Herald Sun uses COVID-19 for its racist scapegoating

A protester at a Black Lives Matter rally in Brisbane on June 6. Photo: Alex Bainbridge

Trust the Herald Sun and its lead reactionary commentator Andrew Bolt.

When wealthy people brought COVID-19 back from their skiing holidays abroad, causing a hotspot in Toorak, it didn’t rate a mention. But as the virus spreads in working class suburbs in the west and north, the Herald Sun would have us believe that migrants are to blame for the state’s partial shut-down: “Victoria’s coronavirus crisis made by multiculturalism” screamed the headline for Bolt’s opinion piece on June 25.

It also ran a piece claiming that the virus was being spread by an Eid event, despite mosques being closed and Muslim organisations shifting their activities online. However, the Victorian government did relax restrictions to allow 20 people to gather at home. That did lead to some family gatherings and house parties among Anglo and non-Anglo, non-Muslim and Muslim communities.

Initially, the virus had been located in the wealthier suburbs in Melbourne, other than from returned travellers and cruise ships. But Cedar Meats’ appalling mismanagement of its first positive diagnosis of a worker, meant that the virus quickly spread through its workforce and on to housemates or family members.

This is how it spread to working class suburbs where many migrant communities reside.

By early June, Cedar Meats was responsible for more than 110 COVID-19 cases.

Personal protective equipment (PPE) wasn’t provided to Cedar Meats workers until April 29, a couple of days before the plant was forced to close. Workers had also been forced to work 11-hour shifts in the days leading up to the shutdown.

Some told The Age on May 13 that they believed that the virus spread more widely when Cedar Meats called 260 workers to attend the site for a meeting on May 1. The workers complained that the meeting lacked appropriate social distancing measures.

Cedar Meats was also told by the labour hire company on April 24 that a worker had been diagnosed with COVID-19 but it was not until April 29, after another two workers had contracted the virus, that they were notified and given the option to stay home.

Most Cedar Meats’ workers work for a labour hire agency, and very few are members of the Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union. The AMIEU’s efforts to force employers to provide PPE at other meat plants has ensured the virus has not spread.

Workers in warehouses have had to fight their employers to win PPE and changes to work practices to allow physical distancing. The United Workers Union has backed these campaigns.

There are other guilty employers. McDonalds did not shut its Fawkner store after the first worker tested positive on May 5. It was only after more workers contracted the virus that it shut down on May 8 but which time the virus had infected more people and transmitted to workers at its Craigieburn store.

Security guards employed to look after people in quarantine were also initially not supplied with adequate PPE. The contractors told them to share PPE, or that they could only use PPE for short periods because of the shortages.

But rather than focus on bosses not taking the pandemic seriously, thereby helping workplace transmission of the virus, the Herald Sun followed by other sections of the media have continued their migrants and Muslims-bashing campaign.

The media has “discovered” Broadmeadows, and stories abound of migrants refusing to be tested, including from the ABC. This is despite data showing that the overwhelming majority of migrants are getting tested.

There is no doubt that the state government needs to engage better with migrant communities about dealing with the virus. There could be some sectors who might not be taking adequate precautions.

But, generalising about migrant communities, or particular migrant groups, is racist and can promote racism towards communities that encompass diverse political opinions, religious views and which are also divided by class interests.

Big business has been demanding the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions in Australia, and elsewhere, regardless of the evidence. As we know, making profits is their sole focus.

While the Herald Sun should scrutinise corporations’ role in spreading the virus through its mistreatment of workers, instead of whipping up racism, don’t hold your breath. Racism is the virus that will only be eliminated when society and economy are run for the collective good.

[Sue Bolton is running for re-election to the Moreland City Council in October. You can get in touch to help her and them out here.]

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