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The Prime Minister for NSW

Jul 17, 2020 • 15m 56s

As the pandemic worsens in Victoria, Scott Morrison has been careful to distance himself from bad news.

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The Prime Minister for NSW

267 • Jul 17, 2020

The Prime Minister for NSW

RUBY:

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

As the pandemic worsens in Victoria, Scott Morrison has been careful to distance himself from bad news.

He chooses when to be the face of the response, and when to leave it to the state premiers.

Today - contributing editor to The Monthly magazine, Paddy Manning, on National Cabinet and shifting responsibilities.


RUBY:

Paddy, for you, what is the enduring image of the last week?

PADDY:

It's probably Scott Morrison back at the football.

Archival Tape - TV Presenter:

“It is a good one to get us underway, right here on Bundy Rum Super Saturday… Lets go the Sharkies!”

PADDY:

You know, his decision to go to the footy after announcing the first shutdown defined the first wave of the pandemic. Now, with the second wave of COVID19 infections taking hold, Scott Morrison’s performance in the top job is being questioned again in a harsher way.

But still, the prime minister went out of his way to be seen watching Cronulla last Saturday as it happened, surrounded by his assorted sort-of fans and hangers-on there at his beloved Shark Park.

Archival Tape - TV Presenter:

“Look at Martins hanging onto his leg, and it will be 10 in the bin as well!”

PADDY:

So at a time when community transmission’s ramping up, this was a bad look. And there was the predictable and immediate censure on social media. And Scott Morrison’s beery, sort of scarf-twirling contrasted sharply with images of Victorian Premier Dan Andrews locked down in his study at home, hard at work.

Archival Tape - TV Presenter:

“Four tries here on debut as the Panthers beat the Sharks 56 points to 24”

RUBY:

What is Scott Morrison intending to convey here? Is he trying to show defiance or confidence…?

PADDY:

I think it is...it's a bit of the ‘Scotty from marketing’ that we're seeing again. I think there is an element where he's trying to inspire confidence and allow things to, you know, get back to normal a little bit. On the other hand, I think he is also trying to play to his base, which is, you know, the football-loving tradies out there in suburbia.

And he doesn't care - in fact, he might even, you know, think there's a bit of advantage - if there's a bit of uproar on Twitter. Because there aren't that many trades on Twitter. So, you know, he was happy for those images to get out there and for him to be seen with the beer in his hand and drinking from it as well.
So, yeah, I think he's playing up the old daggy dad, and he's also trying to give Australians a bit of confidence that things will get back to normal.

RUBY:

And so after that game, how was the rest of Scott Morrison's week?

PADDY:

Well, that game marked the beginning of a week of lighter duties for the PM, who asked the media for some understanding as he took a working break with the family.

Archival Tape - Scott Morrison:

“As you know, it's school holidays, and Jenny and the girls are going to be taking some time next week on the outskirts of Sydney…”

PADDY:

Where he planned to - what he said was, quote, “wet a line or whatever the girls want to do”

Archival Tape - Scott Morrison:

“But at the same time I can assure you we will remain absolutely focussed on the things we need to focus on over the next week…”

PADDY:

So he was showing, I think, that he remains very sensitive to any accusation that, you know, he was absconding during a crisis, which is what happened when he took the family off to Hawaii last summer, even though, you know, smoke and mega fires were ravaging large parts of the country. Morrison was careful this time to point out that he would still be on deck.

Archival Tape - Scott Morrison:

“I will not be joining them for that full time. I also won't be standing aside from the tasks I have each day. We have the capacity now with technology where I can be with them, where they are, and at the same time continue to take the briefings and the calls and meetings that I need to do…”

PADDY:

He basically said he'd be on holidays, but he'd still be working.

Archival Tape - Scott Morrison:

“Just because I'm not standing in front of the camera doesn't mean I'm not behind my desk or doing what I need to do on a daily basis. So I’d ask for people’s understanding on that...”

PADDY:

Now nobody would begrudge the PM a bit of quiet time off with his family after the incredible stresses of the last six months. And even if his appearance at a rugby league match was not a good look, the opposition wasn't trying to make mileage out of it either.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese, it turns out, had gone to see his beloved Bunnies beat the Tigers at Parramatta Bankwest Stadium the previous evening.

Archival Tape - Reporter:

”I have to ask you this question to start with: you’re a massive South Sydney fan, did you go to the footy last weekend?”

Archival Tape - Anthony Albanese:

“I am mate, and I did go to the footy…”

PADDY:

So he told Brisbane Radio it should be okay for political leaders to go out and enjoy a bit of sport.

Archival Tape - Anthony Albanese:

“I, of course, obeyed all of the health restrictions which are there, and you're allowed to go to the footy, and I certainly haven't been critical of Scott Morrison for going to the footy. “

PADDY:

The bigger issue for Morrison, though, is that he's in danger of becoming, like, the Prime Minister of New South Wales.
That's becoming really clear in how he talks about the pandemic and what he takes responsibility for and what he doesn't.

RUBY:

We'll be back in a moment.

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RUBY:

Paddy, we're talking about Scott Morrison's week and his response to what I guess is now the second wave of this pandemic. You say he's at risk of becoming the prime minister of New South Wales. What do you mean by that?

PADDY:

I think Morrison has been very careful to put some distance between himself and the second wave of the pandemic, which at this stage is really breaking out in Victoria more than in other states. And at a recent press conference, he thanked Victorians for “your patience” and “their patience”.

Archival Tape - Scott Morrison:

“But it will require your continued patience and your continued discipline, which you are showing…”

PADDY:

Ordinarily, a prime minister might talk about “us” and “we” and the nation as a whole. But Morrison sort of chooses when he will do that and when he won't.

Archival Tape - Scott Morrison:

“Again to everybody down in Victoria: the whole country is with you. All of the country is with you. The resources of the nation are there to support you at this very very difficult time…”

PADDY:

At the moment, what Scott Morrison would like is for everybody to focus on Dan Andrews, who's blundered badly with lax management of hotel quarantine for returning travellers. It's better that he take responsibility himself.

RUBY:

And is that working? Has Scott Morrison sort of stepped back from ultimate responsibility here?

PADDY:

To a degree, I think he has. The sort of fast and loose national cabinet that he's innovated has proved a boon for Morrison. He's been able to use the new structure to sort of corral the premiers, and when it suits him, play them off against each other, or off the Commonwealth itself.

So when it's a good news story, the country's first ministers are all in it together. But when there's a bad news story, Morrison flicks the hard questions off to the states. It's quite a clever trick.

RUBY:

And are those responsibilities clearly drawn or not?

PADDY:

No, not really, because the national cabinet has replaced, you know, the Council of Australian Governments, which had agreed processes and has existed for decades. And in its place, we have this kind of opaque meeting of the cabinet, which may or may not be subject to cabinet confidentiality, depending on who's in the room, and that changes from meeting to meeting.

And Kristina Keneally, the shadow home affairs minister in the COVID-19 select committee, has really kind of drilled into this issue asking what are the rules around this new national cabinet? Is it the case that every meeting that the prime minister goes to now is a cabinet meeting.

And it's not clear whether, for example, the state premiers are bound by the confidentiality of cabinet. It's not clear whether the national cabinet has actually authority to order state premiers to do anything. It's all very kind of loose. And I think that suits Morrison. I think he likes it that way.

RUBY:

And it is shifting of responsibilities, which you're saying is a tactic of Scott Morrison’s. Is it helping him with his popularity? Do we have new poll figures to look at, to gauge that?

PADDY:

Yes, we do, actually. And this week's Essential Poll showed the first signs that Morrison's popularity - which has shot up in the wake of the first wave of COVID19 - might have passed its peak. Asked if they approved of the job Scott Morrison was doing as PM, there was a two percentage point drop in July to 63 per cent. And his rating as preferred PM over Labor's Anthony Albanese also fell by three points to 50 per cent.

Now those are still good numbers, but more concerning for the Coalition was that voters registered like a sharp drop in their assessment of the government's response to COVID19, which fell by seven points to 64 per cent; still strong, but trending down. And similar drops were recorded in both Victoria and New South Wales, which indicates the sentiment is not partisan. Pollster Peter Lewis wrote that the national mood was, quote, “showing signs of darkening”.

RUBY:

Right, and those darkening signs of a showing up anywhere else?

PADDY:

Well, I think they're showing up everywhere else. And particularly in the economy, I think it's fair to say the federal government’s ‘all in it together’ message is framed.

This week, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg described Australia as “one country in two stages”.

Archival Tape - Josh Frydenberg:

“Well, as a country we're one country now and two stages. We’ve got Victoria which has been closing down and we’ve got the other States like New South Wales and Queensland that are opening up…”

PADDY:

He was softening us all up for next week's difficult and important economic statement.

Archival Tape - Josh Frydenberg:

“But these are challenging times for the nation. We're not out of the woods yet. We're in a once in a century pandemic. The Government has responded accordingly with massive health and economic packages and obviously in Victoria it's particularly tough for people right now.”

PADDY:

Yesterday's dismal job figures confirm that the COVID recession is going to be deep and drawn out. And the government's first official economic forecast for 2021 next week will no doubt round out that gloomy picture.

There's now little doubt that the Treasurer will extend the popular JobKeeper program - so with payments tiered rather than struck at a flat rate of fifteen hundred bucks a fortnight, and eligibility constantly re-evaluated. The Coronavirus supplement for people on JobSeeker is gonna be wound back people expect, but not to the old level of Newstart at forty dollars a day, which was below the poverty line.

Archival Tape - Josh Frydenberg:

“This is a real setback to the nation’s economic recovery, there’s no secret in that. Victoria, has around a quarter of the Australian economy. I said to the Parliament, back in May, that were Victoria to go down to a full lockdown, it could cost up to $1 billion a week…”

PADDY:

So the Treasurer will have no good news next Thursday when he gives his update. It's hard to see, in fact, until there's a vaccine, or if there's a vaccine, where the next good news for the government will come from.

RUBY:

So given that, was it a good move for Scott Morrison to go to the football?

PADDY:

Well, not really. It might have played well at a certain level. I'm sure he had a good time. Although, for the sharks, not so much! Certainly didn't help them! You know, ‘cos they got smashed.

And it really kind of underscored, especially for people down in Victoria who were in the middle of a severe lockdown, that yeah maybe Scott Morrison really is just ‘Prime Minister for New South Wales’.

RUBY:

Paddy, thank you so much for your time today.

PADDY:

Thanks, Ruby.

RUBY:

Paddy Manning is filling in for Paul Bongiorno this week. His column will be in The Saturday Paper tomorrow. Paul Bongiorno will be back next week.

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RUBY:

Also in the news —

Victoria recorded 317 new coronavirus cases yesterday, Australia's biggest daily increase so far.

Two men in their 80s have died from Covid-19, which brings the state's death toll to 29 and Australia's to 113.

When announcing the figures, Premier Daniel Andrews said it was "way too early" for the state to be moving to a new stage of restrictions.

The Premier said despite the increase, there was a "relative stability" in the rate of new infections being recorded.


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.

Make sure you don’t miss out by subscribing on your favourite podcast app.

I’m Ruby Jones, see you next week.

As the pandemic worsens in Victoria, Scott Morrison has been careful to distance himself from bad news. He chooses when to be the face of the response, and when to leave it to the state premiers.

Guest: Contributing editor (politics) for The Monthly Paddy Manning.

Listen and subscribe in your favourite podcast app (it's free).

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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 shutdown




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267: The Prime Minister for NSW