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Coronavirus, part five: One month in

Mar 27, 2020 • 12m 40s

Scott Morrison’s first national address on coronavirus was one month ago. Today, Paul Bongiorno on the decisions his government has made since then and how they stack up.

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Coronavirus, part five: One month in

191 • Mar 27, 2020

Coronavirus, part five: One month in

RUBY:

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

This week we’ve been covering the way the coronavirus outbreak is changing our nation.

It's now been one month since Scott Morrison’s first announcement on the pandemic… since then his response has been criticised as confused and slow.

Today - Paul Bongiono on the political decisions made, and how they stack up.

This is part five: One month in.

[Phone ring]

PAUL:

Hello.

RUBY:

Hi Paul, it’s Ruby.

PAUL:

Ruby, just a moment, I’ll get myself organised.

RUBY:

So, Paul, it's been a month now since Scott Morrison's first big press conference on coronavirus when he announced his plan. We had another big press conference this week on Tuesday night. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

PAUL:

Well, Ruby, it's a press conference that followed the so-called national cabinet. They're having at least once weekly.

RUBY:

Paul Bongiorno is a columnist for The Saturday Paper.

PAUL:

That's when the prime minister gets on a phone hook up with premiers and chief ministers to decide what's happening and how they're going to respond to the Corona virus.

It was 10 o'clock. I think when he actually did the news conference. But he gave a fairly rambling, ultimately confusing series of announcements

Archival tape -- Scott Morrison:

From midnight tomorrow night… All of these following activities and they include some that I've already announced from earlier, will no longer be taking place.

PAUL:

He said everyone was an essential worker. And by that he meant everyone who was working was essential.

Archival tape -- Scott Morrison:

Now, if you ask me, who’s an essential worker? Someone who has a job. Everyone who has a job in this economy is an essential worker. Every single job that is being done in our economy, with these severe restrictions that is taking place, is essential.

PAUL:

But also everyone should stay at home. He said haircuts could only be 30 minutes long, but two days later backflipped on that and said they could be as long as they need. Barre classes would have to be canceled. So far, no backflip on that.

Archival tape -- Scott Morrison:

Health clubs. Fitness centres. Yoga. Bar-ray. I hope I've pronounced that correct. I might need some help with that. I'm not quite sure what that is, to be honest, but be a double r e for those who have...

PAUL:

Food courts would be closed except for takeaway.

Archival tape -- Scott Morrison:

Getting takeaway from those food outlets in those shopping centres. That can continue because takeaway is able to be done.

PAUL:

It went on like this, Ruby.

Of course, each of these measures is important. They all have significant knock on in people's lives and for the economy. They also have serious public health outcomes, some good and some needing to do better. But the product of this kind of update, well, it is confusion. And much of the confusion is the prime minister's

Scott Morrison gives the impression he's not on top of it. He's not sure of where he's going. And he's in conflict with the states. The most obvious manifestation of that is the issue of school closures.

And remember, Tuesday night comes on top of Sunday's announcements, which came on top of weaker announcements a few days before that. It looks like the prime minister at least has been dragged into this by increments.

RUBY:

Paul, let's talk a bit about those increments. This is the week, it seems, where the government did really kick into action. What stood out to you?

PAUL:

Yeah, well if anything crystallises the brutal impact of the Coronavirus crisis in Australia, it's this thousands who queued outside Centrelink offices from the first thing Monday morning, and that was around the country. Here was the intersection of life or death measures, again, exposing a government response that was look at poorly thought through and executed. And really, Rubi, this does rest on the shoulders of the responsible minister. A senior cabinet minister at that, Stuart Robert.

RUBY:

Tell me about him.

PAUL:

Well, Robert is a close personal friend of Scott Morrison's. They share a Pentecostal faith. He is, in fact, a pastor and he takes pilgrimages to the Holy Land, as Israel's called. Robert was dumped from the ministry by Malcolm Turnbull over some curious dealings in China. He was reinstated by Morrison and immediately set about to be a key strategist and numbers man for his mate in the successful manoeuvrings against Malcolm Turnbull. And you possibly also remember him for racking up a huge and unexplained personal Internet bill. which ultimately saw him forced to repay $38000 to the government.

This week he gave one of the most gormless interviews I've ever heard from a senior minister.

RUBY:

Mm. Thats a big call. Tell me about that interview.

PAUL:

Look, it really was Ruby. Robert went on Alan Jones show and 2GB ostensibly to explain why the MyGov website had crashed, leaving thousands frustrated and fearful their promised income support wouldn't be delivered. Initially he had claimed it was a cyber attack.

Archival tape -- Stuart Robert:

My Gov has not been off. It simply suffered from a distributed denial of service attack this morning, and currently it's processing 55000 concurrent users…

PAUL:

Of course, that was backside covering nonsense. The system was just not set up to deal with what should have been the expected demand.

On Jones's show. Robert said he probably should have waited for the investigation before jumping the gun. But the site crashed after nearly 100,000 tried to access it.

Archival tape -- Stuart Robert:

I didn't think I'd have to pay for 100000 in current users. Again, my bad not realising that the sheer scale of the decision on Sunday night by the national leaders that literally saw hundreds and hundreds of thousands, maybe a million people unemployed overnight.

Well, he promised to fix it.

He didn't. It crashed again on Tuesday. He also promised more staff to keep the phone lines open for 12 hours a day. While Jones, we have to remember, is a big backer. In fact, a cheerleader for the government was incredulous.

Archival tape -- Alan Jones:

Why wouldn't it be open 24 hours in this crisis?

Archival tape -- Stuart Robert:

Because I'd quickly run out of people.

Archival tape -- Alan Jones:

Stuart it’s good if you can give people a job. You’ve hired another 5000, haven’t you?

Archival tape -- Stuart Robert:

I have and if i need to hire more…

Archival tape -- Alan Jones:

Well hire them so you can open for 24 hours.

PAUL:

Truly, it was a train wreck. This is the sort of leadership we’re being offered.

RUBY:

We'll be back after this.

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RUBY:

Paul, what has been the reaction from the wider community to the measures that have been announced, like the shutdown of nonessential services and the associated stimulus?

PAUL:

Well, Ruby, let's take one example. Peter Strong, he's the chief executive of the Council of Small Business of Australia, Strong says the 1.2 million people have been forced from their jobs by the government's coronavirus containment strategies shouldn't be in the welfare queues in the first place. He says the temporarily ramped up unemployment benefit should be called an income replacement payment. He says these are in fact displaced workers and by that he means displaced by their own government and that the one thousand $1115.70 fortnight payment that doesn't come in until the end of April is grossly inadequate. He says in most cases, it's a quarter of people's regular wages.

Strong says the government should follow Boris Johnson and the United Kingdom with a direct wage subsidy of 70 to 80 per cent of current wages. This call is supported by a big employer group, the Australian Industry Group, and it's also backed by the unions.

RUBY:

Paul, other part of this response is public health. How are we going there?

PAUL:

Well, the moment of bitter truth is rapidly approaching for Australia. Ruby, much as escalating cases and a rising death toll forced Prime Minister Boris Johnson's hand in the United Kingdom, the rate of increase here will see a national health disaster if it's left unchecked.

RUBY:

So what do we do?

PAUL:

You know, Ruby, the time has come to tell it as it is. Reassurance is not what we need. In my view, we need a government to tell us what it needs us to do and to do it strongly, clearly and decisively. The Australian ethos of she'll be right, mate, I'm afraid, is not going to see us through this time. We need Morrison to stop urging calm and instead clearly warn of some very uncomfortable realities heading our way.

This virus is very infectious, highly infectious. If we don't self isolate, seriously self isolate. If we don't take precautions to wash hands, to avoid touching our faces, to be good to one another, to look after the elderly, look after our neighbors, this thing will change the face of our country.

RUBY:

Paul, thanks for the update.

PAUL:

Thanks, Ruby.

[ADVERTISEMENT]

RUBY:

And the latest on the coronavirus response:

The Federal Government is talking to the car manufacturer Ford and 3D printing companies about producing new medical ventilators as Australia looks to double the two thousand currently at our disposal.

The government has also announced that a new, rapid test for coronavirus has been approved for use. The test, which only takes 15 minutes to complete, will be rolled out to GP clinics and healthcare centres in coming days.

And non elective surgeries in Australia’s public hospitals have been suspended, with private hospitals to follow, in order to free up resources for coronavirus patients expected in the coming weeks.

**

7am is a daily show from The Monthly and The Saturday Paper.

It’s produced by Ruby Schwartz, Atticus Bastow, and Michelle Macklem.

Elle Marsh is our features and field producer, in a position supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.

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.

**

This week we’ve covered the coronavirus outbreak in a five part series.

We will of course continue to report on coronavirus - its spread, the social and economic fallout, and the things that can be done in the face of a crisis like this.

A huge thankyou to all the people who have become supporters of 7am this week, we appreciate your contributions so much in a time like this.

We’ll be back on Monday with the latest. See you then.

It’s now been one month since Scott Morrison’s first announcement on the coronavirus pandemic. Since then his response has been criticised as confused and slow. Today, Paul Bongiorno on the political decisions made and how they stack up.

Guest: Columnist for The Saturday Paper Paul Bongiorno.

Background reading:

The Saturday Paper
The Monthly

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7am is a daily show from The Monthly and The Saturday Paper. It’s produced by Ruby Schwartz, Atticus Bastow, and Michelle Macklem. Elle Marsh is our features and field producer, in a position supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas. 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.

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191: Coronavirus, part five: One month in