Democracy in the time of COVID-19

Queensland council elections and state by-elections to proceed in spite of everything; two polls on attitudes to coronavirus; and Josh Frydenberg off the Section 44 hook.

I had a paywalled article in Crikey yesterday considering the implications of coronavirus for the electoral process. For what it’s worth, the New York Times today reports that research finds no evidence that elections act as vectors for disease. Apropos next Saturday’s local government elections and state by-elections in Queensland, my article had this to say:

According to Graeme Orr, University of Queensland law professor and a noted authority on electoral law, it is still within the power of Local Government Minister Stirling Hinchliffe to postpone the council elections. The byelections for the state seats of Currumbin and Bundamba could also theoretically be called off if the speaker rescinded the writs. Since a state election will be held in October in any case, it might well be argued that filling the latter vacancies for a few months is not worth the bother. However, the official position is that neither pre-poll nor election day booths will experience activity amounting to a gathering of more than 500 people, as per the latest advice of the chief medical officer — advice that will surely be showing its age well before next Saturday.

In other by-election news, the Liberal National Party has put Labor last on its how-to-vote cards in Currumbin and Bundamba, and thus behind One Nation, a move that has evidently lost its taboo since the issue of One Nation preferences tore the state’s Coalition parties apart around the turn of the century. This could potentially be consequential in Bundamba, where it is conceivable that One Nation could outpoll the LNP and defeat Labor with their preferences.

Elsewhere:

• The Federal Court has dismissed a Section 44 challenge against Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s eligibility to sit in parliament on grounds of dual Hungarian citizenship, to which he was allegedly entitled via his Hungarian-born mother. The petitioner, Michael Staindl, initially pointed to Australian documentation suggesting her family arrived in Australia in 1950 with Hungarian passports, having fled the country the previous year as the post-war communist regime tightened its grip. However, it was established that this arose from loose definitions used at the time by the Australian authorities, and that what the family actually had was “a form of single use emigrant exit passport”. This led Staindl to twice reformulate his argument, eventually settling on the contention that Frydenberg’s mother was left with the “shell” of a citizenship that had been emptied only by the communist regime’s arbitrary and capricious “pseudo-law”, a factor that ceased to apply with its demise in 1989. This did not impress the court, which dismissed the petition and ordered Staindl to pay costs.

• The Age/Herald has polling results from Newgate Research on which aspects of coronavirus are of greatest public concern. The results are reasonably consistent across the board, but top of the list is “the overall economic impact”, with which 41% express themselves extremely concerned, 36% quite concerned, 19% slightly concerned and 4% not at all concerned. “Regular health services not being available” produces similar results of 35%, 32%, 25% and 8%. There are slightly more moderate results for other questions on health impacts and “shortages of food, toilet paper and other essentials”, although in all cases the combination for extremely concerned and quite concerned is well above 50%. The poll is an “online tracking study of more than 1000 Australians, taken between Wednesday and Saturday last week”.

The West Australian ($) also has a WA-only coronavirus poll, which finds 66% supporting cancellation of large sporting events, 45% for night venues, 35% for cinemas and theatres, 34% for gyms and leisure centres, 29% for schools, 28% for universities, 22% for shopping centres and 16% apiece for restaurants and cafes and public transport. Fifty-one per cent of respondents agreed the government had been fully open and honest about the risks and implications of the virus, with 25% disagreeing. The poll was conducted Friday and Saturday by Painted Dog Research from a sample of 890.

• The count for the Northern Territory’s Johnston by-election was finalised on Friday, with Labor’s Joel Bowden winning at the final count over Steven Klose of the Territory Alliance by 1731 votes (52.6%) to (47.4%), in the absence of any surprises in the full preference count. With no candidate polling more than 29.9% on the primary vote, the latter was always an abstract possibility, but the result after the previous exclusion was not particularly close, with Bowden on 1275 (38.7%), Klose on 1110 (33.7%) and Greens candidate Aiya Goodrich Carttling on 907 (27.6%). It seems unlikely that preferences would have favoured the Greens even if it had been otherwise. My live results facility now records the final numbers – there will be more where this came from on this site with the Queensland elections on Saturday week, certainly with the state by-elections, and perhaps also for the Brisbane City Council elections, depending on how things go.

Note also two new posts below this one, one dealing with a new poll of state voting intention in Tasmania, the other being Adrian Beaumont’s latest contribution on the Democratic primaries in the United States.

Author: William Bowe

William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, has existed in one form or another since 2004, and is one of the most heavily trafficked websites on Australian politics.

3,538 comments on “Democracy in the time of COVID-19”

  1. COVID-19 Tests / million population
    NSW (21 March) – 5795
    VIC (20 March) – 2980
    QLD (19 March) – 5284
    WA (21 March) – 3308
    SA (20 March) – 7471
    TAS (20 March) – 1527
    ACT (21 March) – 5572
    NT (no data, perhaps eaten by crocodiles?)

    Various problems in accessing the data (e.g. SA has outstanding performance but for unknown reasons only reported the number tested in the 5 suburban clinics for a considerable period – presumably this was being done by a spin doctor rather than a doctor; another bunch of idiots took to reporting the daily increments rather than the cumulative, losing redundancy whilst not gaining information)

    The data are astonishingly diverse for such a simple case -Commonwealth has failed to coordinate

    There’s no API as far I can see – so something that would take 10 minutes took me about 90 (but perhaps I’m slow)

    Nevertheless I’m fairly confident in the data because I have multiple days in all the large cases and the growth fits.

    The next thing is to think about how the sampling rate affects the projection of occult cases (higher sampling rate must lower the ratio of occult to detected cases). What’s needed (and isn’t present, as far as I can see) is classification of tests at least into contact/trace driven versus population sampling, and ideally further breakdown (e.g sampling by demographics).

    However – to end on a high note – the volume of data is close to world’s best and that’s unambiguously a good thing.

  2. There ought to be at least 2,000 tests per million population done purely as a random sample to establish the real rate of infections in the community. (And also to get hooks into undiscovered contact chains).

  3. EGT

    By focusing tests on returned travellers the authorities are helping to track and prevent the introduction of new vector cases. But these cases should not be thought of as arising in Australia. We’re actually testing subsets of the populations of other countries. We’re testing for transmission in other countries, not in this one.

    We need to know what the rate of community spread is in Australia. This is not being tested in any systematic way. The theory seems to be that when community spread becomes more common here people will start to present with serious symptoms and require admission to hospital. That is to say, the cases will find the system rather than the reverse. That will be an easy way to identify the sick but it won’t tell us much about the total spread unless there’s intensive contact tracing.

    That said, if the measures that have been taken have the effect of reducing the rate of spread then the number of cases that eventually present should be falling. Because these are hypothetical numbers – future cases – they can’t be easily found by testing in any case. If this is the theory then everything that can be done to arrest spread should be done.

  4. Hmm …

    Dr Andrew Robertson is WA’s chief health officer and the expert guiding the State Government in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Peter Law asks him the questions you need answered …

    Q: How should people live their lives this weekend?

    A: Definitely they should be living their lives normally. They should be going to cafes, they should be going to the supermarket, If they’re involved in community sport, they should be doing all of those things. Going to the pub if they want to. There are restrictions in place that would restrict the number of people in those venues. But within those restrictions we strongly encourage people to continue to support local small businesses and to try and continue to work. That keeps society functioning.

    https://thewest.com.au/news/coronavirus/coronavirus-crisis-chief-health-officer-andrew-robertson-answers-the-questions-you-need-to-know-about-was-covid-19-response-ng-b881495159z

    Paywalled, for better or worse.

  5. William Bowe says:
    Sunday, March 22, 2020 at 3:49 am
    Hmm …

    Dr Andrew Robertson is WA’s chief health officer and the expert guiding the State Government in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Peter Law asks him the questions you need answered …

    Q: How should people live their lives this weekend?

    A: Definitely they should be living their lives normally. They should be going to cafes, they should be going to the supermarket, If they’re involved in community sport, they should be doing all of those things. Going to the pub if they want to. There are restrictions in place that would restrict the number of people in those venues. But within those restrictions we strongly encourage people to continue to support local small businesses and to try and continue to work. That keeps society functioning.

    Strange. We need behavioural changes and this chap is suggesting there should be very little change. It’s no wonder the State’s responses so far seem makeshift and ineffective. Hopeless. Community spread is a reality here….but you’d never know it from the published remarks.

  6. Briefly

    By focusing tests on returned travellers the authorities are helping to track and prevent the introduction of new vector cases. But these cases should not be thought of as arising in Australia. We’re actually testing subsets of the populations of other countries. We’re testing for transmission in other countries, not in this one.

    SA – 7471 tests / million pop – has the highest test rate in the nation and fewer visitors than most States – so unless we are tracing an extra hop (I don’t think we are) we must be doing something other than contact/trace driven. We certainly haven’t put a testing centre on KI to do contact/trace driven. No-one disputes the value of population sampling, it’s just that contact/trace-driven has higher priority and almost no-one has the test kits to spare. SA Pathology has somehow ramped capacity at an extraordinary rate and does have the capacity to do sampling, which I hope they are doing. Then
    (as I said): what’s needed (and isn’t present, as far as I can see) is classification of tests at least into contact/trace driven versus population sampling, and ideally further breakdown (e.g sampling by demographics).

  7. While there are some good things in the stimulus package, there’s not enough – basically, there’s nothing at all – for workers who’ve lost their jobs. This will mean the package will fail to sustain demand. It will not be enough unless the pandemic passes quickly….which conflicts with the medical strategy, that being to slow down and prolong the contagion.

    It doesn’t all quite make sense. The LNPs ideological strait jacket will make things worse, as usual…

  8. https://www.sahealth.sa.gov.au/wps/wcm/connect/public+content/sa+health+internet/protecting+public+health/alerts/health+alerts/coronavirus+disease+%28covid-19%29+update+number+11

    Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Update Number 11
    Suspect case definition (any of A, B or C)

    If the patient satisfies epidemiological and clinical criteria, they are classified as a suspect case. Epidemiological criteria: at least one of the following

    International travel in the 14 days before the onset of illness OR
    Close or casual contact in the 14 days before illness onset with a confirmed case of COVID-19

    Clinical criteria: at least one of the following
    Fever OR acute respiratory infection

    See CDNA National Guidelines for contact definition(opens in a new window)
    If the patient has bilateral severe community-acquired pneumonia* and no other cause is identified, with or without recent international travel, they are classified as a suspect case.
    *Requiring care in ICU/HDU, OR respiratory/multi-organ failure. Use clinical judgement re the likelihood of COVID-19.

    If any healthcare worker with direct patient contact has a fever (≥37.5) AND an acute respiratory infection (e.g. shortness of breath, cough, sore throat) they are classified as a suspect case.

  9. C@tmomma says:
    Saturday, March 21, 2020 at 8:07 pm

    Hi dave,
    Do you mind answering another question for my son in America? He is now thinking about putting his money into the hands of a Funds Manager (he seems to change his mind every day), and he was wondering if you knew anything about the bona fides of
    http://ywm.com.au/services or
    https://www.treystawealth.com.au/investphilo/

    Sorry to bother you and don’t reply if you don’t want to. It’s just that he virtually caught the last flight out of Australia to America (for love) and he has the money he took with him from an inheritance he received last year that he doesn’t want to blow.

    Thank you. Again.
    ———————————————-
    If i was in your son’s shoes i would sit on that money for the time being then sit back and watch the market and how different asset classes are performing.

    Before investing i would be thinking about what i was interested in because i would have some understanding of the risks associated with it. If i was uncomfortable with the money simply sitting in the bank i might take out a 3 month bank term deposit knowing it wont earn much but the risks of one of the big four banks collapsing would seem small and if i did that under no circumstances would i tell the bank anything because they will try to sell you their financial planning services.

    The 3 months allows for research. The ASX provides plenty of educational material and business media outlets let you read the opinions of leading fund managers and investors and the banks websites are a good source of market information.

  10. WB

    Dr Andrew Robertson is WA’s chief health officer and the expert guiding the State Government in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Peter Law asks him the questions you need answered …

    Q: How should people live their lives this weekend?

    A: Definitely they should be living their lives normally. They should be going to cafes, they should be going to the supermarket, If they’re involved in community sport, they should be doing all of those things. Going to the pub if they want to. There are restrictions in place that would restrict the number of people in those venues. But within those restrictions we strongly encourage people to continue to support local small businesses and to try and continue to work. That keeps society functioning.

    https://thewest.com.au/news/coronavirus/coronavirus-crisis-chief-health-officer-andrew-robertson-answers-the-questions-you-need-to-know-about-was-covid-19-response-ng-b881495159z

    WA’s CMO lets the cat out of the bag when he says:
    “That keeps society functioning.”
    This is the plan.
    To minimise the economic impact.
    We keep asking how our “leaders” could be so stupid! Well, they’re not stupid.
    What we see is actually the plan.
    They know about community transmission which is why parliament will be closed after a brief session where they will sit apart.
    But they want teachers to keep schools open.
    Morrison has even threatened private schools with withdrawing funds if they don’t.
    Teachers catching it and possibly dying? Collateral damage. (They probably don’t vote for him anyway)

    Sorry if this sounds like a conspiracy theory, but there is no other conclusion possible.
    Morrison and co are not stupid. They have the best advice and modelling. They know what the outcome of keeping things (especially schools) open, not banning gatherings, ‘carrying on regardless’ will be.

    When it comes to a choice between health of the people or health of the economy, Morrison and co have chosen to favour the economy.

    Increasing cases is not an unintended outcome – it’s the price we are paying so they can try and preserve the economy.

  11. Here is the (frightening) story from a doctor in a New Orleans hospital.
    https://www.rawstory.com/2020/03/medical-worker-describes-terrifying-lung-failure-from-covid-19-even-in-his-young-patients/

    It says, in part:

    “Reading about it in the news, I knew it was going to be bad, but we deal with the flu every year so I was thinking: Well, it’s probably not that much worse than the flu. But seeing patients with COVID-19 completely changed my perspective, and it’s a lot more frightening.”
    ….
    “It’s called acute respiratory distress syndrome, ARDS. That means the lungs are filled with fluid. And it’s notable for the way the X-ray looks: The entire lung is basically whited out from fluid. Patients with ARDS are extremely difficult to oxygenate. It has a really high mortality rate, about 40%.”

    Imagine having this happen to one of your family, or …..yourself.
    Not being able to get my breath is the most frightening thing I have experienced.
    This is what Morrison and co are happy to have happen here, just to try and prop up the economy.

  12. Sorry to be a harbinger of doom, but it’s well past the point of disguising where we are headed.
    It’s been predicted that we will follow Italy because we are treating the pandemic as they did a few weeks ago.

    This story has a SkyNews video embedded. It’s from Stuart Ramsay, their Chief Correspondent
    in Lombardy.
    It’s fairly confronting -be warned.
    https://kangaroocourtofaustralia.com/2020/03/21/the-coronavirus-what-is-really-happening-at-the-epicentre-in-italy-and-why-australians-need-to-act-now/

  13. Good morning Dawn Patrollers

    Peter FitzSimons launches into Alan Jones for putting lives at risk with his take on coronavirus.
    https://www.smh.com.au/national/alan-jones-puts-lives-at-risk-with-his-take-on-coronavirus-20200320-p54c9u.html
    A light hearted diary of a journo working from home for a week.
    https://www.smh.com.au/national/cleaning-drawers-doesn-t-do-it-for-me-my-corona-diary-after-a-week-of-wfhing-20200320-p54cbe.html
    Conservative governments are not used to asking the public to engage in collectivism or solidarity, and we are not used to hearing it from them – perhaps that’s why some of us seem reluctant to comply writes Jacqui Maley.
    https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/suddenly-we-re-all-collectivists-including-the-pm-and-we-only-pass-this-test-if-we-act-together-20200320-p54cbl.html
    Michelle Grattan explains how the government’s new $66 billion package will take coronavirus economic life support to $189 billion.
    https://theconversation.com/governments-new-66-billion-package-will-take-coronavirus-economic-life-support-to-189-billion-134331
    Bioethicist Peter Singer openly discusses the triages that will occur in the probable event of demand exceeding supply of ICU beds.
    https://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/health-and-wellness/ethical-decisions-about-who-lives-and-who-dies-may-not-be-hypothetical-20200320-p54c7p.html
    With the coronavirus, here’s what’s really going to matter for the Australian economy writes Greg Jericho.
    https://www.theguardian.com/business/grogonomics/2020/mar/22/with-the-coronavirus-heres-whats-really-going-to-matter-for-the-australian-economy
    Lee Duffield writes about neoliberalism in a time of coronavirus.
    https://independentaustralia.net/politics/politics-display/neoliberalism-in-a-time-of-coronavirus,13713
    Through all its promises, the Coalition Government has botched the job of delivering an NBN comparable with the rest of the world, writes Anthony Eales.
    https://independentaustralia.net/politics/politics-display/scott-morrison-not-up-to-the-task-of-saving-australias-nbn,13715
    Quillette has published an article which says that while the disease itself is, of course, an apolitical phenomenon, Iran’s repressive, theocratic political system has played a role in the especially high toll that coronavirus is taking on the Iranian people.
    https://quillette.com/2020/03/21/how-irans-dictators-laid-the-foundation-for-the-countrys-coronavirus-crisis/
    The New Daily tells us that there are 36 cruise ships around the world with Australians on board – some with cases of COVID-19 – struggling to find a port that will let them disembark. Some of them have already turned into Petri dishes and are struggling to contain the viruses spread on board.
    https://thenewdaily.com.au/news/coronavirus/2020/03/21/coronavirus-ms-costa-luminosa/
    Britain has agreed a deal with private healthcare providers to free up beds and medical services for the state-run health system as one emergency doctor warned the country could suffer a worse fate than Italy during the coronavirus crisis.
    https://www.canberratimes.com.au/story/6690543/uk-seals-deal-with-private-hospitals/?cs=14232&utm_source=website&utm_medium=home&utm_campaign=latestnews
    Australia certainly isn’t short of policy headaches, but one promises to be of migraine proportions: our school funding regime has reached new heights of absurdity and needs urgent review explains The Independent Australia.
    https://independentaustralia.net/life/life-display/australias-school-funding-system-needs-an-overhaul,13714
    John Elder reports that the WHO has launched massive trial of four promising antiviral drugs.
    https://thenewdaily.com.au/life/wellbeing/2020/03/21/coronavirus-treatment-drug-trials/
    An excellent contribution here from Jack Waterford who calls for increased testing and epidemiological investigation as well as better researched journalism.
    https://www.canberratimes.com.au/story/6688732/covid-19-mapping-must-go-beyond-the-sick-to-the-well/?cs=14329
    Authorities around the world are cracking down on people in public places amid concerns that vital distancing measures to curb coronavirus are being ignored.
    https://thenewdaily.com.au/news/world/2020/03/22/coronavirus-isolation-arrests/
    The coronavirus story is unfathomably large. We must get the reporting right commits The Guardian’s Lenore Taylor.
    https://www.theguardian.com/media/2020/mar/22/the-coronavirus-story-is-unfathomably-large-we-must-get-the-reporting-right
    Graeme Blundell praises the ABC’s Sarah Ferguson for doing a remarkable job staying composed in her harrowing three-part series on the Catholic Church’s most notorious child sex offenders.
    https://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/review/abc-revelation-sarah-ferguson-faces-monsters-in-our-midst/news-story/0ff5e2adef7d0373e28ed3d876ee5b11
    Bluff, bombast and blame is all that Donald Trump can offer in this crisis writes Nick Cohen. He is spot on!
    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/mar/21/bluff-bombast-blame-all-trump-can-offer-coronavirus-crisis

    Cartoon Corner

    Matt Golding




    Matt Davidson

    From the US




  14. Maude Lynne says:
    Sunday, March 22, 2020 at 6:26 am
    Sorry to be a harbinger of doom, but it’s well past the point of disguising where we are headed.
    It’s been predicted that we will follow Italy because we are treating the pandemic as they did a few weeks ago.

    This story has a SkyNews video embedded. It’s from Stuart Ramsay, their Chief Correspondent
    in Lombardy.
    It’s fairly confronting -be warned.
    https://kangaroocourtofaustralia.com/2020/03/21/the-coronavirus-what-is-really-happening-at-the-epicentre-in-italy-and-why-australians-need-to-act-now/
    ________________________________________
    I doubt we are going to be Italy. The key in all of this is slowing the rate of transmission, its currently 3-4 days to double and it needs to be 6 days to double to minimise the hospital impact.

    We also have the benefit of experiencing this later than Italy, so travel restrictions, sports , working from home have been effectively in place for a week. Presumably Bondi Beach and the WA Medical Officer notwithstanding these restrictions are going to get a lot tougher in the next 7-10 days.

    There’s also a 2-3 week lag in a restriction taking effect and its impact due to the nature of the virus. What has to happen is we need to have the virus effectively under control by May given the impact of winter.

    There’s a lot to play for – assuming doubling every 4 days we end up at somewhere near 64,000 infections by 11 April. If we can get to 6 days it ends up being 16,000

  15. Lars

    I doubt we are going to be Italy. The key in all of this is slowing the rate of transmission, its currently 3-4 days to double and it needs to be 6 days to double to minimise the hospital impact.

    We also have the benefit of experiencing this later than Italy, so travel restrictions, sports , working from home have been effectively in place for a week. Presumably Bondi Beach and the WA Medical Officer notwithstanding these restrictions are going to get a lot tougher in the next 7-10 days.

    There’s also a 2-3 week lag in a restriction taking effect and its impact due to the nature of the virus. What has to happen is we need to have the virus effectively under control by May given the impact of winter.

    There’s a lot to play for – assuming doubling every 4 days we end up at somewhere near 64,000 infections by 11 April. If we can get to 6 days it ends up being 16,000

    Hi Lars,

    I wish I shared your optimism.

    Currently cases have a growth factor of 1.25, and it has not been declining.
    This means we will have
    2000 cases by 24th
    10,000 cases by 31st
    100,000 cases by Easter.

    The gov’t has to get serious about social distancing, and that means school closure and maximum of 10 in any grouping, among other things.

    Norman Swan has been proposing improved social distancing – it’s really essential

    edit: all of which probably means I essentially agree with you, but I am less optimistic.

  16. Lars
    Before seeing yesterday’s footage from Bondi and knowing people are mocking the self isolating i am becoming more concerned that the slowness in closing the border is going to bite maybe not to Italy level but close.

  17. Kronomex

    Everything the LNP does occurs in the future. A new in the future second package, while the first stimulus which, unsurprisingly, still exists in the future.

    Yes, it is. When you look at what they have done, it’s actually very little aside from border closure. Even that has been poorly done – very leaky closure.
    They have acted in their own interests by limiting their own exposure by restricting parl’t sessions, of course.

  18. If your amp doesn’t glow, it’s not worth boasting about.

    I built a “CMOY” style headphone amp. using a 12AU7 valve I had lying around from another project.
    It sounds nice, but I don’t know if I could tell it apart from an op-amp version. The glow (if any) is supplemented by an red LED under the socket. 🙂

  19. Last night I watched the Q&A on covid-19, and Colbeck typified the Coalition ministers, stubbornly sticking to the script, not engaging with any points made by questioners or other panellists. There was not a flicker of individual intelligence.

    We are ruled by sheep.

  20. Lizzie @7:48.
    We are ruled by sheep.

    I find pretty much every statement by or interview of a member of the Morrison Government completely uninformative. Regardless of the topic or the question, they rattle off the talking points of the day, attack their opponents and ignore questions actually asked. What’s worse, ”journalists” let them get away with it.

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