Here’s a dirty little secret about Australians wanting to return home that’s actually not a secret: there is no queue.
A “queue” suggests some sort of orderly arranging of applicants, like the mythical “queue” asylum seekers were supposed to join to come here.
People trying to fly to Australia – whether citizens and residents wanting to return to their country, movie stars, junketing politicians, holidaying diplomats, tourists or business people – don’t join a queue.
By and large, if they meet standard visa requirements, they all just book their seats with airlines and take their chances.
Those who can afford to fly first or business class are, understandably, given the best chance. With Friday’s fiat halving of the arrivals cap, chances at any price just became slimmer.
This is one of the Morrison government’s big failures in its responsibilities for border control and quarantine – it has never taken responsibility to order and prioritise arrivals.
Officers of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade overseas can apply some diplomatic pressure on airlines to ensure particularly desperate cases aren’t bumped, and some cities have had charter flights, but they are the minority.
‘Look over there! Foreigners!’
What happened to “we’ll decide who comes here and the manner in which they come”?
The federal government dodging responsibility for arrivals opened the door for this week’s theatrical performances by the obvious premiers, happily deflecting quarantine leakages – “Look over there! Foreigners!”
Coming on top of his government’s vaccine failure, the Morrison dog was easily wagged by the increasingly parochial premiers.
Yet the knee-jerk halving of arrivals was not accompanied by taking any firmer responsibilities. We’ve slipped from “targets” (abandoned) and “plans” (too specific) to “horizons” and now to “strategies”.
That’s the administrative equivalence of “hopes and prayers”. More weasel words from #Scottyfrommarketing.
And of course the whole schemozzle at this stage rests on what Malcolm Turnbull reasonably described as the Morrison government’s “phenomenal failure” in public administration.
If there’s a horse race and you simply must back the winner, you bet on all the horses.
Cause for a royal commission
In the COVID-19 vaccine race, there are two dominant technologies. The Morrison government effectively went all in on just one of them – and it hasn’t proven to be the winner.
If four deaths related to the GFC Pink Batts program were worth a royal commission, botching our vaccine rollout, failing the “first in the queue” claim, must be worth a dozen.
The federal government has been left to scramble for supplies of the superior vaccines which, along with confused messaging, has reduced us to last place in the developed world when it comes to vaccination.
Even now, it seems somewhere over the “horizon” and in the “strategy” there are glaring failures you don’t have to be an epidemiologist to appreciate.
Combine the reportedly lesser efficacy of the AZ vaccine with the expected percentage of Australians who don’t want to be vaccinated and it doesn’t add up to herd immunity. No wonder the government can’t specify the vaccination levels for its “four-phase strategy”.
Yet it is not a requirement for those entering Australia to be vaccinated.
The fourth phase of the Prime Minister’s strategy includes unlimited arrivals of unvaccinated travellers with pre- and post-flight testing without quarantine.
Reducing the risk
Right now, given that international travellers are the source of our COVID outbreaks and that being fully vaccinated reduces (but does not eliminate) the chance of those travellers bringing in the virus, a first step in reducing outbreaks would be to ban unvaccinated travellers.
While we remain travel-restricted and await full availability of Pfizer, it would make most sense to prioritise the doses we do have to Australian embassies and consulates and deploy the necessary facilities and medicos there to ensure anyone wanting to fly here is fully vaccinated. (Someone suggested that way back in December, obviously to no avail.)
I’ve not heard anyone credibly suggest COVID is simply going to pack its tent and fade away. More likely, it will remain with us indefinitely. The hope is that vaccinated people will not get it as much, particularly if the overwhelming majority of the population is vaccinated, and if they do get it, it will be less serious for their health.
Many of the unvaccinated will get very sick and some of them will die, at a great cost to our health system in the process.
At present, the only thing you’re not allowed to die from in Australia is COVID.
You’re allowed to be among the 1100 or so who are killed in car accidents here each year – otherwise cars would be banned.
Medicos, bureaucrats and politicians routinely make decisions about how many and which people are allowed to die from what.
The Morrison government has had some successes in handling this pandemic, but also some major failures. Those failures have encouraged various shades of populist politics to overrun policy, setting up expectations that can only end up not being met, betraying plans and targets to horizons and strategies.