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Border feud exposes cracks in the cabinet

Cynics suggested the national cabinet was little more than a rhetorical name-change by the PM and that its forerunner’s deep-rooted character flaws would inevitably surface.

However, in its first weeks and even months, the Prime Minister, premiers and chief ministers all appeared to successfully enlist in an accord of unity and solidarity, tackling the challenges of COVID through the national cabinet process.

The first fractures started to appear after the second wave of coronavirus struck Victoria, destroying hopes of a low death toll and rapid economic recovery for the whole country.

While Mr Morrison publicly avoided criticising the performance of Daniel Andrews’ government – and its hotel quarantine debacle – the PM’s lieutenants, especially those from Victoria, were not so restrained.

The devastating and deadly second return of COVID to Victoria also meant the internal boundaries of Australia became increasingly defined by winners and losers in the battle against coronavirus, further splitting national cabinet.

Economic pressures of a sustained pandemic have forced fissures between the leaders.

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On Friday, the PM acknowledged that consensus was unachievable. The echoes from six months earlier – that self-interest would be in the national cabinet’s DNA – were ringing as Western Australia refused to sign up to a plan to reopen as much as possible by December. With a state election due in March, Premier Mark McGowan was responding to the popularity of the hard-border lockdown.

And while Mr Morrison claimed that Queensland was “on the bus” with the plan, Annastacia Palaszczuk rang the bell when she took to Twitter later that night to say she didn’t agree to the federal government’s hotspot definition and “I agree with WA – our borders protect our health and our economy”.

Like Mr McGowan, Ms Palaszczuk is facing an election – not six months away but in fewer than 60 days.

And like in WA, the polls are showing strong support for her border stance.

Paul Keating also quipped: Never get between a Premier and a bucket of money.

He could have added a bucket of votes. And bugger consensus.

Scott Emerson is the 4BC Drive host. He was a senior minister in the LNP government in Queensland and a senior journalist at the ABC and The Australian.

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