I was going to go through Morrison’s Canberra Citizenship ceremony speech in one essay, but it would have ended up being far too long, so I have cut it into readable (I hope) chunks.
I attended the ceremony because someone I knew was becoming an Australian citizen. The Prime Minister, Governor General, the various Australians of the year, another minister or two and sundry other dignitaries were in attendance. Morrison’s speech was not very well written and, as usual, had all the literary appeal of a grocery list1, but I will wade through part of it here. Of course, it began with mentioning all the dignitaries present and thanked the Ngunnawal elder for the welcome to country. There was also an acknowledgement of those in the armed forces with that awful, vacuous Americanism ‘thank you for your service’, which is uttered instead of doing anything useful for former service personnel.
He noted that “In a year where much of the world has struggled under the strain of the global pandemic, Australians, together, have prevailed, in our own Australian way.” This is certainly true of the Morrison government; they have abrogated responsibility for quarantine and aged care. In the Constitution, the responsibilities of the various jurisdictions are listed and responsibility for quarantine lies with the Commonwealth. The legislative definition of quarantine is quite clear: “the examination, exclusion, detention, observation, segregation, isolation, protection, treatment and regulation of vessels, installations, human beings, animals, plants or other goods or things”. This has as its objective the prevention or control of the introduction, establishment or spread of diseases or pests that will or could cause significant damage to human beings, animals, plants, other aspects of the environment or economic activities.2 However, when Covid-19 hit, Morrison left quarantine up to the states. When the National Cabinet met on March 27th, 2020, the state premiers were shocked when Scott Morrison arrived at the meeting with no quarantine plan, so they were left to devise their own plan. Two major decisions were taken, based on a proposal by the premiers of NSW and Victoria. They were that:
- As of 28 March 2020 all incoming travellers would be required to undertake a 14 day supervised hotel quarantine period.
- The eight states and territories were required to run the hotel quarantine system, and that system was to be operational in 36 hours.3
The Coate Inquiry into Victoria’s Hotel Quarantine System reported that the lack of planning and short notice was an unsatisfactory situation from which to develop such a complex and high-risk program. It also noted “It would be unfair to judge Victoria’s lack of planning for a mandatory quarantining program given the Commonwealth, itself, had neither recommended nor developed such a plan.”3 Of course, the Murdoch media was used by the federal government to snipe at Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews during his daily press conferences4,5.
With aged care, things started to go wrong for the aged with Morrison when he was treasurer; he cut $1.2 billion from the aged care budget and then lied about it when questioned in a televised press conference by Rick Morton6. On February 29, Morrison initiated the government’s coronavirus emergency response plan. However, he stated that normal life would go on: “You can still go to the football, you can still go to the cricket, you can still go and play with your friends down the street, you can go off to the concert and you can go out for a Chinese meal.” The following day, health ministers met in Melbourne, with the main concern being aged care. One official at that meeting stated: “There really was no national leadership at that point”7.
The first report of the Labor-chaired Senate inquiry into the Morrison government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic has found that it “failed to properly prepare the aged care and disability sectors for the pandemic”. It suggests the Morrison government was responsible for “significant failings in the aged care sector prior to, and during, the pandemic”. The report also notes that deaths in aged care facilities “account for 74.6% of all deaths from Covid-19 in Australia”. The government was “unprepared and failing to anticipate crippling staff shortages and a high volume of requests for personal protective equipment”, and “failed to learn important lessons from early outbreaks at residential aged care facilities in NSW”.
In October 2018, Morrison Government instituted the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, and it busily went about its work, having hearings and taking submissions, and then the pandemic hit. It provided a special report on the Covid-19 crisis in aged care to the government at the end of September. It stated that the central failing was that there was no “defined, consolidated, national aged care Covid-19 plan”. The ‘responsible’ minister, Richard Colbeck, maintained that the government did have a plan, although he didn’t say what it was. The commission also noted that there was no guidance to aged care homes at the height of the crisis, and that the peak medical committee, the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC), “provided no written guidance to the aged care sector in the six weeks between June 20 and August 3”, at the time when the second wave was taking off in Victoria. Colbeck disagreed8, as you would expect. It is entirely appropriate that the interim report from the commission, handed to the Governor General at the end of October 2020, was titled ‘Neglect’9.
Early in 2020, this government was described as a do-nothing government, and little has changed10. Not only does it have no legislative agenda, but it has no interest in dealing with threats like climate change and approaching pandemics. Because of that inaction, people have and will continue to die.