The Victorian, Queensland and Morrison governments all sought to address their various COVID vulnerabilities with announcements on Monday.
The Andrews government – under intense attack from the federal government – said it will unveil on Sunday its “reopening roadmap” for easing restrictions, a week before the hard Melbourne lockdown is due to expire on September 13.
The Palaszczuk government – after publicity about health hardship cases involving border issues – announced it is setting up a unit in its health department to help with residents from NSW who need medical treatment in Queensland.
The Morrison government – fighting off strong attacks from Labor over the daily death toll among nursing home residents – provided $563 million to extend support under existing measures for the aged care sector.
Andrews said his government would hold extensive discussions with industry, unions and community organisations ahead of Sunday’s announcement “to inform the final development” of the roadmap. The government would tailor guidance to different industries.
Andrews said: “Workplaces will need to look very different as we find out ‘COVID Normal’. By working with business we’ll make sure that can happen practically and safely”.
He warned of the danger of opening too quickly – if that happened “we will lose control of this. The numbers will explode”.
The tally of new cases in Victoria announced on Monday was 73. The number of deaths was 41. But these included 33 deaths before August 27 which were reported to the state department by aged care facilities on Sunday (under new reporting requirements to reconcile federal and state numbers).
Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg on Sunday called on Andrews to present a “message of hope” and a plan for the way out of the lockdown. In a round of interviews on Monday, Frydenberg continued pushing the point of how great a drag Victoria, with its disastrous second COVID wave, is on the national economic recovery.
This comes ahead of Wednesday’s national accounts for the June quarter. Frydenberg said the figures would show “the largest single quarterly fall [in GDP] that Australia has seen”.
Meanwhile, as the war over borders continues to rage, a defiant Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said she would not be moved on the issue.
“Queensland will continue to have our borders closed to keep Queenslanders safe,” she said. “The federal government can throw whoever they want at that.”
But her government has acted to deal with health issues arising from the restricted access to the state.
This was highlighted last week after a woman from northern NSW who was sent to Sydney for medical treatment lost an unborn twin. She went to Sydney following confusion about how she could access treatment in Brisbane, which was much closer. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Friday the case was “heartbreaking”.
Palaszczuk said a hotline will be be set up to “coordinate with families in a timely manner”.
“I understand it is a very difficult time for people,” she said.
Although Morrison is deeply frustrated with premiers in states with few or no cases keeping borders shut, Newspoll on Monday showed eight in ten Australians thought premiers “should have the authority to close their borders or restrict entry of Australians who live in other states”. In Queensland, it was 84%.
The extra aged care money extends existing spending on areas such as infection control and staffing, including to confine staff to working at only a single facility.
Having workers employed at multiple facilities was a problem in Victoria’s second wave. The federal government on Monday could not say how many workers in Victoria were still doing this.
Some of the funds will also extend current short-term home support for people whose families have taken them out of facilities because the pandemic.
Since July, 19 notices have been issued to aged care providers in Victoria to comply with standards.
Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck, appearing at a news conference with Health Minister Greg Hunt, said the government was “doing work on an alternative funding model and that is the real thing that [is] going to put a floor under the sector, and we’re working with the sector.
"And we’re doing the preparatory work to put that in place as quickly as possible now once we come to our Royal Commission response.” The royal commission presents its final report in February.
The government ruled out calls for the Medicare levy to be increased to provide more money for aged care.
Authors: Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra