Leading article Australia

The Peta Principle

17 October 2020

9:00 AM

17 October 2020

9:00 AM

In 1969, Canadian academic Laurence Peter defined what came to be known as the Peter Principle: a person in an organisation keeps getting promoted until he lacks the skills to be a success or, as Professor Peter famously put it, rises to his own level of incompetence.

In Victoria’s Premier Daniel Andrews, the longer his state’s lockdown agony endures, it becomes clear he has well and truly surpassed his own level of incompetence. Like the emperor whose subjects realise he is wearing nothing but his birthday suit, lockdown-fatigued, frustrated and increasingly angry Victorians are realising that Mr Andrews is not a wonderful, courageous leader. Rather, he is a weak and petulant one who always insists he’s right, resents being contradicted and who, like Richard Nixon during Watergate, believes he is above accountability while being very willing to throw even his most loyal associates under a bus if it suits his needs.

Until very recently, however, the prevailing view among non-partisan Melburnians was that whatever the cause of the coronavirus second-wave lockdown, Mr Andrews was doing what was necessary to suppress the virus. No longer. Now, the word on the street is that it is Mr Andrews and his people who caused the lockdown through their hotel quarantine fiasco, that he and Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton have set impossible new infections rolling averages keeping Melbourne in semi-permanent hibernation, and rules being imposed by Mr Andrews personally – such as compulsory mask-wearing even in Victorian regions where there have been no Covid cases – exceed what even his own experts have recommended.

Meanwhile, Melbourne’s crushing lockdown, already the longest anywhere this blighted year, drags on. Even the World Health Organisation – which bent over backwards to absolve China from its culpability for unleashing the Wuhan plague on the world – is now saying lockdowns are not the weapon of choice and that the health, economic and social damage that they cause outweigh their benefits. But Mr Andrews, supposedly relying on Professor Sutton’s weathervane, merely keeps moving the lockdown-easing goalposts ever further away.

Even Professor Sutton admits the Andrews government’s hotel quarantine omnishambles is behind almost all second-wave infections in Victoria, and worse, admits he is clueless as to what the future holds. Nor does anyone dispute that using untrained private security guards, instead of Defence and police personnel, was the factor causing Victoria’s agony more than any other. Yet even to the Coate judicial inquiry established by Mr Andrews, no minister or senior official, from the premier down, accepted responsibility for the decision to use private security goons when National Cabinet agreed to establish hotel quarantine on 27 March. Despite the Coate inquiry, accountability and the Victorian government have been mutually exclusive.

Until now. When a week ago Sky News presenter and Speccie contributor Peta Credlin took her seat at Mr Andrews’ daily press conference (events known more for their quantity of verbiage than its quality), Mr Andrews finally stood on that stage ethically as well as politically naked. In six minutes of surgically forensic questioning about the crucial six-minute decision window of 27 March, Ms Credlin got more out of Mr Andrews than Victoria’s LNP opposition and the woreful Victorian media has in as many months.

Crucially, Ms Credlin got a squirming Mr Andrews to do what even Judge Coate’s inquiry did not seek: an undertaking to hand over his and his top public service and staffers’ phone records for the fateful six minutes on 27 March. When the inquiry took him up, Mr Andrews’s department head resigned immediately, admitting he had rung the police commissioner in that crucial period, at the end of which the appalling decision to use private security in Victoria had been made.  Credlin 1; Andrews 0.

In her subsequent press conference appearances and TV editorials, Ms Credlin has kept Mr Andrews’ feet to her fire, tirelessly pursuing a quarry transformed from master of his world to a dodging, weaving fugitive from the truth. Her forensic demolition of the premier highlights why Ms Credlin was such a formidable general in opposition when she helped make Tony Abbott PM. She suffered no fools then, and in suffering no fools now she has made one of Mr Andrews.

In Peta Credlin, Daniel Andrews not only has met his match but his likely nemesis. He may embody the Peter Principle, but Ms Credlin has her own Peta Principle: a determined, ruthless pursuit of the truth and justice. She says that, on behalf of hundreds of Victorians dead in this second wave, she will not rest until she finds the truth behind the fateful hotel quarantine decision on 27 March and brings those responsible to account. This magazine backs her and her quest to the hilt.

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