Scott Morrison is fast losing control of the narrative

QUESTIONS: Prime Minister Scott Morrison is still chasing headlines, but the headlines may come after him. Picture: Elesa Kurtz
QUESTIONS: Prime Minister Scott Morrison is still chasing headlines, but the headlines may come after him. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

The slump in support for the Morrison government in the latest NewsPoll has been seen as a major backlash against the mess it has made of the vaccine rollout.

Morrison's actions in response are showing signs of desperation.

Labor's now 53-47 on two-party preferred, with Morrison having the lowest personal support since the bushfire crisis.

The questions to Morrison are finally getting tougher, with the possibility of a hung parliament at the next election - even the possibility that he may lose government.

Although Morrison has belatedly had to admit "regrettably" some responsibility for the slow vaccine rollout, he has been at pains to deny that the recent rapid spread of the more contagious Delta strain of the virus - and the resultant lockdowns - could have been avoided if his government had rolled the vaccine out quicker.

In response to criticism for being absent from announcements, Morrison rang several radio stations on Wednesday morning and then did a media briefing at The Lodge.

In his words: "I take responsibility for the problems that we have had, but I am also taking responsibility for the solutions we are putting in place and the vaccination rates we are now achieving."

He also offered excuses to Jase and PJ on KIIS FM in Melbourne: "No country in the world has got everything right during this pandemic"; countries with higher vaccination rates were also going back into lockdown; "this latest Delta variant has thrown a completely new curve ball ... which every single country in the world is wrestling with".

Morrison wasn't prepared to address the detail of the rollout mess he had created, just move the issue forward to where he was promising to "fix it".

In a somewhat desperate attempt to distract from his significant failure to have organised adequate vaccine supply, he's now taking the risky position of appealing for a wider take-up of the AstraZeneca vaccine and is pressuring the medical experts to rethink their advice to support this, given that the medical situation has changed with the Delta variant.

Morrison's global image has certainly taken a beating. The recent Bloomberg Prognosis claims that "Australia's strategy hits a wall".

"The country's 'COVID-zero' approach to containing the virus - once the gold standard, with its aim of keeping out all cases via mandatory hotel quarantines and travel bans - seems to have reached its limit as the highly contagious delta strain slips through fortified international borders seeding infections in the once envied, once largely virus-free haven.

"While the US and UK plow headlong into reopening, across the other side of the world half of Australia's population is back in lockdown.

"Lulled by long stretches without COVID deaths, or any locally transmitted cases at all, the government took the view that vaccination wasn't a race ... but Delta's rapid spread ... has shown it is very much a race.

"With less than half the level of the vaccine coverage of the US, Australia must continue to suppress the virus zealously - and this means lockdowns when even a few cases emerge - or risk overwhelming a hospital system that's never had to contend with a real onslaught of infections."

This global assessment of our situation exposes the dishonesty and hubris of Morrison, especially with our greatest challenge yet to come with attempts to open our international border.

While Morrison had obviously been planning to base his claim for re-election on his "success" in controlling the virus, he is fast losing control of this narrative.

Morrison is also losing control of the economic narrative.

With our economy bleeding at about $2 billion a week, the "miracle recovery" is at risk - indeed, a worst-case possibility is a double-dip recession.

Marketing Morrison is all about the "big headline". I can't help but recall reports of another great race driven by another famous headline seeker, J. Bruce Ismay, esteemed chairman and managing director of the White Star Line, the Titanic's parent company, and its reported "race" to break the record for travel to New York on its maiden voyage.

Ismay apparently ignored the dangers and urged accelerated speed and to carry fewer lifeboats. It is said: "you got your headline, Mr Ismay" - but it certainly wasn't the one he wanted. The next election is now Morrison's to lose.

John Hewson is a professor at the Crawford School of Public Policy, ANU, and a former Liberal opposition leader.

This story Scott Morrison is fast losing control of the narrative | Hewson's View first appeared on The Canberra Times.