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Morrison avoids scrutiny at time when he most warrants it

For instance, Labor has been calling for paid pandemic leave since early in this crisis. Three weeks ago, Morrison dismissed the idea. Not quite two weeks ago, the Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, was asked whether casualisation of the workforce and lack of paid leave were a reason symptomatic people were not isolating. Frydenberg was clear: “That is not what is driving people’s disobedience in relation to some of the restrictions.”

Now, the government appears to be giving paid leave serious consideration. If it had been considered earlier, perhaps fewer people would have gone to work sick.

A lone pedestrian crosses an empty Bourke Street in Melbourne's CBD on Sunday morning.

A lone pedestrian crosses an empty Bourke Street in Melbourne’s CBD on Sunday morning. Credit:Wayne Taylor

Which is not my way of saying that Morrison is to blame for what is unfolding in Victoria. The debate over fault has become stupid, as though in politics there is room for only one villain (who that villain is depends on how you vote).

In a genuine disaster, fault is rarely simple. There may be a single point at which it starts, but to gather sufficient momentum other errors are required. The Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews, is under more pressure than Morrison, and rightly so. His government has stuffed up on at least two fronts, royally.

So Andrews is at fault; but Morrison can be at fault too. The way our nation treats casual workers is on him. And so, too, is the aged care system. Ten per cent of Victoria’s aged care homes have now seen outbreaks. The treatment of some residents has been disgusting.

But what is particularly shameful here is that many of the issues are not new. The Prime Minister, to his credit, ordered a royal commission into aged care. To his discredit, not enough has been done since the scathing interim report.

A resident of St Basil's aged care home in Melbourne is evacuated to hospital on Friday.

A resident of St Basil’s aged care home in Melbourne is evacuated to hospital on Friday.Credit:Justin McManus

Separate reports have focused specifically on problems with the workforce. Remember that Morrison was treasurer for three years and has been Prime Minister for two.

You’d imagine some of these issues would have been raised in federal Parliament, at precisely the moment the public was most focused on them. And the truth is Parliament could have met, over video, say. It is worth imagining, for a moment, what that might have been like, with our politicians in their offices or homes.

There would have been no room for stale theatrics, no cheering to distract from empty platitudes. The pressure on each question from Albanese would have been significant, the pressure on the prime minister to answer clearly, without bluster, even greater.

Perhaps, in the current circumstances, more Australians would have watched. And perhaps now it’s obvious why Morrison might not have been so keen.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison addresses the media on July 30.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison addresses the media on July 30. Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

A reasonable question is: why are we so obsessed with blame? And a reasonable answer is: because our politicians do everything they can to avoid it. This is true of all politicians, but Morrison has been particularly good at it, across his entire career. At a purely political level, a surprising thing about the bushfire period was that Morrison was caught out. “I don’t hold a hose, mate” not only failed to function as an excuse, it doubled back and hit him as an accusation.

A mistake like that never goes away entirely. It becomes a template; if you make the same mistake again, the original response is reactivated. Morrison edged close to this danger in recent days, with his language about a “Victorian wave”, before halfway righting himself.

Albanese has been onto it, saying Morrison has to take responsibility for aged care. He’s right, but this is a little bloodless, isn’t it? The potency of the bushfire failing was not about lines of responsibility. Its power was the suspicion that it said something about Morrison himself.

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The escalation in Victoria has made the recent grim economic update seem Pollyanna-ish. Labor has now begun calling for the recently announced reductions to JobKeeper and JobSeeker to be changed too. Most of us don’t know anyone who has had the virus. We do know people who have lost jobs. The smart thing would be to heed Labor’s calls on the payments, too.

This Thursday, the Victorian inquiry into hotel quarantine will hear from its first witness. The following week a Victorian parliamentary committee will be holding separate hearings and Andrews may appear. Another coincidence, perhaps, but all this will be happening while the scheduled parliamentary sitting isn’t. All the attention will be on Andrews. Just the way the Prime Minister likes it.

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