Education Minister Dan Tehan has criticised Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews for heeding medical advice and keeping schools closed, writes Peter Wicks.
NOT ONLY is Australia a participant in the battle against COVID-19, but we are also apparently bearing witness to the “Battle of the Dans” — Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan vs Victorian Premier Dan Andrews.
This far-from-epic battle saw the Premier come out victorious before he even had an opportunity to show up and join the fight.
The thing about most battles is there are usually at least two participants. However, this battle was different. While Daniel Andrews was busy doing his job running Victoria, Dan Tehan decided it was his job to wage war on the Victorian Premier over his decision to follow the advice of Victoria’s Chief Health Officer and leave public schools closed except for students in special circumstances.
Dan Tehan was interviewed on the ABC’s Insiders last Sunday morning and came out swinging, slamming Daniel Andrews for his apparent “failure of leadership” in treating Victorian schools the same way Tehan’s superiors are treating Federal Parliament — skeleton staff and only open for emergency.
Daniel Andrews was, of course, following the advice of Victoria’s Chief Health Officer and was proven to be correct almost immediately. Right after Tehan’s interview in which he questioned why Victoria’s schools remained shut to most students, it was announced that another school in Victoria was being forced to close due to COVID-19. Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos held a media conference explaining the school closure and to respond to any queries.
Within hours, Dan Tehan was withdrawing his comments in a lengthy media release that could have just as easily said: “Sorry for my idiotic and irresponsible behaviour this morning.”
This “Battle of the Dans” that was over before it began is interesting for two reasons that I haven’t seen explored by the mainstream media.
The reason that Tehan's determination to discredit Andrews backfired is that the Morrison Government appeared to view Daniel Andrews as not just the Victorian Premier, but also the Federal Opposition Leader.
Ever since the bushfire crisis which saw Daniel Andrews take charge while Scott Morrison took off for Hawaii, the PM has been fixated on Andrews and his reputation for getting things done.
COVID-19 has provided Morrison with an opportunity to make up for his many failings during the bushfire crisis, an opportunity he is relishing. So far, he’s done fairly well for himself; after a pretty awful start with confusing press conferences, he finds himself in a position now where the public seems under the illusion that he’s doing a good job with this crisis.
The public has seemingly forgotten the failure to provide personal protective equipment for our emergency services, a failure that sent many a doctor and nurse to Bunnings for the safety equipment Health Minister Greg Hunt couldn’t supply.
Also on the backburner is the red carpet hand-woven by Peter Dutton that was rolled out to the virus when Ruby Princess docked in a decision that costs more lives on an almost daily basis. The Government has even convinced some to download a spyware app on their phones and while saying that it is safe and nobody can access the data, the Victorian Liberal Party appears to be confirming the opposite by indicating they think the Deputy Health Officers will have access to personal details of those who have downloaded the COVIDSafe spyware.
Perhaps Morrison’s biggest success has been his silencing of Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese. Albanese is still there, but if it weren't for social media, this is a fact that could be easily missed. To the majority of the public, he may as well be the Invisible Man. This is something Morrison is milking for all its worth.
There is, however, a fly in Morrison’s ointment and his name is Daniel Andrews.
Andrews seems incapable of putting a foot wrong no matter how much pressure he is under. His messaging is always crystal clear and if he says he will do something, you can chalk it up as being as good as done.
The strengths of Andrews highlight the weaknesses of Morrison and this is why the Federal Coalition are treating him as the Opposition Leader. Morrison, though, is smart enough to know he can’t attack Andrews himself so he sends out his minions to do the job. Last week, that minion was Dan Tehan.
The other thing the Tehan incident highlighted is quite alarming.
The Morrison Government’s criticism of the Andrews Government has been based on their insistence that Daniel Andrews isn’t listening to the advice from Australia’s Chief Medical Officer and is instead relying on advice from Victoria’s Chief Health Officer.
Last Sunday, we saw who is receiving the most up-to-date information.
Dan Tehan and Greg Hunt both represent Victorian electorates. Yet the information regarding COVID-19 forcing the closure of a Victorian school was something of which they, their advisors and their government were blissfully unaware. As a Federal Minister was berating a Premier on TV for not acting in the public interest, that Premier’s team was organising a media conference to pass on vital information in the public’s interest — information of which the Federal Government was completely oblivious.
Perhaps Morrison’s team had their priorities set to slamming tweets about “Captain Crook”. Or maybe Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy was in search of more rumours about Tasmanian emergency services workers having illegal dinner parties to spread.
Whatever it was, it made Morrison’s team look like a team on crack rather than a crack team. Once again, the first-grade team in Victoria were getting on with the job while the team on crack sent another reserve off the bench to try and take pot-shots at the first-grade team’s captain.
Someone wiser than I once wrote:
‘It is never wise to seek or wish for another's misfortune. If malice or envy were tangible and had a shape, it would be the shape of a boomerang.’
Last Sunday, Dan Tehan learnt that lesson.
We’ll wait and see how many more of Morrison’s minion ministers come out trying to throw Morrison’s boomerang of envy at Daniel Andrews.
You’d think they have more important things to attend to.
Peter Wicks is an Independent Australia columnist and a former Federal Labor Party staffer. You can follow him on Twitter @MadWixxy.
Support independent journalism Subscribe to IA.