ONCE upon a time in Queensland, it was a given imbibed with the Four-ex and mangoes on which we breakfasted that it was our destiny to be the butt of jokes forever, especially from the covetous guerrillas the Premier called “southern socialists.” It wasn’t all comedy about Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s syntax – which nobody imitated better than Gerry Connolly – or his odd enthusiasms (like, er, the possibility of using hydrogen as a fuel). There was also the spying and brutality of Special Branch, bans on protesting, the routinised framing of political enemies and the fact that Queensland’s only crime commission – The Joke – commissioned crimes. Sunshine Staters are therefore grateful for the rise and crazy notoriety of Daniel Andrews. Few Premiers, if any, have ever inverted a cultural axis of Australian politics in quite the same way. In Joh’s day, his beloved state was derided as the Deep North but now the redneck corruption, the violent cops, the segregation and the sheer Huey Long wrongness of it all is located where it should be: in the Deep South.
Even so, with scores of people from all sides, parties and professions condemning the Spring Street Caudillo for his new blitzkrieg on the rule of law, something is not getting the attention it deserves. Namely: Mr Andrews isn’t entirely to blame. He has remained popular throughout the covid crisis and is thought to be on track to win re-election. Unlike old Joh, the Victorian Premier doesn’t need a gerrymander. What does that say about the voting public – especially in greater Melbourne? The more pummelled they are, the more loved and protected they feel. Scare campaigns aren’t new and they’re not hard. Paul Keating successfully depicted the featureless John Hewson as Idi Amin in a Ferrari. But what we’re seeing in Victoria has no precedent. It doesn’t matter how many times Mr Andrews’ critics bring him in for questioning on suspicion of battery, his masochistic spouse – the electorate – is parked outside the station waiting to drive him home.
And yet… while this profoundly strange black and blue coupling may not have a precedent, it does have several equals. All the other Premiers have behaved in exactly the same manner, give or take several degrees of fanaticism. I never bought into that Sky-driven lionisation of Gladys Berejiklian as the Good German of the group. She panicked like all the others, traded rationality for culpability management and frequently rivalled her southern counterpart for cruelty and stupidity. We don’t know for certain why Victoria’s “case” and fatality numbers are so much worse than anywhere else. The one factor sufficiently long-running and idiosyncratic to be examined as the key difference is time incarcerated. Imprisoning a city with a virus that flourishes indoors has proved to be utterly murderous. Prove me wrong. Daniel Andrews is the worst of a bad bunch but it definitely is a bad bunch. More than any of the others, however, he wanted to be the Great Man of History when the pandemic began. When it went bad because of his negligence, he dumped all blame on the public and is probably as surprised as anyone that they worship him for it.