• John McDonnell

Morrison neutralises Labor’s attacks

In the past two sitting weeks of parliament, Labor has attacked the Morrison government over three issues: the slow pace of the vaccine rollout and the failure of hotel quarantine; the failure to vaccinate aged care and disability workers; and the need to compensate Victorian workers who have lost wages because of a lockdown that was the Morrison government’s fault.

Morrison bided his time and when the parliamentary session was drawing to a close and then made a series of announcements which were endorsed by national cabinet. These have effectively neutralised the Labor attacks and left the opposition grasping at thin air.

On Thursday, the government announced that it would provide support to workers who had lost wages because of the Victorian lockdown. Workers who lost more than 20 hours work are to be paid $500, and those who worked less than 20 hours will get $350. However, there are conditions. Support will only be paid for the second and subsequent weeks of a lockdown and they will only be paid for workers in an area that has been designated as a hotspot by the Chief Medical Officer. This limits the capability of states to declare state-wide lockdowns as Victoria did in the latest incident.

All of the states, including the Labor states, endorsed this approach to support payments at national cabinet. This limits the ability of the Albanese opposition to criticise the measures.

On Friday, the prime minister announced the formation of a vaccination rollout task force to be headed by Lieutenant General John Frewen. General Frewen will have command of all the commonwealth entities involved in the rollout and will make all the key decisions with regard to the vaccination plans. This provides Scott Morrison with insulation against Labor attacks. If Labor continues to maintain its attack on 'the bungled vaccine rollout' it will be attacking a senior officer in the army rather than the PM. This is likely to be less credible with the public. As there is likely to be an increase in the rate of vaccination, Labor’s response is likely to be that General Frewen should have been appointed sooner.

Scott Morrison has also agreed to build a purpose-built quarantine facility at Avalon. This will take a year to complete so the whole of Australia should be vaccinated by then. This means that additional purpose-built facilities are likely to be redundant. The prime minister rejected a proposal from Queensland because it was not to be built on commonwealth land. This re-emphasises the principle that the Morrison government will not finance state or private sector assets.

The prime minister issued a warning on Friday, that he was inclined to make vaccination mandatory for aged care and disability care workers. This has had the effect of encouraging these workers to come forward and get vaccinated. 30,000 workers have been vaccinated in Victoria in the three days to Saturday.

Labor will have to move carefully now. It can no longer claim that the Morrison government has failed to take the tough decisions and it is likely that the states will be more reluctant to announce lockdowns in the future, which will reduce the opportunity.

If the Morrison government gets everyone vaccinated by Christmas and the economy continues its recovery, the government will continue as the favourite to win the next election.