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After a slow and delayed start, vaccination rates across Australia are finally gaining momentum, with NSW and Victoria hitting 80 percent and 70 percent single dose targets this week.

Does anyone trust Scott Morrison?



After a slow and delayed start, vaccination rates across Australia are finally gaining momentum, with NSW and Victoria hitting 80 percent and 70 percent single dose targets this week.

The targets were reached despite a confusing rollout, riddled with mixed messages from the federal government.

Today, columnist for The Saturday Paper Paul Bongiorno on whether the Morrison government has the trust and credibility to maintain the goodwill of the Australian public throughout the rest of the pandemic.

 

Guest: Columnist for The Saturday Paper, Paul Bongiorno.

 

Show Transcript

[Theme Music Starts]

 

RUBY: 

From Schwartz Media, I’m Ruby Jones. This is 7am.

After a slow start, vaccination rates across Australia are finally gaining momentum, with Victoria and New South Wales reaching single dose vaccination targets of 70 and 80 percent. Those targets were reached despite a confusing rollout, riddled with mixed messages from the federal government.

Today, columnist for The Saturday Paper, Paul Bongiorno, on whether the Morrison government has the trust and credibility to maintain the goodwill of the Australian public through the rest of the pandemic.

It’s Friday September 17.

[Theme Music Ends]

RUBY:
Paul, this week we've seen both Victoria and New South Wales racing towards their vaccination targets. We do seem to be getting closer. How is it all looking?

PAUL:
Well, that's right, Ruby. This week, New South Wales reached its milestone, 80 percent of people with one dose of the vaccine. And the New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian was so pleased about that, she broke her self-imposed absence from daily Covid briefings to trumpet the achievement. 

Archival Tape -- Gladys Berejiklian:
“Good morning everyone, it’s pleasing to be out at Qudos Bank Arena today, a vaccination hub where over 210,000 people have been vaccinated in New South Wales and pleasingly today, our state hits the milestone of 80% first dose vaccination.” 

PAUL:
And Victoria isn't far behind, regional Victoria has surpassed 70 percent and Melbourne's at 64.9 percent and climbing. 

Archival Tape -- Unidentified Reporter:
“John Frewen. Welcome back to breakfast.” 

Archival Tape -- John Frewen:
“Thanks Fran and good to be with you.” 

PAUL:
And Morison's vaccine logistics expert, General John Frewen, says he's confident Australia can get to the 70 percent double dose vaccine target in October 

Archival Tape -- John Frewen:
“On the current projections, it is possible to get to 80 percent this year. But the variable here is people and people's preparedness to get vaccinated. I said that the numbers look encouraging, but I've just, you know, watching overseas experience getting from 70 to 80 is hard work. So I'm not going to, you know, be sort of complacent or count those chickens just yet.”

PAUL:
He says, though, it depends on the public stepping forward, but some places have managed it and managed to open up accordingly. The experience of Denmark in this regard is instructive. 

RUBY:
Can you tell me more about that? What is the situation in Denmark right now?

PAUL:
Well, Ruby, this week Denmark reached 86 percent of the population aged over 12 fully vaccinated and 96 percent of everyone over 50 similarly covered 

Archival Tape -- Unidentified Reporter:
“Denmark has lifted all domestic pandemic restrictions, the first European Union member nation to do so, the government credits a high vaccination rate…”

PAUL:
And that meant it ended all domestic restrictions, but still left in place strict border kerbs. They still want to keep the virus out. Well, they had their freedom day. For Danes, life is back to normal.

Archival Tape -- Unidentified Reporter:
“Fun is back in Denmark. Families are flocking to the famous Tivoli amusement park in Copenhagen as if Corona had never existed.”

PAUL:
Though their government is warning them the epidemic is under control, but it hasn't gone away. But to get to those high numbers, Ruby, they had something that we don't. 

RUBY:
And what's that, Paul? 

PAUL:
Credible leadership. According to Danish political scientist Michael Bang Peterson, that is crucial. 

Archival Tape -- Michael Bang Peterson:
“First of all, the Danish health authorities have been communicating very transparently throughout the pandemic. So they have acknowledged mistakes, they have acknowledged dilemmas, uncertainties, while at the same time.”

PAUL:
He worked with the Hope Project set up to study covid management and behaviour in the pandemic.  Bang Peterson says the best predictor in Denmark and elsewhere of vaccine acceptance is trust in the authorities' management  of the pandemic. 

Archival Tape -- Michael Bang Peterson:
“I also think that the Danish government, the political side, has been important. They really took it, took it on them to show leadership and…”

PAUL:
The key, he says, to upholding this trust is transparency of communication, even if the message is unpleasant. 

RUBY:
Ok and so that's something that we've struggled with here in Australia, Paul, there isn’t a high level of trust at the moment. 

PAUL:
Well, that's right. Public and private polling suggests the Prime Minister and his government have lost that trust. One national pollster with myriad corporate clients cited by Denis Atkins' in the online news site in Queensland found that Australians no longer give Morrison the benefit of the doubt and think he's on the make all the time. For an increasing number of Australians Morrison's worn out his welcome and contributing to this dim view of the prime minister, his ability to spin a new position of vaccines every week, sometimes two in seven days. Atkins sums up the findings, saying the general sentiment is Morrison should have acted more quickly on getting vaccines, and everything he's done since has been a mix of ducking responsibility and blaming someone else. Well, midweek, Morrison appeared to be ducking responsibility to ensure the highest standards of transparency and accountability from one of his own senior ministers. The Prime Minister had no ready answers for the extraordinary revelation that his industry minister and former attorney general Christian Porter had received an undisclosed amount of money from donors whose identities he claimed he didn't know. 

RUBY:
We'll be back in a moment.

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RUBY:
Paul, let's talk some more about Christian Porter and this money that he's received from anonymous donors. What do we know about the funds? 

PAUL:
The donations, Ruby, were to help defray legal expenses and his withdrawn defamation suit against the ABC for reporting allegations that at the age of 17, he had raped a debating teammate who has since taken her own life. He continues to deny these allegations. Porter hired some of the nation's most expensive barristers and solicitors to represent him, and his legal fees are estimated to be in the vicinity of one million dollars. Of this week, Porter declared in the parliamentary register of Members interests, he'd received money from a blind trust that he claims to know nothing about, or who its members and donors are.

RUBY:
Right, and so how believable is that, Paul, that Christian Porter doesn't know who is paying into this trust? And if he doesn't, isn't that a problem? Should he be accepting money for his legal defence from people that he doesn't know? 

PAUL:
Well exactly, Ruby. Malcolm Turnbull, who appointed Porter to be the first law officer in the land, is outraged at the effrontery.

Archival Tape -- Unidentified Reporter:
“Malcolm Turnbull, welcome back to breakfast.”

Archival Tape -- Malcolm Turnbull:
“Thank you Fran, good morning.” 

PAUL:
Turnbull says it's like saying my legal fees were paid by a guy in a mask who dropped off a chaff bag full of cash. 

Archival Tape -- Malcolm Turnbull:
“Political parties can't take money from anonymous donors. If you walk into the Liberal Party, you know, with a bag over your head and a bag full of cash. And say I want to make this donation. They won't, they can't accept it.” 

PAUL:
Turnbull says Porter's ploy flies in the face of every principle of transparency and accountability in public life. 

Archival Tape -- Malcolm Turnbull:
“You can't make anonymous cash donations to political parties. That's against the law.” 

PAUL:
And the parliamentary register is similarly designed to safeguard against conflict of interest and peddling of influence. 

Archival Tape -- Malcolm Turnbull:
“This is, this flings open the door to such extraordinary, you know, abrogation of responsibility and accountability. It is, it honestly cannot stand. There should be absolute outrage about this because otherwise, you know, you will have cabinet ministers, governments, essentially taking money directly in a manner that a political party is not able to under the law.” 

PAUL:
Turnbull said if Porter didn't know where the money came from, he shouldn't have accepted it because it opens the way for debts to be repaid in the donor's interest down the track. 

Archival Tape -- Malcolm Turnbull:
“This is an absolute affront and I am staggered that Porter thought he could get away with it and I will be the most staggered if the Prime Minister allows this to stand. It is a shocking affront to transparency.” 

PAUL:
Of course, the potential for corruption is absolutely obvious. Labour leader Anthony Albanese says the idea he doesn't know how random people out there just somehow discovered the trust and deposited the money with no knowledge to him is, to quote him, quite frankly, just unbelievable and absurd. He said it was time Scott Morrison took action. 

RUBY:
Hmm. But Scott Morrison has stood by a Christian Porter at every stage of this, hasn't he? So it seems unlikely that he would take action now. 

PAUL:
Well, that's true. Morrison has stood behind every appalling misjudgement Porter has made since the historic rape allegations surfaced, including equating the aborted defamation trial as the correct legal process to establish Porter's fitness for office. When the trial failed to materialise, the Prime Minister merely moved Porter to another senior portfolio, rejecting calls for an independent enquiry into his fitness for high office. Morrison's scarcity of numbers in the parliament, you know, could be a factor in his handling of this minister - if Porter quit the government, well, it could be plunged into minority, pending an unwelcome by-election in Western Australia, where the Prime Minister's popularity has slipped, along with support for the government, according to opinion polls. 

RUBY:
And so, do you think, Paul, that there will be a point where Christian Porter becomes a political liability for the government? And if so, do you think that at that point Scott Morrison would act? 

PAUL:
I think it's already happening, Ruby. Morrison must know Porter has become a drag on the government. It probably explains why he stayed out of the firing line midweek, though he did have discussions on Wednesday afternoon with Porter and I'm told gave him the choice of paying the money back or quitting the ministry. Porter is weighing that up, but if he does pay it back, he'd have to surely demonstrate that he has. One source says he's not inclined to take that course. Well, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, who's also Liberal deputy leader, defended Porter by saying he disclosed in accordance with the requirements of parliamentarians as treasurer. 

Archival Tape -- Unidentified Reporter:
“Treasurer, just finally, should Christian Porter disclose who helped him with his legal fees?”

Archival Tape -- Josh Frydenberg:
“Well, Christian Porter has disclosed in accordance with the requirements parliamentarian's on the    Register of Interest.” 

PAUL:
Never mind that he flagrantly flouted the spirit of those requirements and demonstrated, you know, that they're not fit for purpose. Besides, Porter has a much bigger problem with the ministerial guidelines. Frydenberg repeated Porter's own defence by saying he didn't use taxpayers money to mount the court action, which entirely misses the point. when the treasurer was asked on Sky if he would take money without knowing where it came from. Well, he had no answer, saying he was being asked to deal in hypotheticals. 

Archival Tape -- Unidentified Reporter:
“Would you take money without knowing where it's come from?”

Archival Tape -- Josh Frydenberg:
“Well, again, you're asking me to deal in hypotheticals. I know that Christian Porter launched a staunch defence and he did so through the courts and he did so reveal the in accordance with the register of interest. But he was required to do…”

PAUL:
Now, Ruby, when questions of principle and transparency are dismissed as hypothetical, you know, we have a problem, a big problem.

RUBY:
Hmm. Paul, thank you so much for your time.

PAUL:
Thank you Ruby. Bye.

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RUBY:
Also in the news today…

Victorian premier Daniel Andrews has announced some restrictions in Melbourne will be eased from 11.59pm Friday, due to the state reaching its 70% first dose vaccination target. The new changes allow outdoor social gatherings with one other person regardless of your vaccination status, and five adults from two households if you’re fully vaccinated. The 5km travel restriction has been extended to 10km. And time permitted outside will double from two hours to four hours. Pools, skate parks and outdoor gyms are permitted. However the 9pm to 5am curfew still applies.

 

And Australia has entered into a historic trilateral military alliance with the UK and US. The partnership was sealed with a nuclear powered submarine deal intended to counter China’s influence. We’ll be covering this new landmark deal next week on the show.

 

7am is a daily show from The Monthly and The Saturday Paper. It’s produced by Elle Marsh, Kara Jensen-Mackinnon and Anu Hasbold.

 

Our senior producer is Ruby Schwartz and our technical producer is Atticus Bastow.

 

Brian Campeau mixes the show. Our editor is Osman Faruqi. Erik Jensen is our editor-in-chief. 

 

Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Envelope Audio. 

 

I’m Ruby Jones, see ya next week.

 

Host

Ruby Jones is an investigative journalist and host of 7am

Guest

Paul Bongiorno is a columnist for The Saturday Paper and a 30-year veteran of the Canberra Press Gallery.