The Politics    Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Why Victoria?

By Rachel Withers

Image of Victorian Acting Premier James Merlino. Image via ABC News

Victorian Acting Premier James Merlino. Image via ABC News

And why won’t the federal government assist?

As expected, the Victorian government has extended the Melbourne lockdown by another week, with restrictions to ease in regional Victoria, amid revelations an unknowingly infected case travelled to the NSW South Coast before the lockdown commenced. There are two interrelated questions on everyone’s lips: why Victoria, and why won’t the federal government step in and help? Victoria, after all, has gone through many more days of lockdown than any other state. Jokes have arisen as to why Melbourne suffers so badly under COVID, but they speak to a very real issue, and one that’s critical to the whole nation. Is it bad management, bad weather or just seriously bad luck? No matter the answer, it doesn’t change the fact that Victorians are going to need more help from the federal government as they stare down the first lengthy lockdown since JobKeeper was withdrawn. The Coalition has thus far been keen to avoid helping the Labor-governed state, and the impression that Victoria is in a mess of its own making – rather than one created by the Commonwealth’s failings – no doubt suits it. Unfortunately for Scott Morrison, Question Time remained firmly focused on his government’s very clear culpability.

Questions have been swirling for days as to why Victoria has had so many more days of lockdown than any other state, and they reached a fever pitch with today’s announcement of an extension, with many keen to apportion blame. There’s no doubt the federal government is culpable for this lockdown, with even conservative commentators agreeing that its failure to build national quarantine facilities or competently roll out the vaccine contributed to a problem that has now occurred in every major city in Australia. But many are questioning why it’s spread so far around Victoria, again, leaving those same commentators free to also heap blame upon the state, and let the federal government somewhat off the hook.

Epidemiologists and experts have been quick to defend the state, blaming the severity of its outbreak on the infectiousness of the variant; on bad luck, bad weather and a small group of superspreaders; and on the city’s interconnectedness. Their talking points have been quickly picked up by state and federal Labor MPs. On RN Breakfast, shadow minister for aged care Clare O’Neil repeated the line about Melburnians’ relative tendency to move around their city, while the Victorian government has focused on the fact that the current variant is highly transmissible, with a worrying increase in stranger-to-stranger transmission. Others have pushed back against the state government’s narrative, saying there is no evidence the current strain is behaving differently. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the latter expert spoke to the more anti-Labor 3AW.

There’s no doubt that the federal government and the Victorian Opposition would like to see as much blame as possible placed on state authorities, but regardless of how much of the growing outbreak is the Victorian government’s fault, its workers are still just as in need. In today’s presser, Acting Victorian Premier James Merlino continued to demand that federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg implement a JobKeeper-style scheme to assist the thousands of Victorian casuals now facing their second week without income, telling reporters he would raise it with the PM today and at the national cabinet meeting on Friday. In his own unrelated press conference half an hour later, Frydenberg – who for days has waved away Victoria’s demands, unwilling to set a precedent of providing support for short, sharp lockdowns – appeared to soften his position, saying the federal government would “hear out” and “consider” his home state’s request, but continued to insist that states have the “capacity” to respond to their own shorter lockdowns.

Frydenberg suddenly appeared more sympathetic to his home state’s plight, noting how much more time Victorians had lived under lockdown than other Australians – 140 days, compared to an average of just six days across other states, with Victorian students out of school for 21 weeks, compared to 29 days for New South Wales. It was a marked difference in tone from the past few days, in which his government was far more likely to note how much more support Victorians had received than other Australians (New South Wales, it’s worth remembering, has received, in total, billions of dollars more in federal support than Victoria, with Victorians only slightly ahead per capita). His sympathy could just as easily be read as a pre-emptive justification for not providing support to another state, the next time a hotel quarantine outbreak shuts down a city.

That next shutdown seems all but inevitable, with the rollout still a mess and the federal government still unwilling to accept calls for national quarantine facilities or even standards, to the deep frustration of its own experts. Federal Labor spent most of Question Time pushing blame for the Victorian lockdown onto the federal government, demanding Morrison take responsibility. This included leader Anthony Albanese’s “Does the prime minister take any responsibility for the ongoing lockdown in Victoria?” (“No”, was of course the reply) and deputy leader Richard Marles’ “Why should Victorians be punished for your negligence?” (“Stop playing politics while I save lives”). At the end of Question Time, Albanese tried and failed to suspend standing orders to debate a motion noting the government’s many individual failings, from vaccines to quarantine to aged care, which has just recorded another positive resident case. Why us? many Victorians are asking themselves today, and the politics of the situation mean they won’t get a clear answer on that any time soon. The more pertinent question might be why does this keep happening at all? Many of the answers to that question are contained within Albanese’s motion.


“We need to continue, of course, to promote global leadership to tackle climate change and achieve global net-zero emissions by 2050.”

Former finance minister Mathias Cormann – the man who once called carbon pricing a “very expensive hoax” – has commenced his role as secretary-general of the OECD, calling on nations to develop an “ambitious and effective” plan for net-zero emissions.

“The iron is hot and you should always strike while the iron is hot on these issues.”

Nationals MP George Christensen urges his Coalition colleagues to take action against the ABC over its coverage of the rape allegation against former attorney-general Christian Porter.

Australia breaches international law, again
Last month, under the cover of the federal budget, the Coalition government rushed through new laws legalising the indefinite detention of refugees. Today, Mike Seccombe on how Australia got to this point, and what it means for those seeking safety in our country.


The number of times worse – the PM claims, justifying his spending – the COVID-19 recession is compared with the GFC. Economists say this is “just nonsense”, with the current downturn “roughly double the magnitude of the GFC”.

“Linda Reynolds has conceded the government currently does not have parliamentary support for its controversial plan to introduce independent assessments to the national disability insurance scheme.”

The government’s controversial plan to make all new NDIS applicants and 430,000 current participants undergo a compulsory independent assessment appears unlikely to pass the Senate.

The list

“Deborah Levy is dreaming of a grand house with a circular staircase, mosaic floors, an egg-shaped fireplace and a pomegranate tree. This home, somewhere by the water, is a place to live, write and swim, with room for guests who’ll become a substitute family now Levy’s daughters are grown. Real Estate, the final work in her autobiographical trilogy, opens with this vision, and swiftly unravels some assumptions about property, power and domestic space.”

Mare of Easttown is a devastating portrait of an America in decline, a country in denial about the way it has betrayed its youth. Good fathers are scarce in Mare of Easttown … As usual, it’s up to the mothers to try to hold things together.”

“This year marks the beginning of the second decade of constitutional recognition. Who could’ve known when Julia Gillard created the expert panel, at the urging of the Greens and independents Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor, that 10 years, seven processes and nine reports later the nation would still be waiting for the Commonwealth to act?”

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.


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