Coronavirus Government Global Briefing: May 8

By Chris Woods

May 8, 2020

Welcome to Coronavirus Government Global Briefing, Mandarin Premium’s morning update on everything in local and global government responses to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Bill Gates to help “reimagine” NY schools

In his Tuesday briefing, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the state government will collaborate with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop a blueprint to “reimagine” the state’s public schools after they reopen in September.

Business Insider reports that Cuomo did not go into explicit detail over potential reforms, but did suggest a move to remote teaching by questioning the need for physical classrooms:

“The old model of everybody goes and sits in a classroom and the teacher is in front of that classroom, and teaches that class, and you do that all across the city, all across the state, all these buildings, all these physical classrooms – why, with all the technology you have?”

According to the state’s press release, the government and the Gates Foundation will seek expert input on the following questions:

  • How can we use technology to provide more opportunities to students no matter where they are;
  • How can we provide shared education among schools and colleges using technology;
  • How can technology reduce educational inequality, including English as a new language students;
  • How can we use technology to meet educational needs of students with disabilities;
  • How can we provide educators more tools to use technology;
  • How can technology break down barriers to K-12 and colleges and universities to provide greater access to high-quality education no matter where the student lives; and
  • How can we deploy classroom technology, like immersive cloud virtual classrooms learning, to recreate larger class or lecture hall environments in different locations?

Should we really outsource education reform to tech billionaires?

The inclusion of the Gates Foundation is interesting considering their previous, failed education initiatives.

As Business Insider reported back in 2018, a review by independent think-tank RAND found that the Intensive Partnerships for Effective Teaching initiative — which aimed to grade teachers and change the way schools recruit, retain, and reward them — didn’t improve test scores or long-term drop-out rates.

The Gates Foundation had also supported controversial standardised testing program Common Core, which, while implemented across multiple states, was rushed by Cuomo; according to EdSource, the state went head-to-head with teachers unions, with Cuomo insisting on linking student scores on the Common Core-aligned tests to teacher evaluations, and was ultimately chided in a 2015 review for a messy implementation.

Following Tuesday’s announcements, the New York State Allies for Public Education wrote a letter to Cuomo blasting the Gates Foundations’ inclusion considering their history promoting “one failed educational initiative after another”:

“Whether that be the high-handed push by the Gates Foundation for the invalid Common Core standards, unreliable teacher evaluation linked to test scores, or privacy-violating data-collection via the corporation known as inBloom Inc., the education of our children has been repeatedly put at risk by their non-evidence based ‘solutions’, which were implemented without parent input and despite significant public opposition. As you recall, these policies also sparked a huge opt-out movement across the state, with more than twenty percent of eligible students refusing to take the state exams.”

Gates, however, is not the only peculiar choice to advise the state’s recovery.

According to Forbes, Cuomo on Wednesday announced that former Google CEO Eric Schmidt would lead a 15-person commission tasked with examining the role of technology after the pandemic, to initially prioritise telehealth, remote learning and expanded broadband access.

Unsurprisingly, those dual nominations of Microsoft and Google executives sparked some backlash, including from other Democrats.

And as Politico reported back in March, the governor enlisted former aides Bill Mulrow and Steve Cohen — who now work at investment giant Blackstone and holding company MacAndrews & Forbes respectively — to develop the state’s economic recovery strategy.

READ MORE: COVID-19 to entrench ‘big government’ for good

‘What is a life worth?’: Cuomo vs conservatives

Additionally, the governor also began reforms on Wednesday to the city’s transit system, including closing the previously-24/7 system from 1am to 5am for nightly cleanings and kicking people experiencing homelessness, forced underground by the lockdown, off subway cars.

Finally, as Donald Trump, Republican allies and other governors push for Americans to, effectively, accept increasing death tolls in exchange for reopening economies, Yahoo News reports that Cuomo made headlines from that Tuesday briefing for addressing why NY is opting for a slower reopening than some of the more gung-ho states:

With New York easily the hardest hit state in America, even with daily deaths falling from a high of 799 in April to ~230 this week, Cuomo, on the subject of reopening, asked, “How much is a human life worth? That’s the real discussion that no one is admitting openly or freely. But we should.”

While acknowledging the value of human life seems like a fairly low bar to clear, check out what Cuomo is up against in terms of political rhetoric from leaders of states undergoing much faster transitions, for example Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick:

“There are more important things than living, and that’s saving this country for my children and grandchildren and saving this country for all of us.”

With legality of Alert Level 4 in question, New Zealand announces Level 2 legal framework

As New Zealand Cabinet prepares to meet Monday, 11 May to discuss a potential move to Alert Level 2, Attorney-General David Parker has announced that legislation providing a legal framework for Level 2 will be introduced next week.

According to Parker’s press release, enforceability to date has relied on the March 26 ‘Epidemic Notice‘, the Health Act and the Civil Defence Emergency Management Act, and the new legislation would ensure that smaller-scale restrictions under Level 2 will be enforceable.

The announcement comes after Crown Law advice was leaked to Newstalk ZB suggesting certain policing powers under the government’s Level 4 lockdown were unenforceable. Reportedly, the leaked advice suggests that the first directive made under the Health Act by director general of health Ashley Bloomfield limits police powers to ensuring businesses were closed and preventing the public from congregating in public places for amusement and recreation.

The NZ government has thus far refused to release the official Crown Law advice — leading, for the first time in history, to the Solicitor General being summonsed before a Parliamentary committee — however, Parker has insisted that the document comprised draft views and “was not the considered advice of Crown Law, which was that there was no gap in enforcement powers.”

The leaked document has been shown to University of Otago law professor Andrew Geddis, who noted that the restrictions as outlined would not allow police to stop and move people unless they were congregating:

“For example, if you came over to my house for a bottle of wine, that didn’t breach the s 70(1)(m) notice (we’re not congregating in a public place of amusement) and because neither of us are likely to have COVID-19, the police couldn’t tell you to go home.”

“The police powers under other legislation (especially the Civil Defence and Emergency Management Act) is really limited — basically, they can only be used against people who have/are suspected of having COVID-19.”

Bloomfield issued a second directive on 3 April, 10 days into Level 4 lockdown, that effectively told New Zealanders to remain in their homes unless on essential business. That notice is currently subject to a high court judicial review.

Either way, the government will introduce a new law targeting future Level 2 restrictions — which, as The Mandarin covered yesterday, will allow businesses to reopen but create capacity and hygiene rules .

“I would reiterate what the Prime Minister has said: There has been no gap in the legal underpinning or in the enforcement powers under the notices that have been issued under Level 3 and Level 4,” Parker said. “This change is not retrospective and does not need to be.

“All notices that have been issued are in the public domain, as is the legislation upon which they are based.”

The new law will also:

  • Recognise the centrality of health factors in the measures we need to take;
  • Provide that the minister of health become the decision maker on the advice of the director-general of health;
  • Provide a transparent basis for how the rules will work and how they can be enforced; and
  • Provide for economic and social factors to be taken into account in determining appropriate measures.

On the home front: Victoria’s multiculturalism package

The Victorian government has announced a $11.3 million multiculturalism package aimed at helping communities overcome unique social-isolation challenges, language barriers or difficulties accessing services such as income support, Medicare or Centrelink.

The package will include:

  • Nearly $5 million to support vulnerable and at-risk youths and families in financial hardship with essential items such as food and clothing;
  • $2.2 million to provide basic needs assistance to thousands of asylum seekers and $1.1 million toward culturally appropriate family violence prevention and early intervention services; and
  • $1 million to boost translated messaging across government departments, so Victorians with English as a second language can better navigate their way through the pandemic.

Additionally, in light of recent racial attacks on Asian Victorians, the Victorian Multicultural Commission will “work in partnership with the Victorian Human Rights Commission to increase awareness about how to respond and where to lodge a complaint”.

Queensland to ease home visit restrictions, exempt JobKeeper from payroll tax

Ahead of today’s national cabinet meeting, premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced that Queensland’s home visit restrictions will ease from Sunday, 10 May, when up to five members of one household will be allowed to visit another household. The news comes after the state recorded two new cases yesterday, meaning there are now just 50 active cases along with 989 recovered and six deaths.

“Sunday is Mother’s Day and because Queensland has been doing such a great job, from Sunday up to five members of a household may visit another home.”

Additionally, Queensland announced it will waive payroll tax for JobKeeper payments. Thus far, the ACT, South Australia, Western Australia, Victoria and Tasmania have made similar clarifications; as Accountants Daily notes yesterday, NT and NSW have both announced payroll tax relief measures, but have not stated that JobKeeper will be exempt.

Service NSW’s top five

According to the NSW government, Services NSW has been contacted around 1.5 million times since the pandemic started, while more than 2 million people have downloaded the Service NSW app and 63,000 phone calls mad.

Of these, the top five questions have been:

  • Can I travel interstate?
  • Can I travel to visit my kids/parents/brother/sister/friend/partner?
  • Can I travel to see my elderly parents on ANZAC Day?
  • Can I provide transport to family/friends to pick up food/essentials?
  • Can I travel for work purposes/medical purposes?

State wrap

In other state and territory news:

For health department updates: Federal, NSW, Victoria, QueenslandACTSouth AustraliaTasmaniaNorthern Territory and Western Australia.

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