Premier Daniel Andrews, the Minister of Health Jenny Mikakos, and the Chief Health Officer have told Victorians that they have become “too complacent.”
The Chief of Police is muscular about issuing fines with no discretion, regardless of the fact that hardly anyone was fined during the BLM protests. There are coded message that non-Anglo Victorians, especially Muslims, are just not getting it. Yep, it’s our fault.
The Premier has accepted responsibility so now he must stop the spin. Victorians have been through the nation’s toughest lockdown and are now forced into it again.
The failure is a bureaucratic one born of ideology. The screw up was with hotel quarantine, not citizens.
All that citizens have to do is pay taxes, abide with the laws and vote. Self-interest, greed, ignorance, faith, identity, and ideology can all confluence to ramp up stupidity. That is why the state needs to legislate and enforce the law especially in crises.
If we are told we can have 20 people over but not told when or how often, one cannot blame the citizens.
At the core of the crisis is the relationship between government and bureaucracy. Politicians have little power over bureaucrats, regardless of which party, and regardless of what the citizens and media think.
Politicians are linked to their constituents and can only lay out an approach, which the bureaucracy should enact. It is the directors, the departmental secretaries and their underlings who act. Bureaucrats left unchecked undermine democracy. Insiders believe that Department of Human and Health Services (DHHS) has been staffed with the wrong people in the wrong positions. The Chief Health Officer is not a Departmental Secretary, another layer of bureaucracy in a pandemic.
Labor particularly, but not only, find it hard to challenge bureaucracy. This is partly ideological and partly due to self-interest. Labor is keen to enact big social engineering programs and require lots of bureaucrats, of course most of them vote Labor.
Two rare cases of Labor taking on bureaucrats were Gough Whitlam in the 1970s who dismembered a bureaucracy made of old conservatives so that he could enact transformative social programs, and Bob Hawke and Paul Keating in the 1980s who needed a bureaucracy aligned to efficiency and the free market.
In Victoria, Kennett was the last premier to really transform the bureaucracy; to make it accountable, efficient and focused on outcomes. Since then, Labor and Liberal governments have largely placated or feared the bureaucrats.
Now we have a bureaucracy replicating itself and laden with chic identarian politics.
This bureaucracy could not cope with the optics of having the Australian Defence Force personnel or Victoria Police, or Protective Service Officers guarding quarantine hotels.
Victoria’s deputy Chief Health Officer Annaliese van Diemen made ideological declarations in regard to Captain Cook in the middle of a global pandemic. Where did she get that imprimatur?
Bureaucrats often say that they are there to “help the government from making mistakes” yet many of the heads of the bureaucracy simply seek to amass their power and influence. As the sociologist Max Weber pointed out a bureaucracy seeks status and power for its own sake. We have seen what corrupt bureaucracy can be like. Chernobyl was a bureaucratic blunder as civil servants were unable to see past their own needs. In China bureaucrats failed to raise the alarm fast enough on COVID-19 for fear of losing favour with the Party.
Bureaucrats in Victoria, in a desire be uber woke, have effectively caused a second spike and closed down the state for six weeks. Their blunder will be paid for by the government and the people, not the bureaucracy.
Calls for Premier Andrews to step down are theatre. It’s the Opposition’s job to call for step-downs. If Labor were in Opposition they would be calling for a premier to step down. It is easier to be in Opposition now.
Premier Andrews has dealt with COVID19 pandemic well enough, but he and his team need to stop gaslighting Victorians and protecting the bureaucracy behind a judicial inquiry. Mr Andrews could establish a bipartisan commission to manage the pandemic and appoint a czar who is distant from the bureaucracy and someone who is acceptable to Labor and the LNP.
It could be a retired general, or an ex-high-ranking police officer, a retired politician or retired judge – someone who has gravitas and can deal with complexity. Someone that has no desire to be ideologically, nor give-in to bureaucrats, especially the DHHS.
A bipartisan commission may be the beginning of bureaucratic reform. That is unless there is something much bigger to hide.