Scott Morrison – Events will decide political fates and defy expert predictions
The twin challenges faced by Morrison this year are the same as last: COVID-19 and China. Anthony Albanese’s problems all sit behind him in Parliament.
Morrison knows the risks. His National Press Club speech put suppressing the virus and rolling out the vaccine at the top of his agenda. But keeping the disease in check is largely down to the states’ capacity to manage hotel quarantine. Western Australia has proved, again, that this is a fragile frontline and perhaps the only certainty of this year is that we can expect more breakouts.
On the upside for the Prime Minister, his hopes for suppression are helped by the risk tolerance of most premiers being set at zero. One case is now considered enough reason to shutter cities and slam shut state borders. The politics are hard to fault because, so far, voters have put a premium on safety and embraced the zero-tolerance approach.
On the downside, if lockdowns were a vaccine they would never win Therapeutic Goods Administration approval. The long-run effects of dislocation, isolation, the loss of education and the disproportionate suffering of the poor make it the 21st century equivalent of ship surgery.
Lockdowns have already exacted a price that cannot be measured in dollars or over the short term and the yo-yo imprisonment of cities will eventually cripple communities economically and psychologically. It is also more than a little disturbing to see how quickly the premiers have embraced authoritarianism with the full-throated support of “progressives” and activist media. Freedoms lost are not easily returned and every dictator ever born claims s/he is only acting to keep the people safe, especially from themselves.
But the premiers have been given a free pass because the lockdowns have been funded by the Commonwealth. That money runs out in March, so it will be interesting to watch whether the will to imprison populations remains in the face of cash-strapped states being forced to bear the full financial cost of their decisions.
If push comes to shove when the cash dries up expect the premiers to direct their communities’ anger at Canberra. This is a risk for Morrison because he won’t win a fight with a popular premier on a state’s home ground. It’s another depressing lesson from the pandemic: Australia is still a collection of colonies masquerading as a federation.
So, with the states running suppression, the vaccine rollout is the one task that the Morrison government actually controls, and getting it wrong poses an existential threat. It won’t matter who the Leader of the Opposition is if the government makes a major misstep. And the chances of a system failure, or a blowout in the timetable, are high because the task is so complex.
The Opposition Leader’s troubles are all internal. Despite the ritual claims from his office that this is just grumbling from the usual suspects, the discontent in Labor’s ranks is broad and deep. It is fuelled by the fact that Labor’s caucus is unanimous in its belief there will be an election in the second half of this year. MPs see the strife they are in and think that Morrison would be mad not to exploit it. This has set an artificial deadline for a quick change in leaders, and Good Friday comes early this year.
But those wanting a challenge must find a challenger and navigate the hurdles set up to end the turnstile leadership changes of the Rudd-Gillard era. There is every chance that the challenge might falter but the risk to Albanese is real and the reshuffle was read as rewarding his friends and punishing his enemies.
Those looking for any sign of an imminent showdown need to watch the NSW Right. History shows the one constant precursor to a strike is leaked polling that shows safe seats will be lost in droves without a leadership change. This galvanises MPs to preference their own futures above the leader. As Jack Lang said: “In the race of life always back self-interest – at least you know it’s trying.”
Chris Uhlmann is the political editor at Nine News.
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Chris Uhlmann is political editor for Nine News.