Is it time to put our PM and his Treasurer into quarantine?

At some stage many of us reach the point when we conclude that our leaders are not just useless and meddling, but downright dangerous. The Coalition’s monumental bungling of the quarantining of infected Covid-19 arrivals is a continuation of their previous years of ineptness. They have endangered our lives, our economy, our health and well-being and – astonishingly – our country’s federation.

The seven years of Coalition leadership is a litany of failures, incompetence, cronyism, hypocrisy, indecision and paralysis. Their handling of the pandemic, by Australian standards, has been their biggest ever disaster – blameable on a lack of pandemic planning and shirking their responsibilities for quarantining.And in quarantine the Commonwealth has primary responsibility.

At year’s end we might think Australia is in good covid shape. Compared to the USA and Europe we are. Compared to NZ we aren’t: at year’s end we are going through yet another stage of closed borders and fractured lives.

Six of our jurisdictions – SA, WA, TAS, NT, ACT and QLD – have performed better than or equal to NZ or almost any country in the world, with zero-case community transmissions for months. However, major quarantine outbreaks in Victoria and NSW have had massive countrywide implications.

All eight state and territory leaders have been out outstanding. The failure is at the federal level.

Scott Morrison is our country’s leader. Josh Frydenberg is his chosen Treasurer. Through shameless bravado and more concerned about business interests than lives they have shirked, squirmed and bullied their way out of any responsibility or accountability for Australia’s Covid-19 mess.

For ScoMo maybe we should read SquirMo.

The baying  Murdoch media said about Daniel Andrews “the buck stops at the top”.

Well sorry guys, Scott Morrison is the one at the top.

Seven years of unproductive Coalition leadership point to Covid-19 chaos

Rudd, Swann and Gillard introduced substantial and long lasting legislation. Most importantly was their decisive economic action which saved Australia from the GFC.

In contrast, Coalition government has meant years of holding ness and nothingness. The PM and Treasurer have been major players.

Notable areas of policy failure include climate change, energy, drought and water and bushfire prevention.

Many millions of Australians hoped that in response to Covid we would seize the opportunity to address serious climate change and growing inequality.Instead we are to return to the way we were, a gas led recovery with funds directed to busineses,a prospective tax cut for high income earners and no increase in Jobseeker.And we have an infantile approach to our relations with China.

After a decade of accusing the ALP of squandering taxpayers’ money on things like Pink Batts and creating a mountain of debt with their GFC stimulus packages it has been an amazing about-face to become Keynesian converts and where a mountain of debt to be “repaid by our children and their children” is no longer of consequence. We have the most spendathon government in Australia’s history.

We should not have been surprised about their derelict handling of the pandemic.

Covid-19 reveals a PM with no leadership skills and a Treasurer with no economic nous

The federal government is in charge of all aspects of our international borders, including quarantining of international arrivals. And it is in charge of the national economy.

There are some notable examples of covid stuff-ups.

Failure to shut down flights from the USA in March: Despite anecdotal and hard evidence, did our PM choose not to make this decision in order not to upset its prickly president in a selfish trade-off for duty of care for the Australian people? No wonder Donald Trump awarded him a Legion of Merit!

The Ruby Princess fiasco: Despite the federal government’s clear responsibility for border control, NSW was lumbered with the blame, and NW Tasmania with three weeks of lockdown.

Follow another leader – New Zealand’s: It seemed our PM was paralysed in his decision making, with a pattern whereby what NZ’s PM did, we would do soon after.

Our state and territory leaders were in charge, despite Canberra: As the pandemic progressed, Scott Morrison’s disconnect with his responsibilities showed and overall control was quickly usurped by state and territory leaders who increasingly defied and ignored him.

Shirking of aged care responsibilities: The federal government is the primary funder and regulator of the system. An aged care facility should be the safest possible place in a pandemic for elderly Australians, yet under the PM’s watch hundreds have died.

The bubble that burst: If anything displays our PM’s incompetence it was the so-called “trans-Tasman bubble with NZ” whereby arrivals in NSW and the NT were turning up in other states, much to the shock of some premiers.

Hysterical targeting of Daniel Andrews and Victorians: In October as Victoria struggled to reach zero-community cases, our nation’s PM, Treasurer and Health Minister (the latter being the two most senior Victorian federal members) rained down the most poisonous and unwarranted invective I can recall in Australian politics.

Morrison promoted the ‘gold standard’ approach of NSW: Yet a reluctant petulant premier would not make the hard decisions about mask-wearing and strong and fast lockdowns.

Double standards: With the others praised, Victoria, WA and Queensland with their Labor Governments were under relentless attack from federal ministers and their favoured media cronies.

The states rightly took it upon themselves to fully manage the areas for which they had responsibility and did it well. Stuff that Canberra was pushing them into! All eight leaders, even Gladys, displayed amazing leadership, with no shirking, no squirming, no pomposity and little unwarranted invective, relying on scientific and health advice.

The one area they have struggled with, and the cause of all our Covid-19 woes, is the quarantining of international arrivals: a job they should not have to do.

Quarantining arrivals: no care and no responsibility from the PM

The federal government has full responsibilities for international borders, yet our wily PM somehow off-loaded quarantining to the eight states and territories.

The National Cabinet is one of the few positives from the pandemic. We can only speculate that on March 27 the PM had yet another disconnect with his duties as national leader and arrived with no plan on how to deal with mounting imported infections. It seems the eight leaders – with less than two days to prepare – had no option but to accept hotel quarantining, with them wearing the cost, full responsibility and the consequences.

Hotel quarantine was certain to have breakouts and Victoria copped it. The Murdoch press would be after blame, blood and resignations, trying to pin the Premier to the rather irrelevant question as to who made the decision to use security guards. The haranguing of the Victorian premier would become merciless, uncalled for and un-Australian.

Other jurisdictions also used security guards. The important question was why and how did the Victorian system fail?

During the Coate inquiry the rest of the country learnt about the numerous ways in which infection could escape into the community.

The final report (released 21 Dec) points to the lack of planning for a pandemic like Covid-19, despite awareness of the possibility of such a pandemic. Existing Commonwealth and State plans did not include the scenario of mandatory, mass quarantine. In fact Coate says: “… it would be unfair to judge Victoria’s lack of planning for a mandatory quarantining program given the Commonwealth, itself, had neither recommended nor developed such a plan.”

The report includes:

“The lack of a plan for mandatory mass quarantine meant that Victoria’s Hotel Quarantine Program was conceived and implemented ‘from scratch’, to be operational within 36 hours, from concept to operation. This placed extraordinary strain on the resources of the State, and, more specifically, on those departments and people required to give effect to the decision made in the National Cabinet and agreed to by the Premier on behalf of Victoria. This lack of planning was a most unsatisfactory situation from which to develop such a complex and high-risk program.”

On this website we have explained how hotel quarantining is like a rusty bucket – a leakage certain to happen, with devastating consequences.

Flight arrival data show that within two weeks from the 28 March there would be over 17,000 in hotel quarantine around the country. Decent national leadership would have had plans in place for quarantining away from Australian population centres, in remote or more secure locations.

We are currently averaging around 10 new infections a day from overseas arrivals going into mandatory city based hotel quarantine.

From the recent NSW breakout, to the nation’s surprise, we hear that certain arrivals have bypass privileges. The AFR has posed that “Politicians, past and present, diplomats, movie stars, billionaires with private jets, sports stars, international airline crews, have all somehow made the list of exemptions.”

The recent NSW breakout and the ruined Christmas for many, and the cancelled Sydney-Hobart Yacht Race and possibly the Sydney cricket test might have derived from one of these privileged sources.

The PM fails the leadership test

The primary role of any government is to protect the population from threats, danger and infection.

The PM is meant to be in charge of our country and thus has ultimate responsibility for all coronavirus issues in Australia, including the Victorian disaster, the Ruby Princess fiasco, the Tasmanian cluster, the South Australian outbreak and the NSW Christmas cluster, and over 900 deaths nationwide.

It is with our PM where the buck stops. If Andrews was meant to check in on how his hotel quarantine system was going, then why was the PM exempted from having to check in on each state and how they were faring? Australia is the victim of his failure to have a national approach and to oversight the premiers.

The quarantining system needs to be fixed immediately. There is no guarantee Covid-19 vaccines will work in the long term or without side effects and against mutating forms of the virus. At the beginning of the pandemic the PM should have initiated measures for remote quarantining. However, like the fires, he has detached himself from the catastrophe in front of him as if in another world – unable or unwilling to help or make a decision.

Experts warn of more pandemics with increasing frequency. Controlling outbreaks is much harder in the bigger cities. Remote facilities with multiple uses could be used or built – Hamilton Island has a large airport and rooms for 5,000 guests!

Failure to have proper pandemic and quarantine planning has had consequences that are immeasurable in terms of extra cost to the governments, failed businesses, wrecked livelihoods, higher unemployment, unnecessary deaths, delays in restarting education, and the rest. Hundreds of billions of dollars to the economy and a trillion dollars of debt.

If the Victorian situation warranted a formal enquiry, the Coalition’s response warrants a Royal Commission.

We need better leadership than that provided by Morrison and Frydenberg during the pandemic.

For our country’s sake it is time they were put into permanent quarantine, after all that’s what we do with others who are a danger to the community.

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Robin Boyle lectured in statistics at Deakin University and preceding institutes for three decades until 2009. His academic background in mathematics, economics and finance, as well as statistics, led him to developing teaching software in those areas and to be widely sought after as a textbook author.

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