“This is literally a war and we know we’ve been in a war for some time but never to this extent.” Gladys Berejiklian
“Stay calm. Delta is here.” Dazzling the entire nation with her gold standard sang-froid and petulant self-righteousness, a plucky Gladys Berejiklian, premier of The Premier State, claims to be at war with the deadly Delta variant of COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2 Coronavirus) – whilst heading a government which is in bed with the enemy; the fat cats, thin spivs, coffee bar-keepers, garden centres, Bunnings theme parks, IKEA, QANTAS and the “gaming” and liquor “industry” touts, who lead the NSW push to open for business. That’s even before you get to the ex-bankers running its Treasury.
Or Glad’s deputy, “Let ‘er rip” Dominic Perrottet, another fine young, aspiring, right wing chap is captured by private sector finance emigrants, warns AFR’s Joe Aston, who’ve “effortlessly colonised state government enterprises”. Treasury is run by Westpac alumnus Mike Pratt, a former deputy chairman of the troubled icare $60bn government workers’ compensation scheme. Former Macquarie banker, Michael Carapiet and NAB director Peeyush Gupta are part of his team.
Being at war for a Berejiklian-Barilaro government, looks and sounds more like unconditional surrender. Or a rout.
“We accept that Delta is here, we accept heading to zero across the nation, especially once you open up and live freely will be an impossible task,” the premier says with a Morrisonian Gish-gallop -baffling, if not infuriating to the novice. When Glad comes out each morning, talking up the jab-rate, she goes for a Phil Spectre wall of words, just like her mentor Scott Morrison. The trick is to ignore the verbiage and watch what she does.
Small wonder, then that the AFR has the premier as its April cover-girl and dubs Gladys The Woman Who Saved Australia, while Gladys fan-boy, Phil Coorey, mounts the curious argument in a follow up -that by her bungling, the ineffectual, Berejiklian liberates us from COVID-zero’s gilded cage; forces us all to enjoy what it’s like to live (or die) with the virus.
Delta infection rockets up in Gladys’ eight-week mock-down. Friday, 470 people are in hospital; 80 in intensive care. 27 on ventilators. Saturday, 825 new cases are reported. Another three people are dead. Between ten and thirty per cent of the NSW cases may go on to develop Long Covid, a poorly understood but chronic, debilitating illness.
A third of patients being admitted to hospital are aged 30 to 49. Nearly half of all hospitalisations involve patients 49 and under; those with the least access to vaccinations. Cue “This is not a race” – a Morrison government which refused to concede any need for urgency in order to hide its failure to seal a deal with Pfizer; to secure and supply enough vaccine, or to build dedicated quarantine facilities, is helping turn NSW into a disaster zone.
While Berejiklian’s “Delta is different” defence is logically unassailable, her response amounts to her confessing that she chose to bring a knife to a gun fight. Her minders just ignored Delta’s dawn overseas? Leading epidemiologist, Professor Mary-Louise McLaws, from the University of NSW, says Sydney’s escalating outbreak is driven by a rising trend of people who are infectious in the community. Australia’s been given ample warning of Delta in other countries. The government should have locked down Sydney much sooner, a view hotly contested by the Berejiklian team.
McLaws would like NSW Health to provide more detail and suggests that it’s likely to be essential workers causing much of the spread. Currently the term essential worker is so broadly defined that it offers little useful diagnostic data.
“What the government is not telling us, which they need to, is how many of those not in isolation were essential services workers who inadvertently acquired it at work and then took it home to their household and caused ‘x’ number of people in their households to be infected,” Professor McLaws says. She could also point to local examples.
Victoria’s short, sharp lockdowns succeed. Our media is on to this. They add them up. Even the ABC uses “Dan’s 200 days of lockdown” to divert from NSW’s debacle and to foster the pernicious myth that the Andrews’ Labor government in Victoria is the real villain of the pandemic, a theme embraced by Murdoch’s hacks. It’s part of the PM’s subterfuge that what is really at stake is our “freedom” – not his government’s duty of care to help keep us safe.
Gladys uses the word freedom freely while meeting later to rush through laws which restrict it. One source in her crisis cabinet tells The Guardian Australia’s Ann Davies,
“We make decisions there that would take 18 months under normal circumstances and would require legislation through parliament. We’re taking decisions that curtail people’s freedoms or pay out millions in an afternoon.”
It’s also the refrain of a federal government that defines itself by what it’s not and must ever attack its opponents, especially now its neoliberalism is exposed as a hoax. Or, like the PM and his deputy, all hat and no cattle. Tragically, however, the neoliberal yen for cutting public health and outsourcing to the private sector is taking its toll.
In just one week, NSW Covid-19 patients requiring ventilators will double and intensive care admissions will rise by 70 per cent, a paper marked “sensitive” leaked from Morrison’s gagged COAG, his supposedly top secret, “National Cabinet” Rick Morton reports. Just over half the state’s total staffed ICU beds – 444 of 863 beds – are already in use.
A continuation of the rise in patients, as predicted by Glady’s advisers, will stress a system that is already stretched, especially the state’s capacity to staff intensive care units, putting ICU patients of all types at risk, warns the paper.
We knew that vaccines could halt the spread of infection but the federal government failed to vaccinate younger people, our most socially mobile group. Instead, the Morrison roadmap put great stress on vaccinating the most vulnerable in its 1A and 1B phases of its five-then-four phase model, while failing to get enough vaccine in time to achieve even that. Morrison will, doubtless, blame ATAGI or “medical advisers” but his roadmap is fit only for lining the parrot-cage.
The phony war on Covid is over. Could it be curtains for the terminally conflicted premier’s chequered political career? Berejiklian has stared down a few big scandals, including her dalliance with debonair Daryl McGuire, her Wagga wannabe, a liaison she packaged as a “mistake in my personal life” when it may involve abuse of her public office.
Glad doesn’t want to be reminded of her mistakes. She fires up when ABC’s Paul Farrell raises the Clay Target shooting club in McGuire’s electorate which receives a $5.5m grant after a first application doesn’t quite hit the cost-benefit analysis target but, eighteen months later, succeeds with some help from her office, according to evidence at ICAC.
Crikey’s Bernard Keane sums up, A large grant of public money was given to a project which had clearly failed the test when conducted at arms’ length. The premier requested that the test be attempted again, and the evidence suggests she was taking particular interest in it. The test was passed, and the public money flowed, as the premier’s secret boyfriend had been seeking all along. Will Farrell now drop the potential, perceived conflict of interest? Unlikely.
In public life, Gladys has been unsinkable. Berejiklian and Brad Hazzard, her exquisitely named Health Minister, survive the 2020 Ruby Princess fiasco with its 662 Covid cases and 28 deaths,, despite Commissioner Bret Walker SC’s report of his Special Commission of Inquiry, that “…NSW state health department officials made ‘inexcusable’, ‘inexplicable’ and ‘serious mistakes’ in the Ruby Princess handling.” Doubtless, they’ll all have learned from their mistakes by now.
Walker makes few recommendations, but he does say that he shouldn’t have to tell Health to do its job properly.
More serious threats to Glady’s tenure come from her partner in criminal negligence, Scott Morrison, who knows that one of them is going to cop the blame for a corrupted Fed-State Liberal pandemic policy dictated by the top end of town that helps infect not only the rest of Australia but our trans-Tasman dormitory suburbs of Auckland and Wellington.
The fix is in, however, as his office continues to background against the premier, the PM elevates the status of the state premier’s agreement to the Doherty Report or to what Morrison pretends the report says. Friday he proclaims it’s an agreement with the Australian people that states open up on 70-80 per cent vaccination. We’ll get there by December.
Frydenberg steps up to threaten premiers. Don’t expect government funds if you aren’t all open by Christmas.
But that’s assuming that there are enough doses of vaccine available – and Doherty makes no hard and fast prediction. It is a nuanced prediction based on there being only a few cases of infection in the community. Several premiers point this out. Other experts query the percentages. 20 or 30 per cent unvaccinated is way too high with Delta, they say. Look at Israel. Israel is not the only source of data suggesting that current vaccines may need boosters or are less effective against “variants of interest” of which Delta is but one example.
“Two doses of Pfizer-BioNTech have greater initial effectiveness against new COVID-19 infections, but this declines faster compared with two doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca,” researchers at Oxford University report. The decline period is a few months. Yet so much of the government discourse in Australia implies two doses confer lasting immunity.
Allied to this disinformation is the mantra of vaccinating being the way out for Sydney. And blaming those slow to come forward for their jabs as recalcitrant misreads the reality. Kiwi migrant workers, for example, are one of many groups in Western Sydney’s precariat whose members may not even qualify for a Medicare card.
Aotearoa, the land of the long white cloud, or long white shroud, in Kiwi satirist Peter Harcourt’s 1959 classic album, New Zealand, is the country of origin of an Australian resident population of at least 600,000, over a third of whom are some of our most vulnerable workers in a pandemic being unable to access any form of welfare.
Along with residents are the many classes of visa holder which are similarly abandoned in a lockdown. Include Sydney’s share of the 60,000 who have overstayed or are “undocumented” and the government’s police and ADF show of force is both ill-conceived and counter productive. But it may play into the politics of Morrison’s tired, tough-on-borders rhetoric.
Being in a war, of course, is not the same as being at war, as Glad’s Clayton’s lockdown parody reveals, yet she bangs on about NSW being under the harshest restrictions in Australia, when any Victorian could tell her it isn’t.
“We’re doing everything we can, we’re throwing everything at this … It is time for all of us to bunker down and take this as seriously as we can,” she lies, Friday, in yet another of her fact-free, Trump stump pressers – bulked up with bumper sticker slogans, platitudes and lies – before she snubs a reporter who asks about indigenous peoples at risk. In vain, she tries to evade reporters’ questions suggesting that she delayed imposing stricter lockdown measures.
Hiding behind the skirt of your Chief Health Officer or the cap, braid and epaulettes of your Police Commissioner does nothing for your public image. Yet it’s clear evidence of the desperation that results from poor planning.
Gladys Berejiklian is at war on many fronts, none of which feature her as a Xena Warrior Princess. Remotely.
The war talk evokes her own guerrilla campaign for political survival. And her war on the truth. Before the week is out, Glad the Liberator is spruiking “exciting opportunities” and promising freedoms in a frenetic turd polishing of her own failure to run a timely, proper lockdown. Or a successful presser – as opposed to a bragging and gaslighting bull-session, which includes her lying about her own fatal errors, while imploring everybody else to do the right thing. Because it’s all their fault. Never her own colossal stuff-up.
Never a hint of her own ineptitude – eight weeks wasted as she feebly tries a velvet fist in a velvet glove approach, that she hoped would win the hearts and wallets of her party donors, while posing as a sweet and reasonable consensus authoritarian. At Friday’s presser, journalists probe her dithering and deadly time-wasting. One flourishes a list.
‘This is the list of things we could do earlier, so why is the question, why didn’t we do it earlier?’
It’s a list she received only last night, she cries, begging her top cop and doctor to back her up before scuttling into the wings. In fact, Gladys is as tough as teak. Indecisive? Sure. Ineffectual? Only when it comes to policy. In clinging to power, she’s a black belt. “Excuse me, it’s not your press conference,” she tells Sky News’ Andrew Clennell when he asks how many days it will take to impose a real lockdown. Does anyone expect this premier to be held to account?
Or set some coherent rules. Say something that makes sense. Instead, we get vacuous, patronising entreaties and beseeching to be good boys and girls because our governess will reward us. Bizarrely, she can’t say how. Like National Cabinet proceedings, until Rex Patrick’s challenge this week in the AAT, it’s classified confidential.
“NSW is up to 5.5m jabs. When we get to 6m jabs, those that are vaccinated will have the opportunity to do something that they can’t do now,”
Glad channels Mary Poppins, about to get her children to laugh so hard they fill with their own laughing gas and float up to the parlour ceiling. Her promised secret reward is in itself laughable.
There’s very little Sydney-siders haven’t done already, judging by scenes of a crowded Bondi and unmasked Passeggiata in busy streets. Saturday brings reports of open defiance from Western Sydney, framed helpfully in Chairman Peter Costello’s Sydney Morning Herald, which increasingly runs a pro-Morrison line. Saturday’s paper makes short work of scapegoating those who have to go to work to pay the rent, keep the power on and buy the groceries.
“Young men in south-west Sydney who are refusing to heed lockdown laws have sparked the NSW government’s about-face on harsher restrictions, which Premier Gladys Berejiklian says is the state’s last stand against the Delta outbreak”. Just in case anyone was in any doubt who to blame for Sydney’s stricter lockdown. Strict? The Berejiklian government just got around to mandating mask-wearing in public, this Friday. But not for exercise.
Of course, things have tightened up, hugely, since the phony war of the first few weeks of her Clayton’s lockdown. Helping tremendously, “Can I just ask everybody to care…” is Gladys’ outsourcing of her own responsibility.
Gladys deserves gold for her Olympic spin; a desperate pivot to necessity as she touts her state’s rising vaccination rates Thursday, (because they are increasing) and for her industrial-strength gaslighting lie that her government’s catastrophic failure to contain the pandemic is, in fact, cutting-edge – the best in Australia, if not a world-beating exemplar of “learning to live with COVID”, (because you’ve utterly failed to contain it). Morrison parrots the same phrase.
Gladys is upbeat about how she and her PM have engineered what Crikey’s Bernard Keane and Glen Dyer term the greatest public policy failure since the Iraq and Afghan wars – but it’s worse than that. The NSW Premier, with the assistance of the Morrison government, has contrived to turn a public health crisis into a catastrophe.
“What I am absolutely convinced about is that NSW can lead the way,” she claims. “If we keep people out of hospital, we keep people out of intensive care, we stop people dying, that means we are starting to live with COVID.”
Lead the way? There is little sign of anything but catastrophic failure in each of her three conditions.
Glad follows her former number one fan-boy, turned arch nemesis, the spineless, Scott-forgot-to-buy-the vaccine-Morrison, as she confuses the need to do something with a cue to declare war on the poor workers of Western Sydney, a bellicose rhetorical flourish, she hopes will make her sound like a leader. A woman with a plan.
Joining Gladys in The Joy Of War chorus is alleged war criminal, John Winston “babies overboard” Howard, another foghorn of moral authority, with a compassion bypass. Despite a deathless role in public life that is a bit like the ABC’s over reliance on repeats of Grand Designs, JWH is yet to enter the lists of the insightful or original thinkers, let alone the interesting, yet he’s ever-ready to add his thin, adenoidal descant to Morrison’s lie that our Afghan defeat was worth fighting.
Readers will recall that the “lying rodent”, as gorgeous, George Brandis called his then PM, misled parliament 18 March 2003 that he had legal opinion that made our illegal invasion of Iraq not only lawful, but a moral imperative.
Since then over 9 million Iraqis have been displaced either internally, or forced to seek refuge in other countries. Many of those who came to us in boats; (Howard helped persuade us were “illegal immigrants”, another fiction,) – still remain in indefinite detention.
Legal, no doubt, were weapons which used depleted uranium, a substance which is still, today, causing birth deformities in Iraqi babies born near Tallil airbase, site of the US-led military “coalition of the willing”. Almost as cruel is the legacy of Islamophobia played upon by Morrison’s rival, Peter Dutton, who is in no rush to rescue Afghan interpreters because they may be terrorists; members of Al Qaeda or Taliban.
It’s a toxic dog-whistle which can only add to the hardship faced by migrant workers struggling to survive the pandemic in Western Sydney, or elsewhere in Australia. Yet the NSW Premier cranks up her scapegoating and victim-blaming.
Gladys takes a leaf out of our PM’s playbook, while Police Commissioner Mick Hillsong Fuller muscles in on her patch, calling in the troops he hopes will make him look good, as he further white-ants Gladys’ hopelessly undermined premiership. Mick auditions for Liberal pre-selection as Sydney’s super-hero, while the mutant variant goes viral.
In NSW’s production of the Premier Prima donna, Morrison’s former Golden girl, the ineffectual, Gladys Berejiklian declares war on Delta and on Western Sydney – together with any hack who disrespects her – in any presser, surprising many, including the PM’s Office fixers, who make her life hell by beavering away; “backgrounding”, a gutless type of backstabbing by dripping poison into the well-pricked ears of select media hacks in the Canberra gallery.
The toxic drops just don’t stop. Constant undermining, the Premier’s office screams, Sunday, in an internal brawl with key ministers. Mick Fuller, meanwhile, who is commended in earlier despatches as the Morrison family’s loyal bin-retriever, morphs into a State Emergency Operations Controller, Obergruppenführer with seven hundred soldiers to help his ten thousand cops kick a few heads in Western Sydney. They’ll make life hell for the “non-compliant”.
Rome wasn’t sacked in a day. Sydney’s decline has been unwinding since 1856, when the Emerald City was but a pup, begat in one thrust by an upright Colonial secretary, honest Edward Deas Thomson by the bestowal of power upon a democratically-elected parliament and premier. The rot set in immediately.
To local conservatives, notes historian John Hirst,
“it appeared as if the government had been debased into a giant system of corruption with needy ministers and members bound together by their joint interest in plunder.”
Little has changed. If anything, corruption is more overt in a government where a Premier can survive a Daryl McGuire, an enterprising, close personal friend, who admits pocketing thousands of dollars in a dodgy visa scam; using his office for private business gain, even using lounges in the premier’s office suite to stage a $350 million land deal. But it’s no biggie, Glad tells Sydney radio – just a poor choice in men, or as gallant Malcolm Turnbull, author of the Bonk Ban in Federal Parliament and an insufferable know-all, “she fell in love with the wrong guy”.
“These things happen in Australia says Scott Morrison. People do things and then they regret them.”
Its not just that its soft, rotten, heritage underbelly of rorts and dodgy deals may be normalised by a pork-barrel Premier, who shrugs off corruption as “just politics” – but The Emerald City’s dependence upon the top end of town and its business-class oligarchy has left it politically impotent. Now as the pandemic rages, a state government stalls and a premier dithers while her PM stitches her up.
Scott told Glad to lockdown heaps earlier, The Daily Telegraph dobs. But would she listen? Incredibly, at that very moment, The Sydney Morning Herald also reports “an anonymous source in the PM’s office” briefing, exactly the same thing to one of their hacks. Deidre Chambers, what a coincidence!
Glad is not happy. The worm has turned; Glad’s fling with National Cabinet’s Fat Controller, is going the way of the laptop and phone that Dazza McGuire ran over with his tractor. In this case, however, Scott Morrison’s desperate to push Glad under a bus before she drags him under with her, a fate, Niki Savva believes he can’t escape.
Hill Singer and Liberal political aspirant, Police Commissioner Fuller cranks up the militarisation of the Sydney Shitshow™; ordering up ever more mission creep, highly trained, culturally sensitive troops in camo to fix up morale of Western Sydney’s working poor. Boosting numbers to nigh a thousand lads and lasses winning hearts and minds by daily door-knocking, roll-calls and generally enforcing compliance. Choppers fly overhead. Meanwhile there’s a mad scramble for vaccine, as the AFR puts it delicately.
It’s all the vision of the PM, who first showed a fetish for uniform back in his time as border enforcer, when he militarised compassion and helped our nation rat on the refugee convention, according to a plan drawn up by Jim Molan, the butcher of Fallujah, in which asylum seekers became illegals and we cheerily put them into indefinite detention, which the UN told Tony Abbott is a form of torture, only to be told by the suppository of all wisdom to butt out.
If the thrill of seeing our army lads and lasses out on the streets at all hours ensuring everyone does as they are told is not enough to make the hair on the back of your neck stand up, Morrison government’s technology investment roadmap turns out to be a love note to the fossil fuel gang, a multinational corporate mafia who play us for suckers while we give them ten billion dollars a year in subsidies, a favour returned in donations to a Coalition of mutual self-interest which has long lost its base.
“This is all about balance” cries Angus Taylor while his PM, ScoMo, channels Mandrake the Magician’s rapid hypnotic technique helped by the jungle drumbeat of the Murdoch media, Morrison and Taylor.
Not helping Scott Morrison’s distress is news that contrary to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet’s insistence, a ruling by Justice Richard White in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) confirms that all working documents for the meetings of federal, state and territory leaders are accessible under freedom of information law.
Karen Middleton reports in The Saturday Paper that the PM could be in strife with his fetish for secrecy. The AAT ruling may scupper the device Morrison uses to extend federal cabinet’s secrecy provisions … the cabinet office policy committee, or COPC. Since he invented it in 2019, Scotty uses this committee, of which he is the only permanent member, to claim cabinet confidentiality extends over anything he wants shielded from public view. If it sounds far-fetched, if not patently absurd, it probably is, but there’s no denying the PM’s zeal to keep everything under wraps.
Without dipping into the late, unlamented, Donald Rumsfeld’s known unknowns, it’s certain that none of this will turn out well for Gladys or for her former fanboy Morrison. Numbers will continue to soar in NSW because contact tracing is now impossible due to sheer numbers of COVID infections. Vaccine supplies are not assured for those most at risk – and for those most mobile, the younger victims now showing up in statistics, despite whatever the PM may announce.
It may be too cynical to say that the failure of COVID-zero was contrived to force the “learn to live with it” option – the Boris Johnson con over the Dan Andrews’ strategy. But, as Mick Young said, whenever the choice is between a conspiracy and a stuff-up, go with the stuff-up every time. Expect numbers of cases to soar in NSW because even its tough new measures are too little too late. Expect Berejiklian to run up the white flag and declare an easing of restrictions as soon as she can. The results will be horrendous. Expect her PM to continue his undermining until Gladys resigns.
Enter her deputy, Dominic Perrottet, who’s always quietly advocated letting her rip, to be Morrison’s new gold standard, golden-haired boy.
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