Politics Opinion

Picnics for the rich and curfews for the poor

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NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian is offering incentives of outdoor gatherings to the double-vaccinated (Image by Dan Jensen)

One of the consequences of managing the COVID-19 pandemic is highlighting the divide between socioeconomic classes, writes Davey Heller.

THAT WE LIVE in a society divided between rich and poor is hardly a revelation. However, in recent months we have seen this class divide translated into a tale of two pandemics.

This is seen in its most naked expression in Sydney. Despite thousands of new cases a week, the Liberal Berejiklian Government still refuses to adopt a uniform lockdown across Sydney. Whilst COVID-19 cases and hospitalisations in Sydney’s working-class western suburbs skyrocket, the NSW Government announced the deserving wealthy double-vaxxed residents of the eastern suburbs such as Vaucluse will soon be able to picnic whilst sipping champagne overlooking the Harbour.

This is a caricature of class warfare that combines the sensibilities of a Dickens novel with pandemic dystopian sci-fi.

It is clear which class the corporate media are speaking for each day at the daily press conferences in NSW and Victoria. Berejeklian and NSW are still a success story promising “freedoms” to their citizens. Letting COVID-19 rip in NSW whilst moving towards relying solely on the vaccination strategy means that big business will soon get its wish of opening all borders and ending lockdown measures.

The price being paid by the essential workers of Sydney who are spreading COVID-19 to their families and communities, the overflowing hospitals and the ambulance queues is just the price of doing business.

In contrast, the policies of West Australia, Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania, which continue to keep their populations largely free of both COVID-19 and lockdowns, are failures because they stand in the way of the full reopening of Australia’s borders and the profits that will generate. Victorian Premier Dan Andrews stands as a demonised figure, not because he is anti-business but because his government has not yet bowed to the demands to let COVID-19 rip.

What are the freedoms the media are promising will be given to the residents of NSW and Victoria once all this nonsense about suppressing COVID-19 is finally abandoned? The first freedoms that might be available to those with a possible vaccine “passport” include the freedom to travel to our second homes, the freedom to conduct international business meetings and get back to our regimes of regular overseas holidays.

The fact that such freedoms are a world away from the struggles of millions of Australians, who are financially suffering as the economic consequences of COVID-19 continue to bite in NSW and Victoria, is of little concern to these journalists. Corporate journalists (and this includes the ABC) are not told what to say, they are paid what to say. Whilst they express insincere concern about people’s mental health, they stay silent on the cutting of JobSeeker to pre-pandemic poverty levels — an act of cruelty that would have undermined the mental health of many.

Similarly, whilst we read endless interviews with struggling small businesses, the corporate press does not demand that the tens of millions pocketed by Gerry Harvey and other fat cats from JobKeeper are returned to the Government and redistributed to small businesses.

To add to this cynicism, the abandoning of ordinary people through cutting income support has created the fodder for not just far right fringe groups but for the far-right agenda of elements of corporate Australia. The rallies of desperate and disorientated people calling for “freedom” whilst battling cops has quickly been followed by a chorus from the big end of town singing from the same song sheet.

Since cases have exploded in Sydney, the CEOs and spokespeople for finance capital have declared the fight against COVID-19 is too expensive and it’s time to surrender and accept that the “price of business” is mass illness and deaths. National Australia Bank CEO Ross McEwan demanded that Victoria must declare the Melbourne Cup this year “Freedom Day”. Kerry Stokes says we must live with COVID-19. Alan Joyce warned again we were becoming a hermit nation and threatened WA Premier Mark McGowan that Western Australia would lose Qantas’ services if it baulked at mass infecting its citizens.

Whilst the poor of Australia are clearly expendable to the dominant section of the Australian ruling class, the view from a global level is no better. So far, less than three per cent of Africa’s population has been vaccinated. The parallels between climate change and COVID-19 are obvious. The only path forward is international cooperation and sharing of resources and technology.

However, the profit interests of the few stops this from happening and it’s the poor who pay the highest price. We can’t afford to let this pandemic continue to be a “tale of two pandemics”. The fight for public health is inseparable from the fight against economic inequality.

Davey Heller is a writer and campaigner. You can follow him on @socialist_davey.

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