House debates

Monday, 23 August 2021


Prime Minister

7:30 pm

Photo of Tim WattsTim Watts (Gellibrand, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Communications and Cyber Security) Share this | | Hansard source

On the first day of parliament this year, the Prime Minister bragged that Australia was 'the envy of the world'. He told this House that the sacrifices that Australians had made in 2020 had 'bought valuable time' and that the 'preparations' he was making would see Australia 'emerge from 2021 even stronger'. Well, look at us now! While other countries who fared far worse in 2020 are now opening up, our two biggest cities and the nation's capital are all in lockdown. Australians in Victoria, New South Wales and the ACT are in no doubt that the Prime Minister's failed preparations are the reason they're in lockdown today.

The Prime Minister had two jobs to prepare Australia for 2021: a speedy and effective rollout of the vaccine and a safe national quarantine system. He has utterly failed at both. He squandered the sacrifices that Australians made in 2020 and has left half the country facing another completely unnecessary and wasted year in 2021. This has been the underlying theme of the pandemic; on all of the big decisions during this crisis, the Prime Minister has made the wrong call. It's been one failure of leadership after another.

The Prime Minister was wrong to reject the introduction of wage subsidies at the beginning of the crisis. Labor had to drag him, kicking and screaming, to implement JobKeeper early in the pandemic. He was wrong to resist establishing dedicated quarantine facilities for the first 18 months of the pandemic. He was wrong not to treat the vaccine rollout as the urgent priority that it always was, saying on multiple occasions, 'It's not a race,' and leaving Australia inexcusably vulnerable to the delta variant as a result. He has been wrong on lockdowns so many times that it's hard to keep up—most recently, and three days before New South Wales Premier Berejiklian announced the current Sydney lockdown, he praised the New South Wales Liberal Premier for her delaying, telling this House:

I commend the New South Wales Premier for the way that she is handling the outbreak in New South Wales, the fact that she hasn't gone to lock down Australia's biggest city.

That was a catastrophic misjudgement that not only the rest of Australia is now paying the price for but New Zealand too.

He was wrong to withdraw JobKeeper too quickly while the vaccine rollout was progressing too slowly, and while Australian workers and businesses were still vulnerable to further outbreaks. We're now seeing the consequences: last Friday night, the demand by Australians for food relief was so great that the queue of cars waiting to access Foodbank Victoria in my electorate extended for nearly four kilometres, and would have been longer if Victoria Police had not intervened to prevent the queue from blocking traffic on the West Gate Bridge. Still, in the face of this suffering in our community, the Morrison government continues to insist that we don't need JobKeeper. They just couldn't be more out of touch.

Adding insult to injury at every stage, this Prime Minister has ducked responsibility for his failures. He told Australians, 'I don't hold a hose, mate,' as he sunned himself in Hawaii—on vacation while Australia burned. He repeatedly insisted, 'It's not a race,' as he failed to pick up the phone and produce more vaccines, leaving Australia vulnerable. He shrugged, 'I wish it were different,' when telling Australians that the crisis in Afghanistan now meant that he couldn't guarantee the safety of Australians and their families, or the interpreters who helped protect our troops, despite being begged to act and to change the situation himself every day for the past three years.

This Prime Minister is like the middle-management boss from hell: incompetent at his own job, passing the buck and blaming those around him for his own failures, and bullying anyone who calls him out. When Australians desperately needed a leader they were left with a smirk and a shrug. An emoji would have been as effective.

Tomorrow marks three years since this Prime Minister assumed office: a man who has failed upwards from every job he has had and a man who has always had a plan for himself but never a plan for what he actually wanted to do or how to go about it. And now this man has nowhere to fail up to—no other job to move on to, leaving those around him holding the bag. We are seeing the consequences of that as a nation.

On every challenge facing the nation, we see plenty of three-word slogans, plenty of marketing strategies and, increasingly, plenty of complete rebrands. But we see no action and no delivery and, over and over again, we see problems allowed to fester and grow until they reach crisis point. Then we see crises met with rushed, half-baked responses designed only to get through a media cycle and then the inevitable failure to deliver is met with yet more buck-passing and refusals to accept accountability. Never has an Australian Prime Minister done so much damage by doing so little in such a short period of time. No wonder the Prime Minister's new slogan is 'moving forward'. Australia does need to move forward and move on from the Morrison government. (Time expired)