Jab, jab, on the hook

You could call it many things but the kindest is probably incompetence. Melbourne is once again in lockdown because of incompetence.

Lying, Scott Morrison says: “Our best defence is the steadfast resilience of the Australian people.”

He says the country will get through this outbreak by working together and staying focused on the problem, without mentioning that the problem is his handling of the vaccine rollout.

This is the best defence, not some vague nationalism, and responsibility for it rests squarely with him.

The federal government continues to say it is “comfortable” with the vaccine numbers, as if they found the language of the Howard years in an old box and are playing dress-ups with it.

But for everything wrong with the Howard government – and there was a lot – it was run by a competent professional. Morrison is not that. He is the subcommittee chair of a suburban netball club buffooning his way through an office to which he should never have risen.

Luck is the cliché of Australian politics, and through much of this pandemic it has been there: a compliant, engaged populace; island borders; examples from abroad of the virus before it came here. But luck cannot hold forever and it was wasted on a government that did nothing with it, that did not build a robust quarantine system and that failed to secure or deliver a comprehensive vaccine program.

The virus now shuttering Victoria is a highly infectious variant, running faster than before. One person is already on a ventilator. There are 10,000 primary and secondary contacts and more than 150 exposure sites. Those numbers will grow.

The simple fact, Victoria’s acting premier, James Merlino, says, is that the rollout has been too slow: “It’s not where we hoped it would be. It’s not where it should be.”

He makes clear what he means by that: “This is the Commonwealth’s vaccination program. They are responsible for supply.” His Health minister agrees: “Vaccination is really our only ticket out of this.”

The rollout of this vaccine has been politicised from the start. The federal government has assumed controls it doesn’t exercise in any other settings. It has messed up supply and stoked hesitancy. Its love of private tenders has left key aspects unfulfilled. Its love of secrecy has made others totally opaque, even to experts.

Morrison wanted something to announce. He hoarded responsibilities because they came with photo ops. But the longer it has gone on the more obviously ill equipped he is to deliver. The tricks don’t work. Claims of commercial in confidence do not stall transmission. The imaginary queue that served him as Immigration minister is now simply a symbol of unmet promises. We are at the front of nothing except another painful lockdown and we have only the federal government to blame.

You could call that incompetence. You could call it a lot worse, too.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 29, 2021 as "Jab, jab, on the hook".

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