One recent golden morning, as I struggled to corral my customarily disordered senses into working order, I was suddenly hit with a highly unwelcome piece of news – delivered courtesy of my fiancée. She informed me that Our Rulers in Victoria were to once again slap us with what has come to be known as a ‘snap lockdown’.
‘Snap’ might be the apt word, insofar as it prefigures the breaking point of not a few psyches across our fair state. Frankly, I wish I could claim my visceral response was one of righteous indignation. In truth – little stirred within me, and my usually reliable faculty for verbal complaint seemed to have taken leave.
Intellectually, of course, I had long ago accepted such governmental caprice could and would be exercised at any moment. My operating assumption for some time has been: ‘Victoria is in lockdown unless our Rulers explicitly allow otherwise.’
Such resignation seems justified, particularly when you’ve got this melancholic chappie (state of mind doubtless worsened by recent back troubles) at the governmental helm. A bloke who’s never spotted an exercise of civil liberties he didn’t want to give a good stomping. (There is an irony to be found, somewhere, between his molly-coddling educational agenda and his own apparent need to inflict corporal punishment on the general populace. Subject matter for some psychoanalytically inclined future biographer, perhaps.)
One does try to commiserate with the poor fellow. His drug of choice is clearly whack-a-mole, an addiction admittedly hard to kick. I merely wish he reserved this peccadillo for expression at theme parks – or other locales more in keeping with his state of mind – rather than indulging it in his executive capacity.
But – to return to your humble servant upon receiving news of our sixth lockdown. I simply squinted at my wife-to-be – bewildered – and with the furrowed brow and puffed-out cheeks that are the calling cards of exhausted resignation. ‘Phooey,’ is all I could finally manage. ‘What abject nonsense this all is.’
Doubtless this response was not unique to me. Many – I hope most! – of my fellow Victorians felt and feel much the same way. (Actually, I’d prefer they register burning outrage instead.)
But enough guff about one’s feelings. Instead let’s talk action. And as Lenin – that vulgar political toad – used to inquire: ‘What is to be done?’
We live in a representative democracy, not a democracy pure. If this were Ancient Athens we could convene a session, scratch his name on a tablet, and with majority vote ostracise Daniel Michael Andrews from our state for good. I’d like nothing better than to administer him the order of the boot.
But our public policy is not run by common folk (not invariably a disadvantage) but by political elites. The great virtue of our country – not to be downplayed – is that, while elites always rule, we can at least toss them out every few years in favour of new ones more congenial to the common man’s interests.
In the country at large, these political elites – Our Rulers – govern fairly tenuously. The Prime Minister could very well be tossed out soon. And other states of the federation will be fine, because political imperatives will force them to be.
In Victoria, by contrast, Labor not only demolished the Liberals in 2018 – building on their 2014 debut; now with 55 of 88 seats in the Legislative Assembly (the Liberals: 21) – but could gain still more seats come 2022. Putting aside the Nationals’ six seats for one moment, I would not be surprised if the ‘opposition’ were reduced to a rump of 10 to 15 lonely Liberals, with Labor commanding a colossal 60-plus army in the lower house.
It should by now be obvious that the Victorian Liberals aren’t up to the job of effectively opposing the Andrews regime – let alone governing. What I would like to know – returning again to my bewilderment on hearing news of Lockdown No. 6 – is this: is there a classically liberal nerve still alive, even if dormant, in Victoria? Are there enough malcontents around to be galvanised into action? And if there are, how should we organise to translate liberal instincts into a liberal programme?
To my mind, there is only one vehicle for effecting such action. Thus, I recently resigned from the Liberal party – under whose banner I’ve previously worked and volunteered – and joined the Liberal Democrats. Ideologically, the Lib Dems are more liberal than the Liberals. (Not a bad campaign slogan, come to think of it.) And, although small now, the party is rapidly growing – and its agenda capable of great appeal across the political spectrum. The Lib Dems don’t believe in no government, but they do believe in limited government – a belief often underrated for potential cut-through in traditional constituencies both Left and Right. The Liberal Democrats are an outfit that let you leave your home (if you like leaving your home); don’t insist that any organisation you join receive state-stamped validation; let you wander down to the local parish if seeking spiritual solace from your vicar; and/or smoke a great big fragrant joint on your balcony, should you please. Whatever’s your bag, in other words.
Currently, the party has two members in the Victorian upper house. If it can expand its presence to four or five then it could be – rhetorically, at least – the most effective opposition to further depredations by the Andrews government. Sure, four savvy Lib Dems still can’t legislate an agenda, but they could propose alternative model legislation to the public, as well as staunch further wellings-up of Labor madness from the lower chamber.
David Limbrick and Tim Quilty are men of intelligence, principle and honour. They hold up the libertarian end of the rope with dedication and distinction. But speaking as a new member, I say Victoria needs more like them. And not only that. The Liberal Democrats need a public face to lead the charge. A leader of charisma and vision and humour. Someone with the moxie and dynamism to tap into Victorian’s latent – but very real – cheerful, sunny, good-natured, live-and-let-live attitudes. What better foil could there be to the alternately melancholic and dyspeptic Labor Premier?
As a newcomer to the party, I wouldn’t presume to speak on its behalf. Nevertheless, this is my vision for the Liberal Democrats as we hurtle towards the 2022 election. And insofar as this vision carries any weight, it necessitates an answer to the following question: can we convince the right person – can we pull Cincinnatus from his plough – to enter the fray and lead the Liberal Democrats towards Victoria’s salvation?
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