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21 July 2021

I think I could be forgiven for never in my wildest dreams expecting to look back fondly on 2019, but how times have changed. 

Replacing the disappointment of losing an election is a longing for our lives in Australia and around the world to return to a pre-COVID normality. The irony is very real. 

This past Saturday morning, as my family and I came to terms with lockdown 5.0 in Melbourne and the initial stress and mild panic of the uncertainty ahead, especially for our children, we took a deep breath and decided we needed to get on with things as best we could.

But the stark reality is that Australians are doing it very, very tough right now. 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and I both battled it out to be Australia’s leader. In May 2019 both of us wanted the job as much as the other. 

I'd love to have had a crack at leading Australia through this pandemic, but that didn't happen and the universe doesn't grant reruns. 

He got the tick. Fair enough. That’s our system. But it’s hard not to watch on with head in hands. 

Within nine months of the 2019 election our lives had radically changed forever due to the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic that has since crashed over us. 

Eighteen months on from the start of the pandemic, 13.5 million Australians today are in lockdown, we have the worst vaccination rate in the OECD, and we have only one federal quarantine facility. 

Worst of all, Aussies lack hope. We lack hope because the leader of the nation is not painting a picture of our future.

Every major poll this week has stated Prime Minister Morrison is failing to lead Australia through this pandemic. 

Voters are frustrated about lockdowns, the botched and lagging vaccine rollout, and the absolute lack of certainty – both economically and personally.

What I don't understand is why Scott Morrison didn't, every single day since the start of the pandemic, concentrate on vaccines and quarantine facilities.

Why weren’t more vaccines purchased, some quarantine facilities built? Why no semblance of a plan? 

There are 16 approved COVID-19 vaccines in the world being used today. Australia currently has access to the Oxford-Astra Zeneca and Pfizer. 

Somehow the Morrison Government managed to undermine the Astra Zeneca vaccine in Australia by a complete mismanagement of the public health messaging of the vaccine it had chosen to invest heavily in first. 

Instead of carefully explaining the very rare side effects, which has not stopped the other 179 countries using Astra Zeneca from forging ahead, vaccine hesitancy is at worryingly high levels.  

We now watch on as the UK starts to open up, with two thirds of adults fully vaccinated – most with the much-maligned Astra Zeneca, which the UK is also most proud of producing. 

The stark contrast in vaccination rates is most evident in the critical older age brackets: In Australia, less than 13 per cent of 60 somethings are fully vaccinated, in the UK it is verging on 100 per cent. 

As for the quarantine, this is where Scott Morrison doubled down on sitting on his hands. When suppression appeared to be Australia’s COVID-19 plan of attack, every leak from city hotel quarantine saw millions of Australians head straight back into lockdown.

While we must accept lockdowns are part of the solution for now, we need to have a goal on the horizon so people can stay on track. 

Each time we lockdown, people lose their jobs and income, small businesses are forced to shut with scarce support, and our children are on the rebound back into home schooling. 

Children have been the big losers of this pandemic – home schooling has been difficult at best, catastrophic at worst, emergency department presentations for mental health issues like self-harming and eating disorders have spiked, and, to top it off, let’s not pretend kids don’t absorb their parents’ stress, which has been plentiful. 

This has to change. Australia needs hope on the horizon. 

All I say is, Mr Morrison, a leader must be a dealer in hope, not a dealer in hands off. 

What Australia needs out of Canberra right now is a hope factory, not a pessimism factory, not a too hard factory, not a give up factory. 

People are starving for a better way. 

Let’s get inventive. Whatever needs to be done to get us out of this shutdown cycle should be considered. Whether it’s a national lottery with entry for any person who is fully vaccinated or some kind of major incentive to get us over the line. Just do it. 

I think that if you tell Australia where the finishing tape is, every Australian will stand up and they'll reach that finishing tape. 

But we need the leadership that the Australian sacrifice deserves.

And so far that leadership has been missing in action.

Since the pandemic began, there has been two pivotal moments which have kept thousands of Australians alive. Both were led by state governments. 

One. When we rejected “herd” immunity and the less stringent approaches of the US, UK, India and Brazil and we went on the path of eliminating the virus. 

Two. When my home state of Victoria decided to eliminate the virus and gave Australia a chance to be zero-COVID.  It was a big call. It had not been done anywhere else. The Federal Government mocked it. And it worked. 

But now we need a third pivotal moment. It’s called hope.

This was first published in The West Australian on Wednesday, 21 July 2021.