• John McDonnell

Labor confused over national re-opening plan


On Wednesday, with two hours’ notice, Queensland premier Anastacia Palaszczuk, shut the border to returning residents and people with legitimate border passes, for two weeks. At the same time the Western Australian government cancelled any permits - held by NSW residents to enter the state on compassionate grounds - despite the fact that there was not a single case of Covid-19 transmission at all, let alone from someone from the eastern states.


Extraordinarily, even federal cabinet ministers have been sent text messages telling them not to return to Queensland before 8 September. This amounts to states' interference with the operation of the federal parliament. Federal members are prohibited from returning to their constituencies.


Until Wednesday, the leader of the opposition, Anthony Albanese, declined to say whether he supported the national plan. He seemed inclined to side with the recalcitrant Labor premiers in undermining it. At the caucus meeting on Tuesday, he used a scatological synonym for shambles to describe the plan.


However, on Wednesday, he was blindsided by Bill Shorten and shadow health spokesman Mark Butler, who announced that they supported the national plan. Albanese’s advisers told him that he was losing support over his backing for lockdowns and attacks on the Doherty Institute modelling - and that his strategy of attacking the government over the vaccine roll-out was losing traction.


On Wednesday morning the leader of the opposition told the media that he supported the national plan, provided the recommendation that strategic lockdowns should be allowed even when there was more than 80 per cent vaccination coverage, was adhered to.


It is difficult to know what he means by this.


The fly in the ointment at the moment is the fact that NSW has very high numbers of Covid infections. There is no suggestion that the state will not continue with strategic lockdowns if there are outbreaks.


In fact, the chief health officer, Dr Kerry Chant, has said they will.


On the other hand, some of the smaller states have introduced state-wide lockdowns when case numbers are very low.


The Commonwealth Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, has indicated that his government will not pick up the tab, in these circumstances, if vaccination coverage is greater than 80 per cent.


Mr Albanese has refused to say where he stands on these matters.


A week ago, the opposition leader penned an article for New Daily in which he claimed that Scott Morrison’s signature characteristic was that he delivered “too little, too late”.


Since then, Scott Morrison has been riding a wave of success with the vaccination program.


Last week 1.8 million people were vaccinated, which is the highest rate of anywhere in the world. NSW and the ACT could hit 70 per cent vaccination coverage in the first week of September. There is now a sense of hope in the community that restrictions will be eased in October and November.


In the context of high levels of vaccination and the prospect of the end of lockdowns in NSW and Victoria, the premiers of Queensland and WA seem to see the continued imprisonment of the eastern states as their primary means of controlling the virus. They appear to be arguing that lockdowns should continue indefinitely.


The ACT chief minister has said that the Territory's restrictions will continue until there has been zero community transmission for an extended period of time regardless of vaccine coverage.


At their present rate of vaccination, Queensland and WA will not hit 80 per cent vaccination coverage until the middle of next year.


On Wednesday afternoon, federal Labor seemed to have reverted to their old talking points. When asked to comment on the national plan, backbenchers were saying it wouldn’t have been necessary if Scott Morrison had done his job on vaccines and quarantine properly.


It is becoming obvious that Labor does not have an alternative plan to the governments. It is equally obvious that even if they did, the state Labor premiers would reserve the right to adopt whatever populist policy suited them.


If you have plenty of Margaret River chardonnay life in the hermit kingdom can be pretty good. So why bother about vaccinations?