Daniel Andrews should be left to act on health advice alone
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Health Minister Greg Hunt are playing with fire by piling political pressure on Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, insisting he reopen the state economy on Sunday, when the premier has flagged some easing of restrictions. “Please, give the people of Victoria their freedom back this weekend,” Frydenberg tweeted yesterday. He reinforced the message today when better-than-expected unemployment data nonetheless confirmed that the locked-down state shed another 36,000 jobs last month: “Time for the lockdown to end & Victorians to get their freedom back.” These public calls come as the High Court has expedited a challenge to the validity of the lockdown brought by Sorrento hotelier Julian Gerner, and a hearing is now set for tomorrow afternoon. Putting extra pressure on Andrews ahead of a difficult decision on Sunday is highly inappropriate. Substitute the premier’s name with that of Victoria’s chief medical officer, Andrew Wilson, and it is inconceivable that political pressure would be put on him over a public-health issue. Agree with Andrews or disagree with him, love him or hate him, but allow him to be guided by the health advice, not by political opponents or the media. Trying to force the premier’s hand risks a self-defeating, lose-lose outcome in which community confidence in both state and federal governments (and therefore the efficacy of public-health measures) is undermined, requiring the lockdown to continue longer than otherwise necessary.
This is not an endorsement of every aspect of Andrews’ handling of the pandemic – far from it. Nor is it to say that the federal government is wrong to hope for a reopening of Victoria on Sunday. Everybody wants that, including Andrews himself. But at this point in time – after Victorians have experienced months of confinement, and when the community needs to act with a single purpose – poking the bear for political purposes, as Frydenberg and Hunt are doing, is highly irresponsible. When the Coate inquiry delivers its final report, there may well be a political price to pay for the way in which the second wave got started in Victoria, but with the end of lockdown in sight, the premier should be trusted to make the right decision based on the medical advice, to avoid the most damaging outcome of all: a third wave.
And, as many observers on Twitter pointed out, it is beyond the pale for some members of the Morrison government to profess concern about the mental health of Victorians. Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge tweeted yesterday: “New data reveals the devastating impact of lockdown on mental health: 30% increase in accessing a mental health service in the last 4 weeks. 61% increase in calls to Kids Helpline. Beyond Blue 77% higher. Lifeline - 16% higher. 33% increase in eating disorder calls.” That was met with an outraged volley of 1200 responses pointing out that this is rank hypocrisy coming from one of the key ministers responsible for the illegal robodebt scheme – which quite possibly pushed 2000 people to suicide – and the indefinite detention for seven years of asylum seekers who have done nothing wrong.
Premier Andrews woke up today to find his electorate office vandalised – the words “sack Dan” were spray-painted on the windows of the Noble Park building – alongside the news that the property industry, the legal profession, one of the nation’s largest grocery retailers, psychiatrists and doctors were all pleading for certainty ahead of Sunday’s decision. Hopefully, Andrews will ignore it all and come to the right decision on Sunday, whatever that may be.
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Paddy Manning has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is the author of Body Count: How Climate Change Is Killing Us, Inside the Greens and Born To Rule: The Unauthorised Biography of Malcolm Turnbull.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Health Minister Greg Hunt are playing with fire by piling political pressure on Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, insisting he reopen the state economy on Sunday, when the premier has flagged some easing of restrictions. “Please, give the people of Victoria their freedom back this weekend,” Frydenberg tweeted yesterday. He reinforced the message today when better-than-expected unemployment data nonetheless confirmed that the locked-down state shed another 36,000 jobs last month: “Time for the lockdown to end & Victorians to get their freedom back.” These public...
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