PM Seeks The Credit, So Cops The Blame

Written by:
20 January 2022
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Originally Appeared In

The problem with running a one-man government is there in the descriptor. All the credit is yours and so is the blame.

Scott Morrison won the 2019 federal election for the Coalition single-handedly. Because history doesn’t allow you to test alternatives, we will never know whether he was the only person who could have led the Coalition to victory, but he and his MPs certainly believe that is the case.

Morrison is the most powerful Liberal leader since John Howard. Tony Abbott might have won twenty-five seats over two campaigns for which he never received much credit, and Malcolm Turnbull’s prime ministership can be described as something he borrowed for personal use. In any case, neither Abbott nor Turnbull quashed dissent and their rivals – either deliberately or not – as Morrison has done.

Abbott did not because it was not in his nature to do so; and even if he had wanted to, Turnbull could not because opposition to him within the Liberal Party was so entrenched it was impossible to eradicate.

The Coalition’s election victory three years ago was Morrison’s alone, in the same way the direction, tenor and achievements of the Coalition’s third term in office are his and those of no-one else.

How Morrison ran the Liberal Party’s election campaign in 2019, and how he has run his administration, is largely how he has run the federal government’s response to COVID-19.

Because Morrison feels uncomfortable talking about issues of philosophy or principal, as premiers were implementing various versions of police states, Liberal MPs basically stayed silent because their leader did too.

Australians are still unaware of whether the prime minister has an opinion about the arrest and handcuffing by the Victoria Police of a mother in her pyjamas for a post on social media – nor do Australians know what most Liberal MPs think about it.

Eventually, and hopefully, there will be a reckoning for the Liberal Party for its abandonment of its supposed commitment to the rule of law during the COVID-19 crisis.

Morrison has put himself front and centre of the federal government’s response to COVID-19. To be fair, basically every political leader throughout the world has attempted to embody their government during the crisis, but some have done so more than others.

Following his infamous remark in December 2019 about bushfire management – “you know, I don’t hold a hose, mate, and I don’t sit in a control room” – the PM seemingly went from him and his government having responsibility for nothing, to taking responsibility for everything when COVID-19 struck.

And the Labor and Liberal premiers and the media have been eager for Morrison to bear that responsibility.

The creation of the national cabinet in March 2020 might have been intended to share responsibility for the management of COVID-19, but the political reality is that it had the opposite effect, as it concentrated that responsibility with the prime minister.

Decisions of the national cabinet stayed binding only for as long as the premiers found it convenient to adhere to them.

The truth is that Scott Morrison as PM should be held no more responsible for the scarcity of rapid antigen tests than he should be if there was a shortage of aspirin.

If anyone is to blame, it is the premiers who have imposed COVID-19 testing requirements without seemingly considering whether to do so was feasible.

The difficulty for the federal government is that while it is trying to communicate this message, it cannot avoid involving itself in the supply of tests, by enacting laws that impose a penalty of up to five years jail for selling a test at more than 120 per cent the price for which it was purchased.

Admittedly, any politician who, in the current political environment, got up in public and said a free market solution to product shortages – whether for rapid antigen tests or anything else – is always a better solution than government-imposed price controls, probably would not remain a politician for long.

The likely fate of any MP who dared to say such a thing neatly encapsulates the condition of the country the virus, the PM and his government have created.

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