Like it or not - and some readers won't be happy about this at all - this crisis has been the making Scott Morrison.
He's easily sloughed off an early, dysfunctional response to the bushfires and remade himself as a leader for the times. All ideology's been jettisoned and Morrison's playing his one and only political card - father of the nation - brilliantly. Whoever would have thought that would turn out trumps?
Morrison's instincts, together with a huge dose of blind luck, have, so far, left the country looking like a winner. The crisis isn't over, of course, and it could all so easily go pear-shaped if the virus is simply lurking dormant and waiting for the onset of winter to attack. At the moment, however, it looks as if the PM hasn't put a foot wrong.
Don't believe me? Look at the polls.
Psephologist Kevin Bonham emphasises that Morrison's 38-point bounce, from an earlier net satisfaction of minus 12 to its current plus 26, smashes all previous records, including John Howard's boost after the Port Arthur massacre (a leap of 24 points) and the MV Tampa (up 20), or Bob Hawke's after the first Gulf War (a jump of 19). It's easy to be cynical, but the analysts know that what's happening is a rare thing. Morrison has cut through. The last time any PM recorded this level of overall approval (61 points) was when Kevin Rudd received 63 percent approval after the global financial crisis in October 2009. Scores like these are indelible. They define perceptions and provide an incredible basis for future consolidation, as it happened for both Howard and Hawke.
Rudd is another story. That's why personality is vital.
Morrison is, quite frankly, probably less intelligent than Rudd - but more clever. He's delegating and presiding rather than accreting power and attempting to make every decision. Instead of relying on a monolithic "plan", Morrison is shifting gears every day. This has a downside, because it risks looking as if the PM doesn't actually know what he's doing - but the upside is larger. He's there on the TV every night, looking like an honest, ordinary dad who's trying to do the right thing and yes, might make a mistake, but has his heart in the right place and is listening to advice.
Morrison, the man from marketing, couldn't have scripted his role better. He's playing a blinder. As Howard once said: "the times will suit me". Today, the PM's thrilled to star in the role of father to the nation.
What's allowing him to do this is that he's never been much worried by economic doctrine or ideology. Debt problem? That's long forgotten: "everything's different now". Balanced budget? No, unless we spend today we'll apparently never get back in the black. Who would have thought it? Apparently, at the same time he was dealt his trump, the PM picked up a "get out of jail free" card.
Labor might as well pack up and go home.
It must be difficult to lead an opposition during a disaster. You've got to be supportive of the effort to combat the problem, but manage to distinguish the government's failure so as to contrast it with your approach. Try that today, while everyone's listening, poised to hear where the only politician who's actually got money to spend is going to throw his dollars.
Anthony Albanese did this brilliantly during the bushfire crisis. Quiet and resolved, on the ground with the fireies yet calmly ideological when it came to the need to deal with the changing climate and, most importantly, faced with a PM who was obviously out of his depth. Albo looked like a leader.
It seems like another age. Today the opposition's being outmanoeuvred and overwhelmed.
The question is what Morrison will do with his dominance.
The great insight of post-modernism is acceptance that there may be no answer to the basic question "why?". Morrison is a pre-post-modernist: he refuses to even pose the question. His acceptance of God heads off such queries. Things are, God exists, get on with it.
Morrison, the man from marketing, couldn't have scripted his role better. He's playing a blinder.
As long as he keeps this narrative in the background and concentrates on listening, everything should be fine. Where it went wrong for Rudd was hubris. This could be a problem for Morrison, too, because he's never been particularly humble. The question is if he can balance this with letting others get on with the job.
The other, bigger, question is what the future holds, because there are two scenarios.
The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine shows the horrific curve the virus has taken, scything its way through different countries. Italy and Spain are worst hit: 27 of every 100,000 people have fallen to the virus. The US death toll is currently only 3 per 100,000, but climbing. China, because of its size, lost just 0.24, most of those in Wuhan. By the same measure our mortality rate is half that, or 0.14.
The way we've fought the disease is just one part of that success. Another is the fact we're located in the southern hemisphere. Singapore's mortality rate is just 0.11 and South Africa's only 0.02.
Yesterday the US National Library of Medicine had 338 clinical trials registered for a vaccine to treat the virus, and one day it will end.
If it's bubbling underground around the country; if there are more cases of "unexplained transmission"; it will become obvious there are ugly holes in the protective netting Morrison erected. We did everything the Chief Medical Officer told us to do; the question is, was this enough? Will people believe the Ruby Princess was at fault for what occurred, or will they blame the government?
The alternative is that the graph flatlines and begins shrinking away. The economy bounces back into dynamic equilibrium. Demand soars and life takes off again in a big way. We're happy and spend and things roar. The Morrison years are remembered as a golden time.
By the way, does anybody want to buy some toilet paper? I seem to have enough...
- Nicholas Stuart is a Canberra writer and a regular columnist.