Daniel-Andrews
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews (Image: AAP/James Ross)

Well, what a great great week it was in Australia and the world. Great week. Shall I count the ways?

It began with a fresh assault on the university system that managed to be both malign and incompetent, continued with news that temperatures in the arctic circle has gone above 30 degrees, proceeded with more details about the secret trial of two whistleblowers of the government’s international criminality, proceeded with a relentless attack on industry super funds for not handing over hundreds of billions of workers’ money, for management by shonk-… uh, by commercial agents.

It then peaked with mass layoffs at Qantas and the CSIRO, and finished up with the evisceration of the ABC.

And it had had a prelude at the end of last week, with the resignation of The Age editor Alex Lavelle amid a staff rebellion against the political nobbling of the papers from the top. And this is all happening against the background of a renewed rise in COVID-19 cases and a pile-on on the Victorian government. 

Now have I missed anything?

I mean have I bloody missed anything?

What would be the anatomy of this particular melancholy?

The coronavirus is an incidental event, massive but incidental. It may well turn out to be the prelude to a whole new stage of history, but for the moment it’s an incident, giving the Morrison government some cover to do a whole lot of things it would want to do anyway.

But the gradual realisation that our first stage of lockdown has not eliminated the virus, and that it is not easily removed, has spread silently and in a somewhat unspoken fashion.

It has been used to pile on the Andrews government (including by an opposition that opposed the implementation of the first lockdown comprehensively), but it seems likely that this is a measure of Victoria’s success, not failure. It had managed to beat down the virus so well that the inevitable re-occurrence has been somewhat stark.

Education Minister Dan Tehan’s attack on the unversities is brutal — and incompetent — but hardly unexpected. The temperature spike in the Arctic circle barely registered, even though it should be the news of the week. Qantas, well, the persistence of the virus is going to entirely restructure air travel, and laid-off workers need packages and support, but it is the leading edge of a more general crisis that we are avoiding confronting. 

What made the ABC the kiss of the whip at the end of the week was the feeling, for anyone who would vaguely think of themselves as “progressive” or even “liberal”, that many things are being hollowed out from within, not merely being attacked from without.

The latter we can take; we are accustomed to it.

But what the ABC has needed for years, and hasn’t got, is a head who will publicly and vigorously defend it, and the whole idea of comprehensive public broadcasting, and challenge the government to make its attack visible.

Coalition governments know that there is a residual support for the ABC, and that they don’t want the grief of a head-on assault, so they attack it by the death of a thousand cuts.

Leadership that appeases it simply feeds that process. More importantly, it weakens the idea of a public broadcaster as a public good. I, and many others I suspect, would prefer a full-throated roar of defiance on behalf of Aunty, even if that risks incurring greater government wrath.

At least we’d be fighting for it. 

That applies ditto to The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age (whose staff had the guts to stand up), and it covers the other dispiriting event which I deliberately left out of the roll-call above: Labor’s announcement that it would be looking for consensus to end the climate wars — with something like a surrender of key ground to a Coalition position that is irrational and lethal. 

Look, I get the dual purpose of the announcement. The public purpose is to make Labor seem like the party of plain good sense, the Coalition as the ideologues.

Behind the scenes, it is a concession by Anthony Albanese to the pro-coal “Otis” faction — pretty much the successor/new version of the Stephen Conroy faction, now reinventing itself as clients of the fossil fuel industry as backing for their wars within the party.

Albanese and the left know that the Otis faction could swing back into a new alliance with Bill Shorten, now that Shorten ally Adem Somyurek’s “Mods” have been beaten back. The pushback against Somyurek has given them a new power. 

So, for progressives, the bad calls are coming from inside the house. 

Labor is either unable or unwilling to put together a comprehensive stand, a rallying of an alternative way. As Nick Dyrenfurth noted in The Australian a few weeks ago, nothing has been done since the 2019 loss to learn from the defeat and develop a coherent, joined-up policy which would set progressive and moderate positions within a larger whole. 

It’s the absence of this that seems killing — even given a few bracing victories in the “statue wars” (whose role is, in any case, ambiguous, to say the least). And with it, the knowledge that there is no mass “other” to resist this relentless process, in a country whose mainstream has been privatised, atomised and wholly disconnected from access to power.

I have, in the space of a single article, no easy answer to all of this, and even in Australia sudden sharp shifts are possible. But the first stage of anything is to be able to see reversal clearly, and not sublimate it into something else.

It was just a bad sequence on one hand — but it was something more than that as well.

Great week, great week.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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