Coronavirus-panic sweeps the nation. There’s barely a bottle of Dettol hand sanitizer left on a metal supermarket shelf across the land. Panic buying of toilet paper, pasta and rice turns ugly. A fight erupts in a Western Sydney Woolworths. Two Bankstown women, aged 23 and 60 are charged with affray.
Whilst no injury seems to have been sustained, the same cannot be said of the Morrison government which ends the week reeking of corruption after misleading the senate over changes to its rorted sports grants after it had entered caretaker mode 11 April 2019, whilst former Sports Minister Bridget McKenzie departs from the script by insisting she knows nothing of changes made in her name after caretaker mode commenced.
Sport Australia has refused to answer forty questions, which officials took on notice, effectively denying a senate committee request and failing to meet its Friday deadline. Former Health Department Head, Glenys Beauchamp, did comply but she’s destroyed all of her personal notes following her resignation in January. Genius.
Adding injury to insult, Attorney-General Porter has to be corrected by his own department on his misunderstanding of his own paper tiger DIY federal anti-corruption body he’s been drafting since 2018. Then, from up shit creek, there’s a hullabaloo about all that bushfire crisis money being as scarce as rocking-horse poo. Labor’s Murray Watt makes a convincing case that Scotty’s $2 billion dollar fund doesn’t even exist.
But how good is our chief malignant narcissist for calling a coronavirus pandemic, early despite expert advice? Panic is a great distractor. As with his mentor, Donald John Trump, Scott John Morrison always knows best. Also freakishly Trump-like is his urge to upstage anyone who knows what they’re doing but by week’s end, his shonky public appearances as leader of our fight against COVID-19 look less and less convincing.
Like Trump, Morrison loses interest quickly – especially when things are not going all his own way. Or are not all about him. Time to hand-ball to serial failure Hunt. By Sunday, the hapless Health Minister, now struggling with his fifth portfolio, urges Australia to draw on the community spirit it showed during the summer bushfire crisis.
Luckily, Hunt stops short of invoking the spirit of the fire-ravaged Bega township of Cobargo, or countless other small towns whose residents are underwhelmed by glad-handed Scotty and are happy to let him know it.
Melding bushfire crisis talking points into cryptic nostrums, like some talking fortune cookie, Hunt gushes puzzling, but tremendously uplifting morale-boosters such as “This is the moment to be its best self, and for Australia to be the nation and the community we know it can be … We will get through this together.”
An orgy of public self-congratulation, spun as “Coronavirus updates” not only helps to boost the nation’s spirits with the palpable falsehood that all is well, it helps distract from a barrage of inconvenient truths. There’s still a bit of fuss over General Gus; Defence Force, Chief Angus Campbell, who tells Senate Estimates, Wednesday, he’s given Morrison an earful over the abuse of defence material in the PM’s bushfire promo.
Labor leader, Anthony Albanese is rapier-like in calling Morrison out, saying he “used defence force imagery to try to shore up what was flailing political support due to his lack of action during the bushfire crisis”.
“I talk to the chief of the defence force very regularly,” Morrison blusters in reply, slyly dressing up the dressing down. (Surely every healthy Western democracy has a PM who is bosom pals with the defence chief?) But there is even criticism from within his own party over his politicising of the climate bushfires.
Good Morning Britain host, Piers Morgan, who was recently gob-smacked by Craig Kelly’s climate science ignorance and denialism, calls the video, “a self-promotional commercial with cheesy elevator music.”
“This is one of the most tone-deaf things I’ve ever seen a country’s leader put out during a crisis. Shameless & shameful,” he rages on Twitter. A range of similar comments confirm Morrison’s ear of tin. It will undo him.
The Australia Defence Association – a public-interest watchdog – says the government breaks rules around political advertising. “Party-political advertising milking ADF support to civil agencies fighting bushfires is a clear breach of the (reciprocal) non-partisanship convention applying to both the ADF & Ministers/MPs,”
Other home truths include a mismanaged economy; tanking for four years. Yet the government still has no plan beyond declaring it has a plan. Just as it has a coronavirus plan. Worse, the former Minister for sports rorts loads both barrels of her Beretta Silver Pigeon; takes aim at her PM Thursday. This is not in the plan.
The government’s cunning plan is to help “dodgy” Scotty (as the normally very proper ABC 7:30’s Laura Tingle calls Morrison on ABC Insiders, Sunday) evade questions such as Katharine Murphy’s query on sports grants Friday. Sport Australia tells The Saturday Paper that both former Sport minister McKenzie and the Sport Australia board approved its decision to withhold 25 per cent of the $41.7 million allocated to the Sporting Schools program in 2018 – and that it was “authorised by government under the usual budget processes”.
Sport Australia will soon “transition” to an Orwellian Sport Integrity Australia, due to operate from July or whenever the government comes up with the legislation required.
All Australians will be delighted to hear that Sport Integrity will police threats to Australian sport doping, match-fixing and cheating as befits an organ of Sport Australia which currently enables Liberal MPs to abuse funds in pork-barrel rorting to buy elections.
Yet another mystery hangs over our secretive government’s proceedings. Clover-gate is put in the shade. Thursday evening, McKenzie reveals she made no “changes or annotations” to a 4 April brief which suggests it was clearly altered by the PM or some staffer in his office before it went to Sport Australia 11 April.
Morrison fobs off questions at his Friday Presser. “I’m dealing with coronavirus”, Milli Vanilli Morrison lies. In reality, in between dodging shotgun pellets, he tries to take all the credit for the work of Federal Chief Medical Officer, Prof. Brendan Murphy and his team of state medical officers and staff. Yet it won’t wash.
Guardian Australia’s Katharine Murphy is shocked by Scotty’s refusal to take her questions on Friday. Tactically, it gives Bridget McKenzie’s revelations a type of legitimacy. The PM appears to be running away. He has every reason to. According to legal experts such as Anne Twomey, there is not one occasion in the sports rorts saga where the government appears to have acted legally.
Not only were its actions illegal, Professors Cheryl Saunders and Michael Crommelin of the Centre for Comparative Constitutional Studies at Melbourne University, and Professor Anne Twomey of Sydney University argue in a joint submission published by Senate Committee that the grants are unconstitutional.
The very bad news for Scott John Morrison is that the experts concur that not only did Minister McKenzie have no lawful power to approve the grants, but the offices of the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister had no power to direct how decisions were to be made. No wonder Scotty’s running scared.
The PM’s bushfire disinformation campaign blaming a lack of back-burning is also cackling away. On ABC, Aunty recycles the inflammatory remarks of Ted Bull, superbly-named Gippsland Nationals’ MP.
Last January, killjoy CFA chief, Steve Warrington warned hazard or fuel-load reduction it is not a “silver bullet” solution.
“Some of the hysteria that this will be the solution to all our problems is really just quite an emotional load of rubbish, to be honest,” he says, a comment close to heresy in our current post-fact, anti-expert climate.
Too late. Great swathes are cut alongside roads in Gippsland in Victoria. It’s unprecedented, say conservationists, who report loss of habitat; vandalised ecosystems. Logging contractors clear-fell timber in an eighty to a hundred metre buffer along thousands of kilometres of roads in climate bushfire-affected areas, near Cann River, Mallacoota, Cape Conran and Orbost.
Bushfire consultant, Cormac Farrell, says burns are a useful tool, especially when the hazard reduction burns were completed within 800 metres of urban areas or public assets.
“But in terms of protecting towns and cities on those worst-case scenarios on those really bad days when the fire, the wind and heat are really pumping, we are finding it is able to burn over relatively bare ground.”
Luckily, Scott Morrison has already set up its inquiry, a Royal Commission which will follow its mining lobby script and find value in hazard reduction, praise the role of the military, call for its increase and confirm his sermons on “adaptation” the latest excuse for doing nothing to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
Our rort-meister government tries to jumps the shark in Senate Estimates this week. In a fit of sheer, gas-lit genius, rural and regional affairs committee chair, Susan McDonald rules, Monday, that the word “rorts” is unparliamentary.
Senate Estimates continues its theatre of cruelty; or abuse of due process, with AFP Commissioner Reece Kershaw, prefacing his evidence by bragging that he set a record for questions on notice in his last appearance. He boasts he’ll beat his record this time.
Say what you will. Our federal government and its fans in big mining and banking and agribusiness are endlessly inventive in their contempt for democracy.
Everything is going to plan. But what is the plan? Wacky, undergrad humourist and Yoga-joker, Hungarian Josh Frydenberg, who is such a crack-up lately with his tacky, racist insults towards Australia’s Hindu community, in response to Labor’s Shadow Treasurer, Dr Jim Chalmers’ well-being budget, suddenly goes all coy.
Morrison helps out heaps with a three word slogan; the response will be “targeted, measured and scalable”.
All the Treasurer will say this week is that his coronavirus stimulus package to rescue a tanking economy “will have a B in front of it“. For business, buffoonery, or bluff? His government’s chronic mismanagement has caused our economy to tank for some time. Not once in six years has GDP been on trend.
Doubtless, details will follow as soon as the BCA, the Minerals Council and the banks put their requests in. But the Nats may still be unhappy.
The Incredible Bridget McKenzie pushes back at her PM from under the bus he drove over her – only to be upstaged by My Corona, a show from Shonky Morrison and his honky tonk combo starring Chief Medical officer, Brendan Murphy, who gets to bare his teeth in a shit-eating grin while Morrison takes credit for Murphy’s work.
Backing vocals are by doo-wah dweeb, Greg Hunt, Minister for flatulent garrulity and advocate for the private health insurance virus; today a six billion dollar impost, crippling our public health system, a subsidy introduced by lying rodent John Howard, in 1996.
Greg tells us, endlessly, how well our sick health system is and what miracles of planning are being wrought, tautologically; “we have a national stockpile that is very well stocked.”
In reality, our masks used to be imported from Wuhan and even dentists have less than two weeks’ supply but government is “close to securing a deal” with local manufacturers claim the Australian Dental Association.
Funding? Funding never ceases to be a good news story. A recklessly generous, federal government will be “shoulder to shoulder with the states”, as former rugby forward, Morrison, puts it. This means forking out an extra five per cent, Hunt explains, patting himself and PM on the back over cutting such a great deal.
“It’s a very, very good outcome for the states. I think they recognise that … Normally, if somebody presented at a hospital without something such as this, we would pay 45 percent of the costs, and they would pay 55 percent of the costs.” Put this way, the federal government seems a model of profligate generosity.
Just imagine. By Friday, GPs, officials, “primary health workers” and those who tend the elderly hold meetings. Medication is stockpiled, they fret. Masks and other protective gear are scarce. Workers already struggle to do their jobs after Morrison ripped $1.2 billion from the aged-care industry budget, a cut which came on top of an earlier $500 million reduction in subsidies to create an industry now on the verge of collapse.
Above all, those who make our medical system work lament the lack of information and real leadership from government. AMA head Tony Bartone, exposes the reality behind the federal government’s interminable spin,
“Communication, timeliness and consistency of messaging about the virus to doctors and the public was brought up by doctors loud and clear. As was personal protective equipment.” Fatuous reassurances follow.
“There was a deep, deep understanding and acknowledgement by the commonwealth that more needs to be done in both of those spaces,” Dr Bartone adds, channelling the “in this space” vacuity, so popular in modern officialese, a virulent disease of communication itself; the enemy of plain speaking. Or accountability.
“It does not look like we are looking at containment, we are going to be managing an outbreak across our community, and we need to be properly funded and need true leadership from government about what everybody’s roles are,” warns Dr Charlotte Hespe, of The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners.
Talk about talk it up. Playing to packed houses across the nation, Morrison’s Corona Update Show features a troupe of Chief Medical Officers, state and federal, plucked, reluctantly, from the mounting impossibility of completing his or her day to day duties to publicly suffer the PM’s prolixity; his cheapjack grandstanding.
Worse, we “cross” to apostle of bombast, sidekick Dweeb Hunt who adds his own brand of long-winded spin.
“Our first task as a Government is to keep Australians safe. And as part of that, working together with the states and territories, with the community, with the health sector, to ensure that there’s a seamless approach.”
Clearly, the first task of his government is to divert our attention from the rising stench of scandal and corruption which, as Bernard Keane notes, threatens to eclipse the smell of fear as Morrison almost loses control of numbers in the House over Labor’s censure of his government because it “deliberately misled the parliament and the Australian people about the corrupt sports rorts scheme”.
Yet the message changes. “Get yourself tested” Hunt tells Australians with flu-like symptoms late Sunday. It’s a sudden departure from the confidence in containment script so carefully followed only a week ago. No-one tries to explain how an overburdened General Practice will cope with the sudden demand.
“Even though it can be a little bit of a stress on the system,” Hunt says. “If in doubt, get yourself tested.” If only you could get an appointment at your local medical centre.
The week has been testing for the Morrison government, a government which since its inception has found the challenges of policy-making impossible, let alone those of day to day administration. Whipping up pandemic panic is counterproductive, especially now since consumers see empty shelves; hear empty rhetoric while learning of the spread of the virus. Between reality and the rhetoric of government reassurances falls a shadow.
Exploiting fear while spinning the illusion of leadership and control marks the Coronavirus Update Show as another Morrison failure; another confirmation of the PM’s dud political judgement and the dysfunction of a cabinet of yea-sayers and bootlickers.
Worse, as COVID-19 takes hold in communities the length and breadth of Australia, it is clear that the PM’s initial claims of containment were mere Trump-like bravado.
Finally, fatuous Josh Frydenberg must come up with a miraculous package; a stimulus to businesses which are already foundering based on a trickle-down theory that is economic nonsense. Chris Bowen tries to be supportive on ABC Insiders.
“The economy has been weakening,” he says. “Now the government does need to respond. One of the things that they could do is adopt the policy we took with the election with the Australian investment guarantee – a … 20% upfront for all businesses and investments big or small.
The government has one sitting week before it is due to hand down its May Budget. It is unlikely to provide any relief to workers or the 4.6 million Australians who receive an income support payment of some kind from the Australian Government in the form of a pension or allowance. Or to increase the minimum wage or restore penalty rates.
Yet reputable economists argue that boosting household incomes is most likely to boost consumption and stimulate a stagnant economy. Given its Coronavirus Update Show chicanery, however, expect the Coalition Coronavirus Budget Show to be all about rescuing its business mates while grandstanding fit to beat the band.
On its current performance, it will not begin to be able to factor in the economic dislocation of the virus such as the disruption of education, tourism, trade and supply chains, nor will its limited repertoire of neoliberal nostrums be up to the task.
But you can be sure the virus will be made to take the blame for four years of its own, woeful, economic mismanagement. And the welfare of business mates and wealth creators will matter far more than that of households or pensioners or wage and salary earners. And we’ll never stop hearing about how wonderful it is.
And it’ll be no good asking about sports rorts corruption and illegality or anything unconstitutional because the PM’s presser will always be about something else.