Australia

Kochie lays into Minister over virus plan

Sunrise host David ‘Kochie’ Koch locked with Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos this morning as he challenged her over the state’s new roadmap out of lockdown.He accused the state government of “going rogue” with the plan and setting “unrealistic” targets that will allow businesses are allowed to reopen.“These are some of the toughest restrictions in…

Sunrise host David ‘Kochie’ Koch locked with Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos this morning as he challenged her over the state’s new roadmap out of lockdown.

He accused the state government of “going rogue” with the plan and setting “unrealistic” targets that will allow businesses are allowed to reopen.

“These are some of the toughest restrictions in the world,” he began by saying. “Are you going for elimination here rather than managing this virus?”

Ms Mikakos said the state wasn’t, rather it was going for “aggressive suppression”.

However, Kochie took issue with the strategy.

“This looks like you’ve gone rogue with this,” he said. “This is out-of-step with the rest of the country.”

He then took aim at the plan to only lift lockdown if the average number of new cases falls below five and there are fewer than five unknown source cases.

“This target of getting under five cases a day for 14 days before you get back to any semblance of normal is way different to NSW, which is managing it with an economy that s relatively open,” he said.

“NSW fluctuates between five cases a day to sometimes in the low teens, but they manage it and keep businesses open, keep kids at school, they keep the economy going and more particularly for the mental health of citizens.”

Mikakos defended her government’s strategy, saying Victoria was in a “different position” to its northern neighbour.

“New South Wales has done a great job and we acknowledge that, but Victoria is in a different position,” she said.

The Minister said the state’s road map was “designed in accordance with the expert advice from our public health officials and based on the modelling we receive.”

“Modelling shows if we go too fast too quickly then we risk having a third wave,” she added.

“We want to bring down our cases significantly before we can safely reopen businesses and other economic activity.

“If we just have a little more patience then we can get there, but I do acknowledge the huge sacrifice everyone is making.”

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews is copping it from multiple directions this morning as the state comes to terms with his new plan.

Mr Andrews revealed the plan during a marathon media conference on Sunday. The current, strict lockdown in Melbourne – which was supposed to end in mid-September – will now be extended for another fortnight, albeit with some tweaks.

You can read all the details here.

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The Premier was clearly expecting his announcement to generate criticism. He did his best to head it off.

“We can’t run out of lockdown,” he told reporters.

“We have to take safe and steady steps to find COVID-normal and make sure in opening up, we can stay open.”

During an appearance on The Project on Sunday evening, Mr Andrews said leadership was about “doing what is right” no matter the political ramifications.

“Whether I’m criticised or praised, that is not my concern,” he said.

“My concern is to defeat the second wave, find a COVID-normal and lock it in until a vaccine arrives.

“Just because we want this to be over, we can’t pretend that it is.

“There is a lot of pain out there, I understand that, but there will be even more pain if we are open for just a few weeks and then shut down again for months.”

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Much of the backlash against Mr Andrews in the last 24 hours has come from the business sector, for obvious reasons.

Under the road map, some restrictions on businesses will be lifted on September 28, provided Melbourne can bring its average number of new infections per day below 50 in the preceding fortnight.

All retail and hospitality businesses will be able to reopen at the end of November – but only if the state reaches an average of zero daily cases.

At the moment, the rolling average is still above 70 cases per day.

Paul Guerra, the head of Victoria’s Chamber of Commerce, labelled Mr Andrews’ road map “a road to nowhere” and accused the Premier of doing too little to help the business community.

“We were hoping for a road to recovery. Today we have been delivered a road to nowhere,” Mr Guerra said.

“This does not deliver for the thousands of businesses that are trying to keep this state going and trying to keep their doors open.

“We can’t continue to let business and jobs be decimated on the way to controlling the spread of the virus.”

Mr Guerra said while there was some promise for regional Victorian businesses to bounce back, the slow easing of restrictions in Melbourne was “not good enough”.

“The virus numbers required to move from one phase to the next is so tight it’s difficult to see how many businesses are going to be able to open up any time soon,” he said.

Mr Guerra called the government’s plan “a kick in the guts”.

The Australian Industry Group labelled the “so-called” road map to recovery “a document of despair” for industry.

“Rather than providing the hope and optimism required, along with clear and measurable steps for businesses to open up, today’s announcement will only prolong the economic and social pain that all Victorians are feeling,” said chief executive Innes Willox.

“Industry expected a clear and concise pathway to reopening. It didn’t get it.”

Wesfarmers CEO Rob Scott said the Victorian government of failing to follow through on its promised consultation with the business sector.

“I worry that this latest announcement creates more uncertainty and hardship and will inflict a greater personal and economic cost, not just to the people of Melbourne but the whole of Australia,” said Mr Scott.

“In Victoria, Wesfarmers businesses employ around 30,000 team members, and we have not had any meaningful engagement with the government around retail operations, and nor any feedback as to whether our retail network presents any risks to the community.

“To develop a better plan would require the Victorian government to engage in genuine consultation, to listen and learn about industries that are outside their expertise.”

He said the extended lockdown would have an “enormous, incalculable and growing toll”.

David Canny, President of the Australian Hotels Association Victoria, said he would be asking the federal government to intervene.

“Why can everyone else do this so much better?” Mr Canny asked, referring to other states.

“This is the tail wagging the dog, and bureaucrats having no understanding of what businesses need and don’t want.

“We’re going to end up as a failed state.”

Parts of the media were also extremely critical.

Australian Financial Review columnist Jennifer Hewett said Mr Andrews was “an all-or-nothing style politician”, and the result for Victoria was “pretty much nothing”. She called his announcement “a determined trampling of any hopes the worst might soon be over”.

“Not surprisingly, promised consultations with business groups are considered to have been a bad joke – and strictly one-way,” she wrote.

“Instead, the Andrews government is willing to destroy the state’s economy, jobs and business confidence to avoid any risk of an increase in infections.”

Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt called the plan “a road map to more destruction”.

“God save Victoria. It’s in the hands of a man who now seems deranged, like a World War 1 general who’s already sent so many soldiers to pointless deaths, but still orders one last push into the machine guns to win the war before Christmas,” he said.

During his show on Sunday night, Sky News host Paul Murray pointed out that Melbourne would have to endure a longer lockdown than Italy and the United Kingdom, both of which have suffered death tolls in the tens of thousands.

“This doesn’t make any sense,” Murray said.

“Victoria, you have to wait to October for a chance to maybe start to get the chance to go outside.”

His colleague Peta Credlin, who served as Tony Abbott’s chief of staff when he was prime minister, echoed Mr Willox’s assertion that Mr Andrews’ plan was a “road map to nowhere”.

“It’s just a plan for more restrictions. I think it’s devastating for Victorians,” Credlin said.

“It’s devastating for the economy nationally, given Victoria is 25 per cent of the national economy.”

And as you would expect, the Victorian opposition has ripped in, with Liberal Party leader Michael O’Brien accusing his counterpart of “betraying Victorians”.

Mr O’Brien’s colleagues reacted with a similar tone.

Among those defending Mr Andrews was Dr Omar Korshid, President of the Australian Medical Association.

He accused angry business leaders of ignoring the medical evidence, and said the extended lockdown would actually benefit the economy in the long term.

“The Victorian government has made necessary decisions based on sound medical advice, in the best interests of the nation’s health and the nation’s economy,” Dr Khorshid said.

“The Victorian government modelling shows what doctors already knew. If restrictions were lifted this week, the state would see infections rise again.

“Some business leaders campaigning against isolation measures are ignoring medical evidence that easing restrictions too soon risks a third wave surge in further infections.

“The fall in daily infections in Victoria proves current restrictions are working. Extending these restrictions best positions the economy for a sustainable long-term recovery.

“Every Australian wants to see Victoria succeed in halting COVID-19, both for the health of us all and the long-term recovery of our economy.”

Reserve Bank director Carol Shwartz was another expert to stick up for the Premier, saying his plan “provides much greater certainty around reopening” than the prospect of yo-yoing between different stages of lockdown in the future.

“Look at what’s happening around the rest of the world. It’s a complete disaster when governments don’t take control and let the virus rip,” she said.

We should also mention the response from Scott Morrison.

The Prime Minister is set to speak to the public directly about the road map later today, but he did issue a joint statement on Sunday afternoon with Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Health Minister Greg Hunt.

That statement appeared to implicitly criticise the Andrews government’s approach.

“Today’s announcement from the Victorian Government to extend lockdown arrangements will be hard and crushing news for the people of Victoria, and a further reminder of the impact and costs that result from not being able to contain outbreaks of COVID-19, resulting in high rates of community transmission,” they said.

“The proposed road map will come at a further economic cost. While this needs to be weighed up against mitigating the risk of further community outbreak, it is also true that the continued restrictions will have further impact on the Victorian and national economy, in further job losses and loss of livelihoods, as well as impacting on mental health.

Of course the federal government would like to see restrictions in Victoria lifted as soon as it is safe to do so, but at the end of the day, these are decisions solely for the Victorian government to determine.”

During his appearance on The Project, Mr Andrews sidestepped a question about the Prime Minister’s media release, posed by Channel 10’s political editor Peter van Onselen.

“You’d need to speak to the Prime Minister about the words he chooses in media releases,” Mr Andrews said.

“I spoke to him this morning before I made these announcements. Our partnership is a very important one, there’s no time for politics in this.”

Van Onselen pressed again, asking the Premier: “What do you think of the words he has used?”

“Prime ministers and premiers need to be focused on the job at hand and that’s not trying to interpret media releases,” Mr Andrews said.

“That’s working together as closely as we can to get this job done, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”

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