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Politics Editorial

Liberal Party pandemic management: Exemplary — thanks, Gladys!

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Cartoon by Mark David / @MDavidCartoons

Watching New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian and her “gold standard” pandemic management unravel before our eyes is a bittersweet moment for many people — Victorians, in particular.

For months on end, Gladys has been held up as the model all should follow. We have heard that Gladys’ gold standard contact tracing was second to none. That her approach to handling the pandemic was far superior to her mere mortal non-Liberal counterparts around the country. Even that she single-handedly “saved Australia”.

GOLDEN PRIDE

This “gold standard”, we were incessantly told, embodied the very essence of Liberal Party philosophy in action, the fruits of which were clearly evident in the fine State of NSW. Not only did Gladys “manage” the COVID pandemic, she still succeeded in keeping the all-important businesses open. What a stark contrast to neighbouring Labor-managed Victoria, where there were closed borders, hard lockdowns and strict rules in place.

For her part, Gladys took each and every opportunity to brag about this prowess constantly credited to her via the Federal Government and the Liberal Party mainstream media personal PR team with comments such as:

“Other states have chosen to close borders very quickly, chosen to have lockdowns. I don’t believe keeping your borders closed and inflicting pain and suffering on thousands of people is the way to go.”

And (spoken in an incredulous tone):

“Other states are choosing to shut down entire economies when they have a couple of cases!”

And also, our favourite and most recent fabrication:

“The Victorian Government waited far longer than we did to go into lockdown.”

Exemplary — thanks, Gladys!

NO GOLD FOR NSW

Today, the situation is very different. You could say the shoe is on the other foot, because today, in NSW there are 110 new cases in the past 24 hours, bringing the latest outbreak to over 1,500.

There are 106 people being treated for COVID-19 in hospital with 23 in intensive care and 11 on ventilators.

There are 43 known infections in the community with another 17 in isolation for only part of their infectious period and 13 cases still under investigation. This is significant because the health authorities have insisted this community infection rate is the most critical factor in slowing the spread of the virus.

In response, Gladys has hesitated at every turn to impose a comprehensive lockdown bowing to pressure from the business community.

Where Berejiklian has announced these so-called “toughest" lockdown measures, the rules have been so confused that they have been impossible for most people to navigate. Unlike Victoria's strict lockdowns, retail outlets and department stores like Ikea and Harvey Norman remain open in NSW. The Victorian Government published detailed lists of which workplaces could stay open. NSW has provided nothing like that with resultant confusion and high numbers of people out in the community while infectious.

In last Sunday’s “tough” lockdown of just three hot spot areas, there were no less than 35 permitted exemptions!

Berejiklian's media conferences, meanwhile, performed under the warm glow of a suitably reverent mainstream media, have presented undecipherable mathematical algebra equations intended to understate COVID-19 cases and the rate of community infections, ignored the severity of the spread, pretended that things were improving and disregarded the deaths of real people.

Exemplary — thanks, Gladys!

In short, the situation in NSW is dire and the NSW Premier's performance is negligent because let’s face it, there is no amazing contact tracing in NSW compared with the other states. Her measures have never been superior. It was just plain dumb luck until now.

And – it is most important to note – equating the NSW lockdown to that previously experienced in Victoria is like comparing a camping holiday under the stars with systemic homelessness.

And please, don’t tell us it’s the fault of the Delta variant, because Victoria experienced that first also. No, Gladys’ dumb luck has simply, finally, run out.

SPUN OF GOLD

Contrary to the untruths escaping the mouths of Morrison, Berejiklian and co, the truth is that it was Victoria that endured the toughest lockdowns for the longest time. It was in Victoria that the Delta variant was first transmitted into the community from South Australia. It was under Andrews’ leadership that the virus was effectively contained. And, unlike golden girl Gladys, for his trouble, the Victorian Premier faced a hostile press each day.

The sympathy among Victorians for their northern friends is heartfelt. But their current contempt for Liberal politicians has never been greater.

But Liberals everywhere have gone as far as to insinuate that other states, particularly Victoria, were just run by sub-standard premiers, “politicising” the pandemic, flaying from crisis to crisis and even, taking every opportunity to punish their residents, because… well, Labor. And because this false equivalence between NSW having largely escaped the ravages of the virus being attributed to Liberal Party ideology meant that, somehow, there were gold standards all round for Liberal leaders, including those of the Federal variety.

Morrison and co (who managed to botch quarantine and the vaccine rollout) have leveraged this both as a reflection of Liberal Party strategy and as evidence of the “failure” of Labor Party policy, taking swipes at Andrews where possible and ably buoyed along by the mainstream media.

Andrews was dubbed "Dictator Dan", while Gladys "saved the nation". 

Liberal and "Health" Minister Greg Hunt – the one who botched the vaccine rollout – chose to perpetuate the myth that Berejiklian was handling the current crisis better than Andrews did last year, quoting statistics out of context and rambling on. 

Liberal and "Treasurer" Josh Frydenberg substituted his own "reality" of Andrews to Laura Tingle on ABC 7.30:

"... People are sick of his whingeing and his politicking of the crisis. I mean, the reality is that any time anyone challenges Daniel Andrews, including your colleague, Leigh Sales, you get the bots and the trots starting to troll her out of trades hall on social media."

Instigated by Morrison, this is a classic marketing 101 ploy, in which a hero brand is established and its halo then rubs off onto related brands by association. Think Ferrari and Fiat or Crown Lager and Victoria Bitter. Flawed when applied to politics? Of course — but the mainstream media bought it, anyway.

And the whole farcical show really culminated with this nauseating fabrication from Nine’s Phil Coorey in the glossy weekend edition of The Financial Review, which depicted Gladys as ... wait for it, ‘The woman who saved Australia’:

GOLD STANDARD FALL

But of course, as Morrison’s previous marketing exploits have proven, this brand association works both ways and if the hero product takes a spectacular fall, or worse, was never equipped for heroic status at all, the other brands quickly follow.

And now, the Prime Minister for New South Wales Scott Morrison is feeling the palpable disdain brought on by the current crisis in that state, which has exposed the over-inflated Berejiklian as struggling and inept and possibly incapable of true leadership. Certainly, her record with koalas and environmental disasters, criminal boyfriends, rorts for developers and general incompetence would attest to the latter.

And so today, as NSW under Berejiklian’s incompetent leadership struggles to deal with the pandemic, infecting its neighbouring state of Victoria, and threatening the others with more of the same, Morrison has experienced the full wrath of the electorate. Perhaps people are no longer buying the hero brand concept because the latest Newspoll shows the Federal Government trailing Labor 47 to 53.

And so, the News Corp PR machine is in overdrive, frantically targeting Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese and performing acrobatic leaps of spin to reframe the Coalition's political disaster following that of the mismanaged health crisis.

This week, it is all Albo's fault, as he is attacked every which way:

That the NSW Premier hasn’t lived up to the gold standard pedestal when put to the test is no surprise, but now that her true colours are finally affecting the popularity of her Federal affiliates, all we can say is: Exemplary — thanks, Gladys!

This editorial was originally published as part of the Independent Australia weekly newsletter. These editorials are usually only available to subscribers and may be read online in the IA members-only area.

You can follow managing editor Michelle Pini on Twitter @vmp9. Follow Independent Australia on Twitter @independentaus and on Facebook HERE.

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