UPDATED: Barr lashes pandemic politics – ‘Nastiest public debate I’ve experienced’

Ian Bushnell and Genevieve Jacobs 30 September 2021 11
Chief Minister Andrew Bar

Chief Minister Andrew Barr speaking at this morning’s COVID-19 briefing. Photo: Ian Bushnell.

UPDATED 2:45 pm: Chief Minister Andrew Barr has lashed out at the bitter politics of the pandemic, saying the debate over restrictions and lockdowns had been vicious and divisive.

“This nation has torn itself apart over whether to open up at 70 per cent or 80 per cent,” Mr Barr said.

“We’ve got media outlets running agendas, it’s been a vicious public debate. Awful things have been said about public health officials, politicians.

“It’s been the nastiest public debate I’ve experienced in my career in politics – worse than marriage equality, worse than voluntary assisted dying.”

Mr Barr was being pressed about the risk of allowing two people to visit a household as part of tomorrow’s easing of restrictions.

“Over the last several weeks many people have come into the room and thumped the table demanding that things be eased even earlier, and I’ve always said it’s a balance of risks here,” he said.

He said the risk was there every time people moved about but the counterbalance was the growing rate of vaccination.

Mr Barr was more circumspect when asked about the way in which Treasurer Josh Frydenberg had announced how the Commonwealth would cut its assistance to business and individuals at the 80 per cent vaccination threshold.

“The Commonwealth will announce things the way they do, drop things to certain media outlets. That’s their modus operandi. It is what it is, let that one be,” he said.

But he said the ACT had been able to negotiate further support for certain industry sectors that would continue to be impacted after that vaccination target is reached.

The ACT would also provide support itself for certain sectors until the end of the year, with some schemes to run into the first half of 2022.

In the face of constant criticism about the tardiness of business payments, Mr Barr chided the Commonwealth for not sticking with JobKeeper.

“I’ve said a dozen times and I’ll repeat it again today, a grants scheme like this is amongst the least efficient way, but the Commonwealth would not agree to use their payment mechanism,” he said.

“I share the frustration. I said all through last year that a grants scheme was going to be cumbersome and take time and be administratively difficult.”

Mr Barr said $85 million had been paid to about 5400 businesses.

The government continues to press its public health messages about staying home and limiting movement, and vaccination but Mr Barr acknowledged there were still areas of challenge for the government.

These included those in vulnerable settings such as public housing and sections of the multi-cultural community with little or no English, many of whom have large households.

Mr Barr said many of these people had little engagement with government or services but a continuing campaign together with community and multi-cultural organisations would push the need for vaccination over the coming weeks.

That would include specialist programs and in-reach programs that take vaccination to people rather than them having to go to a mass vaccination clinic.

Mr Barr said household contact remained the most common way of contracting the virus and urged people to be cautious over the long weekend.

“When people are getting together over the long weekend, do so in a really safe and considered way,” he said.

Mr Barr said the surge in cases so far would not mean the government would reconsider lifting the lockdown on 15 October.

UPDATED 12:30 pm: The ACT has recorded 31 new cases of COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, the second highest number recorded during the current outbreak.

Of the new cases, 17 are linked to current or identified close contacts and the remaining 14 are under early investigation.

Six people were in quarantine for the entirety of their infectious period; at least 17 spent part of their infectious period in the community. Eight of the new cases are household contacts.

Ten people are in hospital with COVID-19, three are in ICU and all require ventilation. One additional person was admitted to intensive care overnight and will be included in tomorrow’s numbers. None of the intensive care patients are vaccinated.

Yesterday, 3485 tests were conducted.

The Calvary Hayden aged care facility cluster now totals 17, including two residents and one staff member in today’s numbers. None of the Calvary cases are hospitalised although some are symptomatic and are being managed in the facility.

“This number is higher and, while we do expect numbers to fluctuate, we will keep a very close eye on the situation,” Deputy Chief Health Officer Dr Vanessa Johnston told today’s press briefing.

“This is a reminder that everyone needs to remain vigilant … while we work towards higher vaccination targets.”

Calvary Hayden and the London Circuit construction site, with 17 associated cases, have now been added to the list of active public sites of transmission in addition to Ainslie Village, where the cluster stands at 13.

Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said three patients in total had tested positive at the Canberra Hospital since transmission occurred last week. All other patients in Ward 10a have returned negative tests during day five testing yesterday, as have all health care workers.

Forty seven staff are off work in quarantine and Ward 10a remains closed for admissions.

Minister Stephen-Smith also provided an update on visitor restrictions for aged care. At this stage in lockdown, no visitors are permitted except for end of life and other compassionate reasons.

“We recognise this is really hard for people with loved ones in aged care and I thank everyone for their patience,” the Minister said.

She urged people to stay in touch via phone and video link. Essential items can be delivered to an aged care facility but prior contact must be made before proceeding. Permitted visits should also be coordinated with the facility.

From 15 October, visitors will need to comply with policies established by individual facilities and Ms Stephen-Smith asked residents, staff and families to work together to ensure everyone understands how those policies will be applied.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr stressed the importance of making earlier vaccination appointments where at all possible before the ACT comes out of lockdown in mid-October. Yesterday, 7000 text messages were sent to people with appointments and 3000 were brought forward.

Canberrans who are over 60 are now eligible for Pfizer vaccination at an ACT Government clinic and Moderna is also available for over 60s at pharmacies.

Mixing vaccines is not approved in Australia and Mr Barr cautioned that it is not possible to get an MRNA vaccine – Pfizer and Moderna – if you have had a first dose of AstraZeneca. However based on forward orders from the Commonwealth, it looks likely that MRNA booster shots will be available for everyone next year.

The Calvary AstraZeneca clinic will close from Friday 8 October and the small numbers of existing bookings will be brought forward and managed.

Mr Barr said that he had reached an agreement with the Commonwealth Treasurer to extend ACT business support grants. There is an additional business grant extension payment of $10,000 for employing businesses and $3750 for non-employing businesses.

This takes the baseline payment to $40,000 for employing businesses and $15,000 for non-employing businesses and also tops up payments for medium and larger business in the ACT, scaled on the turnover of those businesses.

The fitness and sports industry, including dance studios, gyms and personal trainers, can now apply for the COVID-19 grants scheme for the arts, events and tourism sectors. Details can be found online at the ACT Government business hub.

11:50 am: The ACT has recorded 31 new cases of COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, the second highest number recorded during the current outbreak. These numbers include new cases associated with the Calvary Hayden aged care facility cluster that were announced at yesterday’s press briefing, but occurred after the daily cut-off for reporting.

Of the new cases, 17 are linked to current or identified close contacts and the remaining 14 are under early investigation.

Six people were in quarantine for the entirety of their infectious period; at least 17 spent part of their infectious period in the community.

Ten people are in hospital with COVID-19, three are in ICU and all require ventilation.

Yesterday, 3485 tests were conducted.

NSW recorded 941 cases and six deaths. Of those eligible in NSW, 86.7 per cent have now had one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and 62.9 per cent are double-dosed.

Yesterday NSW had 863 new cases and 15 deaths.

In Victoria, 1438 cases were recorded and five deaths.

Yesterday there were 950 new cases and seven deaths.

Coffee shop.

More help is available for businesses but that support will dry up as vaccination reaches the 70 per cent and 80 per cent targets. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

9:05 am: Another round of support for ACT businesses impacted by the COVID-19 lockdown has been announced, as the Territory prepares for a slight easing of restrictions tomorrow.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr said a jointly-funded package of grants from the Commonwealth and ACT Governments would support thousands of small and medium-sized businesses through until mid-October, when the ACT is expected to reach the 80 per cent vaccination mark.

Yesterday the ACT was at 60.9 per cent for fully vaccinated Canberrans aged 12 and over.

An additional ACT COVID-19 Business Grant Extension payment of $10,000 for all employing businesses and $3,750 for non-employing businesses will be available.

It will be paid to all businesses who were eligible for the COVID-19 Business Support Grant in industries still significantly impacted by health restrictions.

As well, another top-up payment will also be made for larger businesses at the following rates:

  • $10,000 for employing businesses with a turnover greater than $2 million and less than $5 million;
  • $20,000 for employing businesses with a turnover greater than $5 million and less than $10 million;
  • $30,000 for employing businesses with a turnover greater than $10 million.

The package will be split on a 50/50 basis between the Commonwealth and the ACT Governments, with the Territory government to administer the program.

There is also more help for businesses in the tourism, accommodation, arts, events and hospitality and fitness sectors.

The existing grants for these sectors will be be expanded to offer:

  • $5,000 for non-employing businesses;
  • $8,000 for employing businesses with turnover less than $2 million;
  • $15,000 for employing businesses with turnover greater than $2 million and less than $5 million;
  • $25,000 for employing businesses with turnover greater than $5 million.

ACT businesses in the fitness/sport industry, such as gyms, personal trainers and dance teachers/instructors, will now also be eligible to apply to the grants program, recognising the disproportionate impact the pandemic is having on these businesses.

The eligibility criteria will continue to match the eligibility criteria for the COVID-19 Business Support Grant. Further information on this grant will be made available in October.

Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the jointly funded business support package tapers once a jurisdiction reaches 70 per cent full vaccination rate, to ensure support is focused on those industries that remain closed or severely restricted.

“The Commonwealth will cease funding state business support programs at 80 per cent full vaccination in line with the National Plan for Reopening,” he said.

“At this point it will be a matter for each state to decide whether any additional targeted business support is needed in their jurisdictions as a result of any health restrictions they elect to impose.”

Mr Barr said the extension of the COVID-19 Business Support Grants would provide further transitional support for business as the economy is gradually reopened in October and November.

Mr Barr said the ACT was on track to achieve a vaccination rate of more than 90 per cent of Canberrans aged 12 and over.

A Kambah child care centre has been listed as an exposure location on the ACT COVID-19 website.

Communities@Work’s Taylor Child Care and Education Centre is named as a casual contact site from Wednesday 22 September between 7 am and 2:30 pm.

It is among eight casual contact sites that also includes five supermarkets, a bus route and petrol station.

Four of the supermarkets are on the south side including two at Cooleman Court in Weston, with the fifth being the IGA Platypus at Ngunnawal.

The Coles supermarkets at South.Point in Tuggeranong and Chisholm, and the Woolworths and Aldi stores at Cooleman Court are named.

The Woolworths Metro in Belconnen is listed as a close contact site from last Saturday between 10:30 am and 11:30 am.

Check the COVID website for the full details of exposure locations and times.

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith has warned Canberrans that while some restrictions will be lifted tomorrow the ACT will still be in lockdown until 15 October.

“Please continue to be cautious for the next couple of weeks,” she told ABC radio.

Ms Stephen-Smith also said that health authorities would be focusing on boosting vaccination among Canberra’s vulnerable communities.


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11 Responses to UPDATED: Barr lashes pandemic politics – ‘Nastiest public debate I’ve experienced’
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Feedback Feedback 5:16 pm 30 Sep 21

Whilst I recognise that there is always inappropriate debate focusing on the person not the issue which doesn’t really help anything and oversteps the line, if it wasn’t for appropriate pressure in the form of critique and calling for transparency being applied from a range of directions, the public would have only been receiving a ‘checkin’ this week, instead of a plan, which up until last week the public were being told they couldn’t have because it would just change anyway.

I think a more balanced reflection would be to also ask across the general public, how they felt they have been treated by politicians over the past 7 weeks.

    chewy14 chewy14 5:58 pm 30 Sep 21

    Great comment.

    There’s clearly too much politics going on at all levels.

    Good politicians should aim to rise above that and work transparently with and for the people.

TheSilver TheSilver 3:18 pm 30 Sep 21

Of course it’s decisive. There hasn’t been any public discussion and any dissent is violently suppressed. Maybe the Emergency power legislation should be altered so that if invoked, the Chief Minister must immediately resign all ministerial roles and move to the back bench and is not able to stand at the next election, and further, once the emergency period ends, an election must immediately be called. In that way, the public can at least be sure the government suffers as much as the population and there can be more confidence they are acting in the public interest, which it certainly isn’t obvious they are doing now.

Stephen Saunders Stephen Saunders 3:17 pm 30 Sep 21

Too many people love to hate him, over development issues. On COVID, in all sincerity, he has been a model of humanity, decency and common sense, under extreme Morrison provocations.

    Julie Patricia Smith Julie Patricia Smith 5:01 pm 30 Sep 21

    Yes I wasn’t a great fan of his on planning and development issues but he has provided excellent leadership during covid

whatwik whatwik 3:04 pm 30 Sep 21

Yes, apart from the AFL blip, the rise in Victorian cases likely also reflects the Federal Government’s vaccination efforts being concentrated on the Sydney mess which seeded other outbreaks. Just as well Victoria acted when and as it did or its cases would have been so much higher!

Good though that any pretence of a rigid ‘plan’ has been dropped, with NSW now bouncing around (‘pivoting’ if you like) bringing school openings a week earlier on the one hand, while on the other, plunging regional LGAs into renewed lockdown at the hint of an outbreak, and their Liberal stablemates in Tasmania (with similar population numbers to the ACT and region) joining the 90 percenters –

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-09-29/tasmania-wont-reopen-covid-border-before-90pc-vaccination/100500844

    chewy14 chewy14 3:51 pm 30 Sep 21

    Yes, it’s definitely good that those who were spouting the partisan nonsense around the Victorian response have had to backtrack on their clearly incorrect statements.

    Although some are simply too blinded that they’re now looking for other scapegoats rather than confronting their cognitive dissonance over being as wrong as you could possibly be on any issue.

    It’s lucky though that the ACT Government have recognised their clear failings in initially not putting forward any kind of reasonable plan and are now following the lead of the NSW and Victorian government’s.

Tilly Tilly 12:59 pm 30 Sep 21

Just got word I can go back to work on October 18. Some light at the end of a (over 2 months long by then) tunnel! Hopefully the border is open to “non-essential” staff by then…

chewy14 chewy14 12:59 pm 30 Sep 21

1438 cases in Victoria.

Hopefully the Vaccine begins to bend the exponential growth in the next couple of weeks like it has in NSW. They are in for a rough few months despite their “hard and fast” lockdown.

    Oscar Mike Oscar Mike 2:10 pm 30 Sep 21

    Can anyone update me on the most recent narrative/explanation (as of 9-27-21) as to what function the vaccine is now claimed to perform?

    It’s formal purpose and reason for being?

    Are we officially down to ‘it might slightly mitigate your symptoms when you catch it’?

    JC JC 4:37 pm 30 Sep 21

    It is the same function as it’s always been intended to perform. And which is how all vaccines work actually.

    That is to let your body build antibodies so that if you get infected your body knows how to fight the infection/virus.

    The better your response the lower the chance of you getting sick as a result of the infection as you body gets onto it faster. That in turn also helps minimise the amount of virus you can pass into others.

    No vaccine is a magic shield to prevent you getting something.

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