Wren's Week: The conservative drive to reopen the economy

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Prime Minister Scott Morrison has pushed for kids to go back to school despite social distancing still being vital to flattening the curve (Image by Dan Jensen)

Conservative politicians are advocating to relax lockdown laws and reopen the country, putting everyone's lives at risk in the process, writes John Wren.

THE NEWS CYCLE has naturally been dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, some definite insights are emerging. I discussed the National Cabinet in my last column but as it has progressed, it’s become clear that Prime Minister Scott Morrison has convened it certainly in part as a marketing tool to portray himself as the one in charge.

Early on, he recognised that education and healthcare are actually administered by the states and territories. He has no real say or control over how each state responds, other than via the Federal Government chequebook. The Premiers do not report to the Prime Minister. They are not subordinate to him. The National Cabinet gives Morrison the appearance of being in charge. It became obvious this week when the Victorian school term resumed with classes running remotely, despite Morrison’s pleas to get school children back into classrooms.

Morrison went on TV stating his case, effectively trying to undermine the Premiers. It didn’t work and by most accounts, parents see the need to keep their children out of schools and are complying. On the first day of the Victorian school term, only 3 per cent of children physically made an appearance at school and they were mostly the children of essential services workers who could not supervise their kids at home during the day.

The other point of the National Cabinet is that it gives Morrison cover for Federal mistakes such as the Ruby Princess debacle which saw him throw NSW Premier and fellow Liberal Gladys Berejiklian under the bus to protect his incompetent Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton. Management by committee is perfect for someone who refuses to accept accountability for anything, like Morrison.

Australia seems to be doing well at “flattening the curve”, particularly outside of NSW. However, there is a growing divide between Right-wing conservatives and progressives. The conservatives are advocating for a fast reopening of the economy. They largely see individuals as units of production and thus are both expendable and profit centres depending on how productive they are. There is little value placed on human life at all.

The progressives, on the other hand, want human life preserved and are thus advocating for a longer lockdown period in order to save as many lives as possible. This has exposed the immorality of the conservative political position. Profits trump lives. It’s the wealth vs health debate writ large.

The IPA has been at the forefront of this debate, advocating strongly for a return to normal business. They don’t seem to care that people will almost certainly die as a result. It raises the question again: who funds them? Conservative commentator John Ruddick even went so far as to say that had he been in his 80s, he’d have happily taken one for the team. Easy for Ruddick to say, but perhaps we should wait until he is in his 80s and ask him again how he feels about laying down his life for the economy.

The Sky News crew have been part and parcel of it as well. They are actually advocating on national media an approach that could see thousands of Australians die. If a terrorist group advocated killing thousands of Australians, they’d be banned and locked up. What is the difference?

The conservative drive to reopen schools is gobsmacking at best. In the early days of the pandemic, it seemed that children largely did not suffer from the disease. However, it has since become clear that children do indeed catch it; some have died from it and they can certainly be carriers of it and transmit it to others. Reopening schools flies in the face of our social distancing protocols and restriction of gatherings. It also puts teachers at risk and the families of those children who return from school, possibly infected who can then pass it on to other family members. It is a recipe for disaster.

Some commentators like Pru Goward are advocating the so-called “herd immunity” approach in the absence of a vaccine. This approach allows the virus to spread in the community in the belief that once someone has caught the disease and survived, they will remain immune.

A couple of points: the first being that there is no evidence that long-lasting immunity to the COVID-19 virus is actually conferred through having it and recovering. It could be quite possible that one could have it, then have it again in six months and so on. The other point is that allowing it to spread in the community will also kill a significant number of people. It’s heartless and sociopathic if it is chosen as a deliberate strategy.

Some are suggesting that this is the thinking behind the conservative drive to reopen schools and the economy. To get the disease out there and let it be something we simply live with and accept as part of the human condition. Humans lived this way with smallpox and many other diseases for millennia, of course. Such an approach is regressive, to say the least. It’s a reversion to our medieval brutish past.

Others are saying there are some “social welfare” advantages in that the disease affects the elderly more so than younger people. Again, it is conservatives who see the elderly as unproductive units of production to be culled. Imagine the pensions that could be saved. It’s the Logan’s Run model of aged care.

It is interesting to note also that many of those advocating the so-called herd immunity approach are, in fact, those who are in the most at-risk demographics — do they somehow think they are immune? Many are still downplaying COVID-19 as just another bad flu. Nothing could be further from the truth. Nine Media’s journalist Bevan Shields has suffered and recovered from the infection in the UK. His account of what he went through should put the “it’s only a bad flu” crowd back in their box.

Stay safe, Australia.

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