View from The Hill: Voters could wreak vengeance if Scott Morrison can’t get rollout back on track


Mick Tsikas/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraLast week, people were falling over themselves to get vaccination appointments and had to be told, by their doctors and their government, to be patient.

Patience is still needed — indeed, more than ever — but now there’s rising vaccination hesitation and the message from the government is people should remain eager for the jab.

Conservative advice from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI), recommending against the AstraZeneca vaccine for the under 50s (because of the very small danger of blood clots), has alarmed many people.

The danger is the advice has a knock-on effect, spooking people to whom it doesn’t apply.

Apart from younger frontline workers in health and aged care, those with underlying health conditions, and certain others, under 50s are not presently being vaccinated.

But with changing messages, some of the over 70s — the cohort now at the head of the vaccination queue — might start to have second thoughts, despite being told they shouldn’t.

They may or may not be reassured by Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday declaring his mother is lining up for her AstraZeneca shot soon. Or Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly sharing the fact he’s urging his 86-year-old father to do so.

Thursday’s unwelcome medical advice was just the latest setback to the rollout and the Morrison government.

There have been the blocks and delays imposed on supplies from Europe and CSL production (of AstraZeneca) has been slower than anticipated.

The logistics haven’t all gone smoothly. Despite protestations to the contrary, the Commonwealth’s distribution has been sub-optimal.

Some doctors have complained of getting inadequate supplies; the arrangements for nursing homes have had glitches.

The whole program is running massively behind the original schedule. The government on Friday was celebrating passing one million doses administered, when we should have been well past four million.

We’re marching at a much slower pace than the United States or the United Kingdom. In the UK, incidentally, the authorities are being less conservative about AstraZeneca — it’s the under 30s who are being offered an alternative.

One can only imagine Morrison’s reaction when he was delivered the ATAGI advice, which of course he had to follow (even though some experts disagree with it). As he said, “You don’t get to choose the medical advice that’s provided by the medical experts”.

One guide to the prime ministerial mood is the fact he stresses it’s only advice to avoid AstraZeneca if you are under 50. The decision is up to you, and your doctor (though you will be signing a rigorous consent form if you ignore it).

But that line just contributes to the muddled messaging many people will feel they’re receiving.

With an already disorderly program thrown into further disarray by the medical advice, the government on Thursday night and Friday went into overdrive.

Another 20 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine — now the one for the under 50s — were instantly procured (this is on top of the 20 million already purchased). This is good news, if you are patient. They are not due to land until the last quarter of the year.

Health Minister Greg Hunt says Pfizer doses scheduled to arrive in coming days will ramp up, but details are sketchy.

The government is anxious to say the immediate stage of the vaccination schedule should not be much delayed.

The elderly who are being vaccinated now are good to get AstraZeneca.

As for the health and aged care workers? Determinedly looking on the bright side, Morrison noted many are over 50. Pfizer vaccines will have to be arranged for the younger ones, however, which could involve some scrambling.

But the rollout generally has to be recalibrated and delays are expected to hit in coming months when the program gets to the younger section of the general population.

For these people, vaccination is not as critical in health terms as it is for those older. But for the economy, vaccinating them as soon as can be done is vital.

At one level, Australia is being protected by our previous (and continued) success on the health front, which has left us with little or no community transmission. The rollout problems would be a disaster if we had COVID raging.

But we are riding on our luck. There are no guarantees against serious outbreaks.

Even without those, the longer the rollout drags on, the more we have the disruption of small lockdowns, and the slower the re-opening of Australia’s international border, with all the consequences that brings.

Morrison, who recently talked so confidently about everyone who was eligible and willing receiving one vaccine shot by October, now won’t commit to any date.

It would be a nightmare for him if the rollout wasn’t finished by year’s end, and the international border remained substantially shut.

He’d be only months from an election campaign, and Australians would probably be suffering a bad dose of cabin fever.

Politically, state and territory leaders have reaped rewards in elections from being seen to handle COVID well. A few months ago the pundits predicted Morrison would do the same.

But if they come to believe he has comprehensively mishandled the vaccine rollout, the voters could wreak vengeance.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

As Australia’s vaccination bungle becomes clear, Morrison’s political pain is only just beginning


Mick Tsikas/AAP

Mark Kenny, Australian National UniversityAmong many surprising things about 2020 was how a novel coronavirus drove an equally novel upending of Australia’s political orthodoxy.

The hackneyed election straightener, “it’s the economy, stupid”, got shoved aside for a refreshing new imperative, “it’s the community, stupid”. Australians unhesitatingly turned to government, embraced expertise, and willingly abided by society-wide deprivations in the interests of the whole.




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Reluctantly at first, centre-right politicians fell into line. Those who had built their careers on the virtues of small-government and gruff fiscal discipline, flipped to become big spending hyper-Keynesians.

Necessarily, political combat took a back seat to problem-solving. In an atmosphere of policy-not-politics, voters backed incumbent governments, marking them favourably for doing their jobs. Every election since the crisis began has returned the incumbents: in the Northern Territory, ACT, Queensland, and Western Australia. In the latter case, Labor’s Mark McGowan — arguably the country’s most aggressively parochial premier — was endorsed so strongly in March that the Liberal opposition officially ceased to exist.

Federally, Prime Minister Scott Morrison reaped the dividends of Australia’s tandem run of good management and good luck. While our closest allies, the United States and United Kingdom, descended into death and division, Australia closed its international borders early. It then compartmentalised further with the states episodically insulating their own populations and their own hospital systems.

Of course, there were mistakes. But the aggregate impact of these measures, high public trust, and the deliberately consensual mechanism of Morrison’s national cabinet has served the country well.

2021 brings new pressures

But 2021 has been a whole new ball game, and one for which a prime minister not accustomed to pressure, has proved far less equipped.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Health Minister Greg Hunt and health authorities at a Canberra press conference.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Health Minister Greg Hunt have found themselves in crisis-management mode over the vaccine rollout.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

The vaccine rollout — which remember, started stubbornly late — is in disarray. A promised four million inoculations by the end of March and completion by the end of October proved wildly unrealistic.

As of Sunday, the government says it hopes all Australians could receive at least one dose of vaccine by the end of the year. But as Morrison posted on Facebook, the government has no plans for any new targets because

it is not possible to set such targets given the many uncertainties involved.

Through the second half of last year, as it became clear there would be effective vaccines, Morrison, Health Minister Greg Hunt, and health authorities assured worried Australians the government was up to the global competition. And that Canberra was being sufficiently front-footed about procuring vaccines.

As Morrison boasted in a press statement on August 19,

Australians will be among the first in the world to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, if it proves successful, through an agreement between the Australian Government and UK-based drug company AstraZeneca.

In November, he also said,

Our strategy puts Australia at the head of the queue.

This was always unconvincing. That claimed “agreement” turned out to have been an over-egged letter of intent. Even ordinary observers could see demand from wealthy countries would be strong, and binding contracts would need to be signed quickly if Australia was to secure early adequate supplies.

It is now clear Australia’s risk-averse pandemic management — much of which was driven by premiers — has been followed by an insufficiently risk-aware vaccine contingency, controlled by the Commonwealth. And so we see another bizarre inversion: Australia being trounced by Britain and America, countries that had persistently botched their infection response.

Post-Trump America is now vaccinating three million people a day, and has gone above four million at least once. Covid-ravaged Britain is also roaring ahead. More than half of adults have had their first jab.

Textbook vaccination program?

What is not clear is why Morrison et al insisted the absence of urgency was an advantage because — combined with our judicious “portfolio” approach to multiple acquisitions — our health authorities could plan and execute a textbook public vaccination program.

Trouble is, the states have complained about a lack of genuine cooperation in the rollout, critical supply problems have been obscured, and the much vaunted broad “portfolio” approach has had its narrowness exposed.




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Clearly, the slow and steady approach failed to build in redundancy for the wholly imaginable interruptions to supply from international competition and technical limitations in production and transporting. Then there is straight-out vaccine nationalism, as has been the cause of a blocked shipment from Italy.

Australia’s approach rather relied initially on two locally producible vaccines primarily with Pfizer (and later Novavax) as a back-up — the University of Queensland one which fell over in December, and AstraZeneca which is now “not preferred” for under 50s. While the AstraZeneca clotting risk is hardly a public health disaster — it has been compared to that of long-haul flights — it is certainly a disaster for an already fractious vaccine confidence.

Morrison now faces multiple, serious threats

Coupled with a poorly managed political crisis over the treatment of women, Morrison’s 2021 has been tin-eared. A sharp decline of public trust in government, in expertise, and in institutional competence looms as a clear and present danger for Morrison’s popularity.

Brittany Higgins walks through the crowd at the women's march in Canberra.
The prime minister has taken a hit to his approval ratings over his recent handling of gender issues.
Lukas Coch/AAP

Business-as-usual politics is already making a comeback with Labor’s Mark Butler toughening up of criticism of the rollout and calling for more transparency and a greater sense of urgency. Labor has little choice. Voters themselves see other countries are surging ahead while Australia inches along, tempting the fate of another outbreak, and delaying the economic recovery dependent on vaccination.

And that’s the next inversion we’re likely to see. Business and Coalition hardliners were outspoken last year against state border closures, lockdowns, and other restrictions, on economic grounds.

Expect to hear those voices too in coming weeks as the penny drops about a whole extra year lost to the pandemic.The Conversation

Mark Kenny, Professor, Australian Studies Institute, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Melbourne’s hotel quarantine bungle is disappointing but not surprising. It was overseen by a flawed security industry



Scott Barbour/AAP

Sarah Kaine, University of Technology Sydney and Emmanuel Josserand, University of Technology Sydney

In late March, the Victorian government put private security firms in charge of hotel quarantine in Melbourne. This happened without a formal tender process.

It was a decision made at the height of concern about the spread of COVID-19 in Australia. But it is one that has come back to bite Victoria as it stares down a second wave, amid reports of serious infection control breaches in the hotel quarantine system.

The Andrews government has since announced a judicial inquiry into management of the program.




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This situation is both distressing and disappointing. But it should come as no surprise to anyone with a passing interest in labour standards in the private security industry or an understanding of governance issues in supply chains.

To put it plainly, the Victorian government used an industry with a long history of non-compliance with minimum standards for a critical public safety job.

An industry where labour issues are rife

According to the Australian Security Industry Association, in March 2020, there were more than 11,000 security businesses in Australia with more than 147,000 individual security licence holders.

It is not difficult to enter the industry. It does not take much capital to start a business and the workforce is relatively low-skilled. As a result, a large number of security businesses compete for security contracts and there is strong competition on labour costs.

The Fair Work Ombudsman has also identified

a lack of awareness and education regarding employer obligations and employee entitlements.

This creates an industry where labour issues are rife. The Ombudsman and media regularly highlight issues in the sector, including underpayment of wages, health and safety problems and sub-contracting.

The problem with sub-contracting

Sub-contracting is a problem on two levels. Firstly, it often appears in the form known as “sham contracting”. This sees an employer try to hide an employment relationship as an independent contract, to avoid liability for employee entitlements.

Secondly, subcontracting by larger companies to smaller companies dilutes control and responsibility and increases the pressure on costs, especially wages.

There are about 150,000 individual security licence holders in Australia.
James Ross/ AAP

It has been reported that at least one of the security companies involved in Victoria’s hotel quarantine system subcontracted work to a smaller security company.

There are also concerns the industry makes extensive use of “zombie” agreements, which are agreements made under WorkChoices-era regulations that were not subject to the “better off overall test”. This means workers potentially receive lower wages and less generous conditions than they would under the current industry award.

Pay disputes and ACCC investigations

The three firms contracted by the Victorian government were MSS Security, Wilson Security and Unified Security.

MSS, one of the largest security providers in Australia, has recently made headlines over a pay dispute with security guards in Bendigo. Five guards were back-paid $52,000 after a years-long dispute.

Wilson, another large security firm, was the subject of a 2018 Australian Competition and Consumer Commission investigation. This saw them pay back more than $700,000 to clients after charging for security patrols it did not carry out.




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The Victorian government is also in the middle of a review into the state’s private security industry, with the specific aims of raising industry standards, improving safety of employees and the community, and ensuring workers are paid properly and fairly. It is due to report by December 2020.

The aims are admirable, but the disconnect between the review and the government’s reliance on security contractors for hotel quarantine raises questions about due diligence within government procurement processes.

According to media reports, the companies were engaged without a formal tender process and selected with just 24 hours notice.

The third company used for the hotel program – Unified – was not even part of a pre-approved panel of service providers that allowed certain firms to be contracted at short notice.

Returning overseas travellers have been quarantined in hotels to try and stop the spread of COVID-19.
James Ross/AAP

This was a decision made in context of fast-moving pandemic. But it was not the only option.

For its hotel quarantine system, NSW has used police and Australian Defence Force personnel as well as security contractors. Victoria is also now seeking parole and prison officers to help with its hotel quarantine.

The real issue here is procurement

The Victorian government is taking the blame at the moment, but the problem here is much broader and touches all Australian jurisdictions.

The fact that Victoria has relied on private security firms for a hyper-sensitive public health job is testament to an entrenched culture of outsourcing government services all around Australia. In the federal sphere alone, in 2018-19, there were 78,150 contracts published on AusTender with a combined value of $64.5 billion.

There can be serious consequences if outsourced security goes wrong.
Scott Barbour/ AAP

But as governments are among the biggest procurers of goods and services in Australia, they also have a ready-made lever to influence the behaviour of contracted companies.

All levels of government need to monitor the companies who work for them and use their influence to ensure subcontractors adopt best practices in terms of workforce management and labour standards.

Policy is only as good as its implementation. And it doesn’t help that those in charge of procurement within government are not necessarily on the same page as those in charge of industrial relations or industry policy.

Many non-government organisations have similar issues, where corporate social responsibility is at odds with procurement needs.




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While the issue seems tricky in highly competitive industries, it can be solved.

A good example here is the Cleaning Accountability Framework set up in 2014. This is an independent, industry-led body that brings together property owners, companies and employee groups to solve labour issues in the cleaning sector.

The hotel quarantine program bungle is the wake-up call we need for a similar body for the security industry.The Conversation

Sarah Kaine, Associate Professor UTS Centre for Business and Social Innovation, University of Technology Sydney and Emmanuel Josserand, Professor of management, Director of the Centre for Business and Social Innovation, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.