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Team Australia Disintegrates

By John McDonnell.

Last Friday’s national cabinet meeting saw the end of a national response to the coronavirus pandemic and the idea of a coordinated national economic recovery.


The states rejected the prime minister’s proposal for economic support during lockdowns, based on what is currently being provided to NSW and Victoria, and reserved their rights to demand higher amounts of support for more extreme lockdowns. It is a classic case of ‘beggar thy neighbour’ politics.


This is the culmination of weeks of the spiteful state against state commentary and attempts by premiers to game the commonwealth government. The motivation comes from the fact that there is a federal election in the offing and a belief by Labor premiers that Scott Morrison will do anything to avoid negative publicity.


Last week saw strong confirmation of this belief. Scott Morrison delivered a package of support for NSW and was immediately met with a response that he had advantaged them over Victoria who had received a support package a few weeks earlier.


Victorian-based media seethed with discontent. Premier Dan Andrews’ ‘spokesman’ issued a statement that accused Morrison of being “the prime minister for New South Wales.” It was a devastating line and part of a well-planned strategy.


A few days later Andrews had announced a five-day lockdown and was seeking income support for workers, who had been laid off for those five days, from the Morrison government. Needless to say, he got it.


The new scheme, which applies in NSW and Victoria, requires workers to wait a week from the start of a lockdown before submitting a claim so the hours lost can be calculated, and then income support is paid in arrears.


There is also no liquid assets test, so people with money in the bank can receive the payments. Despite this, premiers from some states believe this is not enough. They appear to want a scheme that allows them to lockdown with impunity.


This state parochialism goes along with a large element of blame-shifting. Last week, Queensland premier Anastacia Palaszczuk constantly referred to the delta variant as the “Sydney virus.” At the same time, the Victorian government was at pains to say that its outbreaks had emanated from Sydney.


All the states, including NSW, were criticising the commonwealth for the lack of vaccines. Following the self-serving intervention by the former prime minister, Kevin Rudd, where he accused Scott Morrison of being dilatory for not contacting the global head of Pfizer, Albert Bourla, to demand more doses of the vaccine, Scott Morrison rang Mr Bourla.


He was told that Australia, along with New Zealand, South Korea, Japan and Finland had received limited doses of the vaccine because our infection rates were much lower than those of higher priority countries in Europe. It’s reasonable to assume Mr Bourla said the same thing to Mr Rudd, who in good faith should have told the Australian public.


The big issue confronting Scott Morrison now is the future of his four-stage plan for opening up the economy and living with the virus. This depends on the vaccination coverage, with the Doherty Institute due to deliver its modelling, including the level of vaccine coverage that is needed for opening up, about the time parliament resumes in August.


It is likely the states will reject the Doherty number, and reserve the right to lock down their economies regardless of vaccine coverage if there is a single infection. In this case, there is unlikely to be any opening up before the federal election.