Politics with Michelle Grattan
Jodie McVernon on Melbourne’s modelling, a Covid vaccine, and the role of experts in a crisis

Jodie McVernon on Melbourne’s modelling, a Covid vaccine, and the role of experts in a crisis

September 9, 2020

In light of Victoria’s cautious roadmap out of lockdown, with some experts claiming the exit is too fast, and others believing it is unnecessarily slow, the modelling underpinning the decisions is under close scrutiny.

University of Melbourne Professor Jodie McVernon is director of epidemiology at the Doherty Institute, and a modelling expert.

She tells the podcast, “I think the broad qualitative conclusions of the model would have been reached by really any kind of model formulation - that the lower numbers can be driven down, the less likely a resurgence would be”.

This week saw a pause in the progress towards a hoped-for Oxford vaccine, when a clinical trial produced an unexplained illness in one participants.


But McVernon remains optimistic. “I think we will get vaccines. I don’t think we’ll get perfect ones, but I’m hoping we’ll get useful ones – because without vaccines, we only have behaviour to prevent this disease. … So I think [a vaccine will] be one of a suite of things that we’ll be using into the future to control the spread of Covid.”

The pandemic has seen ‘experts’, including public health officials and academics, come centre stage as public figures – as policy heroes but, latterly, also targets for some critics who think their voices are carrying too much influence.

“I would have to say I’m a very reluctantly public figure,” McVernon says.

“[I] was convinced by others early on that it is important …in these times of uncertainty that people are reassured by having the evidence explained.

"If we we do have expert knowledge and we can help to clarify things for the public - I think that’s an important responsibility. Part of having knowledge is sharing that knowledge.”

Chris Bowen on the recession, aged care and priorities for health policy

Chris Bowen on the recession, aged care and priorities for health policy

September 3, 2020

Had the 2019 election panned out differently, Chris Bowen would have been the treasurer coping with Australia's current economic crisis.

Instead, as shadow health minister, he has been critical of aspects of the government's handling of the health issues, especially its failure to act earlier and more comprehensively to secure access to potential vaccines.

With Labor homing in on aged care, which has seen the deaths of hundred of residents, Bowen in this podcast questionsd the performance of the regulator, the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission. 

"I was frankly shocked by a number of things.

"I was shocked by the fact the regulator was informed by St Basil's, [that] they had a positive case – and on the face of it, did nothing. I've seen no evidence that they actually did anything about it. Their defence is it was somebody else's job - we had no role to play.

"I just don't think that cuts the mustard for a regulator. 

"I was surprised to learn that no-notice or very short notice inspections had [ by the regulator] ceased during the pandemic. 

"I think these are problematic decisions which the regulator is accountable for, and I do have deep concerns about [them].

"And as a parliamentarian, I am expressing the view that there have been shortcomings [by the regulator] and I've yet to see an adequate explanation for those."

Former Greens leader Richard Di Natale on COVID, climate and his successor

Former Greens leader Richard Di Natale on COVID, climate and his successor

August 27, 2020

In February, then Greens’ leader Richard Di Natale stepped down from the leadership after five years and announced he’d leave parliament to spend for more time with his family. On Tuesday, he delivered his valedictory speech to the senate – remotely – and on Wednesday, he formally resigned.

In his speech Di Natale said “We’ve closed off the [parliament] building to the community, but we’re throwing the gates wide open to vested interests with deep pockets.”

Asked if there should be tougher control on lobbying and what could be done to limit the power of “vested interests”, he says: “There’s a few things that need to happen.

"The first thing is political donations. There are cancer on our democracy, and we need to immediately move to a system of public funding of election campaigns with basically the prohibition of all corporate donations.”

“The second thing you have to do is … close that revolving door between lobbyists and MP’s… It’s remarkable that some MPs don’t even leave the parliament before they get on the payroll of some of these interest groups, whether it’s in the defence industry, the gambling industry, the alcohol industry, the mining industry.”

“And finally, we need a national anti-corruption body.”

Many would regard current leader Adam Bandt as more radical than his predecessor. Di Natale sees the difference as more cosmetic.

“I think Adam and I shared a sort of political outlook on most things. We’re obviously different people. We might have different ways of communicating. And that’s to be expected. But the truth is, [in] terms of our policy direction, in terms of all the things we’ve been campaigning on, there’s very little of a difference between us or indeed any of our Greens colleagues.”

Professor Barney Glover on the bleak years ahead for higher education

Professor Barney Glover on the bleak years ahead for higher education

August 19, 2020

With the withdrawal of the international market, and the stresses of delivering education virtually, the university sector has been hit especially hard by COVID-19. The sector, which in the 2018-2019 financial year contributed $37.6 billion in export income to the Australian economy, is a shadow of its former self.

Meanwhile the government last week released its controversial “JobReady Graduates” draft legislation, which aims to promote study in areas it believes will increase the employment prospects of graduates. A new fee structure will steer students towards STEM fields, IT, teaching, nursing and away from the humanities and law.

Professor Barney Glover, former chair of Universities Australia, a peak body for the higher education sector, is Vice Chancellor of Western Sydney University. Among his many roles on advisory committees, he’s on the New South Wales International Education Advisory Board.

While acknowledging the need for innovation and reform in how higher education is delivered, Professor Glover believes it will be a long road back to normality for the university sector, which has had such a high dependence on foreign students.

“This is something that’s going to affect the sector for several years because the recovery – the economic recovery overseas, the capacity for students to study internationally, the amount of international mobility – all of that is going to be curtailed and constrained, which means universities are going to have to deal with a very different financial situation over the course of particularly [20]21, [20]22 and I suspect [20]23.

"And it won’t be, we predict, until 2024 that we see recovery back towards 2019 levels.”

Jim Chalmers on tax cuts, inequality, and the Queensland election

Jim Chalmers on tax cuts, inequality, and the Queensland election

August 13, 2020

The second wave of the pandemic in Victoria has pushed the post-COVID economic recovery further beyond the horizon. Among the challenges for the federal opposition are dealing itself into the debate and formulating alternative economic policies before the next election.

With speculation the budget may bring forward the next tranche of the legislated tax cuts, Labor is leaving the way open to give its support.

“We’ve said for some time that that’s something that the Government should consider. We’d have an open mind to that if they came to us with a proposal. They don’t yet have a specific proposal. We’ve had some smoke signals about it for some time now…” Jim Chalmers, Shadow Treasurer, tells The Conversation.

“If they came to us and said that they wanted to bring forward stage two of the legislated tax cuts, then we’d engage with them in a pretty constructive way. We’ve said that for some time.”

A high danger is Australia may come out the COVID recession as a more unequal society. Charmers says: “My big fear is that it will accelerate some of those trends that we were already worried about; inequality, but also social immobility.

"We are worried about a lost generation of workers, a discarded generation of people, who become disconnected from work and from society during this recession, who find it very hard to make their way back.

"When people ask what keeps us awake at night, really it’s the idea that this spike in unemployment turns into long-term unemployment, which becomes long-term disadvantage, which cascades through the generations and concentrates in areas like the one that I represent. That’s our big fear.”

At the moment, Chalmers is working in Brisbane, assisting with the campaigning for the October Queensland election, which he believes will be “extraordinarily tight”

“There’ll be different sub-elections around the place. Townsville will be a challenge for us. There’s some opportunities for us on the Gold Coast. It’ll be a real mixed bag. The big thing that we need to avoid is one of those minority governments. In this recession and into the recovery, we want to have a stable government like the one that Annastacia Palaszczuk is providing.”

Concetta Fierravanti-Wells on aged care – what needs to be done differently

Concetta Fierravanti-Wells on aged care – what needs to be done differently

August 7, 2020

The Royal Commission into Aged-Care Quality and Safety delivered it’s interim report in October 2019. Titled ‘Neglect’, it provided a scathing insight into the aged care industry - finding it centred around transactions not care. It minimised the voices of people receiving care, lacked transparency, and was staffed by an under-appreciated and under-pressure workforce.

The outbreak of coronavirus, and the second-wave of infections in Melbourne, has raised fresh questions. The virus has infected residents and staff en masse, leaving aged-care residents major victims of the pandemic.

Read more: View from The Hill: There's no case for keeping secret any aged care facility's COVID details

NSW Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells was the shadow minister for ageing for four years, during Tony Abbott’s time as opposition leader. She has made a detailed submission to the Royal Commission, critical of the government’s attempts to reform the troubled sector.

The Royal Commission is holding hearings next week to take evidence on the affects of the COVID virus. Among the questions Fierranvanti-Wells would like asked of the industry are

“How could you have avoided the situation that you were facing?

"What is it about the system that has led to you being in this difficult situation?

"What was in place to assist you in the event of a pandemic?

"Where have you found that the intersection between health and ageing has fallen over?

"Where could you have performed a better response if you’d had better medical services available in your aged care facility?

"And what workforce was required to have been available to you in your aged care facility to meet the potential of a pandemic?”

Concetta Fierravanti-Wells submission to the commission can be read here.

Patricia Sparrow on the need for aged care reform

Patricia Sparrow on the need for aged care reform

July 30, 2020

Those in aged care have been some of the hardest hit by the coronavirus second wave in Victoria. Even before the crisis, there were calls for reform of the sector, which is currently being examined by a royal commission.

Issues with staffing and delivery of care have only become worse as many workers are required to isolate, with mass transmission occurring in the  homes.


Patricia Sparrow is CEO of Aged & Community Services Australia, a peak body which represents not-for-profit members providing residential care for some 450,000 people throughout the country.


One of the many issues with the aged care sector, Sparrow says, is a failure to define the role and purpose of aged care.


"They used to be called nursing homes and that's what people thought they were. But in recent times ... there's been a move to them being more home-like and less emphasis on [the] clinical. So I think one of the critical things we need to do is actually to determine what is it that aged care is providing."


"We need to decide then as a community how we fund it so that it can deliver the quality of care that the community expects and that we as providers want to provide."


The royal commission produced a scathing interim report, and Sparrow is hopeful its final findings will bring about the real reform the industry needs.


"We do need a system that's wellness-based. We need a system that supports people at home, that provides the very best in terms of health-care needs. And that does require us to look at the interface with the health system. 


"There's no doubt that we need a fundamental reform and there's no doubt that providers are doing the very best they can now, with the resourcing and the restraints around what it is that we can do."

Geoff Kitney on a life in journalism and the contemporary media landscape

Geoff Kitney on a life in journalism and the contemporary media landscape

July 22, 2020

Geoff Kitney fell into a career in journalism, and rose from reporting the local footy in Western Australia to covering many of federal politics's biggest stories and serving as a foreign correspondent based in Berlin and London.


Arriving at parliament house in 1975, Kitney reported on the dramatic Dismissal. Later, the relative decorum of the Canberra press gallery contrasted with the danger and adventure of war reporting.


During the Kosovo war, he was sent to Belgrade, travelling there in a bus with a crowd of Serbians.


"It was very, very strange bus trip because we'd passed houses with MiG fighters parked in the driveways ... [Slobodan Milošević] was trying to stop NATO destroying his airforce. So he put the MiG fighters next to people's houses so that they wouldn't hit them, which meant that he couldn't use them, but at least he still had them."


In Kitney's new book, Beyond the Newsroom, based around his decades of reporting and analysis, he also has some sharp observations about what's happened to the media.


"Advertising started shifting to social media. Newspaper budgets got tighter and tighter. Staff started being cut. We've now had years of redundancies."

"We had specialist reporters covering all sorts of issues, digging down, getting out into the bureaucracy ... finding what's really going on. Now ...there aren't enough people to do that."


"And the pressure, for Twitter for example, is to be noticed. And it seems to me that people think the best way to get noticed, and probably this is true, is to have strong opinions that people react to. And so opinion becomes more important than actual information."


After the crisis: what lessons can be drawn from the management of COVID-19 for the recovery process?

After the crisis: what lessons can be drawn from the management of COVID-19 for the recovery process?

July 20, 2020

In this fourth episode of the Conversation-Democracy 2025 Podcast on “Political Trust in Times of Covid-19”, Michelle Grattan and Mark Evans explore the lessons that can be drawn from the management of Covid-19 for the recovery process with the ABC’s Norman Swan and Mark Kenny from the Australian Studies Institute at the Australian National University.

The discussion draws on the very latest findings from a comparative survey conducted by Democracy 2025 and Trustgov in May and June in Australia, Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States on political trust and democracy in times of Coronavirus.

The survey investigates whether public attitudes towards democratic institutions and practices have changed during the pandemic. We also asked questions on compliance and resilience issues and whether the way we do democracy in Australia might change post Covid-19.

We observe that Australia can be considered a global leader in its response to the pandemic and assess whether the highest levels of public trust in federal government seen for a decade can hold in the recovery period.

You can find the first of three reports on the findings at [Democracy 2025](https://www.democracy2025.gov.au/).

Jane Halton on the risk of ‘vaccine nationalism’

Jane Halton on the risk of ‘vaccine nationalism’

July 16, 2020

Jane Halton, who formerly headed the federal health and finance departments, is chair of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness.

CEPI, founded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is at the forefront of the international search for a COVID-19 vaccine.

She is also a member of the Morrison government's National COVID-19 Coordination Commission, which liaises with business and advises government on how to mitigate the economic and social impacts of the pandemic.

Currently she's undertaking a nationwide review of the hotel quarantine system.

Halton, who when in the public service took part in a government pandemic rehearsal, says Australia was relatively ready. But she says that inevitably, when there's a review in the wake of COVID-19, there'll be a lot to learn from this experience. "Just like we've learnt from H1N1...just like we've learned from SARS.

"But in the short term, the systems stood up capacity really quickly, which is great."

On the reality of vaccine being developed, while it might not be soon, Halton is relatively optimistic.

"Look, there are lots of experts who are both optimistic and pessimistic."

"The experts that I work with, they are probably what I would describe as moderately optimistic. Now, they sort of have to be because they're working on this and they are spending huge hours every day, every week in this race. And so they have to think that there's the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. But there's a pretty significant number of scientists who do think it's possible."

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