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Pandemic politics: Morrison vs. Andrews

Jul 31, 2020 • 13m 07s

Throughout the Covid pandemic traditional political hostilities have been dialled back, and governments have tried to project a sense of national unity. But that’s starting to fray. Today, Paul Bongiorno on the growing political stoush over the crisis in Victoria’s aged care system.

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Pandemic politics: Morrison vs. Andrews

277 • Jul 31, 2020

Pandemic politics: Morrison vs. Andrews

RUBY:

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

Throughout the COVID pandemic, traditional political hostilities have been dialled back.
Government’s of all political persuasions have tried to project a sense of national unity.

But this week, that unity started to fray.

Today, columnist for The Saturday Paper Paul Bongiorno on the growing political stoush over the crisis in Victoria’s aged care system.

**

RUBY:

Paul, can we start with the phone call that Scott Morrison had on Sunday night with Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews?

PAUL:

Yes, well, Ruby, this call really is an important frame for the week we've just had. Morrison was talking to Daniel Andrews as the scale of the coronavirus crisis in the state in aged care was becoming clear. Of course, aged care is a really troubling, very dangerous part of the outbreak in Victoria. Infection goes through these places very quickly and they're often not adequately staffed to manage it anyhow.

On the call, Andrew's discussed the postponement of Category 2 elective surgery across the public and private hospitals to free up beds and qualified staff to deal with the emergency. Morrison asked for this, the two men spoke again on Monday morning, and Andrews agreed. But after the Sunday call, government staffers in Canberra began backgrounding against the Victorian Premier.

RUBY:

So by ‘backgrounding’ you mean - they were, what - calling up journalists and trying to get them to write hatchet jobs on Dan Andrews? What were they saying?

PAUL:

According to news.com.au and The Australian, they were saying that Andrews refused for a week requests from the new head of the health department, Brendan Murphy, for elective surgery to be postponed. Well, Murphy on Wednesday denied this, though he did confirm he'd been in discussion with Victorian health officials, not the Premier, on the crisis and ways to manage it.

Archival Tape -- Brendan Murphy

“I've been in discussion with the Victorian authorities about elective surgery. I first discussed it with a senior official in the Victorian Health Department I think on the 15th of July…”

PAUL:

He said the stories were a storm in a teacup...

Archival Tape -- Brendan Murphy

“(...in a teacup), they had a cabinet meeting and they've made a decision. And that's the most important thing.”

PAUL:

In other words, a politically motivated beat up.

RUBY:

Ok, and what’s Dan Andrews saying?

PAUL:

Andrews says as soon as Morrison approached him, he took the request to state cabinet and gave hospitals 24 hours notice. But the ill-judged leak is a sure sign the federal government is beginning to feel some political heat. And I've got to say, not without good reason. Aged care is the federal government's responsibility, and it funds the sector to the tune of 20 billion dollars a year and where Morrison has until now been shielded from some of Victoria's problems. This puts the federal government also in the firing line.

RUBY:

Mhm. So what happened next?

PAUL:

Well, in short, the politics of virus management turned sour, Ruby. An exasperated Andrews at his news conference, pulled no punches as the number of infections in 80 of the state's private aged care homes began spiralling out of control and the death toll mounted.

Archival Tape -- Daniel Andrews

“Everyone right to go? Thanks for joining us for the daily update. First things first…”

PAUL:

Andrews was brutally frank at his news conference. He said he wouldn't want his own mother in some of these places.

Archival Tape -- Daniel Andrews

“Some of the stories we've seen are unacceptable, and I wouldn't want my mum in some of those places. But that's not a matter for me. I can't change that…”

PAUL:

The premier blamed the federally regulated and federally funded aged care providers for struggling to maintain standards of care. He said he was worried about the capacity of some of these places to offer care and keep older people safe from the virus.

Archival Tape -- Daniel Andrews

“I cannot stand here and tell you that I have confidence that staff and management across a number of private sector aged care facilities are able to provide the care that is appropriate to keep their residents safe. If I could say that, I would…”

PAUL:

Midweek the death toll for the state was 92 and that was more than all other states combined. And there were 800 cases directly linked to aged care facilities.

RUBY:

So Dan Andrews is hitting back and reminding everyone that aged care is actually a federal government responsibility - so what was the response to that?

PAUL:

Well, federal Health Minister Greg Hunt reacted angrily to the premier's remarks. An emotional Hunt said that his father lived in a private aged care home in the last stages of his life and he was brilliantly looked after.

Archival Tape -- Greg Hunt

“I cannot imagine better care that my family and my father could have got. And I speak, I think, for hundreds of thousands of families around the country.”

PAUL:

Hunt stood up for the people working in these facilities and pushed back strongly against Andrews.

Archival Tape -- Greg Hunt

“The idea that our carers, that our nurses are not providing that care, I think, is a dangerous statement to make. They are wonderful human beings, and I won't hear a word against them.”

PAUL:

But what the Health Minister missed is that nurses and workers in these facilities have been leading the charge against them, calling for big changes to be made.

RUBY:

We'll be back in a moment.

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RUBY:

Paul, we're talking about the divide that's opened up this week between the federal government and the Andrews government in Victoria - as relations deteriorated on Monday, what was happening for the Prime Minister?

PAUL:

That evening, the virus was coming very close to the prime minister's office. Late on Monday, a reporter from Network Ten contacted the PMO about the health status of one of Morrison's closest advisers, Niko Louw. Stella Todorovic from the network's Canberra bureau was alerted to the adviser's brush with Coronavirus through his social media post. She was aware that Morrison was travelling across three states and territories, and that Louw sometimes accompanied him. And otherwise anyhow, he was part of the inner sanctum at the PMO.

RUBY:

And so who is Niko Louw?

PAUL:

Well, he's a media and economics adviser to the Prime Minister. Louw, though, has a penchant for the darker arts of politics, if I could put it that way. He came to some prominence when he was pinged for distributing bootleg copies of Malcolm Turnbull's memoir to, quote, 59 of his closest friends.

RUBY:

Oh, he was that guy.

PAUL:

Yeah, he was that guy, Ruby. Among other things, that enabled The Australian to gazump the rivals Sydney Morning Herald and Age with details of the tome, and in fact, led to an out-of-court settlement with the former prime minister's publishers.

Anyway, this week, Louw informed his Instagram followers that New South Wales Health had messaged him to say he was a close contact of a confirmed Covid case at Sydney's Apollo restaurant, and that he should self isolate. Morrison says he was informed on Sunday of the situation and decided Louw would not accompany him to Queensland and that Louw should take the advice of the acting chief medical officer.

On Tuesday, the Prime Minister announced he was cutting short his planned three day Queensland trip and returning to Canberra to, quote, engage directly with the deepening crisis in Victoria. You know, it was a prudent decision, and it shows just how easily any of us could be affected by this virus. Had Louw tested positive, Morrisson himself would be required to self isolate. So it would have been a nervous wait in the PM's plane to find out what was happening.

RUBY:

And was Louw positive?

PAUL:

Well no, mercifully for the PM and Louw he was negative. But, you know, we got very close to being like the United Kingdom, where Prime Minister Boris Johnson actually was laid up with the virus.

RUBY:

Okay, so the defining issue of this week, though, is aged care. What is the federal government's response to the crisis? Is there one?

PAUL:

Well, Morrison himself has refrained from any personal political attack on Andrews, and the Premier has returned the compliment. They both say they're helping each other deal with this crisis. But, of course, the core problems with aged care remain. It's a terrible situation.

In 2006, an aunt of mine died in pain with suppurating bed sores in a ritzy looking aged care home. And that's despite paying thousands of dollars for her care; the place looked like a six star hotel - the care was virtually non-existent.

And you know, Ruby, a caller to Radio National's Life Matters programme midweek recounted a similar experience. She described the home in which her mother died as a chandeliered mausoleum.

We've known for a long time what a disgrace the sector can be. An interim report of the Royal Commission into aged care tabled in October last year - so almost six months before COVID19 struck - brutally reinforced that it was already a disaster. And Morrison and Hunt are scrambling to look as if they're doing something. But the reality is this sector has been left in disarray, and Coronavirus is only demonstrating a problem this government and indeed earlier ones have known about for a long time.

RUBY:

Paul, thank you so much for your time today.

PAUL:

Thank you, Ruby. Bye.

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RUBY:

Also in the news…

Victoria has recorded it’s largest number of COVID cases yet, with 723 people testing positive and 13 deaths yesterday.

Premier Dan Andrews announced that most of the spread was occurring in workplaces, but some transmission was happening in households.

The number of cases in regional Victoria is increasing as well, and mask-wearing will now be compulsory for all Victorians as of midnight on Sunday.

And a new national agreement on Closing the Gap has been released, which promises to prioritise Indigenous involvement.

It includes commitments to 16 targets to tackle Indigenous disadvantage, and replaces the Closing the Gap strategy set in 2008, which largely failed in its aims.


RUBY:

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.

You can subscribe on your favourite podcast app to make sure you don’t miss out.

I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am, see you Monday.

Throughout the Covid pandemic traditional political hostilities have been dialled back, with governments of all political persuasions trying to project a sense of national unity. But this week that unity started to fray. Today, Paul Bongiorno on the growing political stoush over the crisis in Victoria’s aged care system.

Guest: Columnist for The Saturday Paper Paul Bongiorno.

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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 agedcare morrison danandrews victoria




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277: Pandemic politics: Morrison vs. Andrews