Campaigning in the marginal Labor-held electorate of Corangamite in regional Victoria on Wednesday, Morrison faced a barrage of questions about Australia’s spiralling COVID death toll and infection rate.
Australia reported 28,794 cases of COVID-19 and 37 deaths on Wednesday, from NSW, Victoria and Tasmania and the ACT. South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory are still to report their latest statistics.
A more contrite Morrison has spoken repeatedly in recent days about how if he wins Saturday’s election, he will move from being a “bulldozer” and instead be more sensitive and consultative.
But on Wednesday – while again drawing a distinction between those who had died of COVID and those who might have died of other causes while positive – he insisted his combative style had made Australia “one of the standout performers in managing COVID [over] anywhere in the world”.
“I have been very conscious about my approach for a very long time, and I have to tell you in the roles I have had it has served the country extremely well,” he said.
“You couldn’t have been weak and made the decisions we had to make during the pandemic, where there wasn’t time … to be going and consulting on every decision.”
Asked how Australians could believe he might be more consultative in future crises, he was also firm.
“In crises that’s what you do have to and, in a crisis again, that’s exactly what I’d have to do,” he said.
Latest federal government data shows 7873 Australians have died after testing positive for COVID-19. That included 65 on Tuesday alone.
According to global databases, Australia currently leads the world in per-capita COVID infections. The country has had about 6.7 million cases since the start of the pandemic.
Despite that, COVID has scarcely been talked about in the election campaign, with Morrison instead spending the last week before polling day spruiking the Coalition’s economic credentials and housing policies.
But his Wednesday press conference at a Torquay housing estate was overshadowed by questions about the virus. He was grilled on death and infection rates, after claiming at his campaign launch on Sunday that under a re-elected Coalition government, Australia would move on from the pandemic.
“Every single one of these deaths from the outset of this pandemic is a terrible loss for the families of those who have been lost,” he said.
“There were some 53,000 case numbers yesterday. What you see when you have case numbers at that level, is that people when they pass away for many other… causes that they will die with COVID and their deaths are recorded as COVID deaths.
“But, that doesn’t necessarily mean… that they passed away because of COVID.”
Morrison said that under a re-elected Coalition government, Australia would move on from daily COVID briefings and the threat of lockdowns – despite the federal government having little control over how states and territories handle public health restrictions.
“I’ve noticed that Anthony Albanese is keen to get back into that type of approach,” he said.
Morrison dismissed questions about his evidence for that claim, about the Labor leader, instead saying: “That’s not the approach I’ve had”.
He said the latest health advice was that fourth COVID vaccinations were not yet needed for the broader population. Those doses remain recommend only for the elderly, and those with disabilities or compromised health.
He said Australia had one of the world’s highest vaccination rates.
“Australia has been one of the standout performers in managing COVID anywhere in the world,” Morrison said.
Ahead of crucial quarterly wages data due for release later on Wednesday, he also dodged questions about whether wages would keep up with inflation if the Coalition remained in government.
“Wages will rise because of unemployment coming down the economy continuing to strengthen and businesses doing well,” he said.
“Inflation is the challenge when it comes to real wages.”
Wages remain at the forefront of the election campaign, days out from Saturday’s polling day. National statistics due on Wednesday are expected to show pay packets growing at just half the rate of inflation.
The Fair Work Commission is reviewing the minimum wage rate. Labor wants it to keep pace with the rate of inflation, which is at 5.1 per cent.
Labor campaign spokesperson Tony Burke said unless there was a change of government on Saturday, he would not expect Australians to get a wage rise.
“The government wants to keep wages low. What we will do … is at every turn where we’re able, help with putting upward pressure on wages,” he said in Canberra.
Meanwhile, two new polls show the election race has tightened in the Coalition’s favour ahead of Saturday, although Labor remains ahead on a two-party preferred basis.
A Resolve Strategic poll conducted for Nine newspapers shows Labor leads by 51 per cent to 49 per cent, compared to 54-46 two weeks ago.
Morrison will speak at an Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce business lunch in Melbourne later on Wednesday. Mr Albanese will speak to the National Press Club in Canberra.
– with AAP
This story was first published by The New Daily
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