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Media Groupthink

Good morning! An aged care worker and resident in Melbourne were yesterday diagnosed with COVID-19, two months after all aged care residents and workers were supposed to have been vaccinated (Easter). Only one in three staff at the facility had been vaccinated and just 53 of the home's 76 residents had even had their first dose.

It was also revealed that staff were still working across multiple facilities, a practice that was responsible for many fatalities (nearly 700 in aged care) during Melbourne's outbreak in 2020. Victoria bans the practice but the federal government – which manages the facility in question – overturned its ban in November 2020, replacing it with optional 'guidelines'.

You can't make this stuff up. 🤦‍♂️

Markets

Daily % change

AUD/USD

77.3

0.3%

10Y Bond

1.67

1.3%

ASX200

7,162

-0.3%

Brent (bbl)

69.3

-0.4%

Gold (oz)

1,910

0.3%

Iron ore (t)

189.2

3.9%

Bitcoin

36,647

1.3%

Note: Brent oil, gold bullion and iron ore prices are the second futures contract.

US markets were closed overnight for the Memorial Day long weekend.

Building boom: The RBA reported that total housing loans increased 0.5% in April or 4.4% compared to this time last year, the highest rate of growth since January 2019. The increase was driven by owner-occupiers (+6.2% year-on-year), who were no doubt spurred on by various government stimulus programmes.

Inflationary pressures: Global mining giant BHP has told its iron ore train drivers to continue to "work harder for longer to offset the high turnover rates and high absentee levels". It's currently paying employees a 20% bonus "while on the 2/1 roster, while their short-term incentives have also been based on a higher multiple". Bonuses are excluded from the ABS' Wage Price Index series.

China slows down: The official National Bureau of Statistics manufacturing Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) fell to 51.0 in May. A reading above 50 indicates an expansion in activity from the prior month.

Green lights: The Environmental Protection Authority approved Wesfarmers' Kwinana (WA) lithium hydroxide plant, which will eventually (late 2024) process hard rock spodumene ore from its forthcoming Mt Holland mine. Wesfarmers claims that the facility could make enough lithium-ion batteries for around 1.1 million passenger electric vehicles.


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Analysis

Media Groupthink

The Wuhan lab leak theory is now front and centre.
The Wuhan lab leak theory is now front and centre. U.S. News/Walt Handelsman

Pressure is mounting on China after the COVID-19 origin story was flipped last week, with the Wuhan lab leak hypothesis surely now at least even odds with the natural development theory.

But while nothing may come of that investigation due to China's... inhospitality, it has at least exposed media groupthink, where "there was self-reinforcing pressure — among journalists who covered the story and Twitter experts who opined on it — to put the possibility in the QAnon box and leave it there".

Stepping back: According to the New York Times' Ross Douthat, in the lead up to the pandemic journalists had developed "the impulse to tell the reader exactly what to think, lest by leaving anything ambiguous you gave an inch to right-wing demagogy".

Given that the Wuhan lab leak theory was initially linked to "Republican China hawks like Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas", that led to an instant and vocal dismissal of the theory by the majority of the mainstream media (including Australia's ABC). Douthat argues that "is only a good rule for a truth-seeking profession if you assume the day will never come when Tom Cotton has a point".

Why it matters: Knowing the origins of the pandemic could have important implications. Douthat writes that "there's a pretty big difference between a world where the Chinese regime can say, We weren't responsible for Covid but we crushed the virus and the West did not, because we're strong and they're decadent, and a world where this was basically their Chernobyl except their incompetence and cover-up sickened not just one of their own cities but also the entire globe".


The Wrap Up

  • Qantas announced a lottery with 10 "mega prizes" for those who have been vaccinated, including 12 months of unlimited free travel for a family of four.
  • The federal government confirmed it will not subsidise lost wages in Victoria, with states now on their own when lockdowns occur.
  • Former attorney general Christian Porter agreed to a pre-trial settlement with the ABC, meaning his defamation case will be dropped. "The ABC will pay him no damages."
  • Japan's government might require negative COVID-19 test results or vaccination records from fans attending the Tokyo Olympics. Cute, they still think there will be fans in attendance.
  • Trouble in paradise – "Denmark's secret service helped the US spy on European politicians including German Chancellor Angela Merkel from 2012 to 2014".
  • Vietnam will test all 13 million residents in Ho Chi Minh City for COVID-19 in an attempt to get on top of surging case numbers.
  • World #2 ranked tennis player Naomi Osaka has withdrawn from the French Open following backlash over her decision to boycott the event's press conferences. She will now "take some time away from the court".
  • In the wake of recent census data showing a steep decline in birth rates, China will now allow couples to have up to three children.

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