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Australians have good reason to be sceptical about a new plan from Scott Morrison to move on from lockdowns, border controls and flight bans.
The Prime Minister calls this a “new deal” but it is only an agreement in principle and can be changed or forgotten as soon as premiers and chief ministers want to go it alone.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on Friday the country’s plan to emerge from pandemic restrictions.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen
Which is what they tend to do these days, whether Morrison likes it or not.
State and territory leaders only saw the four-stage plan on Friday and are in no rush to close the deal, given the country will not be shifting out of the first stage until next year at the earliest.
It looks concrete, with ideas like dropping restrictions on outbound travel for vaccinated Australians in stage three, but everything can move around. That idea in stage three can be pushed to stage four. And there are no dates or deadlines.
Part of the plan is about optics. Morrison wants to look like he is leading when he is actually following. The biggest single change on Friday, a 50 per cent cut to overseas arrivals for the rest of the year, happened because the Prime Minister gave in to premiers.
This was like the point in March last year when Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian joined forces to push faster lockdowns.
With a federal election ahead, Morrison was willing to slash the international arrivals. There was no argument in national cabinet. The closer Morrison gets to the ballot box, the more cautious he will be.
Yet the big vision is blurred. Everything comes down to the vaccination rollout because the immunisation rate will be the threshold for opening the country. Why should Australians believe this plan when Morrison has missed his targets before?
This new goal, to be set in the weeks ahead, will be very hard to meet. While experts suggest 80 per cent of the population (or more) as a worthy vaccination rate, getting the last group of Australians to sign up is challenging. If they do not do so, would national cabinet lower the target?
The number alone cannot be the deciding factor. Queensland Annastacia Palaszczuk only wants to end the lockdown era when she can be sure everyone has been given a chance to be jabbed. Others in national cabinet agree. This is a huge challenge in regional Australia.
And what if a new strain emerges to supersede the Delta variant? Will the target change?
The strongest positive out of the plan is that it shows national cabinet might still work despite this week’s dopey and damaging bunfight over letting doctors advise younger Australians to take AstraZeneca.
Morrison wants to avoid picking needless fights. Why? Because he would not win one.
Yet the immediate roadblock is the same: vaccine shortages. The “new deal” on the far horizon will not mean much if the government cannot deliver what it promises in the weeks ahead: a doubling of Pfizer shipments to 600,000 per week, followed by a huge boost in the final three months of the year.
It turns out the old targets still matter the most.
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