Scott Morrison is attempting to secure agreement from New South Wales and Victoria on the definition of a coronavirus hotspot as part of a strategy to persuade other premiers to scrap border closures in favour of localised lockdowns to control outbreaks.
The prime minister spoke to the two premiers on Monday night ahead of a national cabinet discussion on Friday.
During the regular Coalition party room meeting on Tuesday, Morrison told government backbenchers the commonwealth would have a definition of a hotspot by Friday “but whether the states join is a matter for them”.
As Morrison was addressing the party room in Canberra, the Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, told reporters border closures were a “central feature” of a lengthy conversation he had with the prime minister on Monday night.
While there has been escalating tension between Morrison and Andrews during the second wave of infections in Victoria, the premier echoed the prime minister’s desire that “come Christmas time, we have freedom of movement”.
The premier flagged new requirements, such as testing people before they travelled, once there were low enough numbers of new Covid-19 cases to allow restrictions to be unwound. “That will be something that national cabinet will talk about on Friday,” Andrews said.
New national accounts to be released on Wednesday are expected to confirm that Australia is currently in its first recession for three decades. Anticipating grim numbers, Morrison has been ramping up the negative rhetoric about border closures, which he says are contributing to Australia’s economic pain.
Morrison has told parliament this week he wants border restrictions to be gone by Christmas. He has urged the premiers to focus “on the road back” after the pandemic. The prime minister declared Australia could not become “a dislocated nation under Covid-19”.
Polling suggests restrictions, such as border closures, are politically popular because Australians are anxious about the risks of contracting Covid-19, but the closures are causing practical difficulties in border communities, with people unable to go to work or access necessary services.
Queenslanders go to the polls in late October and the state premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, has dug in her heels on the issue.
As well as the difficulties trying to secure unanimous national cabinet agreement on border reopenings, Labor is continuing to pressure the Morrison government about the rising number of deaths in residential aged care in Victoria during the second wave.
Aged care is a commonwealth responsibility, and there have been more than 400 deaths in facilities during the pandemic.
Labor launched a censure motion in the Senate on Tuesday against the minister for aged care, Richard Colbeck. Colbeck insists he has the confidence of the prime minister and has not considered resigning.
But Labor’s senate leader, Penny Wong, rounded on Colbeck on Tuesday during the censure debate, declaring the minister had been found wanting.
“How much grief and loss must be suffered by Australians as a result of the incompetence of this minister?” Wong said.
“When the incompetence of a minister is measured in the sum of lives lost – when the most vulnerable of our older Australians are the victims of this neglect – when does this chamber say someone must be held accountable?
“When the consequences for Australian families is the death of a loved one, the consequence for the minister responsible cannot simply be a shrug.”
Colbeck saw off the censure motion and accused Labor of playing “base politics” with a national tragedy.
The minister expressed condolences to the families of the deceased residents, saying “every single death is an absolute tragedy”. But he said the government, from the Australian health protection principal committee down, were “working every day to ensure Australians and those in aged care have the best chance, the best level of resources available”.
Source: The Guardian