In Victoria this past week, the word was ‘donut’. Or to be precise, double donut: two consecutive days of zero new Wuhan virus cases and zero deaths linked to the virus. Having been rightly savaged last Sunday for his ‘cautious pause’ on ending the lockdown even though the 14-day rolling daily average of new cases dropped below his precondition figure of five, on Monday, Premier Daniel Andrews had no choice but to relent and, like Pharaoh, let his people go.
They are emerging, blinking, into the light after three and a half months of tight lockdown, curfews and de facto house arrest for, at one point, 23 hours a day. A time when drones flew spy missions over suburbia, and mounted police and riot squads patrolled parks and beaches. When businesses were forced to shut with no guarantee they’d ever open again. When telly adverts for sun-drenched Queensland beaches were psychological torture for Melburnians who couldn’t go five kilometres from home in an unseasonably cold and windy September and October. And when tens of thousands of children were unwillingly home-schooled for many months by frazzled parents.
For those in detached suburban houses, confinement was relatively easy if you still had a job and could work from home, but for those stuck in poky flats, especially those incarcerated in the failed social experiment of decrepit public housing tower blocks, it was hell.
Yet Mr Andrews, in announcing the phased ending of Melbourne’s lockdown agony, was triumphalist. To his credit, the premier praised all Victorians for their efforts in doing the right thing to suppress the virus and for following his government’s rules. He said it was their victory. But the leitmotif of everything he said was that it was he, Mr Andrews, delivering them from bondage, and that he, Mr Andrews, is fully vindicated in his judgment and actions. Anything remotely resembling dissenting opinion is, apparently, a partisan attack. Donut Dan has laid his claim to the eternal gratitude of all Victorians, not just #IStandwithDan social media groupies and Age and Grauniad commentators.
Sometimes, however, uncomfortable truth must be spoken to power. Thanks to Anthony Albanese’s misjudged attempt to politicise the end of lockdown with a parliamentary motion effectively crediting Mr Andrews’s leadership, federal treasurer Josh Frydenberg spoke that truth.
‘It is the Victorian people’s victory and no one else’s’, Mr Frydenberg told parliament. ‘The Victorian people have suffered so much – the pain, the cost, and the loss of Victorian people. It should never, ever, have come to this’. Then the treasurer starkly summarised the damage to Victoria and Victorians of the last three and a half months. $200 million a day of JobKeeper and JobSeeker payments keeping Victorians and their businesses afloat. A state with 25 per cent of Australia’s population has 40 per cent of its working people effectively unemployed. 1,200 jobs being lost in Victoria daily while, across the rest of the country, 2,000 are created. Mental health services stretched to the limit; subsidies with federal money. And, sadly, some Victorians harming themselves in their despair.
We all should give thanks that Victoria’s lockdown nightmare is ending for now. Whether ‘what had to be done’ really did have to be done remains to be seen. But, as Mr Frydenberg said so forcefully, don’t pretend there hasn’t been a hefty social and economic price. Thanks to the second wave of Wuhan virus sweeping Victoria, caused by the Andrews government’s hotel quarantine programme being fouled up beyond belief, millions of Victorians have suffered, businesses have been ruined, institutions unfairly associated with cluster outbreaks have had their reputations trashed and, tragically, over 800 have died with the virus.
As the immediate health crisis subsides, Victorians deserve answers and accountability from those responsible for what went so unforgivably wrong. Thanks to a pathetic state opposition and largely – but thankfully not totally – supine media, Mr Andrews so far is getting away with his government’s culpable incompetence. But he must not escape his ultimate responsibility with his ‘never apologise, never explain’ mentality. Be assured his day of reckoning will come.
If an arsonist joins the fire brigade and helps put out a bushfire he started, he deserves opprobrium and punishment, not to be praised to the skies. So it is with Daniel Andrews. Given the second wave of Wuhan virus was his government’s diabolical gift to us all, Mr Andrews deserves no encomiums, no praise, no hero worship. In his devastating speech, the best he has given as an MP, Mr Frydenberg called out the cult of Donut Dan for what it really is: a cult of ruin, misery, and, tragically, death. The Member for Kooyong’s critique of his fellow Victorians’ lockdown agony was not partisan: it was the brutally honest truth. We need more.
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