The Politics    Thursday, July 8, 2021

The PM for Sydney

By Rachel Withers

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison

Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Image via ABC News

Morrison emerges to announce additional help for his home state

The prime minister has emerged, after not having been seen since last Friday’s vague announcement, to make yet more confounding proclamations. Scott Morrison faced the media outside Kirribilli House with two matters to discuss, just hours after NSW had recorded 38 new COVID-19 cases – its highest daily number in 14 months. Morrison began with an important but confusingly timed announcement on the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide, revealing that it would be led by former NSW Police deputy commissioner Nick Kaldas, before turning his attention to the pressing Sydney outbreak and announcing changes to the federal income assistance for his home state. The assets test – which limits who can access the government’s COVID disaster payments to those with less than $10k in liquid assets – will now be waived from the third week of a lockdown, just in time for Sydney to enter its third week, prompting the re-emergence of the phrase “the prime minister for Sydney”. (Those in other states, presumably, had been expected to drain their savings if their lockdowns went on.) But while he may be the PM for Sydney, he’s definitely not willing to be the leader responsible for Sydney’s outbreak. When Morrison was asked if the outbreak was “on him” due to the vaccine rollout failures, the PM was having none of it, coming armed with an outrageous new claim: that there was never any suggestion that we would be widely vaccinated by now. Aside from being untrue, the claim in no way limits his responsibility for the fact that we aren’t.

The announcement regarding changes to the assets test is a welcome one, with many having previously pointed out that the test was incredibly unfair, as it expected those with savings to drain them before getting help. But the announcement has also outraged many Victorians, who made exactly the same point when the highly conditional payments were introduced for the recent Victorian lockdown, which fortunately did not go beyond two weeks. Have the rules changed because it’s Sydney going through it? Morrison justified the change by noting that Sydney’s lockdown will go on longer, and that Melbourne never reached a third week, which is the random point at which the test will be waived in order to create some impression of consistency. But it’s clear he had no intention of doing the same thing down south, claiming repeatedly that he didn’t want to incentivise lockdowns. It’s hard to shake the feeling that things are different for the “gold-standard” state, with a range of people across conservative politics and media (including Ms “Baseball Bats for Daniel Andrews” herself, Peta Credlin) finally recognising that lockdowns are necessary.

The rules may have changed now that it’s Sydney facing a lengthy lockdown, but there’s one thing that all of Australia’s 2021 outbreaks have in common: direct responsibility for them lies with the federal government, because Australians are still predominantly unvaccinated thanks to its abysmal efforts. That, unsurprisingly, is not how Morrison sees it. Having evaded the press for several days, the PM today pretended that high mid-year vaccination rates were never on the cards at all. “At no stage, at any time in the past 12 months, has there been any suggestion we would reach the same level of vaccination as in the UK,” he said. “The suggestion that somehow there was a vaccination rate that would have somehow put us in a different situation than we are right now is simply not true.” Unfortunately for Morrison, the internet exists, and many people were quick to point to his original targets, which, had they been met, would have put our vaccination rate a good 16 million doses above the 8.6 million it is currently at – making COVID outbreaks much easier to manage for the states and almost certainly helping avoid lockdowns.

Morrison was unwilling to take responsibility for the Sydney outbreak, and he was certainly not willing to take any for the fact that he was part of the anti-lockdown brigade, praising his state’s “never lockdown” approach even as the more infectious Delta variant took hold. The Murdoch media felt no shame in labelling Premier Gladys Berejiklian “go-slow Gladys” and attacking her “$3 BILLION BUNGLE” on front pages today, after months of spruiking her “pragmatic” resistance to stay-at-home orders. Morrison, who just two short weeks ago, praised NSW for resisting a full lockdown (at a point that might have helped get it under control quickly), today appealed directly to his “fellow Sydneysiders”, noting the issues that state leaders were having with people complying with the health orders. If only the leader of the nation hadn’t constantly dismissed the need for such orders and talked up the exceptionalism of NSW’s contact-tracing ability. But hey, hindsight is a wonderful thing.

Listen to The Politics Podcast, with Rachel Withers

“I question the ability of any party member to find an adverse outcome against a member of their party that in their own words ‘delivers them political outcomes’.”

Sue Middleton, a close friend of the woman who made a sexual harassment complaint against Barnaby Joyce, calls for the National Party to reinvestigate it, after it was revealed the man who oversaw the initial investigation was himself the subject of an apprehended domestic violence order application.

“I believe that JobKeeper should end. We cannot continue to make decisions today that impact generations to come to pay back the depth of the circumstance we find ourselves in.”

The words of NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet last March resurfaced on Twitter as he now asks for similar assistance from the federal government.

As the world opens, Australia seals itself off
For most of the past 18 months, Australia has been hailed as a world leader in terms of its handling of the pandemic. But now, some of our biggest cities have been plunged back into lockdowns, restrictions and border closures, while Europe and the United States reopen.

The minimum amount by which climate change has increased the chances of extreme heat conditions, according to an international study that found global warming was responsible for the deadly “once-in-a-millennium” heat wave in the US and Canada.

“The Morrison government’s own independent advisory body on the National Disability Insurance Scheme has said a contentious plan to introduce independent assessments shouldn’t go ahead in its ‘current form’.”

The National Disability Insurance Agency has vowed to modify a proposal to introduce independent assessments, which is set to be debated at a meeting between federal, state and territory ministers.

The list

“The main value in Coventry’s essay is its comprehensiveness, and that it provides a narrative of Bob Hawke’s intellectual and political development during the 1970s that challenges our enduring image of him as the workers’ best mate. Hawke was apparently having long and frequent conversations with the labour attachés, even while Nixon was in the White House … And the attachés weren’t just listening. On behalf of Washington, the attachés were pushing a system of ‘American-style’ collective bargaining – in other words, a much less militant union presence and a ‘tripartite’ commitment to wage restraint in the interests of inflation control. By about 1977 the cables were reporting to Washington – approvingly – that under Hawke’s leadership the ACTU executive had become more conservative.”

“Just as the causes of [global] warming and the pandemic are con­nected, so may be the solutions. In the global response to COVID-19, it became clear that countries that put lives ahead of the economy, listened to the experts, invested in their public health system and worked collectively on measures like social distancing and lockdown were more effective at con­taining the virus. The same tactics that worked to ‘flatten the curve’ of coronavirus infections might also help flatten the ‘climate curve’ of rising greenhouse gas emissions.”

“As the world’s best cyclists rode through the fields of north-west France this week, Mount Fuji’s long shadow loomed over them. Not literally, of course – the Japanese peak is 10,000 kilometres away. But with just five days separating the end of the Tour de France and the men’s Olympic road race, the prospect of climbing Fuji – the centrepiece of the Tokyo 2021 course – looms large in the minds of many in the peloton.”

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.


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