The Politics    Thursday, May 27, 2021

The lockdown we didn’t have to have

By Rachel Withers

The lockdown we didn’t have to have

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, May 27, 2021, via Facebook

And the Morrison government doesn’t mind if we have another

Victoria is going into a snap seven-day lockdown to contain a growing COVID-19 outbreak, after a case leaked from SA hotel quarantine, because the Morrison government refused to take responsibility for quarantine and build the proper federal system that states and experts have been calling for. Melbourne needs this circuit breaker, to get the outbreak under control quickly, because the Morrison government bungled the vaccine deals, rollout and communication, leaving most Australians – including many of the most vulnerable – unprotected. A Victorian man is in ICU, on a ventilator, because the Morrison government wasn’t “overly troubled” by vaccine hesitancy, deciding complacency suited it just fine.

Victorians know it, Australia knows it. And Acting Premier James Merlino knows it, telling this morning’s press conference “we would not be here today” if the Commonwealth had done its job on quarantine and vaccines. Federal Labor knows it as well, having for weeks sounded like a broken record on the twin failings, and there’s little doubt the federal government knows it too. This is the lockdown we didn’t have to have. And the Morrison government doesn’t mind if we have another.

In today’s press conference, a sympathetic Morrison talked of overcoming challenges and working together, “commending” the Victorian government and being “mindful of the distress and the difficulty” Victorians faced. Health Minister Greg Hunt called the lockdown “highly regrettable, but necessary”, adding that “we have been through this before, we will get through this again”. Indeed, we will continue to go through this until the federal government steps up. But when questions turned to responsibility for the outbreak, as there was no doubt they would, the federal government was, predictably, not having a bar of it. Pressed on Merlino’s comments regarding slow vaccination rates being to blame for the lockdown, Morrison failed to answer the question, barely even bothering to have his irrelevant international comparisons make sense. Pushed on whether the government would finally arrange a proper vaccine campaign, he gave another Morrison non-answer, raving about the way of life Australians are currently enjoying (unless they are in Victoria, of course) and suggesting the latest outbreak will be a strong incentive, without committing to any attempt to incentivise vaccinations himself. Morrison hinted that approval for Victoria’s purpose-built quarantine centre proposal might now be sped up, ignoring the fact his government has ignored and snarked about such proposals until now while continuing to defend the hotel system that has now led to multiple leaks and lockdowns.

The deflection continued in Question Time, with Morrison – who only yesterday labelled Labor’s questions about the vaccines and quarantine “whinging and complaining” – rejecting the idea that his two fundamental jobs were vaccines and quarantine, arguing instead they were “to save lives, and to save livelihoods” (as if these didn’t rely on vaccines and quarantine). He attacked Labor for questioning his creative use of figures (counting people who have only had one dose as “vaccinated” in his totals), and claiming that because the first dose afforded some protection, Labor were the ones being “misleading”. Hunt took a cheaper shot, calling it a “deep disappointment” of which they should not be proud. When asked by Melbourne MP Adam Bandt about the failure to build a strong national quarantine system, Morrison reeled off stats about the effectiveness of the hotel system – the system that is the very reason Bandt’s electorate will be again brought to a standstill. When asked to consider the bare minimum of imposing strong standards on aerosol and ventilation to limit these outbreaks, Morrison did not “accept the assertion” of the question, arguing protocols had been followed, as if Victoria’s cases came from nowhere.

Many, many people warned that Morrison’s new electoral strategy – of deferring opening the borders, encouraging hesitancy and keeping Australia suspended in an incumbent-favouring pandemic world – would lead to further illness, further lockdowns, further hardship and potentially further death, and here we now are. The prime minister who suddenly professes to care about protecting Australian lives above all else, who shames those who talk about reopening in the future, is willing to do nothing to protect those lives other than keep the borders shut, especially if it involves admitting fault and correcting course. Today, it is the lockdown Victoria didn’t have to have. Let’s hope tomorrow doesn’t come with the deaths Australia didn’t have to have.

Listen to The Politics Podcast, with Rachel Withers

“The court has found that the minister owes a duty of care to younger children, to vulnerable people, and that duty says that the minister must not act in a way that causes harm – future harm – from climate change to younger people.”

The federal court has found that Environment Minister Sussan Ley owes a duty of care to young people in regard to the climate crisis. The lawyer representing the children who brought the case hailed it as a historic decision.

“Please don’t utilise the goodwill of our state.”

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian – who slams other states for closing borders, and brags about keeping hers open – warns Victorians against travelling north.

The frontline women’s services at risk of collapse
The federal budget promised $3.2 billion dollars to be spent on policies that improve the lives of Australian women. Despite that pledge, a critical frontline service that supports women at work now faces closure. Today, Royce Kurmelovs on the future of the Working Women’s Centres.


The number of reasons Victorians can leave home over the next seven days under lockdown restrictions commencing at midnight, with a new one this time around: getting vaccinated.

“The Senate is holding an inquiry into the Commonwealth’s new powers to declare a national emergency, which the prime minister can do unilaterally (without state and territory agreement) in certain circumstances.”

State governments are objecting to the prime minister’s national emergency powers, passed in December 2020, with even Coalition-led states questioning the call.

The list

“Morrison got off scot-free last year by refusing to assume anything more than a tokenistic role in quarantining border-crossers and returned travellers. Australia’s Constitution is very clear that its framers intended quarantine to be a Commonwealth responsibility, but Morrison was content to let the states and territories manage things – and to cop the blame for failures, such as those that sparked Victoria’s second wave.”

“In an airport you can be anyone: no one knows your story; they only know you’re going somewhere. It helps if you dress for the occasion. At 8.55 am I strode into the terminal with the feeling that I had my whole life ahead of me, probably because I hadn’t done anything with it yet. But I was doing my best impersonation of a jetsetter: polished sneakers, my cleanest shirt and a hat from a hotel’s lost property.”

“All three appointments have raised a few eyebrows. But in the wake of the very public melee involving former Australia Post chief executive Christine Holgate and the postal service’s board, the selection of Mario D’Orazio stands out. ‘As far as I know, it’s very unusual to have someone serving on two or more government boards,’ a senior media figure familiar with the ABC’s board tells The Saturday Paper.”

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.


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