• John McDonnell

Morrison wrong to take on states over vaccinations

PM Morrison (left) and Jane Malysiak (right) receive their COVID-19 booster vaccination in Sydney on Friday
What began as a discussion about the right to a cup of coffee has become an error of judgment for the PM, FlowNews24 Canberra correspondent John McDonnell writes.

On Thursday the prime minister told the public that once vaccination rates had reached 80 per cent (specifically in Queensland) then the unvaccinated should be able to get a coffee alongside the vaccinated. This may have been clever politics when it came to warding off the threat to the Coalition from Clive Palmer and Pauline Hanson, but it was still an error of judgement.

At a purely political level, it allowed Labor politicians to conflate this comment with another comment on the anti-vax demonstrations, where he said he understood the demonstrators’ frustrations, and accuse him of Trumpist dog-whistling and double speak. Some in the media and the Labor party went further and accused him of sympathising with demonstrators who had made death threats to politicians. Premier Andrews said the PM was siding with extremists.

The Labor premiers queued up to give him a whacking for interfering in one of their areas of responsibility, public health.

It was also a mistake from a policy perspective because it risked blowing up the national cabinet and Morrison needs this institution for policies other than public health, such as national energy policy, national education standards and national environmental measures.

At the moment all the states - including the Liberal states like New South Wales - discriminate against the unvaccinated and have no intention of changing their position.

Finally, the prime minister’s statement was foolish because the public favours discrimination against the unvaccinated and as a policy tool, it works. A Newscorp poll conducted last week showed that electors believed health was the number one issue for the next election. None of them rated individual freedom as an issue of any importance.

In Queensland, where the government has to win seats to win the election, the Palaszczuk government, is implacable in its maintenance of measures against the unvaccinated, and it has led to a surge in vaccinations.

Last week, nearly half of all first doses administered across Australia were delivered in Queensland, accounting for nearly 130,000 jabs.

In the same week, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced unvaccinated Queenslanders would soon be banned from a raft of places, including pubs, clubs, restaurants, cafes, cinemas, sporting events and theme parks.

Since then, the state has seen a rise in mainly younger Queenslanders turning out to receive the vaccine.

Data from Queensland Health shows more than 41,000 Queenslanders aged between 20 and 29 years old received a first dose of vaccine last week between November 8 and 15, equating to nearly six per cent of that age group.

Meanwhile, more than 17,000 Queenslanders aged 16 to 19 years old were vaccinated in the past week — equivalent to nearly seven per cent of that age group.

The prime minister doubled down on his statements after being attacked by the governments of Western Australia and Queensland. He said it is time for governments to get out of peoples lives. It is obvious he thinks that there has been a change of mood in the electorate and that voters are thoroughly sick and tired of lockdowns.

This may be true, but they also want to go about their lives without being anxious about the virus and the new waves of COVID-19 in places such as Britain and Singapore show that this is not possible without high levels of vaccination and likely booster shots for everyone including children. The prime minister needs to be careful about the way he deals with issues around vaccination.