‘Daddy, what did you do in the Great Pandemic?’ People are getting ready to answer this question for when things return to normal, if they ever do, and they can reflect on what they did in the era of Covid-19; how did they protect themselves, what did they do to help others, how did they occupy the lonely hours of lockdown, and what did the whole ghastly business teach them about government, politics and the world in which we live. I have been making my own list of what I would put in the Hall of Fame or, regrettably more often, the Hall of Shame, because that is what they deserve. In a competitive field, here are the main contenders.
- The crisis has highlighted that governments can now scarcely do anything right. It was appalling, for instance, that in estimating the expected cost of JobKeeper, the federal government could have made the monumental error of $60 billion. But it did. And this was not just the usual incompetence of government in adding up and multiplying figures or writing legislation through which you could drive a coach and four, sending cheques to the dead or losing the file. No, this was a calculation from a galaxy far away where reason, logic and common sense are unknown and where, even allowing for the greed and dishonesty of people where there is a government handout, the estimate was wildly astray. Governments have access to algorithms, legions of economists, computers whirring through the night, software, hardware, magic and witchcraft at vast expense, and yet they could still get no closer to the real figure than if they were on Mars. And, as if to underwrite that this appalling performance was the new normal, it carried no punishment, no reprimand, and not even a touch of that most weasel-like of responses, counselling. Of equal despair, the people who were really responsible for this miscalculation are the people in whose hands we have put our confidence that they are making sensible decisions. And if it is possible to go beyond even that low level of esteem, those responsible, Morrison, Frydenberg and their inner circle are supposed to be the good ones.
- But the government should never have contemplated anything like JobKeeper. It is not the responsibility of government to subside wages; it is also bad politics, because you can never end it and some people will miss out. The most that government should do is provide short term emergency relief, and only in cases of need. Sadly, our predictions about this scheme are coming true.
- From the vast range of largesse and industry assistance, it emerges that the Liberal party that was once the party of free enterprise, self-reliance and discipline is now the party of the handout and the mendicant. That is, of course, in addition to its being the party that cannot add up. It is the party of debt, big government, extravagant spending, wasting money and sapping what little is left of initiative and self-help. As a leftie friend of mine said: ‘All my mates are laughing at you behind your back. You are paying them more under JobKeeper than they were earning before, you are giving them more on JobSeeker (the dole) than before, they no longer have to apply for work and they have no community obligations. So, none of them work at all. They’re made, mate’. It has also been truly depressing to watch business people put their hand out for a subsidy and the government encouraging them to beg. Virtually every industry now has a special ‘package’ of ‘help’. Its cost is monumental, it has created an unsustainable debt burden and it has sapped the economy of its greatest asset, the animal spirits of private enterprise which now looks to the government before relying on itself. At the time of the last election Morrison’s mantra was: ‘If you have a go, you will get a go’. Now, it should be: ‘If you want a go, don’t bother’. Little wonder that Morrison’s numbers have gone up in the opinion polls; people will always support you when you are handing out money.
- The stupidity of these financial decisions is surpassed by the failure of governments to protect their citizens from further contagion. The NSW decision to allow the passengers on the Ruby Princess to disembark without checks, Covid testing and in some cases without passports or immigration clearance, hits new depths of bungling and incompetence. It shows a remarkable ability to avoid proper processes and an equally remarkable indifference to the health of the people, a text-book example of what not to do in a crisis.
- The NSW incompetence was easily matched by the Victorian government’s decision to corral returning passengers in hotels in Melbourne guarded by untrained and seemingly indifferent, so-called security guards who took the disease home and spread it around and who, if you can believe the reports , took their charges shopping, cavorted with them and even slept with them. Human nature tells you there must be some truth in these charges as, whenever Daniel Andrews or his ministers are questioned, they take refuge in that age-old exhibition of political duplicity: ‘We have appointed an Inquiry into that, so it would be inappropriate to comment.’
- Until we got a basic grasp on what was happening with the progress of the virus, there was some sympathy for China and, I think, a genuine hope that with goodwill we could work together, not only on eradicating the disease, but in making progress in every facet of our relations. But as the era of Covid opened up, we lost our respect for this evil regime that lies, fabricates evidence, abuses its own people, intimidates its neighbours and has no respect for human rights.
‘What did you do daddy?’ Well, most of the time I just shook my head in dismay.
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