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Being treated as pariahs – challenging the mental health of Victorians!

By Leonie Saunders

Human beings are a social species. We are hard-wired to social interaction, cooperation and reciprocity. It is elemental to maintaining our mental health and our survival as a species.

As a Victorian, enduring the isolation of lockdown has so many challenges including keeping one’s mental health in check. This is particularly relevant given the uncharitable provincialism expressed daily on the mainstream media by the premiers of Queensland, N.S.W. et al. People living alone having to cope with with isolation is one thing, but trying daily not to internalise the fact that we Victorians are being treated as pariahs, alienated from our families due to imaginary lines on a map exposes the chinks in the armour of our Federation.

Unfortunately, Victorians in lockdown are captive to news reported by callow journalists employed to deliver news on the cheap by the owners of this country’s mainstream news media outlets. And if that isn’t bad enough, there is the pitiable reporting coming from the ABC’s News 24 department that construes balanced journalism as employing right-wing talking heads reporting news with a clear Liberal bias.

As it stands now, other than turning off the news completely, it is impossible to ignore the unchallenged snide comments and finger pointing emanating from Sydney’s other lethal spider, Scott Morrison.

It is much to my chagrin that press gallery journalists do not hold power to account. Perhaps it’s all in the name, because even in the face of obvious government corruption, they consistently allow Morrison to get off scot free.

Seeing the Prime Minister smirk in to the camera as he, without any compunction whatsoever, shoves the buck for his government’s failures safeguarding the health and well-being of the elderly on to the Victorian government is infuriating. Then on top of that trying to cope mentally with the sickening parochialism coming from the other State Premiers; the worst being Annastacia Palaszczuk. The disparaging subtext contained in their comments makes it more than evident to Victorians that contrary to the “we are all in this together” spin. We know that Australians are not all in this together.

On any assessment, it is the epitome of bloody-minded cynicism that with an election imminent, Palaszczuk is exploiting COVID-19 for her own political purposes. Following closely behind Palaszczuk in the ‘We are not really in this altogether stakes‘, is N.S.W. Premier Gladys Berejiklian. Vying for third place is the Northern Territory’s newly re-elected Chief Minister Michael Gunner and the Premier of South Australia, Steven Marshall. Coming close behind is Tasmania’s Peter Gutwein. And as for the W.A Premier Mark McGowan, well having lived in Perth for many years, it is not surprising to me that his political fortunes have skyrocketed. After all, COVID-19 provided him the opportunity to reassert the desire of the state’s Sandgropers to keep W.A. free of the rabble from the east.

While it is generally understood that as a federation, the greater good can only ever be achieved when we as a nation work together in the common good to improve the well-being of our whole society. Sadly, COVID-19 has shone a light on the soft underbelly of Australia’s federation. It challenges the very notion of social solidarity in the collective good of all Australians. We need only look at the water plundered in the north that is axiomatic of the appalling mismanagement of the Murray-Darling to know that State politicians do not consider the common good in terms of all Australians. To them the common good will always be defined by lines on a map, not as a whole.

Unfortunately, the law of the instrument governing the behaviour of state politicians does not bode well for the future of our nation, so long as the states view ‘the greater good’ only in parochial terms. Mark my words, if state politicians continue doubling down to act in their own self-interest, alienating Australians from Australians, when the horrors of human accelerated global warming that loom ominously come into full effect, no technological advancement will save us from Mother Nature’s wrath and the ensuing backlash of a nation divided will doubtless lead to the breakdown of civil society.

And therein lies the rub.

Is it any wonder people living outside of Australia reading and watching the news online as reported via this country’s mainstream news media outlets are justifiably disconcerted by what they are observing taking place in our country. The apparent dysfunction that exists within our federation sparks statements such as, “I thought Scott Morrison was the Prime Minister of the entire nation.” This is generally followed rhetorically with the question; “Isn’t Victoria an integral part of Australia’s federation?”

Then when seeing the arrogance of the Prime Minister smirking on the news, and knowing the history behind his ability to set the media’s daily agenda was made easier by Labor Party’s antipathy towards the establishment class owners of Fairfax newspapers, irks me no end. That during the late 1980s Bob Hawke and Paul Keating did a deal with the devil in the lead up to getting Labor’s Cross Media Ownership Legislation passed by the Parliament that gave the newspaper publisher the power to control the circulation of over 70% of the entire nation’s metropolitan and regional newspapers is indefensible.

And yet despite all the evidence that tells me otherwise, I still want to believe that had Hawke and his treasurer Keating had a skerrick of nous and forethought as to the ramifications of their legislative changes to Australia’s mainstream print and broadcast media outlets, they would not have willingly concentrated media power into the hands of two filthy rich bully’s. One being Kerry Packer, an overbearing self-confessed tax dodger, and the other Rupert Murdoch, a megalomaniacal puppet master.

Image from connectingthedotsblog.com

Sadly, Labor’s penchant for self-destruction as evident in the changes to media laws in the 1990s and the abolition of industry-wide bargaining opened the way for Howard to consolidate Murdoch’s power even further. All together, the decisions made by the Labor Government followed by Howard have dramatically undermined Australian democracy. To such an extent that non-unionised workplaces and self-censorship are commonplace for journalists in the employ of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp papers. The same goes for the commentariat employed by Murdoch and a like-minded coterie of right-wing owners of the country’s other broadcast news media outlets. For young ambitious journalists soft peddling where Scott Morrison and his ministers are concerned is a matter of survival.

There are copious ways broadcasters peddle their pernicious political influence. To be more specific, owners of newspapers hand-pick editors, likewise the producers in television and radio are hand-picked by CEOs who share the same political mindset as their company board of directors. This ensures the upper echelons of corporate Australia always control the narrative in the content of the copy written by journalists and the context in which opinions wrapped up and framed as questions are in keeping with their capitalist owners political agenda.

Notwithstanding the pressure to conform, journalists of quality and integrity understand that in a democracy their primary obligation is to the public. They know the public’s right to be fully informed accurately and without bias is a precondition of being granted privileged access to power. Whereas, sadly, for many young ambitious journalists succumbing to the pressure of operating in a concentrated media environment are destined to see the world through the lens of their proprietor’s right-wing bias. Tragically, the instant they succumb, they make themselves unworthy of those privileges as partisanship on the part of news journalists is the antithesis of their role and responsibilities in a democracy.

Of most significance to the undermining of democracy is the way in which the nation’s press gallery journos consistently fail to forensically examine the Prime Minister on the details contained in his government’s policy decisions. Not only during the pandemic, but overall. The lack of media scrutiny in a democracy contributes significantly to Australians never knowing the full extent to which their policies have a detrimental effect on the health and well-being of our society.

For intelligent, free thinking Victorians it is beyond reprehensible that in the midst of the pandemic the press gallery grant the Prime Minister enough unchallenged air time so as to allow him to shove the buck of his and his government’s mismanagement on to the broad shoulders of Victoria’s Daniel Andrews. To say the media’s reporting by young overly ambitious political neophytes is wearing thin, would be an understatement.

Under the circumstances, maintaining any semblance of sanity I have to trust that outside the borders of Australia’s most progressive state, there lives a multitude of socially conscious, politically literate Australians alert to Scott Morrison’s modus operandi. For the sake of my sanity, I have to trust that in spite of his best attempts to shift focus away from the fact that as the regulatory authority and bestower of public monies to private owners in the for profit aged care sector. COVID-19 has awakened the majority of my fellow Australians to the ruthless socio-economics of neoliberalIsm as implemented by Morrison and his ministers.

Of course, the Liberal Party’s biggest donors being business lobbies, it is not happenstance that Scott Morrison subscribes to the ideology of small government underpinning deregulation and privatisation as championed by the IPA’s monopoly capitalists. The federal government‘s overarching protection racket for the profit takers is directly responsible for the disgraceful neglect of essential safeguards to protect the health and well-being of the elderly in private aged care facilities. One can only hope, as a consequence of COVID-19 Australians are taking heed of the Prime Minister’s words and actions that reveal his deep-rooted mean-spiritedness. If there is any justice post-Rona, the lies told by him and his cabinet of freeloaders will be his government’s undoing.

Observing the pitiful inadequacy of Albanese and his Shadow Cabinet’s performance is adding to my general despondency. Watching Albanese put himself forward as the 2nd coming of Mr. Consensus, banking on the government’s fortunes changing so that Labor can win high office by default is lamentable. Notwithstanding the fact that seeing, hearing and reading the mainstream media’s right-wing attack dog journalists going for the Victorian Premiers jugular while simultaneously acting as accomplices in the Prime Minister efforts to hoodwink Australians is infuriating. It is indeed problematic for Labor that during this crisis coal-loving Joel Fitzgibbon can capture a minute of limelight by raising his ugly destabilising head. Yet Albanese has not be able to find a way to cut through to make his mark as a potential leader of the nation. Obviously Albanese is being ill-advised. Albanese thus far hasn’t had the mettle to show the same loyalty to Victoria’s Dan Andrews as Morrison has shown to his state’s Premier, Gladys Berejiklian.

Where Australia’s opaque Prime Minister is given a free ride in the media, Victoria’s Premier Dan Andrews fronts up to answer loaded questions from a baying pack of Murdoch’s News Corp journalists. He does not shirk the moral responsibility of his position as Premier, and it is to his credit that he takes responsibility where it is not his to take.

Which brings me to the fundamentals of our democracy.

Under the Westminster System representative democracy ministerial responsibility is a constitutional convention. However, inscrutable changes in our polity in recent history are clearly irreconcilable with these conventions consistent with the democratic precepts of open and accountable government.

 

 

Irrespective of the jurisdiction, one of the major causes for the public’s general distrust of this nation’s political class is due to neither Federal nor State Ministers having due respect for the Westminster System’s convention that behoves all in high office to take moral responsibility for failing to adequately discharge the duties. Ministerial mea culpas is not accountability, its lip service. The only way Cabinet Ministers can demonstrate accountability is by way of resigning from the Executive. Thus the system is now completely broken.

From a big picture perspective, the ultimate responsibility for global pandemic is capitalism and the systemic embrace of supply-side neo-liberalism. For this alone, the Prime Minister must held to account for his incautious push to open up the national economy driven by an unquestioning adherence to neo-liberalism and the capitalist tenets of unrestrained growth.

Let me be clear, profitability is the primary driver of Australia’s private sector aged-care homes. They are a federal government responsibility. The federal government’s Health Minister Greg Hunt and the Minister for Ageing, Richard Coldbeck ultimately bear responsibility for the tragic deaths of our elderly citizens in these ill-equiped, unwholesome institutions. If either of these men had a soupçon of morality and human decency they would resign post haste. Had these Ministers been less-concerned with adhering to their party’s economic doctrine and actually cared for the health and safety of the elderly many of these deaths could have been avoided.

The truth is we as a society have been hoodwinked into believing that private ownership is more efficient than public ownership, whereas years of evidence shows this couldn’t be further from the truth. Unfortunately, the sophistry of efficiency gains that slides like honey off the tongues of government ministers and business owners continues to hold sway in the general public’s mindset.

One of the primary reasons successive Coalition governments have cleared the way for corporations and churches in the aged care industry to employ an under-trained casual workforce is to curtail the labour cost of employing full-time qualified nurses to care for the elderly. Employing casuals acts as an impediment to unionism in workplaces, which of course is the neo-liberal orthodoxy central to the Coalition government’s much heralded cutting red tape narrative that allows profit takers to self-regulate.

Cutting red tape has enabled private security firms to adopt a skim off the top business model of employing sub-contractors who they know utilise untrained staff. It is not as if politicians and departmental bureaucrats don’t know sub-contracting to cut costs forms the basis of the business model adopted by large security firms. And this is why the ultimate responsibility for Victoria‘s hotel quarantine fiasco rests on the shoulders of Jenny Mikakos. Mikakos willingly took on the roles as Victoria’s Minister for Health, Minister for Ambulance Services and Minister for the Coordination of Health and Human Services COVID-19 as well as Deputy Leader of the Government. And she has been shown to have failed significantly in performing her duties In her portfolios as Minister for Health and even more so in the Coordination of Health and Human Services COVID-19.

Like Hunt and Colbeck federally, as a Cabinet minister Mikakos bears the ultimate responsibility for the actions of her ministry’s oversight on the relative departments. If Mikakos had a modicum of integrity, rather than allow her leader to bear the burden of answering for her erroneous decisions; she would fall on her sword.

Considering the cautionary advice given by experts in the realm of psychology who warn that one of the prime causes of depression and anxiety is anger turned inward. We can view as inevitable that the sneering parochialism voiced by the Prime Minister and State Government Premiers will on a subliminal level have long term deleterious effects on the collective mental heath of my states citizenry.

 

Image from www.juliayellow.com

COVID-19 has certainly exposed the worst of Australia’s unsophisticated provincialism that has long had its political impetus in the right-wing ranks of Sydney’s smug ruling-class. I fear the chinks in the armour of Australia’s federation will need serious panel beating to repair the subliminal substructure in the psychology of a state that has been alienated from the rest of the nation to which it is suppose to belong.

This article was originally published on Connecting the Dots.

Leonie Saunders is benevolent dictator of Connecting the Dots, proud lefty feminist. Adores children and animals. Despises greedy union-bashing, power-abusing corporate polluters.

 

 

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8 comments

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  1. Syephengb

    Well well well, someone will actually understands the Neoliberal Agenda.

    Thank you Leonie Saunders.

  2. Michael Taylor

    Great read, Leonie. You have the courage to tell it as it is. ✅

  3. Regina Ryan

    Great article What gets me is that sub-contracting to inexperienced contractors untrained staff caused 3 deaths (one natural) in the Pink Batts initiative – The Rudd government was taken to task mercilessly for this. Peter Barrett went to the back bench. Now here is Morrison and Hunt getting off ‘Scotty-Free’ for a worse case of shirking responsibility in the aged care deaths and poor Dan getting blasted for security subbing. Hypocrisy
    Albanese is weak in not taking them to task and also not supporting Dan Bring back Bill

  4. Andrew J. Smith

    Good read, and I would add that Labor walked into a trap of shared culture with the LNP, at both the party and voter level, that Howard especially was able to leverage politically with Tampa etc. promoting proxy white Australia policies through dog whistling especially (hitting people’s fears at the unconscious level e.g. something wrong with refugees, immigration, innovation etc.), creating an existential crisis.

    This is related mostly to demographic change whereby Australia has been dominated by Anglo now Anglo Irish plus (southern) European heritage which has been made to feel both empowered and disempowered at the same time; those above median age (living longer) look different from those below median age, especially in regions.

    This is also especially stark in parts of Europe, UK and US where it has been played out relentlessly in politics and media to meld or consolidate voting blocs with the centre moving to the right…. nobbling the more diverse centre and left.

    Don’t ever under estimate the power of promoting ignorance, anxiety, fear etc. encouraging the maintenance of the socio-political status quo. The ’80s and into the ’90s had Australia primed to embrace the future in our own front yard of Asia both economically and socially, while moving from dependency upon UK/US influence, but this slowly morphed into acceptance of the regional economic goodies, but avoidance of the social change i.e. becoming (inevitably) more Eurasian, hence, aggressive hanging onto old WASP (with Catholics and Jewish becoming honorary members) culture.

    It is no coincidence that neo-liberalism or radical right libertarian ideology is linked to and seemingly dependent upon a form of eugenics or existing dominant culture’s exceptionalism to gain votes, for now, till the ‘tipping point’ described by many on the fringes and mainstream too as the ‘great replacement theory’, is reached.

  5. Matters Not

    A well written piece but certainly not above some evaluative questioning. While the author is critical of certain Premiers (almost all) for creating divisions within Australian society (read provincialism also not all in this together and parochialism), there is a deafening silence when it comes to the same separation strategy when applied within the State of Victoria itself. Surely choosing such pejorative terminology might have been best avoided, particularly when the Victorian Premier, Dan Andrews, was so strong on locking down tower blocks, suburbs and then whole regions, Why is/was it legitimate to create divisions within certain areas but not others?

    Then there’s the question of ministerial accountability. In particular, its selective application. Note – this is why the ultimate responsibility for Victoria‘s hotel quarantine fiasco rests on the shoulders of Jenny Mikakos. If one is talking about ultimate responsibility, then why does it stop at a Minister and not the Premier himself? Was the Minister simply following mandated, written guidelines re outsourcing? (Do it – outsource. Or don’t.) Or was she simply bound by the common sense thinking that seems to have dominated the Victorian Public Service since the Kennett era? Where is the evidence that the Minister was involved in the actual decision making? And let’s rid ourselves of the outdated notion that a Minister ought to be responsible for everything that happens within a Department. Otherwise there …

    So many issues that might be considered.

  6. guest

    Regina,

    just a couple of details about the Pink Batts project. Two young people died unfortunately from heat exhaustion, one was electrocuted by a fault caused by another electrician and one was electrocuted using a stapler after use of staplers had been banned. There were fly by-nighters who ripped people off in an industry which was at first not well regulated. Poor supervision was a cause, and greedy entrepreneurials. But there was pressure to blame Labor. A million houses were insulated.

  7. Phil Pryor

    Matters, it is a badly written, insulting, deceptive, idealogical, distorted piece, but you know that.., and the minister to be “blamed and crucified” Ms Mikakos, followed known precedents in federal actions, perhaps innocently, naively, even a touch stupidly for the usual callous careerist, in that federals have had Nauru and medivac people in Australia covered for ages, by, guess what, private contractots of no known quality, and it goes way back. You get the shitty cheapies, you are aware of budgets and Murdoch’s Maggots eroding every confidence, position, decency, likely outcome, and, you have a go and still get blasted. Australia has NO reserves of talent, quality, staffing, work ready trained personnel, just an attitude of CHEAP for PROFIT by the donors, patrons, pushy supporters, advisors, machine men (usually) of the great tentacular creeping conservaitve machine of ensuring profits by coercion, semi slavery, casualisation, shit wages (if paid) and conditions. Despite doing far better than everyone else, Mikakos and Andrews cannot win or be allowed to appear to. Ministers cannot control or even understand departments these days.., you know there is an arsehole in the bunch, but which one, or is it ten? Federal fleas, that shit minster for ageing, coming up through gambling (!!!) is a dud below a flea’s fanny anf yet has been allowed to dodge his just reward (up against a wall, murderer). Murdoch’s maggoty media muck wins again. Until cheap thinking, profiteering, rotten, heartless, immoral conservative political perverts are eliminated, we are stuffed.

  8. Bruce White

    Well written article Leonie.
    Especially the observations about the disappearance of Westminster convention style ministerial responsibility.
    Traditionally this was the responsibility of PMs and Premiers to enforce the requirement for a minister to resign or for the PM to sack him or her. The PM was supposed to take account of the calls of parliament (including opposition and cross bench) on this issue.
    This extends to lack of accountability and answerability of ministerial staffers (unlike public servants) to the parliament as a whole.

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