As it becomes clearer and clearer that the Berejiklian government has presided over a disaster in New South Wales that will inflict major damage on the national economy, the questions around what drove — and continue to drive — its decision-making about lockdowns become more serious.
The line from both the NSW and federal governments is that the Delta variant is a “gamechanger” — a word that always signals you’re expected to turn your brain off for what follows — and that previous policies that worked have become unsuccessful. Except that only applies in NSW, where six weeks of lockdown have only pushed up the numbers of daily infections above the 350 mark. As Ross Gittins succinctly pointed out recently, much of the blame in fact lies with industry lobby groups and business cheerleaders in the media and their influence over the NSW government.
Gladys Berejiklian appears to be out of ideas about stopping the growing wave of infections, reducing herself to a hapless bystander who can only urge people to abide by the rules and get vaccinated, a mere premier who only controls what legislation applies and what a whole police force and health system do — why ask her to take any further action to reduce the spread of COVID? How long that stance is politically sustainable is an open question if the daily numbers climb to higher-three figures.
Less than an hour after Berejiklian gave her latest “Well, what can I do” act, Scott Morrison emerged in Canberra to offer a response to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. It was a response that could have been — and, like his “gas-led recovery plan”, very well might have been — written by his fossil fuel donors and supporters: Santos, Origin, Woodside, Whitehaven Coal, Adani, Gina Rinehart, Clive Palmer, Chevron, Energy Australia, Delta Energy, the petroleum explorers and the Minerals Council.
Sign up for a FREE 21-day trial and get Crikey straight to your inbox
Aside from the usual “meet and beat” lie about 2030 targets and the “technology not taxes” silliness, Morrison threw in some other tricks and tropes: it was all the fault of developing countries and China (“the big carbon club” as News Corp calls it), yay for carbon capture and storage, and he’s not going to let regional communities bear the impact of climate action.
Some of those tropes (blaming the world’s poor) are relatively recent additions to the denialist lexicon; others, like the claim that any kind of environmental action necessarily has an economic cost compared with business as usual, have been around for decades.
Amusingly, Morrison also attacked the “vandals” who graffitied a few prize spots in the national capital: “I’ll tell you what the Australian way isn’t, the Australian way is not what we have seen with the vandalism in our capital today.”
Actually, vandalism is the Australian way, PM — vandalism much more profound than a bit of red paint on some masonry. Like vandalism of the entire political and policymaking process. Vandalism in which corporate donors get to dictate — even draft — energy policy; in which consumers are compelled to subsidise commercially unviable fossil fuel power stations; in which coal and gas companies control the National Party and get to veto even hopelessly inadequate climate targets. Vandalism in which a government uses taxpayer funding to buy its way back to power with hundred of millions — billions — of dollars of pork-barrelling without even a pretence of consultation with affected communities, local governments or its own public servants.
A bit of paint on the wall of the Lodge? That’s not vandalism. The government’s pork-barrelling and corruption? Now that’s vandalism. The people who splashed a bit of Taubman’s around Parliament House ought to take some lessons from the pros inside the ministerial wing.
More than timing united yesterday’s media conferences. Both were of governments that refuse to lead, that refuse to even govern in the public interest, because of the toxic influence of powerful business interests that provide a steady flow of funding to the Liberal Party, that offer the prospect of lucrative post-political employment, and which are run and assisted by former political staffers and even former political colleagues.
That influence has given us a lost decade on climate action, and an escalating emergency in NSW where we can only vaguely hope for Christmas with our families.
Another thing unites them as well. The Morrison and Berejiklian governments are both deeply corrupt. We’ve seen from the ABC this week another example of Berejiklian’s willingness to intervene in policy processes to help her former boyfriend, Daryl Maguire. The rorting and pork-barrelling of her government is so blatant she herself has defended it as a perk of office after her own staff shredded documents to evade accountability. Both Berejiklian and her Health Minister Brad Hazzard visibly resent being questioned about pandemic decisions — a stark contrast to Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, who for all his many faults fronts up to the media and stays there until the media runs out of questions.
Berejiklian’s hostility to legitimate scrutiny and questioning is of course relatively limited compared with the molecule-thin skin of Morrison, who seems to find the basic accountability requirements of being in government some kind of profound affront to his personal dignity.
And when your government is corrupt, and when you hate accountability, is it any wonder that you can’t lead, and preside over disasters? They go hand in hand. A contempt for governance leads to incapacity to govern. And now we’re in a colossal mess because of it.