Sunday, March 29, 2020

Voting in Queensland. What are the challenges of holding elections in the midst of a coronavirus pandemic?

I observed early voting on Friday and saw long well-spaced queues being supervised by a cheerful electoral officer. 

On Saturday morning, on the main day to vote, one might have expected bigger queues but that is not what I encountered.  Where it was very busy last time, there were no queues at all

There were none of the usual leaflets handed out but there was plenty of signage so that was no problem.  That would certainly have reduced the litter problem

I got my hands sprayed with sanitizer and I used the pencil supplied to mark my ballot paper.

The big miss is that there were no charity stalls cooking sausages.  Election sausages are an appreciated part of Australian elections and, being something of a sausage freak, I certainly missed them.

There are as yet no figures on the turnout to vote but despite compulsory voting, turnout at municipal elections is always well down. From what I saw, it would have been really down in this election.  A lot of people probably saw coronavirus restrictions as a good excuse to skip voting this time.

Countries around the globe have postponed elections due to the coronavirus pandemic but in Queensland, top officials say you are more at risk in the supermarket aisle than the polling booth.

The State Government is pushing ahead with Saturday's planned local government elections and two state by-elections on the advice of its chief health officer.

Authorities said measures like physical distancing, plus a record number of pre-poll and postal votes, meant the risk was low compared to other day-to-day activities like grocery shopping.

The Electoral Commissioner flagged State Emergency Service (SES) volunteers could even be called upon to help maintain physical distancing at the booths during "these extraordinary times".

But the move to go ahead with the elections has baffled some doctors and scientists in the community who believe it is a gathering "we shouldn't have" and is inconsistent with other messages to stay home.

Hygiene concerns have also seen three Brisbane Catholic schools decide to pull out as polling booth venues.

There are around 3.3 million eligible voters across Queensland.

As of 6:30pm Thursday, more than 1 million people had cast their vote early, on top of another 570,000 who registered for a postal vote.

According to Queensland's chief health officer Jeannette Young, there is no risk in going to vote tomorrow with the safety measures in place.

The Electoral Commission Queensland (ECQ) is telling people to bring their own pen or pencil and stand 1.5 metres from others, while how-to-vote cards or election material won't be handed out.

Its website said hand sanitiser would be provided "where available" for voters and polling officials, and there would be extra cleaning to ensure surfaces were regularly disinfected.


Coronavirus: Coles, Woolworths shelves fuller as customers reduce stockpiling

When I was in my local Woolworhs yesterday morning there was plenty of toilet paper on display and nobody hovering around

Panic buying is stripping the shelves of supermarkets and pharmacies with new drastic measures brought in to meet demands.

It would be a stretch to suggest supermarket shelves are back to normal levels, but the big players have said stock is flowing in plugging some of the gaps seen in the last few weeks following an outbreak of hoarding.

Woolworths chief executive officer Brad Banducci told ABC Radio today that, “I’d never thought I’d see the day where I thanked people for not buying things from us.”

Customers continued to purchase at “elevated levels” but the pandemic stocking up was going down which should lead to a dramatic improvement in store.

The Woolies boss said he was also hopeful online delivery, which has seen a surge in demand but has faced huge delays, should run more smoothly from next week.

Coles has told that after “unprecedented busy times” there was more food on display.

Nonetheless, it could still be a while before stores are overflowing with toilet roll.

The stripping of some supermarket aisles has been one of the most notable reactions in Australia to the coronavirus pandemic.

The scenes were repeated in the US, Hong Kong and UK but in other countries, including the COVID-19 epicentre of Italy, the shelves have remained stocked.

Woolworths, IGA, Coles and Aldi have been forced to put strict buying limits on products across the store. First toilet paper and hand sanitiser, then pasta and rice and now almost everything in store bar fresh food, meat and drinks.

At one-point Woolworths said it was selling a week’s worth of toilet paper each day.

Social media posts have done the rounds showing Lindt bunnies and Easter eggs being move into the toilet roll aisle to fill the awkward gap. Easter confectionary is in abundance and you can gobble down as much as you want.

But recently, supermarket shelves have slowly begun to look a bit fuller.

Some IGA stores now feature pallets of pasta and tomato sauce in the middle of the store alongside massive bags of rice and flour.

The milk cabinet is stocked and eggs cartons are back in some sizes. Loaves of bread take up more space on the shelves, although often not all brands are in stock.

The supermarkets have consistently said there is no issue with supply and Australia produces three times the food it needs. The issue has been with customers buying far more than they need.

Doing the rounds on ABC TV and radio today, Woolies’ Mr Banducci said there was “plenty coming” into supermarkets

“Hopefully all of our customers are seeing every time they go into store, there is more there,” he said.

As much as ploughing more stock through the network was helping, it was also down to customers “moderating their demand” he said.

“I never thought I’d see the day where I thanked people for not buying things from us, but we do thank them so there’s enough to go around.”

A Coles spokeswoman told that its stores were in better shape as well.

“Pleasingly, after unprecedented busy times, our stores now have more stock on display for customers and there are signs that the demand is beginning to slow.”

Coles said busier shelves was due to customers pulling back from over-purchasing as well as increased numbers of staff, suppliers pumping out more products, purchase limits, reducing opening hours and the relaxation of truck curfews on local streets.


Coronavirus: It’s time for us to decide if the cure is worse than the disease

Janet Albrechtsen

In Letters to a Young Contrarian, Christopher Hitchens writes that the essence of the independent mind lies not in what it thinks but in how it thinks. It is ­intellectual curiosity that matters most. And right now we need more of this key ingredient. A healthy democracy does not die in a pandemic.

Let’s be clear. No one has the wisdom of Solomon or the prophetic powers of Apollo. But finally, this past week, many more people are publicly asking if the cure is worse than the disease. We need more of this intellectual curiosity instead of joining the cheer squad for the Morrison government or the more hysterical Canberra press bubble.

It means probing government decisions, checking herd mentalities, raising differences between expert advice, and understanding that bureaucrats advising governments about the current economic responses to COVID-19 never lose their jobs in a crisis. We should not accept medical advice as the sole source of truth either. Not only is it both contestable and contested, but doctors have a laser-like focus on medical issues and have little or no knowledge of, and sometimes not much interest in, the social, economic or cultural conse­quences of their advice.

A few weeks ago, Guardian Australia political editor Katharine Murphy wondered whether dealing with COVID-19 might be the revenge of the experts. Beware of those who assert that “experts” equal a consensus, or accepted wisdom, or settled orthodoxy. Remember Brexit? These phrases are often used by people who pretend to love a rollicking debate — but only when it suits them. On some matters, they claim consensus to shut people up.

As American intellectual Walter Lippmann once said: “Where all think alike, no one thinks very much.” And happily, not all people think alike. Consider the comments this week from newly appointed Deputy Chief Medical Officer Nick Coatsworth, an infectious diseases specialist at Canberra Hospital. In an interview on ABC radio on Thursday, Coatsworth said the effectiveness of imposing harsher rules around ­social isolation to deal with COVID-19 is “a contested point”.

Coatsworth also challenged the ABC’s message that the broadcaster’s medical reporter, Norman Swan, is the go-to guy on COVID-19. “I disagree with Norman when he thinks that this is going to be over in weeks if we go for harder and faster lockdowns,” Coatsworth said. “I don’t think they’ve thought through the impact on Australia and Australians of doing that.”

It is no bad thing to push back. John Ioannidis, a professor of medicine in epidemiology and co-director of Stanford’s Meta-­Research Innovation Centre in the US, questions the official death rate of 3.4 per cent put out by the World Health Organisation.

No one can accurately tally up unrecorded cases of COVID-19 and that single fact renders the modelling inaccurate. If the true fatality rate is closer to 1 per cent or even lower, Ioannidis says, then “locking down the world with potentially tremendous social and financial consequences may be ­totally irrational”.

Veteran left-liberal commentator Thomas Friedman also has broken from the pack about this pandemic. Writing in The New York Times this week, Friedman is asking whether the cure is worse than the disease. Friedman spoke with David Katz, founding director of Yale University’s Yale-­Griffin Prevention Research Centre in the US, who questions the current “horizontal interdiction” — basically, shutting down commerce and limiting movement by large parts of the population.

Katz posits a more surgically targeted “vertical interdiction” strategy to sequester and protect the more vulnerable after a short, sharp period of lockdown of two weeks, rather than a longer, unsustainable and economically ruinous approach that will deliver its own devastating health costs.

Katz suggests that “the rejuvenating effect on spirits, and the economy, of knowing where there’s light at the end of this tunnel would be hard to overstate”.

“Risk will not be zero,” he told Friedman, “but the risk of some bad outcome for any of us on any given day is never zero.’’

Again, none of us has the perfect set of answers. And no leader should be demonised for changing tack. US President Donald Trump wants to reopen the US economy by Easter. It may not happen, but Trump offers hope instead of the dark, uncertain and confusing ­tunnels many of us face in other countries.

It was breathtaking to hear Anthony Albanese claim this week that the Morrison government needed to avoid a tension “between dealing with the health issues and dealing with the economic issues”. Is he kidding?

Was this brazen politics or reckless stupidity? There are devastating social costs arising directly from decisions to shut down businesses and shunt away people.

If Albanese cannot grapple with that, then he has no rightful claim to be the alternative prime minister.

The tensions are immense. Poverty kills people, too. Losing your job through no fault of your own is soul-destroying. Facing extended unemployment can wreck the prospects and futures of millions of people. People and families need to know how they will pay their bills and buy food.

Government Services Minister Stuart Robert assured me on ­Sunday evening that the myGov bureaucracy was primed for huge numbers of newly unemployed Australians desperately seeking help on Monday. It had already been road-tested by the bushfire crisis, he said.

This is not a time for cockiness. The system crashed the next day under the weight of demand. I had passed on the minister’s assur­ances to try to allay the concerns of hardworking decent people who lost their jobs on Sunday night.

Can Robert imagine what it is like to stand in a long line on a pavement during a pandemic to ask for money because a job has been taken from you overnight by a decision made by government?

The next day, Robert tried to wash the egg off his face by claiming there had been a cyber hack ­attack. It wasn’t true.

Robert still has his job.

We are tearing at the social fabric of communities, shutting down footy and pubs and church ser­vices. GPs tell me of their concerns about the devastating mental health consequences of enforced social dislocation. Are we potentially creating a powder keg that we will one day rue?

Being forced into lockdown in dysfunctional and even dangerous households doesn’t bear thinking about. But we must, surely, consider all these tensions as part of every single decision made to deal with COVID-19.

A woman who lives on South Australia’s Yorke Peninsula, 165km from Adelaide, was due to have a hysterectomy in Adelaide on Thursday. On Wednesday morning, she was told all elective surgeries were cancelled, effective immediately because of government directives. Early Wednesday afternoon, she was told her surgery would go ahead after a change to the rules. Later that day, she was told it was cancelled again. Her distress is immense.

At another Adelaide hospital, a nurse went to work on Monday, only to be told to stay home the next day because of new self-­isolation rules that applied to her after a trip to Sydney on the weekend. On Tuesday, she was asked to come to work after all. She was told that the rules about self-isolation applied only to people arriving after Tuesday 11am.

This confusion is across industries, across the country.

To be sure, leaders are doing their best in the most frightful circumstances. As the Prime Minister spoke to the nation on Tuesday evening following a meeting of the national cabinet, who could imagine telling the country that a ­funeral must have no more than 10 mourners, or that a big birthday party for a two-year old cannot go ahead in these times?

It is unthinkable. But that does not mean we must be unthinking.


Coronavirus: Petulant pointscorers show their true colours in a crisis

Mainstream Australians are handling this coronavirus crisis far better than members of the political/media class who display their usual petulance, partisanship and ego-driven posturing — characteristics that apparently are immune even to the challenge of a deadly pandemic.

Despite lives being at risk and millions of compatriots facing dire economic prospects (let alone ­global ramifications that don’t bear thinking about), some politicians and journalists are more ­intent on game-playing than team-playing. Thankfully, the politicians who shoulder the burden of power — Scott Morrison, his senior ministers, and the state and territory leaders — are wearing their heavy responsibility well and acting accordingly, so far.

Along with Morrison, the Labor premiers — Daniel Andrews in Victoria and Annastacia Palaszczuk in Queensland — have stood out. But clearly all in the national cabinet are doing their bit.

The responses of these leaders cannot be perfect, simply by dint of the complexities they face; and for the same reasons, they won’t ­always agree. But the dedication, co-operation and steadfastness of the territory, state and federal leaders is encouraging.

Despite some exceptions — fruit-loops rumbling over toilet paper or people travelling while under a coronavirus cloud — most of our fellow citizens have been phlegmatic and organised. The fuss over Bondi Beach last Saturday came just a day after ­social distancing rules were toughened and looked like a final hot-weather fling before descent into a long, lonely winter. At shops, schools and workplaces, most people have calmly been preparing for isolation, helping out friends and sharing concerns. This sober behaviour in testing times stands in stark ­contrast to the attention-seeking and scaremongering among the media/political class.

Journalists whose job it is to clearly communicate news and information have been more intent on critiquing the government’s communications, second-guessing expert advice, nitpicking complex responses, overlooking per­sonal responsibility and raising fears. It is almost beyond belief that adults living through a worldwide dilemma as severe as this would spend more time sharing their top-of-mind views of government ­policy and mocking insignificant communications glitches or policy adjustments than attempting to explain public responsibilities and how to exercise them.

Their employers must wear some of the blame for not demanding better. Many of these journalists and commentators have been humiliated over their political predictions in recent years; they used the bushfires to try to exact revenge on Morrison and now seem to think it might be clever to try to pin the conse­quences of this crisis on his actions.

Just like the former firefighters who linked their climate alarmist points to the likelihood of summer bushfires at the height of a drought, these critics are on a safe bet because we all know the trauma will get worse and they will attempt to claim vindication.

People who said he went too far sending Australians evacuated from Wuhan to Christmas Island for quarantine now demand he shuts the country down harder and faster (it seems easier to call for an economic bloodbath when you have a permanent public sector salary or have never hired or fired anyone in your life).

When it comes to political consequences, these people are likely to be wrong again because the reason they have been so erroneous on border and climate policies, and on every election from Morrison’s to Donald Trump’s to Brexit, is because they underestimate the intelligence of the public. And they are doing that again.

But politics isn’t what matters. The scale of the human cost, medically and economically, dwarfs any of that, and the danger is that the political/media class will help to foster confusion and alarm.

At a time of unprecedented strains on our society, they could help foment unrest and division just when we need to be committed to a shared strategy for the common good.

Surely it is only hysterical journalists and partisan politicians who could get excited that a 30-minute time limit on haircuts was overturned because it was impractical; given what else was happening, most people would have just nodded their heads and moved on. Likewise hysteria about people lining up on arrival at Sydney airport — they had been crammed on planes for many hours, eating and sleeping cheek by jowl, and are required to go into 14 days of full isolation — but journalists went into overdrive, dress­­ing it up as a scandalous oversight. Perhaps the real stuff-up of the Ruby Princess is where their attention should have been focused, but that would have demanded concentration on one episode for more than 24 hours. We have often seen shrill media behaviour over much less weighty matters and wondered how they would handle a real crisis — now we know.

Anthony Albanese showed commendable and sensible bipartisanship early in the week when parliament sat, helping to pass the economic rescue package. But it was always going to be hard for Labor to resist joining the puerile criticism and putting itself in a position to benefit from future trauma — by Wednesday it had given in to that temptation.

Just walking the streets or driving around our cities now, we see it has changed in ways we thought we would never see. And it will be getting worse in coming weeks and months; we are about to be ­seriously tested. Friends, family and strangers out of work, broke and despondent; friends and relatives sick and worried; not being with the ones we love; not knowing what comes next. In these circumstances, people who have a voice in the public domain need to use it well; constructively for the common good.

No government should be free from scrutiny but there are ways to point out mistakes or make suggestions that are more useful than damaging. If Albanese watches Andrews and Palaszczuk, he will see how he can be constructive and grow in stature through this crisis, rather than be diminished.

In the mainstream, most of us are dramatically changing our lives with great trepidation but a minimum of fuss. Stocked up on essentials, households are switching to working from home, with children learning there too, while tens of thousands of others already are tossed out of work and methodically go through the frustrating process of applying for welfare.

This shouldn’t surprise us; our national character continues to evolve, but at its heart is the same spirit that has helped us through wars, bushfires, floods, droughts and recessions in the past. There are many reasons this COVID-19 pandemic will be more testing, but there are also reasons for medium-term optimism.

One reason this crisis is more challenging is because some of the attributes that have helped us weather earlier crises are weaknesses now. Our “she’ll be right” calmness, our communal spirit and our egalitarian gregariousness conflicts with the need to dramatically change our ways and keep our social distance.

Our habits and responses are not as compliant as those in other cultures or systems. The self-­reliance and autonomy that stood us in good stead during previous disasters can hinder our acceptance of orchestrated responses now. Our healthy scepticism towards authority needs to be shelved as we all learn to follow the rules. But we are doing it, and we will get there. Indeed, it strikes me that much of the public has been ahead of the government from the outset.

The hoarding of groceries began long before governments were talking about lockdowns. People had seen what happened in China and realised we could face periods of isolation, so they began preparing. This was all eminently ­rational, even if the focus on toilet paper, the selfishness of some hauls and the behaviour in some episodes was unedifying. Most people have made sure their pantries are full and their prescriptions are filled, and they have done it in an orderly manner, often ensuring that friends and family are taken care of too.

People discussing options, sharing items and ideas, and bunkering down for what they know will be an extremely tough period: this doesn’t generate media ­reports but it happens to be the ­reality around us. This is the history we need to forge — a stoic and innovative ­nation withstanding a crisis for the ages thanks to co-operative federal leadership and a cohesive ­society.

Let’s just hope it isn’t undermined by the delinquency of our political/media class.


 Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).    For a daily critique of Leftist activities,  see DISSECTING LEFTISM.  To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup  of pro-environment but anti-Greenie  news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH .  Email me  here

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