Yesterday, health department secretary Brendan Murphy delivered the concession that might’ve made the Morrison government squirm, telling a Senate committee what many had already guessed: that Australia’s vaccine rollout had fallen behind schedule.
Despite the Morrison government’s repeated claim that all Australian adults will be vaccinated by October, Murphy suggested some people will have to wait until early next year for their second dose.
Getting the vaccines done by the October deadline is a critical part of the Morrison government’s two-pronged political-PR strategy, along with its tourism stimulus package, which promises half-priced airfares to certain areas and a much-needed boost for the battered tourism sector.
Get those two things right, and Morrison heads into an election (likely to come early next year), with a fully-vaccinated population, open state and international borders, and a nation of holidaymakers more relaxed and comfortable than we’ve been since 2019.
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Fumble it, and the facade of a triumphant recovery starts to fall apart.
What’s the go with the vaccines?
In retrospect, we always should have seen the warning signs and taken the government’s vaccine targets with a grain of salt. From the very start, it’s showcased two of the Morrison government’s most confounding impulses — a preference for stage-managed spin over substance, and an indifference to transparency.
In August last year, Morrison triumphantly announced Australia had a vaccine “deal” with AstraZeneca. Except it was actually a letter of intent, not a deal (as the company pointed out), something countries like the United Kingdom, which are well ahead of us on the vaccination front, had secured months ago.
As Nine columnist Sean Kelly points out, Morrison’s dizzying number of big vaccination announcements, which frequently offer nothing more than existing information repackaged, is a central political impulse of his — to always take credit for the good things and scrub over the bad.
In January, with the country exhausted by constant border closures, pressure started to build on the Morrison government over its slow vaccine targets. When Labor questioned the gap between TGA approval and the rollout commencing, Morrison dismissed suggestions of a quicker process as “very dangerous.”
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese claimed that all the sudden caution, and the government’s line that Australia could wait because we weren’t getting decimated like the UK, was to cover for us never being at the front of the vaccine queue.
On the domestic front, cute press conferences and plenty of reassurances have only just papered over the huge information gaps out there. GPs aren’t really sure how they will handle the program.
This morning, Scott Morrison said he knew a month ago that the October timeline wouldn’t be possible.
Except while it was evident we were well behind by the end of February, Morrison and health minister Greg Hunt continued to claim we were actually on track. An easy claim to make when some states aren’t even publishing their daily vaccine data.
The full ScoMo
This week, right when the wheels were really starting to fall off the “on track” narrative, Morrison pulled a manoeuvre that should be called “the full ScoMo”
First he waved around an obnoxiously large boarding pass. Then he got in a plane cockpit and cosplayed as a pilot for a bit.
The point of all of this is Australians can now go on cheaper holidays thanks to the government. There was also a thinly-veiled threat to state premiers — keep those damn borders open or else your struggling tourism operators will miss out.
Getting both the vaccine rollout and the holiday program running smoothly would be a big coup for Morrison, whose approval ratings remain rock solid after a year when Australia has dodged a pandemic nightmare.
But, just like with the vaccine rollout, the plane package already looks like a bit of distracting optics. Tourism operators say that package will simply not be enough for them. Regional centres in NSW and Victoria wonder why so many of the listed destinations are in Queensland.
Morrison’s road to another term rests on an easy road to normal. He needs the premiers to stop shutting down the borders over a single case. He needs Australians to have a holiday and boost the regions neglected and even further isolated as JobKeeper winds up. And he needs the vaccine rollout to meet a timeline experts always said was too ambitious.
His impulse is to spin his way there. We’ll find out if spin alone can win him another election.