Palaszczuk ploy shows plan to open the country is ‘national’ in name only

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Only someone intent on scaring people would take to social media and distort medical evidence with a claim about thousands of deaths.

Political leaders usually leave the tactic for anonymous accounts on social media or, at worst, rogue backbenchers.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk is so determined to go her own way that she bent the Doherty Institute medical advice the plan is based on to suit her needs. Credit:Getty

But Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk went out of her way to mislead Australians on Thursday and the ploy tells everyone the national cabinet plan to open the country is “national” in name only.

Every state has its own idea of what it means to ease restrictions when the vaccination rate climbs to 70 and 80 per cent of people aged 16 and over.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison conceded this, on some issues at least, when Labor asked him about state border controls this week. “Ultimately, everything is a state matter,” he told Parliament.

Palaszczuk is so determined to go her own way that she bent the Doherty Institute medical advice the plan is based on to suit her needs.

“Doherty Institute modelling predicts, even with 70 per cent of the population vaccinated, 80 people will die each day six months after the outbreak,” she tweeted on Thursday morning. “That’s 2240 who will die each month.”

There was no link to the source and no quotation from the report saying 2240 would die each month – because there was no such finding in the report. Only those who went hunting could find a chart that made it look like the scenario might be true.

But the number was Palaszczuk’s extrapolation, not the Doherty Institute’s conclusion.

One chart in the report, Figure 3.3 on page 17, shows an increase in deaths at a 70 per cent vaccination rate, assuming only baseline restrictions and partial testing, tracing, isolation and quarantine. It does not show what happens after 180 days.

In other words, Palaszczuk engineered her own worst-case scenario. But it is her claim, not the work of others.

The actual finding from the Doherty Institute is different. “In the COVID-19 modelling, opening up at 70 per cent vaccine coverage of the adult population with partial public health measures, we predict 385,983 symptomatic cases and 1457 deaths over six months,” the institute said only last week. “With optimal public health measures (and no lockdowns), this can be significantly reduced to 2737 infections and 13 deaths.”

Even the worst of those two options means deaths would be about one-tenth the number Palaszczuk claimed. Another chart in the Doherty modelling, assuming “optimal” rather than “partial” protections, also predicts lower deaths. Rather than say the modelling was wrong, Palaszczuk dreamt up her own number.

This may work for Palaszczuk. She positions herself as the lead critic of the national plan, willing to keep her state closed until children are vaccinated, a distant prospect when there is no approved vaccine for those under 12. This tough talk has worked for premiers in the past.

But will Queenslanders be content in a fortress state when they see others opening up? And will the state economy last the distance when the borders stay closed to travel and tourism?

This makes Palaszczuk an outlier in a significant week for pandemic policy. Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews made a necessary shift this week by admitting the Delta variant has changed everything. “We will not see these numbers go down,” he said. The elimination illusion is over.

What else could he do? What further restriction could the state impose on its people to stop Delta? This is the practical question. The Victorian decision reveals the answer: there is no sustainable new measure to halt a variant that spreads so much faster than the original. That brings him closer to NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian.

Andrews is levelling with Victorians about what lies ahead. Palaszczuk is leading Queenslanders the other way. What is telling is her calculation about the best way to keep her followers: to distort the medical advice and frighten them all.

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