Morrison needs to finish the job


Scott Morrison has, in many ways, been ‘saved’ by the coronavirus. At the end of February and heading into March, his public standing was at rock-bottom. Scotty from Marketing was jeered at every time he went out in public, and journalists were daily questioning his honesty, and his competence.

What went wrong for Morrison?

He had abandoned Australia during the bush-fires while he went on holiday. He eventually came back, and proceeded to further damage his reputation with badly managed photo opportunities, and his attempts to relate to victims of the bush-fires were ill-timed and clumsy. He exhibited a complete inability to read people.

Even his physical bulk was seen as intrusive, and his casual, friendly manner was widely distrusted, because it looked phony. Every day was a desperate attempt to make up lost ground, and it felt like it. I found myself wincing when I saw him on television.

The ‘sports rorts’ affair followed on from the bush-fires. It began slowly, but it had quickly gotten out of hand, with almost daily revelations of, if not outright corruption, then a flexible reading of the guidelines. It displayed a cynical disregard for honesty, and accountability. And don’t forget this was at the very last moment before, and possibly after, the government moved into ‘caretaker mode’.

It seemed he might have won the election by buying it. And it’s not as if the recipients of his largesse were struggling sports clubs. They were more often than not well-endowed clubs, in the heart of prosperous areas, represented almost exclusively by Coalition members of Parliament. This exposed his contempt for rural and regional Australians. The unkindest cut of all was that he used a National Party minister as a stooge.

At the exact time that this was unfolding, Angus Taylor was running his own side-show. Every day in Question Time he ducked and weaved, and blustered about “vile smears” and “bizarre vendettas” against him.

He had been caught out, implying Sydney City Council were hypocrites. He accused them of wasting buckets of money, flying around the world needlessly, while trying to cut greenhouse emissions. His accusation had mysteriously made its way to the Daily Telegraph. The problem was that it was demonstrably not true.

The tragedy was that he either made up the whole story, or somebody had duped him. He had transformed $6,000 into $15.9 million ($1.7m on international travel and $14.2m on domestic travel”). So he is not great with numbers, either. No wonder he thinks our greenhouse emissions are going down – he can’t count.

Morrison should be open and transparent

So Scott Morrison spent most of his time before the virus either ducking questions about what he knew about the sports rorts affair, or why he had not sacked his Energy Minister. Excellent questions. But from the moment the virus struck, Morrison reverted to an old trick. He had used a similar technique during the bush-fires, where if he was questioned about anything other than the bush-fire emergency, he accused the questioner of bringing up politics.

That is a strange response from someone who is in the public eye for one reason, and one reason only. He is not famous for his wit, or his skill with a whip, or because he hypnotises chickens. He lives and breathes politics, and that is why we even know his name. Anyway, the virus provided him with timely cover.

I have written elsewhere about his response to the Covid-19 response, see here https://askbucko.com/2020/04/15/morrison-handles-the-crisis/ I think it has been more than adequate, as it should have been. That is why we entrusted him with the job. Protect Australians when they are in danger. He only did what the majority of world leaders did, although he acted more quickly than many others, to his credit.

That does not change the facts. He was facing an escalating problem concerning his own, and his Government’s honesty. He leads a Government made up of opportunists and narrow idealogues, and even now he keeps most of the Ministry hidden. He obviously learnt a valuable lesson during the last election campaign. Be the front man, and if you must use your ministers, keep it to a minimum. And instead of pursuing political advantage in every television appearance, share the praise, and the thank yous, around. The Premiers have certainly grown in stature, and built on their reputations, following the disastrous summer.

Remember it is a health emergency

Lately Morrison has been pushing the opening of the schools. He believes this will unlock the economy. So his emphasis is shifting, from a health crisis, to an economic catastrophe. With the shift in emphasis, his tone is hardening. He is speaking of limiting support for those who have lost their jobs, and he refuses to expand the eligibility criteria for welfare payments.

At times like this he can sound like the bursar at a local church, disappointed with the takings from the collection plate. Welfare at times like this can mean food on the table, and a heater on for a cold night. Or heaven forbid, a roof over your head. These things keep people alive, and we need to provide them, to all who need them.

Winter is coming, and thousands are still living in tents, because of the other calamity in this country – a bush-fire season like no other, three months ago. So don’t pull out the old story about what we can afford. We can afford whatever it takes.

So let us see if you can walk and chew gum at the same time. Do your job. You have more than one. Get the admin done. Release the money that still hasn’t reached the bush-fire victims. Allow the Premiers to continue doing their terrific jobs. And treat Australians, all of them, as if they are all equally worthy of our care and support.

Ignore those who whisper about herd immunity, or possible years of economic recovery. Ignore the economic dries in your party. Listen to experts, and the people. Many are angry and frustrated about the lock-down, but no-one wants to follow the United States down their deranged path.

Australia is on the right track


Sweden chose the wrong strategy

Considering how almost universally admired the Nordic countries are, Sweden has broken ranks with its neighbours, in the manner in which it has responded to the pandemic. The country has dealt with the Covid-19 virus very badly, and the proof that this is so, is its current death rate. It is close to the world’s worst.

According to the World Health Organisation, “a well-functioning healthcare system requires a steady financing mechanism, a properly-trained and adequately-paid workforce, well-maintained facilities, and access to reliable information to base decisions on.” Based on those criteria, Sweden has a modern, well-equipped, and funded, health system. It is at least the equal of Australia’s.

How does Sweden’s approach differ from ours?

It is very simple. Sweden did not lock-down. It relied on the opinion of one health bureaucrat, state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell, of the National Institute of Public Health, to formulate its response. It also relied on the innate good sense of its citizens, to voluntarily apply social distancing. Initially Mr Tegnall believed that it would not spread from China. Later on, he believed that contact tracing of individual cases coming from abroad, would be an effective method of stopping the contagion.

The Government, led by Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, continued to follow his advice; it was more comfortable in those early days, and chose not to legislate for social distancing. Later, at the end of March, as the pandemic claimed more lives, it limited gatherings, from 500 down to 50, and then legislated penalties for non-compliance. It also shut down visits to aged care facilities, because there were infections at close to half of them.

It looks very like Boris Johnson’s early mis-steps in the U.K., except that they corrected their direction even more belatedly than the British. One crucial difference is that they do not seem shy about mentioning ‘herd immunity’. The Swedish Government is now claiming that it is approaching that point. At what cost? Well, that would be 1540 deaths, and counting. The death rate per million citizens is 151. Australia’s is 3.

Those bearing the burden for that herd immunity are the elderly. Swedes are at last awake to this fact, and they are not happy. The Swedish Government has listened, and is desperately playing catch-up.

Why discuss Sweden?

I mention Sweden because there is a rising impatience with the lock-down, here. We are all tired of isolation, and grumpy that we are not seeing our families and friends, or football matches even. Many business leaders are calling for selective re-opening of sectors of the economy. Many believe that we have over-reacted to the Covid-19 pandemic, and I fear that their voices will become louder. I fear that our politicians will listen to those voices, and lose their resolve.

It is hard to trust politicians in this country. They have failed us so spectacularly over the last decade or so, that it is difficult to believe that they have our best interests in mind. Already the Murdoch press is railing at the shut-down, and the spectre of government debt is looming. Business leaders are warning of financial Armageddon, the IPA is warning that we have lost our basic freedoms, and the forces of the right are gathering steam.

I want the Government to stay the course, because this virus is so effective, and so infectious, and we are so close to victory. The Swedish example is proof that social distancing is the best way to defeat the virus, and that allowing life to go on as if nothing is happening is totally disastrous. Not to mention cavalier, in treating the lives of ANY citizens as expendable.

Scott Morrison has been something of a revelation lately. But there are elements within his own party, and within the loud right, who would undo the good work done so far. We need to continue our locked down lives, at least until we have evidence that we have neutralised the virus. Black humour in times of crisis is fine, but the U.S. is losing 3000 lives a day; on Sweden’s worst day they lost 170 out of a small population. These are not just numbers, but real people, lost forever to their families, and their communities.

This is too serious to leave to the cynics and the profit takers. The fear of a second wave is no laughing matter, as Singapore can attest; and we have barely felt the first wave. I believe in our own scientists, and our medical people, and I am prepared to back our current strategy. Our lives depend on it.

UPDATED April 22, 2020

Nearly 1800 people have now died in Sweden, making it the 14th worst affected country globally.

The death rate is 156.45 per million compared to 62.84 in Denmark, 28.41 in Norway and 17.69 in Finland, all of which have much more severe lockdowns. Its death toll is roughly three times the combined total of its Scandinavian neighbours. Australia’s death rate remains at about 3.

We have to stay the course!

The Three Amigos (updated)


It was like getting the band back together again, when all the rich white men with blonde-ish hair came to power, sort of at the same time, voted for by real people, and now all claiming a MANDATE to rule us, their way. No buyers’ remorse will be permitted.

They all speak a form of English, although it is understood that the meanings that they attribute to many words in common usage are skewed, or at odds with community expectations. These are indeed deflating, and confusing times.

The leader of the free world

On any reasonably intelligent reading Donald Trump is exactly what we all expected. He is narcissistic, shallow, uninterested, ignorant and dangerous. In times of crisis he was always going to struggle, because he is not equipped, intellectually or emotionally, to deliver leadership.

He has drifted from overconfident bluster that COVID-19 was just like the flu, to trying to downplay it because it rained on his ‘economic boom’ on Wall Street, to preposterous posturing, such as when he stated that he knew it was a pandemic before the rest of the world knew, although he was also telling us it was not only just like the flu, but a Democrat hoax, all at the same time. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/15/opinion/trump-coronavirus.html

The U.S. is now weeks behind where it should be, in containment terms. This will most probably lead to many more deaths than would have otherwise been the case. In an incredible turnaround in fortunes, Mike Pence, his abject Vice President, has performed at least creditably. Maybe the times suit the man, although his term as Governor of Indiana was inglorious. He delayed the fight against HIV/Aids by stalling a program of needle exchange, amongst other things.

But back to Trump: He has been calling COVID-19 ‘the Chinese virus’ for weeks, causing racist attacks on Chinese Americans, presumably by his base. This was seen as a fully conscious signal to his support base. Today he did a full 180 degree turn, and leapt to their defence, describing them as “good people”. He did not call ‘the silent enemy’, the virus, Chinese. How long will Americans tolerate this man? There are very few groups he has NOT disrespected in his three years in power. One benefit of this virus is that it may cruel his chances of re-election.

It is difficult to know if Donald Trump’s ‘handling’ of the COVID-19 crisis was wilfully negligent, or just plainly too uncomfortable for him. He is the successor to Lincoln, Roosevelt and Kennedy, and the country deserves more. He has caused world-wide depression and anxiety, and he has delayed America’s response to the virus. This has added to the impression that America has vacated its position as the world’s leading nation state. The country’s reputation may not recover.

The leader of the United Kingdom

Boris Johnson has been with the British in some form for many years. “He is thought of as a joke, but he makes people laugh” is advanced as a reason, amongst others (?) for his current electoral success. He went early on the ‘herd immunity’ strategy for the United Kingdom, until people panicked, and clamoured for change. It was described as “callous and dangerous”, and led to an abrupt about face. (There are two preferred responses to the COVID-19 virus: They are containment, or herd immunity.) Valuable time was lost, and the U.K. can now, probably expect a much more serious rate of infections, and deaths, due to Johnson’s original, flawed choice.

He is in effective control of the United Kingdom’s response to the most challenging health crisis in over a century. He has recently attempted to appear ‘Churchillian’, by adopting a stern, serious demeanour. This is difficult, when one has built a reputation on using stupid language, such as describing Muslim women, wearing burquas, “looking like letter boxes”. That is hard to reconcile with a person who knows, or cares for, his citizens. And certainly not Churchillian.

The leader of “The lucky country”

The third amigo is Scott Morrison. He is a marketing careerist, a fundamentalist Christian, and a shameless prevaricator who has, until now, had no known goal beyond dodging questions from the Press, and remaining in power. He is the successor of Chifley, Curtin, Hawke and Menzies. During the 2019 election campaign he was forced to hide his entire cabinet from scrutiny, because of their lack of intellectual capacity, and or human qualities.

He is using most of that cabinet, now out of hiding, as his front-line defence of the Commonwealth. They still lack basic qualities, but Morrison likes to do most of the heavy lifting. Like most of the leadership, however, they are being held hostage by a right wing rump in the Parliament, and we are not sure of their response, to his response, to COVID-19. So far, so good.

After a disastrous summer of catastrophic bushfires, in which Morrison lost most of the public’s trust, and goodwill, and a simmering argument about mishandled taxpayer funds, used for political purposes, the virus has very quickly assumed centre stage in our consciousness. It has become a battle for survival, with the community finally catching on to the seriousness of the situation.

On most measures, Morrison has stepped up. He has lost his supercilious smirk, and he seems to have jettisoned most of his neo-liberal baggage. He recognises the dire situation, and his obsession with fiscal rectitude has been lost. He is playing catch-up, but he is seemingly sincere. He is using medical experts, and he is increasing our medical response. He is moving his focus from financial, to basic health concerns.

There are still glimpses of the partisan warrior, and a curious reluctance to fully embrace the Keynesian orthodoxy. Sometimes his simulatory measures have an in-built delay, which defeats the purpose of action, now! Why delay the increase in the Jobseeker Allowance, static for 24 years, until April 27? It just seems ideological, and we need better, now.

On balance, the greatest problem is one of implementation. A million people lose their jobs, and the Centrelink organisation is overwhelmed. The relief money from the bush-fires has not reached the intended beneficiaries yet, two months later. Can we trust this Government to deliver now, when the virus outweighs even the bush-fires, in terms of damage to people’s lives? Can we expect the Government to govern, and to not be tied up in internal squabbles? Can they put aside their partisan positions, and utilise every person with necessary skills? Maybe even include the Opposition? Can they manage a novel set of disastrous circumstances, with competence?

They had better, because we have not, in our lifetimes, faced such a terrible situation. And Morrison says his mission is to keep Australians safe. So I wish him luck.