When Victoria went into lockdown to defeat its devastating second wave of Covid-19 infection late in 2020, all sorts of Liberal politicians both state and federal belted them for their actions. The fact that Victorian state politicians did so is understandable, given they are trying to desperately make an impression, any sort of impression, after buggering up their campaign in the most recent state election1. However, the sniping by the federal government, presumably in an attempt to try to rehabilitate their state counterparts was unconscionable. Former Victorian Labor premier Steve Bracks asked what had happened to Morrison’s earlier “we are all melburnians now when it comes to the challenges we face”, when Morrison said of Andrews’ detailed plan that it was “hard and crushing news for the people of Victoria”. This was especially galling when Victoria’s response was based on the agreed suppression strategy of the National Cabinet which Morrison chairs. Even worse was Morrison saying the plan was “a Victorian government plan”, implying it had nothing to do with the National Cabinet.2
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, Health Minister Greg Hunt, and Morrison released a joint statement when Andrews didn’t open up Victoria as quickly as they would have liked. They said: “Victoria’s public health systems are either up to the task of dealing with future outbreaks or they are not … The decision to keep businesses closed suggests that there is still not sufficient confidence within the government that their systems can support reopening”, and that it was a “profound disappointment”3. More extraordinarily, during a parliamentary sitting in October 2020, which was to discuss a motion praising Victorians for their resilience during the devastating wave, Frydenberg, who has young children, shouted “Six months lost from schooling. Six months that they will never, ever get back”4. In this same discussion, Morrison said that he wanted to see state premiers continue to open their societies and their borders, noting again his belief that lockdowns are not a “demonstration or evidence of success”. He followed this with: “As we look to the future, we cannot look to a future of lockdown as a way of managing this virus. What we must do is have the testing and tracing and the isolation and quarantine options”4.
Of course, there was also the puerile and pathetic whining from the Victorian Liberal opposition and Murdoch’s Herald-Sun ‘newspaper’ with epithets of ‘Dictator Dan’, ‘Chairman Dan’ being thrown around constantly1. You don’t see such puerile carping from the Labor opposition in states which have Liberal governments, perhaps because, unlike the Liberal opposition in Victoria, they have not been taken over by religious nutters5.
When Western Australia shut its borders in the middle of 2020, Clive Palmer launched a legal challenge and the federal government joined Palmer in that legal challenge. However, the federal government withdrew from it in August of that year6. Palmer’s challenge was later dismissed. Western Australian voters clearly remembered this at the state election held in March 2021, where the Liberal Party lost 11 of its 13 seats in the Legislative Assembly, with only one female and one male winning their seats7. As some wag said: ‘It shows that the Liberal Party is right, that you don’t need quotas to achieve gender parity’.
When the Sydney outbreak was taking off, Morrison praised NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian for not going into lockdown, stating that NSW was the ‘gold standard’ of dealing with Covid-198. Berejiklian herself said that she didn’t need a lockdown because she “had made sure we had the systems in place to be able to weather whatever came our way, so that we wouldn’t ever go into lockdown again”. The journal for the wealthy, the Australian Financial Review, had a puff piece by Phil Coorey (who else?) some weeks ago which called Berejiklian ‘the woman who saved Australia’. Two days after Morrison praised Berejiklian for not going into lockdown, she had to capitulate and locked down the state as the cases of Covid-19 were rapidly climbing9.
Research by the Burnet Institute indicated that a tough lockdown like that used in Melbourne during its second wave was the way to contain and then eliminate community transmission of the Delta variant. However, the lockdown NSW entered is a bit shambolic, unlike that in Melbourne, as there is no definition of ‘essential businesses’ or ‘essential workers’, and this is simply leading to confusion9. There are even reports that such non-essential businesses as Bunnings, The Reject Shop and many fast food outlets are still open. This has led many people referring to this lockdown as a ‘mockdown’ as Berejiklian seems determined not to learn from the Victorian experience10. As a consequence, cases in Sydney are still climbing (at the time of writing 319 new cases had been recorded).
After Berejiklian was forced to go into her shambolic, half-baked mockdown, Morrison completely backflipped saying that lockdowns are “the primary method by which we will be able to get this latest outbreak under control.”11 It is a shame he didn’t realise this a year ago when he and his colleagues were unmercifully hammering Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia (but not the Liberal held states of Tasmania and South Australia) over their lockdowns. Then, late last month, Channel 7’s Mark Riley reports that Morrison is asking National Cabinet to agree to follow the Victorian lockdown model in future, going early and going hard. As online journalist, Ronni Salt, says: “And fancy Channel 7’s political editor Mark Riley stumbling across that ‘exclusive’ piece of information all on his own. Out of the blue. Just like that. Spin, spin little spiders.”12
This is just another in the numerous attempts by Morrison to paint himself in a favourable light as the saviour of Australia. 19 months into a pandemic that has killed nearly a thousand Australians, when he has been found wanting at every turn.