Daily Bulletin


  • Written by Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra
The Conversation

The Morrison government would like the “national cabinet” to mean individual states, notably NSW and Victoria, just stay in line – the line being what the Feds want.

Scott Morrison was clearly beyond irritated on Sunday when premiers Gladys Berejiklian and Daniel Andrews flagged shutdowns and indicated they disagreed with Canberra’s insistence on the need for children to be kept in school.

Not only had the premiers overshadowed the federal government’s $66 billion economic package. But they were arm twisting the Commonwealth, by announcing, pre-emptively, tougher positions.

In the event, on Sunday evening the national cabinet agreed to close down a range of premises to limit social gatherings, which seems to have satisfied the premiers on that front.

On schools, there was a compromise, which basically looks like a paper-over. Schools would stay open. But parents could pull their kids out – which on Monday Berejiklian was quick to advise. Andrews had already said he was bringing the holidays forward.

For weeks the Morrison government has been adamant about schools, arguing that children are at low risk of the virus, that out of school they’re more likely to infect other people, especially vulnerable grandparents, and that if parents have to stay home to mind them, it could mean a 30% reduction in the health workforce (this is its core concern).

Latterly, Morrison has stressed the undesirability of kids losing a year of schooling. Ensuring all children have adequate access to distance learning would be a near-impossible challenge for governments and parents.

Morrison stresses he’s driven by the medical advice. But how watertight is that?

Read more: View from The Hill: Entertainment venues closed in draconian measures to fight the virus

It is instructive to look in detail at the words from his advisers, the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee.

“AHPPC does not support closure of schools at this time,” it headed its Sunday advice.

“AHPPC does not support the closure of schools given the lack of evidence of significant disease in children and the lack of reported major disease spreading in schools,” it said.

“Furthermore, the closure of schools poses a major risk to children’s education, mental health and wellbeing, particularly those from low socioeconomic regions, where schools provide an important environment for nurturing and learning. The impact on the critical workforce and potential exposure of elderly relatives caring for children is also of significance.

"School closure would achieve some degree of additional social distancing but the evidence of its benefit at this stage is minimal. AHPPC views schools as an essential service and strongly supports keeping schools open. …

"AHPPC will continue to review developing evidence regarding the effect of the disease in children and the role of children in the transmission of the virus.

"School closures are likely to be more effective when approaching the peak of the epidemic and enforced for a shorter period.”

The advice is strong - and broader than strictly medical - but the qualifications are also significant. The judgement about non-closure is not absolute. The committee doesn’t support the closure “at this time”. (So much of the debate about how to handle the virus goes to the “when” question.) Closure would be more effective “when approaching the peak of the epidemic”. And the committee is still reviewing medical evidence.

This suggests a lot of room for different judgements.

“Experts” have come into their own in this crisis, which is how it should be, and a welcome change from the dissing of them in the “anti-elite” strand of modern politics.

But on this issue, the matter of expertise has been complicated.

Read more: Grattan on Friday: We are now a nation in self-isolation

We’ve seen the federal government strike positions, referencing its expert advice, then alter them, declaring the experts’ advice has changed. The change may be driven by new circumstances, or just a rethink.

Also, experts are divided – even if the advice from the AHPPC to the national cabinet is always said to be unanimous. (Does this really mean there is never any disagreement among these federal and state experts? Hardly.)

Credible experts have strongly contested the federal policy of a staged approach to the crisis, arguing for harder and faster action. Some of that advice has obviously been going to state governments.

Moreover, the debate is conducted against the unfortunate background of deep distrust of politicians, especially the federal ones (contrast the almost cult status acquired by the ABC’s long-time health journalist Norman Swan).

When official advice is contested by credible sources, and/or when governments have views at variance, the differences should not be suppressed. This is especially so given the states, rather than the Commonwealth, have the main formal powers in particular areas, and so a prime responsibility to their citizens.

Critics say dissent by states just confuses the public. Well, yes. But isn’t it better to have some confusion than not to hear the full range of views?

It’s like going to your doctor about a serious illness but refusing to get a second opinion because it might contradict the first.

The national cabinet is facilitating joint decisions and co-ordination, but that doesn’t mean unity at all costs would best serve the community.

Authors: Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

Read more https://theconversation.com/view-from-the-hill-a-contest-of-credible-views-should-be-seen-as-useful-in-a-national-crisis-134419

Writers Wanted

The Conversation launches 2020: The Year That Changed Us


Who will Muslim Americans vote for in the US elections?


What is Family Law?


The Conversation


Prime Minister Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sky News

KIERAN GILBERT: Kieran Gilbert here with you and the Prime Minister joins me. Prime Minister, thanks so much for your time.  PRIME MINISTER: G'day Kieran.  GILBERT: An assumption a vaccine is ...

Daily Bulletin - avatar Daily Bulletin

Did BLM Really Change the US Police Work?

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has proven that the power of the state rests in the hands of the people it governs. Following the death of 46-year-old black American George Floyd in a case of ...

a Guest Writer - avatar a Guest Writer

Scott Morrison: the right man at the right time

Australia is not at war with another nation or ideology in August 2020 but the nation is in conflict. There are serious threats from China and there are many challenges flowing from the pandemic tha...

Greg Rogers - avatar Greg Rogers

Business News

Why Your Small Business Should Bulk Buy Hand Sanitiser

As a small business owner, employee and customer safety is at the very top of your priority list. From risk assessments to health and safety officers, appropriate signage and proper briefing...

News Co - avatar News Co

How Phone Number Search In Sydney Can Help Your Business

To run a successful business, keeping track of your company and competitors are the major factors. With a lot of tools, available businesses have options to stay current. One way in which busine...

News Co - avatar News Co

Guide to Shipping Container Hire

If you are thinking of hiring a shipping container rather than purchasing one, there are many great reasons to do so. It is a more affordable option and when you are done using it for what you neede...

News Co - avatar News Co

News Co Media Group

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion