Pre 2020, I considered Scott Morrison a political enemy of the policies I wanted for Australia, but since then have sympathised with every attempt he has made to get Australia out of its love-affair with covid-mania. Over the fold is my take on what I think Scott Morrison’s view of the covid-period is and the dilemma that he now faces.
I see it as very likely that Morrison’s view of the last 16 months is nearly identical to that of his predecessor Tony Abbott and hence almost the same view as mine: this has been a mass-hysteria that has lead to the emergence of more nationalistic crowds that have done immense damage to themselves in a sacrificial reflex towards a minor threat. I think it likely Scott Morrison would have liked to have had the policies of Florida or Texas as they became at the end of 2020, which means to be totally open for business, to have schools and hospitals function normally, and to treat covid as no more than a severe flu.
Instead, Scott Morrison finds himself at the helm of a country with a population largely wedded to extremely destructive policies, wherein even normally sensible intellectuals are running with the modern variant of the idea that “one has to do something”, namely that not to panic was not an option they could call for. To politically survive, Morrison has had to go along with it all, teeth gnashingly increasing the national debt at a phenomenal rate, closing the borders to most students and skilled migrants, pretending not to see the damage to school children and the lonely, and ignoring the pleas of his business buddies in the airline and hospitality industries. He finds himself with a population that in various State elections rewarded a totally unsustainable set of policies that are simply making the country less healthy, less educated, and closer to bankruptcy.
So, instead of being able to open up to the world, Morrison is asked to preside over the opening up of federal quarantine camps. Instead of keeping state borders open, he has to cajole and bargain with state governments frequently doing the opposite in their own attempt to gain popularity at the expense of the actual wellbeing of their own population and the national purse. Only the unexpected 250% increase in the prices for iron ore, Australia’s biggest export product, has shielded Morrison from the full financial repercussions of the choices made, but that has proven a mixed blessing as it has also meant he has less of an excuse to stop printing money to buy off dissent.
His hopes were probably on the vaccines proving to be the wonder weapon that would allow him to declare victory and open up soon. But he bet on the wrong one and it now in any case turns out that these vaccines are not as useful as hoped for, with well-publicised deadly side-effects and the high likelihood that new mutations will arise that go ‘around’ the vaccines. He must have watched in horror as the most-vaccinated country in Europe (the UK) is seeing increased case-numbers again, during summer-time no less (though I bet he, like me, suspects a strategic change in test-regime)!
What is he to do? Play to the public and go all tough-guy, calling for national school shutdowns and the like at the first hint of anyone in the country sneezing? The danger of that strategy is that if the population comes to its senses, he is going to blamed as the top-man who did stupid things. Besides, it is bad for the country and risks locking Australia up for years to come in an unending cycle of (local) lockdowns and unaffordable subsidies for those told to stay home. It would build up even more underlying political tension. His business buddies wont like it.
What then? Go the full North-Korea and attempt in the coming years to build an economy without physical interaction with most of the rest of the world? Export iron ore in stead of bronze statues, which are the prime export article of N-Korea? The problem with emulating North-Korea is that one then gradually becomes as poor as N-Korea. Does Morrison really want to be Kim-Yong-Scott, the First of His Name, Maker of Chains, Father of Job-keeper? Surely unlikely.
Maybe go the full Florida then right after the next election and use all the powers of the Commonwealth to open up Australia, no matter what the States and opposition politicians say? The danger in that is that he and his party might then be branded as traitors and murderers. Indeed, that accusation is then pretty much a certainty, a gamble that only pays off if the number of visible covid-deaths is close to zero in the reopening years. That’s an awfully risky thing to do for someone who needs to keep his parliamentary colleagues on board. One might even say courageous. Thus politically impossible.
Muddle on, trying to resist the covid-mania on the sly, such as via media-buddies, the pronouncement of a former Prime Minister, and high-profile business buddies? That is pretty much what he has done so far and it has to be the front-runner for what he is going to do the next 12 months.
Here is thus what I think Morrison and his government will do: muddle on with vaccines so that he can’t be blamed too much either way; grab whatever can be grabbed; try to distract the population by talking up other fears (of China and such); hope the resource boom will last; hope hyper-inflation wont come, but keep printing money to pay for the impossible expectations of the population; reward the right mates who can protect him in the media and in key constituencies; and hope the population comes to its senses as it sees the fruits of returning normality in the US (which is opening up rapidly now) and parts of Europe.