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Scott Morrison dodges responsibility

For the past week the federal government has been locked in a tussle with Victoria over who is responsible for financially supporting those suffering the economic consequences of another lockdown.

For the past week the federal government has been locked in a tussle with Victoria over who is responsible for financially supporting those suffering the economic consequences of another lockdown.

Scott Morrison and his ministers have tried to shift the responsibility onto their state counterparts, but grudgingly gave ground on Thursday, acknowledging they did have a role to play.

Today, columnist for The Saturday Paper Paul Bongiorno on the fresh political challenges facing the federal government.


Guest: Columnist for The Saturday Paper Paul Bongiorno.

Show Transcript

[Theme Music Starts]

RUBY:
From Schwartz Media, I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am

When it comes to Australia’s relative success in managing the pandemic, the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, has been ready to take credit. Less so, when things haven’t gone to plan. 

For the past week the federal government has been locked in a tussle with Victoria over who is responsible for financially supporting those suffering the economic consequences of another lockdown. Scott Morrison and his ministers have tried to shift the responsibility onto their state counterparts, but grudgingly gave ground on Thursday, acknowledging they did have a role to play.

Today, columnist for The Saturday Paper, Paul Bongiorno, on the fresh political challenges facing the federal government.

[Theme Music Ends]

RUBY:
Paul, this week we've seen the next iteration of the pandemic play out in Victoria, and the country's second largest state is now back in lockdown. We don't know at this point what the long term impact of that will be. As this unfolded, what kind of things were we hearing from the federal government, from the Prime Minister?

PAUL:
Ruby, as the outbreak in Victoria began, Scott Morrison was speaking at the Liberal Party's federal council, the annual gabfest they hold and this year it was in Canberra and the Prime Minister morphed into one of recent history's more comical figures. He came across as the infamous Baghdad Bob or Comical Ali. He was the Iraqi Information Minister who refused to accept the end of Saddam Hussein's regime, and he used to wax lyrical about his government's amazing successes.

Archival Tape -- Scott Morrison:
“Please be seated. It's always good to come and give a vote of thanks to Josh. [Crowd laughs]. Only mates can rib each other like he and I do.”

PAUL:
As the new, more infectious, mutating version of the Covid-19 virus invaded a largely unvaccinated Victoria, forcing it into a statewide lockdown. The Prime Minister somehow declared victory... 

Archival Tape -- Scott Morrison:
“There are more people in work today than there were before the pandemic began. This has not happened by accident…”

PAUL:
...as he put it: his government has delivered a world leading outcome.

Archival Tape -- Scott Morrison:
“There have been so many challenges, friends. But overarching, and particularly in relation to the pandemic. We've stood tall and we've faced them like few countries have and had a success like few countries have had. And we're living in a way, in this country today that very few countries can claim to…”

RUBY:
OK, and so what is this world leading supposed victory based on Paul?

PAUL:
I've got to say, the entire Morison spiel was backward looking and sounding. He spoke of the billions spent on financial support last year, and he took credit for the days when there was no virus detected anywhere. But he didn't acknowledge the role luck played with the microbe, not escaping dangerously inadequate hotel quarantine arrangements. And Ruby, I say dangerously inadequate because we know it only takes one infected person to catch the bug in hotel quarantine in Adelaide and then bring it unwittingly into Melbourne. While there were no admissions and certainly no apologies in Morrison's speech for failures in the vaccination rollout or hotel quarantine. And as we know, he and his treasurer rejected Victoria's pleas last week for help with income support. 

RUBY:
Can you tell me more about that, Paul? Because with Victoria now going into its second week of lockdown, there has been concern about people, particularly casual workers, not being able to support themselves without some kind of JobKeeper or JobSeeker style payments?

PAUL:
Well, the federal government has ruled out reviving its old JobKeeper programme, with Josh Frydenberg saying that ending it in March was the right call. 

Archival Tape -- Josh Frydenberg:
“That was the right decision, it was consistent with the advice from Treasury, it is consistent with the story that we’re seeing today…”

PAUL:
But the federal government has been indicating that it may do something to help Victorians unable to work. 

Archival Tape -- Josh Frydenberg:
“We’re not bringing back JobKeeper. We’ve no plans to do so. As you know, that was a 12-month program initially started at…”

Archival Tape -- Unidentified Reporter:
“Yeah, but what about a one-off payment? Is that an option?”

Archival Tape -- Josh Frydenberg:
“Well, again, we’re looking at a series of options and we’ll have more to say in due course. But the pandemic’s not over and the support from the Morrison Government’s not over, either…”

PAUL:
But their reluctance is palpable and disappointing. Ruby, I think it's fair to say that if you're a casual worker in Victoria and by the way, there are 500,000 of them, you'd consider yourself abandoned by the federal government. Well, at least until they come up with something. 

RUBY:
So why is the government taking this kind of approach, Paul? Surely they must acknowledge that some kind of financial support, like the sort that we've seen in the past, is necessary for these precariously employed workers who are not allowed to go and work?

PAUL:
Well, the government is arguing that it doesn't want to encourage states to go into prolonged lockdown by creating a precedent of throwing them a lifeline every time they do. But the problem with this approach is that lockdowns are sometimes unavoidable. And certainly that's the case in Victoria at the moment. And the federal government is simply exacerbating the pain felt by those in Victoria who are really doing the heavy lifting to protect the rest of the nation.

Archival Tape -- Unidentified Reporter:
“And so of course on casual wages, are you getting any money at all right now?”

Archival Tape -- Unidentified Speaker:
“No.”

Archival Tape -- Unidentified Reporter:
“None?”

Archival Tape -- Unidentified Speaker:
“None.”

PAUL:
People on lower incomes without much in savings who have already spent their super and now can't work casual shifts, may not be able to pay rent or buy food. Many are turning up at food centres right now in Melbourne.

Archival Tape -- Unidentified Speaker:
“Just yesterday I dropped off some food to a guy who was on a four hour shift a week for the last 6 weeks, ‘cos his employer’s just trying to hold onto him, but now he’s got nothing”

PAUL:
But Federal Minister, Dan Tehan, says they should just call up Centrelink.

Archival Tape -- Dan Tehan:
“Well, you can go to Centrelink and if you're eligible, if you've lost a complete week's work or if you will lose two weeks' work, then you might be eligible for one of these emergency health payments…”

PAUL:
Well, this demonstrates just how little he understands about Australia's under-resourced welfare system and in fact, the payments that haven't been put in place. I think, Ruby, what we're seeing is a government that either doesn't understand the pain being felt by many Australians right now or simply doesn't care. You know, their words of sympathy are ringing hollow.

RUBY:
We'll be back in a moment.

[Advertisement]

RUBY:
Paul, the vaccine rollout is a federal responsibility, and this outbreak in Victoria would look very different if that rollout had happened more quickly - is the federal government taking responsibility for that at all? 

PAUL:
Well, the interesting thing is that Finance Minister, Simon Birmingham, and a couple of interviews earlier in the week pleaded bad luck for many of the problems with the vaccine rollout. 

Archival Tape -- Simon Birmingham:
“Ultimately, I think Australians do understand that the health advice in relation to the vaccines, particularly in relation to AstraZeneca, changed dramatically. We had more than three and a half million doses expected to come to Australia. That didn't turn up as as expected and forecast. These have been real impacts that we have to deal with…”

PAUL:
His honesty was refreshing and even admitting problems, but stubbornness and incompetence can't be ruled out. 

Archival Tape -- Simon Birmingham:
“The use of hotels as dedicated, secure quarantine facilities has been important, and has by and large been successful in more than 99 percent of cases…”

PAUL:
You know, maybe even the liberal machine and Morrison himself realise a rush to the polls in light of the shambles and the arrival of a variant that even lockdowns are struggling to contain. Well, they don't augur well to go to the judgement of the people.

RUBY:
And when it comes to the judgement of the people, it does feel like you can't talk about federal politics right now without talking about the fact that we might be getting close to an election.

PAUL:
Well, that's right. And that the Liberal Federal Council party director, Andrew Hirst, told delegates the election would be within the next 12 months and they'd better start preparing. And at Tuesday's party room meeting in Canberra, the Prime Minister for the third consecutive meeting, according to the official briefing, announced that the election is next year. The next election was certainly on the mind also of former attorney general and now Industry Minister still in cabinet, Christian Porter. 

RUBY:
Mm so he's still planning on contesting his seat, Paul?

PAUL:
Ruby, at the kerbside media conference immediately after he dropped his defamation action against the ABC, Porter said he fully intended to contest the next election and represent the people of his marginal Perth electorate.

Archival Tape -- Christian Porter:
“I'm running at the next election, committed to my seat, to the people I represent. Absolutely.”

PAUL:
Now, whether the voters of Pearce believe his spin that the national broadcaster regretted publishing what he called a sensationalist article against him. Well, that's yet to be tested. But what we do know is that Porter has not subjected himself to cross-examination under oath, something the Prime Minister previously welcomed as the appropriate remedy to the historic rape allegations against him. 

RUBY:
Right. OK, and so when you look at all of this, how worried do you think Scott Morrison is about the effect on his popularity? I'm talking here both about the problems with the vaccine rollout and I suppose the kind of lingering effects of all of the allegations that came out of Canberra recently.

PAUL:
Well, you'd imagine he'd have to be worried. Morrison is left pretending the Porter matter has been settled and will go away. But, Ruby, there's a view in Canberra, I must say, on both sides of politics that the Brittany Higgins issue and indeed the Porter issue, while they take some of the shine off the government and they do concern a lot of voters, they're not necessarily vote changing or government changing. Whereas on the other hand, the pandemic, the vaccine rollout, the quarantine and the lockdowns are, well, these are hurting millions of Australians. The Prime Minister needs to spend a morning listening to talkback radio in Melbourne.

Archival Tape -- Unidentified Speaker:
“As I said, fifteen months in and we’re still not tackling the virus as one country. I mean, the Commonwealth talks about Victoria as if it’s a separate country.”

PAUL:
Many callers to the ABC and commercial programmes are well aware that vaccine and quarantine are the only solutions to avoid crippling lockdowns.

Archival Tape -- Unidentified Speaker:
“Historically the only way the world’s moved on from communicable diseases like TB and measles and others is through the combination of vaccination and quarantine, and in both instances the Commonwealth is left wanting…”

PAUL:
And even before the latest outbreak in Victoria, well, Victorians, like Australians everywhere, we're experiencing difficulties getting their jabs.

Archival Tape -- Unidentified Speaker:
“I’m gonna have to try and take a profoundly autistic son, who needs to be vaccinated in his disability group home, to wait in a queue for god knows how long…”

PAUL:
And already we're seeing a shift in who's to blame. And that's very dangerous for the government, because Morrison should remind himself that in politics, things can and do change very quickly.

RUBY:
Paul, thank you so much for your time.

PAUL:
Thanks, Ruby, bye.

[Advertisement]

RUBY:
Also in the news today…

The federal government has announced a temporary Covid disaster payment for those caught in hotspots. The payment will only apply if a lockdown lasts more than a week in an area designated by the federal government as a coronavirus hotspot. The new payment will be $500 a week for those who normally work more than 20 hours, and $325 a week for those who work fewer than 20 hours.

7am is a daily show from The Monthly and The Saturday Paper. It’s produced by Elle Marsh, Michelle Macklem, and Cinnamon Nippard. 

Our senior producer is Ruby Schwartz and our technical producer is Atticus Bastow.

Brian Campeau mixes the show. Our editor is Osman Faruqi. Erik Jensen is our editor-in-chief. 

Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Envelope Audio. 

New episodes of 7am are released every weekday morning. Follow in your favourite podcast app, to make sure you don’t miss out. 

I’m Ruby Jones, see ya next week.

 

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