Morrison urges Premier to offer hope

27 Aug Morrison urges Premier to offer hope

Dennis Shannahan and Joe Kelly – The Australian – Thursday 27 August 2020

Scott Morrison has directly urged Daniel Andrews to dramatically pull back from his year-long emergency power bid and only seek monthly or quarterly extensions, in an attempt to quell public anger and restore faith in government coronavirus restrictions.

The Victorian Premier’s shock announcement that he wanted to seek a 12-month extension of his emergency control powers alarmed and angered Coalition ministers, as well as senior federal Labor figures.

The Prime Minister was told Mr Andrews’s claim undermined national confidence about fighting the COVID-19 pandemic and contradicted the vital message of “hope” about a coronavirus vaccine, falling infections and an economic recovery as other states move to lift border restrictions.

Faced with an angry backlash from the public, Liberal and Labor politicians, civil rights groups and a Victorian opposition refusal to agree to a year-long extension of his powers, Mr Andrews sought a compromise with upper house independents and minor parties to get an extension of powers to continue to impose stay-at-home orders, business restrictions, limits on private and public gatherings, and on-the-spot fines.

Mr Morrison, Coalition cabinet ministers and MPs, and even Labor MPs were inundated with complaints about the confronting proposal, which suggested the draconian lockdown measures in Melbourne and Victoria could continue for 18 months.

Former federal Labor leader and Victorian MP Bill Shorten said people were “freaking out” at the proposed extension and “Dan the Man” had to fix it.

Richard Marles, Labor’s federal deputy leader and another locked-down Victorian MP, said it was “obviously important for Daniel Andrews to give an explanation of this” and to explain that it was not an extension of the existing hard lockdown.

Mr Morrison said on Wednesday he had conveyed his concerns directly to Mr Andrews, adding that it was “important to dispel any uncertainty and get clarity”.

“People are concerned that lockdowns would extend for another 12 months,” Mr Morrison said in Canberra.

“I know that the announcement that was made by the Premier the other day about that extension of the additional 12 months. I’ve raised our concerns with the Premier about that. I did that directly. I know others have. I know Labor figures have.”

Mr Morrison accepts that Mr Andrews will need an extension of emergency powers for the Chief Medical Officer beyond September but has urged seeking extensions a month or quarter at a time.

The federal Coalition’s concern is that Mr Andrews’s bid for an extension of powers “misfired” because it was poorly timed and ultimately not necessary.

Despite the anger within the federal Coalition and the concern that strong messages of hope on vaccines and economic recovery were being undermined, there was no personal criticism from Mr Morrison of Mr Andrews.

The Prime Minister has refused to publicly attack Mr Andrews, although he repeated that mistakes had been made in Victoria on quarantine, tracing and healthcare.

He also accused federal Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese of having a “blind spot” when it comes to mistakes over the pandemic in Victoria.

“There have been significant failures there,” he said. “And that has contributed significantly, overwhelmingly – almost entirely, I’d have to say – to the community outbreak we’ve seen.

“I have no doubt that the Victorian government feels as strongly about this as I do in terms of the impact it has had on the people of Victoria. They are now subject to the most horrendous restrictions that are regrettably necessary, as I said at the time. But . we can’t ignore what has occurred.”

Victorian MP Tim Wilson told The Australian that Mr Andrews had “set a new gold standard in corroding public confidence in COVID-19 measures by issuing dictates without explanation to extend the state of emergency for 12 months without parliamentary accountability”.

Mr Wilson – the chair of the standing committee on economics – said Victorian MPs were receiving “shed loads of emails from enraged residents who oppose the extension and want every avenue pursued by the federal government to override it; and sadly all we can inform them is that we can’t, and this is the price of having a Labor government”.

Liberal senator for Victoria James Paterson said: “Extraordinary measures require extraordinary justification, but the Andrews government has provided none at all to explain why a 12-month state of emergency extension is necessary. Victorians deserve evidence that the huge sacrifices they have been asked to make are really required for so much longer.”

Jason Wood, Liberal MP for La Trobe to the northwest of Melbourne, said the proposed extension of emergency powers represented a “loss of hope”. “They’re saying it’s like the worst-case scenario – another 12 months,” Mr Wood said.

“People want hope. Those in isolation. Those who’ve lost their jobs. Those trying to get back to work – that was the last thing they wanted to hear, that you might be here for another 12 months.

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