Politics Analysis

Wren's Week: Morrison's handling of COVID-19 a series of failures

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Cartoon by Mark David / @MDavidCartoons

Among its many failures, the Morrison Government's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic has been an absolute disgrace, writes John Wren.

IT’S NOW A LITTLE over a year since the pandemic struck Australia. This time last year, we were in the grips of the first national lockdown. The Morrison regime has been constantly telling us how well they have been managing the pandemic, with their media chums backing them to the hilt, while slamming the states, especially the Labor ones that have been doing the heavy lifting in the absence of leadership from Canberra.

This week, some of the glitter came off to reveal the sad old Liberal Party turd beneath. The impetus for this is the vaccine rollout, which by any measure has been an abject failure by the Federal Government. A war of words erupted between state premiers and their CHOs and their Federal counterparts. Even the usually compliant NSW Liberal State Government joined in the fracas. If it was not already clear, the wheels have fallen off the Morrison Government.

The reality is the Morrison Government’s handling of the pandemic from its inception has been a litany of failure. If it had not been for the leadership of the premiers, particularly Victoria’s Dan Andrews, WA’s Mark McGowan, Queensland’s Anna Palaszczuk and SA’s Steve Marshall then our nation would be in similar strife to Europe and the USA.

So let’s review a few key moments over the last year to see how Morrison really fared.

Failure one: “Herd immunity”

Admittedly, at the start of the pandemic, we knew much less than we do now. However, we still had data from outbreaks overseas. Morrison originally did not want to close our borders and supposedly wanted to let the virus “rip” in the belief that Australia could gain herd immunity without the economic damages of a lockdown.

Epidemiologists strongly disagreed. Taking this approach would have likely meant tens of thousands of Australian deaths. It’s the path Sweden took. It has cost them dearly in both economic terms and lives. Fortunately, Morrison was talked off the ledge by his then newly-formed National cabinet — Victorian and NSW Premiers Andrews and Gladys Berejiklian allegedly took the lead on this. And thank the stars they did.

Failure two: Ruby Princess

The borders hadn’t quite closed at this stage but COVID-19 was ripping through cruise ships across the globe. Ruby Princess, out of Sydney, was similarly struck. There were numerous cases on board.

A competent government would have allowed the ship to dock with strict quarantine measures to ensure infected passengers and crew did not spread the virus to the rest of Australia. The Morrison regime, though, is not a competent government. It allowed the ship to dock in the heart of Sydney and then allowed its infected passengers to disembark and disperse across the nation. As a result, 28 Australians died — both passengers and those they infected while in the community.

Failure three: Aged care

Morrison’s regime had months, if not years, to prepare aged care facilities for the pandemic. It was already well known that the elderly were particularly susceptible to the virus. Stories had already emerged from overseas of aged care homes having 50-80 per cent mortality rates.

Some of the Ruby Princess passengers spread the virus into Sydney’s Newmarch House where many residents succumbed to the disease. Yet still, they did nothing to prepare facilities — both in terms of staff training, provisions of PPE or recommended quarantine measures. Aged care is a Federal responsibility and they knowingly sat on their hands.

When the virus escaped hotel quarantine in Melbourne a few months later, it ripped through Federally overseen aged care facilities, killing hundreds. They were grossly unprepared. Victoria’s state overseen facilities, on the other hand, were well prepared, had properly rostered and well-trained staff. Although there was significant community transmission, not one of their residents died from COVID-19.

Failure four: State borders

With the big outbreak in Melbourne and smaller outbreaks elsewhere, the premiers shut their borders to each other to ensure that infected travellers from one state were not able to infect their own. This was a measure widely supported by each state’s citizens, yet it had a significant impact on businesses who rely on interstate travel, cross border communities such as Albury-Wodonga and the movement of family members.

Although the impact of the border closures was profound, the impact of thousands of deaths had they been left open would have been even worse. At almost every step, Morrison fought the border closures. It was as if he took the premiers’ actions as a personal insult to his Federal authority — which it probably was.

At one stage, Morrison even supported coal-baron Clive Palmer’s lawsuit against WA to force it to open its borders, a move even the WA Liberal Party slammed. Many months later, this Morrison decision impacted the WA State Election with the Liberal Party near wiped out.

Failure five: Stranded Aussies

In mid-2020, Morrison made the pledge that all 30,000 Australians then stranded around the globe would be home by Christmas. To achieve this would need multiple charter flights coupled with local quarantine facilities to ensure returnees did not bring the virus with them.

As we now know to be typical of the Morrison Government, he did virtually nothing to actually deliver his promise. Now in April 2021, there are still around 40,000 desperate Australians wanting to return but are unable to return. This week, some have taken legal action against the Government in the Hague.

Failure six: Vaccine rollout

Late last year, Morrison proudly stated that Australia had secured millions of vaccine doses and that we were at the front of the queue when they became available. The UK and USA both started vaccinated their populations last year. Both have achieved astonishing levels of inoculation.

Here in Australia, Morrison claimed 4 million Australians would be vaccinated by the end of March with all Australians by October. As of this week, Morrison fell 3.4 million short of his 4 million target. A woeful performance.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt even had the temerity to claim we were on track — a pure Trumpism. Under any measure, the rollout has been botched. Morrison, as usual, has made big promises then failed to deliver. At the current rate of vaccination, Australia will be one of the last Western nations to vaccinate its population. This is especially damning when one considers Australia has historically been a global vaccine leader.

As can be seen, Morrison has failed at nearly every stage of the pandemic. Far from handling it superbly as his media cheer-squad claims, it’s been an outright disaster, mitigated only by the good work of the state premiers. Again, voters must ask themselves, what is the point of the Morrison Government?

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