Here and there – Thoughts on our present discontents

In The Age, this morning, an article by Peter Hartcher contained two propositions that caught my eye.  One is that the only quarantine station performing as one should in Australia is that which was controlled by the federal government – although it is now handing over control of the facility to the Northern Territory. 

The other is that the current lockdown in Victoria comes from a failure of a hotel quarantine in another state, South Australia (which of course says the system worked as it should; as does the Prime Minister.)  ‘On one occasion, Case B opened his room door to collect his meal; then 18 seconds later, Case A opened his door to collect his meal.  This was during the time Case B was infectious, but prior to staff knowing.’  It looks like ‘adequate ventilation’ had not had time to flush away the virus-laden air exhaled by Case B.  Case A went to Victoria, and we are now shut down again.

On a good day, that might remind us of Groucho Marx before the mirrors in Freedonia in Duck Soup.  But millions of people are hurting, and businesses are going to the wall.  We are taking that pain because the federal government has not taken the lead in quarantine, and because federal and state governments are haggling about the funding of quarantine.  The pandemic is a huge international threat and we have not yet been able to give a coherent national response. 

It is hard to imagine a more serious yet avoidable breakdown of the federal system.  Those responsible for mocking the very idea of responsible government should be deeply ashamed of themselves. 

If our federal government were responsible within the terms of the Westminster system, we would be looking at least one ministerial resignation.  The silence about this issue shows us that that system is dead.  The NSW Government website is sadly out of date.  It states: The convention of the Westminster system is ministerial responsibility, whereby  ministers administer and bear responsibility for the actions of a department or agency within their control.  Nowadays we don’t even get an apology.

On the facing page in The Age, there is an article ‘The purpose of leadership’ by two professors engaged in dealing with infectious diseases.  They say that we need leadership about the importance of airborne transmission and we must have a national approach to quarantine – ‘We can’t have a piecemeal approach to quarantine across the nation; we are obviously all interconnected as luckless Victorians can attest to.’

Each proposition looks spell-bindingly obvious.  What is the alternative?  Communing with God on the Sabbath at Hillsong?

Underneath that article, there is another headed ‘False prophets fail communities.’  The author looks at Joel Fitzgibbon, a text-book Labor rat, and says that ‘Two-faced politics rarely succeeds.’  The author says that ‘Climate action will be the barometer of leadership this decade, the next and the next….leadership requires levelling with people and working out a plan rather than ducking and punting it.’

This too is so obvious.  But Australia responds by firing leaders who are sensible about this and who are prepared to lead.  That’s how this Prime Minister got where he is.  And that too may explain why he is so obviously not up to the job.  Instead we get what Mr Hartcher says is the complacency of the Prime Minister.

Last night I indulged my little luxury of reading – flicking through – Country Life while soaking in the electric blanket on max.  It is a very sound and warming journal.  I do like its politics – it does not appear to have any, a consummation devoutly to be desired.  In October last year, they handed their government what in AFL terms is called a lacing.

This Government’s greatest mistake is to confuse resolve with obstinacy……What the nation feels instinctively is that this is a government out of its depth…At present, however, they’re strong only in their words and there’s little confidence that they will carry those words through to effective action…They insist that their response to the coronavirus crisis is based on the science, but they refuse to detail the expert advice upon which they claim to act.  Trust us, they say, but don’t hold us to account.  Trust depends on being counted…Agovernment should know what it’s about and communicate that understanding to the nation it leads.  The tougher the times, the clearer must be the signal.  That is the lesson Mr Johnson should learn from his hero, Winston Churchill….Trying to justify mistakes, batting off reasonable criticism and refusing to budge when your argument is ill founded – that is all mere obstinacy…We need neither soundbites nor photo opportunities.  We need leadership.

That looks to me almost word perfect for us down here now.  The reference to Churchill reminds us of the Satanic depth of our Fall.  As a friend of mine observes, what would-be leader would now say ‘The news from France is very bad’? 

The federal government has ceded what cannot be called leadership to the states, and empowered their premiers to strut and fret their hour upon the stage – and orchestrate a lethal disunity within the federation.  As best as I can see, the only premier to avoid glutinous vote chasing is Gladys Berejiklian in New South Wales.  What a falling off was here.

The malaise of democracy across the world is evidenced by the weary yawns that greeted Dom Cummings’ account of moral mayhem in Downing Street.  Cummings is the ultimate rat and he is loathed with glee.  But Johnson like Trump must be assessed by the company he keeps, and Cummings was certainly correct on one point.  A nation that offers a choice between Jeremy Corbin and Boris Johnson has real problems.

We need not be smug about that.  How much better off are we with a choice between Scott Morrison and Anthony Albanese?

Our failure to deal with the virus as well as we could have done is a failure within our federal system that we should have avoided.  It confirms that the two party system only works well if the two parties are doing their job.  At the moment, the Liberal and Labor Parties in New South Wales are neck and neck in proving who is the more viciously inept.

And the moral havoc unleashed by Trump in the U S and Johnson in the U K provide Australian politicians with cover to acquiesce in that course of political conduct that has blighted this nation from the start – a cosy acceptance of bland mediocrity.  Under the benign if wan smile of a fading, foreign head of state.

And behind them all lies Rupert Murdoch and his limpid minions lolling about in their very own bought chasm of vacuity.

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