In just days, the architect of one of the worst chapters in the life of Victoria (outside of war and the Great Depression) returns from three months away due to injury to take control of his discredited Cabinet. The loss of more than 800 Victorian lives in 2020 must not, and will not be forgotten. Ninety per cent of all Covid deaths in Australia have occurred in the state.
On learning of the prospect of Andrews’ return, a pervading sense of dread has descended on a broken and dispirited community — especially in Melbourne which as locals know, closely resembles a ghost town.
Triumphalism is unattractive in virtually any setting but in politics it is especially repugnant. Andrews is drawn to such behaviour much as a moth is drawn to bright light.
As if making a public declaration of his dissociation from reality, on the evening of Saturday 12 June Andrews took to Facebook to extoll his medical progress. His vertebra, he said, had almost fully healed and added that he’s ‘raring to go’ back at Spring Street from Monday 28 June. Bizarrely and insensitively, Andrews made his foray onto the internet while Victorians had just emerged from the fourteen-day lockdown imposed by his Deputy, James Merlino — with the Premier’s consent. Did he seriously believe relaying the news from his “medical team” would cheer us up?
It’s good news Andrews is recovering from the nasty incident in March which caused his serious injuries. But that he should regard his return to work as a moment for community rejoicing, especially just hours after our release from the fourth lockdown, suggests his cognitive recovery may not yet be complete. The ‘care factor’ amongst Victorians about the Premier’s actual, possible or imagined return is subterranean and the only person who doesn’t appreciate it seems to be the man himself.
So vital was the last statewide lockdown, it was anointed with its own name. It was called the ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown. This piercingly clever title was presumably the work of one of the Premier’s legions of scribes beavering away daily in his outer office.
Yet one question James Merlino, Martin Foley, Brett Sutton or any of the other luminaries at mission control in Spring Street hasn’t yet addressed is whether or not the lockdown achieved its ‘circuit breaker’ objective. A crushed and dejected electorate was just plain pleased it came to an end.
Merlino had told reporters the new outbreak was due to “a highly infectious strain of the virus, a variant of concern, which is running faster than we have ever recorded.” Other highly emotive language was used to describe it by the Chief Health Officer. Since then, there’s been an eerie silence from mission control on the status or trajectory of the ‘fast moving’ virus.
Helpfully for those at the controls, as Andrews prepares his North Face puffer jacket for official business, focus has shifted to Sydney, where a more nuanced response has been initiated by Gladys Berejiklian to localised outbreaks.
On any measure, Victorians young and old have been treated as fools since the pandemic impacted the State in early 2020. The intellectual vacuum in Spring Street has paraded itself fulsomely since then, with almost seven million of us subject to lockdown orders for a total (so far) of around 150 days.
Decisions such as these have consequences — but you won’t find anyone in public office willing to address these and you may sure that Andrews won’t be touching on these in his first, second or third media conferences upon returning to his throne.
Leaving to one side the truly catastrophic impact on retailing, small and big business, tourism and education (at all levels), the one truly horrendous subject that won’t be discussed by Spring Street operatives is the widespread and real stress-related and mental health impacts of their actions.
Are those suffering mental illness and anguish occasioned by Andrews and his cohort, supposed to join the well-wishers as he returns? Are those now facing ruined businesses, debt and consequential impacts supposed to throw streamers and raise their arms in joy as we are again subject to Andrews’ spin and evasion as part of the daily news diet?
Are they to believe that the messiah’s return will see a restoration of evidenced-based decision making, of rigorous, well-argued regulatory imposition on the masses? The grotesque back-slapping, self-satisfied, high-fiving congratulatory behaviour by Andrews, and those around him, is something voters will never forget.
Andrews’s hubris boiled over at the time he announced his return to the fray. He claimed (if l heard him correctly) he’d received “tens of thousands of cards and messages from well-wishers.”
No one gets tens of thousands of cards or messages these days — even those for whom fame is deserved. Perhaps in his downtime the Premier actually counted the messages, itself an unsettling thought.
Winter in Melbourne is a tough time for many, even in non-pandemic conditions.
To be forced again to stomach the oozing, pronounced insincerity, the ludicrous political spin and faux concern of Daniel Andrews, and those around him, will make what remains of this year harder than ever to endure.
Since March 2020, so many mistakes, so many errors of judgement, so many flawed decisions have been foist upon the Victoria population — from the lethal hotel quarantine regime to the failed and utterly decrepit contact tracing processes — it’s hard to point to a single reason why anyone would continue to have faith in the government.
Good leadership, like good friendship, is based on trust. In Victoria, trust in the political leadership of the state was broken a long while ago.
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