Rumours have been flying around Canberra this week of a possible early election. Like almost everyone else, I had assumed that Scott Morrison would want to put as much space as possible between these disastrous Covid outbreaks and the election. But reading the news today it became quite clear to me that his best chances of winning this election are sooner, rather than later. And I think his team know that too.
But doesn’t the current disaster of the Berejiklian-Morrison outbreak rule out an early election? Well that’s one line of thinking. Another is that at least in the next couple of months Morrison can go to the polls on the promise of a reopening plan. If he waits until next year, the potentially grim reality of reopening and “living with COVID” — thousands of deaths, hospitals not coping (which can be blamed on the states anyway), young and vaccinated people dying in the name of letting Qantas fly, another recession — will become all too apparent.
The promise of ending lockdowns is always going to be better than the reality of ending lockdowns. But geeze, doesn't the idea of ending lockdowns sound good?
Rachel Withers in the Monthly lays out the increasingly clear campaign plan from the Liberals:
Scott Morrison is playing a clever game with his crude messaging on the “national plan”, creating an overly simplistic dichotomy between lockdowns and freedom, fear and hope, and Labor and the Coalition, ahead of the next election. While Doherty Institute modelling allows for targeted lockdowns once the 70 and 80 per cent vaccination thresholds are met, the PM has portrayed the Labor premiers who reserve the right to use such measures as backing away from the national plan – and he’s hammering federal Labor with it too.
Australians are hurting in lockdown, and are desperately looking for a light at the end of the tunnel. Last year, elimination was an achievable goal that made lockdowns bearable. The combination of the Delta variant's increased potency, Gladys Berejiklian's complacency, and Scott Morrison's over-eagerness to reopen the economy has all but taken elimination off the table and left people grasping for hope that joy is around the corner. While it may well be true that Scott Morrison is to blame for this situation with the slow vaccine rollout and lack of purpose built quarantine facilities, a weary public is more desperate for a way out of these seemingly endless lockdowns.
Scott Morrison is going to try selling hope while portraying Labor as fearful holdouts from a world ready to move on. He will use the equivocations from state Labor Premiers as proof that under Labor, there is no hope of lockdowns ending anytime soon. It's gonna be bloody persuasive and Labor isn't at all ready for it.
Labor can't rely on Morrison's previous failings to deliver them this election. With more and more people getting vaccinated every day, the slow vaccination rollout becomes a far less potent line of attack. Hotel quarantine failings are, by 2021 standards, ancient history. Labor need to offer their own version of a hopeful future if they are to beat off these attacks from Morrison.
We all want to be safe from this virus so that we can go back to doing the things that we love. Scott Morrison wants to gamble our children's long term health on an early reopening that will be a disaster for our healthcare system and the economy. But as fatigue from this crisis grows and more people struggle to survive without decent income support, it's a gamble more people might be willing to take. Labor needs to show they have a plan for keeping us safe from the virus and get us back to living our lives.
Labor need a plan -- with a timeline -- for safely restarting our lives. A plan that includes getting people back into meaningful work with a huge boost in public services. A plan that includes visionary public infrastructure projects that begin the work of solving the climate crisis. A plan to ensure that our health system is ready for the next pandemic while providing world leading health care to everyone in the meantime.
We want to rebuild the fabric of our lives with family, friends, music, sport and culture and Labor need a plan for reopening that is more hopeful than Scott Morrison's. And they need a plan for smarter, not harder lockdowns to manage Covid outbreaks in the meantime.
Labor have obviously decided on a small target strategy for this election. But Scott Morrison is a better aim than they give him credit for and they need a better plan.
When Labor refuse to take up space, they simply cede that air to Scott Morrison. And he is more than happy to fill that space with his own narrative. An early election is far from a gift to Labor, and they need to get on the front foot before Morrison backs them into a corner.