Image: AAP/Lukas Coch

You gotta give credit to Scott Morrison — while he may have botched Australia’s lockdown in both messaging and speed (even the virus-ridden UK locked down faster than Australia), he has been far more successful at taking credit for the results.

Today’s Newspoll showed Morrison’s popularity skyrocketing to 68%, up from only 41% in March. Albeit the popularity appears somewhat pyrrhic, with the major parties tied at 50-50 on a two-party preferred basis.

The smartest thing Morrison did (for himself, not necessarily for Australians) was suggest an excessive six-month timeframe to lift the strict restrictions.

As this column suggested back on 20 March, six months was completely unnecessary, but Morrison (like Trump and his fictitious 200,000 death forecast) was creating a very low bar to easily surpass. Even Wuhan, the epicentre of the pandemic, started lifting restrictions in only 76 days.

Morrison was largely coerced into a far stricter lockdown by Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian. As recently as 18 March, the federal government was suggesting gatherings of 500 people was just fine.

It wasn’t until 30 March that the government finally realised it needed to quarantine infected overseas travellers. By then, the US had notched up 200,000 cases while Italy’s death toll was rocketing past 10,000.

Caddies call the shots

While there remains controversy over the decision to keep golf courses firmly shut, Andrews can claim significant credit for his handling of the pandemic. Victoria remarkably has only 70 known active cases of COVID-19 (NSW still has 758 active cases).

Andrews has been vehement in demanding that Victorian schools remain shut until July (the only exception remains the children of essential workers). While the golf and school restrictions are harsh compared to the rest of Australia, they make a lot of sense in ensuring the lockdown is effective and able to be lifted.

The problem for Andrews is Victoria’s hard line on schools is starting to look less about health and more about appeasing Labor’s friends in the union and property sectors.

While schools remain firmly shut, building sites, which would pose a far greater risk (adults are believed to far more likely to spread the disease than children) remain fully open. The government merely released unenforceable guidelines.

The guidelines do not require temperature testing to enter building sites, while “physical distancing of at least 1.5 metres should be implemented wherever possible [emphasis mine].” In short, as you were, boys.

It’s no doubt a coincidence that the CFMMEU and the building industry, both of whom donate millions to Victorian Labor, demanded construction remain open.

Meanwhile, the Education Union, which has maintained a cosy relationship with the Andrews government, wants schools to remain shut.

Let them eat Play-Doh

In early April, we wrote that the federal government’s $1.6 billion childcare handout was among the worst pieces of policy we’d seen. It’s not means tested, so millionaires can get their childcare for free now, and also places low-paid childcare workers in harm’s way. Multiple centres have been forced to close after COVID-19 outbreaks.

But the effects of the ham-fisted policy get even worse.

Because of the surge in demand for free care, children of genuinely essential workers can’t get places, with centres (who get 50% of their revenue paid by the government) warning that they can’t afford to take all children who apply.

Many of the spots are being filled by wealthy parents who (perhaps understandably) are sick of having their children at home. Meanwhile, parents with kids who hadn’t previously been in childcare, regardless of their wages and need, are pushed to the back of the queue. 

When the going gets tough, the Liberal Party, who have long claimed to be the party of the free market, are all too quick to turn into Nikolai Khrushchev.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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