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I’m not a Victorian. I have not just endured months in lockdown. I don’t profess to speak for Victorians. But I suspect many residents of the state must have looked on at the extended bout of score settling in Canberra at the opening of question time on Tuesday with alienation or possibly revulsion.
If you missed this, let me catch you up. The Labor leader Anthony Albanese bowled up a motion at the start of question time commending Victorians for the sacrifices they had made during the pandemic and for the successful suppression effort.
Labor’s herogram was procedurally didactic, intended to highlight an absence and unfurl a choice. The absence was Scott Morrison. The prime minister had failed to initiate such a motion. The choice was would the government dare to gag a parliamentary motion congratulating Victorians that it hadn’t, itself, initiated?
Not being dunderheads, the government did not shut down a motion praising Victoria. Morrison said he would have been happy to second the motion, and Victorians were duly congratulated for their stoicism.
Labor’s deputy leader, Victorian Richard Marles took the opportunity – after empathising with the sustained stress experienced by colleagues, friends and family during stage four lockdown – to praise “a story of leadership”.
“There have been mistakes and the Victorian government established a judicial inquiry immediately which is working through those issues as we speak,” Marles said.
“But the Victorian government has also been a source of crystal clear decisions, at the heart of which has been the very best medical advice which has guided us from where we were back in July to where we are right now.”
Marles also made a comparison between Victoria and the UK. At the end of July, he noted, the UK recorded 846 new Covid-19 cases when Victoria recorded 723 cases. “Today, with zero cases in Victoria, we saw yesterday in Great Britain, 20,890 new cases of coronavirus recorded.”
The other Victorian deputy leader in the chamber, Josh Frydenberg, was seen scribbling notes at warp speed.
By the time the treasurer got to his feet he was puffed like a pool toy at full inflation. He was vibrating with outrage.
The “story of leadership” narrated by Marles could not be permitted to stand while political scores needed settling. Frydenberg, mentally, had taken up residence behind the bike sheds, and started swinging.
The relevant comparison wasn’t Britain, the treasurer bellowed. It was the other Australian states that (thus far, touch wood) have not endured a second wave of infections. He declared the second wave in Victoria had been triggered by “failures in hotel quarantine” and suggested questions surrounding those failures may never be properly answered.
The escalations continued. Kids had been deprived of schooling. There were increased demands for mental health services. A state was in distress. “A friend of mine said that a friend of his had taken his own life because he lost his job in Victoria.”
Frydenberg said he was “happy to join with all those in this place in celebrating the fact that the numbers have come down, but do not pretend there has not been a price – and the price has been immense, and the cost could not have been higher for more than six million Victorians”.
Now as far as I am aware, no one, at any stage, has pretended the Victorian lockdown was either cost or consequence free.
Not Andrews. Not the fiercest critic of the Victorian premier.
So this particular improvisation during the treasurer’s uncontrolled detonation was a genuine head-scratcher.
But that’s where Tuesday’s mystery began and ended.
The rest of the display was crushingly predictable. Here we all were, trapped in another a grotesque passive aggression meets aggression aggression partisan power play about Victoria.
Does anyone want to be here? Personally I want to be back in that period between mid-March and the beginning of July, where Australians enjoyed a welcome respite from junkyard dog politics, and the polity was healthier for it.
But new politics ended shortly after Victoria entered the second wave. Since then, the state has unwittingly furnished a national sound stage for Canberra’s favourite franchise: revenge of the knockdown clowns.
Did Victorians deserve to be treated to a smackdown extravaganza on the day people were emerging tentatively from their homes after months of privations, having crushed the second wave?
I don’t reckon they did.
Victorians deserved a bit of grace and a bit of restraint and a bit of sober acknowledgement about their exceptionalism that wasn’t laced with “actually, Dan’s my hero” or “actually, Dan’s a dickhead” or “I AM THE REAL VICTORIAN”.
The federal parliament could have delivered a moment of maturity, and it comprehensively failed to do that. Instead of a sober acknowledgement unifying the country, adolescent rancour, either sheathed or naked, prevailed.
The tribal outburst in Australia’s house of the people was depressing enough, but the worst of it was the deliberate inflammation of societal divisions.
One of the more disturbing elements of the recent Victorian experience, at least from my vantage point, is the tendency for facts to be determined by fealty. People stand for Dan, or they stand for whatever the opposite of Dan is.
Where you stand determines what you see – which is my working definition of a nightmare. This is the zone where no persuasion or progress happens, where no minds get changed, where people shout past one another at cross purposes; a zone that excuses incompetence, or abuses of power, or lapses in judgment, because tribe determines truth.
If we can stop shouting at one another long enough to listen, the pandemic is actually delivering a very different lesson.
Coronavirus is a searing corrective to post-truth politics. The lesson of the endless decade of 2020 is that shared reality, accepted facts, reason and evidence are the difference between humanity getting through a crisis or succumbing to it.
The pandemic also tells us that Australians navigate crises successfully when we value our common humanity, when we band together and take common actions to preserve lives and livelihoods, and when we support one another for doing that – deeply moral choices most of us have been making all year.
That fundamental choice, the decision to stand together while accommodating our differences, renders the opportunistic grandstanding of partisan politics not only surplus to requirements, but a gratuitous insult.
Source: The Guardian
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