The COVID-19 pandemic has provided a once in a lifetime opportunity to lay bear the problems inherent to “the Lucky Country”. It has loudly and devastatingly the band-aid off the gaping wound that lies at the inability of successive Federal and State governments to prepare the nation against existential and potential threats.
The latest Omicron outbreak has shown conclusively that the “leadership” shown by PM Scott Morrison hasn’t even risen to the level of basic management skills, let alone Churchill style responsibility.
Michelle Grattan hits this on the head clearly:
Earlier lessons weren’t properly learned. Planning has been woeful. The relationship between health and the economy was misread.
Morrison’s much vaunted “national plan” of last year put near total faith in vaccination. Vaccination has been transformational, reducing the severity of illness and saving lives. But it doesn’t stop the transmission of the highly-infectious Omicron, which can still hobble the country.
As Christmas approached, and on the back of a good economic bounce-back from the lockdowns, the federal government wanted people spending as much as possible of their stored-up savings as a further stimulus. But soon the catch-22 emerged. If Omicron is ripping through, people might not be locked down but many will choose or be forced to behave as though they are – doing less, tightening their purse strings.
The lack of preparation has been even more stunning than the miscalculation.
The future need for rapid antigen tests (RATs) was anticipated months ago. Yet we’ve been hit with an acute shortage, just as delays lengthened in getting results from PCR tests. After the vaccination stuff-ups, you’d have thought federal and state governments would have pulled out all stops to get enough RATs. But no. Morrison late last year argued that with a very high vaccination rate we shouldn’t concentrate on case numbers but on hospitalisations rates, much lower than in earlier waves.
But with skyrocketing infections, the absolute numbers in hospital are going to weigh down the system, as well as pushing aside other care, notably elective surgery. This is happening while the wildfire infection takes out large numbers of health care workers, directly through illness or indirectly through furlough.
It didn’t take enough account of how everything connects to everything else in this pandemic, and how the interconnections are multiplied a hundred fold when the numbers become so high.
Morrison is clearly incapable of leading a thirsty horse to a trough, let alone managing a multi dimensional health and economic battle. Probably the most inept PM in our nation’s history, but he is only a symptom of what our political system creates.
At the same time that everyday Australians are struggling to purchase RAT tests, the government announces yet another bloated, unneeded defence procurement, an expensive upgrade to a tank fleet that was needed for the last war:
As reported by the Sydney Morning Herald, Australia seeks to procure seventy-five M1A2 Abrams main battle tanks (MBTs), twenty-nine explosive-clearing assault breacher vehicles, seventeen assault bridge vehicles, and six armored recovery vehicles as part of a $3.5 billion deal.
By the way, the Abrams tank (and most of the new armoured vehicles being procured, because they are too heavy) can’t use most of the bridges in the North of the country, can’t fit into the amphibious aircraft carriers and require an enormous amount of fuel to go anywhere – more on that fuel problem in a bit…
But no-one in ADF “leadership” has the guts to put a stop to these sort of stupid acquisitions, and actually question what strategy is required to defend the nation in the near future. The latest debacle over the French submarine acquisition which has now left a gaping mammoth hole in the country’s ability to defend sea lanes to our north or the curious expenditure on new frigates that have limited capability in doing the same, or the totally inadequate yet very sexy F-35 stealth fighter “upgrade”, when the future is clearly very long range unmanned aircraft. This is all after not even bothering to fill the gap after the demise of the strategic F-111 fleet.
That most of this spending is clearly political ends to secure post-political career opportunities, not to actually prepare a country for a tumultuous 21st century, is almost unmentioned in the press or in public circles. It make the US industrial-military complex pale in comparison on relative terms.
And beyond the pew-pew focus, there’s the actual strategic logistical problems that haven’t been solved. There is still no substantial increase or long term planning to alleviate the huge existential risk to the nation’s fuel supply.
Last year saw more than 90 per cent of petrol and diesel used in the country imported, and almost all of it from regional Asia – Singapore, South Korea, Japan and China. All going through one of the most volatile and potentially biggest chokepoints in our region.
There’s now only two oil refineries left in the whole country – one in Brisbane, the other Geelong – whereas 20 years ago, there were 8 across the nation, albeit running at a loss but providing a valuable insurance to fragile supply lines.
Because of the lack of domestic capacity, and supply restraints, fuel storage levels have dropped dramatically, from 90 days supply to less than 30 days if everything runs smoothly, all the time. Even less when a pandemic going on and most of regional Asia’s supply lines are choked up. Combine that with a disastrous natural gas export strategy, leaving none to use domestically, and energy security is a bloody farce.
All of this leaves a nation completely open to conventional and unconventional attack by regional actors, including China, all in the face of a declining United States.
Where is the long term thinking and hard questions being asked? Why is the potential to electrify the transport sector – who requires most of that fuel to get food and supplies into supermarkets around the country – and eliminate the external threat never seriously discussed? Or some investment in building up the fuel storage as a stopgap during this transition?
And then we get to climate change – the existential threat that could destroy our nation’s future.
Again, complacency and lack of action are trademarks of Australia’s “she’ll be right mate” attitude to, well almost every danger it faces.
The Black Summer fires are still in our memories, but are fading fast as the true cause – extreme weather conditions as a result of quickening climate change – is still not being met head on.
As the most recent fire management studies argue, climate change is exceeding the capacity of our ecological and social systems to adapt:
Various government inquiries following the Black Summer fires of 2019-20 produced wide-ranging recommendations for how to prepare and respond to bushfires. Similar inquiries have been held since 1939 after previous bushfires.
Typically, these inquiries led to major changes to policy and funding. But almost universally, this was followed by a gradual complacency and failure to put policies into practice.
You think this relatively short term priority will be any priority at all at State or Federal levels during a “wet” year?
Finally, has there been any genuine attempt – by both sides of politics – to lay out a serious and long term plan to adapt to climate change in the 21st century?
If ever there was a moment for true leadership, to call for a shared level of sacrifice and hard yakka to get a nation through what could be the biggest crisis it has faced since Federation, it is now.
Instead of course, we get obfuscation, dodgy modelling drawn up by the fossil fuel companies, weak kneed missives by the ALP, and no real vision or action.
No gas reservation policies, no nationalisation of coal power stations, no carbon tax on exports, no push to electrify transport systems or to push for full renewable energy within a decade or so. No long term plan to move away from a reliance on iron ore and coal exports that drive almost the entire economy.
As Ketan Joshi succinctly puts it:
Truly, though, there is no country in the world that does climate delay quite like Australia. The hammy nationalism, the role of fantasy and trickery in its climate and energy rhetoric, and the total absence of shame in defending its role as a key cause of significant physical damage to Earth. It’s only going to escalate as the next federal election inches closer.
This nation requires real leadership, not hollow-men, sports celebrities, culture wars and distracting woke beat-ups, if it wants to survive the 21st century because there’s no more riding on the sheep’s back from here on in. All of our nation’s natural advantages are fading and the luck is running out.