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Wren's Week: Government negligence is dooming our nation

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Cartoon by Mark David / @MDavidCartoons

From worsening pandemic statistics to the lack of empathy shown towards Australians trying to flee Afghanistan, the Morrison Government has blood on its hands, writes John Wren.

SINCE MY LAST COLUMN, the COVID-19 situation in NSW has continued to deteriorate. The state is now returning Australian record infections and hospitals in Sydney have gone into disaster/emergency status. They are in crisis.

The pandemic is out of control and infection rates of well above 2,000 per day are expected over the next week or so. This outbreak will ultimately kill hundreds — deaths follow infection by 2-3 weeks so these fatalities will really start to ramp up over the coming fortnight.

In Victoria, the numbers seem to be stabilising, but the state is nowhere close to out of the woods yet. All stops are being pulled to avoid a Sydney-style hospital meltdown. For the first time, Victoria has seen a significant outbreak outside of the Melbourne metropolitan area with Shepparton in crisis. So many of its tightly knitted population are in home isolation that many essential services such as supermarkets have had to close due to lack of staff. The ADF is now on-site to assist.

Despite the unfolding crisis in NSW, Premier Gladys Berejiklian loosened restrictions a little for fully vaccinated citizens — they can now meet outside for picnics in groups of up to five. How this is going to be enforced is yet to be seen. Loosening restrictions in the midst of a soaring pandemic seems to be the height of irresponsibility, but Berejiklian’s negligence has been evident from day one of the pandemic. Many say it was evident when the Ruby Princess was allowed to dock over a year ago.

As it happens, an Inquiry into the Ruby Princess debacle handed down its findings this week — it placed the blame squarely on the failure of the Morrison Federal Government’s Department of Agriculture (responsible for biosecurity). Interestingly, this was at odds with another Inquiry from a year ago that placed the blame on NSW Health. Clearly, the communication between the two bodies needs to improve.

Fresh on the heels of the damning report into his Agriculture portfolio, the responsible Cabinet Minister David Littleproud announced his much-vaunted Agricultural Visa scheme. This was meant as a distraction from the Ruby Princess findings, however, all it did was attract even more ridicule on the hapless Minister.

There is supposedly a shortage of workers on Australian farms, typically seasonal fruit pickers and packers. These roles have often been filled by backpackers and foreign “guest workers”, often from Asian and Pacific Island nations. Allegedly, Australian workers don’t want to do this type of work — I would argue that this is largely because the pay and conditions are so poor. It seems that for many farmers, their business model relies on criminally low pay and poor living conditions for their workers. It hardly seems sustainable.

With our borders shut, these workers have not been available. Littleproud’s announcement was meant to be a special visa that would allow these workers to come and work on our farms. However, he failed to outline how they were going to handle Australian quarantine requirements and even if there was capacity in the system for them — there isn’t.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews flayed Littleproud alive over the announcement. The whole thing had the usual Coalition feel about it — make an ill-thought-through announcement to distract from the bad news of the day and that’s exactly what it was. Management by announcement, demonstrably pathetic from a government still unable to repatriate stranded Australians, let alone import foreign guest workers.

Morrison’s do-nothing attitude was yet again exposed by the deepening crisis in Afghanistan. Australia has had months, years even, to repatriate Afghan Australians and Afghans who worked with Australian military and embassy staff (largely interpreters and security personnel), but Morrison has sat on his hands and done nothing.

This comes as no surprise since Morrison has a long history of blocking our borders to brown and often Muslim people, even ones like these people to whom we have a moral obligation to offer protection.

Because Morrison left it too late to act, many of these people are now stuck in Kabul in legitimate fear for the lives of themselves and their families. It’s shameful stuff, but typical of Morrison. Recall that despite numerous warnings many months in advance, he did not prepare for the 2019/2020 bushfire season either and the fires were some of the worst Australia has ever seen.

He negligently left it too late to procure vaccines and now Australia’s two most populous states are in lockdown. These are just a couple of examples, but there are many more. Morrison always has to be dragged kicking and screaming to act and usually by the time he does, the delay makes things much worse. He was allegedly supporting Berejiklian’s reluctance to lockdown in Sydney and as mentioned above, we now see the outcome.

How such an inept individual ever became PM of a once-great nation like Australia still puzzles me three years later.

Perhaps the highlight of the week was the emergence of Labor MP Julian Hill into the limelight. Hill is an up-and-coming star for the Labor Party. He has made a number of great speeches in Parliament over the last few years, but his passion and sense of morality really shone through on Thursday when he stood up and accused Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews of killing Afghan Australians through her negligence.

Hill has a very large Afghan population in his electorate and many have family and friends stuck in Kabul. Hill was ejected from the house for his outburst, but the relevance and passion of his words were hard to ignore.

Keep an eye on Julian Hill — he is a future prime minister.

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