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Morrison’s coronavirus backdowns

Aug 7, 2020 • 14m 43s

While most of the focus has been on Victoria, behind the scenes the federal government has been sending mixed-messages on economic policy and state border closures. Today, Paul Bongiorno on whether Scott Morrison is accurately reading the mood of the electorate during this phase of the crisis.

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Morrison’s coronavirus backdowns

282 • Aug 7, 2020

Morrison’s coronavirus backdowns

RUBY:

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

Most of the political attention over the past few weeks has been focused on Victoria’s handling of the second Coronavirus outbreak.

But behind the scenes, the federal government has been sending mixed-messages on economic policy and state border closures.

Today, columnist for The Saturday Paper Paul Bongiorno... on whether Scott Morrison is accurately reading the mood of the electorate during this phase of the crisis.

**

RUBY:

Paul, let's start with the prime minister's announcement on Monday, the disaster pandemic payment.

PAUL:

Well, Ruby, on Monday, Morrison called a late and last minute news conference. It wasn't scheduled at all. And there he announced that the expenditure review committee of Cabinet had been working all day to come up with a disaster pandemic payment.

Archival Tape -- Scott Morrison

“What we're dealing with here is a disaster. And we need to respond on the basis of the way we provide support in the midst of disasters…”

PAUL:

The payment of fifteen hundred dollars wouldn't be for workers who didn't have or had exhausted all their sick leave, but needed to isolate or stay home for 14 days.

Archival Tape -- Scott Morrison

“Today is a day for letting Victorians know that we are there to support you. And we will be there to support you with a fifteen hundred dollar payment…”

PAUL:

But he said it would only be for Victorians and in fact, they called it a disaster payment because in the view of the Cabinet and the Prime Minister, only Victoria is in disaster at the moment.

RUBY:

Right. And people have been lobbying for some sort of pandemic leave payment for quite a while now, right?

PAUL:

Well, it certainly is, right. In fact, the unions and business have been arguing for it for three months. Morrison's announcement comes after sustained pressure from these groups. And on Monday morning before the announcement, without people knowing what the government was going to do, the ACTU joined the Business Council of Australia, writing to the government to move quickly to introduce a paid pandemic leave scheme.

And they reminded the government - as if the government really needed reminding, but they did - that whatever other causes of the outbreak in Victoria, including bungled hotel quarantine or overwhelmed community tracing, a big factor was sick people going to work. And we've certainly seen that, with 80 percent of cases in Victoria attributed to workplace transmission of the virus.

RUBY:

So this payment is fifteen hundred dollars and that will cover two weeks off work for people who can't go in anymore - so what was the reaction to the announcement?

PAUL:

Well, not surprisingly, it was welcomed. The ACTU secretary, Sally McManus, said, though, it still isn't enough.

Archival Tape -- Sally McManus

“Well, look, it’s a step forward, but it doesn't meet what we are calling for. And the reason why is for two reasons…”

PAUL:

McManus pointed out that the payment is the minimum wage and about half the average wage, which means an effective pay cut for many workers.

Archival Tape -- Sally McManus

“So for some workers, you're basically saying to them, if you've got to isolate that you're going to have a significant pay cut. We're just going to take away that disincentive. It's just a hole in our defences…”

PAUL:

So the motivation and what's prompting so many going to work while they're sick has hardly been addressed for many.

RUBY:

Okay. Paid pandemic leave is just one element of what the government could be doing at this moment in time. So what else is happening on the economic front?

PAUL:

Well, this week, many people are urging the government to do more. And that includes the Reserve Bank on Tuesday and the International Monetary Fund on Wednesday - who are again urging the government to spend more, to fend off the worst of the economic crisis we're facing and actually sliding deeper into.

And the Morrison government is facing criticism on the domestic front as well. Victorian Labour MP Josh Byrnes, whose seat takes in the St Kilda area, is not alone in expressing frustration that the Morrison government is still reluctant to do all the things that need to be done. Even though the opposition has given them the space to do it, it's held back on partisan criticism.

RUBY:

Mm. So is the prime minister relenting at all then?

PAUL:

Well Morrison changed tack on the pandemic payment on Wednesday - he went on Channel 7…

Archival Tape -- David Koch

“Why not do it for the rest of the country as well to stop it escalating? To stop other states getting to Victoria's level?”

Archival Tape -- Scott Morrison

“Well first of all…”

PAUL:

And with a bit of prompting from Kochie, said if other states or territories want a similar arrangement to Victoria...

Archival Tape -- Scott Morrison

“...then I will be making an offer to those states and territories if they wish to do that…”

PAUL:

I think it was a grudging acknowledgement, at least, that the potential for this disaster is not confined to one state, because insecure work, for one thing, is everywhere, just like the bug.

But Ruby, Scott Morrison keeps misreading the mood of the nation, a nation gripped by fear of this contagion that's destroying millions of livelihoods and threatening thousands of lives. And of course, nowhere is this more obvious than his now abandoned campaign against state border closures.

RUBY:

We'll be back in a moment.

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Archival Tape -- Reporters

“The prime minister has said enough is enough with Australia’s escalating border war--...

The prime minister is urging the states to commit to a timetable as part of the coordinated effort to roll back Covid-19 restrictions--...

The prime minister wants to get more people back to work, saying travel will boost the economy."

Archival Tape -- Scott Morrison

If you can’t come to your state from Sydney, the no one’s coming to your state from Singapore”

RUBY:

Paul, let's talk about state border closures. Where are we at now?

PAUL:

Well, Morrison has been campaigning for states to open their borders for three months now. State Premiers, though, are not having a bar of it. Queenslander Annastacia Palaszczuk midweek slammed shut her state again to New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory.

Archival Tape -- Annastacia Palaszczuk

“We've seen that Victoria is not getting better and we're not going to wait for New South Wales to get worse. I said I will not hesitate. And today is the day.”

PAUL:

Victoria, meanwhile, has been sealed off from the rest of the country for weeks. Given its Wednesday death toll of 15 - the highest daily result - and with 725 new infections, it certainly seems that closing the borders is the best and maybe the only way forward. And then, of course, there's the kerfuffle with Western Australia.

RUBY:

What's happening there?

PAUL:

Well, the McGowan Labor government has doubled down on its so-called hard border closure, especially in light of the latest terrible developments in Victoria. And that's despite Clive Palmer's High Court challenge to the border closure in W.A., a challenge that's been supported by the Morrison government.

RUBY:

So Morrison's government was backing Clive Palmer's bid to reopen the W.A. border?

PAUL:

Well, it certainly was. In fact, the Attorney-General two months ago announced that this is exactly what it was doing. But as it got hotter in the kitchen, if I can put it that way, he began to back away. But the fact of the matter is that the federal government sent in the Solicitor General, Stephen Donohue, and called witnesses that made a big impact in the federal court hearing on this matter last week.

The Labour Attorney-General in the state, John Quigley, had had enough of this, and he told The West Australian newspaper that W.A. would have already won the case against Palmer if it wasn't for Porter and the Commonwealth's intervention.

RUBY:

Mm. So what happened next, Paul?

PAUL:

Well, the pressure forced a rethink from Morrison and a backdown, one that he didn't share with his Attorney-General. He sent a letter to the W.A. Premier McGowan on Saturday, and he also made sure that the media in the West got a copy of it.

Morrison attempted to distance himself from Palmer's private interest and claimed he was doing no more than taking his constitutional responsibilities seriously in defending what he called established conventions. But I've got to say to you, Ruby, no one else in the federation, not one other state or territory, supports these so-called established conventions.

RUBY:

So was this an admission then from Scott Morrison that his insistence on backing border reopenings just isn't feasible?

PAUL:

Well, look, the Morrison letter was a complete departure from his previous position and in fact, the Commonwealth's position in the court. The prime minister told the W.A. Premier that he accepts the recent events in the Eastern states, especially Victoria, are creating real concerns to residents in other states less impacted.

But, Ruby, I've got to tell you that Morrison is now trying to bury this issue to just walk away from it. At that news conference on Monday, he was asked a question from The West Australians’ political editor, Lanai Scarr. She asked him whether it was a good thing now that W.A. was keeping its borders shut.

Archival Tape -- Lanai Scarr

“Do you concede that it is correct for the W.A. border to remain close given 96 per cent of West Australians want it to remain closed-”

Archival Tape -- Scott Morrison

“I've got nothing further to add to the letter that I've...I've put in writing to the...to the Premier…But in relation to...”

PAUL:

The Prime Minister, who has said nothing publicly to this point of time, said that he had nothing more to add to his letter to the Premier.

RUBY:

So, Paul, what does all of this tell us about how well Scott Morrison is calibrating his response to the pandemic at the moment?

PAUL:

Well, look, in my view, this week is a reminder that the Commonwealth's been dragged kicking, if not screaming, to its most critical interventions. The JobKeeper wage subsidy was called for a couple of months before it was announced. And even the boosted JobSeeker unemployment payment had been called for for months. And the fact that both JobKeeper and JobSeeker are now slated to be phased down just as the country's economy is teetering on the brink of a depression not seen for 75 years, merely reinforces this point - that the Commonwealth seems to have a tin ear. And the disaster pandemic payment announced on Monday, initially for Victoria alone, is just the latest manifestation.

But you know, Morrison has been collecting brownie points for every major rethink or back-down he makes. Surely it's because people, at least most people, are relieved that he and the government have come to their senses, or at least have, at last, got it. That's certainly the case with that rather spectacular climb down in W.A.

RUBY:

Paul, thank you so much for your time today.

PAUL:

Thank you, Ruby, bye.

[ADVERTISEMENT]

RUBY:

Also in the news…

Victoria’s harsh Stage Four coronavirus restrictions could cost the national economy $10 billion, according to Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

The Prime Minister also said that unemployment was now forecast to hit 10 percent with an additional 250 to 400,000 people set to lose their jobs.

Victoria recorded an additional 471 cases and 8 deaths yesterday. The state also recorded 107 cases of suspected community transmission for which no source could be tracked.

There are currently 7449 active coronavirus cases in Victoria, including 1533 linked to aged care.


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. Subscribe in your favourite podcast app, to make sure you don’t miss out.

I’m Ruby Jones, see you next week.

While most of the attention has been focused on Victoria’s handling of the latest coronavirus outbreak, behind the scenes the federal government has been sending mixed-messages on economic policy and state border closures. Today, Paul Bongiorno on whether Scott Morrison is accurately reading the mood of the electorate during this phase of the crisis.

Guest: Columnist for The Saturday Paper Paul Bongiorno.

Background reading:

Morrison backtracks on WA border closure in The Saturday Paper

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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. Subscribe in your favourite podcast app, to make sure you don’t miss out.

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auspol covid19 coronavirus economy morrison




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282: Morrison’s coronavirus backdowns