Saturday, October 24, 2020
Home COVID-19 The Dandemic that’s killing off democracy

The Dandemic that’s killing off democracy

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WINSTON Churchill declared: ‘Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.’ Clearly, Britain’s great wartime prime minister never envisaged the government of the Australian state of Victoria, run by Premier Daniel Andrews (aka Chairman Dan) during the time of the China virus. 

Victoria, as all the other states and the Australian government, is based on a Westminster model where power is disbursed, the government of the day is answerable to parliament and the liberties and freedoms of citizens are protected. 

MPs and public servants, instead of acting out of greed, self-interest or personal and party advancement, are required to make decisions for the public good and concepts such as ministerial responsibility and cabinet solidarity ensure collective responsibility. 

The Prime Minister, and in Victoria’s case the Premier, in theory at least are first among equals. And while the government is formed by whatever party has the majority in the lower house, the opposition has a crucial role to play. 

Instead of oligarchs and dictators, parliament is central, as it expresses the will of the people and because it gives voice to the conviction, as written on the floor of the Victorian parliament: ‘Where No Counsel Is The People Fall But In The Multitude of Counsellors There Is Safety.’

Based on recent events at the Covid-19 board of inquiry established by Chairman Dan to identify how the virus escaped due to sloppy quarantining of hotels, leading to a second wave of infection, it’s obvious that instead of responsible government, Victorians are living under a dictatorial, oppressive regime where Chairman Dan rules unquestioned and unchallenged. 

Like China’s citizens, the liberties and freedoms once taken for granted by Victorians no longer apply. Citizens have suffered an unprecedented nightly curfew for months and although it has just been lifted by Magnanimous Dan, the reality is that restaurants, hotels, clubs and entertainment centres are all still shut.

Imposing a 5 kilometre (3.1 mile) radius outside of which it is illegal to travel results in Melbournians, whether infected or not, being condemned to self-isolate in their own homes and increasing the fine for any infringement to 5,000 dollars is draconian in the extreme. 

The cult of personality is central to any dictatorship and, like the pervasive presence of North Korea’s Kim Jong-un and Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei, Chairman Dan appears at daily press conferences projecting a benign and reassuring presence guaranteed to deflect the reality that his government is responsible for so many deaths and so many bankrupted businesses. 

Such is Chairman Dan’s persuasiveness and skill at manipulating his audience that even after admitting that as Premier he is personally responsible and must be held accountable for the second wave crippling Victoria, he successfully evades any criticism or condemnation. 

During the period of the hotel inquiry the ineptitude, negligence and disregard for long-accepted Westminster parliamentary practice was obvious.

On being questioned about who was responsible for employing security guards manifestly ill-equipped and ill-trained to quarantine returned travellers, the ministers with oversight, Jenny Mikakos, Martin Pakula and Lisa Neville, pleaded ignorance.

Notwithstanding his mantra that as premier he accepted final responsibility for the hotel quarantine disaster, even Chairman Dan pleaded ignorance. 

Notwithstanding all had been responsible for orchestrating and managing the hotel quarantine programme, the cabinet ministers – like the three wise monkeys – portrayed themselves as mute, deaf and blind. On the final day of the hearings, Chairman Dan argued it was the inquiry’s responsibility to establish what went wrong and not his. 

Even worse, both ministers and senior bureaucrats sought to deny any knowledge or responsibility by arguing the decision was a collective one that somehow assumed a life of its own.

On being asked by counsel assisting the inquiry whether, as Premier and head of the crisis cabinet responsible for dealing with the pandemic, he knew who made the decision to employ private guards, Chairman Dan denied any knowledge. 

Like the consummate political operator he is, Andrews avoided any further questions by suggesting he more than most wanted to know the truth and that was why he set up the inquiry. 

Contrary to the evidence provided by senior bureaucrats and a number of communications from the commonwealth government, Chairman Dan denied any knowledge that Victoria had been offered support by the Australian Defence Force to supervise hotel quarantine instead of using security guards. 

Given that Andrews is consumed by the need to exercise power and that his government is one of the most centralised and rigidly managed in Victoria’s history, it beggars belief none of the three ministers or Chairman Dan could remember who in the government made the decision leading to more than 700 deaths, hundreds of bankrupted businesses and citizens being imprisoned in their own homes. 

The obfuscation, mismanagement and denial of responsibility evidenced by the Victorian government and Chairman Dan perfectly illustrates how stained and corrupt parliamentary democracy now is in Victoria. 

It further illustrates why, in a survey of millennials by Sydney’s Centre for Independent Studies, 58 per cent viewed socialism favourably and so many appear apathetic and unwilling to be involved with mainstream political parties. 

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Dr Kevin Donnelly
Dr Kevin Donnelly is a senior research fellow at the Australian Catholic University and author of A Politically Correct Dictionary and Guide (available at kevindonnelly.com.au)

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