The COVID 19 pandemic is no longer just a cloud on the horizon – it has developed into a full scale cyclone, and its effects on Australia, while still unquantifiable, will clearly be severe if not disastrous. 

The health experts now tell us that the virus cannot be contained – in time every Australian will become infected. 

The good news, such as it is, is that in some 80 per cent of cases, illness will be minimal – no worse than a severe cold. Not bad odds for individuals, and they can be improved further through elementary precautions. But that still leaves some five million who will be seriously affected, and some fatalities are inevitable. 

This is an emergency, a crisis in anyone’s language. But like so many catastrophes in the making, in political terms it can also be seen as a challenge, an opportunity. And Scott Morrison is not one to let a chance go by. 

Desperate for political rehabilitation after his negligence and mismanagement after the bushfires, our leader has taken full control of the situation, with daily bulletins designed to show that he is on top of things, balancing warning and reassurance, offering both strength and comfort to his chosen people. 

And just by the way, coronavirus makes a very handy excuse for the broken promise of the rolled gold surplus he prematurely announced two years ago. It can still go horribly wrong: if casualties mount and the measures provided prove ineffective, Morrison will not be absolved from blame. But if things work out, he will receive a lot of the credit. 

And brother, does he need it. COVID 19 is obviously the big one, but there is another risk to the political health of ScoMo’s government – the stench of festering pork now breeding maggots and disease across an increasing part of the country. And as with coronavirus, it is proving almost impossible to limit the ongoing damage. 

The opposition and sections of the media are determined to bring it to a head, to force Morrison to drop his risible defence against the clear and present subversion of taxpayer funds for party political advantage. 

This has now gone far beyond the initial revelation of sports rorts and the ritual defenestration of Bridget McKenzie; it has embroiled much of the government up to and including the office of the Prime Minister, whose noisy and manic insistence that black is  white and two and two actually makes whatever he chooses have now become so unconvincing to lead to the suspicion of a major cover-up among his own staff, not excepting the leader himself. 

The most ludicrous argument came last week after the revelation that Sydney’s Olympic Pool, just out of the city’s CBD, had received $10 million just before the last election under a program designed to aid rural and regional areas. Morrison said in his announcement of the handout it was for communities around the country – technically true, but he and everyone else took it to mean was what his departments actually said, that it was for needy rural and regional communities, not for one of the wealthiest Liberal electorates in the nation. 

Others, even more absurdly, said the fact that people from rural and regional communities sometimes visited the pool made it legit – it was actually a rural and regional facility in its own right. On this basis, the obvious fact that people from the bush sometimes come into the big smoke means that rural is actually urban, or perhaps vice versa – nothing to see here. 

On any test in any pub in any part of Australia, this will not wash and it is puzzling, to say the last, that Morrison will not let it go. Presumably he is adamant that he must not and will not give an inch to the opposition — maybe he is afraid to, given the fragile nature of his fractured majority. But as the allegations of corruption, as Anthony Albanese now characterises it, the gangrene has to be cauterized one way or another. 

The smart way would be to admit the obvious – pork-barreling has been part of political life in Australia since well before federation, and all parties exploit it when they can, although the scale of the current malfeasance is remarkable, if not unprecedented. 

Once again, an opportunity: accept the reality, but do something about it – take action to reform the culture, restore a modicum of faith in the ailing system. But to Morrison, that would look like weakness, and so he will go on blustering until something breaks. 

The way he keeps shouting, it may well be his voice – on this issue at least, his credibility is beyond repair. But coronavirus may offer a path, if not to redemption, at least to a breathing space in which he can regroup – until the next disaster/challenge/opportunity. 

And so far so good – he had carefully avoided politicising the issue, and Albanese has been caught flat-footed and ungracious when he attempted to do so. 

If things go pear shaped, there may or may not be a time to start apportioning blame, but now is the time for solidarity. Albanese has claimed bipartisanship on many issues, some of them highly dubious, but this one is a no brainer. National emergency, national unity. So Morrison is going to use it for all it is worth, and fair enough. 

And perhaps he has noted a bizarre coincidence in history. 

The last time the word corona came in to the political lexicon, it was in 2014, when the then Treasurer, Joe Hockey, and the then-and-now Finance Minister, Matthias Corman, were snapped puffing their corona cigars in triumph after delivering their first budget. 

The budget was deemed a disaster, breaking election promises and grossly unfair and divisive, and the coronas became a symbol of everything that was wrong with the nascent government of Tony Abbott. Scott Morrison, as a cabinet minister at the time, copped a bit of collateral damage from the fallout. 

Six years later the word corona may be brought back into a more useful political context. And so, ScoMo devoutly prays, may his tattered regime. 

Mungo MacCallum

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