PM’s humiliating phone call to Education Minister Dan Tehan
Scott Morrison ordered his own Education Minister to issue a grovelling apology to the Victorian Labor Premier Dan Andrews on Sunday over school closures in a private phone call.
While speculation has emerged the Prime Minister sent out Education Minister Dan Tehan to do his dirty work on Sunday when he attacked Victoria, news.com.au can reveal that there was no "good cop, bad cop" agreement in the bungled operation.
In fact, the Prime Minister called Mr Tehan after his Insiders appearance and urged him to retreat.
What followed was one of the fastest political surrenders since the 1896 Anglo-Zanzibar War was over in 45 minutes, one of the shortest recorded wars in history.
During the Sunday phone call, the Mr Morrison instructed his Education Minister to put out the statement where Mr Tehan admitted he "overstepped the mark" when he questioned the Mr Andrews' "leadership" for not returning to classroom teaching more quickly.
The behind-the-scenes brain explosion that prompted Mr Tehan to attack the Victorian Premier's "leadership" was also canvassed during his phone call with the PM.
Mr Tehan admitted he was distressed by a woman who had approached him in a supermarket recently and told him that school was crucial to managing the behaviour of her disabled teenage son.
"He is now being violent towards her," he said.
In the statement on Sunday, Mr Tehan hinted he was thinking of such a case study and children affected by bushfires who haven't been to school in six months when he accused the Victorian Premier of a failure of leadership.
"It was those examples I was thinking of this morning during my interview on Insiders when I expressed my personal frustration that more schools weren't starting more in-class learning in my home state," he said.
"It was this frustration that led me to overstep the mark in questioning Premier Andrews' leadership on this matter and I withdraw."
The Victorian Premier surfaced on Monday morning to confirm he had not contacted the Prime Minister to request the apology.
"I'm not particularly worried about Mr Tehan," Mr Andrews said.
"I saw the comments. And then I read a statement later on, later on in the day. That was not my focus. Ultimately - we need to be really clear about this. Fighting amongst ourselves is not what's needed.
"Fighting this virus is what's most important."
Why the Prime Minister gave orders for his Minister to apologise is instructive to understanding just how highly Mr Morrison values the unity within national cabinet to the task of fighting COVID-19.
It follows his own private apology to the Victorian Premier inside the National Cabinet just weeks ago.
Once again, the flashpoint was school closures and Mr Andrews' anger over the Prime Minister's Facebook address where he urged the states to resume classroom teaching a day before the national cabinet.
As columnist Niki Savva revealed in The Australian on April 23, the Victorian Premier angrily tackled the Prime Minister in the meeting, complaining that the national unity forged through the national cabinet had been breached.
"Andrews bluntly told Morrison that he did not run schools, the premiers, and chief ministers did," she wrote.
"He confronted Morrison about it the next day during the national cabinet video hook-up. Morrison - stop the presses - apologised, then switched after the meeting to tell parents: 'If you are going to school in Victoria, there is only one person you need to listen to and that is the Premier of Victoria'."
The political ambush strategy deployed by the Prime Minister in the Facebook instance was one pioneered by the Victorian Premier and his NSW counterpart Gladys Berejiklian.
Over a month ago, they publicly announced their intention to shut down parts of the economy ahead of a national cabinet amid concerns the federal government was not moving fast enough, blindsiding the PM.
But Mr Morrison had clearly arrived at the realisation that playing the same game is not productive.
It was Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu who said the first essential to victory was knowing when to fight and when not to fight.
Mr Tehan failed that test on Sunday, but Victoria's Premier Dan Andrews has clearly mastered one of Sun Tzu's other precepts: how to win without fighting.