Prime Minister Scott Morrison has promised to cut excessive COVID-19 restrictions and return freedom to Australians, as he gave a re-election pitch that seeks to keep the country “stronger, safer, together.”
Giving a speech titled “What Matters Most” at The Sydney Institute’s annual dinner on Monday, Morrison said it’s “not normal” for governments to have such continued power over people’s lives.
“While necessary, it is not normal for government to tell Australians where we can and can’t go, who we can and can’t invite into our homes, to stay home, to close our businesses,” he said.
“It’s not normal to keep track of where we’ve been, not be allowed to visit friends or relatives, go out to dinner or the pub. None of these restrictions belong in the lives of Australians.”
During the past two years, Australian state leaders have deployed harsh measures to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, including domestic border closures, vaccine mandates, and snap lockdowns—sometimes across entire cities, even in response to a single case of COVID-19.
Melbourne in Victoria state has become known as the city with the world’s longest lockdown, totaling 262 days over six separate lockdowns since March 2020.
The Prime Minister pushed back against the left-wing accusation that a more expansive government role is becoming a “new norm,” arguing that the reach of government during the pandemic has a “use-by date.”
“Why do I stress this? Because I believe some on the left of politics will draw precisely the wrong lesson from the pandemic,” he said. “Where it is viewed as the pretext for a more expansive government role and reach into society–across economic, social and cultural domains.”
“This would be a profound misjudgment, in light of both our liberal democratic inheritance and what now lies in front of us as we secure our recovery.
“By instinct more than ideology, Australians support effective, practical yet limited government. An enabling partner; not a meddling, busy-body overseer.”
Talking about Australia’s COVID-19 response, Morrison acknowledged that the government did not get everything right but praised the nation’s low death and high vaccination rates.
“We had our challenges, and I can assure you we had our critics, but in a crisis, what matters is not that you have setbacks – and we had them –but that you overcome them,” he said.
“And we did, clawing back the ground lost by early non-delivery of vaccines from overseas, and restrictions placed on the AstraZeneca vaccine.”
Almost 90 percent of Australia’s eligible population is now fully vaccinated, with over 93 percent having had their first dose.
Most jurisdictions have had their domestic borders open for Christmas, with Western Australia announced to join the rest of the country from February next year.
The Prime Minister also said lower taxes, less regulation, and a “sustainable” migration program are needed for the nation’s economic recovery in 2022, as the Reserve Bank forecasts a growth of 5.5 percent next year.
“Our economy is primed for growth. But securing our economic recovery in 2022 cannot be taken for granted,” he said. “We must continue to get the fundamentals right–lower taxes, less regulation and sound public financial management.”
Morrison also touted Australia’s involvement in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, AUKUS and ASEAN on national security.
“Internationally, within our region and further … we’ve been pursuing Australia’s interest, standing up to coercion and supporting a world that favours freedom and the rule of law,” he said.
In a pitch to voters at the dinner, Morrison said the experience gained by the Coalition government in combating COVID-19 would “secure Australia’s success.”
“In the past 20 months, our operational tempo as a government has made us more experienced, more prepared, and more resilient for the next set of challenges our nation faces. And there will be many more in the years ahead,” he said.
“To secure Australia’s success, to secure our economic recovery, to keep Australians safe in an uncertain world, and to keep Australians moving forward together.”
“Stronger, safer, together.”