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Beatings will continue until morale improves: Morrison punishing Victorians for lockdown

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Once again, Morrison is saying the quiet part out loud.

It was reported this week that Scott Morrison has delayed pandemic support payments to workers in Victoria because he does not wish to “incentivise” lockdowns. Once again, Morrison is saying the quiet part out loud. 

Victoria is now into our fourth state-wide Covid lockdown. As a state we have, undeniably, paid a heavy price to keep eachother safe and keep the virus at bay. 

But while in 2020 we were “all in this together” and Australians were “all Victorians now”, in 2021 the Federal Government has pivoted to casting us as drains on national prosperity. Denying Victorians appropriate economic support on the grounds of tough love is a dangerous, if predictable, shift towards neoliberal pandemic management. 

In this twisted worldview, Victoria has apparently locked down for attention. The idea that a state might impose a lockdown in order to get money from the federal government is pure insanity. It borders on outright conspiracy theory, harkening to the idea that the virus is nothing but a blunt instrument used by nefarious puppet masters for political gain. It is dangerous and undermines the faith the public has put in public health officers.

But that is the paranoid fantasy now depriving Victorian workers of any support from their government. 

The “strict father” morality of conservative politics dictates that Victorians should be punished for our undesirable behaviour. Never mind that we’re in the midst of a global pandemic. Never mind that the virus escaped from a South Australian facility, or that Victorians have overwhelmingly responded with gracious altruism in staying home, masking up, and getting tested. 

Never mind that this entire outbreak might have been avoided if the feds had provided effective national quarantine or proceeded competently with a vaccine rollout.

Morrison and Frydenberg’s attitudes are becoming clearer and clearer every time they open their mouths. They do not view this pandemic as a crisis of health and human struggle. They don’t even view it, as we might imagine, as a numbers game. They see only politics and power. 

This week Morrison and Frydenberg said that Victoria has already received large sums of money, more than the rest of the country, and therefore no more will be forthcoming. Although they have since softened this position, their approach shows a tendency to view Victoria as an amorphous red-state - merely a handful of unwinnable seats - and not six million people who should have every right to expect that their government will support them in times of need.

Tensions between the state and federal government are obviously always going to have partisan undertones, but this is something else. With all of Morrison’s rhetoric about “Team Australia” he has not acted as the unifying force he likes to portray. 

Morrison had to be dragged kicking and screaming into introducing JobKeeper the first time, back in March of last year. It was working people in unions, and indeed, employers also, who jointly called for support to keep people in jobs and minimise the economic disruption of the pandemic. It is not good enough that the Prime Minister sees this vital intervention as charity on his part - his to give and take away. It is not good enough that anyone in Victoria should have to rely on food banks and charity to survive, as they have been forced to this week. 

In the first iteration of JobKeeper, between April and September last year, 1.1 million Victorians accessed the payments. It is not hard to imagine that a significant majority of these workers are still in the same positions that left them without work when the first lockdowns were announced.

This is to say nothing of casual and migrant workers who missed out entirely.

Workers in union have again been demanding a wage subsidy for all - not just an extension of the old Jobkeeper scheme, but an expansion that will leave no worker behind and can be accessed quickly in the event of snap lockdowns like the one we currently find ourselves in. Morrison's tardy announcement of a $500 payment to eligible workers is overdue, and is far from generous. 

Working people are seeing clouds gather again. With no vaccination forthcoming for the great majority of us, it is starting to feel like we are going to be left alone to struggle through another hard year. 

- Luke Hilakari, Secretary, Victorian Trades Hall Council

It was reported this week that Scott Morrison has delayed pandemic support payments to workers in Victoria because he does not wish to “incentivise” lockdowns. Once again, Morrison is saying the quiet part out loud.

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