Friday, May 08, 2020

The silent COVID-19 death toll: Far more Australians will kill themselves because of coronavirus lockdown than those who die of the virus, experts say

There are fears suicide rates could rise by 50 per cent across Australia because of the impacts of coronavirus restrictions.

New research predicts an extra 1,500 suicide deaths across the country over the next five years as a result of the economic fallout of the coronavirus.

The modelling from the Sydney University's Brain and Mind Centre found the rate of deaths linked to suicide would be more than four times the number of deaths directly caused by coronavirus, The Australian. 

Early modelling forecasts a 25 per cent jump in suicides, based on an unemployment rate of 10 per cent. But if job losses cause unemployment to reach 15 per cent, the rate of suicide could climb by 50 per cent. Around 3,000 deaths are caused by suicide each year across Australia. 

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has been briefed on the research and will present the modelling to the national cabinet next week.

The federal government announced a $74million boost for mental health support services on March 29. At the time suicide support services such as Lifeline were already reporting a 20 per cent increase in normal call volumes. 

The new research has prompted leading health officials to call for a more cohesive approach to address concerns around a mental health crisis linked directly to the pandemic.

Researchers say young people will suffer the most, as well as people in regional communities, which have already endured economic downturn linked to the bushfires, the drought and floods.

The modelling reveals the annual rate of suicide could rise from 3,000 to 4,500 - and youth suicides would represent almost half of those figures.

Former mental health commissioner and the head of the Brain and Mind Centre, Ian Hickie, said Australia is yet to see the worst impacts of a national economic downturn.

'What happens in recessions, and we know this from the 2009 GFC, the Asian financial crisis and the Great Depression, is that suicide rates go up dramatically in recession… and they hurt the young the most… we can watch it and see it happening …or we can get ahead of the curve,' Professor Hickie said.

'The impacts of unemployment will be greatest among the young, those who live in rural and regional Australia, and those areas hardest-hit by job losses will not recover quickly.

'As restrictions on physical distancing and isolation are eased, Australia's mental health system, already poorly designed and seriousl­y under-resourced, must urgently be equipped with the capacit­y to respond to the expected influx in demand for services,' he said.

The Australian Medical Association is backing the calls for urgent action to deal with concerns mental health issues caused by COVID-19 could spark more deaths in Australia than the virus itself.


Coronavirus: Pandemic unleashes internal conflict for conservatives

Around the world and in Australia economic recovery from the COVID-19 attack is generating an ideological conflict in right-wing politics between two schools — pro-market economic liberals and pro-government interventionist conservatives keen to use state power.

The contrast is monumental and the coming struggle is irresistible. This pandemic has seen the greatest recruitment of state power since the war to salvage economies in the form of huge spending, wage subsidies, expanded social welfare, controls on human contact, support for companies and emergency liquidity — yet governments, including the Morrison government, want recovery based on business, seeking a pro-market, competitive, anti-protectionist restoration of the ­liberal economic order.

Not surprisingly, it won’t be that easy. Everybody agrees there is no simple retreat to the pre-virus economy. But economic liberals and interventionist conservatives see the future in vastly different ways. Critically, this conflict is about both means and ends.

The liberals want an economy even better geared to pro-market, pro-productivity reforms to generate growth, with Josh Frydenberg saying the “values and principles” that guided Coalition reforms in the past “must guide us again in the future”. The values he lists are personal responsibility, rewarding effort, “unleashing the power of dynamic, innovative and open markets”, private enterprise spearheading job creation, rejection of higher taxes, reducing business costs and being “vigilant” against rising “protectionist sentiment”.

The best statement of the alternative view — and have no doubt it is an alternative — comes from NSW Liberal senator Jim Molan, an icon of the party’s conservative wing, in a recent article: “The market has never, and will never, deliver Australian security. The market monumentally failed to deliver security in Australia over the last few decades. There are limitations in viewing the world solely through an economic lens. COVID-19 has heralded the end of a particular phase of globalisation and the question becomes how Australia should recalibrate its policy settings to secure its sovereignty in the new circumstances.

“We are now acutely aware of the vulnerabilities associated with untrussed globalised supply chains and ‘just-in-time’ logistics. In the event of a future crisis bigger than COVID-19 we need to ensure that Australia can take care of its own needs in vital areas including food, medicine, energy, IT, fuels, industry, transportation and defence … self-reliance improves resilience which improves sovereignty.”

This is a call for transformed governance and revised national goals based upon increased security threats at every point. Many Liberal conservatives are talking along these lines. No commitment here to Frydenberg’s vision of enduring Liberal principles igniting a growth recovery — without which the Morrison government’s re-election hopes are dismal.

This is a fundamental conflict about the meaning of today’s crisis and how it should be interpreted by the Liberal Party in the national interest. Andrew Hastie, chair of the parliamentary committee on intelligence and security, has long argued Australia must push back against China, reclaim its sovereignty, toughen its resilience, reduce its economic dependence on Beijing, strengthen its traditional defences and rethink foreign investment policy to deny China’s ownership of critical assets — an agenda that runs towards a whole-of-government outlook.

Two cultural take-outs from the pandemic will shape democratic governance everywhere. The first is the elevation of community co-operation and public institutions over individual liberty and autonomy. The age of individual narcissism and self-expression will be in retreat. The age of social co-operation and effective public institutions will be resurrected. COVID-19 ­ bequeaths a deeper sense of our vulnerability.

The new emphasis will fall on community interdependence and mutual support in family, workplace and industry, along with the need to resurrect a virtuous civic culture, well-run and well-funded healthcare institutions and a business culture that prioritises respect for employees. In this redefinition of what constitutes a good society classical liberals will be marginalised unless they transform.

The second takeout is the rising tide for sovereignty, self-reliance and resilience. Morrison knows this and has declared the essential lesson from the crisis is sovereignty — but that notion has multiple policy meanings.

Rana Foroohar from the Financial Times says: “If the past 40 years were about efficiency, the next 40 will be about resilience. The signs are everywhere. Witness calls from progressives such as Elizabeth Warren and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to put a halt to mergers in the middle of a pandemic or Republican senator Marco Rubio’s prescription for ‘creating a more resilient economy’. There’s little daylight between the Rubio and Warren view of industrial policy which means these shifts are likely to come no matter who’s in charge after the November (American) election.”

In his New York Times article Rubio denounced past decades when America “made the conscious choice to facilitate offshoring to China”, the consequence being the 2016 campaign when people “felt helpless as they watched jobs disappear and their communities crumble because businesses and lawmakers prioritised maximised short-term gains over the long-term security of America, its communities and its peoples”.

Rubio’s point is that COVID-19 has humiliated America because China has monopolised the “critical supply chains”, leaving the nation scrambling for essential medical supplies. His message: our society must change because the “short-term hyper-individualistic ethos” based on a services economy that doesn’t produce enough physical goods has led to a crisis where people cannot leave home, cannot shake hands and cannot enter a place of worship. Rubio will move for a “sweeping pro-American industrial policy” off the back of strong public support.

What does Scott Morrison say? He talks repeatedly about resilience, raising the question: how does this translate into policy? Many observers believe there will be no return to pro-market liberal economics. Commentator and Financial Times editorial board chief Philip Stephens wrote: “The return of government to centrestage marks the close of an era in which power and responsibility migrated from states to markets. To watch governments throw trillions of dollars into the fight to prevent economic collapse is to appreciate just how absurd was the preoccupation of recent decades with balanced budgets, public deficits and debt-to-GDP ratios.”

There is intellectual turmoil and vibrancy throughout the ­centre-right in America and Britain about the precise path forward. Boris Johnson and Donald Trump won elections as friends of the working class, spending big, championing government intervention, kicking Adam Smith into history’s dustbin, at least for a few decades.

The Economist notes that US conservative intellectuals such as Yuval Levin and Oren Cass reject market fundamentalism for a more flexible, constructive government interventionism. The thesis of Levin’s latest book, A Time to Build, is that liberalism has been blind to the massive ­social crises engulfing America. Cass wants an end to the “economic piety” under which markets have failed to address the actual needs of US workers.

A book, After COVID-19, in effect a blueprint for Australian resilience, has been released by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute under the leadership of its director, Peter Jennings. It says the pandemic is “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to transform economic and strategic policy, argues for an expanded national security state as a central organising principle and challenges liberal economics across the board. This is a frontal assault on much of the economic establishment.

Morrison takes a broad view of sovereignty. He thinks it can encompass both a competitive private sector and security self-reliance where needed. He will probably seek a synthesis between these rival conceptions. Consider the irony — liberal economics and the national security state have been the two singular glories and winning issues for the Liberal Party for decades. The question now is: are they in conflict with each other?


Coronavirus Australia: Parents shut-out of QLD school grounds

Queensland parents won’t be allowed onto school grounds to deliver young children to their classrooms from next week.

The state will begin a staged return to normal school operations from Monday, with the coronavirus crisis easing.

The first to return will be students in prep, and years one, 11 and 12, along with kids at kindy.

All other grades will return a fortnight later, on May 25, as long as the initial test run goes smoothly.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk says the staged return should be safe, as long as there are robust protocols to prevent the virus from spreading again.

“The parents won’t be able to go into the school gates,” she told the Seven Network. “(Schools) will be putting in place very clearly where parents can drop off the kids.

“They will leave the car, go in the front gate. For the junior years, we need to make sure they’re as close as possible to the classrooms.”

School staff will have to maintain the 1.5m social distancing rule. But that’s not true for students when they are inside classrooms because it’s been deemed impractical.

For now, there’s no plan to reopen boarding schools, after Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young said she’d not yet been able to envisage safe protocols to limit risks from things like communal eating and showering areas.

The Queensland Teachers Union says staff face a frantic time to prepare classrooms, work on lesson plans, deliver remote learning, and supervise kids who are still in school - all at the same time.

Other challenges include the absence of teachers who are either vulnerable themselves, or who care for people who are. “That’s several thousand workers that won’t be available,” Mr Bates told ABC radio on Tuesday.

“These are the issues we’re going to have to work out over the next four days.”

The premier has already said it will be at least June before Queensland’s borders, restaurants and cafes reopen, given active hot spots in NSW.

But talks will begin this week with the hospitality sector about when a return to more normal trading might occur.

“June’s a good ambitious target … I can’t say whether it’s early June or late June,” the premier said yesterday.

Queensland has recorded three more coronavirus cases to take the state’s tally to 1038. The new cases relate to people who had recently returned from London and Los Angeles while another had been on an overseas cruise.

Of the 1038 confirmed cases, just 52 are active with 46 located in southeast Queensland.


Childcare scheme is crippling centres and frustrating parents

When the government announced childcare would be free in April, under a scheme put in place to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, it sounded like a dream. But if you’re about to return to work after having a baby, you might find that instead of free childcare, you now won’t have any at all.

The scheme was announced in response to some centres rapidly losing revenue as parents fearful of COVID-19 pulled their children out. Other parents were paying hundreds of dollars a week to hold their place while keeping their children at home. The sector needed a solution. But the government’s answer has only made the situation worse. This week, Uniting NSW/ACT will stand down 45 staff across its 56 centres because it is now losing $1 million a month under the scheme.

Childcare places are always in demand. I put my daughter’s name down on 11 waiting lists and when I finally secured a place, I breathed a sigh of relief. But when I called the centre manager about my child’s first day, she said the government was now paying about a third of the centre’s usual revenue and parents weren’t allowed to pay anything, even if they wanted to. So she’d had to cut staff and places.

The JobKeeper program helps if centres qualify for it, but it doesn’t pay a full-time carer’s wage or help employees on visas. The story was the same at other centres I called – they could no longer afford to take new enrolments. My friends who are also about to return to work confirmed their spots have also disappeared.

The government is implementing schemes at record pace to keep the economy afloat and people safe. But the very scheme meant to help struggling parents is instead frustrating them and crippling centres, which have been left with not enough revenue to meet their expenses.

On Friday, Education Minister Dan Tehan said top-up payments would be made available to some centres that did not qualify for Jobkeeper or which had seen a large increase in demand since the end of February. But this amendment does not address the scale of the problem. It won’t make a difference to the centres I rang last week. Even with the new scheme and JobKeeper combined, they couldn’t meet costs last week.

The government is learning what parents have known for a long time – childcare is expensive. This is because quality care costs money and mandated educator-to-child ratios are high.

Early childhood education doesn’t just enable parents to work or study. It furthers a child’s education, prepares them for school and can even improve their health over their lifetime. An economic analysis by independent enterprise The Front Project showed that for every dollar invested in early education, Australia receives $2 back over a child’s life.

Yet such critical work is badly paid. I worked in childcare for years and was only on close to the minimum wage. Governments have never properly funded this sector, despite its importance to our children’s – and our nation’s – wellbeing.

Parents have already lost their childcare spots and employees their income. Centres are struggling to stay afloat. This rushed scheme needs to be fixed before centres go bust, to ensure centres have adequate revenue to provide quality childcare to all families who need it.


 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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