January 27, 2022

Djokovic saga exposes PM’s worst weakness CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA NewsWire Photos JANUARY 13, 2021: Prime Minister Scott Morrison spoke to the media during a press conference held at Parliament House in Canberra. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gary Ramage COVID-19 Taskforce Commander, Lieutenant-General, John Frewen. Australia’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Paul Kelly.

Novak Djokovic may not get the chance to win the Australian Open, but he could have decided the outcome of our next federal election.

Novak Djokovic seemingly won’t get a chance to win the Australian Open this year, but he might have just won Anthony Albanese the federal election.

It has taken only one man to effortlessly lay bare the convoluted omnishambles of Australia’s coronavirus response and expose the federal government’s greatest weakness — and it wasn’t the Opposition Leader.

Not since a bat flapped its wings in Wuhan has such a rippling wave of confusion and chaos spread from a single source.

It is now axiomatic to the point of cliche that whatever the faults of the Victorian government and Tennis Australia, the Morrison government should have seen the Djokovic problem coming from a mile away.

Indeed, it could have seen it coming in the pages of any daily newspaper.

The greater problem is that now the problem has arrived, there is nothing the government can do that will not cause it further embarrassment or cost it some serious political skin.

The seemingly inevitable decision to send Djokovic packing was announced by the government on Friday afternoon (he subsequently sought an injunction to prevent himself from being deported).

But this was as much due to Djokovic’s screw-ups — revealed only after the fact — as it is to anything the government has done. Indeed, the government managed to screw up the one opportunity it had to deal with the problem when it was already too late.

Of course the whole fiasco is all good sport — figuratively, if not literally — but the problem for Mr Morrison is that it offers up to both the public and the opposition his glowing Achilles heel.

And this is that while the PM is a supreme political warrior and a wily tactician he is a terrible strategist.

Scott Morrison is extremely good at exploiting circumstances to his advantage but he is extremely bad at creating and shaping those circumstances, and both features have defined his prime ministership since before it even began.

Mr Morrison did not orchestrate the coup against Malcolm Turnbull, but once it was a fait accompli, he managed to blindside both the Liberal right and the Liberal left and seize the leadership.

This was an act of extraordinary political skill, but having attained the holy grail he didn’t seem to have much idea of what to do with it.

Going to the election in 2019, the Coalition had a policy platform you could fit on the back of a beer coaster, and yet through an incredible combination of guile and grit he managed to snatch victory from under Bill Shorten’s nose.

But again, after winning, the PM offered no real vision to speak of. Instead circumstances were once more thrust upon him in the form of the devastating Black Summer bushfires. This time his acumen deserted him and he infamously deserted the country.

Mr Morrison had already been the recipient of one miracle, as he declared on election night. Now, he needed another one.

The only thing that could erase or atone for his performance in a great national disaster would be the chance to redeem himself in an even greater international one.

And once more fate provided.

This time Mr Morrison’s reactive instincts were a virtue. While the government appeared to have little semblance of an early overarching plan to handle the pandemic, he responded quickly and emphatically to demands as they arose, casting both ideology and consistency to the wind.

But yet again, as the back foot battle against Covid-19 drew to a close and the front foot recovery phase began, the Morrison government was complacent and slow — as immortalised by the glacial vaccine rollout.

And once more, when public pressure exploded, the PM suddenly pulled out all stops and turbocharged the once somnambulant scheme.

In this sense Mr Morrison is much like Winston Churchill’s famous assessment of the Americans. He always does the right thing after he has exhausted all other options.

Indeed, he shares some of the criticism mounted against that most lionised US president John F Kennedy: good at handling crises but incapable of preventing them.

The pattern continues right up to this day. Once Australia finally got vaccinated and was ready to enter the next phase of living with the virus, it now emerges there was no provision by the federal government for the mass numbers of rapid antigen tests that the PM was warned would be needed.

Here again he resorted to another default position that is a damaging weakness, namely that it was someone else’s problem. A policy also known as “I don’t hold a hose”.

And of course, that position was also quickly reversed. Initially the commonwealth would not provide RATs because it was the private sector’s job. Then RATs would not be free. And finally, they would in fact be free for concession card holders.

It is to Mr Morrison’s credit that he is not too proud to remedy his mistakes. What is perplexing is that he keeps making them.

And so back to Novak. While the government might have made the right decision, it has only done so after being dragged through a wringer that was completely of its own making.

If Mr Albanese wins the election later this year, as seems increasingly likely, his first phone call will come from a PM conceding defeat. The second one should be a trunk call to Serbia thanking a certain tennis player for his help.

Read related topics:Anthony AlbaneseScott Morrison

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