greg hunt
(Image: AAP/James Ross)

That didn’t last long did it? The right and everyone else throwing shade on Victoria; the now unified right-wing media of News Corp and Nine piling on hard.

Well the Andrews government deserved it for putting things in the hands of private contractors — part of the standard method of keeping everything off that actual government books.

Instead they were being slated for some sort of undefined socialistic-ish inefficiency, not officer material etc etc. The plan was obvious: make the Berejiklian government look good by comparison, and re-establish the old “party of government” dichotomy.

And theeeeeen … a planeload of Melburnians sailed through Sydney Airport and out into the city. Like we hadn’t been doing this for four months now. Like it was still late March.

And so we start the whole tired game again. The blame shifting. It’s Jetstar’s fault apparently. The health security of the state was put in the hands of an airline that flies (or used to) $40 seats Melbourne to Sydney. Because this busline-with-wings failed to do someone else’s job.

According to a NSW Health statement:

Airline staff, contrary to agreed protocols, allowed passengers to leave the gate area before the health staff had concluded screening a prior flight … As a result of this breach, flights will now not be allowed to land in NSW until NSW Health teams are in place to screen them.

Genius. State employees of the state Health Department screening arriving passengers for poor health. And all it took was the potentially catastrophic failure arising from the absence of such.

In the face of a New South Wales stuff-up federal Health Minister Greg Hunt is trying to spread the blame to Victoria, whose government apparently now has control over Sydney Airport. News Corp in particular is piling on Victoria in a way that may make it look very silly very soon. 

‘Ham-fisted amateurishness and incompetence’

When is this going to stop? The basic pretence at thorough governance from every government — federal and state — when there is none. The ham-fisted amateurishness and incompetence which reappears again and again. The failure by governments to really, really accept that they have a challenge on their hands to the basic conduct of life and that they have to step up to it. The deep desire on the part of many to not have to lead, to clap their hands over their eyes and hope it will go away.

This is one mark of our era which separates it from a period of modernity which ended some time in the 1990s in the west. Say what you like about everyone from Bismark through to Churchill, Lenin, Stalin, LBJ to Whitlam and Thatcher, John Cain and gahhhhhh Jeff Kennett — but they wanted to have a go. They wanted to set an agenda. To shape a world.

Since the onset of full globalisation and the dominance of world markets, political leadership has been marked by an influx of people who are deeply diffident about actually governing with a steady application of power.

That doesn’t mean they don’t do terrible things. Quite the contrary. It’s often the stupid stuff — like the invasion of Iraq, or the ramrodding of Brexit — that is done as a substitute for the desire to steadily govern.

As government became the administration of a neoliberal order it began to attract people who thought they might enjoy slotting into a given system, either because they were genuine believers who nevertheless recognised their own mediocrity, or because they were hustlers out to game the system.

The categorical nature of the COVID crisis seems to have  caught them like deer in a hunter’s lamp. The response to every stage of the crisis at the state level appears to have been to the proximate events only, with the deep wish that it was a dream whose unique events we were dealing with, with the promise of the alarm to wake us from it.

OK, that’s unfair. It has been a crisis of little recent precedent and the Andrews government was a lot more responsive than a lot of other places.

But for pity’s sake, having had a statewide lockdown? Why wasn’t there a plan in place for the contingency that local lockdowns might be necessary? Why wasn’t there a team model in place, where medical, care, social staff and community advocates would be at the lockdown area at the same time as the police? Why wasn’t there not merely a food, medical and general resources supply plan in place, but a warehouse full of ready-to-go kits set up?

People would jump at the chance to help

Thousands of restaurants closed or at half-speed, tens of thousands of chefs and hospo staff spinning their wheels, and you’re mailing in cheese sandwiches in a cardboard box? God. Set up kitchens at the base of the towers and make up thousands of high-quality meals. There’s umpteen qualified people who’d jump at the chance to do it, to do something.

Where’s the sense of audacity? Where’s the sense that crisis provides opportunity to make things better? It’s absent for the same reason as the lack of real leadership: a neoliberal reshaping of life has been so comprehensive that people find it impossible to imagine we could live any other way.

The COVID virus has exposed the desperate strategy of current capitalism: keep an economy going through discretionary spending funded by tax cuts, maintain permanent scarcity and social underdevelopment by consequent lack of reinvestment. The multiplier effect runs through dining out and drinking out and basically blowing all your money.

Now we can’t do that, the demultiplier is taking over. The fatal over-reliance the West has put on this absurd model of resource allocation is visible in the UK, where the Tory Chancellor Rishi Sunak is using a mass subsidy to offer 10 pound-a-meal virtual vouchers at restaurants. That really is a return to the spirit of the Rooseveltian New Deal, ain’t it? Quite aside from the fact that it will help restart the virus (now down to “only” 500 new cases a day).

Hopefully, hopefully, federal and state public servants and Libs outside Victoria aren’t just sitting back and having a larf at our plight but will use it as a learning experience for what will come next and how it might be possible to get out the front of it if someone will just lead rather than merely react.

But don’t bet on it. Here in Victoria we’re the testing ground. Andrews is talking about a lockdown past six weeks. He’ll be lucky if we get to that.

There isn’t an infinite social capacity to observe such rules. Eventually the low-risk young will simply start breaking it en masse and there will be not merely a public health crisis but one of state legitimacy and power.

Nothing these days is lasting long, except the virus, and everyone’s got a strategy till they’re punched in the face. Andrews and everyone else had better have a plan B in their pocket. Hell, a fully worked out plan A wouldn’t go amiss.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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