Home Behind the Scenes Paul Bongiorno: Truth serum is needed just as much as millions more doses of vaccine

Paul Bongiorno: Truth serum is needed just as much as millions more doses of vaccine

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When the premier of Australia’s biggest state warns the country that things are going to get much worse before they get better, we should thank her for her honesty and urge our national political leaders to take note.

In many ways Premier Gladys Berejiklian has no alternative but to face the facts of her own lethal misjudgments since June; she is trying to move the argument from case numbers to hospitalisations at the very time when the state’s health system is already struggling to cope.

The day on which a new record of 1290 infections was announced, Ms Berejiklian was warning her hospitals would face even greater pressure on stretched intensive care units peaking in October, the same months she hopes the state will reach 70 per cent of its adult population fully vaccinated.

This in itself is a reality check.

If you take an increasingly strident Treasurer Josh Frydenberg at his word, he will withhold federal financial support for people in states whose governments continue lockdowns once the 70 per cent national target is reached.

He says the premiers should honour the national plan they have all signed up to.

And it is precisely here that the Treasurer needs a dose of truth serum because the fact is the national plan does not preclude lockdowns at 70 per cent or even 80 per cent double-dose vaccination.

The plan based on Doherty Institute modelling has the enormous rider of safe to do so with optimal testing, tracing, isolation, and quarantine; no one thinks what we are seeing in New South Wales is optimal already.

The Prime Minister and his Treasurer are confecting future success in their vaccine rollout and then blaming the premiers, especially of Western Australia and Queensland, for the hypothetical refusal to agree to a plan to open up that does not exist.

The whole tactic is a ruse and if the latest Newspoll is any guide the voters are well and truly awake to it.

Labor recorded its biggest two-party-preferred lead since December 2018 of 54-46 per cent.

Attacking Mark McGowan and Annastacia Palaszczuk for daring to reserve the right to impose lockdowns and border lockouts while at the same time criticising their states’ low vaccination uptake is as brazen as it is at best a half truth.

Premier McGowan pointed out that even at 70 per cent national vaccination “people would die if the virus infiltrated WA given there would still be around one million unvaccinated people in the state at the time”.

Mr McGowan says attacks on him for WA lagging the vaccination rate of NSW is in great part due to him and the other states agreeing to prioritise extra vaccines for that state.

NSW, he says, “got at least a million extra doses of Pfizer more than their population share because of the situation they are in, so it stands to reason that they would vaccinate more quickly”.

A furious Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, struggling to contain the virus in his sixth lockdown, is now demanding the same access to more vaccines as NSW.

He says Victorians haven’t gone without so Sydneysiders could go on picnics, a reference to the reward Ms Berejiklian is promising her citizens for their vaccine uptake.

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr is in a similar predicament, struggling to open up the territory because he hasn’t “got enough vaccines”.

Mr Morrison, like his Liberal colleague in Sydney, is promising the nation sunny uplands by Christmas out of the dark valley we are in.

But the Prime Minister has twigged to the fears in the community that an open-slather “Freedom Day” is too risky and like Ms Berejiklian is promising a “safe reopening”, which means many restrictions remaining in place.

Chief Minister Barr is not alone in thinking that the 80 per cent target may not deliver the desired herd immunity, business too is worried and increasingly is pushing for vaccine mandates and passports as added insurance for a safe return to something approaching the old normal.

Mr Morrison is facing fierce pushback on this from his backbench, veteran Liberal MP Russell Broadbent says there are seven members ready to resist any attempt to legislate the measures.

And this despite a poll in The Sun-Herald finding more than two thirds of Australians support vaccine passports and mandatory jabs for high-risk workers.

One Labor strategist says the issue is as devilish for Mr Morrison as refugees is for Labor in that a significant section of his base is so out of step with mainstream community opinion.

It makes the PM’s election timing extremely problematic, but the constitution gives him no choice he has to go to the people by May and there are no guarantees things will be any better by then.

The New Daily

Paul Bongiorno AM is a veteran of the Canberra Press Gallery, with 40 years’ experience covering Australian politics

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