"Being judged by the company you keep"
How fickle the fates! Paris enters a curfew only days after the French Open finishes. The City of Lights is to be dimmed to repel a second wave of the Covid-19 virus. Many of the matches played late at night under the Roland Garros roof would not have been allowed under the recently announced curfew. Thank you, President Macron for allowing the French Open to be completed. The feats of Nadal and Swiatek continue to shine in our minds.
In deference to some of my readers who follow Formula One racing, it should be noted that on the same weekend that Nadal tied Federer’s number of Grand Slam titles, Lewis Hamilton tied Michael Schumacher’s record of 91 Formula One Grand Prix victories. When Martina Navratilova levelled her rivalry with Chris Evert at 30-30 matches all she quipped, “it would be good if we could stop right now.” But time, tennis matches, and Formula 1 races wait for no-one. There may well be a chance that Federer and Nadal end their careers tied on 20 or more Grand Slam titles. However, it is more likely that Hamilton will surpass Schumacher’s record.
Roger Federer was typically gracious and generous in recognising Nadal’s achievement, but, tragically, Schumacher will not be able to recognise Hamilton’s efforts. After surviving the dangers of Formula 1 racing for many years, Schumacher had a skiing accident that has left him in a near vegetative state. How fickle the fates, indeed!
The plan this week was to write a slightly indulgent, whimsical piece about what I would like to see in the post-lockdown world given that the lives of Victorians will be less constrained tomorrow after more than 100 days of severe personal, social and economic restrictions.
From midnight tonight, residents of metropolitan Melbourne will be allowed to travel within a 25 kilometre radius of their homes, compared to the previous 5 kilometre radial limit and ten, rather than five, people from two families may gather in parks. However, with most businesses and hospitality venues to remain closed for at least another week and family visits to another home also still at least a week away, the only tangible advantage is the ability to observe the economic damage wrought by the effects of the lockdown on a wider scale.
Facetiously, I have contemplated how wonderful it would be to magically remove other constant irritations in post-lockdown days: reaching for a pen in the family pen pot to realise that, despite their proliferation, none of them work; always having rolls of Glad-Wrap and Alfoil end half a sheet short of the required amount; having to undertake intensive training seminars to operate remote controls; the ABC ending its use of vernacular- conferences “kicking off and wrapping up”, rather than starting and finishing ; pressures “ramping up”, rather than increasing- you have the idea; being asked by businesses to evaluate either my “relationship” or “experience” with them on the basis of a perfunctory purchase; the end of the annihilation of the adverb with the makers of Vegemite being the latest to infuriate with its label boldly claiming that eating the yeasty product will make a person start their day “happy”, not happily.
And can anyone explain whilst at a time of severe unemployment, especially amongst youth, an airlift of workers from Vanuatu and Timor-Leste has been required to ensure that this year’s mango crop in Western Australia can be harvested in time?
Ah, the best laid plans! There are not many whimsical moments at present, but the bizarre ones continue to emerge.
“You don’t get into trouble if you tell the full story”- Daniel Andrews, Premier of Victoria, Press Conference, 14th October, 2020
Sometimes political leaders unwittingly utter their own political epitaph. I think history may judge that the Premier was unwise to have been so declarative about what constitutes civic virtue. He may have also been wise to add the following qualification to his observation, “depending on when you tell it.” 48 hours before the Premier’s stern admonition this week about the behaviour of a virus ‘super-spreader’ truck driver who ‘drove’ his virus from Kilmore to Shepparton, the Secretary of the Premier’s Department, Chris Eccles, announced his immediate retirement. He did so after he delivered his phone records to the inquiry into the Victorian government’s failed management of Covid quarantine arrangements.
It seems that what the Secretary thought was truthful when he gave personal evidence to the inquiry may not have been. One Minister and one Head of Department gone. Who is next? The Premier’s political timebomb is that neither he nor any of his Ministers have been prepared to tell us anything other than what they do not know or recall. Before too long the full story about his government’s failed quarantine administration will have to be told or will become known.
But for one brief uncontaminated moment the attention of Victorians was taken away from the chicanery of their leaders and across its closed northern border to unexpected political developments in Sydney.
It was once observed that Sydney is a modern city that was founded by those who made illegal rum and those who bought it. Often called ‘Sincity’, the harbourside capital has always had a whiff of scandal and ‘slippery’ deals about it, especially when it comes to property development. The value of Sydney property is de rigueur conversation in the harbourside town. Many a property developer has been impugned for pressuring local and State politicians to secure sought after changes in a property’s zoning. Corrupt payments of “sweeteners” and “backhanders” are as well known in Sydney as its famous summer “southerly busters”.
State governments have known to be equally cavalier. To enable the retail and commercial development of Darling Harbour (remember the monorail?) the Wran government legislated to remove all applicable planning regulations. Mates doing deals and favours for mates seem to be intrinsic to Sydney’s modus operandi.
It is also fair to say that a cloud of corruption has hung over the State’s Police force for many years- think Commissioner Mervyn Woods who famously said in 1977, that he would not close illegal casinos at Christmas because that would cause hardship and loss of employment. Think also of Roger Rogerson.
Newton’s 3rd law applies again. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. New South Wales was the first State to establish a statutory body to investigate allegations of corruption within its government. Its Independent Commission against Corruption (ICAC), established in 1988, became the model for similar agencies in most other States. Neville Wran QC, Premier of NSW from 1976-1986 famously warned about the dangers of forming a body that could destroy those who created it. Wran, nicknamed ‘Nifty’ for his adroit political skills, had to weather investigations into his probity when Four Corners alleged he “looked after mates” in the State’s judiciary. Wran, who exemplified a tough “Balmain boys don’t cry”, “never resign, never explain” style of politics, was proved right.
ICAC investigations have led to the resignation of Premiers Nick Greiner, whose government established ICAC and Barry O’Farrell. Former State Ministers, most recently Eddie Obeid and Ian McDonald, have spent time in prison following ICAC investigations for corruptly using their political positions to obtain financial advantage from, you guessed it, land developments.
Most infamously, Wran’s Police Minister, Rex “Buckets” Jackson, was known for the wads of cash that could be found in his boot at Randwick racecourse, having arrived there by way of gifts from many thankful donors. “Buckets” was sent to one of the institutions he formerly was responsible for, serving time for corruption for arranging the early release of three prisoners from Bathurst jail in return for the waiving of gambling debts. The line between “convict” and “copper” in Sydney has always been a thin one.
There is now the possibility of a third Premier being forced to resign. Gladys Berejiklian, Premier since 2017, and highly regarded as an industrious and competent operator, shocked all and sundry last week when delivering evidence at an ICAC hearing into allegations of corrupt behaviour by former New South Wales MP, Daryl Maguire.
Maguire was forced to resign from the State’s parliament in 2018 after it was revealed that he had sought to use his office to obtain advantage for a range of mates. Daryl, burdened with unmanageable personal debts, is alleged to have brokered meetings between parties that could facilitate the consummation of property deals, from which he would obtain a commission. Daryl also confirmed this week at ICAC that he often had “bags of cash” delivered to his Parliamentary office to facilitate the obtaining of visas. Once you give up integrity, the rest it easy.
The Premier disclosed that she and Maguire had a personal relationship since 2015, which continued after his resignation from Parliament.
“ Ishmael gave himself to the writing of it, and as he did so he understood this, too: that accident ruled every corner of the universe except the chambers of the human heart.” from “Snow Falling on Cedars" by David Guterson
Let’s deal with unseemly personal commentary first. Many were stunned that Gladys had had a relationship. Even by her own admissions, the Premier is someone whose busy professional life had apparently precluded pursuits of the heart. The second, and probably more discussed, aspect of the shock factor was that Maguire was the man. Eleven years older than Gladys, he hardly cuts a debonair figure. However, as Sister Monica Joan quipped on ‘Call the Midwife”, “every slipper finds a foot”, even if you embody the type of low-level corruption so brilliantly depicted by Bill Hunter as Bill Heslop, the Mayor of Porpoise Spit in the Australian film, Muriel’s Wedding. Following her ICAC testimony, Gladys commented in a press conference that she had “stuffed up” her personal life. Join many never-ending queues, Gladys!
Even in a city the size of Sydney, history has no trouble repeating itself. In 1980 the only child of legendary Sydney horse trainer, T. J. Smith, Gai married bookmaker Robert, ‘Robbie’, Waterhouse, son of the city’s most successful bookmaker, Bill Waterhouse. In 1984 Robbie and Bill lost their bookmakers’ licences and were “warned off” Australian racecourses for life for their involvement in the ‘Fine Cotton affair’ , which saw a horse substituted for another in order to effect a nationwide betting plunge and coup. It was a classic “ring-in”.
Gai Waterhouse sought her full trainer’s licence in 1989 after being her father’s pupil for many years. She was denied her licence by the Australian Jockey Club. The Club argued that because of her marriage to the disgraced bookmaker she was susceptible to his nefarious influence. Legal challenges followed, culminating in a High Court challenge. Gai’s campaign to obtain a trainer’s licence led to the Federal Government amending the nation’s Sex Discrimination Act. The amendment became known as “the Waterhouse amendment” and outlawed the presumption that a married woman is susceptible to the corrupting influence of her husband. Gai Waterhouse was issued her licence in 1992, a mere 878 days after her initial application.
Gai and Gladys- starting to join the dots? Despite the law telling us to think otherwise, many commentators have presumed that Gladys must, at best, have been aware of her partner’s illegal business activities or, at worst, actively sponsored them. The sins of one partner are assumed to dwell in the other.
To cement the links between Gai and Gladys there is a Waterhouse involved! I kid you not. Robbie’s sister, Louise, approached Daryl Maguire to see if he could assist her rezone a large parcel of family land in western Sydney, near the construction site of the city’s third airport, to facilitate its sale. Daryl provided Louise with Gladys’ personal e-mail address.
Yes, Gai was not a public figure and, yes, as the State’s pre-eminent public official Gladys must, like Caesar’s wife, be beyond reproach. Her remonstrations that she is strike me as credible. However, they will not be enough for her to survive if her party believes that “the constant distraction” her relationship has created will cripple her government. To err is human and to forgive may be divine, but not if too many backbenchers think their future livelihood is at risk. Presently, the community seem to be placing greater importance on Gladys’ proven ability to lead the State, including through recent bushfires and the pandemic, than apprehensions about aspects of her personal life.
There has been much public commentary that Gladys should have ended her relationship with Maguire once she became aware of his skullduggery. Cut and run. Be sensible. Be practical. Think of your political standing. When have relationships ever been that simple? To abandon a person, even one who may be manifestly imperfect, at their moment of greatest need is counter intuitive. For love is the greatest of all things-Maguire was Gladys’ “numero uno”. Similar disbelief has been expressed about Gai Waterhouse continuing her marriage to Robbie. How agonising it must have been for Gai to attend the races sans her disgraced spouse. If looks from the judgemental did not kill her, they must have wounded her many times.
In the wider political world, the fractured and febrile race to the White House continues, with just over a fortnight before the November 3rd poll. There is a growing consensus amongst commentators that the President will struggle to be re-elected. Azerbaijan and Armenia continue their open conflict. The decapitation of a Parisian high school teacher by an Islamic terrorist has appalled the world and has subdued Parisian joie de vivre even further. Boris Johnson has warned that England may leave Brexit without a formal deal. There is still no word on how well Vladimir Putin’s children have responded to the Russian vaccine to combat Covid-19.
Yesterday New Zealanders voted to return Jacinda Ardern’s government for a second term of government with an unprecedented outright majority, although the possibility of the Prime Minister forming a coalition with the Greens remains.
The residents of the Australian Capital Territory yesterday also re-elected a Labour/Greens majority to its Legislative Assembly. It is the ALP’s sixth successive electoral victory in the ACT.
On October 31, a week after Queensland hosts a feline- Tigers v Cats- AFL Grand Final, its citizens will vote to decide which of two women will lead their unicameral parliament. Australia’s Wallabies Rugby Union team managed not to lose a Rugby test in New Zealand for the first time in decades last week, with a brave draw in Wellington, but today in Auckland, the Wallabies suffered another loss at Eden Park, Auckland. Their last victory at New Zealand's 'home of Rugby' was in 1986. Gladys was still at High School.
However, some things remain uncertain. We are still no clearer whether Australians will be freely be able to cross interstate borders by Christmas. The High Court may have something to say about the constitutional legality of the nation’s border closures before too long.
Today the Victorian Premier went as close as he ever has to admitting that the State's lockdown has gone on for too long, but he is adamant that it must remain for as long as it is needed. North of the border, Gladys must be wondering how long she may have left in her role. It may well be that the Premier's wish to keep details of her personal life in a private 'lockdown' has set her on the well-known road to hell that is paved with good intentions.