Scott Morrison says he hasn’t had time to read Tony Abbott’s comments blasting Covid “health dictatorships” during a speech in London because his focus has been on managing Australia’s first recession since the 1990s.
Morrison was asked about the former prime minister’s contentious remarks during parliamentary question time on Wednesday. Labor asked the prime minister why he hadn’t condemned Abbott’s “heartless” observations about elderly people.
Abbott said the climate of fear during the pandemic made it hard for governments to ask “how much is a life worth”. The ex-Liberal leader said every life was precious, and every death was sad, “but that’s never stopped families sometimes electing to make elderly relatives as comfortable as possible while nature takes its course”.
Abbott’s libertarian perspective has struck a chord in government ranks. Backbenchers are increasingly frustrated that the Morrison government is bankrolling public health restrictions imposed by the states through multibillion-dollar income support programs such as jobkeeper and jobseeker.
But Morrison said he was not across Abbott’s latest foray. “My focus today has been on the millions of Australians who have received the news today that Australia has entered into the worst recession as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.
The prime minister launched a stout defence of his government’s response during the pandemic. He said the government’s approach had been to “value every single life”.
“That is how we have acted, and that is how we have responded, and the Australian people know that that is the policy of our government,” Morrison said.
Australia’s aged care minister, Richard Colbeck, said he “had not heard” Abbott’s contribution. But he condemned it when asked for his view during question time in the Senate.
“Our government’s actions demonstrate our desire for all Australians, whether Covid-positive or not, to get the care they deserve,” Colbeck said on Wednesday.
“There is no way anyone on either side … would agree with those comments by former prime minister Abbott. I would condemn the comments.”
Labor’s Kristina Keneally noted Morrison had previously labelled the view some elderly Australians should be allowed to die to reopen the economy as “amoral and hideous”.
“I have just condemned the remarks of the former prime minister with respect to Covid-19,” Colbeck reiterated in reply. “I do not agree with the remarks.”
Asked whether Abbott had a point given the growing economic costs of the restrictions, the treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, tiptoed. He said “it is about getting the balance right”.
“We all supported health restrictions because primarily this is a health crisis where hundreds of Australians have died,” Frydenberg said. “But that is different from the pathway out.”
Frydenberg in recent days has blasted the Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, for presiding over the “biggest public policy failure by a state government in living memory”.
On Wednesday, the treasurer said: “I don’t want those restrictions to be in place for one day longer than they have to, and as the treasurer of the country, I see the economic impact that it is having.”
Abbott during his speech at the London Policy Exchange thinktank said he could not comment on his mooted appointment to the UK board of trade by the British prime minister, Boris Johnson. He said “it is not yet official”.
The independent senator from Tasmania, Jacqui Lambie, targeted Abbott over the trade role, questioning whether it is appropriate for Australian taxpayers to pay for his travel and staff while he is “working against” their interests.
The leader of the government in the Senate, Mathias Cormann, replied that former prime ministers are treated “with respect” and are all afforded the same post-politics benefits regardless of party allegiance or whether they pursue “alternative opportunities to contribute, internationally [or] domestically”.
Cormann said it was “entirely inappropriate” and “deeply personal” for Lambie to question whether Abbott had a “dual allegiance”.
“Everyone, after they leave, is entitled to pursue other career opportunities and the retirement income arrangements are the same for all,” he said.
Source: The Guardian