Political push to ease restrictions heating up, but is it what voters want?
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Politicians will have a temperature sensor put to their foreheads on Monday when they turn up to federal Parliament to begin two weeks of debate with tempers flaring over the pandemic.
It is safe to expect some heat readings to be off the charts.
The Parliament is split, like the community, over the best way out of lockdowns that have sent employers into hibernation, put the economy into reverse and forced millions into their homes.
But there may be no better time for Parliament to meet. Australians have low expectations for their politicians, but the sitting comes at a critical point in the argument about when to ease the lockdown rules.
The very fact of the sitting is a message in itself. Rather than try to suspend Parliament, the government kept to the timetable even though it meant putting MPs from all sides in isolation for two weeks before the sitting.
To do otherwise, and give up, would have fatally undermined the message that the country has to “live with the virus” and get on with things.
It is even more important when questions about the pandemic are being restricted to daily press conferences featuring premiers, chief health officers and journalists who are routinely scolded for challenging claims. The usual forums for debate have fallen silent: the Victorian Parliament is suspended and the NSW Parliament is not sitting, although some committees continue.
That creates an opportunity for federal Labor leader Anthony Albanese to subject Prime Minister Scott Morrison to scrutiny over the risk of relaxing lockdown rules when vaccination rates hit 70 and 80 per cent.
Morrison insists he is right on the national cabinet plan but is not releasing the latest advice from the Doherty Institute on its modelling. But the time for keeping secrets is over. Every assessment needs to be made public.
Other voices in the government are making a strong case that it is time to level with voters. Some Liberals want to stiffen the Prime Minister’s spine and make sure the premiers and chief ministers do not force a federal retreat.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg is talking plainly to Australians in regards to the ongoing COVID-19 lockdowns.Credit: Justin McManus
With voters anxious ahead of an election, Morrison is wary of being direct. Asked a question, he can be a little like the Leyland brothers – travelling all over the countryside before he gets to the point. Some Liberals admit he is not communicating simply and clear. And that’s a problem.
The spear thrower for the government is Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, who has been speaking plainly in the past few days about what “living with the virus” really means.
“What we have to do is be honest with the public that by living with COVID there’ll be cases, by living with COVID there’ll be people in hospital, and living with COVID there’ll be deaths,” Frydenberg says.
“But at the same time getting high levels of vaccination reduces the likelihood that lockdowns will be required and reduces the likelihood that people who get vaccinated will get sick.”
Morrison kept that up on Sunday by saying case numbers should not be the main measure of the pandemic and it was time to focus on serious illness and hospitalisation, which are lower thanks to vaccinations.
It is a difficult conversation at a time of real strain on the nation, its leaders and its people. With so much of the country shut, the Parliament may even serve a useful purpose. If the politicians can get past the temperature test.
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