Mungo MacCallum. Scott Morrison’s marketing of a vaccine is true to form.

Morrison is offering not a solution but a thought bubble, something to keep us going until some other rabbit can be pulled out of his well worn hat of illusions. But the fact that it has already been dismissed as so much puffery by both AstraZeneca itself and by the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories who are supposed to deliver the vaccine to the masses is not encouraging.

One of the more dubious schemes devised by marketeers of real  estate is known as “selling off the plan.”

By this they mean persuading customers to buy and pay for not actual property but the idea of it – the belief that some time, somehow, the developers will get around to constructing their luridly optimistic projections and turn them into at least a semblance of reality.

In other words, that hope will triumph over experience, much the same formula embraced by politicians at election time when they offer the voters a list of promises that may or may not come to fruition.

Given Scott Morrison’s background it is entirely predictable that he has adopted this strategy in his latest attempt to convince the punters that not only is he in control of the COVID pandemic, but he has a plan – a genuine, rolled gold, concrete plan – to fix it.

So last week he announced, with considerable fanfare, that Australia had made an agreement with the English firm AstraZeneca to supply an effective vaccine, to be manufactured locally and distributed free to anyone who wanted it – or indeed anyone who didn’t. The silver bullet had been found, relief was just around the corner.

But, as with so many promotions, if that looked too good to be true, then it was. Sure, AstraZeneca’s research is promising, but even if all the tests are successful – and there is no guarantee that they will be — there is a lot to be done before actual production can begin. We are talking about not days or weeks, but many months.

And we do not have an agreement, we have a letter of intent. In other words we haven’t even got a ticket for a seat in the game – we have only applied for a place in the queue for a spot in the outer. The big players are well ahead of us – the United States and the United Kingdom both have firm commitments not only from AstraZeneca, but from five other potential suppliers as well and there are plenty more in line before we get to the front

Morrison is offering not a solution but a thought bubble, something to keep us going until some other rabbit can be pulled out of his well worn hat of illusions. But the fact that it has already been dismissed as so much puffery by both AstraZeneca itself and by the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories who are supposed to deliver the product to the masses is not encouraging.

However, ScoMo has to be seen to be  doing something, because the masses are getting seriously restive. The times when the necessary restrictions could be played as some kind of temporary boys’ own adventure are now long gone – the game has become tedious and the more it drags on the more the  resentment and division will fester.

We are no longer all in this together, if we ever really were: increasingly we are playing by different rules. The new contest is about cops and robbers, goodies and baddies. And we want the baddies exposed, shamed and punished: bring back the stocks. No more Mr Nice Guy.

Those who have crossed forbidden borders or broken free from compulsory isolation are being seen not just as selfish, reckless and disobedient; they are criminals, fugitives who have escaped from the law. Fine them till the pips squeak,, whack them in the slammer and throw away the key, show them no mercy.

And as the popular mood swings away from sympathy towards vengeance, the need for victims grows, not always sensibly or even rationally, but to assuage the belligerent commentary. There are still plenty of exemptions for the fortunate and well-connected, whether through institutions or individual influence. And they can be applauded for their success in gaming the system.

But those who miss out are to be regarded as not just failures, but offenders. Inconsistent? Of course. But who said authoritarianism had to make sense?

The victims are predominantly the young: schoolchildren have been given a caning, several canings in fact. Their sports days have been cancelled, also their music lessons, their end of year formals and anything else which edges outside the daily grind of the basic curriculum — although religious education remains compulsory. Good for discipline, perhaps

And as they gaze through their hermetically sealed classroom windows, the hapless students watch on as their elders play their sport, eat, drink and gamble and whinge mightily about not being allowed to do more. And the envious and angry come like the wrath of Thor if their fellow Australians cross the line.

The enforcers like to pretend that isn’t really happening, that their draconian regime is one of caring and sharing. Thus they continue to refer to those  incarcerated in their insalubrious hotels – and forced to pay for their detention – as guests, not as the prisoners they are.

The punters, however, don’t d care what euphemisms are used, as long as the bastards are securely locked in.

And with borders, the harder the better. Evaders who cross the barriers must be ruthlessly tracked down arrested and sentenced assuming they have not been lunched by mobs of  the righteous first. But the great contradiction is that there is a constant chorus of complaint  about Australia turning into a quasi-police state. Much of this is driven by money rather than people in real need, but the ideology fits neatly into the neo-liberal demands of the hard right. Their freedoms are at risk: crossing state borders, for instance, is an article of our sacred constitution, not to mention a basic human right. So while we want those who break the rules scourged and reviled, we  also insist that the rules be changed to let us all break free.

Not entirely rational, perhaps. But such is the nature of politics in the time of the plague. And it will take more than a vaccine to jab us back into sanity.

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Mungo MacCallum is a veteran political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy.

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