Morrison asked Andrews on Monday to suspend elective surgery but the Premier resisted. The two leaders traded text messages through the day but the Premier’s answer had not changed on Monday night.
Only on Tuesday morning, after Morrison pushed again, did Andrews announce the decision. He did so with a message that highlighted his reluctance.
“The Commonwealth have asked for assistance and that’s exactly what we will offer,” Andrews said. He made the point four times. It made sense to tell Victorians he did not want to stop elective surgery, but his words raised a question. Did he have to be asked before he took more action to save lives?
In fact, Andrews had asked for options on Sunday and this included the suspension of elective surgery (and, in turn, followed a halt to some surgery two weeks ago). The time from federal request to state action was less than 24 hours.
Morrison, meanwhile, pledged more assistance for Victoria. The verbal positioning was obvious: those who offer help can look strong while those who receive it are meant to take the lead – and responsibility.
What was missing from this picture was the help required months ago.
The federal government is responsible for private aged care facilities and was meant to regulate the sector to learn the lessons from the first wave of the pandemic, when 19 died at the Newmarch House aged care home in western Sydney.
Yet the Victorian crisis has revealed the same problems as the earlier outbreak: underpaid workers, on casual rates, turning up for work with the infection and then moving between aged care centres.
Morrison was asked as far back as April to fund paid pandemic leave to encourage workers on low incomes to stay home when sick, but the debate over this has run for months.
Only on July 19 did the federal government offer a $1500 payment for aged care workers who had to quarantine. It also said it would do more to stop workers being “shared” across multiple centres. But this came too late.
Even now, after the Fair Work Commission has ordered paid pandemic leave, it is not clear whether the federal government will help carry the cost.
The original Victorian failure, the breakdown in hotel quarantine, now has a spiralling cost and a clear culprit: the security guards and the state agencies that put them in place.
It will take an inquiry to uncover everything that has gone wrong in aged care.
Those who support Morrison or Andrews have an easy but simplistic answer that loads the responsibility onto one leader or another.
The reality is more complex. The dangers in Victorian nursing homes are spreading faster because the lessons from NSW were not learnt in time. Andrews and Morrison have to share that result. And they both have to find the solution.
David Crowe is chief political correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.