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Scott Morrison’s shattered cabinet

Sep 11, 2020 • 15m 04s

Scott Morrison is waging a war on two fronts this week. He’s locked in a battle with state governments to reopen borders, and he’s increasingly blaming the Victorian government for the severity of the state’s second wave. Today, Paul Bongiorno on the growing political divide across the country.

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Scott Morrison’s shattered cabinet

307 • Sep 11, 2020

Scott Morrison’s shattered cabinet

RUBY:

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

Scott Morrison is waging a war on two fronts this week.

He’s locked in a battle with state governments to reopen their domestic borders, and he’s increasingly blaming the Victorian government for the severity of the state’s second wave.

Today, columnist for The Saturday Paper, Paul Bongiorno, on the growing political divide across the country.

**

RUBY:

Paul, one week ago exactly, the National Cabinet met up to discuss, amongst other things, border closures, so how did it go?

PAUL:

Well, Ruby, the National Cabinet, this hastily constructed vehicle Morrison made to coordinate a coherent response to the Coronavirus pandemic crisis while it's well and truly fractured. And as you said, the main issue the Prime Minister is pressing is border closures. He wants all state and territory leaders to agree to a reopening by Christmas.

But he's hampered by the fact that the virtual cabinet room is not full of ministers of his government who owe their positions to him and who broadly share his political world view.

These are leaders in their own right of six states and two territories. And this, after all, is the dynamic of the 119 year old Australian Federation. It demands the sort of leadership from a Prime Minister with skills of negotiation and persuasion that can achieve the required consensus to advance the national interest.

Now, for someone with a reputation as a Lone Ranger, these are qualities colleagues say would not come easily to Morrison. Of course, what was said inside is hidden in a cloak of secrecy. But after the meeting, we heard a few different versions of how it all played out.

RUBY:

Okay, so what did Scott Morrison say about how the negotiations went?

PAUL:

Well, Scott Morrison emerged from the meeting, a defeated leader, and announced that the actual functioning of the National Cabinet would have to change.

Archival Tape -- Scott Morrison

So we've decided that this notion of 100 per cent absolute consensus on any issue is not a way that the National Cabinet can indeed work.

PAUL:

Now, Ruby, if consensus meant everybody agreeing with Morrison all the time, well, it was always going to fail. Morrison told the gathered media in his Parliament House courtyard that not everyone has to get on the bus for the bus to leave the station.

Archival Tape -- Scott Morrison

But it is important the bus leaves the station and we all agree on that. We all agree on that. Even when on occasion some might not want to get on. They know we need to keep moving forward.

PAUL:

He claimed he had seven of the eight leaders as passengers on his bus heading to a destination of that pre-Christmas opening of their borders.

Archival Tape -- Scott Morrison

We said before we wanted to get there in July and the virus prevented us from achieving that. Seven out of eight states and territories wants to get back to that position in December of this year

PAUL:

To facilitate the management of the pandemic, he was proposing a hotspot definition of an infection outbreak. This would restrict closures or lockdowns to local areas and minimise disruptions to the business of the nation.

RUBY:

Right. And so Paul, who was and was not on Scott Morrison's metaphorical bus?

PAUL:

Well, Western Australia was definitely not on board. And Queensland's Annastacia Palaszczuk, later that night tweeted that she had not agreed to the Federal government's hotspot definition. And she signalled that Christmas was not a done deal, throwing her support behind the W.A. position. She tweeted ‘I agree with W.A., our borders, protect our health and protect our economy.’

And then by Sunday night, Morrison had also abandoned any pretence of consensus with Victoria's Daniel Andrews.

The Prime Minister, and his most senior Victorian colleagues, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Health Minister Greg Hunt, in a statement, slammed the Premier's roadmap out of Covid-19 restrictions.

RUBY:

Mm. So W.A. and Queensland are definitely off the bus, and now the stoush between the federal government and Victoria has become worse. So just how bad is it?

PAUL:

Well, the Prime Minister and his colleagues said that the extended lockdown and the benchmarks for containment of the virus were, quote, “hard and crushing news for the people of Victoria”.
The blame was laid squarely on the State Government for, quote, “the impact and costs that result from not being able to contain Covid-19 outbreaks, resulting from high rates of community transmission.” No mention of the more than 500 Coronavirus deaths in aged care homes in the state, funded and regulated by the Commonwealth.

And with four weeks to go before the delayed Federal budget is unveiled, the statement said Victoria will impact the national economy, quote, “in further job losses and loss of livelihoods, as well as impacting on mental health.”

And Ruby not to be missed, according to the PM, those decisions are solely the work of the Andrews government.

RUBY:

We'll be back in a moment.

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RUBY:

Paul, this week, as you mentioned, the Victorian government unveiled its road map out of the pandemic, which seemed to infuriate the Federal Government. So let's talk about the fallout from that.

Archival Tape -- Scott Morrison

...and I know Victorians - and Greg has just joined us today directly from Victoria - the feeling out there today is hard. They're frustrated. The mental health of Victorians will be sorely tested.

PAUL:

Well, on Monday, Morrison wheeled out the new secretary of the Department of Health, Brendan Murphy and Greg Hunt, to further attack Daniel Andrews Roadmap. The Health Minister quoted leading experts querying the basis for the plan proffered by the Premier and his chief health officer, Brett Sutton.

Archival Tape -- Greg Hunt

Professor Tony Blakely from the University of Melbourne and one of the authors of the modelling subsequently said, if we do our contact tracing better than we did three months ago, the contact tracers may be able to hold the case count without it going up again as badly as our model suggests...

PAUL:

I've got to say, was an impressive line-up of experts, infectious disease experts, Singapore-based Dale Fisher, from the Australian National University, Professor Peter Collingham, and from the Doherty Institute, Jodie McLernon. All doubted the need for the severity and timeline in Victoria.

RUBY:

Right, ok.

PAUL:

Now, Professor Brendan Murphy agreed with the Prime Minister's characterisation that New South Wales was the gold standard in terms of its response to the virus, particularly in its contact tracing.

Archival Tape -- Professor Brendan Murphy

New South Wales is the exemplar. They've had a proud history of many, many years of advanced investment in public health...

PAUL:

He said Victoria had played an urgent catch up and it was now in a better position. This faint praise ended with a backhander.

Archival Tape -- Professor Brendan Murphy

I think they are in a stronger position, a much, much stronger position now, and I hope that they can feel confident with the strength of their position to take a somewhat less conservative approach to their restrictions.

RUBY:

So that is fairly strident criticism, Paul. And if federal support is pulled back from Victoria, that could have a fairly devastating impact...

PAUL:

Oh, yeah. And this angered one of Labor's most senior Victorian MPs, former opposition leader Bill Shorten. He shared Morrison's hope that the plan was a worst case scenario and restrictions could come off sooner.

Archival Tape -- Bill Shorten

Well, hopefully what we saw on Sunday was a worst case scenario and that if the numbers and the cases fall more quickly than the health experts are projecting, well, then hopefully some of the restrictions can be revisited in a more timely fashion.

PAUL:

Shorten said he had been inundated with complaints, especially from small businesses, looking for relief and support. But he praised Andrews for giving 100 percent in the fight to contain the virus.

Archival Tape -- Bill Shorten

But people also just want to see it finished. They want to see it beaten. They want to see the case numbers come down.

PAUL:

And the Labour MP also accused Morrison, in a conversation with me, of trying to abdicate his responsibility.

But Ruby, there was also unexpected support for Andrews from two former federal Liberal leaders, former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and former opposition leader John Hewson.

Archival Tape -- News Reader

I'm joined now by former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Malcolm Turnbull, welcome.

Archival Tape -- Malcolm Turnbull

Great. Good to see you. Great to be with you...

PAUL:

Turnbull on ABC TV's Afternoon Briefing said there was a lot of blame to go around for where Victoria now is, but critics needed to offer solutions.

Archival Tape -- Malcolm Turnbull

They are where they are. And so the question I think that, you know, could be asked of Scott Morrison is, what would you suggest Andrews should do differently right now?

PAUL:

Dr Hewson tweeted: “No more cheap shots. If Morrison doesn't like or accept Andrews’ pathway, let him detail his alternative for which he can be held fully accountable.”

RUBY:

Okay. And how is the Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews, handling this kind of reaction to his plan?

PAUL:

Well, midweek, Andrews defended his roadmap while acknowledging the anger and frustration in Victoria. He said if these emotions were like a vaccine, then we'd all be in a much better position.

Archival Tape -- Dan Andrews

...but to do that is not an act of leadership. That is to cave to some of the pressure that's there; to be driven by the anger, instead of the epidemiology. To be driven by opinion instead of science and data and doctors. That is not what I'm about.

PAUL:

Then the Premier said it was not accurate to say he had chosen one way to go from 50 options. The danger opening too early is a Yo-Yo effect of repeated lockdowns as infections surge again. And Ruby, while the numbers jumped around this week, the trend is definitely down.

RUBY:

And Paul, given what's happening in Victoria, do you think that Scott Morrison's criticism is fair? How have things been mishandled or is this just a sort of opportunistic swipe at a Labor state and a way to deflect responsibility?

PAUL:

Well, Ruby, I think it's a bit of all of the above. There's no doubt that Andrews and Sutton have made mistakes in delivery and, I would say, in messaging, I think they're learning as they go and they've played pretty urgent catch up, as Professor Murphy said.

But the fact is, Morrison's gold standard, New South Wales is one super spreader away from a Victoria like disaster. And the ABC’s Dr Norman Swan, who's also a physician, says it's as much good luck as good management for the government in Sydney.

Premier Berejiklian is more aware of the risk, it seems to me, than the Prime Minister, she said, touchwood that it doesn't happen in New South Wales.

RUBY:

Paul, thank you so much for your time today.

PAUL:

Thanks again, Ruby. Bye.

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RUBY:

Also in the news today…

The Queensland Premier has accused the Prime Minister of "bullying" her to intervene in the case of a Canberra woman who is unable to attend her father's funeral because of Coronavirus restrictions.

Morrison called Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk yesterday appealing for her to allow an exemption for the woman.

Ms Palaszczuk said she wasn't responsible for making decisions about exemptions, and said the phone call was a blatant attempt at bullying.

And the NSW government is in turmoil after the Nationals leader and Deputy Premier, John Barilaro said his party would no longer support its legislation in Parliament.

Barilaro said all Nationals MPs would move the crossbench. The disagreement was triggered by proposed planning regulations that would make it harder for landholders to clear koala habitats on their property.

**

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 ya next week.

Scott Morrison is waging a war on two fronts this week. He’s locked in a battle with state governments to reopen borders, and he’s increasingly blaming the Victorian government for the severity of the state’s second wave. Today, Paul Bongiorno on the growing political divide across the country.

Guest: Columnist for The Saturday Paper Paul Bongiorno.

Background reading: The wheels fall off Morrison’s bus 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 morrison victoria




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307: Scott Morrison’s shattered cabinet