A week of revelations on coronavirus response and vaccine roll-out leaves Morrison government reeling – ABC News
It’s true that a global pandemic tends to dominate everything else in the news cycle, and in politics as well. So given that Federal Parliament has just risen from a two-week sitting, let’s have a look at what else has been happening in Canberra.
Let’s start with what happened in the House of Representatives. And the answer is: not much.
On Thursday, for example, the government introduced the Special Recreational Vessels Amendment Bill which extends the sunset date for legislation which “allows foreign special recreational vessels (also known as superyachts) to apply for a special recreational vessel temporary licence to operate on the Australian coast, if they choose to opt into the coastal trading regulatory regime”, the minister introducing the bill, Mark Coulton, told the House.
“This allows these vessels to be offered for hire or charter,” he said and this was because it would bring “overseas dollars into regional communities around Australia”.
The main game in the House for the fortnight, though, was the government’s persistent, and ultimately futile, attempt to get the crossbench — and some of its own members — to agree to superannuation changes which would have given the Treasurer a veto power over any investment undertaken by any superannuation fund.
As Labor’s spokesman Steven Jones told the House, when the government finally amended its own legislation at 4.45 pm on Thursday to remove this provision: “This heinous power [is] more appropriate to this book here, Das Kapital, than a modern Australian economy”.
The government also managed to get through the House — with very little media coverage — the fact that it is halving Foxtel’s Australian screen content obligation.
Poor little Foxtel. As government backbencher David Gillespie reflected on its sad story in the House:
“We do want to maintain independent local news and we do want to maintain Australian drama being projected on to free-to-air TV and to video subscription services, but they are being challenged. They are in the battle for their own business’s lives. I don’t think even Foxtel is immune to the challenges, so the difficult decision to reduce the eligible drama scheme burden of 10 per cent on such businesses was a difficult one.”
It is worth remembering this next time you hear the government waxing lyrical about the booming Australian film and television industry. It is booming because it is producing content for overseas markets. Not because it is telling Australian stories. The “burden” of a 10 per cent local content requirement was just too … burdensome.
And that was about it, really, in the House.
ABC News: Ian Cutmore
Meanwhile, in the other place …
Over in the Senate, there were different dividends of a do-nothing government on display, as estimates committee hearings heard a truly gobsmacking litany of evidence about the government’s inability to either plan, or manage, the services required of it during a pandemic.
No, the aged care workforce didn’t seem to have been vaccinated, even though it was in the top priority group. In fact, officials weren’t actually sure because no-one was keeping consolidated records. And then there were the conflicting accounts of how many nursing homes and residents had been vaccinated, and no-one seemed to have any really clear idea of whether the numbers were for just one shot or two.
In August last year, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg accused the Victorian government of the “biggest public policy failure in living memory” for its handling of the state’s coronavirus lockdown and failing to outline a pathway out of tough restrictions.
Yet by Thursday, acting Victorian Premier James Merlino was able to mount a rather damning case against the feds.
“There are a lot of things we are waiting for when it comes to the Morrison government,” he said.
“We are waiting for a definitive decision on alternative quarantine.
“We are waiting on whether they are going to support Victorian workers or not.
“We are waiting on more supply of the vaccine.
“There are a lot of things we are waiting for and the point I would make is the only way, the only way out of this pandemic is the successful roll-out of the vaccine …The virus, the virus is our enemy and the virus doesn’t sleep. The virus mutates, the virus thinks that this is a race.”
The political whack at the end of his remarks about “the race” hardly seemed out of place after a week of revelations about the shambles of the vaccine roll-out in areas under the federal government’s control.
It’s a race after all
By Friday, having fumbled through estimates and squirmed through question time in the House of Representatives, on questions such as whether it was “comfortable” with the vaccine roll-out as Aged Care Services Minister Richard Colbeck had said earlier in the week, the government was, er, regrouping.
It officially decided that the vaccination roll-out was a race after all, and announced it would be accelerating its roll-out — though just how it intends to go about accelerating a roll-out that is still working its way up to the cruising speed it is supposed to be running at already was not entirely clear.
And it finally signed off on a deal with Victoria about extra quarantine facilities.
These new facilities still tend to get spoken of in terms of being extra capacity when, in fact, what they are really about is increasing the suite of quarantine options that are available as the risk profiles of virus variants and travellers — and eventually the sorts of travellers who will be coming in and out of Australia- multiplies.
There will need to be different quarantine options available for high-risk groups and low-risk groups, as well as potentially returning Australians versus travellers from other countries.
That will reflect not just rates of infection and strains of virus but different information systems in different countries, and the confidence these provide us with on questions of vaccination and vaccines.
Once again though, little planning work appears to have gone into developing these health protocols with an eye to any opening of the borders any time soon.
Late to the party
The trade-off reached between the federal and state governments last year was essentially that the states would run quarantine, as an extension of their public health responsibilities, on behalf of the federal government in a more or less explicit recognition by all involved that the feds simply didn’t have the capacity to do it.
In return, the feds would run income support. Their initial response to requests for help in the latest Victorian lockdown seemed to suggest they weren’t even prepared to do this any more.
And they only grudgingly engaged in an income support scheme late in the piece.
The picture that emerges in all this to the public is a government that is always late to the party and isn’t really in control of anything.
It is hardly consistent with the Morrison strategy of winning an election based on its excellent management of the pandemic. But with the lack of anything happening in the House of Representatives this week reflecting a lack of any other meaningful agenda, the prime minister will have to be hoping the vaccination roll-out starts to actually roll.
Laura Tingle is 7.30’s chief political correspondent.
This content was originally published here.