The Premier of Victoria said a few interesting things when he plunged the state into its fifth lockdown.
He was bold enough to use the word ‘proportion’. He even waxed on about his country childhood as if he’s still got blue denim in his veins, Jimmy style.
But the most abhorrent thing to escape his million-dollar PR prescribed lips was this: ‘We have no choice’.
As John McEnroe would say, ‘You cannot be serious?’
Yet Daniel Andrews is.
“We have no choice” is possibly the daftest and offensive thing he could say to a state that is now drained of hope and no longer game to make a booking. It is limp with exhaustion and too weary to cast a slow eye to an increasingly blurred horizon.
Hope has kept businesses barely breathing. But Lockdown No. 5 – unlike its Chanel namesake – lacks the sweet perfume of possibility.
Choice, by its very name, suggests options, possibilities, a selection.
We have no choice was implemented with just 18 cases – the bulk linked to known carriers.
We have no choice was bumped into place with no one in hospital with COVID-19 in Victoria.
Given we have no choice, it’s interesting to see what other nations have done considering lockdown is apparently a non-optional thing.
Britain leapt into Freedom Day despite almost 50,000 people a day testing positive. Ninety-six people died on July 20, with limited data regarding co-morbidities, including age.
In the United States, even in the la-la land of California, Disneyland re-opened recently despite daily cases at more than 4,000 and deaths at 24 a day.
These countries have made their choices.
This is not to say that the virus isn’t serious. It is.
From its initiation in Australia I have argued for the vulnerable to be protected, proportional responses and getting on with life as we know it. We bought the mantra that lockdown was necessary so that our health system would not be overwhelmed. That is clearly no longer an excuse for lockdown.
But Premiers across Australia have divided the nation and conquered our freedoms. They forget that this virus isn’t the only thing we deal with.
There is cancer, stroke, dementia, heart failure, sudden infant death syndrome, motor neuron disease, organ failure, the flu and gastro. Old age. To say nothing of road accidents; serious mental illness and separation and isolation issues; crime, domestic violence and child abuse.
We don’t stop the streets and our sanity for these things. But they kill too. On average 464 people die in Australia every day. Just five people have died of COVID-19 this year, all in NSW.
We have choice.
We choose what clothes we wear, what we eat for dinner, if we have one glass of wine or two. Some people choose to take drugs. Bad choice. But one they take anyway. We largely choose if we get vaccinated or not. We can even choose when we die in some states.
We choose tea or coffee. We can choose the colour of our hair or to change our name or gender.
What we don’t have choice about is being born, where we are born or the circumstances of the world into which we enter.
We don’t choose cancer. We don’t choose our family. We don’t choose the weather. We don’t choose gravity. We don’t choose the colour of our skin.
And businesses don’t choose to close their dreams: but governments are making that decision for them, one thousand Victorian businesses closed their doors last year alone.
Businesses tell me this: they don’t want vouchers, handouts or more forms to fill out. They just want to open – and know they can stay open. They want confidence, certainty and not crazy curfews.
In Victoria, as in New South Wales, Queensland or Western Australia, premiers choose how they want to react and respond.
They can reserve Queensland hospitals for Queenslanders, or close borders to loved ones desperate to say a final goodbye to a dying family member.
In March last year, the Prime Minister told Australians that every job in Australia is “essential”.
He said, “Everyone who has a job in this economy is an essential worker.”
What a difference a year makes: we now have a list of what makes an `essential worker’.
Included on that list are people who sell alcohol. While many may smile and say thank goodness grog made the essential list, even the most ruddy-nosed whiskey drinker knows it ain’t so.
One wonders how much of the Victorian Lockdown No. 5 decision was based on ‘expert medical advice’ – never publicly seen – or ‘expert’ PR advice.
Victorians learnt last week that $1.1 million of their hard-earned dollars have been spent advising the Premier what to say in these corona days.
The latest advice from former staffer John Armitage’s QDOS firm to Andrews was to ‘antagonise’ opponents: make them cranky — just like a schoolboy pulling the plaits of the student in the row ahead. Pretty frustrating, entirely unnecessary and utterly juvenile. The best bit? Victorians are paying for it.
So, when Daniel Andrews stands up and says – as well as he does – that ‘we have no choice’, it’s hard not to think who advised him to say that. The medical experts? Or the expensive PR guy?
But antagonise he has.
Across the vastly Covid-free state weddings have been cancelled, funerals up-ended, schools emptied of students desperate to learn something – anything – or just to learn via interaction in the playground. Melbourne students have now missed 120 days in the classroom – and counting.
The aged are again on their own, shuffled to their lonely confines. Would they choose isolation if given an option to have family with them towards the end of their lives?
And yet drug addicts taking illegal substances destroying their own lives let alone those of their families and broader communities – can choose to travel as far as they like to land at Melbourne’s drug-injecting facility.
Five kilometres for you – as far as you like for them. I’d call that antagonising.
We are not all in this together.
But we all have choice.
In a democratic nation we get to exercise that choice.
When a Premier stands up and tells you they ‘have no choice’, remember this: they do.
Beverley McArthur is a Liberal Legislative Councillor for the Western Victoria Region.
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