• John McDonnell

Gladys’ approach could disrupt the federal election


NSW Premier Berejiklian and PM Morrison in June

Coronavirus has spread across NSW. It is now in western NSW in the very vulnerable centres of Walgett, Dubbo and Burke. On Thursday, it was announced that Canberra would be shut down for a week because a mystery spreader had been everywhere in town from nightclubs and bars to church.


None of this has impacted NSW premier Gladys Berejeklian, who is sticking to her policy of easing restrictions when vaccination coverage is 70 per cent of the population eligible for vaccinations, regardless of the infection level. She estimates that this will be achieved towards the end of October.


Epidemiologists believe that the infection rate is still likely to be a lot higher than zero at that time.


The response of the other states and territories to the Berejiklian approach and the spread through NSW has been to close their bodies to travel from the pariah state.


This is imposing enormous strains on the federation, the national economy, and individuals. For this reason, the national cabinet has come up with a national plan for opening up the country.


Under the plan, the states can reduce restrictions when their vaccination coverage is 70 per cent and the coverage for the rest of Australia is the same. At the moment, NSW will reach the coverage by October, but WA won’t get there until the middle of next year.


People in Sydney are going spare after 7 weeks in lockdown and there is no way they will tolerate being locked up past October. The impact of that on small businesses would be devastating.


At the very least there will be a demand that local government areas with low rates of Covid-19 and high rates of vaccination should be allowed to fully open up. The premier seems inclined to accept this position.


However, other states are likely to adopt a position that their borders should remain closed to residents of NSW until the country has achieved an average vaccination rate of 80 per cent. Given the slow pace of the roll-out in states like WA and Queensland, this could be the middle of next year.


This raises the question of the federal election. At the moment, this looks like taking place between March and May next year and it is possible that interstate border restrictions could still be in place. Both leaders of major parties are resident in NSW and would not be able to campaign outside the state without spending weeks of campaigning time in quarantine. This means that the parties would have to run 7 independent campaigns in the states and territories. This means 7 party spokespeople each of whom could trip up at any time. It would be extremely expensive.


The alternative would be to copy Joe Biden and run a zoom campaign from a single point, backed up with a rally in the home state.


It is difficult to say who this sort of a disrupted campaign would favour more. At the moment the prime minister is the underdog. He is suffering the ignominy of the pandemic and the lockdowns. If the dislocation is still evident through a disrupted campaign, he is likely to suffer.


Like Donald Trump, he will be a victim of the virus.