understand why, they are more likely to comply.
The conversation about how COVID risk will be managed into the future needs to start now. Not in a week, or over the next few, but now. The sooner it happens, the sooner we can get on with our lives.
Dee Ryall is a risk and governance specialist and former state member of Parliament.
Lockdown is hardly a state control ploy If federal Treasurer Frydenberg really believes that ‘‘Victorians need hope. We need to hear more about the road out, than a longer road in’’, then he has to stop pretending that the economy can be planned and opened up as if COVID-19 doesn’t exist. He is adding to the stress of many suggesting that the lockdown is a ploy by the Victorian government to exert undue control.
There can be no relaxation until the outbreak is under control, then road maps out can appear. Treasurer Frydenberg is fomenting dissatisfaction for political purposes and giving oxygen to conspiracy theorists. Attend to your own failings first and stop the dog whistling Mr Frydenberg. Graeme Thornton, Yallambie
Dealing with circumstances, not a calendar Federal and state Coalition politicians and their proxies are being disingenuous by demanding the Victorian government immediately provide a road map for COVID-19 reopening. Lifting of any restrictions is circumstance based and not date based. To be credible and to demonstrate they are not diverting attention from branch stacking and aged care failures, they must detail the circumstances under which they would ease/remove restrictions.
For instance, how many daily infections are tolerable, how many mystery infections are acceptable? Under what circumstances should schools reopen, numbers in indoor venues, which industries should reopen and how to contain any infections to these workplaces to prevent community spread and so on.
Given ‘‘ring-fencing’’ and ‘‘hotspot’’ management hasn’t seemed to have worked, they must detail if any future outbreaks should be merely managed with contact tracing, and as Scott Morrison has demanded ‘‘to hold our nerve’’ or instead impose lockdowns, new restrictions and border closures. Carlo Ursida, Kensington
Not good governance After pledging to remove red tape to facilitate business the Morrison government is now creating an extra layer of compliance by introducing legislation that can bar a ‘‘negotiation or arrangement’’ with a foreign entity that is ‘‘inconsistent with Australia’s foreign policy’’. This is aimed at China but given the government’s own inconsistent policy towards China how can this work?
The Victorian government’s Belt and Road Initiative agreement with China is now on the nose but when it was signed in 2018 cabinet ministers spoke approvingly of it. Also, in 2017 the Turnbull government signed a similar, confidential deal, with China and as recently as 2019 Morrison said his government was ‘‘neutral’’ on the BRI. These inconsistencies are a result of Morrison making foreign policy decisions based on the pressure he is under in domestic politics. If foreign policy is created on the run it can potentially fluctuate from week to week. This is inefficient and unworkable, creates unnecessary red tape and is inconsistent with good governance. Peter Martina, Warrnambool
Divergent tax moves What a difference a day, or in this case a few pages and a change in hemisphere, makes. On yesterday’s front page we have the call by an Australian business lobby group to bring forward tax cuts (that favour higher income earners) ‘‘regardless of cost’’ and, it could be added, economic benefit (‘‘Business chiefs call for faster tax cuts’’, 31/8), while a few pages later we read that ‘‘Treasury officials in Britain are planning for tax hikes to plug holes blown in public finances by the coronavirus pandemic’’ (‘‘Treasury officials ‘pushing for tax hikes’’’, 31/8). Maurice Critchley, Kenthurst, NSW
Look to the future I am 79. Though I see the risks and sadnesses of coronavirus, I would rather see our leaders looking more to the future of our children and young people, and a bit less at the vulnerability of older people. History has shown that after a recession it is the young who can’t get jobs and who suffer.
We need to keep balancing the costs of the good intentions of lockdown, of testing and developing vaccines, with the costs of the effects: the loss of jobs; the lack of mobility; the lack of real social interactions; the loss to the arts and artists; the loss of freedoms thought essential to a democracy; the loss of fullness of life.
I see the lockdown has had benefits. But this is a plea now to look to the future and be cautious and thoughtful in extending the lockdown and in spending billions on efforts which may not succeed in preventing infections. Elsa Martin, Warrandyte
Clarity on China needed Shaun Carney (‘‘China veto is clothed in doubt’’, 31/8), exposes the federal government’s illogical anti-China campaign which threatens to undermine Australia’s post-COVID economic recovery. Viewing trade and educational relationships with an economic superpower as effectively dispensable makes no sense, especially as the given rationale – China’s poor human rights record and defence manoeuvres – has not been allowed to impair relations over a number of years. Indeed, Coalition supporters with long memories will remember how Robert Menzies prospered politically in the 1950s and 1960s due, in large part, to his pragmatic willingness to forge a trading alliance with so-called ‘‘Red China’’. More latterly, the lease given to China to control the Port of Darwin makes a mockery of the Morrison government’s pretensions to have a values-based foreign policy. Clarity is needed urgently. Jon McMillan, Mount Eliza
One amazing goal Just one goal kicked in the entire third quarter of the Collingwood-Carlton game and Bruce McAvaney tells us it has been a fabulous quarter of footy. Really. The commentary these days is as bad as the modern game itself. Greg Hardy, Upper Ferntree Gully
Give women a break Jennifer Duke (‘‘Female-focused recovery stimulus package needed’’, 31/8) describes multiple disadvantages suffered by female employees even before the pandemic, including salary disparity, parental leave, earning capacity and superannuation. Women are now over-represented in the casual and part-time workers ineligible for JobKeeper. In addition, those most at risk of contracting COVID-19 include aged care workers, nurses, retail and hospitality workers, all predominantly female occupations.
As Dr Chandra Shah of Monash University also highlights (‘‘Higher education reforms are missing the point’’, 31/8), there is a lack of foresight in the federal government’s proposed higher education reforms, which are also heavily biased against women. Society needs graduates in social sciences, history, economics and languages – the very arts subjects which women favour and that the government is cutting back and increasing fees. Clarice Ballenden, North Caulfield
Education as a cost The federal government proposals to increase university fees are likely to have many unintended consequences. While Fergus Hunter (‘‘Fee changes mean years of uni debt’’, 31/8) highlights the disproportionate impact on women this additional burden will entail, there are other broader negative long-term societal impacts: the potential for the additional costs of university education to further widen existing socio-economic and gender divisions.
For the past 50 years, university education has been a democratising force, offering one pathway for low-income, low socio-economic students up and out of multi-generational poverty. In addition, the proposed government legislation proposes to cherry-pick courses they deem as ‘‘job-relevant’’ by reducing fees for particular degrees.
The proposals, if passed, will consign some students to a working life shackled by student debt, impacting more heavily on those groups already marginalised and therefore least able to overcome the increased debts. David M. Kennedy, Balwyn North
An American dependency Russell Brims (Letters, 31/8), says Morrison will be on the road to greatness as a PM if he can stop foreign interference in Australia. The problem is that the greatest interference in Australia has come from the US – occupying spying facilities at Pine Gap, basing troops in the Northern Territory, dictating our defence policy, influencing our foreign policy and our voting in the UN on issues such as Palestine/Israel, Iran and of course China.
As Shaun Carney quotes US Conservative David Frum: ‘‘The Trump government’s unstated policy manifesto … Canada, Australia and Mexico should be treated as dependencies.’’
A truly independent Australia could be a mediator in pan-Pacific tensions. If instead we continue to be a ‘‘dependency’’ of America, we will be seen as an enemy by China. That is not a great idea at all. Danny Cole, Essendon
Chesty charm The PM’s hairy-chested defiance of China is, as Shaun Carney suggests, a dangerous game. One that may lose its appeal for Australian voters if a Chinese push back begins to further damage our pandemic-weakened economy.
If our greatest ally, the US, can find a way of co-operating with one of the world’s most brutal and misogynistic regimes – Saudi Arabia – then surely, we can find a way of getting along with China when so much is at stake. Patrice McCarthy, Bendigo
Hoping for a recovery To paraphrase the annointed ‘‘saviour’’ of our economic malaise: A recession is when your neighbour loses his job. A depression is when you lose yours. A recovery is when Frydenberg loses his. Kim van den Berghe, Tolmie
Plain-speaking police How refreshing to hear Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Luke Cornelius use down to earth relatable language to describe the minuscule minority of Victorians who subscribe to idea that COVID-19 is a conspiracy theory. The Assistant Commissioner’s exasperation with the ‘‘batshit crazy tin-foil hat-wearing brigade’’ was loud and clear. For the vast majority of hand washing, socially distancing, lockdown rule-abiding Victorians, the Assistant Commissioner gave us an opportunity for a real belly laugh.
Note to politicians and others in high-public profile positions; the use of plain English with strong embellishments is very welcome. Prue Blackmore, Carlton North
Pass the parcel There has been much criticism of Australia Post’s reduction of mail deliveries but little comment on the changes to collection times from letter boxes and post offices, from 6pm to 4pm, and in some cases to 12pm. Despite the widespread use of digital technology, most businesses still post mail and, once life opens up again, it is not practical for offices to have mail ready to post by 4pm.
Assuming that the explanation for this reduction in service would be the increased demand in parcel delivery, I was surprised when three postal workers each said, ‘‘No, it means we can go home earlier.’’ So is this another cost-saving exercise? Elizabeth Douglas, Melbourne
Arts creators ignored When did the word arts, as used frequently in the media, have the definition restricted to include only theatre and music performance? What happened to painting and sculpture and all the other artforms practised by individuals? The real art is in the creation. Without the creative part, done by writers and composers and others, there would be nothing to perform. The reason for my concern is that governments who want to support ‘‘the arts’’ now seem to restrict their support to this performance concept and ignore the real artists – the creators. Owen Rye, Boolarra South
AND ANOTHER THING …
Politics Morrison, the Trump mini-me wannabe? Denis Liubinas, Blairgowrie
OK Josh, you are behaving as if you know the answer. So, why not join Victoria’s Opposition Leader and explain to Premier Andrews the direction he should be moving in? Bruce Dudon, Woodend
Fortunately, Mr Frydenberg, it is not your job to keep Victorians safe. Ruben Buttigieg, Mount Martha
Stimulating the economy by reducing the restrictions imposed by lockdowns implies that the Coalition has a cut-off figure of daily deaths which it finds acceptable. Jack Lilley, Kennington
Can’t wait to get my MADA hat. Make America Divided Again. Tony Newport, Hillwood
It seems the answer to that ‘‘meaning of life’’ question is no longer 42. It’s now gas. Ian Wilkinson, Mount Martha
Coronavirus Rob Willis (Letters, 31/8), the bottles should go in the recycle bin. Try mixing these with your newspapers, cartons from online shopping and supermarket packaging. That should shut them up. John Marks, Werribee
I blame Gil and the AFL for none of us knowing what day it is. Does anyone know what round this is and what happened to just weekend football? Linton Edwards, Ivanhoe East
I have discovered a new use for face masks. Other drivers cannot decipher what you are mouthing at them when they cut you off. David Kitchen, Violet Town
Furthermore The last question you ask anyone in Russia: What’s your poison? Bill Trestrail, St Kilda
Ahh. That familiar chant from the business lobby groups. ‘‘What do we want? Tax cuts! When do we want them? Now!’’ Robert Niall, Fitzroy North
Finally As part of a Brexit trade deal could we export Pauline Hanson as well as a ‘‘two for the price for one’’ deal? Ruth Davis, Carrum
To submit a letter to The Age, email email@example.com. Please include your home address and telephone number.
Restrictions bearable as long as numbers fall Professor Duncan Maskell (‘‘Fallout worse than virus, says uni chief’’, 21/8) deplores people commenting on matters outside their area of expertise. He then immediately moves beyond his own knowledge of infectious diseases to comment on social and economic aspects of the lockdown where his opinion has no more credibility than that of any other educated person.
We are all suffering at the moment but in general are willing to wear these galling restrictions so long as we continue to see the daily numbers fall. We have seen what can be achieved in other states and NZ. It’s not a pipe dream. Peter Barry, Marysville
Peregrine falcons provide lockdown joy How delightful to see Melbourne’s favourite birds of prey again. The peregrine falcons nesting atop 367 Collins Street are back being live-streamed on their website, with clean, new nest boxes to lay eggs and raise their chicks in. Thanks to the Victorian Peregrine Project for its work on this charismatic species. We can look forward to many hours of unmissable viewing – a lovely prospect for those in this lockdown. Here’s hoping for a successful season. Debbie Lustig, Elsternwick
Lockdown use-by date fast approaching We are an undisciplined mob. We have had it too good, as a society, over the past 70 years and are not used to sacrifice and are unwilling to accept any form of dislocation to our mollycoddled lives. It is called selfishness.
Lockdowns and self-isolation have a definite use-by date in our society and in the electorate, as a result. Any government that does not recognise this is headed for the political garbage bin. Michael J. Gamble, Belmont
Play by the rules for a quicker recovery Lockdown should go for the full, regulated period. I live in a tourist area and when the first lockdown was lifted tourists came up in their droves, disregarding all social distancing rules. It was ridiculous seeing eateries only allowing the prescribed number of people on the premises to order takeaway while waiting patrons outside all huddled together. If everyone just plays by the rules, it will end sooner. Amanda Plater, Launching Place
Immunity freeloaders Two key points need to be made about the possibility of mandatory vaccination should a coronavirus vaccine become available. Yes, all vaccines carry the possibility of some side effects, usually very minor. It must be noted that herd immunity against any infectious disease has only ever been achieved through vaccination. Those refusing vaccination are therefore freeloaders who rely on others taking the very tiny risk in order to protect them and the community.
It is not that long ago that travel to most countries required one to carry a vaccination certificate. The vaccines required depended on the country one wished to visit. No vaccine, no entry. It was as simple as that and was an accepted aspect of international travel. Emeritus Professor Ben Adler, Department of Microbiology, Monash University
Mental health support I support Lesley Osenieks’ (Letters, 21/8) advocating for government-funded community mental health services, staffed by multidisciplinary teams. As a solo private provider, I have long seen the necessity for such a program – and advocated it.
There are in our community many people who struggle to maintain medication and form healthy long-lasting relationships, and who fall into all sorts of strife because of this. Although Better Access is not designed for nor sufficient for this demographic, they are frequently referred under it for lack of any alternative. The proposed community mental health centres could be the answer as long as they are adequately funded to attract and retain quality staff.
The NDIS offers another glimpse of hope, but getting the process rolling depends on considerable pro bono work on the part of solo providers who are often not consulted. An expansion of the Local Area Co-ordination Services’ capacity to handle these applications would be welcome, with the assessments being carried out by mental health professionals. Charlotte Brewer, accredited mental health social worker
Vehicle emission levels Would it not be a greater help to clean up the air if the federal government introduced a vehicle emissions standard, which has been studied for years? Instead it has been sitting on its hands. David Robertson, Wheatsheaf
Ban fruit stickers Stickers on fruit are not biodegradable. An apple is an apple and we know what an avocado is. Signage above fruit indicating variety means individual stickers are unnecessary. We learnt to live without plastic bags, so let’s petition for a ban on these bits of rubbish that cannot be composted. Joan Logan, South Melbourne
Trouble was brewing While I have sympathy for Dianne Posthuma (Letters, 22/8) and her daughter who is having trouble returning from the UK, I cannot help but wonder why she did not return in late March when the government issued advice for Australians overseas to return immediately, or as soon as possible.
Our son also had a two-year UK work visa due to expire in November. He had a good job and accommodation, and plenty more travel plans. Due to the advice being issued by DFAT, which included statements such as ‘‘DFAT is warning travellers they may not be able to return home at a later stage’’, and under some pressure from us, he reluctantly returned eight months early. At the same time Qantas and Jetstar announced they were slashing international capacity by 80 per cent. Surely one could foretell some trouble brewing. Amanda Nix, Montrose
Denials seem arbitrary I am not against someone like Jost Stollmann (‘‘Exemption given to pick up yacht’’, 23/8) receiving permission to travel to, among other things, pick up his luxury yacht that he will live on until he can return home. A perfectly reasonable thing to do and affects no one except himself. However, the seemingly arbitrary denials for others whose cases are at least as compelling, if not more so, make it appear that there are different rules for the wealthy or well-connected people. I feel for all those people who have been denied perfectly reasonable requests who have missed out on significant events in their lives at the whim of some bureaucrat. Alan Inchley, Frankston
Crowds of tourists With the crowds of tourists driving to Stanley and Beechworth at the weekend to ‘‘see the snow’’ (hardly essential travel) can someone explain why I should still wear a mask to walk up to the shops here? Mick Webster, Chiltern
Pass the parcel I have been waiting for a parcel in recent days, got the usual text, it’s on the way, then it is going to be delivered tomorrow, make sure someone is home. Then I got, ‘‘no one was home’’ (I was) ‘‘your item was delivered to the Mount Hutton LPO, please pick up there’’. Mount Hutton is 827.3 kilometres from Violet Town in another state. I am eagerly awaiting the usual ‘‘how did we do?’’ email. David Kitchen, Violet Town
Minister unprepared Commonwealth Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck’s stumbling inability to answer basic questions on aged care deaths from the Senate select committee, raises questions about either his competence and/or whether his department or staff prepared him adequately for his committee appearance. Either way the result was yet another case of poor public administration by both federal and state governments. Thomas Hogg, East Melbourne
Hats off to AFL What an absolute delight the Doug Nicholls Round has been. I ‘‘dips my lid’’ to all involved. One could be forgiven for thinking this special day would be the lesser given the COVID-19 pandemic. Not so. I, like so many non-Indigenous Australians, have been swept up in this fabulous weekend (the atmosphere at those Northern Territory games was electric. The Indigenous AFL programs enhance a sense of optimism that continues to build. Noel Butterfield, Montmorency
Bold deal required Adam Bandt is right to call on Labor to join together to fight climate change (‘‘Bandt calls for opposition pact on climate action’’, 21/8). According to the Department of Environment and Energy, Australia’s emissions fell under the Labor/Greens deal. Since then, under the Coalition, emissions have risen at more than 1per cent a year and continue to rise. The strong majority of Australians, including a majority of Coalition voters, want action on climate change. Like the struggle to overcome COVID-19, combating climate change requires a united front. A bold new deal involving all political parties is required. Ray Peck, Hawthorn
Solid-fuel ban welcome I hope Bayside City Council adopts its proposed outdoor solid-fuel burn ban (‘‘Council grilled over BBQ ban’’, 16/8). Others should follow. Much wood sold for barbecues and pizza ovens is actually much-needed native forest. VicForests have a licence to sell 26,500 tonnes of Gippsland eucalyptus forest, including mountain ash, alpine ash, messmate and shining gum, for firewood. This forest survived the summer’s megafires and is a refuge for animals. Moreover, as the Victorian government receives public submissions on the loss of biodiversity and ecosystems decline in Victoria its agency, VicForests, is hard at work accelerating that decline. Lawrence Pope, president, Friends of Bats and Bushcare Inc.
Hygienic borrowers Thanks for the article on privately run hygienic libraries (‘‘Quirky old sign a precursor to today’s fear’’, 21/8). As children, we would occasionally open a book to find the stamp of the Western Hygienic Library, which my grandparents had run from their newsagency in West Brunswick. In the 1960s the worry over books transmitting diseases was all but eliminated and we borrowed from municipal libraries. However, your article reminded us that things were not always that way. Clare Gleeson, Prahran
Economic reset lost A chorus of calls to increase the immigration rate (‘‘Call for new policies to attract skilled migrants’’, 22/8), represents an opportunity lost, to reset economic policy coming out of the pandemic. Having seen the results of excessive immigration levels in capital cities already, such as transport congestion, stretched services and defective construction, hitting the resume button on high immigration seems a lazy response lacking in vision.
The pandemic coupled with recent trade tensions, have highlighted our over-reliance on essential imported goods. Accordingly, focus should turn to sovereign manufacturing capacity, which can also provide both security of supply and economic stimulus in the years ahead. Mathew Knight, Malvern East
Fossil fuel shadow lingers Yes, Peter Hartcher (‘‘A drain on the nation’s energy’’, 22/8), the Liberal Party, which boasts at every election it is the best manager of the economy, has, since Tony Abbott’s accession, drained our economy of energy – literally and figuratively. In the face of a tremendous opportunity to build the infrastructure and industries that will prosper in a sustainable future, its governments have stood with the vested interests of the fossil fuel industry – ‘‘defending Blockbuster in a Netflix world’’.
Even now, when the opportunity beckons brighter than ever, and the shadow of fossil fuels fades globally, the government’s approach has been to pick a National COVID-19 Commission panel filled with gas industry executives to plan a future based on gas. Never has the pernicious influence of vested interest been seen so clearly. Christopher Young, Surrey Hills
AND ANOTHER THING …
Coronavirus Morrison’s defence of Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck is almost as concerning as the failings of the minister. Annie Wilson, Inverloch
So … masks don’t protect you if you’re a singer? Pete Sands, Monbulk
Would Peter Rushen (Letters, 22/8) care to put a number on how many COVID-19 deaths are required for a catastrophic consequence? Rob Warren, Ivanhoe
Could we refrain from referring to recycling labels as a ‘‘dog’s breakfast’’ (20/8). My dog’s breakfast is readily identifiable and consumer friendly. Jim Pilmer, Camberwell
Where is Zits and why is there a mundane 10-year old cartoon in place of it? Unacceptable. Brian Kidd, Mount Waverley
The Prime Minister’s position on a vaccine is perfectly clear – it will be mandatory but not compulsory. Denny Meadows, Hawthorn
It ain’t easy being Albanese with Joel on a roll over coal. David Jones, Essendon
I knew there was a Divided States of America but now we have the Divided States of Australia. Lyn Mitchell, Black Rock
Now I know why we have a minister at both federal and state level overseeing the same thing, as in health. So when things go wrong they can point the finger at each other. Gerry Lonergan, Reservoir
Tomorrow I’m starting to prepare for stage five lockdown. I’m staying in bed for the whole day. Tony O’Brien, South Melbourne
Exemptions to travel restrictions, and quarantine rules, seem to be more about who you are and who you know, than what your reason might be. Marie Nash, Balwyn
Sir Humphrey Appleby once said that secrecy must surround the actions of ministers to protect them from their own stupidity. Ian Powell, Glen Waverley
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It’s time to rip the Band-Aid off. It’s going to hurt, a lot. The inevitable decision to move the AFL grand final from the MCG to another state is expected to be announced soon. For Victorians who relinquished any chance of seeing live football this season when the second surge of COVID-19 cases struck, grand final week is going to be much diminished, despite assurances the public holiday will stay.
It won’t be the first time the premiership cup has not been raised at the MCG. Having first been played at the ground in 1902, the grand final had to be relocated during World War II while the MCG was used for military purposes, and in 1991, when the game was played at the now defunct VFL Park in Mulgrave while the MCG was upgraded. But leaving the state is another matter.
Already, there has been no shortage of jockeying from other states trying to host this year’s final contest. While it is considered a formality, the MCG and Premier Daniel Andrews will first have to give the move the thumbs up. The grand final is contracted to the MCG until 2057 in a deal that included the Victorian government after it agreed to kick in substantial funding to upgrade Marvel Stadium.
But Mr Andrews was not offering up much hope when asked how Victoria might look in October, when the final will be played: “Trying to predict [virus] numbers a day in advance, let alone what’s happening mid-to-late October, is very, very challenging,” he said.
Given some of these are a steal at over $300,000 drive-away, I can only assume the guilty, or is that guilt-edged, driver, airily assumed all of us have the price of one-bedder in Hornsby stuffed in our back pocket to cover “eventualities”. Or they are selfish, sneaky sociopaths. It is one of the other!
Spend enough time on local community forums and you will see many similar stories indicating that these minor hit and run events are sadly commonplace. Some even go through an elaborate spectacle of writing a note with false contact details for the benefit of community-minded onlookers.
At the risk of falling into the trap of donning the spectacles with a pinkish hue, I am tempted to see this transgression through the lens of individualism. Never in the history of mankind, well at least since the 1980s, have we been so thoroughly preoccupied with the self. In the PC world (pre-COVID), we were increasingly living alone. The ABS project an increase of between 35 per cent and 53 per cent in those living alone in 2041 compared to 2016.
We are increasingly encouraged in careers to follow our passion and to focus on our goals. We are increasingly subjected to performance evaluations where we are encouraged to focus on and exaggerate our personal contributions. We are increasingly hearing about “personal truths” – which are held to be incontrovertible and preferable to those unfashionable universal truths.
Work is no longer social contribution. It is, at best, social exchange, and with everybody encouraged to get the best of the deal. Currently the greater good appears to be struggling against “my rights”, “my freedoms” and that popular funeral send-off “my way”.
Sure, humans have always exhibited selfish tendencies. For instance, if we go back to 1980, the term NIMBY “not in my back yard” first appeared in a newspaper. Perhaps that was an early sign of what was to come in the 1980s, the decade that I think has sowed the seeds of much of this behaviour.
Collectively and currently we seem to value individual contributions to such an extent, that we forget that not everything that makes for a good life can be achieved alone, and when we come together in groups, teams, and communities great things can be achieved. So let us join together and find the bastard that damaged my car!
Jim Bright, FAPS is Professor of Career Education and Development at ACU and owns Bright and Associates, a Career Management Consultancy. Email to email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @DrJimBright
Why should we all have to suffer? Is the cost of saving some very old people in poorly run (government-monitored) aged care facilities really worth the enormous economic and human costs to the majority of Melburnians? Focus stage four restrictions on problem suburbs first and allow the others to keep going in stage three. Our society simply cannot afford higher unemployment, the unnecessary destruction of business, the increased levels of family violence, more cases of poor mental health and other intangible costs from applying stage four to suburbs where there are no hotspots. Tony Danino, Wheelers Hill
The loss of liberty needs serious debate We have reached a truly momentous point. All Victorians should take pause to consider the gravity of the latest move by the government. The declaration of a state of disaster and a nightly curfew with less than 24 hours’ notice is a paradigm shift in the restriction of civil liberties. Preventing community transmission in areas of high prevalence by proven PPE practice works for the community. The more extreme measures announced on Sunday do not. Clamping down on the fundamental liberty of freedom of movement, and all the as-yet-unexplored implications of the state of disaster, cannot protect us sufficiently to outweigh the freedoms we thereby lose, nor those we permit ourselves by our silence to lose in the future. Michael Puck, Maffra
Staffing inadequate Sean Kelly (‘‘PM avoids focus at critical time’’, 3/8) accurately notes Scott Morrison’s adept avoidance of political scrutiny, particularly in relation to Residential Aged Care Facilities (RACFs) for which the Commonwealth assumes responsibility for policy, funding and staffing. Recent research published in The Medical Journal of Australia concluded that compared with international staffing benchmarks, Australia’s RACFs meet none of the minimum criteria for adequate staffing. While Morrison has been Prime Minister for two years, this crisis has been more than 20 years in the making. The decline began with staffing, and particularly nursing staffing, following the Howard government’s passing of the 1997 Aged Care Act. Michael Faulkner, Toora
Nimble without protection Letter writers mourn the loss of protectionism, as if local PPE manufacturers would have been ready with enormous stockpiles of gear for an unforeseen once-in-a-century event. Privatisation gets bagged while our privatised telecommunications networks support mass work and school from home. Privatised airlines fund grounded fleets of the latest planes at private not public cost and risk. Level crossing removals are making road trips safer and quicker with money from the sale of the Port of Melbourne. The reforms of the Hawke-Keating, Kennett and Andrews governments made us stronger and better placed to face the current challenges. Andrew McLorinan, Hampton
Mental health lost Short, medium and long-term mental health impacts resulting directly from our response to COVID-19 are being lost in the hype about daily case numbers. A University of Sydney Brain and Mind Centre report gave sobering projections that death from suicide will rise 20-30 per cent over the next five years. The consensus from my discussions with many clinicians is that a doubling of the suicide rate is far more likely. This would mean more than 3000 additional deaths each year. Perhaps if we perversely reported suicide rates – both attempts and deaths – daily as we are doing for COVID-19 people may feel it is an issue worth considering in our COVID-19 response. Michael Saxon, Essendon West
Wave away federalism While there have been mistakes made, especially around hotel quarantining, the PM’s recent reference to the ‘‘Victorian wave’’ as opposed to a second wave of infection sounds like he’s taken a leaf out of the US President’s ‘‘Handbook of Obfuscation’’. This unsubtle critique of the Victorian government’s handling of the pandemic undermines the concept of federalism and the need to all work together. The disaster that’s happening in aged care is a federal responsibility and the source of the majority of deaths. It is now obvious that a combination of the casualisation of labour along with the ‘‘right wing’’ belief that farming out of what was once government responsibility to private industry are unmitigated disasters. The virus has clearly demonstrated that these long-held ideologies of the nebulous concept of ‘‘trickle down economics’’ do not work. This is foremost a health crisis and unless we deal with this head-on we will not have any sort of economic recovery. David Conolly, Brighton
Lack of rigour showing There is much talk about private versus nationalised ownership. This discussion centres on if it’s privately owned it’s bad and if it is nationalised it is good for the public. This is strange because both systems are just a group of people that supply a product to the public, both have a management system that entails intelligence and planning to succeed. We constantly see business fail in specific projects but we also see government fail in processes that they undertake. All this shows that poor planning and thinking, together with lack of oversight and accountability by both sides brings failure, one is not better than the other. The main failure here is that Australia shows a lack of rigour in its systems of producing quality people to manage our systems of society. Roger Wolfe, Balwyn
In search of a big idea I’d like to ask why all the money and effort is being spent to fix this COVID-19 mess, and none was spent on prevention? We had months of ‘‘hindsight’’ watching things unfold in Wuhan and Milan. This gave Australia the chance to create effective communications. And we blew it. It is obvious that for COVID-19 we needed a great communications campaign. We needed a Life. Be In It to cajole us into the right behaviour, and an AIDS Grim Reaper campaign to terrify us out of the wrong behaviour. Advertising has few virtues, but it has mastered the art of communications. We need an emotional narrative to move us all in the same direction. Especially in times of crisis. We need to be touched by a message. Not ordered about, or threatened, or bored to death with polly-speak. Professional, experienced creative communication is what’s needed here, and fast. Maree Coote, Port Melbourne
Hurtling to danger I used to be a jogger myself. A good run can take you out of your everyday consciousness: all breath, muscle and feet. I go for walks instead but it’s not quite the same. That detached running consciousness, however, is becoming a menace to slower pedestrians. There are too many runners who seem to think they own the middle of the footpath. They sprint up from behind and brush past without any attempt at distancing, or they hurtle round corners without a clear view of whoever is on the other side, and they breathe all over slower walkers, unmasked. Is it time to ask joggers to wear masks like the rest of us, and keep a sensible distance from walkers? Caroline Williamson, Brunswick
Premier’s ‘I’ messaging What is Premier Andrews expecting to achieve by repeatedly referring to the stage four details as ‘‘decisions I have taken’’? He is not a dictator with unilateral decision-making powers, he is the political leader of a team, including experts that are making the decisions and overseeing their implementation. Not a good look. Please revert to using ‘‘we’’ rather than ‘‘I’’ Mr Andrews. Tony Beach, Williamstown
Deuced due diligence To use his own words, Nathan Buckley not only failed to do the ‘‘due diligence’’ on coronavirus protocols by playing tennis with Alicia Molik, but he had his homework stolen by Justin Longmuir who provided an object lesson in coaching against Collingwood. John James, Claremont, WA
Dread hangs over us Because of the strain placed on aged care due to the spread of the virus, my mum a registered nurse working in a pandemic response agency, went into a home, worked one day, and contracted the virus from a contaminated surface. She is an experienced nurse but was so run off her feet, she did not have time to wipe the surface down. She resigned the next day because her messages about better PPE distribution and better rostering were not getting through. We are now locked in a strange battle, one where a sense of dread hangs over you without any reprieve. Mum’s an asthmatic which is frightening enough, and dad and I spent eight days with her leading up to her positive result.
It is the finer details of the numbers that is frightening for those locked in this battle. It is these small, but significant details that the numbers cannot truly express. For each positive case the psychological struggle, not just for the individual but for the families and friends is one of dread and frightful unknowns. For those who lose loved ones the pain is immense. The suddenness of this agony exacerbated by not being able to hold a proper funeral.
Behind each number, is a story, a psychological and physical battle with a virus that behaves however it chooses. We cannot yet cure it and we cannot yet vaccinate against it, but we can cut it at the source. Joe Molony, Hawthorn East
Betting bonanza Almost a third of Victoria’s sports betters are men aged 18-24 who’ve grown up believing footy and gambling are intrinsically linked. Last year, Australia’s gambling industry spent $232 million on ads, excluding sponsorships and in-program content. Ads that create unrealistic expectations and encourage people to think betting is normal. For many of us, the AFL fixture ‘‘bonanza’’ represents a bright light during a difficult time. For bookmakers, though, it’s an opportunity to make up for ‘‘lost’’ revenue. Sports betting ads targeting young men dominate the airwaves after 8.30pm – but let’s not kid ourselves, they’re also being consumed by children. Victoria’s 10 AFL clubs have made a commitment to say no to sports betting sponsorship and to limit the exposure of young people to this risky activity. I urge the community to get behind them – to love the game, not the odds. Shane Lucas, CEO, Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation
I’ll keep the mask on Dr Nicola Doyle (Letters, 3/8) references the work of Professor Michael Levitt modelling Chinese data. That was an age ago in the life of this epidemic and in our understanding of COVID-19. His later predictions about the behaviour of the virus have not been accurate, particularly in predicting the course of the pandemic in the US. It is now apparent how easily the virus spreads and that death is not its only consequence, with multiple organ damage and long-term poor health across all age groups. The burden on health systems through weight of numbers and prolonged stays in intensive care have tested health systems. It is much better if we don’t catch it and the only way to prevent it spreading is to limit its opportunities to infect us. So for now I prefer to wear a mask and take the advice of Australia’s epidemiologists and public health doctors as I have no wish to die or become a burden on my hospital colleagues. Dr Brian Cole, Bendigo
AND ANOTHER THING …
Coronavirus I’ve been stoically following lockdown rules but I’m starting to have flashbacks to schoolrooms in the ’60s, when the whole class was kept in at lunchtime, due to the misdemeanours of a recalcitrant few. Patsy Sanaghan, North Geelong
Trying to put a positive spin on ‘‘lockdown’’, does ‘‘lockup’’ sound better? I don’t think so. It sounds the same to me. Jo Prendergast, Sandringham
I feel immensely proud to see my community abiding by the rules and wearing masks. Take a bow everyone. Dee McLarty, Eagle Point
Stage four has come too late. It seems that without the footy in Melbourne, the Government has taken its eye off the ball. Peta Colebatch, Swan Reach
During stage three, I did my shopping and exercising in my own suburb. This new 5-kilometre circle of stage four has greatly extended my range. Thanks. Ralph M. Bohmer, St Kilda West
If ‘‘paid pandemic leave’’ is a bridge too far, perhaps our leaders might augment the suite with ‘‘health seeker’’ or ‘‘health keeper’’ payments, so unwell people can stay home and not be financially penalised. Laurine Hurley, Northcote
Could we please, please, please stop hearing from Michael O’Brien? Duncan Reid, Flemington
Having lost his persuasive skills due to people’s mistrust, Daniel Andrews is now using coercive powers to exercise control over Victorians. This is the real ‘‘state of disaster’’. Mario Moldoveanu, Frankston
Go you good thing Daniel Andrews and the Victorian government. Let’s hope we all now do the right thing. Kevin Mulvogue, Mount Evelyn
How will the limit of only one hour’s exercise a day be policed? Will cops be able to demand our Fitbit data? Georgina Davidson, Brunswick East
Finally It seems like it’s time for an anti-privatisation political movement (Letters, 3/8). Bill O’Connor, Beechworth
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Exactly how many more times do Victorians and other Australians have to learn that a seemingly corrosive culture has infested the Labor Party? How many more times are they expected to accept that a solution to the erosion of one of our most important democratic processes, the running of political parties, can be found by appointing former members of the same party to conduct an internal review?
The current culture-driven scandal besetting the Victorian Labor Party, and now spilling into federal Labor, is to be investigated by two highly respected former MPs. Former premier Steve Bracks and former federal minister Jenny Macklin have been appointed as administrators and will conduct a review.
I am not suggesting that these senior members of the party do not have the skills needed to undertake a review. Nor am I questioning that Bracks or Macklin exhibit anything but the highest ethical standards. I acknowledge the positive contribution both have made to Australian politics over many years. But I am suggesting, and strongly, that an internal review, conducted by people who have been members of the same party they are reviewing, creates a strong sense of Caesar judging Caesar.
Where are the sorely needed independent eyes? Where are the independent voices that could be trusted to join Bracks and Macklin in casting a highly critical eye over what is a mess? The mess has been created by party members more interested in accumulating power and exercising control than ensuring the important role parties play in Australia’s democratic processes are not grossly abused.