(Image: Private Media/Tom Red)

Has Australia seen a less competent, thinner-skinned, more duplicitous and cowardly prime minister than Scott Morrison? Ever?

Half the country is in lockdown at a time when, according to the schedule released by Scott Morrison himself in March, around 25 million Australian vaccinations were supposed to have been given. Morrison denies any such schedule ever existed. The current number of vaccinations is a little over 10 million, leaving the bulk of the population without even a first shot as the delta variant generates hundreds of new cases a day.

Staggeringly — frighteningly — outside the Northern Territory, 75% of aged care workers are not fully vaccinated. More than half haven’t had their first jab. The entire rollout to aged care and residential disability care by the government was, we were promised by Morrison and Greg Hunt, going to be done and dusted by the end of March.

The quarantine failures that have caused the two most recent outbreaks are on both the state governments and Morrison. Both failed to use the success of our handling of the pandemic last year to prepare some insurance with quarantine facilities better than tourism facilities in city hotels.

So these lockdowns are primarily on Morrison, and his government’s failure to source sufficient vaccines, his government’s failure to prepare quarantine facilities along with the states, and his government’s failure to roll out its part of the vaccination program on anything like the timetable proposed.

But Morrison refuses to accept responsibility, and certainly refuses to apologise for such a badly bungled rollout. There’s always someone else to blame: the states — especially if they’re Labor — the Europeans, blood clots and, increasingly, his vaccine advisory group, ATAGI.

Yesterday, stung by criticism even from conservative commentators that he’s been in hiding while much of the east coast of Australia confronts a crisis — gee, where have we seen that before — he emerged at the Lodge in Canberra, with unvaccinated journalists having been told to stay away by the Chief Medical officer.

His media conference was to announce… nothing. He was there, he said, to provide “a bit of an update”, which involved insisting that everything was now going well with the rollout and that the Commonwealth was rushing to give financial assistance to people in lockdown.

“Now, let me run through how that’s running in each of the states, because it’s now exactly the same in all states,” Morrison said.

“In all states,” he continued, “people are, that are affected by the lockdowns, where there’s a Commonwealth hotspot definition put in place, the payments are being provided statewide through the partnership that I’ve been able to put in place with each of the state premiers, most recently last night with Premier Marshall. So, it’s the same right across all the states of the states affected…”

Reckon that Daniel Andrews jibe about “Prime Minister for NSW” hit the mark or what?

By the way, “all states need to lift their vaccination rates,” Morrison later added. They’re the ones letting Australia down, evidently. The spectacular, awful rollout failure in aged and residential disability care went unmentioned by the Prime Minister, oddly. He doesn’t, as so many have said so aptly, hold a syringe, mate. Or much else.

Which brings us to the problem vexing Morrison — that he wants people to take up AstraZeneca when his own vaccine advisory body insists Pfizer is preferred for under-60s. As plenty of others have already noted since yesterday’s proceedings, Morrison wants it both ways.

Mustering high dudgeon, he insisted to one journalist that it was outrageous to suggest he might override the advice of ATAGI on AstraZeneca — after all, right through the pandemic, Morrison has insisted he is a humble politician following the advice of the health experts. The climate experts, the integrity experts, the workplace harassment experts, the energy experts, the economic experts, they can sod off. But health experts? Well, just tell us how high to jump.

But he also made a point of saying he is constantly bombarding ATAGI with demands that it change its advice. “It’s a constant appeal,” he assured us. In other words, how dare you suggest I not follow the health advice I am constantly demanding be changed by those who issue it.

Even if you were happy to overlook Morrison’s constant lying, even if you thought pork-barrelling and soft corruption was a constant in politics, even if you think climate change is a hoax created by the financial wolves of international markets, Morrison’s catastrophic bungling of the vaccination rollout and quarantine — things he had ample time to plan and get right once closed borders enabled us got on top of the virus — is a low point in modern Australian government, with an economic and health toll arguably even worse than the last great policy failure, the Iraq war.

Incompetent, thin-skinned, deceitful and cowardly — other prime ministers might have exceeded him in one of those characteristics. But Morrison combines them all, the complete package of non-leadership. His faults as a politician — a simple inability to lead, a staggering lack of vision beyond retaining power, an obsession with surface over substance — have combined with his glaring faults as a person: the lies, the refusal to accept responsibility, the inner moral and intellectual vacuum.

The result leaves Australia in terrible hands at a point when the virus threatens to break out and the country teeters on the brink of recession again.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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