The ideological right’s absurd, pathetic and self-defeating attack on, and “calls” for the resignation of, Victorian deputy chief medical officer Annaliese van Diemen, represents a new low for this political formation in the period of COVID-19.
Like many I’ve been by turns bewildered and amused by the absolutely tin-eared, cack-handed way the Australian ideological right have played this historical moment.
As the country came together to make the sacrifice of lockdowns, with a widespread understanding of why it had to occur, a strong emphasis on shared burden, and a pride in achieving an exceptionally low death rate — and a lowered risk to health-care workers — the ideological right’s interventions have been a mix of adolescent poseurism, intellectual bad faith, and petulant time wasting.
They’ve paid for that by becoming near-utterly irrelevant to the conduct of the Morrison government. Andrew Bolt has spun into the wider reaches of crankdom, as a “lockdown denialist”.
Adam Creighton’s columns in The Australian are a compendium of false comparisons — road crossings versus exponentially spreading disease, or holding up late-onset no-lockdown Sweden (more than 2500 deaths) as a “success” when compared with early-onset countries like Italy, rather than with adjacent, similar, but locked-down Norway (210 deaths) or Finland (211). Gideon Rozner’s contribution has been to do a video in Melbourne’s deserted streets, like a student actor in a borrowed suit.
This has all been irrelevant, and as a delicious piece by Michael Koziol explored in the weekend SMH, the ideological right know they have been irrelevant. As the piece notes, obsessives like John Roskam have been basically fobbed off and handled by actual ministers, with real lives and deaths to deal with. Nick Cater, whilst awaiting further instructions from the Revolutionary Communist Party, bleated that his representations made a difference to the scale of the lockdown.
Well, maybe, but they have to say that don’t they? Because their public positions have been utterly repudiated.
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Now out of sheer pique and frustration, they’ve latched onto a tweet by van Diemen making an analogy between the virus and Captain Cook’s encounter with the Australian continent.
I’m not even going into the content of that tweet because there’s no need to consider it: it didn’t have any specific medical or health policy content, so van Diemen is free to say whatever she likes. The Victorian Liberal opposition was the first to launch the attack, a move simultaneously desperate, cynical and self-defeating.
What was once the anchor of the Liberal Party in Australia is now an irrelevant crew of happy-clappies and deep-cover Mormons whose alienation from the community they purport to represent has made Victoria a virtual one-party state.
The Australian joined in with a “calls to resign” story; Chris Kenny wondered how she could do her job while tweeting (erm…); she was called a “moron” by Creighton, whose elementary mishandling of statistics had to be corrected by John Quiggin. Victorian MP Tim Smith, starting a culture war, said van Diemen was starting a culture war.
This morning, the Herald Sun went in hard, with a triple-bylined front page article — three journalists assigned to pumping out right-wing propaganda, which gets in the way of our coronavirus response; what a sterling contribution they are making to society — and Rita Panahi, as usual, treating public debate as some sort of fairground coconut shy, lobbing a few cheap shots.
Finally, desperately, Peter Dutton lobbed in, in a desperate attempt to distract from his incompetent, lethal negligence in mismanaging the Home Affairs department and allowing the Ruby Princess to disembark.
Sadly, this entire political beat-up was given headline prominence in the “calls to resign” mode by both the Nine papers and the ABC. That’s not reporting a story; it’s amplifying a non-story for cheap hits.
Well, it’s the same old routine, applied to anyone who dares have a non-authorised opinion about ANZAC, Cook, etc, usually at the ABC or SBS. They can usually get a win from weak-kneed managements when the target is someone who might struggle to gain sympathy in some mainstream circles.
Not this time. This time they’re attacking a doctor, running a highly complex response to a pandemic, for a public who are grateful for the successful way it’s been handled, and the deaths that have been avoided. In that, Dr van Diemen represents us, because there is no real division over the ends of a strategy — we want to avoid mass death wot we’ve seen overseas, please thank you, and she and others are enacting our wishes.
By attacking van Diemen, the ideological right are attacking us.
The Andrews government has already come out and supported van Diemen. They should go further and name this whole affair for the scummy time-wasting nonsense it is. It doesn’t even have to be a free speech argument.
Just has to be that, when you start running a character assassination campaign on someone doing a vital job, then that’s when we say just stop.
There’s zero support out there for this pathetic culture squirmish; the pandemic has reminded us of what matters and doesn’t, and ensuring key medical staff have right-wing politically correct views about James Cook absolutely doesn’t.
Really, the ideological right should stop wasting all our time. They had a chance to formulate a response from within their own politics to the new historical event of a global pandemic, and changes in state-and-society relations that it entails, and they didn’t have the intellectual courage to face the challenge. Instead they retreated into nostalgia, trolling and sheer whininess.
They have no significant social base in Australia — groups like the IPA get by on the money that Big Tobacco and Big Sugar, the death merchants, tip into their coffers – and they’ve made that isolation starkly visible to all.
While the rest of us, left, right and centre, debate, in particular and reflexive terms, the multiple and conflicting priorities of managing a virus whose true character is not yet known to us, the idelogical right should fuck off to one of their pointless consiliums in the country for a while.
Compared to what they’ve offered so far, simply not getting in the way would count as a positive contribution.