If the buck doesn't stop with him on aged care, border security or pandemics, what is the point of this Prime Minister? Managing editor Michelle Pini reports.
ON WEDNESDAY (19 August), ABC Breakfast's Michael Rowland asked the PM:
‘Daniel Andrews, the Victorian Premier, says the buck stops with him when it comes to the hotel quarantine bungle. So, does the buck stop with you as Prime Minister for the litany of aged care failures?’
In a typical no-fault defence performance, Scott Morrison droned on about “shared areas of responsibility” and public health being a matter for the Victorian Government.
Then, as Rowland attempted to draw out specific answers regarding the Federal onus for aged care, Morrison replied:
‘We regulate aged care, but when there is a public health pandemic ... then they are things that are managed from Victoria.’
So, aged care, which falls squarely within the jurisdiction of the Federal Government – the one that he currently leads – is somehow exempt during a pandemic, according to Morrison.
Clearly, we should never allow minor things, such as the rule of law, dictate what this Coalition Government and its aptly named Leader, Scotty from Marketing, wish to ignore. Under this Government, federal acts of legislation are more … guidelines, rather than hard and fast federal acts of legislation.
Listening to any of the Prime Minister’s media conferences, many could be forgiven for being confused about what, exactly, his or his Government’s responsibilities actually are. Some may also be confused about how he justifies his obscenely high salary of $549,250 plus expenses. Or, why his Government holds the record for the least number of parliamentary sitting days. Or why he has so many holidays — especially in times of crisis.
The pickier among us might also be flabbergasted about why the majority of the media goes along with all the above.
In the interests of public clarification, we have attempted to break this, admittedly, confusing scenario down as follows.
THE ‘NOT MY DEPARTMENT’ DISCLAIMER
Responsibilities for which federal governments have been held accountable in the past but which no longer qualify under Scotty from Marketing’s reclassification include:
1. Border protection with regard to health matters
In this area, the PM and the head of Border Protection Peter Dutton have been crystal clear. Sure, health with regard to migration and border protection issues is the direct responsibility of federal governments as stated in the Migration Act. However, the Migration Act does not, according to Dutton and Morrison, cover coronavirus, the Ruby Princess, or the matter of Border Force personnel allowing around 2,700 passengers to disembark from a plague-infected vessel.
2. Health matters with regard to … well, matters of health
Treatment of communicable diseases, epidemics and general public health emergencies were once covered under the National Health Act. Technically, it could be argued that, since they are still listed as areas of federal responsibility under the Act, they continue to fall within the realms of federal onus.
However, under the skilful hand of Scotty from Marketing, health matters have been reclassified and this is no longer the case. The current pandemic is covered by a special national body made up of the PM and the state premiers, but no opposition representatives, known as the National Cabinet, and charged with making health decisions to address the COVID-19 crisis.
The application of any decisions made by this National Cabinet is then left up to individual states, not the Federal Government.
Should any such decisions carried out by the states enjoy positive results, then for media purposes, the responsibility for those decisions was always a Federal Government area. (Media statements about all of these excellent scenarios are readily available.)
3. Being on deck during emergencies
In the past, the issue of who should steer the ship during major national calamities always came under the realm of prime ministers, most of whom stayed firmly in charge until the calamities had been sufficiently dealt with.
Not so under the Morrison Government.
National emergencies, state emergencies and global catastrophes are all, well, a trifle exhausting. As a result, Scott’s department plus the whole Parliament can have an extended leave pass during the coronavirus and Scotty himself can take a “staycation” to cook curries and attend the footy.
Since the PM can hardly be expected to "hold the hose", as he so eloquently put it, the previous bushfire emergency was also hardly something he could be expected to assist with. Thus a trip to Hawaii seemed like a perfectly reasonable course of action — which Scotty took.
4. Immigration with regard to "water-based" issues
The arrival of people by boat is an issue that the Prime Minister believes to be well within his area of expertise. However, the water part of said arrivals is an “on water matter" and, therefore, not considered part of his department or that of any government which he leads. There may be no discussion of "on water matters".
This means, if people happen to be sent back to their countries of origin to be persecuted or murdered, that’s an “on water matter", which cannot be discussed.
However, the indefinite incarceration of asylum seekers is fine for people who arrive by boat, over water — clearly.
Following through with visa applications is also an “on water matter" and thus, not something that needs to be dealt with by the Morrison Government.
The incarceration of anyone who may have lived in Biloela is under the jurisdiction of the Government. The processing of their visa applications is not.
All pretty clear, really.
5. Post-coronavirus economic recovery
Again, maybe this was once up to the federal government of the day but no more.
The National COVID-19 Coordination Commission has now been given the job of steering our post-coronavirus economic recovery.
For anyone who may still be confused about what that means, this will be a “gas-led recovery”. This approach has the side-benefit of ensuring that there can no longer be any opposition to the ongoing growth of the fossil fuel industry, or, the massive taxpayer-funded subsidies it receives, since this is no longer the responsibility of the Morrison Government.
6. The debt and deficit problem
Yes, this Government may have more than doubled debt well ahead of the COVID-19 pandemic, but that’s not Scott Morrison’s department any more, because, now, we have COVID-19. Of course.
7. Aged Care
Not currently under the Morrison Government's jurisdiction. (See introduction above.)
8. Research funding
Funding for medical and scientific research – particularly if related to climate change – is never a responsibility of the federal government, according to the Morrison Government.
However, if any scientific or medical research leads to amazing and much-needed discoveries and inventions, and/or a vaccine for COVID-19, regardless of the country of origin of any such discoveries, then this is obviously under the direct jurisdiction of the Morrison Government.
This became abundantly clear, today, to everyone — except the British company poised to release their COVID-19 vaccine. Morrison fronted the media to announce a ground-breaking deal with AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals, which would allow all Australians access to the vaccine. The fact that AZ Pharmaceuticals is unaware of any deal made with Australia to purchase the vaccine is neither here nor there.
Scotty and the Marketing Department
Questions on all of the above-listed contentious issues may, at different times and to varying degrees, be met with expertly worded answers that should never be further investigated.
These include but are not limited to:
- 'I do not accept the premise of your question';
- 'People in Australia aren’t interested in that';
- 'That’s a Canberra bubble question'; and
- "It’s Daniel Andrews’ responsibility/fault'.
However, any government department policy – whether federal, state or local and which may or may not include above categories – which leads to gushing media approval, a positive photo opportunity and/or a boost in the polls, falls squarely in the PM’s area of expertise.
Luckily, Australia is not currently being invaded by hostile forces because this would then fall under state or maybe even local government jurisdiction. Obviously.
This editorial was originally published as part of the Independent Australia weekly newsletter. These editorials are usually only available to subscribers and may be read online in the IA members-only area.
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- Scotty's Australian holiday
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