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Quarantine politics and Morrison's desire to protect a winning hand

Opinion

Scott Morrison’s political opportunism is behind his sudden distaste for having regional centres share the burden of pandemic hotel quarantine, writes Dennis Atkins.

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Scott Morrison’s wish to have an election late this year has erected a large roadblock for a plan to shift COVID-19 hotel quarantine from capital city hotels to regional centres.

After saying he was going to consider the plan on Tuesday this week, Morrison all but ruled it out 48 hours later. The reason is simple: locals in Central Queensland don’t like it and those regions are vital to Morrison keeping his grip on power at an election everyone expects will be held in September or October this year.

The need to increase capacity for hotel quarantine is there for everyone to see, especially with the increased pressure from Australians overseas desperate to come home.

Morrison had promised them he’d make their repatriation happen by Christmas in 2020 but he fell almost 40,000 people short. He needs an answer and the use of regional centres was looking viable.

Howard Springs in the Northern Territory is already taking returning Australians from overseas and Christmas Island was used in the early days of the pandemic. Other centres are being scoped, especially in the Australian Capital Territory and Tasmania.

Annastacia Palaszczuk’s idea of using a ready to use mining camp at Calliope looked to fit the need but locals soon rolled out the fear card and cried that old refrain, “Not in our backyard”.

After speaking to a local ALP mayor and LNP federal MP Ken O’Dowd, Morrison backed what he called “sensible concerns” and wondered if the Palaszczuk Government had done enough work on the plan.

“For something like that to even be considered, the premier would have to get the local Labor mayor on board for a start – and I don’t think that’s happening at this point,” Morrison said in Gladstone.

“There are also concerns that people up here don’t want to see Brisbane’s issues dumped on those to the north.”

Morrison clearly doesn’t see any role for the federal government in selling the idea to local residents or their representatives.

The idea has pockets of resistance but many community leaders in central and north Queensland say it could be sold as a plan if politicians were prepared to spend some political capital.

Morrison wants to repeat his catchphrase from May, 2019, when he called out voters in this state after his against-the-odds victory by proclaiming, “how good are Queenslanders”.

If there’s a revolt in Central Queensland that calculus might be upended. He wants to again be Queensland’s friend, through the pandemic and the economic fallout that’s ensued.

So far he’s holding those cards. A revolt on hotel quarantine might have deprived him of his winning hand. Opportunistic politics has trumped good policy.

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