The Politics    Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Three’s a crowd

By Rachel Withers

Prime Minister Scott Morrison at a press conference at Kirribilli House on July 16. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Image

Prime Minister Scott Morrison at a press conference at Kirribilli House on July 16. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Image

With three capital cities in lockdown, a trio of major polls shows voters are holding the PM fundamentally responsible

By the time many of you read this, three Australian capital cities – and more than half the nation’s population – will be in lockdown, as South Australia joins its eastern neighbours in a seven-day lockdown from 6pm, after recording a case of community transmission in a restaurant. Victoria’s lockdown has been extended for a further seven days, after recording 13 new cases, with permits to enter the state from a red zone suspended for two weeks. Sydney, of course, remains in lockdown, and although the premier described today’s 78 new cases as “green shoots”, there were still a concerning number of cases in the community during their infectious period. But that’s not the only collection of three the prime minister should be worried about. A trio of major polls this week shows faith in Scott Morrison is plummeting, with Guardian Australia’s Essential poll and Nine’s Resolve Monitor today joining The Australian’s Newspoll in revealing the nation is reserving much of its condemnation over the current situation for the federal government. Morrison, who has spent the past few weeks attempting to shift the blame wherever he can, has again gone to ground, having failed to give an interview since Friday, presumably while he waits for all of this to blow over. But will it? Snap lockdowns are expected to keep occurring for some time, and Australians are not likely to be properly protected from the highly infectious Delta strain for many months at least.

For some time now, an increasingly large share of the burden for each frustratingly avoidable lockdown has been deservedly placed on the federal government, thanks primarily to its failure to vaccinate the population in a timely fashion. And it’s clear from this week’s stark polls that the nation agrees, with all three major polls looking disastrous for the PM. Today’s Guardian Australia Essential poll finds that confidence in Morrison is dropping, with a 15 percentage point drop in perceptions that he is good in a crisis, along with an eight-point drop in voter trust, since March 2021. The blame isn’t all for him, of course, with the Coalition as a whole recording a massive decline in approval of its management of the crisis. Similarly, Nine’s Resolve Monitor finds that voters’ belief in Morrison and the Coalition as the best party to handle COVID-19 is also dropping. Although they’re still ahead of Labor 37–25, that’s down from a lead of 42–20 in April. Both of these follow Sunday night’s Newspoll, which saw support for the Coalition drop to its lowest level this term, while Morrison’s approval rating dropped to its lowest point since the pandemic began (though not quite as low as it reached during the 2019–20 summer bushfires). As per usual, support for the premiers has not seen the same dip, with approval of the state governments still ranking highly. (The exception is NSW, but even NSW residents are putting less blame on the NSW government than other states are.)

The blame-shifting PM, never willing to take any responsibility, is now having it heaped upon him by the public. So who, Morrison might be asking, can he blame for the fact that such a high proportion of the country thinks he is to blame? Some onus must surely be on the premiers, who – regardless of party – have done a highly effective job at using their lockdown pressers to make sure their citizens know that it is the federal government that has let them down on vaccines. The media has also recently gotten behind this narrative as the nation’s abysmal vaccination rate becomes harder to ignore, while The Australian’s Simon Benson has attempted to pin it all on the Opposition’s “brutal” tactics, noting that the ALP’s “coordinated and unbridled political campaign” is working, as if it wasn’t an attack grounded in fact. Could it also be that Australians are simply able to grasp the obvious truth, backed up by modelling, that so much of this could have been avoided if we were just that little bit more vaccinated? Morrison treats Australians as if they are stupid when he tells them that there was never any chance they could have been vaccinated enough by now to avoid these lockdowns, when it’s obvious to anyone that even just one more vaccinated limo driver could have avoided all this. Morrison, it seems, will now be wearing each and every outbreak, regardless of where or how they start.

Polls, of course, are unreliable and prone to fluctuations, and many suspect that Morrison will slowly regain his footing when (or if) the rollout picks up pace. After all, he has pulled himself out of deeper holes than this before (his approval rating following the Black Summer bushfires reached into the negatives). Ironically, it was this very pandemic that allowed Morrison to claw his way back up in the polls after the bushfires, applying several valuable lessons about how he was supposed to look and act in a crisis. But it’s increasingly obvious now that he really isn’t cut out for managing crises at all. Will Australians be willing to forget again? Morrison might be hoping for another nation-uniting disaster to distract from the current fiasco, but he better not stuff the next one up. Three really is a crowd.

“The evidence reveals serious misconduct, illegal conduct and highly inappropriate conduct which has been encouraged or facilitated by a culture which has consistently put profit ahead before all other considerations.”

Adrian Finanzio SC, the lawyer leading the Victorian royal commission into Crown Resorts, uses his closing submissions to argue that the company is not suitable to hold a casino licence in the state.

“Almost all aged-care residents are vaccinated, and young people aren’t at the same risk. So who are we locking down for?”

Nationals senator Matt Canavan can’t see the point of continuing with lockdowns, in comments made the morning after NSW recorded its fifth death tied to the current outbreak, and with 27 people in intensive care.

Australia has vaccines. Why aren’t people taking them?
The rapidly spreading Delta variant has forced nearly half of Australia’s population back into lockdown. The slow uptake of vaccinations has been pointed to as a key factor behind the latest outbreaks, and how fast they spread. But why is vaccine uptake so slow in Australia?

The cost to Australia of Mathias Cormann’s flights as he travelled around Europe and South America to campaign for his bid to lead the OECD – an average of more than $11,000 per day.

“Scrapping stamp duty in favour of annual land taxes would encourage upsizers and downsizers to move house, benefitting both home buyers and state economies, new research from the federal government’s affordable housing arm has found.”

A report from the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation claims the vast majority of buyers would benefit from scrapping stamp duties, which add tens of thousands of dollars to the upfront cost.

The list

“Nobody’s perfect, The Five Wounds suggests, and nobody is doomed to repeat their entire inheritance, no matter how small or apparently ordinary one’s life is. We all long for something other than this, this we can see. The radiant names, Amadeo, Angel, Yolanda, all have echoes of other possibilities. This novel started life a decade ago as a New Yorker short story, and it’s Valdez Quade’s first. A decade of work shows. The writing is underpinned by a rare kindness of observation of human behaviour – an empathy for those not-you. It is brilliant.”

“The Drones, like the Sex Pistols before them, are a curious mixture of misanthropy and concern: it seems they care deeply but are stung by the fact that they care at all. Liddiard is no dope, and The Drones are, in many ways, a savage parody of guitar rock: a highly intelligent band who pretend, when the mood takes them, to be a stupid one.”

“Barty’s modesty and warmth is a refreshing contrast to what the late Kobe Bryant confessionally described as ‘the ugliness of greatness’. But few citizens are as burdened by the public’s emotional projections as its athletes, and we should gently admire but not fetishise Barty’s virtues. Valourisation begets caricature which begets the shape of the effigy that’s torched in the public square when our delirious expectations aren’t met.”

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.


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