We need a second opinion. The good news is we are about to get one.
The Prime Minister has not been able to provide Australians with a clear story about what's in the modelling by the Doherty Institute, which was asked to provide a picture of what Australia needed to do before we could reopen the country.
When could we end lockdown? When could we get on a plane (I am never, ever getting on a boat)? How many of us would need to be vaccinated? And when we say us, what the hell does that mean? Are we prepared for a particular number of deaths if we reopen quickly? How many would we be prepared to sacrifice?
The modelling report is hard to get your head around even if you are an epidemiologist. I could not find one epidemiologist who believes Mr Morrison has read the Doherty report, and I don't think I've ever asked a question as a journalist which has elicited so much laughter.
If we were told we only had a few months to live, we would seek a second opinion. Now a coalition of Covid modellers is giving us one. The Australian COVID-19 Modelling Initiative (AUSCMI) is a coalition of university research groups distilling the best of what they know about COVID-19, to give us multiple models. The aim is to make modelling easy to understand for all of us, including the Prime Minister.
Tony Blakely, director of the Population Interventions Unit at the University of Melbourne's School of Population and Global Health, says he and others were concerned about the lack of transparency and the public availability of modelling. Good to have Doherty's work in the public eye, but better to have models from a range of groups providing input into decision-making.
As he says, "No one group can be sure its model is right, because we are predicting the future."
So a collaboration emerged of modellers across Australia, including units from the Burnet Institute, the UNSW's Kirby Institute, Sydney University, the University of Western Australia and Blakely's own unit.
"The advantage is that if we all agree, you can feel confident about the policy decisions you make - but if three, four or five groups disagree, then you would have to be pretty cautious and ask the modellers to go back and look at everything again," he says.
"There is a major structural flaw in the approach to dealing with the pandemic. We need independent groups and contestible models."
Right now, the only contest we have is discovering which particular table out of the many in the report is being used without the Prime Minister telling us the nitty gritty. Sure, let's open up at 70 percent of adults vaccinated and decide if Australians can really put up with 1500 people dying.
Morrison's supposed to be an excellent retail politician but he's not doing a very good job of selling this. In the same way, he single-handedly destroyed the reputation of the AstraZeneca vaccine with a hysterical late-night press conference, he's undermined the expertise of the Doherty Institute, whose director Sharon Lewin appeared on the ABC's 7.30 twice in quick succession, perhaps to make up for the Prime Minister's Cliffs Notes version of the report.
Which brings me to prime ministers. Morrison's predecessors are known swots. Malcolm Turnbull tells me he always read a lot.
"I often surprised public servants with detailed drafting comments on long docs and legislation," he says.
"But with very long reports you do need a good summary, which then enables you to dive into the areas of greatest interest. I had very good staff in my office who were policy-oriented. In some areas I dug into the technical detail very deeply - water, telecom, energy, shipbuilding among many others."
Of course, he would have read the Doherty report. As Sydney Morning Herald columnist Peter Hartcher wrote in his book Red Zone: "Turnbull steeped himself in the detail. The Prime Minister was 'very forensic in his questioning, he obviously did his own homework,' related [a] senior spy. 'Bought himself a book on 5G security, I kid you not. We had to buy the book and make sure we understood it. It was a good grilling.'"
Kevin Rudd, too, is famous for his swottiness. He reminds me that he was on top of all the technical financial market briefs during the global financial crisis.
"You must read core reports on big public policy questions [but] there is nothing wrong with asking for follow-up oral briefings on questions you don't understand," he says.
"I also did that a lot."
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He says the Australian Public Service is full of really bright people who are underutilised by this government, which "somehow believes it knows it all".
Look, my eldest sister was a swot, and it can be unbearable to be compared to the clever clogs before us. But there you go. Unavoidable, really. We need more and better, not less and glib.
The Burnet Institute's Allan Saul has researched infectious diseases for over 40 years. He says the Doherty report is a very difficult document, really hard, with two versions appearing over three weeks.
"I'm still clarifying things about it on a day-to-day basis, so it's not reasonable to expect any politicians would get all the nuance," he says.
But he's very clear on one thing: "All models are wrong, including the Doherty model. It's useful but it's wrong.
"I'm in awe of what those guys at Doherty did, but my scepticism over the years tells me it is not terribly smart to rely slavishly on what any single model says, least of all mine."
And beyond the modelling, Stephen Duckett, health program director at the Grattan Institute, says Morrison must stop playing the optimist. Covid has come at us fast since August 3 when the Doherty report was published. Contact tracers aren't keeping up, and nor is vaccine availability.
We need to get a second opinion - and that's advice the Prime Minister should take today.
- Jenna Price is a visiting fellow at the Australian National University and a regular columnist.