• John McDonnell

Albo's unexploded $300 policy bombshell


It is unlikely that Anthony Albanese’s $300 handout for anyone who is fully vaccinated will see the light of day.


By the time the election is held Australia will probably have reached 80 per cent vaccination coverage, which will render the federal Labor leader's policy redundant.


This is just as well because, according to reports, the policy has been greeted with less than undiluted enthusiasm by his colleagues. Apparently, the policy was a captain’s call that was only discussed with the shadow expenditure review committee but not the shadow cabinet or the Labor caucus.


Albanese didn’t bother to get any independent economic advice or have the policy costed by the parliamentary budget office. On the other hand, the former head of behavioural economics in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet has endorsed the policy.


However, it is likely that the tactical hard heads in the Labor party, like Tony Burke, were concerned at the fact that the policy was not more nuanced to avoid the potential attacks from the government.


According to Dennis Shanahan writing in Wednesday’s Australian, Albanese came up with the policy because he did not want to appear to be a negative whinger. The opposition leader has good political antennae, and he realised that the national vaccination plan together with Doherty Institute targets had changed the narrative. The new theme is a population-wide campaign to get people vaccinated as soon as possible.


General Frewen, who is in charge of the vaccination roll-out, told the media on Wednesday that there would be enough Pfizer vaccine available to vaccinate the 30-to-39-year-old cohort in three weeks and from then on they would be able to book and receive a jab without delay. They would be followed in October by the over-sixteens.


Albo felt he had to get on board in some way and believed that a financial bonus would appeal to the younger cohort who might otherwise be reluctant to be vaccinated, in the way they had been in the USA and Britain. This ignored the fact that Australia has traditionally had a much higher rate of vaccination than those countries.


The Australian Bureau of Statistics recently conducted a survey of Australians to establish their intentions with regard to vaccinations. 75 per cent of those surveyed said they intended to be vaccinated. The government says that they will have no problem achieving a vaccination rate of 77 per cent.


This exposes the opposition open to the charge that its policy is a $6 billion waste of money. Scott Morrison has been quick to leap on this point using a Labor line that Albanese wants to give $300 to Gina Rinehart and Twiggy Forrest and to hand over $2 billion as an incentive to people who have already been immunised.


Significantly, the government has used the policy to neutralise Labor’s attacks on the government’s Jobkeeper waste, where the opposition alleges that $24 billion was spent on companies that didn’t need it.


In light of the fact that Australians have a high propensity to be vaccinated, the Albanese policy is very much second best. People want more than anything else to get rid of the restrictions on their lives. The Doherty Institute says that an 80 per cent vaccine coverage will mean that it is possible to live with the virus, but we will still have to wear masks and social distance from time to time and there will still be a need for some quarantine and contact tracing if we want to avoid deaths.


More importantly, the Labor leader has squandered the advantage he had over the prime minister.


Before this week, Albo had Morrison on the ropes, now he has delivered him a reason to come out fighting and Morrison is looking less under pressure.