Tick, tock, tick, tock-Listen, is that the sound of a lockdown being unwound?
This week the Victorian Premier acknowledged the growing volume of community anger against the duration and extent of his lockdown regimen. Time had run out for Mr. Andrews to provide a way out. The ticking noise of community frustration had become a metaphorical drumbeat as many sectors of the community rallied to demand an easing of the 112 day lockdown that had imposed some of the toughest economic and social restrictions on citizens in the Western World.
The failure of the Premier to announce an easing of restrictions last Sunday was seen by most as more ghoulish than a macabre Halloween costume.
The following day Melbourne’s largest selling daily newspaper ran the headline, ‘BETRAYAL’. On the same day that Victoria’s Year 9 and Year 10 secondary students returned to school after an absence of over a term, Victoria recorded ZERO new cases of Covid-19 for the first time in close to three months. The patience of Victorians with the onerous nature of the lockdown had also reached zero.
That afternoon Daniel Andrews announced that from midnight the next day, Victorians would be able to take a significant step towards resuming their full economic and social lives. Restrictions remain, especially on the number of people allowed to visit homes and the extent to which Victorians can travel within their own state. More announcements are expected on these matters on November 8th. The existential question of when Victorians will, as Australians, be permitted to visit other States of Australia, remains unanswered. Masks must still be worn; there are restrictions on the number of people that can attend pubs, clubs and restaurants, but Victoria’s retail sector can now operate.
This week has seen, thankfully, a continuation of what Paul Keating might have described as a “beautiful set of numbers” concerning the pandemic: Monday, 0 new cases; Tuesday, 0; Wednesday, 1; Thursday, 2; Friday, 3, Saturday, 4 and today, 0. The desired fourteen average of daily new cases of 5 has been reached and then some. Today, it stands at 2.2.
A hemisphere away, Britain is to enter a month of lockdown as it records 21,000 daily cases, America is still recording 90,000 new cases a day, France 48,000.
There is no doubting that Victoria’s punitive second-wave lockdown has worked to curb the spread of Covid-19. The question now is whether Victorians will be fully able to return to work as they once knew it? Two sporting analogies come to mind.
Last Saturday, Richmond player Nick Vlastuin awoke in Brisbane with only thoughts of that evening’s Grand Final on his mind. However, that morning the house that he built in Victoria was scorched by an arsonist. Five minutes into the Grand Final, Vlastuin was concussed by a player ironically named Dangerfield and could take no further part in the game. Thankfully, he recovered from his concussion to be presented with his Premiership medallion. Vlastuin experienced severe personal loss and physical trauma but recovered to participate in a triumph. Victorians have been economically scorched; some have been concussed-is there a greater victory ahead for all?
Just over 34 years ago Australia’s premier weight-for-age race, the W.S. Cox Plate produced one of the most memorable finishes in its now 100-year history. Two New Zealand chestnuts, Our Waverley Star and Bonecrusher, staged a two-horse duel, both commencing their surging runs with 600 metres left of the 2040 metre race. Racecaller, Bill Collins, famously commented as they commenced their simultaneous runs, “Have they gone too early?” We now wonder whether Dan Andrews “has gone too late.”
Passing judgement on political leaders is, ultimately and importantly, the privilege of those who elect them. It is considered poor form for one political leader to make overt comments about another. In 1993, Australia’s Prime Minister, Paul Keating, caused a diplomatic incident by declaring Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, to be a “recalcitrant”. Keating’s judgement is probably now seen as polite and restrained after Mohamad’s extraordinary comments this week concerning the killings of French citizens in recent terrorist attacks. The most recent attack claimed three lives of worshippers attending a cathedral in Nice. Mohamad, now 95, wrote that “Muslims have a right to be angry and kill millions of French people for the massacres of the past” on his Facebook and Twitter posts.
Following the removal of the words, Mohamad said that his comments had been taken out of context. Sorry, MM, no deal. Hate speech is hate speech. Your comments are not recalcitrance, but repulsive, reactionary, retrograde and reprehensible.
His comments should make those who live in societies based on a generous pluralism, at the heart of which is acceptance of the democratic opinions of others, even more grateful. One of the most important Australian institutions that upholds the rights of every individual is the High Court. This week, without the fanfare and furore of the similar process in America, the Federal Attorney-General, Christian Porter, announced the appointment of two new High Court Justices, both of whom will be elevated from being Judges of the Federal Court to be amongst the seven justices of Australia’s most senior court.
Appropriately during the Spring Carnival, one is Simon Steward, although there will be more stewards than spectators at this week’s Melbourne Cup carnival. The other is Jacqueline Gleeson. One from Melbourne. One from Sydney. Jacqueline Gleeson is the daughter of former High Court Chief Justice, Murray Gleeson. Three generations of the Street family were the Chief Justice of New South Wales’ Supreme Court, but this is the first time that a similar familial link has been seen on the High Court., The Gleeson legal family has much to be proud of in the same way that Marie Curie’s daughter, Irene, won a Nobel Prize in Chemistry to sit alongside her mother’s Prize in Physics.
The High Court was created in 1903 to serve as Australia’s most important Federal Court. It is the final court of appeal from decisions of all State and Federal courts. It also has constitutional authority to be the only court that can hear certain cases, the most important of these being disputes over the meaning of the nation’s Constitution. In the weeks ahead, the importance of this power will be reconfirmed when the Court rules whether current interstate border closures are a violation of the Constitution’s declaration in Section 92 that, “ trade, commerce, and intercourse among the States, whether by means of internal carriage or ocean navigation, shall be absolutely free.”
Despite it being a Federal Court, the High Court has never in its 118-year history had a Justice appointed from either Tasmania or South Australia. And people wonder why at the time of Federation the less populated States insisted on equal representation in the Senate to protect them against runaway domination from New South Wales and Victoria!
Australia now has an 18 year history of not winning the Bledisloe Cup for Rugby Union matches between itself and New Zealand. Another drubbing of the Wallabies by the remorseless All Blacks in Sydney last weekend left Australia’s rugby fans wondering when the much needed renaissance will commence.
Queensland is a state that cherishes its Rugby, especially its State of Origin Rugby clashes with New South Wales. This year, the first State of Origin match has been delayed because of the pandemic, but will be held this week in Adelaide, a city more enamoured with Australian Rules football.
It is probably not unfair to suggest that for many Queenslanders the result of this week’s match matters as much, if not more, than the result of last Saturday’s State election. The election, in which close to 70% of voters cast their votes by pre-poll postal voting, saw the incumbent Labor government of Annastacia Palaszczuk re-elected for a third term. The government appears set to obtain an absolute majority of the 93 seats in Australia’s only State unicameral parliament. At a time of social upheaval, incumbency has once again proven to be a valuable political asset, reinforced by a Premier with a canny eye for the kudos that comes from playing the parochial, “Queenslanders first” card.
Whenever a State election is held in Australia commentary immediately turns to its implications for Federal politics. Scott Morrison will not be losing any sleep over the weekend’s result in Queensland. As I have previously commented, Australia’s Labor Party runs the risk of being overly successful in State elections. Trusted as the party to run a State’s hospitals, schools and build sufficient roads, or in Victoria, railway overpasses, the ALP still struggles to be seen as a party that can responsibly manage a nation’s finance, immigration and defence. Further, the Queensland Premier’s “keep the southerners away and at bay” rhetoric may not be so appealing when JobKeeper payments end in March. If Queensland struggles to stage a post-JobKeeper economic recovery, the Federal government may well be the political beneficiary. It’s all in the timing….
Premier Palaszczuk noted that the election had been fought between two major political parties led by women and argued that, consequently, the nature of the election’s political debate was more “respectable.” It is worth noting that women also lead the major political parties in New South Wales. Gladys is still the Premier! There is now gender equality in the membership of the Senate. Tasmania’s Legislative Assembly has a majority of female members. All States and Territories have had either female Premiers or Chief Ministers except for South Australia. Andrew Barr’s ability to publicly celebrate his recent re-election as Chief Minister of the ACT with his male partner shows how radically the cultural features of Australian politics have changed in a short period of time.
Think 1975. Deputy Prime Minister, Jim Cairns, had a principal private secretary, Juni Morosi, who had a Filipino background. The scandal and innuendo of the appointment was not insignificant in the unravelling of the Whitlam government. Think 2020. Women with even more exotic non-Anglo-Celtic surnames of Berejiklian and Palaszczuk are now two of the nation’s most respected leaders! *
The era of raw ‘macho’ politics is on the wane, if not entirely over in Australia. Gentler and kinder rules apply. The passing of Sean Connery, arguably the most iconic 007 James Bond, at 90 is symbolic of the death of an era where on the screen and in life women were in the background, other than for decorative and titillating purposes.
America's raw, depressingly uncivilised and unedifying Presidential election campaign is in its final days. Close to 85,000,000 voters have already cast their votes. This time next week, there will be either a clear result or the beginnings of another protracted political and judicial struggle about the legitimacy of the result evoking memories of the resolution of the Bush v Gore contest of 2000.
Americans and Europeans must look at Australia with a degree of envy this week. Our political culture remains overwhelmingly tolerant and respectful. Our corona virus numbers must make many in the northern hemisphere wonder what we did to create such negligible figures. A new form of 'lucky' for our country if you will.
Have I gone too early in declaring the worst is over for Australians? Walking through Melbourne today people were enjoying outdoor gatherings in great numbers and queues had re-appeared at upmarket retailers.
I suspect that if a third wave, God forbid, occurred Victorians would struggle to willingly accept any further restrictions on their lives. But we know the price of low transmission is eternal vigilance and testing! Upsets can happen- look at the ATP tournament in Vienna this week. No.1. seed Novak Djokovic was beaten 6-2 6-1 in his quarter final, by Italian qualifier Lorenzo Sonego, ranked 42 in the world, with one title to his name in a professional career that began in 2013. Djokovic’s loss delayed confirmation that he will finish the year ranked as the world’s No.1 player for the sixth time, taking him past Sampras, Federer and Nadal who have each earned this honour five times.
In anticipation of there being no return to a lockdown of months past, organisers of the 2021 Australian Open are hopeful that stadiums will be able to be filled to 25% capacity, as is planned for the Boxing Day cricket test between Australia and India. Meatloaf famously sung -and infamously at an AFL Grand Final pre-match entertainment concert- that “two out of three ain’t bad”. After the privations of months past, Victorians will see one quarter out of four as incomparably better than their prolonged experience of nothing.
*Of course, the role and place of women in sport has radically changed in recent decades. Richard Naughton, Sports Historian, and lawyer has written a biography of one of Australia’s pioneering tennis players, Daphne Akhurst, after whom the Australian Women’s Open Singles Title trophy is named: Daphne Akhurst- the woman behind the trophy. Richard’s book, with a foreword by Judy Dalton AM, is an engrossing story of the stellar career of a player who won five Australian Open titles before retiring. Hers was a rich and varied life which ended tragically at the age of 29, following complications associated with an ectopic pregnancy.
Akhurst was an accomplished classical pianist and journalist, who was revered as much for her off-court demeanour and charm as she was for her relentlessly accurate playing style. The biography provides reminds us of the values and attitudes of Australian society in the 1920s when women tennis players were assessed as much for their femininity as for their forehands. Daphne could never have dreamed of the professionalism and independence of modern female tennis players!
Richard takes us on tour with Daphne and other leading female tennis players who represented Australia in exhibition matches undertaken in overseas trips in 1925 and 1928, when Suzanne Lenglen and Helen Wills were the world’s dominant players.
After the upheavals of this past year, would it not be wonderful if an Australian’s name could be engraved on Daphne’s eponymous trophy in 2021? Ashleigh Barty, no doubt inspired by her beloved Richmond Tigers’ premiership success, may just be the person to do it! Further details about Richard’s book can be found at: