Stricken by all the attention being paid to New South Wales, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, joined the ABC’s 7.30 for a pile-on against Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Tuesday night. Each has done so for different reasons.
Andrews has lashed out at the PM claiming he’s governing in favour of NSW, Morrison’s home state, at the expense of Victoria. Andrews is silent on whether it’s only Victoria that has been financially dudded in Covid support by the Commonwealth, in his assessment. But make no mistake, Andrews detests the Berejiklian government and is delighted to throw some collateral mud their way.
While ABC 7.30 (and Four Corners) attacks on Morrison and his government have been unrelenting and longstanding — these have more to do with deep-seated enmity over funding, the ‘Porter affair’ and the ABC campaign over the treatment of women in Parliament House. The ABC has never adjusted to the result of the last federal election. The corporation, along with many others, believed Labor would win it in a canter.
The emergence of Dan Andrews in combative mode nationally represents a shift for the Premier and will have been calculated and calibrated for its political potency — along with everything else the Victorian Premier does. He returned to his desk on 28 June following lengthy recovery from severe injury sustained in a fall on 9 March.
For all his bravado within the State that produced him, Andrews has — unlike his fellow Labor Premiers Annastascia Pałaszczuk and Mark McGowan — remained relatively quiet in national debated, perhaps especially during the darkest of dark days in lockdown last year.
Keen political observers have noted that Andrews’ force derives precisely from his tendency to focus on ‘his patch’ and not engage in stoushes he can’t fully control.
The Premier, we know, seeks to manipulate the domestic political agenda, and public sentiment, by saturation usage of market research. Millions of Victorian taxpayers’ dollars are spent each year on it and it informs, infuses and guides virtually every aspect of policy development and communication by the government.
As revealed by The Australian this week in bundles of much-redacted documents obtained by freedom of information requests, the vast publicly-funded communications unit overseen by the Premier has employed consultants who have been quietly asking taxpayers’ their views on everything from last year’s 112-day lockdown, to the language of health experts, to our thoughts on the state’s infrastructure projects weighed against their massive cost blowouts.
Labor, certainly in Victoria and federally, remain highly fertile ground for the country’s market research firms. Judging by a shot of a sleek-looking John Armitage, the boss of QDOS (the firm favoured by Victorian Labor) and a former Labor strategist himself, business recently seems to have been remarkably buoyant.
Understanding the point about market research and what Andrews and his media operatives do with it is central to understanding the supremacy of the Victorian government, in particular, its leader.
Choreography for Andrews covers everything from his clothing, the position of his hands, his expression, his tone — but above all else — his message. For site visits, it’s work boots and high viz jackets (proving he’s getting on with the job) while for the knock-about, cool leader doing his bit for the punters, it’s the North Face puffer and jeans.
Frequently, the words and phrases provided to him via market research, are simply fed back to the voters with all the sincerity and spontaneity the Premier can muster. But something has changed.
Andrews’ attack on Morrison is calculated to inflict further federal pain at a time when the Commonwealth is fending off claims of a poor vaccine rollout and issues around the lack of availability of the preferred Pfizer vaccine for certain cohorts in Australia.
Andrews, and his advisers, calculate that attacking the PM now (while the full pain of Covid lockdowns is being felt outside Victoria) will play well with Victorian voters. The Premier went further claiming that Victorians are “sick of begging for every scrap of support” during the state’s recent lockdown. Andrews is also betting his remarks will go down well at least in other Labor states.
His reference to “Victorians are sick of begging” is classic research spun into words to enhance the ‘hero status’ of the Premier without actually changing the status quo in any way. The researched line from Andrews he hopes will stick, this week at least, is “Morrison is PM for NSW.”
The slanging match between Victoria and Canberra would appear to have more fuel in the tank. The state’s Industry Support and Recovery Minister, Martin Pakula, has entered the fray in a bid to buttress his leader’s utterances on the same subject. Pakula said, “it’s beyond question that the federal government’s treatment of his state and NSW has been unequal.
Two other factors could be at play in Andrews’ federal foray. The first is that he senses NSW is politically vulnerable as it extends the current lockdown till at least the end of the month and secondly, that Australians generally are exhausted by the lengthy crisis and fearful for its impact on their businesses, livelihoods and families.
In their reckless attacks on the Commonwealth, neither Andrews, Pakula or Tim Pallas (the Victorian Treasurer) seem to care that the vast bulk of Covid financial support has been provided by the Federal Government — and will be again in the event it’s needed.
Meanwhile, we the punters, are left to get on with our lives whether in lockdown or not believing governments are operating in our interests.
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