This review no substitute for a royal commission

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AUSTRALIA’S PANDEMIC RESPONSE

This review no substitute for a royal commission
The Shergold review of Australia’s response to the pandemic was funded by three private philanthropic trusts. Its final report Fault Lines is based on “more than 350 confidential submissions and consultations with health experts, public servants, economists and business and community groups.” The panel’s conclusions are summarised by the headline “Pandemic response failed most vulnerable” (The Age, 20/10). The review is described as independent.

Here’s the problem. Some of the people associated with the funding organisations have been identified with various political parties and issues over the years. The same can be said of some panel members. Of course, they are perfectly entitled to their political views and have the right to express them. There is a difficulty though in reconciling this with a claim of independence.

Further, with submissions and consultations described as “confidential”, the public cannot know who said what about the issues considered by the panel, or the processes by which the facts and opinions put forward were analysed.

In short, the Shergold review can be no substitute for public hearings by a royal commission, conducted with judicial independence.
Lawrie Bradly, Surrey Hills

Don’t forget the health orders that were in place
There appears to be no reference to the public health orders that applied at the time in your article “Pandemic closure of schools hit” (The Age, 20/10). When a class was in close contact with an infected student or staff member, then the classes would have been required to isolate meaning that students would have been in and out of school. For secondary schools, this could have meant multiple cohorts of students and staff.

For teachers to be expected to operate an on-site and remote learning program simultaneously would have been both unreasonable and even more disruptive to the learning of all students. For those students who were in a vulnerable circumstance, they were able to attend their schools, with some supervision, although the classes were still based on a remote-delivery program.

There is also the question of whether school staff would have been able to attend work, taking into account their own health issues and family responsibilities that the pandemic would have created for them.

There are lessons to be learnt, no doubt, but all factors need to be applied when making an assessment of what happened and what could happen next time around.
Michael Cowan, Wheelers Hill

I didn’t realise the staff members were safe
So, schools should have stayed open during the pandemic. I wasn’t aware that teaching and ancillary staff, who are somewhat vital to the education system, and their families were safe from getting sick themselves. Silly me.
Wendy Hinson, Wantirna

Keep in mind the contemporary context
Neil Mitchell’s call for inquiries and “open debate” into the Andrews government’s handling of the COVID pandemic back in 2020-21 (“Time to address these elephants in the room”, The Sunday Age, 16/10), is uncontroversial in itself. There will indeed be administrative lessons to be learnt from examining how we dealt with such a life-altering event.

The potential problem in these retrospectives is when they become inquisitorial and partisan exercises devoid of the fraught contemporary context at the time of the decision making and some journalistic narratives of that period already read like academic exercises premised on Dan Andrews being designated as the bogyman. Sober and fair-minded judgments, together with some empathy for decision makers, are called for in such retrospectives.
Jon McMillan, Mount Eliza.

THE FORUM

Arrogant hypocrisy
You report that the proposed security pact with Japan reflects, in part, “growing concerns about Chinese military operations in the region” (“Security pact with Japan on table”, The Age, 20/10).

Australia’s relationship with China and the United States will be a matter of debate and anxiety for the foreseeable future. China’s rise is regarded as a threat by the US and we dutifully parrot that concern. Plainly, Xi Jinping is determined to re-establish China as a great nation, worthy of its Chinese name: Zhonghua – the central country. Progress has been astounding.

This is similar to the US credo of “manifest destiny” and “American exceptionalism”. However, unlike the US, China’s pursuit of this objective has not involved constant foreign wars or coups against “unacceptable” regimes.

Unlike the Soviet Union, there is scant evidence of Chinese plans to export its system of government. As for matters like human rights, social cohesion, changes in poverty levels, crime rates, and affordable housing, criticism of China from both Australia and the US demonstrates arrogant hypocrisy.
Norman Huon, Port Melbourne

We all learn differently
Your correspondent (“Textbook failure”, Letters 20/10) reminds us that teachers need to teach in multiple ways to meet the needs of all students.

People have different learning styles – visual, auditory, read/write and kinaesthetic – and one method of teaching may not suit them all. In addition, in any classroom, there could be a student with autism spectrum disorder, or ADHD. There maybe a child with dyslexia, dysgraphia, dysphasia, or dyspraxia, all of which lead to different learning needs.

We expect teachers to know how to teach all of their students, who all have different learning needs, so they all achieve their
full potential.

Textbooks are useful and necessary, but reliance on them for lesson planning, as the writer says, is not what teaching is about.
Louise Kloot, Doncaster

A hollow freedom
The decision of former prime minister Scott Morrison to establish national cabinet to deal with the pandemic will come to be seen as his most significant achievement.

It produced a largely uniform and health-based response across Australia. However, he was unable to run on his pandemic record because elements of the Liberal Party, especially in Victoria, had invested too much energy in criticising elements of that response, even though the population didn’t see it that way.
Josh Frydenberg paid the ultimate political price for his gratuitous comments.

The policies seemingly advocated in a pandemic report, headed by former Howard-era public servant Peter Shergold, are similar to those actually followed in places like Florida in the US. They had fewer lockdowns, fewer mandates and children went to school but their death rate was six times that in Australia. Instead of 15,500 deaths here, there would have been at least 93,000.

There is no point having the “freedom” to be able to get a cup of coffee if you are not alive to do it.
Paul Kennelly, Caulfield North

Outlaw data retention
I left Medibank Private some years ago for what I felt was a better health fund. Recently, I have received several emails from Medibank Private about the hacking of their database.

What is a health fund doing in retaining ex-members’ data for years after they have left the fund? This should not be permitted. When someone leaves a fund, their data should be properly and promptly removed from the database. Why isn’t there legislation requiring this?

Private details about me may have been acquired by hackers even though I have not been a member for many years.
Brian Pryke, Mount Dandenong

How are we better off?
It is to be hoped that the chair of the Australian Energy Regulator, Clare Savage’s mea culpa regarding her role in creating the mess of the Australian electricity distribution system is the first of many from those economists who were given free rein over the past 30-plus years to impose their version of “efficiency” on the suffering public (“We made the energy market too confusing for people”, Comment, 20/10).

Just what have been the advantages for the average punter following the various privatisations, think Telstra or the ports or CSL or Toll Roads or Qantas or the Commonwealth Bank, that have made investment bankers and shareholders wealthy at the expense of customers and taxpayers?
Maurice Critchley, Mangrove Mountain, NSW

A pretend system
Clare Savage inadvertently hits the nail on the head. The energy market is a fabrication, a pretend system of competition, an artificial design to transfer control of energy from the community (government-owned) to private enterprise, a blind adherence to the dogma that private enterprise is always more efficient.

The reality is, no matter who you choose as your “supplier”, the electricity comes from the same power lines and the same generators as it all gets mixed together in the grid. All that changes is which company reads your meter and sends you a bill.

That the number of companies “supplying” electricity is increasing is a sign of how profitable it is and therefore how much consumers are being ripped off. So it’s not surprising that companies make it confusing and difficult to decide the benefits of one over another.

We would not have any of these problems had we stuck with the State Electricity Commission,
and Premier Daniel Andrews is to be applauded for his plan to return this essential service back into the control of the communities that rely on it.
Tim Davis, Heidelberg

Blunders galore
I must jog Peter Dutton’s memory. Speaking of the Albanese government’s decision to not recognise West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Dutton said that he had not “seen a bigger foreign affairs blunder in many years” (“Jerusalem call could have been handled better: PM”, The Age, 20/10).

Surely, the adventure in Iraq to find non-existent weapons of mass destruction was a bigger blunder.

And how about the axing of our shortwave news service to our South Pacific neighbours, which along with cuts to foreign aid and climate change inaction, has given the opportunity for China to move into this region? More recently, there was the election-day text messages that refugee boats were coming, and, finally, the recognition of West Jerusalem in the first place was a bigger foreign affairs blunder.
Barry Lizmore, Ocean Grove

This doesn’t help matters
The Australian government professes to support a two-state solution “in which Israel and a future Palestinian state co-exist, in peace and security”.

Recognising West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel does nothing to harm this goal. However, reversing this recognition only serves to bolster the resolve of terrorist groups such as Hamas, which has praised the announcement made by Penny Wong. It is indeed the mission of Hamas to ensure that a two-state solution is never negotiated.

In reality, the Labor government has actually harmed any future negotiations rather than assisting.
Keren Zelwer, St Kilda East

It’s easy to check
It is really easy to check what doctors have claimed for treating you (“And another thing”, 19/10). If you download the Medicare app and set yourself up with a login, all the details are listed there.

I have been checking my claims details for a few years and found some interesting and creative claims by a former GP.

The system is far too easy to rort, unfortunately.
Carola Marley, Moonee Ponds

An extraordinary amount
I would never have thought there would be anything which would invite my sympathy for One Nation leader Pauline Hanson.

Yet the extraordinary damages payout she is directed to pay to former senator Brian Burston, following a judgment from Justice Robert Bromwich, beggars belief (“Hanson must pay $250,000 to former senator”, The Age, 20/10).

Bromwich at one point said that Burston might not have kept up to date with today’s standards
of conduct.

Wrong again. It was never OK to behave as he did. I should have thought 50¢ would cover it.
Carmel Boyle, Alfredton

Coalition put to shame
After reading your article, “Zombie measures, blowouts hit budget” (The Age, 20/10), coupled with the documented rorting and the appalling state that the federal budget was left in by the Morrison government, I never again want to hear a Coalition politician mutter the statement: “Labor cannot manage money.“
Mark Thomson, Beaumaris

Something else at play
At school on three continents at institutions Roman Catholic, Episcopalian and Anglican, I was never taught that the Christian message values exclusion of
the good.

Of course, if a church-based school seeks a teacher for that school’s religion, it will look for the best equipped, as you would hope it also would for a geography or maths teacher.

But Opposition Leader Matthew Guy’s message about allowing religious schools to hire staff based on faith seems about something else; that certain people despite their ability can be cast beyond the pale.

Such a policy erects barriers where there need be none. At my schools, I heard of the good Samaritan; of the exhortation to use fully one’s talents however limited or bountiful they be; fury in the face of religious hypocrisy; and supremely to “love thy neighbour as thyself”. These don’t seem to be what Guy or his party are referencing, and it’s a shame that they are not.
Marguerite Heppell, East Hawthorn

AND ANOTHER THING

The Department of Names
In my childhood, weather forecasts came from the Weather Bureau. A simple name ordinary people could understand and pronounce.
Mark Freeman, Macleod

Credit:

“Meteorology” is even harder to say than “nuclear”.
Christine Weatherhead, Glen Waverley

Why would the Bank of Melbourne want to change its name to the Bureau?
Keith Lawson, Melbourne

The pandemic
We are all too aware of the failures (“Pandemic response ‘failed most vulnerable’”, The Age, 20/10). What about “pandemic achievements”?
Pat Rivett, Ferntree Gully

No surprise that mistakes were made by governments during the pandemic. Everyone was in a new learning environment and it is easy to be wise after an event not experienced in our lifetime.
Ray Cleary, Camberwell

Politics
Great news and thank you, Premier Andrews, for the promise to resurrect the SEC (“Power generation switching to state control under Andrews’ $1b energy plan”, online, The Age, 20/10). Could you now bend your mind to the Gas and Fuel Corporation and the Board of Works?
Bill Gilbert, Olinda

Turns out you can unscramble an egg. Hopefully there are a few other privatised assets in the government’s sights.
Jack Morris, Kennington

I love a bet but I will vote for any politician who wants all betting advertising banned.
Craig Christie, Mornington

Furthermore
Given I have accounts with Optus, Woolworths and Vinomofo I should have taken out a full page ad showing all my details and saved the hackers all that trouble.
Bryan Fraser, St Kilda West

Finally
I know we are the land of “droughts and flooding rains”, but any chance we could sit somewhere between the two, even just for six months?
Pete Sands, Monbulk

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