Like a rat up a drainpipe, wildly excited by any crisis not of his own making, panic merchant Messiah Morrison is all over the news this week. Suddenly there’s a pandemic to blame for his government’s monumental ineptitude; its catastrophic bungling. Even a re-boot of the prime ministerial persona may be possible.
Can Hootchie Kootchie Henry from Hawaii morph into Captain Australia, our public guardian?
Cynics see the derelict, deadbeat dad; the leadership failure in the climate fires, avid for an image makeover. Will Scotty soon be modelling a designer range of dinkum Aussie anti COVID-19 combo cap and facemasks?
Others welcome what may be a return to sanity; a willingness by the Morrison government to take Chief Medical Officer, Professor Brendan Murphy and his colleagues’ expert advice. But only because they have no other option. As Peter Hartcher notes, Australia’s state and federal medical officers, convene daily, usually by phone hook-up, is the peak point of the pure medical advice, the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC). No politicians sit in on their meetings.
Morrison is forced to take expert and specialist scientific advice? It’s a total contrast with this summer’s climate fires where current fire chiefs were locked out of discussions; forbidden to mention climate change.
Worse, Greg Mullins, former chief of NSW Fire and Rescue reports that a group of former fire chiefs tried to meet with the PM since April 2019 because “they knew a bushfire crisis was coming.” He refused.
But Scotty’s not himself lately. He’s had a rough trot in the $100 million Sports Rorts Arena; 136 emails link his office with former Sports Minister, Bridget McKenzie. Labor is asking smart-arse questions about Morrison’s $4 billion urban congestion fund rort, set up to funnel money into the campaign funds of its MPs in mainly Victorian marginals, originally to fund roads, but later to build railway car parks at stations which had no available land – a car parks in the air scam which makes the Building Better Regions rort look honest.
It’s bound to be all Labor’s fault, of course, but Victoria’s state government was not consulted. Now Labor has the hide to demand answers as to why the bulk of funds bypassed areas of highest population growth; the low-income western suburbs, serviced by forty railway stations, in favour of a few well-heeled electorates.
Several stations were funded in Josh Frydenberg’s well-heeled seat of Kooyong, Karen Middleton reports for the Saturday Paper. Hungarian Josh’s return was at risk, given he was up against The Greens and a high-profile independent. Goldstein, IPA shill Tim Wilson’s electorate, got a grant for Brighton Beach station in the state’s affluent south-eastern suburbs. In brief, all but three of forty-six projects were in marginal Liberal seats.
Morrison’s Rorts R Us campaign plan included The Building Better Regions Fund which gave 94 per cent of its $841 million to electorates held or targeted by the Coalition in the months it took to buy the federal election, where funding was at least shared with Clive Palmer, eager to cruel Labor’s chances for a mere $83 million.
So endemic is its corruption that in most other democratic nations, the entire government would be resigning. But such is the power of vested interest and so domesticated is our mainstream media, we are rapidly losing the means to speak truth to power, let alone hold governments to account. The courts don’t help.
Misleading Chinese-speaking voters in Kooyong and Chisholm is now deemed OK by the Federal Court.
Richard Ackland reports that the court’s night-before-Christmas finding was that in at least 16 polling places (of 42) in Chisholm and 11 (of 37) in Kooyong, corflutes were placed sufficiently close to AEC signage to be misleading or deceptive. Yet there’s no evidence, it says last week, that Liberal apparatchik Simon Frost, had anything to do with their placement. How they got there must be just another Morrison miracle.
Oddly, one or two latte-sipping city-dwelling media leftists not under AFP watch, spot a ship of state adrift.
“Bouncing around at the mercy of the sea” [is] “… where Australia finds itself under Captain Scott Morrison: engine in neutral, rudder jammed, lurching from side to side, with the poor passengers increasingly seasick and the ship drifting closer to the rocks,” notes Paddy Manning in The Monthly Today.
Worse, the arse is falling out of private investment, which drops 2.8% in the December quarter, while construction falls 3%, (bugger building any infrastructure, all that matters to Morrison’s mob is providing buckets of funding). Recession looms. Even The Australian‘s Economics Editor, Adam Creighton says a per capita recession is now almost certain- but – look, over there! Is it a bird? Is it a plane?
No it’s Scotty from PM™
Scotty from Pandemic Marketing has arisen. He spruiks himself and his do-nothing government of mining shills and rorters on steroids as our COVID-19 saviours. On all channels. Even the sonorous piffle that is ABC News 24, interrupts its tepid stream of unconsciousness with a “major” press conference from the PM, Tuesday.
“… we are not immune to the coronavirus and its impacts, but we are as best prepared as any country can be in the world today …” It’s a hollow slogan given our public health system is already over-stretched. By Friday, experts such as Prof Raina MacIntyre, head of the biosecurity program at the Kirby Institute at the University of NSW, predicts anywhere from a quarter to seventy per cent of Australians may be infected.
“If 50% of Australians – 13 million people – became infected that is up to 400,000 people dying, almost 2 million people needing a hospital bed and 650,000 people needing an ICU bed.”
But that’s a worst case scenario – even if it does expose the emptiness of federal government rhetoric and the legacy of cutbacks in funding. Brendan Murphy is less alarmist; more reassuring,
“We are still contained in Australia. We do not have any evidence whatsoever of community transmission in this country. Whilst we are preparing and we are realistic about what might come in future weeks. We are not in a situation where anyone needs to be concerned.”
So, does the Morrison government really have a plan? No. Not ever. Anywhere. What it banks on is spin and the goodwill of health workers.
“Part of the pandemic plan is ‘hospitals opening their surge capacity’. Now, I don’t want to alarm anyone, but there is no surge capacity. It’s all open … we are full every day. We’ve been saying this for years,” past president of the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine, Dr Simon Judkins tells The Guardian Australia.
Yet capacity can be created by cancelling surgery and outpatients’ clinics and Dr Judkins believes that our system will cope, chiefly because of the dedication of our healthcare workers; not because of any planned inbuilt surge capacity. Queensland University virologist, Mackay notes we can’t put the virus back in the box,
“So it’s really important that we find, test and isolate the ill to slow the spread and give hospitals plenty of time to prepare and manage cases without being overwhelmed. Many countries probably can’t trace, test and isolate as well as China, Singapore, Hong Kong have.”
At Tuesday’s briefing, Morrison throws to Josh Frydenberg, with other well-worn lies. “We are responding on the basis of a strong platform of a resilient economy, a very strong health system that has put Australia in this position to deal with what is a very serious challenge.”
Resilient? The government’s much-vaunted infrastructure boom is nowhere to be seen. In fact non-residential construction is down 3.4 per cent, while private and public engineering fall 0.5 per cent. Residential construction slumps to 4.6 per cent for the December quarter, its fifth consecutive quarterly fall. Forget Morrison’s bare-faced lies and boosterism, Australia is deep in a building recession.
Private investment is falling in mining and in building while business investment adds up to a mere $28.5 billion, a total which follows a revised 0.4 per cent fall in the September quarter. Apart from some spending on equipment and plant, up 0.8 per cent, investment is so weak, in dollar terms the figures look like a retreat to 2017, reports Crikey’s Bernard Keane and Glenn Dyer. Those tax cuts just failed to boost investment, despite all the government hype. There was never any evidence it would.
Morrison deploys John Howard’s Alert but not alarmed V2.0 His government is acting with “an abundance of caution.” “Everyone will get coronavirus,” The OZ obligingly chimes in, misquoting QLD Uni’s Ian Mackay.
Bans are placed on travellers from China. From Sunday, Iran will be included. Yet Brendan Murphy cautions against a policy of stopping the boats 2.0. And the planes. Travel bans won’t work, he says, “… it’s not possible to further isolate Australia”. The focus should be on detection and containment instead.
Saturday, a 63-year-old Gold Coast woman recently returned from Iran has coronavirus, authorities confirm. A beautician, she says she saw 30-40 clients at work on Thursday before going home ill. So much for Hunt’s containment claim two days earlier. COVID-19 – the disease caused by the Sars-CoV-2 virus – has a case fatality rate of between 2-3%. Whilst we don’t know precisely how it spreads, we do know it will spread.
Harvard epidemiology professor Marc Lipsitch predicts that within 2020, 40 to 70 percent of people around the world will be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19. But this does not mean that all will have severe illnesses. “It’s likely that many will have mild disease, or may be asymptomatic,” he says.
Epidemiologists concur that the most likely outcome of this outbreak is a new seasonal disease—a fifth “endemic” coronavirus. With the other four diseases, people are not known to develop long-lasting immunity. If this one follows suit, and if the disease continues to be as severe as it is now, “cold and flu season” could become “cold and flu and COVID-19 season.”
But you’ve got to hand it to Morrison. He can whistle up patriotic pride in a flash, especially when News Poll has him on minus 20 – up only two statistically insignificant points on last poll. You don’t come back from that an anonymous backbencher tells Paul Bongiorno. But it won’t for want of hide, guile or rat cunning.
Scotty’s shameless, dog-whistling chauvinism, rivals only his brazen self-promotion and ineffable self-love.
By Thursday, Morrison is a man with a plan. He refines his rhetoric, aka the Gospel according to Crosby-Textor. Crosby’s formula is, go negative and go for fear. Two days later you say you have A Plan. Morrison stays on script – even if he’s humiliated by Pig Islander, Jacinda Ardern in a presser wisely scheduled for Friday.
“Do not deport your people and your problems,” the Kiwi PM rebukes him. Publicly. Ouch.
Morrison’s mob has a plan, even if it can’t say what that plan is – apart from such caution as calling pandemic when the World Health Organisation warns against panic. Banning travellers from China? A fake ban. It’s soon exposed as a hoax by travellers such as Rob Garrington who writes a letter to the editor of Nine’s The Age,
The Prime Minister has announced a plan for handling a pandemic. Is he for real or playing politics again? On Thursday I flew from Singapore to Melbourne and my plane included passengers from China. At Melbourne Airport there were no temperature checks, hand-sanitising stations or information about the virus’ symptoms. At the Malaysian and Singapore airports I travelled through, temperature checks were made and hand-sanitising stations were everywhere.
The Prime Minister says he and Border Security are doing everything to protect us and check incoming passengers. None of this was evident between 11.45am and 12.30pm at the airport on Thursday. Scott Morrison again appears to be all spin. Rob’s on to something. Next is the spin given to the word “plan”.
The Guardian’s Katharine Murphy counts the word “plan” twenty times, in Morrison’s Dorothy Dixers, while Amy Remeikis counts sixteen uses of the p-word by Dutton. But first a note of caution. Harping on about having a plan is what Abbott and Turnbull used to do. It’s a tell-tale sign you haven’t a clue what you’re doing.
Caution? We lead the world in shirking curbing our carbon emissions. But even in the relentless self-parody that Morrison summons so effortlessly when emergencies beckon, the PM kicks an own goal this time.
Only ScoMo could whip up hysteria with an “abundance of caution”. Reeking of abundant caution is the orgy of pork-barrelling Morrison’s office directed prior to the miracle election, replete with colour-coded spreadsheets to help it fund club buildings already built. Or it’s eagerness to chip in half a million dollars to help SA’s Old Collegians, a disbanded women’s rugby team in Sturt, to get its non-existent kit on.
How else to describe giving grants to clubs who requested nothing? It’s a super abundance of caution. But it’s not just fun and games, we see that caution also in the doubling of the nation’s net debt since the Coalition took office in 2013. We see it in its climate science denialism, its ecocide and environmental vandalism.
We see it, above all, in the inexorable self-engorging authoritarianism; of the rampaging, malignant growth of Caesar’s mad black eye; the power of the state. 2019 was huge for the Australian Police State, writes Crikey’s Kishor Napier-Raman. Our federal government’s abundance of caution has seen it pass more laws restricting fundamental rights and freedoms than any other Western nation. “No-one is above the law” smirks Morrison.
Children are strip-searched. Icons of caution, the AFP, raid a journo for revealing how our spooks plan to spy on us all. MPs howl to outlaw protest and dissent. The Coalition’s war on whistle-blowers proceeds apace.
“David McBride, the whistle-blower in the Afghan Files case, is in and out of court all year. Richard Boyle, the former debt collector who disclosed unethical practices at the ATO could face up to 161 years in prison if found guilty. The prosecution of Witness K, the intelligence officer who exposed Australia’s bugging of the Timor-Leste cabinet, drags on,” notes Napier-Raman.
Julian Assange’s show-trial proceeds with Morrison’s tacit support. Showing an abundance of caution, the PM ignores the pleas of filmmaker James Ricketson, who spent 15 months as a political prisoner in jail in Cambodia. Ricketson begs Morrison to “pick up the phone” to his British counterpart if only to prevent Assange – whose mental and physical health is rapidly failing – from dying in London’s Belmarsh prison.
Not a word is heard from the very Christian Porter, who is far too busy being the model of a modern Attorney-General, fearlessly at war with unions, whose members, statistically, are typically women teachers and nurses. Assange is publicly pilloried in a grotesque travesty of justice because, as Andrew Wilkie writes, ” … he publicised US misconduct and presented hard evidence of their war crimes.”
Abundance of Caution may well be the name of Morrison government’s heavy metal band. Centre stage, Scotty fronts the massive News Corp valve amplifier; an old clunker with its comforting hum and retro harmonic distortion. Backed by Dutto’s Peter Pan Border Force boy band, the week’s gig features solos from pumped-up Greg Hunt. Our Chief Medical Officer even gets a guest spot. Never let a good crisis go to waste.
But incredibly, our Chief Medical Officer and his band of experts, dedicated to public health and not private wealth have upstaged Scotty; unplugged the Coalition’s COVID-19 pandemic plan for a comeback. The group will have to sing for its supper now.
Of course, the virus will cop the blame for the stock market crash, the forced abandonment of the federal government’s surplus fetish and a recession we had to have but so huge is Morrison’s loss of credibility and legitimacy over its sports rorts pork barrel corruption, that he and his team can bullshit all they like about fundamentals being in place. Praise the economy for its resilience.
But, now, he will be forced to contend with the reality of that economy performing under stress. As his public health system and his other policy-free zones are put to the test.
A hard reckoning is coming. A type of enforced accountability will come with it, too. It’s about six years’ overdue.