Liberals revolt against ‘unsustainable’ lockdowns

01 Sep Liberals revolt against ‘unsustainable’ lockdowns

John Kehoe – Australian Financial Review – Tuesday September 1 2020

Victorian federal Liberal MPs have slammed Melbourne’s blunt lockdown and the state Labor government’s contact tracing failures, arguing business restrictions must be eased and health restrictions made sustainable.

The rising dissent follows the member for the bayside electorate of Goldstein, Tim Wilson, warning in a parliamentary speech that politicians are “immorally trading away younger Australians’ opportunity” and hiding behind health bureaucrats to avoid tough cost-benefit decisions on the virus for all of society.

An emboldened Mr Wilson separately ramped up his venting on Tuesday, saying people had been sold a “con” that lockdowns save lives.

“They save some lives on one side of the ledger and cost them on the mental health and delayed health risks on the other,” Mr Wilson said.

“Arguably the highest risk bet-everything-on-black strategy is waiting for a vaccine, rather than sustainable risk management.”

Victorian MPs said their offices had been inundated with distressed phone calls and emails from people worried about mental health problems and the financial distress of workers and small business owners.

Senator James Paterson said lockdowns are “utterly unsustainable”.

“We will be spending years picking up the pieces from this one. When it ends we can’t go back into another one,” Senator Paterson said.

“Victoria must find a sustainable solution to managing the virus that doesn’t impose such a catastrophic cost on society and the economy.

“The Victorian government needs to share a clear path out and a clear plan to respond to any future breakouts that don’t involve blunt lockdowns, curfews and permits.”

Katie Allen, a medical doctor and member for the inner city seat of Higgins, said Premier Daniel Andrews had taken a “very Socialist approach … which means we all go to broad rather than targeted restrictions”.

“Because they have not been able to effectively deliver a targeted response they have had to move to broad and sweeping restrictions to get control of the virus,” said Dr Allen, a member of the National COVID-19 Health and Research Advisory Committee which advises the Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer.

“We know targeted responses are effective – we can see them effectively delivered in other states, whether it’s effective quarantining in hotels or at home or effective targeted tracking and tracing.

“When we need to move to broad, non-specific restrictions it’s effectively saying we have failed to deliver an effective targeted approach.

“We have to learn to live with the virus.

“The states are not seeing the bigger picture and it’s important that we look at both the health and economic costs and benefits of both restrictions and opening up.”

Mr Andrews will unveil a stage four exit road map on Sunday.

Senator for Victoria, David Van, said the state government’s hotel quarantine contact tracing shortcomings must be fixed to match NSW’s excellent system.

“I feel incredibly for the small business people in Victoria who are in desperate straits due to a failure of process and they deserve a chance to survive,” Senator Van said.

“Stage three and four restrictions have been imposed for about seven or eight weeks, so surely that’s enough lockdown to open back up.”

The number of Victorians on unemployment benefits has skyrocketed – up by almost 28,000 people since the beginning of the second lockdown – with more than half signing on in the first three weeks of August.

Federal Treasury estimates Victoria will make up about 60 per cent of the expected 2.24 million JobKeeper recipients in the December quarter, and 60 per cent of the expected 1.75 million recipients in the March quarter.

In an impassioned speech to the House of Representatives, Mr Wilson urged politicians and people “not to seek the false security of lockdowns in perpetuity”.

A “sustainable” response to COVID-19 was required, such as face masks, social distancing, venue registrations, capacity limits and working from home for people who could, he said.

Mr Wilson cited reports showing the lockdown had caused cancer diagnoses to fall 30 per cent in Victoria, a 33 per cent rise in self-harm injuries among children, Lifeline’s call centre being flooded and an academic study claiming wholesale lockdowns cost twice as much as the lives they saved.

“Victoria’s situation exposes the fallacy of handing control over to technocrats that can only see problems through a singular lens,” Mr Wilson said on Monday night.

“We should listen to experts but it is accountable politicians who must weigh competing priorities and take responsibility.

“There is no risk-free solution to suppression of COVID-19 and we cannot let fear dictate our lives.”

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