This is a sample of The Echidna newsletter sent out each weekday morning till the end of the election. To sign up for FREE, go to theechidna.com.au
They argued about turning back boats, fought over China's growing influence in the Pacific and bragged about their plans for the nation's economic future. But for all the hot air expelled by Scott Morrison and Anthony Albanese during this week's debate there was barely a whisper about an event that has profoundly changed the nation and left almost 7000 Australians dead.
So why doesn't anyone want to talk about the COVID-19 pandemic anymore?
More people have died with the virus already this year than the previous two years combined. The pandemic upended the way we live and work, bankrupted thousands of small businesses, ripped apart families, ravaged the economy and exposed seismic fault lines in how Australians are governed. Yet aside from a few boasting points on how well we survived economically, both leaders remain extremely shy about committing to learning from the mistakes of the past.
It took four deaths for a Royal Commission to be staged into Labor's home insulation program in 2013. Since then another six federal Royal Commissions have been held into issues ranging from trade union corruption to misconduct in the banking sector and the quality of aged care. Yet the most transformative event since World War II apparently does not yet deserve an inquiry of its own.
No one can argue that Australia's overall handling of the crisis was among the best in the world. But a Royal Commission would teach us what we didn't get right. Why was our health system so overwhelmed and underprepared? Why the sluggish rollout of vaccines and the debacle over rapid testing kits? Was key advice from health experts ignored or overridden? Perhaps more importantly given the power games played by various state leaders, is it time to overhaul our 19th century federation model and drag it into the modern age?
Morrison has resisted calls for a Royal Commission so far saying the pandemic must still be allowed to run its course. Labor, despite recent calls for such a probe by a Senate committee chaired by one of its own, has mumbled and deflected on the issue, too. With all states peeling back travel and isolation restrictions, what on earth are they waiting for? Another pandemic?
For all its faults and missed opportunities (climate change also barely earned a mention) the lively debate deserved a much larger audience than the 175,000 viewers nationally who watched it on Sky News (if you missed it you can watch a full and free replay here). The audience of 100 undecided voters gave Albanese a small victory but the most telling number was the 25 percent who remained undecided.
You can't really blame them when many of the words they wanted to hear were left unspoken. But don't worry. There's still 30 days to go...
HAVE YOUR SAY: Is it time for a Royal Commission into the pandemic? Has the debate altered your voting intentions? And what question or issues would you raise with the major party leaders? Send us your views: firstname.lastname@example.org
SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoy The Echidna, forward it to a friend so they can sign up, too.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:
- Scott Morrison yesterday apologised for remarks he made during the debate about being "blessed" by not having disabled children after being criticised by disability support groups and high profile disabled athletes. "I...had no such intention of suggesting that anything other than every child is a blessing," he said. "Every child is precious."
- Defence and security experts warned that China is likely to establish a military base in the Solomon Islands within the next month following a security pact signed between the two nations. Labor blamed government inaction on the development while the coalition said it indicated China's growing preparedness to interfere in Pacific nation affairs.
THEY SAID IT: "Political language...is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. - George Orwell.
YOU SAID IT: "I am an elderly woman of 85 and the dread that filled me of going into care made me transfer the title of my home to my son. In return he will have to provide for me till the end of my days. It's cheaper for him to get 24/7 care and I won't be at the mercy of an aged care facility." - Maria.
"I am elderly 'generic old person' still at home, grappling with chronic mental health and reduced emotional, physical and energy capacity. Trying to decide, even with a "level four care package", whether to stay in my small unit or go to a facility is a nightmare. No best option." - Ronda.
"The retirement village where my father lived for four years moved from being very supportive to providing zilch when new people took over. It sacked staff and distanced the residents and escalated my father's deterioration." - Christine.
"Apart from causing terminal economic & social ruin, Australia can shut down all of its fossil fuel industries tomorrow and it will make not one jot of difference to global warming/climate change. Our total greenhouse gas emissions are less than two percent of the world's total. Until China (40%), USA (20%) & India & Russia (10% each) drastically cut their greenhouse gas production NOTHING will change." - Ross.
"Last night's debate was a non-event. I called it a draw - neither leader inspired. My mum was in a church-owned aged care facility. In reality it was a cost-cutting, money-making enterprise run by highly paid management. " - Bob.
"The baby boomers who owned property and received enormous tax free gains should repay their pensions upon death rather than allowing their beneficiaries to receive the benefit. Or alternatively make compulsory contributions to their retirement of equal amounts. It's that simple." - Michelle.
"Imagine if one of the parties said "instead of wasting this money on an election campaign, we will inject the funds straight into aged care and raise the staff ratio for residents on all shifts". Wouldn't need a campaign. Actions would speak for themselves." - Lynne.
"You lose me when you say 'There's no point just blaming governments and politicians.' Who else can we effectively apply pressure on? Sadly the Morrison government has failed to implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission. This is a vote changing issue for me so I am prepared to give the other mob a go at fixing this mess." - Laurenzo.
"Too much focus on captains. What about the teams? Let's see televised debates between Ministers and Shadow Ministers, with a crossbench member as well. Just policy and vision." - Lynda.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.