Just 24 hours ago, the Authority’s annual Financial Review List bragged about the fact that for the first time in the list’s 21-year history, the prime minister was not seen as the most powerful person in the country.
Instead, it was four prime ministers — Gladys Berejiklian, Daniel Andrews, Anastasia Palaszczuk, and Mark McGowan — who run our lives.
But by lunchtime on publication day, Berejiklian — often adopted as the gold standard for epidemic management by Scott Morrison — was gone.
The woman who was described as ‘save Australia’ on last year’s powerhouse list couldn’t save herself.
Having survived the COVID outbreak crisis in her state that saw its citizens shut down for four months, but finally saw case numbers plummet and vaccination rates soar, the NSW Prime Minister has been rolled back by a system designed to uphold standards of public integrity: the one he won’t agree to. Its federal counterparts, and in a growing number of frustrating cases, will be lucky to survive.
The prime minister literally raced before her announcement to make sure everyone heard a few of his words.
The Prime Minister gave a press conference to announce a cabinet reshuffle in his ministry, and to open international borders from next month, to ensure that his news would be published at least before it was overwhelmed by events in Sydney.
Despite doing so, he said he could not answer questions about Berejiklian’s resignation because: “I am not aware of the circumstances or … what the prime minister said, so I am at a disadvantage to be able to answer that question.”
Scott Morrison’s Quarantine System.
Morrison does a lot of racing
Race through the ads like a man with a plane to catch.
Angus Taylor – who has been the subject of questions about his ministerial standards on a number of occasions – has been given Christian Porter’s old job, in addition to the energy and emissions reduction jobs he already holds, after Porter was forced to step down because he couldn’t or wouldn’t say where the legal funding came up to a million dollars.
Most of the other promotions were forgotten, other than the prime minister’s reasons for granting them. Victorian MP Tim Wilson, for example, was rewarded because “before the last election, there was no one more zealous to champion the cause when it came to the pensioner tax”. It would be a political campaign against Labour’s proposed changes to the profit accounting system.
And there was an opening of international borders by November to announce, too.
Scott Morrison is doing a lot of racing right now. Racing to beat Berejiklian in the news cycle, racing to persuade states to lift lockdowns, and racing to open international borders. “It’s time to bring Australians back to life,” he said repeatedly on Friday.
This is the dynamic that increasingly appears to be running the government. The New South Wales Liberal Party moved this week to present its initial federal choices. Prime Ministers note some zeal in their dealings with the Prime Minister at national cabinet meetings in the way he pressures them to open things up, regardless of the case numbers.
The Queensland prime minister frankly indicated on Friday that the national cabinet had not received any briefing papers on plans to open the international border, even though the story has been widely reported to the media.
And the government announced this week that it will end emergency payments in the three jurisdictions where those payments are made – New South Wales, Victoria and the ACT – once vaccination rates reach 80 per cent.
Who runs the country?
The argument is that such payments cannot go on forever. Fair enough too. Except that this creates enormous uncertainty for the roughly 2 million people who are currently receiving these payments.
According to data collected by Anti-Poverty Week, there are currently 1,906 million people receiving disaster payments or enhanced welfare payments, and 1050,000 of them are in NSW.
The plan is that these payments will start to decline one week after the 80 per cent vaccination rate is achieved. Payments range from $750 per week to $450. The only problem is that very few people would assume that at the 80 percent figure, companies immediately open up again and rehire their old hours.
It’s probably more messy than that. But putting such harsh conditions on termination of payments is designed to pressure states to lift the shutdown as quickly as possible. More races.
Nor is the sudden reopening of international borders likely to be entirely smooth. It will take a long time to get the planes and systems up and running.
But the prime minister is counting on all of these things happening smoothly enough so that people feel they are getting their lives back. All this will add to the impression that it is the prime minister who is running the country again, and not the prime ministers.
That would put him in a good place to go to the election, and it’s hard to get past the impression that all of this race — all decisions — are now being pushed as a race toward polling day.
The risks to the government – but more importantly, the risks to the country – are that all of this race will leave us vulnerable on a number of fronts, particularly the federal government’s poor record of managing almost anything during this pandemic.
It leaves people who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own vulnerable to losing financial support. It leaves the health system and hospital vulnerable to a spike in cases.
New South Wales remains crucial to the government
Queensland Health Minister Yvette Dath revealed on Friday that: “Every health minister from every state and territory has signed a letter to the Commonwealth Minister of Health, Greg Hunt, and said: ‘We need additional funding, we need to share 50-50 funding’.
“We have secured a funding guarantee under COVID through June 30,” Dath said. “This has now stopped. This needs to be restarted.”
It will be hard to listen to him when everyone is in a hurry.
New South Wales remains crucial to the political fortunes of the federal government. It is therefore unfortunate, as columnist Nikki Savva reported a few weeks ago, that the Prime Minister described the New South Wales Treasurer and Dominic Perrottet the Prime Minister as “savvy” in a heated phone call about Beirut’s repeated calls to reinstate JobKeeper.
The prime minister is in such a hurry – and so busy dealing with COVID – that he doesn’t even think he has time to go to the climate change talks in Glasgow.
Morrison’s message of hope resonates with swing voters. Focus group discussions reveal hesitation about a vaccine, fear of serious illness has decreased, and there is general optimism about the economy.
Voters remain sad about the Prime Minister’s administration to launch a vaccine and quarantine, but feel we have reached a point where the country is looking to get out of the worst of it.
And in all of this, Labor vanishes: its message that Scott Morrison had only two jobs to do quickly became irrelevant, and he distanced himself from the national security debate.
One politician fell this week. Another has a glimmer in his eye.
Laura Tingle is the chief political correspondent at 7.30.