News Politics Australian Politics Premiers and a ‘shape-shifting’ PM take a beating in Coronavirus battle
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Premiers and a ‘shape-shifting’ PM take a beating in Coronavirus battle

Photos of Scott Morrison and Dennis Atkins
If any other government pulled the stunts Morrison's has they’d be shamed out of office, writes Dennis Atkins. Photo: Getty/TND
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It feels like these last two weeks have marked a serious inflection point in the progression of Australia’s pandemic experience.

To be blunt, it’s as if we’ve collectively lost our s**t.

It began with Scott Morrison’s late night news conference, Zoomed from The Lodge, after his self-proclaimed world-stage brilliance in talks with Singapore’s Lee Hsien Loong, at the G7 in Cornwall, with Boris Johnson in London and Emanuel Macron in Paris.

Always keen to spot a way out of a tight corner, Morrison gave himself some cover and wriggle room to ramp up the vaccine roll out by saying if you’re under 40 and you want AstraZeneca, check with your GP and see if you can get some kind of permission.

From there the feathers flew, the pigeons were out of the coop and there was bird poop all over the place.

By mid-week, Labor premiers and, in the case of Queensland, health advisers were slamming Morrison.

The debate soon became ragged.

In Brisbane, Annastacia Palaszczuk faced a brittle and nasty news conference in which her ego rubbed up against equally precious personalities in the media pack.

A week later New South Wales Liberal Premier Gladys Berejiklian was subject to a similarly fractious exchange with her local band of reporters.

The Palaszczuk news conference occurred the day after her chief health officer, and governor-in-waiting, Jeannette Young, – a career health administrator – let her inexperience in the science of immunology and epidemiology get the better of her.

Young suggested she knew more than both the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency in the United Kingdom and Australia’s medical regulators, by indicating the AstraZeneca vaccine might kill young Australians.

It was a foolish call by any measure and undid a lot of goodwill built up over a year of good, safe and trustworthy administration (which just happens to be Young’s specialty).

The spiteful Brisbane news conference shocked locals who thought the anger from the media towards the politicians and officials, and in the other direction as well, was doing anything but instilling confidence at a time it was in great need, coming as it did after Queensland’s third “snap” short lockdown for the year.

This week’s Gladys Berejiklian news conference was of a different order but just as ill-fated.

On Tuesday the New South Wales government decided to extend its two week lockdown for another seven days but conspired to keep it from the public until the following morning.

The local media was brought into the circle and given a drop on the news – provided it wasn’t published or broadcast until after midnight.

When journalists turned up for the Premier’s daily reading of the case numbers, they were annoyed they’d been made part of the media strategy. Nastiness resulted.

This ‘aren’t-we-clever media’ stuff has been one of the least attractive developments in this time of pandemic, nowhere more so than in Canberra where the journalists’ drip works harder than a blood bank in a war zone.

After Ms Berejiklian dropped herself in a dunny cart she’d hired, her preferred prime minister came to her rescue.

Morrison emerged for a second news conference in the last fortnight, this time to ostensibly announce the terms of reference and make up of the royal commission into defence and veteran’s suicide.

After belittling this immensely important and serious subject – relegating it to an aside in the news cycle – Morrison demonstrated a preference for NSW over Victoria and Queensland (something he denied bumptiously) by giving out more cash and providing additional vaccine doses.

He did this mainly through a 1500-word salad introduction which contained more double-speak, deflection, diversion and distraction ingredients than you’d find on a shelf of Yotam Ottolenghi recipe books.

Morrison is now so adept at shape-shifting, finger-pointing, excuse-conjuring and shameless denial that he can get away with just about anything.

By yesterday morning the Prime Minister had arrived at a new rhetorical happy place: “And we’re hitting those (vaccination) marks, (which) we need to hit now. And so we keep that up (in) Australia, we get this thing done.”

The Guardian’s Amy Reimikis has outlined a detailed rollout for our vaccine effort tracking the rhetorical twists, the promised and actual delivery and the rubbery nature of it all.

If any other government tried this kind of thing they’d be shamed out of office. With Morrison at the helm we call it par for the course.

Morrison’s one great trick is to constantly keep us confused with his blatherskite style and night-is-day assertions.

A politician who makes Teflon appear sticky, Morrison understands the key to maintaining the public’s general adherence to his bulls***ting ways is to stay one stride of confusion ahead of comprehension.

If the public understood what was going on, he’d be punished in a brutal reckoning.

As an aside, will the Queensland government ever learn how to deal with its citizens trying to get into the state for what are clearly exceptional, compassionate reasons?

After a flurry of these cases prior to the state election last year, Palaszczuk, her then-health minister Steven Miles and Young said a ‘special unit’ would be established to cut through the bureaucratic roadblocks stopping people from seeing a dying relative in hospital or attending a funeral.

This week we saw the latest such case which was, again, handled with the rigid lack of empathy you’d expect from a lumberjack. It surely cannot be that hard to act with compassion and kindness.

The only ray of light in a bleak week is the fall in public support for the three governments who treated their populations like fools.

The Commonwealth, New South Wales and Queensland were all marked down in their handling of the pandemic.

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