OPINION

Scott Morrison's road to re-election is getting more difficult

HOLLOW: Scott Morrison continues to duck and weave, but won't avoid responsibility forever. Picture: Karleen Minney
HOLLOW: Scott Morrison continues to duck and weave, but won't avoid responsibility forever. Picture: Karleen Minney

The Morrison government's sole motivation is re-election - its daily actions and statements are almost entirely political. It is not about delivering good government, solving problems or, heaven forbid, leading against a longer-term strategy.

The daily focus is to control the politics of the day, to win the media, with announcements and stunts. If events unfold beyond this, the initial reaction is to claim "nothing to be seen here".

If that fails, then it will do as little as it can get away with in response.

At all times, it simply ducks responsibility, hoping to minimise scrutiny and accountability.

Press and parliamentary scrutiny are being increasingly suppressed by the way press conferences are conducted and interviews chosen, while Question Time is less and less "answer time" and increasingly just a platform to bag the Opposition and other opponents.

In these terms, we can all be appalled - but not surprised - at how the government is responding to another outbreak of the virus in Victoria, one that has been compounded by the failures in the vaccine rollout, has links to failures in hotel quarantine, and risks spreading at an alarming pace among the aged and disabled.

The government seems to have learned little from past experience.

The vaccine rollout has been defined by boasting, and creating false expectations, but failing to deliver.

It is particularly hard to understand the government's inability to say how many aged care works and patients have actually been vaccinated, especially when they had claimed this as a priority.

It seems while there has been a focus on aged patients, leaving "leftovers" for staff, little has been done about vaccinating the aged in home care.

The government has tried to say that it shared responsibility with the state, when aged care is its clear responsibility

Similarly, the government also still ducks its clear, constitutional, responsibility for quarantine - the need for which was clearly established with the first arrival of the flight from Wuhan in mid-January last year.

Hard to understand their sustained stubbornness to build and manage purpose-built, quarantine centres, outside capital cities, except for having been forced to use Howard Springs.

It's just so hollow to continue to blame the states. It is inconceivable the government can contemplate opening international borders without such facilities - but, of course, it has pushed that issue off until after the next election.

The government's response to the damning report of the Aged Care Royal Commission, which highlighted the consequences of decades of neglect and called for a sustained, five-year reform agenda - has been little better than electoral box ticking, just to be seen to be responding but not to fully address some key issues. Just enough to distract through the next election.

Sure, the recent budget committed a lot of money, but only about half that called for by the Royal Commission, and it was funded by debt raising an important funding question for the future (as with childcare, the NDIS, mental illness and so on).

There was little commitment to genuine reform. Improved worker training is welcome, but nothing was done to increase their wages.

The impact of the virus in nursing homes in the big wave in Victoria last year should have been instructive.

Yet complacency soon set in.

Last November, the government stepped back from its previous requirement limiting the mobility of workers across nursing homes as they sought to increase their income, only to find it an important factor again this time in the spread of the virus.

Of course, Morrison expects to be able ride this out, as he did with the bushfires, drawing on his personal popularity, incumbency and an Opposition having difficulty to cut through.

He will focus on economic management, peppered with distracting events such as visits to New Zealand and the G7.

While economic growth and employment numbers have run well, they will be harder to sustain moving forward, as with the drop in March quarter GDP growth.

The last unemployment number only fell because 60,000 workers gave up looking for work - employment actually fell by 30,000.

All this says an early election, certainly before Morrison is pressured for genuine climate action, leading up to COP26 in November - even earlier if the virus continues to misbehave, and tension mounts with the states and business. Even with his "Quiet Australians", who he takes for granted.

John Hewson is a professor at the Crawford School of Public Policy, ANU, and a former Liberal opposition leader.

This story Hewson's View | Scott Morrison's road to re-election is getting more difficult first appeared on The Canberra Times.