Acting tough in government is easy during a crisis.
Prime Ministers and Premiers routinely dress up the easiest of decisions to make them appear hard, but make no mistake about whose interests are being protected.
Actions taken in the name of ‘protecting the community’ — which so frequently involve outlawing, restricting or banning — is second nature in all levels of government in Australia.
The leader of the ‘just ban it’ brigade is, you guessed it, Daniel Andrews’ miserable command and control operation in Victoria.
The modus operandi of the bovver boys and girls that make up the Cabinet in Andrews’ Spring Street bunker is not to open up, facilitate or encourage – but to restrict, smother and ban. Even now, when cononavirus is all but banished from the state, still we’re wearing masks and central Melbourne remains a ghost town.
Loads of precedents demonstrate how easy it is to appear strong in government.
Julia Gillard calling the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses into Child Abuse or John Howard’s move against firearms after the grotesque mass killing of people at Port Arthur are two examples where resolute decision-making simply masks what plainly should have been done and done way earlier. Neither decision was courageous and neither reflected well on those making the decisions.
Outlaw virtually everything, restrict what’s left and punters reckon you must be acting in their interests. Incumbency bestows advantage to political parties that want to be seen to be strong and virtuous, while ‘nuanced’ decision making would have achieved similar outcomes without the associated pain and suffering. This year has been witness to way too much of the latter.
Nothing that has emerged from the Andrews’ bunker in 2020 could be said to have been finessed or nuanced. It is nothing more than banning freedom of movement and in so doing, trashing the state’s economic foundations. It is now clearer than ever that the Premier just didn’t care what he did to the economy, to jobs, to innovation or to hope.
For governments, ‘nuance’ is an unfamiliar concept in much the same way as benevolence, or public interest, are all too often beyond the grasp of public administrators.
Considered policy architecture usually entails hard work, analysis, deep understanding and a heightened awareness of consequence. Why bother demanding all that when you can ban something altogether and look really tough doing it?
Beyond the horrors of the Victorian government’s shameful and lethal ‘governance’ of hotel quarantine arrangements — and contract tracing) — another standout example of Spring Street totally botching policy is the summary ban on the simple pleasure of rock climbing in The Grampians, in Western Victoria.
Parks Victoria, for reasons known only to its petty-minded, under-occupied bureaucrats, have run a vicious and entirely unjustified campaign against people in the community who wish to spend their recreation time testing their skills and fitness by climbing rocks.
Parks Victoria, has spent much time, and a lot of our money, propelling itself into the arms of those who believe breathing, and much else besides, ought to be banned. In March last year, with a stroke of a taxpayer-funded pen, about one-third of the Grampians National Park was closed to climbers.
The park is noted as one of the top rock climbing destinations in the world, has been the centre of some highly effective tourism attraction campaigns over decades, and is home to some extraordinary examples of indigenous art and heritage. Rather than actually do its job of ‘managing’ these beautiful and important landscapes, Parks Victoria just bans rock climbing.
Climbers have willingly acknowledged the importance of the heritage sites and the vast majority of those visiting to climb take great care, in all they do, to protect known locations of national importance.
This is nowhere near good enough for the breathless rangers and city bureaucrats. They want to ban the enjoyment of the majority because of the idiocy of the minority. Climbers themselves have been self-regulating and doing a very impressive job of keeping ‘ignorant’ and ‘one-off’ visitors out of the place.
Walkers and rock climbers are manifestly people who visit these remarkable places because of the natural beauty and precious history of these mountains.
They are not wreckers. They are contemporary custodians and they feel utterly abandoned by a government which has contempt for anyone wishing to enjoy themselves.
The arbitrary and utterly unjustified position taken by Parks Victoria and the Minister for just about everything Lily D’Ambrosio has had a terrible and lasting impact on the economic viability of small towns hitting trade and accommodation volumes massively.
This is, of course, on top of the horrendous impacts of the covid lockdowns on every city and town across the state.
Neither the government nor the nitwits at Parks Victoria have produced any reliable evidence that alleged damage at heritage sites is the work of rock climbers.
If either arm of government had bothered to actually do some work, to engage with key figures in the climbing world and other park users, they might have discovered that its rock climbers who are doing more to protect the park
These (mostly young) dedicated athletes have a highly developed love and respect for the landscapes and locations in which they climb.
In short, Minister, rock climbers are not the problem. The luminaries over at Parks Victoria, so intent on their partisan, leftist ideological games, are the problem.
It is to the shame of the Andrews government that this decision, and so many others this year, have been dressed up to look difficult when all the while the decisions were those of weak, outmoded lazy public administrators and their political masters.
John Simpson is a Melbourne company director.
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