27 August 2020

Probing the polls: annoying robocalls and COVID-19 hotspots

| Genevieve Jacobs
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The drive-through COVID-19 testing site at Kambah.

The drive-through COVID-19 testing site at Kambah. Photo: Canberra Health Services.

Whether they’re democratically defensible or not, a substantial majority of RiotACT readers find politically motivated robocalls plain annoying.

Last week, thousands of Canberrans received robocalls from conservative Melbourne-based group Binary Australia.

The calls asked Canberrans to complete a survey about the legislation, claiming the laws could change access to medical and hormone treatments as well as remove the ability of parents to be involved in their child’s decision to change their gender identity from as young as five.

But Minister for Justice Shane Rattenbury, who co-sponsored the bill with Chief Minister Andrew Barr, said, at best, the calls grossly misunderstood and misrepresented the legislation and called the claims “factually wrong … entirely false and misleading”.

We asked, should we ban politically motivated robocalls? 703 respondents cast their votes.

Your choices were to vote No, freedom to campaign is part of democracy. This received just 13 per cent of the total, or 94 votes. Alternatively you could vote Yes, it’s annoying, make them stop. This option received a whopping 87 per cent of the total, or 609 votes.

This week, we’re wondering about why the ACT is classified as a COVID-19 hotspot, despite running around seven weeks without a single new infection.

Queensland is currently grappling with a virus outbreak stemming from a Brisbane detention centre. While the rate of increase has been in single digits for some days, there have been multiple active cases in the state and public health alerts have been issued for more than 55 sites across Queensland’s south-east.

However, the state’s border remains shut to Canberrans because of the ACT’s porous borders with NSW and community transmission in Sydney, three hours’ drive away.

The ACT was listed by Queensland as a COVID-19 hotspot on 8 August. The last active COVID-19 patient in the ACT had recovered a week earlier on 1 August while the last cases were diagnosed on 9 July.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr has been lobbying at National Cabinet level about the definition, and Prime Minister Scott Morrison has asked for greater clarification on how the hotspots are defined.

There was plenty of argument on this question, centring on whether the hotspot definition is a sensible way of keeping us safe, or a heavy-handed and politically motivated measure designed more for domestic consumption.

James Hodges said “Revenge is a dish best served cold. Bide your time Canberra. The next time that there is a national conference to be held in Canberra, the ACT government should insist that the QLD delegation arrive in the city two weeks early in order to meet the SDCT virus requirements (seriously dumb cane toad)”.

But Katie Kemp said “It’s because there’s free transit between NSW and the ACT. It stops people travelling from NSW to QLD via Canberra, which (from a COVID perspective) is actually a good thing for the ACT”.

Our question is:

Should the ACT be classified as a COVID-19 hotspot?

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