The Politics    Thursday, July 1, 2021

An absence of leadership

By Rachel Withers

Image of Scott Morrison with head obscured
Scott Morrison goes missing as the vaccine debate heats up

The chaos over the prime minister’s abrupt AstraZeneca captain’s call has continued, with experts and politicians chiming in with their conflicting takes on the conflicting advice. The Queensland government’s dramatic comments about blood clots (which they kept up into the evening on 7.30, and defended in today’s press conference) have attracted further condemnation, with The Australian focusing multiple stories, including an editorial, on attacking the state, while Australian Medical Association vice president Dr Chris Moy told ABC radio that Chief Health Officer Jeanette Young’s comments were “problematic”, and had undermined what is still a “very good vaccine” (anti-vaxxers are reportedly having a field day). Operation Covid Shield boss Lt Gen John Frewen revealed this morning that more than 2600 Australians under 40 have received the AstraZeneca jab since Monday’s announcement, but debate over whether they should be getting the vaccine rages on. On ABC Radio’s AM, co-chair of the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation Christopher Blyth reiterated their recommendation that people under 60 get the Pfizer vaccine, saying that AZ should only be considered for under-40s in “pressing” circumstances (though he refused to be drawn on the politics of it all). But on ABC News Breakfast, James Cook University epidemiologist Emma McBryde said that without sufficient Pfizer supplies, under-40s should be weighing up the relative risks and considering AZ. State leaders are still pushing back, repeating the medical advice, though Victoria appears to have softened its stance, with Premier Daniel Andrews – “determined” to avoid another lockdown – suggesting AZ could be made available to under-40s at the state hubs at some point. Yet, in spite of all this, the prime minister remains notably absent, the public not having heard from him since Monday night’s dubious announcement. Where the bloody hell is Scott Morrison?

We know the answer to this, in a literal sense: he’s at The Lodge, seeing out his final day of two-week quarantine, which ends this evening. But after “throwing a hand grenade” into the vaccine rollout with Monday’s unexpected eligibility change (confirmed by Guardian Australia to have  not been flagged at National Cabinet), Morrison has gone radio silent, as is his wont during times of crisis, giving no interviews or press conferences, releasing no statements, and offering no further clarification on where his chaotic announcement came from. The role of managing the fallout from his seemingly throwaway comment has been left to others: Health Minister Greg Hunt on Tuesday and Wednesday and Finance Minister Simon Birmingham today, along with Frewen and Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly. Each reaffirmed that the medical advice has not changed while standing by the prime minister’s contradictory recommendation. Birmingham has fronted today’s round of media attacks over the rollout, conceding that we are actually at the “back of the queue” for Pfizer, but slamming Queensland’s “scare-mongering”, while Hunt yesterday danced around the issue of where the decision was made and who was told, talking up the consultation about increasing indemnity.

Morrison, however, has gone to ground, unwilling to face media questions over the state of chaos he has flung the nation into, with what was either a miscommunication or an intentionally sneaky drop-in. Perhaps we should be thankful that he’s not around to make things worse, with his poor communication skills and cranky demeanour when questioned. But there are serious questions that need answering over how this sudden change came to pass, and why he didn’t give anyone – not doctors nor premiers nor medical bodies – any notice. Queensland’s fearmongering comments have provided plenty of cover for the prime minister, with media piling on Young for her response to the adjustment rather than on Morrison for announcing it without notice. But the fact remains that Morrison is responsible for creating this mess, either through incompetence or omission, and it all could have been avoided if he had communicated properly.

The MIA prime minister would no doubt be wishing he could stick with his preferred media strategy and wait this one out, but he will have to finally front the media tomorrow, in person this time, after Friday’s national cabinet, which will still be virtual. Several Labor premiers will be pushing to have the caps for international travellers lowered, amid a state–federal dispute over how many foreign travellers are entering the country on holiday or business (thousands, according to Nine) or leaving and coming back multiple times because of special privileges (tons, according to WA and Queensland). Birmingham this afternoon refused to rule it out, implying the federal government was open to the discussion, noting it had been willing to further tighten borders in the past, such as with India. Morrison has been slightly more inclined to give premiers what they want lately on purpose-built quarantine facilities, in light of half the country being in lockdown, and perhaps he will be happy to oblige them on this, if it means having an announcement to make. But the media still needs to get to the bottom of where the bloody hell the last one came from.

“There has been a prolific number of grant programs where dodgy criteria have been used, so it is not surprising. But it is really bad practice to do project selection by media release.”

Former Finance Department deputy secretary Stephen Bartos describes the prime minister's use of a press release to authorise $15 million for one of the 47 car parks being slammed by the auditor-general, labelling it “appalling governance”.

“I did not sleep with the victim. We didn’t have anything of that nature happen between us.”

Former attorney-general Christian Porter’s denial that he had ever had sex with his deceased rape accuser, now thrown into doubt after it was revealed by the alleged victim’s former boyfriend that Porter had boasted to him in the early ’90s about sleeping with her.

The exploitation of Australia’s forgotten workers
Australia’s meat processing industry is one of many that relies heavily on migrant workers, to do jobs that Australian residents often aren’t willing to do. Many of those workers are promised that hard work will lead to permanent residency in Australia. But for some that promise is never delivered.

The new funding boost announced for the National Archives to fast-track the digitisation of records, approved by the government’s expenditure review committee yesterday. It comes after months of revelations about the plight of archived materials, with the government repeatedly defending its decision not to allocate funds in the budget.

“Tax relief for businesses and workers, higher superannuation payments and housing assistance for first-home buyers are just some of the changes set to occur at the start of the new financial year on Thursday, as a host of measures from the 2021 federal budget come into effect.”


The start of the financial year kicks off a range of policies, including the increase in the superannuation guarantee, which for workers paid on a “total package” basis could mean a fall in take-home pay. The government has also launched a super fund online comparison tool.

The list

“The idea of the freedom to write is really a question masquerading as an unremarkable truth. The freedom to write – but write what? Because what is at stake – what is always at stake – is finally not being free to write but being free to write the unsayable, the thing not allowed to be said, to tear aside the shrouds of power and wealth and their accompanying conventions and orthodoxies, to describe what is.”

“Morrison calculates that once the initial corruption had been revealed, subsequent disclosures would not materially alter the issue – the smoking gun is already lying beside the blood-stained corpse of good government, so if he can finesse his way past this blatant misdeed, he will survive. But finesse is the wrong word – he depends on bluff and bluster, which have apparently worked. The more the accusations escalate, the less interested the voters appear. They know the government is crook – many had factored that in before the scandal erupted, and those who hadn’t are hardly surprised.”

“The religious right is on the march in South Australia, literally putting the fear of God into party moderates. Since the start of this year, the membership of the party has grown by more than 500, with most of the new joiners coming from the state’s Pentecostal churches. So troubled is the party hierarchy that earlier this month it demanded some 400 aspiring members sign statutory declarations pledging support to the party constitution and its candidates. The party’s concern was founded on suggestions the new members were intent on supplanting party candidates and officials with people of like faith to prevent or reverse progressive social and economic policy.”

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.


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