It’s fair to say it’s been a rough month for all of us, particularly for those of us back in lockdown. But it’s also a time for solidarity – and for all of us to do our bit on the challenging road to recovery.
By Adam Bandt
I’m writing this in lockdown once again, and while many of you are fortunate enough to not be in a hotspot, it’s a time for solidarity and safety for everyone, everywhere. This virus sucks.
The past month has been hard on the people of Melbourne, and in particular those in more vulnerable circumstances: people in public housing, people in casual work without sick leave, those on temporary visas, and elderly people are all facing greater risks of catching and suffering more from this disease.
That’s why the Greens have consulted with experts and moved firmly to supporting a shift in strategy for Australia. We have an opportunity as an island nation to pursue a goal of elimination. We have called on the prime minister to adopt an elimination strategy for COVID-19, and commit to keep restrictions in place until the rate of community transmission reaches zero.
Key experts – including former secretary of the federal Department of Health and Director of the Health Program at the Grattan Institute Stephen Duckett, Professor Tony Blakers, Professor Bill Bowtell and many others – are calling for governments to commit to an elimination approach. This would require restrictions to remain in place until the level of community transmission reaches zero and stays there.
If you live in Tasmania, SA, WA, or the territories, it’s likely that this wouldn’t change a thing for your day-to-day lives. These states, and to an extent Queensland, have effectively been enacting an elimination strategy already. This move would make it clearer that we want to pursue the same outcome for all of Australia.
The current suppression approach means allowing restrictions to loosen while there’s still virus circulating in the community. This is likely to mean a continuing cycle of see-sawing lockdowns as outbreaks pop up across the country, which means ongoing economic disruption and uncertainty.
Here in Melbourne, we have seen how quickly a handful of cases can turn into a second wave with devastating consequences for our community. That risk will always be there, but why increase the risk by opening up while there is still community transmission going on?
Melbourne public housing towers
As restrictions are re-imposed, we’re increasing our calls for a care-led approach – not force-led. This is not just about decency and kindness – it’s actually how you get the best health results.
The approach taken in Melbourne for the Australians living in public housing towers is a case in point. By going in with the police first, and a lack of translators and social workers, the state government caused serious distress for some of our community’s most vulnerable members.
But where the government failed, there was a heartening response from the community, and donations flooded in. We worked on getting that to the people who needed it, listening to them and getting their message out of the towers to the press and the public. The attitude of our friends in the towers, despite the unsatisfactory treatment, was incredibly resilient and positive. They wanted to do their part, but they rightly didn’t expect to be confronted with such a heavy-handed situation. And I want to thank the state member for Melbourne, Ellen Sandell, for her extraordinary efforts to support local people through the hard lockdown of the towers.
The larger issue here is of course our dreadful underfunding of public housing. The Greens have long called out the broader problem, as well as working to advocate for hundreds of individuals and families. This work often goes unseen, but is one of the most important parts of my work – and Ellen’s work – as the members for Melbourne.
JobKeeper and JobSeeker cuts
Just as we should be learning the lesson that inequality and a pandemic are a dangerous mix, the government, sadly backed by Labor, are out to cut supports for those with the lowest incomes – even as the outbreak rages.
It was billed as (and in the expected places reported as) an extension of JobKeeper, but the reality for millions of Australians – many of whom are still under lockdown – is that this is a cut in vital income support. Disappointingly, the Liberals were actually following Labor’s call to cut JobKeeper support for low-income earners. The cuts will see part-time and casual workers pushed closer to the poverty line. Many casual workers are young, insecure, low-paid and underemployed workers desperately seeking more work and higher wages.
The ACTU, the Victorian Trades Hall Council and the United Workers Union have all rejected cuts to JobKeeper and the Greens do, too. The extended scheme is still $44 billion under budget and there is no excuse for this targeted attack. We should be expanding the payment to all workers who need it, not cutting it.
This also came in the wake of another ‘bi-partisan’ agreement over the idea of bringing forward tax cuts for high income earners. It’s a remarkable doubling-down on neoliberal economics and it flies in the face of sense and reason. The best way to stimulate the economy is not to give it to the top – we’ve known that since Reagan.
Childcare centres have had a tough time and many are on the brink. They deserve some policy consistency and certainty so that they can focus on working with health authorities to ensure safe and hygienic practices.
I’m concerned that the Morrison government appears impatient to start withdrawing social supports that were a vital part of Australia’s largely successful efforts to flatten the curve. From chasing after businesses who may have been paid JobKeeper in error to cutting childcare, it looks like Scott Morrison’s instincts are wrong again. We need another united effort to drag him over the line again – at least until we can kick him out of office.
Finally, in a major piece of policy work announced this month, the Greens announced an update to our emissions reduction targets. We have always taken an approach led by the scientific facts and Australia’s responsibility to do its part.
Translating a goal that is a temperature into an emissions target is extremely technical, but equally important. That work was done after Paris by the Climate Change Authority (CCA) back in 2014. Since then, we have had six years of climate inaction. It has put us in a different position today.
By using the same methodology as the CCA and accepting its allocation of Australia’s fair share – and assuming that emissions will be as projected by official government figures until 2022 – at the time of the next election, Australia’s 2030 targets would now need to be:
- Starting now (2020): a 49% reduction on 2005 levels by 2030 with net zero emissions by 2044
- Starting after the next election (2022): 48% reduction on 2005 levels by 2030 with net zero emissions by 2043
- Starting now (2020): 75% reduction on 2005 levels by 2030 with net zero emissions by 2035
- Starting after the next election (2022): 80% reduction on 2005 levels by 2030 with net zero emissions by 2033
Our targets are for a 1.5 degrees increase, which means a major increase in emissions reduction and a shorter timeframe for zero emissions than previously thought necessary. Along with the fact that we must do this, is the good news that Australia can meet this ambition.